The temperature is dropping and the air is becoming crisp. The lights, trees and tinsel are going up and pumpkin spice has been replaced by peppermint and gingerbread. Yes, it’s that festive time of year again, but it’s also the most exciting time of year for filmgoers everywhere, when the best and most memorable movies of the year bombard us week after week until Boxing Day.
Some of the best movies of the year come out in November in December, in a 6 week period dubbed ‘Oscar Season’ by so many film goers. That’s because every year, the studios release their best dramatic films and biggest family hits before the deadline of eligibility December 31st. The winter school break and holiday vacations mean more people go to the movies and even more go to avoid the crowds and take a break from shopping.
With all the excitement we thought it would be fitting to take a look at some of the biggest, most anticipated and most exciting films coming to cinema before New Year’s Eve and help you decide what to buy advanced tickets for. Don’t forget to visit our weekly contest and tell us what film you’re excited for. You could win $100 from Visa to take your whole family to the movies. Enter below!
We should begin by getting one of the most anticipated and less intelligent films out of the way. This weekend you can finally see Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels return to the iconic roles of Harry and Lloyd in the sequel that is literally 20 years in the making. The sequel will likely retread familiar jokes and situations, but if you’re a fan of the original, there’s no missing this sequel.
In 2009, reporter Maziar Bahari was imprisoned in Iran and accused of being an American Spy when he appeared on segments of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Years later after his release, Jon Stewart himself took a leave from the Daily Show to direct a film based on Bahari’s memoir of his experience. The story is true, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more timely, personal film this season. This is the first film on our list a-shooing for Oscar. It opens Friday in select theatres.
The surefire winner for the most awkward title of the season if you don’t count October’s Birdman Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. Strange that both awkward titles reference a bird, isn’t it? Mockingjay is the second follow up to the hugely popular totalitarian future rebellion series starring Jennifer Lawrence. The last film in the series was well received, surpassing the first entry in every way. Here’s hoping the newest entry keeps the trend going! This is also one of the last performances of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Another true story with red hot anticipation is the true story of WW2 codebreaker Alan Turning. The film is being praised for it’s exciting depiction of one of world war 2’s last untold stories (on film). It also stars Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock fame. Turning himself was instrumental in helping Britain and the allies defeat the Nazis, and faced his share of controversy during and after the war.
Horrible Bosses was an enjoyable comedy with a great, relatable premise. Sure it was a little unrealistic to see Jennifer Aniston playing a sexual predator (and a Dentist no less), but that was part of the fun. Kevin Spacey stole the show as a truly remarkable ‘horrible boss’ and the whole gang is back for a sequel that picks up where the last film left off. Apparently being your own boss doesn’t mean you’re free of horrible bosses, and the gang has to rally to survive round two.
A spin-off of Dreamworks Animation’s Madagascar series, the adorable, hilarious penguins finally get their own feature film after a series of specials and a tv series. The film will function as a kind of origin story and is much more of a spy spoof than a tale of friends out of their element. Still, it looks like fun if you like your children’s films a bit silly.
Reese Whithersoon is getting Oscar buzz for her performance in this powerful drama about a woman finding herself while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Suffering several personal losses and a drug addiction, this biographical tale is based on the book by Cheryl Strayed. It looks to be a powerful, enlightening journey of overcoming impossible personal demons. If you’re looking for a bit of hope this season, Wild might just be for you.
One of the oddest films this year is one you haven’t hear about unless you really pay attention, but this odd-ball comedy caper starring Joaquin Phoenix is notable for it’s director. Paul Thomas Anderson is coming off an unbroken streak of acclaimed films that began in 1997 with Boogie Nights and continued until The Master two years ago. It’s almost impossible to imagine the film is anything but exceptional, and you can almost guarantee it will be in the running for Oscar.
It wouldn’t be December without a few epics and the first comes from Gladiator director Ridley Scott. Exodus is actually a retelling of the story of Moses and is heavily inspired by the classic Ten Commandments starring Charleton Heston. This time around it’s Christian Bale playing the role of Moses and you can expect the religious elements to be downplayed, but not the fantasy. Scott has a knack for world building, from Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven to Alien and Blade Runner, the director knows how to make compelling fantasy, well, epic.
Alright, in all honesty the winner for worst title is a tossup this year. Right after you’ve caught your breath from one epic, move on to another, with the final instalment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. The book might have been short and sweet, but the filmmakers have fleshed out the action and included Tolkien lore from other sources to flesh out the tale and provide more context for The Lord of the Rings. This is your last chance to see both Gandalf and hobbits in action before The Silmarillion ends up on screen in between Lord of the Rings: The Lost Chapters or something similar. It’s coming, you just wait!
If family films are more your speed and The Hobbit is too busy, you might want to check out the latest, and presumably final Night at the Museum movie. This time the gang heads to London to uncover the story behind the story and it’s your last chance to see Robin Williams on the big screen, since this is his final on screen performance. The film does look like more fun than the last sequel though. Night at the Museum was filmed right here in Vancouver, along with the first film.
Good news if natural history coming to life isn’t your thing, there’s another family option the same weekend in the re-imagining of the musical Annie. Rest assured, this new take with an African American Annie IS a musical, despite the trailer. Updated songs and references might not work for everybody, but they should help to introduce new audiences to a classic, feel good story. Fun fact, Will Smith was a producer on the remake and his daughter Willow was slated to play the lead, but she got too old before the film’s script was ready.
It wouldn’t be December without a good British period costume drama. This year’s most hopeful entry is Mr. Turner, starring character actor Timothy Spall. Fans will know Spall from roles like Wormtongue in Harry Potter, and this year he may finally have Oscar’s number with his portrayal of eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner. It should offer a welcome alternative to the big films out this busy weekend.
If the weekend didn’t need any more entries, The Gambler is here to offer yet another alternative. This gritty gambling drama stars Mark Wahlberg from Rupert Wyatt who brought audiences the reimagining/prequel to Planet of the Apes a few years ago. Time will tell if this one lives up to the hype enough to compete with so many other strong films, but the buzz is strong with this one.
Louis Zamperini was an athlete who competed in the Olympics, only to end up imprisoned by the Japanese in World War 2. This trues story is notable because it features no A-list names but still has the support of its studio for a major Oscar campaign. It is also the sophomore effort from Angelina Jolie. If it works, Unbroken will be emotional, remarkable and memorable, but it will also have to go head to head with another WW2 biopic in The Intimidation Game. It’s likely that only one film will make it to Oscar.
Yet another biopic this season tells the story of the most infamous sniper in US history. It was once developed for Steven Spielberg to direct, but instead it’s Clint Eastwood behind the camera and Bradley Cooper as the sniper. SPOILER ALERT, if you don’t know Sargent Chris Kyle made the news in 2013 when he was killed by a fellow soldier. The movie his based on his autobiography. The trailer is just one clip from the film that illustrates the kinds of choices Kyle faced every day.
Tim Burton takes a break from fantasy and remakes to return to drama for the first time since the incredible Big Fish. Burton tackles our final biopic of the season, the story of artist Walter Keane. Actually, it was his wife Margaret that did the painting, while her husband took all the credit. In a year of news stories dominated by women’s rights it should prove a timely tale and with Christopher Waltz and Amy Adams both attracting Oscar buzz, it should be a special treat. Big Eyes was filmed right here in Vancouver.
Probably the most anticipated non-franchise film of the year is Disney’s musical adaptation of the Broadway classic. Into the Woods was written by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine and the film version was adapted by Lapine and is directed by Chicago’s Rob Marshall. The story weaves together all of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales into one narrative and it got a little dark sometimes on stage. The film version has been pulled back, but with an impressive cast that includes Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine and more, it shouldn’t hurt the box office much. If it’s good, it’ll sweep Oscar. If it’s bad, it’ll be forgotten quickly.
It hardly feels like a holiday movie, but the Vancouver filmed comedy about assassinating the leader of North Korea does have some headline grabbing stories behind it. Real life North Korea threatened deadly action if the film was released, but the Seth Rogen and James Franco reteam is still coming. It should make for an interesting counter to the Oscar bait that is out on the same day, especially if you have teenagers in the house.
Missed It On The List? A lot of great Oscar films are already out as the studios release their films earlier than ever. Birdman, which we referenced earlier is an excellent return for Michael Keaton, especially if you’re looking for something smart and edgy. There’s also brilliant performances from Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in the twisted true story Foxcatcher. There’s also Whiplash, the musical story with JK Simmons and if you missed Gone Girl with Ben Affleck, you better run out and check out David Fincher’s masterpiece right now before it’s… gone!
Don’t forget to tell us what movie you are most excited for for bonus entries in our Fan of the Week contest. Enter before Tuesday at midnight for your chance to win. Until then, see you at the movies!