This holiday movie season, there is "Star Wars," followed by everything else.
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens," the first of three planned sequels, opens Dec. 18 following hype that has been extraordinary even for this most-hyped of industries. Trailers and about a year's worth of preview stories reveal that director J.J. Abrams has abandoned most of the computer-generated effects that helped wreck George Lucas' prequels and returned to the old school models, costumes and attitude that gave Lucas' beloved trilogy so much of its impact.
Abrams' challenge, among many, is to integrate iconic characters like Harrison Ford's Han Solo and Carrie Fisher's Princess (now General) Leia with new characters in boldly taking the story line where it has never gone before (whoops, that's a "Star Trek" paraphrase.) Good, bad or indifferent, the film will make a fortune — theaters have been selling out the early screenings for weeks.
There will be plenty of other films, of course, many with Academy Award hopes. Here are a few with their opening dates, keeping mind that most will be platformed in major cities before arriving in Berkshire movie theaters in December or January.
The early leader in the Best Picture competition is "Spotlight" (now playing at the Triplex), an old-fashioned justice story centered around The Boston Globe's exposure of the Catholic Church's cover-up of sexual abuse by priests through a series of stories that shook the Church worldwide.
But competition is coming. Now playing in major cities and getting good notices, "Trumbo" stars Bryan Cranston as the screenwriter blacklisted for being a Communist who went on to win Oscars under a pen name. The film should resonate in our current era of fear and intolerance.
Emerging in limited release today, "The Danish Girl" stars Eddie Redmayne, the most recent Best Actor Oscar winner for his performance as Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything," as artist and transgender pioneer Lili Elbe. Alicia Vikander stars as Lili's partner, Gerda Wegener.
Already in limited release, film festival favorite "Carol" stars Cate Blanchett as a married woman who begins a relationship with Rooney Mara's shopgirl in an uptight America of 1952.
Movies with a British pedigree usually get awards buzz in the colonies, especially if there is a link with the royals. "Youth" (Dec. 4), in which Michael Caine's retired orchestra conductor is touring the Alps with his daughter (Rachel Weisz) and best friend (Harvey Keitel) when he is summoned by Queen Elizabeth II for a command performance, boasts all of those elements. Also emerging on Dec. 4 and also British to its fiber is "Macbeth," with Michael Fassbender in the title role and Marion Cotillard as Lady MacBeth.
Returning to the modern day, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling are high-finance whiz kids who go after the big banks for bringing down the economy in the timely "The Big Short" (Dec. 11). The movies of Quentin Tarantino, rooted in and spinning off from familiar genres and packed with stylized violence, aren't your traditional Oscar-bait films but they do win nominations and awards. His latest entry, "The Hateful Eight," (Dec. 25), stars Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruce Dern in a tale of post-Civil War bounty hunters.
"The Revenant," starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a 19th century fur trader left for dead by his colleagues (Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson,) sounds positively Tarantinoesque. It is directed, however, by reigning Best Director Alejandro G. Inarritu ("Birdman"). It opens on Christmas Day, as does "Concussion," in which Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who took on the corporate monolith that is the NFL after concluding the sport was causing degenerative brain disease among its players.
Director David O. Russell, whose last three films won Best Picture Oscar nominations, returns Christmas Day with "Joy." Russell muse Jennifer Lawrence is the title character, a married woman with kids who becomes a successful entrepreneur.
Not everything is all heavy duty this holiday movie season.
"Christmas Eve" (Dec. 4) finds six groups of New Yorkers trapped in elevators on the night before Christmas. Patrick Stewart, Jon Heder and Cheryl Hines are among those trapped (in the elevator, not the romantic comedy, we hope.)
Trailers for "Sisters," the Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy bravely opening Dec. 18 against "Star Wars," suggest the friends and comediennes want to prove they can be as raunchy as the boys. They surely can, but wit and intelligence are expected of Tina and Amy.
Mark Wahlberg's divorced dad competes for the affections of his two kids with Will Ferrell's cool new stepdad in "Daddy's Home" (Dec. 25).
Finally, while it is not a comedy, it is difficult not to get a chuckle from previews of "In The Heart of the Sea" (Dec. 11), which is said to be based on the story that inspired "Moby-Dick." Former world's sexiest man Chris Hemsworth appears to be playing a hunky, action hero version of Captain Ahab battling a mammoth special effects whale. Will the Melville estate get a percentage of the box office?