The gift of holiday movies

Top stars and filmmakers unwrap their bright, shiny creations for our holiday enjoyment.

Posted: November 25, 2012

Remember last Christmas Day? The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the David Fincher thriller that pivoted on acts of rape, murder, abduction, and torture, opened in theaters across the land - a heartwarming yuletide treat if ever there was one.

This Noel? How about an ultraviolent Quentin Tarantino flick in which a brutalized slave goes searching for a band of psycho bounty hunters?

Although there is some family-friendly fare making its way to the multiplexes between now and New Year's - the 3-D animated Dino Time, a 3-D-ized re-release of Pixar's Monsters, Inc., and Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away - this holiday season looks to be pretty dark, bloody, brutal, provocative, and profane.

But it also looks like it could be pretty good, too. An army of A-list stars and filmmakers are ready to excite and divert and inspire us. Or so one hopes.

Below is a baker's dozen-plus films to look out for over the holidays - a time when studios dig in for their awards campaigns and audiences take time off from work to escape into other worlds, other realities, other super-violent sex and drug scenarios (different from the ones in our real lives).

Hitchcock (Friday) Anthony Hopkins gets to keep the monogrammed bath towels, portraying maestro-of-the-macabre Alfred Hitchcock as he embarks on one of his most controversial - and successful - pics, Psycho. Helen Mirren is his wife, Alma, Scarlett Johansson plays Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel is Vera Miles, and Toni Colette dons glasses and a dark wig as Hitch's long-suffering secretary. PG-13

Killing Them Softly (Friday) Brad Pitt stars as an enforcer looking into a mob heist in Andrew Dominik's adaptation of a George V. Higgins thriller. Supporting wiseguys: James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard. R

Starlet (Dec. 7) A young porn star (Dree Hemingway) and an elderly woman (Besedka Johnson) fall into a life-changing relationship when a cache of money is found. Little indie with big buzz. No MPAA rating

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec. 14) Can Peter Jackson strike Middle Earth gold again, turning J.R.R. Tolkien's modest children's novel - a prequel to The Lord of the Rings behemoths - into another three-part franchise? And will the 48-frames-per-second format upend the movie business, or just be remembered as a quaint novelty, like Smell-O-Vision? Furry-footed creatures want to know. PG-13

Hyde Park on Hudson (Dec. 14) Bill Murray gets his acting chops a-choppin', portraying President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he hosts British monarch George VI and his wife in June 1939, just months before war breaks out. Laura Linney is Margaret Suckley, FDR's mistress. R

Jack Reacher (Dec. 21) Lee Child's action hero - star of a mess of best-selling books - gets movie-ized, with none other than Tom Cruise in the title role. Impossible mission, you say? PG-13

This Is 40 (Dec. 21) Judd Apatow drops in on Knocked Up's Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann to see how marriage and parenthood are treating them in this oh-so-autobiographical comedy. Megan Fox, Albert Brooks, Jason Segel, and John Lithgow also star.

The Impossible (Dec. 21) A British couple and their two children are vacationing at a Thai beach resort when a tsunami roars ashore. A true story, and a harrowing one. With Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and some incredibly convincing - and terrifying - filmmaking. R

Les Misérables (Dec. 25) I dreamed a dream of a castle on a cloud at the end of the day. Who am I? Master of the house? Do you hear the people sing? Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anne Hathaway, and Helena Bonham Carter sing and dance, in 19th-century French rags. PG

Django Unchained (Dec. 25) Quentin Tarantino pays tribute to blaxploitation and spaghetti westerns in his super-violent and super-nasty avenging slave melodrama starring Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Christoph Waltz. R

Not Fade Away (Dec. 28) The Sopranos' David Chase flashes back to the '60s suburbs for this story about a gang of kids starting a rock band. With music - and spiritual guidance - provided by Steve Van Zandt.

Promised Land (Dec. 28) A Pennsylvania fracking drama with some serious star cred - Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand - and a serious director (Gus Van Sant). Seriously. R

Zero Dark Thirty (Jan. 4) Kathryn ( Hurt Locker) Bigelow directs the story of the decade-long hunt for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, culminating with the Navy SEALs attack on the terrorist kingpin's Pakistan compound. With Chris Pratt, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke, and Jessica Chastain. R

Quartet (Jan. 11) Dustin Hoffman turns director for the first time in a long, storied career, steering a gaggle of Brits (Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins) through a heartwarming tale of old opera singers in a retirement home. Calling all Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ticket-buyers. PG-13


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

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