Scott Marks 3:30 p.m., Dec. 24
In the Family
A big hit at last year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival finally gets a well-deserved theatrical release. After losing one of his two dads in a car accident, a young boy quickly becomes the focal point of a fierce custody battle after the will grants his aunt sole custody. You’re not likely to find a more compassionate piece of storytelling this year, thanks in large part to a markedly restrained tour-de-force performance by the film’s writer-director, Patrick Wang. At any moment, this could have taken a wrong turn and hit a sentimental embankment. Wang’s unblinking camera bores through any potential cliches to reveal a tough heart beneath the film’s seemingly gentle outer surface. One tell-tale sign that this is a first film: Wang fell in love with his cast’s largely improvised dialog, and because of it In the Family runs an unwieldy 169 minutes. You’ll have to pay the babysitter overtime, but it’s worth it. 2011.