Entertainment
The holiday movie preview

Gerard Butler in "Playing For Keeps," left, Richard Armitage in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," centre, and Tom Cruise in "Jack Reacher, right.

BRUCE KIRKLAND | QMI AGENCY

Tis' the season to be serious about cinema.

The holidays are coming and Hollywood is gearing up for a flurry of late-year prestige pictures.

Of course, there are some titles that are pure entertainment. We need counter-programming, after all.

But the emphasis is still on what the studios hope are their Oscar-calibre titles.

That remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, here is our overview of what audiences can expect in the next month (with release dates subject to change by distributors):

ANNA KARENINA (Nov. 30 in key cities)

After Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, Joe Wright collaborates again with his on-screen muse, Keira Knightley. They tackle Tolstoy, working with Tom Stoppard on a new adaptation of the legendary 1870s Russian novel. This is a classic romantic tragedy set against the roil of society, politics and militarism in late 19th-century Russia. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Jude Law co-star.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY (Nov. 30)

Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) re-teams with Brad Pitt, bringing out his best. Set in New Orleans, the story follows hapless thugs who raid a high-stakes poker game. A cool-handed hitman (Pitt) is obliged to clean up the mess for the mob. The cast includes Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini.

DEADFALL (Dec. 6 in Toronto and Montreal)

In Stefan Ruzowitzky's crime thriller -- which also emerges as a complicated romantic drama -- Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde hit the road after a casino heist goes bad. When they find themselves in a blizzard on the way to the Canadian border, life gets even more complicated with others involved. Not everyone will survive the carnage.

PLAYING FOR KEEPS (Dec. 7)

Gabriele Muccino directs Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman and Catherine Zeta-Jones in a romantic comedy about a former soccer star (Butler) returning home to put his sorry life back together. Trying to win favour with his estranged son, he agrees to coach the boy's soccer team. But hottie "soccer moms" prove to be a distraction.

CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: WORLDS AWAY (Dec. 7 in Montreal; Dec. 21 wide)

Quebec's world-renowned Cirque du Soleil is back on the big screen in spectacular 3D supervised by James Cameron's tech team. New Zealander Andrew Adamson (two Shrek and two Narnia movies) directs this visual spectacular. It is designed to showcase the troupe's dynamic presentations while telling an original story about two lovers looking for one another in Cirque's dreamlike world.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (Dec. 14)

Peter Jackson plunges anew into J.R.R. Tolkien's fantastical world. Having turned The Lord of the Rings into a classic trilogy, Jackson yearns to do the same with Tolkien's 1937 prequel, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. We meet Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as a younger Hobbit launching into his first adventure outside the Shire. Bilbo is aided on the quest by Gandalf and will eventually find a ring -- the One Ring that binds them all -- that will change the course of Middle-earth history. Familiar on-screen faces include Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm and, of course, Andy Serkis as Gollum.

A ROYAL AFFAIR (Dec. 14 in Toronto and Vancouver; Jan. 18 in Montreal)

Mads Mikkelsen stars in this period drama set in 18th-century Denmark. Based on a true story, it chronicles the sexcapades of Queen Caroline Mathilda, who cuckolded the mad King Christian VII with the royal physician (Mikkelsen). Denmark's Nikolaj Arcel directs this Danish-language drama.

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (Dec. 14 in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal; Dec. 21 in Ottawa)

Comic Bill Murray taps into his dramatic side, playing U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in June, 1939, when he hosts the King and Queen of England. The politics of impending war intersect with FDR's messy personal life, with his wife Eleanor, his mother and his mistresses stirring up the weekend. Laura Linney co-stars with Olivia Colman and Samuel West as the British royals.

THE GUILT TRIP (Dec. 19)

Crazy combination! Barbra Streisand rarely appears in movies. But here she is as Seth Rogen's mom in a comedy about an inventor on a road trip with his overbearing parent while trying to sell his latest idea. This is just her third movie role in 16 years, so let's hope for the best because there may not be many more this legendary singer-actress is willing to tackle.

MONSTERS, INC. (Dec. 19)

Pete Docter's children's comedy, an Oscar-winning animation from 2001, returns in 3D as a prelude to the forthcoming prequel, Monsters University. John Goodman and Billy Crystal voice two of the most memorable characters in Pixar history as they play monsters who harvest the screams of human children to power their own world. Already wonderful, the addition of 3D cannot hurt.

JACK REACHER (Dec. 21)

Superstar Tom Cruise plays the title character in a crime thriller about an investigator who goes beyond the obvious in a serial murder case involving a military-trained sniper. There are deadly secrets to expose here. Quality actors Rosamund Pike and Richard Jenkins co-star.

THIS IS 40 (Dec. 21)

In a comedy that creator-director Judd Apatow is calling an unfiltered look inside American family life, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprise their support roles from Knocked Up (2007). They are now a husband-and-wife team approaching a milestone meltdown at 40. John Lithgow, Megan Fox, Jason Segel, Chris O'Dowd, Albert Brooks and a gaggle of other Apatow acolytes co-star.

RUST AND BONE (Dec. 21)

Widely recognized as one of the best films of the year, this is the latest from French master Jacques Audiard. French beauty Marion Cotillard and Belgian hunk Matthias Schoenaerts co-star in a twisted love story set among dolphins, wheelchairs and nightclubs on the Cote d'Azur. The French-language film is adapted from a English-language short story by Canadian author Craig Davidson.

DJANGO UNCHAINED (Dec. 25)

Offering an unforgettable history lesson, Quentin Tarantino plumbs America's antebellum age just two years before the Civil War. Jamie Foxx is Django, a brutalized runaway slave allied with a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz, the mad Nazi from Inglourious Basterds). Their mission of just revenge runs afoul of an autocratic plantation owner (Leonard DiCaprio). Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington co-star in key roles.

PARENTAL GUIDANCE (Dec. 25)

Andy Fickman's comedy sets Billy Crystal and Bette Midler up as a mature married couple. Asked to care for their three grandchildren, their old-school ways conflict with those of their modern daughter (Marisa Tomei). The chaotic results are meant to provoke laughter while real-life grandparents nod their heads knowingly.

LES MISÉRABLES (Dec. 25)

Already touted as a sure-fire Oscar contender, Tom Hooper's re-imagined musical features a remarkable cast led by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen. Each singer warbles live for each take, which is radical for a major musical. Hooper wanted to make Victor Hugo's epic tale of French romance, injustice and sacrifice more intimate and realistic.

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