Words: Rob DeStefano

Sarah Jessica Parker stars as Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. Roman Polanski puts Christoph Waltz under house arrest. And Madonna makes another movie (there was a first?). What else is happening this December?

Friday: December 2
Pick – Sleeping Beauty

Giving Twilight fans even more time to cool off after a ravenous two weeks, this release date serves up some smaller dishes. Shame, which I caught an early screening of at the Hamptons Film Festival, has been eliminated from the choices due to that advantage, though it was damn good and should be seen by any cinephile.

Despite mixed reviews, the trailer for Sleeping Beauty is enough to at least grab some attention. Strangely seductive and eerie, its tone and visuals are bold. This twisted fairytale, not to be confused with the French adaptation, follows a university student Lucy into a secret ring of opulent prostitution. It is a movie that has divided critics: some shouting pretension, others calling it riveting. I’m interested to see Emily Browning’s performance, as well as first-time director Julia Leigh’s chops (or lack of chops).

Friday: December 9
Pick – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This weekend is packed with eclectic directors. Getting the shit out of the way, Garry Marshall (The Other Sister) follows the 2010 Valentine’s Day gangbang with New Year’s Eve, chock-full of Charlie St. Clouds and Nikon photo opportunities.

Then there is Madonna, who might have been in Marshall’s conglomerate if she wasn’t too busy making her own picture. W.E. is a parallel romantic drama: a historical story following the affair between King Edward VIII and American Wallis Simpson, and a modern romance between a security guard and a married woman. It’s basically Julie & Julia meets Swept Away, and its reception has not been too positive.

The Diablo Cody/Jason Reitman team that brought us Juno is back with Young Adult, staring Charlize Theron as a bitchy thirty-something who returns home to win back her high school sweetheart. While the cast and crew behind it are talented, the trailer does not reflect it. Think… Mischa Barton’s Homecoming?

David Gordon Green, director of the underappreciated Snow Angels and the action-comedy Pineapple Express, teams up with Jonah Hill in the R rated babysitter adventure The Sitter. There is definitely potential here, but the child pottymouth shtick is becoming too easy.

I’m anticipating We Need to Talk About Kevin and I’ve read that I Melt with You (starring Tom Jane, Rob Lowe, and Jeremy Piven) is supposed to be god awful, but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy deserves the attention this week. Swedish director Thomas Alfredson, best known recently for Let the Right One In, works with a stellar cast not unlike that of New Year’s Eve: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and John Hurt. Set in the Cold War, his espionage thriller searches to uncover a Soviet agent within the MI6 ranks. Its glowing reception has been echoing across the Atlantic since the UK release in September. Think…The Lives of Others meets The Ghost Writer.

Friday: December 16
Pick – Carnage

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows just falls short of beating Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol for Worst Subtitle 2011. Action is best found elsewhere this month, rather than in Guy Ritchie’s latest, which seems to be like all of his previous works – excluding Swept Away, of course.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. Are you kidding?

This Friday is devoted to the powerhouse that is Roman Polanski, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, Jodi Foster, and Christoph Waltz. Though I would much rather see Polanski crafting psychological thrillers, his chaotic humor and universal talent will succeed in Carnage, a screen translation of the popular play God of Carnage. The story revolves around two couples that meet in one’s New York City apartment to discuss a physical fight between their respective children. Polanski’s early career centered around tight spaces – Knife in the Water (1962), Repulsion (1965) – and his more recent work Death and the Maiden (1994) is a screen translation of the same named play, which also makes use of one location. If he was able to complete his last film under house arrest – and make it a success nevertheless – he can do well with this cast and the claustrophobic bedlam forged from the characters’ interactions.

Wednesday: December 21
Pick – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Arguably the strongest release date of the month. Put aside all attitudes toward Cruise or John Woo and look at the positives. The fourth Mission: Impossible installment introduces Jeremy Renner, soon to be action hero extraordinaire of 2012 (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy). It is produced by J.J. Abrams, who has only developed spirited and polished blockbusters. The director is Brad Bird, making his live action debut, whose previous writer/director credits are award winning: Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and The Iron Giant. Working the aesthetics is cinematographer Robert Elswit, the man responsible for filming everything by Paul Thomas Anderson. Just to add some icing, Michael Giacchino is composing – who always delivers – and it’s not in 3D. This could be a solid action flick.

The Adventures of Tintin has already raked in over $200 million dollars in the foreign boxoffice. This comic book series was adapted by three extremely talented screenwriters. Steven Moffat – writer/executive producer of the highly acclaimed British television series Doctor Who and Sherlock. Edgar Wright – writer/director of standout comedies including Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Joe Cornish – writer/director of this year’s impeccably structured Attack the Block. Spielberg is directing and Peter Jackson is producing: it’s bound to be a massive success.

While it might have to be a triple feature, I’m most excited for David Fincher’s reworking of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fincher thrives on dark thrillers that use conspiracy and isolation to its advantage. His American version of the Swedish book trilogy comes on the heels of The Social Network, even more of a reason to hope for the best. The Trent Reznor and Karen O teaser only heightens our expectations.

Friday: December 23
Pick – Pina

On a scale of Almost Famous to Elizabethtown, where will Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo fall? It’s looking overly sentimental. “The sellers say, you don’t even need any special knowledge to run a zoo, what you need is, a lot of heart.” Angelina Jolie makes her feature directorial debut with In the Land of Blood and Honey, a war-romance set during the Bosnian War. It looks halfway decent, but the German documentary-musical Pina is center-stage this Friday. The innovative choreography and the tag line “Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost!” make it an easy sell.

Sunday: December 25
Pick – War Horse

The IMDB summary for The Darkest Hour: “In Moscow, five young people lead the charge against an alien race who have attacked Earth via our power supply.” The five young people are all attractive Americans, obviously, in Moscow for one reason or another. The aliens seem to be faceless villains: their presence can only be detected by throwing a handful of light bulbs into the air. Some of the CGI does look impressive and Olivia Thirlby is great, but it’s not enough to salvage the premise.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close comes from director Stephen Daldry (The Reader, Billy Elliot), who has received three Best Director nominations since 2000. While it could be a major crowd pleaser and Oscar contender, it’s filled with red herrings: the blaring U2 song in the trailer, the involvement of Larry Crowne, and the story being a post-9/11 child’s adventure.

That leaves Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. He’s flooding the theaters this December, and his adoption of the play may seem melodramatic, but this is Spielberg, and it will work: the trailer shows an undeniable technical brilliance worth seeing.

Friday: December 30
Pick – The Iron Lady

It’s impossible to deny Meryl Streep. Her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher is receiving a limited December release, hoping that the Academy will recognize the UK’s former Prime Minister’s acting abilities.

But back to Homecoming…

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