The December 2007 Movie Preview

by Dave Thomas
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Keria Knightley in Atonement
As December creeps in, it becomes clear that this year’s Oscar race is going to be exceedingly dull. Where’s the Dreamgirls to get all the hype but no Best Picture nod? Where’s the Pan’s Labyrinth to make us all really, really uncomfortable when that guy sews his own face shut? Still, it’s an interesting month, and that’s a lot more than we’ll probably get in January.
December 7
THE GOLDEN COMPASS
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Not Narnia.
WILL IT SUCK?
Philip Pullman, who wrote the His Dark Materials series of novel upon which this is based, has said it was an attempt, in part, to counterpoint the Christian themes in the C.S. Lewis series. However, most of the anti-religious stuff got nixed by New Line in the adaptation. So much so, that writer/director Chris Weitz initially walked before coming back when things didn’t work out with his replacement.
Assuming that drama didn’t blunt Weitz’s mad skillz, we could be in for a surprisingly good genre treat, if his work on About a Boy is any indication.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
No one is taking it on this weekend, but the following weekend, the one-two punch of Alvin and Legend could wipe out its demo. $145mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Bound to get its share of technical nods. I mean, it’s got fighting polar bears. You can’t beat that.
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ATONEMENT
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Little girl totally fucks over this couple, then tries to make up for it later in life through and act of…um…there’s a word for this.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is sick, topping the decent job director Joe Wright did with Pride and Prejudice (also with Keria Knightley). In addition, screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons, The Quiet American) knows how to adapt.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Has the best buzz out of an extremely crowded pack. $29mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
And how. Looking to get all the major nods, including a second nod for Knightley.
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GRACE IS GONE
(Delayed from October)
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Man (John Cusack) delays telling his two daughters that their mother has died in Iraq by taking them on a road trip.
WILL IT SUCK?


Early buzz is good but not great, focusing on Cusack as the film’s strongest asset. The directorial debut of the guy who wrote Lonesome Jim, for the five of you who saw that.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
The Weinsteins haven’t got long to up the buzz on this one. $4mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Cusack’s got a shot at his first nod.
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THE AMATEURS
(Delayed many, many times since March 2006)
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Small town decides to shoot a porno.
WILL IT SUCK?
The writer/director wrote Dead Man on Campus. And though the following actors are strong – Jeff Bridges, Joey Pants, Tim Blake Nelson, William Fichtner – the idea of seeing them in a porno is not an inducement to buy (sadly I’ve already seen full-frontal on Nelson in The Good Girl). On the other hand, Lauren Graham and Jeanne Tripplehorn are in it, too.
Early buzz, if it can even be called “early” anymore, is not encouraging.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
The Chumscrubber had a huge cast, too, and nobody saw it. $75,000.
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JUNO
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Not Another Unplanned Pregnancy Comedy
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is even better than Atonement. Director Jason Reitman is clearly suffering no sophomore slump from Thank You for Smoking. The script from Diablo Cody (who’s also been tapped to write the pilot for the new Spielberg-created series The United States of Tara, starring Toni Collette and directed by Reitman) is getting raves.
Michael Cera and Ellen Page lead a stellar cast, including Rainn Wilson, Jason Bateman (teaming with Jennifer Garner for the second time this fall), Allison Janney and Smoking vets J. K. Simmons and Cameron Bright.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Like Grace, needs more exposure. Unlike Grace, has the advantage of being funny. $15mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Doesn’t have as much time as Little Miss Sunshine (to which it’s being compared) to build buzz (or even Smoking), but there’s a shot here for everything from screenplay to nods for Page or Cera.
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REVOLVER
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Guy Ritchie goes all Kabbalah on your ass.
WILL IT SUCK?
More than you can possibly imagine. The Jason Statham vs. Ray Liotta revenge plot sounds simple enough, and for the first thirty minutes or so, Guy Ritchie manages to keep it afloat before it becomes completely lost in a sea of pretentious would-be metaphysical crap. Put another way, it’s the suckiest bunch of sucks to ever suck.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Already out on DVD in Region 2. Smells like a body dump to me. $250,000.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
I’m sure that was the idea when it premiered at the Toronto Film Fest in 2005.
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THE WALKER
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
D.C. gigolo gets involved in a murder case.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is good, with most of the credit going to Woody Harrelson in the lead as opposed to Paul Schrader as the writer/director, though this material seems right up his alley.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Nobody knows about it. And Schrader films tend to have a tough time as it is. $1mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Schrader has directed folks to a nod in the past (most notably James Coburn’s surprise win for Affliction), but I don’t see that happening here.
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December 14
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I AM LEGEND
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
The Omega Man, Big Willie Style
WILL IT SUCK?
A lot of people are griping about Constantine director Francis Lawrence being at the helm, but I think he’s perfect, especially if he gets a good script. Which is where the question comes in…
Co-screenwriter Akiva Goldsman is about 50 percent from the free throw line, but he provided a better-than-expected script for Smith’s I, Robot, and this has “I’ in the title, too, right? (Of course, it also has “Legend” in the title, and try finding a worse Smith film than The Legend of Bagger Vance.)
The other screenwriter did Poseidon and The Cell, but I’m trying to block that out of my head now.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
A little bit of competition from Alvin and the second frame of Compass and more serious competition the following week from National Treasure, but if that’s what it takes to compete with you, you’re in a good place. $145mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Goldsman is an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, but not this time.
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THE PERFECT HOLIDAY
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Holiday romantic comedy (Homcom?) with Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut.
WILL IT SUCK?
On behalf of the African American community, let me just say that I’m pleased as punch that there are enough “urban” holiday comedies out this season for me to begin to lose track, but did this one have to be from the director of The Cookout?
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
If you shouldn’t have bet against Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? or This Christmas, you probably shouldn’t bet against this. $44mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
That’s a nut that virtually no holiday comedy has cracked.
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ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Jason Lee debases himself for the second time this year.
WILL IT SUCK?
Balance writers from The Simpsons and The Adventures of Pete & Pete with the helmer of Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties and a painful trailer.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Besides The Golden Compass, nothing else is being marketed directly at kids. $73mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Eligible for the Best Animated Film Oscar, but no.
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THE KITE RUNNER
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Guy tries to find best friend’s son in Afghanistan.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is mixed, with audiences far more consistently impressed than critics. Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction) usually has his shit wired tight and screenwriter David Benioff is no stranger to adaptation (25th Hour). By the way, Forster’s helming the next Bond film, while Benioff’s writing that Wolverine flick.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Its only real competition is the second frame of Atonement and the first frame of Youth Without Youth. $21mil.
WILL ANYONE REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Seems to be between this and Charlie Wilson’s War for the Middle East-themed entry into the major categories.
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YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Nazis try to get the formula for immortality from Tim Roth. Like you never tried that.
WILL IT SUCK?
Again, audiences love it, critics not so much, turned off by the magical realism (read: goofiness). But it is Francis Ford Coppola’s first film in ten years, so you gotta believe.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
This film is keeping a surprisingly low profile for its pedigree. That won’t serve it well. $5mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
It’ll be hard for the Academy to stay away, but depending on word of mouth, they just might.
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NANKING
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Doc about the Japanese invasion of the Chinese city of Nanking during WWII and the atrocities that followed.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is fantastic. Judging by the trailer, the first-person accounts read by celebrities seem a bit out of place, but maybe that’s just me.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Even without this much competition, it’s a hard sell. $1mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
The filmmakers won in 2003 for Best Doc Short Subject (Twin Towers).
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December 21
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NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
More treasure hunting with Nicolas Cage and Friends.
WILL IT SUCK?
I’ve gotta admit, I rather liked the original, and they’ve basically brought everyone back in front of and behind the camera (while adding Helen Mirren and Ed Harris), so I’m psyched. Don’t look at me.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Not the easiest weekend, but this is the frontrunner. $140mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Bruckheimer’s magic is to add Academy Award-winning actors to action films, not win them.
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WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Musical Biopic Movie
WILL IT SUCK?
Normally I would dismiss this out of hand as an especially narrow attempt at an Airplane-style parody, but Judd Apatow is all over this. He wrote it, and Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks alum Jake Kasdan (yeah, I didn’t know he worked on those, either) directed and co-wrote. And, as usual, we have the Apatow Players making for a kick-ass cast.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Has the advantage of being the lone wacky comedy of the season. $71mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
The Apatow love will probably go to Knocked Up, if anything.
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P.S. I LOVE YOU
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Gerard Butler (300) leaves messages for the woman (Hilary Swank) he widowed. Unfortunately, they are not “Madness!?! This! Is! The AFTERLIFE!” or “Tonight, we dine in hell! I’ll pick up the tab, sweetie.”
WILL IT SUCK?
Swank must love her some Richard LaGravenese. She starred in his Freedom Writers earlier this year. He co-wrote and helmed this one, as well. As I remember, Writers got a better-than-expected reception, so that may bode well. Also, it has James Marsters (you know, Spike), so it has to be good.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
No direct competition, but National Treasure will tug on that demo. Also, Swank is an unproven quantity in the romcom space. $37mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
A few winners up in here, but no.
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SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Kind of like Barbershop, but with fewer black people and more dead people.
WILL IT SUCK?
Great cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Anthony Head and Sacha Baron Cohen. They didn’t skimp on the screenplay, either (John Logan of The Aviator, The Last Samurai, Gladiator and RKO 281). But the main thing is Tim Burton. Harry Knowles is already calling it his best since Ed Wood.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
If it weren’t opening against National Treasure, better. $54mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Burton has been dissed so many times before, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will be his Departed.
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STEEP
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Really extreme skiers parachute off of mountains.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz on this sports doc is mixed. Critics no, audiences yes. From a guy who’s done a couple of Peter Jennings reports on aliens and Kennedy. If he does a doc on aliens and Kennedy extreme skiing together, I’m there.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
A strangely quiet weekend in indieville, but the market will already be so glutted with the second and third frames of major indie releases that it won’t matter. $500,000.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Not so many extreme sports fans in the Academy.
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December 25
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THE WATER HORSE: LEGEND OF THE DEEP
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Free Nessie
WILL IT SUCK?
The director may have done My Dog Skip and the writer may have done Chocolat, but the trailer looks like straight-up cheese. It doesn’t help that the monster looks like the one that Mr. Burns found.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Nicely distanced from Golden Compass, and not much else to take your kids to on Christmas Day. $55mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Based on a novel by the same guy who wrote Babe, but no.
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ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear you over my weeping.
WILL IT SUCK?
Writing about this makes my fingers sad. They got the writer of that Shaft remake to do the screenplay. Now, if a predator and an alien teamed up to solve a crime, I would totally see that movie. Especially if they were both played by Samuel L. Jackson. “Yes, those colonial marines deserved to die, and I hope they burn in hell!”
I have to admit, though, I clicked on the link that shows what a “predalien” looks like.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Sadly, this is on people’s radar and there’s very little genre competition. $40mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Sadly, this is Shareeka Epps’ follow-up to Half Nelson.
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CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Remember those guys in Afghanistan we’re fighting right now? Funny story. We armed them. Here’s how.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is good, but not “Holy Shit, Give It The Oscar Now” good. Admittedly, expectations are kind of high given the combo of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts (not to mention Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams) being helmed by Mike Nichols and speaking Sorkin (he’s in West Wing territory here, not Studio 60 – or, to put it another way, he’s not “STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF A FIELD IN AFGHANISTAN!!!”).
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Honestly, Denzel could give Tom and Julia a run for their money, especially when the topic is the Middle East. $66mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Probably not quite as many nods as you’d expect from a Nichols/Sorkin/Hanks/Roberts ticket.
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THE GREAT DEBATERS
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Remember the Debate Team
WILL IT SUCK?
The second directorial effort of Denzel Washington. He stars again, this time alongside Forest Whitaker. And, yes, I’m happy that you can have two Oscar-winning black actors in the same movie without having to search high and low for options. There’s totally, like, four now.
Denzel did a decent job with Antwone Fisher, but it remains to be seen if the screenwriter behind both the Darkman and The Birds sequels can adapt the true story of the Wiley College debate team.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Denzel rocks this historical shit. $77mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Most of Denzel’s heat will probably be on American Gangster.
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THE BUCKET LIST
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Title refers to a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are two old fogies who try to do them.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz has this as tolerably sappy. I’ve lost faith in director Rob Reiner so many times now that it’s hard for me to take this seriously.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Probably the strongest leads of any indie this week. $20mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
The Academy seems incapable of not giving Jack a nod, but they did it with The Departed, and I can tell you right now this will get worse reviews.
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PERSEPOLIS
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Animated biopic about a young girl’s coming of age in Iran.
WILL IT SUCK?
The kind of movie that critics praise with terms like “ever made.” That, plus a Grand Jury Prize at Cannes lessens the suck risk significantly.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Best case scenario is a Triplets of Belleville-style reception. $5mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
The film for Ratatouille to beat for Best Animated (though France is submitting it for Best Foreign, as well).
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THERE WILL BE BLOOD (December 26)
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
An oil prospector (Daniel Day Lewis) comes to turn-of-the-century Texas to strike it rich and chew scenery.
WILL IT SUCK?
Critics and audiences are impressed (and, in some cases, perplexed) by Paul Thomas Anderson’s first flick in five years. IMDB users hail it as his best.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
A lot of competition, but anybody paying attention to the indie field is going to put this at the top of their list. $22mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Look for just about every category.
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THE ORPHANAGE (December 28)
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Horror film set in an abandoned orphanage.
WILL IT SUCK?
Seems to be securing a place of prestige in the modern wave of Spanish-language horror, with favorable comparisons to one of the co-producer’s films, something called Pan’s Labyrinth.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Sadly, a lot more people will probably go see the English-language remake of One Missed Call the following week. At least it’s already a hit in Spain. $1miil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
It’s not THAT favorably compared to Pan’s Labyrinth.
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CASSANDRA’S DREAM (December 28)
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Woody Allen goes all London thriller on us again.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is good. Not Match Point good. But good. Hard not to get psyched for Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor and Tom Wilkinson all working off a decent script.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
There Will Be Blood is a bit of an issue, but this has to do at least as well as Scoop, right? Please? $10mil.
WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Even Match Point only managed a screenplay nod.
Next Month: Isn’t there already a movie called Rambo?

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