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Holiday Movie Preview 2011

Everyone loves the holidays (unless you're the grinch), and the same can be said for the Holiday Movie Season. With a handful of action titles, some comedies, a hint of romance and the finest dramatic films that 2011 has to offer, there's little room for argument that this is "the most cinemawonderful time of the year." Everyone gets at least a few movies on their wishlist with the breadth of genres offered.

As we've done the last several movie seasons now, each of the writers on the PAM staff (seven of us presently) submitted his list of Top 10 most anticipated films between now and Jan. 1. We averaged out the placement of each movie and came up with our collective Top 10, and then each of us supplemented it with a film not on that list that we're excited about, which we've dubbed Critic's Picks. There are other movies coming out this Holiday Season, but you probably shouldn't care.

10. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Dec. 16)

Viewers were split about the original Sherlock Holmes, with many appalled at how their beloved source material (which in the past had been handled very traditionally) was brought to the big screen while others defended it on merits that stretched far into Holmes-nerd territory.

For myself, it served as a better-than-average popcorn flick with a great sense of fun and setting, not to mention a sensational turn from Downey Jr. and Jude Law as the odd couple sleuths. There is nothing to suggest “A Game of Shadows” will be anything different in terms of execution, but it does seem to be more action heavy, though this could just be a case of the trailer trying to boost buzz.

Director Guy Ritchie certainly has flair to spare (a trait I’ve admired on more than one occasion while I have been the scourge of another’s moving-going procession) and it was all on display in the first. For the sequel he’s tossed in the wonderful Noomi Rapace from the Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and finally introduced the nemesis to end all rivals, Prof. Moriarty, played by Jared Harris. I imagine many will remain in their respective camps on how they feel about this franchise, but I would not expect anything else. Oh and did I mention Downey Jr. appears in drag? ~Simon


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Written by Michele and Kieran Mulroney
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris


Simon’s Critic’s Pick: War Horse (Dec. 25)

Steven Spielberg, though a busy man in the role of producing, has not directed a feature since 2007’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and has not brought us a war-centric film since Munich. In 2011 he will boast not one but two outings (and within days of each other) including his motion-capture take on the comic-book character Tintin and then War Horse, a World War I period epic about a young soldier and the bond he develops with his horse.

From the trailers, the film looks simply stunning, but then when has Spielberg every made an ugly-looking movie? War movies are few and far between and we are almost never treated to one based around The Great War. These films comprise one of my favorite genres, so I snatch them up when I can, especially when Spielberg is involved.

The conflict aside, there seems to be a very human story at the center of War Horse, which is what made Saving Private Ryan the masterpiece it was and there is a great blend of upcoming and proven talent with a cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson and David Thewlis. Honestly, I can’t imagine why anybody wouldn’t be anticipating this epic, even if it’s just to wash away the still-sour taste most carry after the fourth “Indiana Jones” entry.


War Horse
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Lee Hall
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson and David Thewlis 



9. The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 21)

Americans aren't privy to everything, and Hergé's globally adored "Tintin" comics fall into that category. The comic series has been given new life by none other than Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson through use of motion-capture technology; the entire film was shot this way.

Investigative reporter Tintin (Bell) buys a little model of the ship The Unicorn, and soon finds that the sinister Ivanovich Sakharine (Craig) is strangely willing to do just about anything including kidnap Tintin in order to have it himself. To get answers, Tintin and his faithful pup, Snowy, embark on a journey aboard a cargo ship that entangles them with the drunken Captain Haddock, whose family history sheds some light on the secret of The Unicorn.

"Tintin" already received a U.K. release back in late October and is doing well in global markets. Our own Kieran Freemantle thought it was pretty special too. "Tintin" strikes me as being a terrific adventure with incredible visuals. All the right hands had a role in making this happen and it could be akin to "Avatar" in terms of leaving a blueprint for the success of motion-capture, though this one being entirely motion capture of course. With most animated films sticking with animal characters, motion capture’s success in this instance could be used to help bring other human-based drawn properties to life in the future. ~Steven


The Adventures of Tintin
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, Hergé (comics)
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig



8. The Muppets (Nov. 23)

It's (almost) time to play the music. It's (almost) time to light the lights. Yes, the Muppets are making their triumphant return to the big screen on Nov. 23 in the appropriately titled The Muppets. And if that news alone doesn't get you excited, surely the ace comedy team behind this revival will. The film is directed by Flight of the Conchords helmer James Bobin and written by the team behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller.

The film, in many ways, seems to echo real life. It follows three “Muppets” fanatics on a quest to reunite the old gang and save the Muppet Theater from almost certain destruction, but do the Muppets even want to return? Kermit has become a world-weary recluse, while Miss Piggy is a successful fashion editor. Gonzo owns a plumbing business and Animal is in a celebrity anger management facility. 

The Muppets have been called relics, but Segel (who stars in the film along with Amy Adams and a new Muppet, Walter) has a great affection for their brand of humor, and he has promised a respectful Muppet movie. His involvement makes me confident this will be more than just a money grab, and with so many heavy movies coming out this holiday season, this might be the counter-programming everyone is looking for. ~John


The Muppets
Directed by James Bobin
Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, Jim Henson (characters)
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams and Chris Cooper



John’s Critic’s Pick: The Descendants (Nov. 18 - Limited)

It's been seven years since an Alexander Payne film last graced the big screen, and my, what a long wait it's been. Payne, the man responsible for such modern classics as Election and Sideways, works in the same vein as one of my favorite directors — Woody Allen. Both make insightful, emotionally resonant films full of witty, sometimes dark comedy. Allen already knocked it out of the park earlier this year with Midnight in Paris, and if early word is any indication, Payne's film is as good or better.

George Clooney stars as a father forced to accept a more visible role in his family after his wife suffers an accident and goes into a coma. He clashes with his older daughter (Shailene Woodley), and is unable to understand why she still carries resentment toward her mother considering the circumstances. When she reveals that his wife was cheating on him before her accident, he freaks out and begins a frantic search of his wife's lover across the Hawaiian Islands.

After premiering to raves on the fall festival circuit, The Descendants carries lofty expectations and a ton of Oscar buzz. Expect Clooney and Woodley to be in the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress races for the duration of the Oscar season, while Payne could be a double nominee for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. We might even be looking at a Best Picture frontrunner if buzz continues to build and audience response is as good as the critics so far.


The Descendants
Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, Kaui Hart Hemmings (novel)
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Judy Greer Matthew Lillard



7. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Dec. 9 - Limited)

Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Franklin (John C. Riley) play a couple that fall in love and get pregnant with Kevin (Ezra Miller). All seems well once Kevin is born, though where Franklin sees a little baby boy, Eva takes notice of certain traits. He never stops screaming nor does he respond positively to her. As he grows, Eva begins to notice more and more dark behaviors in their son. Franklin brushes it all off but eventually Kevin commits a massacre of his fellow students and teachers, leaving Eva and Franklin in the aftermath of his action.

When troubled teens attack and kill their fellow students in film, more often than not we're exposed to the killer's perspective. We Need to Talk About Kevin, the latest from director Lynne Ramsay's (Ratcatcher) and based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, takes the same scenario but deals predominately in both the events leading up to the massacre and how Eva comes under fire after. Ramsay also has a distinct visual style that is sure to capture the creepy nature of raising a child that isn't quite right. The film already has massive awards buzz for Swinton, some calling it the best she's done yet. And given the work she's done, that makes "Kevin" something to see.


We Need to Talk About Kevin
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Written by Lynne Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Riley, Eza Miller



Max’s Critic’s Pick: My Week with Marilyn (Nov. 23 – Limited)

For being one of the most iconic women in film, Marilyn Monroe remains largely an enigma to most audiences. Selling itself as the true story of writer Colin Clark, the film follows Clark's younger days as a production assistant on the 1956 shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl, starring Sir Laurence Oliver (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). With her new husband Arthur Miller having left the English country for work, Monroe is entrusted to Clark to see to her around the countryside. Yeah, that's a good idea.

Naturally, the film will look to put a light on the secrets of Monroe, at least during her time spent with Clark for that week. The cast is solid, adding all the above names to Judi Dench (who can do no wrong) and Emma Watson (who will do fine without "Harry Potter," thank you!). All eyes are on Williams naturally, who has been making the rounds with her Marilyn likeness for well over a year now. While Williams has been making some very solid additions to her resume in the past year (Blue Valentine, Wendy & Lucy), "Monroe" looks to be her highest profile to date since Brokeback Mountain.


My Week With Marilyn
Directed by Simon Curtis
Written by Adrian Hodges, based on the books by Colin Clark
Starring: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench, Emma Watson 



6. Shame (Dec. 2 - Limited)

In 2008, an incredible movie was released called Hunger. This hard-hitting drama about the IRA hunger strike was an excellent debut feature for artist Steve McQueen that showed Michael Fassbender as an actor to be reckoned with. The two have reunited and brought in the Oscar-nominated actress Carey Mulligan for Shame.

Shame has already gained a lot of praise, winning the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival and nominated for the Golden Lion there as well. It was also nominated for seven awards at the British Independent Film Awards.

But this is a rather controversial film, as it has earned an NC-17 rating for sexually explicit content. Brandon (Fassbender) is a 30-something yuppie living in New York City suffering from sex addiction. Already struggling with his depraved activities his life really starts to spiral out of control when his wayward sister, Sissy (Mulligan) moves into his apartment. ~Kieran


Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Steve McQueen and Abi Morgan
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan



Kieran’s Critic’s Pick: The Iron Lady (Dec. 12 - Limited)

As the Player Affinity Movies department resident politics junkie and British correspondent (not to mention my degree is in history), a biopic of Britain’s first female Prime Minister and one of her longest servicing was always going to be of interest to me. Whether this is going to be a right-wing depiction of Margaret Thatcher as the savior of Britain or a left-wing view saying that she is the most evil person to live since Hitler, I do not know, but my viewpoint is much more middle of the road. It appears to depict her rise to power and the toll it had on her being female and taking up some controversial causes.

This movie itself caused controversy, actually (at least over here), with the casting American actress Meryl Streep, but I personally think they did well to get one of the best actresses around and she looks and sounds like Thatcher in the trailer. Streep will probably get another Oscar nod as she reunites with Mamma Mia! director Phyllida Lloyd, though if you hold that movie against Lloyd, keep in mind she was an accomplished theater director before that musical.

Abi Morgan (Sex Traffic, Shame) has written the screenplay and a top British cast has been assembled: Jim Broadbent, Olivia Coleman (Hot Fuzz), Anthony Head and Richard E. Grant.


The Iron Lady
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Written by Abi Morgan
Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant



5. Young Adult (Dec. 16) 

While awards season usually gets everyone talking about releases from the established filmmaking elite, as far as young directors go, there aren’t many with a record as spotless as Jason Reitman’s. From Thank You for Smoking to Up in the Air, Reitman has proven himself as a reliable crafter of character-driven comedies that win over critics and audiences alike with sparkling dialogue and interesting leads. 

So for many, it’s exciting that Young Adult looks like his most Jason Reitman-y movie yet, which sees Oscar-winner Charlize Theron playing a self-centered divorcee going to her small-town’s high school reunion to try and steal away an old flame. All the Reitman trademarks are there in the trailer: Pithy dialogue with heart, an engaging lead and what looks to be another great eclectic soundtrack.

The clever dialogue gets a boost as well asYoung Adult reunites Reitman with Diablo Cody, a duo that last time paired won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Juno. Theron is as watchable a leading lady as anyone could ask for and with the always lovable Patton Oswalt getting some serious screen time, it might be hard not to add this to Reitman’s growing catalog of inspired crowd-pleasers. ~Sam


Young Adult
Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Diablo Cody
Starring Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt



Sam’s Critic’s Pick: Carnage (Dec. 16 - Limited)

Family dramas are a staple of the winter season, as they provide us an escape from our own Holiday family turmoil by watching other people’s familial misfortune. As uncomfortable as deteriorating relationships can be to watch, using them as a source for pitch-black comedy could make for a wincingly good time, especially in the hands of Roman Polanski.

Based on the acclaimed French play, Carnage centers around two sets of parents coming together to reach a detente after their sons get in a fight at school. Over the course of one evening, the parents will see their manners and feigned politeness devolve into, well, carnage, as parent turns on parent, wife against husband, and the petty fighting of children becoming an excuse for petty fighting among adults.

It might sound like a stress-filled pressure cooker, but if anyone can find some gallows humor in this premise, it’s Polanski. And with John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster playing the yin to Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz’s yang, sticking these four fantastic actors into a room for 79 minutes could make for one of the year’s funniest, most cringe-inducing comedies.


Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Yasmina Reza and Roman Polanski
Starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly



4. The Artist (Nov. 23 - Limited)

Movies about movies tend to either reach excellence or erupt in disaster. Considering the pedigree and acclaim this one’s received since its bow at the Cannes Film Festival, it’s probably in the former. Beginning in the days of silent film, Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist gives an account of a famous actor whose stardom fades when sound becomes a part of the cinema.

French unknown Jean Dujardin leads the film in a performance that nabbed the Best Actor prize at Cannes above names that included Ryan Gosling (Drive), Sean Penn (This Must Be the Place) and Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life). He’s sure to win more prizes along the way to the Oscars and might even win Hollywood’s highest honor when all is said and done.

Oh, and one big thing about the movie: it’s actually a (mostly) silent film in black and white. No modern catch here: The Artist strives to tell its story more effectively by literally immersing itself in the narrative. If word catches on, this could end up in theaters everywhere close to/ around Christmas. ~Julian


The Artist
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
Written by Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman



Julian’s Critic’s Pick: Hugo (Nov. 23)

Martin Scorsese gushed about 3D technology several years ago – and even claimed that the harrowing drama Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire should have utilized the feature – so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that just two years later he’s arrived with a film that was shot in 3D.

Scorsese is associated with family-friendly films almost as often as James Cameron is with independent cinema, so most of us probably weren’t expecting the PG-rated period fantasy adventure Hugo. Led by Asa Butterfield from The Boy in the Striped Pajamas as the title character, Hugo ventures alongside Isabella (played by Chloe Moretz of Kick-Ass and Let Me In) to uncover secrets about his recently deceased father.

It’s never wrong to anticipate a Scorsese film, and the risk that he’s taking with much tamer fare – as opposed to his usual work – is just one of the reasons that this is high on my must-see list. Although it’s definitely aiming for families over the Thanksgiving holiday, there’s more than meets the eye in a subplot that should satisfy cinephiles everywhere, with a supporting turn from Sir Ben Kingsley as George Méliès, a director from the very first days of film.


Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by John Logan
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Sir Ben Kingsley



3. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Dec. 21, Limited IMAX Dec. 16)

The first Mission: Impossible is one of those movies that remains more iconic than it is actually a strong film. The scene of Tom Cruise dangling over a rigged floor has been spoofed and copied and immortalized to the extreme, but as the twists mount, it loses its energy. The second benefited from the wild and over-the-top direction of John Woo, who threw caution to the wind and jumped in head first. The linear improvement of the series continued in J.J. Abrams Mission: Impossible III, which featured the best dialogue, cast and action of the bunch, and now we get to see if Pixar director Brad Bird can keep things impressively fresh.

The principle cast from the previous film return,with new addition Jeremy Renner to add some hip flavor to the mix. Plus, he is just a damn solid actor. Ever since the first trailer debuted, “Ghost Protocol” promises slick action and a premise that places the “Impossible Mission Force” on the run; not a game-changing concept here, but at last a change of pace. Cruise seems to have reclaimed some of the good will he accumulated throughout the ‘90s, even if he is no longer the golden son of opening any old movie. Even so, this is a popular brand and everything about this four-quel promises a fine ol’ time at the movies.


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Directed by Brad Bird
Written by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec
Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton



2. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Dec. 9 - Limited)

As if more proof were needed, The King’s Speech reminded everyone that when it comes to award season, Hollywood loves a stuffy British period piece. And while there’s a reason these movies pop up every year, many folks are growing tired of slow character dramas getting all the awards attention every year.

Which probably explains why Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is already set to explode when it reaches American shores this December. Based on John le Carré’s novel, “Tinker” has all the trappings of an Oscar-baiting import: A slow-burning plot set to period aesthetics with a veritable who’s who of Britain’s best actors, including Gary Oldman and Colin Firth.

Glowing word-of-mouth and tantalizing trailers suggest that this is the antidote for costume-drama exhaustion, following le Carre’s seminal work of spy fiction as it weaves a tale of intrigue and betrayal through its Cold War setting. To get to into the plot would be fruitless, as our own Kieran Freemantle has praised the film for how it turns a simple mole-hunt in British Intelligence into something far more complicated, and audience members looking for an espionage thriller that’s as entertaining as it is cerebral won’t want to miss this one.  ~Sam (Read Kieran’s Review.)


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Written by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Conner, John le Carré (novel)
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt



Steven’s Critic’s Pick: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Dec. 25)

When a particular author’s work already has found success on the big screen, you have a hard time not taking a close look at the next adaptation. Everything is Illuminated might be one of the most universally liked films that never got the buzz it deserved, but hype-wise you could say that Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is the opposite.

Sandra Bullock stars in her first role since winning the Oscar for The Blind Side with Tom Hanks and boy-genius Jeopardy winner Thomas Horn in this story of a 9-year-old boy’s quest to find the lock that fits a key left behind by his father (Hanks), who died in the September 11 attacks.

If that screams too much Oscar bait for you, then you should either be assured (or repulsed by this information): Oscar-winning writer Eric Roth adapted the story and Stephen Daldry, whose three feature films have landed him three Best Director nominations (Billy Elliot, The Hours, The Reader), directs. It’s tough to ignore that combination of talent behind a best-selling and emotional novel. Expect to have some tears jerked this Christmas.


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Written by Eric Roth, Jonathan Safran Foer (novel)
Starring: Thomas Horn, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks



1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Dec. 21)

Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” has captivated readers all over the world and already spawned three well-regarded Swedish films. But Hollywood can’t let the Swedes have all the fun, so Sony decided to give it ago, handing the keys to none other than the revered David Fincher.

Fincher, who missed out on an Oscar many thought he deserved with last year’s The Social Network, is somewhat of an expert at serial killer movies. He directed one of the genre’s best in Se7en as well as the underrated period thriller Zodiac. Honestly, the cold case story of what happened to Harriet Vanger could not be in better hands. Add to that the strength of Daniel Craig as disgraced reporter Mikael Blomqvist and what looks to be a powerhouse performance from a transformed Rooney Mara as the enigmatic hacker Lisbeth Salander and you have a recipe for a heck of a thriller. The best-selling story does a lot of the work, but add the talent on top and it’s not hard to see why this made the top of our list.

The popularity of the books needs no boost, but even the mildly curious who have never read them will probably take interest thanks to the marketing campaign. Many clips have surfaced to help everyone get the story straight prior to seeing the film so that they can enjoy it beyond just following the plot. And lest we forget, this is “the feel-bad movie of the holiday season.” ~Steven

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Directed by David Fincher
Written by Steve Zaillian, Stieg Larsson (novel)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer


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