Holiday Movie Preview

An Angel Gets His Wings:
Get into the box office spirit of the season with Jeff Boam’s Holiday Movie Preview

Remember, Scrooge sold out in the end. Please keep this in mind as you debate your favorite holiday movie. For this reviewer, one choice always wins out: It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s 1946 classic tale of intrinsically decent family man and community leader Jimmy Stewart, who decides to end it all, unaware of how good he actually has it. Yes, it’s a bandwagon answer. And true, so far as holiday cheer goes, this suicide tale — a failure upon its initial release — proves a bit dark. Ah, but so many valuable modern life lessons can be pulled from this gem that it’s actually more timely than ever:
Mr. Gower the pharmacist taught us never to combine alcohol and drugs.
Donna Reed taught us to wish for the moon, but settle for rose pedals.
Violet the floozy taught us that it’s okay to get your feet (and hands) dirty once in awhile.
Young George Bailey taught us that you’ll still find love, even if it falls on deaf ears at first.
Clarence taught us that a fallen angel is better than no angel at all. Uncle Billy taught us that, by keeping a better eye on our money, we could prevent a societal financial crisis.
Alfalfa taught us that knowing some fancy dance moves sometimes gets the girls wet.
Mr. Potter taught us that even though greedy corporations sit on the throne, only the everyman can actually stand up.
Bert the cop and Ernie the cab driver taught us that someday, it will be okay for two men to live together.
Well, as the It’s a Wonderful Life time of year fast approaches, we can now turn our attention to the freshest crop of holiday flicks. This year, electric city and diamond city staff are previewing 16 BIG movies, both blockbusters-in-waiting (The Muppets’ return, Sherlock Holmes 2, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Mission: Impossible 4) and potential award snatchers (an obligatory George Clooney holiday release, a Steven Spielberg two-fer, and Meryl Streep’s annual Oscar nomination place holder)! To set them apart, we’ve marked the former with a “popcorn bucket” and the latter with a “statue.” As always, we’ve invited some local celebrity types to give you their two cents on what’s to come at the box office starting on Turkey Day and leading up to that storied evening when a certain ball will drop on Times Square. Please read on. And remember, Scrooge sold out in the end.

The Descendents
(Nov. 16, limited)
George Clooney, Shailene Woodley
Despite proving himself a quadruple threat by acting, writing, producing and directing such films as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Leatherheads, and The Ides of March, George Clooney is not afraid to let someone else take the helm and make him shine. With 2007 Best Picture nominee Michael Clayton, the “someone else” proved to be Tony Gilroy. With 2009 Best Picture nominee Up in the Air, the “someone else” proved to Jason Reitman. Now, he’s under the direction of Alexander Payne (an Oscar winner himself for Sideways’s Best Adapted Screenplay) in an adaptation of Kaui Hart Kennings’s novel The Descendents. In this R-rated dramedy, a cuckolded Hawaiian land baron (Clooney) takes more of an active role in his children’s lives once his wife goes into a coma. The Plus: The players. A-List writer/director Payne’s work just gets better (Election) and better (About Schmidt) and better (Sideways).
Here, he’s directing Clooney, who’s an Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor (Syriana) and Oscar-nominated writer and director himself (Good Night, And Good Luck). The Minus: The competition. Given the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ decision to cut the potential Best Picture nominees from 10 to, well, potentially less (a nominee must generate at least 5 percent of first place votes, which could produce anywhere from 5 to 10 slots), the Oscar race will be tighter this year, making this early quiet contender a bit of an outsider.
The other line: “This holiday season, I’m feelin’ the Payne…in fact, I’m always feelin’ the Payne. He’s one of Hollywood’s better filmmakers — responsible for works that tend to vary from good to great. Whenever he does a new film, I’m definitely there no matter what.” — John Mikulak, filmmaker

Hugo (Nov. 23)
Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz
Oscar-winning director and film scholar Martin Scorsese brought filmgoers selections from a host of different genres, including R-rated biopics (Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ), R-rated gangster flicks (Mean Streets, The Departed), R-rated dramas (After Hours, The Color of Money), R-rated urban thrillers (Taxi Driver, Bringing Out the Dead), and even R-rated horror (Cape Fear, Shutter Island). Considering this CV, it would seem that there was little chance of Scorsese going PG … until now, that is. From Scorsese and producer Johnny Depp comes Hugo, a PG-rated 3D adaptation of the Brian Selznick children’s novel about a resourceful orphan (Butterfield) living in a train station in 1930s Paris whose inventor father (Jude Law) leaves him with an automation that will help him to unravel a mystery. The Plus: The players. Here, Scorsese is directing Butterfield (Nanny McPhee Returns), Moretz (Let Me In), Law (Contagion), Sasha Baron Cohen (Bruno), Ben Kingsley (Shutter Island), Ray Winstone (Edge of Darkness), Emily Mortimer (Our Idiot Brother), and Christopher Lee (Season of the Witch). The Minus: The odds. Scorsese has wrapped production on the second season of HBO’s crime epic Boardwalk Empire and is reportedly in talks for another adult-flavored bio-pic, Sinatra. Straying so far from his wheelhouse into kiddie territory — in 3D, no less — may prove to be quite the gamble for the director who famously treated us to more Joe Pesci F-Bombs than thought humanly possible (Goodfellas) and heads-in-a-vice grip (Casino).
The other line: “Martin Scorsese makes (sort of) a kids movie. Sure…why not? And if it causes some 8-year-old to seek out an old copy of Goodfellas, I say ‘Hell yeah!’” – Mike Evans, ec and dc “Sights and Sounds” columnist
The other line: “How come when I see the name Sasha Baron Cohen, I immediately dismiss a movie? Maybe I can close my eyes during his scenes.” — Randy Shemanski, assistant sports information director, The University of Scranton; former editor, electric city

The Muppets (Nov. 23) – Popcorn
Jason Segel, Amy Adams
Chances are, anyone who was born in the ’70s remembers Jim Henson’s famous felt puppet creations, the Muppets, with great fondness. Between The Muppet Show on the small screen and the Trifecta of The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and Muppets in Manhattan on the big screen, there was a lot of love to go around (not to mention Kermit the Frog moonlighting on Sesame Street). Then came the unfortunate early death of Henson at age 53 in 1990. The ’90s brought movies like Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets from Space…but, based on lackluster audience response, enthusiasm for the Muppets had waned. Now, Forgetting Sarah Marshall writer/star Jason Segel is going to try to give his childhood heroes a comeback by writing and starring in The Muppets. In this PG-rated comedy, three fans of Jim Henson’s legendary creations (Segel, Adams, a Muppet named Walter) reunite Kermit the Frog and company to help them save their theater from a greedy oil tycoon (Chris Cooper). The Plus: The nostalgia. Segel, who rotates between film comedies like I Love You, Man and the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, could be the right man for the job. Having Amy Adams (Enchanted, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian) along doesn’t hurt either. Also, the movie’s many cameos include Mila Kunis, Selena Gomez, Zach Galifianakis, Emily Blunt, Neil Patrick Harris, Jack Black, Danny Trejo, John Krasinski, Ken Jeong, Rashida Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Ricky Gervais, Billy Crystal, Mickey Rooney, Sarah Silverman, Liza Minnelli, Wanda Sykes, and Kathy Griffin. The Minus: The risk. Puppetry might prove to be a hard sell in the age of digital animation. Disney, which owns the rights to the Muppets, is banking a lot on this reboot. If it should fail, Kermit and company might be permanently relocated to the Smithsonian.
The other line:  “Their voices are a little weird now because Jim Henson’s dead, but I can’t wait for this movie. Looks like a lot of fun, plus Amy Adams. Mmmmmm…Amy Adams.” — Evans
The other line: “I hope the trend of ruining my childhood (spelled G-E-O-R-G-E L-U-C-A-S) doesn’t continue with this movie.” — Sam Falbo, managing producer, Scranton Public Theatre
The other line: “I’ll watch anything with Amy Adams in it, even if it involves puppets.” — Shemanski

A Dangerous Method (Nov. 23) – Statue
Viggo Mortenson, Keira Knightley
Crash is the name of a 2005 Best Picture winner where several race-related storylines intersected over one steamy night in Los Angeles. It is also the name of a 1997 thriller in which James Spader gets his rocks off by watching car accidents. The latter was helmed by David Cronenberg, a director whose early resume clocked a lot of oft kilter sci-fi (Scanners, The Dead Zone, The Fly) and mind-screw thrillers (Dead Ringers, Spider). Over the last seven years, however, he has crafted a pair of crime thrillers that both captured Oscar nods (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises). In his latest, the R-rated historic drama, A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg charts the intense relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), Sigmund Freud (Mortenson) and a troubled woman caught in the middle (Knightley), which gives birth to psychoanalysis. The Plus: The players. Someway, somehow, it only seems appropriate that the man who directed William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (a drug-fueled head-trip fantasy about an exterminator who takes his own insecticide and can’t distinguish realities) should take on history’s two most famous psychoanalysts. The Minus: The odds. Despite the Oscar nods, Cronenberg hasn’t always been the biggest earner at the box office (even put together, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises didn’t break $50 million mark in the U.S.)…and The Positively True Adventures of Freud and Jung is a harder sell than modern crime-dramas. In order to get nominated by the Academy, some people have to see this.
The other line: “Who better to make a movie about psychoanalysis than David Cronenberg? After all, remember when he had that guy’s head explode in Scanners?” — Evans
The other line: “I have a feeling I’ll need to visit a shrink after seeing this movie. At least it has Keira Knightley.” —  Shemanski

New Year’s Eve (Dec. 9) – Popcorn
Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Biel
Last year, Warner Brothers took aim at Valentine’s Day by releasing the aptly titled, er, Valentine’s Day, a romantic comedy chock full of more stars than It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World meets Circus of the Stars! Now, the WB is at it again with New Year’s Eve (apparently, the title Groundhog Day was already taken), with everyone from Oscar winners (Hilary Swank, Robert De Niro) to Teen Beat cover stories (Biel, Zac Efron) to song belters (Lea Michelle, Jon Bon Jovi) set to party like it’s 1999 under the direction of Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride). In this PG-13-rated romantic-comedy, the lives of several star-crossed New Yorkers (Parker, Biel et al) intertwine on the last day of the year. The Plus: The genre. He’s Just Not That Into You kicked off the whole intertwining love stories comedy trend to the tune of over $03 million. Someway, somehow, the critically despised Valentine’s Day did even better, which allows for De Niro, Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Sofia Vergara, Efron, Abigail Breslin, Carla Gugino, Josh Duhamel, Michelle Pfeiffer, Alyssa Milano, Michele, Swank, Halle Berry, and John Lithgow to just get this paystub onto their W-4 for this year. The Minus: The odds. Fool us once, shame on H’wood. Fool us twice, shame on the moviegoers. If the WB fools everyone into showing up a third time for these star-studded shitshows, audiences will be responsible for (and fully deserve to sit through) craptastic titles like Arbor Day and Boxing Day.
The other line: “I’m not afraid to say I love a good chick flick, but this one looks freakin’ painful. Gary, nobody asked for a sequel to Valentine’s Day — NOBODY!” — Evans
The other line: “What’s with all these rom-coms where the lives of a bunch of sad-sack people are intertwined? The idea was cute in He’s Just Not That Into You, then it was kinda worn out in Valentine’s Day. Now we get the same premise, plus some of the same cast from Valentine’s Day? I think I’ll sit this one out.” — Shemanski

The Sitter (Dec. 9) – Popcorn
Jonah Hill, Ari Graynor
Never mind Team Edward or Team Jacob. This reviewer’s siding with Team Apatow. Funnyman Judd Apatow, after all, is a veritable hit machine. Freaks and Geeks? As executive producer of the NBC ’80s high school dramedy Freaks and Geeks, he helped launch the careers of Linda Cardellini (Scooby Doo, NBC’s ER), Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, CBS’s How I Met Your Mother) and James Franco (127 Hours, Rise of the Planet of the Apes). As writer and director of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, he helped to put Seth Rogen (The Green Hornet, 50/50) on the map. As producer of Superbad, he introduced moviegoers to straight man Michael Cera and funnyman Jonah Hill, the star of this comedy. In this R-rated comedy, a suspended college student (Hill) is coaxed into babysitting the kids next door, fully unaware and unprepared for the wild night ahead of him after his beautiful crush (Graynor) asks him to score some coke. The Plus: The players. Hill made audiences laugh in Funny People and Get Him to the Greek (both Apatow projects if you’re keeping score), but he came out of Team Apatow’s shadow with Cyrus and Moneyball. This headlining gig is a major step, which is why it’s great to have a skilled comedy director like David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, another Apatow…oh, you get the picture). The Minus: The odds. Even Team Apatow has seen failure (Apatow himself produced the duds Drillbit Taylor and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story). Rogen (Observe & Report) and Green (Your Highness) were certainly not immune either.
The other line: “A dirty remake of Adventures in Babysitting? All right! Actually, I think this is going to be a good time. Besides, if you want to see a funny movie that weekend, what are you going to see, New Year’s Eve?” — Evans
The other line: “Jonah Hill was funnier when he was overweight. Don’t yell at me. Someone had to say it.” — Shemanski

Young Adult (Dec. 9) – Statue
Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson
With two critically hailed films under his belt (Thank You for Smoking, Juno), director Jason Reitman exudes the confidence of a much older filmmaker, say, possibly, his father, Ivan (Meatballs, Stripes, Kindergarten Cop, Dave). While promoting his last flick, Oscar Best Picture nominee Up in the Air, the younger Reitman had been asked about directing Ghostbusters III, a sequel to his father’s comedy classic. Thankfully, he said “no” and chose to reunite with his Juno screenwriter, Diablo Cody. In Jason Reitman’s latest, this R-rated dramedy, a newly-divorced fiction writer (Theron) returns to her small-town Minnesota home, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend (Wilson), who is now married with kids. The Plus: The players. Reitman and Cody were both nominated for Academy Awards for directing and writing Juno, respectively. Here, they’re teaming up with Oscar winner Theron (Monster), Wilson (Watchmen), and . The Minus: The competition. As if the holiday box office wasn’t crowded enough, Young Adult is opening against The Sitter, another R-rated comedy. Both movies are fishing in the same demographic pool, which doesn’t bode well for this more pedigreed (read: award-baiting) flick at the box office.
The other line: “You had me at Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody. This will easily be the cleverest comedy of the season. Can’t wait!” — Evans

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (Dec. 16) – Popcorn
Jason Lee, Zachary Levi
Wake the kids and call the neighbors! This holiday, moviegoers will swoon to the genius of…Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.?! No, this reviewer doesn’t have fruitcake on the brain. Bagdasarian, better known by the stage name “David Seville,” kick-started his career by recording the hit novelty tune “Witch Doctor” in 1958. It was in recording the Grammy-winning Christmas ditty “The Chipmunk Song,” however, that he gained pop culture immortality and birthed the subjects of this, the second Chipmunks sequel. In this as-yet-unrated family tail, the Chipmunks (voices of Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Theodore) and Chipettes (voices of Anna Faris, Amy Poehler, and Christina Applegate) must survive on a Polynesian island by themselves after their cruise ship sinks. The Plus: The, gulp, franchise. Somehow, someway, the first movie managed to make more than $217 million at the box office and its Squeakquel did even better. The Minus: The material. The first two movies milked a tired premise and worked in potty jokes so old that the script had mice, which is saying a lot for a family comedy about, well, singing chipmunks. Somehow, someway, families are…oh crap, those lemmings are lining up already, aren’t they?
The other line: “Can we just burn the negative now before they strike the prints? And if your local theater is digital, can we start a massive virus hoax now?” — Evans
The other line: “Is it just me or is the synopsis to this Alvin and the Chipmunks similar to a potential synopsis to the next Harold & Kumar movie?” — Shemanski

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Dec. 16) – Popcorn
Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law
After he came out guns a-blazing with the double-barrel success of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, writer/director Guy Ritchie admittedly made a bad career misfire — working with then-wife Madonna on the romantic dud Swept Away followed by a pseudo-psychoanalytical caper called Revolver. With the brilliant RocknRolla, however, Ritchie evidenced a welcome return to form. His update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes only solidified his H’wood status, erasing any visions of Basil Rathbone sitting in a stuffy drawing room while wearing a deer-stalking cap from moviegoers’ minds. In Ritchie’s PG- 13-rated sequel, detective Sherlock Holmes (Downey) and Watson (Law) meet their match in Professor Moriarity (Jared Harris), whose nefarious plot to change the course of history leads them on a path of death and destruction through France, Germany, and Switzerland. The Plus: The players. The great camaraderie between Downey (Iron Man 2) and Law (Contagion) proved to be the first Holmes’s best talking point. In the sequel, they’re joined by Naoomi Rapace (who starred in the 2009 Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Stephen Fry (Alice in Wonderland), and Rachel McAdams (Midnight in Paris). The Minus: Sequelitis. Many critics gave the first go-round — which, story wise, had some rough edges — a pass because of this camaraderie. If the second movie doesn’t smooth out these script problems, the likelihood of a Chapter 3 might become an even greater mystery for Holmes and Watson.
The other line: “Can’t get excited for this one. Maybe it’ll go in the Netflix queue…maybe.” — Evans
The other line: “Despite an overwhelming desire to see the first one, I still haven’t. Probably will sit this one out, too.” — Falbo
The other line: “Good God, Holmes you solved the slow holiday box office sales with your Game of Shadows!” — Marko Marcinko, Music for Models and Scranton Jazz Festival artistic director

Carnage (Dec. 16) – Statue
Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet
In 2010, while Roman Polanski was awaiting possible extradition to the U.S. to face trial for an unlawful sex charge from 1977, the legendary director saw the release of his latest film, the political thriller The Ghost Writer. Even though public opinion surrounding Polanski was, perhaps, at its lowest possible integer, the filmmaker behind classics such as Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown fell into quite a bit of critical acclaim for the film. Now, in his latest, this R-rated dramedy based on the play Gods of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, two sets of parents (Foster and John C. Reilly; Winslet and Christoph Waltz) meet for a cordial meeting after their sons exchange blows on a school playground, beginning a verbal warfare over everything from child rearing to politics. Roman Polanski (Chinatown, The Ghost Writer) directs. The Plus: The players. His legal troubles aside, Polanski did win an Oscar for directing The Pianist…and for good reason. The cream of H’wood’s crop (Harrison Ford, Frantic; Johnny Depp, The Ninth Gate) have often clamored to work with him. Here, he directs Oscar winners Foster (The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs), Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), and Winslet (The Reader) as well as Oscar nominee Reilly (Chicago). The Minus: The controversy. Though this film’s early buzz has been quite good, John Q. Filmgoer might shy away from Polanski’s work based on the severity of his past legal imbroglio. Despite the acclaim, Ghost Writer only raked in $15 million at the box office.
The other line: “Roman Polanski directing John C. Reiley and Christoph Waltz battling wits? Thank you,  Santa!!!” — Evans
The other line: “This looks awesome. I hope that they honor the award-winning theatre piece as much as possible rather than use the catch-all ‘based on’.” — Falbo
The other line: “Why would I go to the movie theater to see two parents arguing over misbehaving children when I can see that 24/7 at Walmart?” — Shemanski

The Iron Lady (Dec. 16) – Statue
Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent
Following the boffo box office and Oscar nomination that came with the success Julie & Julia, Meryl Streep’s career has certainly been cooking. Granted, it’s not as if this H’wood legend was ever on H’wood’s backburner. Not only does this H’wood legend have two Oscar wins under her belt (Best Supporting Actress, Kramer Vs. Kramer; Best Actress, Sophie’s Choice), she has also had a particularly lucrative run commercially (The Devil Wears Prada, It’s Complicated) and critically (Doubt, The Fantastic Mr. Fox) as of late. Now, she’s reuniting with Mamma Mia! director Phyllida Lloyd for The Iron Lady. In this as-yet-unrated bio-pic, Margaret Thatcher (Streep) comes from a working class background and smashes through barriers of gender and class to become the first and only female prime minster of England. The Plus: The players. Are you familiar with Streep? Perhaps, these titles will reacquaint you: Silkwood, Out of Africa, Postcards from the Edge, The Bridges of Madison County, and The Hours. With Julie & Julia, she perfectly channeled the voice and mannerisms of Julia Child. A master of accents, her take on Margaret Thatcher should bag another Oscar nod. The Minus: The competition. The early odds say that there are going to be a lot of strong contenders for Best Actress this year (Viola Davis, The Help; Glenn Close, Albert Dobbs; Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn; Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia; Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Charlize Theron, Young Adult), which slims Streep’s chances of taking home an Oscar.
The other line: “Meryl Streep is playing Margaret Thatcher? What…she needs another Oscar nomination? I’m there.” — Evans
The other line: “Really into Brit-history movies lately (The Queen, for example) so I’m looking forward to this. And what famous woman hasn’t Meryl Streep portrayed on film? I guess Snookie…and thank God for that.” — Falbo
The other line: “Another Iron Clad performance from Streep who is an American heavy weight. Five tons of actress!” — Marcinko

The Adventures of Tin Tin (Dec. 21) – Popcorn
Voices of Jaime Bell, Daniel Craig
Since helming Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull three years ago, legendary director Steven Spielberg’s name has mostly popped up as executive producer as of late (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Cowboys & Aliens, Reel Steel). It’s not as if he hasn’t been busy. The auteur behind popcorn blockbuster classics Jaws, ET, and Jurassic Park has been condescending three popular European children’s books (The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham’s Treasure) into one stop motion animation flick starring Herge’s beloved Belgian character Tin Tin. First up? In this PG-rated animated adventure from Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings), an intrepid young reporter (Bell) in pursuit of a good story gets thrust into a treasure hunt involving Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and a nefarious pirate (Craig). The Plus: The legend. Spielberg has had his hand in animation before, producing An American Tail, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Monster House, and the syndicated TV program Tiny Toon Adventures. For his animated directorial debut, he’s assembled phenomenal talent including producer Jackson (King Kong), screenwriter Steven Moffat (BBC’s Doctor Who), and the vocal talents of Bell (Defiance), Craig (Cowboys & Aliens), Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Simon Pegg (Star Trek), Nick Frost (Paul), Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger), and Cary Elwes (Saw 3D). The Minus: The odds. Stop motion animation has come a long way since, say, The Polar Express, but the unnatural look of the ’tooned-up actors still alienates some moviegoers.
The other line: “Speilberg and Jackson. Yeah, I GUESS I’m there. But I’m not exactly pumped.” — Evans

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Dec. 21) – Popcorn
Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig
Of all of the directors to helm a film about Internet networking phenomenon Facebook, the man known for ultra-dark modern serial killer crime-thrillers Se7en and Zodiac may’ve seemed like either the most inspired or dimwitted choice. Of course, The Social Network went on to garner Oscar nods for Best Picture and a win for Best Adapted Screenplay, so the smart money’s on ‘inspired.’ Fincher’s follow-up is an adaptation of the international bestseller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. In this R-rated thriller, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) is aided in his search for a woman who’s been missing for 40 years by a young computer hacker (Mara). The Plus: The players. Fincher (Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is directing, and Stellan Skaarsgard, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, and Christopher Plummer also star. The Minus: The odds. Niels Arden Oplev’s 2010 Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has a huge fanbase. The popular import and its two sequels went gangbusters enough to launch their star, Noomi Rapace, into an H’wood career of her own (see: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows). Following in its footsteps is going to be tough…especially with source material that’s so beloved.
The other line: “Fincher makes an action film. Saw the trailer. Dear lord, this can’t be released fast enough for me!” — Evans
The other line: “I saw the trailer for this about a month ago and I’ve been anxiously waiting to see this ever since. This could be great.” — Shemanski

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (Dec. 21) – Popcorn
Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner
Lions for Lambs proved to be Tom Cruise’s first shot out of the gates as the new head of United Artists since his headline-grabbing departure (ahem, firing) from Paramount in 2006 (he and producing partner Paula Wagner had been producing movies under the studio for 14 years).
After Lambs and Cruise’s follow-up, the Hitler assassination thriller, Valkyrie, failed to ignite many critical or commercial sparks at the box office, the movie star and Paramount seemed to have settled their differences, if his return to this blockbuster money-making franchise is any indication. In this as-yet-unrated spy thriller sequel from, the IMF gets shut down after being implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, leading Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team (Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg) to go rogue and clear their organization’s name. The Plus: The players. Producer J.J. Abrams (Cloverfield, Star Trek) and, in his live-action debut, director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) are joined by a cast that includes Cruise (), Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town), Patton (Precious), and Pegg (Star Trek, Paul). The Minus: The odds. Knight and Day, Cruise’s most recent project for Paramount, didn’t meet box office expectations.
The other line: “Saw the trailer at least ten times now…and surprisingly I STILL don’t care!” — Evans
The other line: “This latest M:I is gonna Cruise into the holiday season and fully explode the box office right into Dianetics!” — Marcinko
The other line: “Here’s the real Mission Impossible: Get Randy to go see this crap.” — Shemanski

War Horse (Dec. 25) – Statue
Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson
In the film biz, filmmakers have long adopted a one-for-them/one-for-me approach, which basically means that a director churns out a studio-approved potential blockbuster for every personal project that they produce (Steven Soderbergh, for example, followed the hit Oceans Eleven with the artsy full frontal and the smash sequel Oceans Twelve with the quirky experimental release Bubble). Legendary director Steven Spielberg seems to have kept to this regimen for years. Think 1993, which  was the same year that dinosaur popcorn blockbuster Jurassic Park broke box office records and holocaust drama Schindler’s List swept the Oscars. In 1997, audiences got the hit sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park and the historic slavery drama Amistad. Then, 2005 brought the Tom Cruise sci-fi adventure War of the Worlds and the Israeli revenge drama Munich. This year — hell, the same month — sees the release of family film The Adventures of Tin Tin and War Horse, an adaptation of the heart-tugging novel by Michael Morpurgo. In this PG-13-rated drama from Spielberg, a young man (Irvine) and his horse Joey find their bond broken when the latter gets sold to the cavalry and sent to the trenches of World War I, where his owner goes to find and rescue him. The Plus: The legend. If you look through the list above, you’ll see that Spielberg’s personal projects were, for the most part, also successful at the box office, which speaks much in the way of quality. Morpurgo’s novel was turned into a smash play that ran for years on London’s West End and on Broadway. The Minus: The competition. Opening amid one of the box office’s most crowded times of year coud prove troubling for a heart-tugging drama, especially when Sherlock Holmes, M:I, and Spielberg’s own Tin Tin are the big contenders.
The other line: “Spielberg doing drama is usually awesome. Movies about World War One are usually very cool. So awesome and cool. What am Im 14 again?” — Evans

We Bought a Zoo (Dec. 25) – Statue
Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson
Remember Phoebe Cates slowly climbing out of a pool in an itsy-bitsy two-piece red bikini to the strains of “Moving in Stereo” by the Cars? This reviewer does…fondly. We all have Cameron Crowe to thank for this. Granted, he wasn’t a director yet (that honor fell to Amy Heckerling).
No, this happened to be this writer’s — the youngest ever contributor to Rolling Stone magazine — first screenwriting gig. As writer/director, his output proved just as impressive: Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous (for this, he won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay). Now, after a six-year layover, Crowe’s back with We Bought a Zoo, which is based on a true story. In this PG-rated dramedy, a recently-widowed father (Damon) moves his young family to the Southern California countryside to renovate and re-open a struggling zoo. The Plus: The players. Thanks to the Oceans and Bourne franchises, Damon is a hot commercial property. Thanks to films like Syriana, The Departed, and True Grit, he’s a fan of critics, too. Here, he’s joined by Johansson (Iron Man 2), Thomas Hayden Church (Sideways), Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous), and Elle Fanning (Super 8). The Minus: The odds. Crowe divided critics with Vanilla Sky. He didn’t help matters much by following this up with critically savaged Elizabethtown. The PG-rated We Bought a Zoo is his first film that’s not rated either PG-13 or R, which kinda sorta takes him out of his wheelhouse. Given he’s been out of the game for six years, this risky move might buy him the farm.
The other line: “Already hating the plot. But Cameron Crowe and Scarlet Johansson? Could make a good Christmas night double feature with War Horse.” — Evans
The other line: “Why not call it ‘We Made an Unnecessary Movie’!” — Falbo
The other line: “You had me until the word zoo. But it’s Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, and I can’t see them signing on for a movie with a bad script, so I’ll hold judgment until I see the reviews.” — Shemanski

Please also check under the tree for: In the R-rated drama My Week with Marilyn. Michelle Williams plays Marilyn Monroe during the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) in 1957 (Nov. 18, limited); In the PG-13-rated, French, black-and-white import The Artist, a 1920s silent film actor (Jean Dujardin) falls for a rising star just as talking pictures come into play and he’s going out of style (Nov. 25, limited); In his directorial debut, actor Ralph Fiennes takes on Shakespeare with a modern R-rated re-telling of Coriolanus, in which a Roman war hero gets ousted from power and teams with his adversary (Gerard Butler) to take back Rome (Dec. 2; limited); In this as-yet-unrated re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty, a passive student working at an elite gentleman’s club (Emily Browning) falls into a dangerous world where the clients sedate and have their way with unconscious body (Dec. 2); In Madonna’s directorial debut, the as-yet-unrated drama W.E., a modern woman (Abbie Cornish) becomes obsessed with the love story behind King Edward VIII’s (James D’Arcy) abdication (Dec. 9, limited); in the R-rated drama Albert Nobbs, Glenn Close disguises herself as a man to find work as a butler in 19th century Ireland…only the ruse lasts for decades (Dec. 21); in Angelina Jolie’s directorial and screenwriting debut, the R-rated drama In the Land of Blood and Honey, a fledgling love affair breaks out during the 1990s Bosnian Civil War (Dec. 23); in the PG-13-rated 3D thriller The Darkest Hour, an alien attack leaves a group of young people (Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, et al) fighting for their lives and stranded in Moscow, Russia (Dec. 25); in the as-yet-unrated drama based on Jonathan Safron’s novel Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, an eccentric young man (Thomas Horn) journeys through Manhattan to solve the riddle of why his father (Tom Hanks) left him a key before dying in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, much to the chagrin of his mother (Sandra Bullock) (Dec. 25).