2010 Fall Movie Preview: December is an Endless Buffet of Anticipated Titles

Jeff Bridges in Tron Legacy
Photo: Walt Disney Pictures

Ahhh, December. Christmas is here and while this year doesn’t have a single Christmas-themed movie there are still plenty of major films too keep an eye on as December 2010 may not be the month Santa specifically came to the cinema, but it does look like he may be dropping a few gifts off nonetheless.

Let’s first begin with what will likely be the month’s two biggest releases, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (12/10) and Tron Legacy (12/17). Narnia comes back to theaters under a new studio banner while Tron returns to theaters 18 years after the original with hopes on kick-starting a brand new franchise.

Fox picked up the Narnia franchise from Disney after a budget dispute following the disappointing returns on The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, which was made for $225 million and only earned $141 million domestically. Disney was hoping to make the third film for a much reduced rate of $100 million while Walden Media was thinking $140 million. The two parted ways and shortly thereafter Fox stepped in. Will Voyage of the Dawn Treader find the same success The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe did in 2005 or is this a franchise on its last leg?

As for Tron Legacy, it’s a film I think looks incredibly cool, but as someone that recently saw the original film for the first time I can’t say I have fond memories of it from my childhood, when the effects wowed audiences. Today the effects look as old as they are and the story simply didn’t do enough to pique my interest. As for this new release, there are rumors floating around regarding reshoots in an effort to limit the involvement of one of the key actors, but I am still holding out hope this one will be as cool as it looks. After all, with Michael Sheen and Jeff Bridges it can’t be all bad… Can it?

Speaking of Bridges, he’ll be in two major films this year, the second being the Coen brothers’ latest film, an adaptation of True Grit (12/25). Word is this new film is more of an adaptation of the original Charles Portis novel than a remake of the 1969 John Wayne starrer with Bridges stepping in for Wayne as the drunken U.S. marshal Rooster Cogburn whom Mattie (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) hires to track down her father’s murderer (Josh Brolin). You better believe I am drooling at the opportunity to see this one.

Another film I can’t get off my mind is Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (12/1), which I will be seeing shortly at the Toronto International Film Festival and has already received high praise after opening the Venice Film Festival. The film centers on a talented ballerina (Natalie Portman) in the New York City Ballet who is tormented by a rival (Mila Kunis) who might or might not be a figment of the dancer’s imagination.

Considering we’re talking more high brow adult fare let’s continue with the likes of Mike Leigh’s outstanding Another Year (12/29), Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere (12/22) and David O. Russell’s The Fighter (12/10). All three of these will be vying for attention come awards season and all three boast potential Oscar-worthy performances.

I’ve already seen Another Year at Cannes and loved it and there’s a lot of talk surrounding Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale’s Oscar chances for The Fighter. Coppola’s new one is a bit of an undecided feature in the Oscar category so far, though Elle Fanning poses an Oscar threat and is it possible Stephen Dorff could be an Oscar nominee once all is said and done?

Continuing the Oscar talk Julian Schnabel’s Miral (12/3) is on the way, though early reviews out of Venice aren’t exactly glowing. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Biutiful (12/1), Magnolia’s recent pick-up of Andrew Jarecki’s All Good Things (12/1), Julie Taymor’s gender-bending take on The Tempest (12/10) and Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine (12/31) which I also saw at Cannes are also on the way.

One film that has me confused as to its Oscar potential is yet another Screen Gems musically inclined feature, Country Strong (12/22). This film features Tron Legacy star Garrett Hedlund as a rising young singer/songwriter who becomes involved with a fallen country singer played by Gwyneth Paltrow. It almost sounds like a female version of Crazy Heart.

Additional Oscar question marks involve the Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp action drama The Tourist (12/10), John Madden’s The Debt (12/29) and James L. Brooks’s How Do You Know (12/17).

How Do You Know is Brooks’s first film since 2004’s Spanglish, which I quite liked but proved to be yet another serious Adam Sandler film that was largely ignored. However, when you have the director of As Good As It Gets and Terms of Endearment at the helm and a pair of Oscar winners in Reese Witherspoon and Jack Nicholson involved you have to take notice.

The Tourist and The Debt look like a pair thrilling dramas that may or may not hit their mark. I’m not counting on much from either, but the pedigree involved demands we take notice. The Tourist not only stars two of the biggest actors today, but is directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who helmed the outstanding 2007 Foreign Language Oscar winner The Lives of Others. If you haven’t seen it, get on it.

The Debt features Tom Wilkinson, Sam Worthington and Helen Mirren at the forefront, which is an instant sign in my mind that this is something to watch out for.

On a smaller level we will finally get to see Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor in I Love You, Phillip Morris (12/3), a film that has bounced around the release date canvas all year long after some legal entanglements. Then there’s The Warrior’s Way (12/3) featuring Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush and Danny Huston. This one sort of came out of nowhere and follows a warrior played by Jang Dong-gun, who is forced to hide in a small town in the American badlands. He meets the town drunk played by Rush, and a circus knife thrower played by Bosworth, both of whom have powerful secrets.

Also on a smaller, indie scale is Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist (12/25), an animated film being released by Sony Pictures Classics that it looks like I will finally see in Toronto. I have been waiting for this one all year, though this is animation geared more toward the adult audiences.

For the more family oriented moviegoers the canvas looks a little bleak beyond the blockbusters I mentioned at the outset unless you are particularly excited for either Yogi Bear (12/17) or Gulliver’s Travels (12/22). Personally, neither of these films appeal to me all that much, but if they float your boat have at it.

Finally, it only seemed fitting considering I started with sequels I may as well end with one as Ben Stiller and the Focker clan are back again with Little Fockers (12/22). I am not a fan of this franchise whatsoever, but when the first two films make $445.4 million domestically it’s hard to argue with the decision to keep things moving forward. Everyone is back from the previous installments and even some reshoots took place bringing Dustin Hoffman back as he wasn’t originally expected to be around.

Okay, I lied, I’m not done just yet, but this last film is the only one I will mention over the course of this whole preview that doesn’t have an actual release date yet. Will it land in November? Will it land in December? Will it even hit theaters in 2010? No one knows for sure just yet, but I didn’t think I could do a Fall preview without mentioning Terrence Malick’s highly-anticipated The Tree of Life. We’ve heard reassuring words as of late that it will be arriving in 2010, but with it missing Cannes, Toronto, Venice and now Telluride where exactly will it show up? Even the long-questioned The Way Back from Peter Weir has been confirmed for some time at the end of the year and will debut at Telluride. So what exactly will come of The Tree of Life remains a mystery.

As for my list of the ten most anticipated, this was the only month it was actually hard to decide. However, it made it easier when I decided to drop Tree of Life since it doesn’t have a release date. No telling what I would have axed otherwise, because I wouldn’t have dropped it off if it had a firm date.

The following list is in release date order and I’ve marked those I’ve seen with an *, which should give you a good indication of what I think of them if I haven’t yet reviewed them officially.

Browse the Rest of My 2010 Fall Movie Preview: