This is traditionally the time when, slavering over the prestige and box office returns that the Academy Awards season anoints upon its chosen, Hollywood studios drop the biggest and best of the year’s movies. Odds are, if there’s going to be a challenging mainstream film that will attract both the attention of the critics and the audiences, it’ll be released between now and January 1.
Here’s what we’ve got to look forward to:
Syriana: George Clooney stars in this political drama set in the world of Middle Eastern oil. Steven Gaghan directs—he wrote Traffic for Steven Soderbergh, a plus, but he also directed Abandon with Katie Holmes, a serious minus. (December 9)
King Kong: Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson remakes the big gorilla movie and sets it back in the 1930s, starring Jack Black, Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody. The trailer is an epic unto itself, and if the picture can live up to that promo, Kong will rule this season. (December 14)
Brokeback Mountain: Ang Lee’s gay cowboy epic starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, from an Annie Proulx short story adapted by Larry McMurtry. Shot in the Albertan Rockies, there’ll be plenty of pretty things to look at. (December 16)
Capote: Since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the heaviest performer Oscar buzz has been for Phillip Seymour Hoffman, starring as the titular writer of In Cold Blood. The fabulous Catherine Keener appears as Harper Lee. (December 16)The Family Stone: Dysfunctional family comedy number one: Dermot Mulroney brings home uptight fiance Sarah Jessica Parker to meet his family at the holidays. The cast is appealing—Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson and Claire Danes. Too bad everything else looks so routine. (December 16)
Munich: Steven Spielberg directs this story about the Israeli retaliation against the Palestinian terrorists who staged the 1972 attack on athletes at the Olympics. Finished shooting in July, the film has had almost no time for post-production, which may make for a more spontaneous final product, or a shambles. (December 23)
Memoirs of a Geisha: Directed by Rob Marshall, who brought Chicago to the screen with considerable commercial success, this assembles a cast of largely Chinese stars to play Japanese characters speaking in English. Only in Hollywood. (December 25) The Producers: The 1970s Mel Brooks comedy inspires a hit Broadway show that inspires a film version. Expect a sequel, Summertime for Hitler. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane return to their roles and are joined by Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell. (December 25)
Rumor Has It: Dysfunctional family comedy number two: Jennifer Aniston discovers her family is the basis for The Graduate. That makes Mrs. Robinson her grandmother, as played by Shirley MacLaine, and Kevin Costner as Benjamin Braddock. One supposes Elaine and Ben didn’t stay together. Director Rob Reiner has great work of this ilk behind him, so it could be hilarious. (December 25)
Casanova: Heath Ledger again, as the legendary Venetian lover, with Sienna Miller, who finally gets a chance to show she’s an actress. The perpetually tasteful Swede Lasse Hallestrom directs, which would suggest the lustiness of the Donald Sutherland version won’t be revisited here. Too bad. (December 25)
The New World: Notable for having been directed by mystery man Terrence Malick, the American auteur who has made only three movies in 32 years. This is the story of European settlers and their clash with Native Americans in the 17th century and stars Colin Farrell and Christian Bale. (December)
Match Point: We’ll be lucky to see this in Halifax before the new year, but the buzz is already better than for any Woody Allen film in the past 10 years. A Hitchockian thriller set in London, it stars Emily Mortimer, Scarlett Johanssen and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. (December)
Transamerica: Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman plays a character on the verge of a male-to-female sex change when he discovers he has fathered a son. (December)
As always, dates are subject to change. As always, check the movie listings to confirm.