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Holiday Hit List: Holiday Movie Guide

November 4

Tower Heist

Cast: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck

Director: Brett Ratner

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: A group of people conspire to steal back the money they lost from a wealthy Ponzi schemer (Alan Alda).

What We Think: Tower Heist sounds like most Ratner movies (i.e. pairing opposites with one another in an action-y comedy; or … the Rush Hour movies), but watching two of the giants of comedy, Stiller and Murphy, has undeniable appeal.

Cool to Know: Years ago, Eddie Murphy envisioned the movie as a potential "black Ocean's Eleven," alongside actors like Chris Tucker, Jamie Foxx and Dave Chappelle.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

Cast: Kal Penn, John Cho, Neil Patrick Harris

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson

Rating: R

Synopsis: The whole gang is back for this stoner-y take on Christmas - in stoner-friendly 3D. Their shenanigans this time involve burning down a Christmas tree and looking for a new one.

What We Think: Aside from a different director and the addition of 3D, everything looks to be the same with this installment - meaning those who liked White Castle and Guantanamo Bay should enjoy Christmas -- even if it is almost two months before the actual holiday.

Cool to Know: Kal Penn left his job as President Obama's associate director of public engagement in June 2010 to film 3D Christmas; he returned to his post in November.

Click here to see the November 11 releases!

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November 11

J. Edgar

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts

Director: Clint Eastwood

Rating: R

Synopsis: This long-awaited, long-delayed biopic tells the story J. Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio), the feared, revered, famous, infamous lawman of America for almost five decades - and doesn't shy away from his purported "secrets."

What We Think: Don't expect Eastwood's J. Edgar to merely gloss over those oft-hinted-at ""secrets"" Hoover tried so hard to keep in his, uh, closet (thanks to a likely hard-hitting script from Milk Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black) -- but do expect a great, showy performance from DiCaprio, who's no stranger to high-profile biopics (The Aviator). Know what else to expect? Oscar nominations: lots of 'em.

Cool to Know: Charlize Theron was reportedly first in line to play Helen Gandy, Hoover's secretary. Amy Adams was also rumored to be in the mix for the role before Watts signed on.

Immortals

Cast: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, John Hurt, Freida Pinto

Director: Tarsem Singh

Rating: R

Synopsis: King Hyperion (Rourke) is a brutal tyrant on a bloody mission to seek out the mythical Bow of Epirus. Should he succeed, even the Gods of Olympus will be forced to bow before him. In his efforts to locate the invincible and elusive weapon, Hyperion leads his Heraklion army on a brutal rampage across Greece, razing every town in their path, and killing with impunity. When the Hyperions lay waste to his village and cut down his mother in cold blood, vengeful stonemason Theseus (Cavill) emerges from the rubble determined to make the king pay for his crimes.

What We Think: Fans of the booming swords-and-sandals subgenre - of which there are literally millions - will want to catch this epic, from an intriguing director (Singh, who helmed The Cell and an upcoming Snow White movie) and featuring the next Superman (Cavill). We, however, might be inclined to wait for the next season of Game of Thrones.

Cool to Know: The film was previously named Dawn of War and War of the Gods.

Jack & Jill

Cast: Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes, Al Pacino

Director: Dennis Dugan

Rating: PG

Synopsis: Jack Sadelstein (Sandler) has it all: a great, lucrative job, amazing wife and two beautiful kids. But every Thanksgiving, the one imperfection in his life comes rearing its ugly head in the form of his annoying, obnoxious twin sister, Jill (Sandler).

What We Think: So THIS is how low Adam Sandler can go: an offensively lame broad PG family comedy in which he goes the Eddie Murphy route of playing two characters. Jack & Jill looks like the culmination of all his years of easy work. In other words, we're not overly excited.

Cool to Know: The movie marks the eighth time Sandler and Dugan have collaborated as star and director.

Melancholia

Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland

Director: Lars von Trier

Rating: R

Synopsis: Two sisters' (Dunst and Gainsbourg) strained relationship gets trumped by Earth's dangerous proximity to an orphan planet. Yeah, another one of those movies.

What We Think: We've seen it and enjoyed it, but it's certainly not your usual wintertime crowd pleaser. Those familiar with von Trier's work on the screen - and not offended by his work off the screen - should check it out.

Cool to Know: At the most recent Cannes Film Festival, where von Trier was premiering Melancholia, he was quoted as saying he sympathizes with Hitler "a little bit." That's not necessarily cool to know, but … interesting maybe?

Click here to see the November 18 releases!

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November 18

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner

Director: Bill Condon

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: Wedding bells, Twilight style. Bella and Edward finally tie the knot, but all doesn't remain well for very long as Bella is soon knocked up -- potentially igniting a war between, well, the in-laws.

What We Think: When it comes to this franchise, you're either in or you're out; there is no middle ground. We're on the latter side of the fence, but we can understand Twihards' unprecedented excitement for this installment, which looks to feature the culmination of the tension that preceded it.

Cool to Know: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 unofficially gives director Condon the most all-over-the-map resume of any filmmaker, ever. He's gone from the horrifying(ly awful) Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh to the Sex Ed. biopic Kinsey to the ornate drama of Gods and Monsters to the musical Dreamgirls ... and now Twilight-land. (He'll direct the series finale, Part 2, as well.)

Happy Feet Too (IMAX 3D)

Cast (Voices): Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Pink

Director: George Miller

Rating: PG

Synopsis: Mumble (Wood) is back -- and a father! And like father, like son: Mumble's little boy (Elizabeth Daily, who voiced the young Mumble in the original) is struggling to fit in with the rest of the penguins. Meanwhile, a new threat looms over the entire species that makes the previous movie's danger look pretty tame.

What We Think: Writer-director Miller deliberates with the best of 'em -- which is bad for fans in that it takes his movies a long time to be released (five years since Happy Feet came out), but good for fans in that the wait is usually well worth it. Expect this sequel to be one of the best fun-for-all-ages affairs of the year.

Cool to Know: Casting tidbits: The late Brittany Murphy, who voiced the key character Gloria (Mumble's love interest) in the first movie, has essentially been replaced by pop singer Pink; megastars Brad Pitt and Matt Damon have small voice roles in the sequel.

The Descendants

Cast: George Clooney, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard

Director: Alexander Payne

Rating: R

Synopsis: In Alexander Payne's first movie (as a director) since 2004's Sideways -- save for a segment in the 2006 medley Paris Je T'Aime-- Clooney stars as a land owner living in Hawaii trying to reconnect with his daughters after his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident.

What We Think: Every fall/winter, there's 'the' Oscar movie of the season; this might be the 2011 version. Payne is a master at capturing the comedy in pathos, and vice versa, and Clooney can really do it all -- including making moviegoers forget that he's George Clooney, Movie Star. We have very high hopes for this dramedy.

Cool to Know: Payne hasn't exactly been dormant since his he directed the acclaimed Sideways: In the seven years since, he has directed the pilot episode of HBO's Hung (on which he is also a producer), produced indie movies like The Savages and King of California, and, most surprisingly, co-written (an early draft of) I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry!

Click here to see the November 23 releases!

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November 23

My Week with Marilyn

Cast: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson

Director: Simon Curtis

Rating: R

Synopsis: In 1957, Marilyn Monroe (Williams) was in London filming The Prince and the Showgirl while her new husband, playwright Arthur Miller, was elsewhere. My Week looks at the actress' time in the city and the Brit, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who served as her escort and later wrote books about his experience.

What We Think: Williams never, ever turns in a bad performance, and she was made to look eerily similar to Monroe in My Week. Expect a nostalgic tour de force - and an Oscar nom.

Cool to Know: Scarlett Johansson, Kate Hudson and Amy Adams were all considered for the Monroe role before Williams was cast.

Arthur Christmas

Cast: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent

Director: Sarah Smith

Rating: PG

Synopsis: Santa and his ambitious, intelligent son Steve have formulated a high-tech, efficient way of delivering gifts to children on Christmas Eve. But when one child is overlooked, Santa's younger, bumbling son Arthur sets out against all odds to make sure she gets the Christmas she deserves.

What We Think: Looks like everything a Christmas movie should be: heartwarming, centered around the idea of "believing," and hilarious.

Cool to Know: The last film screenwriter Peter Baynham penned before this was Arthur. He must have a special attachment to the name.

Hugo

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Jude Law, Sacha Baron Cohen

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: PG

Synopsis: An orphan stowing away in a train station in 1930s Paris begins to unravel a mystery left by his late father involving a very "special" machine.

What We Think: Not quite what you think of when you hear Scorsese—but looks whimsical, heartfelt and exciting.

Cool to Know: Based on the Brian Selznick novel ""The Invention of Hugo Cabret.""

The Muppets

Cast: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Kermit the Frog

Director: James Bobin

Rating: PG

Synopsis: The Muppets' old theater is in danger of being destroyed. The gang of good-hearted showmen band together once more, joining with a young couple to save their cherished performance space.

What We Think: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Cool to Know: First Muppet movie not to feature Frank Oz or Jerry Nelson (voice actors/puppeteers of the Jim Henson company). Liza Minelli and Alan Arkin make cameos; both have hosted The Muppet Show.

A Dangerous Method

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley

Director: David Cronenberg

Rating: R

Synopsis: The boundaries of professionalism are crossed when Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud instigate an intense, unorthodox psychological experiment involving a young Russian girl.

What We Think: The Freud-Jung relationship is good soil for cinematic drama, but the film seems a little too bent on telling a "heated love triangle" story at the sacrifice of something more substantial.

Cool to Know: This film marks the third collaboration between director David Cronenberg and actor Viggo Mortensen.

The Artist

Cast: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: The story of the dawn of talking movies, and the effect this has on a silent movie actor at the top of his career—who has recently fallen for a rising starlet.

What We Think: It's an actual silent movie, which, if done right, could be a phenomenal achievement for the modern era. Plus, revisiting the old Singin' in the Rain story with a little more darkness is an interesting feat.

Cool to Know: This marks the second time Penelope Ann Miller has portrayed a real silent movies actress; the first was in Chaplin, in which she played Edna Purviance.

Click here to see the December 9 releases!

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December 9

New Years Eve

Cast: Lea Michele, Ashton Kutcher, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, more…

Director: Garry Marshall

Rating:

Synopsis: New Yorkers young and old deal with the highs and lows of love in intertwining storylines on New Year's Eve.

What We Think: Looks pretty thin in both substance and entertainment, despite an accomplished director and a cast in which you're sure to find at least a couple of people you like.

Cool to Know: Halle Berry was originally supposed to play the part that went to Katherine Heigl but dropped out due to personal matters, only to return in a different role.

The Sitter

Cast: Jonah Hill, Ari Graynor, Max Record

Director: David Gordon Green

Rating: R

Synopsis: A nerdy young man accepts a job as a babysitter for three brats. When his work schedule conflicts with a party that will surely win him an intimate night with a promiscuous girl he likes, he brings the kids along with him, inadvertently launching them all into a series of dangerous, action-packed events.

What We Think: Looks genuinely hilarious, if you're into less…inspiring comedies. Jonah Hill can carry comedy well, and this looks to be the movie that extracts his most extreme performance.

Cool to Know: Hill created a real phone number, (917) 409-7838, for people to call up if they wanted a babysitter (he would answer in character), for promotion of the film.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Rating: R

Synopsis: Set during the Cold War, a retired espionage agent takes on a mission to discover whom among a group of high ranking government officials in Britain is actually a Soviet spy…but things get a lot more complicated as it goes on.

What We Think: Cannot wait. Looks to have all the charisma, intellectual provocation and genuine fun of the best kind of mystery stories, with some very high stakes to boot—and an incomparable cast.

Cool to Know: Based on John Le Carre's 1979 miniseries starring Alec Guinness.

W.E.

Cast: Abby Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D'Arcy

Director: Madonna

Rating:

Synopsis: The connected tales of Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in the name of love, and Wally Winthop who, in 1998, becomes obsessed with this famous love story…only to find out more than she expected.

What We Think: After The King's Speech, it'd be interesting to see a film about the interlocking story of George's passionate brother. But it's uncertain how this film will use the two timelines to its benefit. We're up in the air on this one.

Cool to Know: James Fox and Laurence Fox play father and son (King and Prince) in the film. They are father and son in real life.

I Melt with You

Cast: Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven, Christian McKay

Director: Mark Pellington

Rating: R

Synopsis: Four college buddies with "normal" lives unite once a year for a week of riotous, dangerous hedonism. But when a message from their past resurfaces, it provokes a great deal of internal and external turmoil between them.

What We Think: More than anything else, we're curious as to what the "secret from the past" could be that evokes such a tumultuous response from each man. But a good cast and a relatable premise could add up to a heartbreaking but intriguing film.

Cool to Know: Named after Modern English's 1982 punk rock hit.

Click here to see the December 16 releases!

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December 16

Young Adult

Cast: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt

Director: Jason Reitman

Rating: R

Synopsis: Strung-out writer Mavis Gary (Theron) returns to her home town looking her ex-boyfriend from high school in hopes of rekindling their former romance. Problem is: He's married. Other problem is: She's a disaster.

What We Think: Reitman previously collaborated with screenwriter Diablo Cody on Juno, which earned them both Oscar nominations (and a win for Cody). Their latest looks significantly darker in tone, but judging from the first trailer, the role's a perfect fit for Theron. As long as her character's not so unpleasant we can't stand to watch her clown around, Young Adult should be a good time at the movies for mature adults.

Cool to Know: The movie's poster spoofs old school teen lit (fitting for the author character), but it also reminds us that Cody's working on a big screen adaptation of Sweet Valley High. Hopefully her take on that material is a little lighter.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace

Director: Guy Ritchie

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: Downey Jr. returns as the eccentric sleuth in the follow up to 2009 blockbuster. This time, Holmes and Watson are pitted against the legendary Professor Moriarty and must team up with Holmes' brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry) and a gypsy named Sim (Rapace) to take him down.

What We Think: The original Sherlock Holmes was mindless, thrilling fun—whether that's how you want your detective stories served up is the real clincher. We imagine Sherlock 2 will be more of the same with bigger explosions, bigger stunts and even crazier costumes. We've already seen Holmes in drag, so who knows where it goes from there.

Cool to Know: There were rumors that Brad Pitt voiced the shadowy villain Moriarty in the original film (and it still may be true), but this time it'll be Mad Men's Jared Harris battling Holmes with his sharp wit.

Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chip-wrecked

Cast: Jason Lee, David Cross

Director: Mike Mitchell

Rating: G

Synopsis: The third installment of the kids franchise sees the rodents and their manager Dave (Lee) headed on a tropical cruise. After an accident sends them overboard, marooning the on a deserted island, the Chipmunks embark on a quest of survival, as the island may not be as uninhabited as it seems...

What We Think: By now, you probably know whether you're in for another round of the live-action Chipmunks or not. This one's strictly for your kids, unless you're a particularly big fan of high-pitched pop song covers.

Cool to Know: You may not be able to hear them, but behind the Chipmunk-ified voices are well-known actors, including Justin Long, Anna Faris, Jesse McCartney, Christina Applegate and Amy Poehler.

Carnage

Cast: Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly

Director: Roman Polanski

Rating: R

Synopsis: The Tony-award winning play by writer Yasmina Reza gets the big screen treatment with four of Hollywood's most talented stars. The movie follows two couples who sit down to discuss their misbehaving sons and end up exploding into a fury of emotion.

What We Think: We saw the movie at this year's New York Film Festival and were won over by the quartet's hilarious, troubling performances. Although the movie is told in real time and entirely set within the confines of a Brooklyn apartment, it's more energetic than most other films this year.

Cool to Know: The original Broadway cast featured Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden.

Click here to see the December 21 releases!

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December 21

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Cast: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Robin Wright

Director: David Fincher

Rating: R

Synopsis: Fincher, the visionary behind 2010's The Social Network, tackles one of the most popular books of the last decade. Craig stars as Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced, former magazine publisher who finds himself sucked into a 40-year-old murder mystery. Blomkvist teams up with punk sleuth/hacker Lisbeth Salander to get to the bottom of the layered conspiracy.

What We Think: True adult-oriented entertainment is few and far between, so a slick thriller from the man who brought us Fight Club and Se7en sounds exactly like the counter-programming we need. Throw in the brilliant Bond and a ferocious up-and-comer (did you see those pictures of Rooney Mara?) and you have a promising picture.

Cool to Know: This will be the second film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—the first made its way to Danish theaters in 2009 and starred Sherlock 2's Noomi Rapace!

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (IMAX 12/16)

Cast: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg

Director: Brad Bird

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) once again finds himself in hot water, this time under investigation for a bombing at Russia's Kremlin. In the wake of the disaster, the government initiates a ""ghost protocol,"" leaving Hunt and his team disbanded and on the run. Expect plenty of rubber face masks and dangling from high buildings.

What We Think: Mission: Impossible III didn't do gangbusters at the box office, but count us in for any and all M:I outings. Cruise has a knack for finding directors who can pull off insane stunts and Brad Bird's imagination (he directed The Incredibles and Ratatouille), plus extensive IMAX camera work, should make this one of the most thrilling action movies of the year.

Cool to Know: Cruise's death defying stunt seen in the trailer, in which the actor grapples from the side of the building, is real. The actor dangled from the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa (2,723 ft), thanks to some very secure cables (and very, very high insurance rates).

Click here to see the December 23 releases!

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December 23

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (IMAX 3D)

Cast: Jamie Bell, Simon Pegg, Daniel Craig

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rating: PG

Synopsis: Based on the series of books by Belgian author Herge, this CG-animated flick chronicles the exploits of Tintin (Bell), a young reporter on the trail of a long-lost treasure.

What We Think: The film's gorgeous animation and top-notch personnel (Peter Jackson produced; Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish worked on the screenplay) indicate major holiday blockbuster potential.

Cool to Know: The original ""Adventures of Tintin"" books have sold over 350 million copies in over 80 different languages.

We Bought a Zoo

Cast: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church

Director: Cameron Crowe

Rating:

Synopsis: Crowe returns to the director's chair for the first time since 2005's Elizabethtown with this dramedy about a disenchanted single father (Damon) who moves his family to the countryside to renovate a zoo that has fallen into disrepair.

What We Think: The film's trailer, bursting with heartfelt sentiment and feel-good aphorisms, evokes comparisons to Jerry Maguire. Which is to say that We Bought a Zoo looks to be very much in Crowe's wheelhouse.

Cool to Know: We Bought a Zoo is based the true story of Englishman Benjamin Mee, who together with his family rescued the Dartmoor Zoological Park in 2006.

In the Land of Blood and Honey

Cast: Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic and Rade Serbedzija

Director: Angelina Jolie

Rating: R

Synopsis: Jolie makes her directorial debut with this indie drama that examines the human costs of the 1992-95 Bosnian civil war. Kostic and Marjanovic play a couple whose relationship is strained by religious and ethnic tensions.

What We Think: Plenty of actors have made successful forays into directing, and we have no reason to suspect Jolie can't do the same. The international cast and dark subject matter suggest pure art-house fare.

Cool to Know: Jolie conceived and wrote the script for the project while bed-ridden with the flu.

Click here to see the December 25 releases!

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December 25

The Darkest Hour

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby and Max Minghella

Director: Chris Gorak

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: A group of American youths are vacationing in Moscow when extra-terrestrials invade. As chaos and destruction rage around them, they scramble to find a weakness in the aliens' arsenal.

What We Think: The recent record of alien-invasion flicks has been less than stellar. Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) produced the project, which gives us hope that it's more than just a Russian Skyline.

Cool to Know: Production on the film had to be shut down briefly last year when smog from a nearby forest fire made shooting impossible.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Cast: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn

Director: Stephen Daldry

Rating:

Synopsis: Newcomer Horn plays a precocious, cerebral nine-year-old who embarks on a journey to find a lock matching a mysterious key that belonged to his father (Hanks), who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Based on the acclaimed novel by Jonathan Safran Foer.

What We Think: There's all kinds of Oscar buzz surrounding this project - a no-brainer considering the source material and talent involved. The trailer alone made us teary-eyed.

Cool to Know: Horn was discovered after competing on an episode of Teen Jeopardy, in which he won $31,000.

Click here to see the December 28 releases!

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December 28

War Horse

Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: As World War I rages across Europe, an English boy (Irvine) enlists in an effort to be reunited with his beloved horse, which has been sold to the British cavalry.

What We Think: The project is drawing loads of Oscar talk, despite trailers drowning in wistful sentiment. We have our doubts, but we know better than to bet against the Master.

Cool to Know: Both War Horse and Spielberg's other Christmas-season release, The Adventures of Tintin, are based on works originally created for children.

The Iron Lady

Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Rating: PG

Synopsis:16-time Oscar-nominated actress Streep steps into the shoes of Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. The biopic chronicles Thatcher's rise to power in a male dominated society and everything she had to sacrifice in the process.

What We Think: Putting Streep in the lead of any real life drama is guaranteeing quality (and Oscar nominations), but the question mark is Lloyd, whose only other directorial effort is the squeaky clean musical Mamma Mia!. If the two were able to dig deep into Thatcher's complicated life, reveal some of the harsher challenges she faced, then this one might be a real winner.

Cool to Know: To prepare for the role, Streep sat in on sessions at Britian's House of Commons, visited her childhood home and met with the former PM's daughter.

Click here to return to the November 4 releases!

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