Holiday Movies

Doubt

Here’s a fun fact about John Patrick Shanley, the writer and director of Doubt (which, as a play, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and a Tony award): The last film he directed was 1990’s Joe Versus the Volcano! O.K., then: Doubt is set in 1964 and is about an old-fashioned principal and nun (Meryl Streep) who suspects a priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of being up to no good (“interfering”) with a young black student. Amy Adams and Viola Davis (whom we suspect might end up stealing all her more sparkly co-star’s press) also star, and we’re guessing it will be a real treat to see Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Streep spar onscreen. (Dec. 12, Miramax)

The Wrestler

It will be interesting to see if Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler can ride out all of its prerelease hype (it won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion grand prize and incited a furious bidding war at the Toronto Film Festival) when it’s released at the end of 2008. Certainly, it’s a great comeback story for Mickey Rourke, who delivers an absolutely excellent performance as Randy “the Ram” Robinson, a down-and-out former glory days professional wrestler. Marisa Tomei stars as the stripper (and yes, she strips!) who has lap-danced her way into Randy’s heart, and Evan Rachel Wood as the daughter he’s left behind. Also, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that the hilarious role of deli manager is played by New York comedian Todd Barry. Lastly, and we can say this with absolute certainty from personal experience, Mr. Aronofsky nails the je ne sais quoi that is Central New Jersey in winter. (December 17, Fox Searchlight)

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Oh, boy, get ready for New York City to get stomped all over again! Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) remakes the 1951 sci-fi classic about an alien and a “giant robot” (eeek!) who may or may not destroy the earth.  Keanu Reeves stars as the “alien humanoid”—and if that doesn’t make you believe in the genius of good casting, we just don’t know what will. Jennifer Connelly co-stars with Jon Hamm (Mr. Draper!), Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith (a.k.a. Will Smith’s kid) and John Cleese. It’s not looking so good for us earthlings, and it’s really never a good sign when these things are also going into the IMAX. Consider yourself warned! (Dec. 12, 20th Century Fox)

Marley & Me

Watching all the promos for Marley & Me makes us wonder why no one has ever thought to pair up Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston before. Between his laid-back California surfer-dude-ness and her I’ll-be-there-for-you charm, they seem to be the perfect couple! Anyway, this film, directed by The Devil Wears Prada’s David Frankel, is based on the best-selling memoir by John Grogan, about his troublemaking yellow Labrador named Marley (dubbed “the world’s worst dog”). It’s through the lifespan of Marley that we get to learn about this couple’s life (from commitment phobia, children, real estate, etc). Expect lots of hilarious chasing-bad-dog scenes and, we fear, some heart-tugging ones toward the inevitable end of Marley’s life. (Dec. 25, 20th Century Fox)

Gran Torino

We just don’t know what to think about Gran Torino! First of all, we trust in all things Clint Eastwood. And this is the first film the director has acted in since Million Dollar Baby. The story follows Walt, a grouchy and disgruntled Korean War vet who appears to be kinda racist and unhappy about the changing immigrant population in his neighborhood. Apparently, after befriending some of the Hmong teenagers who live next door, and dropping some of his prejudices, Walt gets mixed up in some sort of gang warfare! Mr. Eastwood is using a super-crazy Batman-growl in the preview, and the majority of his co-stars are first-timers, and it’s all sort of looking like some weird old man Falling Down! But again, it’s Clint Eastwood, so we’ll meet you all at the theater. (Dec. 17th, Warner Brothers)

Seven Pounds

Will Smith has already had his crazy action blockbuster of the year with Hancock, but you didn’t think that would be enough for him, did you? As if! In Seven Pounds, Mr. Smith reunites with his Pursuit of Happyness director Gabriele Muccino to tell the story of an I.R.S. agent looking for redemption after doing something really bad. (Our money is still on drunk driving, but that is based on nothing.) He finds seven strangers to whom he wants to make amends, and in the process falls in love with Rosario Dawson, who plays a beautiful woman with a heart condition. Barry Pepper, Woody Harrelson and Michael Ealy (hubba hubba!) also star. Seven Pounds is still shrouded in some mystery—though the trailer reminded us of 21 Grams, Sweet November, Pay it Forward, Autumn in New York, Bounce, and even Dying Young—but much like the Clint Eastwood principle (see Gran Torino), you just can’t count out Will Smith. So, expect this to somehow make at least a $100 million at the box office. (Dec. 19, Columbia Pictures)

svilkomerson@observer.com 

Holiday Movies