It’s winter movie season, where Hollywood trots out its traditional banquet of Christmas movies, Oscar contenders, and all the other stuff ladled out for the undiscriminating.

What warrants a second helping, and what should you avoid like that fruitcake of indeterminate age? Well, each movie gets its own Thankfulness Rating (TR), based on how grateful I think you’ll be seeing it on your holiday movie table. Release dates are subject to change.


“The King’s Speech” (R): Colin Firth, as the stutter-afflicted King George VI (who had to master his problem in order to lead Britain through WWII), has effectively guaranteed himself at least a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Real-life royalty? Who had to overcome a physical handicap? In pretty period costume, no less? Seriously, just engrave his name on the trophy right now.

Thankfulness Rating: Your mom’s favorite dish, cooked just the way she likes it.

“Tangled” (PG): An updated (CGI) retelling of the Rapunzel story featuring voice work from Mandy Moore and the guy from “Chuck.” It’s tempting to dismiss this family-friendly fare with the (usually accurate) assessment “if it ain’t PIXAR, I’m out,” a prejudice seemingly confirmed in that the creators are responsible for such middling animated fare as “Meet the Robinsons” and “Bolt.”

TR: A pitcher of powdered fruit punch.

“Burlesque” (PG-13): The bumps and grinds of a struggling burlesque house inform this saucy (yet safely PG-13) musical starring the exciting-to-someone pairing of multigenerational divas Cher and Christina Aguilera. Look for flashy musical numbers, Alan Cumming and a tassel or two, but not for me in the audience.

TR: A half flute of diet chardonnay.

“Love and Other Drugs” (R): Doe-eyed A-Listers Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway merge their not-inconsiderable talents/cutenesses in this tale of a sexy pharmaceutical salesman and the pharmaceutical-friendly patient he meets on his rounds. A good supporting cast (Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt, the late Jill Clayburgh) and some purported semi-explicit love scenes from the leads promise above-average returns.

TR: Oysters, chocolate-covered strawberries and a Viagra.

“Faster” (R): Dwayne Johnson (always The Rock to me) is an ex-con out to avenge his brother and avoid the obsessed cop (Billy Bob Thornton) trying to keep him from beating up everyone he wants to beat up. I persist in liking Mr. The Rock; he’s got charisma and is by far the most talented ‘rassler/actor we’ve got, so I’ll definitely check this one out on DVD.

TR: Six-pack and beef jerky.

DEC. 3

“Black Swan” (R): Natalie Portman stars as an aspiring ballerina who finds herself dueling with an up-and-comer (Mila Kunis) who may be her own dark side. Oh, and she might turn into an actual black swan. Details are sketchy, but coming from ever-fascinating writer/director Darren Arnofsky (“Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream”), I couldn’t be more assured of original, freaky cinema.

TR: A new recipe from a master chef; it might not work out, but it won’t be dull.

“I Love You Phillip Morris” (R): Jim Carrey stars in this true tale of a cop-turned-conman who falls in love with Ewan McGregor while in prison and then uses his formidable scamming skills to get him released. I respect Carrey for continuing to seek out chancy, challenging roles to alternate with the hammy, annoying ones, and word is that he and McGregor turn a somewhat ramshackle script into something memorable.

TR: Thanksgiving lasagna; not your usual holiday fare, but a pleasant surprise.

“Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” (R): An expedition to remotest Finland unearths a legendary, child-killing creature named Santa Claus. Nothing like an evil Santa to whip up some predictable controversy, and this darkly comic Scandinavian horror film promises scares, laughs and perhaps a picket line or two.

TR: Outrage casserole.

DEC. 10

“The Tourist” (PG-13): Johnny Depp’s Italian vacation gets Hitchcockianly disrupted by femme fatale Angelina Jolie’s web of sexiness. It’s made by the overqualified director of “The Lives of Others” and looks as impossibly glamorous as its two stars, but is it just me who now finds it impossible to see either of them as anything but their carefully crafted public personas?

TR: A really expensive fruit basket from your rich relatives who couldn’t make it to dinner.

“The Tempest” (PG-13): Director Julie Taymor (“Titus”) brings her opulent visual style to another Shakespeare adaptation, with a gender-flipped Prospero (Helen Mirren) leading an outstanding, offbeat cast including Djimon Honsou, Russell Brand, Chris Cooper and David Strathairn. I’m a sucker for Shakespeare (and Mirren), and the trailer looks stunning.

TR: Whatever it is, it’s got a lot of layers. Spanakopita, maybe.

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (PG): The final film in the trilogy of adaptations of the beloved, if church-y, C.S. Lewis fantasy series promises more sub-“Lord of the Rings” CGI battle scenes and thinly veiled Christian lecturing.

TR: Store-bought sheet cake at the children’s table.

“The Company Men” (R): Enduringly timely drama about a trio of white-collar businessmen coping with being “downsized.” Starring Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Affleck and Kevin Costner, and written and directed by longtime “West Wing” scribe John Wells, this one promises simultaneous insight/depression.

TR: The best dish you can make with generic ingredients.

“The Fighter” (R): David O. Russell (“Flirting with Disaster,” “Three Kings”) directs this hard-hitting (get it?) biopic about perennial-underdog 1980s Boston-area boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his troubled brother/trainer (Christian Bale). Russell’s one of our best directors, Wahlberg is at home in Boston (and has clearly done his crunches), and Bale is always solid too.

TR: Steamed vegetables, lean chicken breast and a shot of Jameson’s.

DEC. 17

“Tron: Legacy” (Not yet rated): The son of the first guy to get sucked into a computer gets (spoiler alert!) sucked into a computer and must search for his dad and save the world and stuff. The cool-looking trailer seems to have made people forget how underwhelming the original was, but the thought of Jeff Bridges returning to battle a CGI Jeff Bridges (looking like a Bridges who’d gotten deeply into plastic surgery) raises my interest a little.

TR: Holographic pie.

“Yogi Bear” (PG): The world desperately needed a CGI, big-screen version of the indifferently animated Hanna-Barbera cartoon semi-classic with Dan Aykroyd doing the voice. (That was irony.) Dan Aykroyd used to be funny. (That was not.)

TR: Even the dog won’t touch it.

“How Do You Know” (R): Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd are in a twinkly love triangle in this rom-com (Jack Nicholson’s on hand too). Romantic comedies make the world sad, but this one can boast a smarter-than-average cast (I’d follow Rudd anywhere) and was written/directed by the legendary James L. Brooks, who can occasionally (“As Good As It Gets”) knock this sort of thing out of the park.

TR: Mashed potatoes, although with or without lumps remains to be seen.

“Rabbit Hole” (PG-13): Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart are grieving parents coping messily with the accidental death of their young son. Talented indie director John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Shortbus”) may bring some originality to the proceedings, but is anyone else tired of watching Kidman impeccably weeping her way to another Oscar?

TR: A pristinely decorated cake you’re not allowed to cut.

DEC. 22

“Little Fockers” (PG-13): They’ve stuffed every cast member from the infuriatingly mediocre series into this third installment, with Ben Stiller, Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Streisand, Harvey Keitel, Owen Wilson and others presumably building themselves a “second sequel” guest house.

TR: I’d call this one the turkey of the feast, but people like turkey.

“True Grit” (Not yet rated): The Coen Brothers, reteaming with The Dude himself, return to the West in this typically awesome-looking tale of a 14-year-old girl who engages the eyepatched, dubiously legendary lawman Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her avenge her father. The Coens are our generation’s movie royalty, and I confidently expect their version to eclipse John Wayne’s. Yeah, I said it.

TR: Here’s the turkey. And I mean that in a good way.

“Somewhere” (R): Director Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”) crafts another tale of a spoiled movie star (Stephen Dorff this time) forced to deal with his misspent life, this time taking the form of a long-neglected young daughter. Acclaimed at Cannes and highly anticipated by me; I always thought Dorff (“Backbeat”) deserved better, and maintain that Sofia’s the only talented director remaining in her family.

TR: A lonely holiday meal from room service.

“Gulliver’s Travels” (PG): I maintain that Jack Black is talented and funny, but this fat guy and fart joke-laden adaptation of the Jonathan Swift classic is not going to get anyone to agree with me.

TR: Mountain Dew, candy bars and a tummy ache.

“Country Strong” (PG-13): Gwyneth Paltrow sings country music. My blood has run cold just typing that sentence.

TR: Cauliflower. (I hate cauliflower.)

DEC. 31

“Blue Valentine” (NC-17): Reportedly wrenching drama about the death of love in the marriage of young couple Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Notorious for a ridiculous ratings controversy (Americans love irresponsible violence, but thematically meaningful sex gets the NC-17 death sentence), this one looks absolutely astounding, with Oscar potential for both leads.

TR: Takeout Chinese food, because you forgot the big day.

“Biutiful” (R): Nothing like ending the year on another emotionally devastating note. From the director of “Amores Perros” and “Babel” comes another soul-crusher, this time about a man (the brilliant Javier Bardem) trying to cope with his impending death from cancer.

TR: That after-dinner cigar you probably shouldn’t smoke.

“Another Year” (PG-13): And, on a more hopeful note, ever-intriguing director Mike Leigh brings us this warm, generous-hearted story of an aging couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) whose clearheaded happiness together persists, even in the face of their friends’ varied dissatisfaction.

TR: A New Year’s Eve glass of midnight champagne, and good wishes for all.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: