Sunday, December 4, 2011
Holiday movie preview
The leftover turkey is downed, the relatives from up north have returned home, and winter has brought weather to chill the bones. All these signs of impending Yule also point to the fact that the holiday movie season is getting into full swing.
Why exactly is it that Hollywood saves its serious films and family-friendly big-budget bonanzas for the last few weeks of the year? Gosh knows we could've used some of these high-profile flicks back in September, when our choices were between "Shark Night 3D" and "Dream House."
Part of it is jockeying for Academy Award nominations. Films released too early in the year tend to fade in memory, while a movie released in late December will still be playing in theaters when Oscar voters mark their ballots.
And with most kids out of school, studios want to blanket their biggest target audience with choices.
The result? A large percentage of the best movies of the year are released between Thanksgiving and New Year's.
The bounty carries over to the first few weeks of January, when films given a qualifying release in New York and L.A. for Academy Award consideration go wider.
Here's a look at what's under the cinematic Christmas tree. Movies marked with an O! have serious Oscar buzz.
New Year's Eve (12/9) -- Director Garry Marshall and much of his "Valentine's Day" crew attempt to replicate their success with another romantic paean to a holiday, told through a large ensemble cast of lovers, including Ashton Kutcher, Robert De Niro and Katherine Heigl.
The Sitter (12/9) -- Perennial wingman Jonah Hill gets the star treatment in this goofy comedy about a slovenly slacker who takes on the babysitting job from hell.
O! Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (12/9) -- Gary Oldman is getting lots of kudos for his performance as a master spy brought out of retirement during the Cold War to hunt down a Soviet mole inside British intelligence. Co-starring Colin Firth. Based on the John le Carré novel.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (12/16) -- The great detective (Robert Downey Jr.) takes on an enemy as brilliant as he in the form of Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). More quick-edited fight scenes followed by clever quips with a faux British lilt.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked (12/16) -- Poor Jason Lee. One of filmdom's most genuine actors has sunk to playing the human sidekick in the third Chipmunks movie. The gang gets stuck on a deserted island, leading to ... lots of Auto-Tuned singing.
Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol (12/16) -- Let's face it, this may be the last chance for Tom Cruise. The soon to be 50-year-old star hasn't had a hit in six years. And can animation whiz Brad Bird direct a live-action blockbuster?
O! Young Adult (12/16) -- The "Juno" team, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, team up again for a serio-comedy about a disgraced big shot (Charlize Theron) who goes back to her tiny hometown in order to reconnect with her old boyfriend, who's inconveniently married.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (12/21) -- This film is already controversial with a semi-nude Rooney Mara appearing in a poster with Daniel Craig. He's a crusading journalist; she's a disturbed computer hacker. Was an American remake of the Swedish thriller even needed?
O! The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (12/21) -- Could Steven Spielberg add another Oscar to his mantle with a win for best animated feature? The aging wunderkind tackles cartoons for the first time in this take on the popular European comics.
We Bought A Zoo (12/23) -- Writer/director Cameron Crowe returns after a long fallow period with this dramedy starring Matt Damon as a harried single dad who, yup, buys a zoo in an attempt to bring his family back together. Scarlett Johansson co-stars.
The Darkest Hour (12/25) -- Emile Hirsch leads a group of photogenic young people stranded in Moscow when strange alien creatures attack the planet Earth.
O! War Horse (12/25) -- The novel by Michael Morpurgo became an award-winning stage production, and gets the big-screen treatment from director Steven Spielberg. (That guy's everywhere!) A young man separated from his beloved horse during World War I tries to find him.
The following films, listed alphabetically, will likely only see limited release in December -- look for them in local theaters sometime in the new year.
O! Albert Nobbs -- Glenn Close has been nominated five times for an Oscar without winning ... though the last was in 1989. She may finally get another shot at the golden statue in this drama about a woman passing herself off as a man to work as a butler in 19th century Ireland. Like Jeff Bridges, Close could get the nod as a way to cap off a great career.
Carnage -- Two Brooklyn children get into a tussle, and then their parents meet to make the peace. But then ... something else happens. Brilliant but controversial director Roman Polanski steers a great cast -- Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly -- in this absurdist comedy based on the Broadway play.
O! Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close -- The harrowing Jonathan Safran Foer novel about a 9-year-old boy on a quest for answers after his father dies in the 9/11 attacks. Starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.
In the Land of Blood and Honey -- Angelina Jolie steps behind the camera for the first time as the writer/director of this drama about a couple who find themselves separated during the Bosnian War.
O! The Iron Lady -- Can Meryl Streep pass muster as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher? Upper English lips get notoriously stiff whenever Yanks play one of their own in a high-profile biopic. Something tells me Streep will pull it off ... because she's Meryl Streep.
O! My Week with Marilyn -- Another high-profile biopic stars Michelle Williams as perhaps American cinema's greatest icon, seen by her co-star Laurence Olivier while they were shooting a picture.
Pariah -- A Brooklyn teen struggles to find her sexual identity in the face of familial tensions in this Sundance Film Festival favorite.
O! Shame -- Michael Fassbender, best known to American audiences as young Magneto from "X-Men: First Class," is getting raves for his raw and exposed portrayal of a man burdened with sexual addiction. Co-starring Carey Mulligan. No NC-17 film has ever won an Academy Award -- could this be the first?