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Dashing through the shows

Your guide to holiday movie fare

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EVEN in bad times, people still go to movies. Since Hollywood had a decent, economy-defying 2009 so far, many fin­gers

Since Hollywood had a decent, economy-defying 2009 so far, many fingers are crossed that the studios will finish the year with as much good fortune as they saw this summer, when blockbusters such as Transformers 2 and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince raked in cash as speedily as New Moon did last weekend.

Naturally, you can expect a few last-minute Oscar contenders as well.

 

THE MAIN EVENT (MOVIES)

The Princess and the Frog (Dec. 11)

After years of embracing Pixar-style computer animation, Disney returns to the watercolour-like beauty of traditional cel animation, as well as a Broadway-friendly musical format. This New Orleans-accented take on the Frog Princess story features Disney's first-ever black "princess" (voiced by Broadway vet Anika Noni Rose) and a score by Oscar-winner Randy Newman including a solid Oscar-contending tune sung, I kid you not, by a firefly.

Avatar (Dec. 18)

James (Titanic) Cameron's 3D epic can be described as an extraterrestrial variation of Dances with Wolves. In the 22nd century, a crippled marine (Sam Worthington) inhabits the body of a blue alien Navi on the planet Pandora and must choose allegiances when Earth's military invades in earnest. Since Cameron is such a controversial figure, his long-awaited return to feature filmmaking has been subject to more critical scrutiny than most movies get after they're released. South Park has already broadcast a caustic pre-emptive parody -- Dances with Smurfs -- weeks before the movie is scheduled to open.

Nine (Dec. 25)

Rob Marshall, the director of the Oscar-winning Chicago, takes another swing at the adult musical with this toe-tapping adaptation of Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 starring Daniel Day Lewis as a celebrated filmmaker tormented by the women in his life (played, in order of hotness, by Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Stacey "Fergie" Ferguson, and Kate Hudson).

Sherlock Holmes (Dec. 25)

Who better to contemporize literature's Great Detective than Robert Downey Jr.? That was the reasoning of maverick director Guy Ritchie (Rocknrolla), who cast Jude Law as a two-fisted Watson and Rachel McAdams as an international woman of mystery in this lavish costume thriller.

The Lovely Bones (December)

Peter Jackson turns his back on the big-budget blockbuster (King Kong, Lord of the Rings) and invokes his first serious film -- Heavenly Creatures -- with this adaptation of Alice Sebold's best-selling novel. Saoirse Ronan stars as a 14-year-old murder victim who watches over her damaged family (including Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz and Susan Sarandon) from heaven. (Paramount acknowledges the possibility this movie might not open in Winnipeg until January.)

 

PRESTIGE PROJECTS

Brothers (Dec. 4)

Jake Gyllenhaal was once rumoured to replace Tobey Maguire when it looked like Maguire might not be able to return to the role of Spider-man. This film allows the two to work out any residual bad feelings as embattled brothers. Maguire is a psychologically damaged veteran of the war in Afghanistan who is first presumed dead and later emerges to go home, only to discover his ne-er-do-well bro (Gyllenhaal) has straightened out and has assumed many of his responsibilities in his absence. Jim Sheridan directed this remake of a well-regarded Danish drama.

Invictus (Dec. 11)

The supernaturally busy Clint Eastwood directs a fact-based story of how Nelson Mandela (here played by Morgan Freeman) attempted to unify post-apartheid South Africa by rallying support for its rugby team under the leadership of team captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon).

Me and Orson Welles (Dec. 11)

Zac Efron plays a teenager who bluffs his way into Orson Welles's stage production of Julius Caesar, only to fall prey to Welles's brilliant machinations involving an ambitious production assistant (Claire Danes). Directed by Richard Linklater.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Dec. 25)

The trouble-plagued Terry Gilliam managed to complete this fantasy film after star Heath Ledger died in mid-production, casting the likes of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to play different incarnations of Ledger's character. If he pulls it off, Gilliam will have a merry Christmas.

The Young Victoria (Dec. 25)

This historical drama promises to demonstrate that while the Victorian era was deemed repressive, the young queen (Emily Blunt) was white-hot in her passion for her prince consort Albert (Rupert Friend). Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y.)

Up in the Air (December)

George Clooney teams with director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking) for a smart comedy-drama in which he plays a happily rootless corporate downsizing consultant obliged to show the ropes to a new whiz kid (Anna Kendrick) while negotiating a blossoming relationship with a like-minded businesswoman (Vera Farmiga).

 

THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

Armored (Dec. 4)

This crime caper is about a gang of armoured car guards (including Laurence Fishburne and Matt Dillon) who team up to rob their own company of $42 million, only to watch helplessly as their plan goes violently astray.

Everybody's Fine (Dec. 4)

In a dramatic inversion of last year's dismal comedy Four Christmases, Robert De Niro plays a father who hits the road and visits each of his children (including Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore and Kate Beckinsale) when they rebuff his holiday invitations.

Did You Hear About the Morgans? (Dec. 18)

Instead of heading for Splitsville, an estranged married couple (Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker) head for a small town in Wyoming when they are placed under witness protection upon stumbling into a crime scene in New York City.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel (Dec. 23)

The singing rodentia find their harmony threatened when they hook up with a trio of chipmunk babes (voiced by Anna Faris, Amy Poehler and Christina Applegate).

It's Complicated (Dec. 25)

Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin form an unlikely love triangle in this senior-friendly rom-com directed by Nancy Meyers, she of the mortifying montage (The Holiday).

 

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2009 D1

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