Holiday film preview 2012

Amid action and visual effects, the holidays are a time when films focus on humans. With luck, viewers will meet cinematic souls that will live on in their imaginations.

Rise of the Guardians Nov. 21

  • The guardians: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Dakota Goyo
  • Behind the scenes: Peter Ramsey
  • The story: Who doesn’t love a good Santa Claus movie, and, even better, one with a new take? In this computer-animated feature, Santa leads a group of superhero types, including Jack Frost, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, who are charged with protecting the children of the world.
  • Rated: PG

Life of Pi Nov. 21

  • The tiger tamers: Suraj Sharma, Rafe Spall, Irrfan Khan
  • Behind the scenes: Ang Lee
  • The story: Lee, with dazzling visual splendor, solves the technical puzzle in this adaptation of Yann Martel’s best-selling 2001 novel about unlikely survivors of a sinking ship — a boy and a tiger living on a lifeboat.
  • Rated: PG

Hitchcock Nov. 23

  • Masters of suspense: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson
  • Behind the scenes: Sacha Gervasi
  • The story: Gervasi, who directed the hugely entertaining documentary “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” turns his sights on Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins), who, at 60, refreshed his career with the ultra-shocking “Psycho.” Mirren plays his long-suffering wife; Johansson is tantalizingly cast as Janet Leigh.
  • Rated: PG-13

Killing Them Softly Nov. 30

  • The criminals: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy
  • Behind the scenes: Andrew Dominik
  • The story: Last time out, New Zealander Dominik made the masterpiece “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” Now he takes on a 1970s crime novel by George V. Higgins (“The Friends of Eddie Coyle”), about an investigation into a mob heist. The movie could capture the now-lost grittiness 1970s movies had in spades.
  • Rated: R

Hyde Park on Hudson Dec. 7

  • The new dealers: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams
  • Behind the scenes: Roger Michell
  • The story: Murray as President Franklin D. Roosevelt? It could be a shrewd, Oscar-winning move or bizarre misstep. The movie focuses on one weekend in 1939, during a visit from the king and queen of England, when Roosevelt grew close to one of his distant cousins (Linney).
  • Rated: R

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Dec. 14

  • The hobbits: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Behind the scenes: Peter Jackson
  • The story: Series veteran Jackson tackles J.R.R. Tolkien’s predecessor to “The Lord of the Rings,” spreading it over three more movies. In this first installment, Freeman comes on board as Bilbo Baggins and McKellen returns as the wizard Gandalf.
  • Not yet rated

Zero Dark Thirty Dec. 19

  • The manhunters: Chris Pratt, Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton
  • Behind the scenes: Kathryn Bigelow
  • The story: The first woman to win a best director Oscar follows her masterful “The Hurt Locker” with another war-related film, this one not a think-piece. Centering on operatives charged with hunting down Osama bin Laden, it looks like the type of muscular thriller she also does well.
  • Not yet rated

Jack Reacher Dec. 21

  • The tough guys: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins
  • Behind the scenes: Christopher McQuarrie
  • The story: Rumored to have dumped Ethan Hunt for good, Cruise picks up with another action hero, Jack Reacher, from novels by Lee Child. A former Army police officer turned stoic drifter, he sometimes shows up to catch bad guys and set things right. Director McQuarrie, who wrote “The Usual Suspects,” knows something about crime stories.
  • Rated: PG-13

This Is 40 Dec. 21

  • The fortysomethings: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Megan Fox
  • Behind the scenes: Judd Apatow
  • The story: This “Knocked Up” spinoff doesn’t follow Ben and Allison in their new lives as parents, but explores how Allison’s sister Debbie (Mann) and her husband Pete (Rudd) deal with life at 40. With luck, Apatow will keep this one shorter than his last few comic explorations.
  • Rated: R

On the Road Dec. 21

  • The beatniks: Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart
  • Behind the scenes: Walter Salles
  • The story: Producer Francis Ford Coppola, who has tried for years to get Jack Kerouac’s “unfilmable” 1957 novel on screen, finally put Brazilian director Salles (“Central Station,” “The Motorcycle Diaries”) in charge. Some of the book’s ferocity may be dampened — still, it should have good dialogue.
  • Rated: R

Django Unchained Dec. 25

  • The outlaws: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Don Johnson
  • Behind the scenes: Quentin Tarantino
  • The story: After making blaxploitation, kung-fu and war films, Tarantino turns to the Western with this tale of a freed slave (Foxx) who becomes a hired killer and goes after a wealthy plantation owner (DiCaprio). Bound to be packed with action and dazzling dialogue, it may be the movie of the season.
  • Not yet rated

Les Misérables Dec. 25

  • The miserable ones: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Russell Crowe
  • Behind the scenes: Tom Hooper
  • The story: Director Hooper (who somehow won an Oscar for “The King’s Speech” instead of David Fincher for “The Social Network”) brings the famed Broadway musical based on the Victor Hugo novel to the big screen; Jackman takes the lead as former prisoner Jean Valjean. Let’s hope it’s better than the movie version of the musical “The Phantom of the Opera.”
  • Not yet rated

The Guilt Trip Dec. 25

  • The road-trippers: Seth Rogen,
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Behind the scenes: Anne Fletcher
  • The story: An inventor (Rogen) invites his mom (Streisand) to join him on a sales trip in this new take on the old “odd couple” formula. Yet the actor pairing is interesting, and screenwriter Dan Fogelman’s last outing was the terrific “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”
  • Not yet rated

Promised Land Dec. 28

  • The farmers: Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski
  • Behind the scenes: Gus Van Sant
  • The story: A salesman tries to bring natural gas to a farming community in this inspirational message movie. With Van Sant directing, the story may have grit and dignity. Even better, Damon (an Oscar-winning writer) and Krasinski co-wrote the screenplay, from a story by Dave Eggers.
  • Rated: R
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