"Holy cow, the holiday season is here already! With it comes the annual onslaught of movies: Oscar-contenders, crowd-pleasers and duds. Here’s your handy one-page guide, ready to be posted on the refrigerator right next to little Tiffany’s colorful drawing of the family. All dates, of course, are subject to change.
The Basics: Denzel Washington stars in a time-travel thriller set in New Orleans.
Notes: Everything takes places now or in the very recent past, so there are no cheesy futuristic sets. The director is Tony Scott, who also teamed with Washington on Crimson Tide and Man on Fire.
The Basics: Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) directs Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz and Ellen Burstyn in a sci-fi epic about immortality that spans a thousand years.
Notes: Can Aronofsky handle a big story without getting dense? Can’t wait to find out.
DECK THE HALLS
The Basics: Matthew Broderick fights with neighbor Danny DeVito over outdoor Christmas decorations.
Notes: Talk about déjà vu. What a tired premise. Of course, even the most overdone idea can shine if properly done.
TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY
The Basics: Jack Black and his partner Kyle Gass, who have been popping up for years as the comic rock group Tenacious D, present the made-up story of how their band came to be.
Notes: This had better be really funny for the audience to expand beyond the Tenacious D cult and Jack Black’s fan base.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
The Basics: Mockumentary from Christopher Guest, in the style of his earlier films, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, starring many of his usual players, including Catherine O’Hara, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard and many more. This one deals with movie-making and the frenzy for awards.
Notes: Guest fans know what to expect. Others should be prepared for low-key humor and quirkiness to the nth degree.
The Basics: A sweeping, fictionalized look at 22 people who were in the Ambassador Hotel when Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 6, 1968. Directed by Emilio Estevez.
Notes: The cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone, Elijah Wood, Demi Moore and William H. Macy. I’m interested.
Friday, Dec. 1:
THE NATIVITY STORY
The Basics: It’s a boy! Shohreh Aghdashloo (24, House of Sand and Fog) stars, along with Keisha Castle-Hughes, the little girl from Whale Rider, as Mary.
Notes: Trying to add nuance to the characters without offending the faithful — I don’t envy the filmmakers.
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VAN WILDER: THE RISE OF TAJ
The Basics: Sequel to the rude college comedy, this time focused on second banana Taj (Kal Penn from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle).
Notes: A sequel without the character whose name is in the title. How strange.
The Basics: Backpackers in Brazil, including Las Vegas hunk Josh Duhamel, get into big trouble.
Notes: I’m drawing a blank here.
Friday, Dec. 8:
The Basics: During the civil war in 1990s Sierra Leone, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly and Djimon Hounsou set out to pursue a priceless diamond.
Notes: Thrills, chills and political statements.
MEL GIBSON’S APOCOLYPTO
The Basics: Gibson presents another subtitled epic set in an ancient culture, only this one deals with Mayans instead of Jesus.
Notes: Keeping his name in the title after all that’s happened — you gotta give Gibson points for chutzpah.
D.O.A.: Dead or Alive
The Basics: Big screen adaptation of a popular video game.
Notes: For gamers only, don’t you think?
The Basics: Romantic comedy with Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black.
Notes: The cast is impressive, but the trailers are not encouraging.
The Basics: A bunch of kids get snowed in at an international airport on the day after Christmas.
Notes: Based on a true story, this has the potential to be both funny and sweet.
Friday, Dec. 15:
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
The Basics: Will Smith and his son star in a based-on-fact story of a single father’s rise up the corporate ladder.
Notes: Insider columnists are already talking about an Oscar nomination for Smith.
The Basics: Epic fantasy adventure about a farm boy in some distant land who discovers a dragon’s egg and ends up on a quest.
Notes: The adult cast includes both Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich. That’s a lot of creepiness for one movie.
Wednesday, Dec. 20:
The Basics: Dakota Fanning stars alongside a lot of talking animals in this adaptation of the popular children’s story. The animal voices are provided by a who’s who list of big names.
Notes: Dakota Fanning and talking animals? Every little girl in America will be there.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM
The Basics: Museum of Natural History security guard Ben Stiller accidentally unleashes a curse that brings the animals and insects on display alive.
Notes: You know the effects will be good. Hopefully it will be funny and not just busy.
Friday, Dec. 22:
WE ARE MARSHALL
The Basics: Inspirational sports story about the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash that claimed the Marshall University football team and some of its fans. Matthew McConaughey stars, along with Matthew Fox and David Strathairn.
Notes: If this was a Disney film, it would be a sure thing. It’s not, so keep your fingers crossed.
THE GOOD SHEPARD
The Basics: Robert De Niro, directing for the first time since 1993’s underrated A Bronx Tale, looks at the early days of the C.I.A. Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie and Joe Pesci costar with De Niro.
Notes: Great cast. Nice to see Pesci reunited with De Niro.
The Basics: Good God, he’s back. Sylvester Stallone directs and stars as Rocky, the Energizer Bunny of boxers.
Notes: Wouldn’t it be a nice surprise if it was good?
The Basics: The Broadway musical about a superstar ’60s girl group that is not The Supremes makes the move to the big screen. The cast includes Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles and Eddie Murphy.
Notes: The buzz on this movie is huge.
The Basics: Remake of the 1974 horror film about sorority sisters getting murdered over Christmas break.
Notes: No buzz whatsoever here. Zero. Zip. Nada.