After a tepid last couple of months, Hollywood is finally gearing up for award season, and with it comes a host of really promising films from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Joe Wright, David O. Russell and Ang Lee, many of which are already projected to land several Oscar nominations. But perhaps the most highly-anticipated release this November isn’t an award contender at all, but rather the long-awaited 23rd installment in the James Bond series, which looks to be Daniel Craig’s best 007 adventure yet.
Who: John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch
What: A video game villain sets out to fulfill his dream of being a hero, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.
When: November 2nd
Why: I was cautiously optimistic about “Wreck-It Ralph” when it was first announced, but after seeing the film, I can say unequivocally that it’s one of the best movies the studio has put out in years, and that includes the Pixar stuff as well. In fact, “Wreck-It Ralph” is the kind of film that you’d almost expect Pixar to make, because it’s a remarkably original idea that’s catered to both kids and the adults who grew up playing retro games. Director Rich Moore comes from a background that includes “Futurama” and “The Simpsons,” and it really shows in the type of humor on display, while John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman shine in their voice roles. The animation is also really gorgeous, especially the attention to detail between games, and the much-publicized cameos help bring an authenticity to the world that only makes it even more enjoyable.
Who: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly and Melissa Leo
What: An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals that he may have been drunk at the time.
When: November 2nd
Why: After spending nearly a decade helping pioneer motion capture technology with movies like “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol,” Robert Zemeckis marks his return to live-action filmmaking with something that has a little more bite to it. Early reviews have been almost unanimously positive, with Denzel Washington singled out for his amazing performance, and though he may be considered a bit of a dark horse with so much stiff competition this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy rewarded the actor with his first nomination since 2002’s “Training Day.” The subject matter certainly carries the danger of becoming too melodramatic, but between the interesting premise and excellent cast, “Flight” is exactly the kind of riveting character drama that should help remind audiences just how good Zemeckis’ movies used to be.
Who: RZA, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Jamie Chung, Rick Yune and Dave Bautista
What: A humble blacksmith defends his village from a band of assassins and mercenaries when they come to town in search of a fabled treasure of gold.
When: November 2nd
Why: Anyone who knows anything about Wu Tang Clan founder RZA is that he loves kung fu cinema, so you can be sure that his directorial debut is going to be nothing short of a love letter to the genre, albeit one with a hip-hop soundtrack. The fact that he’s managed to attract the kind of talent that he has is certainly a sign of the film’s potential, because let’s be honest, Russell Crowe is the last person you’d expect to show up in this type of movie, even if it only ends up being an extended cameo. With that said, however, “The Man with the Iron Fists” looks every bit like the kind of chop-socky B-movies that RZA grew up watching, so if you’re expecting something more along the lines of “Kill Bill,” there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to walk away disappointed.
Who: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris
What: As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.
When: November 9th
Why: It may have taken a little longer than expected to arrive in theaters, but the MGM bankruptcy fiasco was almost a blessing in disguise, because “Skyfall” looks like the perfect way to celebrate 50 years of James Bond. Though Daniel Craig’s last outing as 007 left a lot to be desired following his fantastic debut, “Skyfall” could be his best yet thanks to the rather unconventional selection of Sam Mendes as the film’s director. Mendes brings a certain level of prestige to the proceedings that the series hasn’t had before, and while some were worried about his lack of experience shooting action, the trailers suggest that he’s done a more than capable job in that department. The cast is equally as exciting, from Javier Bardem’s platinum-haired villain to the underrated Ben Whishaw as a young Q. The only thing missing is Moneypenny, although if some sources are to be believed, that might be remedied by the end of this installment too.
Who: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Tommy Lee Jones
What: As the Civil War rages on, Lincoln fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.
When: November 9th
Why: Steven Spielberg’s passion project has been in development for years – so long, in fact, that its original intended star Liam Neeson was considered too old for the role by the time it went into production. (Strangely, Neeson is only five years older than his replacement, Daniel Day-Lewis). Though I probably would have been a lot more interested if Neeson was still involved, it doesn’t change the fact that this could be the film that finally ends Spielberg’s cold streak, because he hasn’t made a truly great movie since 2005’s “Munich.” The director always seems to excel at telling stories based in history (“Saving Private Ryan,” “Schindler’s List,” etc.), and he’s recruited an amazing ensemble cast of actors for his last epic. The list is too long to rattle off every name, but you can expect top-notch acting all around, starting with Day-Lewis, whose role as the 16th President is such blatant Oscar material that it’s his award to lose.
Who: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kelly Macdonald
What: Set in late 19th century Russia, aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.
When: November 16th
Why: I’m a sucker for anything that Joe Wright does, especially when it involves Keira Knightley, but even I’m a little worried about his version of “Anna Karenina.” The literary classic has been adapted for the screen so many times before that it seems pointless for someone to do it again, despite the fact that Wright has taken a big risk by staging the movie in a way unlike any other. It’s exactly the kind of outside-the-box thinking that the story needed in order to prevent it from feeling stale, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work. The ingredients are all there, with a strong cast led by Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, the Oscar-winning writer of “Shakespeare in Love,” but whether that translates into a success remains to be seen.
Who: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver
What: After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and meets a mysterious girl with problems of her own.
When: November 21st
Why: The last time that director David O. Russell got this much talent together, it resulted in a movie that earned seven Oscar nominations (including two wins in the Supporting Actor and Actress categories) and landed on just about every Top 10 list in the country. But for as great as “The Fighter” was, “Silver Linings Playbook” looks even better. Based on the 2008 novel by Matthew Quick, the film has all the ingredients of a Best Picture contender, beginning with its excellent cast. Bradley Cooper has already cemented himself as a legitimate leading man, but this could be the role that finally proves he’s a serious actor, while Jennifer Lawrence looks to continue to build on her impressive career. Perhaps more exciting than the two leads, however, is the prospect of seeing Robert De Niro in a role that could mark a return to form for the aging actor.
Who: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Adil Hussain and Tabu
What: The son of a zookeeper is deserted on a lifeboat with a hyena, zebra, orangutan, and Bengal tiger after a shipwreck sets them adrift in the Pacific Ocean.
When: November 21st
Why: Hollywood has been trying to bring Yann Martel’s best-selling novel to the big screen for several years, with M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuaron and Jean-Pierre Jeunet all attached to direct at some point, only to move on to other projects. And just when it seemed like Ang Lee might be the latest casualty, Fox finally gave the director the greenlight, although he didn’t make it easy on himself by rolling every filmmaking vice – kids, animals, water and 3D – into one production. Of course, based on the early buzz, it seems to have paid off, because even if the film doesn’t dominate in the major award categories, it’s sure to land a few technical awards for the stunning visuals and incredible animal effects. (That Bengal tiger is entirely computer generated, you know).
Who: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel
What: A love story between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of “Psycho” in 1959.
When: November 23rd
Why: HBO’s recent biopic about Alfred Hitchcock and the making of “The Birds” was a dull, melodramatic affair that just didn’t sit right with me, so I’m really hoping that Sacha Gervasi’s take on the famed director during his time filming “Psycho” fares much better. At the very least, it appears to be a little more playful and lighthearted, tapping into Hitchcock’s darkly comical side, and the fact that it boasts such a great cast doesn’t hurt. Anthony Hopkins was an excellent choice to play the Master of Suspense (barely recognizable under all the make-up), and Helen Mirren is the perfect complement as his wife Alma. What remains to be seen, however, is whether “Hitchcock” can be as engrossing as the movies that made him one of cinema’s most respected filmmakers.
Who: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy and James Gandolfini
What: Jackie Cogan is a professional enforcer who investigates a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game.
When: November 30th
Why: I wasn’t a fan of Andrew Dominik’s slow-moving Western “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” so I’m understandably a little hesitant about his follow-up, which is based on George V. Higgins’ crime novel “Cogan’s Trade.” With that said, however, Dominik has assembled an impressive group of actors yet again (including gangster film perennials like Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini), and Brad Pitt obviously sees something in the director to be teaming up with him for a second time. Having already played at a number of film festivals (most notably Cannes) and opening in other countries prior to its U.S. release, reactions to the movie have been extremely positive, although it’s still hard to tell whether it will appeal to a mainstream audience.