It's December! You know what this means. Oscar, Oscar, Oscar, Oscar! And also all of the other films ever! Read below to find out what's worth your time, what's really worth your time and what you couldn't pay any of us to make time for. Huzzah!
Get Your Holiday Laugh On
"Playing For Keeps" (Dec. 7)
This movie will make $3.00. Why? Gerard Butler + Romantic Comedy = THE WORST. Plus, it's coming out in a month that has so many other actual quality offerings. What reason could any human possibly have for paying money to see this shlock about a bunch of soccer moms pursuing a former soccer star? Why didn't FilmDistrict wait and release this in January, where all bad romantic comedies go to die? December was a poor choice.
"Monsters, Inc. 3D" (Dec. 19)
In anticipation of next year's "Monster's University" (and also in anticipation of knowing that having money is awesome), Disney is rereleasing the 2002 favorite "Monsters, Inc." in 3D. The movie unfortunately lost the Best Animated Film Oscar to "Shrek," but where's that ogre's 3D re-release, huh? HUH? The big question here is whether or not this experiment in nostalgia-meets-modern-technology will lean more towards the $30M opening weekend of "The Lion King" or audiences' less than enthusiastic response to "Finding Nemo 3D."
"The Guilt Trip" (Dec. 19)
Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand team up to go on a road trip and mother-son-hilarity ensues. From the writer of "Tangled" and "Crazy, Stupid, Love" and the (female!) director of "Step Up," "27 Dresses" and "The Proposal" (oh, and the upcoming "Enchanted 2"), this might just be crazy enough to work! Plus, the film rivals "This is 40" in the battle for comedy actors in smaller roles, rocking the likes of Adam Scott, Danny Pudi, Casey Wilson and Kathy Najimy.
"This is 40" (Dec. 21)
The quasi-sequel to "Knocked Up" focuses on the best part of that film, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann's characters! The film takes a comedic yet heartfelt look at married life in your early 40s, and it brings back not only Rudd and Mann but also fittingly hilarious Apatow offspring Maude and Iris. Filling out the cast will be everyone funny ever: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Segel, Albert Brooks, Chris O'Dowd, Lena Dunham… The list goes on and on. (Read Jordan Hoffman's review here.)
"Parental Guidance" (Dec. 25)
This year's Christmas safe-for-the-whole-family option. While the edgy families are rocking "Django Unchained" and the artsy families are rocking "Les Mis," the rest of America will be taking in this comedy about Billy Crystal and Bette Midler babysitting their grandkids. We'd write this off completely if it weren't for the fact that Crystal & Midler are a great pairing. Is it possible this film might actually have some laughs? Oh wait, it's from the same director as "The Game Plan" and "You Again." Um. So. Less hopeful. We're less hopeful now.
Get Your Holiday Genre On
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (Dec. 14)
Almost 10 years after "Return of the King" marked the first ever epic fantasy film to take home Best Picture at the Oscars, the start of a new Tolkien trilogy begins with this first installment of "The Hobbit." There is some controversy surrounding the film, whether it's the accusations of animal cruelty, its 48 fps format or the fact that that there will be roughly 8000 different ways of viewing it in theaters (okay, more like 5-10), but at the end of the day, it's Peter Jackson returning to Middle Earth. The movie's gotta rule at least a little bit.
"Jack Reacher" (Dec. 21)
There's a Tom Cruise action movie opening this month? Did we all collectively miss the memo? Do we care? I mean, "The Hobbit" and "Django Unchained" are opening this month, is anything else really necessary? The film was adapted and directed by "The Usual Suspects" scribe Christopher McQuarrie and also stars Richard Jenkins, Spirit Award nominee David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike and, for some reason, Werner Herzog, so maybe it's not all bad. The film, based on the popular book series, pairs ex-military investigator Jack Reacher (Cruise) with a defense lawyer (Pike) to take down a military sniper responsible for killing five people. A resounding meh!
"Django Unchained" (Dec. 25)
Tarantino follows up the impeccable "Inglourious Basterds" with this tale of a freed slave's revenge, starring Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Christoph Waltz and, perhaps most tantalizingly, Leonardo DiCaprio exploring the scenery-chewing side of the acting world. It has all of the hallmarks of a classic Tarantino — violence, coarse language, smarts, quirks, great music and an array of interesting characters. The film hasn't screened yet so there isn't much concrete Oscar buzz to speak of, but if it's as good as we all hope it will be, it could be a dark horse in the race.
Get Your Holiday Dramz On
"Zero Dark Thirty" (Dec. 19 NY and LA, wide Jan. 11)
Otherwise known as "Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden movie" or "Jessica Chastain battles Jennifer Lawrence for a Best Actress Oscar" or "Yeah, pundits, you totes forgot about this one, didn't you?!" The film, which doesn't open wide until next year, is a dramatization of the Navy SEAL Team 6 taking out Bin Laden, an event that took the world by storm in 2011. The action drama also features Joel Edgerton, Taylor Kinney, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt and a host of others. Early screenings immediately reminded Oscar talking heads that the film not only exists, but has a damn good chance at a Best Pic nod.
"Les Misérables" (Dec. 25)
The current Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture, this adaptation of the musical from director Tom Hooper is almost perfect. The Best Supporting Actress win is Anne Hathaway's to lose for her gut-wrenching portrayal of Fantine, and you can expect Hugh Jackman to be nominated for his first Oscar for holding down the fort as Jean "Yeah, I sing for most of the movie, so what?" Valjean. When your weakest link not only has an Oscar but was nominated two additional times (here's looking at you, Russell Crowe), you know you've got something special on your hands.
"Promised Land" (Dec. 28 NY and LA, wide Jan. 4)
So, remember that one time Matt Damon and John Krasinski got together to write a movie about fracking and had good friend Gus Van Sant pop in to direct it? It's safe to say many of us are a little befuddled yet excited by this partnership of two well-known Hollywood cute-faces coming together to bring awareness to an issue through their art. The film, which also stars Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt and the suddenly ubiquitous Scoot McNairy, is about a natural gas company salesman (Damon) who has his eyes opened about the dangers of fracking thanks to a small town resident (Krasinski).
Get Your Holiday High Profile Limited Release On
"Hyde Park on Hudson" (Dec. 7 limited)
Bill Murray plays FDR (you heard me) with Olivia Williams at his side as Eleanor Roosevelt in this dramedy about the weekend that the King and Queen of England came to New York. FDR's love affair his distant cousin (Laura Linney) makes things even more, shall we say, awkward. Sounds like potential awards bait if the reviews weren't so dismal! Okay, dismal may be pushing it, but Certified Rotten is simply a fact.
"Any Day Now" (Dec. 14 limited)
Alan Cumming won an award at this year's Napa Valley Film Festival for his performance in "Any Day Now," a story about a loving gay couple (Cumming and Garret Dillahunt) who runs into trouble adopting a teen with Down syndrome. The film has also won the Audience Award at least five major festivals, including Tribeca. The movie may have been snubbed by the Indie Spirit Awards, which makes Cumming's chances at an Oscar nod precarious, but don't let perceived lack of love on the awards circuit stop you from catching this sweet but powerful drama.
"Stand Up Guys" (Dec. 14 NY and LA, wide Feb. 1)
Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin star in this combination action/buddy comedy as a group of former gangsters who who get together to have one final night of epic times. Directed by… Fisher Stevens?!?! This could go either way — "Righteous Kill" tried to pair up Robert De Niro and Pacino with disastrous results — but it's entirely too weird to miss.
"Not Fade Away" (Dec. 21 limited)
This feature-length directorial debut from "Sopranos" creator David Chase is exactly the opposite of anything you would expect from the man who defined dark, violent appointment television. "Not Fade Away" follows a New Jersey teen as he grows up in the '60s, going from nerd to could-be rock star as he and his friends form a band, become hippies, fall in love and all those other things everyone did in 1967. Although the film can be a little strange at times and is perhaps a bit too personal, it's entertaining from start to finish. If nothing else, this is a must-see for anyone who came into adulthood during the height of hippiedom.
"On the Road" (Dec. 21 limited)
One of many adaptations of "unfilmable novels" being released this year, "On The Road" is unfortunately the least successful in accomplishing its mission, but man, did it try. Although the movie is mostly meandering and lacking in any sort of narrative cohesion, when it works, it crackles, and Garrett Hedlund's performance continues to prove that he is oh, so much more than "Tron: Legacy" suggested, particularly his final heartbreaking scene. (Film.com critic Jordan Hoffman reviewed the movie at TIFF. Read his take.)
"The Impossible" (Dec. 21 NY and LA)
The trailer for this rivals the one for "Les Mis" for the award of Most Likely To Cause Instant Tears. This movie from "The Orphanage" director Juan Antonio Bayona, is about a family (headed up by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) who are trying to find each other after being separated during the devastating 2004 tsunami. The film is getting great reviews, including Oscar possibilities for Watts, but the critics that dislike it hate it, calling the film offensive and exploitative. Audiences can decide for themselves when the film hits DVD, 'cause from the looks of it, only NY and LA will be getting it in theaters despite the high star wattage.
"Quartet" (Dec 28. limited, wide Jan. 4)
Dustin Huffman's directorial debut, which has been popping up at film fests all throughout the fall, is about a quartet of former opera singers reuniting at a home for retired musicians. One of them, played by Maggie Smith, natch, got all diva on the other three years ago, which means wackiness is afoot! The film has gotten glowing reviews and should appeal to anyone who fell for "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," which came out earlier this year. Anything with Maggie Smith has to be the best. It's rule number one.
"Lay The Favorite" (Dec. 7 limited)
This little comedy from Stephen Frears, the director of "High Fidelity" and "The Queen," is based on the memoir Beth Raymer of the same name. Beth, played by Rebecca Hall, is a cocktail waitress in Vegas who takes up sports gambling with the help of a guy named Dink (Bruce Willis). Beth is actually really good at gambling, but her friendship with Dink ticks off his wife Tulip Catherine Zeta-Jones. When he has to can Beth, things start to get a little hairy for all of them. Sounds adorable, but it's gotten pretty horrible reviews. Which is why you haven't heard of it.
"Save The Date" (Dec. 14 limited, currently available on demand)
Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Geoffrey Arend and Mark Webber in an indie romantic comedy? This should be awesome, right? Spoiler alert: It isn't. In fact, it's one of the worst of the year, yet but it's still managing to pull in all too high 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. And it got picked up by IFC? #thingsthatareconfusing Everyone involved in this shallow, annoying love story is way too good for it, and man do I wish they had all spent their time doing something better. (Read Film.com's Amanda Mae Meyncke's review from Sundance.)
"West Of Memphis" (Dec. 25 in NY and LA, with more cities to come)
This documentary about the West Memphis Three is similar in story and theme to another doc this year, "The Central Park Five," in that both examine terrible miscarriages of justice. In "West of Memphis," director Amy Berg examines the case of three young men in West Memphis, Ark., who are falsely convicted of the horrific murders of three children. This doc, produced by Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Damien Echols of the WM3 and his wife Lorri Davis, has received universal raves and very well may pop up at Oscar time.