PITTSFIELD -- The fall's movies have been noteworthy so far, with "Gravity," "Captain Phillips" and "12 Years A Slave" attracting strong reviews and generating Academy Award buzz. The film studios pack the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day with many of their awards-bait films and potential box office blockbusters, so there is real hope for more good films in the weeks ahead.
Here's a look at holiday films that will appear in Berkshire movie theaters. Many of the December films will open in New York City, Los Angeles and perhaps a few other major cities to qualify for the Oscars and will arrive in the Berkshires in January or February.
Lofty subject matter and admired actors and actresses define this category. In "Philomena," (Nov. 29), which is based on a true story, Judi Dench portrays a woman who goes out in search of her son 50 years after she was persuaded to give him up for adoption in an Ireland unfriendly to single mothers. Also on the 29th, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," chronicles the path South African President Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) took from imprisoned antiapartheid leader to international statesman.
Crusty character actor Bruce Dern is getting great notices for his performance in "Nebraska" (Dec. 6) as a codger who persuades his son ("Saturday Night Live" alum Will Forte) to travel to Nebraska from Montana to pick up $1 million in lottery winnings he insists he has won.
Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play "August: Osage County" (Dec. 25) about a dysfunctional family gathered together to deal with a crisis stars award magnet Meryl Streep as the family matriarch and Julia Roberts and Juliette Lewis as the similarly willful and damaged daughters she raised.
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (Nov. 22) again finds Jennifer Lawrence's charismatic Katniss fighting for her life in brutal state-endorsed, televised games, and previews indicate the film will move deeper into the dark heart of totalitarianism. In "Black Nativity" (Nov. 27), an update of a 1961 stage musical, Jennifer Hudson's single mom sends her teenage son to visit her strict grandparents, played by Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett, for the holidays.
Writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen can be counted on for something unique and original, and on Dec. 6 they explore New York City's 1960s folk scene in "Inside Llewyn Davis." Also on Dec. 6, Christian Bale's stoic Pennsylvania steelworker tries to free his younger brother, played by Casey Affleck, from the clutches of Woody Harrelson's crime lord in "Out of the Furnace."
The shape-shifting Bale, lean and mean in "Out of the Furnace," is doughy and shlubby in "American Hustle" (Dec. 13), where he plays a shady character at the core of a scam based on the FBI sting launched at corrupt politicians in the 1970s. The happy nature of "Mary Poppins" belies its true-to-life back story, which is related in "Saving Mr. Banks" (Dec. 13), starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as the stubborn author P.L. Travers, who wasn't keen on seeing her novel turned into a film, and later criticized it harshly.
Like the Coens, director Spike Jonze is always up to something interesting, and in the futuristic "Her" (Dec. 18), he gives us a relationship between a lonely guy (Joaquin Phoenix) and the sultry voice of his computer system (Scarlett Johansson). On Christmas Day, Martin Scorsese returns to the high-rolling New York financial district of the decadent 1990s with "The Wolf of Wall Street," starring Scorsese fave Leonard DiCaprio as real-life financial charlatan Jordan Belfort.
Preview clips of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (Dec. 25) indicate that Ben Stiller's meek photo editor goes into the field with Sean Penn's star photojournalist to live out his dreams of adventure, which takes the film a long way from the premise of James Thurber's famous tale. Also on the 25th, Kate Winslet's withdrawn single mom agrees to shelter Josh Brolin's gruffly charming but intimidating ex-convict in "Labor Day."
Director Spike Lee took one of his occasional breaks from his personal films to make "Oldboy" (Nov. 27), which stars the busy Josh Brolin as a man released from solitary confinement after 20 years with no idea why he was jailed or why he was released. This is a remake of a South Korean thriller from a decade ago. Also on the 27th, Jason Statham, a specialist in playing soft-spoken loners who roll up body counts when bothered, goes that route again in "Homefront," with Statham's widowed former DEA agent at war with James Franco's crazed drug dealer.
Keanu Reeves' "Matrix" fight scenes should serve him well in "47 Ronin" (Dec. 25), in which Reeves joins a band of Samurai warriors in 18th century Japan. Acting legends Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro (well, one of them is an acting legend) play retired boxers who sign up for a rematch 30 years after their last bout in "Grudge Match" (Dec. 25). With "Last Vegas" playing in theaters, De Niro, the star of "Taxi Driver," "Godfather II" "The Deerhunter" and "Raging Bull," is now reduced to movies that make fun of his age.
Mark Walhlberg, Eric Bana and Ben Foster star in "Lone Survivor" (Dec. 27), which is based on the failed 2005 Navy SEAL mission to kill an al-Qaida leader in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Vince Vaughn's good-natured loser finds that he fathered more than 500 kids through donations to a sperm clinic and faces lawsuits from 142 of the now young adults in "Delivery Man" (Nov. 22). In the eighth (!) Madea film, "Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas" (Dec. 13), the loud-mouthed grandmother does her shtick for the holidays.
Nine years after Will Ferrell brought Ron Burgundy and the hapless Channel 4 news team to the big screen, the group returns Dec. 20 with "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," which finds the news hawks reunited at a fledgling 24-hour news channel in the 1980s.
This is an unusually quiet holiday season for animated films. "Frozen" (Nov. 27), the latest from the Disney animators, pits a feisty ice princess who freezes her kingdom against her decidedly warmer little sister. In the computer-generated "Walking With Dinosaurs" (Dec. 20), three young dinos grow from childhood to fearsome adults.
A Mars mission goes awry in "The Last Days on Mars" (Dec. 6), starring Liev Schrieber as the mission commander. Please, may it be better than the similarly themed 2000 dud "Red Planet," with Val Kilmer in the Schrieber role.
The second of three very large films based on one small book, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," opens Dec. 13 with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his magnificently bearded cohorts (Bombur, Gloin, Balin, Dustin, Napoli, Gomes and so on), now joined by elves, including Orlando Bloom's Legolas from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The first film, last year's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," took a long time to get almost nowhere, but the encounter with the formidable dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberpatch) offers the promise of genuine thrills.