Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Samuel West
Directed by: Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Changing Lanes)
Didn’t get enough of a protagonist with polio in The Sessions? Need a follow-up dose of a stuttering king after 2010’s Best Picture winner, The King’s Speech? How about a storyline that seems strikingly similar to My Week with Marilyn? Judging from the trailer, all this and more can be found in Hyde Park on Hudson, the tale of a weekend shared between FDR (Murray) and the King of England. Expect the hallmark sentiment, light humor, and uplifting messages that films of this sort aim for around this time of year. The Academy eats that stuff up. It’s likely the film will garner various acting nominations at the least (especially Bill Murray).
Zero Dark Thirty (R)
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
This is Bigelow’s first film since her Best Picture-winning The Hurt Locker. While the narrative was initially about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, it later included his capture and assassination, as he was actually found during the shooting of the film. With a solid cast, timely subject matter that we all care about, and Bigelow at the helm, this one should please audiences and critics alike. Based on twitter buzz and early critics’ screenings, it may also be a polarizing film come year-end roundups. It’s been uniformly assessed as a clinical work with little-to-no emotional resonance, but is equally admired for its storytelling craft and affect. Regardless, it’s currently holding a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and sitting pretty for a strong Oscar presence.
The Impossible (PG-13)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage)
This one will likely walk a thin line between harrowing realism and schmaltzy weepy. Based on a true story, it follows a vacationing white family that gets caught in the catastrophic tsunami inThailandat the end of 2004. The father (McGregor) and two of his three sons get swept one way, while the mother (Watts) and the other son get washed in an opposite direction. The film documents their struggle for survival and reunion, as they try to get on with the people around them. Acts of compassion, commiseration, and diversity ensue. If the film follows suit with its trailer, its greatest flaw may be an Anglo-centrism that ignores Thailand’s natives—the trailer has a single shot of non-white disaster victims.
Les Misérables (PG-13)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfreid
Directed by: Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech)
If you don’t know the songs and/or haven’t read the lengthy book, you’re probably at least familiar with the iconic image of a forlorn-looking little girl and the title that most of us inAmericaaren’t quite sure how to pronounce. Tom Hooper is hunting for some more Oscars to put on his mantel, and he chose solidly beloved material and a stellar cast to back him up. Judging from the trailers, this seems to be the kind of musical that you don’t have to be a senior citizen or a lit major to love.
For the Nerd Herds
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (PG-13)
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen
Directed by: Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Dead Alive)
After all the hubbub of seeking and swapping directors, New Line ultimately wound up with Peter Jackson returning to Middle Earth. If you don’t know The Hobbit is J.R.R. Tolkien’s prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you should exit this website for a while and consider yourself shamed. First splitting the adaptation into two films, Jackson eventually decided to make it another trilogy. The rumored inclusion of supplemental material from other Tolkien writings is hopefully true, otherwise Jackson will really be stretching the source material to turn a singular and otherwise straightforward novel into three lengthy films (the subsequent installments are subtitled There and Back Again and The Desolation of Smaug). While these films may feel atmospherically different and more minor in scale (we already know what happens), it’s pretty much a guarantee that this prequel trilogy has no chance of suffering a Star Wars-like fate of heartbreaking disappointment and incongruities in the films’ world. Oh yeah, and this one will also have a 3-D release, but the more interesting technological innovation to look out for is its filming in 48 frames per second.
Jack Reacher (PG-13)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Werner Herzog
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie (writer for The Usual Suspects, The Wolverine)
Jack Reacher, a character from a series of Lee Child novels, is incarnated onscreen by a self-assuredly-badass-mode Tom Cruise. It looks like he’ll spend most of the movie walking around with a straight face and clenched fists, dispensing snarky one-liners through unflinchingly stiff lips. The entire thing’s tone will hinge on our ability to buy such a thing. The second trailer (below) is a much more assuring sign than the initial teaser. Reacher is a military homicide investigator who has to clear his name by delving into the case of a captured sniper. The film may fall victim to camp and failed attempts at slick stylishness, but the clever sequence at the end to this trailer should be enough to get people in the theater.
Django Unchained (R)
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz
What better way to celebrate Christmas cheer than with slavery, bloodshed, and Western-style revenge? Tarantino dabbled in history revision with Inglorious Basterds, and he’s up to it again with Django Unchained. Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave whose wife has been taken from him by a band of evil-doers known as the Brittle Brothers, and sold to a plantation owner played by DiCaprio. Waltz is a bounty hunter who recruits Django to help him track down the Brittle Brothers in exchange for returning him to his wife. At one point it seemed like half of Hollywood had been added to the cast. We’ll see how many of them remained, and whether their cameos will be enriching or just distracting. Early critic buzz on twitter is very good. Jeff Goldsmith (@yogoldsmith) tweeted: “The runtime of Django Unchained is around 2 hours & 40 mins & I wanted it to be longer.”
Conventional Holiday Comedies
The Guilt Trip (PG-13)
Starring: Seth Rogan, Barbra Streisand
Directed by: Anne Fletcher (The Proposal, Step Up)
Seth Rogan plays an inventor who needs to travel the country and go door-to-door to sell his invention. Are you still reading after that first sentence? Okay, well Barbra Streisand is his mother who is able to guilt him (hence the title) into taking her along on the road trip. Plan on a handful of funny jokes and scenarios, with the first 80 minutes of arguing and humor culminating in a final 10 minutes of mother-son bonding and attempted heartstring pulling.
This Is 40 (R)
Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Megan Fox, Albert Brooks
Directed by: Judd Apatow (The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up)
This one is in the “conventional holiday comedy” category solely based on form. While the rom-com story beats may play out in traditional fashion, we all know Judd Apatow is peerless when it comes to deft modern comedies about American suburbia. We go for the jokes, the insights, and the heartfelt payoffs. This Is 40 is a semi-spin-off to Knocked Up, this time focusing on Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann), previously side characters to Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl. The plot is plain and revolves around mid-life crises and middle-class family life, but the execution should be rich and poignant.
Parental Guidance (PG)
Starring: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei
Directed by: Andy Fickman (She’s the Man, You Again, The Game Plan)
So far, the most interesting thing about Fickman’s filmography is that if you look at his IMDb page, the poster images for She’s the Man, You Again, and The Game Plan (the three films the site selected for what he is known for) are strikingly similar. Parental Guidance had two writers and two re-writers, which isn’t all that promising. A holiday family comedy like this is generally predictable and clichéd so its jokes and setups will make or break its overall success. Crystal and Midler come to town to visit their daughter (Tomei) and her family, and their parenting style begins to clash with their daughter’s.