The Holidays are here, meaning studios will trot out their best in an effort to garner Oscar attention as close to Oscar time as possible. It also means we’ll be treated to some “family friendly” pap, total misses and the stuff that’s somewhere in between. Here’s our first-impression on the upcoming season’s Must-See, Maybe’s and Must-Misses, all spiffed up and scrubbed by way of our Holiday Nine.
Must – See
Avatar (December 18) -Dan
If you’ve been following AATM or have been to the movies lately, you’ve probably–finally–heard of the otherworldly Dances With Wolves meets robots, monsters and aliens sci-fi fantasy Avatar. Promised to be the cinematic game-changer of the new century, Avatar is James Cameron’s return to the ridiculously budgeted (rumored to cost over $500 million), geeky fun he kicked to the curb after Titanic when he decided to go swimming for a decade. Initially, public perception for Avatar was non-existent outside the geek community, but thanks to some expositionary trailers and a promise of a 3D-immersive world experience, Avatar has morphed into the go-to movie of the season. Cameron’s yet to direct a film most people haven’t enjoyed from start to finish and with Avatar’s promise of xeno-zoology and their perforation exchange with space marines thrown in for good measure, Avatar gets a full pass on cinematic event spectacle alone.
The Road (November 25) – Andy
The Road is a magnificent novel about a father and son traveling through a ruined and savage post-apocalyptic United States. Written by Cormac McCarthy, the book is one of my all-time favorites and it whipped me through a myriad of emotions – hope, sadness, fear, anger and happiness. It’s more a story of love and hope than it is an end-of-the-world tale. If director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) and writer Joe Penhall can successfully translate McCarthy’s haunting prose to the big screen, then the movie should be equally emotional. It stars Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises), Charlize Theron (In the Valley of Elah), Robert Duvall (We Own the Night), Guy Pearce (The Hurt Locker) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-Men Origins: Wolverine).
Sherlock Holmes (December 25) – Dan
With a few commercially prime role choices in 2008, Robert Downey Jr. catapulted himself from forgotten to must-see talent over the short course of one summer season. Why else would anyone be interested in seeing a revitalization of Sherlock Holmes at the hand of a guy who’s only been able to make a name for himself by way of stylized British Crime movies? But sure as crap, here we are at the end of 2009 with the general public looking forward to a Guy “Lock, Stock, Snatched and Rock’n’Rolla’d” Ritchie movie. The trailers make the film look like a heaping plate of sassy good times with Jude “I make receding hair lines look awesome” Law and Rachael “So cute” McAdams giving Downey the supporting role assists. We think it looks like fun, which is why this one rounds out the top three Must-Sees of Holiday 2009.
The Lovely Bones (December 11) – Andy
Another beloved book from the last decade, this one from Alice Sebold, comes to theaters courtesy of director Peter Jackson (Lord of The Rings Trilogy, King Kong). The story revolves around 14 year-old Susie Salmon who is raped and murdered in the shadow of her own home and then narrates the novel in her own personal heaven. It’s both a tense mystery and a inspection of human relationships and character when put into the seemingly suffocating vise of tragedy. My hope, as it is with The Road, is the spirit of the novel will saturate Jackson’s film. My only worry? Shots from the trailer have Susie’s “heaven” looking like something from What Dreams May Come. The book presents a Plain Jane afterlife that gives no credence to faith or religion, so a souped up, Salvador Dali heaven might leave some scratching their heads and disconnecting from the story. This boasts an all-star cast of Mark Wahlberg (The Happening), Rachel Weisz (The Brothers Bloom), Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), Stanley Tucci (Julie & Julia), Susan Sarandon (Speed Racer) and Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos).
The Princess and The Frog (November 25) – Dan
Animation is candy. I love the medium, I love the visuals, I love the artistry and I love the legitimacy it’s gained over the years thanks to solid work by the likes of Brad Byrd, John Lasseter and John Stevenson. And there’s the conundrum: The Princess and the Frog is a Must-See based on Disney’s return to animation after ingloriously kicking it to the curb post Home on the Range. What lands it in the Maybe list is, quite simply, a story that has yet to tickle some fancy. Sure it’s got the classic Disney formula– talking animals, a princess and a whimsical 1920’s Louisiana setting, but I’m not the least bit intrigued. Early word is that it’s fantastic, but that’s coming from attached sources. I want to believe and wish it all the best, but this is a movie we’ll attend with middling expectation and high hopes to be charmed.
Up in The Air (December 4) – Andy
Jason Reitman, director of Up in The Air, is also the helmsman behind two other gems in the last four years, namely Thank You For Smoking and Juno. The similarity between those films and his current film is brutally honest, yet comedic and heartwarming, quirky character portrayals. These are people you and I know and meet on a day-to-day basis, but folks who rarely show up in movies. In this outing, George Clooney (Burn After Reading) stars as Ryan Bingham, a thirtysomething suit who travels around the country to gracefully fire corporate employees. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Walter Kim, who describes Clooney’s character’s job as “…like a masseur who comes in and sort of rubs your shoulders while rolling your desk chair into the elevator.” Reitman sums up the movie by saying “[It’s] about the examination of a philosophy – what if you decided to live hub to hub, with nothing, with nobody?” Along with Clooney, the movie stars Vera Farminga (Orphan), Jason Bateman (Couples Retreat), Danny McBride (Land of the Lost), Sam Elliot (The Golden Compass), J.K. Simmons (I Love You, Man) and Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover).
Old Dogs (November 25) – Dan
John Travolta. Unless you’re sitting in a subway car in sunglasses, a knitcap and prison-scored neck sleeve barking out “motherf*******”-laced orders to a flummoxed Denzel Washington, I’ve had it with you. Sadly, America doesn’t seem to mind being shoveled dumbed down family comedy and this formulaic, dumb-looking Wild Hogs-esque Robin Williams/Travolta starrer will probably make some coin as these types always do, but here’s to hoping. The plot’s simple: two free-wheeling Dads are forced to take on responsibility via a couple of unexpected twins. Life’s lessons are learned and stupid situational comedy abounds. I sure sound elitist, but maybe that’s because when it comes to stuff like this, I am.
Nine (December 18) – Andy
After a hiatus from the musical-to-film genre with 2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha, Rob Marshall returns to his Chicago (2002) roots with another adaptation, this time the 1982 Tony Award winning musical of the same name. After you sift through all the adaptation hullabaloo, you discover the root of this story is Federico Fellini’s autobiographical movie 81/2. I’ve never seen it and probably never will. Same with Marshall’s Nine. I thought Chicago’s best picture victory was an absolute travesty, winning over Gangs of New York, Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers and The Pianist, films far more deserving. Plus, on a personal note, I’d rather gouge my own eyes out than sit through a musical, at least on film. I don’t claim to be a nice guy and I certainly don’t claim to be unbiased, so if this is your cup of tea, more power to you. The trailer is below and the cast is full of award-winning talent. If I see this, it will be on their collective vita.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (December 25) – Dan
The silly title that’s got some marketing team patting themselves on the back aside, this one is obviously made for kids and we may come off as a little harsh in stomping this one down on our Must-Miss list. Then again, we’re against anything that certifiably makes your kids mentally retarded.