Holiday movie season promises plenty of goodies

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In less than two weeks we will pass from the fall movie season into the heralded holiday season.

It's marked by big-budget extravaganzas, Oscar hopefuls and family films suitable for post-Thanksgiving or early Christmas viewing and for filling that luxuriously open week (for some lucky workers and students) before New Year's Day.

A year ago, the day before Thanksgiving delivered an excellent mix of "Hugo," "The Muppets," "Arthur Christmas," "The Descendants" and "Melancholia."

Anyone searching for a Santa Claus fix this year will have to look to "Rise of the Guardians," in which the big guy in the red suit has a "Naughty" tattoo on one arm and "Nice" on the other. He is joined in the animated fantasy by the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and Jack Frost.

It will open Nov. 21 along with "Life of Pi," "Red Dawn" and "Silver Linings Playbook."

As always, dates are subject to change and more titles will be added before the winter preview rolls around in January:

NOV. 16

"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2" -- It ends here, unless novelist Stephenie Meyer and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg have a really big surprise in store. Bella is a full-fledged but freshman vampire, and she, Edward and friends of the vampire and werewolf persuasion have to protect little Renesmee Cullen.

"Lincoln" -- Daniel Day-Lewis, whose resemblance to Abraham Lincoln is astonishing, plays the 16th president in his final months. Steven Spielberg directs and Tony Kushner wrote the screenplay, based in part on a Doris Kearns Goodwin book.

"The Sessions" -- John Hawkes, an Oscar nominee for his role as Teardrop in "Winter's Bone," plays a 38-year-old with polio determined to lose his virginity. He seeks help from a sex surrogate and the guidance of his priest in this tender film based on the autobiographical writings of journalist and poet Mark O'Brien.

NOV. 21

"Life of Pi" -- Director Ang Lee directs this 3-D adventure about an Indian boy who survives a shipwreck, only to be marooned on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger in the Pacific Ocean. Based on the Yann Martel novel and already generating lots of Oscar talk.

"Red Dawn" -- The North Koreans are coming in this remake of the 1984 original about invaders on American soil. Characters played by Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck and Josh Hutcherson seek refuge in the woods near their homes in Washington state, train as guerrilla fighters and call themselves the Wolverines after a high school mascot.

"Rise of the Guardians" -- Animated adventure about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and Jack Frost, all with previously unknown extraordinary abilities. When an evil spirit known as Pitch plots to take over the world, the immortal Guardians must join forces to protect beliefs and imaginations of children everywhere.

"Silver Linings Playbook" -- If you missed the sneak preview during the Three Rivers Film Festival, this delightful comedy stars Bradley Cooper as a Philadelphian who has lost his house, job and wife but finds a silver lining when he meets a young widow (Jennifer Lawrence) with plenty of issues of her own.

NOV. 23

"Smashed" -- A young married couple enjoy a bond built on a mutual love of music, laughter and, especially, drinking, but when she decides to get sober, a new set of complications arises in this release starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Octavia Spencer.

"Keep the Lights On" -- Director Ira Sachs, inspired by the dissolution of his own long-term relationship, chronicles an emotionally and sexually charged journey of two men in New York City through love, friendship and addiction. Danish actor Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth ("Damages") star.

NOV. 30

"Hitchcock" -- HBO's "The Girl," starring Toby Jones and Sienna Miller as Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, cast the director as a twisted, lecherous sexual harasser. This Fox Searchlight film, which takes place during the making of "Psycho," is described as a love story starring Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren as Hitch and his wife, Alma Reville.

"Anna Karenina" -- Actress Keira Knightley reunites with director Joe Wright for this theatrical retelling of Tolstoy's novel tracing the tragic love affair between the unhappily married Anna and Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Jude Law plays Anna's husband, and the cast also includes Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald and Olivia Williams.

"Killing Them Softly" -- Three dumb guys who think they're smart rob a mob-protected card game, sending the local criminal economy into collapse. Brad Pitt is the enforcer hired to track them down and restore order. The cast includes James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins and Ray Liotta.

"The Collection" -- A traumatized man is forced to help rescue a woman who has become the latest obsession of a killer who "collects" humans in a booby-trapped house of horrors in this movie from the writing-directing team behind four of the "Saw" sequels.

DEC. 7

"Playing for Keeps" -- Romcom starring Gerard Butler as a charming, down on his luck former soccer star who returns home to put his life back together. He ends up coaching his son's soccer team and fending off a squad of soccer moms. Also starring Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Dennis Quaid.

"Dino Time" -- Animated movie about a daredevil boy, his little sister and best friend who, while playing in an inventor's workshop, accidentally trip a time machine and are transported back 65 million years. They're adopted by a doting dinosaur mom (voice of Melanie Griffith) and a rambunctious dino brother.

DEC. 14

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" -- This release will come five years after Peter Jackson agreed to make J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit," a prequel to the blockbuster trilogy "The Lord of the Rings." He eventually stepped into the director's chair, and two movies have turned into three, with "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" set for Dec. 13, 2013, and "The Hobbit: There and Back Again," July 18, 2014.

DEC. 18

"It's a Wonderful Life" -- Hit the pause button while you hunt for Furby or fashion dolls resembling boy-band members One Direction and see this Christmas classic for free at the Regent Square Theater, 1035 S. Braddock Ave., from Dec. 18-22. To quote George Bailey, "Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter!" and thanks to Pittsburgh Filmmakers for the holiday cheer.

DEC. 19

"The Guilt Trip" -- Barbra Streisand plays Seth Rogen's mother in a road trip comedy in which they attempt to cover 3,000 miles in eight days and, judging from the preview, endure or enjoy enough embarrassing, heartfelt or comic moments to last a couple of lifetimes.

"Monsters, Inc. 3-D" -- Moviegoers will get a chance to enter or revisit (this time in 3-D) Monstropolis, a place that must import all of its energy. The source: a kid's scream. The power company: Monsters, Inc., which sends its hideous employees through closet doors around the world for more of that infinitely renewable resource. At the time of its 2001 release, we said it never quite achieves the depth of emotion of "Toy Story 2" but still delivers the mandatory lump in the throat.

DEC. 21

"Jack Reacher" -- Lee Child's "One Shot" book, about an ex-military investigator who doubts the official version of events surrounding a deadly sniper attack, largely was set in the state of Indiana. But once producers decided to film in Pittsburgh, the setting changed so they could take advantage of the city's rivers, ballparks, bridges and nearby locations such as a quarry in Saltsburg, Indiana County. As the vigilante hero, Tom Cruise stars alongside Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins and Werner Herzog.

"This Is 40" -- Comedy from Judd Apatow updating the lives of the married couple, played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, from "Knocked Up." In addition to featuring the real-life daughters of Mr. Apatow and his wife, Ms. Mann, the cast features Albert Brooks, Megan Fox, Melissa McCarthy, Robert Smigel and Charlyne Yi.

"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" -- A young couple must journey through the dreamlike worlds of Cirque du Soleil to reunite as performers leap, soar, swim and dance in this big-screen 3-D version of the stage shows.

DEC. 25

"Les Miserables" -- If you cannot find that iPad Mini for your children, show them what real hardship and stirring music are with this adaptation of the stage sensation set against the backdrop of 19th-century France. All-star cast includes Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen.

"Django Unchained" -- Set in the South two years before the Civil War, this Quentin Tarantino film stars Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave whose brutal history with his former owners brings him face to face with a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz). He is on the trail of murderous brothers and only Django can lead him to his bounty. Rounding out the cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington.

"Parental Guidance" -- Billy Crystal and Bette Midler are grandparents called in by their daughter (Marisa Tomei) to help care for their three grandchildren. Their old-school parenting and her modern methods collide, causing chaos inside and outside the household.


"Hyde Park on Hudson" -- Bill Murray and Laura Linney star, as FDR and distant cousin and intimate Daisy, in a historical tale about the June 1939 visit of the king and queen of England to the Roosevelt home in upstate New York. (December)

"Texas Chainsaw 3-D" -- No massacre in the title, but here's betting there will be one as a young woman inherits a Texas estate from a grandmother she never knew she had. She discovers a lavish, isolated Victorian mansion with, of course, some horror in the dank cellars. Gunnar Hansen, the original Leatherface, will make an appearance. (Jan. 4)

"Zero Dark Thirty" -- Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, the Oscar-winning director and writer of "The Hurt Locker," reunite on this action thriller about the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. With Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler and Edgar Ramirez. (Jan. 11)

"Gangster Squad" -- Once scheduled to debut in September, this movie was shifted after scenes with gangsters firing into a crowded theater seemed insensitive in light of the Colorado shootings. Based on a Los Angeles Times series about attempts to keep East Coast mobsters out of LA in the 1940s and '50s, the impressive ensemble features Ryan Gosling, James Brolin, Sean Penn and Emma Stone, among others. (Jan. 11)

"A Haunted House" -- Spoof of found-footage horror movies co-written and starring Marlon Wayans along with Essense Atkins, David Koechner and Nick Swardson. (Jan. 11)

"Broken City" -- Crime thriller starring Mark Wahlberg as a former New York City cop turned private investigator, Russell Crowe as the mayor who kept him out of jail after a controversial shooting and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the first lady who becomes the subject of an investigation. (Jan. 18)

"Mama" -- Supernatural thriller about two little girls who disappeared into the woods the day their parents were killed. When they are rescued years later and begin a new life, they find that someone or something still wants to come tuck them in at night. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays their uncle and Jessica Chastain his girlfriend. (Jan. 18)

"The Last Stand" -- Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his return to the big screen in Korean director Kim Jee-woon's American directorial debut. Here, he's a sheriff who traded LA for a sleepy border town where a notorious drug kingpin happens to escape from an FBI prisoner convoy. (Jan. 18)

"The Impossible" -- The true story of a family of five vacationing in Thailand in 2004 when the tsunami slams into their hotel is told in a powerful, tearful, ultimately uplifting story starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. (January)

"Promised Land" -- Filmed in Westmoreland, Armstrong and Allegheny counties, this Gus Van Sant movie uses fracking as a backdrop to tell a story about fighting for American identity and pride. Starring Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski, Hal Holbrook and Rosemarie DeWitt, it shot here for 30 days during the spring. (January)

"Quartet" -- When the fourth and most famous member of a onetime quartet checks into a retirement home where her former husband and colleagues live, grievances and rivalries return in this adaptation of Ronald Harwood's play. Dustin Hoffman directs a cast led by Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins. (January)

"Not Fade Away" -- It's 1964, the Rolling Stones appear on television and three best friends from the suburbs of New Jersey decide to form a rock band in this David Chase movie featuring James Gandolfini, among others. (January)

"Amour" -- The lives of an elderly couple in their 80s, both cultivated, retired music teachers, are changed and tested when she suffers a stroke in this critically hailed film from director Michael Haneke, who won his second Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. (January)

"Rust and Bone" -- As with "Silver Linings Playbook," this movie had a single sneak preview on the first night of the Three Rivers Film Festival but will return for a regular run. Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts star in a gritty love story about a killer-whale trainer and a brawler who come to lean on one another, sometimes literally. (January)

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published November 9, 2012 5:00 AM


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