It’s the most! wonderful tiiimmmme of the year! You can hear Andy Williams singing that, right? I love the holidays, not only because of the fun gatherings and festive decorations, but also because that’s when the best movies hit theaters.
This year, there’s something for everyone, from Katniss and her powerful archery skills in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” to adorable penguins in “Penguins of Madagascar.” And let’s not forget “OneLastTime for “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (that’s the hashtag they’re using on Twitter).
Here’s the buzz on all the holiday releases.
BIG HERO 6
PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements | In Theaters 11/07 (2D/3D)| Ok for Kids 7+ | Walt Disney Pictures | Reel Review: 4 of 5 Reels (read Jane’s Review) | Disney.com | Facebook | #BigHero6
From Walt Disney Animation Studios and the team behind “Frozen” and “Wreck-It Ralph” comes this action-packed comedy-adventure about the special bond between Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit), a plus-sized inflatable robot, and prodigy Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter).
When a devastating event befalls the city of San Fransokyo and catapults Hiro into the midst of danger, he turns to Baymax and friends — adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago (Jamie Chung), neatnik Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), chemistry whiz Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) and fanboy Fred (T.J. Miller). Determined to uncover the mystery, Hiro transforms his friends into a band of high-tech heroes called “Big Hero 6.” Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, this movie includes some death and grief issues, which is why I recommend it for kids 7 and older.
PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language | In Theaters 11/07 (2D/IMAX) | Ok for Kids 12+ | Paramount Pictures | Reel Review: 4.5 of 5 Reels (read Jane’s Review) | Interstellarmovie.com | Facebook | Twitter
With our time on Earth coming to an end, a team of explorers undertakes the most important mission in human history: traveling through a wormhole beyond this galaxy to discover whether mankind has a future among the stars.
Directed by Christopher Nolan, the all-star cast includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Mackenzie Foy and Casey Affleck. Packed with drama, special effects and family themes, this is one of my favorite films of 2014.
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
Starring Eddie Redmayne (“Les Misérables”) and Felicity Jones (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”), this movie tells the amazing story of renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who falls deeply in love with fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde. Once a healthy, active young man, Hawking receives an earth-shattering diagnosis at 21 years of age.
With Jane fighting tirelessly by his side, Stephen embarks on his most ambitious scientific work, studying the very thing he now has precious little of – time. Together, they defy impossible odds to break new ground in medicine and science. Directed by James Marsh (“Man on Wire”), this film is based on Jane Hawking’s memoir, “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.”
BEYOND THE LIGHTS
PG-13 for sexual content, including suggestive gestures, partial nudity, language and thematic elements | In Theaters 11/14 | Ok for Kids 14+ | Relativity Media | Reel Review: 4 of 5 Reels (read Jane’s Review) | Facebook | Twitter
How does a young starlet cope with the pressures of fame? That’s the question examined in “Beyond the Lights,” which follows the story of Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who wow’d audiences in “Belle”), the music world’s latest superstar. Just as Noni reaches her limit, she meets Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker), a young cop and aspiring politician who’s been assigned to her detail.
Drawn to each other, Noni and Kaz fall in love, despite the protests of others who urge them to put their career ambitions ahead of romance. But ultimately, Kaz’s love gives Noni the courage to find her own voice and follow her own dreams. Directed and written by Gina Prince-Bythewood, this movie also stars Minnie Driver, Aml Ameen, Danny Glover and Aisha Hinds. Read Paula Schwartz’ report from the red carpet of the New York premiere. Love this movie.
DUMB AND DUMBER TO
PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, partial nudity, language and some drug references | In Theaters 11/14 | Ok for Kids 15+ | Universal Pictures | Reel Review: 2 of 5 Reels (read Jane’s Review) | Dumblr.com | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #DumbTo
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels reprise their signature roles as Lloyd and Harry in this franchise that began with 1994’s “Dumb and Dumber” and 2003’s “Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd” (a high school prequel that didn’t star Carrey or Daniels).
Yes, it’s been 20 years since that first movie. Now the dimwits are on the road in search of one of their long lost children in the hope of gaining a new kidney. Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, this movie also stars Kathleen Turner, Laurie Holden, Rob Riggle and Paul Blackthorne. I love Carrey and Daniels, but alas, this movie doesn’t deliver. Maybe a new franchise, guys?
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1
PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material | In Theaters 11/21 | Ok for Kids 13+ | Lionsgate | Reel Preview: 4 of 5 Reels | TheHungerGamesExplorer.com | Facebook | Twitter
The worldwide phenomenon of “The Hunger Games” continues to set the world on fire with “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” which finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in District 13 after shattering the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage.
Directed by Francis Lawrence from a screenplay by Danny Strong and Peter Craig, this movie is based on the third novel in a trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. I’ve read all the books and love these movies. Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect Katniss.
PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR
Those crazy penguins are back! And involved in a spy caper! Yes, now we can discover the secrets of the most entertaining and mysterious birds in the global espionage game. Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private must join forces with the chic spy organization, the North Wind, led by Agent Classified (I could tell you his name, but then … you know), voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch (yes!) to stop the villainous Dr. Octavius Brine (John Malkovich), from taking over the world.
Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Chris Knights, Ken Jeong, Annett Mahendru and Peter Stormare also lend their voices to this cute family movie directed by Simon J. Smith.
THE IMITATION GAME
PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking | In Theaters 11/28 | Ok for Kids 13+ | The Weinstein Co. | Reel Preview: 5 of 5 Reels | The Imitation Game | Facebook | Twitter
This biographical drama follows the life of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), the genius British mathematician, logician, cryptologist and computer scientist who led the charge to crack the German Enigma Code that helped the Allies win WWII. Turing went on to assist with the development of computers at the University of Manchester after the war, but was prosecuted by the UK government in 1952 for homosexual acts which the country deemed illegal.
Read Paula Schwartz’ report on the New York Q&A, in which Cumberbatch discussed the film and Turing, describing him as a “beautiful, brilliant, unique brave mind.” Directed by Morten Tyldum and based on the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges, this movie also stars Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Mark Strong.
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS
From acclaimed director Ridley Scott (“Gladiator,” “Prometheus”) comes this epic story of one man’s daring courage to take on the might of an empire. Featuring state-of-the-art 3D and visual effects, Scott brings new life to the story of the defiant leader Moses (Christian Bale) as he rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton), setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues.
I’m generally skeptical of sword-and-sandal movies, but the cast and crew of this one, including John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley and Aaron Paul, promises greatness.
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
Peter Jackson’s third movie in “The Hobbit” trilogy, adapted from the books by J.R.R. Tolkien, concludes the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the Company of Dwarves. Having reclaimed their homeland from the Dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), the group has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force into the world, and Smaug rains his fiery wrath down upon the defenseless people of Lake-town.
Obsessed with his reclaimed treasure, Thorin sacrifices friendship and honor to hoard it as Bilbo tries to reason with him. Meanwhile, evil Sauron has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain, and the future of Middle-earth hangs in the balance.
The delightful Broadway classic comes to the big screen with Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) starring as Annie, a happy foster kid who’s tough enough to make it on the streets of New York in 2014 (don’t try this at home, kids!). It’s been a “hard knock” life, thanks to her mean foster mom Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), but everything changes when hard-nosed tycoon and New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) rescues her from the path of a speeding vehicle.
Stacks thinks he’s her guardian angel, but Annie’s self-assured nature and bright, sun-will-come-out-tomorrow outlook just might mean it’s the other way around. Emma Thompson, Aline Brosh McKenna and director Will Gluck wrote the screenplay for this super cute adaptation, which also stars Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB
You know how all the exhibits spring to life at the museum every night? Well, that magic might come to an end unless security guard/CEO Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) can figure out why the Tablet of Ahkmenrah is dying out. To do so, he spans the globe, uniting favorite and new characters while embarking on an epic quest to save the magic before it’s gone forever.
Directed by Shawn Levy, the all-star cast includes Robin Williams (one of his final films), Mickey Rooney (his final film), Rebel Wilson, Ben Kingsley, Dan Stevens, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Skyler Gisondo and Ricky Gervais.
PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language | In Theaters 12/25 | Ok for Kids 13+ | The Weinstein Co. | Reel Preview: 5 of 5 Reels
Directed and produced by Tim Burton, “Big Eyes” is based on the true story of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), one of the most successful painters of the 1950s and 1960s. The artist catapulted to international fame by commercializing his enigmatic paintings of waifs with big eyes. Except … they were actually painted by his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams).
“Big Eyes” tells the story of Margaret’s awakening as an artist, the phenomenal success of her paintings, and her tumultuous relationship with her husband. Also stars Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman and Terence Stamp. At 87, Keane is still painting today; check out her website.
INTO THE WOODS
This big screen adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical is a modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Rapunzel.”
The tales are tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife, their wish to begin a family, and their interaction with the witch who has put a curse on them. Meryl Streep (The Witch), Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), Chris Pine (The Prince), Johnny Depp (The Wolf) and Emily Blunt (The Baker’s Wife) head up the cast of this gorgeous film directed by Rob Marshall.
PG-13 for war violence, including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language | In Theaters 12/25 | Ok for Kids 13+ | Universal Pictures | Reel Preview: 4.5 of 5 Reels | Unbroken | Facebook | Twitter
Angelina Jolie directs and produces this epic drama that follows the incredible life of Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII — only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.
Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s book, “Unbroken” chronicles the resilient power of the human spirit. Also stars Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock as Phil and Mac, the airmen with whom Zamperini endured perilous weeks adrift in the open Pacific, Garrett Hedlund and John Magaro as fellow POWs who find an unexpected camaraderie during their internment, Alex Russell as Zamperini’s brother, Pete, and in his English-language feature debut, Japanese actor Miyavi as the brutal camp guard known only to the men as “The Bird.”
Images used with permission of the studios and distributors.