This month's notable theatrical releases
Below, our editors have selected 10 interesting films debuting this month, listed in alphabetical order.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Watch trailer #1 Watch trailer #2
Fantasy/Action-Adventure | December 17 | Directed by Peter Jackson
Also by this director:
66 Hobbit ... Desolation of Smaug (2013)
58 Hobbit ... Unexpected Journey (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)
Having passed through Guillermo del Toro’s hands and then expanded from two parts to three, Peter Jackson’s second Middle-earth trilogy will finally be complete when The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (an improvement over original title There and Back Again) finally invades theaters everywhere on Wednesday, December 17th. (Or Monday the 15th, if you want to sit through the entire eight-hour trilogy on an IMAX screen.) The final chapter picks up where The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ended—with Smaug on the loose—but for Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the other citizens of Middle Earth, the troubles are just beginning. The finale will no doubt push the limits of computer graphics (and your bladder), but don’t expect an 11-Oscar win like Jackson’s other final chapter, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Inherent Vice Watch trailer
R Drama/Comedy | December 12 | Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Also by this director:
Venturing into somewhat more lighthearted territory after the twin critical successes of The Master and There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson adapts Thomas Pynchon’s period detective novel Inherent Vice. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Doc Sportello, a private eye passing his days in Gordita Beach, CA at the end of the psychedelic ’60s. When his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) comes calling with a story about a plot to kidnap her current billionaire boyfriend (Eric Roberts) and throw him in the nut house, well, Doc can’t keep himself from helping out an old flame. The impressive cast includes Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, Jena Malone, Michael K. Williams, Maya Rudolph, Jillian Bell, and Joanna Newsom (who narrates the film). The notoriously camera-shy author is rumored to cameo as well. Early reviews have been good as Anderson once again jumps into a period-specific L.A. story with a huge ensemble cast—a cast on which the Independent Spirit Awards bestowed the Robert Altman Award, a fitting honor considering the legendary director’s influence on Anderson and, specifically, Inherent Vice. (Altman’s Philip Marlowe adaptation The Long Goodbye has been a touchstone for many critics, as has The Big Lebowski.)
The Interview Watch green-band trailer Watch red-band trailer Watch final trailer
R Comedy | December 25 | Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
Also by these directors:
67 This Is the End (2013)
In this second directorial effort from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (following 2013’s This Is the End), James Franco stars as talk show host David Skylark, while Rogen plays his producer, Aaron Rapoport. And they are about to score quite the exclusive. Written by Goldberg, Rogen and Dan Sterling, the comedy follows this highly under-qualified duo as they are recruited by the CIA (represented by Lizzy Caplan) to assassinate North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). The film has already been denounced by North Korea and delayed by Sony so a few alterations could be made, but the final trailer makes Kim Jong-un look like a pretty cool dude.
Into the Woods Watch trailer
PG Musical/Fantasy | December 25 | Directed by Rob Marshall
Also by this director:
Hollywood has been attempting to bring this dark fantasy musical to the big screen since its Broadway debut in 1987, but only now is the film version a reality. Written (like the play) by James Lapine and featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Rob Marshall’s adaptation features a star-studded cast—Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski and James Corden—in a story combining characters from multiple Grimm fairy tales. Among others, you'll find Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack (of "and the Beanstalk" fame) (Daniel Huttlestone), Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), and Cinderella (Kendrick). Streep’s character, a witch, sets the story in motion when The Baker and his wife (Corden and Blunt) wish to begin a family. Will it be a success like Marshall’s Academy Award-winning Chicago, or a disappointment like Nine? And will Disney's attempt to turn the adult-oriented production into something more kid-friendly alienate Woods' built-in fanbase?
Leviathan Watch trailer (subtitled)
NR Foreign/Drama | December 25 | Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev
Not to be confused with last year’s film of the same name (which was an unrelated documentary), Andrey Zvyagintsev’s follow-up to Elena received some of the best reviews at this year's Cannes Film Festival, where Zvyagintsev (and co-writer Oleg Negin) walked away with the best screenplay award. Set in a small town in Northwest Russia, the story follows Kolya, an auto mechanic struggling to hold on to his house and business despite the maneuvering of the town’s mayor. Even though the film serves as a critique of Russia’s government, Leviathan was submitted as the country's official entry into the foreign language Oscar competition, and the film should also show up on some year-end critic top-ten lists.
Mr. Turner Watch trailer
R Drama | December 19 | Directed by Mike Leigh
Also by this director:
80 Another Year (2010)
84 Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
83 Vera Drake (2004)
72 All or Nothing (2002)
90 Topsy-Turvy (1999)
76 Career Girls (1997)
91 Secrets & Lies (1996)
84 Naked (1993)
88 Life Is Sweet (1991)
84 High Hopes (1989)
Here's another Cannes hit. At that festival in May, Timothy Spall won the best actor award for his portrayal of British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner in Mike Leigh’s lauded biopic. This fifth collaboration between Leigh and Spall (after All or Nothing, Topsy-Turvy, Secrets & Lies, and Life Is Sweet) looks at Turner’s last 25 years of life as he struggles with depression after his father’s death. In addition to the leaps Turner made as a painter, the film focuses on his relationships with three important women in his life—the mother of his children (Ruth Sheen), his housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson), and a widow he romances (Marion Bailey). Amongst the many, many biopics released this year, Mr. Turner currently holds the highest Metascore.
Selma Watch trailer
Drama | December 25 | Directed by Ava DuVernay
Director Ava DuVernay’s follow-up to her well-regarded 2012 release Middle of Nowhere looks at an eventful period in 1965 when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) led three protest marches from Selma, Alabama to the state capital in Montgomery, ultimately resulting in President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act into law. The film has earned excellent early reviews and was recently nominated for Independent Spirit Awards in the categories of best feature, director, actor, supporting actress (for Carmen Ejogo's performance as Coretta Scott King), and cinematography (for Bradford Young). Expect to hear much more about Selma as awards season progresses.
Top Five Watch trailer
R Comedy | December 12 | Directed by Chris Rock
Writer-director Chris Rock stars in this look at a day in the life of an actor/comedian trying to get his life and career in order. Rock’s Andre Allen attempts to balance the demands on his time made by his reality star fiancée (Gabrielle Union), his agent (Kevin Hart) and a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson) assigned to write a story about him. The incredible cast also includes Cedric the Entertainer, Tracy Morgan, Ben Vereen, JB Smoove, Sherri Shepherd, Anders Holm, Romany Malco, Michael Che, and Jay Pharaoh, while Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg, and Adam Sandler play versions of themselves in cameos. Easily Rock’s best-reviewed film as writer-director, Top Five was one of the pleasant surprises of September's Toronto International Film Festival, where Paramount landed the much-lauded film for around $12.5 million.
Two Days, One Night Watch trailer (subtitled)
PG-13 Foreign/Drama | December 24 | Directed by Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Also by the Dardenne brothers:
Prognosticators expected the Dardenne brothers' latest drama to walk away with a major award when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year. After all, the brothers won the Palme d’Or for Rosetta in 1999 and The Child in 2005, best screenplay for Lorna’s Silence in 2008, and the Grand Jury prize for their most recent film, The Kid with a Bike. The fact that Two Days, One Night didn't score any hardware does not mean that the brothers are slipping, however. Almost unanimously praised by critics, the French-language drama stars Marion Cotillard as Sandra, a woman recovering from depression and facing layoffs at her company. She has just one weekend to convince her co-workers to decline their bonuses so that she can keep her job. This Belgium entry in the foreign-language Oscar race will try to get one of the nominations from a strong field of contenders that includes Ida, Mommy, Winter Sleep, Norte, the End of History, Force Majeure, and the previously mentioned Leviathan.
Unbroken Watch trailer #1 Watch trailer #2
PG-13 Drama | December 25 | Directed by Angelina Jolie
Also by this director:
56 In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011)
Amazing true-life stories don’t always make for great movies, but expectations are high for Angelina Jolie’s adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s book about Louis Zamperini, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Joel and Ethan Coen contributed to the script (begun by William Nicholson and Richard LaGravanese), and rising star Jack O’Connell (Starred Up) plays Zamperini, who in 1936 became the youngest Olympian, at 19, to qualify for the 5000 meters and then went on to set the collegiate mile record. But becoming a sports hero is just the beginning of his story. Zamperini then enlisted in the Air Force and become a bombardier in 1941, and in 1942, was one of three survivors of a B-24 crash which led to his capture and imprisonment at multiple Japanese POW camps. Ten-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins shot the film, and Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson, and Jai Courtney have supporting roles.
What do you think?
Which films are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments section below. For a complete, updated listing of all upcoming film releases by date, including other December releases and films arriving in 2015, visit our Movie Calendar.