December 2014: A Lot of Oscar Hopefuls and Holiday Blockbusters

Posted on December 1, 2014 at 7:00 am

Happy December! Everyone is busy in December, but make time now on your schedule for some of the year’s biggest films, including Oscar hopefuls, blockbusters, and even a couple of possible surprises. (NOTE: As typical at this time of year, release dates may vary in different cities.)

December 5

Copyright 2014 Fox Searchlight
Copyright 2014 Fox Searchlight

“Wild,” with producer Reese Witherspoon, based on Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, a book so gripping and inspirational that Oprah brought back her book club to make sure the five women in the world who had not already bought it would go out and get it. When everything in her life fell apart, Strayed went for a walk, more than a thousand miles. Witherspoon might find herself up for an Oscar competing with the other film she produced this year, “Gone Girl.”

December 12

“Exodus: Gods and Kings” Christian Bale plays Moses in this Biblical epic, directed by Ridley Scott with the grandeur and power he brought to “Gladiator.” He’s got stars who can make that kind of scale work, including Joel Edgerton as Rhamses, along with Ben Kingsley, John Turturro, and Israeli star Hiam Abbass.

“Inherent Vice” The very cerebral Paul Thomas Anderson directs, based on a book by the sometimes impenetrably cerebral Thomas Pynchon, and the trailer makes it look like a darkly comic crime farce along the lines of Elmore Leonard. The sensational cast includes Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon (again), Jena Malone, Josh Brolin, Maya Rudolph, and Owen Wilson.

Copyright Paramount 2014
Copyright Paramount 2014

“Top Five” Chris Rock wrote, directed, and stars in this fictionalized story of a comic actor with a career crisis. This one has a ton of great buzz coming off the festival circuit and could be one of the brightest spots this month.

December 19

Copyright Disney 2014
Copyright Disney 2014

“Annie” Disney’s remake is based on the original film, based on the Broadway musical, based on the Depression-era Harold Gray comic strip. The cast singing their hearts about about the hard-knock life and the sun coming out tomorrow includes Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, and, in the title role Quvenzhané Wallis of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” We’ll all feel a special pang to see Robin Williams in one of his last roles as Teddy Roosevelt and Mickey Rooney as a museum guard in this third of the series about museum exhibits that come alive at night. Joining the cast is “Downton Abbey’s” Dan Stevens as Sir Galahad, and Ben Kingsley as King Tut. Returning favorites include bickering buddies Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan, Rami Malek as Ahkmenrah, and Ben Stiller both as the harried former guard who learned the secret in the first film and as…I’ll just let that be a surprise.

“Mr. Turner” Another festival favorite is this Mike Leigh film about the brilliant, influential, and occasionally controversial British artist J.M.W. Turner. Anything from Mike Leigh is worth seeing, especially with Leigh regulars Timothy Spall (long overdue for the kind of showy lead role he gets here) and Lesley Manville.

December 25

“Unbroken” The closest to a lock for Oscar nominations is Angelina Jolie’s film based on Laura Hillenbrand’s blockbuster best-seller, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It is the stunning real-life story of a man who was an Olympic athlete and then served in WWII, where he was shot down by the Japanese, survived weeks lost at sea with no food or water, only to be captured and imprisoned by the Japanese and subjected to the most brutal conditions. This may be the first time you hear the name of star Jack O’Connell. It will not be the last.

“Into the Woods” Stephen Sondheim’s complex meditation on fairy tales and other stories we tell children is pretty meta on stage. I’m betting this version from Disney will have a little more fairy dust. I know it has an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Anna Kendrick, and Johnny Depp.

“Big Eyes” It’s hard to believe that strange paintings of children with enormous eyes were briefly insanely popular in the 1970’s. It’s even stranger to find out that they were not the work of the artist whose name was so attached to them that he was a joke in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper.” He in fact put his name on the paintings created by his wife. Who better to tell this strange tale than Tim Burton, and who better to star than Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams?

“Selma” One of the most important moments in American history is brought to screen by the brilliant director Ava DuVernay, with David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King in the story of the march for civil rights that made it impossible to continue to ignore the virulent racism of the Jim Crow era and led to sweeping federal legislation. Oh, and Oprah’s in it, too. Look for some Oscar nominations for this one.

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