Top 10 of 2010


It’s that time of year again, the time when critics both well-known and unknown create their lists of movies that were the very best of the year just ended. People seem to love these sorts of things – my top 10 for 2009 remains one of my most popular pages in terms of visits on my site. I expect that this page will probably do even better.

As I said last year, these lists are entirely arbitrary and shouldn’t be taken as gospel. For one thing, people’s tastes are different. A movie that may affect me deeply might seem manipulative to you. A movie that floats your boat may seem a waste of time to me. We all have our buttons.

The truth is, assigning a “best of” tag to anything is a highly fluid process. I’ve given these movies a position on the list but the truth is ask me what my top ten is a few weeks from now and it likely won’t be the same as it is here. It might also include one or two movies that I might have missed during the course of the year, or others that I have seen again recently and re-adjusted my opinion of. Hey, it happens – as with women, it is a critic’s prerogative to change their minds.

What gets a movie on this list? The basic qualifier is whether I liked or not. After that, I’m looking at movies that affected me emotionally, or that I thought was innovative either in its storytelling techniques, its look or its approach. While special effects continue to improve and push the boundaries, nothing this year rivaled the complete game changer that was Avatar last year, so you won’t see a lot of special effects-heavy movies on this year’s list, although Inception and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World both came very close indeed.

Some critics limit their list to five movies; others go larger, with 20, 25, sometimes even 50 movies on their list. I’m limiting it to ten; it’s an arbitrary number, and seems to be something of a standard. Five isn’t enough and twenty is too many. Ten seems suitable for a list of movies that I think is worth honoring above and beyond all the rest.

Most of these movies are either in general release at the moment or are available on home video, on demand or on cable. You may not agree with all my choices. You may wonder why I didn’t choose, say, Toy Story 3 or The Social Network (which might be the most controversial omission) or why I did choose the ones I did. As I said, ask me again later and my mind may have changed.

This is meant to invite discussion or at least some thought. You may not agree on all of these films being the ten very best – you may not agree on the order. However, I think that we can all agree that these are all quality movies that have something to offer nearly everyone. If you’re looking to see a good movie, I can pretty much guarantee you won’t walk out of any of these feeling disappointed.

HONORABLE MENTION

There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. In no particular order;

The Social Network, Toy Story 3, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Inception, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, Waking Sleeping Beauty, Get Low, Love and Other Drugs, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Shutter Island, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Secret of Kells, Leaves of Grass, Warlords, A Prophet, Cyrus, The Kids are All Right, The American, Let Me In, MegaMind, I Remember, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.

Also a special shout-out must be made for Montana Amazon, an amazing little indie film that certainly would have made a good case for the top ten but is not scheduled for theatrical release until 2011. If it comes to your town, by all means seek it out. If you’re interested in reading the original reviews, just click on the title.

10.  MID-AUGUST LUNCH (PRANZO DI FERRAGOSTO)

(Zeitgeist) Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria De Franciscis, Marina Cacciotti, Maria Cali, Grazia Csarini Storza, Alfonso Santagata, Luigi Marchetti, Marcello Ottolenghi, Petre Rosu. Directed by Gianni Di Gregorio

Released March 17, 2010 I first saw this at the Florida Film Festival and was overwhelmed by its charm and gentle nature. Here was a movie whose only aspiration was to make those watching it feel better, with perhaps a comment or two on aging in general. Genial Gianni takes on several older women along with his mother for a mid-August holiday in the oppressive heat of Rome. Gianni, chronically unemployed, is swept through life rather than sweeping through it, wanting no more than a good glass of white wine and the ability to cook a good meal.

WHY IT IS HERE: Gianni Di Gregorio wrote, directed and starred in this highly personal project which was based on his recollections of caring for his own elderly mother in the last years of her life. He also filmed it in his own apartment and utilized personal friends in the cast. The end result is a film that feels more like you’ve been invited to lunch by Italian friends, and are sitting around the table talking about this and that with them. Who doesn’t need more of that in their lives?

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Aunt Maria decides to run away and have a glass of wine or three or more. Drunk off her ass, she makes a pass at Gianni when he retrieves her but not before displaying a vulnerable side that comes out of left field.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $675,299 domestic (as of 1/6/11), $9.3 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

9. 127 HOURS

(Fox Searchlight) James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clement Posey, Kate Burton, Lizzy Caplan, Treat Williams, Sean Bott, John Lawrence, Rebecca Olson, Pieter Jan Brugge, Jeffrey Wood. Directed by Danny Boyle

Released November 5, 2010 Danny Boyle won an Oscar with his previous movie Slumdog Millionaire and is in serious contention once again with this movie. He could have gone with a big budget film as his follow-up, done any one of dozens of projects but this was what he chose to follow-up his Oscar party with, the story of a cocky type-A personality who gets into a pickle and has to resort to extreme measures to get himself out. These types of true-life stories may be inspirational on paper but they don’t often translate to Hollywood box office gold, so choosing this project was a brave move in and of itself.

WHY IT IS HERE: Most of the movie takes place in a narrow canyon with Aron’s arm pinned to the wall with a boulder. It’s almost all Franco for the bulk of the movie and Franco delivers with a memorable performance that has to be a major contender for the Best Actor Oscar this year. Nominations for director and screenplay are probably not out of the realm of possibility either. The film takes essentially one person in a confined space for about an hour of screen time and makes it riveting, making this as good a piece of filmmaking as you are ever likely to see.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene in which Aron imagines himself as a guest on a talk show, in which the host asks him some pointed questions is humorous and poignant simultaneously.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $10.6 million domestic (as of 1/5/11), $10.6M total.

BUDGET: $18 million.

STATUS: Theatrical run has been completed for the most part; you may be able to find it in second run theaters. Home video release is tentatively scheduled for March 2011.

8. TRUE GRIT

(Paramount) Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Dakin Mathews, Jarlath Conroy, Elizabeth Marvel, Roy Lee Jones, Ed Corbin, Leon Russom. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Released December 22, 2010 I was none too pleased to find out that one of my all-time favorite westerns was being remade. I’m a big believer that if something ain’t broke, you don’t need to fix it. Most Hollywood attempts to remake classics had ended up in disaster – ask Gus Van Sant about his fling with Psycho sometime. On top of that all, Westerns haven’t been in vogue since, well 1969 when True Grit was first released. I had plenty of misgivings all right – and then I heard it was the Coen Brothers that would be directing it. Sigh. Everything is going to be all right.

WHY IT IS HERE: While this is still the basic plot and the same characters, the whole feel is different. The movie is said to be more in line with the Charles Portis novel the original was based on, and certainly feels more authentic to the time period of the original. The language is very much in line with the way people spoke during that time in history. That said, it isn’t The Duke and it isn’t the original and it will never really replace them, but given that Bridges turns in a performance that is as good as any actor turned in this year, it stands on its own.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Mattie in the pit. ‘Nuff said.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $95.4 million domestic (as of 1/6/11), $95.4 total.

BUDGET: $38 million.

STATUS: The movie is still out in general release in the United States and Canada; overseas release is planned for the early part of 2011. Home video release is tentatively scheduled for May of this year.

7. ALICE IN WONDERLAND

(Disney) Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Anne Hathaway, Matt Lucas, Alan Rickman (voice), Timothy Spall (voice), Stephen Fry (voice), Christopher Lee (voice), Michael Gough (voice), Michael Sheen (voice). Directed by Tim Burton

Released March 5, 2010 From the beginning I thought this was a perfect match. Tim Burton and Lewis Carroll are much like peanut butter and chocolate; two great tastes that taste great together. Burton is one of the few modern directors that has the vision that is even in the same ballpark as Carroll’s.  

WHY IT IS HERE: This is one of the most visually impressive movies of the year. The vision of Underland is whimsical to be sure, sort of like an English garden as seen through a kaleidoscope while smoking a hookah. However, the thing to remember about this Alice is that this isn’t Lewis Carroll’s Alice. This is a different story based on Lewis Carroll’s characters. I guess they decided to keep the name for marketing value.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The Mad Hatter’s victory dance. You’ll know it when you see it.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $334.2 million domestic (as of 1/8/11), $1.0 billion total.

BUDGET: $200 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

6. THE WHITE RIBBON (DAS WIESSE BAND)

(Sony Classics) Christian Friedel, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur, Burghart Klaussner, Ursina Lardi, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Leonard Proxauf, Susanne Lothar, Rainier Bock, Branko Samarovsky. Directed by Michael Haneke

Released December 30, 2009 Although this was released in 2009 in New York and Los Angeles, most of the rest of the country didn’t get to see this until January of 2010. An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, this movie looked at the nature of evil and how it can appear in the most innocuous of places. Filmed in black and white, the movie never really attracted much of an audience which is a shame. It deserved better.

WHY IT IS HERE: The realization of a pre-World War I Germany is one of the best I’ve seen from a modern movie. It captures the nuances of a different era, from the politeness of the children to the monstrous discipline imposed on them. The last vestiges of feudal society are shown in this very chilling and very thought-provoking film.  

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene when the Baroness discovers the ruined cabbage patch is priceless.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $2.2 million domestic (as of 1/11/11), $19.2 million total.

BUDGET: $18 million

STATUS: Available on DVD/Blu-Ray at most online and local home video outlets.

5. WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN”

(Paramount Vantage) Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada, Anthony Black, Daisy Esparza, Bianca Hill, Bill Strickland, Randi Weingarten, Bill Gates, George Reeves, Davis Guggenheim (voice). Directed by Davis Guggenheim

Released September 24, 2010 Guggenheim came into prominence after directing the acclaimed documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Although some decried it, it did bring global warming into national consciousness and made Al Gore hip (briefly). Now, Guggenheim turns his attention on the American public school system, noting that almost everyone agrees it is badly in need of fixing.

WHY IT IS HERE: The movie shows the importance of education and suggests some means of fixing the public school system. While I don’t agree with all of the film’s conclusions (I think that the problem is much more complicated than blaming it on the teacher unions’ refusal to get rid of tenure), it certainly opens up the opportunity for dialogue and hopefully, focuses the attention of more Americans on the problems facing our students who at this point are going to be competing in a global economy insufficiently prepared for it.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The interweaving lottery results as the students being followed throughout the movie await their fate on which their future hangs in the balance.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $6.4 million domestic (as of 1/24/11), $6.4 million worldwide.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Scheduled for home DVD/Blu-Ray release on February 15, 2011.

4. THE FIGHTER

(Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Mickey O’Keefe, Melissa McMeekin, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Jill Quigg, Dendrie Taylor, Kate O’Brien. Directed by David O. Russell

Released December 17, 2010 Six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Bale) and Best Supporting Actress (Adams and Leo) show the members of the Academy were high on this movie and critics gave it high praise as well. The story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward resonated with everyone who’s ever had to struggle to get out of a family member’s shadow.

WHY IT IS HERE: Great performances (Wahlberg didn’t get a Best Actor nomination but many felt he should have) and a terrific story made this one of the year’s highlights. Casting is definitely the key, as the chemistry between the various characters is authentic and compelling. Is it as good as classic boxing films like Raging Bull? No, but it’s damn close!

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The catfight between Amy Adams and the sisters. Classic!

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $72.7 million domestic (as of 1/23/11), $73.4 total.

BUDGET: $25 million.

STATUS: Currently in wide release.

3. WINTER’S BONE

(Roadside Attractions) Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt, Lauren Sweetser, Shelley Waggener, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Isaiah Stone, Tate Taylor, Sheryl Lee, Ronnie Hall, Ashlee Thompson. Directed by Debra Granik

Released June 18, 2010 Every year at the Florida Film Festival, there is always one movie that just seems to capture my attention and imagination, and one that just is so good that it cannot be ignored. This year, even Oscar didn’t ignore it – the movie wound up receiving a nomination for Best Picture, as well as Lawrence for Best Actress and Hawkes for Best Supporting Actor. This is as high-quality an indie film as you are ever likely to see.

WHY IT IS HERE: In some ways, this is a grueling movie to watch. Ree Dolly, as played by Jennifer Lawrence, searches for her wayward drug dealing dad who has put her home at risk. With her mother suffering from mental illness, Ree is it when it comes to her younger siblings and it has cost Ree plenty. She yearns for a normal teenage life, one she knows she will never have. It’s heartbreaking, it’s compelling, it’s a look at the dark side of the mountain people to whom loyalty is a given but truth isn’t necessarily so.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene where Ree crashes a party where the people there are singing; it is both awkward and eloquent at once.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $6.3 million domestic (as of 1/23/11), $7.8 million total.

BUDGET: $2 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

2.  FLIPPED

(Warner Brothers) Madeline Carroll, Callum McAuliffe, Anthony Edwards, John Mahoney, Aidan Quinn, Rebecca de Mornay, Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Weisman, Ashley Taylor, Israel Broussard, Cody Horn, Ruth Crawford. Directed by Rob Reiner

Released August 6, 2010 First love is very special, very frightening and unforgettable. We remember it our entire lives and yet no movie has captured it so beautifully and as touchingly as this one. Director Rob Reiner makes his best movie in years, aided by a wonderful supporting cast (particularly Mahoney) and a pair of juvenile actors who are as good as anybody out there.

WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that flew below everybody’s radar. Critics missed it and audiences certainly did, as the studio gave it a microscopic release. It missed out on major award and fell between every crack that Hollywood has. That makes this a hidden gem just waiting for audiences to discover it. No movie left me feeling as good when I left the theater this year. I highly recommend you seek this one out – you’ll thank me for it later.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The conversation between Juli and Chet…or the one between Bryce and Chet…or the uncomfortable dinner scene with the Loskis and the Bakers…Oh hell, any scene that has Mahoney in it.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $1.3 million domestic (as of 8/6/10), $1.8 million total.

BUDGET: $14 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

1. THE KING’S SPEECH

(Weinstein) Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom, Timothy Spall, Eve West, Roger Parrott, Anthony Edwards, Patrick Ryecart. Directed by Tom Hooper

Released November 26, 2010 The Royal Family is much in the news and on the silver screen lately, with the Royal Wedding set for this year as well as films such as The Queen showing the human side of the family which has often been de-humanized by their status, not entirely of their own doing. Here, we see the courage of habitual stutterer George VI (father to current monarch Elizabeth II) who learns to overcome his affliction with the help of unorthodox Aussie speech therapist Lionel Logue. Rush, who plays Logue, was a producer on the film which received more Oscar nominations (12) than any other this year. Firth has a Golden Globe for best dramatic actor already on his mantle; he’s an odds-on favorite to add an Oscar to his collection.

WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that displays unusual courage and charm, given the subject matter. Some movies just grab your attention from the moment the projector lights up the screen and keep it until the theater employees come in to clean up the theater. This is one of those films. Every performance here is nothing short of amazing, led by Firth and Rush, as well as Carter – all of whom will be competing for acting Oscars in February. Director Tom Hooper brings you into the Royal Family’s boudoir and you feel like a fly on the wall in the palace halls, and that works for me. This is a quality production, from the set design to the costumes to the score and especially to the acting performances. I honestly thought the top three movies this year were very close in terms of quality – I could have been just as happy with either #2 or #3 in this spot – but at the end of the day, if there was one movie from 2010 that you should see for sure, this is it.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Some have mentioned the climactic scene where the King gives his radio address, but I much prefer the scene when George and Elizabeth are revealed to Myrtle Logue as her husband’s clients; it’s charming and shows as much heart as any scene in the movie.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $59.0 million domestic (as of 1/25/11), $108.8 total.

BUDGET: $15 million.

STATUS: Currently in wide release.

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Fall/Holiday 2010 Preview


The difference between summer movies and fall movies are like night and day. Summer is the time of blockbusters, big budgets and megastars. Fall is the time of Oscar contenders, big directors and holiday films. While the biggest movies tend to be released in May and then again right around the July 4th timeframe for the summer season, Hollywood does the opposite in the fall, going with lesser films to begin with and building to release the bigger-splash movies at the end of the year.

That’s not to say there isn’t a share of box office bonanza in the latter half of the year; in fact, the top two box office movies of all time were released in December – which is to say James Cameron’s top two moneymakers, Avatar last year and Titanic in 1997. Nothing on the radar looks to do those kinds of numbers, but the new Harry Potter should do at least $300 million domestically and Tron Legacy may well equal that.

Oscar-watchers are usually busy this time of year keeping an eye out on potential contenders for the most prestigious awards in the film industry. While it’s impossible to know in advance which movies are going to be collecting nominations by the handful – frontrunners can stumble at the gate while dark horses can surprise from out of nowhere – there are always a few safe bets to keep an eye out on. This year is no exception, as Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, Mike Leigh’s Another Year and Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech look to be early favorites.

Besides the two blockbusters I already mentioned, there are a few movies that Hollywood is counting on to add to their coffers this year; The Chronicles of Narnia franchise has moved over to Fox from Disney and the third installment, Voyage of the Dawn Treader is going to be on the radar of fantasy enthusiasts and family filmgoers alike. Disney’s Tangled, Zack Snyder’s The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and DreamWorks Animation’s MegaMind all look to capture a good chunk of the animated feature market this fall, while action enthusiasts will look to True Grit, Red, Faster and Machete to get their fix.

Halloween means horror and there are plenty of movies that look to scare up big box office bucks, including Paranormal Activity 2, Buried, Saw 3D The Traps Come Alive, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Let Me In and My Soul to Take. Those looking for a lighter touch will find plenty of laughs in Gulliver’s Travels, Little Fockers and Morning Glory.

The crisp night air brings out plenty of stars, and 2010 will have a galaxy full of them in movies like The American (George Clooney), Burlesque (Cher), Gulliver’s Travels (Jack Black), Little Fockers (Ben Stiller, Barbra Streisand and Robert DeNiro), Hereafter (Matt Damon), Morning Glory (Harrison Ford), The Fighter (Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale), Everything You’ve Got (Reese Witherspoon), Life As We Know It (Katherine Heigl), Red (Bruce Willis), Faster (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), Conviction (Hilary Swank), The Town (Ben Affleck), Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Michael Douglas and Shia LaBeouf) and Due Date (Robert Downey, Jr.).

So even as the days begin to get shorter that doesn’t mean that your film choices are as well. There is, as always, something to please everyone at the multiplex this fall and hopefully this will help you find a few to anticipate on your own cinematic shortlist for the fall. By all measures, it was a dismal summer at the movies, with few bright spots on a fairly bleak box office horizon; the studios are almost certainly looking to several key movies to help brighten up their year somewhat. In the meantime, keep an eye out for our monthly Four Warned and weekly Previews for further details about the movies you’ll find herein. Enjoy!

SEPTEMBER

September 2010 Preview

September is usually a time to catch your breath after the summer season. Your post-Labor Day offerings are usually a motley assortment of remainders and leftovers that the studios put out mostly as placeholders, meant to come and go quickly and hit the home video market early in the New Year. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few gems among the dross, however.

MUST-SEE

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE

RELEASE DATE: September 24, 2010

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Ryan Kwanten, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Helen Mirren, Richard Roxburgh, Jim Sturgess

STORY: A young owl, enthralled by the tales of his father about a legendary band of warriors, must summon up the courage of a Guardian to defeat the evil Pure Ones and save his people…er, owls.

PROSPECTS: 2010 has been the year of the family film, given the runaway success of Toy Story 3, How to Train a Dragon and Despicable Me. Given the astonishing animation shown in the trailer, this could well join that elite group. The only other competition this month in the family film sweepstakes is the absolutely awful-looking Alpha and Omega. Plus, the last two films on director Zack Snyder’s resume? 300 and The Watchmen.

OBSTACLES: An all-owl cast doesn’t necessarily make this a box office slam dunk. While there isn’t much competition for the Ga’Hoole, families have a tendency to want to get their kids acclimated to school and movies can be a secondary priority.

FACTOID: The books this was based on were written by Kathryn Lasky. The movie is based on the first three of the fifteen books currently in the series.

HOT TICKET

THE AMERICAN

RELEASE DATE: September 1, 2010

STUDIO: Focus

STARRING: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Irina Bjorklund, Bruce Altman, Samuli Vauramo

STORY: An American assassin, weary of bloodshed and brutality, vows this last assignment will be his last. However, when a potential romance begins to cloud his judgment, he finds himself in a more precarious situation than he ever bargained for.

PROSPECTS: The filmmakers have announced that this will be the last movie in the franchise, so that will get people into the theaters on its own. This is the most popular animated film franchise to date.

OBSTACLES: The public may be getting a bit tired of Shrek as those who were kids when the first one came out are well into their teens and early 20s now.

FACTOID: Director Anton Corbijn is best known as a still photographer for album covers and a director of music videos, especially for Depeche Mode and U2.

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS

RELEASE DATE: September 24, 2010

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Frank Langella, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, Charlie Sheen, Vanessa Ferlito

STORY: The sequel to the iconic 1987 film reunites director Oliver Stone and star Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, the disgraced broker who has been released from jail and means to redefine himself and resume his life. He becomes involved with the impressionable young broker who is engaged to marry his estranged daughter.

PROSPECTS: The chicanery of the stock market has never been timelier than now. Certainly, those who made the first movie a hit will be lining up to hear Douglas utter those immortal words “Greed is good.”

OBSTACLES: Some of the issues tackled by the movie may be a little too close to home for an economy-weary audience.

FACTOID: This is the third consecutive non-documentary film directed by Stone whose title begins with the letter “W” (the other two are World Trade Center and W).

RISING STAR

MACHETE

RELEASE DATE: September 3, 2010

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Jeff Fahey, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Lindsay Lohan

STORY: A former Mexican Federale roams the streets of a small Texas town after having been double-crossed by a political spin doctor, a drug lord and a politician. Things are gonna get violent.

PROSPECTS: This started out life as a faux trailer on the Grindhouse double feature, now getting a life of its own as a feature film. Those who loved that film, the Robert Rodriguez El Mariachi films and ultra-violent B-movies of the 60s and 70s are going to love this.

OBSTACLES: Trejo is a great character actor but has never carried a film of this magnitude before. None of the movies that look like this have made a significant box office dent.

FACTOID: This is the first movie to be commercially released for Steven Seagal in eight years. Marin and Johnson both starred in the hit television show “Nash Bridges.”

ALSO PLAYING

SEPTEMBER 3, 2010

THE WINNING SEASON (Roadside Attractions) stars Sam Rockwell as a local misfit brought on to coach the high school girls’ basketball team. Hmm, you think there’s going to be an uplifting finale on this one? Either way, it’s opening up in limited release.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2010

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (Screen Gems) is the fourth installment in the popular videogame-based franchise, finding Milla Jovovich back to take on the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, but this time she’s going after the head of the snake – judging from the trailer, literally. LEGENDARY (Goldwyn) is a family film about a family torn apart by a tragedy that learns to heal through an unexpected means – high school wrestling. WWE superstar John Cena stars in this, which is also getting a limited release. THE VIRGINITY HIT (Columbia) is produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, who have Talladega Nights and The Other Guys to their credit as well as the online site Funny or Die. Here they give four guys a camera and send them out to show just how bizarre and funny losing one’s virginity can be. And here I thought it was just terrifying.

SEPTEMBER 15, 2010

NEVER LET ME GO (Fox Searchlight) is based on the novel by Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro (“The Remains of the Day”). This movie stars Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield (the new Spider-Man) as three kids at an English boarding school in a reality much like our own but just slightly different learning a secret that changes them forever. This is in limited release.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2010

ALPHA AND OMEGA (Lionsgate) is the first animated feature from the mini-major. Two wolves (one at the apex of the pack, the other at the bottom) must co-operate to find a way home after they’re shipped hundreds of miles away by well-meaning park rangers. DEVIL (Universal) is about a bunch of people trapped on an elevator with Satan. Yes, the Satan. I know – been there, done that. EASY A (Screen Gems) has high school goodie two-shoes Emma Roberts facing the fall-out of a little white lie that she’s not a virgin anymore. She decides to use the new notoriety to her advantage. THE TOWN (Warner Brothers) stars Ben Affleck as a bank robber who falls in love with his hostage, and then tries to create a romance between them once he gets away. And yes, he wore a mask so she doesn’t know who he is. So there. CATFISH (Rogue), opening in limited release, has absolutely the best trailer I’ve seen in a long time. It’s about an Internet romance that is being documented by the young man’s filmmaker brother that turns sinister in the blink of an eye. The buzz at Sundance about this film was deafening.

SEPTEMBER 22, 2010

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (Sony Classics) is the newest film from Woody Allen and as is typical for the veteran director, little detail about the plot is available. All we know is it’s about a family dealing with a myriad of romantic issues among several individual members. Also as is typical for Woody Allen, he’s assembled a stellar cast with Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts and Antonio Banderas among others. This will be out in limited release.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2010

YOU AGAIN (Disney) finds a mother and her daughter dealing with their high school demons in the form of their nemeses when her son proposes to the daughter of the mother’s rival – who is coincidentally the mother of her daughter’s rival. Jamie Lee Curtis and Kristen Bell star. JACK GOES BOATING (Relativity) stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Ryan as a pair of isolated New Yorkers who are introduced and find the courage to come out of their shells, face their fears and come together, even as the couple that introduced them are falling apart. From the new distributor Relativity Media (who recently acquired Overture Films), this is opening in limited release on September 17th before getting a wide release this week.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. Since we didn’t include September in last year’s Fall Preview, I’ve chosen some movies that I probably would have previewed had I included September. The budgets and box office numbers are courtesy of Box Office Mojo. My verdicts are based on the typical studio formula that for a movie to break even it must make twice its production budget; any movie that achieves that will be labeled as profitable. I define hit movies as those that make three times the production budget and blockbusters as anything that makes $200 million in domestic box office or more, or made five times the production budget with a minimum of $100 million in domestic box office. The first four movies listed are the four main previewed items; I’ve also chosen a selection of other major releases that made the preview issue as well.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (Columbia) Budget: $100 Million. Domestic Gross: $124.8M Total: $243.0M Verdict: Profitable. SURROGATES (Touchstone) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $38.6M Total: $122.4M Verdict: Flop. WHITEOUT (Warner Brothers) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $10.3M Total: $17.8M Verdict: Flop. EXTRACT (Miramax) Budget: $8M. Domestic Gross: $10.8M Total: $10.8M Verdict: Flop. 9 (Focus) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $31.8M Total: $48.4M Verdict: Flop. GAMER (Lionsgate) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $20.5M Total: $40.7M Verdict: Broke Even. ALL ABOUT STEVE (20th Century Fox) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $33.9M Total: $40.1M Verdict: Broke Even. FAME (MGM) Budget: $18M. Domestic Gross: $22.5M Total: $77.2M Verdict: Hit. THE INFORMANT! (Warner Brothers) Budget: $22M. Domestic Gross: $33.3M Total: $41.8 Verdict: Flop.

OCTOBER

October 2010 Preview

October brings fall weather in more properly, as baseball begins its World Series, football is in the midst of their schedule and hockey and basketball are both getting their seasons underway. At the multiplex, the month is usually dominated by horror movies meant to compliment the Halloween festivities, although there are often some counterprogramming moves going on to get audiences that aren’t looking to be frightened into coronaries at the cinema.

MUST SEE

HEREAFTER

RELEASE DATE: October 22, 2010

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cecile de France, Jay Mohr, Richard Kind, Steve Schirripa, Jennifer Lewis, Lyndsey Marshall

STORY: The lives of three people who have been touched by death in different ways will intersect and be changed by what they think lies in wait after death.

PROSPECTS: Clint Eastwood is on a hot streak; he is one of the few directors who will bring in box office on name alone. The fact that he is doing a movie that has elements of the supernatural to it will only add extra fanboy frenzy.

OBSTACLES: The plot details have been kept very tightly under wraps, leading to the kind of speculation that might cause failed expectations when the movie opens.

FACTOID: Filming stopped for a month while Damon was shooting his scenes for The Adjustment Bureau.

HOT TICKETS

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

RELEASE DATE: October 1, 2010

STUDIO: Columbia

STARRING: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Rashida Jones, Joe Mazzello, Brenda Song, Rooney Mara

STORY: A young Harvard student creates a website that will eventually become Facebook.

PROSPECTS: There are more than 500 million Facebook subscribers, and you would think at least a significant fraction of them will want to go see this.

OBSTACLES: There are no real name stars in it, and you have to wonder if there’s any appeal to those who have limited or no connection to the site.

FACTOID: A cousin of Eisenberg works for Facebook.

SECRETARIAT

RELEASE DATE: October 8, 2010

STUDIO: Disney

STARRING: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Dylan Walsh, Scott Glenn, Dylan Baker, Margo Martindale, Fred Thompson, James Cromwell, Kevin Connolly

STORY: The story of a horse that came out of an unlikely environment to become the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years and race into legend.

PROSPECTS: With the success of Seabiscuit it was proven that movies about horse racing can win at the box office as well. Disney has made a cottage industry out of these sorts of feel-good sports dramas based on true stories.

OBSTACLES: One wonders how many of these kinds of movies the public is going to line up to see; there are already signs that the market has been oversaturated with them.

FACTOID: The race records that the real Secretariat set in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont still stand today, 37 years after the fact.

RISING STAR

BURIED

RELEASE DATE: October 8, 2010

STUDIO: Lionsgate

STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Stephen Tobolowski, Samantha Mathis, Robert Paterson, Anne Lockhart (voice), Erik Palladino

STORY: A contractor working in Iraq awakens to find himself six feet underground but still alive, armed with only a cell phone and a lighter without any idea where he is, why he’s there or who’s responsible. With only 90 minutes of oxygen to sustain him, he must fight panic, despair and delirium to get help, or find a way out.

PROSPECTS: One of the most highly sought-after movies at Sundance instigated a bidding war among the studios. The consensus of those who’ve seen it is that it is one of the most original and gripping thrillers to come along in years.

OBSTACLES: Are audiences ready to see a movie that is essentially Ryan Reynolds in a box for 90 minutes? Certainly claustrophobes won’t be able to sit through this one either.

FACTOID: Thomas Jane and Emile Hirsch were both considered for the title roll until Josh Brolin got the part.

ALSO PLAYING

OCTOBER 1, 2010

LET ME IN (Relativity) stars Kick-Ass breakout star Chloe Moretz as a mysterious young girl who befriends a lonely, bullied young boy. Based on the acclaimed Swedish horror film Let the Right One In. FREAKONOMICS (Magnolia), based on the best-selling book, presents a series of case studies that mix the methods of economic study with pop culture and human behavior. This is to receive a limited release.

OCTOBER 8, 2010

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT (Warner Brothers) stars Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel as the godparents of a baby who although they don’t particularly like each other, become legal guardians of the baby when their parents die suddenly. NOWHERE BOY (Weinstein) tells the story of a young Englishman who can’t stay out of trouble and is brought up by an aunt when his mum turns out to be unable to handle him. The boy will grow up to be John Lennon. STONE (Relativity) has Edward Norton and Robert De Niro facing off as a man convicted of setting a fire to cover up his grandparents murder, and the parole officer who is reviewing his case. In between them is Milla Jovovich, the con’s wife. Finally, TAMARA DREWE (Sony Classics) will be in limited release; it is based on a graphic novel which is itself loosely based on Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd” and stars Gemma Arterton as a young flirtatious woman who returns to her small country village and stirs up passions among the locals.

OCTOBER 15, 2010

RED (Summit) is based on a DC Comics graphic novel about a group of retired CIA assassins who are being hunted down by their present-day counterparts. With a cast including Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman, it looks like quite the romp. CONVICTION (Fox Searchlight) is the true account of Betty Ann Waters’ efforts to free her unjustly convicted brother from prison. Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell star in this early contender for Oscar gold. JACKASS 3D (Paramount) is the return of Johnny Knoxville, Bam Magera, Wee-Man and company for more dumbass stunts, only this time in 3D. Weren’t their 15 minutes up, like, years ago?

OCTOBER 22, 2010

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (Paramount) is the sequel to last Halloween’s surprise hit, this time in a new house with a new family being stalked by the supernatural.

OCTOBER 29, 2010

THE COMPANY MEN (Weinstein) is extremely topical; three men are downsized from their executive positions and are forced to find meaning in their lives that doesn’t revolve around their workplace identities. The trailer for this looked awfully good. MY SOUL TO TAKE (Rogue) is the newest horror offering from genre superstar Wes Craven. Here, a serial killer vows to take revenge on the seven children who were born the night he died. Freddie Kruger, step aside! MONSTERS (Magnet) is a limited release horror film that sees alien life forms taking over half of Mexico, which is now under quarantine. A journalist and a tourist try to make it to the border and safety. Again, a superior trailer has piqued my interest. SAW 3D (Lionsgate) is slated to be the final entry into the billion dollar horror franchise, in which survivors of Jigsaw’s traps get together to talk about old times, unaware that one of them has quite a different agenda in mind.  

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

AMELIA (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $40 Million. Domestic Gross: $14.2M Total: $19.6M Verdict: Flop. SAW VI (Lionsgate) Budget: $11M. Domestic Gross: $27.7M Total: $64.6M Verdict: Blockbuster. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $77.2M Total: $100.1M Verdict: Flop. A SERIOUS MAN (Focus) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $9.2M Total: $31.3 Verdict: Broke Even. THE INVENTION OF LYING (Warner Brothers) Budget: $18.5M. Domestic Gross: $18.5M Total: $32.3 Verdict: Flop. CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT (Universal) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $13.9M Total: $39.2 Verdict: Flop. ZOMBIELAND (Columbia) Budget: $23.6M. Domestic Gross: $75.6M Total: $102.3M Verdict: Hit. MICHAEL JACKSON’S THIS IS IT (Columbia) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $72.1M Total: $261.2M Verdict: Blockbuster. COUPLES RETREAT (Universal) Budget: $70M. Domestic Gross: $109.2M Total: $171.8M Verdict: Profitable.

NOVEMBER

November 2010 Preview

Thanksgiving weekend is a major Hollywood seasonal barometer, and usually there are several movies that Hollywood has high hopes for box office success. This is usually when we start to see some of the more anticipated movies, usually with at least one major blockbuster arriving before Turkey Day.

MUST SEE

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 1

RELEASE DATE: November 19, 2010

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Nighy, Robbie Coltrane, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Felton, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Timothy Spall, Miranda Richardson, Jason Isaacs, Imelda Staunton, Brendan Gleeson, Warwick Davis, Ciaran Hinds, Julie Walters and every British actor still breathing.

STORY: The final showdown between Harry and Valdemort begins as the war between the Deatheaters and the wizards gets underway and spills over into the Muggle world.

PROSPECTS: This is as near to a slam dunk as you’re going to find out of any movie released this year.

OBSTACLES: Those who grew up with the Boy Who Lived are getting too old for…oh, who am I kidding here?

FACTOID: M. Night Shyamalan and Guillermo del Toro were at one time both considered for the director’s chair for the final two installments before the producers decided to stick with David Yates, who did the last two films.

HOT TICKETS

MEGAMIND

RELEASE DATE: November 5, 2010

STUDIO: DreamWorks

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Will Farrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill

STORY: A superhero battle from the viewpoint of the supervillain who, try as he might, can never triumph over the forces of good with his nefarious plans.

PROSPECTS: This could easily become the next Shrek-like franchise for the Second-Best Animated Studio on Earth.

OBSTACLES: The trailer made this look more like a one-trick pony in terms of plot; let’s hope that the finished  has a lot more going for it.

FACTOID: The movie was originally titled Master Mind until it was discovered a TV game show had rights to the name; the title was then changed to Oobermind until it was determined that most people wouldn’t get the reference.

BURLESQUE

RELEASE DATE: November 24, 2010

STUDIO: Screen Gems

STARRING: Cher, Christina Aguilera, Eric Dane, Cam Gigandet, Julianne Hough, Peter Gallagher, Alan Cumming, Kristen Bell, Stanley Tucci

STORY: A small-town girl with a big voice helps to turn around a financially ailing theater, but her notoriety brings some problems she never could have anticipated.

PROSPECTS: Aguilera is one of the hottest musical stars on the planet and Cher is an icon; the combination sounds unbeatable on paper.

OBSTACLES: Cher hasn’t really done anything musical in years; Aguilera has never starred in a movie before. Will audiences flock to see it as they did with Chicago or stay away in droves as they did with Nine?

FACTOID: Gigandet beat out fellow Twilight stars Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Kellan Lutz for his role.

RISING STAR

LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS

RELEASE DATE: November 24, 2010

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Judy Greer, Gabriel Macht, Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt

STORY: The misadventures of a salesman trainee at a pharmaceutical company who’s assigned to push male enhancement drugs.

PROSPECTS: This sounds like one of those quirky movies that emerges from left field to make some real noise.

OBSTACLES: Does anybody really want to see a movie about Viagra?

FACTOID: The movie is based on a novel by Jamie Reidy, who really did work as a Viagra salesman.

ALSO PLAYING

NOVEMBER 5, 2010

DUE DATE (Warner Brothers) stars Robert Downey Jr. as a first-time father trying to get home to be by the side of his wife in time for the birth. Standing in the way is a disaster-prone actor (played by Zach Galifianakis) and a whole lot of country. Shades of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

NOVEMBER 12, 2010

MORNING GLORY (Paramount) stars Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton as feuding morning show hosts, with Rachel McAdams as the producer charged with making the peace – or else! Sounds fairly pedestrian but given the star power will be worth looking into. SKYLINE (Universal) is a sci-fi thriller about a group of people trapped in a high-rise as an alien invasion literally sucks people from the face of the Earth. UNSTOPPABLE (20th Century Fox) stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine as the engineer and conductor trying to stop a runaway train carrying toxic chemicals from hitting a small town. FAIR GAME (Summit), opening in limited release the previous weekend, is the story of Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose cover was blown by a journalist and became a cause célèbre for the antiwar faction.

NOVEMBER 19, 2010

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (Lionsgate) features Russell Crowe as a man whose wife is imprisoned for a murder she didn’t commit. With time running out and his wife suicidal, he determines the only way to save her life is to break her out of prison. Elizabeth Banks and Liam Neeson co-star.

NOVEMBER 24, 2010

THE KING’S SPEECH (Weinstein) chronicles the relationship between speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and King George VI (Colin Firth), whom Logue must help get past a terrible stammer so that he may lead his nation into World War II after the unexpected abdication of his brother Edward. The impressive cast includes Timothy Spall, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon. FASTER (CBS) stars Dwayne Johnson in a welcome return to the action genre. Here, he plays an ex-con out for revenge after his brother dies in the botched robbery attempt that got him sent to prison. TANGLED (Disney) is a sassy animated version of Rapunzel, with a voice cast including Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi.

NOVEMBER 26, 2010

RED DAWN (MGM) is a remake of the 1984 movie that starred the late Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Beals and C. Thomas Howell, among others. As in that film, the United States is invaded, and a resistance group of high school-aged football players is all that stands between us and total annihilation. Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki and Jeffrey Dean Morgan star. It should be noted that given MGM’s precarious financial position that this movie may or may not see the light of day.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON (Summit) Budget: $50 Million. Domestic Gross: $296.6M Total: $709.8M Verdict: Blockbuster. DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Disney) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $137.7M Total: $325.2M Verdict: Flop. NINE (Weinstein) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $19.7M Total: $53.9M Verdict: Flop. THE ROAD (Weinstein) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $8.1M Total: $26.8M Verdict: Flop. 2012 (Columbia) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $166.1M Total: $769.7M Verdict: Hit. PRECIOUS (Lionsgate) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $47.6M Total: $62.9M Verdict: Blockbuster. THE BLIND SIDE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $29M. Domestic Gross: $256.0M Total: $309.1M Verdict: Blockbuster. UP IN THE AIR (Paramount Vantage) Budget: $25M Domestic Gross: $83.8M Total: $163.2M Verdict: Blockbuster. THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (20th Century Fox) Budget: $40M Domestic Gross: $21.0M Total: $46.2M Verdict: Flop.

DECEMBER

December 2010 Preview

The month of December brings fierce competition for the box office dollar, as Hollywood usually releases their big guns. Christmas Day is almost always a big one for movie releases although with it falling on a Saturday this year, there is far more activity going on the preceding Wednesday. Nothing goes with Holiday shopping like an evening at the movie theater as a way to blow off the stress of hitting the malls. Studios are also very well aware that they have to release their films at least in New York and Los Angeles before the end of the month to qualify for Oscar contention, and some of these will hit general release in January.

MUST SEE

TRON LEGACY

RELEASE DATE: December 17, 2010

STUDIO: Disney

STARRING: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Michael Sheen, Beau Garrett

STORY: A young man searches for his father who’s been missing for 20 years. Of course, when your father is Kevin Flynn, we all know where he is and where that search is going to lead – a digital world whose landscape has changed very much since we last saw it.

PROSPECTS: This has a shot at becoming the year’s top grossing film. Only Inception rivaled the buzz of this movie all year long. Director Joe Kosinski and Disney are making all the right moves; great casting, a stellar marketing campaign, a trailer that left all who saw it breathless, and electronic Daft Punk creating the soundtrack. Merry Christmas, everybody.

OBSTACLES: The original Tron, while a groundbreaking movie in its time, is nonetheless 20 years old and may not necessarily speak to its target audience which is far more savvy and sophisticated than the same audience was in 1982.

FACTOID: The movie was shot in just 64 days. However, post-production took 68 weeks due to the pervasive nature of the special effects.

HOT TICKETS

THE FIGHTER

RELEASE DATE: December 10, 2010

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Dendrie Taylor, Jenna Lamia, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Sue Costello

STORY: The true story of boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward, a chronic underachiever who was taken under the wing of his ex-con brother, a former boxer himself, and fought all the way to a championship fight.

PROSPECTS: There is a good deal of Oscar buzz surrounding this movie; true-life boxer movies have a respectable history with the Academy (i.e. Raging Bull, Cinderella Man).

OBSTACLES: The studio hasn’t done a tremendous amount of promotion on this just yet. Sometimes, Oscar buzz doesn’t necessarily translate into box office.

FACTOID: The gym shown in the movie is an actual working gym and is in fact the same one where the real Mickey Ward trained.

GULLIVER’S TRAVELS

RELEASE DATE: December 22, 2010

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet, Billy Connelly, James Gorden, Catherine Tate, Chris O’Dowd, Romany Malco

STORY: The classic Jonathan Swift tale is given a modern update, with an aspiring travel writer getting lost in the Bermuda Triangle, only to find himself in a strange land called Lilliput.

PROSPECTS: This looks to appeal to a family audience to at least a certain extent, or at least that’s how the marketing looks as I write this. If it’s done well, it could give Voyage of the Dawn Treader a run for its money.

OBSTACLES: Jack Black as Lemuel Gulliver? I’m not sure that’s precisely what Swift had in mind when he wrote the book.

FACTOID: Emily Blunt turned down Iron Man 2 to do this movie.

RISING STAR

SOMEWHERE

RELEASE DATE: December 22, 2010

STUDIO: Focus

STARRING: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Michelle Monaghan, Benicio Del Toro, Chris Pontius, Robert Schwartzman, Caitlin Keats

STORY: Actor Johnny Marco lives the high life at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood; a steady stream of girls, a Ferrari, a different party every night and all the pills he can pop. Into that life comes the 11-year-old daughter from his failed marriage and suddenly Johnny is given a choice between two very different lives.

PROSPECTS: Director Sofia Coppola is one of the most respected on the indie scene at the moment; everything she does seems to have legitimate Oscar potential.

OBSTACLES: Her movies may be a little more intellectual than general audiences might accept.

FACTOID: Coppola was the first American woman to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar. She also won a Best Screenplay Oscar for Lost in Translation, making the Coppola family only the second to have three generations of Oscar winners (grandfather Carmine, father Francis and cousin Nicolas Cage); the Huston family (grandfather Walter, father John and daughter Angelica) was the first.

ALSO PLAYING

DECEMBER 1, 2010

BLACK SWAN (Fox Searchlight), opening in limited release, is the latest from director Darren Aronofsky and follows the exploits of Nina, a young dancer in the New York Ballet Company who is tapped to replace the company’s prima ballerina in the upcoming production of Swan Lake. However, competition with another dancer leads to some dark and twisted events. Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder star.

DECEMBER 3, 2010

WARRIOR’S WAY (Rogue) is a new martial arts fantasy from Korea, this time set in the American badlands of the Old West. The impressive cast includes Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth and Danny Huston and concerns an Asian assassin who hides out in a small American town, but his past eventually catches up with him.

DECEMBER 10, 2010

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER (Fox Walden) is the third in the Chronicles of Narnia franchise and the first not to be made by Disney. Here, Edmund and Lucy are sucked into the Narnian sailing vessel Dawn Treader along with their ne’er do well cousin Eustace. On the voyage they’ll encounter fantastic creatures, terrifying trials and embark on a quest to save Narnia from a ghastly fate. THE TOURIST (Columbia) concerns an American tourist trying to mend a broken heart in Venice – good idea, that – and meeting a lovely, exotic woman. The two are soon caught up in a web of intrigue and suspense, as usually happens in Venice. Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie headline, a pairing sure to put quite a few butts in seats.

DECEMBER 17, 2010

THE TEMPEST (Touchstone) is the latest from visionary director Julie Taymor. Here, she takes on Shakespeare – and changes the gender of the lead character from male to female, leaving us with Prospera, a sorceress on a mystical island played by the fabulous Helen Mirren. HOW DO YOU KNOW (Columbia) stars Reese Witherspoon as a woman torn between major league pitcher Owen Wilson and corporate executive Paul Rudd, the latter of whom is going through a rough patch. His father is played by Jack Nicholson, so that’s a big plus right there; the director is James Brooks so that’s another. YOGI BEAR (Warner Brothers) is a live action version of the beloved Hanna Barbera cartoon with the title character computer generated and voiced by Dan Aykroyd, with Tom Cavanaugh as the Ranger. Did we learn nothing from Garfield

DECEMBER 22, 2010

LITTLE FOCKERS (Universal) is the third installment of the hit comedy series and returns Robert de Niro and Ben Stiller as the dysfunctional in-laws. This time, events revolve around the birthday party of Stiller’s twin boys and his ability to be a good dad, a good provider and a good son-in-law. Is this series played out yet? Time will tell.

DECEMBER 25, 2010

THE ILLUSIONIST (Sony Classics), opening in limited release, is an animated feature based on an unproduced script by legendary French comic Jacques Tati. Produced by the same outfit that gave us The Triplets of Belleville, it concerns an old-fashioned stage magician whose livelihood is being marginalized by rock star magicians – until he meets a young fan who will change his career and life forever. TRUE GRIT (Paramount) is a remake of the Oscar-winning John Wayne western by none other than the Coen Brothers. If that isn’t enough to whet your appetite, think Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper in the cast. Yeah, this is on my list of must-sees this holiday season too.

DECEMBER 29, 2010

ANOTHER YEAR (Sony Classics) is also opening in limited release. Not much was known about the plot at press time, but the director is the always-fascinating Mike Leigh and the stellar cast includes Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton. THE DEBT (Miramax) stars Helen Mirren as a former Mossad agent who discovers the man she brought in as a war criminal years ago may not have been the right one.

DECEMBER 31, 2010

BLUE VALENTINE (Weinstein) stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple whose marriage is on the rocks trying to save their relationship in the course of a single night.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

AVATAR (Fox Searchlight) Budget: N/A but thought to be over $300M. Domestic Gross: $749.8M Total: $2.7B Verdict: MegaSuperGinormousBlockbuster. SHERLOCK HOLMES (Warner Brothers)  Budget: $90M. Domestic Gross: $209M Total: $523M Verdict: Blockbuster. INVICTUS (Warner Brothers) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $37.5M Total: $122.2M Verdict: Broke Even. THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS (Sony Classics) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $7.7M Total: $61.8M Verdict: Broke Even. IT’S COMPLICATED (Universal) Budget: $85M. Domestic Gross: $112.7M Total: $219.1M Verdict: Profitable. ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL (20th Century Fox) Budget: $75M. Domestic Gross: $219.6M Total: $443.1M Verdict: Blockbuster. ARMORED (Screen Gems) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $16M Total: $20.9M Verdict: Flop. DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? (Columbia) Budget: $58M. Domestic Gross: $29.6M Total: $85.3M Verdict: Flop. BROTHERS (Lionsgate) Budget: $26M. Domestic Gross: $28.5M Total: $43M Verdict: Flop. THE LOVELY BONES (DreamWorks/Paramount) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $44M Total: $93.5M Verdict: Flop.

So that’s our fall preview. There’s a fairly diverse set of movies here, and at least a couple of them potential blockbusters. As always, be aware that release dates are subject to change, particularly the farther out you go so be sure and check your local listings before going out to the multiplex. For those who have been disappointed with the crop of movies so far, take heart that 2011 is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory. You can see for yourself when the 2011 preview comes out at the end of December.