The holiday season is a lot like the next four months at the movies- you reunite with those you have truly missed and those you hope to only see once a year. Because its typically one of the busiest times of the year for theaters, the fall has something for everyone, whether its Hugh Jackman and rock-‘em, sock ‘em robots (Real Steel), Maui resident Owen Wilson and Steve Martin as bird watchers (The Big Year) or Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz in a Roman Polanski comedy/thriller (Carnage). You can welcome or avoid the return of Alvin and the Chipmunks, Johnny English, Puss N’ Boots, Harold and Kumar, The Three Musketeers, the 3-D Piranhas, and Sherlock Holmes. There’s also Happy Feet 2, Paranormal Activity 3 and the Twilight vampires, who give us half of their last movie (part 2 of Breaking Dawn opens next summer–how very Back to the Future Part II!). Here’s 10 of the most promising movies of 2011’s busy final frame:
Contagion (Sept. 9)
The Gist: Virus-on-the-loose thriller, directed by Steven Soderbergh, stars Matt Damon and Kate Winslet
Why It Could Rock: There hasn’t been a viral scare fest like this since Outbreak. The cast includes Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Unless: If its so good, why is the studio releasing it in September?
Best Case Scenario: The monkey from Outbreak makes a comeback, gets his own reality TV series.
Drive (Sept. 16)
The Gist: Ryan Gosling stars as a movie stunt driver in this action drama. Carey Mulligan co-stars.
Why It Could Rock: Gosling can carry a movie all by himself and the action scenes blew everyone away at Cannes last May.
Unless: More of a drama than a smash-a-thon, which could confuse audiences expecting another Fast Five.
Best Case Scenario: Gosling finally sheds his “the guy from The Notebook” status once and for all.
Moneyball (Sept. 23)
The Gist: Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill star in this true-life sports drama about managing the Oakland A’s.
Why It Could Rock: A movie about baseball both guys and their wives will want to see. Hill, who is an unlikely sidekick to Pitt, will graduate to the acting major leagues if he can pull this off.
Unless: Is it too high brow for audiences still looking for another Bull Durham?
Best Case Scenario: Na Koa Ikaika Maui gets their own movie and it stars Branscombe Richmond.
50/50 (Sept. 29)
The Gist: A comedy about cancer, stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen.
Why It Could Rock: The film is hilarious and unpredictable, with the two leads in their element.
Unless: The cancer angle scares away audiences.
Best Case Scenario: Once audiences see that it’s not a total downer, they could turn up in droves.
The Thing (Oct.14)
The Gist: Remake of the John Carpenter classic, stars Mary Elisabeth Winstead.
Why It Could Rock: Reportedly light in CGI, heavy on atmosphere, practical effects and stomach churning suspense. Said to be a prequel to the first film.
Unless: Prequel, sequel, whatever–it’s still a remake of a remake. The original remains top notch and Winstead is no Kurt Russell.
Best Case Scenario: Hollywood finally starts remaking lousy movies and not classics.
Tower Heist (Nov. 4)
The Gist: Ensemble comedy, stars Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck and Matthew Broderick
Why It Could Rock: After slumming it in bad kiddie comedies, we get to see Murphy be funny again. Lightweight comedy with a grade-A cast. Director Brett Ratner is known for Rush Hour but he also did Red Dragon and The Family Man.
Unless: Ratner is also responsible for Rush Hour 3 and X:Men The Last Stand, so he’s far from a sure thing.
Best Case Scenario: Because of this, Murphy finally gets his R-rated Beverly Hills Cop IV greenlit.
The Muppets (Nov. 23)
The Gist: Musical/comedy, stars a frog, a pig, a piano playing dog, something called a “Gonzo.”
Why It Could Rock: Star/co-writer Jason Segal aims for classic Muppet madness and is a huge fan. Co-star Amy Adams is back in Enchanted territory. Loaded with nostalgia and star cameos.
Unless: It’s cornier than Muppets in Space.
Best Case Scenario: Segal makes his Dracula puppet musical from Forgetting Sarah Marshall into a full blown movie.
Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol (December)
The Gist: Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and the IMF team are now on the run criminals.
Why It Could Rock: The line-up is top notch, with Brad Bird (The Incredibles) directing, J.J. Abrams producing and a cast that includes Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and Ving Rhames.
Unless: Cruise, formerly the biggest movie star in the world, is still struggling to win his audience back and Knight and Day didn’t do it. This could be his last big chance for a major return.
Best Case Scenario: This and next summer’s Rock of Ages remind us why Cruise gave us the need for speed.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (December)
The Gist: Director David Fincher adapts the bestselling novel, stars Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara and Christopher Plummer.
Why It Could Rock: Mixing the director of Seven with one of the darkest novels in the last decade feels like a no-brainer.
Unless: The story is so graphic, there may be mass audience walk-outs. Plus, the Swedish film version came out last year and already did a fine job of telling this story.
Best Case Scenario: It plays like the alternative Christmas movie, not the holiday movie no one sees.
We Bought a Zoo (Dec. 23)
The Gist: Cameron Crowe writes and directs this comedy starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson.
Why It Could Rock: Based on a true story, the last time Crowe got this warm and fuzzy (and funny) was Jerry Maguire.
Unless: It plays like Zookeeper without the talking animals. Are Damon and Johansson right for this movie? Will Crowe finally put Elizabethtown behind him or will this also be too long and overly indulgent?
Best Case Scenario: “Hooray, we bought a freakin’ zoo!” becomes the next “Show me the money!”