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 Company Men


The Company Men

The future of our prosperity looks grim and grey when you're laid off.

(2010) Drama (Weinstein) Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson, Patricia Kalember, Eamonn Walker, Anthony O’Leary, Angela Rezza. Directed by John Wells

Nowhere else like America do people identify themselves so closely by their careers. In many ways, our jobs are an extremely important element of our self-identity. When that part of ourselves is assaulted by a layoff, it weighs heavily on our psyche, sometimes threatening to destroy the essence of who we are.

GTX is a Boston-based company that started out as shipbuilders before diversifying into other transportation-based industries and at last into non-related industries like health care. However, given the recent economic meltdown and the accompanying downturn in jobs, things are changing for the company’s bottom line and in order to avoid a hostile takeover, the executives of the company – led by CEO James Salinger (Nelson) decide on massive layoffs to try and bring the stock price up.

Bobby Walker (Affleck) is one of the better salesmen for the company but as the shipbuilding division is being gutted he is one of the first to go. At first, he’s pretty breezy about it. Even though he’s driving a Porsche and has a huge mortgage on a house that’s way too big without his salary coming in, he figures it’ll only be a few days and he’ll be working again. He acts as if there is nothing wrong and in fact tells nobody but his wife about his situation, figuring that by the time they suspect anything has changed he’ll have a new business card in his pocket.

His wife Maggie (DeWitt) isn’t so sure. She sees the bills, she knows the score and begs Bobby to economize but he refuses at every turn. His pride won’t allow him to admit that they’re in financial trouble. As days become months, the word gets out that Bobby was laid off (GTX’s layoffs were big news in Boston and most people are aware that the company Bobby worked for had undergone massive cutbacks). When his pragmatic brother-in-law Jack (Costner) offers him work in his home refurbishing business, Bobby turns it down scornfully, which prompts Jack to label him a…well, a part of the male reproductive system.

Phil Woodward (Cooper) is in a whole different predicament. He’s pushing 60 and has worked at GTX essentially his entire life. Now he’s close to retirement and nobody will hire him. He has no future and only an alcoholic wife for comfort. He faces an uncertain future; not able to retire comfortably and no way to resume the high salary he had been pulling, competing with much younger men willing to work for less for the jobs that are available.

Gene McClary (Jones) helped build GTX along with Salinger, his best friend. He has been content to be in charge of the shipping division while Salinger ran the whole she-bang. However, Gene is becoming more and more distressed with what he perceives to be a focus on profit over people. He’s more or less old school, all about building things that are tangible and standing behind the people who build them. He is horrified that the layoffs have nothing to do with production or performance but profit.

This doesn’t prevent him from having an affair with Sally Wilcox (Bello), the human resources executive who has been tasked with giving the bad news to the affected employees. Gene’s wife (Kalember) is distant and all about the perks, like having a company jet fly her out to a spa vacation.

That disappears, particularly when Gene gets the axe himself after failing to support Salinger in the board room. The lives of all these men suddenly need re-evaluation and all of them go at it in different ways; some constructive, others less so. One thing’s for sure – when one is faced with the loss of a significant amount of their identity, it changes the game entirely.

Wells has crafted a simple but timely story that focuses mostly on Affleck’s Bobby Walker character but also gives a goodly amount of time to Cooper and Jones. It’s an impressive cast; even those in smaller roles pull off some pretty impressive work.

In particular I was impressed with Chris Cooper’s performance. If the movie had been released last year when it was originally scheduled to be, he might have merited serious consideration for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Unfortunately, the suits at Weinstein inexplicably decided to push the movie into a kiss-of-death January release, insuring that this would get no Oscar consideration whatsoever next year or any other year for that matter. That’s a shame, because the movie could have used some given the dearth of publicity the movie got.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins helps the picture in a big way, making the corporate offices look faceless and sterile, while taking wide vistas of grey, cold shipyards and blue, sunny suburbs; his work is subtle but goes a long way to setting the emotional tone of the movie throughout.

This isn’t what you’d call the feel-good movie of the year, nor is it the feel-bad movie of the year either – it is simply a rational and sensitive treatment of our own tendencies to be a job-driven society, and how the effects of corporate profiteering further erode American confidence. Perhaps that’s why the executives at Weinstein chose to bounce it around the schedule for over a year before finally giving it a limited release in one of the worst movie-going periods of the year – they may have thought the film hits too close to home for most. 

It’s easy to pat yourself on the back when there are plenty of jobs and lots of opportunities, but as companies streamline and downsize, America doesn’t look quite so number one anymore. While I found the ending to be a bit pat and Hollywood-esque, I don’t mind the concept of the real toll of the economic downturn, the one that they don’t talk about on Fox News. The human cost is what I’m talking about, and that’s a payment that while it can’t be measured quantitatively, will nonetheless be the measure of our nations’ worth when all is said and done.

REASONS TO GO: Very timely subject matter that explores the topic in a sensitive and intelligent way. Terrific acting, particularly from Jones and Cooper.

REASONS TO STAY: Somewhat too close to home for a lot of people. Ending not terribly realistic.  

FAMILY VALUES: The language can be rough and there’s a scene of brief nudity.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is director John Wells’ first feature film. Previously he is best known for his work as in television as a writer/director and creator of shows like “E.R.,” “China Beach” and “The West Wing.”

HOME OR THEATER: Although I think it deserves to be seen, it works just as well on home video as it does in a big theater.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: The Eagle

New Releases for the Week of January 28, 2011


January 28, 2011
Bless me father, for I have sinned…

THE RITE

(New Line) Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciaran Hinds, Rutger Hauer, Toby Jones, Marta Gastini, Chris Marquette. Directed by Mikael Hafstrom

A skeptical seminary student is assigned to exorcism school at the Vatican in Rome despite his disbelief in the devil. He is introduced to an unorthodox priest, one who is a veteran in the war against evil who ultimately introduces him to the reality of faith; if you believe in the goodness of God, then you must understand that there is its opposite – evil personified. The young student, so well-versed in the practical, must find his faith in the spiritual or else be condemned to burn in the fires of Hell.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images and language including sexual references)

 
Another Year

(Sony Classics) Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Ruth Sheen. The latest from acclaimed director Mike Leigh examines the relationship of a middle-aged couple through the seasons of their life through triumphs and tragedies, as chronicled by the presence of friends who use the couple as confidantes to their own issues.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard,

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some language)

Biutiful

(Roadside Attractions) Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib, Guillermo Estrella. A career criminal in the Barcelona underworld discovers he has a fatal disease. Devoted to his small children, he struggles to find a way to secure their future while suffering from the effects of his illness and staving off the inherent dangers of his chosen career.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for disturbing images, language, some sexual content, nudity and drug use)

Blue Valentine

(Weinstein) Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Mike Vogel, John Dornan. A couple whose marriage is crumbling makes one last desperate attempt to rescue their relationship in a single night. As memories of their courtship color their perceptions of one another, they find refuge in sex and violence which may ultimately be their salvation – or their destruction.

See the trailer, clips and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Drama

Rating: R (for strong graphic sexual content, language and a beating)

Casino Jack

(ATO) Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz. The final film of the late George Hickenlooper (a much-respected filmmaker), it chronicles the doings and dealings of Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who was convicted of financial misdeeds concerning Native American casinos and a cast of characters that even Hollywood couldn’t possibly dream up.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and brief nudity)

The Company Men

(Weinstein) Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper. Three executives are laid off as a result of corporate downsizing. All of them, defined by their success and standing in the corporate world, are forced to redefine themselves, learning to take control of their own lives and adopt more lasting terms of self-definition.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and brief nudity)

Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)

(UTV Communications) Aamir Khan, Prateik Babbar, Monica Dogra, Kriti Malhotra. An affluent investment banker taking a sabbatical strikes up a friendship with a laundry boy, which even in modern Mumbai is just not done. As the relationship deepens, a friendship with a gifted painter threatens to throw both their worlds into disarray.

See the trailer and featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

The Mechanic

(CBS) Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, Tony Goldwyn. A highly skilled assassin is employed by a “company” who then sends them on assignments. When the assassin’s mentor is killed by the company, the assassin takes on his son to teach him the skills of the trade. Together they are going to go after the corrupt elements in the company – if the bosses don’t get to them first. Loosely based on a Charles Bronson movie of the same name.

See the trailer, clips, promos and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Thriller

Rating: R (for strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity)

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.