Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 11-28-11

“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” – In theaters December 16th

“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” – In theaters December 16th

Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg at Comic Con

Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg at Comic Con

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” – In theaters December 16th

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” – In theaters December 16th

“Familiar” films: After a Thanksgiving weekend stuffed with family movies, it’s on to December where audiences will choose from a wide range of familiar films.

This holiday season’s common denominator will be a sense of familiarity for most films and filmmakers in the multiplexes. In some cases, they’re new episodes in blockbuster franchises while in others they’re the latest films from high profile directors.

Generally speaking, moviegoers gravitate to what they already know and like or, at least, to filmmakers whose work they’ve enjoyed before. The more films that fall into this category, the better boxoffice business we’re likely to see — and December gets a thumbs-up!

Looking ahead, here’s a quick overview of what to look for in terms of wide release December titles from the major studios — I’ll be focusing on indie releases for the holiday season in upcoming columns — whether you’re planning a night out with friends, a movie date or a weekend matinee with the kids.

All three of December’s most familiar films — they’re all new episodes in blockbuster franchises — will go into theatres starting Dec. 16. To begin with there’s the PG-13 rated action thriller “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” from Paramount Pictures, Skydance Productions and Bad Robot, kicking off in limited release Dec. 16 and going wide Dec. 21.

Tom Cruise returns as superspy Ethan Hunt in the series’ fourth episode in which the IMF is shut down after the Kremlin’s bombed and Ethan and his team go rogue to clear their organization’s name.

Directed by Brad Bird (“Up”), “Ghost Protocol” also stars Jeremy Renner (“The Town”) and Paula Patton (“Jumping the Broom”).

The first three “Missions” grossed over $530 million in domestic theatres. The last installment opened May 5, 2006 to $47.7 million and wound up with $134 million domestically and nearly $264 million internationally.

Also arriving Dec. 16 is the animated family comedy “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked” from 20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises. Directed by Mike Mitchell (“Shrek Forever After”), it stars the voices of Justin Long as Alvin, Matthew Gray Gubler as Simon and Jesse McCartney as Theodore. This time around the Chipmunks and Chipettes find themselves marooned in a tropical paradise that’s not quite as deserted as they think.

The first two “Chipmunks” grossed nearly $437 million. The last one, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel,” opened Dec. 23, 2009 to $48.9 million and went on to gross $219.6 million domestically and $223.5 million internationally.

While “Ghost Protocol” and “Chip-Wrecked” won’t be battling for the same audience, “Ghost Protocol” will face competition for action fans from another big budget/big star action adventure — “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” from Warner Bros., Village Roadshow and Silver Pictures.

The second episode in its franchise, “Shadows” re-teams Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams with Guy Ritchie, director of the 2009 original.

In this episode, Downey as Holmes and Law as his sidekick Dr. Watson confront their worst nightmare — Professor Moriarty, played by Jared Harris.

The rebooted franchise’s first film, “Sherlock Holmes,” opened Dec. 25, 2009 to $62.3 million and ended up grossing $209 million domestically and $315 million internationally.

Although those three films are December’s ultra-familiar titles, the month will bring others that also are very familiar thanks to their high profile filmmakers.

In two cases, that filmmaker is Steven Spielberg, arguably Hollywood’s most famous director. His 3D motion picture capture animation action adventure “The Adventures of Tintin” from Paramount, Columbia and Nickelodeon Movies opens Dec. 21. Directed by Spielberg, it was produced by Peter Jackson, Kathleen Kennedy and Spielberg.

In the film Jamie Bell as Tintin and Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock set sail to find treasure on a sunken ship that was commanded by one of Haddock’s ancestors.

Like any Spielberg movie, “Tintin” is automatically a potential Oscar contender. Spielberg’s a three-time Oscar winner for directing “Saving Private Ryan” and for directing and being a producer of “Schindler’s List.”

Peter Jackson adds to “Tintin’s” Oscar pedigree as he’s a three-time Oscar winner for directing, co-writing and being a producer of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

Spielberg’s got another big holiday season film in the PG-13 rated drama “War Horse” from DreamWorks and Touchstone Pictures, opening Dec. 25 and already generating a very strong early Oscar buzz. It’s produced by Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, a six time Oscar nominee as a producer of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,&rdquo Spielberg’s “Munich,” “Seabiscuit,” “The Sixth Sense,” Spielberg’s “The Color Purple,” and Spielberg’s “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.”

Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, “War Horse’s” screenplay is by Lee Hall, an Oscar nominee in 2001 for his original screenplay “Billy Elliot,” and Richard Curtis, an Oscar nominee in 1995 for his original screenplay “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”

In “War Horse” Jeremy Irvine plays Albert, whose horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry and sent to serve in the World War I trenches. Although Albert’s too young to enlist, that doesn’t stop him from going to France to rescue Joey.

Another director audiences are familiar with who has a new film opening in December is Jason Reitman. He’s a four-time Oscar nominee — in 2010 for directing, co-writing and co-producing “Up in the Air” and in 2008 for directing “Juno.”

Reitman’s R-rated dramedy “Young Adult,” from Paramount and Mandate Pictures, opens wide Dec. 9. Its screenplay is by Diablo Cody, who won the best original screenplay Oscar in 2008 for “Juno.”

Charlize Theron, a best actress Oscar winner in 2004 for “Monster” and a best actress Oscar nominee in 2006 for “North Country,” plays Mavis, a divorced writer who returns to Minnesota to pursue her high school boyfriend, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), despite the fact that he’s now married and a father!

Reitman’s “Up in the Air” opened Dec. 4, 2009 in limited release to $1.2 million and went wide Dec. 23 with $11.3 million that weekend. It went on to gross $83.8 million domestically and $83 million internationally.

Moviegoers will also find another top filmmaker in the December marketplace with whom they’re very familiar. That’s David Fincher, whose critically acclaimed drama “The Social Network” was a top contender for last year’s best picture Oscar, but lost to “The King’s Speech” in a close race.

This time around Fincher’s a likely Oscar nominee for his thriller “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” from Columbia Pictures, MGM and Scott Rudin Productions, opening wide Dec. 21.

Fincher is a two-time best directing Oscar nominee — in 2009 for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and in 2011 for “The Social Network.”

“Tattoo” screenwriter Steven Zaillian, who adapted Stieg Larsson’s novel, is a three-time Oscar nominee. He won the best adapted screenplay Oscar in 1994 for “Schindler’s List” and was Oscar nominated in 1991 for best adapted screenplay for “Awakenings” and in 2003 for best original screenplay as co-writer of “Gangs of New York.”

In “Tattoo,” Daniel Craig (“Cowboys & Aliens”) plays a journalist whose search for a woman missing for 40 years is helped by a young computer hacker, played by Rooney Mara. Moviegoers know Mara for playing the unhappy girlfriend in “Social Network” who dumps then-nerdy Mark Zuckerberg, prompting him to create the website that evolved into Facebook.

“Social Network” opened Oct. 1, 2010 to $22.4 million and wound up doing $97 million domestically and $128 million internationally.

Garry Marshall, another longtime director known to moviegoers, also has a new film arriving in December. His PG-13 rated romantic comedy “New Year’s Eve” from Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema opens wide Dec. 9.

Marshall was a British Academy BAFTA nominee in 1991 for co-producing “Pretty Woman,” which he also directed. His many other credits include directing such hits as “The Princess Diaries,” “Runaway Bride” and “Dear God” and executive producing hit TV series like “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley.”

His new film weaves together stories about people whose lives somehow intersect on New Year’s Eve. Its ensemble cast includes such stars as Oscar winner Halle Berry, Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin, two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro, Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer, two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank — and some other very familiar and popular faces like Sarah Jessica Parker, Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher.

Also on the familiar filmmaker list is director Stephen Daldry, whose PG-13 drama “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” from Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions opens in limited release Dec. 25 and goes wide Jan. 20, 2012.

Daldry is a three-time best directing Oscar nominee — in 2001 for “Billy Elliot,” in 2003 for “The Hours” and in 2009 for “The Reader.”

“Extremely” screenwriter Eric Roth, who adapted Jonathan Safron Foer’s novel, won the best adapted screenplay Oscar in 1995 for “Forrest Gump.” He was Oscar nominated for co-writing the adapted screenplays in 2000 for “The Insider,” in 2006 for “Munich” and in 2009 for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Daldry’s new film, whose story is driven by the events of 9/11, stars teenage newcomer Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, a best actor Oscar winner in 1994 for “Philadelphia” and in 1995 for “Forrest Gump” and a best actor Oscar nominee in 1989 for “Big,” in 1999 for “Saving Private Ryan” and in 2001 for “Cast Away,” and Sandra Bullock, a best actress Oscar winner in 2010 for “The Blind Side.”

And that’s not all we have on the familiar filmmaker front for December. Cameron Crowe’s PG rated dramedy “We Bought a Zoo” opens wide Dec. 23 via 20th Century Fox.

Crowe won the Oscar in 2001 for his original screenplay for “Almost Famous” and was a 1997 Oscar winner for his original screenplay for “Jerry Maguire” and an Oscar nominee for co-producing “Maguire,” which he also directed.

“Zoo,” the story of a young family who reopen and renovate a struggling zoo, boasts some very familiar stars in Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church.

Damon was a best original screenplay Oscar winner in 1998 for co-writing “Good Will, Hunting,” for which he also was a best actor nominee, and a best supporting actor Oscar nominee in 2010 for “Invictus.” Johansson won the British Academy’s best actress BAFTA in 2004 for “Lost in Translation” and was also a BAFTA best actress nominee that year for “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” Church was a best supporting actor Oscar nominee in 2005 for “Sideways.”

Crowe co-wrote “Zoo’s” screenplay (based on a true story told in the book by Benjamin Mee) with Aline Brosh McKenna, a BAFTA best screenplay nominee in 2007 for “The Devil Wears Prada.”

December’s only other wide release is the R rated comedy “The Sitter” from 20th Century Fox and Michael De Luca Productions, opening wide Dec. 9. Its director, David Gordon Green (“Your Highness”) may not be a household name, but, it stars Jonah Hill who’s very well known to the film’s target young adult audience thanks to hits like “Moneyball,” “Get Him to the Greek” and “Knocked Up.”

In “Sitter” Hill plays a suspended college student who’s talked into babysitting a neighbor’s kids and winds up — you guessed it — having an unexpectedly wild night.

Bottom line: With so many familiar films on deck for December, Hollywood should have a happy holiday season.