Top 10 of 2014


Top 10 of 2014For most of the year, I asserted that this was kind of a down year for movies in terms of quality and to a lesser degree, of box office as well. Although there have been some really good movies that would be contenders for the best movie of the year in any year, I still think that overall there were fewer movies that had the slam dunk quality overall of years past.

Still, the movies on this top 10 list were all of very high quality and you won’t go wrong in watching any of them. I was pleased to see that there were a number of indie movies that really stepped up the game; in fact, I think it’s a safe bet to call this the Year of the Indie. While some of these are indies in name only, distributed by major studios who have developed distribution arm for foreign films and smaller scale American films produced outside of the studios (i.e. Fox Searchlight, Sony Classics and Paramount Vantage), plenty are true indies with no financing or distribution from a major.

We continue to see a migration of traditional distribution in which movies received a theatrical release, followed about six months later by a home video release and ending up with a premium cable release about a year after the initial theatrical release. That is no longer the case as people are more and more watching films at home rather than in theaters. Some of the major indie distributors like Magnolia and IFC are releasing their films in On-Demand format concurrently with their theatrical release (and often ahead of it) which makes good fiscal sense for them. Mid-majors like Weinstein and Lionsgate have begun to follow suit. Universal even decided to release the acclaimed Joe Carnahan film Stretch into on-demand without a theatrical release which is a bit disturbing but sensible as well. We might see marginal studio films going that route more often in the future.

As with previous years, you can learn more about each movie on the top 10 list by clicking on the title to access my initial review, or clicking on the photo of the movie to go to the movie’s website or Facebook page when available. The information given should be self-explanatory. This year we’re also adding the top 10 films’ Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores as of the date I write the blurbs.

As always, the list is entirely arbitrary. How I rank these movies today isn’t necessarily how I would rank them tomorrow. I am also ignoring half-points from the initial ratings so you might see a 9.0 ranked ahead of a 9.5. It’s my list. Deal with it. In any case, at the end of the day the order the films are ranked in is unimportant save for the number one movie of the year. The thing to remember is that all of these films including the honorable mention films are all of the highest quality and you can’t go wrong seeing any of them. Hopefully this list will suggest a few to you that you might have missed during the year or didn’t get distribution in your home town. Many of them will be already out on home video or VOD, while a few may still be in your local theaters. Do yourself a favor and try and see as many of these as you can. You won’t regret it.

HONORABLE MENTION

There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. I didn’t include links here but if you want to read my reviews of any of these, simply type in the title into the search field and have at it. So, in no particular order;

The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Wind Rises, The Babadook, Before I Disappear, Ida, The Trip to Italy, Doomsdays, Tim’s Vermeer, Copenhagen, Chef, Bad Words, The Final Member, The Zero Theorem, The Devil’s Knot, The Railway Man, Cold in July, Blue Ruin, The Fluffy Movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Interstellar, The Boxtrolls, The Good Lie, Birdman, Foxchaser, Wild, Slingshot, Ernest and Celestine, The Lunchbox, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The LEGO Movie, Locke, Force Majeure, Life Itself.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier10. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

(Disney/Marvel) Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, Toby Jones, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Hayley Atwell. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Released April 3, 2014 Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America fresh from saving New York City from an alien invasion is an integral part of SHIELD, protecting the world and particularly the United States, from threats too powerful for local law enforcement to handle. But something is attacking SHIELD from within and Rogers, who knows nobody from this era after having been frozen in the Arctic for nearly half a century, doesn’t know who to trust or what to believe. He’s a black and white kind of guy in a shades of grey world.
WHY IT IS HERE: Hearkens back to the political thrillers of the 1970s coupled with a modern special effects-laden action film. Was the box office champion for much of 2014 until a Marvel mate came to take the crown from Cap. But more importantly, people began to see that Marvel movies could be a lot more than superhero films.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Cap takes out an elevator full of would-be assassins.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 70/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $259.8 million domestic, $714.1M total (as of 1/13/15).
BUDGET: $170 million
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Vudu/Amazon. Stream on Vudu/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray on Netflix.

Whiplash9. WHIPLASH

(Sony Classics) Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Chris Mulkey, Damon Gupton, Suanne Spoke, Max Kasch, Charlie Ian, Jayson Blair, Kofi Siriboe, Kavita Patil. Directed by Damien Chazelle

Released October 10, 2014 A driven young jazz drummer attending a prestigious music conservatory in New York City yearns to be the best, and in order to do that will have to make sacrifices. Taken under the wing of a stern taskmaster of an instructor, the two strong wills meet head on as Chazelle asks us to consider at what point the price of greatness becomes too dear.
WHY IT IS HERE: Newcomer Chazelle has delivered a taut, engaging movie in which two performances take front and center. Teller proves that he can be a compelling lead actor, while veteran character actor Simmons delivers the performance of his career for which he has already won a Golden Globe and is the odds-on favorite for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar next month.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Andrew’s drum solo in a situation in which he had been set up to fail, yet ends up triumphing despite the adversity.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 88/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $6.2 million domestic, $7.1M total (as of 1/13/15),.
BUDGET: $3.3 million
STATUS: Scheduled for home video release on February 24. Digital download pre-order available on Vudu.

Gone Girl8. GONE GIRL

(20th Century Fox) Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Patrick Fugit, Carrie Coon, David Clennon, Lisa Barnes, Missi Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski, Casey Wilson, Lola Kirke, Boyd Holbrook, Sela Ward. Directed by David Fincher

Released October 2, 2014 When his wife disappears, Nick Dunne fears the worst – maybe she’s been kidnapped or possibly, given the blood at the scene of the crime – murdered. But when signs point to Nick being the killer, suddenly the sympathy he’d been receiving turns to something else. Almost nobody believes him. However, even Nick doesn’t suspect what’s going on and who’s behind it.
WHY IT IS HERE: One of the big box office hits of 2014 took a lot of people by surprise. Fox did a masterful job of marketing the film without revealing its twists and turns. Fincher directs it masterfully, making sure that everything that happens onscreen has a reason for it. Pike got a Golden Globe nomination for her star-making performance and may well net an Oscar nom as well.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: I can’t reveal too much about the scene without spoiling the surprises but let’s just call it “NPH gets lucky…or does he?”
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 79/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $167.2 million domestic (as of 1/14/15), $365.4M total.
BUDGET: $61 million
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon/Vudu/Target Ticket. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/Vudu/iTunes/Target Ticket.

The Imitation Game7. THE IMITATION GAME

(Weinstein) Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Alan Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, James Northcote, Tom Goodman-Hill, Steven Waddington, Ilan Goodman, Jack Tarlton. Directed by Morten Tyldum

Released November 28, 2014 The story of Alan Turing wasn’t a particularly happy one. A brilliant mathematician with a lifelong passion for cyphers, he was enlisted by the British Army during the Second World War to crack what was then thought to be an unbreakable code – Enigma. The Germans used it for all their communication and the Allies were losing the war largely because of it. The socially awkward Alan has a secret of his own – and that secret might just lose the war for the Allies altogether.
WHY IT IS HERE: Well-acted throughout, with an Oscar-worthy performance by Cumberbatch in the lead role, with Knightley giving some fine support. The movie is told as something of a wartime thriller, but it’s so much more. The agonizing decisions that Turing had to make in order to make his machine work and then on keeping their progress hidden from the Germans is truly heart-wrenching.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: An a-ha moment that leads to a breakthrough.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $41.0 million domestic (as of 1/14/15), $81.9M total..
BUDGET: $14 million.
STATUS: Still in wide release.

Mission Congo6. MISSION CONGO

(C-Colony) Pat Robertson, Robert Hinkle, Jessie Pott. Directed by David Turner and Laura Zizic

Released April 5, 2014 A compelling documentary that looks at televangelist Pat Robertson and his humanitarian aid program Operation Blessing. Ostensibly sending medical supplies and personnel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as Zaire) to help aid the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Rwanda which was then in the throes of a civil war and genocide, the filmmakers contend that Robertson’s prime focus was mining diamonds and not saving lives.
WHY IT IS HERE: While decidedly one-sided (Robertson was invited to be interviewed but declined – he’s steadfastly denied the charges) the evidence is presented in an organized and thoughtful manner. Using tax returns, archival footage and eyewitness accounts, the filmmakers put together a pretty damning case against the preacher.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The footage showing the real places supposedly helped by Operation Blessing and how the reality differs greatly from how Operation Blessing portrays things.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: No information available.
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Not available. May still be playing the festival circuit.

The Kill Team5. THE KILL TEAM

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Adam Winfield, Jeremy Morlock, Justin Stoner, Andrew Holmes, Chris Winfield, Emma Winfield, Eric Montalvo. Directed by Dan Krauss

Released April 6, 2014 Some may remember a few years back a squadron of soldiers that was brought up on charges of unjustifiably murdering Afghan civilians and keeping human remains as souvenirs of their misdeeds. This is a documentary about the men in that squadron, how they were hung out to dry by the Army who denied the atrocities that they were later to have proven that they committed had actually happened.
WHY IT IS HERE: A very gripping look at one of the less savory incidents of the war. We focus mainly on Winfield, who tried to blow the whistle on what was happening but instead ended up in prison. This illustrates how officers are treated differently than enlisted men, how CYA is a military code in and of itself and how innocents get caught in the middle. The very best documentary of 2014, a year in which great documentaries were the norm and a Florida Film Festival favorite.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The aftermath of the sentencing of Adam Winfield.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $18,983 domestic (as of 1/16/14), $18,983 worldwide.
BUDGET: Not available
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Vudu/Amazon. Rent DVD from Netflix. Stream from iTunes/Vudu/Amazon.

Guardians of the Galaxy4, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

(Disney/Marvel) Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Lee Pace, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Rooker, Benicio del Toro, Karen Gillan, Josh Brolin. Directed by James Gunn

Released August 1, 2014 A group of misfits, criminals and genetic mistakes are all that stands between the universe and a power-mad fanatic who has hold of one of the most powerful artifacts in reality. Led by the displaced human Peter Quill – who prefers to be called Star Lord – the beautiful and deadly assassin Gamora, the sentient tree Groot, the genetically enhanced Rocket Raccoon and the vengeful strong man Drax the Destroyer, these five will stand against Ronan the Accuser and the machinations of the evil Thanos – and the Infinity Gem.
WHY IT IS HERE: Spectacle, action, comedy, pathos – this film has it all. The box office champion of 2014 (although that will have likely changed by the time this is published, or at least shortly thereafter), this proves that Marvel can take some of their most obscure properties and make huge box office hits out of them. Some have said this will end up being the Star Wars for this generation. Okay, well, that was me that said it. In any case, Da Queen would kill me if this didn’t at least make my Top 5.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: One of the Guardians mourns a fallen comrade.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $333.2 million domestic (as of 1/20/15), $772.8 million total.
BUDGET: $170 million.
STATUS: Available on home video. Download from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Target Ticket. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Target Ticket.

Her3, HER

(Warner Brothers) Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson (voice), Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Kristen Wiig (voice), Bill Hader (voice). Directed by Spike Jonze

Released January 10, 2014 In the near future, we rely on computers more than ever and it takes a powerful operating system to keep up with demand. When a new OS with the capacity for learning debuts, it hits some people like a ton of bricks. For Theodore Twombly is in love – with his operating system.
WHY IT IS HERE: Although it came out for an Oscar qualifying run in December 2013, most of the country didn’t get to see it until January. Shaply funny in places with a wit and an eye for our modern social media obsessed culture. This would have ended up on last year’s even harder to crack top 10 if we’d had the opportunity to see it in December.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Theo and Samantha have a steamy bedtime conversation.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 90/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $25.6 million domestic (as of 1/20/15), $47.4 million total.
BUDGET: $23 million.
STATUS: Available on home video and on HBO. Download from Amazon/iTunes/Flixster/Vudu. Stream from iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix.

The Double2. THE DOUBLE

(Magnolia) Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor, James Fox, Cathy Moriarty, J. Mascis. Directed by Richard Ayoade

Released May 9, 2014 Simon is a mousy but hard-working office drone has an existence of invisibility; people forget that he’s worked there for seven years and the girl of his dreams won’t even give him a second glance. All that changes when James starts working in the office. James is everything that  Simon is not – self-confident, charismatic and irresistible to women. However, James is also everything that Simon is – an exact physical double. And, to Simon’s despair, he is taking over Simon’s life.
WHY IT IS HERE: Yeah, I know that the retro-futurist look is nothing new but few movies take advantage of it as well as this one, and none since Brazil in an office environment. Eisenberg delivers the kind of performance that serves notice that he’s not a nebbish-y kid anymore. This was the best narrative film from this year’s Florida Film Festival and my favorite overall.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Some cops talk to Simon about the chances he’ll commit suicide.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $200,406 (as of 1/21/15), $1.7 million total.
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Available on home video. Download on Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Target Ticket. Stream on Netflix/Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Target Ticket. Rent Blu-Ray/DVD on Netflix.

Boyhood1. BOYHOOD

(IFC) Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Steven Prince, Bonnie Cross, Marco Perella, Libby Villari. Directed by Richard Linklater

Released July 11, 2014 We capture the life of a young boy growing into a young man over a 12-year period. Young Mason, his single mom, his sister Samantha and his dad cope with the vagaries of being a divorced family, through abusive stepdads, periods of acting out, attempts to find himself as he goes through high school and prepares for college. Filmed over a period of 12 years with the same cast and much of the same crew makes the aging process natural and believable.
WHY IT IS HERE: If Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel were still alive, I believe they’d both likely vote this the film of the decade or at least one of them. This is the ultimate slice of life film and Linklater deserves all the accolades he’s received for this movie. There are no mysteries, no explosions, no contrived romances – but nonetheless this movie pulls you in and affects you deeply, thanks to some wonderful performances and Coltrane’s natural abilities. Sometimes the universe lines up in such a way that everything works the way you hope it would – this is one such instance.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: There are several but there’s a conversation between Mason and his dad at a graduation party which is priceless.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 100/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $24.6 million domestic (as of 1/21/15), $43.8M total.
BUDGET: $4 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Flixster. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Flixster.

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Wild


Reese Witherspoon thinks she's found a place without paparazzi but she's keeping an eye out anyway.

Reese Witherspoon thinks she’s found a place without paparazzi but she’s keeping an eye out anyway.

(2014) Biographical Drama (Fox Searchlight) Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, W. Earl Brown, Kevin Rankin, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffman, Keene McRae, Brian van Holt, Cliff De Young, Mo McRae, Will Cuddy, Leigh Parker, Nick Eversman, Ray Mist, Randy Schulman, Cathryn de Prume, Kurt Conroyd, Ted De Chatelet, Jeffee Newman, Art Alexakis, Beth Hall. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee

Sometimes life throws things at us that we just can’t bear. We make bad choices because of it, go down paths we were never meant to explore and find ourselves lost. Few people can find their way back from these deviations from course.

Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) is a young 26-year-old woman starting an 1,100-mile hike on the rugged but beautiful Pacific Crest Trail which starts at the Mexican border and ends at the Canadian. She only plans on going from the southern terminus into Ashland, Oregon but it’s still a daunting prospect, considering she has virtually no experience whatsoever with long distance hiking.

Cheryl has had some tough times of late. Her mom (Dern) passed away suddenly of cancer. She descended into heroin addiction and unprotected sex with multiple partners. Her marriage to Paul (Sadoski) has ended in divorce. Her life was a mess and she knew it. She felt that she needed to clear all the toxins out of her system by “walking it out” as her mother would have put it. So she decided that, having seen a book on the trail in her local bookstore in Minnesota that this would be her best way to get herself out of the world for a little while, get herself right and move on with her life.

The way isn’t without challenges. Her first day only nets her five miles in a harsh desert climate – at that rate it would take her 220 days to finish her hike – or about 130 more than she thought. She has difficulty setting up her tent – it takes her hours. Then she figures out that she has purchased the wrong fuel for her cookstove, meaning that she’ll have to eat her dehydrated meals as a cold mush. Not particularly appealing. She’s also managed to get boots that are too tight and are causing some major issues.

There are other pitfalls as well, many of them human – men who want to get into her pants, by flattery or by force. She feels incredibly lonely and there is little to do but think about what got her there in the first place. With a bulldog-like persistence and a toughness that would surprise anyone who thought this petite blonde had any in her, she adapts and overcomes, winning over admirers on the trail – but the question is will this be enough to change her life?

Vallee, whose last film (Dallas Buyers Club) won Oscars for Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, might just repeat that feat here. Witherspoon with already one statuette to her credit for Walk the Line is absolutely wonderful here, eschewing Hollywood glamour for the realism of trail life and the tawdry existence that preceded it. She is in nearly every scene, often alone, This is her film to carry and carry it she does, imbuing Cheryl with vulnerability which eventually becomes an inner toughness.

Dern also turns in an award-worthy performance as the optimistic mom who has enough inner strength to raise two children alone after leaving an abusive alcoholic husband. She is reinventing herself when her life takes a tragic turn but for the most part she remains a breath of fresh air throughout, trying to soldier on despite having almost no money. She is representative of a million single moms out there, although I would have to say that I don’t think many would have the sort of life philosophy that Bobbi (Cheryl’s mom) had.

Vallee tells the story mainly through a sequence of flashbacks which take many different forms. Some are mere flashes, only lasting a second or two while others are fully formed scenes that play in Cheryl’s mind. Others are things her mind is on concurrent to the events of her hike, happening silently. Cheryl narrates from her journal and leaves messages at way stations, quoting diverse authors and poets. She becomes something of a celebrity on the trail, being one of the few women hiking alone and certainly the only one hiking alone on as much of it as she is.

The cinematography by Yves Belanger is breathtaking, but then again he has quite the canvas to work with. The music is simple and non-treacly, often using popular songs by artists like Paul Simon and the Hollies to pull the story along. Nick Hornsby’s script is smart and well-reasoned for the most part but one of the main objections I have to the movie is the lack of connection from A to B to C. We know that Cheryl sinks into a morass of alcohol, heroin and unprotected sex after her mom passes away but we don’t see how that happens; one moment she’s caring for her mom, the next she’s finding out she passed away, the next she’s sitting in a bar trolling for men and the next she’s shooting up. We see the descent in bits and pieces, like a book with pages missing. The ascent is much more drawn out.

While this isn’t the best film to come out in 2014, it has some of the best performances in it. Witherspoon alone is reason enough to catch this movie in theaters while it’s still out there – the scenery is also best seen on a big screen. Definitely one that should be on your must-see list this season.

REASONS TO GO: A searing performance by Witherspoon, nearly certain to get an Oscar nomination if not the win and Dern may well join her. Gorgeous cinematography. Incredible story.
REASONS TO STAY: Never really get a sense of why Cheryl moves from one mindset to another.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of sexual content, a fair amount of nudity, some drug use and a good deal of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Cheryl Strayed appears in the film as the woman driving the truck who drops off Reese Witherspoon at the beginning of the film. Also, the daughter of Cheryl Strayed plays Cheryl as a little girl in the film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/3/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tracks
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

New Releases for the Week of December 19, 2014


The Hobbit The Battle of the Five ArmiesTHE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES

(New Line/MGM) Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Jed Brophy, Stephen Fry, Ian Holm. Directed by Peter Jackson

The journey of Bilbo Baggins comes to an end as the greed of Thorin Oakenshield puts the fragile peace of Middle Earth at risk whilst in Mordor a shadow stirs, awaiting the presence of the One Ring. In the meantime, with Smaug wreaking havoc on Middle Earth, armies of orcs, elves and humans converge upon the Lonely Mountain. Can the three races unite to defeat the forces of darkness,?

See the trailer, clips, interviews, footage from the world premiere and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images)

Annie

(Columbia) Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne. A painfully cheerful and terminally optimistic orphan literally runs into a cynical New York City billionaire who is also running for mayor in a hotly contested race. Realizing that his association with the plucky little girl is helping his cause, he decides to spend more time with her. But gradually she wears him down and pulls from inside him the best part of who he can be. Based on the 1982 movie which in itself was based on the hit Broadway musical.

See the trailer, clips and a music video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for some mild language and rude humor)

Night at the Museum: Curse of the Tomb

(20th Century Fox) Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Ben Kingsley, Rebel Wilson. The wax figures that come to life after the New York Museum of Natural History closes are in big trouble; the magic that animates them is beginning to fade. Desperate to save his friends, Larry the security guard races around the globe to find out what’s happening and reverse it before the magic is gone forever.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Comedy Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for mild action, some rude humor and brief language)

PK

(UTV) Aamir Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Anushka Sharma, Boman Irani. A mysterious stranger comes into the city, asking questions nobody usually bothers to act. He has a strange, child-like quality that is endearing to some and troubling to others. His journey will take him into a world of love, laughter and letting go.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Point and Shoot

(The Orchard) Matthew Vandyke. An American who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, eager to find what adventure is left in the world gets on his motorcycle and takes off to North Africa. His road trip takes him to places and situations he could never have prepared himself for, including fighting in the Libyan Revolution – and being captured and held prisoner for six months.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks

Rating: NR

Wild

(Fox Searchlight) Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman. Based on the true story of Cheryl Strayed, a woman whose heroin addiction, reckless behavior and sexual promiscuity led to the destruction of her marriage. Having hit rock bottom in every sense of the word, she impulsively decides to hike the thousand mile Pacific Crest Trail despite having no experience in it and being woefully unprepared. Channeling the memory of her mother, she sets out with only the force of her will to see her through. Witherspoon is considered a lock to garner a Best Actress nomination for her performance here.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village, Regal Oviedo Mall and other local theaters
Rating: R (for sexual content, nudity, drug use and language)

Four-Warned: December 2014


The Hobbit: Battle of the Five ArmiesEvery month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Most of the movies will never play theatrically where you live (unless you live in either New York or Los Angeles) but many of those that won’t will be available through Video-on-Demand; check with your local cable or satellite providers to find out if any specific movie is available through that medium.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (1.0)
2. BIG EYES (1.3)
3. UNBROKEN (1.4)
4. EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (1.5)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. SHE’S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE’S ANGRY (1.3)
2. WILD (1.4)
TIE. MR. TURNER (1.4)
TIE. MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORK OF ORSON WELLES (1.4)
TIE. LEVIATHAN (1.4)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

DECEMBER 2, 2014

A FIELD FULL OF SECRETS (Gravitas) Genre: Documentary. A filmmaker and an eccentric transsexual inventor believe that they have found the blueprints for a spacecraft in the combining of crop circles. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Kooky concept but no trailer.

DECEMBER 3, 2014

WILD (Fox Searchlight) Genre: True Life Drama. The amazing true story of a woman, haunted by bad decisions, drug abuse and the memory of her mother, who sets out to cleanse herself by hiking the thousand mile Pacific Crest Trail alone despite having no experience at it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Looks like potentially another Oscar nomination for Reese Witherspoon.
ZERO MOTIVATION (Zeitgeist) Genre: Comedy. A platoon of female Israeli soldiers fight boredom, sexism and ill-fitting uniforms in the hopes of getting transferred to Tel Aviv. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 What looks to be an affectionate but comedic look at the Israeli military, feminism and bureaucracy in general.

DECEMBER 5, 2014

THE BAREFOOT ARTIST (Paladin) Genre: Documentary. Artist Lily Yeh determines to create art installations in the most impoverished communities around the world. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 A portrait of an amazing soul.
THE BEAST (IFC Midnight) Genre: Drama. A young woman can’t get enough of the massively endowed beach that regularly ravishes her in the forest, her libido extending to the French country estate in which she resides. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 The first of a pair of erotic releases from maverick Polish director Walerian Borowczyk from the 70s making their way to American screens only now.
COMET (IFC) Genre: Romance. The story of a pair of star-crossed lovers is told in non-chronological order. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Looks kind of dream-like and maybe a little pretentious but the attractive couple of Justin Long and Emmy Rossum may overcome all that.
DYING OF THE LIGHT (Lionsgate) Genre: Spy Thriller. A CIA agent, ordered to retire, goes rogue when he discovers that his nemesis has resurfaced. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks kind of like a standard Nicolas Cage B-movie action film.
INSIDE THE MIND OF LEONARDO 3D (Submarine Deluxe) Genre: Documentary. Perhaps the greatest genius of the Renaissance and of all time, the painter/scientist/engineer/inventor/sculptor/architect/etc. is given a unique biography utilizing modern 3D technology.. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 Unfortunately, couldn’t get the trailer in 3D to get a look at the film as it’s meant to be seen but having the current Dr. Who Peter Capaldi playing Leonardo has to be a good thing.
LIFE PARTNERS (Magnolia) Genre: Comedy. When a sheltered young woman finds a man to fall in love with, her bestie tries to maintain their relationship despite her friend’s new-found love. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Really looks kind of like a typical indie romantic comedy but it might surprise me nonetheless.
MURDER OF A CAT (Gravitas) Genre: Comedy. When action figure designer Clinton’s cat is seemingly senselessly murdered, he determines to find his cat’s killer, uncovering a town-wide conspiracy that he could never have conceived of. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Might be trying too hard to be zany.
PIONEER (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. Hell bent on being the first to reach the bottom of the North Sea, a professional diver agrees to take on a dangerous job for an oil company, not realizing the powerful forces in play that may be putting his life at stake. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Another great film coming from Norway; what’s getting into the water there?
POKER NIGHT (XLRator) Genre: Thriller. A rookie detective is kidnapped by a sadistic thrill killer and in order to survive the night must utilize the wisdom imparted to him by veteran cops at their regular poker game in order to survive. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Might be interesting with a pretty nifty cast but the trailer looked generic.
THE PYRAMID (20th Century Fox) Genre: Horror. The discovery of a previously unexplored pyramid in the Egyptian desert awakens an ancient evil. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 Looks a little bit too much like The Ruin for me.
SHE’S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE’S ANGRY (International Film Circuit) Genre: Documentary. The formation of the women’s movement and the rise of feminism is documented here. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 Given the assault on women’s reproductive rights from the religious right, this couldn’t be more timely.
STILL ALICE (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. At the height of a brilliant career as a linguist, a woman contracts Alzheimer’s. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (expands January 16). RATING: 2.5 Very much looking forward to this one but no trailer yet.
TAKE CARE (eOne) Genre: Romantic Comedy. After an accident leaves her immobilized, a young woman calls on an ex-boyfriend for help, only to be reminded of why they broke up in the first place. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 There seems to be a lot of films with this theme coming out in the indie ranks lately.

DECEMBER 10, 2014

MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORK OF ORSON WELLES (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Documentary. Welles is arguably one of the greatest filmmakers and writers of his day. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Can’t wait to see this one.

DECEMBER 12, 2014

AFTER THE FALL (EOne) Genre: Drama. In order to support his family, a suburban dad takes to a life of crime. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 A parable of modern economics and perhaps a warning that people driven into a corner with nothing more to lose may do desperate things.
THE CAPTIVE (A24) Genre: Thriller. The disappearance of a young girl destroys the marriage of her parents with her mother believing her father had something to do with it; when a pair of detectives believe they’ve seen images of her alive years later, the father obsessively tries to find her again, looking for his own redemption and the restoration of his relationship with his wife. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 A different kind of role for Ryan Reynolds and I kinda like it; having Atom Egoyan directing is always a good thing.
THE COLOR OF TIME (Starz Digital Media) Genre: Biographical Drama. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet C.K. Williams struggles with the demons of his past as he prepares for a reading in New York. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Has an excellent cast (including James Franco, Mila Kunis, Jessica Chastain and Henry Hopper) but looks a tad pretentious in the trailer.
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Biblical Drama. Two brothers growing up sons of the Pharaoh end up opposing each other; one as the successor to the crown, the other as liberator of the Hebrew slaves. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Ridley Scott’s take on The Ten Commandments.
FREE THE NIPPLE (IFC) Genre: Dramedy. A group of women in New York including Miley Cyrus protest topless, asking why the media will show violence uncensored but refuses to show the female breast. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 After putting aside all the juvenile titillation comments, the core question is a legitimate one; a dramatization of a real movement.
IMMORAL TALES (IFC Midnight) Genre: Drama. Four tales of softcore erotica through various ages and locations. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.4 The second re-release this month of a lost erotic classic by Polish director Walerian Borowczyk.
INHERENT VICE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Comedy Thriller. The tale of a drug-addled investigator looking into a complicated plot to kidnap a billionaire in the 1960s and commit him to an asylum, giving his wife control of his assets. Release Strategy: Limited (opens in Wide release January 9). RATING: 2.3 Paul Thomas Anderson adapts Thomas Pynchon? Either a cinematic must-see or a magnificent disaster.
LITTLE FEET (Factory 25) Genre: Drama. Two children decide to take their goldfish from their Los Angeles home to the ocean, an odyssey in which they’ll meet some unique characters. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Definite film festival fodder but beautifully photographed in black and white, with the children of director Alexandre Rockwell starring.
R 100 (Drafthouse) Genre: Dramedy. An ordinary office drone in Japan joins a mysterious club in which there is only one rule; you cannot quit for an entire year. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 A sexy look at pleasure and pain that reminded me a bit of Eyes Wide Shut from director Hitoshi Matsumoto.
TOP FIVE (Paramount) Genre: Comedy. After leaving behind a career in stand-up after being voted the best at it in the world, an encounter with a reporter leads a comic to re-evaluate his stance. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Written and directed by Chris Rock, this might be the movie that defines his career.
WE ARE THE GIANT (Music Box) Genre: Documentary. Activists in the Arab Spring are profiled, not only chronicling their activities during that period in 2010 but how their lives have been affected since. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 A hopeful reminder that when people unite they can change anything – and everything.

DECEMBER 17, 2014

GOODBYE TO ALL THAT (IFC) Genre: Dramedy. After being unexpectedly informed by his wife that she wants a divorce, her husband must put both feet forward into a dating scene that’s changed radically from when he was single. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Has been making waves on the festival circuit and with a great cast and a funny/charming trailer could be a sleeper indie hit.
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (New Line) Genre: Fantasy. The conclusion of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.0 While it hasn’t had the acclaim and box office of the LOTR trilogy, the finale (and possibly the last cinematic visit to Middle Earth in a long time) still merits keen interest.
IF YOU DON’T, I WILL (Film Movement) Genre: Comedy. A couple that have been together a long time try to hang on to the magic but when the woman suddenly reveals during a hike that she intends to remain in the forest, the couple find themselves at a crossroads. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Two of the most popular actors in France, Mathieu Amalric and Emanuelle Devos star.

DECEMBER 19, 2014

ANNIE (Columbia) Genre: Musical. An orphan charms her way into the heart of a hard-nosed billionaire running for mayor of New York City. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 One of the rare musicals that has really left me flat; I’ll probably see this remake just for Jamie Foxx.
THE GAMBLER (Paramount) Genre: Drama. Based on a 1974 film starring James Caan, a college English professor who’s also a high-stakes gambler gets in over his head when he pits a criminal against the operator of an illegal gambling ring. Release Strategy: Limited (opens in wide release January 1). RATING: 2.2 Opening now for Academy consideration but didn’t see anything that indicated that there would be anything more than a glance for Oscar consideration.
MEDEAS (Vladar) Genre: Drama. Trying to make a go of it in a harsh economic and physical environment, a dairy farmer copes with a wife pulling away from him and her children. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 An often intense but more often frustrating art film that played the Florida Film Festival earlier this year.
MR. TURNER (Sony Classics) Genre: Biographical Drama. The story of eccentric 19th century English painter J.M.W. Turner who became one of the most popular artists of his day. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Timothy Spall is being talked up as a possible Best Actor nominee.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB (20th Century Fox) Genre: Adventure. Heroic night watchman Larry travels to London with his friends from the museum to save the fading magic that animates the exhibits after dark. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 I found the first two films charming and as this is Robin Williams’ final major studio film, there will be a bittersweet feeling to this one.
SONG OF THE SEA (GKIDS) Genre: Animated Feature. In a world of fading magic, two children make a desperate journey to the ocean. Release Strategy: New York City/Toronto. RATING: 2.0 From the director of the Oscar-nominated Secret of the Kells.
WINTER SLEEP (Adopt) Genre: Drama. Three people – a disillusioned former actor now running a small hotel, his fiery wife with whom he has a tempestuous relationship and his recently divorced sister are trapped in the hotel by a blizzard, allowing their long-simmering animosities to take flower. Release Strategy: New York City/Washington DC. RATING: 1.9 A lyrical looking film that won the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

DECEMBER 24, 2014

BELOVED SISTER (Music Box) Genre: Drama. The true story of an 18th century German poet who married one sister and maintained a romantic relationship with the other in a daring flaunting of convention that would raise eyebrows even now, 250 years later. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.3 A florid period piece but German filmmakers seem to excel at this sort of thing.
TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. After returning to work following a serious bout of depression, a woman is informed that she is to be let go but can keep her job if her fellow employees vote to allow her to – and sacrifice their bonuses in order to do it. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.6 The great Marion Cotillard stars in a movie by the Dardennes brothers, rising stars in the European filmmaking community.

DECEMBER 25, 2014

AMERICAN SNIPER (Warner Brothers) Genre: Biographical Drama. The story of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. Release Strategy: Limited (opens in Wide Release January 16). RATING: 1.9 The latest from director Clint Eastwood which is usually a slam dunk as far as I’m concerned.
BIG EYES (Weinstein) Genre: Biographical Drama. In the 1950s some of the most popular artwork was done by Walter Keane whose paintings of waifs with huge eyes became a national sensation; the trouble was that the paintings were actually done by his wife Margaret with Keane taking credit for her work. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 I’m still a Tim Burton diehard despite a couple of recent missteps but this one looks like a definite step in the right direction.
THE INTERVIEW (Columbia) Genre: Comedy. When a witless talk show host lands an interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, the CIA tries to get him and his producer to assassinate the Glorious Leader. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 While I tend to blow hot and cold with Seth Rogen’s stoner humor, this one looks genuinely funny.
INTO THE WOODS (Disney) Genre: Musical. The fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm are brought into focus in this cinematic version of a Stephen Sondheim musical. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 Sondheim is one of the greatest in Broadway history and Oscar-nominated director Rob Marshall leads an all-star cast but still I harbor some disquiet about this one.
LEVIATHAN (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A land dispute in a small Russian village causes tension in a family and the community but also exposes the flaws and corruption of the Russian legal system. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.4 Looks absolutely stunning.
SELMA (Paramount) Genre: True Life Drama. Dr. Martin Luther King decides to take a stand for African-American civil rights by conducting a march on Selma, Alabama – which will stir up violence and hatred but lead to landmark changes. Release Strategy: Limited (opens in Wide Release January 9). RATING: 2.1 I’m a little wary of these kinds of films as they often lose track of the importance of the events in favor of building the legend of the catalysts.
UNBROKEN (Universal) Genre: Biographical Drama. Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini survives a plane crash and 47 days in a raft in shark-infested waters only to be “rescued” by an Imperial Japanese warship and sent to a hellhole of a POW camp. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 Angelina Jolie’s latest directorial effort has garnered a bit of Oscar buzz.

DECEMBER 31, 2014

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (A24) Genre: Action. During the worst year of crime in city history, an immigrant arrives in New York facing a particularly uphill battle to the American dream. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Up and coming director J.C. Chandor takes on urban decay and its effect on the lives of those stuck in it.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The Pyramid, Wild, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Inherent Vice, Top 5, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Annie, The Gambler, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, American Sniper, Big Eyes, The Interview, Into the Woods, Selma, Unbroken, A Most Violent Year

2014 Fall/Holiday Preview


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It has been by all accounts a rough summer for Hollywood and theater owners in particular. The box office is down and the responsibility for that has to lie with the filmmakers; to wit, the product hasn’t really been as exciting as previous summers. Sure there have been some exceptions – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was one of the pleasant surprises, while Guardians of the Galaxy got off to a record start in August and shortly before this was published became the year’s number one hit. People flocked to see the sub-mediocre Transformers; Age of Extinction in droves, particularly overseas where record crowds pushed the movie over the billion dollar mark at the box office. With no Pixar film in the theaters this summer, the family audience stayed away from theaters for the most part this summer – even a fairly good quality How to Train Your Dragon 2 made disappointing numbers considering the lack of competition. For the most part, movies underperformed and reviews were pretty dismal for such non-blockbusters as Blended and Planes: Fire and Rescue. Even films that were blockbusters – like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Maleficent – didn’t get the kind of numbers the studios were expecting.

With Guardians and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles giving the box office a needed boost going into the football season which traditionally is fairly weak for the box office right up until the Holidays, we can look forward to a few guaranteed hits – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 for example looks to continue the hot streak of this young adult hit series. The Hobbit trilogy from Peter Jackson concludes with The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar will make Thanksgiving box office bells ring. Given all the publicity that the musical Annie has been getting from Columbia, I wouldn’t be surprised if this also made big bank.

We can look forward to some Oscar contenders as well, with early word touting Foxcatcher with Steve Carell generating Oscar buzz for the first time in his career in a dramatic role. Tim Burton’s Big Eyes will bring some attention for Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams and probably for Burton himself, while the World War II epic Fury with its ensemble cast may get Brad Pitt some face time with the Academy.

But all is not serious at the multiplex this season. Seth Rogen and James Franco re-team in The Interview, St. Vincent stars an irascible Bill Murray. Horrible Bosses 2 is bound to bring some belly laughs and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 will take us back to the future while Dumb and Dumber To reunites Jeff Daniels and Jim Carey. The sequels don’t stop there however as Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Dolphin Tale 2,The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies brings old favorites back to the screen for another go-round.

Families who might have been disappointed with the offerings this past summer will have more than a few reasons to head back to the multiplex, with Paddington, The Boxtrolls, Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, Book of Life, Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, The Penguins of Madagascar, Dolphin Tale 2, Big Hero 6 and Annie all beckoning kids to drag their parents to the theaters. Those who prefer a little horror in their motion picture diet will have a cornucopia of selections, from Annabelle (a spinoff from The Conjuring), Ouija, Demonic, Jessabelle, Dracula Untold, The Canal, The Pyramid, Horns and Tusk all there looking to scare our socks off. There will also be plenty of action with The Equalizer, Kill the Messenger, A Walk Among Tombstones and Fury giving action junkies their fix.
Music fans will also have reasons to brave the chilly weather and hit the theaters as Annie, Into the Woods, One Chance and Beyond the Lights which will all hopefully have audiences tapping their toes. Indie film fans will also have some excuses to patronize their local art houses with such acclaimed fare as Foxcatcher, Escobar: Paradise Lost, Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Wild, One Chance, Birdman, TuskLeviathan, The Zero Theorem, Laggies, Frontera and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby all lining up for the film buff dollar. Science Fiction is always a presence at the end of the year and this year is no exception with such futuristic goodies as Interstellar, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, The Maze Runner, The Congress, The Zero Theorem and The Scribbler on tap. Those who like their movies on an epic scale can look forward to The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies and Exodus: Gods and Kings. Finally, you can always find plenty of drama in the fall and holiday lineup and with Nightcrawlers, Gone Girl, The Judge, Rosewater and Big Eyes audiences will get their share of serious.

The stars always come out in the fall and 2014 is no exception as you’ll get to do some star-gazing with the late Robin Williams (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Merry Friggen’ Christmas), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1), Amy Adams (Big Eyes), Ed Harris (Frontera), Morgan Freeman (Dolphin Tale 2), Reese Witherspoon (Wild, The Good Lie), Billy Bob Thornton (The Judge), Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), Jason Bateman (This Is Where I Leave You, Horrible Bosses 2), Liam Neeson (A Walk Among Tombstones), Daniel Radcliffe (Horns), Christoph Waltz (The Zero Theorem, Big Eyes), Denzel Washington (The Equalizer), Ben Affleck (Gone Girl), Simon Pegg (Hector and the Search for Happiness), Steve Carell (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and Foxcatcher), Seth Rogen (The Interview), Robert Downey Jr., (The Judge), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), Michael Keaton (Birdman), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawlers), Bill Murray (St. Vincent), Jeremy Renner (Kill the Messenger), Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar), Jim Carrey (Dumb and Dumber To), Brad Pitt (Fury), Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1), Jason Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses 2), Jamie Foxx (Annie), Ben Stiller (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies), James Franco (The Interview),Keira Knightley (Laggies), Kirsten Wiig (The Skeleton Twins), Robert Duvall (The Judge), Michael Caine (Interstellar), Cameron Diaz (Annie) and Christian Bale (Exodus: Gods and Kings). There will also be plenty of talent behind the camera with Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott, Alexandre Aja, Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton, Kevin Smith, Terry Gilliam, Rob Marshall and David Fincher all directing films this season.

This of course is just a start as there will be additions (and deletions) from what you see here before all is said and done. Most of the fairly high-profile films though are pretty much set in stone barring disaster. So does this whet your appetite for what’s going on this fall? Hope so. If you want more, be sure and check out our monthly feature Four-Warned for a listing of everything opening both in limited and wide release that month and our weekly preview for what’s coming to the Central Florida multiplexes that week. Otherwise, let’s stop all this blather and get into the good stuff!

SEPTEMBER

Generally September is a month that serves as a segue from the summer blockbusters to the autumn harvest of Oscar contenders. While it is a month that usually has lower profile movies and films the studio has little faith in, there are often some gems among the debris. Hoping to make some box office hay while the sun still shines will be a reboot of an ’80s TV show, an adaptation of a beloved young adult novel, a sequel to an inspirational family hit and the latest from the stop-motion animation studio Laika.

The Equalizer

DEANS LIST

THE EQUALIZER
RELEASE DATE: September 26, 2014
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Robert Wahlberg, Johnny Messner
STORY: A man with a set of particular skills is trying to put his past behind him and live a quiet life working in a Home Depot-like store. When he meets a young girl who is being abused at the hands of the Russian mobsters who control her, he cannot stand by and do nothing. Russian mafia, look out – the Equalizer is on your tail!
PROSPECTS: A very different take on the 80s TV classic with Edward Woodward in the title role. Washington is more of an ass kicker. He has been more selective about what movies he makes than a lot of other stars, so certainly his fans will be eager to see this.
OBSTACLES: Theatrical attendance tends to be pretty lackluster in September with the start of the football season, school returning to session and the fall TV premieres all happening.
FACTOID: Leo guest starred in an Equalizer telefilm back in 1985.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES
RELEASE DATE: September 19, 2014
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Boyd Holbrook, Sebastian Roche, Stephanie Andujar, Whitney Able, Mark Consuelos
STORY: An unlicensed private eye who is ex-NYPD reluctantly takes on a job from a heroin trafficker whose wife was kidnapped and murdered. He soon learns that this isn’t the first time the perpetrators have committed this crime nor will it be the last – and they are aware of his presence in the game.
PROSPECTS: Neeson has become one of the most reliable action stars of the past ten years. This has a suitably creepy vibe to it. Neeson’s films tend to perform well in off months.
OBSTACLES: His last movie was a bit disappointing commercially and critically.
FACTOID: Neeson’s character in this movie is actually taken from a series of 17 novels by author Lawrence Block of which this is the tenth; the character also appeared in the movie 8 Million Ways to Die played by Jeff Bridges.

THE MAZE RUNNER
RELEASE DATE: September 19, 2014
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Ami Ameen, Will Poulter, Patricia Clarkson, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper
STORY: A young man wakes up in a mysterious maze with no memories of who he is or where he’s from. The only escape is to become a runner and try to find a way out of the maze which nobody has ever done. However when a young girl arrives who seems to have her memories and knows who the young man is, everything changes.
PROSPECTS: One of the most iconic and beloved young adult novels finally makes it to the big screen.
OBSTACLES: A cast of mostly unknown young actors. Not a good deal of hunk factor to bring the teenage girls.
FACTOID: Catherine Hardwicke was originally set to direct this.

THE BOXTROLLS
RELEASE DATE: September 26, 2014
STUDIO: Focus/Laika
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Elle Fanning, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Isaac Hempstead-Wright
STORY: A group of mischievous subterranean creatures have raised a human child as their own are threatened by the villainous Archibald Snatcher who vows to rid the world of the Boxtrolls. The human ventures above ground and finds a spirited young girl as an ally and together they put together an audacious plan to save the boy’s family.
PROSPECTS: Laika has been responsible for some of the quirkiest and most beloved animations of recent years.
OBSTACLES: The Laika films have tended to appeal more to adults than to kids.
FACTOID: Based on the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

THE SKELETON TWINS
RELEASE DATE: September 12, 2014
STUDIO: Roadside Attractions
STARRING: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Ty Burrell, Luke Wilson, Boyd Holbrook, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Joanna Gleason, Ian Hyland, Jennifer Lafleur
STORY: A pair of estranged twins whose lives have turned out not just disappointing but a downright disaster are unexpectedly forced into a reunion. They are forced to confront their own mistakes and failures and discover that repairing their relationship might well be the key to turning their lives around.
PROSPECTS: Has everything in the formula for indie circuit success; a terrific cast with a few well-known names, a truly funny trailer and a distributor that has gotten behind the movie after showing success with recent releases.
OBSTACLES: Since Bridesmaids Wiig really hasn’t shown she can carry a movie and Hader, while being a terrific support guy, is an unknown quantity when in a leading role.
FACTOID: Anna Farris was originally cast in the lead role, but an unusually long development period forced her to drop out of the project, eventually to be replaced by Wiig.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

SEPTEMBER 5, 2014

Opening in limited release, FRONTERA (Magnolia) examines the fallout when a rancher’s wife is killed while riding in her own ranch property and the most likely suspect is a Mexican national crossing into this country illegally.

SEPTEMBER 12, 2014

In THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY (Weinstein) a once-happy couple struggles to maintain their relationship in the wake of a tragedy as they discover that the people they once loved are literally strangers to one another now. DOLPHIN TALE 2 (Warner Brothers) returns to the inspirational story of Winter, the dolphin in a Florida aquarium whose tail fluke was replaced by an artificial device to allow her to continue swimming and her new friend Hope, rescued by the same aquarium in 2010. NO GOOD DEED (Screen Gems) stars Idris Elba as an escaped convict who gains entry into the home of housewife Taraji P. Henson by pretending he’s the victim of a car accident and proceeds to terrorize the woman and her children who must fight back against the intruder. In SEARCH PARTY (Universal) a new groom is taken hostage and ends up wearing nothing but a pair of gold leggings in the Mexican desert while his best friends bumble around trying to find him.

SEPTEMBER 19, 2014

HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS (Relativity) stars Simon Pegg as a psychiatrist whose advice isn’t really making his patients any happier; he determines to go out and experience life and find out what it is that truly makes people happy. PRIDE (CBS) is based on the true story of a mining strike in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain which inspires a group of London gay and lesbian activists to raise money for the striking workers who are initially leery of taking money from the group but as they eventually learn to find common ground they discover that strength comes from standing strong together. THE SCRIBBLER (XLRator) which opens in limited release is a sci-fi tale about a disturbed young woman who uses an experimental treatment to eliminate her multiple personalities one at a time, but begins to worry that one of the personalities to be eliminated might be her true one THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (Warner Brothers) has an all-star cast and is about a dysfunctional family that has dispersed all over the country only to be brought back together under one roof for a week to fulfill the dying wish of their father. In TUSK (A24), a journalist falls into the story of a lifetime as he interviews a reputed explorer with a penchant for walruses and a dark, disturbing secret. Kevin Smith directs this quirky horror tale. THE ZERO THEOREM (Amplify) is visionary director Terry Gilliam’s latest and stars Christoph Waltz as an eccentric agoraphobic computer genius working on a project delegated to him by an equally mysterious Matt Damon in an effort to find a meaning of life – or lack thereof. The movie got a special screening at the Enzian earlier this year; you can read my review of it here.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2014

JACK AND THE CUCKOO CLOCK HEART (Dada) is a whimsical animated feature for adults and set in a wondrous world of fantastic inventions and unforgettable characters. While it is listed as a wide release, it is possible this might end up getting a limited release instead.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2014

On the other hand, THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY (Magnolia) most definitely is opening in limited release and stars Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst as an American couple traveling in Greece in the early ’60s who encounter Oscar Isaac as a Greek-speaking American tour guide who scams tourists on the side. He becomes infatuated with the wife and when the couple invite him to dinner, it turns out neither the couple nor the tour guide are exactly what they seem to be.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. The budgets and box office numbers are courtesy of Box Office Mojo. My verdicts are based on the typical studio formula that for a movie to break even it must make twice its production budget; any movie that achieves that will be labeled as profitable. I define hit movies as those that make three times the production budget and blockbusters as anything that makes $200 million in domestic box office or more, or made five times the production budget with a minimum of $100 million in domestic box office. The first four movies listed are the four main previewed items; I’ve also chosen a selection of other major releases that made the preview issue as well.

RIDDICK (Universal) Budget: $38 Million. Domestic Gross: $42.0M Total: $98.3M Verdict: Made Money.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 (Columbia) Budget: $78M. Domestic Gross: $119.8M Total: $274.3M Verdict: Hit.
RUSH (Universal) Budget: $38M. Domestic Gross: $27.0M Total: $90.3M Verdict: Made Money.
DON JON (Relativity) Budget: $6M. Domestic Gross: $24.5M Total: $30.5M Verdict: Big Hit.
INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 (FilmDistrict) Budget: $5M. Domestic Gross: $83.6M Total: $161.9M Verdict: Blockbuster.
THE FAMILY (Relativity) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $36.9M Total: $78.4M Verdict: Made Money.
PRISONERS (Warner Brothers) Budget: $46M. Domestic Gross: $61.0M Total: $122.1M Verdict: Made Money.
BAGGAGE CLAIM (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $8.5M. Domestic Gross: $21.6M Total: $22.5M Verdict: Made Money.
WINNIE MANDELA (Image) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $80,634. Total: $80,634. Verdict: Likely Flop.
METALLICA: THROUGH THE NEVER (Picturehouse) Budget: $18M. Domestic Gross: $3.4M Total: $8.0 Verdict: Flop.

OCTOBER

As autumn leaves swirl in the streets and Halloween decorations begin to appear everywhere, there will be plenty of scares coming our way this month with a board game that opens a portal for something truly evil, a spinoff from a smash hit horror film from recent years, a new take on a classic horror icon and an animated feature set in the land of the dead. For those not looking to be scared, there’s a quirky comedy with an SNL legend, mysteries involving an estranged father and son and a husband who may or may not have murdered his missing wife, the reboot of a hit Christian book series and a bestselling children’s book getting the Disney treatment.

Gone Girl

DEANS LIST

GONE GIRL
RELEASE DATE: October 3, 2014
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Missi Pyle, Boyd Holbrook, Scoot McNairy, Sela Ward
STORY: On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, a man reports his wife missing. His portrayal of a perfect marriage begins to crumble under intense police scrutiny and his bizarre behavior and outright lies make him suspect number one.
PROSPECTS: October has been Affleck’s month as of late, with such films as Runner Runner, The Town and Argo released during that month of the year. While he didn’t direct this effort, he is certainly front and center here.
OBSTACLES: Affleck tends to do better in movies he directs himself. However, this time he finds himself under the tutelage of David Fincher, so that might well give him a leg up. However, the subject matter is something of a downer.
FACTOID: Although the movie is set in North Carolina, it was actually filmed in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

OUIJA
RELEASE DATE: October 24, 2014
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Darren Kagasoff, Bianca A. Santos, Douglas Smith, Matthew Settle, Vivis Colombetti, Robyn Lively, Lin Shaye, Bill Watterson
STORY: A group of young people start messing around with a Ouija board, but this one happens to be not just any Ouija board and the place that they do the messing not just any place.
PROSPECTS: Ouija boards are a large part of our supernatural culture and while they have played a part in horror movies over the years, there have been surprisingly few dedicated to them.
OBSTACLES: The trailer didn’t particularly stand out, and with a fairly unknown cast and crew behind the camera this may have to come out of left field to be successful.
FACTOID: Hasbro’s film division has been working on a Ouija board film for more than five years.

THE JUDGE
RELEASE DATE: October 10, 2014
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, Balthazar Getty, Dax Shepard, Denis O’Hare, David Krumholtz
STORY: A high-powered big city defense lawyer returns to his rural Indiana home on the occasion for his mother’s funeral and encounters his estranged father, a respected judge. When the father is accused of murder, the son becomes his attorney in a case that looks indefensible.
PROSPECTS: Downey and Duvall are two of the most respected actors in the business. With a fine supporting cast, this could be an early Oscar contender.
OBSTACLES: Nothing indicates in the trailer or through internet buzz that this is being considered as anything more than studio fall filler.
FACTOID: Farmiga beat out Elizabeth Banks for the female lead.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

BIRDMAN
RELEASE DATE: October 17, 2014
STUDIO: Fox Searchlight
STARRING: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts, Lindsay Duncan
STORY: An actor famous for portraying an iconic super hero in a movie franchise attempts to mount a Broadway play in order to rescue his career and help him restore his humility when his out-of-control ego threatens to derail everything.
PROSPECTS: Big Internet buzz on this one. Word of mouth says this Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu-directed effort could be a sleeper hit.
OBSTACLES: Inarritu is better known for directing ensemble dramas rather than comedies. Keaton hasn’t really carried a hit movie in decades.
FACTOID: Although there is a Hanna-Barbera character of the same name, the Birdman character of this movie has no relation to the cartoon character.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

OCTOBER 3, 2014

ANNABELLE (New Line) is a spinoff from the horror hit from last year, The Conjuring and follows the demonic doll Annabelle’s history as she wreaks havoc in the lives of her owners, a nice kickoff to the Halloween season. THE GOOD LIE (Warner Brothers) stars Reese Witherspoon in a story based on true events in which orphans of the Sudan’s brutal civil war find asylum in the United States and how a courageous social worker fought an American bureaucracy frozen by the events of 9/11 to reunite them with their sister. This opens in limited release. In THE HERO OF COLOR CITY (Magnolia) a box of heroic crayons must save Color City from a monster accidentally released from a child’s drawing. This is an animated feature and while it is currently listed for wide release, I would bet money that it will wind up being a platform limited release when all is said and done. LEFT BEHIND (Stoney Lake) reboots the Christian rapture book series with Nicolas Cage in the lead role. THE LIBERATOR (Cohen Media Group), opening in limited release, stars Edgar Ramirez in the title role in this biopic of Simon Bolivar, one of the most revered and beloved figures in South America, who liberated thousands from the colonial powers of the 19th century.

OCTOBER 10, 2014

In ADDICTED (Lionsgate) a married woman with a dream life embarks on a dangerous affair with a hunky young artist, a path which may be too tempting for her to resist. ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY (Disney) stars Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner in this comedy about a family having the kind of day that makes all other bad days look idyllic in comparison. KILL THE MESSENGER (Focus) is opening in platform limited release, with Jeremy Renner starring as Gary Webb, the San Jose Mercury News reporter whose investigation of the link between crack cocaine smuggling, the CIA and arms for Nicaraguan rebels would win him a Pulitzer but cost him far more. ONE CHANCE (Weinstein) is the much-delayed biopic of Paul Potts, the unlikely operatic winner of the hit Britain’s Got Talent and the overwhelming odds he overcame to do it.

OCTOBER 17, 2014

THE BEST OF ME (Relativity) is the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation and follows a couple who were once high school sweethearts but whose relationship fell apart. 20 years later, they are reunited at a funeral for a friend and the old sparks are rekindled, but also present are the forces that tore them apart the first time around. THE BOOK OF LIFE (20th Century Fox) is a colorful and unique animated feature produced by Guillermo del Toro set in Mexico as well as in the World of the Dead. Two men battle for the heart of a beautiful young woman but one must overcome immense odds to win that sacred heart. DRACULA UNTOLD (Universal) is a new take on the legend of Vlad Tepes, also known as Dracula as he must sacrifice everything to protect his family and his country – and the cost of that sacrifice may be much more than he bargained for. FURY (Columbia) stars Brad Pitt and is set in the waning days of World War II as a tank crew battles to survive the furious last days of the war. NIGHTCRAWLER (Open Road) is the tale of a driven, ambitious young man who enters the breakneck world of L.A. crime journalism. Jake Gyllenhaal stars.

OCTOBER 24, 2014

JOHN WICK (Lionsgate) stars Keanu Reeves in a story about a retired hit man who is forced back into the game by a sadistic young thug who wants to take him down. It’s one of those “be careful what you ask for” tales. Opening in limited release is the Sundance hit LAGGIES (A24) with Keira Knightley as a 20-something who is having trouble growing up, hiding out in the home of a 16-year-old friend and her world-weary single dad. ST. VINCENT (Weinstein) is the latest tour de force for Bill Murray as an irascible old man and unrepentant reprobate who decides to earn some extra cash for his gambling and drinking habits by babysitting a neighbor’s kid. This leads to an unexpected friendship. STONEHEARST ASYLUM (Millennium) opens in limited release and is a British horror film about a medical school grad who is assigned to a mental institution and eventually falls for one of his colleagues, but a change in staffing may bring about unspeakable terror for them both.

OCTOBER 31, 2014

HORNS (Radius) stars Daniel Radcliffe in an unusual horror film directed by Spanish master Alexandre Aja about a man accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend and who starts to grow horns on his head that have the power to force people to confess their darkest secrets and give in to their deepest desires, and decides to use his new-found power to find and exact revenge upon the real killer.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (Columbia) Budget: $55M. Domestic Gross: $107.1M Total: $218.8M Verdict: Big Hit.
GRAVITY (Warner Brothers) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $274.1M Total: $716.4M Verdict: Blockbuster.
ESCAPE PLAN (Summit) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $25.1M Total: $137.3M Verdict: Made Money.
THE FIFTH ESTATE (Touchstone) Budget: $28M. Domestic Gross: $3.3M Total: $8.6M Verdict: Flop.
BAD GRANDPA (Paramount) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $102.0M Total: $151.8 Verdict: Blockbuster.
12 YEARS A SLAVE (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $56.7M Total: $187.7 Verdict: Big Hit.
RUNNER RUNNER (20th Century Fox) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $19.3M Total: $62.7M Verdict: Broke Even.
MACHETE KILLS (Open Road) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $8.0M Total: $15.0M Verdict: Lost Money.
THE COUNSELOR (20th Century Fox) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $16.9M Total: $71.0M Verdict: Made Money.
ROMEO AND JULIET (Relativity) Budget: $24M. Domestic Gross: $1.1M Total: $1.1M Verdict: Flop.

NOVEMBER

As the weather grows colder, the multiplex starts heating up as new blockbusters arrive along with early contenders for Oscar gold. This year we can count on a new sci-fi spectacle from Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan, the first animated feature of a Marvel comic, sequels to a megahit young adult science fiction franchise and an over-the-top workplace comedy, a spin-off from a hit animated franchise and the reunion of one of the dumbest comic duos ever.

Interstellar

DEANS LIST

INTERSTELLAR
RELEASE DATE: November 7, 2014
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Topher Grace
STORY: The Earth is dying, unable to support the human race or any other race for that matter. In desperation, we look to the stars and build a craft that might take us there. Time is of the essence and the toll that is taken on the astronauts and those who love them will be terrible indeed.
PROSPECTS: Christopher Nolan once again goes the sci-fi route and with Inception under his belt, this one is more of a traditional science fiction film with starships and alien worlds. With the super hot McConaughey headlining, this is a sure winner.
OBSTACLES: There has been a glut of science fiction on both the big screen and the small; the public might be more in the mood of a Guardians of the Galaxy-type movie which this is not. With the exception of Blade Runner most cerebral science fiction has failed to do well at the box office.
FACTOID: Steven Spielberg was originally intended to direct this and while he was attached he hired Jonathan Nolan to write a draft of the script. When Spielberg moved on to other projects, Nolan suggested this project to his brother Christopher.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THE PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR
RELEASE DATE: November 26, 2014
STUDIO: DreamWorks Animation
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Jeong, Peter Stormare, John Malkovich, Werner Herzog
STORY: The penguins, perhaps the most accomplished spies the world never heard of, join forces with a spy agency the world has never heard of to stop Dr. Octavius Brine, a megalomaniacal would-be world dictator the world has never heard of.
PROSPECTS: Like the Minions of the Despicable Me films, the penguins have been the best thing about this animated film franchise. They get their own movie and hopefully, will run – or waddle – with it.
OBSTACLES: This has not exactly been the year of the family film. The Penguins also have their own TV show so the thought of shelling out hard-earned cash to go see them in a theater might not be so attractive for parents.
FACTOID: The filmmakers wanted Robert Stack to voice Skipper but he passed away before filming began.

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1
RELEASE DATE: November 21, 2014
STUDIO: Lionsgate
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore
STORY: Katniss is forced to flee to District 13 after her triumph in Catching Fire. From there she becomes the face of the rebellion as she fights to save Peeta, the ones she loves and the innocent of Panem from the ruthless President Snow.
PROSPECTS: Another slam dunk. This is one of the most successful film franchises of this decade and doesn’t look to slow down any with one more film left after this.
OBSTACLES: Can’t really see any.
FACTOID: Hoffman passed away with one week left of shooting for both of the Mockingjay films. Rather than recast the role, his part was finished with some rewriting as well as digital special effects.

BIG HERO 6
RELEASE DATE: November 7, 2014
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Genesis Rodriguez, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Maya Rudolph, James Cromwell
STORY: A young robotics genius in the high-tech city of San Fransokyo in the future discovers a criminal plot to take over the city. With his faithful but mostly harmless robot companion Baymax, he leads a team of reluctant crimefighters on a mission to save the city.
PROSPECTS: The first animated Marvel feature from Disney. Given that it is opening in the same successful weekend slot as Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, there’s a good chance that this will be the big animated feature winner this year in terms of box office.
OBSTACLES: Marvel and Disney can be disparate audiences.
FACTOID: While based on a Marvel property, this doesn’t take place inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

FOXCATCHER
RELEASE DATE: November 14, 2014
STUDIO: Sony Classics
STARRING: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, Tara Subkoff
STORY: The true story of Olympic wrestling hopeful Mark Schultz, his brother Dave and Mark’s benefactor John Du Pont who founded a wrestling facility dedicated to preparing athletes for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but led instead to tragedy.
PROSPECTS: Carell is getting huge Oscar buzz in what is said to be the performance of his career. Director Bennett Miller has been involved with two Oscar nominated films previously; Capote and Moneyball.
OBSTACLES: Olympic wrestling is much less popular than the professional sort practiced by the WWE and fans of the latter might not take well to the wrestling style of the former.
FACTOID: The actual Foxcatcher Farm where the training facility was located was sold off after the events of this film; a private school and a development of multi-million dollar homes stand there now.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

NOVEMBER 7, 2014

JESSABELLE (Lionsgate) is a Southern Gothic horror flick opening in limited release in which a young woman returns to her decaying Louisiana home to recuperate from a horrific car accident, only to discover that the horror awaiting her back home is far more deadly. MERRY FRIGGIN’ CHRISTMAS (Phase Four), opening in limited release, is one of Robin Williams’ final films. He plays a kooky dad whose estranged son finally relents and agrees to spend Christmas with his old man. However when the son discovers he left all of the Christmas gifts at home, Dad, son and younger brother take off on an epic road trip. OPEN WINDOWS (Cinedigm) is an unusual thriller from acclaimed director Nacho Vigalondo in which a superfan wins a date with his favorite actress. When she balks at actually going on the date, her sleazy manager instead gives the fan the option of access to hidden camera feeds originating from her home. This puts her – and him – in unexpected danger. Opens in limited release. Also opening in limited release. ROSEWATER (Open Road) is based on the true story of journalist Maziar Bahari who was captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard while there working for the BBC and held and tortured. Comedian/political commentator Jon Stewart directed. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (Focus) stars Eddie Redmayne as the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking as he copes with a devastating illness to become one of the most honored living scientists. While it is listed in limited release, expect that this will be fairly widely available.

NOVEMBER 14, 2014

BEYOND THE LIGHTS (Relativity) is kind of a new take on The Guardian as a global pop superstar falls for a cop and aspiring politician who works her security detail. Despite attempts to keep the two separated, true love lives on in the end, yadda yadda yadda. DUMB AND DUMBER TO (Universal) reunites Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels as the most brain-dead comedy team ever as they and the Farrelly brothers, once one of the hottest comedy directors on the planet, take a spin down the comeback trail.

NOVEMBER 21, 2014

Opening in limited release, EXTRATERRESTRIAL (IFC) comes from director Colin Minihan, one half of the Vicious Brothers who directed Grave Encounters. Here, friends taking a break at a remote mountain cabin witness the crash of an alien spacecraft, which signals the beginning of a fight for survival. THE IMITATION GAME (Weinstein) is the story of prickly mathematician Alan Turing who broke the Enigma code in World War II but was later persecuted for his homosexuality. Benedict Cumberbatch stars. VHS: VIRAL (Magnolia) is the latest in the horror anthology series, with top young directors in the genre filming a series of short videos related to a group of teens’ obsessive pursuit of Internet fame. Like the first two movies in the series, this will be released in limited markets.

NOVEMBER 26, 2014

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (New Line) reunites Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day as three put-upon employees who decide to start their own business. Hoodwinked by a slick investor, they come up with a hare-brained scheme to kidnap his son and ransom control of the company back to themselves.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

ENDER’S GAME (Summit) Budget: $110M. Domestic Gross: $61.7Total: $125.5M Verdict: Lost Money.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (Disney/Marvel) Budget: $170M. Domestic Gross: $206.4M Total: $644.8M. Verdict: Big Hit.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (Lionsgate) Budget: $130M. Domestic Gross: $424.7M Total: $864.6M Verdict: Blockbuster.
FROZEN (Disney) Budget: $150M. Domestic Gross: $400.7M Total: $1.3B. Verdict: Blockbuster.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Paramount) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $116.9M Total: $392.0M Verdict: Big Hit.
OLDBOY (FilmDistrict) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $2.2M Total: $4.9M Verdict: Flop.
THE DELIVERY MAN (Touchstone) Budget: $26M. Domestic Gross: $30.7M. Total: $51.2M Verdict: Broke Even.
THE BOOK THIEF (20th Century Fox) Budget: $19M. Domestic Gross: $21.5M Total: $76.6M Verdict: Big Hit.
ABOUT TIME (Universal) Budget: $12M Domestic Gross: $15.3M Total: $87.1M Verdict: Big Hit.
HOMEFRONT (Open Road) Budget: $22M Domestic Gross: $20.2M Total: $43.1M Verdict: Broke Even.
THE DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (Focus) Budget: $5M Domestic Gross: $27.3M Total: $55.2M Verdict: Big Hit.
MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (Weinstein) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $8.3M Total: $27.3M Verdict: Lost Money.
BLACK NATIVITY (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $17.5M Domestic Gross: $7.0M Total: $7.5M Verdict: Flop.
LAST VEGAS (CBS) Budget: $28M Domestic Gross: $63.9M Total: $134.4M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE BEST MAN’S HOLIDAY (Universal) Budget: $17M Domestic Gross: $70.5M Total: $71.6M Verdict: Big Hit.
FREE BIRDS (Relativity) Budget: $55M Domestic Gross: $55.8M Total: $110.4M Verdict: Broke Even.

DECEMBER

The last month of the year tends to send the box office out with a bang as big budget blockbusters vie with Oscar contenders for screens. This year we’ll be taking our last trip to Middle Earth, watch Ridley Scott get Biblical, see new re-imaginings of two hit musicals, watch a beloved children’s book character come to life and see the life story of a genuine American hero that you may never have heard of until now.

The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies

DEANS LIST

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
RELEASE DATE: December 17, 2014
STUDIO: New Line/MGM
STARRING: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm
STORY: The Dwarves having reclaimed Erebor, Smaug wreaks havoc on Lake-town while an Orc army makes its stealthy way to Lonely Mountain. Human, Elf and Dwarf armies must unite to face the darkness or perish separately forever.
PROSPECTS: This being the last visit to Middle Earth possibly ever (although director Peter Jackson has reportedly been mulling over The Silmarillion as a future project) should get the fans out in droves. The last installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy was also the biggest hit.
OBSTACLES: The Hobbit trilogy has disappointed both at the box office and in the hearts of the Middle Earth faithful.
FACTOID: Although Cate Blanchett appears in all three films, she was only on set for eight days of the more than 266 days of shooting (not including the additional shoots in the summer of 2013).

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB
RELEASE DATE: December 19, 2014
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Rebel Wilson, Ben Kingsley, Dan Stevens, Rami Malek, Dick van Dyke
STORY: The magical…um, serving tray or whatever it is, has been brought to London to the British National Museum along with some other artifacts from the New York Museum of Natural History. However the…um, bedpan or whatever it is no longer functions correctly and it will be up to Larry the Security Guard to find a way to restore it before all his friends are lost forever.
PROSPECTS: The first two films did monster box office despite lukewarm reviews. This one will be one of the great Robin Williams’ final film roles which is certainly going to bring people out in droves.
OBSTACLES: This hasn’t exactly been the kind of franchise that people have fallen in love with despite the box office numbers. Weak word of mouth could really hurt it.
FACTOID: Not only is this Williams’ final major studio film, it is also the last film for the late Mickey Rooney who has a cameo.

ANNIE
RELEASE DATE: December 19, 2014
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING: Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Quvenzhané Wells, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannevale, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Zayas, Mike Birbiglia
STORY: A cheerfully optimistic foster kid with an obscenely positive attitude enters the life of a New York City mayoral candidate (and billionaire) and becomes something of a good luck charm for him. While he uses her to further his pursuits, he may not realize that she is changing him in ways he never expected.
PROSPECTS: This has been a perennial Broadway musical favorite, and has already been a big hit on the big screen. Columbia has been pushing the movie very hard.
OBSTACLES: Purists might object to some of the changes in this movie version from the original musical and the source comic strip.
FACTOID: Producer Will Smith originally envisioned this as a starring role for his daughter Willow (talk about a stage dad!) but by the time production was ready to get underway, she had grown too old to play Annie and Wells, fresh off her success in Beasts of the Southern Wild got the job instead.

BIG EYES
RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2014
STUDIO: Weinstein
STARRING: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, Jon Polito, Andrew Airlie
STORY: Walter Keane was one of the most successful painters of the late 50s and early 60s but he hid a staggering secret; the paintings were actually done by his wife Margaret and he was taking credit for her work.
PROSPECTS: A really fascinating story that few people know anything about. Could be a big awards contender come Oscar time.
OBSTACLES: Tim Burton is not exactly box office gold as directors go. Weinstein hasn’t really promoted this at all to date and this may end up being moved to another date next year.
FACTOID: The second biographical film that Burton has directed, the first being Ed Wood.

INTO THE WOODS
RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2014
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Lucy Punch
STORY: A story uniting the characters of Grimm’s Fairy Tales as a baker and his wife, desperate to have a baby, are cursed by a witch and find themselves entwined in the tales of Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel.
PROSPECTS: One of Stephen Sondheim’s most beloved musicals which has inexplicably never made it to the big screen until now.
OBSTACLES: Will face heavy competition from Annie.
FACTOID: Sondheim wrote two original songs for the production, both of which were cut from the final film.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

WILD
RELEASE DATE: December 5, 2014 (limited)
STUDIO: Fox Searchlight
STARRING: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Gaby Hoffman, Michael Huisman, W. Earl Brown, Kevin Rankin, Keene McRae
STORY: After her marriage disintegrates and she embarks on a decade of reckless and destructive behavior, Cheryl Strayed decides to walk the thousand mile Pacific Crest trail on her own despite having no experience with hiking.
PROSPECTS: This true story looks like a legitimate Oscar possibility for Witherspoon who has become one of those actresses who seems to have an Oscar-worthy performance every year.
OBSTACLES: Limited release and a very inwardly-focused narrative may not exactly lead to box office bonanza, although the same studio had big success with 12 Years a Slave last year.
FACTOID: The screenplay was written by noted British novelist Nick Hornby.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

DECEMBER 5, 2014

THE PYRAMID (20th Century Fox) is a horror film in which modern day explorers discover a new pyramid buried in the sands of Egypt and then discover up close and personally the realities of an Egyptian curse.

DECEMBER 12, 2014

DEMONIC (Dimension) is about the investigation of a massacre in an abandoned house in which five college students were brutally murdered; one of the survivors explains that they were paranormal investigators whose ghost hunting woke up something truly terrifying. EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (20th Century Fox) is the retelling of the legend of Moses and Ramses from director Ridley Scott, with Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton in the respective roles. INHERENT VICE (Warner Brothers) features an all-star cast in a Paul Thomas Anderson film of a Thomas Pynchon novel set in the swinging ’60s.

DECEMBER 19, 2014

Opening in limited release, MR. TURNER (Sony Classics) stars Timothy Spall as British painter J.M.W. Turner, an eccentric who lived a colorful life and produced paintings that still divide the art world between acclaim and vilification.

DECEMBER 25, 2014

AMERICAN SNIPER (Warner Brothers), which opens in limited release and then expands to wide release on January 16, is the latest from director Clint Eastwood and tells the story of legendary Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who has recorded more confirmed sniper kills than any U.S. military man in history. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 (Paramount/MGM) returns most of the cast of the first film (sans John Cusack) who this time go back to the future to keep one of them from premature death. THE INTERVIEW (Columbia) received some controversy when North Korea threatened to go to war with the United States if this was to be released. It stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as a dimwitted talk show host and his producer who nab an interview with Kim Jong Un and are recruited by the CIA to assassinate him. It just makes one wonder; why would anyone go to war over Seth Rogen? PADDINGTON (Weinstein) is a live action/animated hybrid of the beloved children’s book character Paddington Bear and the second trailer for it looks like it may well be the best family film of the year. SELMA (Paramount), opening in limited release but expanding to a wide release on January 9, is the account of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama which sparked outrage at the tactics that the Alabama state troopers and locals used to stop the march and eventually led President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965. UNBROKEN (Universal) is the incredible but true story of Louis Zamperini, an American Olympian who during World War II survived a plane crash in the Pacific and 47 harrowing days in a raft at sea, only to be picked up by a Japanese warship and face internment in a harsh Japanese prisoner of war camp.

DECEMBER 31, 2014

LEVIATHAN (Sony Classics) opens in limited release and is a Russian film about a land dispute in a remote Russian village that ripples through the family and community involved and exposes the corruption in the Russian judicial system. This was one of the most acclaimed movies to come out of Sundance this year.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (Paramount) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $125.2M Total: $173.7M Verdict: Hit.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (New Line) Budget: $225M. Domestic Gross: $258.4M Total: $958.4M Verdict: Big Hit.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (Paramount) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $50.6M Total: $135.5M Verdict: Broke Even.
SAVING MR. BANKS (Disney) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $83.3M Total: $112.5M Verdict: Hit.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (CBS) Budget: $11M. Domestic Gross: $13.2M Total: $32.9M Verdict: Hit.
THE MONUMENTS MEN (Columbia) Budget: $70M. Domestic Gross: $78.0M Total: $155.0M Verdict: Made Money.
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (20th Century Fox) Budget: $90M. Domestic Gross: $58.2M Total: $188.1 Verdict: Broke Even.
WALKING WITH DINOSAURS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $36.1M Total: $126.6M Verdict: Lost Money.
OUT OF THE FURNACE (Relativity) Budget: $22M. Domestic Gross: $11.3M Total: $14.1M Verdict: Flop.
47 RONIN (Universal) Budget: $175M. Domestic Gross: $38.4M Total: $151.0M Verdict: Flop.
GRUDGE MATCH (Warner Brothers) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $29.8M Total: $44.9M Verdict: Lost Money.
TYLER PERRY’S A MADEA CHRISTMAS (Lionsgate) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $52.5M Total: $52.5M Verdict: Broke Even.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (Weinstein) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $37.7M Total: $74.2M Verdict: Hit.

So there you have it, the last preview of the year and hopefully we’ll go out with a bang with some box office hits and some great movies that will keep the Oscar buzz going into the new year. As always; release dates are always subject to change, especially the farther out you go so be sure and check your local listings before heading out to your local multiplex.

There is a lot to look forward to next year which has studio accountants quivering with excitement – and film buffs and fanboys as well. A crowded schedule of movies that are already on a lot of people’s radars include the return of Star Wars to theaters, the new Avengers movie as well as the beginning of Marvel’s third cinematic phase, new installments in the Jurassic Park, Mad Max, Terminator, Fast and Furious, Divergent and The Hunger Games franchises, adaptations of Assassin’s Creed and The Jungle Book as well as a return of Pixar with Inside Out as well as the lovable Minions from Despicable Me getting their own movie – and a lot more. There are those who are whispering that 2015 may well be the greatest year in movies in decades and we’ll talk about all of it in the 2015 preview coming at the end of December. Until then, thanks for reading our Fall/Holiday preview edition and we’ll see you at the movies.