Holiday movies: It's the most wonderful time of the year on the big screen

For the News-DemocratNovember 24, 2013 

Hollywood is sending us season's greetings by stuffing theaters with our national treasures (Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep), all-star fact-based stories ("American Hustle," "The Wolf of Wall Street"), fierce action ("Lone Survivor," "Homefront"), a great dame (Judi Dench in "Philomena"), silly guys ("Anchorman 2") , the offbeat (Coen Brothers) and an epic ("The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug").

For movie-lovers, it is the most wonderful time of the year. By now, film buffs know studios save their best stuff for the year's end, and that means we feast on an abundance of talent, compelling storytelling, and rich cinematic experiences. Here's a round-up of what's coming out from Thanksgiving eve through mid-January (films may open in New York and Los Angeles to qualify for Oscars by Dec. 31, but we won't see a few of them until 2014).

GLAD TIDINGS

Anticipation is high for these sensational fact-based stories where truth, justice and the American way ultimately triumph.

"American Hustle"

Who: Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner; directed by David O. Russell ("Silver Linings Playbook").

What: Fictionalized look at the FBI Abscam sting operation that targeted corrupt politicians, takes place in New Jersey during the disco-fueled 1970s.

When: Dec. 18

"The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug"

Who: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Orlando Bloom and Stephen Fry; directed by Peter Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings").

What: The second installment of Jackson's 3-D trilogy adapted from novelist J.R.R. Tolkien's excursion to Middle Earth, where the dwarves journey to Lonely Mountain to reclaim treasure and their ancestral homeland.

When: Dec. 13

Saving Mr. Banks

Who: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman; directed by John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side").

What: The true story behind "Mary Poppins," an inside look at the making of a classic movie musical and the efforts to get author P.J. Travers on board.

When: Dec. 20

"The Wolf of Wall Street"

Who: Leonardo Di Caprio, Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Jon Favreau, Jon Bernthal, Kyle Chandler and Cristine Milioti; directed by Martin Scorsese ("The Departed").

What: The true story of Jordan Belfort, who rose from penny stockbroker to unimaginable wealth to his fall, amid the rampant Wall Street corruption during the 1990s.

When: Dec. 25

FAMILY: ALL IS NOT CALM

'Tis the season for family togetherness, but oh, these dark tales are the flipside of that. They don't quite put the fun in dysfunctional, but you won't be able to look away from these families in peril.

"August: Osage County"

Who: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale; directed by John Wells ("ER").

What: Adapted by Tracy Letts from his Pulitzer-prize winning play, the fractured Weston clan comes together to grieve dad at their rural Oklahoma home, but all hell breaks loose with family issues and serious friction.

When: Dec. 25

"Homefront"

Who: Jason Statham, Izabela Vidovic, James Franco, Winona Rider, Rachelle Lefevre and Clancy Brown' directed by Gary Fleder ("The Express").

What: Ex-DEA agent moves daughter to rural Louisiana for a quieter life, only to find trouble with the local meth dealer.

When: Nov. 27

"Labor Day"

Who: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Tobey Maguire, James Van der Beek, Gattlin Griffiths; directed by Jason Reitman ("Up in the Air").

What: Escaped convict finds shelter with young mother and her son, an adaptation of Joyce Maynard's novel.

When: Jan. 31 ,2014

"Out of the Furnace"

Who: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe and Sam Shepard; written and directed by Scott Cooper ("Crazy Heart").

What: Steelworker takes matters into his own hands to help his troubled brother.

When: Dec. 6

MERRY AND BRIGHT

Silly, sentimental and fun provide the ho-ho-hos on the silver screen.

"Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues"

Who: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Christina Applegate, Vince Vaughn, Harrison Ford, James Marsden and Liam Neeson; directed by Adam McKay ("The Other Guys").

What: Ron Burgundy and the channel 4 news team is recruited to help launch a 24-hour cable news channel in the '80s.

When: Dec. 20

"Black Nativity"

Who: Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, and Jacob Latimore; directed by Kasi Lemmons ("Eve's Bayou").

What: Modern makeover of Langston Hughes' 1961 stage musical about a single mom who sends her son to stay with his strict grandparents over the holidays.

When: Nov. 27

"Frozen"

Who: Voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, and Jonathan Groff; written and directed by Chris Buck ("Tarzan") and Jennifer Lee (writer, "Wreck-It Ralph").

What: Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," this Disney animated film is about two princesses of a Nordic kingdom, and their plight after one accidentally triggers an eternal winter. Olaf, a snowman obsessed with summer, is expected to steal the show.

When: Nov. 27

"Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas"

Who: Tyler Perry, Chad Michael Murray, Alicia Witt, Kathy Najimy and Larry the Cable Guy; written and directed by Tyler Perry.

What: Madea in a holiday comedy.

When: Dec. 13

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

Want something off the beaten path?

"Inside Llewyn Davis"

Who: Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and John Goodman; written and directed by the Coen Brothers ("Fargo").

What: A young singer navigating the folk music scene in Greenwich Village in 1961, shot in black-and-white.

When: Dec. 20

"Her"

Who: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt and voice of Scarlett Johansson; written and directed by Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich").

What: Lonely guy develops a bizarre relationship with an artificial intelligence program.

When: January TBD

"Nebraska"

Who: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb and Bob Odenkirk, written by Bob Nelson and directed by Alexander Payne ("The Descendants").

What: Son drives cantankerous dad from Montana to Nebraska to pick up sweepstakes prize the father is convinced he won.

When: Nov. 27

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"

Who: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine and Adam Scott; written by Steven Conrad ("The Pursuit of Happyness") and directed by Ben Stiller.

What: Contemporary remake of the 1947 Danny Kay movie, based on James Thurber's short story about a day-dreamer who disappears into a world of romantic and action fantasies, but then embarks on a real-world global journey that turns into an extraordinary adventure.

When: Dec. 25

REAL INSPIRATIONS

These inspiring films are based on real people, real stories.

"Lone Survivor"

Who: Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Taylor Kitsch and Jerry Ferrara; directed by Peter Berg ("Friday Night Lights").

What: Harrowing account based on the failed June 28, 2005 mission "Operation Red Wings" in Afghanistan that wanted four members of a Navy SEALs team to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd.

When: Jan. 10, 2014

"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"

Who: Idris Elba and Naomie Harris; directed by Justin Chadwick ("Bleak House").

What: Based on the South African former president's autobiography, his journey from student to statesman, with the prison sentence in-between.

When: Dec. 25

"One Chance"

Who: James Corden, Jemima Rooper, Colm Meaney and Julie Walters, directed by David Frankel ("Marley and Me").

What: Biopic on Paul Potts, a shy, portly store clerk whose operatic voice propelled him to be the first winner of "Britain's Got Talent" in 2007.

When: January TBD

"Philomena"

Who: Judi Dench and Steve Coogan; directed by Stephen Frears ("The Queen").

What: Irish lady searches for son she was forced to give up 50 years earlier, with a cynical British journalist helping her.

When: Nov. 27

NOT-SO-MERRY-OR-GENTLE MEN

Want intense? Looking for macho guys in action? Find them kicking and screaming here.

"47 Ronin"

Who: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada and K(*153*) Shibasaki; directed by Carl Rinsch.

What: A band of samurai want to avenge the death of their master by a ruthless shogun.

When: Dec. 25

"Grudge Match"

Who: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kim Basinger and Kevin Hart; directed by Peter Segal ("The Longest Yard").

What: Boxing rivals come out of retirement to fight one final bout, 30 years after their last match.

When: Dec. 25

"The Lance Armstrong Lie"

What: Documentary on the fallen hero-athlete.

When: Nov. 29

"Oldboy"

Who: Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, and Michael Imperioli, directed by Spike Lee.

What: Adaptation of 2003 South Korean violent thriller about a man imprisoned for 20 years, who now seeks answers.

When: Nov. 27

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