Baby, it’s cold outside, which means it’s the perfect time to duck into your favorite movie theater and settle in for two hours of quality entertainment. Luckily, the months of November and December are much safer bets than, say, January for doing just that. Good luck finding a quality film in February.
The studios also want to get that Oscar bait out there before the end of the year so it qualifies for the Academy Awards, which means we have Oscar favorites like “Dreamgirls” and “The Good German,” plus great performances, such as Judi Dench in “Notes on a Scandal,” Peter O’Toole in “Venus” and Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness.”
But it’s not all about Oscars, there are also some great winter stocking stuffers here. Imaginative new films like “Eragon,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Perfume – the Story of a Murder” are just dying to fill that “Lord of the Rings” fantasy-film gap. So even if the title seems unfamiliar, give some of these lesser lights a chance, you’ll never know what you’ll find when the lights go down.
Director: Martin Campbell
Story: This new film tells the story of how Bond (Craig) first obtained his 007 status. Mikkelson plays bad guy Le Chiffre, banker to terrorists around the world. Green is Vesper Lynd, a treasury official who’s been assigned to keep an eye on the money Bond is using as bait. Sparks fly between them. Dench reprises her role as M.
Buzz: There hasn’t been this much pressure on an actor taking on a well-known character since people were sure that Michael Keaton wouldn’t make a good Batman. Keaton proved them wrong, but will Craig? This franchise was in desperate need of a makeover, and those who think Craig seems too gritty must not be fans of Sean Connery’s version. Those who think he’s not good-looking enough must not be fans of Steve McQueen. C’mon, people! Realistically, though, the Broccoli family, who produce the flicks, aren’t likely to let any one director or actor make major changes to the franchise, which is why most good directors steer clear of Bond. Director Campbell has already announced that he will not be helming the next sequel, but Craig will play 007 again. For those who still doubt Craig, “Layer Cake” is a must rental.
Starring:Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino
Director: George Miller
Story: Wood provides the voice of a baby Emperor penguin who just doesn’t fit in. While all the other penguins have a “heartsong” to sing, he expresses himself though tap dancing. His mom (voiced by Kidman) thinks his little steps are cute, but dad (Jackman) knows he’ll never find a mate without a song. Ultimately, the leader of Emperor land (Weaving) casts him out of the community, but he finds some Adele penguins led by Ramon (Williams) who admire his smooth dance moves. Williams also provides the voice of Rockhopper penguin Lovelace, the guru who has answers for all of life’s questions.
Buzz: It will be interesting to see if animated penguins prove to be as popular as the real birds were in “March of the Penguins.” All signs point to yes. Director Miller is the man who wrote both “Babe” films and directed the superior second film, “Babe: Pig in the City,” which also means these birds could be dancing their way to box-office gold.
Starring:Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving, Anthony LaPaglia, Magda Szubanski, Steve Irwin
Director: Emilio Estevez
Story: Where were you when Bobby Kennedy was shot? Director Emilio Estevez follows a multitude of characters who stayed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Kennedy was gunned down there by Sirhan Sirhan. These include hotel employees like retired doorman John Casey (Hopkins), the hotel manager (Macy), a bigoted kitchen boss (Slater); and hotel guests, including has-been singer Virginia Fallon (Moore), a young bride-to-be and her would-be husband (Lohan and Wood); and campaign volunteers (Geraghty and Lebeouf).
Buzz: In an Esquire article from earlier this year, an unnamed crew member joking referred to this film as “Love Boat '68.” Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeffrey Wells described it this way, “Much of ‘Bobby’ is treacly and mediocre and some of it might make you shudder, but it's not altogether grotesque.” Faint praise indeed. The Hollywood Reporter’s Ray Bennett disagreed though, calling the film, “a sentimental love letter from writer-director Emilio Estevez to his hometown and the slain politician.” Estevez (“Men at Work,” “Rated X”) has yet to prove himself as a director; he takes a big chance with this splashy all-star cast. Expect critics to come out with pistols blazing for this former “Young Gun.”
Starring:Anthony Hopkins, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, William H. Macy, Helen Hunt, Christian Slater, Heather Graham, Laurence Fishburne, Freddy Rodriguez, Nick Cannon, Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Brian Geraghty, Shia Lebeouf
“For Your Consideration”
Director: Christopher Guest
Story: Christopher Guest and his improvising bunch are back with this story about a small film, “Home for Purim,” that starts to generate Oscar buzz, driving the whole gang absolutely bonkers. Guest plays the director; Lynch and Willard host an “Access Hollywood”-type TV show; Gervais (new to Guest’s gang) and Miller play studio heads who just wants a few changes; Shearer, Posey and O’Hara play three of the film’s unlikely stars.
Buzz: Guest and company have made some of the most intelligent comedies of the past few years (“Waiting for Guffman,” “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind”). The magic of the films is that they are primarily improvised — there’s no real script, per se. Guest and Levy create characters and make up situations, but then the actors take over. After seeing the film at the Toronto Film Festival, Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek wrote, “while it's crisply made and highly entertaining, it doesn't have those extra layers of character depth that ‘Best in Show’ and — the ensemble's masterpiece — ‘A Mighty Wind’ did.”
Web site: http://www.myspace.com/for_your_consideration
Starring:Bob Balaban, Ed Begley, Jr., Jennifer Coolidge, Ricky Gervais, Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean, Larry Miller, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard
“Fast Food Nation”
Director: Richard Linklater
Story: Inspired by Eric Schlosser’s non-fiction book about the dark side of the fast-food industry, this fictional thriller follows a marketing executive (Kinnear) from Mickey’s Burgers as he tries to figure out how contaminated meat is getting into the company’s burgers. You’ll also meet high schoolers (Dano, Johnson) who work at a local chain; illegal immigrants (Valderrama, Moreno, Talacon) who work at one of Mickey’s plants; a rancher (Kristofferson); a meat buyer (Willis); and a poltical activist (Pucci).
Buzz: When it screened at Cannes, critical response was mixed. Critic Emanuel Levy wrote, “Deviating from his more personal and original mode of filmmaking, Linklater has made a plot-driven film in which all the characters — white, Latinos and Mexican — are one-dimensional.” On the other hand, Manohla Dargis of the New York Times wrote, “The most essential political film from an American director since Michael Moore's ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’” Even when he doesn’t totally succeed (“A Scanner Darkly”), Linklater is always an ambitious filmmaker.
Starring:Patricia Arquette, Bobby Cannavale, Luis Guzman, Ethan Hawke, Ashley Johnson, Greg Kinnear, Kris Kristofferson, Paul Dano, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ana Claudia Talancon, Wilmer Valderrama, Bruce Willis, Lou Taylor Pucci
“Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny”
Director: Liam Lynch
Story: Find out how Tenacious D became “the greatest band in the world.” An acoustic rock duo (Gass and Black) goes in search of a guitar pick with magical rock 'n' roll powers that will transform them into the ultimate metal gods.
Buzz: The never-shy Black told Premiere magazine, “It’ll be the first [real] laugh that anybody has. We could charge more for this movie.” Black has triumphed before in the rock-film arena with “School of Rock,” but this is his first screenwriting foray (along with Gass). This looks like yet another one of those films about men in states of arrested development (see: every Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell film). Director Lynch’s only other big-screen film was Sarah Silverman’s “Jesus is Magic.” There may be laughs here, but this looks more like a SNL skit than a big-screen movie.
Starring:Jack Black, Kyle Gass, Will Ferrell, David Koechner, Jason Reed, Ronnnie James Dio
Director: Neil Armfield
Story: In a film based on the novel by Luke Davies, Ledger stars as a bohemian poet who falls in love with an art student (Cornish) from a middle-class family. In order to get closer to Ledger, Cornish stars shooting heroin — and they become hooked on drugs as much as on each other.
Buzz: Reel Film reviews wrote, “Though ‘Candy’ starts out as a typically oppressive flick about junkies, the film ultimately establishes itself as a surprisingly engaging and emotionally wrenching piece of work.” Cornish is probably best known as the alleged "other women" in the Reese Witherspoon-Ryan Phillippe breakup . Armfield is best known for directing opera and theater in Australia.
Web site: http://www.dendyfilms.com.au/candy
Starring:Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, Noni Hazlehurst, Tony Martin
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Director: Darren Aronofsky
Story: Jackman plays a medical researcher whose wife (Weisz) may have terminal brain cancer. The film also features two other incarnations of Jackman’s character: One a 26th-century astronaut and one where Jackman is a Spanish soldier trying to save Queen Isabella (Weisz) from the Inquisition.
Buzz: This film has received mixed response. It was booed when it screened at the Venice Film Festival. When she saw it in Toronto, Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek wrote, “Part historical fantasy, part lovers-separated-by-death weeper, part New Age fever dream, ‘The Fountain’ isn't truly horrible, just very, very silly.” Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeffrey Wells, disagreed, calling it “the most beautiful and best-crafted cosmic head-trip movie since I don't know what.” This is only Aronofsky’s (“Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream”) third full-length film — and he may have bitten off more than he could chew with this one.
Web site: http://thefountainmovie.warnerbros.com/
Starring:Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Sean Gullette, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donna Murphy
“The History Boys”
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Story: Based on the Tony-award-winning play, this film tells the story of an unruly group of British students who are taught by a maverick English teacher (Griffiths), a young teacher (Moore) hired to raise their test scores, an overwhelmed history teacher (De la Tour), and a results-oriented headmaster (Merrison).
Buzz: The play won six Tonys, three Olivier awards and five drama desk awards. The entire original cast reprises their roles for the film. However, a great play does not always translate into an award-winning movie. “Proof,” anyone? Leslie Helprin of Variety called the movie “stagy,” adding “blow-up to the bigscreen makes the material's fault lines look more chasm-like.” Hytner and writer Alan Bennett (who also penned the play) already teamed for the very good “Madness of King George,” but they may not have recaptured that magic with this film.
Web site: NA
Starring:Richard Griffiths, Clive Merrison, Frances de la Tour, Stephen Campbell Moore, Sacha Dhawan, Samuel Anderson, Dominic Cooper, Andrew Knott, Samuel Barnett, Russell Tovey, Jamie Parker, James Corden
Director: Tony Scott
Story: An ATF agent (Washington) investigating a ferry bombing in New Orleans must solve the case by harnessing his sense of déjà vu. Can Washington stop the bomber from striking again? Caviezel co-stars as a suspect. Patton plays the woman — who seems so familiar — that Washington is trying to protect.
Buzz: For some of us (pleading guilty), Tony Scott movies (“Man on Fire,” “Crimson Tide”) are a bit of a guilty pleasure, and they’re never more fun than when they co-star the talented Washington. OK, so you know what you’re going to get: washed-out lighting, tons of explosions, and amped-up tension. This isn’t brain surgery but it could be a fun holiday weekend treat.
Web site: http://touchstone.movies.go.com/index.html?dlink=deja
Starring:Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Paula Patton, Bruce Greenwood, Adam Goldberg, Jim Caviezel
“Deck the Halls”
Director: John Whitesell
Story: In his neighborhood, Steve (Broderick) is so enthusiastic about the holidays that he’s known as the king of Christmas. But when Danny (DeVito) moves into the neighborhood, he suddenly has a rival. Danny wants to decorate his house so brightly that it can be seen from space, while Steve is more interested in the true spirit of the holidays. But will their rivalry ruin the holidays for both of their families? Davis co-stars as Broderick’s wife; while Chenoweth plays DeVito’s wife.
Buzz: It’s curious to see Broderick venturing into Tim Allen’s territory, especially under the direction of Whitesell (best known for “Big Momma’s House 2” and “Malibu’s Most Wanted”). This seems like one of those “for the money” roles. Look for pratfalls and a kick or two to someone’s crotch (most likely Broderick’s) in this holiday fare.
Starring:Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick, Kristin Davis, Kristin Chenoweth, Alia Shawkat, Sabrina Aldridge, Kelly Aldridge
“Let’s Go to Prison”
Director: Bob Odenkirk
Story: When John Lyshitski (Shepard) finds himself in jail for the third time, he realizes the son (Arnett) of the now-dead judge who convicted him is incarcerated too. The best way to pass the time in prison? Watch as Arnett gets the full treatment from his fellow inmates — which involves everything from betting on when Arnett will die to the advances of a lusty cellmate (McBride). But will Arnett somehow be able to turn the tables on Shepard?
Buzz: At first glance, this looks like the typical stupid wacky comedy, but Odenkirk is best known as one-half of the "Mr. Show" team. Writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon are co-creators, writers and actors on the very funny “Reno 911.” So maybe there’s more to this wacky comedy than meets the eye — and maybe it’s actually funny. Arnett is best known for his hilarious work on “Arrested Development.”
Web site: http://www.letsgotoprison.com/
“Let’s Go to Prison”
Starring:Dax Shepard, Will Arnett, Chi McBride, Dylan Baker, Steve Dahl, David Koechner, Michael Shannon
“The Nativity Story”
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Story: You likely know this plot: When Mary (Castle Hughes) finds herself pregnant in Judea before her marriage to Joseph (Isaac), she faces the scorn of the community. But an angel of God visits her and tells her she will give birth to Jesus. When King Herod (Hines) forces Joseph to register for the census in Bethlehem, the pregnant Mary accompanies him. Aghdashloo plays Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.
Buzz: It’s a bit distracting that the 16-year-old Castle-Hughes recently announced she’s pregnant (kind of does in that whole virgin mother image a bit). And this is certainly a change of pace for director Hardwicke (“thirteen,” “Lords of Dogtown”). Mel Gibson proved that Christian movie audiences will show up in theaters — if Hardwicke can repeat even half of his success, she’ll have a hit.
Web site: http://www.thenativitystory.com/
Starring:Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac, Hiam Abbass, Shaun Toub, Alexander Siddig, Said Amadis, Ciaran Hinds, Shohreh Aghdashloo
“Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj”
Director: Mort Nathan
Story: In this sequel to 2002’s “Van Wilder,” Van Wilder’s star student (Taj) heads to England's prestigious Camden University, where he takes a group of misfits under his wing and teaches them how to be cool.
Buzz: Penn was undeniably funny as Kumar in “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” This film, however, looks a bit less promising. Nathan’s only other directorial effort was the disastrous “Boat Trip” and this is writer David Drew Gallagher first produced screenplay. You might want to wait for the “Harold and Kumar” sequel instead — it’s coming in 2007.
Starring:Kal Penn, Shobu Kapoor, Dan Percival, Holly Davidson, Anthony Cozens
Director: John Stockwell
Story: When a young group of American backpackers gets stranded in a Brazilian village, their trip goes from glorious to downright scary. There’s something ominous in the little village — something that may take their lives. Duhamel, George and Wilde all play members of the backpacking crew.
Buzz: Stockwell hasn’t had much of a track record lately. He definitely loves beautiful settings and nubile leading actors, but doesn’t seem to care as much about story (see “Into the Blue”). Still, there could be a potential guilty pleasure here, as he’s been known to make those in the past (see “Blue Crush”). A spate of TV actors star: George is best known for her role as Lauren on “Alias”; Duhamel for his role on “Las Vegas”; Wilde for her role as Alex on “The O.C.”
Web site: http://www.myspace.com/turistasmovie
Starring:Josh Duhamel, Melissa George, Olivia Wilde, Desmond Askew, Beau Garrett, Max Brown, Raul Guterres, Andréa Leal
“10 Items or Less”
Director: Brad Silberling
Story: Freeman stars as a movie star who’s had a lengthy absence from the big screen. When he considers taking a role as a supermarket manager, he decides to research it by going to a small ethnic market. There he meets a feisty cashier (Vega); through their conversations, Freeman starts to remember why he became an actor and Vega realizes she might have the confidence to interview for a job she really wants.
Buzz: Director Silberling is the man behind “Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events” and seems to want to simplify with this feature, which he both wrote and directed. The Hollywood Reporter’s Michael Rechtshaffen wrote, “Silberling's wisp of a script just doesn't give [the actors] much to sink their chops into.”
Web site: NA
Starring:Morgan Freeman, Paz Vega, Anne Dudek, Jonah Hill, Alexandra Berardi
Director: Tom Fitzgerald
Story: This story about the AIDS epidemic takes place in three countries: South Africa, China and Canada. In South Africa, a young nun (Sevigny) wants to convert Africans to Christianity and finds herself trying to save a group of young orphans. In the tiny village of Tonghu, China, a woman (Lui) tries to set up a blood collection service; and one man (Tanabadee Chokpikultong) tries to figure out what mysterious disease killed his daughter and wife. In Canada, a porn actor (Ashmore) fakes his blood test every month by providing samples from his geriatric father.
Buzz: Variety’s Dennis Harvey wrote that the film is “a great discussion tool for World AIDS Awareness Day that never achieves coherent shape as a three-paneled drama.” The Toronto Star’s Peter Howell called the film, “unfocussed and listless.” Writer-director Fitzgerald is best known for indie treats like “The Hanging Garden” and “The Event.” He may have gotten in over his head with this ambitious story.
Web site: http://www.wolfevideo.com/wolfereleasing/
Starring:Shawn Ashmore, Lucy Liu, Stockard Channing, Olympia Dukakas, Chloe Sevigny, Sandra Oh
Director: Mel Gibson
Story: Set in the 15th century as the Mayan empire declined, this film tells the story of how high priests decide that the only way to save their failing kingdom is through more temples and more human sacrifice. When one man (Youngblood) is chosen for sacrifice, he decides to flee the kingdom.
Buzz: Even before Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant, this film definitely had some marketing hurdles. As with “The Passion of the Christ,” this film is ultraviolent and subtitled (language de jour: Yucatec Maya). Unlike “The Passion,” this film doesn’t even have a star as big as Jim Caviezel to draw an audience. But Gibson has proved to be a master at previewing his film for specific audiences and letting the groundswell build. If, even after all his bad press, he’s able to accomplish that with this film, the man will have proved himself to be the Teflon king.
Starring:Dalia Hernandez, Mayra Serbulo, Gerardo Taracena, Raoul Trujillo, Rudy Youngblood
Director: Edward Zwick
Story: Set in 1990s Sierre Leone, DiCaprio stars as Danny, a South African mercenary who goes to prison for smuggling diamonds. While there, he learns that Solomon (Hounsou), a Mende fisherman who was taken from his family and forced to work in the diamond mines, has found and hidden an extremely valuable stone. The two men embark on a trek to retrieve the hidden diamond in order to save Solomon’s family and give Danny a second chance. Connelly co-stars as an American journalist who helps the two men on their journey.
Buzz: There’s already Oscar buzz around this film, centering on DiCaprio’s performance. However, Zwick (“The Last Samurai,” “Glory”) loves his history lessons a lot more than he cares about entertaining an audience — and sometimes the end product can be a bit cold. Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeffrey Wells wrote this about Zwick, “He can be tasteful and restrained at times, but also ham-fisted — for my money his emotional points have too often been underlined with a black felt-tip marker.”
Starring:Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, James Purefoy, Arnold Vosloo, Stephen Collins, Michael Sheen
“Breaking and Entering”
Director: Anthony Minghella
Story: When Will’s (Law) architecture firm is robbed numerous times, he follows the young thief (Rafi Gavron) home and is drawn into an affair with his Bosnian mother (Binoche). Wright-Penn plays Will’s depressive live-in girlfriend, who has a 13-year-old daughter (Poppy Rogers) obsessed with gymnastics. Farmiga plays an Eastern European hooker who wants Will to be one of her clients.
Buzz: Minghella (“Cold Mountain,” “The English Patient”) pens his own screenplay for the first time since the extremely good film “Truly, Madly, Deeply” (well worth renting). When "Breaking" debuted at Toronto, it received a muted response, with Variety’s Todd McCarthy writing that the film is likely to “inspire polite admiration rather than excitement,” while The Hollywood Reporter’s Kirk Honeycut called the story “often rewarding though occasionally pretentious.” Look for Binoche come awards time — word is she gives the film’s strongest performance.
Web site: http://www.breakingandentering-movie.com/
Starring:Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright-Penn, Ray Winstone, Martin Freeman, Vera Farmiga
Director: Nancy Meyers
Story: Amanda (Diaz) and Iris (Winslet) both have the same problem: Their boyfriends cheated on them and they need to get away. They discover a Web site that will allow them to swap houses for the holidays. In England, Amanda meets the charming Graham (Law), while in California, Iris meets the lovable Miles (Black).
Buzz: First off, this is a chick flick through and through. But luckily, Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give,” “What Women Want”) has proved to be a master of the genre. The one casting problem here is Diaz — who women just don’t seem to like. Will she keep women away from the film (this could have been what happened with “In Her Shoes”)? Without obvious scenery to chew, will Black be able to show off some acting chops? Winslet continues to show her range.
Web site: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/theholiday/
Starring:Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach, Edward Burns, Rufus Sewell
“Off the Black”
Director: James Ponsoldt
Story: Nolte stars as a grizzled high-school umpire whose house is vandalized one night by a disgruntled student (Morgan). The student, who’s trying to cope with his own distant father, (Hutton) begins to come by the house every day to pay off his debt. Nolte decides to make the kid a deal. If Morgan pretends to be his son at his 40th high school reunion, he’ll consider the debt paid.
Buzz: This is writer-director Ponsoldt’s first feature. Variety’s Justin Chang praised the drama as a “solid single” and wrote that “few who see [the film] will leave wholly unaffected." Film Threat’s Eric Campos wrote, “Nolte fanatics won't want to miss this performance. It's a real kick in the shorts.” Morgan is best known for his roles in “Mean Creek” and in HBO’s “Empire Falls.”
Web site: NA
Starring:Nick Nolte, Trevor Morgan, Timothy Hutton, Sally Kirkland
Director: Paul Feig
Story: On Christmas Eve, five unaccompanied minors find themselves snowed in at the airport: awkward Spencer (Christopher), rich girl Grace (Mantenga), tomboy Donna (Shephard), geeky Charlie (Williams) and shy Beef (Kelly). Together they try to outwit a grumpy airport official (Black) with a little help from a reluctant flight attendant (Valderrama).
Buzz: Nothing about this looks anything but screechingly awful — this year’s “Cheaper by the Dozen” screaming-kids equivalent. Yet, there are some interesting players here. Williams is the talented title star from “Everybody Hates Chris.” Kelly gave a memorable performance as the Kid in “Bad Santa.” Corddry and Black have both done their time on “The Daily Show.” Director Feig is the man who created “Freaks and Geeks” and is known for directing “Arrested Development” and “The Office.” Still, even with all that talent, if this film is anything but awful, it will be a holiday surprise indeed.
Starring:Lewis Black, Wilmer Valderrama, Tyler James Williams, Dyllan Christopher, Gina Mantegna, Quinn Shephard, Brett Kelly, Rob Corddry, Jessica Walter
Director: Bill Condon
Story: Based on the Tony-winning musical, this film tells the story of an all-female group’s (Knowles, Hudson and Rose) turbulent rise to the top and the sacrifices they made to get there. Foxx plays ambitious manager Curtis Taylor, who offers the girls a chance to sing backup for the colorful James “Thunder” Early (Murphy). Taylor finally gets them their own shot to become the Dreams, but wants to push talented Effie (Hudson) out of the picture in favor of the more beautiful Deena (Knowles).
Buzz: Since the studio showed 20 minutes of this film at Cannes, the buzz on this movie has been huge. There’s already tons of talk about a best-picture Oscar nomination and supporting nods for Murphy and former “American Idol” contestant Hudson (that shows you, Simon Cowell!). In fact, there’s word that the reason Streep’s role in “The Devil Wears Prada” is being pushed as a best-actress performance instead of best-supporting is because the studio doesn’t want her to have to compete against Hudson. Wow. Condon is the man who adapted the screenplay for “Chicago,” and he adapts this one as well. He’s best known for directing the very good “Gods and Monsters.”
Web site: http://www.dreamgirls.dreamworks.com/
Starring:Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Anika Noni Rose, Jennifer Hudson, Keith Robinson, Bobby Slayton
“The Pursuit of Happyness”
Story: Financial hardships put pressure on Chris Gardner’s (Smith) marriage. When his wife (Newton) leaves, it’s up to him to create a better life for his young son (Jaden Smith). He decides to take an unpaid internship at a well-known stock-brokerage firm, which forces dad and son to take up residence in bus stations, shelters and wherever else they can find a place to stay. But he hopes that his internship will give them both a better life.
Buzz: Good early word of mouth on this film: Mike Sampson of JoBlo.com wrote, “The relationship between father and son might be the best ever filmed.” Smith becomes an Oscar contender with this role, in which he plays opposite his real-life son, Jaden. If Smith, Forrest Whitaker, Derek Luke and Djimon Hounsou all get nominated, this could be a great year for black actors. Italian director Muccino is the man behind the superior film upon which the American “Last Kiss” was based.
Web site: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/thepursuitofhappyness/index.html
Starring:Will Smith, Thandie Newton, Jaden Smith, Dan Castellaneta, Zuhair Haddad Director: Gabriele Muccino
“The Good German”
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Story: Clooney is American war correspondent Jake Geismar in this film set in post-WWII Berlin. Ostensibly, he’s there to cover the Allied summit meeting, but really he wants to find lost love Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), whose missing husband is being hunted by both the Americans and the Russians. Can Jake help Lena and her husband escape from Berlin? Maguire co-stars as Jake’s driver, who has some nefarious black-market connections.
Buzz: Clooney’s passion projects either end in awards (“Good Night and Good Luck”) or obscurity (“Solaris”). He yet again passed up a healthy paycheck to take this role. Soderburgh’s last truly powerful movie was 2000’s “Traffic.” This is only Maguire’s second non-“Spider-Man” film since 2002. If he wants to keep from being typecast, this is his chance to stretch. Soderbergh told Entertainment Weekly that he was most excited about Maguire’s work in this film.
Web site: http://thegoodgerman.warnerbros.com/
Starring:George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire, Leland Orser, Beau Bridges, Tony Curran
Director: Gary Winick
Story: Every kid knows the tale. Wilbur (Kay) is the runt pig of the litter, who’s rescued by little Fern (Fanning). He comes to live in the barn with a bunch of different animals and is befriended by a wise spider named Charlotte (Roberts). When Wilbur realizes that he may end up in the smokehouse, Charlotte devises a plan to keep him safe. Based on E.B. White’s classic book.
Buzz: For some of us, the voices from the 1973 animated movie — which featured Debbie Reynolds as Charlotte, Paul Lynde as Templeton and Henry Gibson as Wilbur — feel so distinctive that it’s just strange to hear different voices come out of those characters’ mouths. That said Buscemi is an inspired choice for Templeton. Director Winick (“13 Going on 30”) used a combination of CGI and puppetry for animals.
Starring:Dakota Fanning, Dominic Scott Kay, Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, André Benjamin, Thomas Haden Church, Robert Redford, Reba McEntire, Kathy Bates
Director: Stefen Fangmeier
Story: This mythic adventure stars Speleers as Eragon, a young farm boy who discovers a dragon egg. When Eragon’s uncle is killed, he sets off to avenge him with help from Saphira the dragon and storyteller Brom (Irons). Together they realize it is up to them to unite the kingdom and overthrow the evil king Galbatorix (Malkovich).
Buzz: A movie that definitely wants to be this year’s “Lord of the Rings,” the book on which this film is based is also the first of a trilogy. Author Christopher Paolini is currently at work on the third book; he started writing “Eragon” when he was 15 years old. Irons and Malkovich in the same movie sounds like fun until you remember the two starred together in the awful “Man in the Iron Mask.” This is Speleers' first movie role. A visual effect specialist, Fangmeier makes his directing debut.
Starring:Edward Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle, Djimon Hounsou, Garrett Hedlund, John Malkovich
“Home of the Brave”
Director: Irwin Winkler
Story: This drama follows four soldiers (Sam Jackson, Biel, Curtis Jackson and Presley) who are nearing the end of their tour of duty in Iraq. But at the last moment they are sent on a humanitarian mission where they are attacked. The mission takes its toll on the soldiers, who must deal with both physical and psychological injuries once they return to the States.
Buzz: This feels like a movie that should be opening in March, not December. With its simple “support the troops” premise, you may tear up watching, but later feel manipulated. This is Curtis Jackson’s first role since “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” It’s hard not to admire Biel for actually trying to build a real acting career instead of just taking sexpot roles (looking at you, Jessica Alba). Presley is best known for his role as Jack Ramsey on the soap “Port Charles.”
Web site: NA
“Home of the Brave”
Starring:Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Brian Presley, Christina Ricci, Chad Michael Murray
Director: Roger Michell
Story: A pair of veteran actors, Maurice (O’Toole) and Ian (Phillips), find their routine interrupted when Ian’s outgoing grandniece Jessie (Whittaker) comes to stay. But Maurice finds himself drawn to the young girl as he contemplates his last chance at love. Redgrave plays O’Toole’s ex-wife.
Buzz: O’Toole (“Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Lion in Winter”) is 73 and has been nominated for the Oscar seven times, but has yet to win (though he did receive an honorary Oscar in 2003). This makes him a huge contender for his work in this film, which received good advance buzz when it played at Toronto. The Hollywood Reporter's Michael Rechtshaffen called O’Toole’s work a “superbly rendered portrayal.”
Starring:Peter O'Toole, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Griffiths, Leslie Phillips, Jodie Whittaker
“Arthur and the Invisibles”
Director: Luc Besson
Story: Highmore stars as a boy whose grandfather’s house is threatened by evil developers. In order to save it, he follows his grandfather’s clues to find the fabled land of the Minimoys, a race of incredibly tiny people who have a huge treasure. Unfortunately, an evil wizard (voiced by Bowie) guards the treasure, so Arthur joins forces with a princess (voiced by Madonna) to save both their “kingdoms.” Farrow plays Highmore’s grandmother.
Buzz: The film combines live action with CGI animation — when Highmore goes to the Minimoy world, he appears as an animated character. Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “La Femme Nikita”) not only wrote the screenplay but also the best-selling children’s books the movie is based on.
Starring:Mia Farrow, Freddie Highmore, Madonna, David Bowie, Snoop Dogg
Director: Michael Corrente
Story: Set in Brooklyn in 1985 against the backdrop of John Gotti’s rise to power, this film tells the story of three boyhood friends whose separate ambitions lead them in different directions. When one is drawn to mafia life, will their friendship fall apart?
Buzz: Screenwriter Terrence Winter knows his way around a mob story; he’s penned over 20 episodes of “The Sopranos,” and is one of the show’s producers. Director Corrente helmed the sweet but flawed “Outside Providence” (the highlight of which was a great scenery-chewing turn by Baldwin). Between his role in “30 Rock” and the character roles he takes, Baldwin has really rediscovered himself as an actor. Ferrara is best known for his role as Turtle on “Entourage.”
Web site: NA
Starring:Alec Baldwin, Freddie Prinze Jr, Scott Caan, Jerry Ferrara, Mira Sorvino
“Night at the Museum”
Director: Shawn Levy
Story: Stiller stars as Larry Daley, a good-hearted dreamer who takes a menial job as a security guard in a museum on the graveyard shift. But little does he realize that at night, all the creatures in the museum, from the dinosaur bones to the wax figure of Teddy Roosevelt (Williams), come to life.
Buzz: Levy (“Pink Panther,” “Cheaper by the Dozen”) is one of the kings of lackluster PG-13 comedies. Audiences seem to love the wacky Stiller, who hasn’t played the lead in a film since 2004’s “Meet the Fockers.” It's hard to see what the appeal of this film would be for adults, but kids should find the idea of museum creatures coming to life endlessly entertaining. Expect this one to do big box office.
“Night at the Museum”
Starring:Ben Stiller, Carla Gugino, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Ricky Gervais, Kim Raver, Robin Williams
“The Painted Veil”
Director: John Curran
Story: Based on the book by W. Somerset Maugham (and the 1934 movie that starred Greta Garbo) about a society woman (Watts) who hastily marries an English doctor (Norton). When they two move to Shanghai, she becomes dissatisfied with her marriage, and takes a lover (Schreiber). The couple then reunite to venture deeper into China in an effort to fight the growing cholera epidemic.
Buzz: Maugham’s book is an incredible read — Norton was reportedly so taken with it that it was his idea to make the movie. Curran is the man behind the very good domestic drama, “We Don’t Live Here Anymore.” This is screenwriter Ron Nyswaner’s first script since 1993’s “Philadelphia.” The dream cast of Schreiber, Watts and Norton could definitely produce some Oscar nominations. Jones is best known for his role as Truman Capote in “Infamous.”
Starring:Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Sally Hawkins, Toby Jones
“The Good Shepherd”
Director: Robert De Niro
Story: Damon plays Edward Wilson, a character modeled on the long-serving CIA counter-intelligence chief James Jesus Angleton (known as “Kingfisher” in the agency), who became extremely paranoid toward the end of his career. The film follows the early part of Wilson’s life, his rise in the agency and his dedication to serving his country at the expense of his home life. Jolie plays Wilson’s wife.
Buzz: This film is a bit of a question mark. Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeffrey Wells points out that if the film doesn’t cover Angleton’s descent into paranoia, it could be ignoring the most interesting aspect of his life. Jolie just seems too glamorous to play this role — and honestly, she looks like she could take Damon in a fight; they are an oddly matched couple. This is De Niro’s (“Bronx Tale”) second directorial effort. If it all the disparate pieces come together, this could be a great winter surprise — but word is De Niro had a lot of footage to edit, so we’ll see if he pulls it together.
Web site: NA
“The Good Shepherd”
Starring:Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, William Hurt, John Turturro, Robert De Niro, Alec Baldwin, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Story: Retired Rocky Balboa (Stallone) decides that maybe there’s something left in his old gas tank and plans to start fighting regionally again. Then a virtual boxing match declares that the young Rocky could have beaten the current champion, Mason "The Line" Dixon (Tarver), and promoters begin coming after him to fight Dixon. But is this older Rocky up to the fight?
Buzz: What can you say about a movie where Rocky’s trainer mentions the calcium deposits on the former champ’s joints? Yikes. Stallone turned 60 years old this past July. When George Foreman beat Michael Moorer, he was 45 years old. Let’s face it; you can only suspend disbelief so much. The real mystery here: Who exactly wants to see this film? Talk about an underdog story. Stallone also directs his own screenplay.
Starring:Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Milo Ventimiglia, Tony Burton, James Francis Kelly, Antonio Tarver, Geraldine Hughes
“We Are Marshall”
Story: Based on true events, this film tells the story of the Marshall College football team who lost 75 players and coaches to a plane crash in 1973. Fox plays one of the surviving assistant coaches, Red Dawson and McConaughey plays Jack Lengyel, the new coach who wants to honor the deceased players and heal the community by bringing the team back to greatness.
Buzz: Director McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) told Entertainment Weekly he took the film to do something completely different. Both Fox and McConaughey have limitations as actors. Fox leans a bit too hard on being intense and brooding, while McConaughey lets his own brand of charm carry him. Still this movie looks like a feel-good weeper for sports fans.
Web site: http://wearemarshall-themovie.warnerbros.com/
“We Are Marshall”
Starring:Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, David Strathairn, Ian McShane, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, January Jones, Kimberly Williams-Paisley
“Curse of the Golden Flower”
Director: Zhang Yimou
Story: Yun-Fat is a king who is pitted against the queen (Li) and their three sons (Jin, Cho and Qin Junjie) in a story of betrayal and power that involves two illicit affairs.
Buzz: This is China’s candidate for best foreign-language film; Yimou (“House of Flying Daggers,” “Hero”) has never been nominated for an Oscar and at this point, he’s starting to look overdue. The one thing you can always expect from Yimou is sumptuous visuals, and once again he’s brought back cinematographer Xiaoding Zhao, who worked on “Daggers.” Siu-Tung Ching is the action director — he handled those duties on “Hero,” “Daggers” and “Shaolin Soccer” — so expect some thrilling fight scenes.
Web site: http://www.sonyclassics.com/curseofthegoldenflower/
Starring:Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Liu Ye, Chen Jin, Jay Chou
“Children of Men”
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Story: Set in London in 2027, this film tells the story of a world torn apart by war, famine and global infertility — one in which no human has been born in 18 years. Owen stars as a disillusioned bureaucrat who is convinced by his revolutionary ex-wife (Moore) to help transport a woman (Ashitey), who becomes mysteriously pregnant, to a mysterious sanctuary. Caine co-stars as a pot-smoking hippie that Owen encounters on his journey. Based on the novel by P.D. James.
Buzz: Cuarón (“Y tu Mama Tambien,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) is one of the most underrated filmmakers working right now. He has a way of taking a genre picture (like “Potter”) and reinvigorating it. The Hollywood Reporter wrote of this film, “Alfonso Cuaron takes the classic movie formula of a cynical tough guy required to see an innocent party to safe harbor, and shoots it to pieces.” Of Caine’s performance, critic Emanuel Levy wrote, “Caine shines, giving the film the little warmth and color it has with his wonderfully eccentric turn that should be remembered at Oscar time.”
Web site: http://www.childrenofmen.net
“Children of Men”
Starring:Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Charlie Hunnam, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Claire-Hope Ashitey
“Notes on a Scandal”
Director: Richard Eyre
Story: Blanchett stars as Sheba Hart, the new art teacher at St. George’s school. Another teacher Barbara Covett (Dench) is drawn to her. When Sheba begins an illicit affair with a student (Andrew Simpson), Covett begins to realize the power that knowing that secret gives her. Nighy co-stars as Blanchett’s husband. Based on the Zoë Heller novel, "What Was She Thinking?"
Buzz: Don’t be surprised to see Dench’s name on that Oscar best-actress list. She’s been nominated five times and won once (for an extremely brief performance in “Shakespeare in Love”). Director Eyre is the man behind the very good (worth a rental) “Stage Beauty” and “Iris.” With this film, “Babel” and “The Good German,” Blanchett is having one heck of a year.
Web site: http://www2.foxsearchlight.com/notesonascandal/
Starring:Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Bill Nighy
Director: Glen Morgan
Story: This remake of the Margot Kidder 1974 cult classic tells the story of a group of sorority sisters whose house is terrorized by a killer during Christmas Break.
Buzz: Our own columnist Dave White is dismayed by this remake . Compare the taglines. In 1974: “If this movie doesn't make your skin crawl... It's On Too Tight!” In 2006: “One Hell Of A Slay Ride!” Doesn’t 1974’s just sound like more fun?
Web site: NA
Starring:Michelle Trachtenberg, Lacey Chabert, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Katie Cassidy, Andrea Martin, Jessica Harmon, Oliver Hudson
“Perfume — The Story of a Murder”
Director: Tom Tykwer
Story: Based on the best-selling novel by Patrick Suskind, this film tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Whishaw), a man with an uncannily fine-tuned sense of smell, which he uses to create the finest perfumes. In his quest to capture the scent of young womanhood, his work takes a deadly turn. Hurd-Wood plays his ultimate sweet-smelling conquest, while Rickman portrays her protective father. Hoffman plays Grenouille’s mentor.
Buzz: Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) is known for his visual inventiveness, so expect vivid colors and edits that echo the lead character’s emotional state. Though the film is in English, it was already a huge hit in Germany (Tykwer’s homeland); it didn’t fare quite as well in France. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Tykwer “succeeds reasonably well in achieving what many said was beyond the scope of cinema: conveying the world of scent and smell.”
Starring:Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Dustin Hoffman
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Story: Set toward the end of the Spanish Civil War, this film tells the story of Ofelia (Verdu), a young girl who deals with the world’s strife by creating her own fantasy world. She goes with her pregnant mother to stay with her stepfather (Lopez) an ominous man who lives in the country and works for Franco’s government.
Buzz: Can you say sleeper hit? Del Toro is the man behind fun, inventive films like “Hellboy” and “Cronos” (worth a rental). Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek wrote, “Del Toro's imagery is so vivid and concrete that it's likely to change the color of your sleep.” Film critic Emanuel Levy wrote that the film is “brilliant from first frame to last.” This film also has an opportunity to take home that Oscar foreign-language prize.
Starring:Maribel Verdu, Sergi Lopez, Ariadna Gil, Alex Angulo, Doug Jones
Director: George Hickenlooper
Story: Set in 1965, the film tells the story of legendary Edie Sedgwick (Miller), who's just a young student when she heads to New York and meets Andy Warhol (Pearce). The artist promises to make Sedgwick a star, and she explodes on the New York scene but starts to lose her grip on reality. Christensen plays a Bob Dylan-esque singer.
Buzz: According to Hollywood Elsewhere critic Jeffrey Wells, Miller gives an Oscar-caliber performance here. “It's more than convincing,” he wrote of her work in the film, “It's a kind of rebirthing.” L.A. Times Oscar prognosticator Tom O'Neil wrote that because Miller “sacrifices her beauty,” it gives her an edge in the best-actress category. However, this is a year (for a change) with a lot of competitors for that best-actress crown.
Web site: NA
Starring:Sienna Miller, Hayden Christensen, Guy Pearce, Mena Suvari, Jimmy Fallon
Director: Chris Noonan
Story: Zellweger stars as the beloved children’s book author Beatrix Potter in this film that tells the story of how she wrote and published her first book, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.” McGregor co-stars as her publisher and love interest, Norman Warne, who proposed to her in 1905. Their romance created friction with Potter's family.
Buzz: According to Entertainment Weekly, this film was originally conceived as a musical. Screenwriter Richard Maltby Jr. is well-known for his work with partner David Shire on Broadway musicals, such as “Starting Here, Starting Now” and “Baby.” Though the film is no longer a musical, it does use animated sequences to showcase Potter’s imagination. Noonan is best-known for directing “Babe.”
Web site: NA
Starring:Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Emily Watson, Barbara Flynn, Bill Paterson, Lloyd Owen
“The Dead Girl”
Director: Karen Moncrieff
Story: When a lonesome caretaker (Collette) to an old woman stumbles upon a dead girl’s (Murphy) body, an entire community is shaken by seeing one of their own so terribly brutalized, and it sets off a series of mysteries. A mother (Steenburgen) searches for her own missing daughter, while a wife uncovers her husband’s connection to the murdered girl.
Buzz: Writer-director Moncrieff is the woman who wrote and directed the poetic “Blue Car” (well worth a rental). Collette (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “In Her Shoes”) is one of the most chameleon-like and underrated actresses around — she’s in Streep territory. Washington deserves to get better roles than her almost voiceless wife in “Last King of Scotland” (and do I even need to mention her role in “Little Man”?). Casting directors, get this woman some better parts.
Web site: NA
“The Dead Girl”
Starring:Toni Collette, Brittany Murphy, Marcia Gay Harden, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Rose Byrne, Giovanni Ribisi, Kerry Washington, Mary Steenburgen, Mary Beth Hurt, Piper Laurie, Nick Searcy
Note: All dates are subject to change.