Can you smell that? No, not the pumpkin pie-scented potpourri that your grandmother bought you last Christmas – it’s the smell of awards season starting to heat up. Though November is typically a pretty eclectic month for movies, you can always expect a fair share of family films and Oscar hopefuls competing for the attention of your box office dollars, and this year is no exception. You also might notice that a few major releases – like the Adam Sandler-in-drag comedy “Jack and Jill” and the latest installment in the “Twilight” saga – have been left out of this preview. That’s no mistake. I wanted to save myself the trouble of writing about them and you the embarrassment of reading about them. After all, there are more than enough good options this month that no one should have to damage any more brain cells by seeing one of those movies.
Who: John Cho, Kal Penn, Paula Garces, Thomas Lennon and Neil Patrick Harris
What: After Harold and Kumar accidentally set fire to Harold’s father-in-law’s prize Christmas tree, the duo embark on yet another weed-fueled adventure to replace it.
When: November 4th
Why: Though I refuse to believe that the 3D revolution is going to stick around for much longer, this is one of those times where I actually don’t completely hate the idea. That’s probably because director Todd Strauss-Schulson is really embracing the gimmicky nature of the technology, but who doesn’t love making fun of 3D? Though Harold and Kumar’s last adventure was a bit ridiculous for its own good, writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg appear to have reined things in for the third (and likely final) installment in the stoner bud series. Toss in some Claymation and the return of Neil Patrick Harris and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be a fun theater experience.
Who: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck and Téa Leoni
What: A group of employees at a luxury condominium enlist the aid of a career criminal to help them steal $20 million from the investor that emptied out their pension plans.
When: November 4th
Why: When I first heard that Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy were teaming up with director Brett Ratner for what can be best described as a blue-collar “Ocean’s 11,” I responded accordingly, with a witty comment and a cynical roll of the eyes. But something strange happened between then and now – I saw the trailer for the film, and amazingly, it doesn’t look half-bad. Perhaps it’s just because my expectations are so low for those involved in the movie, but this actually looks like it could be pretty enjoyable, and even somewhat of a return to form for Murphy, who hasn’t been funny in a really long time.
Who: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts and Judi Dench
What: A biopic about the founder of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, whose 50-year reign as the face of law enforcement was threatened by the many secrets in his personal life.
When: November 9th
Why: Everything about this film has “future Oscar nominee” written all over it, including star Leonardo DiCaprio, director Clint Eastwood and co-star Armie Hammer, who’s landed the plum role of Hoover’s lifelong friend and rumored lover Clyde Tolson. It’ll be interesting to see how a mild conservative like Eastwood handles the mysterious relationship between the two men, especially with gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black behind the script, because dodging the issue completely won’t sit well with the usually liberal-minded Academy. The person that stands the most to gain from all of this, of course, is Hammer, who is pretty much a lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination after just barely missing out last year for his incredible work in “The Social Network.”
Who: Henry Cavill, Frieda Pinto, Luke Evans, Kellan Lutz and Mickey Rourke
What: Zeus calls on the mortal Theseus to lead the fight against King Hyperion, who is on a rampage across Greece to obtain a weapon that can destroy humanity.
When: November 11th
Why: If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that the movie is going to look incredible. Tarsem Singh may not be the most prolific filmmaker in Hollywood (he’s only made three movies in 11 years), but he already has a reputation for creating some lusciously gorgeous cinematography. Though some have been quick to criticize the film as a “Clash of the Titans” clone that unabashedly mimics Zack Snyder’s slo-mo camera technique from “300,” I think we can all agree that both movies could have been better. There’s no telling if Singh succeeded in making a superior film, but at the very least, audiences will get their first look at new Superman Henry Cavill in action hero mode.
Who: George Clooney, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster and Beau Bridges
What: A father tries to reconnect with this two estranged daughters after his cheating wife falls into a coma following a boating accident.
When: November 18th
Why: After premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, the general consensus was that the movie was going to be a major contender in the Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture categories at this year’s Oscars. Though it’s been a while since Alexander Payne’s last film (2004’s “Sideways”), early buzz suggests that the director is still at the top of his game. It certainly seems to follow in the footsteps of Payne’s previous work, which were all dependent on enlisting a top actor who can handle the dramatic material as well as the quirky comedy that his movies tend to exhibit. And is there anyone in Hollywood that does that better than George Clooney?
Who: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy
What: With the help of three fans, Kermit the Frog gets the gang back together to put on a show to save their old theater from a greedy oil tycoon.
When: November 23rd
Why: It’s been six years since the last Muppets movie, and even longer since one was actually released in theaters, but if the new film does well enough, it might just be the final push that Disney needs to finally commission a new Muppets TV series. The talent behind the movie is certainly encouraging, with self-proclaimed fan Jason Segel (who demonstrated the extent of his puppet love in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) co-writing the script and starring alongside Amy Adams, “Flight of the Conchords” co-creator James Bobin making his feature film directorial debut, as well as oodles of guest cameos including Billy Crystal, Ricky Gervais, Zach Galifianakis, Emily Blunt, and many more. If that’s not enough to get you excited about the Great Muppet Revival, then nothing will.
Who: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen and Ben Kingsley
What: Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton.
When: November 23rd
Why: Though Martin Scorsese has compiled a great cast for his adaptation of Brian Selznick’s award-winning bestseller, “The Invention of Hugo Cabaret” (a title they should have kept intact), I can’t help but feel like the material is beneath him. While it’s always refreshing to see a director that’s willing to work outside his comfort zone, the 3D looks gimmicky and the sounds like something that Steven Spielberg would be more attracted to than Scorsese. If anyone can make this interesting, however, it’s him, although don’t be surprised if this turns out to be the director’s first misstep in years.
Who: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Penelope Ann Miller and John Goodman
What: As silent movie star George Valentin wonders if the arrival of talking pictures will cause him to fade into oblivion, he falls in love with a young dancer set for a big break.
When: November 23rd
Why: It received rave reviews at Cannes – winning Best Actor and a nomination for the prestigious Palm d’Or along the way – and has continued to gain steam as one of the must-see movies of awards season. The fact that it’s a black and white silent film won’t do it any favors in appealing to a mainstream audience, but art house fans will likely show up in droves. Though it helps to have recognizable names like Penelope Ann Miller and John Goodman in the cast, the movie supposedly belongs to French actor Jean Dujardin with his star-making performance. I’m still not crazy about how much the trailer gives away, but if it gets people to go see the film, then it was a job well done.