I have made a list – and checked it twice – to ascertain what’s in store for audiences during the ongoing holiday movie season. It could be argued, of course, that this year’s season began as far back as Nov. 7 with the unleashing of Thor: The Dark World. But, hey, people who would claim that are the same sort of folks who start decking their halls, trimming their trees, and stocking their store shelves the week before Halloween.
In any event: Here is a guide to what might be called The 12 Films of Christmas – not because of their Yuletide content, in most cases, but simply due to their release dates. It’s quite possible that one or two may turn out to be the equivalent of coal-stuffed stockings. But when it comes to moviegoing, it’s always the season to be hopeful.
Who’s in it? Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom.
What’s the pitch? Gandalf and the guys finally get their act together and take it on the road to Mirkwood.
Why see it? Early reviews indicate that, if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you’ll like a lot more than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. (Opens Dec. 13)
Who’s in it? Paul Walker, Genesis Rodriguez, Kerry Cahill, Yohance Miles, Matt Cook, Nick Gomez.
What’s the pitch? During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a desperate New Orleans father (Walker) struggles to keep his prematurely born daughter alive while operating a battery-powered ventilator in an abandoned hospital.
Why see it? For some, I am sure, it may seem too soon after Walker’s tragic demise to see him in a life-or-death situation on screen. All I can say is: His performance here arguably is the finest of his all-too-short career. And the film itself is a small-scale, high-impact drama that likely will impress you more than many of the heavily hyped blockbusters of the season. (Opens Dec. 13)
Who’s in it? Tyler Perry, Larry the Cable Guy, Kathy Najimy.
What’s the pitch? Madea (Perry) helps a friend pay a surprise visit to her daughter in a small rural town, only to find the young woman is married to a conspicuously Caucasian fellow from a raucous redneck family. Complications arise.
Why see it? Madea and Larry the Cable Guy? How in God’s name can you resist? (Dec. 13)
Who’s in it? Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate, Kristen Wiig.
What’s the pitch? Legendary San Diego newsman Ron Burgundy tries to stay classy – and, more important, recover from a career setback – by reestablishing himself as a marquee player at the first 24-hour cable news network. In this endeavor, he is accompanied by sportscaster Champ King (Koechner), weatherman Brick Tamland (Carell) and field reporter Brian Fantana (Rudd).
Why see it? Don’t know about you, but I feel like I can’t not see it after weeks of enduring the ubiquitous and relentless hard-sell promotional campaign. It’s like this movie is The Borg: Resistance is futile. (Opens Dec. 18)
Who’s in it? Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence.
What’s the pitch? In the 1980s, a maverick FBI agent (Cooper) employs an ace con artist (Bale) and his va-va-voom partner in crime (Adams) to launch the sting operation that would be known as Abscam.
Why see it? Director David O. Russell reunites with the stars of his Silver Linings Playbook (Cooper, Lawrence) and The Fighter (Bale, Adams) for a darkly comical con movie based on real-life events. Not surprisingly, there already has been much talk about Oscar nominations. (Opens Dec. 20)
Who’s in it? Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Justin Timberlake.
What’s the pitch? Joel and Ethan Coen go acoustic for this seriocomic musical drama, set in Greenwich Village during the early ‘60s, about a guitar-strumming folk singer (Isaac) whose career is going nowhere fast.
Why see it? You did see that this is a Coen Brothers film, right? And if that’s not enough, consider: T Bone Burnett once again serves as musical producer for the Coens. If you recall, one of their previous collaborations – O Brother, Where Art Thou? – worked out fairly well. (Opens Dec. 20)
Who’s in it? Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Rachel Griffiths, Kathy Baker.
What’s the pitch? Walt Disney (Hanks) tries to convince starchy novelist P.L. Travers (Thompson) to let his studio adapt her classic book Mary Poppins into a musical movie. It is not an easy task.
Why see it? If, like me, you’re a sucker for movies about moviemaking – or at least when those movies are appreciably better than last year’s ill-conceived Hitchcock – you’re doubtless already looking forward to this one as a Christmas present for cineastes of all ages. Advance word has been sufficiently promising to increase anticipation. (Opens Dec. 20)
Who’s in it? Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard.
What’s the pitch? It’s the big-screen version of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, about a domineering family matriarch (Streep) who’s visited by her extended family following the suicide of her husband.
Why see it? The acting duel between Streep and Roberts (as the matriarch’s equally strong-willed daughter) should be reason enough to visit the megaplex. (Opens Dec. 25)
Who’s in it? Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi
What’s the pitch? After a wicked warlord kills their master, 47 newly unemployed samurai join forces with a previously ostracized half-breed (Reeves) as they journey through a savage world populated by CGI bogeymen of various shapes and sizes.
Why see it? Can’t deny that there has been significant negative buzz about this large-scale fantasy flick, which originally was supposed to open last year, and has reportedly burned through tens of millions while scenes were reshot and special effects were made more special. But the finished product, judging from trailers and TV spots, could be a spectacular action-adventure epic that’s worth the wait. (Opens Dec. 25)
Who’s in it? Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin, Kim Basinger
What’s the pitch? Two long-retired Pittsburgh fighters step back into the ring, to finally decide who’s the tougher dude – and because they really, really don’t like each other.
Why see it? Admit it: You’ve always wanted to see Rocky Balboa duke it out with Jake LaMotta, right? But wait, there’s more: Hart and Arkin may have their own down-card bout to see who can steal more scenes. (Opens Dec. 25)
Who’s in it? Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Sean Penn. .
What’s the pitch? A shy Life magazine photo editor (Stiller) must stop daydreaming about heroic deeds and indulge in real-life derring-do while seeking a missing shot by a legendary photographer (Penn).
Why see it? Stiller serves as director and star for this long-delayed, eagerly awaited adaptation of the classic 1939 James Thurber short story. It would appear his latest double-duty effort is subtler and more sentimental than Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, earlier comedies that employed him on both sides of the camera. But inquiring minds in H-Town want to know: Will it be as overall nifty as Reality Bites, his debut feature as a director?
Who’s in it? Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, John Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin, Matthew McConaughey.
What’s the pitch? Director Martin Scorsese and superstar Leonardo DiCaprio – together again! – join forces for the stranger- and wilder-than-fiction story of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who savored a wild life of sex-drugs-and-greed excess until his world came tumbling down in the late 1990s.
Why see it? Some early viewers have compared it – favorably – to Scorsese’s GoodFellas and Casino. Others insist it’ll grab a fistful of Oscar nominations, and actually will go home with a few of the golden statuettes. Strangely enough, however, there’s been no word yet as to whether co-star Matthew McConaughey has delivered the goods one more time to cap off the year of his career renaissance. (Opens Dec. 25)