2011 goes out with a bang with the release schedule crammed with Academy Awards hopefuls. Not one, but two new Steven Spielberg films including his first animated film, David Fincher’s latest billed as the “feel-bad film of Christmas,” Cameron Crowe’s first movie in six years and the latest installments of the Sherlock Holmes and Mission: Impossible franchises.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy (Dec. 9) The Cold War spy movie makes a comeback with Swedish director Tomas Alfreson’s version of the John Le Carre’s espionage thriller. Set in the early ‘70s, story deals with a Russian spy deep within British Intellignece. After a botched mission in Prague where an agent is captured by the Russians, the head of Mi6, Control (John Hurt), and his deputy George Smiley (Gary Oldman) are forced into retirement. On assignment in Istanbul Mi6 agent Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) learns that Russian spymaster Karla has an a mole deep within Mi6. After the Istanbul station head is killed, Tarr goes on the run and Smiley is brought back to track down the mole. Plot is a labyrinth with double and triple-crossings and constant suspense of not knowing who is a friend or foe. Strong cast includes Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds and Toby Jones.
Young Adult (Dec. 16) Diablo Cody burst onto the scene in 2007 with her Academy Award-winning script for Juno. Now she returns with a more mature, darker pic about a teen literature writer who can’t let go of the past. Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a mid-30s, divorced writer of young adult books living in Minneapolis. A former queen of the scene in high school, Mavis hates her life. When former high school flame Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) accidentally sends her an email of his new baby, Mavis goes into an emotional tailspin and returns to her hometown to try to win Buddy back. After humiliating setbacks where Buddy makes it clear he is not interested, Mavis bumps into overweight nerd Matt and they strike up an unlikely friendship. Theron has her work cut out for her – one reviewer called Mavis the “most likeable unlikeable protagonist since Lester Burnham in American Beauty.”
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Dec. 16) Everyone’s favorite 19th century sleuth returns as Robert Downey, Jr. stars as the quick-witted master of deduction. In Game of Shadows, the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty, who was hinted at in the first movie finally is revealed as Holmes’ nemesis and perhaps superior as he is equally brilliant and more ruthless by far. After rumors floated of Brad Pitt playing the part, character actor Jared Harris ended up as the evil mastermind. After the Crown Prince of Austria is murdered, Homes and Watson (Jude Law) quip their way through Europe, aided by the gypsy fortune teller Sim (Noomi Rapace) while Moriarty sews a path of destruction toward some nefarious world-changing end. Rachel McAdams makes a brief cameo.
The Adventures of Tin Tin (Dec. 21) Steven Spielberg directs his first animated movie with this film based on the comic book series by Belgian artist Hergé. Although little known in the States, the series, enormously popular in Europe, follows the adventures of young Tintin, a reporter, and his dog Snowy in a globe-spanning nonstop action/adventure which has been described as Pirates of the Caribbean meets Indiana Jones. Spielberg filmed live actors, whereupon the footage was transformed into 3D animation by Peter Jackson’s effects company. The result is photorealistic animation that is also true to the style of the original comic books. With Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis and Daniel Craig.
Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Dec. 21) Maybe the most anticipated movie this season is David Fincher’s remake of the 2009 Swedish film based on the first book of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Millenium series. Story centers around the relationship between Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and goth computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Blomkvist is summoned by corporate head Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of his niece Harriet 40 years earlier who Vanger believes was murdered by a member of his own family. To that end, Blomkvist enlists the help of the bisexual Salander, whose dark personal life includes rape and sexual torture by her legal guardian. Blomkvist discovers a list of names kept by Harriet. Salander finds that the names are Jewish women, nearly all murdered. When they discover that Vanger’s brothers were members of the Swedish Nazi Party, they believe they’re on the trail of a Nazi serial killer. Movie has been advertised as the “feel bad” movie of Christmas, with the typical Fincher dark, stylish atmosphere.
We Bought A Zoo (Dec. 23) After a six year absence, director Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) returns with the true life story of Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), a single father who uses his life savings to resurrect a rundown zoo. After losing his wife to cancer, emotionally devastated Benjamin struggles to rebuild his life with his two children, teenage Dylan and six-year-old Rosie. Against the advice of his practical brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church), he buys a decrepit zoo on a whim. With no zookeeping experience whatsoever, he must win over the skeptical staff, led by head zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), stave off imminent bankruptcy which would mean the destruction of 200 animals and avoid being shut down by a hostile USDA inspector. Along the way to healing himself and the zoo, Benjamin must face a zookeeper’s worst nightmare. Although Crowe’s films are known for their humorous, sunny outlook no matter how dark the situation, he and Damon went to lengths to avoid making a hokey “Disney-fied” movie. Cast includes Patrick Fugit, Elle Fanning and Peter Riegert.
War Horse (Dec. 25) Although he’s made six films set in World War II, Steven Spielberg was “never interested” in World War I until he read Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel about Joey, one of millions of horses used by the military for cavalry and draught horses – pulling weapons, vehicles and dead/wounded. Along with the slaughter of men, millions of horses perished in the war. After seeing the British play in 2010, Spielberg decided to make War Horse his next project. In the rural village of Devon, young Albert’s family buys a magnificent horse. Albert names it Joey and bonds with the horse. But as World War I dawns, the family is forced to sell Joey to the British Army. Story follows Joey as he first serves as an officer’s mount. After a horrific battle, Joey ends up on the German side, serving as a work horse. As the war goes on, Joey passes through many hands, all the while trying to get back to his owner, Albert. An old-fashioned Hollywood film, both anti-war and a love story between a man and his horse.