The best present in a film critic's Christmas stocking this holiday season will probably be "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."
First, because it's directed by the amazing David Fincher, who gave us the brilliantly rendered drama "The Social Network."
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Second, because it's been adapted by Harvard-educated screenwriter Steve Zaillian, who gave us "Schindler's List."
Third, because it's a remake of a 2009 Swedish thriller that was already a nailbiter, even though the low-budget production packed the visual quality of a made-for-TV film.
For kids, "Arthur Christmas" is on the way, along with "The Muppets," "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" and "We Bought a Zoo."
For adults (and we mean adults), the sad and sobering "Shame" joins "A Dangerous Method" as decidedly mature explorations of human drives.
Delightful diversions are in store for viewers of "The Artist" (a silent movie told with whimsical fantasy), "Hugo" (Martin Scorsese's first 3-D adventure with spectacular visuals) and two Steven Spielberg pictures, the motion-capture animated "The Adventures of Tintin" and the live-action drama "The War Horse."
So, here are the holiday movies scheduled for release during the rest of 2011. Watch the Daily Herald for updates, as Hollywood studio executives like to change movie release dates the way Jerry Lewis changes his socks.
"Arthur Christmas" -- How does Santa get all those gifts delivered in one night? More important, if Santa (Jim Broadbent) retires, who will take over? Son Steve (Hugh Laurie) or son Arthur (James McAvoy)? With Bill Nighy as Grandsanta, who helps Arthur deliver one last important gift to a little girl.
"Hugo" -- The trailers look terrific. Martin Scorsese hits the mean streets of 3-D with this tale about an orphan living in a Paris train station who hooks up with a girl, a broken robotic machine and a toy store owner to solve a riddle. An incredible voice cast includes Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, Ray Winstone and Christopher Lee.
"My Week With Marilyn" -- A 23-year-old Oxford grad (Eddie Redmayne) befriends Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) while she's in England filming "The Prince and the Showgirl" with her husband, playwright Arthur Miller, and her co-star and director Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) in 1956. Based on a true story.
"The Muppets" -- Twelve years have passed since the last Muppets movie ("Muppets in Space"). Now, the estranged Muppets come together to raise $10 million to save their beloved Muppet Theater. Oh, no! An evil oil man (Chris Cooper) wants to drill for oil under the building. Jason Segel and Amy Adams lead a huge cast of cameo appearances.
"The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch" -- How hard can it be to be the secret adoptive son of a murdered billionaire? All the guy has to do is identify his father's killers, stop them from taking over his dad's vast financial empire and, oh yeah, prove that he's the billionaire's legitimate heir, too. With Kristin Scott Thomas and Tomer Sisley as Largo Winch. (Great name!)
"America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments" -- Chicago filmmaker Darryl Roberts directs a documentary detailing the devastating effects of media-dictated beauty ideals in American society. With President Bill Clinton and Beverly Johnson.
"Shame" -- Sex addiction gets handled with style, power and candid bluntness by director Steve McQueen. A magnetic man named Brandon (Michael Fassbender) has become engulfed in a world of online porn, prostitutes, self-abuse and torrid one-night encounters. Until his troubled sister (Carey Mulligan) shows up, desperate for a sense of family and genuine love. Rated NC-17, and for good reason.
"Tyrannosaur" -- A drama about the meeting of two lonely, damaged people, one a volatile drinker and the other a Christian charity worker. Can either improve the other's life?
"New Year's Eve" -- From Northwestern University alum Garry Marshall comes the unofficial sequel to his "Valentine's Day." Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Jon Bon Jovi, Jessica Biel, Abigail Breslin, Josh Duhamel, Ashton Kutcher, Seth Meyers, Katherine Heigl and Hector Elizondo (Marshall's own "good luck charm") co-star.
"The Sitter" -- Jonah Hill stars as the title character, the worst baby sitter in the world, stuck with three of the worst kids in the world, during a night of laughs and terrors through New York City. From the director of "Pineapple Express," so anything goes.
"Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" -- The Chipmunks get marooned on a desert island. Unfortunately, they don't run into Gilligan and the Skipper, which might actually produce humor. With Jason Lee as Dave Seville and Justin Long.
"The Artist" -- A treasure for film lovers. A lovely valentine to black-and-white silent movies, Jean Dujardin of "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" stars as a silent movie star washed up by the talkies. He loses his heart to an upcoming starlet (Berenice Bejo) who makes the transition into the world of sound.
"A Dangerous Method" -- Famed psychoanalyst Carl Young (Michael Fassbender) and his mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) fall for the same woman (Keira Knightley), an unbalanced, yet seductive patient. Directed by David Cronenberg.
"Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows" -- Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return as Holmes and Dr. Watson, on the case of the Crown Prince of Austria, who apparently committed suicide. Or was it the handiwork of Holmes' supreme adversary Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris)? With Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace, who played Lisbeth Salander in Sweden's original "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" -- When the British government fears that a double agent has infiltrated MI-6, retired agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) becomes reactivated to check things out. Based on the best-seller by John Le Carre. With Tom Hardy, Colin Firth and John Hurt.
"Young Adult" -- This comedy reunites "Juno" director Jason Reitman and local screenwriter Diablo Cody to tell the sadly humorous story of Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a writer who returns to her hometown to reclaim her high school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson), who's happily married. No problem, she thinks. With Patton Oswald and the immortal J.K. Simmons.
"The Adventures of Tintin" -- Steven Spielberg directs a motion-capture animated feature about an intrepid reporter (Jamie Bell) who goes up against the evil Red Rackham (erstwhile 007 Daniel Craig) in a race to recover a powerful secret from a 400-year-old sunken ship.
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" -- One of the most anxiously awaited films of the season is David Fincher's remake of a hit 2009 Swedish movie, based on the Millennium Trilogy written by the late Stieg Larsson. A magazine publisher (Daniel Craig) tries to solve an old murder with help from an enigmatic and extremely troubled young woman (Rooney Mara).
"Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" -- According to most of the commercials I've seen, this movie stars a BMW car. Actually, Tom Cruise returns as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, forced to go rogue when his agency gets shut down after being suspected in a global bombing plot. Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames co-star. Directed by Pixar animation director Brad Bird.
"We Bought a Zoo" -- Cameron Crowe directs a fact-based story about a father (Matt Damon) who moves his family to the countryside where he intends to renovate and reopen a struggling zoo. With Thomas Haden Church, Scarlett Johansson and Elle Fanning.
"The Darkest Hour" -- Five young people struggle to survive a horrible 3-D alien attack in Moscow. Except the aliens are invisible, so the 3-D is kind of wasted on them isn't it? The invaders intend to suck up all the Earth's power resources and wipe out humankind. Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby and Max Minghella star as potential toast.
"War Horse" -- Steven Spielberg directs a horse-and-his-boy drama. When Joey the horse gets sent to the trenches in World War I, his young friend and rider Albert (Jeremy Irvine) traces him to France where he intends to rescue Joey. With Emily Watson and David Thewlis.