Holiday movies get a boost from Tolkien, Tarantino, and Kerouac

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If you’re still able to read this in a week or so, we’ll assume that the Mayan calendar is wrong and that Hollywood remains the centre of the known universe. Still, some people are gonna get their hearts ripped out come Oscar time as the big-brisket items head our way over the holiday season. Among films already playing, Lincoln and Life of Pi probably lead the gold-statue brigade. A number of late contenders, though, are coming our way in the next several weeks. The following dates are fairly firm. But that’s what the Mayans said.

December 14
Well, my preciouses, The Hobbit is finally arriving, Peter Jackson outlording his Ring cycle with the first of three more Tolkien efforts, semi-ironically subtitled An Unexpected Journey. There’s Oscar buzz for Bill Murray’s turn as FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson, but his presidential bid in the 1939-set tale is swamped by too many silly stories to take seriously. At the same time, Philip Seymour Hoffman stands tall in A Late Quartet, a carefully crafted ensemble piece about a Beethoven-loving chamber-music group in which Christopher Walken, of all people, is the stabilizing force.

December 21
Did we ask Tom Cruise to come back so soon? Jack Reacher finds the feisty divorcé working both sides of the law when implicated in a mass killing. Judd Apatow gives muse Leslie Mann a workout, alongside Paul Rudd, in This Is 40, a spinoff from Knocked Up. Tragedies and other not-nice things abound in the French-language Rust and Bone, starring Marion Cotillard as an injured whale trainer. An under-respected composer is given his due in the breezily mounted documentary In Search of Haydn. Those Franco-Canadian high flyers get in your face for Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3-D, while a semi-old Disney favourite is back in digitally retooled form as Monsters, Inc. 3-D. Me, I’m holding out for Fantasia: The Hologram.

December 25
Not about a jazz guitarist, Quentin Tarantino’s long-awaited Django Unchained is a slavesploitation epic starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, and (get this, culties) Don Johnson and Franco Nero. Speaking of size, The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper’s Hugo-mungous mounting of Les Misérables stars Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Sacha Baron Cohen, among many others. (Sadly, it still has, you know, those songs.) On the domestic front, grandparents Billy Crystal and Bette Midler try to exert some Parental Guidance, while nudgy mama Barbra Streisand lays her own special, car-bound brand of The Guilt Trip on inventor son Seth Rogen.

January 4
Sopranos creator David Chase digs into his own New Jersey coming of age in the superb Not Fade Away, which follows the life cycle of an adolescent rock band in the mid-1960s and gets the details just right. Matt Damon sells natural gas (and natural-gas accessories) in Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land and finds that being king of the hill isn’t all it’s fracked up to be. Despite their titles, Chinese Take-Away is from Argentina (with Ricardo Darín as a lonely store owner) and Liverpool is the name of a Montreal nightclub in Manon Briand’s whimsical and timely detective comedy. And to kick off the new year, a no-name cast gets rotated through the self-explanatory Texas Chainsaw 3D.

January 11
Osama bin Laden bites the dust again in Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s depiction of events leading up to and including that navy SEAL team’s takedown of the man who Sarah Palin definitively labelled “such a leader among terrorists in the world today”. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor attempt The Impossible when their family is torn apart during the 2004 tsunami. Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, and Josh Brolin go all Gangster Squad in this L.A. Confidential–type period drama. Not to be confused with A Late Quartet, Quartet—directed by Dustin Hoffman—puts Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, and Billy Connolly in a home for retired opera singers. The classical musician profiled in I Am Not a Rock Star is up-and-coming Quebec pianist Marika Bournaki, who is seen as both a brat and a possible genius. Another good doc is Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters, looking at a photographer whose fantasy creations dwarf even those of Jeff Wall.

January 18
A young queen and her husband’s physician have A Royal Affair, a stiff 18th-century costume drama that suffers in comparison with Anna Karenina’s playful storytelling. Jack Kerouac goes On the Road once more, thanks to Walter Salles and his Motorcycle Diaries touch. Dean Moriarty’s female inspiration here includes Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, and Kristen Stewart. In The Last Stand, Ahnuld Schwarzenegger takes on a Mexican drug cahtel, courtesy of Korean action director Jee-woon Kim (I Saw the Devil). Let’s get metaphysical: Canada’s provocative Peter Mettler interviews top physicists in The End of Time. And in Camera Shy, Vancouver’s Mark Sawers satirizes urban corruption.

January 25
Filmmaker Amy Berg goes West of Memphis to explore the same failure of justice found in the Paradise Lost doc series. And the omnibus Movie 43 was directed by Elizabeth Banks, Griffin Dunne, and eight others, with the likes of Halle Berry, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Jackman drifting through the partially improvised mix. Without singing.

Possible in January
Feral children attack the Citadel, while Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde are casino-robbing siblings in Deadfall, and Bruce Willis, Rebecca Hall, and Vince Vaughn also hit Vegas, baby, in Stephen Frears’s comic Lay the Favorite. In 1980s East Germany, an idealistic doctor named Barbara ends up banished to a small town, where the socialist dream is rusting away to nothing. Mazel tov!

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