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GOING FOR THE GOLD



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Winter movie preview: Hollywood hopes end-of-the-year releases shine

Anyone believing 2010 has been a banner year for Hollywood needs to clean his 3-D glasses.

I'm worrying that my top 10 list may wind up with only 7 or 8 slots.

It has been that kind of year at the movies, nearly 11 months of more sizzle than steak. Sure, my year-end list will probably reach double digits but it'll require one heck of a holiday movie season to do it.

Historically, Hollywood comes through as the calendar runs out, holding back its best as long as possible to qualify for awards, voted upon by people with short memories. They can be reminded of an early triumph like Alice in Wonderland on DVD but are likely to mark their ballots on current buzz.

The holiday season also gets people into shopping centers, where theaters are conveniently located. Those people may wish to spend time at the movies, although not watching some artsy Oscar contender about a tortured boxer (The Fighter) or cancer-stricken criminal (Biutiful). Hollywood is here for you, too.

Here's a rundown of the season's key releases, the ones likeliest to compete for Oscar gold and those poised to make the most green. We're including movies that will qualify for Academy Awards consideration by playing at least one week in New York and Los Angeles by Dec. 31.

Yes, even Yogi Bear has a shot.

You may see Sofia Coppola plugging Somewhere, or Nicole Kidman talking up Rabbit Hole on TV shows weeks before they arrive in Tampa Bay theaters in early 2011. Studios use such slow rollout strategies to maintain awareness until February when Oscar ballots are distributed. Matt Lauer won't wait for midsize markets to get Frankie & Alice before interviewing Halle Berry on Today.

Release dates may get shuffled due to reviews or box office numbers that don't go as studios expect. They can bail on an underperformer, or nurture a surprise hit — and 2010 can certainly use a few of those.

GOING FOR THE GOLD

THE TEMPEST

Helen Mirren performing Shakespeare is automatically awards material. Just as long as director Julie Taymor's overly artful imagery (Titus, Across the Universe) doesn't get in the way. The bard's theme of sorcery and natural disaster gives Taymor plenty to play with. The lead role is now Prospera (Mirren), shipwrecked on an island, with mystic vengeance in mind. Dec. 10

HOW DO YOU KNOW

Ten years ago, this might be an awards frontrunner, when writer-director James L. Brooks rode momentum from Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets and Broadcast News. A decade and Spanglish later, Brooks must prove himself all over again. Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson form a promising rom-com triangle, and Brooks' good luck charm, Jack Nicholson, drops by. The Golden Globes may be as good as it gets. Dec. 17

THE FIGHTER

Boxing movies are always Oscar bait, and director David O. Russell knows it. Everything in this gritty crowd pleaser, based on the troubled career of Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), is geared to please voters. Christian Bale does his part, practically ensuring an Oscar nomination as Mickey's crack-addicted half brother and trainer. Melissa Leo (Frozen River) also has a shot as their pushy mother, leading a shrill Greek chorus of trash-mouthed daughters. Dec. 17

BLACK SWAN

Writer-director Darren Aronofsky's excursion into madness divides viewers with its grandiose surrealism. Yet they're united in praising Natalie Portman's performance as a ballerina suffering a nervous breakdown after the arrival of a new, younger addition to the troupe (Mila Kunis). Expect to hear plenty about Portman's rigorous training for the role, to impress academy voters. Dec. 22

TRUE GRIT

Remakes aren't typically awards material but this looks like a thrilling exception. Jeff Bridges takes over John Wayne's Oscar-winning role as marshal Rooster Cogburn, aiding an orphan (Hailee Steinfeld) in tracking down her father's murderer. Directors Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, Fargo) stay closer to Charles Portis' novel than the 1969 original, and the preview trailer gives me those goose bumps that haven't failed yet. Dec. 22

THE KING'S SPEECH

I've been gushing about Tom Hooper's enormously entertaining movie since Labor Day when it wowed Telluride audiences. Bet on Colin Firth to win the best actor Oscar, playing a stammering King George VI on the eve of World War II, and nominations for Geoffrey Rush as his unorthodox therapist and Helena Bonham Carter as the supportive queen. Brit-witty, historical, superbly acted and a hero with a disability? Just wrap up the best picture prize and mail it overseas. Dec. 25

BLUE VALENTINE

Previous Oscar nominees Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson) and Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain) are in the mix again, portraying the bloom and wilt of a modern romance. Dark subject matter and an MPAA rating kerfuffle — an NC-17 isn't academy-friendly — may relegate Derek Cianfrance's film to critic group selections. Dec. 31

RABBIT HOLE

What would awards season be without an adaptation of a stage triumph? David Lindsay-Abaire retools his Pulitzer Prize-winning play about parents (Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart) coping with the accidental death of their son. Kidman seems a lock for an Oscar nomination, and Eckhart is overdue. Director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus) is an academy outsider but so was Lee Daniels (Precious) last year with his downbeat drama. Jan. 14, 2011

SOMEWHERE

Probably the longest shot on the list for year-end honors but it has a pedigree and an inside-Hollywood plot: Writer-director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) turns to the story of a mercurial actor (Stephen Dorff) holed up in the Chateau Marmont hotel when his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) surprises with a visit. The movie played well at European festivals, so Spirit Award nominations are possible. Jan. 21, 2011

BIUTIFUL

Taking a break from the multiple tragedies of Babel and 21 Grams, director Alejandro González Iñárritu focuses on a lone, depressing subject. Javier Bardem won the Cannes best actor prize for playing — get this — a terminally ill mobster attempting to reunite with his children. That's a smart character trifecta for best actor Oscar handicappers. Bardem appears the only true challenger to Colin Firth (The King's Speech) for the honor. Jan. 21, 2011

THE WAY BACK

Director Peter Weir (Witness, The Truman Show) dramatizes the dubiously true story of prisoners escaping a Siberian gulag and trekking 4,000 miles across the Himalayas to freedom in Tibet. Facts may be fudged but Weir's movie has a bone-chilling authenticity. Ed Harris is a supporting actor contender as an American escapee, with Colin Farrell adopting a fine Russian accent as another. Jan. 21, 2011

FRANKIE & ALICE

Last year, Crazy Heart jumped in late to the awards chase and brought Jeff Bridges an Oscar. Halle Berry hopes the same slow-rollout strategy works with this under-the-radar drama. Berry plays Frankie and Alice, two of her character's multiple personalities. Alice is a white racist, spewing self-hate at Frankie, a damaged-goods stripper. Stellan Skarsgard co-stars as her therapist named — I'm not making this up — Dr. Oz. Feb. 4, 2011

GOING FOR THE GREEN

THE WARRIOR'S WAY

Action fans get to play cowboys and ninjas with this martial arts epic featuring Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth and some guy who's probably a star in Asia. Dec. 3

THE TOURIST

Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie can separately fill theaters. Put them together in a sexy cat-and-mouse caper and wait for a box office stampede. Dec. 10

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER

The third C.S. Lewis book adaptation will thrive for a weekend, assuming the author's fans are still conscious after Prince Caspian. Dec. 10

THE COMPANY MEN

Okay, it won't sell many tickets. But this corporate downsizing drama starring Ben Affleck doesn't look like a legit awards contender, either. Dec. 10

TRON: LEGACY

Sequel to the first video game movie ever, from way back in 1982. Vastly improved special effects and 3-D make this sequel one of the season's few can't-miss box office propositions. Dec. 17

YOGI BEAR

Since animated chipmunks are hibernating this year, kids will settle for a picnic basket-stealing bear (voice of Dan Aykroyd) and his pal Boo-Boo (Justin Timberlake). Dec. 17

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS

Jack Black updates the classic Jonathan Swift novel, playing a travel writer marooned on Lilliput, where everything except him is tiny. Black needs something to get that Year One taste out of fans' mouths. Dec. 22

LITTLE FOCKERS

We met the neurotic parents and the domineering in-laws. Now Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro welcome twin Fockers and more upheaval. Going head-to-head with Gulliver's Travels will be interesting. Dec. 22

COUNTRY STRONG

Gwyneth Paltrow hopes her Glee appearance brings folks to see her version of Crazy Heart, playing a country music star on the comeback trail. Dec. 22

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS

The most outrageous comedy of the season, with Jim Carrey's portrayal of a gay con artist likely to offend as many viewers as it amuses. Dec. 25

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com and (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.

Winter movie preview: Hollywood hopes end-of-the-year releases shine 11/23/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 10:51am]
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