December Rundown: 10 Must-See Holiday Movies

Though it couldn’t quite match the box office total of last year’s November (Skyfall, Wreck-It Ralph, Breaking Dawn – Part 2), this month still marked the second time the November box office exceeded $1 billion and it’s all thanks to box office titans Thor: The Dark World and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Splitting the month in half – Thor opened on November 8th while Catching Fire bowed on November 22nd – these blockbusters kept audiences around the world riveted all month long, and the box office saw some unexpected extra power thanks to sleeper hits like The Best Man Holiday, Last Vegas, and Disney Animations’ Frozen, which set a new a record for biggest debut for a movie opening on the Thanksgiving 5-day weekend. After a hit-or-miss beginning to the Fall Season, the Holiday Movie Season has kicked things up a notch and will continue to do so as we enter the last month of the year and the final stretch of the awards season. With guaranteed blockbusters The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Anchorman 2, plus double the Christian Bale, double the Amy Adams, the return of Jennifer Lawrence, and the latest movies from the Coen Brothers, Spike Jonze, David O. Russell, and Martin Scorsese, expect December 2013 to be the cherry on top of this incredible year of film. Here are 10 movies you’ll probably want to check out this month:

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Out of the Furnace Poster.jpgOut of the Furnace (Dec. 6th) – I’ve already seen and been disappointed big time by Scott Cooper’s gritty Rust Belt drama Out of the Furnace, but since it’s the only nationwide release this upcoming weekend and features some pretty intense performances it’s worth recognition here. Headed by the great Christian Bale (pulling a one-two December punch along side American Hustle), the film tells the story of two brothers, Russell (Bale) and Rodney (a powerful Casey Affleck), who must face the stark reality of time, setting, and the economy while coming into conflict with a psychopathic meth lord (Woody Harrelson). The supporting cast is rounded out by Sam Shepard, William Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, and the lovely Zoe Saldana, who provides a soulful heartache in her small scenes that make you wish she’d take on more serious adult dramas. Ultimately, Furnace is a strong showing for Bale, Affleck, and Harrelson and features some authentic directorial work from Cooper and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanag, if only the screenplay didn’t throw several different themes in the air and leave them hanging. Furnace attempts to say a lot about the economy and the death of the middle class but it fails to successfully balance these existential themes with a more traditional, character based story. At least the performances are strong across the board. Look for Mike Murphy’s full review later this week.
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Inside Llewyn Davis Poster.jpgInside Llewyn Davis (Limited Dec. 6th / Nationwide Dec. 20th) – A new movie by the Coen Brothers is always a cause for celebration and the somber, dusty Inside Llewyn Davis is no exception. Along with the stirring A Serious Man, Davis is probably the most personal, deeply felt movie the Coen’s have ever made, chronicling a down on his luck folk singer (a revelatory Oscar Isaac) trying to navigate the 1960s Greenwich Village music scene. Themes about the starving artist and make-it-or-break-it future plans turn Davis into a universal story about identity and self purpose and the Coen Bros., working with cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (who recently won Best Cinematography from the NYFCC), create a film that feels worn and faded, like the dreams many of us have desperately tried to pursue to no avail. With some exceptional music supervised by T-Bone Burnett (the man behind the Grammy winning O, Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack) and strong (though quick) supporting turns from Justin Timberlake and the blistering Carey Mulligan, Davis ranks as one of the year’s best movies. The recent Best Feature at the 2013 Gotham Independent Movie Awards, Davis is another Coen Bros. classic in the making.
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The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug theatrical poster.jpgThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Dec. 13th) – Turning J.R.R. Tolkien’s singular The Hobbit into an epic movie trilogy raised a lot of eyebrows and now the success of such a decision will be determined by Part 2 of Peter Jackson’s three part Hobbit epic, The Desolation of Smaug. Obviously the studio wanted three films to maximize profit, but with extremely mixed reactions to last year’s An Unexpected Journey (it was unenthusiastically received compared to its acclaimed Lord Of The Rings predecessor), it’s anyone’s guess as to how this latest entry following the quest of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) plays at the box office. Luckily, trailers suggest Smaug will be a vast improvement now that the backstory and exposition of the first film is done with. Also of added benefit is fanboy god Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular CGI-dragon (played in motion capture, of course) and the appearances of LOTR favorite Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and new character Tauriel, played by badass Lost veteran Evangeline Lilly. Though it may be hard for Smaug to match the billion dollar international gross of Journey, expect box office fireworks nonetheless.
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American Hustle 2013 poster.jpgAmerican Hustle (Limited Dec. 13th / Nationwide Dec. 20th) – Over the past couple of years, director David O. Russell has gone from live-wire wild card to Oscar-favorite and critical darling thanks to his one-two knockout of The Fighter and last year’s sensational Silver Linings Playbook. Taking 3 Oscar-nominees (Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Robert DeNiro) and 2 Oscar-winners (Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence) from those previous hits and throwing in crowd-pleasers like Jeremy Renner and Louis C.K, Russell might just have the year’s most ferociously entertaining ensemble and movie on his hands. A throwback to the ABSCAM scandal of the 1970s, expect rapid fire pacing and haughty pizazz as Russell gets back to telling manic stories about the downfall of the American dream. The recent NYFCC winner for Best Feature Film, Hustle seems set to be a big player at the SAG Awards and is destined to score numerous Oscar nominations, including one for the supposed frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress, Jennifer Lawrence (she too took home the NYFCC award). Expect a showstopper!
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Saving Mr. Banks Theatrical Poster.jpgSaving Mr. Banks (Limited Dec. 13th / Dec. 20th) – A feel good, heartwarming drama about the making of Disney’s beloved Mary Poppins should be just the spoonful of sugar for family audiences this Holiday Season. Unlike last year’s disappointing Hitchcock, which failed on its promise to deliver all the scandal behind the making of the master of terror’s Psycho, Banks should be a crowd-pleasing inside look at the tumultuous preproduction of Poppins, which saw years of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) trying to persuade author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to let him turn her deeply personal novel of the same name into a full blown Disney musical. Word on the street has Thompson and Hanks landing Oscar nominations for their work, meaning Hanks could have a double dipping year along side his probable Best Actor nomination for Captain Phillips. Walt Disney, Mary Poppins, and Tom Hanks? What more could family audiences want for Christmas!
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Anchorman 2 Teaser Poster.jpgAnchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Dec. 18th) – Since the original Anchorman was released in 2004, the film has become not just a comedy classic but also one of, if not the most quoted film of all time for my generation. It’s just that legendary. To the surprise but apprehension of a lot fans comes this sequel a full 9 years later, and while the early trailers promise another raucous good time, expect many fans to go in with extremely high expectations for their beloved Channel 4 News team. Ferrell has been in marketing overdrive over the past month and it’s always a delight seeing him in all his Ron Burgundy glory, and with supporting players Paul Rudd and Steve Carrel now household names themselves, expect some very classy box office returns this Holiday Season. The only question remains: will it live up to the original? Based on some tidbits from director Adam McKay, who had an original cut of 4 hours long because they shot so many jokes, signs point to yes, especially since he and Will Farrell admitted that they would have never done a sequel had the material not been worthy of a second go around. We absolutely can’t wait.
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Her2013Poster.jpgHer (Limited Dec 18th) – Like Inside Llewyn Davis, Spike Jonze’s Her is another one of the year’s best films being released this month. And yet, it’s so much more than too – it’s the most introspective, soul-searchingly tender movie in a long, long time. It’s also one of the most authentic love stories and, yes, it’s between a socially conflicted man (Joaquin Phoenix, showing new, heartwarming sides of himself after his dark and dense work in The Master) and his operating system (a jaw-dropping, transformative Scarlett Johansson). Directed and written by Jonze, a master of imaginative, reflective storytelling as seen in Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, the film looks to the future in its representation of technology while hitting startlingly close to home with its present themes of connection, love, loss, and meaning. Pensive and dreamy, heartbreaking and wildly hilarious, Her might just be the most brimming movie Jonze has ever made, and while it may be too quirky for Academy voters, all three of the main players (Jonze, Phoenix, and Johansson, even just her voice) deserve serious Oscar recognition. Throw in some exceptionally limited work from Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, and Chris Pratt, and you have yourself the year’s best, most timeless romance. See it as if your life depended on it.
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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty poster.jpgThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Christmas Day) – Though Ben Stiller is obviously a gifted comedian and actor, we often forget just how strong his directorial efforts have been, from The Cable Guy to the immortal Zoolander and the gut-busting Hollywood satire Tropic Thunder. Luckily, his latest, an adaptation of the classic 1939 short story by James Thurber, might just be his best outing yet. Starring Stiller as the titular character, the story follows the daydreaming Mitty as he pines for the cute office girl (Kristin Wiig) while taking verbal beatings from his nasty co-workers (one of which played by Adam Scott). Prone to elaborate dreams, Mitty escapes the real world in favor of his imaginative fantasies, though his urge to give meaning to his life might actually come true when LIFE Magazine needs him to locate the lost print for their last magazine cover. If the trailers make anything clear it’s that Mitty is one hell of a visual treat, featuring some impeccable cinematography from Stuart Dryburgh and astute direction from Stiller. Just how commercial this one plays depends on how dramatic and/or comedic it gets, but it’s bound to be quite the magical Christmas treat.
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WallStreet2013poster.jpgThe Wolf Of Wall Street (Christmas Day): Nothing says Christmas quite like Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and lots and lots and lots of cocaine, sex, and R-rated insanity. Based on Jordan Belfort’s autobiography that has to actually be read to be believed (the hijinks this guy gets into on his rise to stock market power in the 1980s is something a screenwriter couldn’t even come up with himself), Wolf is bound to be one of Scorsese’s wildest movies yet and one of his first truly dark, dark comedies. DiCaprio has already gone on record saying it’s his best work to date (wow!), and Jonah Hill should be joining him at the Oscars as a surefire Supporting Actor nominee. Early reviews are still under embargo but reactions peaking through the cracks call this three-hour epic a high-flying rush of uproarious absurdity that could only be possible in, yes you guessed it, America. Expect this to be the Citizen Kane of the modern era, not in terms of quality but in its message of power and greed leading to the tragic hero succumbing to hubris. It’s a tale as old as time and Scorsese is sure to blow us all away. It’s going to be a very, very white Christmas indeed.
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August Osage County 2013 poster.jpgAugust: Osage County (Limited Christmas Day): Yes, August: Osage County is based on Tracy Letts’ 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning play, and, yes, it features an all-star ensemble of Julia Roberts, Sam Shepard, Ewan McGregor, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dermot Mulroney, and Margo Martindale, but all this movie needs in order to be a must-see is one name and one name only: Meryl Streep. The legendary Streep, who last was seen on the big screen in her Oscar-winning role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, should be headed to another historic Oscar nomination for Best Actress since she’s sinking her teeth into one of the most ferocious characters in contemporary literature, matriarch Violet Weslin. When it comes to Letts’ play, Violet is the dominating force and has numerous moments of unshakable verbal abuse and torment and Streep, who is definitely going against-type here, should provide all the sinister misery that gives this story its nasty comedic bite.

What December movies are you dying to see?

Article by Zack Sharf

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