Happy Movie-days

Muppets, Part 2: Being Elmo is a winning documentary about Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash, the man behind the bright red ball of fur, Dec. 16. Its surprising, uplifting fun.
Muppets, Part 2: Being Elmo is a winning documentary about Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash, the man behind the bright red ball of fur, Dec. 16. Its surprising, uplifting fun.

Here they come, the prestige flicks, the family blockbusters. Visions of cine-plums dance in our heads.

Posted: November 20, 2011

Maybe it's the big, kid-friendly titles from Spielberg and Scorsese (three of 'em).

Maybe it's Lisbeth Salander, all tattooed and pierced but speaking English this time.

Or perhaps it's the mess of high-profile adaptations, remakes, and reboots.

Whatever the reason, this holiday season seems a lot busier, and (gulp, dare we say?) more promising, than the similarly time-framed lineups of recent years.

Traditionally, Hollywood and Indiewood save their prestige titles for these final months and weeks, when critics tally their lists, and Oscar buzzers buzz with forecasts for best picture, best actress, best performance by a terrier in a supporting role (Cosmo from Beginners? Uggie from The Artist? Snowy from The Adventures of Tintin?).

But it's also the season for the studios to roll out their $100 million-plus putative blockbusters and effects-driven entertainments, taking advantage of the extended vacations, school breaks, and long weekends between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

And so, with The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, and Happy Feet Two, and The Descendants (George Clooney, definitely among the best-actor nominees) already in theaters this weekend, a veritable deluge is upon us, or about to be. Fam-coms and rom-coms, thrillers and sequels, comedies and docs, the animated, the 3-D-ized, the motion-captured - you name it.

Here's a roundup of some of the notable pics coming this way by year's end, with a supplementary list of art-house titles that will open in New York and Los Angeles to qualify for Golden Globes and Academy Award consideration, but won't get here until early 2012.

Hugo: Martin Scorsese adapts the Caldecott Medal winner The Invention of Hugo Cabret, turning this illustrated 1930s fantasy about a boy who hides himself away in a Paris train station into a 3-D homage to pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès. Watch for the amazing wind-up automatons - it will be impossible to miss them. (Wednesday)

The Muppets: Forgetting Sarah Marshall's Jason Segel doesn't want to forget Kermit, Gonzo, and Miss Piggy, and so he wrote the screenplay for this reboot of the beloved Jim Henson franchise. (He also plays one of the humans.) The story: The Muppets regroup to save their beloved old music-hall theater from a greedhead developer. (Wednesday)

My Week With Marilyn: Michelle Williams is Oscar-worthy channeling screen siren Marilyn Monroe as she makes for England to work with Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) on The Prince and the Showgirl. (Wednesday)

New Year's Eve: Sprawling ensembler in which movie stars play regular people whose lives criss and cross on 12/31. Director Garry Marshall works his Valentine's Day formula on the assembled throng waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square. With Jessica Biel, Zac Efron, Halle Berry, Sarah Jessica Parker, and many, many more. (Dec. 9)

Young Adult: Charlize Theron is the bitter, boozed-up ghostwriter of a tween-girls book series who returns home to break up her old high school beau's marriage. From Juno collaborators Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman. (Dec. 16)

The Artist: Whimsical black-and-white throwback to the silent era, about a hugely popular movie star who can't make the transition to the talkies without the help of a beautiful flapper and a fearless Jack Russell. Huge Oscar buzz. (Dec. 16)

Being Elmo: Speaking of Muppets, this winning documentary about Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash is surprising, uplifting, illuminating fun. Meet the man behind the bright red ball of fur. (Dec. 16)

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol: Ethan Hunt and his IMF crew go rogue to save the world, and save face, in Tom Cruise's fourth go-round with the action franchise. With J.J. Abrams producing, and The Incredibles' Brad Bird directing, and new team members Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, and Jeremy Renner, this one looks big - especially in its Imax iteration. (Dec. 16 Imax only; Dec. 21)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are back as the action-figure versions of Holmes and Watson. Jared Harris is their nemesis, Professor Moriarty. (Dec. 16)

The Adventures of Tintin: Steven Spielberg directs the big-budget motion-capture adaptation of the Hergé comics about an intrepid boy reporter with a trademark cowlick and a feisty fox terrier. What will parents make of the serially soused Captain Haddock? Burp. (Dec. 21)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: So what if there's already a really good, gripping Swedish version of the Stieg Larsson thriller? (Its star, Noomi Rapace, shows up in the new Sherlock Holmes.) David Fincher, of The Social Network and Fight Club, casts virtual unknown Rooney Mara as Salander in the title role, while Daniel Craig plays the angry hacker's partner, intrepid man reporter Mikael Blomkvist. This is going to be huge. (Dec. 21)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Alec Guinness wore George Smiley's trench coat in the late-'70s British mini-series, and Gary Oldman is the veteran MI5 spy in this much-anticipated Cold War redo, based on the John le Carré espionage classic. With a who's who of British thespians. (Dec. 23)

We Bought a Zoo: Cameron Crowe writes and directs this yarn about a widower (Matt Damon) who moves himself and his kids into a run-down old animal park. (Dec. 23)

War Horse: Steven Spielberg directs this horse-and-his-boy drama, set on the battlefields of World War I, as an English lad goes off to find his adored steed, conscripted for the cavalry. (Dec. 25)

And opening here in 2012:

A Dangerous Method: Michael Fassbender is Carl Jung, Viggo Mortensen is Sigmund Freud, and Keira Knightley is a traumatized patient who undergoes therapy. (Jan. 6)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A brilliant and eccentric boy goes looking for a lock that matches a key left to him by his father, a victim of the 9/11 attacks. Taken from the Jonathan Safran Foer novel, directed by Stephen Daldry. (Jan. 20)

Pariah: A New York high school kid struggles to come to terms with her lesbian nature, while her parents rage in denial. (Jan. 20)

Red Tails: The Tuskegee Airmen, famed African American fighter pilots of World War II, are celebrated in this George Lucas-produced tale of courage, conflict, and close combat in the skies. (Jan. 20)

The Iron Lady: Meryl Streep IS Margaret Thatcher. (To be determined.)

Albert Nobbs: Glenn Close IS Albert Nobbs - a woman disguised as a man, working as a waiter in a 19th-century Dublin hotel. A beautiful, surprising film. (Jan. 27)

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/


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