Entertainment Spotlight

Holiday preview | Films to freeze by this winter

Updated: 2012-11-01T17:27:10Z

BY JON NICCUM

Special to The Star

Now that there are no more superheroes, talking teddy bears or bow-wielding teenage girls clamoring for box-office supremacy, it’s time for Hollywood to get serious. Not necessarily “serious,” just more focused on the blockbuster prestige releases that will cinematically define 2012. Here are 10 movies worth checking out before the new year.

‘The Man With the Iron Fists’

It sure looks like a Quentin Tarantino mash-up of kung fu and hip-hop. But “The Man With Iron Fists” is actually the brainchild of frequent Tarantino collaborators RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan and Eli Roth of “Hostel” fame. Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu headline this hyper-violent tale set in feudal China, where fearsome warriors and assassins converge on a small village. It’s not being shown to critics in advance, but it does have Tarantino’s stamp of approval. (Friday)

‘Skyfall’

There was nowhere to go for the James Bond franchise but up after 2008’s disappointing and borderline inexplicable “Quantum of Solace.” Though this is only Daniel Craig’s third stint as 007, many believe he is the best to ever portray the iconic spy. The latest installment explores the combative relationship between Bond and M (Judi Dench), with a flamboyant villain courtesy of Javier Bardem. Oscar winner Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) directs. (Nov. 9)

‘Lincoln’

Contrary to what many young moviegoers might expect, the 16th president does not fight vampires in Steven Spielberg’s latest version of American history. Rather, the film deals with Abraham Lincoln’s turbulent last months in office as war rages and ideologies are challenged. Daniel Day-Lewis takes over the prized role developed for Liam Neeson, who withdrew because of age. (No such luck with “Taken 2.”) (Nov. 16)

‘Killing Them Softly’

This oft-delayed project reteams Brad Pitt with director Andrew Dominik (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”). Based on the 1974 George V. Higgins novel “Cogan’s Trade,” Pitt plays an enforcer who cleans up after bumbling thieves ambush a mob-run poker game. Expect an updated political slant on how the down economy also affects hit men and other wiseguys. (Opens in select cities Nov. 30.)

‘Hitchcock’

Cinema geeks are primed for this biopic about the events surrounding Alfred Hitchcock’s (Anthony Hopkins) making of “Psycho.” It promises both a love story regarding wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) and a behind-the-scenes look at one of the era’s most controversial productions, with Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles. Good evening! (Dec. 7)

‘Hyde Park on Hudson’

Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt? The only thing audiences have to fear is fear itself. This comedic drama concerns a lingering affair between the president and his distant cousin, Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), set during a weekend when the king and queen of England come to visit. Yes, it’s the same George VI portrayed in the Oscar-winning “The King’s Speech” — this time played by British TV actor Samuel West, not Colin Firth. (Opens in select cities Dec. 7.)

‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

It worked for the last “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” so J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy novel “The Hobbit” is also being split into multiple pictures. Director Peter Jackson returns to his signature “Lord of the Rings” source material after nearly 10 years removed. Because this is a prequel, Martin Freeman (“Hot Fuzz”) depicts the younger Bilbo Baggins, who leads a party of dwarves against a greedy dragon. (Dec. 14)

‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Kathryn Bigelow follows up her best picture winner “The Hurt Locker” with a similarly intense account of military heroism, albeit a more controversial one. “Zero Dark Thirty” — a term referring to the non-specific time when darkness falls — re-creates the events leading up to the killing of Osama bin Laden. The movie went into production as a drama about the failed manhunt for the terrorist leader. After his death in May, the filmmakers shifted gears to focus on the gritty details of the raid. (Dec. 19)

‘This Is 40’

Five years after the comedy classic “Knocked Up,” second bananas Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) earn their own starring vehicle. Iconic filmmaker Judd Apatow — who is married to frequent collaborator Mann — calls this a “sort-of sequel.” The story focuses on Debbie’s inability to admit she’s turning 40, but it’s really a great excuse to spend more time with two memorable characters. The best news? No Katherine Heigl! (Dec. 21)

‘Django Unchained’

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx are among the marquee players empowering this tale of a bounty-hunting slave tasked with rescuing his wife from a Mississippi plantation. But the real star is writer/director Tarantino, who finally brings his love of Westerns to an actual Southern setting. The title “Django Unchained” offers a nod to the 1966 Spaghetti Western “Django,” starring Franco Nero — who, of course, turns up in the cast. (Dec. 25)

These movies might not get the biggest marketing campaigns, but you’ll find something to tickle your fancy.

‘Wreck-It Ralph’

The villain in a 1980s video game (voiced by John C. Reilly) tires of being the bad guy, escaping to other games to prove he can also be a hero. The preview trailer is delightful for anyone who dropped quarters into arcade slots during the “Donkey Kong” era, with cameos by Q*bert and Clyde the ghost from “Pac-Man.” (Friday)

‘Flight’

Robert Zemeckis ditches motion-capture animation for his first live-action film since 2000’s “Cast Away.” Denzel Washington stars as an airline pilot hailed as a hero after successfully landing a disabled jet. Then it’s revealed that the pilot had alcohol in his system and may go to prison. (That wouldn’t happen to Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.) (Friday)

‘The Sessions’

Oscar buzz for co-stars Helen Hunt and John Hawkes began at Sundance Film Festival, where this fact-based drama earned the audience favorite award. Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone”) plays Mark O’Brien, a journalist severely debilitated by polio, who hires a therapeutic sex surrogate (Hunt) to take his virginity. (Nov. 9)

‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2’

All this time Edward (Robert Pattinson) worried about Jacob (Taylor Lautner) horning in on Bella (Kristen Stewart). He should have kept an eye on that “Snow White and the Huntsman” director. The on-again, off-again, maybe on-again relationship of StewPat or whatever they’re called won’t prevent TwiHards from seeing the saga to its conclusion. (Nov. 16)

‘Life Of Pi’

Next to “Cloud Atlas,” this is the season’s most esoteric offering. Director Ang Lee tackles Yann Martel’s 2001 novel of survival and faith, with a boy named Piscine Molitor Patel stranded at sea in a lifeboat with a tiger. Lee uses 3-D effects for the first time in his Oscar-winning career, making “Life of Pi” this year’s “Hugo” in terms of state-of-the-art storytelling. (Nov. 21)

‘Red Dawn’

When a foreign army invades America, it’s time for teens to take back our country. This remake of the 1984 Cold War cult favorite was completed more than two years ago — before Josh Hutcherson played heartthrob Peeta in “The Hunger Games” and before Chris Hemsworth starred in the biggest movie of the year (“The Avengers”). (Nov. 21)

‘Rise of the Guardians’

A holiday twist on “The Avengers,” with Santa Claus (voice of Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and Jack Frost (Chris Pine) saving the world. Jude Law voices the supervillain who’s always naughty, never nice. (Nov. 21)

‘The Silver Linings Playbook’

Bradley Cooper’s winter offering is getting better reviews than “The Words.” This time he’s a chronically depressed man recently released from a mental hospital, living with his parents (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver) and wooing Jennifer Lawrence. (Nov. 21)

‘Anna Karenina’

“Happy families are all alike,” begins Leo Tolstoy’s classic tragic novel. “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In this adaptation from Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Hanna”), Keira Knightley plays the particularly unhappy titular heroine, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson portrays her lover, Count Vronsky. (Nov. 30)

‘Jack Reacher’

Tom Cruise kicks ass and drives a sweet Chevelle in this adaptation of Lee Child’s crime novels. Reacher is a former military police officer brought in to stop a sniper gone rogue. (Dec. 21)

‘Les Miserables’

A huge, all-star cast brings the musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel of 19th-century France to the big screen. Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen star. Tom Hooper, Oscar-winning director of “The King’s Speech,” helms. (Dec. 25)

| Includes reporting by David Frese, The Kansas City Star, and Steve Persall, Tampa Bay Times

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