Holiday Movie Preview 2012: Comedy, Romance, Drama

When families start coming together, the romantic comedies and dramas start coming out of the woodwork for feel-good family time, so this is the one time of year I combine all such efforts. This year we have quite a few of them, but you’ll have to dig for the real winners.

 

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (Nov. 16)

Directed by Bill Condon
Written by Melissa Rosenberg, Stephenie Meyer (novel)
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner

Summary: After the birth of their daughter, Edward and his newly minted vampire wife, Bella, adjust to their new life, which becomes threatened by elite vampire clan the Volturi.

The Word: The last hurrah for “Twilight” has arrived. The reaction was altogether rather negative for the first part of the final adaptation of the last book, so the only thing that could possibly save “Breaking Dawn – Part 2″ is that it’s a series finale, and from both a box office and audience approval perspective, these mega franchise enders are a serious force to be reckoned with.

My Thoughts: I tried to watch all these movies but stopped halfway through. At this point you obviously either have to see this one or you have no interest. You’re not going to dive into “Twilight” halfway through its final chapter. Let the fans have their party and then we can have ours. Until the reboot …

 

Anna Karenina (Nov. 16 – Limited)

Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Tom Stoppard, Leo Tolstoy (novel)
Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson

Summary: An adaptation of the classic romance, scandal erupts when the lovely aristocrat Anna Karenina (Knightley) falls for Count Vronsky (Johnson)

The Word: Wright reunites with his “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement” star Knightley for this visually distinctive re-imagining, so fans of their aforementioned period work together should take easily to this one 19th Century tale. The film was filmed in an old theatre and essentially all the action takes place within it and upon the stage.

My Thoughts: The film debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and has opened in the UK and parts of Asia. The buzz has been good, though not award-worthy, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be in certain Oscar conversations (production design/set decoration, costumes). That aside, I’m a huge fan of Wright’s visual sensibilities and expect “Anna” to be something to behold for fans of great cinematography.


 

Silver Linings Playbook (Nov. 21)

Directed by David O. Russell
Written by David O. Russell, Matthew Quick (novel)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver

Summary: After spending time in a mental institution, Pat (Cooper) returns to his Philadelphia home to reconcile his past and smooth things out with his ex, but things change when the beautiful and equally troubled Tiffany (Lawrence) enters the picture.

The Word: Reviews so far have been excellent for David O. Russell’s follow-up to “The Fighter,” the film for which he was nominated for an Oscar. With a pair of blossoming stars in Cooper and Lawrence, there’s some serious box-office appeal to this one as well.

My Thoughts: This one doesn’t quite fit the perfect profile of what the Academy looks for, but it could be part of a number of major Oscar categories. The performances are supposed to be nothing short of outstanding and that’s the bread and butter of a romantic dramedy like this one. This is something to see before we’re flooded with Oscar contenders come Dec. 1.


 

Playing For Keeps (Dec. 7)

Directed by Gabriele Muccino
Written by Robbie Fox
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman

Summary: A former pro soccer player (Butler) has trouble getting his life together after his divorce and has taken to coaching his son’s soccer team. When a sports anchor for ESPN (Zeta-Jones) takes notice of him, he sees a chance to make a career and prove himself to his ex (Biel).

The Word: Italian director Muccino’s return to Hollywood isn’t quite what you’d expect from the guy who made “Seven Pounds” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Those films will likely be more popular than this early December release, as Butler has struggled to be a box-office draw (see the failure of this fall’s “Chasing Mavericks”). The script comes from a writer whose last film was 1994′s “In the Army Now” starring Pauly Shore.

My Thoughts: There seems to be a family film element to this one, but there’s absolutely nothing appealing about this movie to kids and its rated PG-13. With adults having so many more choices of films in the winter months, it should be extremely hard (despite no other competition that week) for “Keeps” to make any noise.


 

Lay the Favorite (Dec. 7 – Limited)

Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by D.V. DeVincentis, Beth Raymer (memoir)
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joshua Jackson

Summary: A young Las Vegas cocktail waitress learns from the best gambler in the business, Dink (Willis), how to turn a profit, but when he’s looking at going down with a major felony, they must work together to stave off being brought down.

The Word: An interesting collaboration for the writer of “High Fidelity” and the director of “The Queen.” Hall is an underrated talent, and Willis is, well, Willis. The film has played in Europe after a poor reception at Sundance back in January.

My Thoughts: I would generally give these filmmaking talents the benefit of the doubt, but bad reviews are bad reviews, even if you have a generally spotless record. And in December, especially, there’s no room for films with bad reviews.

 

The Guilt Trip (Dec. 19)

Directed by Anne Fletcher
Written by Dan Fogelman
Starring: Seth Rogen, Barbra Streisand

Summary: Andy (Rogen) comes home to see his long-widowed mother (Streisand) and against his better judgment, invites her on his cross-country trip to pitch a business idea/invention.

The Word: Adult mother-son comedies are surprisingly an untapped story device, and who better to embody a Jewish mother in a comedy stereotype than Streisand? Rogen brings a younger, more modern comedic edge not usually present in these generic offerings. Director Fletcher has made some popular films (“27 Dresses,” “The Proposal”) and writer Fogelman made the extremely popular “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” so even with mediocre reviews, this could be popular with general audiences.

My Thoughts: I’m giving this one the benefit of the doubt (and there’s a lot of doubt). I think the chemistry between Rogen and Streisand in the trailer looks natural and strong enough to overcome what look like some desperate and overdone jokes. If the two can make that work, this “mother of a road trip” could be passable family fare for those looking for a lighter Christmas alternative.

 

This is 40 (Dec. 21)

Written and Directed by Judd Apatow
Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann

Summary: A spin-off centered on Pete and Debbie from Apatow’s “Knocked Up” that tells a story about coming to grips with being middle aged, having older kids and keeping a marriage exciting.

The Word: There have been two camps on Apatow’s “Funny People” — refreshingly great and boring — and this one also looks like another example of  his “examine your life” type of comedy that has a bit heavier of a dramatic edge. Given that Apatow’s wife and kids star in the film with Rudd as his stand in, you know this one is especially personal for the filmmaker.

My Thoughts: I might be otherwise skeptical after “Funny People” (I leaned more toward the “boring” camp), but I love Paul Rudd, who to me can be a great equalizer. This is by far the standout of all the comedy choices this holiday season and even if it’s long and less funny that I’d like, it’s by far the most intriguing option.

 

Parental Guidance (Dec. 25)

Directed by Andy Fickman
Written by Lisa Addario, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Joe Syracuse
Starring: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei

Summary: Artie (Crystal) and Diane (Midler) look after their grandchildren while the kids’ parents are out of town, which proves to be quite a challenge given how much parenting has changed since they last did it.

The Word: Crystal and Midler at the top of a marquee? What year is it? They’re still acting? All these are good questions. With fewer family films in theaters this holiday season, this gets a Christmas Day release. Fickman (“You Again”) tries his hand at another family dysfunction comedy. Writers Addario and Syracuse wrote penguin comedy “Surf’s Up” and Ganz and Mandel teamed up on “Tooth Fairy” and “Fever Pitch.”

My Thoughts: Another comedy built around the “humor” of older people unable to cope with modern ways. I can start to list the jokes that will likely appear in the film …

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