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Holiday Movie Preview 2012

Bring out the turkey, the presents and the Oscar-worthy dramas — 'tis the season! And as with any season, the Entertainment Fuse staff has the low down on all the most buzzed-about movies between now and Dec. 31.

Once again, we've all made top 10 lists (and checked them twice) of our most anticipated movies and have combined them into a staff top 10. Which movie is our most anticipated of the season? What movies have you maybe never even heard of that cracked the list? We also include our individual critic's picks, one film we're each interested in that didn't make the group's top 10. Check it all out below and let us know what you're most excited to see.

10. This is 40 (Dec. 21)

There have been two camps on Judd Apatow’s last directorial effort, Funny People. Either you found it refreshingly great, or surprisingly boring. From the early looks of it, This is 40 continues the genre-changing filmmaker’s trend toward self-examination comedy with a more dramatic edge.

The “sort-of sequel to Knocked Up” centers on Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann), two characters from that film who now have slightly older kids and are coming to terms with middle age. Of course Rudd is the stand-in for Apatow, whose wife and daughters return to their roles. Some of the other stars from Knocked Up also return, such as Jason Segel.

Frankly, this holiday season doesn’t offer much in terms of adult comedy, and that alone makes This is 40 an appealing option around Christmas. Undoubtedly some people will be disappointed, but my money is on Paul Rudd making the whole thing worth it. ~Steven


Directed by Judd Apatow
Written by Judd Apatow
Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann



Donovan’s Critic’s Pick: The Guilt Trip (Dec. 19)

Anne Fletcher’s last film, The Proposal, didn’t try anything new, but it functioned better than most modern romantic comedies. Here’s hoping her upcoming effort, The Guilt Trip, does the same thing.

Seth Rogen plays an inventor set to take a trip across the country to promote his latest invention. However, he feels for his overbearing mother, played by Barbra Streisand, who is sitting at home, completely alone and without any kind of companionship. He decides to invite her on his trip, and she holds no inhibitions in joining him.

So, let the laughter commence? This could be a disaster or a surprisingly refreshing twist on an old formula.  I think and hope for the latter. The Guilt Trip won’t break any new ground or provide and cinematic revelations, but it does give us Streisand’s first screen performance – excluding the Fockers movies – since 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces. One of the most accomplished entertainers ever – and one of the great silver-screen talents of her day – Babs elicits laughter with ease and probably makes The Guilt Trip something special. Her sparring with Rogen, who’s a capable comedic presence in his own right, should make for some good fun.


The Guilt Trip
Directed by Anne Fletcher
Written by Dan Fogelman
Starring: Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen, Adam Scott



9. Life of Pi (Nov. 21)

I enjoyed Ang Lee’s last effort, Taking Woodstock, but most have dismissed his work since his masterful romance, Brokeback Mountain. Now he’s back with Life of Pi, which premiered at the New York Film Festival earlier this year.

The film sees newcomer Suraj Sharma tackling the title role of Pi, a boy with a special connection to animals. He must coexist with a tiger after an accident strands them together. But an impenetrable bond forms between them over time. The characters learn from each other in this film that speaks to our connection with the world around us.

Okay, so Life of Pi’s story admittedly sounds kind of cheesy – and it’s apparently framed with an on-screen narrator played by Rafe Spall (uh-oh) – but those who’ve seen it say that the film works well on an emotional level. Plus, many people (self included) are suckers for tearjerkers about animals. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve lost count of how many less-than-mediocre movies with that very subject matter have tugged at my heartstrings.

Some have also referred to Life of Pi as a “game changer.” Remember the last film with that moniker beating it to a pulp? It was James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar, which revolutionized how people saw 3D technology. That went on to become the highest-grossing film of all time, and while Life of Pi might not achieve such lofty success, it promises to be a fantastic cinematic experience that resonates with a wide audience. ~Donovan

Life of Pi
Directed by Ang Lee
Written by David Magee (screenplay), Yan Martel (novel)
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall




8. Amour (Dec. 19 - Limited)

The Notebook is arguably one of the most popular films among a certain generation of female moviegoers, but even that film's most devoted followers would probably say the same thing about it: "I just fast forward the parts with the old people."

Setting aside that asinine — but 100% true — statement for another day, imagine how difficult it will be for Sony Pictures Classics to compel people to see an entire film about "the old people in The Notebook" that also happens to be in another language. Throw in the fact that it's directed by Michael Haneke, master of the cinematic punch to the
gut, and you must be jumping out of your skin in anticipation for Amour. But seriously, you should be. It's, by almost all accounts, one of the most powerful and best films of the year.

Amour took home the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, which drove Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life to Best Picture and Best Director Oscar nominations last year. As you might expect, this tragic story of octogenarian companionship is swimming upstream when it comes to awards potential, but quality certainly isn't something that'll hold it back. It's without question one of 2012's biggest critical darlings, and even if that doesn't mean awards or even nominations, one can only hope it means more butts in seats. ~John

Directed by Michael Haneke
Written by Michael Haneke
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert 



John’s Critic’s Pick: Rust and Bone (Nov. 23 - Limited)

If the name Jacques Audiard means nothing to you, stop reading this and go check out a film called A Prophet (then, of course, come back and finish reading this preview). This 2010 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Feature earned comparisons to The Godfather when it came out, and such comparisons weren't unfounded. The film arguably lacks the scope of Francis Ford Coppola's gangster epic, but the themes are quite similar and the execution is also comparable. It's a stunning achievement, and Rust and Bone is the director's follow-up.

Having not yet seen the film, it's hard to say what's considered a spoiler, so we'll err on the side of caution. As such, all we can really say at this point is that it's about a killer whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) and a brutish bare-knuckle fighter (Matthias Schoenaerts) who find each other at times of need in their respective lives.

Though it went home empty-handed, Audiard's film was one of the best-received films at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and it's been winning over fans at festival after festival since. Cotillard, who seems incapable of doing wrong lately, is another point of great excitement (she seems primed for another Best Actress nomination for a foreign-language film…not an easy feat), while Schoenaerts is one of Europe's next big things.


Directed by Jacques Audiard
Written by Jacques Audiard
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure




7. Killing Them Softly (Nov. 30)

Based on George V. Higgins’ 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade, Andrew Dominik’s sophomore feature (which was part of our fall movie preview because it was supposed to arrive in October) follows a professional enforcer (Brad Pitt) trying to track down two men who have robbed a mob-protected poker game.

It’s hard not to get excited about Killing Them Softly just as a crime film. The sterling ensemble cast features some of the greatest cinematic mobsters ever in James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta, plus a rising young talent in Scoot McNairy (Monsters, Argo). And Dominik has already coaxed one spectacular performance out of Pitt before, as the enigmatic, charismatic outlaw Jesse James in the director’s stunning debut film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

At a distance, Killing Them Softly certainly seems like a worthy successor to Jesse James. The imagery in the trailer is just as gorgeous, there’s some wickedly funny dark humor thrown in the mix, plus guns a-plenty. The film had a generally positive reception when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, although some critics felt that Dominik’s overt comparisons of organized crime to the 2008 financial crisis were too on-the-nose. Can Dominik provide the same kind of unique, melancholy take on the crime genre that he did for the neo-Western? The mob has been desperately under-represented on film since The Departed. ~Ethan

Directed by Andrew Dominik
Written by Andrew Dominik, George V. Higgins
Starring: Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta




Ethan’s Critic’s Pick: Anna Karenina (Nov. 16 - Limited)

Joe Wright’s film is the latest attempt to adapt Tolstoy’s legendary (and massive) tragic novel. Dozens have tried over the years, but most have ended up forgettable. Can Wright and Keira Knightley, in their third film together (previously Pride & Prejudice and Atonement), stand out?

It won’t be easy – Tolstoy’s novel is a sprawling, dense epic like only a 19th Century Russian could write. The focus is on Anna (Knightley), the young wife of a respected government official (Law). Dissatisfied with her passionless marriage, Anna embarks on an affair with a handsome, dashing cavalry officer (Johnson), awakening her desires but simultaneously destroying her high-society reputation. Meanwhile, Anna’s sister-in-law Kitty is pursued by Levin, a politically and philosophically-minded revolutionary-in-the-making.

Most previous adaptations of Anna Karenina have stuck to a safe, Merchant-Ivory kind of period look, but Wright has attempted a daring visual conceit. Almost the entirety of the film takes place on a single sound stage, reimagining the story as an especially elaborate theater production, complete with dazzling set transitions. The oppressive expectations and superficial ornamentation of the upper class are on full display in the beautiful trailer – if nothing else, the film should be a visual feast.

Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Tom Stoppard (screenplay), Leo Tolstoy (novel)
Starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson



6. Hitchcock (Nov. 23)

Parallel to the fame Psycho garnered, the struggles of its director, Alfred Hitchcock, took to get it film made are equally fascinating. Hitchcock tells that very story, from the strains it puts on his marriage to the professional battles with both Paramount and Universal and their continued rejection of the pitch. Masterpieces of cinema are inherently a wonder to behold, but the story behind the gloss can be equally compelling.

Anthony Hopkins (in layers of makeup and a sizeable fat suit) inhabits the iconic role, Helen Mirren that of his dutiful wife, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles and James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins. With some festival rounds having already been made, buzz is high for Mirren’s performance as the dutiful wife and with a weak leading actress category in 2012, this film could be one you hear quite a bit more about.

This type of period/professional struggle/biopic film found huge success last year with My Week with Marilyn and Hitchcock looks equally impressive (fundamentally) in every way, even if early said early word says the film doesn’t dive as deeply into the lore of Psycho or the man as some may have appreciated. We’ll have to wait and see if entertainment value and performances compensates for what may be a more lightweight script. ~Simon

Directed by Sacha Gervasi
Written by John J. McLaughlin
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, James D’Arcy



5. Lincoln (Nov. 16)

It really doesn't get any larger-than-life than this film, does it? Steven Spielberg (Steven Freaking Spielberg) is directing Daniel Day-Lewis in a biopic about Abraham Lincoln. Throw in a never-ending stream of great supporting players and you've got a film that has been 2012's Best Picture frontrunner since it was conceived of quite some time ago.

The film is (thankfully) not taking the J. Edgar approach to biographical filmmaking. Instead, we're focusing on one specific point in the 16th President's life—his struggle to abolish slavery through passage of a Constitutional amendment. Day-Lewis plays the man in typically immersive fashion, while Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, James Spader, Sally Field and others steal the show as political allies, rivals, and his wife, respectively.

It might seem like awards bait — and maybe it is, in an election year — but those who've seen Lincoln have nothing but exemplary things to say about it. Spielberg's direction is on-point in ways it hasn't been in years, while Day-Lewis seems primed for Oscar number three.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Tony Kushner, Doris Kearns Goodwin (book)
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt




Steven’s Critic’s Pick: Hyde Park on Hudson (Dec. 7 – Limited)

There’s another film about a U.S. president coming out his holiday season, though it’s okay if you weren’t aware; Lincoln has dominated the marketplace to be sure, with Daniel Day-Lewis’ bearded visage plastered all over the place. But as surefire of an Oscar nominee as he is, it’s entirely possible FDR could be joining him.

The biggest intrigue factor here is Bill Murray as the three-term president, an unexpected by possibly delightful twist. He’s joined by Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt and Laura Linney as Margaret Stuckley, FDR’s distantly related cousin with whom he had an affair. The story focuses specifically on a visit from the king and queen of England.

Reviews haven’t been especially kind to Hyde Park on Hudson over the course of the fall festival circuit, but most of the criticism has been with regards to depth of story and ideas, of which there are none, but light period dress-up fun never hurt anyone, nor have hot dog picnics.

Directed by Roger Michell
Written by Richard Nelson
Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams



4. Silver Linings Playbook (Nov. 21)

Oscar attention accompanied David O. Russell’s last effort, The Fighter, and now the director is back with Silver Linings Playbook, a film that looks to earn some awards credibility of its own when Oscar nods are announced early next year.

Bradley Cooper leads this dark comedy as Pat Solitano, a man with depression coming fresh out of an institution trying to fit the pieces of his life together. He enlists Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, to help make that happen, but Pat doesn’t count on the romance he finds along the way. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver star as his parents. Chris Tucker and Julia Stiles fill out the supporting cast.

Silver Linings Playbook emerged from the Toronto International Film Festival with praise for Lawrence’s turn as the love interest; she currently stands as the front-runner in a light Best Actress Oscar race. Many even juxtapose her work with that of Cher in Moonstruck and Shirely MacLaine in The Apartment, both comparisons working as praise that’s anything but faint. We might also be talking about Cooper and the film’s other stars as the season progresses, and it might be one of the few contemporary comedies to earn recognition in the Best Picture race. ~Donovan

Silver Linings Playbook
Directed by David O. Russell
Written by David O. Russell, Matthew Quick (novel)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver



T2. Les Misérables (Dec. 25)

I had a dream my life would be so different from to this hell I’m living. Fortunately for fans of the musical who dreamed a dream to see it on the big screen, the release of Les Misérables is on the horizon. Based on Victor Hugo’s epic novel, Les Misérables is one of the most famous and celebrated musicals in the world and Working Title Films is finally bringing it to the big screen.

Tom Hooper, the Oscar-winning director of The King’s Speech, has taken on the directing duties and the risky choice to have the cast sing live on set instead of pre-recording their songs and lip syncing. An ensemble cast of epic proportions has been assembled: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn), Sasha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter and the West End’s Samantha Barks (whose casting I proudly predicted in The Plot Hole podcast).

The story of the 1832 June Rebellion is already predicted to be a major Academy Awards contender as Jean Valjean (Jackman) hides his criminal past, hides from Inspector Javert (Crowe), and his adopted daughter, Cosette (Seyfried), falls in love with a student revolutionary, Marius Pontmercy (Redmayne). ~ Kieran

Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by William Nicholson (screenplay), Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer (musical), Victor Hugo (novel)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried

Kieran's Critic's Pick: The Impossible (Dec. 21 - Limited)

From the team that brought you the excellent Spanish horror movie The Orphanage, director Juan Antonio Bayona and writer Sergio G. Sánchez, comes The Impossible. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, The Impossible has already earned positive reviews from respected critics at The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and The Daily Telegraph

Based on a true story, Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts star as a couple on vacation with their family in Thailand when they end up getting caught in the 2004 Tsunami. The disaster separates the family and forces them on a frantic search for each other amidst the devastation. 

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona
Written by Sergio G. Sánchez
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Hollan


T2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec. 14)

The return to Middle Earth is upon us. After years of troubled pre-production due in large part to MGM’s financial woes, J.R.R. Tokein’s The Hobbit graces the silver screen and with Peter Jackson leading the way.

For those unfamiliar, the story follows young hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) on a journey to help a fellowship of dwarves recover a treasure from the dragon Smaug.

An Unexpected Journey will be the first of three Hobbit films, a decision that came late in the game after filming on the whole thing had wrapped, with the intention of going into greater depth using Tokein’s appendices and other material. Die-hard fans will love the move, but it has drawn a lot of ire from the masses. But will that affect the overall quality?

With the advances in visual effects since The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit looks more stunning already. The trailer placed a lot of emphasis on familiar visuals and characters from the LOTR as well as striking a balance between high-stakes adventure and lighter fun. We’re not too concerned about getting a compelling, emotional story, but at the least, count on feeling like you’re back with old friends. ~Steven

Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, J.R.R Tolkein (novel)
Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellan, Andy Serkis



Simon’s Critic’s Pick: Jack Reacher (Dec. 21)

From the mind of British author Jim Grant (who uses the pen name Lee Child) comes Jack Reacher, a justice-dispensing former military police officer who goes off the grid – until he isn’t, which means bad things for those who have crossed the line between right and wrong. In this case, Tom Cruise’s Reacher investigates a military sniper who apparently shot five random victims, but is there something else afoot?

Although the name might be generic and the studio relying too heavily on Cruise’s star power (or what’s left of it), Jack Reacher actually looks like quite a bit of revenge-driven fun with some crisply edited fight sequences (and muscle cars) that’s certainly not afraid to show off some humor either as showcased in the final sequence of the theatrical trailer.

Only time will tell if Jack Reacher reached the production phase simply because of the success of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, or because there was actually a story worth telling. When looking at writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, whose efforts range from The Usual Suspects to The Tourist, the reason seems equally divided. At least Werner Herzog is the villain, so that’s reason enough to be intrigued.

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Written by Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog




1. Django Unchained (Dec. 25)

Django is off the chain! Despite his eccentric roots and dialogue-driven offerings, director Quentin Tarantino has been able to — pardon the pun — break free of any status limited to that of the “cult” persuasion to become a popular, mostly mainstream director worth reckoning with. Switching gears from an alternate-reality WWII to the Deep South during the pre-emancipation era, Tarantino brings us his latest, Django Unchained, starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. 

Everything about this film oozes Tarantino from the oddly (but perfectly) chosen soundtrack in the trailers (which range anywhere from Johnny Cash to James Brown), pithy dialogue and the gritty Spaghetti Western style we have come to expect from the man even when this is seemingly not an overt Western. DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie seems equal part Southern gentlemen and crazed psychopath and likewise looks willing to sink his teeth into the potentially juicy role

If this film will be able to live up to the accolades garnered by Inglorious Basterds is one thing, but the marketing material certainly promises a damn good time. With the far-from-mainstream premise and bizarre name we’ve seen countless examples how a film of this ilk can be mis-marketed, though good will and the director’s name should smooth over any of those hiccups. With a spin on a well-worn premise and a dash of starpower added to the mix, this looks like a sure-fire hit this Christmas and one we all can’t wait to see.

Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson



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