Holiday Movie Season Launches With Mountain Climbing, Hair Climbing

Around this time of every year, movies start to get better as the big, dumb blockbusters and the sequels of remakes of adaptations tend to – gasp – share cinema screens with movies for grown-ups!

The logic for this trend is apparently because voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have long-term memory impairment and have already forgotten the genuinely great films released during the first 10 months of the year. Thus, all the Oscar contenders tend to open around the same two-to-three month period. For us in South Florida, we have to suffer the vagaries of the perpetually delayed “platform releases,” often meaning we have to wait until January or February to see titles others have already praised as 2010’s best. Anyway, enjoy this time of the year while you can; by the time March hits, you’ll be hard pressed to find much of anything to see at multiplexes.

This Wednesday marks the opening salvo of the holiday movie season, with at least two potential Oscar contenders opening among a handful of titles in South Florida. I’ll first get to the two of them I’ve actually seen: “127 Hours ” has

ridden a wave of uplifting buzz for months now, having already opened just about everywhere else on the planet. You probably know the story: The movie follows real-life mountaineer Aron Ralston (James Franco), who had to self-amputate his lower right arm after it became lodged between a rock and a hard place while canyoneering in Utah. Director Danny Boyle keeps the action riveting, both despite and because of the limited, claustrophobic setting. This rigorous exercise in cinematic discipline and restraint contains its share of nauseatingly effective moments and ultimately is anchored by the life-affirming notion that you shouldn’t take what you have for granted.

In the children’s movie front, you can’t go too wrong with “Tangled,” an old-fashioned Disney spin on the Rapunzel fairy tale. Predictably, the production shaves off the rougher edges of its considerably darker Grimm Brothers source material for a kid-friendly treatment that doesn’t have a whole lot of intellectual heft for adults. Still, there’s some inspired physical and slapstick comedy, and anyone over the age of 12 could suffer through a lot worse than this (like the live-action “Alvin and Chipmunks” movie, for instance).

As for the films I haven’t seen yet, the big holiday musical spectacular this season (there’s always one!) is “Burlesque,” with Christina Aguilera as an aspiring nightclub diva with big dreams and a ticket to Los Angeles, and Cher the hard-boiled proprietor of a legendary but struggling burlesque club in Hollywood. Alan Cumming and Stanley Tucci costar. The cocktail-napkin-thin plot sounds like “Showgirls” but without all the nudity and schlocky self-deprecation–which itself was just “All About Eve” but with nudity and trashier dialogue. I’m not expecting much out of this one, but the November release date suggests that director Steve Antin may have Oscar on his mind.

If “Burlesque” is this year’s “Nine,” “Love and Other Drugs” may be this year’s “Up in the Air.” It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as an ineffably confident pharmaceutical rep for Viagra and Anne Hathaway as his free-spirited love interest. It looks like a sharp satire of our backwards health-care industry, and it couldn’t be timelier. Wednesday’s releases are rounded out with “Faster,”which stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a vengeful ex-con and Billy Bob Thornton as the cop who is – of course – always one step behind him.