Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to December

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Winter has officially arrived, and with it comes the final wave of award contenders hoping to leave an impression on critics and Oscar voters. Though 2013 hasn’t exactly been the best year for movies, there’s plenty of quality on display in December, including the second installment of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy, new films from David O. Russell and the Coen brothers, and the latest collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. And for those looking for lighter fare, there’s also the long-awaited sequel to “Anchorman.”

“OUT OF THE FURNACE”

Who: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck and Zoe Saldana
What: When Rodney Baze mysteriously disappears and law enforcement fails to follow through, his older brother, Russell, takes matters into his own hands to find justice.
When: December 4th
Why: Writer/director Scott Cooper burst onto the scene in 2009 with “Crazy Heart,” netting Jeff Bridges the Oscar for Best Actor in the process, so it’s not surprising to see that he’s managed to land some equally impressive talent for his sophomore effort. Though early word for this one has been pretty mixed, the trailers have me intrigued, particularly with such an amazing ensemble cast, which also includes screen veterans like Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Sam Shepard. Plus, I’ll watch just about anything starring Christian Bale, because he’s one of this generation’s finest actors with his chameleon-like ability to completely inhabit any role. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t made a dud every now and again, but his résumé speaks for itself, and “Out of the Furnace” looks like another solid addition to an already remarkable career.

“INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS”

Who: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman
What: A week in the life of a young musician as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.
When: December 6th
Why: There aren’t many directors that can boast a track record as impressive as the one that Joel and Ethan Coen have enjoyed throughout their 30-year careers, and “Inside Llewyn Davis” is just another notch on that cinematic belt. Markedly different from a lot of their films in that it’s a much more intimate, character-driven piece, “Inside Llewyn Davis” most closely resembles “A Serious Man” in both tone and execution. But although the movie is a fairly bittersweet portrait of personal failure (a running theme in the Coens’ repertoire), it’s not without their trademark wit and humor. The comedy may not be as pronounced as in their other films, but it’s yet another fine period drama that boasts a superb lead performance from Oscar Isaac and one of the best (and most addictive) soundtracks since “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”

Who: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage and Orlando Bloom
What: The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug.
When: December 13th
Why: It’s a little ironic that the villain of this story is an avaricious reptile, because Warner Bros. could be accused of similar behavior following the decision to split “The Hobbit” into three movies. Of course, fans are hardly complaining about spending more time in Middle-earth, and now that the stage has been set with “An Unexpected Journey,” the second installment promises to be even better. Along with introducing important characters like Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), The Necromancer and Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch pulling double duty), the movie also marks the return of fan favorite Legolas and newly created female elf Tauriel, neither of whom actually appear in Tolkien’s novel. It wouldn’t be the first time that Peter Jackson has tinkered with the source material, but he hasn’t let us down yet, and that’s more than enough reason to get excited about Part Two.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to December

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.

“HYDE PARK ON HUDSON”

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.

“THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”

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.

“ZERO DARK THIRTY”

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.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to December

The end of every movie year can usually be summed up in a few words: blockbusters and Oscar bait. With all of the holiday-themed films already in theaters, Christmas time is reserved for some of the studio’s biggest movies and their final push before awards season. Though it’s always a bit hot-and-cold in terms of what you can expect, this year’s slate offers an enticing mix of popcorn and prestige films. (And in the case of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” both.) Though some of the more interesting award contenders won’t actually reach your hometown until January (if at all) due to a silly rule that only requires a movie open in a very limited engagement before December 31st, there’s enough good stuff here to keep you suitably entertained well into the new year.

“TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY”

Who: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds and Mark Strong
What: In the bleak days of the Cold War, veteran spy George Smiley is lured out of retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6’s ranks.
When: December 9th
Why: I would pay to see just about anything starring Gary Oldman, but his new film from director Tomas Alfredson (who’s already proven himself as a master of suspense with the vampire cult hit, “Let the Right One In”) has gotten me particularly excited. Based on the bestselling novel by former spy turned author John le Carré, the movie looks like a throwback to those great, low-key political thrillers from the 1970s, and if that’s not enough to pique your interest, then a brief glance at the cast list – a veritable who’s who of the best British actors working today, including Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch of “Sherlock” fame – will almost certainly change your mind.

“YOUNG ADULT”

Who: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt and J.K. Simmons
What: A fiction writer returns to her hometown in Minnesota looking to rekindle a romance with her high school flame, who is now married with kids.
When: December 9th
Why: “Juno” was one of my favorite films of 2007. In addition to an excellent star-making performance by Ellen Page, the movie marked the arrival of writer Diablo Cody onto the scene and cemented Jason Reitman’s status as one of Hollywood’s most promising young directors. Fast-forward four years later and you can understand why Reitman and Cody’s latest collaboration, “Young Adult,” is already garnering awards buzz. Charlize Theron is perfect for the role of the former mean girl (she has the looks and attitude to pull it off without being completely unlikeable), while Patton Oswalt is an inspired choice to play her unlikely confidant. Cody’s snarky dark humor is also on full display here, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she nabs another Oscar nomination come February.

“THE SITTER”

Who: Jonah Hill, Ari Graynor, Sam Rockwell, Max Records and J.B. Smoove
What: A slacker college student gets caught up in a night of crazy hijinks involving a pair of vindictive drug dealers after he takes a job babysitting his neighbor’s kids.
When: December 9th
Why: Though its generic title makes the film sound like another family comedy starring an out-of-work action star, “The Sitter” actually appears to be a raunchier, R-rated version of the 1987 classic, “Adventures in Babysitting.” While the concept may be teeming with potential, however, I’m not entirely sold by the trailer. Jonah Hill (in his final pre-weight loss role) can be really annoying when he’s not kept on a short leash, and director David Gordon Green is notorious for doing the complete opposite. Sam Rockwell and J.B. Smoove make for an intriguing comedic pair as the film’s “villains,” but I have a feeling that the movie’s success is going to depend on the child actors. And if Elizabeth Shue doesn’t pop in for a cameo, I’m going to be extremely disappointed.

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