Now that Thanksgiving and Black Friday are out of the way, it’s time to start getting serious about the movies, as a host of Oscar contenders take over the local multiplexes in the final weeks of 2012.
Some hotly anticipated titles, like “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the execution of Osama bin Laden, and “The Impossible,” a harrowing drama about the 2004 tsunami, won’t arrive here until January.
But there’s still plenty of other award hopefuls for you to check out, including Peter Jackson’s new J. R. R. Tolkien trilogy, “The Hobbit,” and the long-awaited big-screen version of Herbert Kretzmer and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s record-shattering musical, “Les Miserables.”
So to get you ready, here’s a sampling of the gifts Hollywood Santa has stuffed in his sack. (Dates subject to change.)
Playing for Keeps
Consider this smarmy, sports-themed tale of romance and redemption the antithesis of the brilliant “Silver Linings Playbook.” In it, Gerard Butler (no confusing him for a great thespian) plays a washed up soccer star who gets a new yellow card on life when he returns to his hometown to coach the local youth team. But here’s the kicker, he’s also scoring with the impossibly gorgeous soccer moms, played by Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Where do I sign up?
Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde play siblings who split up and head for snowy Canada after a casino caper goes bust. Along the way, Wilde hooks up with an ex-boxer (Charlie Hunnam), who takes her home for Thanksgiving with his parents (Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson), one of whom is a retired sheriff. And, going against all odds of probability, who else should show up for dinner? Why, her brother, of course. The real shocker is that this preposterous trash is directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, who won an Oscar for “The Counterfeiters.”
“Dino Time” (limited)
In a year full of underwhelming animated flicks comes this potential stinker about three little boys whisked back to the age of dinosaurs by a time machine. Just knowing that the humongous reptiles speak (in English, no less), tells you that this one is doomed to extinction. Jane Lynch and Melanie Griffith, along with Hollywood laughing stocks, Rob Schneider and Stephen Baldwin, provide the voices.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Before there was a ring and impending doom for Middle-earth at the hands of the evil Sauron, there were the adventures of hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), as he and a band of Dwarves journeyed from the Shire to reclaim treasure stolen by the dragon Smaug. Peter Jackson returns to the director’s chair after winning a much-deserved Oscar for his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. “The Desolation of Smaug,” part two of this three-part saga based on the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, will open next December, followed by “There and Back Again” in summer 2014.
“Hyde Park on Hudson”
British director Roger Michell attempts to give us an American version of “The King’s Speech” by chronicling King George VI’s visit to Franklin Roosevelt’s retreat in Upstate New York in the fateful summer of 1939. Don’t expect Bill Murray to win any Oscars for portraying FDR, but it should be humorous just the same, especially when the prez sneaks away to tryst with his cousin, Margaret Suckley, played by Laura Linney. Murray is an interesting casting choice, as is asking the lovely Olivia Williams to portray the decidedly unglamorous Eleanor Roosevelt.
“The Central Park Five
The incomparable Ken Burns moves from the small screen to the big one to tell the disturbing tale about how five kids from Harlem were falsely accused of raping a white woman in Central Park in 1989 – and how they became further victimized by the “wilding” media frenzy that ensued.
“The Guilt Trip”
Barbra Streisand attempts to make amends for those “Focker” flicks by playing mom to Seth Rogen, as the two embark on an adventurous road trip. Does this mean we’ll get to see Babs fire up a joint? Let’s hope so. But I’ll settle for the “Funny Girl” just being funny again.
Disney’s fleecing of America continues with the rerelease of yet another Pixar classic refitted with tacked-on 3-D. Buyer beware.
Tom Cruise re-teams with his “Valkyrie” director Christopher McQuarrie for this potential franchise about an ex-military cop called in to solve the baffling murder of five people by a suspected Army marksman. Rosamund Pike and Richard Jenkins costar.
“This is 40”
Remember the best pals of Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in “Knocked Up”? If not, director Judd Apatow offers you this refresher course in which Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are dealing with both the advent of middle age and the daunting task of raising two rascally children. Jason Segel and Melissa McCarthy costar.
“Rust and Bone”
Marion Cotillard is drawing deafening Oscar buzz for her turn as a whale trainer who finds love after sustaining a disabling injury. The director is Jacques Audiard, who won near unanimous acclaim for his last film, the powerful prison picture, “A Prophet.”
“Cirque Du Soleil”
Worlds Away 3-D: The next best thing to attending a Cirque Du Soleil performance in person is seeing it on the big screen, opulently presented by directors James Cameron and Andrew Adamson in the highest-quality 3-D.
With the acclaimed “Zero Dark Thirty” not slated to open in Boston until January, this other Navy SEAL story - from director Phillip Noyce - will have to do. But unlike “ZDT,” the SEALs on this mission are much more benevolent, as a team led by Gerard Butler and Sam Worthington races to rescue the president of Russia before WWIII breaks out. The only question is if this one is for real, or are they just Putin us on?
Victor Hugo’s timeless tale of woe, by way of Herbert Kretzmer and Claude-Michel Schonberg, finally makes it to the big screen with the season’s most eclectic cast. We know Hugh Jackman can sing, but what about Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe? Word has it that all three are excellent filling the roles, respectively, of Valjean, Cosette and Javert. But the direction by Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) is said to be even better.
In Quentin Tarantino’s follow-up to “Inglourious Basterds,” a recently freed slave (Jamie Foxx) offers to help a Teutonic bounty hunter (fellow Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz) locate a pair of murderers, if the German will help him find the wife (Kerry Washington) taken from him years earlier by the slave trade. Their search eventually leads them to the infamous Candyland plantation run by Leonardo DiCaprio and his trusted house slave, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Expect plenty of clever humor and violence to ensue - in other words, the perfect holiday movie.
If Tarantino and star-studded musicals aren’t your yule thing, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler offer up this lighthearted alternative about a pair of fogies who bite off more than they can chew when they’re asked to babysit their trio of mollycoddled grandchildren after work assignments take Mom (Marisa Tomei) and Dad (Boston’s Tom Everett Scott) temporarily out of town. Let the kibitzing begin. Andy Fickman directs.
“Not Fade Away”
When last seen, David Chase was leaving us all in the dark with the finale of “The Sopranos.” Now he’s back as a writer-director for this big-screen offering about a New Jersey teen - not unlike Chase - who dreams of making it big as a 1960s rock star, but encounters nothing but disappointment. Newcomer John Magaro plays the Chase surrogate and he’s a knockout, looking like a young Bob Dylan. No wonder he breaks the heart of his chief groupie, played by “Dark Shadows” scene-stealer Bella Heathcote.
Consider this the feel-good fracking movie of the holiday season, as Matt Damon and Frances McDormand play corporate shills trying to sell an economically depressed town on the false promises of prosperity, if only they’ll let them destroy their land and water by drilling for natural gas. And the only people daring to stop them are John Krasinski, Rosemarie DeWitt and Weymouth’s own Hal Holbrook. Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”) directs this decidedly pro-environmental fable.By AL ALEXANDER – GateHouse News Service