There's something special about the winter movie season, a kind of dual purpose where, unlike a typical summer blockbuster, the film says, "I want your money, but I ALSO want your respect."
This year's lineup won't have to work too hard for it, with stars like Anne Hathaway, James Franco, Natalie Portman, and Colin Firth shooting for the moon. There will also be enough great popcorn fare involving superheroes, wizards and light cycles to keep the kids occupied between Thanksgiving and New Years.
So let's keep the eggnog flowing and deck the halls with boughs of Hollywood as we countdown this year's 9 most alluring cinematic stocking stuffers!
9. 'Love and Other Drugs'
Release Date: Nov. 24
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Judy Greer, Hank Azaria
FTW: How about that, a “period piece” set in the late-90s? With painstaking historical accuracy, master Oscar-baiter Ed Zwick ("Legends of the Fall", "Last Samurai") takes a lighter touch with this dramedy about a suave pharmaceutical salesman (Gyllenhaal) who winds up falling for a free spirit (Hathaway) during the heady early days of Viagra. The potential for sheer number of gags regarding that little blue pill has us already standing at attention! Throw in a touching subplot about Parkinsons and you have a film that's been gaining awards buzz for its lead actress for some time.
8. '127 Hours'
Release Date: Nov. 5
Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Treat Williams
FTW: Franco is front-and-center for his portrayal of mountain climber Aron Ralston's nearly 6-day ordeal pinned to a canyon wall by a boulder, and the extraordinary lengths he went to survive. With no Sean Penn, Seth Rogen, or Spider-Man to play off of, Franco commands his solitary screentime with gravitas and turns Ralston into an immobile action hero. An intense scene of impromptu surgery is particularly graphic… this ain't "General Hospital", folks! "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle may be the real star, injecting the film with visual adrenaline and epic scope you might not expect given such rocky circumstances.
Release Date: Nov. 5
Starring: Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill
FTW: This whacked-out animated take on the Superman mythos casts the spotlight on the villain Megamind (Will Ferrell) whose schemes are continually foiled by superhero Metro Man (Brad Pitt). After finally defeating his smug enemy, Megamind grows listless and creates a new superfoe out of a reject cameraman called Titan (Jonah Hill), but when this new nemesis runs amok it's up to the bad guy to save the day! Megamind is aided in his battle against Titan by alliterative Lois Lane wannabe Roxanne Ritchie (Fey) and a fish inside a robotic body voiced by David Cross.
6. 'The King’s Speech'
Release Date: Nov. 26
Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffry Rush, Guy Pearce
FTW: After premiering at this year's Toronto Film Festival to unanimous raves, the great Colin Firth's performance as the vocally-challenged King George VI (poppa to Queen Elizabeth II) has become the current Best Actor front-runner. Captain Barbossa himself, Geoffrey Rush, co-stars as the eccentric speech therapist Lionel Logue who helps the reluctant King overcome his rather brutal stammer to ultimately deliver a stutter-free speech before Australian parliament. Expect to read many tedious jokes about Firth practicing his Oscar speech, but we would never stoop to such lows here. Eh hem.
5. 'The Fighter'
Release Date: Dec. 10
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
FTW: After original director Darren Aronofsky and potential co-stars Brad Pitt and Matt Damon all went down for the count, fight-prone David O. Russell (who took punches from George Clooney on the set of "Three Kings") finally took the helm. Marky Mark trained two years to play famed Lowell, Mass boxer "Irish" Mickey Ward, and Christian Bale got back in "Machinist"-mode, losing hella weight to play Ward's crack addict half-brother/trainer Dickie Ecklund. Ward made a miraculous comeback in the mid-nineties, and Russell could use some "life-imitating-art" after his previous film "Nailed" got permanently shelved. Mama said knock you out, HUUUH!!!
4. 'Black Swan'
Release Date: Dec. 3
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Vincent Cassel
FTW: Speaking of Aronofsky, the maker of "The Wrestler" is trading spandex singlets and staple guns for leotards and tutus, but don't think ol' Darren has gone sissy on us yet. In his new film he seeks to show the dark side of ballet, with a newly anointed prima ballerina (Portman) attempting to overcome performance pressure and a potentially supernatural rival when Nina (Kunis) joins her dance company. With a little horror and some girl-on-girl action between the film's two comely stars, this trip to Swan Lake is no day at the beach!
3. 'True Grit'
Release Date: Dec. 25
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld
FTW: Those wily Coen Brothers are takin' us fer a gander at the ol' west, with the rootenest, tootenest gunslinger there ever was, Rooster Cogburn. Bridges will reunite with his old bowling buddies the Coens to play the eyepatch-endowed U.S. Marshal that scored John Wayne an Academy Award in 1969. Newcomer Steinfeld plays the indomitable Mattie Ross, who hires crusty Cogburn to track down Tom Chaney (Brolin), her father's killer. Along for the ride is Damon as a Texas Ranger, once again doing his damndest Matthew McConaughey impression.
2. 'Tron: Legacy'
Release Date: Dec. 17
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen
FTW: In a double helping of Bridges, The Dude returns to his role as Kevin Flynn from Disney's groundbreaking 1982 flick "TRON", which out-matrixed "The Matrix" by nearly two decades. This time it's Flynn's son Sam (Hedlund) who gets sucked into the computer world, which has advanced quite a bit from the Frisbees and talking bits of the original. To track down his missing dad, Sam will have to contend with even deadlier disc battles, light bike (and light jet!) chases, sinister nightclub owners (Sheen), and Daft Punk, all in glorious native 3-D! Sexy Olivia Wilde slinking around in her black neon outfit is just a bonus, fellas.
1. 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1'
Release Date: Nov. 19
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes
FTW: That's right, folks, it's all almost over, unless of course J.K. Rowling decides to write "Harry Potter and the Rascal Mobility Scooter" down the road. David Yates is setting us up for a two-part extravaganza where the final showdown between Harry and the dark lord Voldemort will climax in… wait, we're not going to tell you! You can expect new additions to the cast, including Rhys Ifans as conspiracy theorist Xenophilus Lovegood and Bill Nighy as Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour, along with Daniel, Emma, and Rupert in all kinds of mortal danger trying to find those pesky horcruxes. CANNOT WAIT!