Holiday Movie Preview 2010: Drama

I load up on two things come the holiday season: turkey, award-contending dramas and brisket. Okay … three things. 3/4 of the year I devote my time almost exclusively to films I hope will merely entertain me. From end of November through part of February, I try and make sure I’m getting in my regular dose of drama and serious, meaningful film. With these eight films, you can too.

If you missed the rest of the Holiday Movie Preview, select from the menu below!

8. Somewhere (Dec. 22, Limited )

Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Michelle Monaghan

The Word: Sofia Coppola was going to be the biggest female filmmaker ever after the acclaim received for “Lost In Translation,” but things took a quick dive with her genre/period-twisting “Marie Antoinette” in 2006 that found few fans. “Somewhere” ought to get her back on the right track in this story of a bigshot Hollywood actor whose daughter (Fanning) comes to stay with him despite his lavish and not very child-conducive lifestyle. The starring role is a huge step for Stephen Dorff, whose most memorable role to date is still Deacon Frost, the evil vampire in “Blade.”

My Thoughts: Coppola’s style will never be for everyone, but this simple father-daughter relationship concept ought to be something most audiences can maneuver and should highlight what she does best — characters. The film has been decently received at two major film festivals in Venice and London, so if holiday season means you’re apt to take a few more trips to the arthouse theaters, “Somewhere” should be somewhere on your map.

7. Casino Jack (Dec. 17, Limited)

Directed by George Hickenlooper
Written by Norman Snider
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Kelly Preston, Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz

The Word: The release of the downward slide of DC Lobbyist Jack Abramoff is tempered quite a bit by the sad passing of director George Hickenlooper, who died in late October. Hopefully this final feature will leave the “Factory Girl” director’s career on a high note. Spacey stars (quite perfectly) as Abramoff in this more comedic biopic about a man who feels he has to do whatever it takes to influence congressmen on behalf of his clients.

My Thoughts: The “Scent of a Woman” reference in this trailer is classic. Spacey looks to be on the top of his game — you have to love him in these kinds of fast-talking roles. We honestly don’t get enough of Spacey these days — he only ends up in maybe one notable film a year and sometimes that film is never all that notable, such as “The Men Who Stare At Goats” in October of last year and “21” in early 2008. Only thing is there are at least a handful of dramas worthy of seeing ahead of this film in December, so I doubt I’ll see it pre-DVD.

6. The Company Men (Dec. 10, Limited)

Written and Directed by John Wells
Starring: Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner

The Word: Originally slated for the fall as you might (doubtfully) remember from my Fall Movie Preview, “The Company Men” now moves into a hyper-competitive slot with all the other award-season dramas. Does longtime TV director/writer/producer John Wells’ (“E.R.,” “The West Wing”) film have what it takes to play with the big boys? Certainly a film about how a corporate downsizing affects the lives of three men has some big cards to play including its decorated cast of actors.

My Thoughts: We all saw how “Up in the Air” hit home last year and that was part comedy, keeping the actors who were playing fired employees fairly ambiguous as to create the feeling that they were everyday people. This drama takes us to these people’s lives. As someone with a TV background, we know Wells can juggle the multiple story lines, but the tougher line is the one between melodramatic job-loss film and genuine, real and powerful stuff.

5. Rabbit Hole (Dec. 17, Limited )

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire (play and screenplay)
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Sandra Oh

The Word: John Cameron Mitchell is best known for playing transexual rock singer Hedwig in his debut feature, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which if you haven’t seen and think you can handle it, is a terrific film. After the indie “Shortbus,” the filmmaker takes a big leap directing the screen adaptation of this Pulitzer and Tony-winning play “Rabbit Hole,” which stars Kidman and Eckhart as parents who recently lost their young son in an accident.

My Thoughts: This film will certainly vie for some awards recognition as it premiered to strong reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival, particularly for the acting (as films based on plays tend to showcase). It can be hit or miss that playwright Lindsay-Abaire adapted his own work, so it might seem a bit too much like a play, but that never takes anything away from the material as we learned with “Doubt” a couple years back.

4. The Fighter (Dec. 10, Limited; Dec. 17, Wide)

Directed by David O. Russell
Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo

The Word: There’s nothing like a boxing drama to capture the Academy’s attention. David O. Russell  (“Three Kings,” “I Heart Huckabees”) brings to life the story of “Irish” Micky Ward, the boxer who after losing his one big shot at the title has to prove himself with the help of his troubled brother/trainer Dickie (an emaciated Christian Bale who looks like a big favorite in the Best Supporting Actor category). As indicated by the trailer, there’s fighting going on in more than just the ring.

My Thoughts: I’m not sure how far “The Fighter” can go in terms of Oscar glory, but it should compete tough in some of the glorified categories. After all, this is a boxing movie, which means it has to be great. Anyway, the cast is well-crafted with Wahlberg and Bale at the center and Amy Adams stepping it up yet another notch in terms of notoriety. Wahlberg is a scrappy dude who is great at arguing on camera, so this seems like a great starring vehicle for him as far as dramas go. Russell is a director on the rise as has been attached or wanted for a number of projects, so expect good things.

3. The King’s Speech (Nov. 26, Limited)

Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by David Seidler
Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham-Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Timothy Spall

The Word: No one had “The King’s Speech” on their Oscar radar. Then it debuted at Telluride and then Toronto a few days later. Now it’s being heralded as one of the biggest contenders this awards season. Oscar-nominated just this last year, Colin Firth stars as King George VI, who overcame his stutter and lack of confidence before ascending to the throne with the help of an unorthodox speech teacher (Rush), all this with World War II on the horizon.

My Thoughts: Good period dramas are always taken seriously by awards bodies, especially British ones. Firth, in my opinion, was probably more deserving of the Oscar last year than Bridges (though I’m indeed happy Bridges got one), and by the looks of it he’ll have another shot. Tom Hooper (“The Damned United,” “John Adams”) will also get his chance to make a bigger name for himself. It could become quite a bit of notoriety for David Seidler, who wrote an original screenplay. His previous noteworthy credits were the animated films “The King and I” and “Quest for Camelot” more than 10 years ago.

2. Black Swan (Dec. 3, Limited)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman, John McLaughlin
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassell, Winona Ryder

The Word: Darren Aronofsky has a lot of respect and attention in Hollywood. The director of “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Wrestler” has traversed a number of genres, with his visual style being the standout feature each time. With “Black Swan” he tells the story of an overly ambitious ballet dancer (Portman) competing for her teacher’s affections as well as with a rival dancer (Kunis) during preparations for a production of “Swan Lake.”

My Thoughts: If it’s not “Black Swan,” Aronofsky will make a highly acclaimed and widely recognized film someday. He’s already going to finally make the leap to blockbuster when he directs the next “Wolverine” film for Hugh Jackman, so his profile is rising. Of all the films coming out the holiday season, “Black Swan” is the biggest enigma. The trailer is flat-out creepy as it appears Ms. Portman is turning into a swan. I do hope that Portman’s opening voice over in the trailer is not giving away the film though. Anyway, I doubt this film will be for everyone, but the buzz is very high, with Portman expected to receive some recognition.

1. True Grit (Dec. 22)

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Written by Joel and Ethan Coen, Charles Portis (novel)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin

The Word: One expects the Coen brothers — who are perennial awards contenders — to switch up genres, but a remake of a Western that starred John Wayne in his only Oscar-winning role? Ambitious. Good thing they have the Oscar winner Jeff Bridges in the role of Wayne’s U.S. marshal Rooster Cogburn, who has no sympathy for anyone given the number of times his gun goes off in the trailer. Matt Damon and Josh Brolin co-star along with newcomer Hailee Steinfeld in this film about a girl (Steinfeld) who enlists Cogburn’s help to track down her father’s killer (Brolin).

My Thoughts: The Coen brothers are genius in my opinion. I gave “A Serious Man” 5/5 stars last year though I ultimately acknowledged that not everyone sees the intelligence in their efforts, namely the way they prey on audience expectation. Everything they’ve done since “No Country for Old Men” has be nothing short of brilliant and I suspect with the mainstream Western feel of “True Grit” and the Christmas week release date that they should be terrific once again.


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