BOP 20 of the Holidays 2009: #20-11

November 5, 2009

Crud. I left my cell phone in my office up there.

Each November, we take a few minutes to pick through the stew of offerings Hollywood ladles out during the last two months of the year. From subtle parables of the apocalypse to an animated spin on a Christmas classic, there's no shortage of options. Here are our 20 most anticipated movies hitting theaters as the holidays approach.
Then they realized they were no longer little girls: they were little women. 20) The Blind Side

When studio execs envision the perfect movie project, the conversations probably start with: What if we could do a football movie that stars Sandra Bullock? Just think about the marketing potential of it. We are talking about a film that is naturally suited to men but also engages female consumers through the casting of one of their most trusted and respected actresses. Clearly, The Remember the Titans Proposal was an idea whose time had come and respected author Michael Lewis was kind enough to provide the subject matter with his 2006 novel, The Blind Side: The Evolution of the Game.

The story retraced the life of a kid who wasn't even out of college yet but who had already experienced more hardships than most of us will face during our entire existence. That young man, Michael Oher, would go on to be the first round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2009. The novel and the film focused on the unlikely series of events prior to that, and how it all led to his adoption into a family that helped him overcome a childhood overflowing with adversity. Oher was born to a crack addicted mother, he skated through the educational system without learning much of anything, and he rarely had even a bed to sleep on at night. Thanks to Leigh Anne Tuohy, he found a place to live, he learned to read and write, he graduated high school and he was accepted into college. It's one of the best based-on-true-events stories of our era and BOP has been counting down the days until the movie's release for three years now. We fully expect this to be the feel-good hit of the end of 2009. (David Mumpower/BOP)
Ho! Haha! Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Spin! Ha - THRUST 19) Ninja Assassin

Why did we vote for this? Look at the title. Just look at it. I'm frustrated that I can't buy the DVD of this right now. I need more ninja-induced assassination in my life. There are so many people I know that desperately need the education of a shuriken to the spine. And if you are going to hire an assassin to splatter blood everywhere, you need to find someone with only one Rain. Johnny Cash needs to write a song about him. The sequel to A Boy Named Sue has to be A Ninja Named Rain. And while we know that some of you have permanently turned on the Wachowski Brothers because of The Matrix sequels and Speed Racer, BOP is evenly divided on the former subject while almost universally positive about the latter flick. Also, the last film that their protégé, James McTeigue, did was V for Vendetta, one of our favorites of the 2000s. We think there are a lot of positives here and believe Ninja Assassin has a chance to be another District 9 type of surprise action blockbuster. Even if it's not, it's still a film that features ninjas assassinating one another. That's a win for us. (David Mumpower/BOP)
With my luck, he'll turn into Robert Pattison :( 18) The Princess and the Frog

Disney dips its toe back into the pond of traditional 2-D animation with The Princess and the Frog, and clearly is hoping that the novelty of the format will pay off. It has a lot going for it, too, so even if people have largely turned their backs on these "old-timey" animated movies, it might prove to be a breath of fresh air in theaters that are relying on the gimmick of 3-D to sell tickets.

The story itself is loosely based on a novel by E.D. Baker and the classic fairy tale by the Grimm brothers. It's set in the French Quarter of New Orleans, which should allow for some magnificent backgrounds and set pieces, as well as some incredibly unique characters. When the Prince of Maldonia visits the city, he makes a deal with a shady voodoo doctor and is turned into a frog. He hopes that a kiss from a beautiful girl will turn him human again, but when a waitress named Tiana kisses him, something...unexpected happens.

John Musker and Ron Clements direct the film, and they have plenty of prior experience with traditionally animated movies. Previous projects for the duo have included Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Hercules, Treasure Planet and The Great Mouse Detective. The songs and score are from the great Randy Newman, the guy responsible for such great movie music as Toy Story (and its sequel), Monsters, Inc and Ragtime. He's given sneak performances of tunes from the film with such New Orleans stalwarts as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, so you can be sure that the sound will be fitting for the movie's setting.

The voice performers are strong enough to sell the film, too. The cast includes Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard and John Goodman. You might notice a very influential woman's name amongst that group, and it's all but certain that she'll push the show with her television audience, thereby garnering increased support.

For our part, we can't wait for the hot New Orleans jazz and a story that subverts expectations. Can Disney turn the tide so that audience support goes back toward traditional animation? We hope so. The CGI flicks from Pixar, DreamWorks and their brethren is fun and innovative, but there's just something smooth, flowing and otherworldly about 2-D animation that makes it special. (Kim Hollis/BOP)

Huh-draw blood. 17) The Twilight Saga: New Moon

What we learned over the course of the past year is that there are two types of people in the world: those who ache for the piercing bite of a poofy-haired immortal...and men. The good news for the producers of The Twilight Saga is that 51% of the population falls into the former category. Since the other 49% of the population wants to keep having sex, they're getting dragged along in the wake of Twilight as well. This means that a film franchise that started with a shocking $69.6 million debut is (somehow) upwardly mobile. Early expectations for New Moon's opening weekend put it in the Iron Man range, maybe even higher. If Joss Whedon were to have Stephenie Meyer killed, no one could blame him.

BOP hasn't given in to the hype totally, partially because we remember the Vampire Baseball scene in the first film, but we are not immune to the hype here. Twilight was an unheralded, low budget movie that tapped into the zeitgeist perfectly, attaining unexpected success in this manner. New Moon is different. Everyone knows what this property is now and the staggering box office and home video success of the first film has ramped up the production values for the rest of the franchise. The outsider has become one of the box office elite, and the acting talent brought onboard (hello Michael Sheen!) demonstrates this. We don't care if Kristen Stewart is dating Robert Pattinson or robbing the cradle with Taylor Lautner or reciting the poems of Sappho to Nikki Reed (unless there's a sex tape). We only care about whether the movie is good, and there is every reason to believe that the difference in quality between Twilight and New Moon is dramatic. (David Mumpower/BOP)
This Mad Lib makes absolutely no sense 16) Me and Orson Welles

Around the BOP offices, we're rather big fans of director Richard Linklater. He's been responsible for some truly great films - and even his less successful movies have at least been interesting. Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset would be enough to earn our attention on a repeated basis, but he's also got such films as Waking Life, School of Rock and A Scanner Darkly in his filmography. He's willing to take chances, and more often than not, audiences are rewarded as a result.

That's why it's a bit surprising that his newest film, Me and Orson Welles, had such trouble attracting a distributor. In 2008, the movie was considered a super hot commodity at both the Cannes and Toronto film festivals, but was unable to secure distribution either time. A number of critics have given the film strong praise, including Roger Ebert, who calls it "one of the best movies about the theater I've ever seen." Christian McKay's portrayal of Orson Welles has been roundly admired (though it's important to note that his role is a very supporting one). And of course, the movie's headlining star is one Zac Efron, who has been able to move from his success in the High School Musical franchise to continued strong box office performers in Hairspray and 17 Again. Even so, it wasn't picked up for a release until May of 2009, but fortunately, it's hitting theaters just in time for awards consideration.

The movie tells the story of a 17-year-old named Richard Samuels (Efron) who bluffs his way into having Orson Welles cast him as Lucillus in Broadway's first ever Shakespearean production, Julius Caesar. Because Welles is having an affair with the leading actress (while his wife is pregnant, incidentally), he decides to pair Richard with a production assistant named Sonja (Claire Danes) for rehearsals. The problem is, Richard isn't that great, and the rest of the cast knows it.

A number of staffers for BOP are fans of the theater, and seeing the creative process move forward as it does in this film is a fascinating prospect. And we'll also admit it: Efron is a winning screen presence who has a real ability to charm the room. It's pretty terrific to see him in a role like this one that allows him to move away - however slightly - from the teen comedy/musical. Me and Orson Welles is a great opportunity for him to prove that his talent goes further. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
Affleck's right, you shake hands like a little girl 15) Invictus

Clint Eastwood is six years older than Robert Redford. The latter man has appeared in exactly three films since 2001 (not counting voice acting). Invictus will be the eighth film Eastwood has directed in that period. Five of them have received at least one Oscar nomination and a sixth, Gran Torino, became the auteur's most successful box office performer with $148 million. Much has been said of his late-life resurgence. My point here is simple. If Redford wanted to duplicate the feat at roughly the same time period in his life, all he would need to do is earn $447 million worth of box office while garnering 25 Academy Awards nominations including seven wins from the films. Good luck with that, Sundance.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of all of Eastwood's recent success is that none of the projects have looked particularly commercial on paper. The death of a beloved daughter, the paraplegia of a boxer, the tribulations of a racist, and the prejudice against a grieving mother are not usually marketable premises. Eastwood's talent is such that he made each piece an imperative through fabulous storytelling. With Invictus, he has a much more marketable concept. It's a sports movie in the vein of Sylvester Stallone's Victory (huge bonus points to those of you who remember the film) framed from the perspective of Nelson Mandela's viewpoint. Invictus has a chance to combine the finest aspects of Remember the Titans and The Last King of Scotland, and we fully expect this to be another box office hit for the world's most impressive 79-year-old. (David Mumpower/BOP)
I just love it when they play Free Bird 14) Pirate Radio

"It was loud. It was rebellious. And in 1966, the British government banned rock 'n' roll on the radio." This is line that introduces the trailer for Pirate Radio, and if that's not enough to get your attention, I don't know what will.

Naturally, there were a lot of people that weren't going to stand for that sort of government action, and took matters into their own hands. Led by an American disc jockey known as The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a group set out to sea, where they broadcast rock 'n' roll and captured the ire of those who would quash their creativity.

The staff at BOP was always going to be inclined to be excited about Pirate Radio. The director of the film, previously responsible for such beloved stuff as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually, also is the man behind a British television series that remains amongst the best comedies ever - Blackadder. When Richard Curtis is attached to a project, we take notice.

Pirate Radio also boasts a perfectly stellar cast. Along with Academy Award winner Hoffman, key players in the film include Rhys Ifans, Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, January Jones and Jack Davenport. The soundtrack is full of great tunes from the likes of the Who, the Kinks, Cream, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, Otis Redding, and Dusty Springfield. It promises to be a rollicking good time and we can't wait. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
I know, can you believe it? A *bear* suit!! 13) The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Oh, Nic Cage. We just can't quit you.

Every year, Cage seems to serve up some truly awful films. Since 2006 alone, he's starred in stuff like The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, Next, Bangkok Dangerous, G-Force and Knowing. And yet, now and again, he'll surprise us with movies such as Raising Arizona, Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation and Matchstick Men. He's wildly inconsistent, but when Cage is in the right role, his films can be truly special.

His newest film, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, could really go either way. There is reason for hopefulness, though. The film is directed by auteur Werner Herzog, the man previously responsible for Rescue Dawn, Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World. Although the name "Bad Lieutenant" is in the title, this movie isn't really a remake of that earlier classic. Instead, it takes the name purely because it draws from elements of the 1992 release. In it, Cage stars as a New Orleans cop who is viewed as a hero in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While he's performing the heroic act that gets him a medal, he injures his back. This eventually leads him to become addicted to pain pills. This driving need ultimately brings him into contact with a notorious drug dealer responsible for murdering an entire family.

Does the premise sound like much? Not really. In order to really understand the appeal of the film, a viewing of the trippy trailer is necessary. In it, Cage delivers some of the most ludicrous lines you could imagine, but it works. It's clear that Cage is in crazy, over-the-top mode, and that this is exactly what the character calls for. Val Kilmer's inclusion in the cast is only the icing on the cake. Already the beneficiary of some rave reviews, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans promises to be a singular cinema experience that will please the art house crowd at the very least, but has a chance to draw enough attention that Herzog could enter the mainstream. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
Like I told Bill Murray, put a little love in your heart. 12) A Christmas Carol

If we did a Holiday list and didn't include this, we might not be allowed to celebrate Christmas. It is that much of a slam dunk, arguably the purest holiday title since the last big budget production to take on the subject, Bill Murray's 1988 comedy, Scrooged. Sure, Jim Carrey is no Bill Murray, and we're still carrying a bit of a grudge over How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but we are willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt due to the presence of Robert Zemeckis. He offered a winning variation of this technology once already with The Polar Express and we expect that five years of experience with it will make A Christmas Carol that much more visually stimulating. We're warning you though, Carrey. You already screwed up The Grinch. Mess up Ebenezer Scrooge and we'll go The Number 23 on your ass. (David Mumpower/BOP)
This happens every time I fly Northwest 11) 2012

Lousy bosses are as old a story as time itself. This is my explanation for why the Mayan calendar goes all the way up until December 21, 2012. Stay with me on this. I suspect that some poor slave was stuck adding new days to the calendar every day of their life. Even though the Mayans were several millennia away from the latter years on the schedule, their boss, probably a real hard-ass, kept telling them they had to add more dates. So, they kept going and going until the glorious day when the boss somehow "tripped" off a bridge and fell to his justifiably painful death. At that point, people stopped working on the calendar and never looked back. They may or may not have been stoned to death for murdering their boss, but that's irrelevant to the point here. The Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012 as a coincidence rather than any foretelling of apocalypse. Everyone knows this but Roland Emmerich.

Roland Emmerich likes to blow up the world. He is always looking for excuses to destory mankind. He has done it in the past with aliens, giant lizards So, a random calendar configuration is what passes for justification of a horrifying series of monument-related explosions. Yes, the man who defines monument porn is back and this time, he is trying to outdo himself in terms of body count. The trailer alone offers a swath of death and destruction that would make the Cylons jealous. In fact, there is a schism among our staff over whether this sort of brain-dead cinema is still quality popcorn entertainment or a cinematic relic in the post 9/11 era. Judging by the vote, the "I love seeing stuff blow up!" crowd has won this round. As long as John Cusack survives, the fate of humanity is secured anyway, right? (David Mumpower/BOP)

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