Holiday movie preview
We’re past the seventh-inning stretch in the cinematic season, and now is the time of year when films bear down, get serious, and swing for the fences.
The arrival of the penultimate “Harry Potter” film this week more or less marks the beginning of the awards season. Not that there aren’t a few just-for-fun flicks — Jack Black’s humorous reboot of “Gulliver’s Travels” comes to mind — but for the most part the mood is a more somber this time of year.
Here’s a look at what to expect in the coming weeks as we build toward the Academy Awards and those other, lesser prizes.
Please note, release dates are subject to change.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I — Harry, Hermione and Ron have dropped out of Hogwarts and declared all-out war on evil Lord Voldemort, so expect some serious magical arse-kicking. Plans to present this film in 3D were shelved, though expect Part II next summer to include it.
The Next Three Days — This prison break movie stars Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks and Liam Neeson, and is directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis — and yet the buzz on it is practically non-existent. Never a good sign.
Love and Other Drugs — Set in the 1990s, this romantic drama stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a gigolo pharmaceutical salesman hocking the hot new drug, Viagra. Anne Hathaway is his equal in one-night stands, but then things get serious.
Burlesque — “Chicago” was supposed to bring the musical genre back, but the record’s been spotty since then. This little number stars Cher and Christina Aguilera in the classic (i.e., stale) tale of a small-town girl who gets her big break.
Faster — Dwayne Johnson lays off the kiddie-friendly Disney fare and gets back to his butt-kicking roots in this R-rated revenge action/drama.
The King’s Speech — A whole lot of Oscar buzz is building for this drama starring Colin Firth as King George VI, who led England through WWII despite a severe speech impediment.
Tangled — The new Disney animation flick is a new, boisterous take on the Rapunzel fairy tale. Substitute slo-mo martial arts action for protestations of undying love.
Black Swan — This ambitious drama from director Darren Aronofsky (“The Wrestler”) stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as ballerinas battling for the spotlight. Early reviews are enthusiastic.
I Love You Phillip Morris — Has nothing to do with the tobacco company. Instead, this is Jim Carrey in his daring “Man on the Moon” mode. He plays a homosexual con man who finds the love of his life in prison, played by Ewan McGregor. Could be subversively sublime, or could be a disaster.
The Warrior’s Way — Kate Bosworth, a former It Girl who sorta disappeared for awhile, makes an unlikely comeback in a chop-socky Western that pits ninjas against gunslingers. With Danny Huston as the bad guy, because Danny Huston is always the bad guy.
All Good Things — Of actors under the age of 40, I can’t think of one more talented than Ryan Gosling, who stars in this mystery-drama based on a true story about a wealthy scion who weds working-class girl Kirsten Dunst, to the consternation of daddy (Frank Langella).
Night Catches Us — A gritty drama set amid the Black Panther movement and inner-city crime world of 1970s Philadelphia. Starring Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington.
The Fighter — I’m dubbing this the “The” week: Every movie’s title begins with “the.” This one stars Mark Wahlberg in a biopic about a boxer who made his name by never going down. Christian Bale plays his brother and trainer.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader — The third movie based on the book series by author C.S. Lewis faces an upward climb. After the second film tanked, a new studio bought up the rights and brought in a new director and creative team.
The Tempest — This ambitious, effects-laden take on Shakespeare’s play shakes things up by casting Helen Mirren in the traditionally male role of Prospero. With Russell Brand, Djimon Hounsou, Chris Cooper and Alfred Molina.
The Company Men — This drama’s release date was pushed back from earlier this fall, which bodes ill. Ben Affleck, riding high again after the critical and box office success of “The Town,” plays an upwardly mobile executive who gets laid off and must rediscover himself.
The Tourist — Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie star in this thriller about an American in Venice who gets mistaken for an international killer. From the director of Oscar winner “The Lives of Others.”
Yogi Bear — In the “Garfield” mode of CGI critters paired with regular humans, the cartoon about a talking bear with an addiction for picnic baskets gets a big-screen treatment. With the voices of Dan Aykroyd as Yogi and Justin Timberlake as Boo-Boo.
How Do You Know — James L. Brooks only directs a movie about once a decade, but it’s usually a good one. This comedy/drama stars Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd as a couple who meet on the worst day of their lives: She breaks up with her dim-bulb baseball player boyfriend (Owen Wilson), while he’s being investigated by the government. With Jack Nicholson.
TRON: Legacy — Geeks are practically vibrating in anticipation for this sequel to the 1982 box office flop that became a cult classic. Jeff Bridges reprises his role as a video game designer who gets sucked into the computer matrix, and son (Garrett Hedlund) follows him into adventure.
Country Strong — Some say last year’s “Crazy Heart” was just a remake of “Tender Mercies,” so this drama about a washed-up country singer making her way back could feel like a retread. But the country music biz seems to be genuinely embracing star Gwyneth Paltrow.
Little Fockers — It’s the sequel to the sequel to “Meet the Parents,” a one-joke movie that somehow spawned a franchise. Now Ben Stiller has kids, but father-in-law Robert De Niro is still on his case.
Gulliver’s Travels — Jonathan Swift meets Jack Black in this special effects showcase about a wannabe travel writer who goes from nobody to the next big thing.
Somewhere — Writer/director Sofia Coppola looks to have recaptured the sad grace of “Lost in Translation” with her character study about a party-boy movie star (Stephen Dorff) getting his act together with the help of his daughter (Elle Fanning).
True Grit — I’m starting to warm to the idea of this remake of the John Wayne classic from the Coen brothers (“No Country for Old Men”). Jeff Bridges takes on the role of Rooster Cogburn, a one-eyed U.S. Marshall who shoots first and asks questions whenever he damn well feels like it. Co-starring Matt Damon and Josh Brolin.
The Debt — Three young Israeli agents pursue a Dr. Mengele-type Nazi, but their successful mission haunts them 30 years later. Starring Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Sam Worthington.
January and beyond — Expect these films to get minimal theatrical runs in New York and Los Angeles to qualify for the Oscars, and arrive in local theaters in early 2011.
Blue Valentine — A Sundance favorite, this romantic drama stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple who struggle to stay together through the years.
Frankie and Alice — Halle Berry plays a stripper with multiple personalities — the kicker being that one of them is a racist.
Rabbit Hole — Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play parents dealing with the death of their child. Directed by the guy who made “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (!).
Casino Jack — Kevin Spacey stars as lobbyist/conman Jack Abramoff.
Another Year — English auteur Mike Leigh’s latest is about a collection of unhappy older couples. With Jim Broadbent.
Biutiful — A reportedly strong performance by Javier Bardem anchors this wide-ranging drama with an international perspective.
The Way Back — Excellent Aussie director Peter Weir (“Witness”) made this drama about soldiers who escaped from a Siberian gulag during WWII. With Colin Farrell, Ed Harris and Saoirse Ronan.