Our Complete 2010 Christmas Weekend Movie Guide + Reviews
by Marco Cerritos
December 24, 2010
Following the success of our various Thanksgiving and Christmas Movie Guides, our resident San Francisco contributor, Marco Cerritos, has once again put together another movie guide for Christmas 2010, giving a quick recap and rundown of what's playing and what's worth seeing (or skipping). Marco has seen almost everything out there, and while you may not always agree with him, he provides the greatest reviews he can to make it just a bit easier for you to choose. This year in particular there is a very strong selection of films currently playing in theaters, so if you're still struggling to figure out what to watch then look no further!
This is an alphabetized list containing 11 films that, as of today, are playing in most theaters nationwide.
Marco's Rating: A
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel
Review: A lot of well-deserved accolades have been thrown to director Darren Aronofsky's tale of a ballerina slowly going mad and this is your chance to catch it as it slowly expands to more cities over the holiday weekend. Natalie Portman dominates the film as she inhabits the insecure skin of a young ballerina tortured by dance training, societal pressures and her mother's failed dreams.
The best way to enjoy Black Swan is to think of it as a cerebral horror film, as if The Red Shoes were remade with a dark sense of humor. The film projects the life of a girl barely holding it together when all she wants is perfection, both in her professional and personal lives. When the pieces start to come together for our heroine (or fall apart depending on your point of view), the result is shocking and tragic. The lengths to achieve greatness in any profession are relatable to all of us but the lengths to which director Aronofsky projects that idea in his film are some of the most bittersweet images all year.
Marco's Rating: A
Directed by: David O. Russell (Spanking the Monkey, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
Review: The Fighter is the best film in wide release this holiday season for a very simple reason, it manages to reinvent a traditional formula (down-on-his-luck athlete looking to finally make it big) with strong performances and a strong narrative.
Nothing in The Fighter is fairly new and if you've seen the film's trailer you unfortunately know most of the story beats already. Having said that (and having seen the trailer), everything still works. Mark Wahlberg leads the film as "Irish" Micky Ward, an up-and-coming boxer whose career is seriously hindered by an overbearing mom (Melissa Leo) and a crackhead/trainer brother (Christian Bale). Joining the quartet of strong performances is Amy Adams who at first glance may be saddled with the "sassy love interest" role but like most elements in The Fighter, makes it her own.
The Fighter has the most in common with another working class movie from earlier this year - The Town. Obviously their themes are very different but their story structure is the same. Both movies take plots that have been done to death by Hollywood and reinvent them as fresh entertainment. The Fighter is the stronger film of the two and it also proves that while originality in film is appreciated, sometimes relying on old formulas isn't a bad thing if you know what you're doing.
Marco's Rating: D
Directed by: Rob Letterman (Shark Tale, Monsters vs Aliens)
Starring: Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt
Review: A "D" rating for Gulliver's Travels can be read as a "D" for dumb and disastrous. The movie is both of those things and more but not the absolute carwreck I expected. Jack Black is no longer playing a lovable idiot, just an idiot making idiotic movies.
Few ticket buyers will be familiar with the source material, all they'll see are big billboards with a massive Jack Black and little people restraining him (or Liliputans as the film describes them). Gulliver's Travels is a film that is too dumb for adults and too boring for kids. The story of a mail room slacker who lies his way to a cushy travel job only to get shipwrecked as a result sounds interesting on paper but not so much after endless fat gags and unfunny pop culture references.
If you are a masochist and insist on seeing Gulliver's Travels at least see it in 2D. The 3D conversion on this thing is a complete waste of money and adds nothing to the film. It's sad that the best thing about Gulliver's Travels is the Ice Age short film that precedes it. It's even more sad that the biggest thing about this movie isn't Jack Black's massive body but his massive paycheck.
How Do You Know
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, As Good as It Gets)
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson
Review: How Do You Know is an interesting mess. Besides having an awful title, it also has many different narrative elements striving to come together that in the end, none of them fit and nobody cares. Writer-director James L. Brooks has made some great movies (Broadcast News, As Good as It Gets) but he's also made some very expensive vanity projects (Spanglish, I'll Do Anything). How Do You Know is more the latter but is also strangely watchable.
The biggest problem the film has is committing to what it is. Is the movie a romantic comedy? A drama about the financial crisis? An existential look at life during a time of depression? How Do You Know tries to be all of these things at once and that much creative juggling is dangerous for any project, regardless of who is behind the camera. Endless reshoots and an expensive cast almost guarantee two things - the studio will lose a lot of money on this project and what could've been a smart adult story is now a muddled mess.
The King's Speech
Marco's Rating: A
Directed by: Tom Hooper (Longford, The Damned United)
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
Review: Despite major critic's awards going to The Social Network, this is still the Oscar frontrunner for two very simple reasons - it has the Harvey Weinstein hype machine behind it and its British underdog story plays right into the hands of the Academy.
Having said all of that, there is still one final thing that makes The King's Speech the film to beat at this year's Oscar race, it's emotionally powerful and wildly entertaining. Colin Firth deserves all the praise he's been receiving playing a British monarch with a serious speech impediment. Ditto Geoffrey Rush as his unorthodox speech therapist. Both performances transform what could've been just another costume drama into a huge crowd-pleaser.
The King's Speech has been slowly building a dedicated following as it platforms around the country, but this weekend is the film's first wide expansion. Don't be put off by it dull posters and trailers, see the film for yourself before the Oscar nominations come in and everyone starts talking about it.
Marco's Rating: D
Directed by: Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy, Cirque du Freak)
Starring: Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba
Review: If I'm going to start a debate with this article I imagine it will be with this film. To set the scene, at my local screening of Little Fockers the theatre was packed with members of the press and random civilians. Guess who were laughing their asses off and who weren't?
There is something disturbing about seeing a group of strangers laughing at the most pandering and unfunny things. I understand comedy is subjective but have I seen too many movies or are people this desperate for entertainment? Speaking of desperate, how much attention and money do Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller need? This third film in the Fockers series makes the second one look like a masterpiece. Even on a remedial level, Little Fockers has no sense of rhythm or comic timing, stitching up plot threads worse than Frankenstein. Dustin Hoffman, who was brought in at the absolute last minute to "fix" the film, has no purpose at all except to recite random dialogue and cash a check. His few scenes don't fix anything and make me wonder how worse shape the film was in that the studio thought bringing in more random pieces was a good thing.
The good news is you're reading this on a film-friendly website. We understand that a film lover can't live on Oscar bait alone. Sometimes you need a balanced diet of highbrow and trashy entertainment but at least make it good trash and not crap like Little Fockers. Having said all this, my preview audience ate up the movie. What's worse, most people I know are genuinely looking forward to laughing at the stupid jokes, too. So I ask again, are people's expectations really this low or is the joke on me?
Marco's Rating: B-
Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus)
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest
Review: Director John Cameron Mitchell has decided to follow his experimental films Shortbus and Hedwig and the Angry Inch with a family drama about a broken family. As I discovered when interviewing Mitchell recently, this decision was very deliberate but not unexpected. The end result however boasts strong performances from its two leads but also has an uneven structure.
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play a couple whose marriage is shattered after the death of their son. Trying their best to move on from a tragedy is never easy for anyone and to see the two actors manage such a task is worthy of the critical attention they've been receiving thus far. Where the film fails them is in certain narrative decisions best kept secret for lack of spoilers.
It's safe to say that while Kidman and Eckhart carry the emotional weight of the film, it's a very heavy burden and Rabbit Hole doesn't offer much else to support it. Some people don't mind so much emotional power in one sitting but I prefer some levity and creative balance whenever possible.
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette)
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius
Review: The first fifteen minutes of Sofia Coppola's new film Somewhere will be a good litmus test for how you will react to the movie. Things happen in these fifteen minutes but they are slow and inconsequential, with no dialogue at all as an added bonus. The entire film is built on these casual moments and you'll either accept them or you won't. My curiosity turned to indifference halfway through.
Celebrated movie star Johnny Marco (Dorff) is living the playboy lifestyle in LA, which includes ordering exotic dancers to his suite at the Chateau Marmont and flirting (and maybe more?) with random pretty girls. All of this is interrupted when his young daughter shows up to spend time with him before she leaves for camp. Bonding ensues as well as the obligatory story arc of Marco rediscovering himself to become a better father. The casual nature of how Somewhere tells its story is what seems to be the biggest problem. The plot moves forward but at the same time it doesn't. In other words, things happen but they don't matter. Most of Sofia Coppola's filmography can be measured by this artistic style and while that may work for some, it doesn't work for me.
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski (Read Our Interview)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde
Review: There are enough plot holes and missteps in Tron Legacy to fill a warehouse but that's not the point of the film. It's not chasing Oscars (technical ones maybe but that's it), it's sole purpose is to entertain and on that level it more than gets the job done.
The biggest achievement in Tron Legacy is the visual style brought on by the film's director and technical team. While the original Tron's effects may look dated today, they paved the way for the beautiful rendition that we see in this new updated sequel. I plan to revisit Tron Legacy again soon in IMAX 3D, apparently it's the best way to see it.
Marco's Rating: A-
Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Barry Pepper, Hailee Steinfeld
Review: True Grit is an example of what happens when people's expectations are too high and even worse, when those expectations are too high in the wrong direction.
When the Coen Brothers announced they were making a retelling of the old John Wayne classic, most people immediately assumed that it would be similar in tone and structure to No Country for Old Men. Future trailers and advertising reinforced that notion and it wasn't until the film was actually unveiled that people realized True Grit wasn't going to be the film they envisioned.
This new version of True Grit sticks closer to the source material than the John Wayne story and has a lot more comedic moments than expected. The Western tale of two lawmen teaming up with an orphaned girl to catch a renegade killer doesn't sound like it would have a lot of laughs at first glance but it really does. In fact, Jeff Bridges seems to have the most fun of the group channeling his old character The Dude from The Big Lebowski. He sounded like a cross between The Dude and Karl from Sling Blade, but that's just me.
Marco's Rating: D+
Directed by: Eric Brevig (Journey to the Center of the Earth)
Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Justin Timberlake, Anna Faris, Tom Cavanagh
Review: I'll keep this one short and sweet. If you have young ones who want to see this, it's innocuous and you can do much worse. Everyone else knows to stay far, far away from this film at all costs. It's not for you, move right along.
Have you seen any of these yet? And what are you planning to see this weekend, if anything?