Itsa Holiday Film Preview! 

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Every year, critics pre-script the jokes they'll make in their withering reviews of Oscar hopefuls and family fare. But sometimes (rarely), movies surprise us, so just in case, here're our bons mots now—it'd be a shame to let them go to waste. Stick around for reviews of movies we have seen.

Reviews of Movies We Haven't Seen


Blue Valentine
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Hey, it's that crack-addicted middle-school teacher. We usually love that guy, but here he's so annoying with that nice brownstoner mom. Why does he have that terrible New York accent? (Don't get us started on his ukulele.) (Dec 31)


Burlesque
Directed by Steven Antin
Now that stripping is empowering, there's no tough-broad transactional wisdom for Cher to dispense to aspiring fantasy object Xtina Aguilera, just uplift as (pussycat) dollfaced as the production design, or her current forehead. Tart tart Kristen Bell fills the camp void, channeling every musical-theater bitch who ever undermined her bff at prom. (Nov 24)


The Fighter
Directed by David O. Russell
For his second rematch with Mark Wahlberg, playing Boston boxer Irish Mickey Ward, the combustible director practically changes his name to "O'Russell," reapplying The Town's epic ethnography and similarly furnishing a Method fuckup foil for his native-son hunk: Wahlberg is, as ever, a lovable underdog, but Christian Bale's turn, as the brother who shoulda looked out for Mickey, is the real contendah. (Dec 10)


Gulliver's Travels
Directed by Rob Letterman
Ugly American Jack Black belly-flops into the little Liliputians' homeland in this new Swift adaptation, now an allegory of ill-conceived invasion turning out well. Shipwrecked in the tropics, he overthrows tiny king Billy Connolly, romances petite princess Emily Blunt, and eats the rest. (Dec 22)


How Do You Know
Directed by James L. Brooks
Time was, a movie title that was a question had a question mark at the end. And Brooks was well respected. Well, not anymore! And it's all thanks to this exhausting romantic comedy, in which Reese Witherspoon wonders if she's woman enough to fall in love and have babies. (Dec 17)


Little Fockers
Directed by Paul Weitz
This snowballing franchise has sucked Jessica Alba, Harvey Keitel and Laura Dern into its Christmas tree-tall pile of... snow. After both sets of 'rents, we're visiting the kids, whose tots are traumatized by Viagra misdosages. By franchise symmetry logic, this'll be our last holiday with these awful F[o]ckers. (Dec 22)


Rabbit Hole
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Mitchell let his freak flag burn with this one, ploddingly directing David Lindsay-Abaire's self-adapted Pulitzer-winning play about suburban couple Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman (icy cold as ever, and producing) unraveling after their son's death. Dianne Wiest makes maternal advice cameos, reminding us that Edward Scissorhands is a far superior holiday movie. (Dec 17)


The Tourist
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
The director of The Lives of Others brings unnecessary string-section gravitas to this remake of a globe-traipsing, role-playing French intriguer. Mistaken for an international man of mystery, shaggy Johnny Depp slyly sidesteps the legacy of Roger O. Thornhill, not to mention the movie-star glamour of Angelina Jolie, at once languorous and strangely emphatic. (Dec 10)


Tron: Legacy
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
The Dude, trapped in a motherboard since 1982, has watched electronic dance music and 3D cinema fall from favor and make comebacks. Now he programs the Web 3.0 equivalent of gladiator games. Emoticon-acting noob Garrett Hedlund joins his digitized daddy and the pair do incomprehensibly choreographed dances of death to Daft Punk in 3D. (Dec 17)


True Grit
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
How many holiday movies besides Tron can say they've got post-Oscar Jeff Bridges? Grit moves the Coens away from A Serious Man (bad idea!) and back towards No Country territory. (Dec 25)


Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Directed by Michael Apted
In this jingoistic installment of Christ the Lion, the kids go back to La La Land through, uh, a magic painting. If Liam Neeson actually appeared on screen, rather than just supplied the voice of the lion (A METAPHOR FOR CHRIST), it'd be as embarrassing for him as that kraken thing. Or TheA-Team. Or... (Dec 10)


Yogi Bear
Directed by Eric Brevig
In this 3D-animated psychodrama, Justin Timberlake's puppydoggish vocal inflections suggest the pathos of his little Boo-Boo, who seeks validation by aiding in the vainglorious schemes of self-deluded glutton Yogi (voiced by Dan Ackroyd with deliciously drawn-out polysyllables and proclamations of intellectual prowess), a bipedal brown bear lurking in the forests of... Oh, who the fuck are we kidding. Rated PG, for "Some Mild Rude Humor." (Dec 17)


… And Movies We Have
Another Year
Directed by Mike Leigh
Gardening is the dominant thematic motif and structuring element: aging marrieds Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen tend to their allotment and their uncoupled friends (notably unlucky-in-love Lesley Manville, the battleground of a raging war between self-centeredness and self-awareness), and the seasonal chapters suggest a cyclical, inexorable sense of time. Mark Asch (Dec 29)


Biutiful
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Javier Bardem, who oversees illegal-immigrant workers in Barcelona, gets some terminal news from the doctor. If we take seriously the claims of Inarritu's films to enlarge our understanding of the world, then Biutiful is as useless as its forerunners, its focus on the horrors facing immigrant laborers existing merely for the sake of Bardem's moral deliverance. Andrew Schenker (Dec 29)


Black Swan
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
In spite of fingers-on-chalk dialogue and an overloaded scenario, Aronofsky's crazy ballerina (a go-for-broke Natalie Portman) psychodrama is totally enthralling. The supporting cast hit their marks, especially Vincent Cassel as Portman's Swan Lake director, and Aronofsky mounts a masterfully manipulative assault on the senses. Simon Abrams (Dec 3)


Hadewijch
Directed by Bruno Dumont
French provocateur Dumont's purity of intention is uncanny in this character study of teenage blueblood Celine (Julie Sokolowski) during a major crisis of faith. As she's asked to leave the titular convent at the beginning of the film, Celine is forced to look for proof of God's existence in a world where her waifish good looks make her an easy target for less-than-savory types. Often filmed in close-up or static long takes, mostly with natural light, Celine looks every bit an icon of purity, tried by the paradox of looking for God in a place where he seems most absent. Abrams (Dec 24 at IFC Center)


The Illusionist
Directed by Sylvain Chomet
Like animator Chomet's The Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist is innocent but wise. Chomet's expressive faces and bodies, evocative use of light, and genius sound design give Jacques Tati's tale of an over-the-hill magician and the young woman whose life he transforms the feel of a classic fable. Elise Nakhnikian (Dec 25)


The Red Chapel
Directed by Mads Brugger
Self-parodically pompous Danish documentarian Brügger and two Korean-Danish comics, one of them disabled, tour North Korea performing a terrible comedy routine; it's essentially the Borating of an entire nation, dubious if occasionally revealing—and self-doubting, as Brugger parallels his own cruel stagecraft with the that of noted cinephile Kim Jong-il. Asch (Dec 29 at IFC Center)


Secret Sunshine
Directed by Lee Chang-dong
A very belated run for the consensus best undistributed film of 2007, in retrospect a predictor of Lee's more composed forthcoming-in-January Poetry: both give showpiece roles to actresses playing women who act unpredictably when a [spoiler!] hits their tiny family. Here, Cannes prizewinner Jeon Do-yeon rages against expectations of socially manageable greif, and Lee memorably, bitterly satirizes Korean Christianity. Asch (Dec 22 at IFC Center)


Somewhere
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Coppola's workout of her daddy issues begins with a few laps: a static, Doppler-affected take of action star Stephen Dorff's black Ferrari, driving in circles, going nowhere fast. It's an update of 8 1/2's traffic jam, but instead of creative block the mood, which pervades in luxe long takes, is hedonism and torpor. Nothing much happens as Dorff awkwardly plays Dad for his nervously mature 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning): at its best, Somewhere has an affecting ambivalent ambience; at its worst, it's a tinnily satirical self-pity party. Asch (Dec 22)


The Tempest
Directed by Julie Taymor
Taymor focuses on "Prospera" (Helen Mirren) and her treatment of the island as a stage, but allows the Hawaiian location to supply most of the wonderment—when she does externalize the text's quirks, it looks like a cheap Doctor Who special. Abrams (Dec 10)


Vengeance
Directed by Johnnie To
Johnny Hallyday, the French Elvis, plays Marlowe in Macao: a white guy amongst the neon-lit streets, garbed in overcoat and fedora, on a mission for revenge. To, like Leone, masterfully positions characters for confrontation; unfortunately, Vengeance feels steeped in vacuous cool, without the substance or madcap humor of his best work. Henry Stewart (Dec 10 at IFC Center)


You Wont Miss Me
Directed by Ry Russo-Young
Russo-Young and star/co-writer Stella Schnabel apply their emerging talents to some familiar stuff (young woman chases fulfillment in meaningless sex; semiscripted, scruffy, sometimes naked young indie-rockers and mumblecorps in dingy apartments in expensive neighborhoods, or vice versa). The achronogical structure and varied film stock paint a Cubist character portrait, as striking Schnabel's cascading hair, wide face, deep eyes and hawk nose hold things together. Asch (Dec 10)

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