Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Movie Preview: December 2014

The holiday season is upon us and while it didn't start with a whimper, November overall was a tad bit disappointing considering the titles that were released. Interstellar was supposed to be the huge movie in the beginning of the month while The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 was supposed to be the huge movie to end the month and thus on paper we were set for what looked like an epic month. Thus there weren't a whole lot of challengers. Interstellar started us out by not even being able to crack $50 million in its debut, being defeated in the box office by Disney's Big Hero 6. Meanwhile, Mockingjay did great business as it was the biggest opening weekend of the year, but it fell way short of the mark set by the first two movies in the franchise. And of course Big Hero 6 did great business, but it also proved that last year's Frozen was more of a fluke than a thing to expect from Disney Animation. So now we move to December. While box office totals will be hard to predict, the one thing that is certain is that there won't be a lack of options. Not only is it Christmas season, but it's also the last month for Oscar-hopefuls to jump in the game. So let's dive in and see what the month has in store.

December 5th - 7th-

The first weekend of December is always one of the worst weekends of the year. In fact, it has such a bad reputation that the major studios tend to avoid it altogether. Which is a bit odd if you think about it. Is it a bad weekend because people just don't like going to the theaters in the beginning of December or is it a bad weekend because studios think it's a bad weekend and avoid it? Or both? I mean, people can't go out to the movies if there's no new movies to see. That's right. This year there was a grand total of ZERO new wide releases. The closest we came was the horror movie Pyramid, which is a confused movie because this isn't Halloween season. While it's not unheard of to release a horror movie during the Christmas season, it usually doesn't happen. Fox knowing that there wasn't much interest in this movie decided to only release it in 589 theaters. And they were right. The per-theater average was pretty bad, so perhaps they made the good decision to not spend the money booking theaters that weren't going to get used. If done right this could've been successful. I mean, exploring the pyramids isn't a bad premise for a horror movie.

On a platform release, the movie Wild hit 21 theaters this weekend, earning just over $600,000. This is another Oscar-hopeful that chronicles the life of Cheryl Strayed, who embarked on an 1,100 mile journey in the 1990's on the Pacific Crest Trail all by herself, despite no previous backpacking experience, after going through a lot of personal struggles. Strayed wrote a book about her experiences that became a best-seller and now has a movie adaption. Jean-Marc Vall√©e is the director here and he is coming off a lot of success from last year's Dallas Buyers Club, which got nominated for six Oscars, winning three of them. While there isn't as much buzz from Wild at the moment, star Reese Witherspoon should be right in the thick of the competitive best actress race.

December 12th - 14th-

After being ignored the first weekend of December, general audiences will finally get to dive into the Christmas movie season starting with Exodus: Gods and Kings. You could definitely say that it's been the year of the religious movie. In addition to several smaller, independently released Christian films breaking out this year, this is also the third time that a major studio has dove into the Bible for it's source material following Son of God and Noah. This time around we are telling the story of Moses, which has definitely been no stranger to Hollywood. Previous adaptations include Cecil B. DeMille's classic The Ten Commandments, which is the sixth highest grossing movie of all time when adjusted for ticket price inflation, as well as Dreamworks' late 90's animated version The Prince of Egypt. Director Ridley Scott has a lot of experience doing epics, so this is right in his ballpark. His work with Gladiator has been especially all over the marketing. Although some of been complaining at the all-white cast, that cast does boast some pretty big names such as Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Ramses, Ben Kingsley as Nun, and Aaron Paul as Joshua.

Also getting an official nationwide release is Chris Rock's Top Five. The famous comedian is pulling triple duty in this as director, writer, and star, which is his third time doing do. His previous stints include Head of State (2003) and I Think I Love My Wife (2007). In the movie, Chris Rock is playing a comedian who's trying to make it as a serious actor. Is the a reflection of his own personal life? Maybe. If Rock was trying to make it as a serious actor, it would fit very well, but it looks like this is all comedy here, which is what Rock is pretty good at.

On the platform front, this week's Oscar-hopeful is director Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice. Anderson has had plenty of luck with the award scene as he has had five nominations, most notably with There Will Be Blood in 2007, but he has yet to win any personal awards for his movies as There Will Be Blood only won in the acting and cinematography categories. He completely missed out with his most recent film The Master and is hoping to recover with this one. Inherent Vice is a crime drama based off the book by Thomas Pynchon that centers around a Los Angeles detective in the 1970's who is investigating the disappearance of a former girlfriend. It has quite the loaded cast led by Joaquin Phoenix, who is hoping for justice after being left out by Oscar last year, and also stars Katherine Waterston, Josh Brolin, Maya Rudolph, Michael Kenneth Williams, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Owen Wilson, and Reese Witherspoon among others.

December 19th - 21st-

It's the weekend before Christmas and before Hollywood loads the theaters with presents for movie-lovers on Christmas Day, there will be quite the load of early Christmas presents. Most notably is the final trip to Middle Earth (unless Peter Jackson decides he wants to take on The Silmarillion) with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which actually gets released on Wednesday the 17th. After getting nearly unanimous praise with his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson hasn't quite had the same reaction to his Hobbit trilogy. Some have loved what he has done while others think Tolkien would be rolling over in his grave right now with what Jackson has done. The biggest criticism has been his decision to split one book into three separate movies. The title of this final chapter pretty much sums up what will happen here. Jackson will be looking to replicate the epic battle that was Helm's Deep. This chapter is not likely to convert those who haven't been a fan of the first two, but those who have been a fan are likely in for a treat.

Family audiences have been neglected a lot this year, but this weekend gives them two different options for the season. The first of which is a movie that been advertised for an amazingly long time now and that is the umpteenth version of the classic musical Annie. When casting rumors first came out, it almost appeared to some that this was going to be a politically correct version of Annie that featured an all-black cast. Not that this would've necessarily been a bad idea, but that turned out to be false. Instead, it appeared that they were just looking for the most talented young actress they could find and they did a pretty good job as the young Quvenzhan√© Wallis is not too far removed from being the youngest actress ever to get an Oscar nomination for best actress (Beasts of the Southern Wild). Wallis is joined in the movie by Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz, who also have had a good track record recently. Whether or not audiences will be enamored with this latest version of Annie is a different story, though.

The second option for family audiences is the third movie in the  Night at the Museum franchise, entitled Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb. The first Night at the Museum became a surprise hit back in 2006 sparking a sequel in 2009 that also played well, although with a significant dip-off from the first. Some people will certainly be wondering if a third Night at the Museum movie was really necessary and thus might decide to skip this one. But it could provide some good counter-programming if it can survive the battle between it and Annie. Another advantage the movie has is that it stars Robin Williams in what will be his final live action role. Those who were touched and inspired by this man, which is most people that lived through the 90's, may want to check this one to see legend perform one last time.

That's it for the nationwide releases, but we are not done as we have another pair of Oscar-hopefuls getting their start. The first of these two is The Gambler. Out of the two limited release films, this is the one that will probably go over better with general audiences, but might be the one that gets ignored by Oscar. It's a crime drama about, you guessed it, a gambler. Mark Wahlberg stars as he plays a character that gets himself sucked into quite the intense situation. If this gets any award nominations, it will be for Wahlberg's co-star in the movie, John Goodman. However, Goodman has had a habit recently of getting rumored to get nominated, but getting left out in the end. One of these days he might actually get the nomination, but I wouldn't bet on it.

The limited release that has a better chance of getting a nomination or two, but yet might not go over as well with general audiences is Mr. Turner. This movie dives into the life of famous British painter J.M.W. Turner who died in the year 1851. Timothy Spall plays the lead role of Mr. Turner in this movie and there's good reason to suggest that he'll at least get a long, serious look by the Academy when it comes to Oscar nominations. The reasoning for this is that he actually won the Best Actor award earlier this year in the Cannes Film Festival. Spall has had a long and successful career, but hasn't had a whole lot of opportunities to play a lead role like this. Even those who haven't liked the film have recognized that he does a good job in it. Those who don't recognize his name right of the bat will probably have a light bulb experience when I mention that he played Wormtail in the Harry Potter movies.

December 25th - 28th- 

Christmas Day brings a whole slew of new movies to the table. And if you think this is crowded upon reading over it, know that a couple of months ago it was even more crowded before Paddington and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 bailed on the date. Scaring Paddington away was most likely Disney's highly anticipated live-action musical Into the Woods. This is based off of a very popular musical of the same name and hopes to have the same reaction that Les Mis did a couple years back. It did run into a bit of controversy when it was announced that they were making a few key alterations to the original musical in order to get the family-friendly PG rating, but it's worth noting that the movie is in very good hands. It's directed by Rob Marshall, who won best picture when he directed the musical Chicago. Also, the original people who worked on the Into the Woods musical also worked on this movie. And it has quite the phenomenal cast in that includes Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Ana Kendrick, Chris Pine, and James Corden.

Next up is the movie that most likely scared Hot Tub Time Machine 2 away and that is The Interview. This movie is a comedy wherein James Franco and Seth Rogen are recruited to go assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jung-un. The real life Kim Jung-un has not been shy about his feelings on this movie. In fact, he's gone as far as threatening to attack the United States if they end up releasing the movie. World War III started because of a movie that gets released on Christmas Day? Probably not. North Korea is pretty good at making threats that they don't follow up on. Plus that would be a really bad idea on North Korea's part to attack the United States. However, by issuing this threat, Kim Jung-un has done the movie a huge favor by raising awareness as most have just found this threat comedic and instead have become excited for this movie. Word is, though, that they may have done some post-production alterations in order to appease Kim Jung-un.

The third and final nationwide release is a movie that has had a whole ton of Oscar-buzz ever since it was announced. That is Unbroken. This tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, who was a U.S. Olympic runner back in the late 1930's. When the war broke out and the next Olympics were cancelled, he enlisted and was assigned to fight on the Japanese front. This movie is based on the book of the same title that dives into his experiences as a prisoner of war in Japan and thus goes into detail about what life was like on this front, which is something that isn't discussed as much as the German front is. The movie stars Jack O'Connell as Zamperini as well as Domnhall Gleeson as his friend in the war and Japanese rock star Miyavi as the character known as "The Bird," who causes him much mental and physical anguish. All three have received their fair share of awards buzz. Director and Oscar-darling Angelina Jolie has also received a lot of attention for her work on this. On top of all this, the movie is very timely as the real life Zamperini recently passed away.

That's it for the nationwide releases, but there's also a whole bunch of limited release movies coming out in order to get their Oscar-qualifying run in before they get their nationwide release in January. Recently entering the scene as not only a strong contender to get nominated, but to win best picture is the movie Selma. This, along with several others, will get it's nationwide release in January, so this is almost a brief preview of next month as well. But I include it here because this is the official release date and it's fun to talk about all the Oscar-hopefuls in one post. That said, Selma is a movie about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, specifically focusing on all the marches that were influential in getting the Civil Rights Bill moving forward. Selma, Alabama could be seen as the climax of all this, hence the title. The King himself is played by David Oyelowo. Oyelowo was most recently seen in the movie Interstellar as the principal, but is probably best known for his role in 2012's Jack Reacher. Joining Oyelowo in the movie is Carmen Ojego as Coretta Scott King, Tim Roth as George Wallace, and Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B Johnson as well as appearances from Martin Sheen, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Oprah Winfrey.

Up next is a movie that is actually losing a bit of steam in the Oscar race due to a poor showing recently, but is still hoping to sneak in some nominations. That is American Sniper. This tells the story of Navy S.E.A.L. Chris Kyle who was one of the most famous snipers as he had over 150 confirmed kills. Bradley Cooper plays the title role and it's been quite the successful ride for Cooper. Not only has he had two straight Oscar nominations for his roles in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, but he also voiced the extremely popular Rocket Raccoon in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy earlier this year. But alas, a poor showing could cause him to break his streak of Oscar nominations due to the intense race this year. However, American Sniper should still play well for general audiences. A comparable title would be Lone Survivor, another war movie about the Navy S.E.A.L.S. that was mostly ignored by the Academy but went on to huge box office totals in January this past January. American Sniper will probably do the same as it gets its nationwide release on the third weekend of January.

This is not the extent of the Oscar-hopefuls that will officially get their qualifying run in at the end of the year, but it is the last one I will talk about in this post. This last movie is Tim Burton's Big Eyes. Now immediately when you hear the name Tim Burton, you will automatically assume that this will be a weird, crazy movie. That's a fair assumption considering Burton's past, but it would actually be wrong in this instance. This is actually a very normal movie. It's a movie about painter Margaret Keane who had great success in the 1950's, but struggled with legal difficulties as her husband started claiming all of her work as his own. This pair is played by Christof Waltz and Amy Adams. If Amy Adams gets a nomination this would make it her sixth nomination in the last ten years. Some would call her unlucky for getting nominated five times and losing every single time. Others would recognize that she could see it as quite the honor to get five nominees because many actors play out their whole career without a single nomination. Either way, it was initially thought that Oscar could finally award her for her efforts and give her a win. But now that's not the case as Julianne Moore is almost seen as a lock to win.

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