Christmas is coming, which means annoying family members giving you an excuse to hit the movie theater if only to escape from their incessant babbling. Or maybe that’s just how I settle things in my family? Regardless, in honor of the twelfth month, this month’s Must-See List is celebrating its own twelve days of Christmas with two additional movies worth seeing. What do you have planned for your Christmas movie watching list? Check our list (twice) below.
“Out of the Furnace”
Synopsis: Russell Baze (Christian Bale) is trying to catch a break in life. When his veteran brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck) goes missing, Russell must navigate the seedy backwaters of his community to find him.
What You Need to Know: Scott Cooper lit a lot of fires with his 2009 directorial debut, “Crazy Heart.” After the film led to an Oscar for its leading man, Jeff Bridges, critics and fans were eager to devour whatever work Cooper brewed next. Four years have since passed, and Cooper’s second feature boasts an amazing cast including Bale (having his own stellar year with two movies out this month), Affleck, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Shepard. Playlist writer Charlie Schmidlin caught “Out of the Furnace” during AFI Fest a few weeks back, giving the movie a “B” grade; he praised Cooper’s “well-executed, tense set pieces and a fantastic cast to pull them off.” The cast coupled with the intense premise detailed in the trailers should present this as an intriguing kick-off to Oscar month.
Release Date: December 4th
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
Synopsis: A week in the life of a 1960s folk singer named Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) as he navigates the world of Greenwich Village, searching for meaning within the music.
What You Need to Know: The anticipation for “Inside Llewyn Davis” is intense. Anytime Joel and Ethan Coen have a movie out it feels as if the world is sitting with bated breath; back when the duo announced their desire to feature the 1960s folk scene of Greenwich Village audiences believed it was perfect for them. Kevin Jagernauth was one of the first to see the movie back at Cannes, calling it “an excellent study…of an ordinary man caught in a tailspin.” Since then, the film traveled to the BFI London Film Festival, where Oliver Lyttelton similarly sang its praises. The movie has also garnered three Independent Spirit Award nominations (including one for Isaac). Its Oscar chances appear pre-ordained and you can expect “Inside Llewyn Davis” to be another knockout for the brothers Coen.
Release Date: December 6th in limited release with expansion on December 20th
Synopsis: Based on a true story, “American Hustle” tells of a con artist (Christian Bale) and his mistress (Amy Adams) forced into helping the federal government take down a politician after they’re caught.
What You Need to Know: David O. Russell is on a tear after the Oscar success of both “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” Suffice it to say, audiences were chomping at the bit to hear what Russell was doing next. When he announced his take on the infamous ABSCAM con and a cast comprised of Bale, Adams, Jeremy Renner, Academy Award-winner Jennifer Lawrence, and Bradley Cooper, the buzz went through the roof. Since then, the movie has been deliberate in its release of footage, recently showing the first six minutes at AFI fest at the beginning of November and having New York and LA critic screenings only a week ago. Early buzz has been building and audiences will definitely turn out for the all-star cast.
Release Date: December 13th in limited release; wide December 18th
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”
Synopsis: Continuing the journey laid out in last year’s first installment, hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) must face the evil dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) in order to restore the kingdom of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage).
What You Need to Know: Last year’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was a huge success despite a prodigious three-hour runtime—par for the course with director Peter Jackson. Since then, fans have been vocal about their likes and dislikes with this second film, ranging from questioning the amount of invented source material and characters, to asking why another movie (set for 2014) is even necessary. If you aren’t a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson’s prior installment, seeing this movie at all might be irrelevant. The fact there’s another movie to close out the trilogy could compel casual viewers to just wait to binge-watch all three; I’m assuming that would take a week with their lengthy runtimes. Either way, the trailers showcase a beautiful and intricate world, and fans that started the unexpected journey last year are eager to continue.
Release Date: December 13th
“Saving Mr. Banks”
Synopsis: The story behind the hectic production of Disney’s classic, “Mary Poppins,” focused on author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and her hesitations in turning over the book to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks).
What You Need to Know: In terms of glossy marketing and star power, “Saving Mr. Banks” is firing on all cylinders. The movie has all the elements, from an A-list cast to a story about adapting a beloved classic into a beloved children’s film from one of the most beloved studios around. Seriously, you have Tom Hanks—everyone’s dream dad/uncle/grandpa—playing Walt Disney, a man synonymous with magic for children. The Oscar bait trailer and emphasis on all things Disney could come off as pandering and a desperate grab for awards, but it’s certainly weaving its magic in audience attention. Our own Oliver Lyttelton wasn’t bowled over by the film, but found it to be “a fundamentally decent, very well-acted and cannily written film” in his “B” review of the movie from the BFI London Film Festival. A prime Christmas weekend slot should be enough to tempt families to see this, and expect it to pick up some award nominations in a couple months.
Release Date: December 13th in limited release; December 20th wide
“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”
Synopsis: San Diego’s top-rated news anchor, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) moves to New York to head up a 24-hour news channel, leading to a host of complications.
What You Need to Know: In 2004, director Adam McKay and Will Ferrell created a hit with “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” a movie which gave audiences belly laughs and a host of catch phrases still used today. Audiences were eager for a sequel, and while Ferrell and McKay crafted other projects, the “Anchorman” sequel loomed large. Cut to 2013, and after a barrage of trailers boasting little footage, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” has arrived. It’ll be interesting to see how this performs with audiences who might feel too much time has past, and/or weren’t wowed by the trailers. Also, the original “Anchorman” was released in the heart of summer, while its sequel is being released right before Christmas. It’s an interesting change, either signifying faith or disappointment. On top of that, McKay has talked about releasing an additional, longer cut, for theaters which is an intriguing gimmick, although doubtful in execution. Fans of Burgundy will definitely eat this one up, and if anything, it will also create new fans that may have missed the original.
Release Date: December 18th
Synopsis: A writer (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with a newly purchased operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), created to make his life easier.
What You Need to Know: Spike Jonze is a director known for his wildly inventive films, and after his 2009 adaptation of “Where the Wild Things Are,” Jonze took a break from feature-length films to focus on shorts and documentaries. By 2012, he was ready to return back to the feature format and filmed “Her,” a romance about a Siri-like computer program’s relation with a mild-mannered writer. After filming wrapped that summer, audiences asked where the movie was, but they would have to wait with bated breath until this year. Cut to this season’s award calendar where “Her” is taking festivals by storm. Our own Rodrigo Perez gave the movie an “A-,” for its “disarmingly funny” examination of love and loneliness when it closed the New York Film Festival. There have even been questions of whether Johansson would see a Best Actress Oscar for her vocal work, although the Golden Globes have already deemed her ineligible. “Her” is sure to hit a sweet spot for Jonze aficionados as well as the art-house crowd with the buzz possibly infecting more mainstream audiences.
Release Date: December 18th limited; January 10th wide
Synopsis: A complicated tale of relationships revolving around an Iranian man (Ali Mosoffa) who returns to Paris to finalize his divorce from his ex-wife (Berenice Bejo) who he hasn’t seen in four years.
What You Need to Know: Director Asghar Farhadi was nominated for an Oscar just last year for his remarkable film, “A Separation,” and critics are quick to declare “The Past” another potential awards vehicle for him. The domestic drama is “mature and real in a way that dramas rarely aspire to” according to Kevin Jagnernauth’s review from when the movie showed at Cannes. Sony quickly snatched up the domestic rights, while various countries were vying to claim the movie as their own in the Oscars Foreign Language category with Iran ultimately winning. Fans of “A Separation” will definitely be out to watch another of Farhadi’s films, and with a prominent studio such as Sony backing this domestically, it should attract a wider batch of viewers.
Release Date: December 20th in New York and Los Angeles
“August: Osage County”
Synopsis: When the patriarch of the Weston clan dies, the estranged family members, including the three daughters driven away by their malicious mother (Meryl Streep), reunite and dredge up the issues which separate them.
What You Need to Know: Playwright Tracy Letts won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “August: Osage County” when it premiered on-stage in 2008. His screenwriting for film, 2006’s “Bug” and last year’s “Killer Joe,” has their fair share of fans but were divisive critically. When it was announced ‘August’ would be receiving the adaptation treatment, fans of the original play were skeptical of how viewers would react to a rather somber and hostile work; cries which only increased when it was revealed that the play’s ending was completely redone for the screen version. One can’t argue with the talent assembled for this production: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, and Benedict Cumberbatch just to name a very few, and all of them are bringing their A-game and could easily secure Oscar nods (particularly the two leading ladies). Kevin Jagernauth couldn’t stand the movie when it played at TIFF this year, calling it an “exhausting, screechy drama;” an issue apparently tweaked in the editing room (although not confirmed) with Rodrigo Perez calling it “unexpectedly funny.” Broadway lovers will certainly want to watch Letts’s work play out on-screen, while casual observers will flock to this to witness the barrage of talent.
Release Date: December 25th in limited release
Synopsis: The true story of four Navy SEALs on a covert mission who find themselves isolated and outnumbered in the mountains of Afghanistan.
What You Need to Know: When critics started questioning “Lone Survivor” as an Oscar contender, fans were left scratching their heads. “Lone Survivor” directed by Peter Berg (“Battleship”) and starring Mark Wahlberg? Surely you jest! And despite Charlie Schmidlin’s tepid response to it at AFI Fest—he gave it a “B,“ dinging Berg for never taking the story beyond “bravery and sacrifice”—its the outlier as it’s receiving mountains of praise from other outlets. If the word-of-mouth stays strong fans will take a chance on this, coupled with the cast of leading men, including Wahlberg who has a strong track record in action.
Release Date: December 25th in New York and Los Angeles; January 10th wide
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
Synopsis: A day-dreamer (Ben Stiller) who’s never done anything exciting with his life is forced into a journey of self-exploration as he traverses exotic locales to hunt down a photographer’s cover photo for the last issue of Life magazine.
What You Need to Know: Based on the James Thurber story, classic film fans know of the ‘Walter Mitty’ story through the 1947 film adaptation with Danny Kaye, of which I’m assuming this bears little resemblance. Ben Stiller takes on the mantle of directing and starring in this, something he hasn’t done since 2008’s “Tropic Thunder,” and that was a hit. The various trailers haven’t done much to play up the narrative other than a man journeying through the world to give up his fuddy-duddy existence, so audiences unaware of the original film/novel might lack information on the whimsy inherent in the tale. Rodrigo Perez was completely disenchanted with ‘Mitty,’ giving it a “C-,” calling it “not a terrible movie, per se, but…largely unsophisticated and prosaic in most of its sentiments.” Those who don’t enjoy Stiller in capacity, director or actor, might be turned off by this.
Release Date: December 25th
“The Wolf of Wall Street”
Synopsis: Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a highly successful stock broker living life to its utmost excesses. Given the title “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Jordan must juggle his money, his drugs, and his women or lose everything.
What You Need to Know: Based on the utterly insane autobiography by Jordan Belfort—literally, the man did almost everything short of actually murdering someone—“The Wolf of Wall Street” is the movie to beat them all. Reteaming director Martin Scorsese with DiCaprio, prognosticators are questioning whether this is the film which secures DiCaprio his Oscar for Best Actor. Based on the wild trailers, complete with dancing DiCaprio, the odds could be in his favor. There was fear that the movie would fail to make its 2013 release date, and after “Will he or won’t he?” questions, Scorsese was able to finish the final cut with only a move of a couple weeks back to Christmas day. Clocking in as the longest Scorsese movie, at a minute shy of three-hours, and almost securing an NC-17, there’s plenty of mystery swirling around this movie to put butts in seats after unwrapping your presents.
Release Date: December 25th