As you just spent the last few days fighting those “Black Friday” crowds, making sure that for years to come your children will know that you paid $10.00 less than anyone else for their JAWS Lego set, why not set aside some family time and take in a movie?
This time of year not only brings jolly Saint Nick around but also a lot of what the studios deem their “prestige” films – the ones to remember come award time. Of course, they occasionally sneak in a couple of stinkers as well. Here is a list of both for you to plan your next cinema visit. As usual, thanks to our friends at the Internet Movie Database for some synopsis information and, as always, remember that this list is not all-inclusive and that the opening dates are subject to change depending on the whims of the studios and where you live. Enjoy!
ESCOBAR: PARADISE LOST
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Hutcherson
Directed by: Andrea Di Stefano
While vacationing in Columbia, a young man meets the woman of his dreams and soon finds himself introduced to her uncle, the infamous drug dealer Pablo Escobar.
OSCAR CHANCES: Not a lot of buzz on this film but Del Toro did win an Oscar for his Supporting work in “Traffic.”
Starring: Julianne Moore, Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart
Directed by: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
When Alice Howland (Moore), a noted linguistics professor, begins forgetting words she learns she is in the early stages of Alzheimer.
OSCAR CHANCES: Moore, a four time nominee, is generating great word of mouth for a fifth nod.
Starring: Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson
Directed by: Chris Rock
A comedian tries to make it as a serious actor when his reality-TV star fiancé talks him into broadcasting their wedding on her TV show. Rock, who also wrote the film, promises this film to carry the edge of his stand up.
OSCAR CHANCES: Adam Sandler also appears but who am I to dream?
Starring: Reese Witherspoon and Gaby Hoffman
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee
A chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe.
OSCAR CHANCES: Like Julianne Moore, Witherspoon, who already has a Best Actress Oscar for her work in “Walk the Line,” is getting great word of mouth. Director Vallee guided both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto to Oscars last year in “Dallas Buyers Club” and earned a nomination himself for his editing of the film.
Starring: Maria Bello and Frank Grillo
Directed by: Will Canon
A police officer and a psychologist investigate the deaths of five people who were killed while trying to summon ghosts. The story comes from James Wan (“Saw,” “Insidious,” “The Conjuring”) so hopefully this will be on the plus side of horror.
OSCAR CHANCES: “Horror,” asks the Academy, “what is that?”
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS
Starring: Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton
Directed by: Ridley Scott
The defiant leader Moses (Bale) rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Edgerton), setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues.
OSCAR CHANCES: Bale has one Oscar (Best Supporting Actor for “The Fighter”) and a second nomination while director Scott has been nominated three times, including for “Gladiator.” Look for a lot of technical nods.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
In 1970, drug-fueled Los Angeles detective Larry “Doc” Sportello (Phoenix) investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend. Here’s a little trivia for you: writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s production company is named Ghoulardi after the late night horror host his father, Ernie Anderson, used to portray on Cleveland television. As a boy I loved Ghoulardi!
OSCAR CHANCES: If Paul Thomas Anderson has made a bad film I’ve never seen it. He and his casts are nomination magnets so look for plenty.
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
Starring: Martin Freeman and Cate Blanchett
Directed by: Peter Jackson
The final episode of director Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy. As he proved with the “Lord of the Rings” films, Jackson is a master storyteller and this last chapter should be amazing!
OSCAR CHANCES: Technical across the board.
Starring: Quvenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx
Directed by: Will Gluck
OK, the synopsis really has nothing to do with the Broadway musical except that Annie (Wallis) is an orphan and eventually she will sing “Tomorrow.” This is the one film that I’m torn on. I loved the original show – at one time it was so popular that when you went to audition for a musical you were told that you COULDN’T perform “Tomorrow” – so I’m trying to go in with blinders. That fact that director Gluck only has a few PG-13 teen comedies on his resume, and that he helped produce the still horrible memory “About Last Night” remake makes me sad.
OSCAR CHANCES: Young Miss Wallis remains the youngest Best Actress nominee EVER for her work in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” while Foxx not only has an Oscar for “Ray” but kicked ass in “Dreamgirls.” I’m not looking for any here but hopefully I’ll be surprised.
Starring: Mark Walberg and Brie Larson
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
A literature college professor and high stakes gambler runs afoul of a loan shark and his bodyguard-like gangsters while he has an affair with one of his students.
OSCAR CHANCES: Can’t see any.
Starring: Timothy Spall and Paul Jesson
Directed by: Mike Leigh
An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner’s life.
OSCAR CHANCES: Spall (probably best known as the band manager in “Rock Star” and Peter Pettigrew in the “Harry Potter” series, is getting huge word of mouth for his work here. Writer/director Mike Leigh has seven previous nominations.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB
Starring: Ben Stiller and Rebel Wilson
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Larry (Stiller) spans the globe, uniting favorite and new characters while embarking on an epic quest to save the magic before it is gone forever. The final film in the series sadly features the final performance of the great Mickey Rooney and one of the final performances of the beloved Robin Williams.
OSCAR CHANCES: Technical?
TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
Starring: Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenn
Sandra, a young Belgian mother, discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus, in exchange for her dismissal. She has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job.
OSCAR CHANCES: Cotillard is a past winner for “La Vie en Rose” and is always a threat to earn a nomination.
Starring: Bradley Cooper
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
A Navy S.E.A.L. recounts his military career, which includes more than 150 confirmed kills. Based on the life of the late Chris Kyle.
OSCAR CHANCES: Everyone I’ve spoken to who has seen this predicts nods for Cooper, which would be his third year in a row, and Eastwood, who already has two directing Oscars on the shelf (“Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby”).
Starring: Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz
Directed by: Tim Burton
A drama centered on the awakening of the painter Margaret Keane, her phenomenal success in the 1950s, and the subsequent legal difficulties she had with her husband, who claimed credit for her works in the 1960s. A true change of pace film for director Burton.
OSCAR CHANCES: Waltz has two Supporting Actor awards (“Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained”) while Adams has been nominated five times previously.
Starring: Seth Rogen and James Franco
Directed by: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
Dave Skylark (Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Rogen) run the popular celebrity tabloid TV show “Skylark Tonight.” When they discover that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a fan of the show, they land an interview with him in an attempt to legitimize themselves as journalists. This is the second film co-directed by Rogen and his writing partner Goldberg, after the very funny “This is the End.”
OSCAR CHANCES: “Comedy,” asks the Academy, “what is that?”
INTO THE WOODS
Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and Johnny Depp
Directed by: Rob Marshall
A witch (Streep) conspires to teach important lessons to various characters of popular children’s stories including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel. Based on the Tony Award winning musical by the legendary Stephen Sondheim.
OSCAR CHANCES: Did I mention Meryl Streep is in it? Director Marshall helmed “Chicago” to the Best Picture Oscar in 2003.
Starring: David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
The film looks at the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and President Lyndon B. Johnson as well as the turbulent civil rights marches of the 1960s.
OSCAR CHANCES: A supporting cast of previous nominees (Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Wilkinson) and winner (Cuba Gooding, Jr) bode well for a possible nod. Oyelowo was brilliant last year in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
Starring: Jack O’Connell and Jai Courtney
Directed by: Angelina Jolie
A chronicle of the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II. As a long time follower of Lou Zamperini’s story this is one of my most anticipated films of the year.
OSCAR CHANCES: The academy loves a good bio-film!
A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
Starring: Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain
Directed by: J.C. Chandor
In New York City 1981, an ambitious immigrant fights to protect his business and family during the most dangerous year in the city’s history.
OSCAR CHANCES: Both Isaac and Chastain are bright new stars in Hollywood.