Hollywood definitely saved its best for last in 2010. No single movie looks to dominate the box office the way "Avatar" did last year, nor does any movie look poised to sweep the awards season (although "The Social Network" seems to be leading the pack for the moment).
But our area movie houses offer a strong selection of films as this confounding year draws to a close. Here's a guide to the nice and the naughty among this year's holiday movies, including a few films in limited release that will hopefully come to town in early January.
True Grit (PG-13)
The Setup: After her father is murdered, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires violent, drunk U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down his killers. Remake of the John Wayne classic co-stars Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper.
The Buzz: For a lot of us, the words "a Coen Brothers film" is enough. But this movie is also drawing almost universal praise. The cast is amazing, but ironically, newcomer Steinfeld's performance is generating the most talk. Definitely on the nice list!
The Fighter (R)
The Setup: Director David O. Russell tells the true story of aspiring boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his addict, has-been boxer big brother Dicky (Christian Bale). Family strife boils over as Micky trains for a bout that could be his big break. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams also star.
The Buzz: The down-and-out boxing movie is certainly nothing new, but it still works with a good script and strong cast, and "The Fighter" has both. It's already on many top 10 lists, and it might win a supporting Oscar for Bale. Nice list!
Little Fockers (PG-13)
The Setup: Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro return as combative son and father-in-law. This time, DeNiro's character wants to appoint his patriarchal successor ... or something. The rest of the original cast also returns, even though Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand were both publicly reluctant.
The Buzz: I have yet to hear something positive about this unnecessary sequel. Time for the naughty Fockers to go.
Tron: Legacy (PG)
The Setup: Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) investigates the disappearance of his computer genius father (Jeff Bridges) and is pulled into an upgraded version of the cyber-world that dazzled us in the original "Tron."
The Buzz: One of the most highly anticipated movies in geekdom (especially for those of us who grew up with the original), "Legacy" has gotten mixed reviews at best from both critics and audiences. I smell a rental. Naughty!
Gulliver's Travels (PG-releases Christmas day)
The Setup: Jack Black takes on the familiar role of a human who finds himself on the island of Liliput, where everyone is tiny. Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet, and Billy Connolly join the adventure.
The Buzz: Critics are pummeling this one, but that's to be expected. It might prove more pleasing to audiences. You get to play Santa on this one, since the verdict is well out.
The Tourist (PG-13)
The Setup: Heartbroken American Frank (Johnny Depp) vacations in Italy to lose the blues, but thanks to a mysterious woman (Angelina Jolie) ends up on the run from police and mob alike.
The Buzz: After his masterpiece "The Lives of Others," I am excited about anything director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck does. Reviews have been less than enthusiastic, but audiences have liked it. Cautiously putting it on the nice list.
Black Swan (R)
The Setup: Psychology, drama, horror, sex, and ballet combine in this one-of-a-kind riff on the ballet "Swan Lake."
The Buzz: I raved about this one last week, and I'm not alone. Critics organizations around the world are putting this on their best-of lists. Possibly the nicest of the nice list!
Country Strong (PG-13)
The Setup: An aspiring songwriter (Garrett Hedlund) pairs with a fallen star (Gwyneth Paltrow), which causes romantic havoc with her husband/manager (Tim McGraw) and a beauty queen turned singer (Leighton Meester).
The Buzz: Like "The Fighter," we've certainly seen this story, but the cast is intriguing. Gwyneth sings country? No early reviews yet, but I'm curious.
The Illusionist (PG)
The Setup: Animated movie about an out-of-work French illusionist who finds love and adventure in Scotland.
The Buzz: This is drawing glowing reviews just like director Sylvain Chomet's brilliant "The Triplets of Belleville." Nice list!
Blue Valentine (R)
The Setup: Sexy, bittersweet drama about a contemporary married couple, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.
The Buzz: The MPAA originally rated this one NC-17, but Harvey Weinstein won an appeal for an R rating. It might be that sexy or this all might have been a Weinstein PR stunt (he has done this before). Doesn't seem to be any question about the film's quality, though. Nice list!