Holiday Movie Guide 2011: 20 Movies to Watch

It’s that special time of year. The air is getting colder. The weather is getting crappier. Families are coming together. Families are fighting. Families are eating big feasts. People are buying presents. Santa is packing the sled. Oh, and a good percentage of the year’s best movies are all being released into theaters over the next month and a half.

The holiday season is the perfect time for studios to release both the movies they feel have the best shot at winning awards and those that can make hefty profits. This “perfect storm” is a win-win for audiences as we get the best of both worlds: fun blockbusters and superbly acted dramas.

Of course, the holiday season is also a time of year when most people are busier than usual, which, sadly, makes it harder to get to all the movies that are worth seeing. But surely you have the time and money over the next 45 days to watch only 20 of the movies in theaters? Right? Assuming you don’t have anything better to do, here are the 20 movies we recommend, based primarily on their trailers, early reviews and industry buzz.

No. 20. Carnage

December 16, 2011 | Drama | Rated R

Two pairs of parents (Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet and John C. Reilly) meet to discuss an incident between their children. As the evening goes on, their exchange slowly devolves into chaos.

Why see it?
The movie is directed by Roman Polanski and every lead actor is either an Oscar winner or nominee. That’s enough to warrant attention.

No. 19. We Need to Talk About Kevin

December 9, 2011 (limited) | Drama | Unrated

In this drama, Tilda Swinton stars as Eva, a mother who has to deal with a “heinous act” committed by her 15-year-old son Kevin (Ezra Miller). What that “heinous act” is exactly is unclear, but logic points to a school shooting, forcing Eva to question her parenting skills while dealing with the scorn of the community.

Why see it?
Though dealing with a heavy topic, Swinton often chooses quality pictures, and early buzz around her performance indicates award potential. John C. Reilly also brings credibility to the picture.

No. 18. Rampart

November 23, 2011 (LA/NY) | Drama | Rated R

A police officer (Woody Harrelson) who has dedicated his life to “doing the people’s dirty work”, effectively blurring the lines between right and wrong, is forced to confront his past sins when he is caught on tape beating a suspect.

Why see it?
Director Oren Moverman’s last movie was The Messenger, one of 2009’s best movies. Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster delivered some of their best performances in that movie, and the two are back again, this time with Robin Wright, Steve Buscemi and Sigourney Weaver.

No. 17. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

December 25, 2011 (limited) / January 20, 2012 (wide) | Drama | Rated PG-13

A boy (Thomas Horn) becomes convinced that his father (Tom Hanks), who died in the 9/11 attacks, left a final message for him hidden somewhere in New York City. With only a mysterious key, he sets out to find the lock it belongs to.

Why see it?
Director Stephen Daldry attracts Oscar attention (Billy Elliot, The Hours) even when his movies aren’t very good (The Reader). This is the first serious drama Tom Hanks has also done in a while, and the first movie for Sandra Bullock since she won her Oscar for 2009’s The Blind Side.

No. 16. Hugo

November 23, 2011 | Adventure, Family | Rated PG

An orphan boy living a secret life in the walls of a Paris train station becomes involved in a magical, mysterious adventure. Based on the New York Times bestseller.

Why see it?
It’s directed by Martin Scorsese. The movie appears to have some flaws, but did we mention… it’s directed by Martin Scorsese?

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