Lets Get Serious

Holiday Movie Preview 2004

click to enlarge Alexander - JAAP BUITENDIJK/WARNER BROS

The holiday season, that no-man's-land stretching from sometime before Thanksgiving to sometime after New Year's, is traditionally thought of as the one time of the year when the movies get serious. This is the time when Hollywood releases its "quality" product, and scads and scads of it — dozens of movies all bunched up at the very end of the year, just in time for Oscar consideration.Apparently, the studios figure this massive, last-minute barrage is the best way to grab the attention of notoriously memory-challenged Academy Awards voters. Driving film critics crazy in the bargain is just a perk.

Come along, then, as we embark together on a mini-tour of Hollywood's upcoming Serious Season. Don't expect things to get too serious, though. There's yet another Blade movie on the immediate horizon, just to name one example, and you'll find a thought-provoking drama about Rwandan refugees opening the very same week as something called Meet the Fockers. After all, this is still Hollywood.

Nov. 19:

Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason
She's a real live working girl with problems just like yours. She's also juggling Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. Dreams do come true.

The Spongebob Squarepants Movie
Everybody's favorite absorbent, yellow pop culture icon is all set to make a splash in his first feature-length outing. Expect bucketloads of goofball humor, aquatic surrealism, a touch or two of irony, and just enough childlike sweetness to qualify this Nickelodeon animation as a bona fide holiday movie.

Nov. 26:

Finding Neverland
It's the story of J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, in a movie filled with lush production values, cute kids, English accents, a doomed romance and Johnny Depp locating his inner child. Season's Greetings from Miramax!

That old provocateur Oliver Stone tries his hand at a historical epic, complete with sex appeal (Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie), class (Anthony Hopkins) and a cast of thousands. Meet Alexander the Great, the boy who owned the world. The big question is not whether Stone can pull off this sort of thing, but whether the film's reportedly steamy man-on-man sex scenes will make it to the screen intact.

Dec. 3:

I Am David
Jim Cavaziel lends his lamblike presence to a life-affirming drama about a plucky young escapee from a communist concentration camp trekking toward freedom.

Back in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? territory, Mike Nichols rendezvouses with a pair of bitchy, adulterous couples that just won't shut up. Jude Law, Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman provide the star power.

Dec. 10:

The Machinist
Hollywood hunk Christian Bale shed a staggering 60-some pounds for his role here as a skeletal insomniac with a tenuous grip on reality. Now that's serious.

Oceans 12
The inevitable sequel to Steven Soderbergh's star-studded caper flick. If it's anything like its predecessor, expect some stylish action, clever repartee and upbeat vibes, although nothing that's going to stick to your ribs for too long.

Blade: Trinity
Bumped from its original August release, here's a summer blockbuster that lost its way and wound up home for the holidays. Indie poster-girl Parker Posey joins the fray for this third close encounter with Wesley Snipes as your friendly neighborhood vampire slayer.

Dec 15:

Million Dollar Baby
Fresh from his Mystic River success, Clint Eastwood directs and stars as an ex-boxer grooming up-and-coming fighter Hilary Swank. Morgan Freeman co-stars in what promises to be a more sensitive sort of slugfest.

Dec 17:

The Aviator
Martin Scorsese continues his epic quest for an Oscar with a big-budget bio-pic that practically screams its own importance. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the young Howard Hughes, a man who embodied so much of what is right and wrong about America.

Lemony Snicket and a Series of Unfortunate Events
Jim Carrey is the name-above-the-title of this long-awaited big screen adaptation of those delightfully droll books about orphans, oddballs and arch-villains. Meryl Streep is on board, just in case we didn't know this is a class act, and Jude Law is here too, just because he's in pretty much everything these days.

Domestic comedy with an ethnic twist, featuring Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni as an upscale couple locking horns and then bonding with their beautiful Mexican housekeeper and her precocious daughter. Directed by James L. Brooks, who's very good when he's good (Broadcast News, As Good as It Gets), but when he's bad (I'll Do Anything, Terms of Endearment) … well, you know the rest.

Dec. 22:

Hotel Rwanda
The Schindler's List comparisons are unavoidable in this based-on-fact drama starring Don Cheadle as a man of conscience offering asylum to refugees in the Rwandan genocide.

Meet the Fockers
A sequel to Meet the Parents, featuring Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand as Ben Stiller's Parents-From-Hell. It's a comedy, by the way.

A Very Long Engagement
Gorgeously stylized WWI period piece about an obsessive young Frenchwoman's efforts to locate her missing-in-action fiancée, from the director of Amelie. Audrey Tatou stars, playing a character who is essentially Amelie with a limp.

Dec . 24:

The Woodsman
What would the holiday season be without at least one poignant drama about a pedophile? Kevin Bacon stars, returning from a long stretch in prison to find you can't go home again.

Dec . 25:

Bride and Prejudice
If you liked Bend It Like Beckham, you'll probably go gaga for this smart, sassy and thoroughly buoyant homage to Bollywood from Beckham director Gurindher Chadha. It's a zippy, insanely colorful take on the Jane Austen novel, set mostly in India and propelled by a series of eye-popping song-and-dance numbers. Should be one of the season's biggest hits, if there's any justice in this world.

Fat Albert
Hey Hey Hey! In the future, everybody will be famous for 15 minutes, and all Saturday morning TV toons will eventually get the big screen treatment. Here's another one.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera
What the world needs now: another sensitive love story about a girl and a monster. It'll probably be a huge hit, but I'm already shuddering at the prospect of this unholy union between Joel Schumacher — the director who made fetish objects of a superhero's nipples in Batman Forever — and the guy who gave us Cats.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
There's not a whole lot of buzz about this new film from Wes Anderson, but how can we not be excited about anything issuing from the unpredictable imagination responsible for Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums? Bill Murray stars as an eccentric (natch) oceanographer on the trail of the underwater beastie that ate his partner. A weirder shade of Moby Dick, maybe?

Dec 29:

A Love Song for Bobby Long
Scarlett Johansson's a messed-up teen, John Travolta's a broken-down ex-professor, and they both wind up sharing a ramshackle house (together with some other guy, who's not played by a big star) in eternally tragic-romantic New Orleans. Expect bonds to be forged and blasted apart, secrets revealed, emotions laid bare, and all that other stuff that provides the meat and potatoes of Hollywood's most serious season. Dig in.

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