Three standout indie films offer lessons from the school of hard knocks.
By Jessica Winter
Photo: Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight Pictures
Slumdog Millionaire In theaters: November 12
Slumdog Millionaire is an unforgettable dispatch from the economic margins (it won the People's Choice Award at this year's Toronto Film Festival). Borrowing a few cues in ebullient style from Bollywood musicals, Trainspotting director Danny Boyle sustains a breakneck pace for the tale of a whip-smart orphan from the slums of Mumbai who competes on India's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
Wendy and Lucy In theaters: December 10
Kelly Reichardt's third feature, Wendy and Lucy, is as plainspoken and quietly moving as an Alice Munro story, and it all rests on the slender shoulders of Michelle Williams (left). She's brilliant as Wendy, a nearly broke young woman who's trying to get herself, her unreliable car, and her beloved dog (Lucy, playing herself) to a well-paying job in Alaska. The details are specific—the Oregon woods, Wendy's painstaking log of expenses and dwindling cash—but Wendy is also symbolic of millions of Americans who live with no room for error, for whom the smallest stroke of bad luck or missed timing can change everything. In finding unexpected pockets of love and kindness in harsh realities, Wendy and Lucy is a tearjerker that earns those tears honestly: Gentle and firm, it breaks your heart open and looks inside.
The Wrestler In theaters: December 31
While the words "Mickey Rourke as a washed-up pro wrestler" may not send you sprinting for ticket booths, The Wrestler also brought Toronto crowds to their feet: With the help of his never-better star, director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) crafts a wryly funny comeback tale that's as tough as it is compassionate.
5 minutes Coo over the sea critters (seals, penguins, baby polar bears!) on the free holiday e-cards at OceanConservancy.org. By e-mailing your season's greetings, you can help reduce the typical 25 percent increase in waste during the holidays.
An hour Spend yuletide with Stephen Colbert and friends (Toby Keith, John Legend, Willie Nelson, Jon Stewart, Feist) on A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All (premieres November 23 on Comedy Central; DVD $20).
An hour Paging all chefs: The amateur chef's recipe library is often a hodgepodge of magazine clippings, computer files, and ancient index cards gone soft as cloth. But now disorganized foodies can open TasteBook (TasteBook.com), where making a personalized cookbook—for yourself or as a one-of-a-kind gift—is nearly as easy as creating a Facebook profile. Just fill in the user-friendly fields to include your own recipes and upload photos to illustrate each dish; you can also borrow recipes from top websites (like FoodNetwork.com and Epicurious.com). Give TasteBook about a week to mail you the resulting hardcover volume: handsome and sturdy, with wipeable spiral-bound pages and color-tabbed dividers for quick skimming ($20 for 25 recipes; $35 for 100 recipes).
85 minutes Leap into the world of competitive jump roping. The documentary JUMP! (Showtime, premieres December 7) captures the grace and stamina of five teams (ranging from primary school to college) as they drill toward the world championships.