6. "Rise of the Guardians"
Synopsis: A supergroup of childhood icons -- Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, The Sandman and Jack Frost -- are brought together to battle Pitch, the embodiment of fear, who's out to take over the world.
What You Need To Know: We've already had one pretty good animation this month with Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph," but we've got hopes that it might yet be topped, by DreamWorks Animation's "Rise of the Guardians." Disney's great rivals have been on a pretty strong run of late, with "Puss In Boots" and "Madagascar 3" elevating their franchises, with "How To Train Your Dragon" the company's best film yet. And here, they've got an impressive pedigree, with Guillermo del Toro's hand working in an executive producer capacity, beloved children's author William Joyce creating the characters, and "Rabbit Hole" Pulitzer winner David Lindsay-Abaire writing the script, while Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law and Alec Baldwin (as an awesome "Eastern Promises"-style Santa) make up the cast list. Drew Taylor certainly dug it, so it may be the early holiday treat you're looking for.
When? November 21st
Synopsis: Documentary focusing on the infamous Central Park Jogger case in the late 1980s, when five black and Latino teenagers were wrongfully convicted of the rape of a jogger in New York City's Central Park, only for a colossal miscarriage of justice to emerge over a decade later.
What You Need To Know: While Ken Burns has become one of the best known faces and figures of PBS thanks to his seminal series like "The Civil War," "Jazz" and "Prohibition," it's been a fair amount of time since he had a theatrical feature. But the duck's being broken in a few weeks with "The Central Park Five," a collaboration between the veteran documentarian, his daughter Sarah Burns, and her husband David McMahon. Focusing on an infamous miscarriage of justice with the usual meticulous research and power you'd expect from Burns, it's been wowing people on the festival circuit since Cannes. It's unfortunately slipped through our fingers so far, but we've heard nothing but good things and we look forward to checking it out when it hits theaters. Could we be seeing Burns back on the Oscar podium for the first time in a few decades? It seems entirely possible...
When? November 23rd
Synopsis: A killer whale trainer who tragically loses her legs and a Belgian bouncer/illegal boxer recently arrived in France with his son are drawn together. Can they find redemption and salvation in each other?
What You Need To Know: While French filmmaker Jacques Audiard illustrated he was one to watch with internationally accepted fare like “Read My Lips" and "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," it perhaps wasn’t until 2010’s striking and near-perfect “A Prophet,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, that he was recognized as one of the most exciting foreign film talents working today. And for the most part, he cemented that status in Cannes this year with "Rust & Bone." The talk of the film was a "predictably fantastic" performance from Marion Cotillard, according to Kevin Jagernauth's review from Cannes, but it seems to be a star-making turn for "Bullhead" lead Matthias Schoenhaerts too, given that he's got "acting chops to spare, finding the vulnerability beneath his character's exterior that helps us understand him, even when he's at his selfish worst." And Audiard's no slouch, either. By the end, "you know you are in the hands of a master who is directing with the confidence and command that few possess." Kevin ultimately found the film to be "a towering picture we can't wait to see again."
When? November 23rd
Synopsis: Legendary director Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) sets out to make his boldest, most disturbing film yet, "Psycho," risking his reputation, his finances and his marriage to long-time collaborator Alma (Helen Mirren) along the way.
What You Need To Know: Biopics of film directors are relatively few, at least ones that aren't thinly veiled autobiography, but in a year that's seen multiple restorations, re-releases and retrospectives (including our own two-parter) focused on Alfred Hitchcock, it seems appropriate that the British filmmaker has been the focus of two movies: the disappointing, less than flattering HBO movie "The Girl," and this, Sacha Gervasi's light-hearted drama about the director's struggle to bring "Psycho" to the screen. Focusing principally on the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife Alma, when we saw the film at AFI Fest last week, we certainly agreed that Hopkins and Mirren are excellent in the leads. Charlie Schmidlin called their turns "dedicated," with the duo sharing "fine chemistry." And certainly any movie fans, whether Hitchcockophiles or otherwise, are bound to be fascinated by a look behind one of cinema's greatest triumphs. Charlie did find the film a bit lightweight, calling it "breezy" and "disposable," relying too heavily on "using the audience's present knowledge to telegraph a knowing chuckle from a character's clueless perspective." But there are more fervent fans of the film out there, so it's certainly one of this month's more intriguing efforts.
When? November 23rd
Synopsis: Based on the 1974 George V. Higgins novel "Cogan's Trade," "Killing Them Softly” follows Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a professional enforcer who investigates a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game.
What You Need To Know: Director Andrew Dominik’s first film since 2007's “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” sees him team up once again with Brad Pitt, who leads a cast including James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins, with Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn also taking on significant roles. And ever since it premiered at Cannes, it's been nestling its way into becoming one of the Playlist's favorite films of the year. A politically-tinged crime thriller about the last days of the American empire, some have found it a tad overbearing in its subtext, but we had no problem with its savage and acerbic message -- it feels like a crucial and potent picture. As Kevin said in his Cannes review "it's not heavy handed by the simple fact that it's so well woven into the fabric of the story. In fact, it is the story." And even those who think otherwise will find pleasures to be found among the cast (Jenkins and McNairy in particular shine), and while 'Jesse James' DoP Roger Deakins was unavailable, rising star Greig Fraser ("Bright Star") does a sterling job in his place. A unique and rich take on the crime genre, this should be a late-year joy for cinephiles.
When: November 30th