It’s no secret that Hollywood saves some of its biggest guns for the end of the year, and between all the awards season hopefuls and holiday blockbusters, there’s an entire arsenal of exciting movies coming to theaters this December. While Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino duke it for Oscar honors with their newest films, “Jack Reacher” and “The Hobbit” promise to deliver pure escapist entertainment. The only thing missing is a big red bow, because this is the ultimate present for film lovers.
Who: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman and Samuel West
What: The story of the love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley during the weekend in 1939 when the King of England visited upstate New York.
When: December 7th
Why: Bill Murray is notoriously picky about choosing scripts, but not even he could turn down the chance to play Franklin D. Roosevelt, which practically comes with an Oscar nomination attached to it. All kidding aside, Murray is actually a pretty inspired choice to play the wheelchair-bound 32nd President, especially because Roger Michell’s film appears to be much lighter for a story that takes place during such a harrowing period in history. While it’s unlikely that “Hyde Park on Hudson” will garner the same awards recognition as 2010’s “The King’s Speech” (although the two movies would make a perfect double feature), it’s hard to imagine that it will disappoint with such a solid cast.
Who: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis and Hugo Weaving
What: Bilbo Baggins journeys to the Lonely Mountain with a vigorous group of dwarves to reclaim a treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug.
When: December 14th
Why: After years stuck in development hell due to the MGM bankruptcy crisis, the most anticipated prequel to come out of Hollywood since “The Phantom Menace” is finally arriving in theaters, although not exactly in the way that most people were expecting. For starters, Peter Jackson is back in the director’s chair after Guillermo del Toro cut his losses to work on other projects (and really, it’s for the better), while two movies have now become three after the decision was made to turn “The Hobbit” into its own trilogy. Though I’m not exactly sure how Jackson plans to do that (especially when Part One, subtitled “An Unexpected Journey,” will reportedly run 160 minutes long), that doesn’t make me any less thrilled about getting the chance to revisit Middle Earth all over again.
Who: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler, Chris Pratt and Jason Clarke
What: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and his death at the hands of Navy SEAL Team Six.
When: December 19th
Why: The last time director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal got together, they made the superb military thriller “The Hurt Locker,” which went on to win six Oscars, including ones for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The pair has reportedly been working on a movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden for quite some time – so long, in fact, that they had to completely rewrite it after the al-Qaeda leader’s death in 2011 – but if there’s one film with the potential to outdo their last collaboration, “Zero Dark Thirty” is it. Though the movie is clearly much larger in scope than “The Hurt Locker,” with a lot of moving parts and an incredible ensemble cast too big to list here, if Bigelow and Boal get it right, this could be the movie event of the year.
Who: Seth Rogen, Barbra Streisand, Adam Scott, Colin Hanks and Yvonne Strahovski
What: An inventor and his mom hit the road together so he can sell his latest invention.
When: December 19th
Why: With the exception of her supporting roles in the two “Meet the Parents” sequels, it’s been 16 years since Barbara Streisand starred in a film, so naturally people are excited. Though “The Guilt Trip” isn’t exactly the type of movie that a lot of her fans would expect from the actress, the idea of pairing her with man-child Seth Rogen is just interesting enough to perk my interest. Rogen’s career has been pretty hit-and-miss, especially when given too much freedom to improvise, so hopefully having a screen legend like Streisand around will encourage him to bring his A-game, because if the duo can strike the right chemistry, “The Guilt Trip” could be a pleasant holiday surprise.
Who: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins and Werner Herzog
What: A homicide investigator digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims.
When: December 21st
Why: Fans of Lee Child’s popular Jack Reacher book series were outraged when it was announced that Tom Cruise would be playing the lead character in Christopher McQuarrie’s big screen adaptation of the series’ ninth novel, and understandably so. After all, Reacher’s hulking physical appearance supposedly plays an important role in the books, and the diminutive Cruise is one of the last people you’d think of for the part. With that said, however, the actor has not only gotten the stamp of approval from Child himself, but based on the trailers released thus far, it appears that what he lacks in physicality he more than makes up for in attitude. And to think that Cruise wasn’t even McQuarrie’s oddest casting choice. Instead, that honor goes to German director Werner Herzog as the movie’s villain, which is actually kind of perfect when you think about it.
Who: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy and Albert Brooks
What: Picking up a few years after the events of “Knocked Up,” Pete and Debbie continue to fight their way through marriage.
When: December 21st
Why: As far as spinoffs and sequels go, the idea behind “This Is 40” is pretty great, but it’s been awhile since Judd Apatow did anything that really made me laugh, and I’m skeptical that his new movie can buck that trend. Though Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann were responsible for some of the funniest moments in “Knocked Up,” they were much better off as supporting characters, so it’ll be interesting to see if they’ll be able to carry an entire movie on their own. Apatow has already covered many of the basic milestones in adult life – losing your virginity, giving birth and death – so it certainly makes sense that he would be attracted to telling a more complete story about marriage as well. The real question is whether returning to the world of “Knocked Up” will help rekindle Apatow’s comic spark, or if it just makes him look that much more desperate by trying.
Who: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kerry Washington
What: With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.
When: December 25th
Why: Quentin Tarantino has dabbled in just about every genre at this point in his career, so it’s only natural that he tried his hand at a Western, even if it’s not exactly a Western in the conventional sense. Much like his last film, “Django Unchained” is set against the backdrop of a particular time in history, and the director seems to thrive when working in that environment. Though I wasn’t crazy about his decision to cast Jamie Foxx in the title role (especially with guys like Idris Elba and Michael K. Williams also auditioning for the part), Tarantino’s casting is almost always spot-on, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He hasn’t let me down yet, and between its promising concept and great cast (including Leonardo DiCaprio as the film’s villain), I don’t expect him to start here.
Who: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried
What: In 19th-century France, criminal Jean Valjean agrees to care for a factory worker’s daughter while being hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert.
When: December 25th
Why: After “The King’s Speech” won Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards two years ago, Tom Hooper could have done anything he wanted, so it’s very telling of his aspirations as a filmmaker that he chose to follow it up with a project as ambitious as a big screen adaptation of “Les Miserables.” Though the movie musical was reinvigorated with 2002’s “Chicago,” many of the ones released in the years since have failed to replicate that same level of success. But there aren’t many musicals that are bigger than “Les Miserables,” and judging by the trailers, Hooper has delivered a moviegoing experience that could rival “Chicago.” From the incredible ensemble cast, to Hooper’s rather unconventional decision to record all of the musical performances live, “Les Miserables” is already shaping up to be one of this year’s Oscar frontrunners.
Who: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand and Rosemarie DeWitt
What: A salesman for a natural gas company experiences life-changing events after arriving in a small town, where his corporation wants to tap into the available resources.
When: December 28th
Why: There aren’t very many movies that manage to fly under my radar, but “Promised Land” did just that, and I’m not exactly sure how it happened, because the film is jam-packed with talent. Not only does it mark the reunion of Matt Damon with his “Good Will Hunting” director Gus Van Sant, but it’s Damon’s first screenplay since 2002’s “Gerry,” which was also directed by Van Sant. And in keeping with Damon’s habit of co-writing movies with his co-stars, “Promised Land” also counts John Krasinski among its many multi-hyphenates, making the film a somewhat intimate affair. Though it’s difficult to tell how the indie drama will fare against the rest of the season’s competition, despite its environmentally charged subject matter, it’s probably a dark horse contender at best.