The holidays are the time of year when we want to see things brought to extremes onscreen; by contrast, summer movies are just diversions from longer days. Winter is for frosty cataclysm, old wars and unheard-of tragedy.
There's only one film that evokes that kind of perfect danger unique to winter—'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' (Dec. 9). Gary Oldman is the latest to play smaller-than-life British MI6 inquisitor George Smiley. A hamster in a world of moles, Smiley tries to find who perforated the security of "the Circus," the British intelligence service of the 1970s. Tom Hardy, Ciaran Hinds and Colin Firth are among the suspects, and the film is brilliantly done.
'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' (Dec. 16) may disappoint. This time, out of the darkness comes Moriarity (Jared Harris). The film must work somehow—Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is like Shakespeare, he looks out for himself. And even director Guy Ritchie can't stale Holmes—can he?
'The Adventures of Tintin' (Dec. 21) uses motion-capture animation in the story of Hergé's famed comic-book boy reporter as he seeks the lost treasure of a ship called the Unicorn, with the help of seafarer Capt. Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis). Jamie Bell voices the detective, and Daniel Craig is Ivanovitch Sakharine.
'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol' (Dec. 21) has as its director Brad Bird, the Pixar ace behind The Incredibles. Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt and the rest of the Impossible Mission Force are officially disavowed after the Kremlin is bombed.
David Fincher directs the remake of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (Dec. 21), and he's certain to overlay his own brand of kink onto a story that was grisly enough back when it was subtitled. This time, Rooney Mara plays the hard-bitten punkette hacker in uneasy alliance with Daniel Craig's journalist.
'War Horse' (Dec. 25), by Stephen Spielberg, is likely more kid-safe, a live-action film based on a West End stage success originally done with puppets and choreography. The film relates the saga of a pony sent to the trenches in World War I, as his master (Jeremy Irvine) tries to get him back.
'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' (Dec. 25) is based on Jonathan Safran Foer's "Brooklyn Book of Wonder"—the novel was a literary way of trying to make lemonade out a very large lemon named "Sept. 11." A little boy (Thomas Horn) tries to find out what his father (Tom Hanks) was doing on that particularly bad day. Sandra Bullock plays the mom. In the end, suggest the trailers, everything turns out fine, and springtime returns.