President Spanier shares his annual holiday movie reviews for 2009

As has been his practice in the past, Penn State President Graham Spanier shares his annual holiday movie reviews with readers. Most of the movies were seen within the last week. Read on to see which movies he recommends with his ranking on a scale of one to four stars.

Annual Holiday Movie Review for 2009

By Graham B. Spanier

Here are this year’s holiday movie reviews. The number of films is shorter than usual this year due to the brief time frame between graduation ceremonies and my imminent departure for Penn State’s bowl game in Orlando. But at the same time the number of truly remarkable films released in the last month seemed slimmer than usual. The movies I've rated are on a scale of one to four stars. All of those listed are worthy of your ticket purchase, depending on your fancy, with many very highly recommended.


The Hurt Locker

Riveting and suspenseful, an exceptional portrayal of the dynamics, risks and dilemmas of an Army IED explosive prevention unit in Iraq. Such devices account for a huge portion of deaths in Iraq. And the film provokes thought about our presence in hostile parts of the Middle East — without being a political movie.


An incredible visual extravaganza, this is perhaps the most amazing deployment of information technology ever in a movie. The $16 movie ticket in New York, for the most expensive movie ever made, was certainly worth the price. In 3-D, it wraps together a love story, good versus evil, and a story line for the modern era.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

A deeply disturbing story about an abusive household in Harlem that ends on a hopeful note for an unattractive 16-year-old girl, Precious, who is pregnant for the second time by her father and tormented by an unfit mother, is encouraged by an alternative school teacher, but has to cope with truly overwhelming odds.

An Education

A 16-year-old British girl with academic, but not worldly brilliance, is introduced to life’s possibilities, and heartbreaks, by an older man while her parents struggle with the tradeoff between Oxford and marriage.



In this Broadway musical translated to a movie, a tormented director struggles with movie-making in the midst of internal conflicts about women, morality and commitment. Visually stunning with its sets and Rome as a backdrop, the film features a cast of many of Hollywood's most beautiful and talented women.


Morgan Freeman, as Nelson Mandela, shines as always, in this inspirational Clint Eastwood-directed film, which is more about leadership than sport--the sport being Rugby. Important lessons about forgiveness and reconciliation in the post-apartheid years in South Africa.


Sherlock Holmes

Nonstop action in this modern and spiced-up version of the escapades of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in London before the turn of the 20th century. At times feeling like a cross between Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code, one can't help but enjoy the characters, even if they don’t fit our historical concept of Sherlock Holmes. Fabulous cinematography.

The Blind Side

Bring some tissues along for this touching movie starring Sandra Bullock, based on a true story about an abandoned black high school student who is adopted by a wealthy southern white family and goes on to succeed in academics and playing football.

Up in the Air

Graham Spanier look-alike George Clooney travels full time in conjunction with a high-flying job where he has to fire people for others. His disconnected life takes an unexpected turn as he falls for a woman who enchants him while he mentors a young woman who thinks she has all the answers.


It's Complicated

The title says it all in this romantic comedy about a couple who rekindles their interest in each other 10 years after their divorce, while their grown children watch things unfold and another man competes for the mother's affection. Meryl Streep once again demonstrates her talents in the lead role.

Everybody's Fine

Robert De Niro as a widower who spent his life working to provide for his children's education, all the while setting high expectations. Now alone, he sets out to visit his four grown children sequentially in a sentimental journey loaded with messages about family dysfunction and reconciliation.

New Moon

This wildly popular sequel continues a romance between Bella and the pale and protective vampire, and adds in the growing attraction to an equally devoted werewolf, but Bella’s down-in-the-dumps posture is draining. The first movie was actually quite good, but this second try in what threatens to be an ongoing series was disappointing.

Last Updated April 10, 2012