The holiday movie season -- that's typically qualified as the heavy slate of movies released between Nov. 1 and the end of the year -- is a time of joy for film lovers.We get a nice mix of massive blockbusters and important dramas, and there are a lot of them.
But how does this year's lineup stack up against 2012's relatively weak offering (and let's not even talk about 2011)? We're happy to report that this holiday season looks poised to smash last year in terms of both quality and box office.
It starts this weekend with Asa Butterfield-starring YA adventure "Ender's Game," but really kicks into high gear next weekend with Marvel madness migrating from summer to fall with "Thor: The Dark World."
And that's not the only mega-movie to migrate to the fertile Thanksgiving-Christmas corridor. That other Hemsworth brother, Liam, and superstar Jennifer Lawrence have brought their dystopia to the holidays with "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." Add to that "The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug," the sequel to IMDB’s most popular feature film of 2012, and the blockbusters keep on rolling.
Last year we had the return of a sexy and sorrowful James Bond in "Skyfall" – a feat 2013 cannot match. But there was also the twilight of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2," a YA franchise sequel that made money but went out with a whimper, putting a stake in the heart of the Kristen Stewart-Robert Pattinson era.
And, while "The Hunger Games" franchise currently tops the YA heap, don’t be surprised if a WWII weeper called "The Book Thief," a staple of the high school curriculum, opens big and rolls out into the holiday season on major word of mouth. With Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson and newcomer Sophie Nelisse (who could be the next Chloe Moretz), Markus Zusak’s monster bestseller tells the story of an orphan and her foster parents that harbor a Jew in their basement in war-torn Germany. It’s a "Diary of Anne Frank" for contemporary audiences.
The year's festival season also showcases major directors: Martin Scorsese’s highly anticipated "The Wolf of Wall Street" with long-time collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio has finally committed to a Christmas release. David O. Russell, high off last season’s bi-polar romantic comedy "Silver Linings Playbook" returns with both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, along with Christian Bale and Amy Adams, for the '70s crime caper "American Hustle."
Another major director, Steven Spielberg, will sit out this season following last year's biopic "Lincoln.” This year, though, there's another high-profile political biopic: "Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom" with Idris Elba. The English-born actor courts Oscar (an honor won by Daniel Day Lewis as Honest Abe last year) for playing Nelson Mandela, the noble politician who broke the back of Apartheid in South Africa.
And the season welcomes even more big-name American directors -- even if George Clooney has taken his "The Monuments Men" and decamped for February 2014 -- and there’s no Quentin Tarantino in sight following last year's Oscar-winner "Django Unchained" and 2009's "Inglourious Basterds." And it's doubtful that any 2013 movie will match the coiled power of Kathryn Bigelow's hunt for Osama Bin Laden drama, "Zero Dark Thirty."
Alexander Payne, who traveled with the Clooney-starrer "The Descendants" two years ago, returns with an endearingly offbeat Midwestern road movie, "Nebraska," with Bruce Dern and Will Forte as father and son. The Coen brothers, who previously premiered "No Country for Old Men" and "True Grit" as holiday counter-programming, have a lighter, hipster entry with the '60s folkie tale "Inside Llewyn Davis."
And then there are the two Spikes – Lee and Jonze. Lee has a remake of the Korean cult vengeance thriller "Oldboy" starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen. Jonze has a charming techno-rom-com, "Her," with none other than Joaquin Phoenix in a lightly comedic role.
On the comedy front, there's the long-awaited sequel "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues." It's bound to supplant last year’s white-people-problems comedy "This is 40," starring nearly everybody in Judd Apatow’s family.
As for cartoons, 2012’s "Wreck-it Ralph" may have the edge over this year’s "Frozen" -- and neither movie has the all-time classic feel of an "Up" or a "Toy Story." Still, in a season that’s light on family fare, "Frozen" is poised to make some cool cash.
The last two months of 2013 are expectedly jam-packed with Oscar bait. Meryl Streep dazzles -- again! -- in the dyspeptic dysfunctional family drama "August Osage County," accompanied by a hold-the-makeup and million-dollar smile performance from Julia Roberts.
Matthew McConaughey continues his string of show-stopping performances in the triumphant AIDS drama "Dallas Buyers Club." And don’t underestimate Judi Dench as she steps into the spunky sensible shoes of "Philomena," an Irish Catholic searching for the son that nuns forced her to give up for adoption. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, meanwhile, will score attention for the Disney woos Mary Poppins story, "Saving Mr. Banks."
What’s missing this year? A star-driven mega-musical! The big movie for the entire family on Christmas Day last year was "Les Miserables" with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway.
And there’s nothing on the horizon that can compete with "Avatar" or "Titanic" – the kind of big budget, ambitious fare that straddles the line between Hollywood blockbuster and the awards season.
Still, while we won’t have another "Avatar" this year, or a musical to sing along to (or parody on YouTube), 2013 promises to have a bountiful and tasty mix of blockbusters, YA adaptations, Oscar contenders, director-driven films, a strong animated feature and a comedy or two.
And that’s plenty for which to be thankful.