The winter movie season is really two seasons in one.
Holiday movies are always a big deal at the box office. Outside of the typical blockbuster summer, now is usually the time for studios to unleash some of their big guns, both commercially and artistically — it is, after all, “awards season.”
But once Christmas passes by, the rest of the winter movie season often feels like the landscape: Cold and barren. Studios often treat January and February as a dumping ground, releasing films that, conceivably, couldn’t compete with the expected blockbusters.
But the rules may be changing. Is there a need for an “awards season” in an age of 10 Best Picture nominees? And even if there is a time for releasing Oscar contenders, will this holiday season really fit the bill?
This coming Friday brings us “Invictus,” which certainly sounds like a film that Oscar voters will like: A Clint Eastwood-directed sports drama dealing with race. Matt Damon stars as South Africa’s rugby captain after the end of apartheid. He connects with Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), who hopes the team can become a new rallying point for the country.
Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” will also hit theaters this weekend. It’s a return to traditional cel-animation for the Mouse House, which used to have a monopoly on animated hits at the box office. We’ll see if Disney’s take on yet another classic tale will continue that tradition.
Next week, it’s the big one. Film fans have discussed James Cameron’s “Avatar” for many years now, and it’s almost here. Cameron waited until he had the technology to make the film — it features “photorealistic” special effects, and the film’s wide release will be in 3D. The movie’s exact budget is unknown, but a recent Wall Street Journal article estimated the cost could top $300 million. The plot almost seems irrelevant after all the hype, but it features aliens, and a human marine who goes undercover as one of the creatures during a war.
And now, from a long-awaited film to a sequel that may have been completely unexpected, until you realize how much money “Alvin and the Chipmunks” made. “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” — yes, that’s the actual title — is due in theaters just before Christmas. If nothing else, it gives the kids something to see during Christmas vacation.
This year’s Christmas release schedule features two big romantic comedies — “It’s Complicated,” which makes a pairing out of Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep, and “Did You Hear About the Morgans?”, which stars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, who accidentally witness a murder, are placed in the witness protection program, and must move to Wyoming. Fish-out-of-water alert!
For those not seeking romantic comedy, the Guy Ritchie-directed “Sherlock Holmes” will be the alternative. Robert Downey Jr. plays the detective, while Jude Law will play his dear Watson. This Holmes will fight, but then again, he always did.
Some lucky audiences will get a peek at “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” on Christmas Day. “Parnassus” is another Terry Gilliam mindtrip, but it’s most notably the last film featuring Heath Ledger, who died during filming. His role was filled, at times, by the likes of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell as the “transformed self” of Ledger’s character, Tony. It’s hard to tell when the film will hit the Buffalo area.
As expected, 2010 won’t start with a bang. There’s a horror movie starring Renée Zellweger (“Case 39”), and a few comedies featuring Ray Liotta the following week (“Youth in Revolt,” an R-rated comedy starring Michael Cera and “Crazy on the Outside,” directed by Tim Allen.) And in case you couldn’t get enough of vampire movies, Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe star in “Daybreakers.” No word yet on whether or not these vampires sparkle.
January does, however, brings two relative heavyweights into the fold — Denzel Washington and Peter Jackson. Denzel stars as the title character in “The Book of Eli,” in which Eli roams a post-apocalyptic world guarding an important book.
Jackson helms “The Lovely Bones,” based on the 2002 Alice Sebold novel. The story involves a murdered young girl watching her family from the afterlife. Jackson has helmed numerous films heavy on special effects, including “King Kong” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, so it’ll be interesting to see how he films the ethereal.
With the exception of Mel Gibson’s “Edge of Darkness,” about a man who investigates the murder of his daughter, January finishes up with a few feel-good films.
Those include “Tooth Fairy,” the children’s movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “When in Rome,” a romantic comedy starring Kristen Bell and “Extraordinary Measures,” starring Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford. “Measures” is the first movie produced by CBS Films.
February moviegoers may find themselves confused by “From Paris With Love,” which, despite its release month and title, is not a romantic comedy.
It’s an action film starring John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
The next week delivers on expectations, however, with “Valentine’s Day.” It’s got a star-studded cast, the trailer doesn’t reveal any discernible plot — it seems like a fairly transparent attempt at drumming up box office numbers, but time will tell.
Fans of Harry Potter might be intrigued by another epic film based on a children’s book. “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” mixes modern-day America with Greek mythology.
Adults will likely be better off with “The Wolfman,” another classic fable retold with the likes of Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving.
“Shutter Island” looks like a fairly typical paranormal thriller — a disappearance and a mental hospital are involved — but the Martin Scorsese-Leonardo DiCaprio connection elevates expectations.
The winter movie season is really two seasons in one.
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