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Winter Movie Preview: What's going to be heating up theaters

 

 

With the uneven, largely depressing and uncharacteristically bizarre fall roster coming to a close, Hollywood is about to start releasing what it believe to be their heavy hitters. If history is any indicator, the winner of the next Best Picture Academy Award is probably going to come out sometime in the next month, but with the possible exception of "War Horse" (out Christmas Day), there doesn't seem to be any title that stands out or appears to be all that Oscar-worthy.

The following are thumbnails of the high-profile mainstream titles and a few of the interesting looking art-house productions that are due for release in December and into 2012. As always, all release dates are subject to change.

Dec. 2

-- ANSWERS TO NOTHING -- Based on the trailer, this looks like a variation on "Crash." The lives of over a dozen Los Angeles strangers are forever changed when their paths intersect in unexpected ways over a five-day period.

-- CORIOLANUS -- Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut in this adaptation of the obscure Shakespearean play where he co-stars with Gerard Butler and plays an ousted Roman soldier who bands together with a former enemy and plots revenge.

-- SHAME -- In what will likely be the most controversial film of the year (which is rated NC-17), Michael Fassbender ("Inglourious Basterds," "X-Men: First Class") stars as a New York-based high-roller with a sex addiction whose carefully orchestrated lifestyle is thrown off-kilter by the arrival and extended stay of his sister (Cary Mulligan).

Dec. 9

-- NEW YEAR'S EVE -- Remember that disastrous, saccharine-laden "Valentine's Day" from a couple years ago where, like, two dozen people fall in and out of love in one day? Director Gary Marshall returns with what literally is the same thing, different day.

-- THE SITTER -- Jonah Hill stars as the title character, a recently suspended college student who gets talked into looking after his neighbors' kids and then decides the best way to do it is to include them in a night of drunken debauchery.

-- W.E. -- Co-written and directed by Madonna, this fact-based, two-tier romantic drama goes back and forth between the present day and the late 1930s where the Material Girl examines the scandalous coupling of King Edward VIII and American socialite Wallis Simpson.

Dec. 16

-- ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED -- It wouldn't be going out on a limb to predict that the third installment of this family franchise will be stuffed to the gills with bombastic song and dance numbers, bathroom "humor" and overwrought CGI.

-- THE IRON LADY -- Meryl Streep goes fishing for her third Academy Award starring as the polarizing former British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher. Fellow Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent co-stars as Thatcher's husband Denis.

-- SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS -- The trailers for director Guy Ritchie's first (oh yes, there will be more) sequel appears to deliver the same overblown action that has little if nothing in common with the iconic, coke-sniffing Victorian-era gumshoe.

-- YOUNG ADULT -- "Juno" director Jason Reitman and Oscar-winning writer Diablo Cody reteam for this black comedy starring Charlize Theron as a recent divorcee who moves back to her hometown hoping to rekindle a romance with her now-married ex-boyfriend (Patrick Wilson).

Dec. 21

-- THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN -- The first of director Steven Spielberg's two late December offerings is a highly anticipated motion-capture animated adventure based on the revered Herge comic strips.

-- THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO -- Director David Fincher ("Se7en," "Fight Club") is a brilliant choice for the English language remake of the enormously popular Swedish original based on the first installment of the crime trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson.

-- MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL -- The recently MIA Tom Cruise attempts to rekindle his sagging career in this fourth installment of the action-thriller franchise. A good sign: it's also the first live-action directorial effort from Oscar-winning animation genius Brad Bird ("The Iron Giant," "The Incredibles").

Dec. 23

-- IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY -- Written and directed but not starring Angelina Jolie, this war drama tells the story of two former lovers who find themselves on different sides during the '90s conflict in Bosnia.

-- WE BOUGHT A ZOO -- This comedic family drama from director Cameron Crowe stars Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson as an urban married couple who move their brood to the sticks and attempt to reopen a closed zoo.

Dec. 25

-- THE DARKEST HOUR -- Set and filmed on location in Moscow, this sci-fi horror/thriller centers on a group of young Americans on vacation who must try to survive in the wake of an alien invasion.

-- EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE -- Even though it stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, this clunky and overlong titled weeper will be a hard sell to most moviegoers as it focuses on the life of a child in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.-- WAR HORSE -- Stephen Spielberg's second release in five days is already being touted as the front-runner for the Best Picture and Director Oscars. At the start of World War I, a young man ventures into France to try and reunite with his pet horse that was recently sold to the cavalry.

Early 2012

-- TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY -- Already a late '70s BBC mini-series, this much shorter adaptation of the John le Carr spy novel stars Gary Oldman as a retired British undercover officer grudgingly brought back to the fold and called on to ferret out a high-ranking double agent.

-- CONTRABAND -- This action thriller stars Mark Wahlberg as a low-paid security guard who is being talked into reverting back to his former career as a criminal and masterminding a big heist.

-- A DANGEROUS METHOD -- Director David Cronenberg gets back to his creepy-crawly roots in this psychological thriller centering on a professional feud between infamous head doctors Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and the unstable woman (Keira Knightley) who comes into their lives.

-- JOYFUL NOISE -- Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton star as headstrong members of the same church choir who have wildly different ideas and opinions on the path to take to try and win a gospel competition.

-- PARIAH -- Sure to register high on the squirm meter, this drama is about a young black Brooklyn teen girl whose sexual bravado and multiple personality disorder plays havoc with her friendships and family relations.

-- HAYWIRE -- Steven Soderbergh directs an all-star cast in this full-boar action thriller about a female special ops soldier who gets burned by her male co-workers and decides to go on a revenge-fueled killing spree.

-- ALBERT NOBBS -- Glenn Close co-wrote and stars in this period drama playing a woman passing herself off as a man trying to succeed in 19th century Ireland.

-- THE GREY -- After surviving a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness the head of an oil-rigging team (Liam Neeson) must deal with elements while trying to lead his co-workers to safety.

-- MAN ON A LEDGE -- A police psychologist (Sam Worthington -- "Avatar," "The Debt") is challenged with talking a man out of jumping from a skyscraper while a diamond heist is taking place nearby.

-- THE WOMAN IN BLACK -- In his first movie since the end of the "Harry Potter" franchise, Daniel Radcliffe plays an attorney who must tend to the will of a deceased client only to be thwarted by what may or may not be a ghost.

-- A SEPERATION -- This acclaimed Iranian drama centers on the dilemma of two parents: leave Iran to try and find a better life for their young son or stay in country and look after one of their parents stricken with Alzheimer's disease.

-- BUTTER -- This fact-based comedy starring Hugh Jackman and Olivia Wilde explores the competition between an upstart and a long-reigning champ practicing the fine art of butter-carving in rural Iowa.