MUELLER: Holiday movies: Ferraris or fruitcakes?

No fear, my fellow movie-loving cinephiles. I know we’ve had to suffer through a rough stretch since Thanksgiving, with the lone releases being a poorly received Brad Pitt film, a “Saw” rip-off and this weekend’s “Playing for Keeps.” What is that last movie, you may ask? That’s a damn fine question.

            But Christmas is now approaching with a bag full of big releases hoping you’ll choose them when you get sick of your family. But which ones are like a Ferrari (preferably with a big red bow on top), and which ones are like finding a barely digestible fruitcake in your stocking? Well … they haven’t come out yet, so I have no clue. But let’s get completely judgmental and make rash and unfounded claims about movies in the name of entertainment.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”            

Every part of my nerd soul wants to be mega-pumped for the first installment of “The Hobbit” trilogy. They got Peter Jackson back behind the camera, as well as Ian McKellen as the film’s heart, Gandalf. Plus, “The Hobbit” is an epic story like “Lord of the Rings,” but with a bit more light-hearted fun. But I just … can’t.

Maybe my lack of enthusiasm is due to the decision to split the story into three, surely dragged-out parts, an idea clearly the result of a greedy executive’s most diabolical fever dream. It’s an epic tale, but epic in terms of scope, not length. The heralded 48 frames per second that apparently makes “An Unexpected Journey” look more fake than real is also not encouraging. It hurts me to say this (and I’m totally eager to eat my words) but …

Verdict: Fruitcake

“Jack Reacher”            

Every year, there’s a generic action movie that comes out around Christmas time and is instantly forgotten by society (“The Darkest Hour” last year, “The Tourist” before that). This year, the generic action movie comes with an even more generic action movie title: “Jack Reacher.” I really like Tom Cruise, and after last year’s invigorating “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” he appeared to be back in audience’s good graces. From the looks of “Jack Reacher,” though, it seems to be headed toward the same fate as “Knight & Day” – the bargain bin.

Verdict: Fruitcake

“This is 40”            

Listen, Judd Apatow, I like you. I like your movies (for the most part). I’m just not nearly as enamored with your family as you seem to be. He makes personal movies, which is a rare find in the world of Hollywood comedy. But that also results in films that feel ridiculously bloated (cough, “Funny People”) and struggle to balance emotional depth with raunchy humor (cough, cough, “Funny People”). Considering “This Is 40’s” 134-minute running time, it seems things have changed very little.

Verdict: Fruitcake “Django Unchained”            

Playing the role of the hard R-rated film that some family will make the horrible mistake of taking the whole clan to see (previously played by “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) comes Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” another genre-bending ode to cinema. Tarantino’s films have always been particularly tailored for the kind of people who are the movie nerds among movie nerds. At the same time, they are almost always polished and entertaining for laypeople as well. Most of the references are sure to fly over some audiences’ heads, but as long as the bullets and profanely witty dialogue fly as well, I think we’ll be pleased with Tarantino’s blaxploitation Western action comedy. Just don’t bring Grandma.

Verdict: Ferrari

“Les Miserables”

It’s hard not to be cynical toward “Les Miserables.” It’s a glossy, epic, heart-bleedingly emotional musical, directed by the guy who shamefully won Best Picture for last year’s glaring Oscar bait (“The King’s Speech”) and starring a cast of Oscar winners. Plus, it features Anne Hathaway, whose desperation for an Oscar and for audience’s love acts as a shield to her charms. In short, it’s Oscar bait to end all Oscar bait.

But even with all those reasons to groan at the mere sight of the poster, “Les Miserables” looks like it might just win me over. During a screening of “Lincoln” (runner-up for most obvious Oscar bait), the trailer began, and I commenced an eye roll. Two minutes later, I was shockingly moved. Well played, “Les Mis.” Well played, indeed.

Verdict: Ferrari

“Parental Guidance”            

“Parental Guidance” is a family comedy starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler. It’s the perfect Christmas movie for boring people.

Verdict: Fruitcake

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