Winter Movie Preview: December 2013

A week late, but whatever. The first weekend in December was relatively slow anyway.

December 6

Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen Brothers’ latest revisits their musical fixation, but this time in 1960’s Greenwich Village. The movie is supposedly funnier than the bummer of a trailer, and though it comes as highly pedigreed as any Oscar hopeful, it isn’t generating much heat amidst a very crowded field. Bonus: The soundtrack—produced by the same team that made O Brother Where Are Thou?—is incredible.

Limited

Out of the Furnace

Full review here.

The Last Days on Mars

I’m really glad that Ray Donovan is working out for Liev Schreiber, because his late run of movies has not been great (A Perfect Man was one of the lowest-grossing movies of 2013). The Last Days on Mars is a “you guys, space is shitty scary” movie, and unfortunately for Mars, it is not called Gravity. (Or even Europa Report.) It’s a bad year to be a “you guys, space is shitty scary” movie not called Gravity.

Limited/VOD

December 13

American Hustle

David O. Russell’s latest in a strong line of ensemble movies is already garnering a lot of Oscar buzz, and various combinations of Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence have already garnered nominations from critics’ groups and the SAGs and Golden Globes. Based on the FBI Abscam scandal of the late 1970’s, it’s about con artists working for the FBI in a series of political corruption stings. I’m more excited about this than I was either The Fighter or Silver Linings Playbook.

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The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

Less The Hobbit: Are We There Yet? and more The Hobbit: Shit Actually Happens This Time. Dinner parties and sing-a-longs are traded for battles with giant spiders and sword-fighting elves. Smaug is fresher and more engaging than Unexpected Journey, and A LOT more happens, but the movie is still 1) too long and 2) spreading too little material too thin. The result is that though parts of Smaug are exciting, you still walk away bored by it all, even if the visuals are incredibly beautiful and detailed.

And the dragon is VERY cool.

Saving Mr. Banks

If you want to see a family movie during the holidays but you’ve got a grump in the family who won’t go see “cartoons” (hi Dad), Saving Mr. Banks is a great compromise. It’s delightful, powered by Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson giving really great performances, and bringing to light aspects of Mary Poppins that reverse-enrich that movie as well. It’s a crowd pleaser but doesn’t accomplish that by being cheesy or simple, and it’s one of my strongest recommendations for the month.

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Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas

Tyler Perry threw some tinsel on a turd and called it a Christmas movie.

December 18

American Hustle

Expanding

Her

The tagline for Her is, “A Spike Jonze love story”, and by all accounts, this is a very good movie. Set in some near-ish future, Her is about a depressed man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with the artificial intelligence that operates as his personal assistant (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, because if ever you were to fall in love with a voice, it would be hers). Basically imagine Siri crossed with JARVIS and then falling in love with it. It’s a sci-fi concept and the film is apparently quite sci-fi, too, and I don’t normally go for sci-fi, but…yeah I can’t wait to see it.

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December 20

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Thanks to eleventy billion Dodge Durango commercials, Ron Burgundy needs no introduction.

The Past

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi follows up 2011’s superb A Separation with The Past, a film about an Iranian man who must face the consequences of abandoning his family in France in order to return to Iran. Namely, that his French wife (Berenice Bejo, The Artist) has moved on and wants to marry someone else. Farhadi is an extremely good filmmaker who is always worth a look, though this may be hard to find in theaters.

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Saving Mr. Banks

Expanding

Walking with Dinosaurs

Taken from the live-action, animatronic arena show, Walking with Dinosaurs is about dinosaurs…who walk. No seriously, it’s aimed at kiddies but the animation looks good and dinosaurs are pretty awesome, so I’ll get around to it eventually, just not in theaters.

December 25

47 Ronin

The long-awaited samurai epic starring Keanu “Movie Jesus” Reeves as another chosen one who must save people from some unjust thing that happened to them. It’s meant to be epic, but it looks kind of chintzy. If you’re looking for martial arts epics this holiday, try The Grandmaster or Ip Man (both on Netflix), or even The Man of Tai Chi, which Reeves actually directed, available on demand.

August: Osage County

Full review here.

Grudge Match

This trend of aged movie stars making shitty “comedies” together is getting embarrassing. (See also: The Expendables franchise.)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

This has been Ben Stiller’s passion project for a while, and he finally brings it to life, directing and starring as Walter Mitty, a milquetoast man who goes on an adventure trying to find a missing negative from a famous photojournalist in the last days of Life magazine. Based on James Thurber’s short story (there’s also a previous film from the 1940’s), this is the kind of movie that can get sappy, schmaltzy and saccharine real quick, but Stiller avoids those pitfalls. Walter Mitty is sweet and dreamy, with some really gorgeous landscape cinematography, and Stiller’s assurance as a director has grown considerably. His performance is also solid, keeping Walter on the right side of wistful, and never sinking into maudlin. Along with Saving Mr. Banks, it’s a good option for the family during the holidays.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Do you want to know my dirty film secret? I don’t actually like the movies Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese make together. The only one I have genuinely enjoyed was The Departed. The rest of them, while certainly pretty to look at, are basically the cinematic equivalent of Scorsese and DiCaprio blowing each other. FOR THREE HOURS.

December 27

Labor Day

I usually dig the works of Jason Reitman (Up In The Air), but I couldn’t get into his latest when I saw it at the Chicago Film Fest. It’s got a solid ensemble (Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Clark Gregg, Tobey Maguire), but the plot—a lonely housewife falls for the escaped convict she’s hiding during the titular holiday weekend—is a little Lifetime Movie of the Week. It lacked the genuine empathy for characters and introspective heft I usually associate with Reitman’s work, feeling a little shallow and clinical. That said, it isn’t precisely bad, either, and if you’re looking for more adult-oriented fare, you could do worse than Labor Day.

Los Angeles only

Lone Survivor

It looks like the poor man’s Zero Dark Thirty, or the rich man’s Act of Valor, but early reviews for Lone Survivor have been good, praising its realism and sincerity in depicting a doomed band of brothers, as a SEAL team gets trapped in the Afghani mountains. Based on a true story and with a title that ruins the ending, be prepared for a serious case of the sads, but it looks worth checking out, especially as it’s only cramming in an Oscar-qualifying run here and goes wide in January, when there is such a dearth of quality films.

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