BLIZZARDS OF BLOCKBUSTERS, OSCAR BAIT AND SURPRISE PACKAGES
By Kathleen Murphy
Special to MSN Movies
Ho-ho-ho! Hollywood's delivering some mighty enticing cinematic presents for
our holiday pleasure this year. A good thing, too, for those who aren't
confirmed couch potatoes and still like to head into a cozy multiplex after
shopping up and down the mall. It'd be great if the price of admission included
complimentary eggnog -- or a hot toddy to warm us up for the blizzard of
end-of-the-year blockbusters, Oscar bait and holiday family fare, along with
some dollops of fantasy and the supernatural to add spice to the holiday season.
Enjoy these gifts while you can; after the seasonal deluge comes the New Year,
traditional dumping ground for Hollywood's lost causes.
Teens and middle-aged ladies will turn
out in droves to see Edward and Bella finally do it in "Breaking Dawn," the
third installment in the "Twilight" saga. Fan boys will surely devour
"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," in which the sexy logic of detection is
reduced to forgettable action-comedy. But who knows what "Immortals," that
surprise package from cinematic sensualist Tarsem Singh ("The Cell," "The
Fall"), will look like?
Expect an embarrassment of riches from topnotch directors this season.
There's "War Horse," a WWI heartbreaker Steven Spielberg adapted from the hit Broadway
play; "J. Edgar," directed by the venerable Clint Eastwood, with Leonardo DiCaprio adding yet another iconic
American to his résumé; David Fincher's much-anticipated reworking of "The
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," the second version of Stieg Larsson's mega-seller;
the ever-retiring Steven Soderbergh's "Haywire," starring former
martial-arts champ Gina Carano as a secret agent done wrong; and "The
Descendants," from Alexander Payne ("Sideways"), with George Clooney in the kind of role that could very
well catch Oscar's eye.
Giving Spielberg a run for his "A.I." money, Martin Scorsese spins a mesmerizing fairy tale
about "Hugo," a golden boy-toy fashioned by none other than Georges Méliès, one
of the first makers of movies.
The jury's not in on whether actress-cum-earth mother Angelina Jolie can direct, but controversy alone
should draw auds to her "In the Land of Blood and Honey," a Balkan story of love
And look out for them furriners bearing cinematic gifts! David Cronenberg's already won major kudos for "A
Dangerous Method," in which Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Jung (Michael Fassbender) go
mano-a-mano over how to cure a crazy beauty (Keira Knightley). Speaking of crazy, Lars von
Trier delivers the supremely beautiful "Melancholia," arguably one of 2011's
best, and Roman Polanski promotes "Carnage," over dinner, among supposedly
"The Iron Lady," from British theater director (and "Mamma Mia!" perpetrator)
Phyllida Lloyd, showcases Meryl Streep, first lady of American film, as
Margaret Thatcher. Oscar, anyone? (For some reason, Glenn Close's Oscar-bait performance in Rodrigo
Garcia's "Albert Nobbs," playing a woman masquerading as a Victorian butler,
won't see the light until post-holiday season. Maybe the Iron Lady didn't want
Cinephiles should keep an eye out for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," starring
the first-rate Gary Oldman as John le Carré's über-spook George Smiley. This
one's directed by Tomas Alfredson, who gave us that gorgeous vampire parable of
dysfunctional childhood, "Let the Right One In." And Stephen Daldry, helmer of the shattering "The Hours," takes on the trauma of 9/11 from a
child's point of view in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." From France
comes the Cannes Film Festival hit "The Artist," a sumptuous, silent,
black-and-white homage -- yes, you heard right -- to movies on the cusp of
Must-sees for the art-house crowd: Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About
Kevin"; actor Paddy Considine's directorial debut,
"Tyrannosaur"; and "Coriolanus," Ralph Fiennes' freshman foray into Shakespeare.
LAUGHTER IN THE DARK
Who wouldn't want to celebrate
Christmas with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson in "We Bought a Zoo," a gentle
comedy from Cameron Crowe ("Almost Famous")? Featuring widowed dad, motherless
kids and an assortment of loveable animals, "Zoo" looks like a surefire plucker
Two top contenders on the transgressive comedy front are Jonah Hill in "The Sitter" and Charlize Theron in "Young Adult," which reunites
the "Juno"-esque talents of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody. Thank the cinematic
gods that talented Theron and not Katherine Heigl was cast in the latter grown-up
romp: The once-hot property from "Grey's Anatomy" needs "One for the Money," a solo
foray into action-comedy, to stop a long, downhill slide.
Lucky us! As if his last public exhibition of comedic finesse ("Just Go With
It") wasn't enough to last a lifetime, Adam Sandler comes at us two times over, playing
the titular siblings in "Jack and Jill." In the same vein of "more when we would
be happy with less," Garry Marshall follows up "Valentine's Day" with "New Year's Eve," swollen
with stars who portray folks looking to find happiness or just hook up on yet
Speaking of double-whammies, Eddie Murphy's out and about in "Tower Heist,"
another action-comedy crowded with acting talent (Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, et al.), and January's "A
Thousand Words," which sadly smells like a stale turkey.
For moms and dads who like to bundle up the
brood and plow through snowy streets to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas
with bright, shiny animations and adorable beasties, the zoo's well stocked: Antonio Banderas' charming tomcat ("Puss in
Boots"), Arctic birdies ("Happy Feet Two"), and screechy yet somehow beloved
vermin ("Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked"). Or introduce the little and
not-so-little ones to Steven Spielberg's world-famous boy-hero in "The
Adventures of Tintin" (best prepare the impressionables for Tintin's spooky
zombie-eyed look). Meeting "The Muppets" is also on the menu.
'Course, if you want to totally immerse the toddlers in yuletide cute and
cuddly, "Arthur Christmas" is just the ticket. Maybe its terrific British voice
cast -- James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton -- will add weight to
this thin little fable about Santa's dorky son.
Or maybe pater and mater could tie the rug rats down in their seats, then
flee next door to enjoy "A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas." So what if
H&K shoot Santa in the face? Fess up -- it's funnier than chipmunks!