A Hollywood holiday

John Hult

John Hult

Wintertime is wonderful. The snow falls and turns our flat little state into a winter wonderland, albeit one with nearly a foot or so more of the wintry goodfluff than the states of many of our fellow Americans. There is Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, of course. Those are fun. Spending time with the family can be a good ol’ time–depending on your attitude and the amount of patience you take with you to the family table.

These nostalgic pieces of American Holiday Time are not the true prize for a real movie geek, however. After all, how long does the “White Christmas” feeling stick around before most of us go back to being our own jaded little selves, anyway? An hour at a time–tops.

Anyway, the point is this: while the holidays are grand, the vacations are always welcome and the family visits are less stressful than we expect them to be, the real prizes are the movies.

While summer movies are about action and fun and the spring brings a rosy red rash of romantic comedies, November and December are generally reserved as the months during which the year’s most well-acted, thoughtful or sweeping pictures emerge.

The Academy Awards can be thanked for this phenomenon, as studios both independent and major push to release their finest–or what they think is their finest–material before the end of the year, making them eligible for the Oscar ceremony in March.

Punches in the fight for the luminous little gold guy have already begun being thrown.

Last month saw the openings of the Salma Hayek-produced biopic Frida, and often nominated, never-winning auteur Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love. Also packing a heavy punch were a few movies from folks who’ve taken home an Oscar already, like Best Director statuette owner Stephen Soderbergh’s futuristic mind-bender Solaris and brooding screenwriter Paul Schrader’s sex-addiction melodrama Autofocus.

The real heavyweights have waited until December to unleash their Oscar bait. Stephen Spielberg’s newest collaboration with Tom Hanks, Catch Me If You Can, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a con artist and Hanks as the guy out to get him. Catch opens on Dec. 25 on the heels of Gangs of New York, Martin Scorsese’s newest film that couples DiCaprio with an Oscar-winner–Daniel Day Lewis.. Gangs opens Dec. 20.

The big names sound impressive and add credibility to movies that many might otherwise pass by, as Jonathan Demme’s name did for the remake of The Truth About Charlie and Brian DePalma’s did for the T&A- heavy Rebecca Romyn-Stamos vehicle Femme Fatale last month.

And let us not forget the film that may well end up the biggest hit of the year and still get (well-deserved) Oscar consideration: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Still, the gems just outside of the bucket of Hollywood holiday jewelry are quite often the powerful independent productions.

The Menno Meyjes drama Max provides what could be the most interesting premise of the pretense-heavy season.

The film follows the path of the egotistical and slightly nihilistic art dealer of the title as he works with a frustrated but promising young artist floundering between the worlds of art and politics.

The artist is Hitler. The art takes a back seat. We all know which path he chooses, but the idea of watching John Cusack (as Max) and Shine alum Noah Taylor (as Hitler) trade barbs in a tragedy with real historical significance is more than enough to pique my interest.

Alas, Max will not be arriving in a theater near you anytime too soon. For one thing, it follows the rush-for-Academy-consideration tradition of opening in New York and L.A. just before the end of the year. The film will open nationwide in January.

Another loss for the potential South Dakota movie-goer is the late-release of Adaptation, Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze’s next oddball collaboration with Malkovich screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. Kaufmann wrote himself and his fictional twin brother (Nicolas Cage) into the tale of a self-loathing screenwriter with writer’s block who just can’t seem to figure out how to adapt a novel called The Orchid Thief.

This one’s already playing somewhere. Somewhere has been showing the critically acclaimed Adaptation since Dec. 6. Somewhere is still MIA.

Summer movies are grand. We need to be thrilled, sometimes. Spring movies are usually light and airy as the season, which is also nice to see onscreen.

For my money, though, November and December’s rush to release Fine Work is the best time of the year to play movie geek.