As the end of the year 2012 rapidly approaches, director Ang Lee's remarkable "Life of Pi" is one film to put on your holiday season list.

"Life of Pi" recounts a deeply-moving spiritual journey that is fascinating and thought-provoking, and will linger with you long after you've viewed it.

Many of the images provide a relaxing, meditative quality that lift "Life of Pi" from that of movie-going to that of a cinematic experience. Those who enjoy wildlife, nature films, folk tales, parables and fables will enjoy "Life of Pi."

"Life of Pi" is a film for which the 3D format is well-suited. Extraordinary visuals of the sea, fish in the sea, the sky, forest and creatures of the forest justify the higher 3D movie ticket price.

That said, for the majority of the run time of "Life of Pi," the 3D format is unnecessary. That is because the film is bookended in flashback format where Pi recounts his being marooned at sea to a novelist.

In "Life of Pi," Irrfan Khan ("Slumdog Millionaire," "The Amazing Spider-Man"), in a wonderful performance as the adult Pi Patel, tells the story of his epic journey while a castaway at sea to a writer, played by Rafe Spall ("Anonymous," in which he portrayed William Shakespeare; "Shaun of the Dead").

The younger Pi, played with mind-boggling realism and emotion by Suraj Sharma in his feature film debut, travels to Canada with his family when the cargo ship on which they were traveling -- and carrying zoo animals his father has sold -- sinks. Pi's father ran a zoo in India. In Pi's recounting, he and a Bengal Tiger, humorously named Richard Parker, are set adrift on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean.

Pi is named after Piscine Molitor, a swimming pool (Piscine Molitor) in France fancied by his father, played by Adil Hussain.

The name Pi also works as metaphor as the name for the symbol for infinity (3.14), one of the film's topics, along with other big ideas: belief in God and-or a higher spiritual power, questions about the universe and humans' relationship to each other and to the natural world.

Don't let the big-issue topics scare you. "Life of Pi" is told with humor, gentility and compassion. It is, by turns, gripping, awe-inspiring and an emotional roller-coaster.

Ang Lee (" Brokeback Mountain," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "The Ice Storm," "Eat Drink Man Woman") directs the screenplay by David Magee ("Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day," "Finding Neverland"), based on the novel by Yann Martel.

Lee is a masterful director. "Life of Pi" is perhaps Lee's best work yet. "Life of Pi" is a cinematic tone poem of astounding achievement. It is life-affirming, inspiring and extraordinary. Don't miss it.

LIfe of Pi," PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children) for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril; Genre: Adventure, Drama; Run time. 2 hrs. 7 mins. Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Credit Readers Anonymous: In "The Life of Pi" (Suraj Sharma) was never actually in a boat with a live tiger. The tiger was created with CGI technology.

Box Office, Dec. 14: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," opening at No. 1, set a record for a December weekend opening, with $84.7 million.

2. "Rise of the Guardians," $7.4 million, $71.3 million, four weeks; 4. "Lincoln," with critics' groups lists and seven Golden Globes' nominee bump, reclaimed No. 3, $7.2 million, $107.8 million, six weeks; 5. "Life of Pi," $5.4 million, $69.5 million, four weeks; 6."The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2," $5.1 million, $276.8 million, five weeks; 7. "Wreck-It Ralph," $3.2 million, $168.7 million, seven weeks; 8. "Playing for Keeps," $3.2 million, $10.8 million, two weeks; 9."Red Dawn," $2.3 million, $40.8 million, four weeks; 10. "Silver Linings Playbook," with critics' groups lists and Golden Globes' nominee bump, $2 million, $16.9 million, five weeks

Unreel, Dec. 19, 21, 25:

"This Is 40," R: Director Judd Apatow revisits the lives of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) in the comedy.

"Zero Dark Thirty," R: Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker") directs the fact-based drama about the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks and his death by Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May 2011.

"Jack Reacher," PG-13: Tom Cruise stars as a homicide investigator in the crime action film.

"The Guilt Trip," PG-13: Seth Rogen plays the son of Barbra Streisand in the comedy of wrong turns.

"Les Miserables," PG-13: (Dec. 25) There's Oscar buzz for Allentown's Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, as well as for Anne Hathaway in the Golden Globe-nominated film version of the Broadway musical that also stars Hugh Jackman.

Read previous movie reviews by Paul Willistein at the Times-News web site, tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com [1] and on Facebook.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes