As the calendar moves from Thanksgiving to Christmas, cinemas pit vampire teen angst, ala the "Twilight" saga, against amalgamation of mystery/thrillers and "family-friendly" fare. Illustrating the diversity, even within a genre, Tom Cruise takes on - perhaps the final - "Mission Impossible" (Dec 21) while Sherlock Holmes hunts Moriarty nearly a century before.
Cruise steps into the shoes of IMF agent Ethan Hunt for the fourth time, facing rogue status and possible thermonuclear war worldwide. The team will need all the high tech tricks and innovations they can muster to investigate who placed a bomb at the Kremlin. Under the guise of "Ghost Protocol," the IMF force stands accused of terrorism, but the spectre of retaliatory strikes rise with each tick of the clock. Brad ("Ratatouille") Bird directs.
In "Sherlock Holmes," Robert Downey Jr. again assumes the persona of the famed detective. Now, he's playing "A Game of Shadows" (Dec 16), chasing Prof. Moriarty (Jared Harris), a man possessing an intellect equal to that of the good detective. Jude Law plays the ever-loyal sidekick, Dr. Watson.
Alien fantasy falls into the holiday movie mix, this time in Moscow where five young people are stranded during the planet's "Darkest Hour" (Dec 25). The invisible, energy absorbing extraterrestrials first drain natural and man-made sources of energy before enveloping anything alive. Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, and Max Minghella star.
The final thriller of the season, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Dec 21)," remakes the 2009 Swedish thriller. Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara assume the roles of discredited journalist and computer hacker while striving to solve the mystery of a 40-year-old murder. David ("Seven," "Curious Case of Benjamin Button, "Alien 3") Fincher has the director's chair.
Steven Spielberg adapts the Tony Award-winning "War Horse" (Dec 25) for the big screen, creating a sufficient emotional bond between Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and horse, Joey, who has been sold to the cavalry and heads to WWIs trenches of death.
However, viewers (unless they travel to larger cities) will wait until January for a blend of poignancy and uneasy imagery. Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock likely face "supporting" nominations with "Teen Jeopardy" champ Thomas Horn portraying a gifted nine-year-old inventor, pacifist, and tambourine player scowling the big city for an unknown door that opens by a key left by his late father, a victim of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. "Extraordinarily Loud & Incredibly Close (Dec 25/Jan 20)" won praise as a novel, but will audiences embrace the film adaptation?
Fresh from the Garry Marshall team that sent you "Valentine's Day," "New Year's Eve (Dec 9)" assembles Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Hilary Swank and Ashton Kutcher in a series of interrelated vignettes.
Growing from teen to adulthood loosely defines an interconnecting thread between "Young Adult" (Dec 9) and "The Sitter" (Dec 9). The R-rated "Young Adult" has Charlize Theron playing a fiction writer who returns to her Minnesota hometown roots hoping to reconnect with her high school sweetie (Patrick Wilson). Former classmate (Patton Oswalt) has not fared well since graduation and somewhat unexpectedly he and Theron form a bond. The filmmakers responsible for "Juno" are on the credit list.
Meanwhile, a college dropout takes on babysitting to make quick cash and shut his nagging mother up in "The Sitter," which has David (""Pineapple Express") Green at the helm. When the big kid receives a "come hither" call from his "GF" in the city, the three youngsters find themselves riding along as their caretaker encounters drug dealers in a seedy section of the city.
More family-friendly fare brings "We Bought a Zoo" (Dec 23), which hopes to find some of the "Night at the Museum" magic. Matt Damon plays a widower who purchases a run-down zoology park hoping that bringing new life to the venue will pull his estranged family back together.
Others likely will divide the tyke crowds, too, such as "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," the animated "Adventures of Tintin," and Thanksgiving hold-overs like "Arthur Christmas," "The Muppets," and "Hugo."