I’m psyched. This December is an Oscar-contenders extravaganza. Already, we’re hearing buzz-o-rama for directors Angelina Jolie, Clint Eastwood, Jean-Marc Vallée, J. C. Chandor and Ridley Scott. And these A-listers will wow you this month: Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Chastain, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Oscar Isaac.
There are more Best Picture Academy Award hopefuls, but they got squeezed out of my shortlist — it was tough to choose what was in and who was out. Titles and actors worthy of mention are “Into the Woods” with Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes” with Amy Adams and Cristoph Waltz and director Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” which is about Martin Luther King Jr. and produced by Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey.
Now let’s get to it. Here are TheBlot Magazine’s Top 5 must-see movies for December 2014, a film-lovers month.
Dec. 5: “Wild”
Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) strayed in her marriage — a lot. Her way of non-coping with the death of her mother (Laura Dern) was to lose herself in heroin, lots of sex and then emotionally collapse. With her ruined marriage and grief-stricken heart, she heads out on a 1,000-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. To say she is ill-prepared for the strenuous hike is an understatement. Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”) wrote the screenplay, an adaptation of Strayed’s bestselling memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”) directed this engaging film with views as breathtaking as postcards along the edge of sanity. Bring tissues. Biography drama. Rated R. 115 min.
Dec. 12: “Exodus: Gods and Kings”
Get ready for this epic adventure directed by Ridley Scott (“Gladiator,” “Alien,” “Prometheus,” “Bladerunner”). We’re talking Egypt’s survival. Christian Bale (“American Hustle,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Out of the Furnace“) goes biblical playing Moses opposite Joel Edgerton as the Pharoah’s son Rhamses. The impressive cast includes Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro and 10,000 extras. Lots of money went into making this movie, so expect to be awed by the grand scale of the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea and lots of epic-ness with men on chariots. Disclaimer: I’d swoon at anything Christian Bale does. Action adventure drama. Rated PG-13. 150 min.
Dec. 25: “Unbroken”
Step aside, men, Angelina Jolie gains gravitas in the director’s chair. FYI: Women comprised only 6 percent of the directors working on the top 250 films of 2013. Dismal. But with directors like Jolie, that may change. The screenplay for “Unbroken” was written by Joel and Ethan Coen and based on the 2010 bestseller by Laura Hillenbrand, and it tells the true story of Louis Zamperini (newcomer Jack O’Connell), an Olympic athlete who went on to fight in World War II. Tragedy struck when his plane crashed; lost at sea, he survived on a raft for 47 days with only rainwater to drink and raw fish to eat. Then, instead of being rescued, he was captured by Japanese soldiers and brutally tortured as a POW. (It’s a very familiar story to another great WWII POW movie, “The Railway Man.” I’ll never understand why that flick came and went with little notice.) Jolie’s hero Zamperini died at age 97 in July, and while working on the film, he and Jolie grew very close. Thankfully, he was able to see some scenes from the film before he died. Jolie will be on NBC’s “Unbroken: The Real Story” on Tuesday, Dec. 9 at 10 p.m. War drama. Rated PG-13. 137 min.
Dec. 25: “American Sniper”
December is full of true tales. This one is about U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. He served four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq. Sienna Miller plays his long-suffering wife. He’s a hero on the battlefield because of his incredible aim. American icon Clint Eastwood directs this dark war drama. It is based on Kyle’s memoir, and Cooper will blow you away in this role (oops, sorry, that’s a terrible yet accidental pun). Action war drama. Rated R. 132 min.
Dec. 31: “A Most Violent Year”
In New York City, 1981 is considered the most dangerous year ever for the Big Apple. This is a taut and gritty crime thriller written and directed by J.C. Chandor. I must confess dark, moody, violent thrillers are my fave. Anna Morales (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) come up against turf wars, corruption and violence. Grabbing the American dream proves extremely challenging, and things go terribly awry. Chastain is a powerhouse as always, and Isaac keeps getting sexier and sexier. Abel Morales ain’t no Llewyn Davis schlub, that’s for sure. Both give Oscar-worthy performances. The strong cast includes David Oyelowo and Albert Brooks. Crime action drama. Rated R. 125 min.
Dorri Olds is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.