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Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011 03:34 pm

Holiday movie preview

A guide to films from Thanksgiving to Christmas

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The Muppets

If you follow movies at all you know that the Hollywood studios release what they perceive to be their best films between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. They know that they need to keep their movies in the forefront of the minds of the members of the various film organizations, chief among them the Oscars, so their offerings can wrack up enough kudos, nominations and awards as possible. This, of course, translates to more money at the box office and that’s what makes the movie machine work.

However, this is also a plus for film lovers as there’s the potential for a bounty of riches to choose from. For this holiday season, things look more promising than they have in years. A slate of films far more eclectic than ever will be hitting the area screens. A silent film, an adaptation of a lesser-known Shakespearean play, 3-D features from two directing legends and an Oscar contender with an NC-17 rating are among the offerings. Having seen at least 10 of the following films, I can say this is one of the most rewarding rosters in recent memory and will prove rewarding for the adventurous viewer.

What follows is a rundown of the movies that will hit area screens over the next six weeks. Some need no extra publicity, while others from smaller studios need to be put on your radar, as these films tend to be of higher quality. Those with firm release dates are listed first in the order in which they’ll play, while others are arranged according to the month they’ll hit area screens.

1. Arthur Christmas
The big-screen offerings from Aardman Animation (Wallace and Grommet, Flushed Away) have only had lackluster showings at the box office and this feature may be the boutique studio’s last stand. (See full review, page 28.) The premise is intriguing. Something goes haywire at the North Pole and Santa may not be able to deliver all of the presents in his workshop in time. Enter his son, Arthur, who insists he can save the day, though his dad has his doubts. Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, James McAvoy and Hugh Laurie lend their voice talents to a predominantly English cast. (Nov. 23)

2. The Descendants
Oscar buzz is strong for this George Clooney dramedy and it’s deserved. Starring as a Hawaiian real estate magnate, his world is turned upside down when his wife goes into a coma after a boating accident and he finds out she’s been cheating on him. He attempts to reunite with his two estranged daughters by dragging them along to confront their mother’s lover (Matthew Lillard). Razor-sharp humor and cutting human insights pepper Alexander Payne’s script throughout. A real winner. (Nov. 23)

3. Hugo
This adaptation of the best-selling novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, seems an odd choice for director Martin Scorsese. It concerns a young boy who lives in a Paris train station. He sets out to solve a mystery involving his late father and a robot he invented. That the director is using 3-D effects in the film adds even more intrigue to the project. (Nov. 23)

The Muppets


4. The Muppets
Rescued a few years back by Disney Studios, Jim Henson’s Muppets finally return to the big screen for the first time since 1996. Here they must reunite in order to stop a heartless oil executive (Chris Cooper) who wants to drill for black gold under the Muppets’ beloved theater. Self-professed Muppet maniac Jason Segel co-wrote the script and stars in the film with Amy Adam, Rashida Jones and a bevy of guest stars. (Nov. 23)

5. New Year’s Eve
The folks who brought you last year’s Valentine’s Day present another tale of intersecting stories that focus on various romantic couples, some of them holdovers from the previous film, and how they handle the second most romantic night of the year. An all-star cast features Robert De Niro, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Biel, Michelle Pfeiffer and Hilary Swank, among many others. (Dec. 9)

6. The Sitter
Jonah Hill stars as a college student on suspension who decides to earn a few extra bucks by babysitting the kids next door. He’s unprepared for the mayhem that ensues and we’ll be left wondering how this Adventures in Babysitting retread made it to the big screen. (Dec. 9)

7. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Gary Oldman stars as George Smiley, John le Carre’s master spy, who’s charged with ferreting out a suspected Russian mole who’s infiltrated the ranks of MI6. This adaptation of the classic novel features an award-worthy turn from Oldman, who’s ably supported by Colin Firth. Tom Hardy, Toby Jones, Mark Strong and John Hurt. (Dec. 9)

8. Carnage
Roman Polanski directs this taut adaptation of the Broadway play that is a darkly comic drawing room exercise. It finds two upper-class couples (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly and Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) who come together to discuss a schoolyard brawl that occurred between their two sons. Needless to say, the air of civility between the couples soon falls to the wayside and their true natures emerge. Running a mere 79 minutes, this modern version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? pulls no punches. (Dec. 16)

9. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return as Holmes and Watson and they must do battle with the detective’s arch enemy, Dr. Moriarity (Jared Harris). Expect as much action as plot twists and an air of the exotic with the addition of Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as a mysterious gypsy. (Dec. 16)

10. Young Adult
Screenwriter Diablo Cody reunites with her Juno director, Jason Reitman, for this tale of a woman afflicted with Peter Pan Syndrome (Charlize Theron) who returns to her hometown after divorcing her husband, intent on breaking up the marriage of her high school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson). Expect razor-sharp dialogue and a comic look at human frailty. (Dec. 16)

11. The Adventures of Tintin
Having already grossed north of $150 million overseas, Steven Spielberg’s big-screen adaptation of the cult European comic strip is a high-spirited adventure in the Indiana Jones vein. That the Oscar-winning director employs motion capture techniques and the 3-D format for the first time only adds to the intrigue of this groundbreaking production. (Dec. 21)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


12. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The American version of the international best-seller finds David Fincher (The Social Network) at the helm, bringing the first adventure of expert computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) to the big screen. The perverse mystery at the film’s core is tailor-made for Fincher’s sensibilities, while a cast that includes Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer and Robin Wright points to this one being a guaranteed winner. (Dec. 21)

13. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt and he’s on the run with the rest of his team. They’ve been accused of bombing the Kremlin and need to go to great lengths to clear their names. Rumor has it this will be Cruise’s last mission and that co-star Jeremy Renner has been recruited to step into his shoes in order to keep the franchise going. Whether this means Hunt will meet his maker on this mission remains to be seen. (Dec. 23)

14. We Bought a Zoo
Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) wrote and directed this based-on-a-true-story feature about a single dad (Matt Damon) who tries to jumpstart his life by taking his two children to a new home in the country that happens to be part of a zoo. Heartwarming and life-affirming, the film also stars Scarlett Johansson, Elle Fanning and Thomas Haden Church. (Dec. 23)

15. The Darkest Hour
A group of young American tourists in Russia find themselves scrambling for survival when malevolent aliens invade the earth. At least it isn’t in 3-D. With Emile Hirsch and Olivia Thirlby. (Dec. 25)

16. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Sandra Bullock stars as a widow who is trying to come to terms with the death of her husband (Tom Hanks), who was killed during the attacks of 9/11. Her son copes with the tragedy by searching New York City for the lock that matches a key his father left him. Along the way, he meets a variety of people who help him cope with his grief. With Viola Davis, Max von Sydow, John Goodman and James Gandolfini. (Dec. 25)

17. War Horse
Steven Spielberg’s second holiday entry is an adaptation of the Broadway hit about a young man who enlists in the British Army during World War I so that he might track down his horse, which was taken by the cavalry unit of this military branch. Expect grand, sweeping action sequences and expect your heart to be tugged. (Dec. 25)

18. The Iron Lady
Meryl Streep portrays former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and focuses on her rise to political power as well as the personal price she paid while in office. This may prove to be the one that finally gets Streep her third Oscar. (Jan. 13)

19. We Need to Talk about Kevin
Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly star as the parents of a teenage boy who goes on a high school shooting spree. Their struggle to determine what their role was in the tragedy and the guilt that ensues is at the crux of the film. (Jan. 27)

20. The Artist
A sensation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, this silent, black-and-white feature follows the life of movie star George Valentin (Jena Dujardin), whose career is cut short by the coming of sound films, and his young lover, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), whose star rises as his falls. Brimming with energy and brilliantly expressive performances, this throwback to another era is a real charmer. (January)

21. Coriolanus
Ralph Fiennes stars as a banished Roman hero in this adaptation of the Shakespearean play. He makes a deal with the devil when he agrees to ally himself with one of his enemies (Gerard Butler) in order to wreak havoc on those who have betrayed him. (January)

22. A Dangerous Mind
Director David Cronenberg looks at the relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) whose professional relationship comes into jeopardy when the latter gets romantically involved with a troubled patient (Keira Knightley). Provocative and engaging, the performances from the three principals drive this intriguing drama. (January)

23. My Week with Marilyn
Told from the point of view of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), an assistant to Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), the film deals with the young man’s efforts to assist Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) during the filming of The Princess and the Showgirl. Both of the leads provide marvelous interpretations of these screen legends in this entertaining film that’s not just for film buffs. (January)

24. Shame
Michael Fassbender stars as a New York business executive whose addiction to sex threatens to consume him. His predatory lifestyle is upset by an unexpected visit from his equally troubled sister (Carey Mulligan). Saddled with an NC-17 rating, this will be a hard sell for Fox Searchlight, but this daring film needs to be seen for Fassbender’s performance alone. (January)

25. Albert Nobbs
Glenn Close, looking an awful lot like Robin Williams, stars as a woman who masquerades as a man in order to get a position as a butler to survive. While this seems like a good idea at the time, as the years pass, she realizes she’s trapped in a solitary life. (February)

26. Rampart
Woody Harrelson reunites with director Oren Moverman (The Messenger) as a Los Angeles cop who begins to crack under the strain of trying to survive on the streets every day and deal with his family responsibilities. (February)

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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