There’s a good reason the studio decision-makers all say “Let George do it.” There’s nothing the guy can’t do. A heavyweight Oscar contender for his portrait of a stressed-out millionaire whose wife turns him into a cuckold and then a widower in Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” Clooney will suffer pressure of a far stranger kind in “Gravity.” Under the direction of Alfonso Cuaron, the auteur responsible for “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and “Children of Men,” Clooney plays a veteran  astronaut looking forward to retirement. But the plug is abruptly pulled on his dream of lazy, sunny days down at the beach when his final outer space mission turns impossible. He’s supposed to pilot hotshot engineer Sandra Bullock to a safe spot where they can jointly repair the severely mangled Hubble telescope, but mother nature has other plans and it soon looks as if this budding duo will never again touch down on planet earth.

Let’s hope the fadeout doesn’t leave you sobbing, “Come back, George, come back! You, too, Sandra!” We’ll know for sure if this flight is one-way or round-trip when “Gravity” opens on 11/21/12.


In “The Iron Lady,” for which she received her 17th Oscar nomination, the First Lady of American Cinema spent a plentiful waste of time in addled conversation with her husband, a man who had long ago vacated this vale of tears. In those portions of the film Streep, playing former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, is suffering from dementia and, as always, she is overwhelmingly persuasive. In “Great Hope Springs,” Meryl’s husband, acted by Tommy Lee Jones, is alive and kicking, but in some respects he might as well be stone-cold dead. For example: After three decades of marriage, hubby is no longer the horny hombre he once was, and that seems to suit him fine.

So how can Meryl figure out a way to turn up the heat? She can’t, and that’s where miracle-maker sex therapist Steve Carell comes in.  All Meryl has to do is coax or trick clueless Tommy Lee into boarding a plane for Great Hope Springs, the anything-goes town where shameless Steve calls all the sexual shots. No word yet on the rating for this film, but you probably won’t want to bring the kiddies. “Great Hope Springs” has been directed by David Frankel, who did well by Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada.” The opening is set for 8/10/12.


Sure, he still looks great, but these days Pitt is more celebrated for his dramatic range than his sex appeal. Even in his brief screen time as the mischievous stud who melted frigid Geena Davis--while simultaneously pocketing her cash--in “Thelma & Louise,” it was clear he would become a permanent Hollywood fixture. And this could be the year he finally bags an Oscar, after having come close in 1995 with “12 Monkeys” (Best Supporting Actor); in 2008 with “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Best Actor); and now with his triumph as a volatile baseball visionary in the splendid “Moneyball” (Best Actor). I should point out too that it’s certainly not Pitt’s fault that the Academy failed to honor him with a Supporting Actor nomination for his disturbing portrait of a conflicted, fiery family man in Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.”

Whatever the outcome on the evening of February 26, it seems likely that around this time next year, we will see Pitt once again listed among the Best Actor nominees. His new film, opening on 9/21/12, is based on “Cogan’s Trade,” the mesmerizing thriller by the late George V. Higgins. There are no heroes in this noir tale set in Boston but shot in New Orleans--only a gallery of sinister schemers and thugs played by James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, Ben Mendelsohn, Scoot McNairy and Sam Shepard. And, in the role of stealthy, trigger-crazed professional assassin Jackie Cogan, the habitually adventurous Brad Pitt.  More good news: The writer-director is Andrew Dominik, the New Zealand filmmaker who served up the lacerating “Chopper” in 2000, followed in 2007 by “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” a thinking-dude’s  western that provided Brad Pitt with an opportunity to explore the psyche of a mythic—some say heroic--American outlaw.


Magnificent is the word New York Times critic Ben Brantley used to describe Viola Davis in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s “Fences,” and it came as no surprise when she won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Actress. Now many moviegoers are betting Davis, who was Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actress of 2008 for her short, incisive turn in “Doubt,” will take home a Best Actress Oscar this year for her meticulous performance as an emotionally battered maid and nanny in “The Help,” set in the mercilessly Jim Crow Mississippi of 1963.

There’s also a possibility that this star on the rise will be competing for an Oscar next year for “Won’t Back Down,” in which she plays a mom who teaches at a troubled inner-city grade school where, in desperation, she joins a tenacious single mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in a risky crusade to dump the school's inadequate teachers and administrators and transfer power to deeply concerned parents (a scenario that mirrors what is actually taking place today in California, Texas, Ohio and Connecticut). The film, directed by Daniel Barnz, also stars Holly Hunter, who won a Best Actress Oscar for 1993’s “The Piano,” as a union leader who seems to feel that the kids are all right with the current set-up at school. “Won’t Back Down” will open on 9/28/12.


Bichir has been nominated Best Actor for  “A Better Life,” the Chris Weitz drama in which he plays a Mexican immigrant toiling as a gardener in the hope of building a decent future for his son in California. Next, Bichir will be seen as a very different kind of Mexican, a lawyer who labors in the service of a lethal drug cartel in “Savages.” Oliver Stone’s socio-thriller, which  assures Bichir close, dangerous contact with the likes of John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Benicio Del Toro, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson and Emile Hirsch, opens on 7/6/12.


Until recently, most moviegoers had no clue as to what a Rooney Mara might be—was it a boy, a girl, or maybe the latest Haagen Dazs flavor?
Then up popped David Fincher’s groundbreaking “Social Network,” in which a sharp-tongued brunette Boston University undergrad emphatically, if only briefly, deflates the ego of boy bore Mark Zuckerberg, soon to become the billionaire founder of Facebook. Aside from a later quick scene, that was all we saw of Rooney Mara in “Social Network,” but it was enough to hook us.

Actually, you may have seen Rooney before she was Rooney if you happened to catch “Urban Legends: Bloody Mary,” a 2005 video shocker in which she was billed as Patricia Mara. A bit later, she was Tricia Mara and eventually it was simply Rooney Mara, a name and a presence totally appreciated by maverick director David Fincher. It’s  a long shot, but Rooney has a chance of winning the Oscar as Best Actress of 2011 for her riveting performance as the risk-taking yet vulnerable Lisbeth Salander in Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

Next for Rooney, daughter of the enormously wealthy New York Giants executive Timothy Christopher Mara, is “Lawless,” a top-secret drama now shooting under the moody, mystic direction of Terrence Malick. There are those who claim that Malick’s surreal cinematic feasts are top-secret even after they’ve been seen ("The Tree of Life” being a case in point). What’s not a top secret on this occasion is the fact that Rooney is traveling in first-class company. The cast includes Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett.


Superb as a silent-film ham in “The Artist”--even managing to hold his own in scenes with wonder dog Uggie--Dujardin’s thick French accent may or may not prove to be a career handicap. Presumably, there will be no problem understanding what this gifted seriocomic actor is saying in “Mobius,” since it is a French movie set in Russia and undoubtedly will arrive in America peppered with subtitles. Dujardin plays a Federal Security Service officer who flips for an American beauty (Cecile De France) employed as a trader in a Russian bank. Written and directed by Eric Rochant, “Mobius” is tentatively scheduled for a U.S. release in 2013.


Having won nominations for Best Supporting Actress in “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) and Best Actress in “Blue Valentine” (2010), Michelle Williams has been tagged again, this time as Best Actress for her re-imagining of enduring screen legend and fragile civilian Marilyn Monroe in “My Week With Marilyn.” 

Even if she doesn’t win, Michelle surely deserves an “A” for guts. One might expect her to next tackle the challenging role of Judy Garland, another tragic superstar. But no, Williams will instead invite comparison with Billie Burke, the bubbly actress who actually played Glinda, the Good Witch, in Judy’s “The Wizard of Oz.” The new movie, directed by Sam Raimi, is called “Oz: The Great and Powerful” and apparently will not bother itself with a little Kansan named Dorothy and her dog Toto. Expect instead James Franco as a marginally trustworthy magician in a tacky mid-western circus who suddenly finds himself somewhere over the rainbow, struggling to transform himself into the greatest wizard of all time. Among those helping or hindering him in his frantic quest are Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Zach Braff. This switch of Oz will open sometime in 2013.


One of the truly great actors of our time, Gary Oldman has yet to win an Oscar. Nor do the odds seem to be in his favor this year, despite his quietly majestic performance as espionage specialist George Smiley in director Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of  John le Carre’s  “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” But surely one of these evenings, the modest, never pushy Oldman will clutch that elusive statuette. Maybe on Oscar night in 2013, if he’s nominated for “The Dark Night Rises,” in which he returns to the golden franchise as law-man Jim Gordon, once again battling the forces of evil in Gotham City. The thriller, directed—as it should be—by Christopher Nolan, opens on 7/20/12.


A Best Actress nominee for her strong performance as an Irish woman who passes for a man in “Albert Nobbs,” Glenn Close knows what it feels like to be a contender, since this is her sixth Oscar nomination. Alas, she does not yet know what it feels like to actually win an Academy Award. Maybe this year she’ll be lucky at last. If not, there’s always next year, or the year after. “Therese Raquin,” an adaptation of Emile Zola’s dark, striking 19th-century novel and play which recently completed shooting, holds promise. Close plays Madame Raquin, the bitterly frustrated mother-in-law of Therese Raquin (Elizabeth Olsen). By accident, the older woman discovers that her sickly son Camille did not die a natural death; he was in fact murdered by Therese and her lover, Laurent (Tom Felton). If the film, written and directed by Charlie Stratton, sticks to its source, we’re in for a harsh, macabre treat. And Glenn Close could finally be in for an Oscar.