Thursday, November 13, 2014

Holiday Movie Preview

Picking up where the fall movie preview ended, the holiday season is chock full of high-quality films that are vying for awards contention. Many are based off books this year and stand a real chance to be mentioned come Oscar time (along with fall preview mentions The Theory of Everything and Foxcatcher. Here are the eight films that will be making the jump from page to screen...

Nov. 21 - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Lionsgate)
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) returns in the penultimate episode of The Hunger Games series as Panem is in full-blown civil war. While I liked the book in general, I really don't care for studios to split a single book into multiple parts, whether it is Harry Potter or The Hobbit or The Hunger Games. I remember walking out of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 saying, "WB just sucker-punched us." At least with that movie, it was only an 8-month wait until Part 2, whereas Mockingjay's conclusion won't be in theaters until November 2015. In these split films, plot lines tend to get super-stretched and because Mockingjay's book wasn't that long, I suspect there will be plots divergent of the source material when there didn't need to be. And yet, I'll still see it opening weekend. Yes, I'm a sucker. Below is the final trailer.

Nov. 28 - The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Co.)
Based on the book Alan Turing: An Enigma by Andrew Hodges, the film details the efforts of British mathematician Alan Turing to build a computer in order to break Nazi codes. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, the film has already garnered major awards buzz (as of this writing, Rotten Tomatoes already posted a score of 86%). I'm really looking forward to this one, especially to see Cumberbatch in light of his excellent job in the BBC's Sherlock series. The film is opening in limited release, likely focusing on New York and Los Angeles, so the release date may be later for other audiences. Should it gain traction in the Oscar race, expect a wider release in January. See the trailer below.

Dec. 5 - Wild (Fox Searchlight)
Debuting in limited release, Academy-Award winner Reese Witherspoon stars in this take on the Cheryl Strayed memoir about her discovering herself on the Pacific Crest Trail that stretches from Southern California to Washington. Witherspoon jumped all over the film rights for the book and it is a passion project of hers and based on the awards buzz, it looks like it paid off. I still think of her from Walk the Line and Sweet Home Alabama, though she was really good in this fall's The Good Lie. Director Jean-Marc Vallee also knows his way around awards season after directing last year's Dallas Buyers Club. The teaser trailer is right here...

Dec. 12 - Exodus: Gods and Kings (20th Century Fox)
Movies based on the Bible are a complete crapshoot, given the inevitable controversy that stirs. One could argue that The Ten Commandments could not be made in today's era of cinema. Darren Aronofsky's Noah ran into a buzzsaw of controversy earlier this year, but still managed to make $100 million Stateside. For Exodus, director Ridley Scott looks to do for biblical movies what he did for ancient epics with Gladiator, one of my favorite films. I won't be expecting this one to be anywhere close to the text, but consider me somewhere between cautiously optimistic and excited on this one.

Dec. 12 - Inherent Vice (Warner Bros.)
It's amazing that a writer of Thomas Pynchon's storied reputation and caliber has waited this long to get a film adaptation, but his 2009 novel is getting the Silver Screen treatment. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and featuring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Jena Malone, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, and yes, Reese Witherspoon, the film is a drug crime caper in 1970's-era Los Angeles. The movie will debut in limited release before expanding nationwide January 9.

Dec. 17 - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Warner Bros./MGM)
The trilogy is mercifully ending. I never thought I'd say that about The Hobbit, since the Lord of the Rings finale is my favorite film (and series) of all time. But, I've watched the previous Hobbit films with dismay after seeing plot lines stretched out, characters doing really dumb things, and plot rehashes from Fellowship of the Ring that cause continuity problems down the road. I have many friends who love the Hobbit films and I'll likely see it with them since they enjoy it so much and I love Tolkien's book, but my enthusiasm for the movie is very dampened compared to what it was prior to An Unexpected Journey. Here is the most recent trailer that's making a lot of noise online.

Christmas Day - American Sniper (Warner Bros.)
Starring Bradley Cooper, directed by Clint Eastwood and based on the Chris Kyle memoir, the teaser trailer for this movie was fantastic. Kyle was the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history and was infamous among Iraqi insurgents. The movie will debut in limited release and barely qualify for Oscar contention before expanding nationwide January 16 (typically, most Oscar films this late in the season have a limited release run in order that they can qualify for awards, then expand in January. Last year, Lone Survivor used the same tactic). I'll be reading Kyle's memoir for sure before I see this at my local multiplex. Below is the riveting teaser trailer.

Christmas Day - Unbroken (Universal)
This one's the big one. The adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's memoir of World War II hero and Olympian Louie Zamperini's life was one of my most eagerly-anticipated films of the year. The book, which I read in the spring, is currently my No. 1-rated book of the year. Directed by Angelina Jolie with a screenplay written in part by the Coen brothers, the film has pedigree up and down the credits list. This is clearly a project Jolie cared deeply about, met with Zamperini multiple times and lobbied Universal to direct the film. So while she has little directing experience, I'm optimistic that she's up to the task. Below is the most recent trailer.

Is there a movie you are most looking forward to this holiday season?

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