Season's screenings

Prestige plus eye candy equals holiday movies


Director Joe Wright hit the Oscar jackpot in 2005 when his debut film, Pride & Prejudice, was nominated for four Oscars. Wright teams up again with his Academy Award-nominated lead Keira Knightly in this film adaptation by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton of Ian McEwan's romance novel. Have we used the words "Academy Award" enough yet? With its historical sweep, undercurrent of British class tension, sexual indiscretion and the pairing of Knightly and co-star James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland), this one has "prestige" written all over it. – Felicia Feaster


This season's big family epic adapts the first book of Philip Pullman's spectacular young-adults trilogy. Set in a magical alternate Earth with magic in which people have talking animal familiars called "daemons," a little girl (Dakota Blue Richards) becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that involves flying witches, ass-kicking armed polar bears and a villainous ice queen played by Nicole Kidman. The trailer's polished, antiseptic-seeming effects make the film look less like The Lord of the Rings than The Chronicles of Narnia, but in sharp contrast to the Christian themes of the latter film, the anti-religious motifs of Pullman's book (reportedly downplayed for the film) have already stirred up controversy. Director Chris Weitz previously helmed About a Boy. – Curt Holman


What do Vincent Price, Charlton Heston and Will Smith have in common? They've all starred in adaptations of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, filmed previously as The Last Man on Earth in 1964 and The Omega Man in 1971. When a plague wipes out the population of New York – and possibly the world – the last survivor (Smith) seeks a cure while trying to fend off attacks from nocturnal mutants (reportedly less vampiric than in previous versions). Francis Lawrence directed the underwhelming comic-book thriller Constantine, but the trailers look intriguing and it'll be interesting to see Will Smith's performance. He usually plays gregarious charmers, so how will he fare without many human co-stars to play off of? – Holman


German-born, NYU-educated director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) made me worry when he signed on to direct the next Bond film, threatening to ease from indie cool into Hollywood hackdom. But this cinematic adaptation of Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini's best-selling 2003 novel about Afghanistan from the peace of the 1970s to the brutal rule of the Taliban, will undoubtedly find a new opportunity to continue Forster's cinematic exploration of loss and the human ability to rise above misery. – Felicia Feaster


Judd Apatow emerged as one of the year's most acclaimed filmmakers thanks to the raunchy but big-hearted humor of Knocked Up (which he wrote and directed) and Superbad (which he produced). Will this satire, which director Jake Kasdan co-wrote and produced with Apatow, break the streak? Walk Hard's spoof of musical biopics – specifically Walk the Line – casts the dependable John C. Reilly as a dimwitted rockabilly star whose musical career seemingly encompasses every pop music trend of the past 50 years. Walk Hard has a funny trailer, and the genre's ripe for an Airplane!-worthy parody, if only they can sustain the gag for more than an hour. The cast includes "The Office's" Jenna Fischer as his wife/collaborator (the Reese Witherspoon role) and features the White Stripes' Jack White as Elvis, Paul Rudd as John Lennon, and more. – Holman

JUNO (DEC. 21)

Heathers with a soul, this utterly snarky dark comedy feels like Knocked Up told more from the female perspective. Jason Reitman's (Thank You for Smoking) tight little package stars the tiny girl volcano Ellen Page (Hard Candy) as an unbelievably precocious 16-year-old with a taste for flannel and Iggy and the Stooges who gets knocked up (courtesy of Superbad's Michael Cera) and takes a very unexpected path to resolve her dilemma. Sweet, life-affirming and shockingly smart and funny, the screenplay was penned by Diablo Cody – the female version of Quentin Tarantino (but cooler) – a stripper/blogger who may become her generation's Dorothy Parker. – Felicia Feaster


Tim Burton's adaptation of this blood-drenched musical will be the season's biggest question mark. Stephen Sondheim's darkly operatic melodrama about "the demon barber of Fleet Street" is one of the greatest musicals of the past 40 years, but none of Burton's cast members are known for their musical chops. On the plus side, they're charismatic screen actors (including Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen), and though Burton has never directed a full-fledged musical, he had included song-and-dance numbers in his films such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Beetlejuice and going back to the "Tequila" sequence in Pee Wee's Big Adventure. – Curt Holman


While the prospect of both Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks adopting cornpone Southern accents may not float some boats, everything else about this latest entry in the Hollywood-considers-Middle-Eastern-politics trend seems set to "stun." Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Closer) directs this based-on-fact tale starring a tan, portly Hanks as a Texas congressman who funnels money to the Afghan rebels fighting the Soviets. He's aided in his Commie-hating mission by a big-haired society dame (Roberts). And we all know how that story turned out. – Felicia Feaster


For those who thought Julian Schnabel was just an '80s painter in a sarong with a harem of ex-wives and children and a taste for the grandiose, think again. Schnabel has reinvented himself as a film director of note (Basquiat, Before Night Falls). His latest won a director prize at the Cannes Film Festival and has film insiders practically wetting themselves with advance praise. Diving Bell is about the French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was left completely paralyzed after a stroke. But he retained the use of his left eye and was thus able to blink out a memoir. Because My Left Foot still hits our critical sweet spot every time, this one should really deliver. – Feaster


How cool is it that in the year of our Lord 2007 a filmmaker like Paul Thomas Anderson, so synonymous with the contemporary zeitgeist in films such as Magnolia and Boogie Nights, decides to base his latest film on the 1927 Upton Sinclair novel Oil! about greed, religion and Texas tea? The trailer for this one, with Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano (who last appeared together in The Ballad of Jack and Rose) waging a war for oil looks like a cross between Hud and The Night of the Hunter. The heart quickens at the old-timey and yet topical vibe in a film, which follows the still-relevant American fixation on oil. – Feaster