Movie Talk

Holiday Movie Preview: The 25 Films We're Most Excited About

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Holiday 2013 Movies

Anchorman, Catching Fire, Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount/Lionsgate)

Just how promising does this year's holiday movie lineup look? Four high-profile November and December releases ("Foxcatcher," "Grace of Monaco," "Monuments Men" and "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit") were recently moved to 2014 release dates, and yet still dozens of must-see projects remain to compete for your time and money.

From action sequels ("Thor: The Dark World," "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire") to comedy sequels ("Anchorman 2," "The Best Man Holiday") and surefire crowdpleasers ("Saving Mr. Banks," "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty") to prestigious awards contenders ("American Hustle," "Wolf of Wall Street"), here's a look at the 25 movies we're most excited about over the next two months.

25. "Delivery Man"
Release Date: Nov. 22
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders
Director: Ken Scott
The Scoop: A remake of the 2011 French-Canadian hit "Starbuck," this laugher about a man who discovers he's fathered 533 children (good luck keeping those birthdays straight) reportedly features a more sentimental Vince Vaughn. With "The Switch" and "Babymakers" before this, are we sick of sperm bank comedies yet? So long as this one – wait for it – delivers, the answer is probably "no."

24. "Labor Day"
Release Date: Dec. 25 (limited); Jan. 31 (wide)
Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Clark Gregg
Director: Jason Reitman
The Scoop: Nope, it's not the trilogy finale to "Valentine's Day" and "New Year's Eve." Though he may have faltered with "Young Adult," 36-year-old director Jason Reitman (son of Ivan) still has "Thank You for Smoking," "Juno" and "Up in the Air" under his belt. Here he's got acting heavyweights Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin at his disposal for a drama about a single mother who shelters an escaped convict.

23. "The Best Man Holiday"
Release Date: Nov. 15
Starring: Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard, Nia Long
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
The Scoop: The entire cast of 1999's sleeper hit "The Best Man" returns for this unlikely sequel that finds these "grown folks" reuniting (and rekindling old flames) over Christmastime. Bonus points: This sure-to-be-popular comedy reminds us of the talents of actors like Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan, Regina Hall and Morris Chestnut, all of whom don't get the number of high-profile gigs they deserve.

22. "Philomena"
Release Date: Nov. 27
Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
Director: Stephen Frears
The Scoop: The Dame Judi Dench (if you ever see her, serenade her) is drawing raves for her role as a woman searching for her son decades after he was taken away from her; Steve Coogan is the journo who covers her story. "Coogan and Dench keep drippy stuff from being drippy," Yahoo Movies critic Thelma Adams says about this drama aimed at the middle-aged and above.

21. "Lone Survivor"
Release Date: Dec. 27 (limited); Jan. 10 (wide)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Eric Bana, Taylor Kitsch
The Scoop: Peter Berg most definitely did not sink our battleships with last summer's misfired adaptation of a board game, but he's back in grittier territory with this real-life tale of a SEAL Team 10 mission gone awry. While the buzz on this one has been quiet up to this point, the Mark Wahlberg vehicle could sneak into the awards race and draw comparisons to 2001's "Black Hawk Down."

20. "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"
Release Date: Nov. 29 (limited)
Starring: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris
Director: Justin Chadwick
The Scoop: While the film itself earned mixed reviews coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival, the world (of global film critics) have been singing the praises of lead Idris Elba. The "Wire" alum who headlines this biopic about the South African leader known as Madiba could make a Long Walk to the Oscars.

19. "47 Ronin"
Release Date: Dec. 25
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Rinko Kikuchi, Hiroyuki Sanada
Director: Carl Rinsch
The Scoop: After spending the better part of the past decade in smaller, more character-driven fare, Keanu Reeves (who also directs the new martial arts actioner "Man of Tai Chi") appears in his biggest spectacle since "The Matrix" trilogy. He stars as a last-samurai of sorts leading the charge against evil forces both mortal and mythological. Whoa.

18. "The Book Thief"
Release Date: Nov. 8
Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson
Director: Brian Percival
The Scoop: It's been described as the most "unusual" plot of the season: A young Jewish girl in Nazi Germany steals books and shares them with others during WWII; the unusual part: The whole thing's narrated by Death. We're tempted to say, imagine "Life is Beautiful" meets "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey," but that sounds all sorts of wrong.

17. "Oldboy"
Release Date: Nov. 27
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Spike Lee
The Scoop: Fans of Chan-wook Park's 2003 cult classic appear cautiously optimistic when it comes to Spike Lee's English-language remake about a man mysteriously kidnapped and incarcerated by a shadowy figure before eventually (and just as mysteriously) he's set free 20 years later. With "Inside Man," Spike Lee proved he knew how to get the best bang out of big bucks, and early word is that it's just as dark, twisty and effed up as the original.

16. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
Release Date: Dec. 25
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott
Director: Ben Stiller
The Scoop: This long-in-the-works fantastical drama (based on the short story – about a man who daydreams adventures, then sets out on one – that also inspired the 1947 Danny Kaye film) drew mixed reactions from critical circles at the New York Film Festival, but even the naysayers agreed it could be a holiday smash with audiences. There's something about it that recalls past crowdpleasers like "Forrest Gump" and "Benjamin Button."

15. "Nebraska"
Release Date: Nov. 22
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte
Director: Alexander Payne
The Scoop: Alexander Payne may be the Cornhusker state's proudest native son. After setting "Election" and "About Schmidt" there, the director (working off of someone else's script for the first time) finally just makes a movie with the state as its title. This black-and-white drama finds Bruce Dern and Will Forte as a father-son duo on a road trip to claim a million dollar sweepstakes prize.

14. "About Time"
Release Date: Nov. 1 (limited); Nov. 8 (wide)
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy
Director: Richard Curtis
The Scoop: Ladies may go ga-ga over Ryan Gosling and Hugh Grant, but Richard Curtis is the wizard behind the curtain. He's written "Love Actually," "Notting Hill" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral." Curtis has called "About Time," the latest in a weirdly long trend of time-traveling romance movies, his last movie. But hey maybe he'll go back in time and write and direct some more.

13. "Dallas Buyer's Club"
Release Date: Nov. 1 (limited)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
The Scoop: The Resurrection of McConaughey (or as its known around these parts, The McConaughssaince) continues with this highly acclaimed retelling of a real-life, straight Texas man's plight to combat the AIDS epidemic in the '80s by running a cartel that distributed underground, untested meds. The Texan actor shed an impressive 50 pounds for the job. Have McConaughey and a cross-dressing Jared Leto on your radar for Oscar nominations? Be a lot cooler if ya did.

12. "Ender's Game"
Release Date: Nov. 1
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Harrison Ford
Director: Gavin Hood
The Scoop: Now that all of the controversy over its source material author's anti-gay views is out of the way (for now, we think), fans of the popular YA adventure can enjoy the ride. "Ender's Game," like "The Hunger Games," depicts futuristic teen violence while stoking its young viewers to meditate on the morality of war. And it stars Harrison Ford, which means we've also gotten some gloriously awkward Harrison Ford interviews out of it.

11. "August: Osage County"
Release Date: Dec. 25 (limited)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor
Director: John Wells
The Scoop: Another film that debuted at a high-profile fest (Toronto) to mixed reviews, this ensemble drama about a highly dysfunctional Oklahoma family will still have no trouble reeling in hordes of fans of the popular play its based upon. Julia Roberts' presence won't hurt, and the movie looks primed to earn Meryl Streep (for her lead as an unsentimental matriarch) either her 18th or 181st Oscar nomination. We've lost count.

10. "Frozen"
Release Date: Nov. 27
Starring: Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel
Directors: Chris Bell, Jennifer Lee
The Scoop: First let's take a moment to agree that Kristen Bell is the most adorable actress in Hollywood. Now that that's out of the way, Bell finally gets her wish of voicing a Disney princess in this bone-chilling but heartwarming toon loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen." An easy frontrunner for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars.

9. "Saving Mr. Banks"
Release Date: Dec. 13 (limited); Dec. 25 (wide)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell
Director: John Lee Hancock
The Scoop: Tom Hanks is the quirkball man of legend, Walt Disney. Emma Thompson is the not-so easily entertained English author P.L. Travers. Together, they'll make movie magic, but the question remains: Will it be as much fun watching a film about the making of "Mary Poppins" as it would be just re-watching "Mary Poppins"? Early reviews say it's supercallifragilisticexpialidocious (or something).

8. "Her"
Release Date: Dec. 18 (limited); Jan. 10 (wide)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Spike Jonze
The Scoop: Speaking of quirkballs, the surrealistic stylings of Spike Jonze (the visionary writer-director behind "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation") returns with this offbeat romantic-dramedy about a writer (Joaquin Phoenix) who develops very real feelings for his operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Surely a relatable tale for anyone with a Siri fetish.

7. "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Release Date: Dec. 6 (limited); Dec. 20 (wide)
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
The Scoop: The Coen brothers' first film in three years is closer in tone to their "more personal" work ("A Serious Man") than the cattle gun/ wood chipper-featuring tales of other bloodier adventures past, focusing in on a folk singer (Oscar Isaac) in 1960s Greenwich Village. Not like the Coen bros. needed to impress us anymore, but if anything, this music-tinged drama shows their remarkable range.

6. "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"
Release Date: Dec. 13
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Orlando Bloom
Director: Peter Jackson
The Scoop: Sure, "An Unexpected Journey" was an unexpected disappointment (maybe we saw it in a few too many frames?) and there are 24 titles on this list better than "Desolation of Smaug," but don't bet on Peter Jackson to muck up Middle-earth twice. Now that the Kiwi dreamweaver has set the tone for his second Tolkien trilogy, look for the magic of "LOTR" to be rediscovered. Oh and did we mention Benedict Cumberbatch plays a dragon?

5. "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues"
Release Date: Dec. 20
Starring: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner
Director: Adam McKay
The Scoop: Sweet Lincoln's mullet, we're in a glass case of emotion just thinking about the return of Ron Burgundy (arguably Will Ferrell's best character) and his Channel 4 news team as they move into the '80s and the 24-hour news cycle for the most highly anticipated comedy sequel in eons. All the main players are back, Kristen Wiig and Harrison Ford join the fun, and there are cameos rumored from Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Tina Fey, Kanye West and pretty much everyone else in Hollywood. We really love the chances of this one. Also, lamp. We love lamp.

4. "Thor: The Dark World"
Release Date: Nov. 8
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman
Director: Alan Taylor
The Scoop: The title to Part II in the God of Thunder's adventures serves a double purpose. Much of the action moves to Thor's hometown of Asgard, where the strapping Norse hero must battle dark elf Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston), while also maintaining that long-distance relationship with his Earthling girlfriend (Natalie Portman). But like many of our recent superhero adventures, it also indicates a broodier tone, one that is properly orchestrated by new helmer Alan Taylor ("Game of Thrones").

3. "American Hustle"
Release Date: Dec. 13 (limited); Dec. 18 (wide)
Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence
Director: David O. Russell
The Scoop: David O. Russell essentially combines the casts of his previous two efforts, "The Fighter" (Christian Bale, Amy Adams) and "Silver Linings Playbook" (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence) -- plus a Jeremy Renner -- for this stylish and vibrant story loosely based on a crazy-but-real FBI pinch in the late '70s and early '80s. Sideburns and bellbottoms could be all the rage at the Oscars once again this year, and we are so ready to do the "Hustle."

2. "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
Release Date: Nov. 22
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Director: Francis Lawrence
The Scoop: "Catching Fire" hit an early snag when director Gary Ross bowed out, but all is reportedly very copacetic in Panem with new shot-caller Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend"). More prestigious players (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin) have climbed aboard, and the effects have been upgraded thanks to new production maestros and a much higher budget. It's all resulting in early word is this potential record breaker is superior to the first; there are a few fans out there that won't mind that one bit.

1. "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Release Date: Dec. 25
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey
Director: Martin Scorsese
The Scoop: Scorsese and DiCaprio are the new Scorsese and De Niro, and their fifth collaboration about stockbroking excess in the '90s is the movie about Wall Street we've been waiting for since, well, "Wall Street" (sorry, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps"). We may have suffered a minor panic when it looked like the film would be delayed (it was ultimately pushed from Nov. 15 to Christmas Day), but the film's back on track for this year and odds are it'll be right on the money.

Follow Kevin Polowy on Twitter (@djkevlar).

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