Holiday movie season is here

Friday November 16, 2012

Prestige movies, glossy musicals, powerhouse sequels, marquee directors, actors and actresses -- the holiday movie season is upon us. The studios are again bringing out their big guns to draw shoppers to the theaters and attract buzz for the Oscars and the 40 or 50 (or so it seems) awards shows preceding it.

"Lincoln," the Steven Spielberg biopic that opened to glowing reviews a week ago in major cities, arrives today in the Berkshires and it will be heard from when the awards nominations start coming out. "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2," the conclusion of the vampire-werewolf romance saga, also arrives today and won't be heard from when the awards nominations start coming out unless it has been an extraordinary poor holiday movie season.

Following is a look at the season's other films. Release dates are subject to change and some of the movies will be platformed in the cities before fanning out across the country.

Prestige films

Along with "Lincoln," these films are getting most of the chatter as the Thanksgiving through New Year's awards race heats up.

Winner of the best film prize at the Toronto Film Festival, "Silver Linings Playbook" (Nov. 21) stars Bradley Cooper as a former teacher just out of a mental institution who hits it off with a depressive young woman played by Jennifer Lawrence. Both stars are getting Oscar buzz. The same goes for John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, as, respectively, a man in an iron lung who wants to lose his virginity and the sex surrogate hired to help him do so in "The Sessions," which opens today.

The successful pursuit of Osama bin Laden is portrayed in "Zero Dark Thirty" (Dec. 19), the first film from director Kathryn Bigelow since she won the best director Oscar for "The Hurt Locker," which also won the Oscar for best picture three years ago. The disciplining of seven Navy SEALS involved in the operation for revealing classified information while serving as consultants to the film certainly testifies to its authenticity. Also on the 19th comes "Amour," a drama about an elderly couple confronting a major health dilemma that won the prestigious Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

The early word is strong on "The Impossible" (Dec. 21), which is based on the true story of a Spanish family caught up in the 2004 tsunami that killed nearly a quarter of a million people. Ewan McGre gor and Naomi Watts star as the couple whose family vacation in Thailand before Christ mas turned tragic. On Christ mas Day, the legendary Broad way musical "Les Miserables" comes to the big screen with Hugh Jackman as the poor Parisian turned respected businessman, Russell Crowe as the relentless police inspector who threatens to expose his true identity, and Anne Hathaway as the factory worker shunned by society for having a baby out of wedlock. The themes of the film, based on Victor Hugo's 150-year-old novel about a revolt against the wealthy and arrogant ruling class, should resonate today.


Previews of "Hitchcock" (Nov. 23) reveal Anthony Hopkins to be convincingly droll, portly and intimidating in his portrayal of the horror director. The film is centered around the filming of "Psy cho," with Scarlett Johansson as the put-upon Janet Leigh. Also on the 23rd, Keira Knightley is the title character in the latest film adaptation of Tolstoy's classic "Anna Karen ina," and Marion Cotillard is a trainer of killer whales who suffers a horrific injury in "Rust and Bone."

Bill Murray is imaginatively cast as Franklin Delano Roosevelt in "Hyde Park on Hudson" (Dec. 7), which de picts the president's dalliance with a distant cousin (Laura Linney) during a weekend visit just a little southwest of here. Also on the 7th, adult siblings await the arrival of their estranged father at a family gathering in "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas," directed by and co-starring Edward Burns.

Two great hams, Christopher Walken and Al Pacino, team up Dec. 14 in "Stand Up Guys," in which Walken's elderly hit man must bump off his long-time sidekick, played by Pacino. Also on the 14th, Alan Cummings and Garret Dilla hunt play a gay couple in the 1970s who adopt a boy with Down syndrome in "Any Day Now."

A natural-gas executive (Matt Damon) and a local en vi ronmentalist (John Kra sin ski) square off in a rural town sitting on a resource that will have to be accessed with fracking in "Promised Land" (Dec. 28), which was written by the two stars.


Gerard Butler's retired soccer star returns home to teach the local kids and pursue their moms in "Playing for Keeps" on Dec. 7. The latest wedding-themed movie to drop off the assembly line is "Save the Date" (Dec. 14), in which one sister (Alison Brie) pushes another (Lizzy Caplan) to get married so she can plan the wedding.

In "This is 40," a spin-off of 2007's "Knocked Up," director Judd Apatow checks in on married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) as they deal with reaching that landmark age. Barbra Streisand returns to the big screen as an eccentric widow who travels cross-country with her son (Seth Rogen) in "The Guilt Trip" (Dec. 25). Also arriving on Christmas Day is "Parental Guidance," starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as baby-sitting grandparents and Marisa Tomei as their micro-managing daughter.


Director Ang Lee brings to the big screen Yann Martel's best-selling novel "Life of Pi" (Nov. 21), the story of a young boy stuck on a lifeboat with four zoo animals, including a Bengal tiger, following a ship rwreck that claimed his zoo keeper parents. A 3D mix of live action and computer animation, the film opened this month's New York Film Festi val to enthusiastic reviews.

Also arriving on the 21st is "Rise of the Guardians," in which DreamWorks animation reinvents Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and assorted mythological creatures as a team of action heroes. Alec Baldwin voices a buff, tattooed Santa and Hugh Jackman is a rib-cracking Easter Bunny.

"The Hobbit: An Unex pected Journey," the first of three prequels to the spectacular "Lord of the Rings" trilogy of films, opens Dec. 14, with Peter Jackson returning as director, Ian McKellen as Gan dalf and Andy Serkis as Gollum. Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins, the adventurous hobbit who ignites JRR Tolkien's extraordinary tales of adventure in Middleearth.


"Red Dawn," a preposterous 1984 film about American teenagers (including Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen) defending their town against Soviet invaders, at least had a Cold War foundation that the needless remake (opening Nov. 21) does not. In the new film, aging teens like Chris Hemsworthy fight off invading North Koreans. North Koreans?

"Killing Them Softly" (now in limited release, wider release on Nov. 23), stars Brad Pitt as a mild-mannered mob enforcer in pursuit of the small-town gangsters who robbed a mob-financed poker game. Another puzzling re boot comes to theaters on the 30th in the form of "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning," in which action geezers Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren try to reignite the 20-year-old "Universal Soldier" franchise as Vietnam casualties brought back to life as government fighting machines.

A casino heist goes awry and brother-sister criminals Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde go on the run in "Deadfall" (Dec. 7). Tom Cruise's former military cop turned drifter pursues a murderous sniper in "Jack Reacher" (Dec. 21), based on the 2005 novel.

Finally, on Christmas Day, comes "Django Unchained," the latest from Quentin Tar antino, the writer-director who specializes in bringing period action films into the modern era with all of their genre cheesiness intact. This time it is the beloved spaghetti-West ern, with Jamie Foxx as a former slave seeking vengeance, Christoph Waltz as a sympathetic bounty hunter and Leo nardo DiCaprio as a ruthless plantation owner.


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