We all like to say that the end of the year is the time for a better, more thoughtful breed of movie — you know, the fancy-pants pictures, whose solemn duty is to clear the last stink of summer blockbuster from the air and replace it with the fine incense of awards-buzz respectability.
If the synaptic destruction incurred from toxic exposure to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen cannot be reversed, our intuition tells us, perhaps it can somehow be mitigated after the fact. But rarely do we ask just how this mysterious seasonal process works.
Hibernation is the answer. Consider this: The movies that matter most at this time of year are not smarter or more sophisticated than the rest. They are merely better at shifting us into lower gears of consciousness. They are, indeed, the most soporific.
Even Hollywood understands. As the year (and, yikes, the decade) draws to a close, you may notice a proliferation of burrowing critters — werewolves, foxes, chipmunks, Robert De Niro — within this season's cinematic offerings. It is not a coincidence.
"The typical winter season for a hibernator," Wikipedia informs us, "is characterized by periods of hibernation interrupted by sporadic euthermic arousals wherein body temperature is restored to typical levels."
Well, can you possibly think of a better way to describe movie-going in November and December? Probably, yes, you can. But, I am not here for that. I am here to advise you to see this fall movie season as a period of rest, recuperation and gradual replenishment.
Just follow this 12-step program to horde your nutrition, add that sustaining layer of fat, entrench yourself in warmth and darkness, shut down all nonessential systems and carefully strategize your sporadic euthermic arousals.
1. We mentioned this one last week, but you absolutely must begin your hibernation with Fantastic Mr. Fox (postponed until Nov. 25). It's Wes Anderson's stop-motion-animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's book about a sly fox trying to protect himself and his family from the farmers whose chickens he steals. George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, among others, lend their voices to Anderson's impeccably tailored puppets. Recently, the Los Angeles Times noted "the Oscar nominee's unorthodox decision to hole up in Paris for most of the shoot's one-year duration while principal photography commenced across the English Channel at London's venerable Three Mills Studios." Holed up, did he? Well, you should crawl out of the darkness of the theater, because there are more creatures to see.
2. If that heterosexuality challenging trailer I watch on YouTube so regularly is any indication, the second movie installment of Stephenie Meyer's bestseller franchise (starring Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner) is all about strapping, shirtless lads turning into wolves. Yet with a title like The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Nov. 20), it might as well be a lullaby.
3. By now the release of The Road (Nov. 25) has been postponed for so long that the movie itself seems to have been in hibernation. This Viggo Mortensen-intensive adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel, about a man and his son wandering through a glumly gritty post-apocalyptic world, has perhaps one essential lesson to impart: Save your strength.
4. In Brothers (Dec. 4), a remake of a 2004 Danish drama, Tobey Maguire plays an upright Marine gone missing and presumed dead in Afghanistan, leaving his wife to be looked after by his delinquent kid brother. But the wife is Natalie Portman. And the brother is Jake Gyllenhaal. Well, that's some easy looking, both before and after. Then Tobey comes home, alive. Ruh-roh! The director is Jim Sheridan, whose other credits include In the Name of the Father and Some Mother's Son, so we can at least expect this one to have a handle on family dynamics — and the dignity of deep repose.
5. But because one Euro-movie do-over per month is not enough, we also have Everybody's Fine (Dec. 4), a remake of its 1990 Italian namesake. When his grown-up kids (Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell) all cancel their plans to visit him for the holidays, an aging widower (Robert De Niro) springs himself on the lot of them. Not in a Taxi Driver way, presumably, but in more of a tear-jerking, heartwarming, put-on-your-jammies-and-sit-by-the-fire way.
6. Speaking of soothing, Morgan Freeman finally just goes ahead and becomes Nelson Mandela in Invictus (Dec. 11), a tale of post-Apartheid South Africa based on John Carlin's book, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed the World. That should be enough of a draw, but Matt Damon as a rugby player and the increasingly anesthetic Clint Eastwood directing might just sweeten the deal, too.
7. The Lovely Bones (Dec. 11) is director Peter Jackson's take on the critically adored 2002 Alice Sebold novel about a teenage girl (Saoirse Ronan) who watches over her family from the afterlife after being raped and murdered. Talk about suspended consciousness. Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg play the girl's parents, Susan Sarandon her grandma, and Stanley Tucci her killer.
8. Avatar (Dec. 18) might be just another science-fiction epic about a reluctant hero leading a battle to save civilization while on a journey of redemption, discovery and love, except that it's the new one from writer-director James Cameron — the one that's supposed to make us forget everything we know about 3D technology and special effects and how movies work. In other words, it's supposed to zonk us out with some kind of heavy trance. Sam Worthington stars as a paraplegic ex-Marine on a distant world, slipping inside big blue human-alien hybrid bodies, or something, while Sigourney Weaver and Zoe Saldana co-star.
9. Moving right along, It's Complicated (Dec. 25) is the title of writer-director Nancy Meyers' new romantic comedy, in which 2010 Oscars hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin compete for the affections of Meryl Streep. It sounds simple, actually, and utterly somnolent.
10. Meanwhile, with Robert Downey Jr. as the master sleuth and Jude Law as his sidekick, Madonna-divorcee director Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (Dec. 25) goes balls-out. Well, not literally, but if the trailer's any indication, he does go shirtless quite a bit. Ah, but does he turn into a wolf? Anyway, you might worry that it's one big shot of adrenaline, but do not fret: From the looks of its trailer, more than half the movie occurs in highly benumbing slow motion.
11. As for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Dec. 25, also showing Nov. 22 at the Starz Denver Film Fest, denverfilm.org/festival/index.aspx), director Terry Gilliam's fantastical fable of a storyteller's deal with the devil, well, if Heath Ledger could actually die without putting an end to this movie's production, surely you can see it without being fully awake.
12. Finally, space and pride prohibit a synopsis of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (Dec. 25). Suffice to say the tranquilization season will not be complete without it.