From Bilbo to Ron Burgundy, a bountiful crop of holiday movies

10/30/2013 1:00 PM

11/21/2013 11:16 AM

A smug television anchor, an Asgardian god, a shady stockbroker and a bow-wielding insurgent are just a few of the characters vying for supremacy at multiplexes during the holidays.

Here are 16 movies that studios hope will ring in a bountiful box-office and/or critical acclaim ahead of the New Year. As always, release dates are subject to change.

Ender’s Game

Opened

It hass been 28 years since Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” won both a Nebula and a Hugo Award for best novel. Since then the militaristic sci-fi effort’s reputation has grown to include being listed as suggested reading for organizations such as the Marine Corps. Young Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield of “Hugo”) is recruited by the International Fleet to defend Earth from an insect-like alien race. Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld and a heavily tattooed Ben Kingsley headline a strong cast. But the addition of director Gavin Hood (the culprit responsible for the loathed “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) remains suspect.

12 Years a Slave

Opened

Brit director Steve McQueen (“Shame”) delivers an Academy Awards front-runner based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name, but it’s unlikely this grueling epic will become the feel-good smash of the holidays. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Northup, a free black man in pre-Civil War New York who is kidnapped and ferried to Louisiana as a slave. McQueen casts his “Shame” principal Michael Fassbender as a brutal plantation owner and Brad Pitt as a Canadian abolitionist. It offers one of the most unflinching looks at slavery in film history.

Thor: The Dark World

Opened

Few comic book movies have faced expectations so radically raised between the release of the first film and its sequel. That’s because the titular hero in “Thor” proved a major component of “The Avengers,” one of the most successful superhero flicks ever. Now the convoluted Marvel universe again expands, ushering in a storyline involving the Nine Realms and Malekith the Accursed (former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston), ruler of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim. Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Natalie Portman as Jane and Tom Hiddleston as the vanquished “Avengers” foe Loki return.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Opening Nov. 22

Few were surprised at how well “The Hunger Games” did at the box office: $408 million domestically. The real shocker was what an acclaimed movie it turned out to be. A newly Oscar-adorned Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, who are targeted by the Capitol after their televised victory at the 74th Hunger Games incites a rebellion — or perhaps it’s in response to their infuriating character names. Philip Seymour Hoffman emerges as the latest villain. Director Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend”) takes over for Gary Ross, so expect less shaky cam.

The Dallas Buyers Club

Opening Nov. 22

“Dare to Live” trumpets the poster of “The Dallas Buyers Club.” This also sounds like a phrase actor Matthew McConaughey might have tattooed on his body. He plays real-life Texas electrician Ron Woodroof, who does everything he can to stay alive after being diagnosed HIV-positive in 1986. It’s not just the disease that stands in his way; another obstacle is Big Pharmaceuticals — so Woodroof concocts a crafty method to help treat himself and other suffering patients. A post-“Magic Mike” McConaughey lost 38 pounds of sheer hunkiness to play this role.

Oldboy

Opening Nov. 27

The 2003 South Korean thriller “Oldboy” is routinely listed among the decade’s finest examples of world cinema. (It won a Grand Jury Prize at Cannes.) So it was inevitable that an American remake would materialize. But one directed by Spike Lee? And starring Josh Brolin? Nutty. Brolin plays a man kidnapped and imprisoned for 20 years in solitary confinement without any explanation. He is released and given a deadly ultimatum to find out why. Will this version be as creepy as the original? Will it be as spectacularly violent?

Frozen

Opening Nov. 27

Not to be confused with the recent identically named thriller about three teens stranded on a ski lift, “Frozen” marks the season’s top animated family offering. Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “The Snow Queen” gets a Disney makeover, displaying such hallmarks as a plucky heroine (voiced by Kristen Bell), an antagonistic hero (Jonathan Groff) and a talking something that doesn’t normally talk — in this case, an excitable snowman (Josh Gad). Together they journey to uncover why their kingdom has been thrust into eternal winter.

Inside Llewyn Davis

In limited release Dec. 6; no KC date

As opposed to the Coen brothers’ “Miller’s Crossing,” which didn’t feature anyone named Miller, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is actually about the fictional folksinger of the title. Idealistic Llewyn (played by Guatemalan-born Oscar Isaac of “Drive”) toils to get his music heard in the Greenwich Village scene of the early ’60s. John Goodman, Justin Timberlake and “Drive” co-star Carey Mulligan round out the cast of this dark tale that surveys those on the fringes of fame.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Opening Dec. 13

Last year’s first installment in “The Hobbit” trilogy felt suspiciously like a lazy “Lord of the Rings” knockoff. Odd, considering it was helmed by “LOTR” filmmaker Peter Jackson. But “The Desolation of Smaug” has a dragon — it says so right in the subtitle — which already makes it more intriguing. As does the fact Smaug is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch aka “Star Trek” villain Khan. Challenger Martin Freeman leads the halfling, dwarf and wizard party on “a quest to reclaim a homeland” and gold.

Her

In limited release Dec. 18; no KC date

There’s really nothing more alarming than the speed in which technology is consuming society. And nobody can find an offbeat approach to the material quite like director Spike Jonze, whose films “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation” and “Where the Wild Things Are” look and behave like no others. Joaquin Phoenix stars as a lonely man who fosters a relationship with his new artificially intelligent operating system. Actress Samantha Morton voiced the character during production before being replaced by someone even sexier — Scarlett Johansson.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Opening Dec. 20

Nearly a decade after “Anchorman” launched as a comedic vein of one-liners (“Sixty percent of the time, it works every time.”), a sequel has finally materialized. In “The Legend Continues,” San Diego’s top broadcast fixture (Will Ferrell, of course) says goodbye to the 1970s and hello to ’80s New York and the cable news era. Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, KU’s Paul Rudd and MU’s David Koechner are all back for this go-round. Don’t act like you’re not impressed.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Opening Dec. 25

Jordan Belfort’s memoir appears to be the perfect project for filmmaker Martin Scorsese. It has money, drugs and violence. It’s based on a real person — a crooked Wall Street broker — decades removed from his crimes. Sound like a “Goodfellas”-esque winner? Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Scorsese continues his collaborative streak with star Leonardo DiCaprio, which has already yielded three best picture nominations and one win (“The Departed”). Other than a late-term move from November to Christmas Day, the timing seems perfect for this Occupy Wall Street-type expose of excess run amok.

American Hustle

Opening Dec. 18

The FBI’s Abscam investigation led to the convictions of a senator, six members of the House and various state officials. But will it lead to a good movie? That’s on the shoulders (and famously massive ego) of filmmaker David O. Russell, who combines the casts from his Oscar efforts “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Fighter” (Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper) for this fictionalized Abscam-inspired drama set in the sordid 1970s. Could it be this year’s “Argo”?

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Opening Dec. 25

Buoyed by one of the most compelling trailers of 2013, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” updates the 1947 comedy for modern audiences, adding plenty of digital trickery along the way. Ben Stiller directs and stars as a loner photo editor at Life magazine who concocts elaborate fantasy worlds packed with heroism, danger and romance with his comely co-worker (Kristen Wiig). But when their jobs are threatened, he embarks on a real globe-hopping adventure that trumps those of his imagination.

August: Osage County

Opening Dec. 25

“August: Osage County” centers on how a relative’s disappearance coerces the scattered members of an Oklahoma family to return to their dysfunctional household. This awards-primed adaptation of Tracy Letts’ toxic comedy boasts Oscar vets Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, but it’s been 25 years since a film based on a Pulitzer-winning play won best picture ( “Driving Miss Daisy”).

47 Ronin

Opening Dec. 25

First came Tom Cruise as a samurai, and now Keanu Reeves. Universal Studios might have second-guessed the move as well, bumping “47 Ronin” from its November 2012 release date to December 2013 because of budget overruns and massive re-editing. Of course, the same thing happened with “World War Z,” and that turned out excellent for all parties involved. Reeves takes point on this classic Japanese folk tale about a group of 18th century samurai who avenge the murder of their master.

Other notable releases

Friday

“About Time”

“Free Birds”

“Last Vegas”

Nov. 8

“Diana”

Nov. 15

“The Best Man Holiday”

“Blue Is the Warmest Color”

Nov. 22

“Delivery Man”

Nov. 27

“Nebraska”

“The Book Thief”

Dec. 6

“Out of the Furnace”

Dec. 13

“Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas”

Dec. 20

“Saving Mr. Banks”

Dec. 25

“Grudge Match”

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