The holiday movie season starts Friday with surefire hit “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1.”
Like the book series-based “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” movie franchises that preceded the likewise lucrative “Hunger Games” movies, the “Mockingjay” filmmakers are stretching their box office receipts by dividing one book into two movies. Let’s hope they don’t save all of the best stuff for “Mockingjay — Part 2.” It won’t be released until November 2015.
Other potential late-in-the-year hits, too, have a familiar ring. Hobbit hero Bilbo Baggins returns to Middle-earth in “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” Assuming the studio description of “Five Armies,” is accurate, this concluding installment of the “Hobbit” films is packed with epic action and adventure and more sweat-inducing challenges for Bilbo. It opens Dec. 17.
The 2014 holiday movie season features two high-profile musicals. “Annie,” starring Houma native Quvenzhané Wallis in the title role, arrives Dec. 19. Wallis’ performance in the south Louisiana-shot indie film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” earned her an Oscar nomination. She is the youngest actress in history to receive the honor. In the New York City-filmed “Annie,” she shares the screen with Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx.
A Disney adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods” opens Christmas Day. A trio of great actresses — Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep — highlight the cast. Stills and preview footage suggest the film will be beautiful to behold and hear.
On the awards front, “Wild,” an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling account of her spirit-testing journey on the Pacific Crest Trail, is among the early contenders. Reese Witherspoon stars and Jean-Marc Vallee, who helmed last year’s Oscar-winning “Dallas Buyers Club,” directs. “Wild” opens in limited release Dec. 5.
Opening Dec. 25, “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as British code-cracker and computing pioneer Alan Turing, is another potential award winner. Keira Knightley co-stars.
Opening Nov. 28, another prestige biopic, “The Theory of Everything,” depicts theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking during his young life at Cambridge University. Eddie Redmayne plays Hawking and Felicity Jones plays the art student he falls in love with.
Beaucoup’s picks for holidays season movies most likely to impress audiences and/or critics are listed below. Opening dates vary from city to city and are subject to change.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1 — After changing the Hunger Games forever, courageous Katniss Everdeen fights to save Peeta and the nation that’s chosen her as its heroine. Jennifer Lawrence returns at Katniss, Josh Hutcherson co-stars as Peeta and Julianne Moore is President Coin. As with earlier movie adaptations of blockbuster book series, the filmmakers have broken up Suzanne Collins’ concluding “Mockingjay” book into two parts, raising the possibility that the two parts of the film will not be equal.
PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR — This “Madagascar” spin-off stars penguin characters Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private. The computer-animated birds join a spy network called The North Wind. Benedict Cumberbatch provides the voice of the boss, Agent Classified, and John Malkovich speaks for the evil Dr. Octavius Brine.
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING — Oscar-winner winner James Marsh directs this romantic drama starring Eddie Redmayne (“Les Misérables”) as Stephen Hawking, the brilliant theoretical physicist and author of “A Brief History of Time.” Felicity Jones (“Like Crazy”) co-stars as Jane Wilde, the Cambridge University co-ed with whom the young Hawkings falls in love.
THE HOMESMAN — When three women on the edge of the American frontier are driven mad by the harsh pioneer life, the pious and brave Mary Bee Cuddy steps up for the task of transporting them via covered wagon to Iowa. Oscar winners Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep star in a cast that also features John Lithgow, Hailee Steinfeld and James Spader.
WILD — Director Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and screenwriter Nick Hornby (“An Education,” “High Fidelity”) adapt Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling account of her epic trek on the Pacific Crest Trail for the screen. Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon plays Strayed in this moving redemption story. Opens in New York and Los Angeles Dec. 5, local dates to be announced.
TOP FIVE — Written by, directed by and starring funny man Chris Rock, “Top Five” is about a comedian-turned-film star whose unexpected encounter with a journalist, played by Rosario Dawson, turns his thoughts to the comedy career he abandoned. Co-stars include Gabrielle Union, Cedric The Entertainer, Tracy Morgan, Kevin Hart and Jay Pharaoh.
INHERENT VICE — One of America’s great directors, Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood,” “Boogie Nights”) helms a star-filled story about a private eye whose ex-wife suddenly reinters his life, bringing a crazy story with her. The film’s labyrinth of characters includes surfers, hustlers, drug addicts, LAPD detectives, rock musicians and a deadly loan shark. The all-star cast includes Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, Jena Malone and Joanna Newsom. Opens in limited release.
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES — In the epic conclusion of the adventures of Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, Smaug the dragon is unleashed upon the population of Lake-town; Thorin Oakenshield sacrifices friendship and honor to search for the Arkenstone; Bilbo makes a desperate, dangerous choice; and Sauron, the Dark Lord, returns to Middle-earth. The epic “Five Armies” cast includes Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans and Cate Blanchett.
ANNIE — Quvenzhané Wallis, the Houma actress who received an Oscar nomination for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” stars in a new film adaptation of the Little Orphan Annie-based Broadway musical. Jamie Foxx co-stars as the film’s Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks equivalent and Cameron Diaz plays Miss Hannigan.
INTO THE WOODS — Walt Disney Pictures gives Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Brothers Grimm-based Broadway musical a lavish film adaptation. The cast includes Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), James Corden and Emily Blunt (the baker and his wife) and Meryl Streep (the witch).
THE IMITATION GAME — In the winter of 1952, British authorities entered the home of mathematician, cryptanalyst and war hero Alan Turing. Instead of investigating a reported burglary, they arrested Turing for “gross indecency.” Turing, a computing pioneer, is credited with cracking Germany’s believed-to-be unbreakable codes during World War II. Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley star.
BIG EYES — Tim Burton directs Amy Adams as artist Margaret Keane, the creator of images of sad, big-eyed children that became famous in the late 1960s and early ’60s. Keane’s husband, however, took credit for her work. Christoph Waltz co-sars.
UNBROKEN — Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie directs “Unbroken,” an epic drama about Olympic athlete and World War II hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini. Jack O’Connell stars as Zamperini, the survivor of a plane crash, 47 days at sea and a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.
Local opening date to be announced
FOXCATCHER — Based on a true story, “Foxcatcher” details the ultimately tragic relationship between an eccentric multi-millionaire and two world-class wrestlers. Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo star in a drama helmed by Bennett Miller, director of “Capote” and “Moneyball.” Local opening date to be announced.
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 — In the sequel the 2011’s comedy “Horrible Bosses,” put-upon characters played by Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis decide to become their own bosses. Their dreams are dashed, however, and, echoing their previous misadventures, they turn to drastic measures. The sequel goes to the expense of adding new adversaries played by Chris Pine and Christoph Waltz and bringing back additional original cast members Jennifer Aniston and Jamie Foxx.
THE PYRAMID — A team of U.S. archaeologists gets more than it bargained after the discovery of a lost pyramid in the Egyptian desert. Having unlocked secrets within an ancient structure, the archaeologists realize they’re not just trapped in it, they’re hunted. Starring Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O’Hare and Christa-Marie Nicola.
EXODUS: GOD AND KINGS — Director Ridley Scott (“Gladiator,” “Prometheus”) tells an epic story about Moses, Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses and 600,000 slaves who escape from Egypt. Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton lead the cast.
MR. TURNER — This a biopic about Britain’s Romantic-era landscape artist J.M.W. Turner concentrates on the final 25 years of his life. A controversial figure, Turner lives, loves and, in the company of England’s country aristocracy, travels. Mike Leigh directs Timothy Spall as Turner. Opens in New York and Los Angeles Dec. 19, local opening date to be announced.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB — Ben Stiller returns as Larry Daley in this “Night At the Museum” sequel, which features previous and new characters. The cast includes Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais and Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt, one of his final film roles.
AMERICAN SNIPER — Clint Eastwood directs this drama about the most effective sniper in U.S. military history. The story follows Navy SEAL Chris Kyle to Iraq and back home to the states, where he’s haunted by the war. The cast includes Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. Opens in limited release.
THE INTERVIEW — Billed as an action-comedy, “The Interview” stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as a producer and tabloid TV personality who travel to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-un. The supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a fan of their program, “Skylark Tonight.”
LEVIATHAN — Russian actor and filmmaker Andrei Zvyagintsev directs this drama set in a fishing village near the Barents Sea. The village’s corrupt mayor (Roman Madianov) is determined to take an auto-repair shop, house and land away from their rightful owner (Alexey Serebryakov). Opening Dec. 31 in New York and Los Angeles, local opening date to be announced.
THE GAMBLER — Mark Wahlberg plays a man leading a double life: English professor and a high-stakes gambler. Michael Kenneth Williams, Jessica Lange and John Goodman co-star.