Just when you think you’ve gotten away from Awards Season, it comes creeping right back. This year’s holiday movie slate has a ton of possible Oscar contenders with no clear favorites just yet, along with some big third installments in major movie franchises to balance out all the drama. Here are my 10 most anticipated based on actual buzz and my own interest, followed by five films I’m skeptical of this year.
10 Most Anticipated Holiday Movies
10. Big Eyes (Dec. 25, limited)
Tim Burton is a filmmaker of ups and downs, but that’s in large part because he’s mostly done nothing but genre films for the last couple decades. “Big Eyes” is a biopic and a period piece. Sound familiar? It should remind you of “Ed Wood,” Burton’s last effort in dramatic filmmaking. With two Academy darlings in Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz playing Margaret and Walter Keane, a husband-wife duo at odds over Margaret’s paintings, and mostly good though minimal reviews from the festival circuit, it’s exciting to even anticipate a return to form for Burton.
9. Wild (Dec. 5, limited)
A year after “Dallas Buyers Club” took audiences by surprise, director Jean-Marc Vallee and Reese Witherspoon collaborate again in this adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s popular memoir. Nick Hornby, acclaimed novelist and screenwriter of “An Education,” adapts. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be if “Eat, Pray, Love” was actually a good movie. Do not expect a the cheesy “woman rediscovers herself on a self-imposed trip” story you might think given Witherspoon’s involvement. The festival circuit has been quite good to “Wild” so far, so expect strong word of mouth for this even if it’s not a big Oscar contender.
8. The Interview (Dec. 25)
A TV show host (James Franco) and producer (Seth Rogen) out to legitimize themselves as journalists land an interview with Kim Jong-un, and are unexpectedly recruited by the CIA to assassinate him. When’s the last time you read a comedy premise that original? The writer/director duo of Rogen and Evan Goldberg appear to have crafted another hit, though surely Rogen and Franco have done this together enough times that it’s entirely possible the humor gets stale. Hopefully this is a case where the premise wins out just enough.
7. American Sniper (Dec. 25, limited)
After “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby,” it seemed Clint Eastwood the director could do no wrong. After a few strong follow-ups, “Invictus” and “J. Edgar” were total disappointments despite big actors in juicy roles. “Jersey Boys” this summer felt like the bottom of the barrel. So “American Sniper,” starring Bradley Cooper as real-life expert sniper and Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, feels like a fresh start. The film debuted at AFI Fest to largely positive reviews and the trailer is heart-stopping, but it’s too early to tell if this is a second coming of “The Hurt Locker” or a close second. Odds on the latter.
6. Exodus: Gods and Kings (Dec. 12)
A big-budget telling of the book of Exodus from Ridley Scott. It’s hard not to sweat just thinking about it. With the “Gladiator” director and two heavyweights in Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Ramses (not sure why they cast two Welshmen as the leader of the Jews and the Egyptians, respectively), expectations for a sweeping epic are understandably quite high. The only thing to be nervous about could be the script, as it started with the two guys behind “Tower Heist” and then Oscar nominee Jeff Caine and Oscar winner Steven Zaillian were brought on. This is no small task; lower those expectations at a thrilling, well-acted event film and it should deliver.
5. The Imitation Game (Nov. 28, limited)
The Weinstein Company can always be counted on come awards season and this traditional biopic could well be their best horse in the race. If Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t a household name, he should be come January. He plays famous eccentric British mathematician Alan Turing, who developed the machine, a computer of sorts, that broke the German Enigma code in World War II. Although Cumberbatch is certainly the film’s centerpiece, the secret weapon here could be Morten Tyldum, who directed the acclaimed Norwegian film “Headhunters.”
4. Selma (Dec. 25, limited)
Little known filmmaker Ava DuVernay has endeavored to make the great Civil Rights era film of the 21st century with “Selma,” a film covering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 which changed the trajectory of the Civil Rights movement and led to the Civil Rights Voting Act of 1965. David Oyelowo plays King, Tom Wilkinson plays President Lyndon Johnson and everyone from Tim Roth to Oprah stars in between. Screenwriter Paul Webb has no other writing credits, which is usually a good sign and Oscar buzz has begun swirling since AFI Fest.
3. Foxcatcher (Nov. 14, limited)
Most of this year’s acting kudos could be bestowed upon the long-awaited wrestling-themed crime drama “Foxcatcher,” especially with Steve Carell in a villainous role. The movie stars Channing Tatum as Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, who, desperate to crawl out from under his brother’s (Mark Ruffalo) shadow, trains under millionaire sponsor John du Pont, who leads him on a dark, spiraling path as they train for greatness at the 1988 Seoul games. Bennett Miller has been careful with his projects. “Capote” and “Moneyball” were pretty good ones; this looks to be a breakout of sorts.
2. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Nov. 21)
After the first “Hunger Games” wowed critics and audiences only to have director Gary Ross step away from the franchise, an upward trajectory didn’t seem possible. Yet Francis Lawrence (with the help of a couple Oscar-winning writers) managed to make “Catching Fire” a more exciting film than the original. He returns for “Mockingjay Part 1,” which features another new pair of dramatic writers. As an unimpressive, small book that veers completely from the format of the first two installments, it’s hard to see “Mockingjay” exceeding “Catching Fire,” but then again, I ate my words last time.
1. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Dec. 19)
The “Hobbit” trilogy comes a close and so, it seems, does Middle Earth on the big screen. Folks were quick to hate on the notion of making one small book into three films, but after “Desolation of Smaug” proved to truly follow in the tradition of “The Lord of the Rings,” it stands to reason that “Five Armies” will be December’s biggest event film.
5 Films to be Skeptical About
Horrible Bosses 2 (Nov. 26)
Just because “22 Jump Street” happened to be a great comedy sequel doesn’t mean the age-old trend of bad comedy sequels will suddenly be reversed. “Horrible Bosses” succeeded because it has an unusual premise and largely untapped talents in Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day. These guys aren’t goofs way over their head in the same way they were the first time around. The freshness is gone, and so there’s no reason to be optimistic about more of dirty dentist Jennifer Aniston and crew. (Watch trailer)
Annie (Dec. 19)
The beloved family musical gets a big, contemporary remake with Jamie Foxx as Daddy Wa—I mean Will Stacks, Cameron Diaz channeling her “Bad Teacher” self again as Miss Hannigan and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” star Quvanzhane Wallis as little orphan Annie. This is perfect holiday fodder, and with Will Gluck (“Easy A”) directing and co-writing with Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”) there’s reason to hope, but “Annie” is still “Annie.” (Watch trailer)
The Gambler (Dec. 19)
Everyone loves Marky Mark these days, but awards season is competitive, and mixed reviews from AFI Fest for “The Gambler” suggest it’s something to save for later. The intrigue factor makes sense: Wahlberg and costars Jessica Lange, John Goodman and Brie Larson are pretty darn solid, plus Rupert Wyatt (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) directs a script from William Monahan (“The Departed”), but this one looks a bit run-of-the-mill as far as crime thrillers go. (Watch trailer)
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (Dec. 19)
No one asked for this sequel. The second “Night at the Museum” in 2009 was a dud because the concept had lost its novelty. Given the premise of this film is that it’s the same gang on an international journey, there’s little hope for better results. But hey, if I were a parent, I’d rather take my kid to this than another “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movie during the busy holiday season. (Watch trailer)
Into the Woods (Dec. 25)
As excited as I get by movie musicals, especially one with such rich cinematic potential, director Rob Marshall has been truly disappointing since he struck gold with “Chicago.” I didn’t see “Memoirs of a Geisha,” but “Nine” and the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie were on the dull side, even if part of me secretly enjoyed “On Stranger Tides.” So not even Meryl Streep as the Witch can get me pumped for this adaptation of the classic Stephen Sondheim twisted fairy tale. I’d rather be totally surprised. Confession: never seen this musical, so I stand to benefit from the novelty of it all. (Watch trailer)
“Top Five” – Chris Rock writes, directs and stars in a comedy about a faltering comedian/movie star. Hmm…
“Inherent Vice” – Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film is a seedy early ’70s crime thriller starring Joaquin Phoexni and ought to please PTA fans.
“Penguins of Madagascar” – Could well be the animated film to beat at the box office this year and set the market for animated movie spin-offs.
“Unbroken” – Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort is a biopic on Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II.