The Race To The Finish: The December Movie Preview

How Will 2013 Be Remembered? December, As Always, Will Have A Lot To Say About It

Here is a quick way to tell if any given year has a chance to be considered a great year of cinema. You can’t tell in the moment, it is truly impossible, but this will give you an idea. What you do is list the
movies from the year that you could picture being considered classic films a decade from now. Here, I’ll show you what I mean, here are the movies from 2012 that I think have a chance (some a slim chance) or becoming classics, of being truly remembered and respected 10 years from now and beyond. In no particular order they are:

  • Django Unchained
  • The Avengers
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • The Hunger Games
  • Skyfall
  • Lincoln
  • Argo
  • Silver Lining Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • Life of Pi
  • Wreck-It Ralph
  • Pitch Perfect
Cult Classic Potential
  • Frankenweenie
  • ParaNorman
  • Looper
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • The Cabin in the Woods
Twelve movies I could see being considered a classic on some level and another five that have cult classic potential in droves. That is not my list of favorite movie of last year, in fact some I didn’t even like all that much (I’m sorry, Zero Dark Thirty felt like torture to me after two hours). But in seven years if any of those movies ended up on a “Best Movies of 2010’s” list I’m not going to be the least bit surprised.
Now, try that with 2013… Go ahead, I’ll wait… Having trouble?…Want a few more seconds?… Alright, what have you got? Gravity, Captain Phillips, Nebraska, 12 Years A Slave (but you probably don’t really think either of those are going to get there), Frozen, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, Before Midnight, Francis Ha. Notice a big difference between those two lists? The only movie that was not a genuine blockbuster on the 2012 list was Pitch Perfect and it was an absolutely a hit (even has a sequel in the works), what about our list from this year? Ten movies and only four were hits, the rest were small indie movies that are great, but to be fair small indie movies RARELY become classics no matter how good they are (not enough people see them to remember them).
What’s the point?
Nothing more than that, from a quality perspective, if 2013 is going to be remembered fondly it has some work to do. The year also has work to do if it wants to pass 2012 at the box office. In other words, any way you slice it how 2013 will be looked at now and in the future will have everything to do with what we see in the next month. Fifteen movies are set for release in December and I have ranked them all twice. First in their importance to the box office and second in their importance to legacy (they are in the order of the box office rank for no particular reason).
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
December 13th
Box Office Rank: 1
Legacy Rank: 5
It is nearly impossible to imagine the second Hobbit movie not being a hit. For all of the bashing the first Hobbit movie received it still went on to gross over $1 billion world-wide and $300 million domestically. Those are huge numbers. Still, from a box office perspective this movie needs to be huge if 2013 is going to make up ground on 2012. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire can’t be expected to do all the heavy lifting. The other big question facing this movie is will it get people excited for part 3 next year? Last year’s first section of the story felt bloated (because it was bloated) and lacked the more kid friendly feel of the book, but it wasn’t as bad as some people seemed to want to make it out to be. This version will give us the dragon, which should be cool and will get us closer to the big battle that all of the fans of the book are really excited about (I read the book 40 years ago, I’m not going to pretend I have a good feel for what I should be looking forward to). I still think the middle Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers, was the most entertaining of that bunch so I am hopeful Jackson will pull that off again.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
December 20th
Box Office Rank: 2
Legacy Rank: 10
When the first Anchorman came out 9 years ago it marked the beginning of what was to be a comedy landscape dominated by WIll Ferrell and Judd Apatow and Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller and Steve Carrell and Owen Wilson. Now, all of these years later, many of those guys are struggling to find a hit. Either they have run their schtick into the ground (I’m looking at you VInce Vaughn and Owen Wilson) or they have gone oddly dark (Judd Apatow, Ben Stiller) or they are making a killing doing a strange voice in animated features. The point is, Will Ferrell hasn’t fallen off the way Vince Vaughn has, but he could use a hit, a big hit. The odds are reasonably good he’ll have one here. The original is an undisputed comedy classic that seems to pick up new fans every year as it seems to air constantly on TBS or TNT or Comedy Central or FX or USA or… you get the picture. One thing to watch will be whether or not people feel like they can wait. Because most people have only seen the original on the small screen will they feel the need to see the new one on the big screen? Probably, but it will be interesting to see.

Note: I haven’t ‘reviewed’ either of the first two movies because they are ‘review proof’. At this point you are either in or out on middle-Earth or the channel 5 news team, nothing I say will change that.
Saving Mr. Banks
December 20th
Box Office Rank: 3 – tie
Legacy Rank: 2
This is one of a few films I could have made a strong argument should have been ranked #1 both in box office importance and in terms of the legacy of 2013. From the box office perspective Hollywood needs the year-end adult drama hits that often put a year over the top and make next January stay strong. From a legacy perspective, you can’t waist an Emma Thompson vs. Tom Hanks movie where Hanks is playing Walt Disney. What will be interesting to watch is how people rest to a story about a truly difficult, often dreadful, woman. P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins and the character Emma Thompson is playing, was by all accounts a shrew and Thompson, by all accounts, plays her very much that way. John Lee Hancock got Sandra Bullock an Oscar for playing a difficult woman, but that was a difficult woman with a heart of gold who was trying to give an inner-city kid a better life, this is a difficult woman who is trying to make sure Disney doesn’t make her book into a movie that is too sweet or sentimental, not sure audiences will be as universally accepting of that motivation. But it is those potential pitfalls that make this movie so critical. If it goes right and John Lee Hancock finds that balance of comedy and drama that made The Blind Side a hit and adds to it enough gravitas to make it oscar worthy, well, now we are talking. If it falls short, and it probably will, in one or both of those categories the likelihood is that 2013 will fall short too. Having said all of that, this is going to be a movie worth watching, not as a dispassionate ‘what does this mean to 2013’ watching, I mean a sit back and enjoy watching. 2 hours well spent at the cinema watching. Go see the movie watching.

American Hustle
December 20th
Box Office Rank: 3 – tie
Legacy Rank: 4
Basically, just about everything I said about Saving Mr. Banks I could say about American Hustle, even if the two films share absolutely nothing in common. American Hustle is David O. Russell’s follow-up to Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter. He combined the casts of those last two films and made this true crime story of 70’s conmen (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) who get strong-armed into working with a crazy FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) as he forces them into the world of pawn brokers and the New Jersey mob and politics. Jennifer Lawrence apparently steals the movie as the wife of a politician who could be the key to the whole con working or falling apart. Almost no one is saying that American Hustle reaches the artistic heights of David O Russell’s best movies, but if this can be as entertaining as Three Kings it will be a hit and go a long way to making us remember this year fondly. My bet is it doesn’t quite get that high, but it comes close.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
December 27th
Box Office Rank: 4
Legacy Rank: 9
I’ve got to say, when I first heard this movie was being made I rolled my eyes and thought simply ‘why?’. Then I saw the trailer and at least from the look of that it seems like Ben Stiller, who stars and directs here, has got the right feel. This movie needs to be like a commercial Spike Jonze movie. Being John Malkovich but just reeled in a little bit so more than just hipsters and film snobs want to watch it. That is precisely how the trailer feels, but a trailer is one thing, two hours of movie is something else entirely. This movie has such a chance to fall into feeling like Bendan Fraiser’s Bedazzled, and that isn’t a good thing, that it is hard to put too much faith in it. The thing is, this isn’t a year that can afford an out and out miss here, with a movie that has been given the press and praise this movie has already been given. It doesn’t have to be oscar worthy, but it better be good. It better fit into the world of Stranger Than Fiction and 500 Days of Summer and Adaptation and other quirky comedies that are actually, interestingly quirky, because if it doesn’t, well, ask Vince Vaughn how he’s feeling about his career right about now.

The Wolf Of Wall Street
December 27th

Box Office Rank: 5
Legacy Rank: 1

If you look over all of the movies that are coming out in December there are a number by great directors that could be amazing movies and favorites of cine-philes the world over, however, if you are being really honest with yourself, the only movie that has a chance to be a true classic, the kind of classic that makes AFI lists 20 years from now, is The Wolf Of Wall Street. Scorsese, DiCaprio, based on the memories of a criminal (remember how that turned out last time Scorsese used a criminals memoir? We got a little movie called Goodfellas), this is a film with all of the making of a true classic, the kind of classic that will make people look at 2013 as a great year for movies just by virtue of this film being a part of this year. It could do all of that, problem is I don’t think it will do any of that. This is a movie that keeps being pushed back, that had a prime space to be counter-programming to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen and Thor: The Dark World and gave it up to move back, to find itself surrounded by movies going after a similar audience. That is one of those things that may mean nothing, then again it may mean that the studio knows that they have something closer to Shutter Island on their hands and not The Departed or Gangs of New York or Hugo (and certainly not Raging Bull or Taxi Driver). Having said that Shutter Island is Scorsese’s second highest grossing movie to date, so maybe the studio doesn’t think that is such a bad thing. How they will make a story that seems like an odd mash-up of Wall Street meets Goodfellas meets The Great Gatsby into something that doesn’t feel out of time (particularly since it is set in the early 1990’s) seems a bit like a stretch. But maybe that is the other lesson to be learned here, I, and many other box office prognosticators, wrote off The Great Gatsby last May as a ‘why did they make that movie’ movie, and it went on to be a very solid hit, maybe I should stop betting against Leo DiCaprio. And his track record with Scorsese is pretty impressive too, at least from a box office perspective. Shutter Island, The Departed, The Aviator, Gangs of New York, I don’t know that there is a truly classic film in the bunch but I do know they all performed really well. Maybe I rank this so high on the legacy scale because I so vividly remember a time when I could not wait for another Scorsese movie. Taxi Driver, New York, New York, Raging Bull, King of Comedy, After Hours, The Color of Money, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Age of Innocence, Casino, they weren’t all perfect movies but I loved every one of them. I have enjoyed a number of the movies Scorsese has made since Casino, but I haven’t loved any of them and I am afraid I won’t love this one either…but few things would make me happier than being wrong about that.

47 Ronin
December 27th

Box Office Rank: 6
Legacy Rank: 12

If this movie did reasonably well at the box office I wouldn’t be shocked. It feels like it has bomb written all over it, but it won’t have any bi FX movie competition left by the end of December and it might just be the kind of absurd entertainment that someone like me would go and see. If I found it entertaining I wouldn’t be shocked, in fact my expectations are low enough I can almost guarantee I’ll have fun watching Keanu play a samurai who has to fight demons and dragons and hordes and everything and anything else in order to avenge the death of his master and stop the evil from taking over the world and whatever other motivations they throw in there. What would shock me, I mean what would totally blow my mind, is if this movie got over a 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. EVERY review for this is going to be negative. You can just sense it when you watch the trailer. This is the kind of movie that critics hate. So, if I am wrong and it receives good reviews then run to the theater and see it because it would have to be transcendently awesome in order for most critics to not say stuff like ‘its a loud, bloated, orgy of CGI monsters and violence that lacks any wit or nuance’ or something like that. Or ’47 Ron-OUT’ (see what I did there).

Grudge Match
December 27th

Box Office Rank: 7
Legacy Rank:13

If DeNiro didn’t already have Meet The Parents and it’s two sequels and Analyze This and it’s sequel and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle and a bunch of other movies that made you scratch your head I suppose it would be shocking, maybe even in a good way, that he was willing to do Raging Bull vs. Rocky at this point in his life. But apparently DeNiro wasn’t the one who needed convincing, Stallone thought it seems a bit sell-out-ish and wasn’t sure if he wanted to do it. Read that again. Stallone wasn’t sure about it but DeNiro was all in. What crazy, backwards world do we live in where Sly Stallone is pickier about his projects than Robert DeNiro?!?!?! This whole thing is insane! The director, Peter Segal, has made some funny movies, or at least successful ones (Get Smart, 50 First Dates, Anger Management, The Longest Yard) and he has made one movie that is near and dear to all who love it (Tommy Boy), but wow, this is going to be a tricky one to pull off. Why? Because neither Stallone or DeNiro are particularly funny. They have each been funny in movies when they are playing off of funny people, but where are the funny people who will carry this project. Kim Bassinger and Alan Arkin. Alan Arkin is a master, but even he couldn’t carry those three. Kevin Hart is in this too, but that is an awful lot of comedy to ask Kevin Hart to carry.

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas
December 13th

Box Office Rank: 8
Legacy Rank: 15

I will not be yet another white guy to talk about how I don’t get the Madea thing. I don’t, but maybe I’m not supposed to. There have been five Madea movies and they have all been huge financial successes, this one will be too. The reason it isn’t ranked higher in box office importance is that success is a relative thing. No Madea movie has crossed the $100 million threshold. As a rule they end up somewhere in the $55 million to $75 million range, awesome since they cost under $10 million to make but from the overall box office perspective they aren’t going to make or break any year. As for legacy, Madea’s legacy is minted at this point, nothing about that will ever change.

Inside Llewyn Davis
December 6th

Box Office Rank: 9 – Tie
Legacy Rank: 3 – Tie

A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates Greenwich Village’s folk scene in 1961, how could that not be a blockbuster? Before you think this is some kind of follow-up to A Mighty Wind (hold that thought, I love that idea) this is the latest from the Cohen brothers. Some people are already predicting this mellow film will become another Cohen brothers cultural phenomenon and be in a lot of oscar conversations. I have no doubt it will be one of my favorites from the year, but I am absolutely in the bag for these guys, so maybe I am not the best person to judge. It is a critical movie in that either it or one of the two movies it is ‘tied’ with has to be a surprise hit for the hollywood to have any chance of pushing to a box office record for the year. And, it is one of those movies that if it is another Fargo or O’ Brother Where Art Thou or pick your favorite Cohen brothers movie it will go along way to salvaging the year quality wise. This is also the latest can Justin Timberlake be a viable actor vehicles, if he can’t here I think we can all agree he should stick with music and SNL hosting, right?

Out Of The Furnace
December 6th

Box Office Rank: 9 – Tie
Legacy Rank: 7

First, let’s all be honest about something, Crazy Heart is not a great movie. Jeff Bridges, who I freely admit is probably my favorite actor of all time, was great in it and it had some terrific moments but it was by no means an instant classic. Why bring up Crazy Heart? Because Scott Cooper, who directed Crazy Heart, has now teamed up with Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson and Zoe Saldana and Casey Affleck and Forrest Whitaker and Willem Dafoe to make Out Of The Furnace. The plot sounds like it could be the next Jason Statham or Vin Diesel vehicle, when a man disappears and the cops can’t fins him it is up to his older brother to seek out justice. Come to think of it, that’s basically the plot of Get Carter (which I do not mean as an insult to the original Michael Cain version or the underrated Sly Stallone version). To me this movie feels an awful lot like Killing Them Softly, which came out the same weekend last year, also had a star studded cast and generally positive, if not glowing, reviews (and deservedly so by the way) but that people didn’t bother to see. This is a ‘catch it on Netflix next year’ kind of a movie. It’s only hope for box office sleeper status rode with that ever elusive ‘oscar buzz’, but this film doesn’t have much of any (which is being kind, because it doesn’t have any).

Lone Survivor
December 27th

Box Office Rank: 10
Legacy Rank: 6 – Tie

If I had to bet on the ‘surprise of the holidays’ I’m pretty sure I would bet on Lone Survivor. Universal liked it so much that they moved it into the heart of awards hopefuls season, and this is a movie that was directed by the guy that brought us Battleship last year. People are comparing favorably to Black Hawk Down, which is crazy high praise for this movie that retells the true story of “Operation Red Wings”, the failed attempt by Seal Team 10 to try to take a Taliban stronghold in 2005 where they ran into a 200 man strong Al Qaeda force. Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana are all supposed to be excellent. The problem is, it almost has to be as good as Black Hawk Down for it to have any real chance at traction. How hard would that be? Well, seeing as the list of movies that have dealt well with modern military issues are Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker and Three Kings, I’d say this is going to be a tough road to hoe. But I am rooting for it.

Walking With Dinosaurs 3D
December 20th

Box Office Rank: 11
Legacy Rank:14

Why am I even writing about this computer animated slice of dino life where we get to follow a young blah, blah, blah. If the kids have already seen Frozen fifty times and they really want to go to the movies, here’s another kid friendly movie, because we all know, kids love them some dinosaurs.

August: Osage County
December 27th

Box Office Rank: 12
Legacy Rank: 6 – Tie

Julia Robert and Meryl Streep go toe to toe in this adaptation of the pulitzer-prize winning play about the strong-willed Weston women who are forced to come home to deal with a family crisis and find themselves stuck back in the dysfunction they ran away from, particularly from the woman who raised them. This is this year’s ‘let’s get Meryl Streep another Oscar’ movie. In fact, even though by all accounts they are both very much the leads of the film, the studio has convinced Julia Roberts to be in the running for best supporting actress so she doesn’t take any of the momentum away from her co-star. Look, nearly all plays that are adapted for the screen are all showcases for actors and more often than not don’t quite work entirely as films. This should be no different. Having said that, there are much worse things you can do with your time than sitting watching Meryl Streep act for a couple of hours.

December 20th

Box Office Rank: 13
Legacy Rank: 3 – Tie

Here are the films directed by Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where The Wild Things Are and now Her. Now either that list makes you all excited and anxious in your anticipation of what this crazy movie about a guy who falls in love with his phone’s operating system is going to be like (and you are sure whatever it is it will be super cool) or that list makes you say ‘well, those were weird movies’ or that list will elicit no response from you at all. The point is, Spike Jonze makes weird and awesome movies that never pretend to be for everyone. They are quirky and silly and oddly sweet and subtly dark and funny and existential and imaginative and any of a number of other adjectives none of which would be accessible. That’s why this is ranked last from the box office perspective. This isn’t going to be a big hit. But, like the movie it is tied with on the legacy list (Inside Llewyn Davis) this is the movie that certain people will point to as their trump card for any argument that 2013 was a bad year for movies.


December will have some hits and produce some movies that will have people talking (Inside Llewyn Davis and American Hustle are already picking up year-end awards from critics associations and other film groups like crazy), but will it be enough? Will this year save itself quality wise? Can it catch last year’s box office record? In short, 2013 will never be listed as one of the great years in the history of cinema from a quality perspective, but it will never be listed as the worst either. Gravity was too much of a technical and artistic achievement and there is enough other quality fare (many with big name actors) to keep the sniping at bay. From a box office point of view, a week ago I would have thought that 2013 just had too much ground to make up, then Thanksgiving weekend happened, Frozen happened, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire‘s second weekend happened, and now it is a dead heat. I think this December will give 2013 enough closing power to finish #1.

But hey, what do I know? I’m fat.