Top 10 of 2011


The annual ritual of choosing the movies that thrilled, chilled, affected and otherwise dug into the critical consciousness with hooks of steel during 2011 is upon Cinema365 and while our list is posted a bit later than most others, think of it as being a labor of love rather than a necessary evil, a particularly unliked chore.

This is the part where I mention that like any other list, this one is completely arbitrary. There’s no scientific basis, nothing quantitative that I can point to and say “this movie deserved to be on this list because of this.” No, it’s completely from the gut my friends and like any gut this big change is constant. The list you see here today is not the list I would make tomorrow. That’s why it always takes me so long; I hem, I haw, I prevaricate. At last, I assign.

Generally speaking, this list reflects my tastes as I saw the movie. I take all the movies I gave an 8 or greater score to, put the 10s at the top, the 9s below and so on. The half points I generally don’t take into consideration. Therefore you might see an 8 ranked above an 8.5. See what I mean about arbitrary?

So this is all about whether I liked the movie or not. 2011 didn’t see any real game changers in terms of movies that will rank as all-time bests. It is somewhat telling that perhaps the most critically acclaimed movie of the year was a silent movie whose style harkened back to the films of that era. Still, even if none of them may end up as classics that withstand the test of time (and I think a few of them will), all ten of these and the honorable mentions as well, should provide at least a good starting point if you want to take a cinematic  year in review viewing party and stock it up with really good movies instead of just really popular ones.

Some of these movies remain in general release even as we speak; you can head right out to a theater and see them the way they were meant to be seen. Some are already out on DVD/Blu-Ray and you can enjoy them in the comfort of your own home – or they soon will be. Lag time between theatrical release and home video release has been shrinking of late. There are two films on this list that you may find difficult to find either in home video or theaters. Check your local film festival to see if they will be around, or the websites that I have included with the original reviews – you can access those by clicking on the movie title and you can read what I wrote about them way back when.

This is meant to invite discussion or perhaps a heated argument or two. Feel free to submit your own top ten, or harangue me about mine. My skin is thick and I don’t bruise easily. I welcome hearing why my list is full of crap and yours is so much better. That’s why lists are fun.  

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. I didn’t include links here but if you want to read my reviews of any of these, simply type in the title into the search field and have at it. So,  in no particular order;

In a Better World, Hugo, War Horse, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Company Men, The Descendants, Margin Call, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I Saw the Devil, Thor, J. Edgar, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Holy Wars, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Double Hour, Win Win, Bridesmaids, Young Goethe in Love, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Adventures of Tintin, The Happy Poet, The Whistleblower, In Time, Apollo 18, Submarine, Drive.

And with no further ado, let us get on with the countdown:

10.  HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

(Warner Brothers) Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Everyone in England. Directed by David Yates

Released July 15, 2011 The end of an era finally came to pass as nearly a decade of Pottermania had its final moments and the series went out with a glorious bang. Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron would take on the forces of evil in an epic battle that would shake the very foundations of magic itself as Harry and Lord Voldemort finally had the face-off that everyone had been waiting for.

WHY IT IS HERE: There are those who proclaimed it the best film in the series and in many ways they weren’t wrong. This was an emotional rollercoaster that had heroism, villainy, pathos and even a hint of comedy here and there. After the first part of the last book seemed to be all exposition and no action, this movie made for a wonderful payoff. Not everyone would survive but this was a more than satisfactory ending to a series many people grew up with. There were a lot of misty eyes in the theater when the final credits rolled, not the least of which were the Warner Brothers accountants who would see their biggest moneymaking series ever fade into history.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Harry prepares for certain death as he goes into the black forest to compose himself. There he meets the shades of his parents as well as those in the series who had passed on. It was remarkably moving and I for one had tears literally streaming down my face when I saw it. In fact, I’m a bit misty right now just writing about it.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $381 million domestic (as of 1/17/12), $1.3 billion total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on HBO/Cinemax. Download/stream from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Blockbuster.

9. INCENDIES

(Sony Classics) Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulim, Maxim Gaudette, Remy Girard, Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Allan Altman, Mohamed Majd, Nabil Sawalha, Baya Belal, Yousef Shweihat. Directed by Denis Villanueve

Released April 22, 2011 This was nominated for a Foreign Language Film Oscar, representing Canada but very little of it was set in the Great White North. It didn’t win but many thought it should have. A woman follows the path of her mother as she makes a search for the man who is her father, starting in the small village her mother came from in the Middle East. The more she looks the deeper the mystery becomes as she discovers her mother was caught in a vicious civil war between Christian and Muslim factions in that country, leading to a shocking revelation that turns her daughter’s life upside down.

WHY IT IS HERE: There is no movie on this list that will grab your guts quite as much as this one does. While many explore the depths of man’s cruelty to man, here is a movie that takes that cruelty head-on and exposes the ugliness for all to see. Yet even with all this ugliness, there is still lingering hope that tinges the entire film and makes it ultimately an uplifting experience, despite the horror. Forgiveness trumps hatred every time.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene in which a busload of Muslim women meet a horrible end is one that will stay with you for a very long time.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $2.1 million domestic (as of 1/17/12), $3.6M total.

BUDGET: $6.8 million.

STATUS:Currently available on home video. Available on Starz. Download from iTunes/Amazon/Blockbuster. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Streaming unavailable.

8. BUCK

(Sundance Selects) Buck Brannaman, Mary Brannaman, Reata Brannaman, Betsy Shirley, Robert Redford, Bibb Frazier, Betty Staley, Ali Cornish, Shayne Jackson, Smokie Brannaman, Ray Hunt. Directed by Cindy Meehl

Released June 17, 2011 Buck Brannaman is an archetype, a modern day cowboy who is equal parts Roy Rogers and Dr. Phil. His journey from being a trick roper for an abusive father to one of the top consultants to ranchers about horse behavior and horse training (the character of The Horse Whisperer is largely based on him) is a moving one. One look at the trailer which preceded it convinced me that this was going to be a special film and when I got to see it in San Francisco with Da Queen, I found it to exceed those expectations and Da Queen agreed – if you were to ask her, this would undoubtedly be one of her favorite movies of the year as well.

WHY IT IS HERE: This documentary won the Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival last January and it’s easy to see why. Few films – and even fewer documentaries – have as much heart and compassion as this movie does and the reason for it is Brannaman. He is self-effacing, quiet and has a connection to horses that is rare as it is beautiful. He has challenged traditional methods of training for one that is more effective and less traumatic for the horse. These days it can be difficult to be proud to be an American but this movie will allow you to do so, at least for a few hours.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Buck comforts a rancher who realizes that her inexperience and poor decisions regarding her horse have led to the injury of one of her hands and the eventual termination of the horse.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4 million domestic (as of 1/18/12), $4M total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS:Currently available on home video. Available on Showtime. Download from Amazon/iTunes. Stream on Netflix. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

7. FANNY, ANNIE AND DANNY

(Self-Released) Jill Pixley, Carlye Pollack, Jonathan Leveck, Colette Keen, George Killingsworth, Nick Frangione, Anne Darragh, Suzanna Aguayo, Nancy Carlin, Don Schwantz. Directed by Chris Brown

Released April 16, 2010 There are some movies that you will not see outside of a film festival. They are labors of love, made on shoestring budget by filmmakers who are often just learning their craft. Sometimes those movies are learning experiences for the filmmakers; they will go on to bigger and better things eventually but sometimes, you run into quality that stands on its own merit and doesn’t need any sort of qualifier, be it low-budget or inexperience. These films stand proudly with movies that have studio backing and/or indie distribution to be among the year’s best.  

WHY IT IS HERE: Brown’s third feature is an often poignant, generally funny and entirely too human portrayal of a dysfunctional family imploding over the course of a Christmas dinner. On paper it sounds awkward and uncomfortable and there are a few moments where those emotions are present but for the most part you just saw the damage done by years of digging, disappointment and disability. Well-acted (particularly Pixley, Keen and Killingsworth) and droll when it needs to be, this movie should be sent to every studio mogul and director as a primer in how great films can be done on microscopic budgets.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene near the end of the film when Danny’s departure brings down the facade from his mother and shows her to be what she truly is. It’s a marvelous piece of acting by Keen.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: Not available.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS:The movie worked the film festival circuit last year, culminating in a brief run at New York’s ReRun Gastropub Theater in December. The film’s website doesn’t mention any plans for the movie to be released on DVD; hopefully someday it will be available in that formula or for digital download somewhere. Check the movie’s website for updates.

6. THE HELP

(DreamWorks/Disney) Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Mike Vogel, Anna Camp, Brian Kerwin, Mary Steenburgen, David Oyelowo, Aunjanue Ellis, Nelsan Ellis. Directed by Tate Taylor

Released August 10, 2011 Based on a bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, this movie shot to big box office after its release. The amount of success was a bit of a surprise given the subject matter but the quality wasn’t, given the excellent cast. Spencer has already won a Golden Globe for her performance and has received an Oscar nomination, along with Davis. The movie is also up for Best Picture.

WHY IT IS HERE: Some of the strongest ensemble work of any casts this year, for one thing. The writers and director Taylor could have taken the route in which Emma Stone’s Skeeter character was the brave white girl standing up for the oppressed minority (which has been done in other films) but that isn’t the case here; Stone is portrayed as much a cog in the wheel as the axel turning it. This is clearly Davis’ and Spencer’s movie. It’s funny, heartbreaking in places and insightful throughout.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene in which Hilly discovers the truth about the “terrible awful.”

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $169.6 million domestic (as of 1/23/12), $205.3 million total.

BUDGET: $25 million

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from Amazon/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

5. BARNEY’S VERSION

(Sony Classics) Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Scott Speedman, Minnie Driver, Bruce Greenwood, Rachelle Lefevre, Saul Rubinek, Mark Addy, Macha Grenon, Paul Gross, Anna Hopkins, Jake Hoffman, Thomas Trabacchi, Cle Bennett. Directed by Richard J. Lewis

Released January 14, 2011 While it’s true Giamatti would win a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the title character, it was at last year’s Golden Globes. This Canadian film was based on a Mordechai Richler, author of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. For whatever reason it was released in early January instead of late December, effectively ending any shot it had at Oscar contention.

WHY IT IS HERE: Amazing performances from an amazing cast, to be blunt. Giamatti as I mentioned won a Golden Globe and the rest of the cast, from the irrepressible Dustin Hoffman to the breezy Speedman to the gruff Addy to the lustrous Pike all did bang-up jobs. Barney’s journey isn’t an easy one and at times the movie is so heartbreaking you want to run out of the theater – or as the case may be your living room – but staying until the final credits roll is so very worth your while.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Basically, the last 20 minutes of the movie is something special. I was very, very moved.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4.4 million domestic (as of 1/23/12), $8.5 million worldwide.

BUDGET: $30 million

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on Starz. Download from Amazon/Blockbuster/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

4. TROLL HUNTER (TROLLJEGEREN)

(Magnet) Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Morck, Knut Naerum, Robert Stoltenberg, Glenn Erland Tosterud. Directed by Andre Ovredal

Released June 10, 2011 We saw this at the Florida Film Festival and have been a huge fan ever since. While this is one of the “found footage” films subgenre that has been getting overused over the past couple years, it may very well be the best of them, better even than the one that started it – The Blair Witch Project.  

WHY IT IS HERE: Irreverent and fun, this is a theme park ride disguised as a movie. The trolls themselves are obviously CGI but they look exactly how you’d expect them to. Definitely the humor is low-key which some might have trouble with. This is one of those hidden treasures that nobody knows about, but when you get a friend to see it they become instant fans.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Hans filling out paperwork after his latest successful troll hunt.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $253,444 domestic (as of 1/25/11), $4.2 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on Showtime starting February 23rd. Download from Amazon/Blockbuster/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix. Stream on Amazon/Netflix.

3. THE ARTIST

(Weinstein) Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Bitsie Tulloch, Joel Murray, Ken Davitian, Basil Hoffman. Directed by Michael Hazanavicius

Released November 25, 2011 After a good showing at the Golden Globes, The Artist is an odds-on favorite at the Oscars, with ten nominations including Best Picture (which it won at the Globes) and Best Actor for Dujardin (which he also won). This is probably the most critically acclaimed film of the year.

WHY IT IS HERE: This isn’t just an homage to silent cinema but an excellent example of the style of silent films. The humor is a bit broad and the pathos a bit maudlin but the movie works on every level. Even though there is almost no dialogue (there is music on the soundtrack and some sound effects) the acting gets across every nuance of the screenplay without fail. Dujardin, a French comic actor and Bejo, an Argentine actress, make a great team. This is the kind of movie that those who ordinarily wouldn’t choose to go see it are made believers after they’ve given it a shot.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: George’s suicide attempt is a heartbreaker.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $12.4 million domestic (as of 1/25/11), $33.4 million total.

BUDGET: $15 million.

STATUS: Still in wide release.

2.  THE WAY

(ARC Entertainment) Martin Sheen, Yorick von Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Emilio Estevez, Tcheky Karyo, Spencer Garrett, Angelina Molina, Carlos Leal, Antonio Gil, Simon Andreu, David Alexanian, Eusebio Lazaro. Directed by Emilio Estevez

Released October 7, 2011 Walking the Camino de Santiago has always held a fascination to me. I’m way too out of shape to do it myself; this is as close as I’m going to come to doing it myself. I wasn’t impressed by the trailer or the concept originally but was blown away when I saw the film. It is insightful, emotionally authentic and yes it will make you laugh and cry.

WHY IT IS HERE: I am not the most Catholic of Catholics, but this movie gave me a nostalgic twinge in my ecumenical muscle. I also must admit that James Michener’s travelogue Iberia is a book that I’ve read and re-read a dozen times in my life; the chapter about the Camino always sung to me. No movie released this year afforded the opportunity for self-discovery as this one did and much of the responsibility for that goes to Martin Sheen’s dignified but realistic performance, making me realize how much I miss President Josiah Bartlett. Movies this powerfully moving should get as much praise as can be heaped on them.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene where Sara confesses to Tom about her abusive background.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4.4 million domestic (as of 1/26/12), $4.4 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Scheduled for home video release on February 21.

1. KINYARWANDA

(AFFRM) Edouard Bamporiki, Cassandra Freeman, Marc Gwamaka, Zaninka Hadidja, Mursari Jean, Cleophas Kabasita, Hassan Kabera, Mazimpaka Kennedy, Assumpta Micho, Kena Onyenjekwe, Edouard B. Uwayo. Directed by Alrick Brown

Released December 2, 2011 Some movies aren’t seen so much as experienced. This film tells several stories about the Rwandan genocide, from a teenager girl who comes home after sneaking out to attend a party to find her parents murdered, to a courageous priest who tries to save as many of his Tutsi flock as he can, to a pair of soldiers who have varying reasons to want to put themselves at risk in Rwanda. Each story has an enormous emotional resonance and is based on a survivor’s actual experiences.

WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that doesn’t seem like a first feature. Indeed, I have not seen a better film this year. Few films will affect you as deeply as this one; but while it is set during one of the darkest moments in human history, it is not a story of darkness. Rather it is a film about reconciliation and hope, of the extraordinary ability of the human spirit to give the divine gift of forgiveness no matter how heinous the crime, how egregious the transgression. If the Tutsi can forgive the Hutu and move to becoming a single nation after what happened in Rwanda, there is hope for us as a species if we can, as the Rwandans are doing, appeal to our own higher natures. When a movie can provide that for its audience, it is an extraordinary film indeed.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene where one of the soldiers who committed murder in the genocide realizes what he has participated in and what it has cost his soul – with tragic results.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $21,097 domestic (as of 12/4/11), $21,097 total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Kinyarwanda has had a limited release mostly in large cities. It is listed on the Netflix site with an as-yet unscheduled DVD release date, indicating that there are plans to release it in that format.

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The Adventures of Tintin


The Adventures of Tintin

Tintin maps out his next move.

(2011) Family Adventure (Paramount) Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Tony Curran, Gad Elmaleh, Mackenzie Crook, Daniel Mays, Kim Stengel, Sebastian Roche, Cary Elwes, Phillip Rhys, Ron Bottitta, Joe Starr. Directed by Steven Spielberg

 

The children of Europe may be more familiar with Tintin than the children of the United States but growing up he was a favorite of mine and my sister’s. Created by Hergé (the nom de plume of Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi) in 1929, Tintin became a European sensation and a symbol of Belgian national pride until his run came to an end in 1976. Tintin continues to be hugely popular across the pond and while he did make some impact here in the States, his popularity is essentially centered in Europe.

Tintin (Bell) is a young reporter with a nose for news and an aptitude for trouble. He and his dog Snowy are roaming a local market when a model ship catches Tintin’s eye. When he buys it, a pair of gentlemen attempt to buy it away from him with one giving him a dire warning about danger from people “who don’t play nice.” That proves to be true.

The two buyers turn out to be Sakharine (Craig), a professorial and urbane villain and Barnaby (Starr), an Interpol agent who gets shot on Tintin’s doorstep. Tintin’s detective buddies, Thomson (Pegg) and Thompson (Frost) are on the case but they seem more interested in finding a serial pickpocket (Jones) than anything else.

Shortly thereafter Tintin gets kidnapped by Sakharine’s flunkies Alan (Mays) and Ernie (Crook) and brought aboard a dilapidated freighter where Tintin meets Captain Haddock (Serkis), the nominal master of the vessel whose ship has been stolen by Sakharine who paid off his crew and the crucial piece in the puzzle of the location of a fabulous pirate treasure and a centuries-old grudge.

This movie has been long-gestating with Spielberg, a long time avowed Tintin fan. Spielberg approached Peter Jackson of the Lord of the Rings movies to see about creating a CGI Snowy; Jackson in turn persuaded Spielberg to go the motion capture route (although ironically Snowy is a CGI creation). Jackson, also a Tintin fan from childhood, remained involved as a producer, a role he will exchange with Spielberg when the sequel is made once Jackson is through filming the two Hobbit movies he’s currently involved with.

Motion capture has had a checkered box office history with such films as The Polar Express, Beowulf and Mars Needs Moms. Tintin is already a box office success after doing tremendous business in Europe where it was released in late October 2011. American box office has been, in its first weekend of release somewhat tepid although it was never expected to be greeted with the same enthusiasm it was elsewhere in the world.

The look and feel is very much of an Indiana Jones film (which kind of brings Spielberg full circle) with a side dish of The Goonies and a heaping helping of Pirates of the Caribbean. Some people dislike motion capture because of the lifeless look of the human characters (whose faces are often masklike and the eyes lacking spark) but that’s not a problem here; the facial expressions are realistic and there are even times that you forget that you’re watching something generated by a computer.

Spielberg took great pains to make sure the characteristic look of the Hergé drawings are retained here, but they are certainly given three dimensions and are fleshed out (the opening credits, reminiscent of Spielberg’s Saul Bass-esque opening credits on Catch Me If You Can, look more truly like the original comics) which has also caused some purists to grouse.

The plot isn’t anything fans of the series will be unfamiliar with. It might be old hat for some, but to me anyway it never gets old to see an intrepid reporter up to his eyeballs in danger, beset by goons and involved in thrilling chases as they seek a fabulous treasure. This is what the old serials were all about and why I love them so much (and I’m not alone in that).

Bell makes an enthusiastic Tintin and does his job adequately; Serkis, however as the bumbling and alcoholic Captain Haddock is absolutely amazing. He is alternately comic relief and pathos, a man who lives with the burdens of his ancestry on his shoulders and finds himself lacking. There is a good deal of subtlety in his performance that is surprising in a film like this.

The point of this movie is entertainment and on that score it delivers big time. Kids are going to love this movie even if their sights are set on movies that have gotten more hype on the Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon. Tintin may not have the cache in the kid community that Shrek or Pixar might have but once kids give it a chance, they are going to be delighted. Adults will also find this fun and energetic enough to keep their interest. This isn’t quite as good as, say, Hugo but it makes for a great holiday movie to take your kids to.

REASONS TO GO: Nonstop action and adventure and the motion capture is photorealistic enough to make you forget from time to time that you’re watching computer-generated images.

REASONS TO STAY: Runs a little long and might be too intimidating for little kids.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some action-adventure violence, a fair amount of drunkenness on the part of Haddock and some smoking here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Spielberg became a fan of Tintin after a review comparing Raiders of the Lost Ark to Tintin piqued his interest enough to investigate the artwork. He has had the rights to the series since 1983; this is the first time he has made a movie based on a comic book character and is also the first animated feature he has directed.

HOME OR THEATER: I think this should be seen in the theater if possible and yes, in 3D if you can.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

New Releases for the Week of December 23, 2011


December 23, 2011

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL

(Paramount) Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Josh Holloway, Michael Nyqvist, Michelle Monaghan, Lea Seadoux, Anil Kapoor, Tom Wilkinson, Ving Rhames. Directed by Brad Bird

Although this has been out since last week it’s only been available in the IMAX format and is just now being released to regular theaters. In the fourth installment in the franchise, the IMF is faced with its darkest crisis ever – the agency has been implicated in a global terrorist bombing plot and the entire agency has been disavowed. It is up to Ethan Hunt and his team to discover who’s really behind the threat and clear the IMF from blame, or else be captured and tried as terrorists.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes, a promo and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Spy Action

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense action and violence)

The Adventures of Tintin

(Paramount) Jamie Bell, Simon Pegg, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis. One of the most beloved comic characters in Europe gets a motion capture film of his own directed by none other than Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson. In this, the first of a projected franchise, the intrepid boy reported Tintin chases after the mysterious cargo of the legendary shipwreck the S.S. Unicorn which may yield untold power but also hunting for the wreck is the nefarious Red Rackham (NOTE: This movie opened today and is now playing in theaters everywhere).

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Family Adventure

Rating: PG (for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking)

The Artist

(Weinstein) Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, Malcolm McDowell, John Goodman.  As the silent movie era begins to fade away with the advent of the talkies, a silent movie star sees his stardom slip away from him. Even as he does, a young ingénue he discovered sees her own star rise into the heavens. Their destinies intersect in this charming, bittersweet and ultimately triumphant love story that has earned all sorts of critical awards and may have the loudest Oscar buzz of any film out there.

See the trailer, a clip and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for a disturbing image and a crude gesture)

The Darkest Hour

(Summit) Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor. Five young people visiting Moscow find themselves trapped there when the city is attacked by aliens invisible to the human eye who destroy people using a deadly electrical current. Their situation is further compromised when they find out that Moscow isn’t the only city under attack and they must find a way to survive the superior technology of the invaders. This is the latest from Timur Bekmambetov who brought us Wanted (NOTE: This movie is opening on Sunday, December 25).

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Science Fiction Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence and some language)

Don 2

(Reliance Big Picture) Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Boman Irani, Lara Dutta. An Indian crime boss having taken over most of the Asian crime syndicates sets his sights on Europe. Known for his ruthlessness and cunning, he sets out to beat out his European counterparts at their own game.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Thriller

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

(Columbia) Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard. A disgraced Swedish journalist is hired to investigate a 40-year-old murder by a reclusive old industrialist whose family includes Nazis and sadists. He is assisted by a brilliant young hacker who has been the victim of sexual and physical abuse. This is the remake of a Swedish film that is based on an international best seller; many folks were concerned that the Americanization of the film might ruin the source material, but it appears those fears were needless; the movie is being touted as one of the best of the year and a likely Oscar contender (NOTE: This movie opened on Tuesday and is currently playing in theaters everywhere).

See the trailer, promos and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity and language)

War Horse

(DreamWorks) Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irvine. The journey of a horse from bucolic English countryside to the trenches of the First World War is chronicled by master storyteller Steven Spielberg in one of two movies from the director to open this week. Based on a book by Michael Morpurgo (which was also adapted into a stage play), the movie is geared strongly towards family audiences but word has it that older audiences will appreciate it too (NOTE: This movie is opening on Sunday, December 25).

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of war violence)

We Bought a Zoo

(20th Century Fox) Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning. A family, reeling from a tragedy, buy a dilapidated zoo in an effort to make a fresh start. With the help of an eccentric staff, a lot of elbow grease and a willingness to make mistakes, they plough through a series of misadventures that aren’t always learning opportunities.  Their goal is to make the zoo an exciting, fresh place once again but is it possible they have bitten off way more than they can chew?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: PG (for language and some thematic elements)

Four-Warned: December 2011


December 2011Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.
The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE

1. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE (1.0)
2. SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (1.3)
3. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (1.5)
4. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (1.6)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)

1. THE LADY (1.3)
2. THE BIG FIX(1.4)
TIE. CARNAGE (1.4)
4. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (1.8)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

DECEMBER 2, 2011

A WARRIOR’S HEART (Xerxes) Genre: Sports Drama. A young man grieving over his father’s death in Iraq finds solace in a lacrosse camp run by a Native American soldier who served with his dad. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 Was the world really waiting for a lacrosse movie?
ANSWERS TO NOTHING (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Drama. A missing child investigation has different effects on several Los Angelenos hiding their own secrets. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Stellar cast led by Dane Cook in an unusually dramatic role.
THE BIG FIX (Green Planet) Genre: Documentary. Exposes the myth that the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been cleaned up, and shows the troubling control that Big Oil has on our political system. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.4 Could wind up being one of the most important documentaries of the year.
CORIOLANUS (Weinstein) Genre: Documentary. A Roman general, expelled from his city, allies himself with his mortal enemy to take revenge. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (opening in limited release January 20). RATING: 2.0 Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in this adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays.
I AM SINGH (Reliance Big Pictures) Genre: Thriller. In the wake of 9-11, Sikhs are discriminated against and beaten by Americans thinking they are terrorists. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 A fascinating idea for a movie but the trailer looks a bit overwrought.
LADS & JOCKEYS (Music Box) Genre: Documentary. The lives of three inhabitants of a school for horse racing jockeys in Chantilly, France is profiled. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.2 Will definitely appeal to those who love horses and horse racing, not so much to everyone else.
THE LADY (Cohen Media Group) Genre: True Life Drama. Aung San Suu Kyi fights for democracy and peace in Burma against the despotic regime there at the cost of her family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 One of the most compelling stories of our time with one of the most compelling actresses (Michelle Yeoh) of our time starring in it.
OUTRAGE (Magnet) Genre: Crime Thriller. Rival clans vie for position in the Japanese yakuza. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 An ultra-violent Japanese mobster flick looks to be one of the best of its genre in a very long time.
SHAME (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Drama. A man with a sex addiction has his life thrown completely out of kilter when his wayward younger sister moves into his apartment, sparking painful memories of the past. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Michael Fassbender reunites with Hunger director Steve McQueen in a very sexually explicit drama.
SLEEPING BEAUTY (IFC) Genre: Drama. A reckless university student takes a job as a sex worker, allowing old men to have erotic experiences with her as she sleeps; her work eventually commences to bleed into her waking life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A very sensuous, intriguing trailer.

DECEMBER 9, 2011

CATCH .44 (Anchor Bay) Genre: Action. A seemingly straightforward assignment to pick up a drug shipment at an isolated diner turns into a free-for-all orgy of violence and betrayal. Release Strategy: New York City/Charlotte. RATING: 2.9 A great cast including Bruce Willis and Forest Whitaker but a kind of weak trailer.
I MELT WITH YOU (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. Four college buddies go off for an annual weekend in Big Sur but the debauchery leads to some revelations about their dissatisfaction with their lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Cast includes Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven and Thomas Jane, three actors who are always worth seeking out.
IN DARKNESS (Sony Classics) Genre: Biographical Drama. Leopold Socha, a sewer worker and petty thief whose only loyalty is to money, hides Jews in his sewer in World War II Poland. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles one week qualifying run (Opening in limited release January 27). RATING: 2.0 A compelling story from an amazing director.
KNUCKLE (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Documentary. A pair of feuding families in the Irish Traveler bare knuckle fighting underground society are portrayed. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Kind of looks fascinating but kind of doesn’t; I’m not quite sure which.
LADIES VS. RICKY BAHL (Yash Raj) Genre: Bollywood. A slick con artist who uses his good looks to charm women out of their money gets his comeuppance when his victims unite to take him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Lighthearted, effervescent and disposable, this is what Bollywood is all about.
MY PIECE OF THE PIE (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. An out of work single mom takes a job as a housekeeper for a ruthless financial magnate in Paris. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 Cedric Klapisch is one of the best filmmakers you’ve never heard of.
NEW YEAR’S EVE (New Line) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A group of people in varying romantic situations converge on New York City for New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 Along the same lines as 2010’s Valentine’s Day.
THE SITTER (20th Century Fox) Genre: Comedy. A slacker college student living with his mom is forced to babysit three precocious kids, bringing on the chaos in triplicate. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 It’s Adventures in Babysitting with Jonah Hill and if that sounds appealing to you by all means have at it.
TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (Focus) Genre: Spy Thriller. A British spy comes out of retirement to smoke out a double agent in the ranks of the British Secret Intelligence Agency. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (Opening in limited release December 16). RATING: 2.3 One of the greatest novels from one of the greatest espionage thriller writers ever (John Le Carre) finally makes it to the big screen.
W.E. (Columbia) Genre: Romance. A modern romantic looks into the lives of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, whom he gave up his throne for and discovers their relationship wasn’t as perfect as she thought. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (one week Oscar qualifying run; opening in limited release February 3). RATING: 2.9 Madonna’s the director; don’t judge.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Psychological Thriller. When her son turns out to be sociopathic, a mother’s culpability comes under scrutiny. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles 1 week Oscar qualifying run (Opening in limited release January 27). RATING: 1.8 One of the creepiest and most disturbing trailers I’ve seen in a long while.
YOUNG ADULT (Paramount) Genre: Black Comedy. An amoral writer of children’s books returns home for a high school reunion with one eye turned towards the prospect of stealing her high school crush from his wife. Release Strategy: Limited (opens wide December 16). RATING: 2.1 Looks like one of those comedies where you laugh hard and then feel ashamed, but in a good way.

DECEMBER 12, 2011

DAGUERREOTYPES (Cinema Guild) Genre: Documentary. The shops and shopkeepers on the Rue Daguerre in Paris are profiled. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.4 Acclaimed documentarian Agnes Varda takes a loving look at the street on which she has lived for fifty years.

DECEMBER 16, 2011

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS – CHIPWRECKED (20th Century Fox) Genre: Family. While on a cruise, Alvin and the gang are shipwrecked on an island that isn’t as deserted as they thought. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.7 I still can’t figure out how they took a one-joke movie and turned it into a franchise – or why.
CARNAGE (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. Two New York white collar couples gather to discuss a playground incident in which one child was injured by another, when things break down. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 The latest from Roman Polanski boasts an outstanding cast and a wonderfully tense trailer.
CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL (Anchor Bay) Genre: Documentary. One of the greatest producers of “B” movies in history is paid tribute as filmmakers and stars try to recount his rightful place in movie history. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Corman is one of my heroes but the trailer looked a bit like a hodgepodge.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (Paramount) Genre: Spy Action. After the IMF is shut down after being implicated in a global terrorist bombing plot, it is up to Ethan Hunt and his team to ferret out the truth or die trying! Release Strategy: Opening wide in IMAX only (opening in Wide Standard on December 21). RATING: 1.8 This is supposed to be the passing of the torch for the franchise from Tom Cruise to Jeremy Renner.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (Warner Brothers) Genre: Action Suspense. Holmes and Watson are back and this time they’re up against the evil Professor Moriarty in a plot to throw Europe into chaos. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 The first film might have irritated Holmes purists but I found it extremely entertaining and satisfying.

DECEMBER 21, 2011

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (Paramount) Genre: Adventure. An intrepid boy reporter searches for the wreck of a sailing vessel that might have contained a device of unimaginable power. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.5 Already a huge hit overseas, this is motion capture which hasn’t done well here – except it’s never been done by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson before either.
ALBERT NOBBS (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Period Drama. A woman posing as a man in 19th Century Ireland is trapped by her own charade. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Starring and written by Glenn Close, looks awfully intriguing.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Columbia) Genre: Thriller. A disgraced journalist joins forces with a gifted but troubled hacker to solve a 40-year-old murder. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 An Americanization of an extremely well-made Swedish moviemight ordinarily not be welcome but it is David Fincher directing.
PINA (IFC) Genre: Documentary. Choreographer Pina Bausch revolutionized 20th century dance. Release Strategy: New York City only (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.6 Wim Wenders directs Germany’s official entry for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

DECEMBER 23, 2011

DON 2 (Reliance Big Picture) Genre: Crime Thriller. The overlord of Asian crime bosses has his sights set on the European market. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Perhaps an allegory for modern economics.
IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY (FilmDistrict) Genre: War Drama. A Serbian man and a Bosnian woman find each other on opposite sides of the civil war, even though they once were lovers. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 A gut-wrenching trailer bodes well for the directorial debut of Angelina Jolie.
WE BOUGHT A ZOO (20th Century Fox) Genre: True Life Drama. A single dad buys a zoo and moves his family there in an effort to bring them closer together. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 From the look of the trailer, Matt Damon is well-cast here.

DECEMBER 25, 2011

THE DARKEST HOUR (Summit) Genre: Science Fiction. An American tourist in Moscow is stranded when the city is attacked by aliens. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.7 The trailer looks intriguing although hopefully there will be some better eye candy than what we saw.
EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Drama. A young boy who lost his dad in 9-11 is convinced that his father left him a final message hidden somewhere in the city. Release Strategy: Limited (Opens Wide January 20). RATING: 1.0 One of the most emotionally affecting trailers I’ve ever seen; they had me at Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.
WAR HORSE (DreamWorks) Genre: War Drama. Steven Spielberg directs the journey of a horse from its bucolic English farm through the trenches of World War I in France. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 Could be wonderful, but the trailer looked a bit treacly.

DECEMBER 26, 2011

NEWLYWEDS (Tribeca) Genre: Comedy. A newly married couple have to put up with the interference and antics of their somewhat deranged siblings. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 The newest from actor/director Edward Burns, and it looks like one of his best ones yet.

DECEMBER 28, 2011

EL SICARIO: ROOM 164 (Icarus) Genre: Documentary. A hitman for a Mexican drug cartel is interviewed in a hotel room, revealing disturbing details about the drug trade and its political ramifications. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 A compelling subject which may not translate into a visually compelling film.
PARIAH (Focus) Genre: Urban Drama. An inner city African-American teen slowly begins to embrace her sexuality as a lesbian. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 A big hit at Sundance, now finally hitting theaters in time for Oscar consideration.

DECEMBER 30, 2011

A SEPARATION (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. An Iranian man whose wife is divorcing him because he won’t leave his Alzheimer’s-ridden father is accused of a heinous crime by the maid his daughter hires. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Looks interesting.
ANGEL’S CREST (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. A young father’s moment of thoughtlessness results in tragedy; when the local prosecutor decides to zealously pursue the matter, the small town is torn apart. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 The trailer looked plenty harrowing.
THE IRON LADY (Weinstein) Genre: Biographical Drama. The story of Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of England during the Reagan era. Release Strategy: Limited (Expands January 13). RATING: 3.1 Meryl Streep might be looking at another Oscar nomination.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
New Year’s Eve, The Sitter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, The Adventures of Tintin, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, In the Land of Blood and Honey, We Bought a Zoo, The Darkest Hour, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, War Horse, The Iron Lady

Fall/Holiday 2011 Preview


It is a bittersweet time as the lazy days of summer come to an end and for Hollywood, the annual orgy of blockbusters and event movies winds down. It is back to school for the kids, the end of the hot weather and the beginning of cool fall breezes, football and shorter days. Winter is right around the corner but before then, Hollywood still has the end of the year films to tempt your wallets.

The box office figures for this summer can only be termed as disappointing; this summer was one of the most anticipated in years. As I write this, the final box office figures have yet to be determined but it feels like numbers are actually down from last year, both in terms of box office dollars and in theater attendance. Much of that can be attributed to the rise of video streaming and on-demand video through home computers and cable/satellite television services. One can only assume that box office numbers will continue to erode somewhat over the next few years as theater-goers tire of high ticket prices and upcharges for 3D and IMAX screens.

The Fall seasons is also the time of the Oscar watcher. Generally this is when Hollywood releases their films most likely to strike gold at the Academy Awards next year and while it is still too early to determine which movies are going to be the ones to beat this year, you can bet that as the summer comes to an end, movies like The Iron Lady, The Descendants, In the Land of Blood and Honey, We Bought a Zoo, the David Fincher remake of the Swedish hit The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Coriolanus are on Oscar’s radar early on.

The movies that look to be most likely to hit the box office jackpot are Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, The Muppets, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I and Arthur Christmas. There might be some love for Puss in Boots, a spin-off from the highly successful Shrek series.

We’ll see horror movies, particularly at Halloween, and on tap at the moment are Paranormal Activity 3, 11-11-11 and the new reboot of The Thing. For those looking for comedy there’s always Jack and Jill, Tower Heist, New Year’s Eve, The Sitter and What’s Your Number. Action/adventure junkies can take heart in movies like Immortals, The Adventures of Tin-Tin, Real Steel, The Three Musketeers and In Time. Those looking for something more family friendly will have Happy Feet 2, Dolphin’s Tale and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked to choose from, among others.

The fall and winter are a great time for star-gazing and 2011 will have its share. You’ll be able to see Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), George Clooney (The Descendants), Daniel Craig (Dream House and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), Robert Downey Jr., (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), Adam Sandler (Jack and Jill), Ben Stiller (Tower Heist), Hugh Jackman (Real Steel), Robert De Niro (Killer Elite and New Year’s Eve), Matt Damon (Contagion and We Bought a Zoo), Jodie Foster (Carnage), Colin Firth (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), George Clooney (The Ides of March and The Descendants), Kate Winslet (Contagion), Leonardo di Caprio (J. Edgar) and Johnny Depp (The Rum Diary). Those fond of director Steven Spielberg will get a double dose this December with The Adventures of Tin Tin and War Horse, as of this writing slated to come out within a week of one another, although the two films couldn’t be more different.

So there are plenty of movies out there that will be competing for your interest; hopefully this guide will help you find a few. Further details can be found in our weekly Previews and monthly Four-Warned features, and many of the movies you see listed here will eventually make their way to our daily reviews. In the meantime, grab the keys, pack up the kids (if you have any), find that special someone to snuggle in the dark with and enjoy!

SEPTEMBER

September is usually a down time at the box office as kids head back to school and the new fall premieres come out on TV. Generally Hollywood uses the month to sneak in movies that they have less faith in that would get lost in the crush of summer or Holiday movies. Once in awhile there’s a break-out hit, but that’s fairly unusual. There are also occasionally some quality movies amongst the chaff however.

AUTUMNAL EQUINOX

APOLLO 18

RELEASE DATE: September 2, 2011

STUDIO: Weinstein

STARRING:

STORY: Ever wonder why we stopped sending men to the moon? This footage of the Apollo 18 mission, which NASA denies ever took place, explains it all.

PROSPECTS: Found footage films are relatively inexpensive to produce and have often been slam dunk winners at the box office, from The Blair Witch Project to Cloverfield to Paranormal Activity seeing box office success and Troll Hunter critical acclaim. This one takes an intriguing premise and with little box office competition, could make an impressive dent.

OBSTACLES: There’s no telling whether the moviegoing audience has grown tired of the genre, and Weinstein apparently doesn’t have much faith in the film either, moving it all over the schedule from a prime spring slot to a lucrative fall slot to the kiss of death September slot.

FACTOID: This is Spanish director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego’s first American feature.

DRUID RITES

CONTAGION

RELEASE DATE: September 9, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Gwynneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, John Hawkes, Sanaa Lathan, Elliott Gould

STORY: The scientific community races against the clock to find the cure for a lethal airborne virus while outside their walls society is rapidly disintegrating into chaos.

PROSPECTS: Steven Soderbergh is the man behind the Oceans 11 trilogy. Medical dramas like Outbreak when done correctly can capture the imagination of the moviegoing audience.

OBSTACLES: These sorts of killer virus movies have been done to death and one wonders if Soderbergh has anything new to add to the mix.

FACTOID: In March, Soderbergh announced that he would be retiring from the movie business following the completion of the films he is currently attached to.

DREAM HOUSE

RELEASE DATE: September 30, 2011

STUDIO: Universal

STARRING: Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, Marton Csokas, Jane Alexander, Elias Koteas, Lynne Griffin, Fernando Lara, Chris Owens

STORY: A New Yorker relocating to New England with his family discovers that the house he’s moved into was the site of the grisly murders of a mother and her children at the hands of the husband, who survived – and may not be pleased that there is a new family living there.

PROSPECTS: Suburban horror with a stellar cast has been known to strike box office gold from time to time. Craig is one of the more bankable stars in Hollywood at the moment.

OBSTACLES: Might hit a little too close to home for more timid audiences, and one of the major twists in the plot may have been revealed in the trailer.

FACTOID: Craig won the leading role over Christian Bale and Brad Pitt.

SKYCLAD

DRIVE

RELEASE DATE: September 16, 2011

STUDIO: FilmDistrict

STARRING: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks

STORY: A Hollywood stunt driver moonlights on the side as a getaway car driver for hire. When he takes a job for the husband of a neighbor, things get dangerously out of control.

PROSPECTS: This is a brand new studio that’s already had some success with Insidious. There has been some enormous buzz on this since its debut at Cannes earlier this year. The action-packed trailer has only served to fuel appetite.

OBSTACLES: Sounds uncomfortably close to Jason Statham’s Transporter series. Also Gosling has yet to prove himself able to pull in decent box office numbers.

FACTOID: When original director Rob Marshall left, followed by original star Hugh Jackman, Gosling was brought on board and hand-picked Dutch director Nicholas Winding Refn to direct.

CHANTS

SEPTEMBER 2, 2011

SHARK NIGHT 3D (Relativity) finds a group of young people partying on a Louisiana salt water lake one weekend only to discover that the lake has been stocked with sharks. Hungry ones, too – and that can ruin anybody’s weekend.

SEPTEMBER 9, 2011

BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR (Columbia) is a comedy starring Nick Swardson (30 Minutes or Less) as the hapless son of two 70s porn stars who seeks out his fortune in Hollywood’s adult film industry, armed with a tool that isn’t exactly the largest in the shed. Nor the sharpest, I’d wager.  WARRIOR (Lionsgate) pits two brothers against one another in the unforgiving arena of a Mixed Martial Arts championship match. You knew there’d have to be an MMA movie sooner or later.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2011

I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT (Weinstein) stars Sarah Jessica Parker as a frazzled mom trying to balance career and family, which is not unlike juggling land mines while blindfolded. However, Miss Parker looks a lot better doing it than most. THE LION KING 3D (Disney) is a re-release of the beloved Disney classic in 3D and IMAX formats for the first time. Hakuna Matata that, jerkweed. RESTLESS (Sony Classics) is the latest from director Gus Van Sant and is based on the stage play “Of Winter and Water Birds” by Jason Lew. It’s about a couple of outsiders who become drawn to one another because of – or maybe despite – their many quirks. This one is getting a limited release so it won’t be playing everywhere. STRAW DOGS (Screen Gems) is a remake of the controversial 1971 Sam Peckinpah film and stars James Marsden and Kate Bosworth as a pacifist couple who move into a remote version and are eventually pushed further and further into violence.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2011

PEARL JAM TWENTY (Vinyl) is Cameron Crowe’s documentary on the 20 year career of Pearl Jam. They emerged from the Seattle grunge scene to outlive their own genre of music. Utilizing home video footage, concert appearances and rare interviews with the band, audiences will get a rare glimpse at one of America’s most acclaimed rock bands.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2011

ABDUCTION (Lionsgate) stars Taylor Lautner from the Twilight series as a young man who discovers that the life he’s been leading is a lie when he discovers his picture on a missing child website. The more he digs into his past, the more danger he unearths and soon he is on the run from federal operatives and mysterious forces. DOLPHIN TALE 3D (Warner Brothers) is based on the true story of Winter the dolphin whose tale had to be amputated after she was caught in a lobster trap. Through the courage, inventiveness and resourcefulness of a team of volunteers, veterinarians and engineers, a prosthetic is constructed for Winter, allowing her to survive. KILLER ELITE (Open Road) pits Clive Owen against Jason Statham in a deadly battle for survival. Statham is an ex-Special Ops assassin lured out of retirement to rescue his mentor from captivity, but must first take down Owen’s elite team of assassins to get there. MONEYBALL (Columbia) stars Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane who revolutionized the game of baseball a decade ago, using undervalued players to create a championship team.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2011

50/50 (Summit) stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young man who is diagnosed with cancer and with his good friend (Seth Rogen) decides to use humor to help him fight the disease. Anna Kendrick also stars. COURAGEOUS (Tri-Star) is about a group of law enforcement officers grappling with a tragedy that brings on a crisis of faith. WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER (20th Century Fox) features Anna Faris in a comedy about a woman who decides she will sleep with no more men until she finds out if one of the ones she’s been with previously – and there are a lot of them – might just be The One.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. 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.

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $80 Million. Domestic Gross: $55.7M Total: $140.1M Verdict: Flop. THE AMERICAN (Focus) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $35.6M Total: $67.9M Verdict: Hit. WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $72.5M Total: $134.8M Verdict: Made money. MACHETE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $10.5M. Domestic Gross: $26.6M Total: $44.1M Verdict: Hit. GOING THE DISTANCE (New Line) Budget: $32M. Domestic Gross: $17.8M Total: $42.1M Verdict: Flop. THE TOWN (Warner Brothers) Budget: $37M. Domestic Gross: $92.2M Total: $154.0M Verdict: Hit. DEVIL (Universal) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $33.6M Total: $62.7M Verdict: Hit. YOU AGAIN (Disney) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $25.75M Total: $32.0M Verdict: Flop. RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (Screen Gems) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $60.1M Total: $296.2 Verdict: Blockbuster. EASY A (Screen Gems) Budget: $8M. Domestic Gross: $58.4M Total: $75.0 Verdict: Blockbuster.

OCTOBER

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.

AUTUMNAL EQUINOX

REAL STEEL

RELEASE DATE: October 7, 2011

STUDIO: DreamWorks

STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn, Olga Fonda, Karl Yune

STORY: A former boxer whose sport ceased to exist when robots took over boxing, makes a last chance comeback with a broken-down sparring ‘bot and the trust of a child motivating him.

PROSPECTS: In a fairly weak month of releases this one stands out as having the broadest audience appeal. Robots beating the crap out of each other have made box office gold for the Transformers series.

OBSTACLES: Jackman has yet to prove he can pull in an audience playing someone who isn’t Wolverine. Some snide remarks about Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots have been showing up in comments about the movie.

FACTOID: Based on a short story by The Twilight Zone author Richard Matheson.

DRUID RITES

FOOTLOOSE

RELEASE DATE: October 14, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Andie McDowell, Dennis Quaid, Miles Teller, Ziah Colon, Ray McKinnon, SerDarius William Blain

STORY: A transplant from the big city to a small town fights an ordinance that bans dancing and loud music.

PROSPECTS: If this sounds familiar it’s because it is. Everyone over the age of 30 remembers the original movie with Kevin Bacon; the casting of “Dancing With the Stars” winner Julianne Hough is sure to bring some of the audience of that massive hit show.

OBSTACLES: Not sure a modern audience is going to go for what was a hit back in 1984; remember Fame?

FACTOID: The movie has been oft-delayed, with problems retaining directors (Kenny Ortega was at one time scheduled to direct this) and male leads (both Zac Efron and Chace Crawford came and went in the lead role).

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3

RELEASE DATE: October 21, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Zayd Jaber, Katie Featherston (rumored), Molly Ephraim (rumored)

STORY: A prequel to the first two Paranormal Activity movies shows the curse as it originally took over the family.

PROSPECTS: With the Saw franchise at an end, this looks to take its place as the newest Halloween tradition. The first two movies made enormous profits off of tiny budgets and there’s no reason to think this won’t be the same.

OBSTACLES: Prequels aren’t the most popular things among moviegoers. Ask George Lucas.

FACTOID: The newest installment in the series is being directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the auteurs of Catfish.

SKYCLAD

ANONYMOUS

RELEASE DATE: October 28, 2011

STUDIO: Columbia

STARRING: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, David Thewlis, Derek Jacobi, Xavier Samuel, Rafe Spall.

STORY: One of the great debates of intellectuals is whether or not the plays of William Shakespeare were actually written by the man named William Shakespeare. All sorts of theories have been advanced, ranging from Christopher Wren to Christopher Marlowe as the true authors. However, this movie posits a more sinister political agenda and machinations of the royal court.

PROSPECTS: A rare non-genre movie directed by Roland Emmerich (2012, The Day After Tomorrow), the studio is taking a very low-key marketing approach. Fans of Shakespeare in Love might well go for this one.

OBSTACLES: The subject is a little highbrow for general audiences. No big stars to anchor this and Emmerich isn’t known for this kind of movie; whether or not he can pull it off is a mystery in itself.

FACTOID: Rafe Spall is the son of veteran character actor Timothy Spall (the Harry Potter films, Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman).

CHANTS

OCTOBER 7, 2011

DIRTY GIRL (Weinstein) is about a schoolgirl whose sexual misconduct lands her in a remedial class where she’s paired with the school loner in a parenting project. She convinces him to help her run off to California, which is probably not the best of ideas. In THE IDES OF MARCH (Columbia), Ryan Gosling stars as the press secretary for George Clooney’s presidential election team. He believes in the candidate’s cause but is torn between serving a candidate he believes in and one that he thinks can actually win. WANDERLUST (Universal) is the latest comedy to be produced by Judd Apatow and stars frequent Apatow collaborator Paul Rudd who is married to Jennifer Aniston. When they are forced for economic reasons to move into the apartment of Aniston’s brother in Atlanta, they take a detour to a small town name Elysium where clothing is optional and ideas are plentiful.

OCTOBER 14, 2011

THE BIG YEAR (20th Century Fox) stars Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson as three rival birdwatchers determined to outdo one another in their year’s birding checklist. THE SKIN I LIVE IN (Sony Classics) is the latest from legendary Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, and stars Antonio Banderas as a plastic surgeon determined to create a synthetic skin that would be burn resistant, something that might have saved his wife’s life. His zeal will lead him to some questionable moral decisions. THE THING (Universal) is a prequel of sorts to the 1982 John Carpenter movie, showing what happened at the Norwegian arctic camp that discovered the alien being and its space craft buried under the ice.

OCTOBER 21, 2011

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (Fox Searchlight) is the sensation from Sundance now making an appearance as a limited release. It’s about a girl who escapes from a cult but finds that what is real and what is being generated from her paranoia isn’t always easy to tell aprart. MARGIN CALL (Roadside Attractions) charts the goings on in an investment bank during the 2008 financial crisis. Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany and Demi Moore star in this limited release. THE THREE MUSKETEERS (Summit) is yet another screen version of the beloved Alexandre Dumas classic, with Christoph Waltz – the best baddie in the biz right now – assaying the role of Cardinal Richelieu.

OCTOBER 28, 2011

IN TIME (20th Century Fox) posits a future in which we stop aging at age 25, but in order to stay alive we must earn every additional minute. Time becomes a new currency, one which Justin Timberlake will go to extreme lengths to redistribute. In JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (Universal) Rowan Atkinson reprises his role as a suave but bumbling British superspy returns from retirement to save us all from a global conspiracy. THE RUM DIARY (FilmDistrict) is set for limited release and is based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson. Johnny Depp stars as a reporter who discovers a massive conspiracy in the Puerto Rico of the 1950s. SAFE (Lionsgate) is the latest Jason Statham action movie (no further plot details were available at present). 

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

HEREAFTER (Warner Brothers) Budget: $50 Million. Domestic Gross: $32.8M Total: $105.2M Verdict: Broke Even. THE SOCIAL NETWORK (Columbia) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $97.0M Total: $224.9M Verdict: Blockbuster. SECRETARIAT (Disney) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $59.7M Total: $60.3M Verdict: Flop. BURIED (Focus) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $1.0M Total: $19.2M Verdict: Profitable. RED (Summit) Budget: $58M. Domestic Gross: $90.4M Total: $199.0 Verdict: Hit. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (Paramount) Budget: $3M. Domestic Gross: $84.8M Total: $177.5 Verdict: Blockbuster. SAW 3D (Lionsgate) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $45.7M Total: $136.2M Verdict: Blockbuster. JACKASS 3D (Paramount) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $117.2M Total: $170.3M Verdict: Blockbuster. LET ME IN (Overture) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $12.1M Total: $24.2M Verdict: Flop.

NOVEMBER

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.

AUTUMNAL EQUINOX

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 1

RELEASE DATE: November 18, 2011

STUDIO: Summit Entertainment

STARRING: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Peter Facinelli, Ashley Greene, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Nikki Reed, Billy Burke, Maggie Grace, Lee Pace, Elizabeth Reaser, Rami Malek

STORY: Teen romance. Werewolves. Vampires that sparkle. Soulful looks. Shirtless hunks. Brooding Byron-like bloodsuckers. Do they really need a plot? Would anyone care if they didn’t have one?

PROSPECTS: Like the Harry Potter saga, the final book in the series is being split up by the studio so that they can make twice the oodles of dollars they’re going to make with the movie. As with all of the other movies in the saga, this is going to do gangbusters the first weekend and then quickly lose steam en route to ginormous box office numbers.

OBSTACLES: A very narrow audience base limits the box office appeal, and this is a movie whose fans lose interest quickly. If it doesn’t have a spectacular opening weekend, it might be in trouble.

FACTOID: Sofia Coppola expressed interest in directing this but only wanted to commit to one of the two movies and the studio wanted to have the same director for both movies so that they could be filmed back-to-back in order to cut expenses.

DRUID RITES

THE MUPPETS

RELEASE DATE: November 23, 2011

STUDIO: Disney

STARRING: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Alan Arkin, Jack Black, Billy Crystal, Zach Galifianakis, Kathy Griffin, Ricky Gervais, Emily Blunt

STORY: The World’s Biggest Muppets Fans try to reunite the Muppets for the World’s Biggest Muppet Telethon ever when a greedy oilman wants to raze the Muppets Theater to get at the oil beneath it. The trouble is getting the Muppets, who have all moved on to new lives, to agree to it.

PROSPECTS: The Muppets are cultural icons who appeal to a whole bunch of different generations of kids who are grown up now and have lots of disposable income of their own.

OBSTACLES: The Muppets have been out of the public eye for much of the 21st century and one wonders if they have enough cachet to appeal to a whole new generation.

FACTOID: This is the first commercially released Muppets movie not to feature Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson as “muppeteers.”

HUGO

RELEASE DATE: November 23, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Emily Mortimer

STORY: A young boy who lives in the walls of a Paris train station discovers a mysterious heart-shaped lock which may hold the key to a mystery that has already cost him his father.

PROSPECTS: Reading the story summary would you have guessed Martin Scorsese? Me neither…but anything the master sets his sights on is bound to be quality work.

OBSTACLES: Scorsese directing young adult fantasy? No guns, no mobsters, no De Niro? Is the public ready for this?

FACTOID: This is the first feature film by Scorsese in seven years in which Leonardo di Caprio didn’t star.

SKYCLAD

THE IMMORTALS

RELEASE DATE: November 11, 2011

STUDIO: Relativity

STARRING: Henry Cavill, Stephen Dorff, Isabel Lucas, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans, Kellan Lutz, John Hurt, Mickey Rourke

STORY: The legend of Theseus, who stands up against a power-mad Greek king in a war that may signal not only the end of mankind but the end of the Gods as well.

PROSPECTS: This will be a preview of Cavill’s much anticipated turn as Superman in next year’s Man of Steel feature. Tarsem Singh is a visually arresting director.

OBSTACLES: Singh has been guilty of too much style over substance in his films and has yet to really knock one out of the park. Cavill as a lead is an unknown quantity.

FACTOID: The movie was initially titled Dawn of War before being changed to War of the Gods with the final name finally chosen last year during filming.

CHANTS

NOVEMBER 4, 2011

A VERY HAROLD AND 3D KUMAR CHRISTMAS (New Line) features America’s favorite stoners trying to save the holidays after accidentally killing Santa and lighting Harold’s Christmas tree on fire. Another ill-advised journey to New York becomes necessary to find the only man that can save them…Neil Patrick Harris! PUSS IN BOOTS (DreamWorks) is a spin-off from the Shrek series in which the beloved feline’s story is told, with one of his greatest pre-Shrek adventures – how Puss stole the goose that lays the golden eggs. TOWER HEIST (Universal) stars Ben Stiller and an all-star cast including Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick as a group of staff members at an upscale posh Manhattan apartment complex who resolve to steal back their life savings from a Bernie Madoff-like financier who absconded with their pension funds.

NOVEMBER 11, 2011

11-11-11 (Not Available) is a horror film from Saw series director Darren Lynn Bousman about an author who heads to Spain to be with his dying father, whose impending fate seems wrapped up in the number 11, a coincidence that turns far more sinister than you can imagine. JACK AND JILL (Columbia) stars Adam Sandler in dual roles as a successful ad executive and his twin sister who drives him crazy. She’s the one who always turns up at Thanksgiving and turns everyone’s life upside-down. Don’t you have a relative like that? J. EDGAR (Warner Brothers) is the story of the notorious FBI director who became one of the most powerful men on Earth. Leonardo di Caprio stars in the title role and Clint Eastwood directs this film which opens in a limited run two days before it opens everywhere.

NOVEMBER 18, 2011

HAPPY FEET TWO (Warner Brothers) carries on with the series. This one focuses on the son of Mumbles, the hero and dancin’ fool of the first movie. Here, his son turns out to have two left feet, not something you want to have when a crisis is hitting Antarctica that will require everyone’s help. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Focus) is an adaptation of the John Le Carre spy novel with an all-star cast that includes Oscar winner Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Ciaran Hinds and Tom Hardy.  

NOVEMBER 23, 2011

A DANGEROUS METHOD (Sony Classics) explores the real-life love triangle between Carl Jung, his mentor Sigmund Freud and Freud’s patient Sabrina Spielrein. The schism that rises between them would eventually give rise to modern psychiatry. ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (Sony Animation) comes from the people who gave us Wallace and Gromit, and is about Santa’s younger son . He’s kind of a screw-up and in fact his love for the holiday is actually turning out to jeopardize Christmas entirely. THE DESCENDANTS (Fox Searchlight) stars George Clooney as an indifferent husband and father who must step up to the plate when his wife is critically injured in a boating accident. This is opening in limited release and is the latest from director Alexander Payne, who also gave us Sideways. PIRANHA 3DD (Dimension) brings our razor-toothed fishy friends to a waterpark. More blood, more boobs…and all in the magic of 3D.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 (Warner Brothers) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $295.0Total: $955.4M Verdict: Blockbuster. MEGAMIND (DreamWorks) Budget: $130M. Domestic Gross: $148.4M Total: $321.9M Verdict: Made Money. BURLESQUE (Screen Gems) Budget: $55M. Domestic Gross: $39.4M Total: $89.5M Verdict: Flop. LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $32.4M Total: $102.8M Verdict: Hit. TANGLED (Disney) Budget: $260M. Domestic Gross: $200.8M Total: $590.7M Verdict: Broke Even. THE KING’S SPEECH (Weinstein) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $138.8M Total: $414.2M Verdict: Blockbuster. DUE DATE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $100.5M Total: $211.8M Verdict: Hit. MORNING GLORY (Paramount) Budget: $40M Domestic Gross: $30.0M Total: $58.8M Verdict: Flop. UNSTOPPABLE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $100M Domestic Gross: $81.6M Total: $167.8M Verdict: Flop.

DECEMBER

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.

AUTUMNAL EQUINOX

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL

RELEASE DATE: December 21, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Lea Seydoux, Josh Holloway, Vladimir Mashkov, Anil Kapoor, Tom Wilkinson, Ving Rhames

STORY: The IMF is closed down after a bombing of the Kremlin is blamed on them. Ethan Hunt and his team must go deep underground to find out what really happened and clear the IMF’s name before they are captured and executed as terrorists.

PROSPECTS: The first three movies in the series have all been big box office bonanzas. This is the closest to an American James Bond as we’ve ever gotten and while the movies don’t have the suave coolness of either Bond or the original TV series, the quick pacing and spectacular action scenes pack in the crowds. Producer J.J. Abrams is a hot commodity right now.

OBSTACLES: Cruise no longer has the box office draw he once did, and is getting a little long in the tooth for these sorts of roles besides.

FACTOID: Director Brad Bird is better known as a director of animated features for Pixar such as The Incredibles and Ratatouille.

DRUID RITES

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

RELEASE DATE: December 23, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Gad Elmaleh, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, Cary Elwes, Alex Hyde-White

STORY: Teen reporter Tintin finds himself having the adventure of a lifetime when he discovers a map to a lost  treasure ship.

PROSPECTS: Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg together? Talk about a dream team! The Tintin comics by Herge are beloved the world over.

OBSTACLES: Motion capture has simply failed to catch on. Tintin is not a well-known commodity inside the United States.

FACTOID: Although the movie once carried the subtitle “The Curse of the Unicorn,” it is actually an amalgam of four different Tintin stories.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS

RELEASE DATE: December 16, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Eddie Marsan, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams, Geraldine James, Kelly Reilly

STORY: The great detective goes up against his arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty in a lethal game of murder and intrigue. Holmes must find a way to win this game or the very course of history may be changed.

PROSPECTS: Downey is rapidly becoming one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. The first Holmes opus was one of the highest grossing movies of 2009. Adding the Swedish star of the Millennium trilogy (i.e. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) adds cachet.

OBSTACLES: I don’t get a sense that there is a great deal of anticipation for this movie the way I did with the first one. Movies that mess with history can really turn audiences off.

FACTOID: Downey and Harris both appeared together in the Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

RELEASE DATE: December 21, 2011

STUDIO: Columbia

STARRING: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Embeth Davidtz, Joel Kinnaman, Goran Visnjic, Geraldine James, Julian Sands

STORY: A disgraced journalist preparing to begin a jail sentence after being convicted of libel undertakes the investigation of the disappearance of a young girl forty years earlier at the behest of her Uncle, the head of a powerful industrial family in Sweden. The journalist is aided by a computer hacker and security specialist who has quite a few skeletons in her own closet..

PROSPECTS: The books and resulting films were wildly popular in Europe and critically acclaimed here. Given some of the twisted aspects of the plot, David Fincher is the perfect choice to direct..

OBSTACLES: The book is more raw than American audiences are used to, with a graphic rape and twisted familial relationships that push the boundaries. How these will translate to an American holiday audience is a bit of a gamble.

FACTOID: The stars of the Swedish version of the film, Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, are appearing in competing films opening this month (Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol respectively). Interestingly enough, both films are sequels.

SKYCLAD

THE IRON LADY

RELEASE DATE: December 16, 2011

STUDIO: Weinstein

STARRING: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Roger Allam, Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant, Harry Lloyd, Olivia Colman, Susan Brown

STORY: The story of Margaret Thatcher, the steely British Prime Minister of the 1980s, comes to life on the screen.

PROSPECTS: Streep’s performance is said to be Oscar-worthy. Last year, Weinstein opened The King’s Speech in a limited run (as they are here) and it didn’t do too badly.

OBSTACLES: Does anyone really want to see a movie about Margaret Thatcher? Director Phyllida Lloyd is better known for directing musicals and stage productions. Is she up for the challenge of a major Oscar contender?

FACTOID: To prepare for the role, Streep attended a session of the House of Commons, visited Lady Thatcher’s childhood home and spoke with her daughter.

CHANTS

DECEMBER 2, 2011

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Oscilloscope Laboratories) is about a mother (Tilda Swinton) trying to cope after her 15-year-old son commits a heinous act. While this is currently listed as a wide release, please note that this particular distributor has never opened a film in anything other than a limited release so do take that into account. CORIOLANUS (Weinstein), opening in limited release, is an adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays and stars and is directed by Ralph Fiennes.

DECEMBER 9, 2011

NEW YEAR’S EVE (New Line) is a companion piece to Valentine’s Day. Like in that holiday-themed romantic comedy, a number of different characters prepare for the oncoming celebration, only this time in New York City and in particular Times Square. An all-star cast headlines.  THE SITTER (20th Century Fox) will remind some of Adventures in Babysitting as a college dropout slacker, living at home with mom, is talked into babysitting a trio of wild, spunky kids next door. The aforementioned slacker is played by Jonah Hill.

DECEMBER 16, 2011

YOUNG ADULT (Paramount) is the latest from screenwriter Diablo Cody. Here, a successful writer of young adult fiction returns home to relive her glory days and maybe, persuade the happily married love of her life to turn his attentions to her. This is opening in limited release the previous weekend. ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS – CHIPWRECKED (20th Century Fox) is yet another reason I’m so very grateful our son is grown and childless for the moment. CARNAGE (Sony Classics) opens in limited release. It is the newest film from legendary director Roman Polanski and depicts two sets of parents whose children got into an altercation, getting together to discuss the matter. Unfortunately, events spiral out of control and descend into something more horrible.

DECEMBER 23, 2011

IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY (FilmDistrict) is directed by Angelina Jolie and is an unblinking, unromantic view of the Bosnian War of the 1990s and is enacted entirely with local performers. WE BOUGHT A ZOO (20th Century Fox) is a true account of how a family bought a dilapidated zoo in the English countryside. It’s a difficult enough task to refurbish the zoo for re-opening that becomes doubly hard when the mother contracts brain cancer. Matt Damon stars.

DECEMBER 25, 2011

THE DARKEST HOUR (Summit) stars Emile Hirsch as an American tourist trapped in Moscow when an alien invasion of strange electric creatures decimates the city. Timur Bekmambetov, the visionary Russian director of Wanted and Night Watch, produced.

DECEMBER 28, 2011

WAR HORSE (DreamWorks) chronicles the adventures of a horse during World War I as he changes the lives of all he encounters, from a trainer on a bucolic English farm to an English cavalry officer, a German soldier, a French farmer and his granddaughter. Steven Spielberg directs.

DECEMBER 30, 2011

A SEPARATION (Sony Classics), opening in limited release, examines an Iranian couple who are torn apart by the strife in the country and by the grandfather’s battle with Alzheimer’s Disease..

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

TRON: LEGACY (Disney) Budget: $170M. Domestic Gross: $172.1M Total: $400.1M Verdict: Made a little money. THE FIGHTER (Paramount) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $93.6M Total: $129.2M Verdict: Blockbuster. GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $112M. Domestic Gross: $42.8M Total: $237.4M Verdict: Broke Even. SOMEWHERE (Focus) Budget: $7M. Domestic Gross: $1.8M Total: $13.4M Verdict: Broke Even. TRUE GRIT (Paramount) Budget: $38M. Domestic Gross: $171.1M Total: $250.9M Verdict: Blockbuster. LITTLE FOCKERS (Universal) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $148.4M Total: $310.7M Verdict: Hit. THE TOURIST (Columbia) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $67.6M Total: $278.4M Verdict: Made Money. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER (Fox Walden) Budget: $155M. Domestic Gross: $104.4M Total: $415.7 Verdict: Made Money. HOW DO YOU KNOW (Columbia) Budget: $120M. Domestic Gross: $30.2M Total: $48.7M Verdict: Flop. YOGI BEAR (Warner Brothers) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $100.3M Total: $201.6M Verdict: Made Money.

So that’s our fall preview. As you can see, there are plenty of different choices competing for your entertainment dollar, so choose wisely. 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. So even though 2011 is grinding to a close, there are some interesting projects going on scheduled for release next year and you can check out some of them in our 2012 preview, due out at the end of December. Thanks for reading and see you at the movies!