The holiday movie season enters high tide this week and next with the Thanksgiving-timed openings of likely crowd-pleasers “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” and Disney-Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur.”
Opening Friday, “Mockingjay Part 2” concludes the four films based on novelist Suzanne Collins’ internationally popular “The Hunger Games Trilogy.” Jennifer Lawrence’s rebels launch a final assault on The Capitol, a city of decadent elites led by Donald Sutherland’s poisonous dictator, President Snow.
“The Good Dinosaur,” a story about a boy and his dinosaur, enters theaters Wednesday. Pixar Animation Studios, which created the “Toy Story” trilogy, “Finding Nemo,” “Up” and “Brave,” deserves much good will for its many great films. The studio would generate even more good will, though, if “The Good Dinosaur” is less cerebral that Pixar’s previous film, last summer’s chilly “Inside Out.”
Opening Friday, the Christmas Eve-set comedy “The Night Before” features Seth Rogen in one of his funniest roles. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and New Orleans native Anthony Mackie co-star as Rogen’s more or less straight men in a film that has strong box office potential through the holiday season.
Also opening today, “Spotlight,” a drama about The Boston Globe’s investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, is being hailed as one of the great movies about journalism. Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton, Oscar nominees last year for “Foxcatcher” and “Birdman,” respectively, co-star with Rachel McAdams.
Opening Wednesday, Nov. 25, the New Orleans filmed “Trumbo,” starring Bryan Cranston as blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, is generating much positive reaction for its leading man. Another drama opening Wednesday, “Brooklyn,” starring Irish actress Saoirse Ronan as a young Irish woman who immigrates to New York City in the early 1950s, is also among this year’s awards-worthy films.
Deeper into the season, “The Hateful Eight,” a new western by Quentin Tarantino, and “Joy,” which features a reunion of “Silver Linings Playbook” cast members Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper together with writer-director David O. Russell. Both films open Christmas Day.
Of course, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” arriving Dec. 18, has a lock on dominating its opening weekend. J.J. Abrams, who did a great job of reviving “Star Trek,” directs.
Many of the films opening between Nov. 20 and Dec. 25 are listed below. Opening dates are subject to change. Follow John Wirt on Twitter, @JohnWirt1
Nov. 20 Best Bets
“SPOTLIGHT” — The much-acclaimed “Spotlight” dramatizes The Boston Globe newspaper’s three-year-long investigation into allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Directed by Oscar-nominee Tom McCarthy and starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams.
“THE NIGHT BEFORE” — Seth Rogen steals the show in this all-nighter comedy about three New York City guys’ on the town during Christmas Eve. Friends since childhood, the guys traditionally celebrate the day before Christmas together. Because of family demands and life in general, however, they’ve decided to end the tradition – but not before one last holiday blast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and New Orleans native Anthony Mackie co-star.
Nov. 25 Best Bets
“BROOKLYN” — One of this year’s likely awards contenders, “Brooklyn” is the story of a young Irish woman who immigrates to New York City in the early 1950s. Saoirse Ronan gives a touching and commanding performance as Eilis Lacey, who must make the most difficult decision of her life.
“THE GOOD DINOSAUR” — In this alternate reality story from Pixar Animation Studios, the asteroid that smashed into Earth and drove dinosaurs into extinction instead misses Earth completely. The latter scenario makes it possible for an Apatosaurus named Arlo to make friends with a human. The voice cast includes Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright, Steve Zahn, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliott and Frances McDormand.
“TRUMBO” — In this New Orleans-filmed production, Bryan Cranston stars as Dalton Trumbo, a top Hollywood screenwriter until he and other filmmakers and actors were blacklisted for their political beliefs. Helen Mirren co-stars as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Diane Lane, John Goodman, Louis C.K. and Elle Fanning also appear.
Dec. 11 Best Bets
“IN THE HEART OF THE SEA” — In the winter of 1820, the New England whaling ship Essex is assaulted by a whale of mammoth size and will, plus a seemingly human sense of vengeance. This real-life maritime disaster inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.” Ron Howard directs a cast including Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson.
“ALL THINGS MUST PASS: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOWER RECORDS” — A feature-length documentary about the international retail music chain Tower Records, which once had a great location in the French Quarter.
Dec. 8 Best Bet
“STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS” — J.J. Abrams, director of the revived “Star Trek” film franchise, travels the galaxy again for this “Star Wars” resurrection. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” launches a new trilogy set following the events in “Return of the Jedi.” Original cast members Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher return, joined by Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis and Domhnall Gleeson.
Dec. 25 Best Bets
“JOY” — Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper reunite with David O. Russell, their “Silver Linings Playbook” writer-director. Lawrence’s character is a girl who becomes a woman, a founder of a business dynasty and her family’s matriarch. Her journey is accompanied by betrayal, treachery, loss of innocence and the scars of love.
“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” — Writer-director Quentin Tarantino sets his new western in the decade after the Civil War. It begins as a stagecoach hurtles through snowy Wyoming. The characters include a bounty hunter, the fugitive he’s captured, a former union soldier turned infamous bounty hunter and a Southern renegade who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. The cast includes Channing Tatum, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
“THE REVENANT” — During an expedition into the American wilderness, an explorer played by Leonardo DiCaprio is attacked by a bear and left for dead by his hunting team. The explorer, inspired by his love for his family, must survive a brutal winter and find redemption. Directed by Oscar-winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu (“Birdman”). Tom Hardy co-stars. Opens in limited release.
Also opening through December
“BY THE SEA” — Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie star as an American couple whose marriage is on the rocks. The time is the 1970s; the place is a French seaside resort; the cinematic style is European, circa the 1960s and 1970s. Local opening to be announced.
“SECRET IN THEIR EYES” — Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave,” “The Martian”), Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman appear in this drama-thriller about FBI agents investigating the murders of teenage girls.
“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2” — Starting exactly where last year’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” ended so abruptly ended, “Mockingjay 2” finds the courageous Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and the rebels launching a final assault on The Capitol. Josh Hutcherson and Oscar-winner Julianne Moore return respectively as Katniss’ true love, Peeta, and rebel leader President Coin. The film, the second installment of a two-part adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ concluding “Mockingjay” book, has impressive action sequences but also obvious, slow padding.
“CREED” — Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa returns as the trainer of Adonis Johnson, the boxing son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s opponent in “Rocky” and “Rocky II.” Michael B. Jordan co-stars Adonis, who never knew his famous father. Besides the return of Rocky, “Creed” marks a reunion for actor Jordan and Ryan Coogler, the writer-director of the great 2013 drama, “Fruitvale Station.”
“VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN” — Billed as a twist on Mary Shelley’s often filmed Gothic novel, “Frankenstein,” “Victor Frankenstein” stars James McAvoy as its title character and Daniel Radcliffe as Frankenstein’s brilliant protégé, Igor Strausman. Igor must save his mentor from madness and the monster he created.
“CHI-RAQ” — Spike Lee directs this modern-day adaptation of “Lysistrata” by the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. Following the murder of a child by a stray bullet, a group of women led by Lysistrata organize against the violence on Chicago’s Southside. Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes and Jennifer Hudson star.
“KRAMPUS” — In this ghoulish yet festive tale, the severe dysfunction of his family causes a boy named Max to reject the holidays. Max’s lack of Christmas spirit unleashes the demon named Krampus. This horror-comedy stars Adam Scott, Toni Collette and Emjay Anthony as Max.
“LEGEND” — Directed by Oscar winner Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential,” “Mystic River”), “Legend” tells the true story of the rise and fall of London’s notorious, twin-brother gangsters, Reggie and Ron Kray. Tom Hardy (“The Dark Night Rises,” “Mad Max: Fury Road”) plays both brothers. The supporting cast includes Emily Browning, David Thewlis and Chazz Palminteri.
“THE DARK HORSE” — Based on the life of the charismatic, brilliant yet little-known New Zealand chess champion, Genesis Potini, aka Gen. Opens in limited release.
“THE BIG SHORT” — A feature film adapted from former New Orleans resident Michael Lewis’ best-selling book about the housing bubble of the 2000s. Lewis co-wrote the screenplay. Cast includes Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Karen Gillan, Selena Gomez and Marisa Tomei. Opening Dec. 11 in limited release.
“ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE ROAD CHIP” — Chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore get jealous when they mistakenly believe that their human caretaker, Dave, intends to dump them for his new girlfriend. The voice talent in this computer-animated comedy includes Justin Long (Alvin), Matthew Gray Gubler (Simon) and Jesse McCartney (Theodore) and Jason Lee (Dave).
“MACBETH” — Michael Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave,” “Steve Jobs”) tackles Macbeth in this film adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Having already opened in the United Kingdom, the film inspired many positive reviews in The Bard’s home land. Marion Cotillard co-star as Lady Macbeth.
“SISTERS” — Former “Saturday Night Live” co-cast members Tina Fey and Amy Poehler reunite in this comedy about estranged sisters who must clear out their childhood bedroom before their parents sell the house. Paula Pell (“SNL,” “30 Rock” wrote the script.
“CONCUSSION” — Will Smith stars in this dramatic thriller based on the David vs. Goliath story of Dr. Bennet Omalu. A brilliant forensic neuropathologist, Dr. Omalu discovers the football-related brain trauma CTE. His discovery pits him against one of the richest, most powerful institutions in the world.
“CAROL” — An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Price of Salt,” “Carol” stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in a lesbian love story set in the 1950s. Sarah Paulson co-stars. Tentatively opening Dec. 25 in New Orleans.
“DADDY’S HOME” — In this New Orleans area filmed comedy, Will Ferrell plays a mild-mannered radio executive who’s striving to be a great stepdad for his wife’s two children. But then the kids’ real, and really irresponsible dad, played by Mark Wahlberg, shows up unexpectedly, on course to ruin Ferrell’s life.
“POINT BREAK” — In this action-thriller, a young FBI agent infiltrates a gang of thrill-seeking athletes that is suspected of executing a series of imaginatively staged crimes. Edgar Ramirez and Luke Bracey lead the cast.
“YOUTH” — Paolo Sorrentino, director of Italy’s foreign-language Oscar winner, “The Great Beauty,” helms a contemplative story centered upon two old friends on vacation at a spa in the Swiss Alps. Oscar-winner Michael Caine plays a retired composer and conductor who’s given up on life. Harvey Keitel co-stars renowned film director who’s developing what he envisions as his next project. Rachel Weisz, Paul Dana and Jane Fonda co-star.
Also opening in December
“THE DANISH GIRL” — Oscar-winner Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech,” “Les Misérables”) directs a love story inspired by the lives of artists Einar and Gerda Wegener. The couple’s marriage enters unexplored territory when Einar starts his journey to become one of the world’s first transgender women. Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything,” “Les Misérables”) and Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina,” “Anna Karenina”) star.