One reason they call this the most wonderful time of the year, is that this is when a slew of good movies hits theaters. This year is no exception. In fact, this year’s slew may be the slewest of the slews, which sounds like an insult, but is actually a huge compliment.
Now, you should all know that I am the mother of a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old. I report this fact now because it means the last grown-up movie I saw in theaters was Sex and the City. The first one.
BUT, I spend a lot of time “talking” to people who see movies (holla, social media!), and I dedicate equal attention to things like people.com and Vanity Fair. All of which means that I am your equivalent of a sportswriter: I can’t do the thing I’m talking about, but I can formulate lots of opinions about it. So let me help you decide which of this year’s slew is a Slew Stand-Out worth spending your money on before we turn the calendar into 2013 (or before the Mayans get their way).
Here’s how this works:
1. Decide what genre of movie you want to see. Not genre as in “Action” or “Rom-Com” or “WTF?” Genre as in “on what basis do you want to select the movie”: Who’s starring in it? Who made it? Can you pronounce the title?
2. Use the genre-dividing genius I’ve laid out below to discover the options that fall under your chosen umbrella.
3. Read my reviews/summaries (which include release date and rating, if available).
4. Stop forming your own opinion based on #3 and just heed my pick.
And voilà! You have the makings of a great night at the movies. Now go enjoy two hours to yourself and be sure to tweet me ALL ABOUT IT. I’m living vicariously through you. Which means you’d better get popcorn.
The Leading Man
Flight (11.2.2012; R) Denzel Washington stars as a seasoned airline pilot who crash lands his plane after a mid-air catastrophe. In the aftermath, we learn that Denzel is an alcoholic in denial. Critics universally praise Denzel’s performance as award-worthy.
Jack Reacher (12.21.2012; PG-13) Tom Cruise plays an ex-military investigator brought in to solve a multiple homicide the police think is a slam-dunk case. He teams up with a beautiful young defense lawyer played by Rosamund Pike (the beautiful lawyer from Fracture). Think there’s some romance there?
Killing Them Softly (11.30.2012; R) Brad Pitt’s first big feature film since Moneyball has him tracking down three idiots who rob a Mob-protected card game. Billed as part black comedy, part thought exercise on the criminality of Wall Street, most critics say it’s a film that tries too hard.
Promised Land (12.28.2012; R) Matt Damon reteams with his Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant in this movie about two corporate execs going to a small town hit hard by the economic downturn in the hopes of buying drilling rights. Various townies (including John Krasinski as a grassroots campaign organizer) stand up to the corporate over-reaching.
The Pick: I’ve got to go with Jack Reacher. Yeah, it sounds like a mash-up of Collateral and A Few Good Men, but come on, you loved those movies! Plus, Tom won your box office loyalty in the divorce, so you’re obligated to go. Flight sounds great, but I can’t recommend it during this heavy-travel time. And the Pitt and Damon vehicles sound like formulaic stories surviving on the big name that’s attached. Promised Land is perhaps especially doomed; much as I love John Krasinski, the non-Office projects he joins tend to underperform.
Skyfall (11.9.2012; PG-13) Nothing I say here matters because this movie is directed by Sam Mendes, stars Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem, and has received glowing critical reviews.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12.14.2012; PG-13) Nothing I say here matters because you’ve either (a) been counting down for the next Peter Jackson series since the last breath of The Lord of the Rings; or (b) resigned yourself to a life of eye rolls every time you hear your older brother speak animatedly about Bilbo Baggins’ quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (11.15.2012; PG-13) Nothing I say here matters because this movie has either (a) already taken your money because you’re a die-hard fan; or (b) will never take your money because you’ve read all the terrible reviews.
The Pick: Ummmm…Skyfall.
The Novel Inspiration
Anna Karenina (11.16.2012; R) The guy who directed Keira Knightley in Pride & Prejudice and Atonement now directs her in this one-of-many movie adaptations of Leo Tolstoy’s famous novel. Keira plays the title character who’s unhappy in her marriage, finds romance outside of it, and devastating heartbreak everywhere thereafter. Bonus: it features Jude Law. Bummer: Keira still relies on open-mouthed breathing to convey emotional range.
Les Misérables (11.25.2012; PG-13) Do you hear the people sing? Good. Now we’ve got the chills together. This is the latest movie adaption of Victor Hugo’s super-duper famous novel set in 19th century France. The now-famous music is sung this time by the likes of Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried and Anne Hathaway (whose vocals single-handedly inject the trailer – THE TRAILER – with an emotion full-length features sometimes fail to generate). It’s directed by Tom Hooper, he of The King’s Speech. This all starts to look almost unfair to other movies.
Silver Linings Playbook (11.21.2012; R) All due respect to Matthew Quick’s novel and everyone’s crush on star Bradley Cooper, but this doesn’t even stand up to the competition. Rent it post-awards season.
The Pick: This was never a fair contest to begin with. Les Mis. Bring tissues. Bring me.
Lincoln (11.16.2012; PG-13) I now present to you Daniel Day-Lewis teaming with Steven Spielberg teaming with almost every awesome supporting actor in American cinema. The movie hones in on Lincoln’s final months in office, when he’s busy with stuff like ending the Civil War and constitutionally abolishing slavery. Day-Lewis will probably win the Oscar for his performance and we’ll all probably point to the movie as a lesson in the potential for nobility in politics.
The Impossible (PG-13; 12.21.2012) She of the depressing films is at it again. Well, sort of. Naomi Watts stars in this account of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, where she is swept up in the tragedy while on vacation with her husband, played by Ewan McGregor, and three children. It becomes a disaster movie and family drama, and the leads’ performances have also been billed as Oscar-worthy. Actual tsunami survivors are featured in the film.
Zero Dark Thirty (12.19.2012; R) This story of the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden is directed by the award-winning director of The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow. The reviews are so exceptional that they include statements that this is the best manhunt movie ever made and as fine a piece of filmmaking as you will see. Its stars include Jessica Chastain (The Help) and Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights).
The Pick: Maybe the toughest category to call. I’m giving the edge to Zero Dark Thirty. Looks compelling, riveting, and exceptionally well-done.
The Judd Apatow
The Guilt Trip (12.19.2012; PG-13) The Apatow connection here is in the form of Seth Rogen, who stars with Barbra Streisand in this story of a mother-son duo that sets out on a cross-country road-trip. Predictable schlock and sort-of hilarity ensues.
This Is 40 (12.21.2012; R) The Apatow connection here is everywhere. He directs, his wife stars, his kids co-star, and the story is a continuation on his mega-hit Knocked Up. Despite the seeming cookie-cutter-ness of that set-up, the critics applaud this as an authentic, sparkling look at the life of an almost-middle-aged couple raising their growing-up kids.
The Pick: Easy. This Is 40. (Hi, Maude!)
Django Unchained (12.25.2012; NR) This movie is directed by Quentin Tarantino, ergo, it defies categories. It’s a “western” set in the South two years before the Civil War. The movie features double reunions, as Tarantino reunites with Christoph Waltz, who he directed to a brilliant performance in Inglorious Basterds. Also re-teaming are Jamie Foxx, as Django, and Kerry Washington, as Django’s wife, a relationship they previously enjoyed in Ray. The story involves bounty-hunting, slave-trading, and Leonardo DiCaprio playing the brutal proprietor of an infamous plantation. And, of course, Samuel L. Jackson.
The Pick: Do you really need my help here?
Image via ShutterStock