Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to December

The end of every movie year can usually be summed up in a few words: blockbusters and Oscar bait. With all of the holiday-themed films already in theaters, Christmas time is reserved for some of the studio’s biggest movies and their final push before awards season. Though it’s always a bit hot-and-cold in terms of what you can expect, this year’s slate offers an enticing mix of popcorn and prestige films. (And in the case of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” both.) Though some of the more interesting award contenders won’t actually reach your hometown until January (if at all) due to a silly rule that only requires a movie open in a very limited engagement before December 31st, there’s enough good stuff here to keep you suitably entertained well into the new year.


Who: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds and Mark Strong
What: In the bleak days of the Cold War, veteran spy George Smiley is lured out of retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6’s ranks.
When: December 9th
Why: I would pay to see just about anything starring Gary Oldman, but his new film from director Tomas Alfredson (who’s already proven himself as a master of suspense with the vampire cult hit, “Let the Right One In”) has gotten me particularly excited. Based on the bestselling novel by former spy turned author John le Carré, the movie looks like a throwback to those great, low-key political thrillers from the 1970s, and if that’s not enough to pique your interest, then a brief glance at the cast list – a veritable who’s who of the best British actors working today, including Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch of “Sherlock” fame – will almost certainly change your mind.


Who: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt and J.K. Simmons
What: A fiction writer returns to her hometown in Minnesota looking to rekindle a romance with her high school flame, who is now married with kids.
When: December 9th
Why: “Juno” was one of my favorite films of 2007. In addition to an excellent star-making performance by Ellen Page, the movie marked the arrival of writer Diablo Cody onto the scene and cemented Jason Reitman’s status as one of Hollywood’s most promising young directors. Fast-forward four years later and you can understand why Reitman and Cody’s latest collaboration, “Young Adult,” is already garnering awards buzz. Charlize Theron is perfect for the role of the former mean girl (she has the looks and attitude to pull it off without being completely unlikeable), while Patton Oswalt is an inspired choice to play her unlikely confidant. Cody’s snarky dark humor is also on full display here, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she nabs another Oscar nomination come February.


Who: Jonah Hill, Ari Graynor, Sam Rockwell, Max Records and J.B. Smoove
What: A slacker college student gets caught up in a night of crazy hijinks involving a pair of vindictive drug dealers after he takes a job babysitting his neighbor’s kids.
When: December 9th
Why: Though its generic title makes the film sound like another family comedy starring an out-of-work action star, “The Sitter” actually appears to be a raunchier, R-rated version of the 1987 classic, “Adventures in Babysitting.” While the concept may be teeming with potential, however, I’m not entirely sold by the trailer. Jonah Hill (in his final pre-weight loss role) can be really annoying when he’s not kept on a short leash, and director David Gordon Green is notorious for doing the complete opposite. Sam Rockwell and J.B. Smoove make for an intriguing comedic pair as the film’s “villains,” but I have a feeling that the movie’s success is going to depend on the child actors. And if Elizabeth Shue doesn’t pop in for a cameo, I’m going to be extremely disappointed.


Who: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Eddie Marsan and Jared Harris
What: Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson join forces with a mysterious gypsy to outwit and bring down their fiercest adversary, Professor Moriarty.
When: December 16th
Why: He may not have been the most popular choice to helm a big screen reboot of the world’s most famous detective, but Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” was a really fun popcorn flick that thrived on the chemistry between its two stars. Though I never thought that Ritchie would stick around for a sequel, it makes me more confident knowing that “A Game of Shadows” has retained the same creative team. I’m not sure how big of a role Rachel McAdams is going to play in this one (she’s absent from the trailer, but there’s no way she won’t factor into the story somehow), but as long as Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law still have a playful rapport, then audiences are in for another treat.


Who: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz
What: After two boys duke it out on a playground, the parents of the victim invite the parents of the bully over for a cordial meeting to work out their issues.
When: December 16th
Why: Based on Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning play, “God of Carnage,” movies like this are every actor’s dream because it allows them to embrace the theatricality of the subject matter without the limitations of a stage. It’s no surprise, then, that director Roman Polanski has recruited four of the best actors in the business, including three Oscar winners and a former nominee. John C. Reilly may seem like the black sheep of the group, but he’s perhaps the most qualified due to his sharp improvisational skills. Though it’s a bit strange that Polanski would choose a project as stylistically simplistic as this, “Carnage” certainly has the goods to become a dark horse awards contender.


Who: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgard and Christopher Plummer
What: Journalist Mikael Blomkvist enlists the aid of young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to uncover the mystery behind the disappearance of a girl 40 years ago.
When: December 21st
Why: Remakes are rarely accepted with such open arms, but there’s a good reason for all the excitement surrounding the upcoming Hollywood adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and his name is David Fincher. Don’t get me wrong: the original Swedish version was a solid thriller that did justice to Steig Larrson’s bestselling novel and featured a remarkable performance by Noomi Rapace. But just from that awesome teaser trailer alone, you can tell that Fincher’s movie is going to be even better. Though I’m still not entirely convinced that Daniel Craig is the right person to play Blomkvist, or that newcomer Rooney Mara has the range to match Rapace’s pitch-perfect portrayal of the emotionally scarred Salander, but if there’s one man that can pull it off, it’s Fincher.


Who: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and Ving Rhames
What: The IMF is shut down when it’s implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, forcing Ethan Hunt and his new team to go rogue to clear their organization’s name.
When: December 21st
Why: There are a lot of people who didn’t like the last “Mission: Impossible” film, but quite frankly, I think it was the best installment in the series. It might not hold that title for much longer, however, based on what I’ve seen of “Ghost Protocol,” which replaces Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers on the IMF team with Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton. Those aren’t the only personnel changes, either, as director Brad Bird (best known for “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” ) is stepping in for J.J. Abrams behind the camera. But while this might be Bird’s first live-action movie, between his ensemble cast, the guiding hand of Abrams as producer, and the decision to shoot some of the film on IMAX, you would be crazy to expect anything less than non-stop entertainment.


Who: Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
What: Tintin and Captain Haddock set off on a quest to find the sunken remains of the Unicorn ship and notorious pirate Red Rackham’s treasure.
When: December 21st
Why: As someone who isn’t a particularly big fan of Steven Spielberg or the art of motion-capture movies, it might seem strange to admit that I’m actually looking forward to “The Adventures of Tintin.” I’ve never even read any of the popular Hergé comics that the film is based on, but just seeing who’s involved in the movie is enough to get me excited. In addition to its great cast (which includes mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the bumbling Thompson Twins), the script was written by Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”) and Joe Cornish (“Attack the Block”), and Peter Jackson even had a hand in the project. It’s safe to say that if there’s one Spielberg film to rush out and see this December, it’s “Tintin.”


Who: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis and Max von Sydow
What: A young boy searches New York for the lock that matches a mysterious key left by his father after he’s killed in the September 11th attacks.
When: December 23rd
Why: Out of all the tear-jerker Oscar bait being released this season (here’s looking at you, “War Horse”), director Stephen Daldry’s latest drama looks to be the most tolerable of the bunch. That’s not to say that it won’t make the waterworks flow, but as long as it’s done sparingly, then you should be able to bring your mom along without being too embarrassed. The big question mark, however, is whether newcomer Thomas Horn, whose only previous experience is as a contestant on “Jeopardy!,” has what it takes to carry a movie. This isn’t the first time that Daldry has taken such a risk (although it paid off for him with Jamie Bell in “Billy Elliot”), but he was still smart to surround Horn with a cast of screen veterans, all of whom will be angling for a Supporting Actor nomination.


Who: Emile Hirsh, Olivia Thirlby, Rachel Taylor, Max Minghella and Joel Kinnaman
What: While stranded in Moscow, a group of college students lead the charge against an alien race that has attacked Earth using the planet’s power supply.
When: December 23rd
Why: I’m not entirely sure why Chris Gorak’s sci-fi thriller has been tossed to the wolves, so to speak, by being released during a time of year where it stands no chance of succeeding, but it’s a real shame, because The Darkest Hour” had the potential to be a sleeper hit. Best described as “Red Dawn” meets “Independence Day” and featuring a cast of young up-and-comers, what makes the film so unique from every other alien invasion movie are the aggressors themselves: seemingly invisible entities powered by electricity that can incinerate anything with a single touch. The special effects alone look really good for a movie that only cost a reported $40 million to make, although with the always resourceful Timur Bekmambetov attached as a producer, it isn’t that surprising.


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