Movie lovers have faced an unusual – but wonderful – conundrum this fall: With so many excellent films in theaters and a limited amount of time in the day, should they see Gravity or Captain Phillips? 12 Years a Slave or Blue Is the Warmest Color?
The choices will grow more difficult in the coming weeks, as high-profile sequels and more Oscar contenders arrive on the big screen. There’s something for everyone: The Hobbit and Hunger Games sagas continue, Will Ferrell becomes Ron Burgundy once again, and Black Nativity and Frozen light up the holidays with songs.
Read on for movie releases worth your time this holiday season.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (PG-13). Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen, the plucky heroine from Suzanne Collins’ dystopian trilogy of young adult novels. This second installment picks up where the first film left off. Just after Katniss and one of her two love interests, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), win the kids-only gladiator-like bloodbath that is the Hunger Games, they find themselves being carefully monitored by Big Brother. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jena Malone join the first film’s already starry cast.
Delivery Man (PG-13). Vince Vaughn plays it fairly straight in this English-language adaptation of the Canadian film Starbuck. His character, David Wozniak, is a listless middle-age guy who finds out that a trip to the sperm bank in his younger years resulted in 533 offspring. Worse, they’re trying to uncover his identity. When he sets out to covertly find out who his sons and daughters are, he winds up helping them and – ta-da! – finding purpose in his life.
Nebraska (R). You can almost smell the alcohol emanating from the pores of an utterly disheveled Bruce Dern in this black-and-white drama, which earned the prolific actor an award for his performance at Cannes this year. Director Alexander Payne’s first film since winning an Academy Award for The Descendants follows an aging boozer (Dern) who’s convinced he won $1 million and drags his son along as he travels from Montana to Nebraska to claim his dubious prize. Also noteworthy: The son is played by Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte in an uncharacteristically serious role.
Black Nativity (PG). The rousing Langston Hughes musical, filled with gospel renditions of Christmas carols, gets the big-screen treatment with an impressive lineup of players, including Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and powerful vocalist Jennifer Hudson. Relative newcomer Jacob Latimore plays Langston, a Baltimore teen whose mom (Hudson) ships him to Harlem to spend Christmas with her estranged parents, including her stern minister father.
Frozen (PG). Winter is coming. And it’s going to be animated. In Disney’s next musical adventure, Anna (Kristen Bell) sets off in search of her exiled sister, the Snow Queen (Tony-winning Broadway luminary Idina Menzel), who has a King Midas-like touch – only everything she rests a hand on turns to ice. The Lion King (1994) was the last Disney musical to produce truly memorable tunes, but there are high hopes for the songs penned by three-time Tony winner Robert Lopez and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, a Drama Desk Award winner.
Oldboy (R). Ten years ago South Korean director Chan-wook Park gained stateside recognition for his hyper-violent movie about a man who is inexplicably kidnapped and imprisoned for decades, then set free without explanation. Now, the movie is getting an English-language makeover. Spike Lee directs Josh Brolin as the recently liberated protagonist, who goes looking for vengeance and winds up with plenty of blood on his hands.
Philomena (R). Stephen Frears, Academy Award-nominated director of The Queen, helmed this heartwarmer about a jaded journalist who reluctantly takes an assignment to cover a woman’s search for her son, who was taken from her 50 years earlier. Judi Dench plays the preternaturally friendly profile subject, and Steve Coogan is her less empathetic foil.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (not yet rated). Behold the second installment of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. This time, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), along with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the dwarves, soldier on, avoiding the dangers of wood elves and massive arachnids before arriving at Lonely Mountain, the home of the menacing treasure-hoarding dragon, Smaug.
American Hustle (not yet rated). Writer-director David O. Russell convenes the stars of two of his most acclaimed films – Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook and Christian Bale and Amy Adams from The Fighter – for this tale, inspired by the Abscam scandal, of con artists working undercover for the FBI in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Adams and Bale play petty criminals recruited by a federal agent (Cooper) to infiltrate a group of lawbreakers that includes a city mayor.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (not yet rated). Everyone’s favorite misinformed newscaster, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), is back on the big screen alongside his idiotic sidekicks. The sequel finds the still-mustachioed Burgundy leaving San Diego to break into the 24-hour news business in New York City, where he will no doubt offend any women, gay people and minorities he meets.
Saving Mr. Banks (PG-13). Fresh off the critical and box office success of Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks embodies another real-life character, Walt Disney. Emma Thompson plays P.L. Travers, the prim, protective author of Mary Poppins, and the one thing standing between Disney and a promise he made to his daughters: that he’d turn the tale of a flying nanny into a motion picture.
Inside Llewyn Davis (R). This is the latest from the Coen Brothers, which is all some people need to know before flocking to the theater. The film, which premiered at Cannes, is being hailed as among the filmmakers’ best work. The funny-sad story was inspired in part by musician Dave Van Ronk’s life and follows folk musician Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) in the early 1960s as he navigates the harsh realities of trying to make it as a singer-songwriter in New York City.
Labor Day (PG-13). Jason Reitman, the director behind Up in the Air and Juno, directs this movie based on the novel by Joyce Maynard. Kate Winslet plays an exhausted single mom who helps an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) and finds herself held hostage in her own home – at least until she falls for her captor.
Grudge Match (PG-13). Sylvester Stallone is treading familiar territory with yet another boxing film. At least this time he’s found a different character. Sly plays Razor, an aging former champion lured out of retirement with a publicity stunt that pits him against his longtime nemesis, the Kid (Robert De Niro).
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (not yet rated). Ben Stiller directs this film, and it looks like he’s channeling Michel Gondry with a side of Wes Anderson. Stiller plays the title character – loosely based on James Thurber’s New Yorker short story – a milquetoast guy who frequently escapes into an imaginary world where he’s a triumphant hero and ladies man.
August: Osage County (R). Nothing says Christmas like a healthy dose of family dysfunction, and the screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play is here to conjure up blocked-out memories. Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, a recently widowed matriarch whose relatives come to visit for her husband’s funeral (the star-studded cast includes Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor and Dermot Mulroney, among others). But Violet’s mean streak and penchant for asking uncomfortable questions doesn’t do much to ease the pain.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (PG-13). Early word is that Idris Elba, who plays South African dissident-turned-president Nelson Mandela, gives an Oscar-worthy performance (if the field weren’t so crowded this year). As the title suggests, the sweeping biopic covers Mandela’s early life, his 27-year imprisonment and his unimaginable triumph.
The Wolf of Wall Street (not yet rated). The frequently collaborating duo of director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio brings to life the memoirs of ex-con Jordan Belfort. DiCaprio plays the trader who enjoyed the excesses of the 1990s financial industry a bit too excessively.