The week of Christmas is the perfect week to go to the movies. If you're a kid, you might have some fresh Christmas money and need something to spend it on. If you're an adult, you might have time off and need something to do with your kids that will keep them mercifully quiet for a couple hours. This Christmas season has one of the best lineups in years, with something for all ages, interests and attention spans.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (out now)
- If the 10-hour-long The Lord of the Rings wasn't enough Middle-earth for you, you're in luck: There's an equally long, equally nerdy series starting up again in The Hobbit, which takes place before the events of The Fellowship of the Ring. The first of the planned trilogy follows Bilbo Baggins, who's a way cooler hobbit than his emo nephew, Frodo. Bilbo gets recruited by Gandalf to go on a trek across Middle-earth with a horde of dwarves, all of which have beards and only one of which (Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield) is distinguishable from the others. Don't freak out about the smooth, almost-too-real 48 FPS framerate -- it's not that bad. And Gollum is back!
This is 40 (Dec.
- Judd Apatow returns with This is 40, his first feature film since 2009's underrated Funny People. It's a spin-off of Knocked Up, centered around the ageless (he's 43?) Paul Rudd and Apatow's real life family: His wife, Leslie Mann, and his two daughters, Maude and Iris Apatow. The trailer doesn't really reveal much of a plot, except for that Rudd and Mann's characters (Pete and Debbie) are turning 40 and don't like it very much. Albert Brooks and John Lithgow play their respective fathers, while Apatow's surrogate children Jason Segel and Lena Dunham fill out the cast. And Megan Fox looks to be there solely to make Mann's character feel inadequate, which is basically why she's on Earth in real life.
Jack Reacher (Dec. 21)
- In Lee Child's apparently popular book series, Jack Reacher is a 6-foot-5 giant weighing about 250 pounds. So naturally, director Christopher McQuarrie casted Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher, the film adaptation of Child's novel One Shot. Even though Cruise hasn't been a great box office draw lately (and probably won't be for this one -- you can't trust movies whose TV trailers are in that letterbox format), he's still capable of one thing: Running really, really fast. Eccentric German director Werner Herzog is playing the villain, who's probably an eccentric German.
On the Road (Dec. 21)
- Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation classic On the Road is finally on the big screen, though its been suspiciously under-marketed. Starring young hunks Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley, On the Road hasn't picked up any real steam, even though it premiered at Cannes Film Festival in May. It seems to be relying upon the "star power" of Kristen Stewart, if it's relying on anything at all. But ... it's Kerouac! Lowell! Give us a screening or something, come on.
Django Unchained (Dec. 25)
- If you're looking for a nice, light movie to check out over Christmas break, you'll probably have to go to the next theater. Django Unchained is the latest violent mash-up of genres by famed ugly genius Quentin Tarantino. Set in the pre-Civil War South, Django follows a slave played by Jamie Foxx who, after being freed by a bounty hunter (Tarantino's discovery Christoph Waltz), sets out to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) from a brutal slave owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). It's the first time Leo's played a bad guy (unless you count Romeo), and it's the first time his teeth have ever looked less than pristine. With this movie having a near-three-hour runtime, it's clear that Tarantino will never edit again. But at this point, that's probably OK.
Les Miserables (Dec. 25)
- I know: It's a scary musical. It's three hours long. The word "miserable" is in the title... sort of. There's no reason to be scared though -- in terms of recent movie musicals, this one should be more Chicago and less Rock of Ages. Hopefully. With a star-studded cast (Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baren Cohen and a ha-ha-I-already-have-this-Oscar-won Anne Hathaway) that does all its own singing live on camera, this epic French tale shouldn't disappoint. But don't expect to feel happy at the end of it.
Parental Guidance (Dec. 25)
- Maybe you need a family movie to go see, and your family isn't really into sprawling musicals or bloody revenge tales. In that case, Parental Guidance may be the one for you. It stars Billy Crystal (who hasn't done a substantial on-screen role since 2002's Analyze That) and Bette Midler (who's still trying to live up to the greatness of Hocus Pocus) as two grandparents who have to take care of their brat grandchildren for a weekend. You may have been turned off by the image of Crystal being hit in the groin with an aluminum bat, but Marisa Tomei's in it -- that should be enough for anybody.
Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.
Academy Award aspirations
A guide to the Oscar race, which is just starting to heat up with some surprising Golden Globe and Writer's Guild Award nominations (no love for The Master?!?). Academy Award nominees will be announced Jan. 10.
-- Best Picture
- Locks: Lincoln, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty
- Probable: Life of Pi
- Maybe: Django Unchained, Beasts of the Southern Wild
- The Best Films of the Year (Which Probably Won't Be Nominated): The Master, Moonrise Kingdom
-- Best Actor
- Lock: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
- Pick Four: Denzel Washington (Flight), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), John Hawkes (The Sessions)
-- Best Actress
- Locks: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
- Nominees With No Chance Of Winning: Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone), Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
- Better Not Be Snubbed: Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
-- Best Supporting Actor
- Locks: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), Alan Arkin (Argo), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
- Please Nominate a Bad Guy: Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained), Javier Bardem (Skyfall)
- Career Renaissance Nomination: Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike)
- Industry Vet from a Critically-Acclaimed Movie: Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
-- Best Supporting Actress
- Lock: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
- Middle-Aged Actress Who Got Naked and Thus Will Get Nominated: Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
- Crazy Lady Performance: Sally Field (Lincoln)
- You're Great in Downton Abbey So Here's a Nomination: Maggie Smith (The Exotic Marigold Hotel)