Nothing says holiday movies like old-fashioned torture horror, or a tsunami disaster, or an ex-soldier vigilante thriller, or a musical about a dying mother.
We have all those to look forward to for the remainder of 2012, along with lighter, more traditional fare, such as Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" prequel, Judd Apatow's comedy sequel, the return of Pixar's "Monsters, Inc." with an extra dimension added, and the evergreen Barbra Streisand's long overdue return to the silver screen.
If I were a betting man, I would wager that the best offerings of the season might be "Life of Pi," "Les Miserables," "The Impossible" and "This is 40," with an honorable mention going to Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained."
Here are the scheduled holiday movies -- as of this second. Keep in mind that those nervous nellies sitting behind desks at the studios might switch release dates with little notice. But most of the titles will be released as reported here. Enjoy!
"Life of Pi" -- Only three recent movies demonstrate a mastery of the 3-D format: James Cameron's "Avatar," Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" and now Ang Lee's "Life of Pi," an adaptation of Yann Martel's prizewinning novel about an Indian boy who survives a sinking ship but may not fare as well stuck on the ocean in a lifeboat with a wild Bengal tiger.
"Red Dawn" -- Dan Bradley's updated remake of John Milius' 1984 flag-wrapped adventure with Patrick Swayze leading resistance fighters against communist invaders in Colorado. The new version was delayed to the screen because of MGM's bankruptcy issues, then the powers that be decreed the original Chinese invaders be designated as North Koreans. What? Did North Korea not supply Wal-Mart with as many goods as China or what?
"Rise of the Guardians" -- Sounds like a 3-D animated kiddie mixture of "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "The Avengers." When the evil Pitch (Jude Law) threatens to invade the dreams of children in a scheme to take over the world, immortal superheroes Jack Frost (Chris Pine), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and others team up to stop him! With Alec Baldwin and Isla Fisher.
"Hitchcock" -- Anthony Hopkins already has Hannibal Lecter going for him. Now he's got playing the Master of Suspense, too, as Sacha Gervasi's biopic traces Alfred Hitchcock's struggle to get "Psycho" on the silver screen. Plus, it's a romance, of sorts, between the filmmaker and his partner/wife Alma (Helen Mirren). Scarlett Johansson plays Janet Leigh.
"Tales of the Night" -- Michel Ocelot's first 3-D animated feature film tells six fables set in Tibet, Europe, an Aztec kingdom, the African plains and even the Land of the Dead where dragons, werewolves, captive princesses, sorcerers and enormous talking bees hang out.
"The Collection" -- A desperate father (Christopher McDonald) hires mercenaries to rescue his daughter (Emma Fitzpatrick) from the evil Collector, who has converted an old hotel into a lethal maze of torture and death. Maybe they have a chance with Arkin (Josh Stewart), the only person to have survived the maze. From Marcus Dunstan, the writer-director of "Saw III," "IV" and "V." If this plot is as lame as it sounds, Arkin will turn out to be the Collector.
"Dragon" -- In Peter Ho-Sun Chan's action thriller, a quiet village craftsman saves a shopkeeper's life and comes under investigation by a detective who suspects his martial arts skills to be the result of training by the region's most vicious clan.
"Killing Them Softly" -- Brad Pitt stars as a mob hit man out to catch three stupid guys who robbed a mob-sponsored card game, threatening the financial security of organized crime. With DeKalb native Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, Sam Rockwell and James Gandolfini.
"Scrooge & Marley" -- Don your gay apparel for this locally produced take on Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol" redone with a gay theme. Starring Bruce Vilanch, Tim Kazurinski, Megan Cavanagh and Rusty Schwimmer.
"Wuthering Heights" -- Andrea Arnold's take on Bronte's classic love story is a virtually black-and-white, hand-held camera lensed moody art film in which the cold and rough English countryside becomes a major character. A white farmer takes in a black Heathcliff (James Howson) who falls for his teen daughter, Catherine (Kaya Scodelario).
"Dino Time" -- Three kids accidentally activate a time machine in this animated comedy that transports them back to 65 million years B.C. where a mama dinosaur Tyra (Melanie Griffith) adopts them to be siblings to her son Dodger (Rob Schneider). William Baldwin and Stephen Baldwin play dino-rivals. Jane Lynch plays a mom trying to save her children.
"Generation P" -- In Victor Ginzburg's comic fantasy, a cynical Russian poet (Vladimir Yepifantsev) uses LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms, cocaine, vodka and spiritual communication to inspire commercial concepts for Western goods flooding the Russian market. Hey, how about summoning the spirit of Che Guevara with a Ouija board? It's in there!
"Lay the Favorite" -- Rebecca Hall plays a stripper who heads to Florida to realize her dream of being a cocktail waitress. That's before she learns she has a knack for gambling, something discovered by Dink (Bruce Willis), a sports gambler with a jealous wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Directed by Stephen Frears.
"Playing for Keeps" -- A romantic comedy about a charming, down-on-his luck former soccer star (Gerard Butler) who returns home to put his life back together and reconnect with his young son. He really wants to grow up, but his attempts to mature get derailed by tempting and attractive soccer moms out to foul his plays at every turn. With Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Dennis Quaid.
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" -- Peter Jackson is back in the director's chair for this third adventure to go with his Oscar-winning "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Approached by Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) joins 13 dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to travel the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, if they can survive the goblin tunnels, At least they'll be in 3-D!
"Hyde Park On Hudson" -- South African filmmaker Roger Michell's work of historical fiction concentrates on the affair between Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and Margaret "Daisy" Suckley (Laura Linney) in 1939 during a weekend visit from King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman). Early reviews are mixed, but Murray's take on FDR apparently works.
"Guilt Trip" -- Babs is back! Babs is back! Babs is back! Streisand returns to the silver screen in Anne Fletcher's comedy about an inventor (Seth Rogen) and his mom (guess who?). They take a road trip together so he can sell his new invention. With Nora Dunn, Kathy Najimy and Colin Hanks.
"Monsters, Inc. 3-D" -- Pixar's wonderful 2002 animated comedy hit returns in glorious 3-D. Monsters Sully and Mike (John Goodman and Billy Crystal) work at a scream factory named Monsters, Inc. When a little girl follows them back to their world, Sully and Mike become exiled to hers. With James Coburn, Jennifer Tilley and Steve Buscemi.
"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" -- A separated young couple journeys through the astonishing and dreamlike worlds of Cirque du Soleil to find each other. James Cameron's 3-D cameras aid director Andrew Adamson (he gave us "Shrek" and "The Chronicles of Narnia") as he brings the magic fantasy of the live stage innovators to life on the screen.
"Jack Reacher" -- "He doesn't care about law. He doesn't care about proof. The only thing he cares about is what's right!" the trailer says. The great Christopher McQuarrie ("The Usual Suspects") presents Tom Cruise as a former military cop out to prove a friend didn't kill five people with an assassin's rifle. Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall and Rosamund Pike star with legendary director Werner Herzog.
"The Impossible" -- Juan Antonio Bayona directed the scarifying horror tale "The Orphanage," Now he directs a frightening survival tale about a family torn apart by a Thailand tsunami in 2004. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play the parents in a movie that has drawn great critical acclaim for its depiction of the disaster and the emotional story that follows.
"Not Fade Away" -- "Sopranos" creator David Chase directs a music-infused story about the efforts of friends from New Jersey suburbs to break out of their garages and take the music industry by storm. With Jack Huston, John Magaro, Will Brill, and, no surprise, James Gandolfini.
"Rust and Bone" -- A terrible accident crushes the legs of a whale trainer (Marion Cotillard), who becomes despondent and hopeless. Then, she receives support from an unlikely source: a French bouncer named Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), the father of an estranged 5-year-old son, Sam. Directed by Jacques Audiard.
"This is 40 " -- The trailers look riotously funny. Judd Apatow looks in on Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) several years after we met them in "Knocked Up." Ready for one heck of an impressive cast list? Albert Brooks, Megan Fox, Chris O'Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, Charlyne Li and Jason Segel co-star.
"Django Unchained" -- Quentin Tarantino finally gets back on the big screen with this teeming drama about a former slave Django (Oscar winner Jamie Foxx) who helps a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) track down the elusive Brittle brothers, Django really wants rescue his wife (Kerry Washington), lost to the slave trade years ago. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the owner of "Candyland," an infamous plantation run by Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), a trusted house slave. Can you say "combustibility"?
"Les Miserables" -- The great stage musical of Victor Hugo's epic story of love and obsession gets a crackling visual treatment with an all-star cast who sang their songs live, not dubbed, which even makes the trailers explode with emotion. Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, the fugitive hunted by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Anne Hathaway plays Fantine with Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. Directed by Tom "The King's Speech" Hooper.
"Parental Guidance" -- Andy Fickman's comedy pits two old-fashioned grandparents (Billy Crystal and Bette Midler) against the 21st century school of parenting when they unwittingly agree to take care of their grandkids while their parents (Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott) leave for work.
"Promised Land" -- Gus Van Sant tackles the corporatizing of small-town America in this drama about two sales reps (Matt Damon and Frances McDormand) whose "easy" assignment to get drilling rights to a financially blighted community becomes blocked by a schoolteacher (Hal Holbrook) and a local activist (John Krasinski). With Rosemarie DeWitt.