The prestigious awards season has dropped an early bounty on a number of films that have already come and gone from area theaters. The Hollywood Foreign Press (“The Golden Globes”), the New York Film Critics and the swelling ranks of other city and regional critics have toasted a variety of titles, all seeking the greatest gift of all – Academy Award nominations. None of that truly matters to the mainstream moviegoers eager to settle down in the comfy stadium seats before the flickering projections’ warmth and glad tidings. Film is the gift experience that never fails to give rich rewards of time and togetherness, treasures that today are much better than the same old stocking stuffers of yesteryear.
With Christmas falling on a weekend this year, I’m offering a guide to the holiday releases that makes me feel a bit like Santa, but beware, it’s not all nice at the box office, especially towards the end of the year.
For the kids on your list:
“Gulliver’s Travels” may end up reminding audiences of Halloween redux, in that it could be more of a trick than a treat. This contemporary update of “Travels” is another potential lump of coal in the stocking, bringing to mind such silly nonsense as the “Night at the Museum” films that try the patience of adults, while serving as a healthy holiday diversion for the kids. But Jack Black will perform his jolly elf routine to crazy perfection and here’s hoping that his presence will inspire a little extra ho-ho in your ho-ho-ho.
For the whole family:
Ten years ago, the idea of Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro headlining a comedy was just the next step in the evolution of the former “Raging Bull” of cinema. Now, two sequels in the franchise, it is still about the dynamic duo, but they’ve added a menagerie of elves, merry folk and screen sages to herald the arrival of “Little Fockers.” Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand and Harvey Keitel flash their mugs along with regulars Owen Wilson, Teri Polo, and Blythe Danner and newcomers Jessica Alba, Laura Dern and Kevin Hart. That’s a whole Hollywood family affair from director Paul Weitz who has left younger brother Chris and “American Pie” behind.
For the classic Western lovers:
Fans of John Wayne began screaming blasphemy from the moment the Coen brothers announced they were planning to lens a new version of “True Grit” without considering that the filmmakers would not be interested in doing a straight remake of the classic. It would be better to think of their Grit as an adaptation of the Charles Portis novel, much like their take on Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country For Old Men.” That film matched the tone and spirit of the book perfectly but somehow still felt, first and foremost, like a Coen brothers film. There aren’t too many filmmakers with that kind of signature style and they reunite with another singular presence, The Dude (Jeff Bridges), so assume that this will truly be a unique retelling that even The Duke himself might be proud of.
For the mainstream adult movie lover:
Despite all of the decorative glitz and glamorous buzz from a truly star-studded collection of gifts, the brightest star on top of the holiday tree this year has to be “The King’s Speech.” The film arrives with all of the necessary feel-good trappings to send audiences into delirious diabetic shock. Colin Firth, hot off his Academy Award-nominated turn last year in “A Single Man,” returns to period work as King George VI, the father of the reigning Queen. George (or Bertie as he was known among the royal family) was the stammering second son of George V (Michael Gambon) and brother of David (Guy Pearce) who abdicated the throne in order to marry his twice-divorced lover. Desperate to become the proper voice of the people of England on the cusp of a second world war, George solicits the services of an unaccredited Australian voice teacher (Geoffrey Rush) and an uncommon friendship develops. Firth and Rush make each and every manipulative exchange ring true and wrestle an epic moment from the pages of history. “The King’s Speech” may not be a Christmas story in the traditional sense, but it could very well become one of those movies that gets played year after year during the season.
For that last-minute stocking stuffer:
If it gets far too cold and snowy to trek out to the local multiplex or the art house, there’s one all-time favorite, a new arrival on DVD and Blu-ray for the entire family – the wintery hills are alive with “The Sound of Music.” The 1965 classic, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, started out as a 1959 Broadway musical (music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein) before Robert Wise helmed the adaptation, which won five Academy Awards including Best Picture. There was a time when schoolchildren performed many of the project’s popular hits (“My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi” and the title song) and the film enjoyed a regular holiday rotational run, but a new home entertainment release package from 20th Century Fox, featuring DVD, Blu-ray and a digital download, guarantees that “The Sound of Music” will be available throughout the year from now on. (tt stern-enzi)