Shaking off an egg nog- and cookie-induced coma after waking up in a pile of shredded gift wrap? Swap out the toffee for popcorn and get to the movies this Christmas weekend. Here’s what to check out and why.
In addition to being the early frontrunner in the hotly contested “Best Picture Featuring No Bras Whatsoever” Oscar category, David O. Russell‘s work of historical fiction is also the holiday season’s biggest crowdpleaser. Inspired by the FBI’s real-life Abscam operation, it’s the second consecutive boldface acting showcase for Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), with outsize parts that coax the best out of gamers like Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams.
See it if: You’re curious how Abscam’s numerous local connections manifest themselves in a Hollywood reimagining, and/or you appreciate the subtle cinematic art of side boob.
Best Performance: As we established awhile back, everyone loves them some Jennifer Lawrence, and for good reason — she’s hot and hilarious as the quick-witted wife of Bale’s beleaguered huckster. But there’s something so heartbreakingly sincere about Jeremy Renner‘s portrayal of Carmine Polito, based on the recently deceased Angelo Errichetti, former mayor of Camden.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Don’t let the lamewad Academy prudes scare you away — this Scorsesian spin on predatory stockbroker Jordan Belfort’s rise and fall will leave you with a sticky feeling, but it’s a profoundly American story (not a compliment). Belfort, played with reckless zeal by a supercharged Leonardo DiCaprio, harvested millions from impressionable investors before it all fell apart. The majority of the three-hour film is as subtle as a battering ram to the groin, with enough narcotic-fueled vintage-Marty mayhem to make Spring Breakers look like The Sound of Music Live. But the best moments are its quietest, like an early scene involving Belfort pitching his weed-dealing childhood buds that accomplishes so much with so little.
See it if: You need hard evidence supporting Jeff Spicoli’s timeless claim that people on ‘ludes should not drive.
Best Performance: It’s a push, between Jonah Hill as scene-snatching motormouth broker Donnie Azoff and and this GIF of Leo pop-locking.
A high-gloss reimagining of James Thurber’s influential short story, this Ben Stiller vehicle offers a modern tweak on the title character, a meek working stiff stricken with fantastic daydreams. Stylistic shades of Stranger Than Fiction touch Mitty’s travels as he zips around the world in pursuit of acclaimed photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). The chase-your-dreams message, however, is bogged down by constant product placement, with eHarmony, Papa John’s and Cinnabon (Cinnabon?!) earning as much screen time as Stiller and Shirley MacLaine.
See it if: You love exotic locales, not including Cinnabon.
Best Performance: With her sweet turn as Walter’s work crush, Kristen Wiig proves she can play a character who’s not a nutcase or neurotic mess.
While you can always just go to the Wal-Mart on Delaware Avenue to watch two decrepit old men punch each other, Grudge Match allows you to do so from the comfort of a theater seat. Epic rivals in their long-gone primes, pugilists Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) never fought the rubber match required to determine who was the superior fighter. While soft-spoken Sharp is fine with how things turned out, brash businessman McDonnen never really let it go — leading to a high-profile over-the-hill battle for supremacy promoted by Philly’s own Kevin Hart, who will appear in every movie in 2014.
See it if: You have no lasting emotional connection to Rocky, Raging Bull, the sport of boxing or the acting career of Alan Arkin.
Best Performance: Oh man. Let’s give it to Jon Bernthal, aka the despicable Shane from The Walking Dead. He’s having a hell of a year — charming in this, funny as hell in The Wolf of Wall Street and smooth in the overlooked TNT miniseries Mob City.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Sorry to be corny, but Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest is one of those movies you feel instead of watch. Played out over a wash of a week in the frigid New York City winter of 1961, it’s a quietly visceral experience that drops in and drops out of the directionless life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a pretty-much-failed folk singer who’s exhausted his options. Broke and essentially homeless, he refuses to accept that dedication to principles doesn’t always translate to artistic success. Like all the best Coen works, it’s funny and tragic in all the weirdest places, sonically adept and reluctantly existential.
See it if: You want to hear Isaac, an amazingly convincing performer, play incredible music. “If it was never new and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song,” he offers as a sort of genre nut graf.
Best Performance: It has to be Isaac. He’s unbelievable. But a well-deserved shout also goes out to Garrett Hedlund, who builds out a fascinating character with nearly zero dialogue.
Saving Mr. Banks
Portraying the mastermind behind Mickey Mouse as a sweetheart mustachioed Midwesterner and conveniently sidestepping all that stuff about him being an anti-Semitic drunk, Saving Mr. Banks concerns Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his multi-decade effort to convince P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to allow her Mary Poppins novels to become a motion picture. That story’s told in tandem with flashbacks to Travers’ Australian upbringing, where we meet her alcoholic father (Colin Farrell), inspiration for much of the Poppins lore.
See it if: You’re a Disney diehard or Poppins enthusiast and can deal with a little tricky revisionism in exchange for a two-hour cryfest.
Best Performance: B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as Poppins lyric-writing brothers Robert and Richard Sherman, especially in their interactions with Thompson’s cantankerous Brit.
Perhaps more notorious for its months-long Will Ferrell-driven marketing campaign than its actual content, this sequel crams old jokes, new jokes, celebrity cameos and sea life-centric fistfights into one big swollen bag of comedic one-liner overload. By the bedpan of Gene Rayburn!
See it if: You’re stoned and want to get away from your relatives/you’ve become stoned with your relatives. It hits and misses, but it’s worth watching for the ridiculous conclusion alone.
Best Performance: James Marsden, who almost always gets the shit end of the stick in movies (even X-Men! Poor James), gets the chance to comedically flex here as suave Chicago super-anchor Jack Lime.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Avert your eyes, grumpy Tolkien enthusiasts — the second installment in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy deviates quite deliberately from the source material, but it takes a real sourpuss to proclaim it unwatchable based on this reality. Stop being such a nerd and allow yourself to enjoy a goofy action movie once in awhile.
See it if: You have three hours to kill and for some reason don’t want to spend it watching Leo DiCaprio suck blow off every conceivable part of the human body. LEO POPLOCK BOMB!
Best Performance: The sonorous Benedict Cumberbatch as gold-hording CGI dragon Smaug. I could listen to that guy read Glenn Beck’s The Christmas Sweater out loud and still be deliriously entertained.
A thespian-friendly Disney vehicle, this gorgeously animated Hans Christian Andersen-inspired musical follows a plucky princess (voiced by Kristen Bell) on her quest to rescue her sister (Idina Menzel), a literal ice queen who’s been banished from their kingdom due to her dangerous snow-producing powers. The many songs will likely inspire eye rolls in the less theatrically inclined, but it’s an altogether fun production with a positive family-first message for kids.
See it if: You like Wicked. If you love movie music but hate Wicked, 1) let’s be friends; 2) go see Inside Llewyn Davis.
Best Performance: Comedic actor Josh Gad as Olaf, an enchanted snowman who has no idea that the sun will make him melt.
Also in theaters…
47 Ronin, a CGI-heavy action flick featuring Keanu Reeves as a samurai (haha!) … Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, a Madiba biopic starring Idris Elba … Justin Bieber’s Believe, a concert pic from the newly retired singer who is a strong candidate for living human least like Nelson Mandela … Walking With Dinosaurs, a new kids’ movie that probably isn’t as good as The Land Before Time.
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