Yesterday, part one took a look at the big movies scheduled to open in September and October, pairing each upcoming picture to a different member of your extended clan. Today, we take on November and December, a time when the film-release calendar becomes stuffed with holiday fare, awards contenders, and blockbuster counterprogramming.
Ender’s Game (November 1)
The basics: Based on Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi novel, this franchise hopeful concerns a child prodigy named Ender (Asa Butterfield) who’s sent to an elite military school on a space station, fast-tracked to lead Earth’s forces against an alien enemy known as the Buggers. Training comes courtesy of Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley.
Prestige pedigree: What, besides Gandhi? Gavin Hood’s Best Foreign Film Oscar for Tsotsi in 2005 is a distant memory after Rendition and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Scott Card might qualify, if he could keep his gay-bashing remarks to himself; the author’s prejudice has cast a shadow over Summit’s attempts to spin his popular property into a YA crossover event.
Who it’s perfect for: Your intolerant, science-fiction-obsessed uncle.
Last Vegas (November 1)
The basics: To celebrate Michael Douglas’ impending marriage, his three best friends—Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman, and Robert De Niro—decide to throw him a Vegas bachelor party. Many old-people-acting-like-young-people gags probably ensue, along with copious, cantankerous male bonding.
Prestige pedigree: The film’s lead quartet is as illustrious as they come. Director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), not so much.
Who it’s perfect for: Your mom, God bless her, who thinks that cutie-pie Kevin Kline doesn’t get enough work these days.
Dallas Buyers Club (November 1)
The basics: The Matthew McConaughey renaissance presumably continues with this fact-based drama, in which the actor plays a Texas electrician who contracted HIV in 1986. Notoriously bigoted, the ostracized good ol’ boy soon found himself working with members of the gay community to procure, by means both legal and illegal, various medical treatment samples from across the globe.
Prestige pedigree: At this point, it’s probably safe to call McConaughey a serious actor, right? He’s spent the last couple years proving his chops.
Who it’s perfect for: Your homophobic grandfather. If the star of Failure To Launch can remake his career, then stamping out decades of prejudice isn’t such a tall order.
Free Birds (November 1)
The basics: Two turkeys travel back in time to try and stop a massive, centuries-long genocide. Animated, 3-D, aimed at children.
Prestige pedigree: Owen Wilson voices the wimpy turkey, and Woody Harrelson is the tough one. Amy Poehler also provides the voice of a turkey.
Who it’s perfect for: Your sister and her whole vegetarian clan, who force Mom to prepare two kinds of stuffing every year even though she’s very busy. It will presumably reinforce their beliefs.
About Time (November 1)
The basics: A man (Domhnall Gleeson) uses his ability to time-travel not to kill Hitler (it’s against the rules), but to make his romantic and personal life as perfect as he can… but learns that time travel can’t solve all of his problems. He probably has to be a nice guy or something, too.
Prestige pedigree: It’s right there on the teaser poster: “From the creator of Love Actually, Notting Hill, Four Weddings And A Funeral.” That’d be Richard Curtis, who—though his big hits are a bit treacly—is pretty much the best at this type of thing.
Who it’s perfect for: You, when you’re tasked with choosing a movie for the whole family to see. This could be the crowd-pleaser that you can stomach—or maybe even enjoy. (Just like Love Actually.)
Thor: The Dark World (November 8)
The basics: Marvel: Phase Two rolls on with a second solo outing for Chris Hemsworth’s space hunk, the most strapping member of the temporarily de-assembled Avengers. This time, Thor must defend the universe from some mysterious new cosmic baddie; he also reunites with most of the characters from the original, including villainous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and brainy beauty Jane (Natalie Portman, who apparently got off the island sanctuary S.H.I.E.L.D. stuck her on in The Avengers).
Prestige pedigree: Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro plays a character named The Collector, who appears to be the new heavy. Replacing Kenneth Branagh in the directing chair is TV veteran Alan Taylor. Before getting up in arms about a television director taking the reigns of a big-budget superhero franchise, keep in mind that Taylor helmed a bunch of episodes of Game Of Thrones—a series the Thor franchise could stand to emulate.
Who it’s perfect for: The teenage boys, mostly, though something tells us that a lot of families will be spending Thanksgiving with the Nordic hammer-wielder.
The Armstrong Lie (November 8)
The basics: Somehow, insanely prolific documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks) found the time to shadow Lance Armstrong for four years as he trained for his comeback Tour De France bid after supposedly retiring. During this time, the cyclist copped to doping; hence, Gibney’s potentially inspirational doc received a new thesis and a new title. (The Road Back became The Armstrong Lie.)
Prestige pedigree: Gibney remains one of the most well-known and well-reviewed non-fiction chroniclers in the game, though maybe that’s because he saturates the market with product. Does the guy farm out duties to anonymous protégés, or does he just never sleep?
Who it’s perfect for: Your delusional, Armstrong-loving second cousin. Maybe this will finally convince him to take that rubber bracelet off.
The Wolf Of Wall Street (November 15)
The basics: For their fifth collaboration, Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese offer this based-on-real-life tale of Jordan Belfort, a 1980s New York stockbroker who makes a mint before the feds come inquiring about corruption, crime, and the mob. It’s a tale of capitalistic greed and excess that’s cast in what appears to be a distinctly Goodfellas-style mold.
Prestige pedigree: After this summer’s surprise hit The Great Gatsby, Wolf is the second 2013 awards contender for DiCaprio. He and Scorsese are joined by a formidable supporting crew, which includes screenwriter Terrence Winter (creator of Boardwalk Empire), and co-stars Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, and 2011’s Best Actor Oscar winner, Jean Dujardin.
Who it’s perfect for: Your SEC-busted godfather, still pining for a return to the greed-is-good ’80s.
The Best Man Holiday (November 15)
The basics: The characters from 1999’s The Best Man were on the verge of massively successful lives, and now it appears they’ve got them—but sexy, complicated high jinks will still ensue.
Prestige pedigree: Writer-director Malcolm D. Lee is Spike’s more populist-leaning cousin (literally—they’re cousins). The actors from the 1999 original have gone on to bigger things, but nobody’s going for Oscar gold here, just some comfortable laughs.
Who it’s perfect for: Your aunt, who loves sexy and safe, and can’t keep her eyes off Taye Diggs.
The Book Thief (November 15)
The basics: A young girl in Germany befriends a Jewish man who’s being hidden by her foster parents. Everybody helps everybody else learn to read.
Prestige pedigree: It’s based on a bestselling novel, it’s about World War II, and it’s got a (spoiler alert) relatively happy ending. Directed by a guy who’s done Downton Abbey episodes and starring acting triple-crowner Geoffrey Rush. Contains the line, “I never understood the meaning of the word ‘hope,’” which is exactly the kind of line a prestigious movie should contain.
Who it’s perfect for: Your niece who’s not quite ready for The Diary Of Anne Frank (or Shoah).
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (November 22)
The basics: Jennifer Lawrence returns as Panem champion Katniss Everdeen in this sequel to last year’s mega-smash dystopian YA adaptation. For those who haven’t read the books, the plot appears to concern Katniss’ mandatory publicity tour following the events of the original. Why do we get the feeling that she’ll somehow be suckered back into picking up that bow and arrow again?
Prestige pedigree: Philip Seymour Hoffman joins the cast, presumably to play another conniving adult who makes his living sending children into armed, fatal battle. And Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire writer) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine writer) co-authored it.
Who it’s perfect for: Your identical-twin nieces, one of whom stumps for Team Peeta, the other for Team Gale.
Delivery Man (November 22)
The basics: Middle-aged guy in a rut (Vince Vaughn) finds out that his sperm donations resulted in over 500 children, and for some reason they’ve all decided to look for him. He learns to stop being selfish, and also perhaps how to cry.
Prestige pedigree: In the trailer, Vaughn’s voice cracks, as he starts caring about a bunch of kids who actually have no legal business trying to get anything from him anyway. Prediction: Vince Vaughn’s tears will not cause any awards chatter, nor will lines like, “This could be the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me,” and, “For the first time in my life, I’m doing the right thing.”
Who it’s perfect for: Your middle-aged sister who spent the last 20 years trying to find the right man. Vaughn will prove once and for all: Men can change. Could this be his Spanglish?
Nebraska (November 22)
The basics: Alexander Payne’s latest is one of his best: a road movie about an elderly, half-senile man (Bruce Dern) who thinks he’s won a million-dollar sweepstakes prize and his adult son (Will Forte) who agrees to drive him to claim it just so they can spend some time together.
Prestige pedigree: Dern won the Best Actor prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and Payne has a long string of rapturously received pictures, including Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, and The Descendants. Expect to see Nebraska figure heavily in year-end awards chatter.
Who it’s perfect for: Dad, obviously. But also adult sons who feel guilty about having ignored Dad.
Oldboy (November 27)
The basics: Remember when Steven Spielberg and Will Smith, of all people, were going to collaborate on a Hollywood remake of Park Chan-Wook’s outrageous revenge thriller? Spike Lee and Josh Brolin are probably a better fit for the material, which concerns the efforts of a vengeful advertising exec to hunt down the stranger who imprisoned him for 20 years. Ten bucks says the ending gets tweaked just a touch.
Prestige pedigree: Lee hasn’t made anything great since his 2006 HBO documentary When The Levees Broke, but it’s still interesting to see him attempt an update of a hyper-violent South Korean genre movie. (The trailers suggest he’s attempted to re-create the famous hammer fight—a bold move.) The involvement of Brolin, who was nominated for his work in Milk, suggests that the movie might be worth taking seriously.
Who it’s perfect for: Your 14-year-old stepson who hates reading subtitles, but loves watching people get smashed in the face with blunt objects.
Homefront (November 27)
The basics: A badass DEA agent moves to a small town, only to run into—wait for it—a bunch of badass drug dealers.
Prestige pedigree: This is the first movie based on a popular series of books about Agent Phil Broker. Oscar-winner Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay, but his muscles melted so he hired Jason Statham to star. James Franco plays a villain named Gator, so hopefully it’ll be batshit insane, rather than typical action-movie boring.
Who it’s perfect for: Your 15-year-old cousin who’s recently discovered the majesty of the Crank movies and hopes to learn more.
Black Nativity (November 27)
The basics: In this contemporary take on Langston Hughes’ popular off-Broadway musical, Baltimore teen Jacob Latimore gets a crash course in dogma when he journeys to Harlem to spend Christmas with his aunt (Angela Bassett) and reverend uncle (Forest Whitaker). One-time Dreamgirl Jennifer Hudson plays the boy’s single mother.
Prestige pedigree: First mounted in 1961, the Hughes play has become a holiday perennial. Director Kasi Lemmons made the well-received Eve’s Bayou—and, to be fair, the much less well-received The Caveman’s Valentine. As for the cast, both Whitaker and Hudson are Oscar winners.
Who it’s perfect for: Your college-aged son, in need of a sentimental push to get him home for the holidays for once.
Frozen (November 27)
The basics: A spell traps a kingdom in an eternal winter, so a plucky heroine (Kristen Bell) and her mountaineer pal (Jonathan Groff) head off on a journey to find the Snow Queen and reverse the curse.
Prestige pedigree: The film is co-directed by Jennifer Lee, the screenwriter behind last year’s great Wreck-It Ralph. The trailer is clearly emulating Pixar shorts, so Disney is looking in the right place, at least.
Who’s it perfect for: The kids in your family and their parents who want a couple hours of quiet time during Thanksgiving weekend.
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (November 29)
The basics: Following in the footsteps of Morgan Freeman and Terrence Howard, The Wire’s Idris Elba plays South African president and apartheid opponent Nelson Mandela. Unlike Invictus, the film takes the long view of its subject’s life, chronicling everything from his childhood to his many years in prison to his political career.
Prestige pedigree: Long Walk To Freedom is based on Mandela’s bestselling autobiography of the same name. Director Justin Chadwick (The First Grader) isn’t exactly beloved, but Elba increasingly is.
Who it’s perfect for: Your Mandela-obsessed mother, who deserves better than Winnie Mandela.
Also opening in November:
Naomi Watts places Princess Diana (11/1) in a drama from the director of Downfall. Before he joins the 47 Ronin, Keanu Reeves stars in his own directorial debut, Man Of Tai Chi (10/1). Longtime spouses Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan return to Paris, where they spent their honeymoon, in Le Week-End (11/1). Speaking of honeymoons, newlyweds Justin Long and Jess Weixler are forced to cancel theirs when best man Tyler Labine croaks in Best Man Down (11/8). Saoirse Ronan stars in the futuristic coming-of-age romance How I Live Now (11/8). Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson is the subject of the documentary Dear Mr. Watterson (11/15). Shia LaBeouf chases his dream girl, with potentially fatal consequences, in The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman (11/15). Bettie Page Reveals All (11/29)? Say no more.
Inside Llewyn Davis (December 6)
The basics: Thirteen years after O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Joel and Ethan Coen serve up another offbeat tour of American musical history, telling the story of a lesser-known contemporary of Bob Dylan (loosely based on Dave Van Ronk) and his adventures in the folk movement of the 1960s.
Prestige pedigree: Coen Brothers. Period piece. What else do ya need, a road map? Inside Llewyn Davis went home from its Cannes premiere with no awards, but it’s likely to have much better luck in the States. And while lead actor Oscar Isaac isn’t currently a marquee name, that’s about to change.
Who it’s perfect for: Depending on your age, either your parents or your grandparents—whoever still owns the worn-out copy of The Times They Are A-Changin’.
Out Of The Furnace (December 6)
The basics: In a Rust Belt nowhere town, a tattooed ex-convict risks his future to avenge his little brother, who’s been swallowed up by a notoriously vicious crime ring.
Prestige pedigree: Did we mention that the ex-con is played by one-time caped-crusader Christian Bale? Or that the disappeared brother is played by Casey Affleck, brother of the new Batman? Or that the film is directed by Scott Cooper, who made the Oscar-winning—and non-Gotham-related—Crazy Heart? Also: Forest Whitaker, Woody Harrelson, Sam Shepard, Zoe Saldana, and Willem Dafoe.
Who it’s perfect for: Remember your ex-con brother-in-law who’s going to love Escape Plan? This one should do it for him, too.
The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (December 13)
The basics: When last we left Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his dwarf companions, the Fellowship had just escaped a dangerous cadre of Orcs. This middle segment of the now-trilogy of Hobbit films winds through the Kingdom Of Erebor, with supporting performances from Evangeline Lilly and Stephen Fry, plus the return of Christopher Lee as Saruman The White and Orlando Bloom as Legolas. Plus: Benedict Cumberbatch as the dragon, Smaug!
Prestige pedigree: Peter Jackson is a decorated Oscar veteran at this point, and both Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen reprise their roles of Galadriel and Gandalf, respectively.
Who it’s perfect for: Your niece or nephew who has no idea that by the end of this series it will take longer to watch The Hobbit than it takes to read The Hobbit.
Saving Mr. Banks (December 13)
The basics: Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney, in the true story of the mogul’s insatiable quest to obtain the rights to make a movie out of Mary Poppins from its author, played by Emma Thompson.
Prestige pedigree: The most celebrated actor of our time. The director of the milquetoast Blind Side. A proper British lady. A true story. A beloved intellectual property.
Who it’s perfect for: Your aunt who just adored Finding Neverland. Also: B.J. Novak completists.
The Monuments Men (December 18)
The basics: It’s Ocean’s Eleven meets Inglourious Basterds as a team of middle-aged art historians scramble to save stolen masterpieces from the Nazis. All of this is based on a true story, naturally.
Prestige pedigree: Reuniting with screenwriter Grant Heslov, with whom he co-wrote Good Night, And Good Luck and The Ides Of March, George Clooney lends his talents behind and in front of the camera. The star/director has assembled quite the platoon: Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, and The Artist’s Jean Dujardin. Also, it’s a rousing adventure about rescuing great artwork from Hitler. Is anyone else getting a serious Argo vibe from this thing?
Who it’s perfect for: Your history-professor father-in-law, who will nitpick the details at first, but eventually be won over by the whole thing.
Grace Of Monaco (December 19)
The basics: Movie-star-turned-princess Grace Kelly (Nicole Kidman) is caught in a political crisis in her adopted homeland of Monaco, which faces a possible invasion by France, while Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) tries to lure her out of retirement to star in a new film.
Prestige pedigree: Director Olivier Dahan also did 2007’s La Vie En Rose, which earned two Oscars and a Golden Globe—and it’s a period drama, released during the height of prestige season, about a Hollywood icon played by another Hollywood icon.
Who’s it perfect for: Your mother, who can still recall where she was when she heard Princess Grace died.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (December 20)
The basics: Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and the best damn news team from the 1970s (Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner) reunite in New York City at the dawn of 24-hour cable news in the 1980s. Returning cast includes Christina Applegate, Chris Parnell, Luke Wilson, and Vince Vaughn. Kristen Wiig plays a new love interest for Carell’s Brick Tamland.
Prestige pedigree: The extensive list of cameos includes Nicole Kidman, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Will Smith, John C. Reilly, and Harrison Ford.
Who it’s perfect for: Your younger cousin who still calls San Diego “a whale’s vagina.”
Foxcatcher (December 20)
The basics: Based on a true story, Foxcatcher follows Olympic gold-medal wrestler Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), his younger brother Mark (Channing Tatum), and friend John Eleuthère Du Pont (Steve Carell), who eventually shot and killed the elder Schultz. Carell deviates from his usual fare to play a dramatic role with the help of some prosthetics. We’ll see if the nose plays.
Prestige pedigree: Bennett Miller more than salvaged what Steven Soderbergh left behind for Moneyball, turning in one of the best baseball films in a generation. And Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures seems incapable of financing a film without a few awards contenders attached.
Who it’s perfect for: Your father, provided he prefers his sports dramas more in the vein of Bernard Malamud’s The Natural than Robert Redford’s The Natural.
The Past (December 20)
The basics: Several years after they split up, a French woman (Bérénice Bejo) and an Iranian man (Ali Mosaffa) prepare to finalize their divorce so that she can marry her current boyfriend (Tahar Rahim). To say that complications ensue would be putting it mildly.
Prestige pedigree: Bejo, who was Oscar-nominated for her charming performance in The Artist, gets a chance to demonstrate her range in a serious drama. But the main attraction here is writer-director Asghar Farhadi, whose masterpiece A Separation deservedly won the Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Who it’s perfect for: Your ex-husband or -wife.
Walking With Dinosaurs: The Movie (December 20)
The basics: Though BBC Earth is behind it and there’s some semblance of education hinted at, really this is just a huge 3-D kids’ movie about brave dinosaurs fighting for survival against, umm, other brave dinosaurs.
Prestige pedigree: The BBC is prestigious, right? This thing will probably win some kind of technical award—it’s got CG creatures against real backdrops in Alaska and New Zealand—but nothing beyond that.
Who it’s perfect for: Whichever 5-year-old boys are in or near your family. Be prepared for a quiz on various types of dinosaurs.
Jack Ryan: Shadow One (December 25)
The basics: Formerly called Jack Ryan, the film reboots the character from the Tom Clancy novels (previously portrayed by Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, and Ben Affleck) to the present day, where Chris Pine portrays Ryan’s origin story. This being a Tom Clancy character—though the author didn’t write the script—the Russians are involved in a nefarious plot against the U.S.
Prestige pedigree: Shakespearean actor/director-turned-action-guy Kenneth Branagh directs (and stars as the villain) with veteran writer David Koepp (Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible, Jurassic Park) co-authoring the script. Other than that, don’t expect much in the way of prestige for a Christmas Day action film.
Who’s it perfect for: The family that’s grown restless and bored by midday on Christmas and needs to get out of the house.
Her (December 25)
The basics: Aimed squarely at the Siri lovers of the world, this drama from director Spike Jonze focuses on a lonely writer (Joaquin Phoenix) who rebounds from a failed relationship by becoming romantically infatuated with a new computer operating system’s AI personality, “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
Prestige pedigree: Jonze previously directed the critically acclaimed Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., and Where The Wild Things Are. The cast, which reunites last year’s The Master Oscar nominees Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams, also features Olivia Wilde and Rooney Mara.
Who it’s perfect for: Your techie little brother who sleeps with his iPhone.
American Hustle (December 25)
The basics: David O. Russell reassembles his Silver Linings Playbook dream team—Bradley Cooper, Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro—for this ’70s-set true story about a con artist who’s forced to help the FBI take down a host of criminals, including the mayor of Camden, New Jersey.
Prestige pedigree: For his follow-up to award-darling Playbook, Russell not only re-enlists Cooper, Lawrence, and De Niro, but also snags Batman himself, Christian Bale (who plays the con artist.) The film additionally co-stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and the reigning king of stand-up, Louis C.K.
Who it’s perfect for: Your mom’s scummy boyfriend, still rocking his ’70s-era ’stache and doing De Niro routines in the bedroom mirror.
August: Osage County (December 25)
The basics: Tracy Letts’ play has been a massive hit and critical success since debuting at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2007, eventually netting the actor/writer a Tony, Drama Desk, and Pulitzer. The inevitable film adaptation centers on a depressed alcoholic poet (Sam Shepard) whose wife (Meryl Streep) has cancer; their three daughters (Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, and Julianne Nicholson) reunite at the family home in Oklahoma following a tragedy, where old wounds reopen. The rest of the cast includes Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Margot Martindale, and Abigail Breslin.
Prestige pedigree: It would take less time to name those involved who don’t have a major award nomination. George Clooney helped produce, Streep, Roberts, and Cooper all have Oscars, while most of the remaining cast have at least one nomination. Plus, The Weinstein Company is distributing it.
Who it’s perfect for: Your future ex-spouse. Tracy Letts’ mother once described her son’s work thusly: “Everyone in [his] stories gets naked or dead.” This will not be a pleasant family holiday film.
Grudge Match (December 25)
The basics: Stallone is just milking this aging-badass comeback for all it’s worth, isn’t he? As in his other 2013 vehicles, Bullet In The Head and the upcoming Escape Plan—as well as those Expendables films—Sly shares billing with other over-the-hill bruisers. Here, his partner in geriatric ass-kicking is Robert De Niro; the two play retired pugilists and longtime rivals who agree to a rematch on the 50th anniversary of their last bout.
Prestige pedigree: Stallone did write Rocky, if that counts for anything. And De Niro just scored a deserved Oscar nomination for his funny and tender work in Silver Linings Playbook—though this looks more in keeping with the usual paycheck-cashing non-acting of his latter days. Casting Alan Arkin in a supporting role helps.
Who it’s perfect for: Your fatally confused great aunt, who’ll demand, “One for the new De Niro movie!” and end up seeing this instead of American Hustle.
47 Ronin (December 25)
The basics: Keanu Reeves joins Japan’s legendary 18th-century samurai warrior clan in this action-fantasy from first-time director Carl Rinsch. Bent on vengeance, Reeves and his swordsmen compatriots set out on an epic odyssey to kill the evil lord who murdered their master.
Prestige pedigree: Co-star Rinko Kikuchi was nominated for Babel.
Who it’s perfect for: That neighborhood kid who was always at your house and kind of thought he was part of the family. Then he broke your favorite action figure, but your mom couldn’t really do anything about it because he wasn’t actually part of the family. That kid. Wherever he is, he deserves a Keanu Reeves samurai movie for Christmas.
Labor Day (December 25)
The basics: No, it’s not another one of those Garry Marshall ensemble dramedies set on a holiday. Instead, this is a period drama about a woman (Kate Winslet) and her 13-year-old son (Gattlin Griffith) who reluctantly agree to help an injured stranger (Josh Brolin)—only to discover that the man is an escaped convict.
Prestige pedigree: With his on-again, off-again screenwriter Diablo Cody busy with Paradise, Jason Reitman (Up In The Air, Juno) not only directed, but also co-scripted this seeming departure. The movie is based on a novel by Joyce Maynard, features award-season perennial Winslet in the lead, and earned solid reviews at Telluride (where it premiered last month). Sounds pretty prestigey to us.
Who it’s perfect for: Let’s make it three for the formerly incarcerated brother-in-law. Though, actually, maybe he’d prefer to watch something that doesn’t feature criminals or convicts.
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (December 25)
The basics: The second adaptation of James Thurber’s short story (the first being 1947’s memorable Danny Kaye comedy), this Christmas Day release tells the story of an ordinary office worker (Ben Stiller) whose habit of retreating into a fantasy life of adventure is complicated once his job is threatened and he’s compelled to embark on a globetrotting journey. The alternately funny, melancholic, and heartwarming tale that follows is also directed by Stiller.
Prestige pedigree: Director/star Stiller is accompanied on his award-courting quest by heavyweights Sean Penn and Shirley MacLaine.
Who it’s perfect for: Your mother-in-law who loves comedians doing inspirational triumph-of-the-spirit dramas.
The Invisible Woman (December 25)
The basics: Blasting the lid off the explosive relationship between Charles Dickens and his much-younger mistress, The Invisible Woman promises plenty of sex and scandal. Or maybe just a quiet story about lovers in the late-19th century who liked to write each other letters.
Prestige pedigree: Ralph Fiennes adds another line to the list of important real-life characters he’s played, which includes Marcel Proust, Jesus, and Lord Voldemort. Fiennes also directs.
Who it’s perfect for: Your pervy 45-year-old uncle seeking reinforcement that a 30-year age difference in a sexual relationship is no big deal.
Lone Survivor (December 27)
The basics: 2013 comes to a close with Marky Mark in combat boots. Wahlberg leads a four-man team of Navy SEALS on a disastrous search-and-destroy mission in Afghanistan. (His fellow grunts include Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, and Taylor Kitsch.) Fun fact: Director Peter Berg reportedly made Battleship as a tradeoff to get this movie funded.
Prestige pedigree: Excepting Friday Night Lights—the movie or the series—director Peter Berg has never been much of a critics’ favorite. But he’s working from a weighty real story, previously chronicled in a bestselling book by (yes) the lone survivor of the mission the movie depicts.
Who it’s perfect for: Your sister’s numbskull fiancé. He liked Zero Dark Thirty okay, but his real favorite movie of last year was the one with the talking bear.
Also opening in December:
The documentary Nuclear Nation (12/11) examines the Fukushima meltdown of March 2011, with an eye toward lessons for the future. As long as we’re on the subjects of disasters, Hurricane Katrina is the backdrop for a desperate survival scenario in the Paul Walker vehicle Hours (12/13). Finally, The New Rijksmuseum (12/18) chronicles the arduous renovation of the eponymous Amsterdam landmark.