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Commentary: Future 2012 film releases vying to be Oscar bait, award worthy

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

October is drawing to a close. We’re staring down a few days off for Thanksgiving, and not long after, winter break. With a bit of free time coming our way, it’s worth taking a look at some of the films still left to be released this year.

The November-December run is the homestretch for studios hoping to snag some awards for their films. Most companies save their so-called “prestige pictures” for the last few months, so they’ll be fresh in the minds of both audiences and Academy Awards voters. Warner Brothers probably had Oscar gold in mind when it rolled out “Cloud Atlas” this weekend, but mostly average reviews and a weak opening weekend at the box office might hurt the film’s chances.

The flashy-looking adaptation of David Mitchell’s complex novel stars Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, who play different characters across multiple timelines. While some critics have praised the film for its handling of Mitchell’s complicated narrative, ambition doesn’t always equal success on the big screen.

A similarly ambitious-looking adaptation is “Life of Pi.” Director Ang Lee tackles Yann Martel’s story of a young man who, surviving a shipwreck, is marooned in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. Early reviews liken its visual inventiveness to “Avatar,” but the trailers seem more akin to Peter Jackson’s dreadful handling of “The Lovely Bones.” The film is scheduled to drop Nov. 21.

Coming Nov. 2 is “Cast Away” director Robert Zemeckis’ “Flight.” Starring Denzel Washington as a pilot who heroically lands a crashing plane, “Flight” will be the first live-action film in nearly 12 years from Zemeckis, who also directed “Forrest Gump.” Reviews have been positive so far, certainly better than the Zemeckis’ previous three films, and looks to feature Washington’s best work since “American Gangster” in 2007.

Another high profile actor-director pairing is Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” Scheduled to hit select screens Nov. 9 and everywhere Nov. 16, the film stars Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president, and seems to have “Oscar” written all over it.

Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina” (Nov. 16) with Keira Knightley and Jude Law, and Sacha Gervasi’s “Hitchcock” (Nov. 23) starring Anthony Hopkins as the titular “Psycho” director also look like awards bait, while Andrew Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly” (Nov. 30) starring Brad Pitt should be smarter than the average crime thriller, if strong reviews from its Cannes International Film Festival premiere in May are to be believed.

While the announcement that it will be broken into three parts struck some as a needless cash-grab, New Line Cinema is hoping that the good memories that surround Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy will extend to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” The fantasy adventure, which will be offered in 3-D, 2-D and IMAX, is slated to unspool Dec. 14.

The director and writer combination behind the Best Picture-winning “The Hurt Locker” reteam for “Zero Dark Thirty.” Concerning the events leading up to the death of Osama bin Laden, the film looks to be every bit as gritty and suspenseful as Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s previous film together.

Coming Christmas Day are two films that couldn’t be more different than one another. The star-studded big screen version of “Les Misérables,” from Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) will almost certainly be a hit with musical fans of all ages.

Then, there’s “Django Unchained.” Quentin Tarantino’s follow-up to “Inglourious Basterds” is another Spaghetti-Western-inspired revenge thriller, this time set in the Antebellum Deep South. Starring Jamie Foxx as a freed slave bent on rescuing his wife from a vicious slave owner, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, Columbia and The Weinstein Company are taking a bit of a gamble releasing the violent, racially charged film on Christmas (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” attempted a similar feat last year, and was largely unsuccessful). However, Tarantino has a devoted fan base, and the chance to see DiCaprio in a villainous role should attract a solid audience.

The next two months look to be a mixed bag of releases, with the typical Oscar bait mixing with some more interesting-looking genre efforts. Time will tell which films will flop, and which will be a hit with critics and audiences alike.

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