A combination of big-budget sequels and potential Oscar nominees dominates the season.
The last six weeks of the year are stacking up as a flurry of serious Oscars bait and big-budget sequels. Here are a bunch I’m anticipating.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Release-date roulette knocked this one from an expected October release to Christmas Day. I think it’s all a scheme to get us even more lathered up about the fifth collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. The film is a crime comedy based on the narcissistic autobiography of Jordan Belfort, a hustling junior stockbroker turned zillionaire (and then turned pauper and securities fraud convict). If the uproarious trailers haven’t made you ravenous to see this one, there’s no talking sense to you. Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Spike Jonze, Jean Dujardin, Rob Reiner. Dwarf tossing. Nutty dancing. Throwing $100 bills and cooked lobsters at FBI men. Yeah, baby! (Opens Dec. 25)
Steve Coogan wrote and co-stars with Judi Dench in this reality-based story. Dench delivers an awards-worthy performance as Philomena Lee, an Irish woman searching for her son. The child, born out of wedlock in the 1950s, was taken from her as a toddler at a church orphanage and placed with an American family against her wishes. Coogan is Martin Sixsmith, a priggish journalist exploiting her loss for a story. Philomena is a tad daft and a bit dense, but her innate decency strikes sparks against Martin’s haughty comic egotism. Rich in drama, laughs and unpredictable twists, this is the holiday family movie that even a Grinch would love. (Nov. 27)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I was not enchanted by Peter Jackson’s fourth go-round with Tolkien, but I’m hoping he’ll rediscover the magic in this chapter. With the need for expository setup now satisfied, things should move at a faster clip as young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his 13 Dwarven chums finally meet the mighty, greedy dragon Smaug (voiced by the busiest actor of the year, Benedict Cumberbatch). (Dec. 13)
An idiosyncratic indie romance from Spike Jonze, whose last feature was 2009’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” In the not-too-distant future, mustachioed lonely guy Joaquin Phoenix installs a new computer operating system and becomes infatuated with its engaging, intuitive speech interface (alluringly voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Can man and machine achieve true intimacy or is more heartbreak around the corner? Jonze’s typically cockeyed take on modern love features a bevy of talented co-stars including Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde. (Late December)
When it was announced that Spike Lee would remake Chan-wook Park’s 2003 Korean cult classic, I was torn between curiosity (Lee is good in thriller territory, as “Clockers” and “Inside Man” proved) and feeling it was heresy. The story follows an ad man (Josh Brolin, pictured) kidnapped and held in solitary confinement for 15 years without a clue to his captor’s identity or motives. When he’s suddenly released he begins a violent quest to learn who trapped him and why. The strong cast includes Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen and Sharlto Copley, and the film is said to be different enough to keep fans of the blood-soaked original guessing. Lee has hinted that his version has an even darker ending, which would be something to see. (Nov. 27)
Alexander Payne (“Sideways,” “About Schmidt”) has had lots of success with road movies. He hits the trail once more with this laconic comedy about a booze-addled retiree (Bruce Dern) convinced he’s won $1 million in a magazine sweepstakes. Will Forte plays his bemused son, who drives the old man from Billings, Mont., to Lincoln, Neb., to claim his winnings. Dern picked up the best-actor prize at Cannes, and the film manages the tricky balance between low-key laughs and heartfelt drama. Payne’s last, “The Descendants,” earned multiple Oscar nominations, and there’s every reason to expect the same for this one. (Nov. 27)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Francis (“I Am Legend”) Lawrence takes the directing reins from Gary Ross for the second of four films based on Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy. (In Hollywood, “profitable trilogy” means “four.”) Oscar winner and everyone’s favorite person Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss, now adjusting to life as a victor in the televised combat games. With her rising popularity, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) senses a threat to his rule, so Katniss and Peeta are forced into ever-more-dangerous battles, fighting for District 12 and for each other. (Thursday)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty