Holiday Movie Preview: The Key Films to Seek Out Before the End of the Year

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  • Publish Date: November 19, 2013

18 notable releases headed to theaters

We've picked the most noteworthy films due to arrive in theaters over the holiday season, beginning next week and running through the end of 2013.

American Hustle Watch trailer
December 13 (LA/NY) / December 18 (wide) | Drama | Directed by David O. Russell

Also by this director:

81 Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
79 The Fighter (2010)
55 I Heart Huckabees (2004)
82 Three Kings (1999)
81 Flirting with Disaster (1996)
66 Spanking the Monkey (1994)

Buzz from early screenings and a six-minute preview at AFI Fest has been positive for David O. Russell’s fictionalized look at the FBI’s Abscam sting operation, which brought down a handful of corrupt public officials. The impressive cast for this period dramedy—set in New York during the late 1970s and early '80s—includes Russell veterans Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro, as well as newcomers Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Michael Peña, Jack Huston, and Alessandro Nivola. Following Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, American Hustle could be Russell’s third consecutive feature to earn Academy Award nominations for best picture and best director.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues Trailer 1 Trailer 2 UK trailer
December 20 | Comedy | Directed by Adam McKay

Also by this director:

64 The Other Guys (2010)
51 Step Brothers (2008)
66 Talladega Nights: The Ballad of ... (2006)
63 Anchorman: The Legend of ... (2004)

Nearly a decade after the original Anchorman film debuted, Ron Burgundy and the Channel 4 News Team are back to take on the 24-hour news cycle at GNN in New York City, and that means a new boss (Meagan Good) and new competition (James Marsden and Harrison Ford) for Ron, as well as a new love interest (Kristen Wiig) for Steve Carell’s Brick. Director Adam McKay recently told Empire that he shot enough material for an alternate version of the film with “250 new jokes” that he would like to release for midnight movie screenings. Hopefully, he can make that happen. So grab some Scotchy Scotch Scotch, get in your Dodge Durango, and discover how refreshing crack can be.

August: Osage County Trailer 1 Trailer 2
December 25 | Drama/Comedy | Directed by John Wells

Also by this director:

69 The Company Men (2011)

The second theatrical feature from TV veteran John Wells (ER, The West Wing) is an adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play that has already earned Letts (whom you can see as a scheming senator on the current season of Showtime's Homeland) a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. Some early reviews have questioned whether this condensed two-hour version (with a different ending) is as good as the original material, but with such a strong cast, expect the film to get some consideration in the acting categories when nominations are announced. That cast is topped by Meryl Streep as the matriarch of the Weston family, who, after their alcoholic father (Sam Shepard) passes away, return to the house where they grew up. Julia Roberts plays Streep’s daughter, who is separated from her husband (Ewan McGregor) and has a daughter of her own (Abigail Breslin). Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson play Streep’s other daughters, and Margo Martindale also stars as Streep’s sister, while Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Cooper are Martindale’s son and husband. It’s not feel-good holiday fare, but the contentious relationships on display will ring true for many families.

Frozen Trailer 1 Trailer 2
November 27 | Animation/Family | Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

Early reviews have been good for Disney’s re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Snow Queen. This version of the story follows Anna (Kristen Bell) as she searches for her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel), whose powers have created an eternal, icy winter in the kingdom of Arendelle. Anna eventually teams up with the struggling ice salesman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his trusty reindeer Sven, and a snowman named Olaf, voiced by Josh Gad and already a favorite of critics. Chris Buck, one of the directors of Tarzan, and Jennifer Lee, one of the writers of Wreck-It Ralph, co-directed this film, which features original songs by Robert Lopez (The Book of Mormon) and his wife Kristen. The film will play with the highly praised animated short Get a Horse!, in which classic Disney characters transform from 2D drawings into 3D renderings.

Her Watch trailer
December 18 (limited) / January 10, 2014 (wide) | Comedy | Directed by Spike Jonze

Also by this director:

71 Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
83 Adaptation. (2002)
90 Being John Malkovich (1999)

The first feature from Spike Jonze in four years tells the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a heartbroken letter-writer-for-hire who strikes up a new relationship with Samantha, an advanced operating system that puts Siri to shame and has the voice of Scarlett Johansson (who replaced Samantha Morton). Amy Adams plays Theodore’s best friend, Rooney Mara plays his ex-wife, and Olivia Wilde meets him for a blind date. For the first time in four features, Jonze takes solo writing credit, and early reviews suggest the results are excellent.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Trailer Sneak peek
December 13 | Fantasy | Directed by Peter Jackson

Also by this director:

58 The Hobbit: An Unexpected ... (2012)
42 The Lovely Bones (2009)
81 King Kong (2005)
94 LOTR: The Return of the King (2003)
88 LOTR: The Two Towers (2002)
92 LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
54 Dead Alive (1993)

Part two of Peter Jackson’s 3D, 48fps expansion of The Hobbit continues the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) as they fight to reclaim the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. Standing in their way is the dragon Smaug (motion capture and voice by Benedict Cumberbatch). Joining the fight are Lee Pace as Thranduil, Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, Luke Evans as Bard The Bowman, Mikael Persbrandt as the shapeshifting Beorn and, making a welcome return, Orlando Bloom as Legolas. While The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had the lowest domestic gross of Jackson’s four Tolkien adaptations, it still went on to gross over a billion dollars worldwide, proving there are still plenty of people ready to get lost in Middle-earth.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Trailer 1 Trailer 2
November 22 | Action-Adventure/Sci-Fi | Directed by Francis Lawrence

Also by this director:

52 Water for Elephants (2011)
65 I Am Legend (2007)
50 Constantine (2005)

According to most critics, the switch from director Gary Ross to Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) has resulted in a better film for this second of four features based on The Hunger Games book trilogy. So now the only question for Lionsgate is whether it will also correspond to a bigger gross. Early foreign returns indicate yes, as Catching Fire more than doubled the original film’s opening take in Brazil. The story resumes with Katniss and Peeta on their Victory Tour, but eventually they find themselves back in the Capitol preparing for the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell). While the main players return (Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson), new faces include Philip Seymour Hoffman as Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heveansbee, Sam Clafin as Finnick Odair, and Jena Malone as Johanna Mason.

Inside Llewyn Davis Trailer 1 Trailer 2
December 6 (limited) / December 20 (wide) | Drama | Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Also by these directors (last 10 films):

80 True Grit (2010)
79 A Serious Man (2009)
63 Burn After Reading (2008)
91 No Country for Old Men (2007)
56 The Ladykillers (2004)
71 Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
73 The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
69 O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
69 The Big Lebowski (1998)
85 Fargo (1996)

Joel and Ethan Coen’s follow-up to their highest grossing film to date (True Grit) is a period piece of a different sort, as they follow Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaacs), a down-on-his-luck folk singer in 1960’s Greenwich Village, who stumbles through life with a cat, a guitar and a trail of trouble behind him. Carey Mulligan, Isaac’s wife in Drive, plays a member of a folk trio and is married to another folk singer played by Justin Timberlake. All three actors sing in the film, while Timberlake and Mulligan’s real-life husband Marcus Mumford worked with T Bone Burnett, the man behind the music for the Coens' O Brother, Where Art Thou?, on the soundtrack. Coen brothers constant John Goodman shows up, as do F. Murray Abraham, Adam Driver, and Garrett Hedlund. Early rave reviews from Cannes, where it won the Grand Prix, makes Inside Llewyn Davis one of the most anticipated films of the holidays.

The Invisible Woman Watch trailer
December 25 | Drama | Directed by Ralph Fiennes

Also by this director:

79 Coriolanus (2011)

Ralph Fiennes follows his directorial debut, the Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus, with this look at the life of another celebrated English author, Charles Dickens. Fiennes, who played Magwitch in Mike Newell’s recently released adaptation of Dickens’ Great Expectations, focuses on the author’s life after he is already famous and begins an affair with Ellen “Nelly” Ternan, played by Felicity Jones. Kristin Scott Thomas also stars as Nelly’s mother, and Joanna Scanlan plays Catherine, Dickens’ wife who bore him ten children prior to the affair. Very good reviews greeted the film upon its premiere in Telluride and subsequent screenings in Toronto.

Labor Day Watch trailer
December 27 (LA/NY) / January 31, 2014 (wide) | Drama | Directed by Jason Reitman

Also by this director:

71 Young Adult (2011)
83 Up in the Air (2009)
81 Juno (2007)
71 Thank You for Smoking (2006)

A recent release date change might indicate that Paramount has less confidence in Jason Reitman’s newest film than originally planned. Instead of a limited release on December 25th followed by expansion, the film will get a one-week Oscar qualifying run beginning December 27th before returning to theaters in wide release during the winter dead period in late January. This could be because Reitman’s adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s 2009 novel earned disappointingly mixed reviews when it screened in Telluride and Toronto this fall. The story takes place over a long weekend in 1987 leading to the titular day as Adele (Kate Winslet) and her 13-year-old son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith), are held captive and then quickly won over by Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped convict. Tobey Maguire narrates the film as the grown-up Henry, reflecting on events that would forever change his life.

Lone Survivor Trailer 1 Trailer 2
December 27 (limited) / January 10, 2014 (wide) | Action/Thriller | Directed by Peter Berg

Also by this director:

41 Battleship (2012)
49 Hancock (2008)
56 The Kingdom (2007)
70 Friday Night Lights (2004)
59 The Rundown (2003)
31 Very Bad Things (1998)

Peter Berg began developing this adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s book Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 six years ago. He wrote the screenplay and cast Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch (Berg's star on Battleship and TV's Friday Night Lights), Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch in this true-life tale of the failed June 28, 2005 mission "Operation Red Wings,” during which a four-man SEAL team on orders to capture or kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd encounter more than a hundred Taliban soldiers. Strong early buzz has made the film a surprise award-season contender.

Oldboy Green-band trailer Red-band trailer
November 27 | Action/Thriller | Directed by Spike Lee

Also by this director (last 10 non-docs):

48 Red Hook Summer (2012)
37 Miracle at St. Anna (2008)
76 Inside Man (2006)
28 She Hate Me (2004)
67 25th Hour (2002)
50 Bamboozled (2000)
67 Summer of Sam (1999)
63 He Got Game (1998)
44 Girl 6 (1996)
71 Clockers (1995)

Park Chan-wook’s 2004 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix-winning film gets the Spike Lee treatment with this English-language remake. Writer Mark Protosevich (I Am Legend) returned to the manga series by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi (on which the first film was based), and from the looks of it, Lee has combined his own vision with a few familiar elements that fans of the first film will recognize (yes, the hammer is back). In this version of the story, Josh Brolin plays a character named Joe Doucett who is set free after being held captive for 20 years. On his quest to discover who imprisoned him and why, he encounters characters played by Michael Imperioli, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sharlto Copley. In Brolin’s opinion, Lee’s three-hour director’s cut is preferable to the shorter version you'll see in theaters, but perhaps the alternative version will make an appearance on home video in the future.

Out of the Furnace Trailer 1 Trailer 2
December 6 | Thriller | Directed by Scott Cooper

Also by this director:

83 Crazy Heart (2009)

With good early reviews and a recent win for best first/second film at the Rome Film Festival, Scott Cooper’s follow-up to Crazy Heart looks to be another strong offering from the director. The story focuses on the Baze brothers. Christian Bale stars as Russell, a steel worker who falls on hard times, and Casey Affleck plays Rodney, a traumatized war veteran. When Rodney goes missing and the police fail to follow up, Bale takes matters into his own hands, leading to a confrontation with a meth-dealing psycho played by Woody Harrelson. The strong cast also includes Sam Shepard as the boys’ uncle, Willem Dafoe as a local bookie, and Forest Whitaker as the town’s sheriff.

The Past Watch trailer
December 20 | Foreign/Drama | Directed by Asghar Farhadi

Also by this director:

95 A Separation (2011)
69 The Beautiful City (2006)

After winning the Academy Award for best foreign language film with A Separation, writer-director Asghar Farhadi returns with his first film set in France. Bérénice Bejo won the best actress award at this year's Cannes Film Festival for her role as a woman who wants to finalize her divorce from her husband (Ali Mosaffa), who has been in Iran for four years, so she can get married to another man (Tahar Rahim). Caught in the middle of this adult drama are three children. With good early reviews, this looks to be another strong work from the Iranian writer-director.

Philomena Watch trailer
November 22 (LA/NY) / November 27 (wider) | Drama | Directed by Stephen Frears

Also by this director (recent films):

65 Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight (2013/TV)
38 Lay the Favorite (2012)
64 Tamara Drewe (2010)
63 Chéri (2009)
91 The Queen (2006)
71 Mrs Henderson Presents (2005)
78 Dirty Pretty Things (2003)
74 Liam (2001)
79 High Fidelity (2000)

Adapted from Martin Sixsmith’s 2009 book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, this Stephen Frears (The Queen) film earned plenty of cheers at its premier in Venice. This true story stars Coogan as ex-BBC correspondent Sixsmith, and Judi Dench as Philomena Lee, an elderly woman searching for the son she gave up (with a strong push from the Catholic Church) as a young unwed mother. Having recently won a PG-13 rating for the film, expect The Weinstein Company to give Dench’s lead performance the full Oscar push.

Saving Mr. Banks Watch trailer
December 13 (limited) / December 20 (wide) | Drama | Directed by John Lee Hancock

Also by this director:

53 The Blind Side (2009)
47 The Alamo (2004)
72 The Rookie (2002)

The phrase "Oscar bait" was created for films like this—a movie about the making of a beloved movie, filled with an impressive cast, helmed by a director with a reputation for crowd-pleasing fare. The story is of Walt Disney’s attempt to charm Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers into selling him the rights to her book. The cast includes Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Travers, with supporting players Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, and Colin Farrell. The director is John Lee Hancock, whose last film, The Blind Side, was nominated for best picture and earned Sandra Bullock the Academy Award for best actress. Will his latest receive similar accolades?

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Watch trailer
December 25 | Adventure | Directed by Ben Stiller

Also by this director:

71 Tropic Thunder (2008)
61 Zoolander (2001)

Early reviews from its premiere at the New York Film Festival were mixed for Ben Stiller’s adaptation of James Thurber’s short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," but even though it hasn’t scored well with critics yet, it could have plenty of success with holiday crowds looking for a film for the whole family. Directing from a script by Steve Conrad (The Weather Man, The Pursuit of Happyness), Stiller plays a daydreaming photo editor whose search for a lost negative leads him into a real-life adventure. Joining Stiller in the cast are Kristen Wiig as his love interest, Adam Scott as his new boss, Shirley MacLaine as his mother, Kathryn Hahn as his sister, and Sean Penn as the sought-after photographer.

The Wolf of Wall Street Trailer 1 Trailer 2
December 25 | Drama | Directed by Martin Scorsese

Also by this director (last 10 non-docs):

83 Hugo (2011)
63 Shutter Island (2010)
86 The Departed (2006)
77 The Aviator (2004)
72 Gangs of New York (2002)
70 Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
74 Kundun (1997)
73 Casino (1995)
83 The Age of Innocence (1993)
73 Cape Fear (1991)

After some concerns over its length (now reportedly a mere 2 hours and 45 minutes), Martin Scorsese’s fifth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio (after Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, and Shutter Island) finally received an official release date of December 25th, pleasing plenty of movie lovers who feared it would get pushed to 2014. The film tracks the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), a hard-partying, drug-addicted stockbroker who led one of the most successful brokerage firms of the '90s before the FBI came calling. Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter adapted the script from Belfort’s memoir, and Scorsese’s impressive cast includes Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Margot Robbie, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Jon Bernthal, and Rob Reiner.

What do you think?

Which films are you looking forward to seeing this holiday season? Let us know in the comments section below. And, for a complete listing of every upcoming movie release by date, including films arriving in 2014, visit our Movie Calendar.

Comments (2)

  • FleshWorld  

    American Hustle is a keeper. And I'm really looking forward to Lone Survivor... Great article!

  • CollinP  

    Alexander Payne's Nebraska! The Descendants was so affecting I'm seriously stoked for anything he has to offer up.

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