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updated 12/21/2009 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/21/2009 01:00AM

Nine

Daniel Day-Lewis, Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman | PG-13 |

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MUSICAL

"Hey, let's put on a musical about a man having a nervous breakdown." Somehow, when Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland whipped up shows, that was never their rallying cry. Times change. Nine, based on a 1982 Broadway musical inspired by Italian director Federico Fellini's autobiographical 1963 film 8½, is about a successful, self-indulgent movie director (Day-Lewis) who, nearly 50, is overwhelmed by his own life. As well he might be, given that he's juggling an unhappy wife (Cotillard), a needy mistress (Cruz), plus several other gals and is scheduled to start shooting a film for which he still has no script.

Day-Lewis suffers sexily and the talented ladies each belt out a showstopper or two, but Nine, while fun in many parts, never achieves full liftoff. Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) adds as much sizzle as he can, but there's no getting around the fact that the songs aren't keepers and our hero, though suffering, is a major cad.

Crazy Heart

Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall| R |

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DRAMA

Like a character from one of his own country songs, singer Bad Blake (Bridges) has married too many women (at least four), gulped too much whiskey, smoked too many cigarettes and, at 57, is stuck playing bowling alleys in desert hamlets. In this marvelously loose-limbed character study, a sensational Bridges gives a deeply felt performance, one as authentic and lived-in as the worn couch in Blake's living room. As the young single mom he falls for, and who warily falls for him, Gyllenhaal is lovely.

Invictus

Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon | PG-13 |

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DRAMA

When the final credits roll on Invictus, American moviegoers may still be scratching their heads over the rules of rugby, but they'll definitely have a firmer understanding of recent South African history. This real-life drama from director Clint Eastwood tells how Nelson Mandela (Freeman), the country's first elected black president, united the nation and helped heal long-standing differences by supporting the S.A. rugby team—captained by Francois Pienaar (Damon)—as it made an unexpected run at the World Cup title in 1995. Invictus starts slowly but builds to reach a rousing and moving ending. Freeman, in yet another variation on the Great Man, is fun once he loosens up, while Damon is a natural on the rugby field—and he has the legs for short shorts too.

The Lovely Bones

Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz | PG-13 |

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DRAMA

How much you like Bones may depend on how strongly you believe in a neon-bright afterlife. In adapting Alice Sebold's delicate novel about a 14-year-old (Ronan) who's murdered and then watches over her family from afar, director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) overwhelms slender material with garish special effects. He's made a gallon-size, candy-colored margarita, but it contains only a thimbleful of actual tequila.

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