Preview big movies coming out December and January

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

Dec. 7

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

Dec. 14

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

Dec. 19

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

Dec. 21

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.

Jack Reacher

Dec. 21

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

Dec. 21

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

Dec. 21

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.

Django Unchained

Dec. 25

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.

Les Misérables

Dec. 25

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.

Parental Guidance

Dec. 25

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

Zero Dark Thirty

Jan. 4

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 Impossible

Jan. 4

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

Twitter: @carydar