Now that Thanksgiving is over, my two favorite seasons of the year are about to commence in earnest. It’s time for Christmas, and also time for the Oscars.
December is notoriously the most packed month of the year for “serious” movies. Small art house distributors tend to unleash their Oscar hopefuls en masse, while studios reserve space for their few attempts at making movies for grown ups. This December will be no different, with new releases ranging from Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning Amour to Universal’s much-awaited adaptation of Les Misérables.
Of course, there are already plenty of serious dramas and other Oscar contenders in theaters now. Argo, considered by many to be the current frontrunner for Best Picture, was released in October, while Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s chronicle of the president’s struggle to pass the 13th Amendment, came out a couple of weeks ago. Silver Linings Playbook, a dramedy about mental illness that won the much-coveted audience award at the Toronto Film Festival, hit screens only this past week.
If you’re looking to catch a movie amidst present shopping in the coming weeks, you’ll have lots of options, whether you live in New York and Los Angeles or anywhere else in the country. Here are five to check out that will almost certainly play into the Oscar race early next year:
1. Anna Karenina, November 16 (Limited, currently expanding): If you’re looking for a lush period piece with top-notch production values, this is your best bet this Oscar season. The adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel was directed by Joe Wright, known for his period adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, and is set mostly in an old theater in Moscow. Keira Knightley returns as his leading lady, supported by a vast cast including Jude Law and Aaron Johnson. Though the movie probably won’t get nominated in any major categories, it’s very likely to pop up in categories like costume design, production design, and possibly cinematography.
2. Rust and Bone, November 23 (New York and Los Angeles, expansion pending): Rust and Bone premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this summer, and though it’s been somewhat divisively received, most reviews have been glowing. Directed by Jacques Audiard, whose movie A Prophet was one of the most widely praised foreign films of 2009, Rust and Bone returns Marion Cotillard to her native language and to leading role status as an orca whale trainer who must struggle to recover from losing her legs in a violent accident. Cotillard is reportedly sensational in the movie, and is a likely bet for a Best Actress nomination.
3. Zero Dark Thirty, December 19 (New York and Los Angeles, expansion in January): Kathryn Bigelow’s account of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, her follow-up to 2010’s Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker, is the dark horse in the Oscar race. Though it will begin screening for critics in the coming week, it has currently been kept entirely under wraps – which hasn’t kept it from receiving significant advance press in the form of a minor controversy over the amount of information that Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal received from the CIA about the operation. Though nobody knows much about it, the movie’s pedigree – Bigelow and Boal collaborated on The Hurt Locker, and Jessica Chastain is one of the fastest-rising stars in Hollywood – all but guarantees it will at least be engaging, and probably a lot more.
4. Amour, December 19 (Limited, should expand later): Perhaps the best-reviewed movie of the year, Amour is director Michael Haneke’s moving depiction of love at the end of life. Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, legends of the French New Wave, as an elderly married couple, the film has moved audiences to tears at festivals from Cannes to New York. Currently a frontrunner for Best Film in a Foreign Language, it is also likely to lead to a nomination for Riva – which would mean two Frenchwomen nominated in the same year.
5. Les Misérables, December 25 (Wide): If you’re looking for a movie to see with your family on Christmas, this is your best bet – as long as you’re okay with lots of tears. Les Mis had its first screening on Friday at Lincoln Center in New York, and reportedly brought the house down. And if you want to keep up with this year’s Oscar race, this is probably the single most important movie to see. Universal is launching a formidable campaign for the movie, which will almost certainly yield more nominations than any other film this year, ranging from the bigger categories to the smaller technical ones.