Much attention is given to the Summer Movie Season for all of its superheroic spectacles and family-friendly films, but December is often the best month out of the year to go to the movies. Studios typically save a few monstrously big "popcorn" movies for December to capitalize on the holiday and semester breaks, and there are always a slew of Oscar hopefuls squeezed into the last month of the year in the hopes they will still be fresh in the minds of Academy members when it comes time to dish out the little gold statues in February.
This December is no different, with more than thirty new movies crowding into theaters between the 7th and the 28th. With the economy still sluggish and most of your "excess" funds likely allocated to buying presents or escaping from the cold for a few days, we decided to help you with your theatrical selections by narrowing the list down to the Top 10 Must-See Movies debuting next month.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The long-awaited prequel to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy will
introduce Thorin Oakenshield's (Richard Armitage) mission to reclaim dwarven treasure from the dragon Smaug and explain how Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) came to be in possession of the all-powerful One Ring that Frodo (Elijah Wood) was tasked with destroying in the original movies.
Initially designed to be a two-parter, the prequel will now be three movies in total, with numerous new characters from the imaginative world created by J.R.R. Tolkien appearing on the big screen for the first time and several characters from the original trilogy returning, including Frodo (Wood),
Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Saruman (Sir Christopher Lee) and Gollum (Andy Serkis).
To learn more about the company of dwarves that will feature prominently in The Hobbit check out our Tolkien 101 primer.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens Dec. 14th
Prolific author Lee Child's heroic man-mountain of a drifter makes his big screen debut portrayed by the somewhat diminutive Tom Cruise in a movie written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun). Cruise's casting caused no small amount of controversy among fans of the Reacher novels, but Child was excited that Cruise was chosen to portray his character, saying that "Reacher’s size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way."
Reacher is based on One Shot, the ninth novel in the series (and the former title of the movie), and centers around Reacher's investigation of a shooting that left five people dead and a former Army sniper (Joseph Sikora) with a violent past in custody. Rosamund Pike), Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins and David Oyelowo also star.
Jack Reacher opens Dec. 21st
Apparently satisfied that he had already had his fill of modern urban gangster movies, idiomatic director Quentin Tarantino tackled Kung Fu movies with Kill Bill and then moved on to WWII movies with Inglourious Basterds. Now, with Django Unchained, Tarantino has decided to play around in the Spaghetti Western sandbox, but setting it in the Deep South instead of the Wild West — consider it a "Southern."
Revenge has been the theme of Tarantino's last few movies and it pervades Django Unchained, as well. The story follows freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) as he agrees to help a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) on his mission of revenge in exchange for assistance in helping him rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) from sadistic slave owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). The cast includes Samuel L. Jackson (naturally), Don Johnson, Tom Wopat, James Remar, Walton Goggins and James Russo.
Django Unchained opens Dec. 25th
On The Road
Literary iconoclast Jack Kerouac's seminal 1957 novel about the Beat Generation's feverish quest for answers in postwar America cruises into theaters courtesy of Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries) and acclaimed Brazilian director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries).
The movie, about a young man's (Sam Riley) personal journey of discovery, premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, at which it was nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or. Though Riley is the narrator and star of the movie, Garrett Hedlund's portrayal of the free-spirited Dean Moriarty has received rave reviews. Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Alice Braga, Tom Sturridge, Steve Buscemi, Elisabeth Moss and Terrence Howard also star.
On the Road opens Dec. 21st
Zero Dark Thirty
The Academy Award-winning team of director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) reunite for another military movie, this one focusing on the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his death at the hands of the the super-secretive counter-terrorism unit known as Seal Team Six. Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, and Chris Pratt and James Gandolfini star.
Zero Dark Thirty opens Dec. 19th
Academy Award-winner Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) directs this adaptation of the long-running musical inspired by Victor Hugo's classic novel. The stellar ensemble cast is led by Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, once a prisoner and now the mayor of a town in France. Valjean agrees to care for a factory worker's (Anne Hathaway) illegitimate daughter (Amanda Seyfried) while attempting to avoid being captured by the police inspector (Russell Crowe) that has pursued him since he broke parole.
Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter also star.
Les Misérables opens Dec. 14th
Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona's (The Orphanage) first English-language feature, The Impossible, made the rounds for a couple years before getting a distribution deal, but received rave reviews after debuting at this year's Toronto International Film Festival. Based on a true story, The Impossible stars Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts as a husband and wife on vacation with their three sons — Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Lucas (Tom Holland) — in Thailand during the tsunami that devastated the country and much of Southeast Asia in December 2004.
The Impossible opens Dec. 21st
The third pairing of writer-actor Matt Damon with acclaimed director Gus Van Sant — the Academy Award-winning Good Will Hunting and the completely obscure Gerry being the first two — Promised Land is a Coen-esque
drama about "fracking" (hydraulic fracturing), the process by which natural gas is extracted from the earth. Damon and Frances McDormand play a corporate sales team hired to buy up drilling rights from the residents of the economically depressed rural town who encounter opposition from a local schoolteacher played by John Krasinski (NBC's The Office), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Damon. Rosemarie DeWitt, Lucas Black, and Hal Holbrook also star.
Promised Land opens Dec. 28th
Award-winning Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitzy (The Counterfeiters) brings his distinctive directing style to America with this neo-noir thriller written by neophyte screenwriter Zach Dean. Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde star as casino-robbing siblings whose escape to Canada is impeded by a car accident, a dead getaway driver, a dead cop, a near whiteout blizzard. Kris Kristofferson, Sissy Spacek) and Charlie Hunnam co-star.
Deadfall opens Dec. 7th
Hyde Park on Hudson
Bill Murray channels Franklin D. Roosevelt in this British import historical dramedy directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill). The movie takes place in 1939 as Roosevel prepared to entertain King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) — the first British royals to set foot on American soil — while also pursuing his distant cousin and future mistress Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney).
Hyde Park on Hudson opens Dec. 7th