By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist December 4, 2012 at 11:13AM
Synopsis: A long-married pair of Parisian music teachers, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) must face life after Anne is crippled by a stroke.
What You Need To Know: For Michael Haneke, the man behind films like "Funny Games" and "The Piano Teacher," "Amour" feels like something of a sly joke. But in fact, the Austrian director's latest, the winner of his second Palme D'Or in a row after taking it for "The White Ribbon" back in 2009, is titled entirely appropriately. Starring two bona fide legends of French cinema in Trintignant and Riva, with a third, Isabelle Huppert, as their daughter, set entirely within their Paris apartment, and shot with Haneke's usual austerity, it's as bruising a watch as you might expect from the director, but also the most tender and heartfelt film he's ever made, one which has seen him win new fans. Both leads, who anchor the film, are extraordinary; our Cannes review wrote of Riva that "She is simply unbelievable... a remarkably physical performance," and at every level it's clearly the work of a master. As we closed off our review back in May we said, "'Amour' is the work of a filmmaker who isn't afraid to ask the big questions about human nature, and it seems the director has hope for us yet." Perhaps not the security blanket that some will be after over the holiday season, but an extraordinarily powerful piece of filmmaking that will surely be cinephiles' number one choice of the month.
When? December 21st
Synopsis: An adaptation of Jack Kerouac's seminal beat novel, about two carefree friends traveling the U.S. in the late 1940s
What You Need To Know: Many of the films on this list have been in the works for some time, but none for as long as "On The Road" -- Marlon Brando flirted with the project way back in the 1950, and Francis Ford Coppola (a producer on this take) has been developing it for decades. But it took "The Motorcycle Diaries" helmer Walter Salles to finally bring it to the screens, and after an extended time in the edit room (the film shot a few years back), it finally premiered at Cannes in May. With a cast that combines hip young gunslingers (a revelatory Garret Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Tom Sturridge) with reliable older hands (Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard, and Salles' fine sense of period, it seems to be about as good a stab at an essentially unfilmable book as you could ask for. Our Cannes review said the movie is "scenic and episodic, full of youth's passion, but with a shade of the future yet to come dimming the brightness of its vision." Hedlund, Stewart, Mortensen and Adams all stand out, as does Eric Gautier's cinematography, and Salles pulls off a faithful adaptation. There are intrinsic problems with the material: "the film is full of things -- having sex, doing drugs, being free -- that are far more enjoyably experienced by one's self as opposed to watching other people enjoy them on screen," and we were left "wishing for a little less literary fidelity and a little more cinematic storytelling." But it's a more-than-respectable attempt, and one that Beat fans should appreciate more than most.
When? December 21st, in limited release
Synopsis: An English couple and their children on holiday in the Indian Ocean are torn apart by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, and set out on desperate quests to find each other again.
What You Need To Know: Based-in-fact tsunami drama "The Impossible" marks the long-awaited return of Juan Antonio Bayona, who made a strong debut with 2007 ghost story "The Orphanage," and this charged, emotional drama (which seems to include some impressive effects) looks like it will once again be a picture that earns him strong attention. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts topline the film, along with three young British actors, and it looks like they had quite the tough shoot, with astonishing scenes of devastation. All that said, the film's been divisive since premiering at TIFF; it won some raves at the festival, but also some stern detractors, including our own Kevin Jagernauth, who found it "manipulative and over-the-top... there isn't an emotional beat that the director doesn't sledgehammer," and being one of many who took issue with the way the film emphasizes its European leads at the expense of Thai natives. But others have been kinder, and Bayona's first film was impressive enough that those of us who haven't seen "The Impossible" yet are up for giving him the benefit of the doubt until we get eyes on it ourselves.
When? December 21st
Synopsis: A freed slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) teams up with a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to track down his wife (Kerry Washington) and liberate her from her plantation owners, led by the sadistic Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
What You Need To Know: It's always felt like Quentin Tarantino was destined to make a Western, and twenty years into his career, he's finally made it with his eighth feature, "Django Unchained," a Spaghetti Western homage that delves into one of cinema's last great taboos -- American slavery. Jamie Foxx plays the title character (with original Django Franco Nero making a cameo) with "Inglourious Basterds" Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Don Johnson, Jonah Hill and more in a ridiculously stacked cast (even excluding those like Kurt Russell, Sacha Baron Cohen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who were cast but bailed for various reasons). Footage from the film has looked better and better over time, and again, while Tarantino may be unlikely to win over those left cool by his work, fans should be in hog heaven with a near-three-hour blast of violence, swagger and Ennio Morricone cuts. Let's be honest, anything else hitting this Christmas is kind of a sideshow.
When? December 25th
Synopsis: The big screen version of the hit stage musical, following a convict unable to escape his past as France simmers on the edge of revolution.
What You Need To Know: Well, almost everything is a sideshow, bar the film that looks like it'll be one of the biggest awards players this year, and a huge box office to go with it; the adaptation of stage musical smash "Les Miserables," from Oscar-winning "The King's Speech" director Tom Hooper. The filmmaker has assembled a top-drawer cast, led by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, and he's done something that's rarely done with the musical form, having the cast sing live on set, rather than lip-sync to pre-recorded vocals. It's a bold take, and Hooper's trademark visuals double up on that. The majority of the early word from screenings has been ecstatic, the film proving to be a crowd pleaser at least the size of its stage counterpart. There are certainly naysayers out there who take issue with the style, or with some of the performances, but it seems like it'll be worth a look if only to see Anne Hathaway's sure-to-win-an-Oscar take on "I Dreamed A Dream."
When? December 25th
Synopsis: A natural gas company salesman come to a midwestern rural town to try and convince its inhabitants to let his company try the controversial process of fracking.
What You Need To Know: It's been fifteen years since Matt Damon last helped write a screenplay, a surprising gap of time given that it launched his career and won him an Oscar. But finally, Damon's teamed up with "The Office" star John Krasinski, working from a story conceived by novelist Dave Eggers, for "Promised Land." Originally intended as Damon's directorial debut, overruns on "Elysium" put paid to that, and it ended up marking his reunion with "Good Will Hunting" director Gus Van Sant. An environmentally-minded Capra-esque "Local Hero"-style tale, the film also stars Rosemarie DeWitt, Frances McDormand, Scoot McNairy and Hal Holbrook, which is the kind of cast that we're always happy to buy a ticket for, and the trailer suggests a solid and sturdy kind of drama with another strong central performance from the ever-reliable Damon. Early word has been somewhat lukewarm, but between the cast, the subject matter and the always-worth-checking out Van Sant at the helm, you could do a lot worse this December.
When? December 28th