“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (Dec. 14th)
Years before Frodo set off to Mordor, the “Lord of the Rings” prequel finds Bilbo Baggins and wizard Gandalf on an adventure. “An Unexpected Journey,” directed by theoriginal trilogy’s head honcho Peter Jackson, is the first film in a new “Lord of the Rings” trilogy that will release a second film in December 2013 and a third film in July 2015. There’s a good chance this will be the holiday season’s highest grossing film, and it is one of the few potentially family-friendly films to hit theaters this Christmas.
“Django Unchained” (Dec. 25th)
If audiences want something slightly different this holiday season, Quentin Tarantino may have just the thing. “Unchained” follows freed slave Django and bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, two men who hunt down several slave owners and search for Django’s captive wife. Things get bloody. VERY bloody. Tarantino is known for his distinctive style, and this spaghetti western is new territory for him. Tarantino is also not afraid to rewrite history, so it will be interesting to see his take on Civil War-era America.
“Jack Reacher” (Dec. 21st)
Tom Cruise’s fourth “Mission: Impossible” film found immense success last Christmas, and “Jack Reacher” represents the megastar’s newest possible franchise. Cruise stars as the title character, a military policeman who investigates a former military sniper’s possible framing. The film appears to be more suspenseful than Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible” films, which tend to be all-out action flicks, so the film may not have the same following as his previous efforts. But never count out Cruise. Even after he jumped up and down on Oprah’s couch, his next movie “War of the Worlds” was a blockbuster.
This light comedy stars Seth Rogen as Barbara Streisand’s son. Rogen is an inventor who decides to take his mom cross-country as he makes pitches for his latest creation. Because there really isn’t anything too unique here, the cast will be the deciding factor for whether audiences see it. Rogen is dependable, and Streisand is a legend. Distributor Paramount better hope the audience skews a bit older, or else they may loose youth box office dollars to “This is 40.”
Judd Apatow has a hand in nearly every raunchy comedy Hollywood releases, but he rarely directs. “40” is only his fourth film, following “The 40-Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” and “Funny People.” The highly anticipated comedy is a sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, as it follows Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s original characters. Apatow is a powerful box office force, and the presence of familiar characters should help the film’s box office prospects. “40” does seem a bit less crass than his other films, which may disappoint Apatow’s most fervent fans. But the film will be a success nonetheless.
The famous musical’s umpteenth rendition stars Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, so it certainly has star power. Hathaway and Jackman have both proven their singing talents, and the few clips the public has seen are stunning. Add in director Tom Hooper’s repertoire, which includes 2011’s Best Picture “The King’s Speech,” and Hollywood has a surefire Oscar hit. It won’t be the lightest Christmas viewing, but it will certainly be electrifying.
“Playing for Keeps” (Dec. 7th)
“Playing for Keeps” is probably better described as a romantic dramadey, which seems like a genre overload, but it might be the only accurate description. Gerard Butler plays a former soccer star who wants to reconnect with his ex-wife and begins to coach his son’s soccer team. “Keeps” is designed for a specific audience, and they’ll eat it up, but I don’t see anything original here. “Keeps” is the holiday season’s token light drama.
Top picks if you’re heading to a big city this Christmas:
3. “ZERO DARK THIRTY”
This does not expand nationwide until Jan. 11, but if you are heading to Chicago this Christmas, Kathryn Bigalow’s Osama Bin Laden film is one to look for. The first critics screenings were held this week, and response is highly positive. Jessica Chastain adds some star power here, but the plot, as well as Bigalow’s prestige, will be the selling factor.
Anthony Hopkins does an interesting Alfred Hitchcock impression in this biopic concerning the “Rear Window” director. “Hitchcock” follows the director as he attempts to produce “Psycho,” a movie most studios turned down because of its graphic nature. Hitchcock’s strained relationship with his wife is also explored. “Hitchcock” is a fascinating choice for anyone who enjoys movies about the moviemaking process, as well as the legendary irector’s fans.
1. “THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK”
It’s unfortunate this dramedey has not come to Carbondale yet, because it is one of the Oscar season’s more accessible films. “Playbook” follows a bipolar teacher Pat Solitano, played by Bradley Cooper, who attempts to reconnect with his estranged wife after he is released from an institution. While living with his parents, he falls for Tiffany Maxwell, played by Jennifer Lawrence, a young widow with her own serious problems. Cooper and Lawrence both play wounded characters, but their wounds make them perfect together; the chemistry between these two is undeniable. If “Playbook” ends up in Carbondale, it should top audiences’ lists.
Let the games begin: early Oscar discussion
Oscar speculation has begun, and pundits are already making predictions about which films will end up with Oscar gold this February. So, it is with great honor I offer up my early predictions in the Picture, Actor and Actress races.
Surefire nominees: Argo, Lincoln, Les Miserables, Life of Pi
Possible nominees: Moonrise Kingdom, The Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty, Flight
Longshots: The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Skyfall
Last year, the Academy changed the rules and announced the show would include anywhere between five and ten best picture nominees.
The final nominee number is determined by how many movies receive first place votes from Academy members.
My surefire choices have received critical acclaim and follow typical Oscar style: They are all based on a true story or based on a popular novel, they are all dramatic, and they all have strong lead actors.
The probable nominees either haven’t been released to critics or haven’t received the same praise as movies such as “Argo.” “Argo” seems like the least likely surefire nominee to take the grand prize because it is a more mainstream Hollywood film.
The new rules also allow Hollywood blockbusters a decent chance at nominations; think “Avatar” and “The Blind Side” two years ago.
“The Dark Knight Rises” is the most likely blockbuster contender, especially since “The Dark Knight” was snubbed. “Skyfall” has also received critical praise, but I’m not sure the Academy will vote a James Bond movie into the best picture race.
So far, I would consider “Lincoln” the best picture frontrunner, but “Argo,” “Silver Linings,” and “Flight” are also great, so I’m hard pressed to choose.
Surefire nominees: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln;” Hugh Jackman, “Les Miserables;”
Possible nominees: Denzel Washington, “Flight;” Ben Affleck, “Argo;” Bradley Cooper, “The Silver Linings Playbook;” Anthony Hopkins, “Hitchcock”
I only made two surefire choices because Day-Lewis and Jackman seem to be receiving more praise than the overall movie. Washington’s “Flight” performance was incredible, but the competition is so strong I’m afraid to give a firm position.
Ben Affleck is more likely to receive a directing nomination than an acting nomination for “Argo,” but his performance was critically praised. Cooper gives a completely different performance than usual in “Playbook,” and I think the Academy will recognize that.
My choice would be Washington for “Flight.” Audiences who have yet to see “Flight” need to drop everything now (even finals studying) and GO WATCH IT!
Surefire nominees: Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables;” Jennifer Lawrence, “The Silver Linings Playbook”
Possible nominees: Quvenzhane Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild;” Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty;” Naomi Watts, “The Impossible;” Helen Mirren, “Hitchcock”
The actress race isn’t quite as fierce as the actor race this year, simply because I’m not sure how the Academy will distinguish between lead actress and supporting actress; the best ladies in film may have been in supporting parts this year.
Hathaway’s “Les Miserables” performance has earned unceasing praise, and Lawrence’s “Playbook” performance is perfect.
Wallis is a newcomer, but critics have praised her turn in “Beasts,” and Jessica Chastain is an Oscar favorite.
Fun fact: possible contender Helen Mirren played an older version of Jessica Chastain in 2011’s “The Debt.” This fun fact brought to you by the useless knowledge bureau.