Sunday, December 17, 2017
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Holiday Movie Preview: 'Star Wars,' 'Creed,' 'Room' and more

Think those Black Friday crowds at department stores are tough?

Take a look how many new movies are stampeding into theaters between now and the New Year (plus a few beyond that).

Just open the doors and get out of the way.

Nearly two dozen movies are scrambling for attention during the holiday season, from audiences and awards voters, starting with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 opening Friday. (See review at tampabay.com.)

That would be challenging enough for moviegoers and multiplexes, but one is a Star Wars flick. There may not be enough screens and spare time between shopping and parties to go around.

Our annual Holiday Movie Guide is here to help. As usual, dates are subject to change and box office bargains are rare.

The crush begins with a long, bountiful Thanksgiving weekend, five movies opening Wednesday with varied tastes in mind.

Nov. 25

^ Sylvester Stallone returns as boxing myth Rocky Balboa, not to fight but to train the troubled son (Michael B. Jordan) of his late rival Apollo Creed (PG-13). Jordan and director Ryan Coogler previously teamed on Fruitville Station.

The Good Dinosaur (PG) shapes up as one of Pixar's modest animation hits, not as inventive as Inside Out but teachable, like Brave. A boy and his Apatosaurus pal face mild dino-dangers. This movie is not tall enough to ride the coattails of Jurassic World.

The stars of two dramas set in the 1950s are gearing up for awards season. Saoirse Ronan is earning praise for portraying an Irish immigrant torn between countries and lovers in Brooklyn (PG-13), while Bryan Cranston does soapbox nobility as blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (R).

Finally, there's Victor Frankenstein (R) a gory romp starring James McAvoy as the mad scientist and Daniel Radcliffe as Igor, hoping a hump is a bump to his career.

Gift-wrapped in gold

Here's the real reason for the movie season — high-profile productions bent on making waves during awards season. Some won't open locally until 2016 (see below) but each is a contender.

Dec. 11

^ In the Heart of the Sea: Or, as many folks believe it's titled, Moby Dick. Director Ron Howard tackles the real whale behind Melville's myth, with Chris Hemsworth on harpoon.

Macbeth: Shouldn't we call this The Scottish Movie? Michael Fassbender plays Shakespeare's roaring tyrant, with Marion Cotillard as scheming Lady M.

Dec. 18

^ Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens: Perhaps you've heard of this one. Fans believe the movie event of 2015 will be the most extraordinary experience of their lifetimes. But that's what people said about The Phantom Menace.

Dec. 23

The Big Short: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and Brad Pitt play Wall Street wolves, hedge fund managers betting on the housing bubble to burst. Based on the book by Michael Lewis (Moneyball).

Dec. 25

^ Room: This year's little movie that might be an Oscar force, like Whiplash last year. Brie Larson and the extraordinary Jacob Tremblay are a mother and son whose entire world is a garden shed where they're held captive, and where she gave birth to him. One of 2015's best.

Joy: Ostensibly a biography of Miracle Mop creator Joy Mangano, but since David O. Russell writes and directs, we'll guess there's something deeper here. Jennifer Lawrence plays Joy, with key roles for her Silver Linings Playbook co-stars Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper.

The Hateful Eight: At his best, Quentin Tarantino figuratively throws rats in a barrel and watches them eat each other. This time it's a snowbound cabin in the frontier Rockies, where Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell aren't half the problem.

Concussion: Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a neuropathologist who discovered a brain trauma caused by football collisions. Opening as the NFL heads into playoffs, Concussion is bound to be a conversation piece.

Something to snack on

Then there are Hollywood's stocking stuffers — nothing to cherish forever but fine for killing time between meals. Batteries and award chances not included.

Dec. 4

^ Krampus: A Gremlins-style spin on the German folk monster Krampus, who terrorizes children not believing in Christmas. Toni Collette and Adam Scott are the suburban couple whose son (Clearwater Beach native Emjay Anthony) unleashes the beast.

Dec. 18

^ Sisters: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler together again. We want to go to there.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip: There are now more Chipmunk movies than Chipmunks. The fourth one in the kiddie series heads to Miami (a.k.a. Georgia with incentives and a spray tan). Me, I want a hula hoop.

Dec. 25

Daddy's Home: And a mild-mannered stepfather (Will Ferrell) isn't happy about it. Mark Wahlberg plays the deadbeat dad back in his children's lives, sparking a madcap game of one-upsmanship. Brawn vs. brainless, just like The Other Guys.

Point Break: Remaking the 1991 cult classic for a Go-Pro generation. Surfing alone isn't extreme enough for today's Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez) and Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey). Their caper features wingsuits, rock climbing, motocross, snowboarding and croquet (I made up the last one).

Belated gifts

Some packages from Hollywood aren't delivered to Tampa Bay on time. Moviegoers in markets with strategic priority will see several award contenders first, an annual frustration.

It's a long way from Thanksgiving to Oscar Night, so awareness and momentum are sometimes nurtured with delayed wider releases, after earlier qualifying runs in New York and Los Angeles. We’ll unwrap these titles later, as major award nominations are announced:

^ The Revenant: An intense Western from Oscar winning writer-director Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman), starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a frontiersman left for dead, now chasing the man who deserted him (Tom Hardy). (Jan. 8)

The Danish Girl: Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne is in line for an encore nomination, playing transgender pioneer Lili Elbe. Alicia Vikander co-stars, Oscar winner Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) directs. (Dec. 25)

I Saw the Light: Tom Hiddleston impersonates country music legend Hank Williams, more convincingly than George Hamilton did in 1964's Your Cheatin' Heart. Williams' tragic story walks the line of traditional biopics. (March)

Legend: The only thing better than a Tom Hardy movie is a movie with two Tom Hardys in it. He plays twin-brother gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, identical except for how they handle nasty business.

Carol: Married socialite Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) has an affair with a shopgirl (Rooney Mara) in 1950s Manhattan. Directed by Todd Haynes with the Sirkian flair of his 2002 throwback Far from Heaven. (Dec. 25)

Youth: A retired composer (Michael Caine) and his filmmaking best friend (Harvey Keitel) relax at a Alpine spa until they can't anymore. Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, following his Oscar winning import The Great Beauty. (Dec. 25)

Anomalisa: Saved this for last because now you should immediately watch the trailer for Charlie Kaufman's stop-motion animation meditation on loneliness and the human spirit. Puppets with emotions deeply felt.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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