A wintry mix of 10 worthy films
Last January America responded to the nadir of the recession by turning "Gran Torino," "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" and others into midwinter hits. The financial report for the 2009 movie year ended on a similarly encouraging note, with holiday traffic at the multiplexes as intense as a Stephen Lang line reading in "Avatar."
And a new year cometh, just like the iceman.
Here are 10 on the horizon (though dates can change). I can vouch for the first on the list, having seen its award-winning premiere a few months ago at the Cannes Film Festival.
"The White Ribbon," opens Jan. 15. The year is 1913. In a northern German village unexplained acts of violence plague both the upper crust and working class of this uncomfortably tight-knit community. Narrated by a schoolteacher, whose romance with a baron's nanny offers a ray of sunlight amid sinister darkness, writer-director Michael Haneke's latest offers mystery without facile solution as well as a meticulous sense of oppression on the brink of world war.
"Book of Eli," opens Jan.15. In post-apocalypse America — wait, the world has ended? Again? — Denzel Washington must protect a sacred text holding the key to humanity's survival. From the Hughes brothers, who gave us "From Hell" and "Menace II Society."
"Extraordinary Measures," opens Jan. 22. Based on the nonfiction book "The Cure," the drama stars Harrison Ford as a biotech researcher desperate to crack the code of a rare degenerative condition known as "Pompe disease." Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell co-star.
"35 Shots of Rum," opens Jan. 22. The latest from filmmaker Claire Denis concerns a train engineer, his university-student daughter and their life together on the Paris outskirts.
"Edge of Darkness," opens Jan. 29. Mel Gibson stars as a homicide detective investigating the death of his own daughter. There's a conspiracy, there's dialogue co-authored by the wordsmith who wrote "The Departed" and, this being a Gibson film perched on darkness's edge, there's an R rating for "strong bloody violence."
"The Wolfman," opens Feb. 12. Lawrence Talbot returns! If you don't know that character name, you'll be approaching this remake of the hirsute Lon Chaney Jr. original with fresh eyes and an open heart, a heart just waiting for someone to tear it clean out of your chest. Benicio Del Toro stars as Talbot.
"Shutter Island," opens Feb. 19. Martin Scorsese's screen version of the Dennis Lehane mystery stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo as U.S. marshals investigating a missing-person case at a remote treatment center for the criminally insane. Judging from the trailer, Scorsese's Gothic excess may be risking a little insanity too.
"Alice in Wonderland," opens March 5. Tim Burton falls into Lewis Carroll's rabbit hole. Johnny Depp portrays the Mad Hatter.
"Green Zone," opens March 12. Coming off "United 93" and the second and third "Bourne" thrillers, director Paul Greengrass turns his camera to pre-surge Baghdad in this drama that stars Matt Damon and is based on the book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City."
"How to Train Your Dragon," opens March 26. DreamWorks Animation hopes it has another hit on its mitts with this 3-D effort.