Holiday Movie Preview: 10 Films Worth Seeing Pt. 1

Magazines, newspapers and websites have all been publishing something they refer to as a “Winter Movie Preview,” lately. How strange, you wonder, that I’m posting something called a “Holiday Movie Preview.”

Let me explain. “Holiday Movie Preview” refers to the six weeks of awesomeness at the movie theaters from the weekend before Thanksgiving until the Christmas releases. This is the best 8.6 repeating percent of the year for movies. You might not get as many blockbusters as the lengthy summer season, but you get a handful of them plus all the Oscar-caliber films that never come out any other time of year.

This is different than winter. Entertainment publications will have you believe there are four movies seasons: Summer, Fall, Winter and Oscar. They ignore the crap that usually comes out between Jan. 1 and the Oscars because they know the only films people really care about are the ones getting nominated. Then they try and ignore the ones between the Oscars and May 1 thinking you’re so ready for summer.

I’m not going to deny that the early year movies aren’t crap or that the March/April gems are few and far between, but I’m not going to pretend they don’t exist. There will be Holiday season; there will be winter season; there will be Oscar season with predictions; there will be Spring. Between Christmas and New Years I will publish the winter preview, when Oscar nominations come out, that will get its due and as the Academy Awards approach, I’ll preview the spring.

Now that we’ve got that straight … Holiday movies. As with any Holiday season, it’s hard to pick a Top 10, but I feel good about this list.

To preface, in ranking these movies I went for Oscar-quality above entertainment. Sherlock Holmes for example, as excited as I will be when that movie comes out, is much lower on my list than Invictus.

I’m organizing this much like I did for the fall. Today are films 10 through 6 on my list. Tomorrow will be my red flags list. Thursday I will finish up with 5 through 1 and either later Thursday or Friday I will put up my honorable mentions. I’ve linked to the trailers on YouTube for you to compare your thoughts.

10. The Princess and the Frog (Ltd Nov. 25, Wide Dec. 11)


The Buzz: Walt Disney’s highly anticipated return to traditional animation musicals after a five-year hiatus. The new film features Disney’s first black princess in a story set in New Orleans during the Jazz Age. Tiana is a wealthy princess who ends up locking lips with a frog expecting him to turn back into a prince only she ends up a frog herself. The movie features songs from Disney collaborator Randy Newman as well as numerous amusing talking animals of the Cajun swamp variety. (View trailer)

My View: Has it only been five years since Disney last gave us a 2D product? If you’re talking quality, they haven’t delivered anything since 1999’s Tarzan. By the looks of the trailer, Disney appears to want to re-establish its early ‘90s dynasty, having dusted off that old formula of princess, prince, villain and singing animal sidekicks that it lost faith in ten years ago. But are they really committed to storytelling quality or are they just hoping we needed a break?

It’s hard to say right away if Disney will recapture any of the magic with “Frog,” but the effort appears to be there and the promise of reliving my childhood and that one-of-a-kind feeling one only gets from watching a Disney animated musical appears worth the risk. Critics will be an all important piece in determining whether this attempted comeback is a success and so will the children of today who’ve been spoiled with CGI.

9. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Dec. 25)


The Buzz: Heath Ledger’s final performance in former-Monty Python surrealist Terry Gilliam’s most talked-about film in at least ten years. Ledger died during filming, so Johnny Depp, Colin Ferrell and Jude Law stepped in to complete the project, playing various incarnations of Ledger’s character when he enters the imaginarium. In a plot that’s hard to summarize, Christopher Plummer stars as the doctor who’s made a deal with the devil for immortality and has a traveling stage show that offers its audience more than meets the eye. (View trailer)

My View: The story sounds mysterious, intriguing and altogether quite fascinating. But, like other Gilliam films, will this one end up being more about visual creativity that borders on insanity, or will the story be just as rewarding as the beautifully imaginative images presented in the trailer? The film will certainly benefit from the star power and magic dust Ledger’s death has still somehow left behind. I’ll even admit that the prospect of seeing Ledger’s talents on the screen again is tempting. All in all, the ceiling is very high for Gilliam’s latest cinematic Dali painting, which was well-received at the fall festivals.

8. Sherlock Holmes (Dec. 25)


The Buzz: With the red-hot Robert Downey Jr. in to play a more masculine ass-kicking incarnation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary detective, “Holmes” has been the holiday season’s most anticipated film for some time now and it finally lands under the tree on Christmas Day. The film co-stars the immaculate Rachel McAdams, Jude Law – who has been scarce of late – as Watson, as well as Mark Strong who ought to be a household name in the near future. Directed by English cult action comedy director Guy Ritchie and written in part by Mr. and Mrs. Smith scribe Simon Kinberg, the film appears to offer the same action comedy feel but with much less cliché. (View trailer)

My View: I’m not cracking up at the trailer, but neither am I bored by it. We also know next to nothing about the plot and the extent to which the elements of mystery are valued by it, so it’s too hard to make a judgment call that goes beyond the hype and the talent putting this film together. At the same time, do you need much more proof? There isn’t a bad or stale actor in this cast and it looks action-packed and rich with period detail. I normally would never have pegged Ritchie for a mainstream American action movie, but he deserves his chance.

7. Nine (Dec. 18)


The Buzz: Nine? The real number here is five – five Oscar-winning actresses: Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench and Sophia Loren. Plus one who’s been nominated (Kate Hudson). Oh, and Fergie too. And I almost forgot, the Oscar-winning lead, Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido Contini, in the musical based on the Fellini film 8 ½. Did I mention that Chicago director Rob Marshall was behind the camera? The trailer gives us that distinct Chicago vibe set to one of the songs, “Be Italian.”Contini is a famous film director being pressured to make another masterpiece while reconciling his scandalous personal life with his career. (View trailer)

My View: All the elements of success are here, now its up to Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of the Tony-award-winning-but-then-forgotten Broadway show to prove that it’s worthy of all that talent. Nevertheless, the high-quality Holiday movie musical is a rarity these days and that alone makes Nine worth a look, even if you could argue (which you can’t) against the most decorated female ensemble maybe in movie history.

6. The Lovely Bones (Dec. 11)


The Buzz: Whoever thought that Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel, the one that became the centerpiece of women’s book clubs everywhere would be given big-screen life by Peter Jackson and his Lord of the Rings writing team? Suddenly dorks everywhere have turned their heads and given this tragedy about a young girl (Saoirse Ronan fromAtonement) who is murdered but watches her family from “the in-between” a second glance for its potential fantasy value. (View trailer)

My View: After The Lord of the Rings and District 9, it’s hard to ignore a Peter Jackson endorsement let alone a directorial project. The man could go on a commercial promoting Extenze and I would actually start believing I needed to consider enhancing my manhood. With the additional talents of Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci, the film should hold its own in that regard too. I’m not so sure about the fantasy-crime drama-thriller vibe I get from the trailer – it actually appears to go from a Jodi Picoult adaptation to What Dreams May Cometo a slasher film all in two minutes – but that Peter Jackson tag is just so damn hard to ignore.

Check back all week for more Holiday previews. The rest of my Top 10 will come out Thursday.

1 Comment

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