Hard to believe, but the holiday season is already upon us. Starting with this Friday's release of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (check out the review at cltampa.com/movies), Hollywood will open the cheer spigot and deluge the multiplex with dozens of releases aimed at revelers of all stripe. With so many movies, it's tough to separate the cinematic gifts from the celluloid lumps of coal. So here's a rundown of the naughty and the nice:
Nice: J. Edgar
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as legendary FBI paranoid J. Edgar Hoover in director Clint Eastwood's anticipated biopic. Does the Oscar pedigree of Eastwood and DiCaprio mean that J. Edgar will be showered with awards come February? And will Leo revel in any of J. Edgar's storied cross-dressing onscreen? I'm guessing yes on both counts.
Naughty: Jack and Jill
Adam Sandler's latest features the comic dressed in drag and playing both halves of a strained brother-sister relationship. Jack and Jill looks more like one of the fake movies Sandler used in Funny People to send up his career than an actual release, but there's little doubt his many fans will show up in droves. May you all get coal in your stocking.
Nice: The Descendants
George Clooney stars as a man trying to reconnect with his daughters after his wife ends up in a boating accident-induced coma. Sounds heavy, but the material is sure to take a turn for the comic in the hands of director Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election). Plus, the film's Hawaiian setting (and soundtrack full of tunes from the islands) will be like a mini vacation from a house full of visiting relatives.
Naughty: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1
Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Bella (Kristen Stewart) finally get married, get it on, get knocked up and get busy birthing their hybrid spawn in this third Twilight movie. Did I actually read in Entertainment Weekly that Edward has to chew the baby out? That's just gross.
Nice: The Muppets
The Muppets return to the big screen under the Disney banner for the first time since 1996's Muppet Treasure Island (there have been three non-Disney Muppet flicks since then, but they're all terrible) looking to re-ignite a franchise that had real magic early on. The plot (about an oil tycoon trying to buy the Muppet's theater so he can drill for oil) seems like vintage Muppets, and the human talent on hand (Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper) looks in previews like they nailed it. Besides, is there anyone of any age who doesn't love Kermit, Piggy and the rest?
Very Nice: Hugo
It's a great weekend to be a child (or a kid at heart), with Hugo joining The Muppets at the multiplex. Hugo marks the first foray into 3D filmmaking for Martin Scorsese, a director known for both his unflinching adult dramas and his remarkable visual style. (I'm guessing he leaves out the violence and profanity here.) Chances are you're going to want to see The Muppets first, but don't be afraid to buy a ticket for Hugo if Kermit and Co. are sold out when you hit the theater box office.
Naughty: Nothing in wide release!
Nice: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Based on a John Le Carré novel about a retired spy forced back into the game to hunt Russian spies lurking in Britain's intelligence services, Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy is the latest flick from Tomas Alfredson, the filmmaker behind the original (and much beloved) Let The Right One In. Sweetening the deal is the cast, which includes the always reliable Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy and John Hurt. Expect plenty of knowing glances delivered by weighty faces.
Naughty: New Year's Eve
Hollywood continues to churn out low-rent copies of the excellent Brit rom-com Love Actually, this time bringing in TV talent (Ashton Kucther, Lea Michelle) and setting the action on the last day of the year. The team behind New Year's Eve is the same one that made Valentine's Day, a substandard Love Actually clone in its own right. Just Netflix the original and be done with it.
Nice: The Iron Lady
Though it will probably creep into the Bay area a few weeks after an initial release elsewhere, The Iron Lady will be worth the price of admission just to see Meryl Streep morph into Margaret Thatcher. (The trailers are as amazing as you'd expect.) I'm not sure about that guy they got to play Reagan, though …
Naughty: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, the 18th century's greatest team of criminal investigators/homoerotic banterers. Rachel McAdams is back for this second go-around, and Noomi Rapace (the original girl with the dragon tattoo) joins the cast. For the sequel, Holmes and Watson do battle with Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), who fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories know was the brilliant detective's most worthy adversary … until Guy Ritchie.
Nice: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Nothing says Christmas like rape and revenge. Fresh off The Social Network, David Fincher directs this U.S. remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which features a can't-wait-to-see-it performance by actress Rooney Mara, who practically disfigured herself to fit into the lead role. Daniel Craig takes some time off from Bond and bad westerns to lend added gravitas and star power, but is there anyone who was going to skip this because of who they cast in the dude part? Didn't think so.
Naughty: The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
Steven Spielberg teams with Peter Jackson for this animated film (Spielberg's first as director), utilizing a refined version of the motion capture technology used on The Polar Express. Reviews from across the pond have been ghastly (The Guardian called it "execrable"), and fans of the original books are outraged — but the Hollywood Reporter liked it, saying it harks back to Spielberg's action films of the 1980s, and the film is currently certified "Fresh" on RottenTomatoes.com. Who to trust?
Nice: War Horse
The Spielberg Christmas gallops on with War Horse, a live-action film about a boy, a horse and World War I — perhaps not in that order. War Horse looks to meld action and heart in the way only the best Spielberg blockbusters can, but with the boomer master now 64 years of age, is it too soon to start asking if the old man has lost the magic? We'll find out for sure on Christmas day.
Very Nice: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The big-screen adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel about a 10-year-old boy who lost his father in the 9/11 attacks and scours New York City in search of a lockbox that his dad left him the keys to. The talent involved here is amazing, with director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot), writer Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Munich) and a cast that includes Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright and James Gandolfini. As close to an absolute must-see as the 2011 holiday season has to offer. Let's just hope it opens in Tampa Bay sometime before 2012.