Holiday Movie Guide: 15 Movies to See in December 2008

Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonIt’s already December. Can you believe it? I can’t. Since you don’t have anything better to do, you might as well go out to theaters and check out some of the exciting new movies that are being released (or have already been released). Below is my list of must-see movies for December 2008:

  1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    It could end up being dull and boring, but this David Fincher film has the potential to be spectacular. The marketing has been tremendous, and there are few, if any, films that I want to see more this holiday season. The movie is about a man who is born old (he’s a baby, but otherwise looks like an old man) who ages backwards. Partway through his life, he reunites with a woman (Cate Blanchett) he knew as a child. It’s a risky film for many reasons, but if the previews are any indication, this one has gold spraypainted all over it.
  2. Slumdog Millionaire
    This one was released in November, but most people won’t have had a chance to see this film just yet. Directed by Danny Boyle, this visually stimulating film is currently the frontrunner for Best Picture. Having just watched it, it is certainly one of the best movies of the year, though it will be interesting to see how it compares come January. The movie is about a young man who is suspected of cheating as he nears the final, 50-million rupee question on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” because he grew up in the slums without education. The movie recaps his life and his dedication to find his long lost “girlfriend.”
  3. Milk
    Sean Penn is perhaps a lock for Best Actor with his performance as openly gay politician Harvey Milk, if critics have anything to say about it. The Gus Van Sant movie is selling out theaters across the nation (as of right now it’s only playing in 40+ theaters nationwide), and looks to be a not-so-sleeper hit. I will be seeing this one as soon as I can.
  4. Doubt
    Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams in the same movie? Awesome. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is brought to the big screen in the form of a subdued boiler of a drama, about a hardcore nun who suspects that a younger, more liberal priest is sexually abusing boys at the Catholic school where they reside. This one has Oscar potential written all over it.
  5. The Day the Earth Stood Still
    Say what you will about Keanu Reeves, but doesn’t he seem like the perfect choice to play an emotionless, monotone alien who is inhabitating a human body to warn of impending doom? Purists may not like the angles the remake have taken, but in a December all but devoid of blockbusters, this one looks like good popcorn fare. The presence of ever-hot Jennifer Connelly doesn’t hurt, nor multiple scenes of the world being destroyed. And no, the movie is not directed by Roland Emmerich.
  6. The Wrestler
    Frankly, the previews haven’t been anything to scream about, but The Wrestler, and star Mickey Rourke in particular, is receiving some rave reviews. Call it a comeback or whatever, but Rourke is currently a frontrunner for Best Actor, and that’s never something that should be ignored.
  7. The Reader
    I just caught the preview for this last week, and was pretty impressed by what I saw. The movie is about a boy who has an affair with an older woman (Kate Winslet, who seems to like to have sex in movies) only to find out that this Hanna is an accused Nazi criminal. Sex, drama and a Nazi trial always make for qualtiy entertainment. Ralph Fiennes also stars.
  8. Australia
    This Baz Luhrman film was released in November, but judging by the small opening weekend, few people went to see it. An epic romance set in the land down under, the movie stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman as an unlikely couple who have to protect an aboriginal child from being taken from the government, fight off a monopolistic cattle herder and survive an attack by the Japanese. Australia doesn’t fire on all cylinders, but it is still one of the better movies of 2008.
  9. Revolutionary Road
    Sam Mendes, the director of American Beauty, returns with Titanic alumns Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in this romantic drama. I’m assuming more happens than what is shown in the rather disappointing trailer, and I still have high hopes simply given the talent involved in the picture. This could end up being Oscar bait, even though it looks pretty routine.
  10. Valkyrie
    It could be bad, it could be good, no one knows. In fact, there are probably Vegas bets going on about this Tom Cruise thriller as I write. Amidst controversy and a release that was potentially moved back in 2008 just to avoid the bad PR it received when the studio pushed it into 2009 (essentially saying that the movie wasn’t good enough to contend for awards), Valkyrie looks pretty entertaining. Furthermore, the lack of German accents hurts this Nazi assassination film. Nevertheless, one should never underestimate Brian Singer (X-Men 2, The Usual Suspects), nor Tom Cruise. Despite what you think of the man, he rarely does bad movies.
  11. Frost/Nixon
    David Frost takes on Richard Nixon in the new Ron Howard film, and while Howard has faltered in recent years, he should never be underestimated come award time. Frank Langella plays Nixon, and Michael Sheen, who played Tony Blair in The Queen, stars as Frost. I can’t say I’m particularly excited about this one, but I’ve seen some good reviews so this one is definitely on my radar.
  12. Gran Torino
    I don’t think anyone had even heard of Gran Torino up until a month or two ago, but so it goes with Clint Eastwood. The movie doesn’t look incredible and certainly doesn’t have the Oscar appeal that Changeling had (up until the mixed reviews started flowing in), but I’m just excited to see Eastwood holding a gun again. Yes, Dirty Harry is back! Only not really.
  13. Marley & Me
    When I saw the teaser for the film, which showed Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson running after a cute little puppy, I scoffed, but having seen the full trailer, I must admit that this film looks pretty funny. Unless my mom drags me along to see it, I probably will wait until video, but in a month surprisingly devoid of children’s movies, Marley & Me looks to be the first entertaining dog movie in years.
  14. The Spirit
    Fans who have been desperately waiting for Sin City 2 – or who can’t wait until March for Watchmen – will have to settle for The Spirit, a movie that looks like a not-so-good version of, you guessed it, Sin City. Using the same painted special effects, The Spirit is based on a graphic novel and stars a slew of big actors, from Samuel L. to Scarlett Johansson. However, this movie marks the solo directorial debut of Frank Miller, and as good as he is at inventing stories, I am not so sure he can guide a camera without the assistance of Robert Rodriguez. The trailers also aren’t as interesting. Then again, I’m curious.
  15. Bedtime Stories
    I doubt that this movie will be all that good, but this kiddie film, with a bit of Adam Sandler humor, could be this year’s Night at the Museum. The movie runs along a similar vein, and looks like mindless entertainment. At the same time, I can’t imagine too many parents are going to be crazy about taking their kids to see an Adam Sandler film, even if it is only rated PG. And Sandler fans don’t want to see a watered down Sandler. Hmm.

Movies that are being released in December that you probably won’t see

Unless you live in Los Angeles or New York, you may not get to see any of these films until January or later, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth mentioning:

  • Defiance
    James Bond… er, Daniel Craig stars alongside Jamie Bell and Liev Schreiber in Defiance, a WWII action-thriller from the director of The Last Samurai. The movie is about a band of brothers (no, not that band of brothers) who take hundreds of Jewish refugees into the woods to protect them from the Nazis. Death and more war ensue. The movie looks like a great blend of action and drama, and if it’s not up to Oscar standards, it sure looks like it will be a blast to watch. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come out until December 31st, and only then in limited release. Look for a wide release in early January.
  • Che Part 1: The Argentine/Che Part 2: Guerrilla
    I only put these on the list because the Steven Soderbergh two-parter has a lot of Oscar potential (at the very least, for star Benicio Del Toro), but both are only receiving a one-week limited run for award contention. Most people will not be able to see these until January, if not later.
  • Dark Streets
    This limited-release movie may not make it everywhere, but the catchy trailer has my attention. The film looks like a seedy Moulin Rouge, full with music, murder and more. Beyond that, I’m not quite sure what it’s about, but I’m intrigued.

Movies that didn’t make this list

A few notable movies failed to make this list for a variety of reasons. Yes Man, the new Jim Carrey film, looks absolutely dreadful in my opinion (it’s like an unfunny Liar Liar), and while one should never underestimated Will Smith, Seven Pounds just doesn’t look that interesting to me. Punisher: War Zone is not included in part due to its 18% rotten rating on RottenTomatoes.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Movies, Top 10 Movie Lists
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