Nazis! Ghouls! Orcs! Kim Jong-un! Creepy hunters with sexist leers! What would the holiday movie season be without them?
It's the rush to the finish line, and the start of serious campaigning for awards season kudos, as 15-odd titles make their way to movie screens - and more than 15-odd if you happen to live in New York or Los Angeles, where would-be Academy Awards contenders must be booked for a one-week run before Dec. 31. There's something for everybody, sort of, although the themes are darker, the offerings sparser than in previous end-of-year lineups.
Here's what we have to look forward to. Dates are pretty firm, but still subject to last-minute rejiggering.
The Babadook (Dec. 5) "It's just a book, it can't hurt you," the single mum assures her 6-year-old son, scared silly by the spooky picture book they've been poring over at bedtime, and by its top-hatted namesake in Jennifer Kent's award-winning Australian horror pic. The term "pop-up book" gets a whole new, and ominous, meaning. No MPAA rating
The Pyramid (Dec. 5) From the director of the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, a tale of vengeful pharaohs set on an archaeological dig in the Egyptian desert.
"You're crazy if you think I'm not going in there!" Abercrombie & Fitch model and Chronicle costar Ashley Hinshaw says, heading for the orifice of a creepy, three-sided tomb. "Help me!" one of her fellow excavators can be heard screaming a short time later from the labyrinthine bowels of the titular edifice, designed in ancient times to insure that no one, ever, gets out alive. R
Diplomacy (Dec. 12) Imagine the City of Light without the Louvre, sans Eiffel Tower. Hitler's command to destroy Nazi-occupied Paris before the Allies rolled in is the subject of Volker Schlöndorff's historical pas de deux, with André Dussollier as the Swedish diplomat who entreats the German general, played by Niels Arestrup, not to proceed with the plan. No MPAA rating
Exodus: Gods and Kings (Dec. 12) What strange accent doth Christian Bale speaketh in Ridley Scott's biblical epic, playing Moses to Joel Edgerton's Ramses in the CG-crazy Old Testament reenactment?
"Remember this. I am prepared to fight. For eternity," this warrior Moses cautions the Egyptian king, just before the sea parts and chariots chase 600,000 Israelites being led by an Oscar-winner to a new land. PG-13
Top Five (Dec. 12) Chris Rock stars - and wrote and directs - this roman à clef-y romantic comedy about a famous comic star who wants to be taken seriously, and then a beautiful newspaper reporter Rosario Dawson enters the picture to see what he is made of. R
Wild (Dec. 12) Reese Witherspoon is still the front-runner - or front-trekker - in the best actress awards race, starring as Cheryl Strayed in the adaptation of her best-selling memoir about a 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, trying to right a life that has gone woefully wrong. From the director of Dallas Buyers Club. R
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Dec. 17) Martin Freeman is the furry-footed hero in Peter Jackson's final J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation, leading the Company of Thorin out of the Lonely Mountain and into an epic dustup with orcs, wargs, elves, dwarfs, and men. Pass the pipe, Master Baggins, we must celebrate forthwith! PG-13
Annie (Dec. 19) Will Smith is one of the principals behind this new take on the 1977 musical based on Harold Gray's vintage comic strip, Little Orphan Annie. Beasts of the Southern Wild's Oscar sweetheart Quvenzhané Wallis has the title role and Jamie Foxx is the Daddy Warbucks-ian Will Stacks, a multimillionaire running for mayor who thinks it would be good p.r. to have his photo taken with a cute waif. Cameron Diaz and Rose Byrne also star. PG
Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb (Dec. 19) The third and final installment in the hit series in which a former museum guard (Ben Stiller) hobs and nobs with figures from the past. This one has something to do with the waning magic powers of the Tablet of Ahkmenrah. Ben Kingsley, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, and the late Robin Williams pop up to help, or hinder, or steal a few laughs. PG
Big Eyes (Dec. 25) The story of celebrated kitsch artists Walter and Margaret Keane, famous in the 1950s for their mass-produced paintings of orb-eyed children and clowns. Walter claimed the artwork as his, but Margaret did most of the brushwork. And hence, a big, messy divorce. Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams are the Keanes, and Tim Burton, who explored the depths of schlock artistry in Ed Wood, directs.
The Gambler (Dec. 25) Mark Wahlberg is a college professor with a bad gambling jones and a student (Brie Larson) who wants to seduce him, in Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt's tough-looking Los Angeles drama. John Goodman, Jessica Lange, and Michael Kenneth Williams also ante in. R
The Imitation Game (Dec. 25) Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the British mathematician and logician who cracked the Nazis' Enigma code in World War II - and whose life in subsequent years, when he was outed as a homosexual, turned cruelly hellish. R
The Interview (Dec. 25) Already condemned in North Korea, a comedy about two tabloid-TV nincompoops - James Franco, Seth Rogen - who land an exclusive interview with dictator Kim Jong-un, only to find themselves enlisted by the CIA in a plot to assassinate the Supreme Leader. This could start a war. R
Into the Woods (Dec. 25) The James Lapine/Stephen Sondheim Broadway smash gets the Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) movie musical treatment - but you wouldn't know it from the trailer, which doesn't even offer a snippet of a song. With Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, and Johnny Depp singing and dancing their way through a Grimm universe. At least, we think that's what they're going to do. PG-13
Unbroken (Dec. 25) A World War II survival drama from director Angelina Jolie, her second feature. (Her first, In the Land of Blood and Honey, also dealt with the horrors of war.) British newcomer Jack O'Connell stars as the real-life Olympic track star Louis Zamperini, who survived a plane crash in the Pacific, was adrift for 47 days, and then was taken prisoner by the Japanese. The Coen Brothers get screenplay credit. R
Then there are a handful of prestige 2014 awards contenders we won't see in Philadelphia-area theaters until 2015. Here are a few:
Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice, coming Jan. 9
Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner, also Jan. 9
Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper, opening Jan. 16