Ah, the holiday movie season. Quantum of Solace has officially kicked off the winter "event movie" season. Except unlike the summertime, these movies actually tend to be good.
Well, half of them.
The marketing during the holiday movie season is much like ad campaigns for anything else this time of year, attempting to make everything look luxurious or succulent. The movies during this season are gussied up like a Thanksgiving turkey, smothered with the biggest stars in the showiest roles. The art direction and costume design look positively yummy. For film lovers, these movies are meant to be devoured. Torn open like a gift on Christmas morn.
The problem being that, like the most appealing presents, sometimes the wrapping paper is the best part. Once the gift is opened, you cringe and muster a "Thanks, Grandma..." before moving onto the next. Memoirs of Geisha, anyone? Dreamgirls? No?
Here are my picks (i.e., shots in the dark) for what look like the best films this holiday season has to offer. The ones I'm most excited for. I'm leaving out those nice-looking baubles that I suspect won't live up to hype (sorry, Australia).
1) Doubt - An ironic title for perhaps the only movie on my list I'm betting on as a sure thing. There's little doubt that Doubt will be a delight for fans of smart scripts and terrific performances. Even when her filmmakers go astray, Meryl Streep never hits a false note, and this looks like the best role she's had in years. I haven't seen the play, nor do I know much about it, but the trailer is electrifying for fans of watching fine actors (Meryl Streep! Philip Seymour Hoffman! Amy Adams! Oh my!) go at it in enclosed spaces with lots of tension. Movies based on plays can be awfully awkward (Proof, The Shape of Things, to name a couple) but when they're good they are very good (Closer). The film is written and directed by the playwright, which is a very good sign, no doubt.
2) Revolutionary Road - Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio reunite to show what might have happened if Rose and Jack had married and then slowly found themselves embittered and resenting each other like all real couples do (suddenly that watery grave isn't looking so bad after all). I (intentionally) haven't seen much on this, but director Sam Mendes earned his stripes with another film about marital angst (American Beauty), and Kate Winslet has proven one of the smartest actresses in the business in her choice of films (hence an ungodly number of well-deserved nominations, and another couple this year, most likely). Nothing says holidays like beautiful people hating each other in the most dramatic of ways.
3) Milk - Tough call, because I usually end up mildly disliking Gus van Sant's films (Psycho), thinking they're overrated (Good Will Hunting), or hating them with a fiery passion (Elephant). I did not really even enjoy his segment in Paris je T'aime. But this one he actually had to put some effort into (unlike playing Kurt Cobain dress-up with Michael Pitt or following some kid around a skate park with a camera or whatever) so I'm hoping he steps it up. With these actors, the subject matter, and the degree to which the gay community got involved with the film (recreating San Francisco's Castro Street glory days) I think van Sant may actually pull it off this time. The material could not be any more topical. There are some great actors on board (Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch). The trailer certainly appeals. Providing van Sant doesn't get too esoteric and arty on us, this has Oscar's fingerprints all over it already (dirty!). Here's to hopin'.
4. The Wrestler - After Requiem for a Dream it would take a violent shove to get me off Darren Aronofsky's bandwagon. And I was one of the few who saw (and loved) his beautiful (but challenging) The Fountain. The Wrestler sounds like a huge departure for him - a has-been professional wrestler story isn't normally the sort of film I'd go for, but Aronofsky is a bold and imaginative filmmaker who I'm sure will do something interesting, and early word on Mickey Rourke's performance has him being nominated for and quite possibly winning the Oscar (though for now Sean Penn is the one to beat). You don't have to twist my arm to get me in the theater for this one!
5. Valkyrie - Controversial choice, I know. Many are worried that a serious-minded Tom Cruise vs. the Nazis movie will be silly. I mean, he does have an eye patch. And maybe it won't be Oscar material. But I have faith in the fascinating true story and director Bryan Singer to provide, at the very least, an entertaining escapist film amidst a season of tensely dramatic Oscar hopefuls and painful-looking family trifles (Four Christmases, Bedtime Stories, Bolt, suffocation, fiery car crash...oh, wait, for a second there I thought this was a list of terrible ways to die). Something has to be fun for the grownups (and I'm pretty sure The Day The Earth Stood Still isn't it). I guess "fun" is a relative term - I like my fun with Nazis and attempted assassination. I think it's gonna be good.
Most conspicuous absence: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It's directed by David Fincher, helmer of my #1 film last year (Zodiac). In my mind, he's never gone wrong (well, the third Alien was a low point, but I'm not sure if that's because of Fincher or because Ripley was bald). Maybe it's just because of Brad Pitt, but I'm getting a slight Meet Joe Black vibe off this one. Long, pretty, romantic, ponderous...and perhaps kinda slow? I'm predicting that this one falls into the "okay" category, in spite of the talent attached. But stay tuned.