It has been a pretty solid fall for movies, with Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Flight, Skyfall and Lincoln showing that there's life in mainstream Hollywood still. There was even general critical agreement that the Twilight finale wasn't the horror show many were expecting.
But we've got one more big movie-going month before we say goodbye to 2012, and it includes some of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year, from Les Misérables to The Hobbit. So, here's our holiday movie guide to the 12 movies everyone's going to be talking about next to the partridge in a pear tree. Get out your popcorn and your eggnog and let's get started. Remember, release dates are subject to change.
Playing for Keeps
The stars: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel
The director: Gabriele Muccino
The plot: This romantic-comedy is about an aging soccer player who finds new life coaching his son's soccer team.
The buzz: Muccino directed the well-regarded The Pursuit of Happyness with Will Smith in 2006, and there aren't a ton of other rom-coms this season.
Buzz kill: Butler is more successful in dramas ( 300, Machine Gun Preacher) than rom-coms ( The Ugly Truth, P.S. I Love You).
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
The director: Peter Jackson
The plot: Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) and his band of Middle Earth friends have to confront a dragon over its treasure.
The buzz: Lord of the Rings fanboys have been frothing for this first installment in a three-part take on J.R.R. Tolkien's classic fantasy tale.
Buzz kill: Unlike the sprawling Lord of the Rings saga, The Hobbit was a slim book, and stretching it into three movies may be too much.
The Guilt Trip
The stars: Seth Rogen, Barbra Streisand
The director: Anne Fletcher
The plot: Mom and son travel the country trying to sell his inventions in this comedy.
The buzz: Streisand doesn't make many movies. Her last two, in 2004 and 2010, involved the Fockers.
Buzz kill: Director Fletcher ( The Proposal, 27 Dresses) doesn't exactly make classics.
Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D
The stars: Erica Linz, Dallas Barnett
The director: Andrew Adamson
The plot: It's not a documentary, but a fantasy featuring Cirque performers.
The buzz: Everything Cirque du Soleil touches turns to gold.
Buzz kill: It's one thing seeing Cirque's jaw-dropping contortions onstage, another in a movie with some sort of contrived storyline.
The stars: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike
The director: Christopher McQuarrie
The plot: An investigator and former military cop has to find out who's behind a wave of sniper shootings.
The buzz: Jack Reacher is the hero in a popular series of novels by Lee Child.
Buzz kill: McQuarrie wrote the script for one of the worst movies of 2010, The Tourist.
Not Fade Away
The stars: John Magaro, Will Brill
The director: David Chase
The plot: Rock 'n' roll punctuates this '60s-era coming-of-age saga about friends who try to form a band.
The buzz: This is the first feature from Sopranos creator David Chase.
Buzz kill: Success as a TV director doesn't always translate to movies.
This Is 40
The stars: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann
The director: Judd Apatow
The plot: As sort of a sequel to 2007's Knocked Up, this takes place five years later in the lives of Pete and Debbie as each faces the dreaded 40th birthday.
The buzz: Knocked Up was a hit, and Apatow is the acclaimed director of The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Buzz kill: Apatow's last film, the generally poorly reviewed Funny People in 2009, didn't exactly set the box office on fire.
The stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington
The director: Quentin Tarantino
The plot: It's the 19th century, and a freed slave seeks to free his wife.
The buzz: Tarantino tries his hand at something akin to a Western in his first film since Inglourious Basterds in 2009.
Buzz kill: Just as some were offended by Basterds' reinterpretation of WWII history, many (if the online world is any measure) are also outraged by how Tarantino is dealing with the issue of slavery.
The stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway
The director: Tom Hooper
The plot: This is Victor Hugo's epic about a freed prisoner seeking a new life set against the backdrop of France's June Rebellion.
The buzz: The musical was a Broadway and touring-company smash, so there's a large built-in audience.
Buzz kill: The cast sang on set instead of recording the music separately in a studio. This could end up being a brilliant or a foolhardy decision.
The stars: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler
The director: Andy Fickman
The plot: Worlds collide when old-school grandparents have to baby-sit new-school grandchildren.
The buzz: It's Midler's first performance in a nonanimated movie since The Women in 2008.
Buzz kill: Director Fickman's last film, You Again, has an 18 percent rating on rottentomatoes.com.
Zero Dark Thirty
The stars: Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jessica Chastain
The director: Kathryn Bigelow
The plot: This drama tells the story of the capture of Osama bin Laden.
The buzz: A fascinating slice of current history comes to the big screen, and Bigelow, of Hurt Locker fame, knows her way around a war zone.
Buzz kill: It's not lightweight holiday fare, and the box-office record for films dealing with our recent conflicts is not good.
The stars: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor
The director: Juan Antonio Bayona
The plot: A family is caught up in the 2004 Indonesian tsunami.
The buzz: As with Zero Dark Thirty, this sort of ripped-from-today's-headlines project has immediate appeal.
Buzz kill: Some have criticized the film for focusing on Westerners when it was mostly Indonesians who died.
Cary Darling, 817-390-7571