Holiday Movie Preview 2011: This year's crop is not all that merry

The Washington PostNovember 11, 2011 

The Darkest Hour is the name of a movie that opens Christmas Day this year, but it might as well be the catchphrase for the entire holiday season at the multiplex. Consider some titles soon to grace screens at theaters near you: Melancholia. In the Land of Blood and Honey. If you don't care for Outrage, how about Shame?

The end of the year has always been reserved for Hollywood's serious stuff, but 2011 seems more dour than usual, with even such surefire Oscar fodder as The Iron Lady; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; and War Horse conveying gravitas, sure, but also a leaden sense of seriousness.

There is good news for families looking for school vacation diversions: There will be plenty of G- or PG-rated comedies to choose from, including Happy Feet Two and The Muppets.

For grown-ups looking for some holiday cheer, the pickings are decidedly slimmer, the odd Jack and Jill or The Sitter notwithstanding. Audiences might find solace in Jason Reitman's Young Adult and The Descendants, dramas infused with comic elements, and only a churl will be immune to the charms of The Artist, French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius' delirious black-and-white valentine to silent film. How fitting that this season's bright spots are tinged with literal and figurative shades of gray. SCHEDULE

Release dates and ratings are subject to change. Films marked "limited release" probably will not open in Lexington on the date specified, if ever.

THIS WEEKEND

J. Edgar. (R) Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer. Director Clint Eastwood relates the story of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, whose nearly 50-year reign as head of the bureau turned him into an all-powerful purveyor of surveillance, harassment, political manipulation and deception. Eastwood has kept this one as secret as one of his subject's most confidential files.

Immortals. (R) Mickey Rourke, Henry Cavil, Freida Pinto, Kellan Lutz. A power-hungry king in ancient Greece finds a worthy opponent in a heroic young villager who tries to stop the leader's path of destruction. The 3-D action adventure promises to be something more under the direction of visionary Tarsem Singh (The Fall).

Jack and Jill. (PG) Adam Sandler, Al Pacino, Katie Holmes. A Los Angeles ad exec dreads the Thanksgiving visit of his identical twin sister in this dysfunctional-family comedy. Even in drag, Sandler's a drag.

NOV. 18

Happy Feet Two. (PG) Voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt. In this sequel to the 2006 movie, Mumble the penguin has a son grappling with choreophobia. Will it be twice as happy?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1. (PG-13) Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Dakota Fanning. Bella and Edward are expecting in the first half of the ultimate chapter in the popular vampire saga. The buzz is deafening.

The Descendants. (R) Limited release. George Clooney, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard. The father of two girls grapples with the meaning of family and legacy when his wife suffers a life- threatening water-skiing accident. This moving, funny, note-perfect movie was the best at this year's Toronto International Film Festival and might be the best of the holiday season.

Melancholia. (R) Limited release. Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Keifer Sutherland, Stellan Skarsgard. A bride reacts curiously to a disaster involving a planet called Melancholia, which is hurtling to Earth as she is embarking on her new life. This might be writer-director Lars von Trier's finest and most engrossing movie in years.

NOV. 23

Arthur Christmas. (PG) Voices of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy. The title character (no, not the aardvark) saves Christmas when Santa's high-tech gift-delivery operation goes awry. Yet another PG offering to stave off Thanksgiving-break boredom.

Hugo. (PG) Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, Chloë Grace Moretz. Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Brian Selznick's book tells the story of a young orphan in 1930s Paris who lives in a train station and embarks on a mystery involving an automaton invented by his late father. Scorsese's first foray into 3-D was warmly received when he showed an unfinished version at the New York Film Festival last month.

The Muppets. (PG) Amy Adams, Jason Segel, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones. A group of Muppets fans bands together to stop an oil driller from razing the storied Muppet Theater in Los Angeles. It's warm and fuzzy — literally!

My Week With Marilyn. (R) Limited release. Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne. A recent Oxford graduate gets a job assisting Marilyn Monroe when she shoots The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier in 1956. Williams is getting huzzahs for her layered performance as the famously complicated icon.

The Artist. (PG-13) Limited release. Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell. A silent-movie star in 1927 Hollywood wonders whether he can succeed in talkies while he courts a lively young singer and dancer. This silky black-and-white silent movie combines Singin' in the Rain with A Star Is Born to create a shiny new homage to the past.

A Dangerous Method. (R) Limited release. Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley. Fassbender plays Carl Jung, who treats a Russian patient played by Knightley and winds up in an intellectual game of cat-and-mouse with Sigmund Freud (Mortensen). In this bromance for smart people, Fassbender gets the showier role, but Mortensen lends quiet credence to the father of psychoanalysis.

DEC. 2

Answers to Nothing. (R) Limited release. Dane Cook, Elizabeth Mitchell, Julie Benz. When a girl goes missing in Los Angeles, several lives intersect with unexpected results. Cook reportedly delivers a surprising performance in a rare dramatic outing.

Outrage. (R) Limited release but already on-demand. Takeshi Kitano, Tomokazu Miura, Kippei Shiina, Ryo Kase. Yakuza clans vie for power in the Japanese underworld in Kitano's contemporary gangster drama. No one does violence like Kitano, who reportedly is starting an Outrage trilogy with this film.

Shame. (not yet rated) Limited release. Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan. A New York executive's battle with sex addiction reaches new depths with the arrival of his troubled sister. Fassbender delivers a haunting portrait of compulsion in Steve McQueen's disquietingly graphic urban drama.

DEC. 9

New Year's Eve. (not yet rated) Robert De Niro, Ashton Kutcher, Michelle Pfeiffer, Hilary Swank. Intertwining tales of love and loss on the most romantic night of the year.

The Sitter. (R) Jonah Hill, Max Records, JB Smoove, Ari Graynor. Hill plays a baby sitter who takes his three charges on a hair-raising tour through New York City.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. (R) Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds. Oldman stars as MI6 spy George Smiley, who must ferret out a double agent at the peak of the Cold War in 1970s Britain. If anyone can match Sir Alec Guinness in the role of Smiley, it's Oldman.

Young Adult. (not yet rated) Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson. An author returns home and unexpectedly reconnects with people she knew in high school. Written by Diablo Cody (Juno) and directed by Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), the film is getting kudos for Theron.

W.E. (not yet rated) Limited release. James D'Arcy, Abbie Cornish, Oscar Isaac, Andrea Riseborough. Madonna directs the intersecting story of a 21st-century woman who identifies with the romance of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII. Could be this year's disasterpiece, based on festival feedback.

I Melt With You. (R) Limited release but available on-demand. Jeremy Piven, Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Christian McKay. Four friends gather for a drug- and-alcohol-fueled reunion with cataclysmic results. Very heavy, considering the controlled substances consumed and the dark trajectory this story takes.

DEC. 16

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. (not yet rated) Anna Faris, Jason Lee and voices of Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Christina Applegate, Amy Poehler. After surviving the sinking of their cruise ship, Alvin, Simon, Theodore and the Chipettes must survive on a Polynesian island.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. (not yet rated) Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris. Holmes investigates the death of the Crown Prince of Austria and runs afoul of the dreaded Professor Moriarty. Harris as Moriarty shows promise; let's hope the preposterous action of the first installment has been dialed back.

Carnage. (R) Limited release. Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly. Directed by Roman Polanski and based on Yasmina Reza's play (a production of which opens in Lexington this weekend by On the Verge theater), two sets of parents have a cordial meeting after their sons are involved in a schoolyard brawl.

The Iron Lady. (not yet rated) Limited release. Meryl Streep channels Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd's biopic about the British prime minister. Streep will no doubt nail the role, but the jury is out on Lloyd (Mamma Mia!).

DEC. 21

Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. (PG-13) Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner, Lea Seydoux. Ethan Hunt is again on the case, this time traveling to Dubai, Moscow and Prague to execute the assignment. The addition of Renner bodes well for a franchise that has grown a tad creaky.

The Adventures of Tintin. (PG) Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg. Steven Spielberg directs an adaptation (in motion-capture animation) of the French books about an intrepid reporter always seeking a great story. Spielberg makes his animation debut. The film opened nicely in Europe recently, which bodes well for Tintin and his fans.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (not yet rated) Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer. Craig plays a journalist solving the 40-year disappearance of a woman, with the help of a young female hacker. David Fincher directs this remake of the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson's best-selling book. All eyes will be on Mara as Lisbeth Salander.

DEC. 23

We Bought a Zoo. (not yet rated) Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church. Based on the real-life tale of a man who moves his family to a zoo to get a fresh start. The good news: It stars Damon. The bad news: It's co-written and directed by Cameron Crowe (of the way-overrated Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous).

In the Land of Blood and Honey. (R) Limited release. Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic, Rade Serbedzija. A couple's romance threads through the Bosnian War. It's Angelina Jolie's writing and directorial debut.

DEC. 25

The Darkest Hour. (PG-13) Olivia Thirlby, Emile Hirsch, Rachel Taylor, Max Minghella. Five young people are stranded in Moscow in the wake of an alien attack. Director Chris Gorak was the art director for Fight Club and Minority Report.

War Horse. (PG-13) Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis. Spielberg adapts the novel and stage play about a horse that has a profound effect on his owners in World War I. We'll need handkerchiefs the size of horse blankets.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. (Not yet rated). Limited release; wide release Jan. 20. Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, James Gandolfini, Jeffrey Wright. Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, a boy (Thomas Horn) searches New York for the lock that matches a mysterious key left by his father, who was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

DECEMBER TBA

We Need to Talk About Kevin. (R) Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller. A wife and mother grapples with the implications of her difficult relationship with her teenage son. Lynne Ramsay's adaptation of Lionel Shriver's cult novel is a visionary film in its own right.

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