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December Films — Something for Everyone!

Aside from the summer, the holiday season is Hollywood’s most important time at the boxoffice. In particular, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is a prime moviegoing period. It’s also when Hollywood’s campaigning for Oscars and Golden Globes so besides mainstream commercial movies there’s a steady stream of limited releases that are targeted to awards voters and sophisticated moviegoers in major markets.

Here’s our ZAMM.com look at some of the key films arriving throughout December. There’s something for everyone opening this month and that will be particularly true during the prime Dec. 25-Jan. 4 period. As always, check out our Zamm Cam movie previews to see if these are films you think you’ll enjoy before you spend money to buy tickets.

December kicks off with the Dec. 5 limited release of Universal, Imagine Entertainment and Working Title Films' awards contender drama “Frost/Nixon”. Directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, its screenplay is by Peter Morgan, who adapted it from his hit stage play.

Starring are Frank Langella as former president Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen as British TV talk show host David Frost. The film revolves around their series of 1977 television interviews in which Frost questioned Nixon about his time in office and the Watergate scandal that ended his presidency. To see our ZammCam preview, select the movie from the playlist above.

I had an early look at “Frost/Nixon” and am recommending it to everyone who asks me, “What’s a good movie to see?” I expect to see it wind up with best picture Oscar and Globe nominations as well as noms for best director (Howard, who won an Oscar for directing “A Beautiful Mind” and for producing it with Grazer), adapted screenplay (Morgan was Oscar nominated for writing the original screenplay “The Queen”), actor (Langella, who's never been Oscar nominated but should have been for his performance in “Starting Out in the Evening”) and supporting actor Sheen, who’s also never been an Oscar nominee but should have been for playing British Prime Minister Tony Blair in “The Queen”). The film will expand its run Dec. 12 and 25.

Dec. 5 also sees Focus Features go wider with its limited release of the biographical drama “Milk”, directed by Gus Van Sant, an Oscar nominee for directing “Good Will Hunting”, and produced by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, who won the best picture Oscar for producing “American Beauty”. Its screenplay is by Dustin Lance Black. Starring are Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch and Josh Brolin.

Penn plays San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the United States, who was assassinated along with the city’s mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber) by San Francisco supervisor Dan White (Brolin) in 1978.

“Milk” opened Nov. 26 at 36 theaters and grossed an outstanding $1.9 million over the five day Thanksgiving weekend, averaging a huge $53,930 per theater. The film is being talked about as a prime contender for Oscars and Golden Globes — including best picture, director, adapted screenplay and actor (Penn). “Milk” will expand its run Dec. 12.

Another wide release arriving Dec. 5 is Sony’s musical drama “Cadillac Records”, directed by Darnell Martin and starring Adrien Brody. The film chronicles the rise and fall of Chess Records, which launched the careers of recording artists like Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry.

Wed., Dec. 10 will see the limited release of The Weinstein Company’s romantic drama “The Reader”, directed by Stephen Daldry, an Oscar nominee for directing “Billy Elliot” and “The Hours”, and produced by Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack and Donna Gigliotti. Starring are Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes. Its screenplay by David Hare, an Oscar nominee for writing “The Hours”, is based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink.

Oscar winning producer Scott Rudin (“No Country for Old Men”) took his name off the film as one of its producers after a dispute with The Weinstein Company over when the picture should be released theatrically. Rudin favored waiting until 2009 to give Daldry more time to finish the picture, but the Weinsteins wanted to get it into release quickly.

(Spoiler alert - skip the next sentences if you don’t want to know about the plot.) The film’s setting in post-World War II Germany where Fiennes and Winslet have had a long affair that began when he was much younger. She disappeared one day and later turned up as a defendant in a Nazi war crimes trial where it became clear that she was guilty of a terrible crime.

There’s a best picture awards buzz building for “The Reader”, which could also surface with noms for best director, adapted screenplay, actress and actor. “Reader” will expand its run Dec. 25 and go wide Jan. 9, 2009.

Dec. 12-14 will be a busy weekend with wide and limited releases entering the pre-holiday marketplace. The weekend’s two wide releases are 20th Century Fox’s remake of its 1951 sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, directed by Scott Derrickson and starring Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly, and Overture Films’ seasonal comedy drama “Nothing Like the Holidays”, directed by Alfredo De Villa and starring Luis Guzman, John Leguizamo, Debra Messing, Alfred Molina and Freddy Rodriguez. To see our ZammCam previews of both films, select the movies from the playlist above.

Also pulling into theaters Dec. 12 is an exclusive New York and L.A. run for Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's drama “Gran Torino”, directed by Clint Eastwood (an Oscar winner for directing “Million Dollar Baby”, and “Unforgiven”, both of which also brought him best picture Oscars) and produced by Eastwood, Robert Lorenz and Bill Gerber. Its screenplay is by Nick Schenk.

Eastwood’s starring role in the film is his first performance since his Oscar-winning “Million Dollar Baby”. In “Torino” he plays Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski, who’s forced by his immigrant neighbors to confront his own long-held prejudices after they try to steal his prized 1972 Gran Torino. To see our ZammCam preview, select the movie from the playlist above.

Like any Eastwood movie, it’s assumed that “Torino” will resonate with Academy members and could wind up with best picture, director and actor noms. It will expand its run Dec. 19 and 25 and go wide Jan. 9, 2009.

The weekend will also see an exclusive New York and L.A. release of IFC Films’ biographical drama “Che”. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, an Oscar winner for directing “Traffic”, it was produced by Laura Bickford, Soderbergh and Benicio Del Toro. Starring are Del Toro, Javier Bardem, Benjamin Bratt and Ryan Gosling. The film — actually, it’s two movies that are being shown as one four hour epic for this Oscar qualifying run but will later be exhibited as two separate two hour films — focuses on Che Guevara and a band of Cuban exiles led by Fidel Castro as they travel from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 to topple Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Considering Soderbergh’s pedigree, which also includes a best directing Oscar nomination for “Erin Brockovich” and a best original screenplay Oscar nomination for “sex, lies and videotape”, “Che” could wind up getting serious Academy attention.

Miramax’s drama “Doubt” also arrives Dec. 12 in limited release, with expansions set for Dec. 19 and 25. Directed and written by John Patrick Shanley, an Oscar winner for his original screenplay “Moonstruck”, it was produced by Scott Rudin and Mark Roybal. Starring are Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams.

The story of a nun in a Bronx Catholic school who makes pedophile accusations against a popular priest, “Doubt” is also generating an early awards buzz as a best picture contender. The film was adapted to the screen by Shanley from his hit stage play.

Wed., Dec. 17 is opening day for Fox Searchlight Pictures’ drama “The Wrestler”, directed by Darren Aronofsky and produced by Scott Franklin and Aronofsky. Its original screenplay is by Robert Siegel. Starring are Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood.

It’s a film that’s given Rourke’s career a major shot in the arm. He’s a likely best actor Oscar and Globe nominee for his much talked about performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a 1980’s pro wrestler who’s now a burnt-out shell of his former self playing high school gyms in New Jersey to eke out a living. (Spoiler alert here.) After a heart attack, hersquo;s told he could die if he fights again and sets out to start a new life. The prospect of a rematch with his old wrestling nemesis, however, proves too tempting to resist even if it means risking his life.

Dec. 19’s wide releases include Sony’s romantic drama “Seven Pounds”, directed by Gabriele Muccino and starring Will Smith and Rosario Dawson; Universal’s animated feature “The Tale of Despereaux”, starring such voice talents as Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Kline, Justin Long, Stanley Tucci and Sigourney Weaver; and Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow’s comedy “Yes Man”, directed by Peyton Reed and starring Jim array and Zooey Deschanel. To see our ZammCam preview of “Yes Man”, select the movie from the playlist above.

Christmas Day will bring us Paramount’s romantic fantasy drama “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, directed by David Fincher and produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Cean Chaffin. Starring are Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. The film’s screenplay by Eric Roth, an Oscar winner for adapting “Forrest Gump”, is based on a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

“Button” has been talked about for months as a major contender for best picture in the Oscar and Globe races. It also has potential to score prime noms for best director, adapted screenplay, actor and actress.

Among the many other movies set to go into wide release Dec. 25 are: Disney’s fantasy comedy “Bedtime Stories”, directed by Adam Shankman and starring Adam Sandler and Keri Russell; Fox’s comedy drama “Marley & Me”, directed by David Frankel and starring Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston and Alan Arkin; and Lionsgate’s action-adventure fantasy “The Spirit”, directed and written by Frank Miller and starring Gabriel Macht and Eva Mendes. To see our ZammCam preview of “Bedtime Stories”, select the movie from the playlist above.

Christmas Day will also see the limited release of Overture’s romantic drama “Last Chance Harvey”, directed by Joel Hopkins and starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. It goes wide Jan. 23, 2009. To see our ZammCam preview, select the movie from the playlist above.

MGM and The Weinstein Company’s sports drama “Hurricane Season”, directed by Tim Story and starring Forest Whitaker and Isaiah Washington was to have opened Dec. 25, but as of Dec. 8 the studio announced it was pushing it into 2009.

Given the hefty volume of ticket sales between Christmas and New Year’s, some films are just as happy to arrive in theaters Dec. 26, separating them by one day from the flood of Christmas Day arrivals. A case in point is DreamWorks and Paramount Vantage’s drama “Revolutionary Road”. Directed by Sam Mendes, an Oscar winner for “American Beauty”, and starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet, its screenplay is by Justin Haythe. To see our ZammCam preview, select the movie from the playlist above.

Set in 1950s Connecticut, it’s the story of a husband and wife who aren’t happy with their suburban lives and move to France where their relationship deteriorates into an endless cycle of unhappiness. As the film that reunites “Titanic” stars Di Caprio and Winslet, “Road” is being talked about as an Oscar contender for best picture, director, actor and actress.

MGM’s World War II thriller “Valkyrie” was also slated to open wide Dec. 26, but the studio announced Dec. 8 that it was moving the United Artists film to Christmas Day. Directed by Bryan Singer, it stars Tom Cruise. As everyone knows by now, “Valkyrie” was supposed to open many months ago, but was postponed several times for various reasons. No one knows what to expect and it’s subject matter that may or may not play well during the holiday season.

The film revolves around the plot by dissident Nazis to kill Hitler and end the war, headed by eye-patch wearing Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise). Unfortunately, the coup didn’t succeed and von Stauffenberg is tortured and killed by the Nazis. No need for a spoiler alert here since we all know what happened if we read our high school history books.

The year’s final release, Paramount Vantage’s “Defiance” will get an Oscar qualifying exclusive run Dec. 31. The World War II true-story drama is directed by Edward Zwick, an Oscar winning for co-producing the best picture winner “Shakespeare in Love” and stars Daniel Craig (aka James Bond), Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell as Jewish brothers living in Nazi occupied Poland. After escaping into the forest, they join with Russian resistance fighters to battle the Nazis. To see our ZammCam preview, select the movie from the playlist above.