Why does Hollywood always save most of its best movies for last? To get closer to the time when Oscar ballots are due. That’s why we’re in for an uptick in quality between now and January at the multiplex, although there will still be plenty of simple entertainment via comedies, horror flicks and not one but two gargantuan musicals. Here is a list of the holiday films coming soon to a theater near you.
“American Sniper”: Bradley Cooper stars for director Clint Eastwood as Chris Kyle, the U.S. Navy SEAL who shot and killed a record-setting 160 enemy soldiers during four tours of duty in Iraq.
“Annie”: The venerable Broadway smash gets a reinvention, with Quvenzhane Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) taking over as the adorable moppet being raised by a mean foster mom (Cameron Diaz). Jamie Foxx plays the tycoon who takes an interest in the young girl.
“Big Eyes”: Tim Burton gets serious with this drama recounting the life of the acclaimed 1950s painter Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and the ensuing battles with her husband (Christoph Waltz), who started taking credit for her work.
“Exodus: God and Kings”: Ridley Scott (“Prometheus,” “Kingdom of Heaven”) returns to the epic-sized canvas he knows so well with this retelling of the story of Moses (Christian Bale) as he defied the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and freed 600,000 Israelites. Then the plagues came and ruined everything.
“Foxcatcher”: Steve Carell sets the funny stuff aside for this fact-based story about John du Pont, the millionaire who decided to sponsor a wrestler (Channing Tatum) for the 1988 Olympics, with tragic results.
“The Gambler”: Mark Wahlberg takes over for James Caan in this new version of the 1974 crime drama about a college professor who moonlights as a high-stakes gambler and runs afoul of the wrong people.
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”: Peter Jackson finally brings his bloated trilogy to a close with this final installment in the tale of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and that mysterious ring. The title promises lots of action. Just no more half-hour dinner scenes, please.
“The Imitation Game”: Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the eccentric British genius who built a machine (arguably the first computer) that could crack the complicated encryption code used by Nazis in their messages during World War II.
“The Interview”: Two TV tabloid journalists (James Franco and Seth Rogen) land the scoop of their careers: a sit-down, face-to-face interview with North Korea leader Kim Jung-Un (Randall Park).
“Into the Woods”: Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) directs this adaptation of the Broadway musical phenomenon about a witch (Meryl Streep) making life difficult for Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), the one with the beanstalk. Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt and Lucy Punch round out the star-studded cast.
“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”: Ben Stiller and director Shawn Levy try to wring a few more bucks out of the popular franchise about a museum where the exhibits (including the late Robin Williams) come to life when no one is looking.
“The Pyramid”: A group of archaeologists exploring the remnants of an ancient structure discover there’s something trapped in the rubble with them — and it’s not friendly.
“Top Five”: Chris Rock wrote, directed and stars in this comedy about a comedian trying to change his image and be seen as a serious actor while his fiancee (Gabrielle Union), who is being filmed for a reality TV show, plans their wedding.
“Unbroken”: Joel and Ethan Coen wrote the screenplay and Angelina Jolie directed this retelling of the harrowing experiences of Louis Zamperini (played by Jack O’Connell), the Olympic runner who was captured by the Japanese during World War II.
“Wild”: Reese Witherspoon stars for director Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyers Club”) in this adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir about a woman who embarks on a 1,100-mile hike by herself.
“The Captive”: Filmmaker Atom Egoyan (“The Devil’s Knot”) tries to recapture his mojo with this thriller about a man (Ryan Reynolds) whose young daughter mysteriously vanishes. Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman play the detectives on the case.
“Inherent Vice”: Director Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood,” “The Master”) lightens up with this wacky adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel about a private investigator (Joaquin Phoenix) looking into the disappearance of his former girlfriend in 1970s Los Angeles. Think film noir by way of Cheech and Chong.
“A Most Violent Year”: Director J.C. Chandor (“Margin Call,” “All is Lost”) returns with his most ambitious film to date about a couple (Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain) trying to seize opportunities, both legal and not, to expand their family business during 1981, the most dangerous year on record in New York City history.
“Selma”: Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt are two of the producers of this buzzed-about biopic about Martin Luther King (David Oyewolo) and his battle for civil rights.
“Still Alice”: Julianne Moore may be in the running for an Oscar nomination for her performance as a famed linguistics professor who starts to forget words.
“Taken 3”: Liam Neeson returns as the ex-government agent with the worst luck in the world. This time, he’s the target, not his family.
“Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death”: 40 years after the end of the first film, a group of World War II evacuees take shelter in the same house that gave Daniel Radcliffe nightmares in the original.