By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
With the holidays approaching, thoughts turn to that mythical figure who uses his magical powers wisely, cavorts with elves and shares his gifts every year. He’s beloved by young people around the globe.
That’s right: the new Harry Potter film has arrived. And the opening of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” officially signals the arrival of the holiday movie season, an annual film festival that not only offers box-office blockbusters but also small, serious award-hopeful titles.
It’s the most concentrated moment in the cinema release schedule, so crowded, in fact, that some movies you’ll hear about won’t open locally until January. They’re playing in New York and Los Angeles to garner good advance reviews and qualify for awards (including the Oscars), but their wide releases will be delayed until the dust has settled. So you’ll have to wait a bit for Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” or Julie Taymor’s all-star Shakespeare production, “The Tempest.”
Unlike the summer movie season, this one actually has a few possibilities for grown-ups. So clear some space on the calendar and get ready for the following:
“Burlesque.” A cocktail waitress (singer Christina Aguilera in her film debut) yearns to be a showgirl; can savvy veteran Cher help? Am I hallucinating, or did someone really make this movie? Thanksgiving indeed.
“Love and Other Drugs.” Jake Gyllenhaal plays a glib pharmaceutical sales rep who stumbles into the goldmine that is Viagra; Anne Hathaway is the skeptical woman he hooks up with. Much nudity decorates director Ed Zwick’s comedy-romance.
“Tangled.” The new Disney animated film sounds slightly snarky: a smartypants version of “Rapunzel,” rendered, of course, in 3-D.
“Faster.” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sets aside his comedy career in favor of a straight-ahead action flick, this one a revenge yarn co-starring Billy Bob Thornton.
“Marwencol.” A marvelous and mysterious documentary about a head-injury survivor who has created an elaborate miniature world in his back yard and made stunning photographs of the stories that emerge from there.
“Kings of Pastry.” Good reviews for this documentary about the top pastry chefs in the world creating unspeakably tasty concoctions. The appeal is obvious.
“The Warrior’s Way.” Martial arts meets the Old West, as an Asian assassin finds himself transplanted to cowboy country.
“It’s a Wonderful Life.” The Grand Illusion theater brings back its long-standing annual engagement of Frank Capra’s deservedly classic 1946 film (when the theater started doing this, the movie actually wasn’t a famous classic). James Stewart plays the small-town man who must contemplate the meaning of one person’s life.
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” This would be part three of the Narnia tales, adapted from C.S. Lewis. The same crew is back, the kids looking distinctly older, the computer-generated creatures now in 3-D.
“Black Swan.” Intrigue and rivalry inside the ballet world, as seen by director Darren Aronofsky — whose previous film, “The Wrestler,” featured much homelier athletes. Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis lead the cast.
“The Tourist.” Johnny Depp, vacationing in Venice, meets the alluring Angelina Jolie. All right, tell me this doesn’t have the makings of an old-fashioned movie-star vehicle. And the director is Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who copped an Oscar for his riveting German film, “The Lives of Others.”
“White Material.” The superb French filmmaker Claire Denis tackles the story of a European landowner (Isabelle Huppert) holding onto her African farm in the face of local revolution.
“Tron Legacy.” Maybe the 28 years that have passed since the original “Tron” don’t mean much if you’re inside a computer. Anyway, here’s a tech-heavy sequel to the supposedly visionary sci-fi picture, with Jeff Bridges reprising his old role. And hey, 3-D.
“The Fighter.” Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale have been getting strong notices for this old-school boxing film based on a true story. Director David O. Russell (“Three Kings”) is the wild card here.
“Made in Dagenham.” Something like a British “Norma Rae,” as factory worker Sally Hawkins (who dazzled in “Happy-Go-Lucky”) leads a game-changing strike of female employees; based on a true case from late-’60s England.
“I Love You Phillip Morris.” An off-the-charts workout from Jim Carrey powers this bizarre true tale of a con man who keeps trying to break out of prison, the better to be with his lover (an equally fine supporting turn from Ewan McGregor).
“How Do You Know.” Writer-director James L. Brooks makes character comedies such as “Broadcast News” and “As Good as It Gets,” when he makes movies, that is. For his first credit since 2004’s “Spanglish,” he’s corralled Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson for an offbeat romantic triangle. Jack Nicholson lends his weight, too.
“Yogi Bear.” 3-D depiction of the cartoon bear (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) and sidekick Boo-Boo (Justin Timberlake), presumably making mischief around a picnic or two.
“All Good Things.” Fortunate son Ryan Gosling hooks up with poor girl Kirsten Dunst, in a true story that leads to a criminal case.
“Little Fockers.” An enormously successful comedy franchise returns, as Ben Stiller once again tries to face down father-in-law Robert De Niro. If the trailer is any indication, expect broad slapstick. But maybe that was always the case with these movies.
“True Grit.” A John Wayne vehicle from 1969 is remade by the Coen brothers, this time with Jeff Bridges in the role of the grizzled, one-eyed Rooster Cogburn. With Matt Damon and Josh Brolin providing western flavor, this might be the most-anticipated title for people over the age of 25.
“Gulliver’s Travels.” Jack Black plays Jonathan Swift’s traveling hero, towering over the teeny-tiny Lilliputians. A reasonably nice cast (including Emily Blunt and Jason Segel) suggests this special-effects extravaganza might not be exclusively for kids. And yes, 3-D.
“Country Strong.” A country singer (Gwyneth Paltrow) exits rehab and goes on tour with a hot new star (Garrett Hedlund); Tim McGraw plays her understandably worried husband. “Crazy Heart” with a gender switch? We’ll see, and Paltrow can really sing.
“The King’s Speech.” A much-buzzed-about Oscar contender, this is the true story of King George VI (Colin Firth), a lifelong stutterer who labored to overcome his handicap with the help of an eccentric speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush). Old-fashioned in every sense, and just the kind of movie the Oscar loves. And it’s in 3-D! (Just kidding.)
“Rabbit Hole.” A couple confronts life after a tragedy, in what looks like an actor’s showcase for Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart. Directed, in a change of pace, by John Cameron Mitchell, who did “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
“The Company Men.” Hmmm, this year’s “Up in the Air?” Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Affleck and Chris Cooper are white-collar execs laid off and suddenly adrift in a recession.