Can you smell that? No, not the pumpkin pie-scented potpourri that your grandmother bought you last Christmas – it’s the smell of awards season starting to heat up. Though November is typically a pretty eclectic month for movies, you can always expect a fair share of family films and Oscar hopefuls competing for the attention of your box office dollars, and this year is no exception. You also might notice that a few major releases – like the Adam Sandler-in-drag comedy “Jack and Jill” and the latest installment in the “Twilight” saga – have been left out of this preview. That’s no mistake. I wanted to save myself the trouble of writing about them and you the embarrassment of reading about them. After all, there are more than enough good options this month that no one should have to damage any more brain cells by seeing one of those movies.
“A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS”
Who: John Cho, Kal Penn, Paula Garces, Thomas Lennon and Neil Patrick Harris What: After Harold and Kumar accidentally set fire to Harold’s father-in-law’s prize Christmas tree, the duo embark on yet another weed-fueled adventure to replace it. When: November 4th Why: Though I refuse to believe that the 3D revolution is going to stick around for much longer, this is one of those times where I actually don’t completely hate the idea. That’s probably because director Todd Strauss-Schulson is really embracing the gimmicky nature of the technology, but who doesn’t love making fun of 3D? Though Harold and Kumar’s last adventure was a bit ridiculous for its own good, writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg appear to have reined things in for the third (and likely final) installment in the stoner bud series. Toss in some Claymation and the return of Neil Patrick Harris and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be a fun theater experience.
Who: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck and Téa Leoni What: A group of employees at a luxury condominium enlist the aid of a career criminal to help them steal $20 million from the investor that emptied out their pension plans. When: November 4th Why: When I first heard that Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy were teaming up with director Brett Ratner for what can be best described as a blue-collar “Ocean’s 11,” I responded accordingly, with a witty comment and a cynical roll of the eyes. But something strange happened between then and now – I saw the trailer for the film, and amazingly, it doesn’t look half-bad. Perhaps it’s just because my expectations are so low for those involved in the movie, but this actually looks like it could be pretty enjoyable, and even somewhat of a return to form for Murphy, who hasn’t been funny in a really long time.
Who: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts and Judi Dench What: A biopic about the founder of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, whose 50-year reign as the face of law enforcement was threatened by the many secrets in his personal life. When: November 9th Why: Everything about this film has “future Oscar nominee” written all over it, including star Leonardo DiCaprio, director Clint Eastwood and co-star Armie Hammer, who’s landed the plum role of Hoover’s lifelong friend and rumored lover Clyde Tolson. It’ll be interesting to see how a mild conservative like Eastwood handles the mysterious relationship between the two men, especially with gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black behind the script, because dodging the issue completely won’t sit well with the usually liberal-minded Academy. The person that stands the most to gain from all of this, of course, is Hammer, who is pretty much a lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination after just barely missing out last year for his incredible work in “The Social Network.”
October has never been known for offering much in the way of quality at the cineplex (in many respects, it’s the dumping ground of the fall movie season), but usually, horror fans can at least expect a bunch of scary movies to help get them in the mood for Halloween. This year is a little different, however, because there are very few horror films in sight. But while the month certainly looks to be short on scares with the exception of “Paranormal Activity 3,” “Red State” and perhaps “The Thing,” the rest of the schedule is filled with some interesting titles that really have the potential to surprise.
Who: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly and Anthony Mackie What: Set in the near future where robots have replaced humans in the ring, a former boxer and his estranged son discover a junkyard bot that could become champion. When: October 7th Why: It’s easy to see how someone might be a little skeptical about a film that looks like “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: The Movie,” but after visiting the set last summer, any concerns I might have had were quickly laid to rest following a chat with director Shawn Levy and star Hugh Jackman. I’ve also had the opportunity to see the finished product since then, and while the movie certainly isn’t going to earn a spot alongside “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” as a boxing classic, it’s still a really enjoyable underdog sports drama with strong central performances and plenty of awesome robot-on-robot action.
“THE IDES OF MARCH”
Who: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti What: An idealistic staff member for a Democratic presidential candidate gets a crash course on dirty politics during his latest stint on the campaign trail. When: October 7th Why: With a big name like George Clooney attached to a movie come big expectations, especially when he’s the one calling the shots. Thankfully, his latest directorial effort appears to be more “Good Night, and Good Luck” than “Leatherheads,” and it doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded himself with such an incredible ensemble cast. In addition to the film’s multi-hyphenate star, “The Ides of March” features two other Oscar winners and two nominees. It might not be considered the year’s strongest awards contender, but the Academy always loves a good political thriller, and this definitely looks the part.
Who: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje What: When an alien life form begins wreaking havoc at an Antarctic research site, a graduate student teams up with a helicopter pilot to prevent it from escaping. When: October 14th Why: There’s been a lot of debate over whether Universal’s “The Thing” is a remake or a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter classic (the fact that it shares the same title certainly hasn’t helped matters), but it’s now been confirmed that it takes place prior to R.J. MacReady’s trip to the Antarctic and will detail what happened at the Norwegian camp featured in the original film. I’m not sure if that makes this prequel any less unnecessary, but at least it’s got a couple of good actors in Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton. That’s definitely a start, but it still has a ways to go to winning back the fanboys after Ronald D. Moore’s script was reportedly scrapped back in late 2009.
September is typically a pretty laidback month for movies. After being bombarded with big budget tentpole films over the summer, it’s the calm before the storm that is awards season. But this year, Hollywood is kicking off the fall movie season in style with big names like Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt all starring in films that could make an appearance at the Oscars next year. Throw in a couple of cool genre flicks and you’re looking at one of the most promising Septembers in recent memory.
“A GOOD OLD FASHIONED ORGY”
Who: Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Bibb, Tyler Labine, Lake Bell and Nick Kroll What: A group of 30-year-olds who have been friends since high school attempt to throw an end-of-summer orgy. When: September 2nd (limited) Why: Though I’m still not convinced that Jason Sudeikis is the star that Hollywood seems to think he is, this raunchy sex comedy could finally be the film that changes my mind. It doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded by such a funny ensemble cast, including actors like Tyler Labine and Lake Bell, who are always good for a laugh The real test, however, will be whether the film has the balls to go all the way or if it will chicken out at the last minute, because you shouldn’t joke around about an orgy unless you mean it.
Who: Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne What: An action-thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly disease and an international team of doctors contracted by the CDC to deal with the outbreak. When: September 9th Why: When Steven Soderbergh puts together a cast this good, it’s hard not to stand up and take notice. But even with four Oscar winners, three nominees, and a three-time Emmy winner at his disposal, the real star of “Contagion” may end up being the story itself, which has the potential to scare the living shit out of audiences in ways that most horror films could only dream of. How Soderbergh manages to tap into our inherent fear of disease will be key to its success, but if the movie is anywhere near as good as 1995’s “Outbreak” (which also had an amazing cast), we’re in for a pleasant surprise.