Roll out the red carpet; December means holiday hits, Oscar nods

The usual glut of holiday movie releases will be landing in theaters in a few weeks, led by the continuing saga of the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"   released Dec. 13. (Courtesy Mark Pokorny/MCT)
The usual glut of holiday movie releases will be landing in theaters in a few weeks, led by the continuing saga of the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" released Dec. 13. (Courtesy Mark Pokorny/MCT)
By Barry Koltnow
The Orange County Register via McClatchy-Tribune

When there is more turkey on the table, there are fewer turkeys in the theater.

In other words, it’s December again.

This is the time of year when Hollywood releases a glut of superior product on a suspecting public.

You stuffed your face at Thanksgiving; now it’s time to stuff your other senses at the movie theater.

Nobody really understands why a group of highly paid and presumably highly educated movie studio executives insist on releasing most of their best films in the same month, resulting in a bloody competition for space in the nation’s multiplexes and for those precious discretionary dollars in your wallet.

But every year, we are left to agonize over which movies to watch.

One of the benefits of living in a suburban area, which in Hollywood is described as any place that is not Manhattan or the Westside of Los Angeles, is that the studios stagger the openings of many of their Oscar-type movies.

For instance, director Peter Berg’s searing real-life war drama “Lone Survivor” opens in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 27, and then makes its way to suburban theaters on Jan. 10.

The Dec. 27 opening date is significant. A film needs to play in a movie theater for one week to be eligible for this year’s Oscars race. And make no mistake, this is indeed Oscar season. Nine of the last 25 best-picture Oscar winners were released in December.

Of course, not every holiday release is in it for the gold. Some of them are in it for the gold. Let me explain.

There are holiday movies that aspire to Oscar greatness, and are searching for that elusive gold statuette. Other movies aspire to make some money. A precious few aspire to both.

Here are 10 tips on how to determine whether a holiday movie is in it for the gold, or is in it for the gold.

However, one exception to the rule: If a movie has Jennifer Lawrence in it, it could either be looking for awards or money. Her new film “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is selling more popcorn than any other film in the multiplex, but on Dec. 13 (Dec. 18 in the ‘burbs), her next film “American Hustle” will be going for awards. Director David O. Russell’s name above the title is a tip-off to the quality contained within, although his films are capable of making a few bucks, too.

1. “August: Osage County” — Don’t be fooled by the title. This is a December movie if ever there was one. You can tell because two Oscar winners (Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts) are playing mother and daughter in the film. When Oscar winners play family members, it’s all about the statuette.

2. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” — Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences once rewarded director Peter Jackson with an armful of awards for his “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, it’s generally wise to assume that a movie with hobbits, elves and dragons is more about making money than winning awards. And when three huge movies are based on one small book, that’s also a clue as to intent.

3. “The Wolf of Wall Street” — Like Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio upsets the learning curve. He found both kinds of gold in “Titanic,” and nobody’s quite sure what to make of this unseen Martin Scorsese movie.

4. “Inside Llewyn Davis” — The Coen brothers have made a few movies that have hit box-office gold, but they are more often associated with quirky titles that attract critical attention. This new film is likely to follow that pattern, unless the American public has suddenly developed a burning desire to explore the early 1960s folk music scene in Greenwich Village.

5. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” — Ben Stiller has hit his fair share of box-office highs (“Meet the Parents” and “Night at the Museum”) and box-office lows (“Greenberg,” “Envy”), but no one who has seen this remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye film (based on a James Thurber short story) can agree on which side this will fall. Stiller directs and stars as the day-dreamer extraordinaire.

6. “Saving Mr. Banks” — Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, Emma Thompson as “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers. It’s a golden world after all.

7. “Labor Day” — It stars Kate Winslet. Polish the gold.

8. “Out of the Furnace” — Christian Bale has a Dark Knight on his resume, but nobody’s wearing a cowl or heading out in the Batmobile in this very serious rust-belt drama.

9. “Her” — A guy falls for the voice on his computer’s operating system. In the hands of Judd Apatow, it would be a million laughs. But it stars Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, so get a grip.

10. “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” — You need to ask?