After writing and directing “Thank You For Smoking” and directing “Juno,” Jason Reitman proved he is more than just the son of longtime filmmaker Ivan Reitman.

Now in his latest, “Up in the Air,” Jason Reitman raises the bar with a beautifully crafted film that is smart, topical, funny and just a little bittersweet. It’s a perfect mix for a film that proves to be the very best of 2009.

George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a man who travels around the country to various workplaces notifying employees that they have been terminated.

Ryan is content living his life out of a suitcase - going from hotel to hotel, racking up frequent flyer miles, and having as little contact with his family as possible.

But Ryan’s world starts to come apart when his company hires Natalie (Anna Kendrick), an eager young woman who has developed a method of video conferencing that will allow termination without ever leaving the office.

Seeing this as a threat to the life he loves, Ryan is determined to show Natalie the error of her ways by taking her on a cross-country firing expedition. But along the way Natalie and a fellow frequent traveler named Alex (Vera Farmiga) show Ryan that his way of life may not be as great as he previously imagined.

Based on a novel by Walter Kim, Reitman and co-screenwriter Sheldon Turner take a story that rings true in today’s economic climate and use it as a starting point for a brilliant character study. Reitman captures the loneliness of business people who travel for a living and Clooney’s fantastic performance helps drive the isolation home.

While Ryan is the centerpiece, the story fleshes out both female characters, allowing Farmiga and Kendrick to both deliver performances that are nearly as impressive as Clooney’s work.

But what really makes the screenplay rich and vibrant is its ability to take the story in some unexpected places by the time “Up in the Air” reaches its final destination.

Reitman understands his film’s strengths and does a great job of letting it steer itself while adding some nice visual tricks here and there. I think using people who really lost their jobs as some of the people who get fired is a nice touch that brings some realism to the film and I don’t think I’ve ever seen airport terminals look quite as busy and lonely at the same time.

It’s moments like those that show that Reitman is a filmmaker who gets it. “Juno” and “Thank You for Smoking” may have put the young Reitman on the map, but this is the film that should firmly establish the 32-year-old as one of top young talents in Hollywood today.

Also in theaters

While “Up in the Air” arrives in theaters for the adults, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” (D+) is a film that will surely please the kiddies - and no one else.

The follow-up to the massive 2007 hit finds the helium-sounding chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore (voiced by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney) firmly established as worldwide rock stars.

When an accident leaves Dave (Jason Lee) in a hospital bed, the boys find themselves in the care of Dave’s cousin Toby (Zachary Levi), where they have to deal with school, celebrity and a rival female music group known as The Chipettes (voiced by Christina Applegate, Anna Faris, and Amy Poehler), who are managed by the Chipmunks’ former manager Ian (David Cross).

There really aren’t many surprises in this latest installment (not that I expected any), which is pretty much on autopilot from the opening credits. Even at 90 minutes, the film feels nearly as long as the three-hour “Avatar” and left me quite bored, pondering questions like why everyone in the movie seems to instantly accept talking chipmunks and not be creeped out by them.

The voice work isn’t much because quite frankly everyone sounds alike and the live actors aren’t much better (although Lee deserves credit for apparently trying to bail and compromising with what is basically an extended cameo).

I will concede that children will probably love this film. My 8-year-old seemed quite satisfied, so this film obviously succeeds in aiming straight for its target audience. I’m not in that demographic though, so for me (and anyone else above the age of 10) “The Squeakquel” is the cinematic equivalent of unwrapping a fruitcake on Christmas morning.

“Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” is rated PG for some mild rude humor and is now playing the Greenwood Mall 10 and Highland Cinemas in Glasgow.

— Next week sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton will wrap up his Top 50 films of the Decade by revealing his picks for the 10 best. To catch up on his other picks (which just got a lot addition thanks to “Up in the Air”) or to see why he thinks “Avatar” is “Dances with Wolves” in space, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can also e-mail him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.

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