Box office registers ring...are you listening? With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it's time for Hollywood to send 2010 into the home stretch, by rolling out some of their most highly anticipated (and most awards-friendly) offerings of the year.
The holiday season is typically one of the more family-friendly times of year at the cineplex, and 2010 is no different; while you'll still get your share of hard-hitting dramas and raunchy comedies, the weeks between now and the end of the year will also provide a cornucopia of films the whole family can enjoy, including the latest from Disney ("Tangled"), a new "Narnia" sequel ("The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"), and yet another version of Tchaikovsky's holiday classic ("The Nutcracker in 3-D").
Don't have kids? Don't like kids? This holiday season offers plenty of gifts for you, too -- including Dwayne Johnson's return from kiddie exile ("Faster"), Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in leotards ("Black Swan"), and a new Coen brothers joint ("True Grit"). Oh, and children of the '80s: did we mention there's a "Tron" sequel on tap? Ho, ho, ho!
Burlesque (November 24)
Christina Aguilera makes her film debut in this tale of a small-town girl with an impossible dream: she only wants to shake her ta-tas in a fading L.A. theater. Standing in her way is the demanding owner of the joint (Cher), as well as the neurotic prima donna who's already headlining the show (Kristen Bell). If it sounds like a garish musical hybrid of "Showgirls" and "Black Swan," well, it probably is -- but with Aguilera and Cher providing plenty of drag queen camp, and Bell and Stanley Tucci classing up the joint, "Burlesque" could be neon-colored fun.
Faster (November 24)
Dwayne Johnson quits whoring for Disney long enough to get back to R-rated action with this no-nonsense thriller, about an ex-con (Johnson, natch) out to avenge the death of his brother before a grizzled cop (Billy Bob Thornton) and the hitman on his trail (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) can stop him. Toss in Carla Gugino, Moon Bloodgood, and Maggie Grace for eye candy, and you've got yourself plenty of possibilities for grown-up ass-kicking. Buckle up!
Love and Other Drugs (November 24)
What happens when a womanizing pharmaceutical rep (Jake Gyllenhaal) falls for the free-spirited beauty (Anne Hathaway) whose insistence on a no-strings-attached relationship only masks her deep insecurity? We can see you falling asleep already, but wait -- "Love and Other Drugs" boasts an R rating, as well as plenty of Hathaway in the buff. If you're going to get dragged to a romantic weepie this holiday season, make this the one.
The King's Speech (November 24)
If your cinematic interests include the private lives of royalty, casts stuffed with arthouse-friendly talent, or movies about speech impediments, you'll want to make sure you don't miss "The King's Speech," director Tom Hooper's take on the struggles of the future King George VI (Colin Firth) to overcome his stutter with the help of a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush). It may not sound like scintillating stuff, but it's already earned some of the best reviews of the year, as well as a stack of awards.
The Nutcracker in 3-D (November 24)
The perennial holiday favorite gets its umpteenth adaptation -- in 3-D, no less -- with director Andrey Konchalovskiy's action-heavy take on the Tchaikovsky ballet, starring Elle Fanning as Clara and featuring a supporting cast that includes Nathan Lane and John Turturro. Remember when Christmas meant being dragged to see your cousin's ballet company clomp their way through another sad production of "The Nutcracker"? Do your kids a solid and give them some 3-D memories instead.
Tangled (November 24)
Disney takes on the legend of Rapunzel, adding CG animation (and Disney Digital 3-D, of course) -- as well as a voice cast that includes Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, and Donna Murphy. Expect a boisterous post-feminist take on the story, a generous helping of pop culture gags for the parents, and -- if early reviews are to be believed -- a new classic in the Disney canon. And hey, even if it's only as good as "The Princess and the Frog," it'll still be worth seeing -- and you know you'll be taking your kids anyway.
Black Swan (December 3)
Darren Aronofsky is the kind of artiste director whose films tend to play well with the cineaste crowd and prompt cricket chirps at the cineplex, but he's also got savvy commercial instincts and a gift for casting (Mickey Rourke, whose career was brought back to life thanks to his star turn in Aronofsky's "The Wrestler," would surely agree). He'll make his full-on bid for crossover success with 2011's "Wolverine" sequel; in the meantime, "Black Swan" is Aronofsky's most box office-friendly effort to date, blending a trippy psychological thriller storyline with a marquee cast that includes Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as dueling ballerinas -- who just happen to make out. Does he have your attention yet?
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Dawn Treader (December 10)
The previous "Narnia" sequel, 2008's "Prince Caspian," looked like it might be the last, after its $419 million worldwide gross wasn't enough to convince Disney to shoulder half the budget for "The Dawn Treader"; thankfully, hundreds of millions of dollars still mean something to a few people in Hollywood, and the series (ahem) sails on with another round of mystical derring-do for the Pevensie children and their Narnian friends. The Carrie Underwood theme song makes us a little nervous, frankly, but as long as you leave before the closing credits roll, this should provide plenty of tween-friendly action.
The Fighter (December 10)
For years, it seemed like "The Fighter" was a week or two away from falling apart completely -- but Mark Wahlberg, who stars in this dramatization of real-life boxer "Irish" Micky Ward's story, refused to give up, clinging to the project with his teeth while it lost a director (Darren Aronofsky) and a star (Brad Pitt). All's well that ends well: David O. Russell replaced Aronofsky, Christian Bale replaced Pitt, and now "The Fighter" is landing on screens -- not to mention scoring Oscar buzz for Amy Adams, who rounds out the cast as Wahlberg's love interest. Yes, it's a "based on a true story" sports drama, but with Russell behind the cameras, it's a safe bet "The Fighter" won't settle for Disneyfied cheese.
The Tourist (December 17)
From the director of "The Lives of Others" comes this taut thriller about a British woman (Angelina Jolie) who dupes an American tourist (Johnny Depp) into serving as a pawn in the pursuit of her former lover-slash-professional thief. There's more to the story (co-written by "The Usual Suspects" screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie), but it doesn't matter much -- with Depp and Jolie on the poster, people are going to turn out for "The Tourist," and with the amazingly named Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck behind the cameras, it's an immediate awards season contender.
How Do You Know (December 17)
James L. Brooks' films have been a little up and down lately -- 1994's infamous "I'll Do Anything" was followed by "As Good As It Gets," which in turn begat the floppish "Spanglish" -- but his latest rom-com, "How Do You Know," promises to be a return to award-winning form. How do we know? Just take a look at the cast, which features one adorable leading lady (Reese Witherspoon), a pair of funny/relatable guys (Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson), and a living legend (Jack Nicholson). It wouldn't be December without at least one handsomely filmed comedy for grown-ups, and this year, "How Do You Know" is it..
Tron: Legacy (December 17)
Twenty-five years ago, if you'd told any random Disney executive that a "Tron" sequel would not only get made, but be one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year, odds are high that you would have been laughed right out of the building. But lo and behold, 2010 brings us the long-delayed second chapter to the 1982 flop about ace programmer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who finds himself sucked into a computer world where he has to battle the Master Control Program to expose the wrongdoing of a rival (David Warner). This time around, Flynn's son (Garrett Hedlund) goes looking for his dad, who's been missing for 20 years -- and what do you know? He finds him back in the system. Featuring light cycles, Recognizers, and copious nods to the cult classic that started it all, "Tron: Legacy" has had fanboys drooling for over a year. Will they turn out on December 17?
Gulliver's Travels (December 22)
It seems like it's been forever since Jack Black made us laugh at the movies -- hell, we still haven't forgiven him for "Year One" -- and there's nothing about the idea of a new "Gulliver's Travels" movie that makes us want to reach for our wallets, especially one directed by Rob Letterman ("Monsters vs. Aliens"). We're holding out a sliver of hope, though, because the "Gulliver's Travels" script was co-written by "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" director Nicholas Stoller, and the cast includes Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, and Billy Connolly.
Little Fockers (December 22)
It took six years to get made, it follows a sequel that wasn't all that funny ("Meet the Fockers"), and it was surrounded by awful buzz even before the studio had to bribe Dustin Hoffman into joining the cast for a series of reshoots. And yet "Little Fockers" will doubtless be one of the higher-grossing movies of December, because audiences love to see Ben Stiller punished -- and because even though "Meet the Fockers" was met with open critical disdain, it still made more than $500 million. In other words, we don't agree with your decision to see this...but we accept that you probably will.
True Grit (December 25)
Remaking a John Wayne classic requires the kind of cinematic chutzpah that few filmmakers possess -- but the Coen brothers are no ordinary filmmakers, and they've assembled quite the cast for this fresh take on the Charles Portis novel about a young girl (Hailee Steinfeld) who hires a grizzled U.S. Marshal (Jeff Bridges) to hunt down the man who killed her father (Josh Brolin). The Coens seem to be stumbling with every other movie lately, and they're coming off a critical smash with "A Serious Man," but all it takes is one look at Bridges wearing that Rooster Cogburn eyepatch to get us excited for "True Grit."
Blue Valentine (December 31)
Filmed with handicams, starring a pair of art-house favorites, and scored by blog buzz band Grizzly Bear, "Blue Valentine" couldn't look like more of a stereotypical indie romance if it tried -- but who wants to ring in the New Year with hopeful thoughts for 2011 and a round of "Auld Lang Syne," when you can head to the theater and watch Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams getting it on in this bleak romantic drama, already the center of a ratings controversy over the NC-17 the MPAA slapped on it for an "emotionally intense" sex scene?