10 Must-See Movies of December 2011

This is it: the final month of the year, a.k.a. the month to shell out as much cash as you got at the theaters. December is always the best and worst movie-going time. There’s so many damn pictures hitting the screens, and it’s the time where everyone’s running around, trying to get things done before the New Year. It’s wonderful, annoying chaos.

This December is different, though. In fact, it’s going to be about 100 times more chaotic. Folks, if you plan on seeing all of the good to the “this will be up for Oscars, kid!” movies this month, plan on forking out a lot of dough. This is unquestionably the strongest month for films this year.

Without further ado, here are the ones to end the year on a great note with:

The only honorable mention: The Sitter, which I’m hoping will be as hilarious as Pineapple Express and as odd as Your Highness.

10. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (December 25th)

That trailer was so tone-deaf and abominable that it made Cameron Crowe‘s output look like it’s been through the Steve McQueen school of filmmaking. Has there been a more emotionally clingy trailer than that in recent years? Annoying piece of marketing aside, it is ultimately just that: a piece of marketing. The film itself has great promise, with a strong director, a writer behind some modern classics, and a great ensemble cast — including a highly buzzed-about Max von Sydow.

9. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (December 16th)

The first Sherlock Holmes was a slog, a slog made watchable with the help of the unrestrained charisma of Robert Downey Jr. and the subdued charm of Jude Law. They must’ve realized how thin the story was, so Guy Ritchie and the two stars decided to focus more on their endless banter. The question now is, can they make that trick work twice? It barely worked in the overlong first effort. Ritchie set up the world and style of Holmes perfectly; now all he needs is a? good story to set in that world.

8. Carnage (December 16th)

This is about as much fun as Roman Polanski‘s The Ghost Writer, meaning a whole bunch. It’s a perfectly-paced, surprisingly cinematic, and cynical comedy about four individuals who wind up showing their true colors. I’m sure many will condescendingly label the film as “minor Polanski,” but who actually expects a comedy about parents clashing to be Chinatown? He gives exactly what the material needs, as does the cast, and it’s incredibly entertaining.

7. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (December 21st)

The idea of another Brad Bird movie is much more exciting than another of Ethan Hunt running for two hours. This is probably one of the most inconsistent series of the decade; the first film is a slick paranoia thriller, John Woo‘s sequel is a cartoonish bore, and the third installment works purely as a B popcorn movie that flirts with being the great fun Abrams ended up achieving with Star TrekBird, on the other hand, has a great sense of fun in all of his films, and it looks as if he’s brought that much-needed liveliness a character like Ethan Hunt deserves.

6. We Bought a Zoo (December 23rd)

Cameron Crowe wields the power to turn cold-hearted cynics into big fluffy teddy bears, and he does so with this loose adaptation. It’s the feel-great movie to see with your family at Christmas. And the thing’s for everyone, something Crowe didn’t achieve by pandering. We Bought a Zoo is full of a big heart and optimism, something that may be dismissed as “dopey.” This represents exactly what a fan wants from Cameron Crowe.


5. Young Adult (December 9th)

I’m not one of those people who hates on Juno; I love it. Everyone complains about the “hipster” dialogue – which actually goes away as the film progresses, you know – but overall that film is sweet, honest, and funny. With Up in the Air, the director succeeded at the challenge of making his most cold and isolated lead someone to care about, and, more importantly, highly watchable. With Young Adult, he has taken on his most unpleasant character yet. In turn, his latest film is meaner, funnier, and darker than any of his previous works. It’s, unquestionably, his best film.

4. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (December 9th)

Tomas Alfredson managed to top his much beloved Let the Right One In. The two films – one about a vampire next door, the other a world of paranoia and betrayal – are more similar than one would think. Underneath their genre tropes, they’re both tragic love stories. The John le Carré adaptation is about the most hopeless romantics you’ll see all year, and it plays tremendously as a meticulous, subdued, darkly funny thriller. It’s a rich film that calls for repeat viewings.

3. The Adventures of TinTin/War Horse (December 21st/December 25th)

Yes, I am cheating and counting this as a Spielberg package. This season, the legend will be facing off against his only worth box-office opponent…himself! This is the real gift of Christmas: A double-bill of Spielberg magic displaying his two distinct talents – sprawling drama and first-rate blockbuster filmmaker. I’ve seen TinTin, and, as everyone says, it’s what we all wanted from the fourth Indiana Jones and more. The things Spielberg does with the camera are astonishing, especially a jaw-droppingly cool 5-minute chase scene shown in one take. As for War Horse, it’s a sweeping family-friendly epic, one that successfully tugs at the heart-strings.

2. Shame (now!)

Steve McQueen‘s follow up to Hunger made my stomach churn. Very few films have made me feel this uncomfortable, a testament to the power of his work and its performers. Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, and McQueen find extremely human and vulnerable life traits that’ll make you cringe and want to be left alone for a while. Shame creates a beautiful and haunting minimalistic atmosphere which is highly watchable, even as you’re drowning in your tears.

Note: If you haven’t read Kate Erbland‘s 100% astute review, go do so.

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (December 21st)

Could there be a bigger no-brainer this year? If there’s any such thing as shoe-in film, this is it. I’ve heard great, great things about Fincher‘s re-adaptation, and there’s really not much to discuss about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, since it’s not really a film one needs to convince readers to see. It’s Fincher working with a cast of that pedigree and once again collaborating with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – what’s not to be excited about?

All you really need to know about Jack is his favorite movies are: The Last Detail, Rumble Fish, Sunset Boulevard, The Truman Show, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Verdict, Closer, Shadow of a Doubt, Spider-Man 2, Jaws, Adaptation, Get Carter, The Last Days of Disco, Carnal Knowledge, Almost Famous, Ed Wood, Barton Fink, and L.A. Confidential.

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