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PAM Top 10 Holiday Movie Preview

Friends, family, food and film. That's the holiday season. Well, at least for the Player Affinity Movies staff, but we're pretty sure you at least will see or think about or be asked to see one of the films on this list -- that would be the Top 10 movies of the holiday season, according to PAM.

The list was created from a complex mathematical formula, aka we (the seven movie writers) all made our top ten lists and the films with the highest average placement on our lists. So, the number one film on this list received the average highest placement and highest number of total votes. In fact, the two films at the top were tied, except our number one film was the only film all seven of us had on our lists. To include more than 10 films on our list, we each chose one film that didn't make the Top 10 that we are excited about or interested in. Those would be the Critic's Picks. 

Well enough of that boring crap. Here are the Top 10 (and 7 Critic's Picks) for this weekend through the end of 2010.

10. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Dec. 10)

C. S. Lewis’ “Narnia” series is one of the most enduring works of children’s literature around. His novels have been adapted a number of times, with the 2005 version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe being a smash hit and earning over $800 million. But The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was nearly never made because Disney dropped the series after Prince Caspian’s “failure” (only $419 million -- the shame). Fox stepped in and now we should hopefully get a fun adventure for the all the family.

The director of the first two films, Andrew Adamson steps back into the producer’s chair, with Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough) taking over. Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley return as Edmund and Lucy with Ben Barnes and Liam Neeson as Caspian and Aslan. Will Poulter (Son of Rambow) joins the cast, the Pevensie’s cousin, and Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep the rat. This tale see the first ship to be built in Narnia in centuries, with King Caspian planning a voyage to find the seven lords and save Narnia from a new dark force. Judging by the trailers, the Narnia series seems to be following the “Harry Potter” model of fantasy, with some Pirates of the Caribbean thrown in rather then being like Lord of the Rings.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Directed by Michael Apted
Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Michael Petroni, C.S. Lewis (book)
Starring: Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Ben Barnes


Kieran’s Critic’s Pick: Tangled (Nov. 24)

In the past, Disney had a knack for transferring famous tales into animated features. Under the guidance of John Lasseter, the head man of Pixar, Disney aspires to be an animation powerhouse again. The men behind Bolt, Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, direct this updated version of Rapunzel. But this version does not make the princess into a passive figure but a feisty fighter and seems to follow a more Shrek like story.

Mandy Moore takes the role of Rapunzel, and I like her as an actress despite her filmography, and Zachary Levi (Chuck) is the thief who saves her. Both go on the run from both the royal guards and an evil witch as Rapunzel wants to return for the festival of lights. This fantasy has a strong female character for young girls, boys will have action and there are animal sidekicks galore in what hopes to be a fun family film for this winter.

Directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard
Written by Dan Fogelman, Jacob and Willhelm Grimm (story)
Starring: (voices) Zachary Levi, Mandy Moore


9. Love and Other Drugs (Nov. 24) 

With dramatic films such as The Last Samurai and the classic Glory in his repertoire, director Edward Zwick is changing his pace with the romantic-comedy Love and Other Drugs. Based on Jamie Reidy’s memoir, the film follows Jamie Randall's (Jake Gyllenhaal) rise from pharmaceutical rep to successful Viagra salesman. On his way to the top he meets Parkinson’s patient Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway) and falls in love. When his career hits a peak, he must make a decision between success and love.

The trailers and promos, like the one below, have showcased charm, wit, and what seems to be excellent chemistry between leading actors Gyllenhaal and Hathaway, a stark contrast from their characters in Brokeback Mountain. While the film was met with early Oscar buzz, particularly for Hathaway’s performance, the mixed reception from screenings doesn’t necessarily bode well for the film as an awards contender.

But forget about that. Watching Gyllenhaal and Hathaway banter back and forth sounds like a pure delight. The two are not a typical pairing as far as romantic comedies go. Hathaway has done her fair share (think Bride Wars), but Gyllenhaal hasn't really caved. Hopefully there's good reason for it, i.e. the script ought to deliver more than constant eye-rolling.


Love and Other Drugs
Directed by Edward Zwick
Written by Marshall Herskovitz, Charles Randolph and Edward Zwick (screenplay), Jamie Reidy (memoir)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt


Julian’s Critics Pick: Burlesque (Nov. 24)

It’s been several years since a quality musical has hit theaters. Recent musicals Mamma Mia! and Nine have provided some fun, flashy numbers, but with weak narratives and equally poor set-ups for their soundtracks, neither can really be viewed as legitimately great films.

Steve Antin’s debut feature, Burlesque, seeks to do the trick. The narrative of a waiting-to-be-discovered talent hits moviegoers once again as Ali (Christina Aguilera) takes a train to Los Angeles and decides that she wants to perform on the stage at a burlesque club. After not quite hitting the right notes with her dance moves, she definitely hits the right notes and then some upon belting out some vocal runs. Club owner Tess (Cher) decides to give her a chance on the stage. Kristen Bell and Stanely Tucci also star.

Much of the film’s promotion has been focused on leading lady Aguilera (now Cher is getting a fair amount of publicity), who is already at a disadvantage thanks to previous pop star-oriented star vehicles that ended up flopping with both critics and audiences. Additionally, the film is already taking heat for its derivative plot and resemblance to the reviled star vehicles Glitter and Showgirls.

Regardless of actual quality, Burlesque will be fun to watch. If the movie is a disaster, then fans of superfluous camp can rejoice! The unintentional fun of such “classics” as the aforementioned Glitter and Showgirls can be experienced by a new generation. If it’s good, though, it will obviously be a pleasure to watch. Additionally, it might lead to more acting opportunities for Aguilera, and would it be too much to hope for Cher to get a career revival?


Written and Directed by Steve Antin
Starring: Christina Aguilera, Cher, Stanley Tucci



8. I Love You, Phillip Morris (Limited, Dec. 10)

Reasonably so, I first thought this was about tobacco. Nope. Try gay love story from the minds behind Bad Santa. This film has gone through distribution hell as it was supposed to be released last Feburary and then April and then never. Now it hits theaters for the holidays.

Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) has a pretty decent life. He’s making a good middle-class income as a police officer and has a lovely wife (Leslie Mann). However, a car wreck that almost kills him forces him to re-evaluate things and soon he’s living in Miami as a openly gay man. He starts to con people to support a lavish lifestyle, and eventually winds up in prison where he meets the titular character, played by Ewan McGregor.

I honestly don’t know much about the film, except that it had some good buzz at Sundance when I was there and tickets were very hard to come by. The allure of it to me primarily stems from Jim Carrey’s involvement. The man has some serious acting chops, and virtually all of his previous forays into dramatic territory have been exemplary (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Truman Show, The Majestic).

 I Love You, Phillip Morris
Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, Steve McVicker (book)
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor



Joseph’s Critic’s Pick: Little Fockers (Dec. 22)

This just might be the most star-studded film coming out this winter. Mr. and Mrs. Focker (Ben Stiller and Teri Polo) are now married with children, and with that comes a whole new set of problems. Throw in some crotchety grandparents (Robert DeNiro and Blythe Danner) and some hippie ones (Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand) and there’s a huge gold mine of comic potential. Whether or not it’ll be taken advantage of remains to be seen, but considering the previous installments in the Meet the Parents franchise, as well as the caliber of actors here, it’s hard to see it not being worthwhile.

Paul Weitz (American Pie, American Dreamz, About a Boy) directs and he has a good eye for comedy. The obvious attraction to the film remains the great names attached to it and that by itself should suggest a quality script. The trailer has some laughs, though they are of the spurting blood and I-took-Viagra-now-I’ve-had-a-boner-for-four-hours variety, which I’m fine with. Seems reasonable to assume that if you can laugh at that, you’ll enjoy Little Fockers.

Little Fockers
Directed by Paul Weitz
Written by John Hamburg, Jim Herzfeld, and Larry Stuckey
Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert DeNiro, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner



7. 127 Hours (Now Playing, Limited)

Even before he made Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle was one of the most respected directors around. He is a genre hopper, making films such as Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Sunshine, all filled with dark storytelling, colorful visuals and great soundtracks. (A.R. Rahman, who dominated the original music categories for "Slumdog," provides the score for this must-less-Indian "Hours.")

As an award winning director, Boyle has more free range with what he can direct and this time he chose the story of Aron Ralston, a hiking guide who was trapped in a canyon for six days and decided to do whatever it takes to survive. I think you can see where this one's going.

Boyle collaborates again with Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire) on the script. James Franco plays Ralston in yet another push to show that he is more than Harry Osborne. He already gave a strong supporting performance in Milk and he is predicted to earn a Best Actor nod at the Academy Awards. 127 Hours was highly praised at the Toronto and London film festivals, but it is not for those with a weak stomach. One of Boyle’s next gigs is directing the London Olympics Opening Ceremony and he's also expected to do some theater work in London as well.


127 Hours
Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy
Starring:  James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn



6. The King’s Speech (Limited, Nov. 26)

If glowing reviews, the TIFF People’s Choice Award and a cast nothing short of incredible has not already amped up your anticipation for this historical drama then I can see little that would ever persuade you. This period piece follows a young King George VI (i.e. the father of Queen Elizabeth II for those not caught up on the monarchy) played by Colin Firth and his bizarre speech coach (Geoffrey Rush) who helps him to overcome a stutter as he is to take the throne.

The buzz indicates this is no pretentious Oscar bait as it offers a rousing, funny and inspirational look at history. Though I have not seen this film yet, The King’s Speech seems to offer a similar style of pedigree entertainment as the little-seen Frost/Nixon, which took a moment in history, filled it with fine thespians and gave audiences intelligent entertainment, while, god forbid, making us learn a thing or two.

It will also be interesting to see if Firth can pull off a two-year streak of Best Actor nods at the Oscars. Ask most people and they will tell you not only is he surely a lock, Firth is a favorite to take home the coveted statue. Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Helena Bonham Carter and Timothy Spall round out the outstanding cast (no, this is not a spin-off of “Harry Potter”), it will only be a matter of if audiences embrace the artsy-sounding premise.


The King's Speech
Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by David Seidler
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Timothy Spall



Simon’s Critic’s Pick: The Warrior’s Way (Dec. 3)

Many Asian martial arts flicks that have gained the most notoriety overseas have been those with stunningly choreographed action and beautiful visuals, such as Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The Warrior’s Way looks to be no exception with the trailer promising gorgeous, stylized set pieces and fight sequences in this tale of an assassin who hides out in a desolate town as forces conspire to finish the gifted warrior.

Korean superstar (or as the trailer boasts, “international superstar”) Dong-gun Jang slips into the role of the titular warrior with Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth and Danny Huston making up the bulk of the “Hollywood” cast. This traditional revenge tale of a betrayed assassin boasts both Spaghetti Western and traditional martial arts elements and looks more than dynamic, though difficulty reaching an audience and not falling into the style-over-substance convention will be this film’s task to bear.

The incredible genre-crossing The Good, The Bad, The Weird from Korean director Ji-woon Kim from earlier this year seems lay close by to feel of The Warrior’s Way: an Eastern/American, western/martial arts mash-up. Though I would be utterly shocked if this more mainstream effort came anywhere close to the effectiveness of the sensational “Weird,, this type of offering is rare in Hollywood and must be embraced when possible.


The Warriors Way
Directed by: Sngmoo Lee
Written by: Sngmoo Lee
Starring: Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush, Dan Huston, Dong-gun Jang



5. The Fighter (Dec. 10)

There have been just a number of boxing movies in cinema despite sports films not being a particularly popular subgenre. Few of them, however, have had the spirit, flavor, or longevity of Rocky.

Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 sports drama rightfully won Best Picture for the portrayal of an underdog boxer and the few close relationships he has in his small neighborhood. Since then, Hollywood has given us Raging Bull, Girlfight, Million Dollar Baby, Ali, The Hurricane, Cinderella Man, and even Fighting. Not all were the winners Rocky was, though without question -- looking at "Bull" and "Baby" especially -- for some reason this sport deals in metaphors that Academy voters like a lot. There's no question that The Fighter wants to be a part of that conversation in several categories.

This tale centers on “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his never-do-well brother Dickie (Christian Bale). Ward is a lackluster fighter and Dickie is the troublemaker that trains him between living a life of drugs and crime. Micky seems to strike up a romance Charlene (Amy Adams) who encourages him when others get him down. It is the same old story with ultimate triumph waiting in the wings. However, this picture will benefit from an all-star cast of Academy darlings and heavy hitters like Christian Bale.


The Fighter
Directed by David O. Russell
Written by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams



Dinah’s Critic’s Pick: The Next Three Days (Nov. 19)

Russell Crowe is on a mission to save his family, and Liam Neeson is along for the ride. When Crowe’s wife (Elizabeth Banks) is imprisoned and his family life torn apart, Crowe decides to take matters into his own hands and break her out.

So although it looks like a generic sort of a picture, that’s just what a person needs every now and again. I hope there is an unforeseen twist, a blood churning climax, and all sorts of predictable obstacles along the way. I hope Crowe becomes a man he never thought he could be. I hope he looks at himself hard in the mirror just a few seconds too long and shakes his head and splashes his face with water. I hope he makes a promise to his kid that mommy is coming home for Christmas. I hope he escapes the city with his wife just in the time or goes down in a blaze of gunfire. Heck I just can’t wait to see it. Look for this other clichés this Friday, especially if “Harry Potter” is not your thing.

The Next Three Days
Directed by Paul Haggis
Written by Paul Haggis and Fred Cavayé
Starring: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson 


4. Tron: Legacy (Dec. 17) 

Calling all geeks, calling all geeks! The sequel to the 1982 science-fiction adventure is on its way. Though the original only made $33 million at the box office, its legacy and regard intensified over time. Jeff Bridges returns as Kevin Flynn, the hacker who was absorbed into the cyber world by a vicious program and entrapped for 25 years. His son investigates his disappearance and finds himself making a dangerous journey to escape.

Recently, Disney has kicked marketing into hyperdrive after a slow period following Comic-Con.  Multiple posters have been released and a new trailer depicts more story and character interaction in order to invite in an audience that might be totally unfamiliar with the original.

Without a doubt, Disney is pinning a lot on this film, which holds the coveted mid-December release spot. The look and styling of the updated movie is futuristic, colorful, and visually stunning. The tone seems intense, though the predecessor was merely PG rated. This adventure seems primed to be a guaranteed hit with adults and families over the holidays and the best visual follow-up to last year’s Avatar, but will it be enough to deem the big marketing push a success and how will it be received overseas?  


Tron: Legacy
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen


Steven’s Critic’s Pick: Faster (Nov. 24)

Finally, we get our Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson back. The wrestler-turned-actor has untied himself from Disney’s checkbook and consequently many “Brendan Fraser-type roles” of adult star in kiddie films (such as The Game Plan, Race to Witch Mountain and The Tooth Fairy). Now, in Faster, he’s straight up killing dudes.

The film looks the most promising box-office-wise for CBS Films – a revenge plot is always a safe bet. Plus, Johnson, in my opinion, has the chops to become a seriously bankable action star. He’s got the tough-guy look, he’s got a sense of humor and he’s game for stuntwork. His career will simply have to do the inverse of what Schwarzenegger’s did and go from kid films to R-rated thrill rides instead of the other way around. If Faster does well at the box office in the absence of any true Thanksgiving contenders, credit belongs solely to him as he is the marketing for this film.

Hopefully Johnson can revive his career in the eyes of the core Hollywood demographic and that Sylvester Stallone will give him a ring for The Expendables 2. I've also attached the red band trailer for your unrated viewing pleasure.

Directed by George Tillman Jr.

Written by Joe and Tony Gayton
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 (Nov. 19)

Though not to everyone’s palate, like Trekkers, Star Wars geeks and Lord of the Rings fanatics, the fan base behind this magical anthology is nothing short of mammoth. Even if you scoff at the fanaticism many people have for the franchise, when impartially looking at the now six-film series, it is impossible not to notice the continued overall quality. Even weaker entries are still far better than the average blockbuster and keeping things interesting not to mention entertaining and relevant, is no easy task.

Despite being in all aspects far removed from the target demographic, I cannot help but enjoy the films, nor can I hide my excitement for the conclusion which as avid readers know, is a bloody, carnage-filled conclusion (at least in terms of the series). It is always a treat to see the massive British cast at work as well; the Harry Potter films still remain the most impressively cast saga I can recall.

Certain to be one of the year’s biggest blockbusters, this first of the two-part finale takes us down a yet darker path (and one entirely away from Hogwarts), wiping away for good the whimsical early days Harry, Ron and Hermione shared in the earlier films. David Yates completes his block of four films and he shows a great sense of flare, action direction and foreboding moodiness. Yates was able to make the weakest of the books (“The Order of the Phoenix”) into my personal favorite and is a benchmark for how to adapt material from a beloved source. With the final novel split in half, the two “Deathly Hallows” should give audiences the sprawling, more deliberately paced finale they deserve.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Steve Kloves
Starring: Daniel Radcliff, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes


2. Black Swan (Dec. 3)

For having a rather small resume compared to his colleagues, Darren Aronofsky has become one of the most in-demand directors working in the industry today, having made waves with his film Requiem for a Dream (don’t do drugs, kids…) and gaining widespread acclaim for revitalizing Mickey Rourke’s career with The Wrestler. Now, before he moves onto his next (and biggest to date) project with the “Wolverine” sequel, Aronofksy is looking to strike while his iron is hot with the Natalie Portman starrer Black Swan.

Portman plays Nina, a dedicated and brilliant ballet dancer whose dance abilities are second only to her ambition for success in her field. When her company plans to perform Swan Lake, a lead is required to play the roles of both the White Swan and the Black Swan. Nina is poised to take the role of the White Swan, representing innocence and beauty, while new dancer Lilly (Mila Kunis) is ideal for the role of the Black Swan. Their rivalry spirals into a dark friendship, taking Nina to places she has never been at the potential cost of losing all she knows.

“Swan” has been gaining a lot of acclaim in recent months not only for Aronofsky’s deft handling of the thriller genre, but for Portman’s uninhibited dedication to the role of Nina (having practiced dance for hours on end over a period of months). Aronofsky and Portman aside, the rest of the cast (Kunis especially) are also gaining recognition in their respective roles, as is the near supernatural elements that come to light as Nina falls deeper and deeper into her personal darkness. There’s a sense of the familiar here (the rivalry that threatens both parties) and yet it still feels new and that makes it one to watch.



Black Swan
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel



Max’s Critic’s Pick: The Tourist (Dec. 10)

Take two of the biggest movie stars in the world (Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp), throw them in Venice with the director of the 2007 Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Film (The Lives of Others) and throw the public a slick trailer and you have the makings of a strong entry to the holiday film schedule.

Frank (Depp) is an American tourist visiting Italy to mend a broken heart. On a train, he meets Elise (Jolie), an extraordinary woman who deliberately crosses his path for reasons unknown. As the two spend time with one another, Frank is mistaken for Elise’s former lover, a gangster wanted for theft.  As the pieces come together, Frank and Elise both realize their actions may be controlled by an unseen mastermind interested in both their lives.

The star power involved gives a sense of films from decades past -- some you did not go to see because of the story. You saw them because they had two major stars (often who have never worked together) finally together in one place (for me, it was Heat). Star power aside, it’s the location that’s only helping seal the deal. The “web of intrigue” story is no stranger to the film world (thank you, Alfred Hitchcock!) but when you throw it in a city like Venice with the likes of the stunning Jolie and the quirky Depp, you’ve a recipe for a good time that looks to be sharp, sexy, humorous and – a golden rule in bigger films with A list stars – entertaining.

The Tourist
Directed By Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Written By  Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, Julian Fellowes
Starring: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany



1. True Grit (Dec. 22)

The ever-delightful Coen Brothers have successfully tackled every genre and always make sure their current film is vastly different from their last in terms of content. Here they go from last year's 1960s Jewish suburban drama in the Best Picture-nominated A Serious Man to a full-fledged Western with True Grit, a remake of the 1969 Henry Hathaway film starring John Wayne in his only Oscar-winning role.

Here, Jeff Bridges takes over the role of Rooster Cogburn, a crusty Federal Marshall with a nasty reputation for violence. When Mattie Ross’ (Hailee Steinfeld) father is killed by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the 14-year-old enlists the help of Cogburn and Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon) to track him down and bring him back to Fort Ross to see him hanged.

Based on the trailer, the film appears to put a darker twist on the subject matter than the original. Though, as a fan of the original, it’s hard to imagine anyone stepping into Wayne’s shoes (or boots), if there’s anyone that can do it, it’s Jeff Bridges and he enters it at one of the best times in his career coming off last year's Academy Award. I can damn near guarantee this movie will be incredible, and possibly lead to Oscar nominations, as is typical of the more dramatic films made by the Coens.

True Grit
Written and Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper



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