LOS ANGELES – The B-list rules Hollywoods fall and holiday movie season: Bond, Bella and Bilbo.
Daniel Craig is back as James Bond in Skyfall, the super-spys first adventure in four years, one of the longest 007 hiatuses in the franchises 50-year history.
Kirsten Stewart returns for her swan song as Bella Swan, alongside vampire hubby Robert Pattinson and jealous werewolf Taylor Lautner in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, the franchise finale.
And Bilbo Baggins goes jewelry shopping for an evil ring in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first installment in Peter Jacksons three-part prelude to his Academy Award-winning adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkiens The Lord of the Rings.
Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood and others reprise their Lord of the Rings roles, but The Hobbit hinges on newcomer Martin Freeman as Bilbo. The filmmakers were so set on him that production halted for three months while Freeman returned to Sherlock, the British TV hit in which he plays Dr. Watson.
It was sort of unheard of for a big-budget movie, but because we wanted him so badly, the studio supported us, and we made that provision in our schedule, Jackson said. He carries the movie. You get that casting wrong and youre in huge trouble.
Heres a look at other highlights:
Adam Sandlers in voice-only mode as Dracula in the animated monster mash Hotel Transylvania.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as a World War II vet mesmerized by a cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in The Master. For baseball fans, theres Trouble with the Curve, starring Clint Eastwood as an old-timer on a scouting trip with his daughter (Amy Adams).
Time-travel geeks can watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a hit man trying to snuff his older self (Bruce Willis) in Looper, also featuring Emily Blunt.
Gordon-Levitt underwent three hours of makeup each day to look more like Willis. He repeatedly watched his co-stars movies and studied Willis dialogue on his iPod.
But the most productive thing was just spending time with him. Having dinner, talking about music or whatever and getting to know each other, Gordon-Levitt said. Thats when I felt I was learning the most about what I could incorporate into how I was going to play this character.
Liam Neeson returns as a violently over-protective family man in Taken 2. Brad Pitts a mob enforcer tracking rogue hoods in Killing Them Softly. Kevin James goes from lethargic science teacher to mixed martial-arts sensation in the comedy Here Comes the Boom.
Ben Affleck directs and stars in Argo, a rescue thriller about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and a big ensemble take on multiple roles in Cloud Atlas, an epic spanning centuries and genres.
And Tim Burton resurrects an old friend with Frankenweenie, his animated update of a live-action short film he made in the 1980s, centered on a kid who pulls a Frankenstein to revive his cherished, perished dog.
Its like the first pure relationship you have as a child, if you have a good pet, Burton said. Also growing up loving, like, Frankenstein movies, theres something about a boy and his dog and a Frankenstein story that doesnt seem that dissimilar. It seemed like a weird wish-fulfillment connection that just made sense to me.
Judi Denchs M steps up in a more pivotal role as spy master to Craigs 007 in Skyfall, in which Bonds loyalty to his boss is tested by revelations from her past.
Steven Spielberg directs Daniel-Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln. Keira Knightley and Jude Law star in a new take on Leo Tolstoys epic romance Anna Karenina. Denzel Washingtons a pilot who miraculously lands his damaged jetliner in Flight.
A couple of animated tales debut for the holidays: Wreck-It-Ralph, with John C. Reilly providing the voice of a second-banana video game character striking out on his own; and Rise of the Guardians, an adventure with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and other mythical beings battling an evil spirit.
Twilight has been a rarity for male-oriented Hollywood, a blockbuster franchise aimed almost exclusively at women. Bill Condon, director of the final two Twilight movies, recalls studio hand-wringing over Dreamgirls, his musical that became a hit largely because of female crowds.
People were so concerned about who was going to go see it, Condon said. It was like, well, what if you can make a movie that 15-year-old boys dont care about and you still have an audience?
That turned out to be true. I think its exciting when not every movies got to be aimed at just that one demographic.
The Hobbit has some action competition for the holidays in Tom Cruises Jack Reacher, with Katie Holmes ex playing a former military cop investigating a sniper case. Quentin Tarantinos Django Unchained stars Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio in a pre-Civil War bounty hunter saga.
Among holiday comedies, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler play grandparents at odds with their daughter (Marisa Tomei) in Parental Guidance; Seth Rogen goes on a road trip with his domineering mother (Barbra Streisand) in The Guilt Trip; and Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann revisit their marital woes as they reprise their Knocked Up characters in Judd Apatows This Is 40.
Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway team for a big-screen adaptation of the stage musical Les Miserables, based on Victor Hugos classic. A scheduling conflict forced Hathaway out of an earlier movie musical, The Phantom of the Opera. She now counts it a blessing, saying Les Miserables more than compensates.
I dont know if I would have gotten Les Mis if I had done Phantom, Hathaway said. So maybe it was just the universes way of protecting me and getting to play a superior part.