starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave
screenplay by Christopher Hampton, based on the novel by Ian McEwan
directed by Joe Wright
THE KITE RUNNER
starring Khalid Abdalla, Homayoun Ershadi, Shaun Toub, Saïd Taghmaoui
screenplay by David Benioff, based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini
directed by Marc Forster
by Walter Chaw No end-of-year sweepstakes would be complete without the requisite bushel of awards-baiting pabulum, rich with a nice, thick vein of glossy pandering. They're movies you're supposed to love: can't-miss, sure-fire formula flicks that bank on their sparkly casts and borrowed prestige the way blockbuster action flicks rely on special effects and the promise of mayhem. Reduce it down enough and the dreg at the bottom of the stew pot is still just making money--you don't reinvent the wheel by following a recipe, and indeed, a good 99% of movies in any given year don't boast of anything new. To say that you like something like August Rush is to say that you hate to be challenged by a film--that escapism is the first and last reason you go to the movies. Where something like Transformers wants to inspire a car- or girl-related boner, something like Atonement wants to ennoble the cineplex arthouse crowd into paroxysms of self-congratulation. It's the same feeling that compels awards bodies to vote for this stuff: mainstream passing as estimable while the real deal flies for the most part under the radar. The more assembly line chunder like Atonement and The Kite Runner gets chosen for Academy recognition, the fewer slots there are available for big studio pics that actually deliver the goods, like No Country for Old Men, The Darjeeling Limited, There Will Be Blood, and Sweeney Todd (presuming, of course, that an impressive number of remarkable studio flicks released earlier this calendar year are already lost causes).