Try 4 things to be thankful for while avoiding franchise films

Movie Talk
Early reviews of the Coen brothers' True Grit indicate Hailee Steinfeld could steal the show from veteran Jeff Bridges. She beat out 15,000 girls to play Mattie Ross.

For movie fans not caught up in the Harry Potter craze and dreading yet another addition to the Meet the Parents franchise, this holiday movie season might have you feeling like you've been left out in the cold.


I'm here to say, fret not. In honor of Thanksgiving, I've compiled a list of four things to be thankful for this winter.

TRUE GRIT: When the Coen brothers (Fargo , No Country for Old Men ) last teamed up with Jeff Bridges, they wound up creating the cult classic to end all cult classics with The Big Lebowski (1998).

Now they're together again in a readaptation of Charles Portis' novel True Grit , which was first adapted for the screen in 1969, starring John Wayne.

Bridges will reprise Wayne's role as the gritty, eye-patched old marshal "Rooster" Cogburn. The one-line Hollywood pitch is more than enough to get me excited, and it sounds like something out of the board game Clue : Jeff Bridges, wearing an eye patch, in a Coen brothers Western.

Yet there's so much more, including Matt Damon as a Texas Ranger and Josh Brolin exercising his bad-guy chops as the ruthless killer Tom Chaney.

Despite all the big names, early reviews say the film will be stolen by young actress Hailee Steinfeld, who reportedly beat out 15,000 girls to play Mattie Ross, the farm girl who recruits Cogburn to track down Chaney, her father's killer.

With Coen brothers staple Roger Deakins as cinematographer, expect another beautifully shot, perfectly crafted masterpiece. It is to the Coens' credit that anything less would be a disappointment.

True Grit is scheduled for a Dec. 17 release.

NETFLIX: Ever since this DVD-by-mail service debuted, it has been marked for death by business and technology reporters. But by being consistently innovative while maintaining its simplicity and affordability, Netflix has thrived.

Its online streaming service, once derided as a gimmick, has become so popular that it has some worrying it could overwhelm the Internet.

What is great about Netflix is that what is good for the company also happens to be good for the customer. It is spending tons of cash to add titles to its "Watch Instantly" streaming service because it is less expensive than mailing the DVDs. And the customer benefits because the instant service is in many ways superior to DVDs.

Also, Netflix's recommendation service has helped expose me to many films I otherwise would have never heard of. I didn't know I liked "visually striking cerebral sci-fi & fantasy" -- but Netflix did, and it recommended a few solid films.

All this for less than $10 a month. Considering the price of a movie ticket these days, Netflix continues to be an exceptional value.

BOARDWALK EMPIRE: While this is technically a TV show, the production values and talent involved in Boardwalk Empire (9 p.m. Sundays, HBO) are better than most films released this year.

The show begins at the dawn of Prohibition and follows the rise of bootlegging in Atlantic City, N.J. Steve Buscemi (another Lebowski alum) stars as Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, the boss of the Atlantic City political machine.

My favorite part of the show is the mingling of the political world and the underworld.

We are treated to appearances of crooked senators and campaign managers; Thompson even plays a role in getting Warren G. Harding the Republican nomination for president. Then we're whipped to Chicago, where gangsters who wouldn't look out of place in Dick Tracy are meeting a gruesome end.

While it might never reach the cultural significance of The Sopranos or attain the diehard fan base of The Wire , it's not too soon to predict that Boardwalk Empire could wind up as the best show HBO has ever produced.

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS: This film, which was released in Europe and elsewhere in the spring, has had some trouble getting released in the U.S.

That's probably because of the plot: Jim Carrey is a small-town businessman who discovers that he's gay after a car accident. He then takes to frauds and cons to fund a flamboyant lifestyle before falling in love with Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) while in prison.

I hope this marks a return to Carrey's mid-1990s form, when he rattled off such successful titles as The Mask , Dumb & Dumber and Liar Liar . Casting the elastic Carrey as a con artist is pitch perfect, and his slapstick skills look like they'll be put to good use.

While a gay romance starring Carrey might test the limits of what American audiences are ready to accept, it has secured a Dec. 3 release, though I'm sure it will be limited. Too often, daring movies such as I Love You Phillip Morris never make it to audiences. Even a limited release has to be considered a victory for the edgy and the different -- the kind of movies I've always loved.