Films fight for last-minute Oscar contention

NewsdayNovember 22, 2013 

If you thought Tom Hanks, Cate Blanchett, Bruce Dern and Robert Redford were adding up to a crowded Oscar season, just wait. Here come Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio and Meryl Streep.

This year’s Oscar race is so jam-packed that it’s starting to resemble the New York City Marathon. When a ferocious campaigner such as Harvey Weinstein holds back the release of an Oscar gorilla like “Grace of Monaco,” starring Nicole Kidman, you know things are getting rough. “This is the most competitive season I’ve ever seen,” Weinstein reportedly said at a Zurich film festival earlier this year. “And if you aren’t ready, don’t get in it.”

The jockeying has been fierce, with several studios choosing to delay their movies rather than rush them to market. George Clooney’s World War II drama “The Monuments Men” was pushed to 2014 while he fine-tuned the visual effects. “Foxcatcher,” a true-crime drama starring Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, was moved to next year to give director Bennett Miller (“Capote”) more time to finish it. Martin Scorsese tinkered with his DiCaprio vehicle “The Wolf of Wall Street” for so long that Paramount pushed its Nov. 15 release date to Christmas Day. Paramount also bumped “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” a Tom Clancy reboot starring Chris Pine, out of the high-profile Christmas slot into January.

Speaking of Christmas, there’s barely enough room under the tree for all the movies. The Dec. 25 holiday typically sees three nationwide releases. This year, there are five. Even Justin Bieber is horning in with a new pop doc, “Believe.” There also are two smaller-scale releases: “The Invisible Woman,” a biopic about Charles Dickens and his secret lover, from actor-director Ralph Fiennes, and “August: Osage County,” starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. (That’s what counts as “smaller” this Christmas.)

Don’t forget about guaranteed blockbusters like the sequels to “The Hobbit,” “The Hunger Games” and Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman,” all of which look like opportunities for the studios to print money. It’s going to be a busy holiday season.

Nov. 22

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”: Past winners of the grueling survival contest return to the field. With Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and new addition Philip Seymour Hoffman.

“Delivery Man”: An underachiever (Vince Vaughn) discovers his sperm bank donations have resulted in 533 children.

“Philomena”: Judi Dench plays an Irish Catholic pressured to give up her out-of-wedlock child during the repressive 1950s. Based on a true story. Directed by Stephen Frears (“The Queen”).

Nov. 27

“Black Nativity”: A contemporary adaptation of the Langston Hughes musical. With Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and Jennifer Hudson.

“Frozen”: Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Syosset’s Idina Menzel (Broadway’s “Wicked”) provide voices in Disney’s animated adventure about a kingdom trapped in eternal winter.

“Homefront”: This action flick certainly has an attention-grabbing cast: Jason Statham as a drug-enforcement agent, James Franco as a meth kingpin and Winona Ryder as his girlfriend.

“Oldboy”: Suddenly and inexplicably, a man is released from 20 years in captivity. Spike Lee’s reinterpretation of the 2003 South Korean hit features Josh Brolin, Sharlto Copley and Elizabeth Olsen.

Nov. 29

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”: The life of South African revolutionary-turned-president Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba). Naomie Harris (“Skyfall”) plays his wife, Winnie.

Dec. 6

“Inside Llewyn Davis”: A struggling songwriter (Oscar Isaac) navigates New York City’s folk scene during the 1960s. Directed and written by the Coen brothers. With Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and Justin Timberlake.

“Out of the Furnace”: In a depressed Rust Belt town, two brothers (Christian Bale, Casey Affleck) turn to crime. Directed and co-written by Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”).

Dec. 13

“American Hustle”: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams star in a drama about frauds, feds and political power brokers. With Jeremy Renner. Directed by David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”).

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”: The second in Peter Jackson’s fantasy trilogy. With Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan and Orlando Bloom. In regular and high-frame formats, and in 3-D.

“Saving Mr. Banks”: A Disney film starring Tom Hanks as Walt himself. It’s about his struggle to make the 1964 film “Mary Poppins,” based on the novel by P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson).

“Tyler Perry’s A Medea Christmas”: Perry’s pistol-packing Madea spends the holidays in the country. With Anna Maria Horsford, Tika Sumpter and Larry the Cable Guy.

Dec. 18

“Her”: Joaquin Phoenix plays a man who falls in love with “Samantha,” the voice of an advanced computer operating system. Scarlett Johansson provides the voice. Written and directed by Spike Jonze.

Dec. 20

“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”: Will Ferrell returns as mustachioed newscaster Ron Burgundy. With Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and franchise newcomer Kristen Wiig.

“Walking With Dinosaurs”: This movie from 20th Century Fox is described as “a thrilling prehistoric adventure, where an underdog dinosaur triumphs against all odds to become a hero for the ages.”

Dec. 25

“August: Osage County”: Meryl Streep is a dying matriarch and Julia Roberts is her embittered daughter in this adaptation of Tracy Letts’ acclaimed stage play.

“Believe”: Following up 2011’s “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” comes a new movie about the teen pop idol.

“Grudge Match”: A comedy-drama with Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro as aging boxers.

“The Invisible Woman”: Ralph Fiennes directs himself as Charles Dickens, who at the age of 45 began an affair with teenage actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones).

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”: Ben Stiller directs and stars in a new adaptation of James Thurber’s short story about a chronic daydreamer. With Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine and Sean Penn.

“47 Ronin”: A fantasy-action film based on the traditional Japanese tale of outcast samurai who avenge their master’s murder. With Keanu Reeves.

“The Wolf of Wall Street”: The story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose boiler room, Stratton Oakmont, defrauded investors while funding his party-hearty lifestyle. Directed by Martin Scorsese.

Dec. 27

“Labor Day”: A reclusive woman (Kate Winslet) and her son shelter an escaped convict. With Josh Brolin and Tobey Maguire. (The film plays for one week to qualify for Oscar contention, then opens wide Jan. 31.)

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