Will moviegoers be facing a winter wonderland or merely a big chill?
That's always the question asked at this time of year, when the studios stop fidgeting with their fall releases and bring out the big guns of the holiday season. It's that window of opportunity when studios hope their movies will rake in gobs of cash (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Chronicles of Narnia), gobs of awards (Memoirs of a Geisha, Brokeback Mountain) or gobs of both (The Producers, King Kong). Oscar-bait performers (Sean Penn, Judi Dench) and directors (Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen) will be making the rounds, but so will individuals who have as much chance of seeing glittering prizes (that means you, Johnny Knoxville) as Michael Moore has of being the Republicans' presidential nominee in 2008.
On paper, the season holds promise: I'll endure dreadful-looking releases like Cheaper By the Dozen 2 if the trade-off is that such highly anticipated titles as Walk the Line and Syriana live up to their potential. However, to paraphrase the sports cliché "That's why they play the games," that's why we watch the movies — to see whether they confirm or shatter our expectations. With that in mind, here's a look at the titles headed our way over the next two months (and beyond), films that will hopefully prove to be worth their weight in Oscar gold.
HARRY POTTER AND THE
GOBLET OF FIRE
With a little help from his friends (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson), the boy wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) takes on his deadliest foe, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) takes over the director's chair for this fourth installment.
WALK THE LINE
Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) makes his mark on the music scene at a youthful age, with his eventual wife June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) by his side. The bio-pic reportedly received the real Cash's stamp of approval before his death, and the filmmakers are clearly hoping for a critical and commercial success to match that of last year's Ray.
THE ICE HARVEST
After ripping off the Mob, a lawyer (John Cusack) and his cohort in crime (Billy Bob Thornton) find they're unable to skip town because of crushing weather conditions.Longtime funnyman Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day) is at the helm of this dark comedy; the adapted script is by heavyweights Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer) and Richard Russo (Empire Falls).
IN THE MIX
A deejay (Usher) is hand-picked to look after the daughter (Emmanuelle Chriqui) of a prominent gangster (Chazz Palminteri).This was originally titled Dying for Dolly (presumably, studio execs were afraid people might mistake it for a Dolly Parton biopic).
After being told in high school by the girl he desires that she wants to be "just friends," a guy (Ryan Reynolds) bumps into the same woman (Amy Smart) in adulthood and decides to pursue her once again. Anna Faris appears in a supporting role; she and Reynolds just co-starred in (shudder) the raunchy comedy Waiting.
With their East Village digs as their base, several struggling artists cope with various hardships (including the specter of AIDS) while attempting to eke out a living. This is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway smash, but such a pedigree is no guarantee of success, as witnessed by the middling grosses of other high-profile musical adaptations like The Phantom of the Opera and Evita. Director Chris Columbus had previously moved up from the first two Home Alone flicks to the first two Harry Potter titles.
YOURS, MINE AND OURS
After doing the math, two prolific single parents (Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo) realize that their planned nuptials will result in a household of 18 children. Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball starred in the pleasant 1968 original. This looks comparable to the modern remakes of Cheaper By the Dozen and Father of the Bride, a thought which is already giving me heartburn.
In the 25th century, a kick-ass warrior named Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron) leads a rebellion against the oppressive regime in charge. This is based on a popular MTV animated series, though comparisons to The Matrix will invariably be made. Director Karyn Kusama previously helmed the impressive indie effort Girlfight.
THE CHRONICLES OF
NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH
AND THE WARDROBE
Four young siblings in WWII England discover a magical wardrobe that allows them access to the mystical land of Narnia; there, they side with the lion king Aslan to defeat the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton). Mindful of the success of multi-part literary adaptations like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, Disney hopes this will be lucrative enough to warrant further screen versions of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles.
MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA
A Japanese girl survives a difficult upbringing to emerge as a renowned geisha (Ziyi Zhang) who can have anything she wants except for the man (Ken Watanabe) she truly loves. This was a longtime pet project for Steven Spielberg, but Rob Marshall (Chicago) was finally the go-to guy who took the directorial reins (Spielberg is still involved as a producer). Besides Ziyi (House of Flying Daggers) and Oscar nominee Watanabe (The Last Samurai), the superb cast includes Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and the magnificent Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern).