Holiday movie preview

From staff and wire reportsDecember 6, 2013 

Movie lovers have faced an unusual – but wonderful – conundrum this fall: With so many excellent films in theaters and a limited amount of time in the day, should they see “Gravity” or “Captain Phillips”? “12 Years a Slave” or “Dallas Buyers Club”?

The choices will grow more difficult in the coming weeks, as high-profile sequels and more Oscar contenders arrive on the big screen. There’s something for everyone: “The Hobbit” saga continues, Will Ferrell becomes Ron Burgundy once again, and “Saving Mr. Banks” lights up the screen with songs.

Here’s a look at some of the movie releases that are getting a lot of buzz for December.

Please note that local release dates are subject to change.

Dec. 6

“Out of the Furnace”: Christian Bale stars as Russell Baze, a Pennsylvania steelworker whose Iraq veteran brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) can’t seem to find a place in society, and is earning money by engaging in illegal bare-knuckle fights promoted by local bar owner John Petty (Willem Dafoe).

Dec. 13

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”: The second installment of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the dwarves soldier on, avoiding the dangers of wood elves and massive arachnids before arriving at Lonely Mountain, the home of the menacing treasure-hoarding dragon, Smaug.

“Nebraska”: You can almost smell the alcohol emanating from the pores of an utterly disheveled Bruce Dern in this black-and-white drama, which earned him an award at Cannes this year. Director Alexander Payne’s first film since winning an Academy Award for “The Descendants” follows an aging boozer (Dern) who’s convinced he won $1 million and drags his son along as he travels from Montana to Nebraska to claim his dubious prize. Also noteworthy: The son is played by “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Will Forte in an uncharacteristically serious role.

“Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Christmas”: In Tyler Perry’s latest Madea installment, the outspoken matriarch is coaxed into helping a friend pay her daughter a surprise visit in the country for Christmas. In addition to Perry, the cast includes Kathy Najimy, Chad Michael Murray, Tika Sumpter and Larry The Cable Guy.

Dec. 18

“Anchorman 2”: Everyone’s favorite misinformed newscaster, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), is back alongside his idiotic sidekicks. The sequel finds the mustachioed Burgundy leaving San Diego to break into the 24-hour news business in New York City, where he will no doubt offend any women, gay people and minorities he meets.

Dec. 20

“American Hustle”: Writer-director David O. Russell convenes the stars of two of his most acclaimed films – Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from “Silver Linings Playbook” and Christian Bale and Amy Adams from “The Fighter” – for this tale, inspired by the Abscam scandal, of con artists working undercover for the FBI in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Adams and Bale play petty criminals recruited by a federal agent (Cooper) to infiltrate a group of lawbreakers that includes a city mayor.

“Saving Mr. Banks”: Fresh off the critical and box office success of “Captain Phillips,” Tom Hanks embodies another real-life character, Walt Disney. Emma Thompson plays P.L. Travers, the prim, protective author of “Mary Poppins,” and the one thing standing between Disney and a promise he made to his daughters: that he’d turn the tale of a flying nanny into a motion picture.

“Walking with Dinosaurs”: An immersive, big screen adventure starring computer-animated dinosaurs in a live-action setting and voiced by actors. The film, produced by BBC Earth, follows an underdog dinosaur named Patchi (Justin Long) as he grows from infanthood to adulthood along with Scowler (Skylar Stone) and Juniper (Tiya Sircar). John Leguizamo is an Alexornis bird who narrates the film.

“Inside Llewyn Davis”: The latest from the Coen Brothers, which is all some people need to know before flocking to the theater. The film is being hailed as among the filmmakers’ best work. The funny-sad story was inspired in part by musician Dave Van Ronk’s life and follows folk musician Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) in the early 1960s as he navigates the harsh realities of trying to make it as a singer-songwriter in New York City.

Dec. 25

“Grudge Match”: Sylvester Stallone is treading familiar territory with yet another boxing film. At least this time he’s found a different character. Sly plays Razor, an aging former champion lured out of retirement with a publicity stunt that pits him against his longtime nemesis, the Kid (Robert De Niro).

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”: Ben Stiller makes his directorial debut and plays the title character – loosely based on James Thurber’s New Yorker short story. He plays a milquetoast guy who frequently escapes into an imaginary world where he’s a triumphant hero and ladies’ man.

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”: Early word is that Idris Elba, who plays South African dissident-turned-president Nelson Mandela, gives an Oscar-worthy performance. As the title suggests, the sweeping biopic covers Mandela’s early life, his 27-year imprisonment and his unimaginable triumph.

“The Wolf of Wall Street”: The collaborating duo of director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio brings to life the memoirs of ex-con Jordan Belfort. DiCaprio plays the trader who enjoyed the excesses of the 1990s financial industry a bit too excessively.

“47 Ronin”: Carl Rinsch directs Keanu Reeves in this film about a band of samurai setting out to avenge the death and dishonor of their master at the hands of a ruthless shogun.

“Justin Bieber’s Believe”: Director Jon M. Chu, who directed the 2011 “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” concert film, shows us how Bieber became an international pop superstar – in 3D. This one is FBO: For Beliebers Only.

Coming in January

“Labor Day”: Jason Reitman, the director behind “Up in the Air” and “Juno,” directs this movie based on the novel by Joyce Maynard. Kate Winslet plays an exhausted single mom who helps an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) and finds herself held hostage in her own home – at least until she falls for her captor.

“August: Osage County”: Nothing says holidays like a healthy dose of family dysfunction, and the screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play is here to conjure up blocked-out memories. Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, a recently widowed matriarch whose relatives come to visit for her husband’s funeral (the cast includes Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor and Dermot Mulroney). But Violet’s mean streak and penchant for asking uncomfortable questions doesn’t do much to ease the pain.

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