By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist December 4, 2012 at 11:13AM
With November done, there's only a few weeks left of 2012, and as ever, they're positively stacked with movies. The month is back-loaded with the usual mix of family fare, blockbusters and awards hopefuls, and no less than sixteen major movies will hit screens between the 19th and the 28th of December. To help you sort the wheat from the chaff, we've picked out ten of the key releases that, whether they work or not, will be dominating the conversation all the way into 2013. Check them out below, and let us know what you're most looking forward to in the comments section.
Synopsis: Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit of modest ambitions, until the wizard Gandalf and a band of unruly dwarves turn up on his doorstep, beginning an adventure in search of gold and a giant, terrifying dragon.
What You Need To Know: After a long-delayed development process that saw the film held up by MGM's bankruptcy and a change of director when original helmer Guillermo Del Toro got bored waiting around for a start, the first part of Peter Jackson's return to Middle-Earth, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is finally hitting theaters at the end of next week. The film's had its fair share of controversies of late; the disappointing unveiling of the 48fps footage, which Jackson hopes is the future of cinema, along with the questionable decision to split the slight book into three parts. But many of those rewatching Jackson's original trilogy in the lead up to the new film are rediscovering why they fell in love with the films the first time around, and there's no indication so far from footage or from early buzz from otherwise embargoed screenings, that he's dropped the ball the second time around. Most reviews, including our own, conclude that Jackon has lost none of his touch for big spectacle filmmaking and action setpieces, though that 48fps stuff has been jarring for critics. It may end up suffering in comparison to the weightier 'Rings' films, but there's no reason to expect anything but one of the best blockbusters of the year, made with Jackson's trademark love and care.
When? December 14th
Synopsis: Former military policeman-turned-drifter Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) becomes embroiled in a case of a military sniper accused of five murders, but who may have been set up by a more sinister foe...
What You Need To Know: This time last year, Paramount had the big hit of the season with Tom Cruise and "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" -- a tired old franchise given new legs by the sublime direction of Brad Bird, even despite a ropey script. The studio and star are hoping to repeat their success this year, with the first in what's hoped to be a new franchise based on the hugely popular books by Lee Child, starring his character Jack Reacher. Adapting the book "One Shot" and taking the director's chair for the first time in 12 years is "The Usual Suspects" writer Christopher McQuarrie, while the supporting cast has been filled out with reliable names like Richard Jenkins, Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Robert Duvall and, in a genius stroke of casting, Werner Herzog as arch-villain The Zec. The casting of Cruise himself has been controversial -- Reacher in the novel is a giant of a man, more Dwayne Johnson than Tom Cruise. But the actor seems to be starting to turn some of that negative buzz around with fans, and word from early screenings is that the movie is a muscular, taut throwback '70s-style thriller, like something that Don Siegel or Walter Hill might have made back in the day. How it holds up at the box office against more traditional four-quadrant fare is anyone's guess, but we're certainly intrigued enough to check it out, not least for the chance to see Cruise square off against the director of "Aguirre: Wrath Of God."
When? December 21st
Synopsis: Pete and Debbie, the supporting players of "Knocked Up," get their own solo outing as they face marital, parental and financial difficulties as they enter their fifth decade.
What You Need To Know: Having faced disappointing reviews and box office performance with his last film, "Funny People," Judd Apatow's gone back to familiar territory, picking up with some old characters for "This Is 40," returning to Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, along with his kids Maude and Iris, to examine the arrival of middle age. A cast of ringers has been assembled, with both familiar Apatow gang staples -- Melissa McCarthy, Jason Segel, Chris O'Dowd, Lena Dunham -- and some newcomers, including, excitingly, veterans John Lithgow and Albert Brooks (who reportedly walks away with the movie) as the lead duo's parents. The film's been screening widely for a while, and it doesn't seem like Apatow doubters will necessarily be won over -- it's apparently long, unruly, plotless and focused around the old chestnut of "white people problems." But those who enjoyed the writer-director's films to date seem to find the one of his more satisfying outings. So an acquired taste, perhaps, but in a season full of weightier fare, this may be one to scratch the comedy itch for audiences who know what they're getting themselves into.
When? December 21st
Synopsis: A dramatization of the decade-long hunt for Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama Bin Laden, seen through the eyes of a young CIA agent (Jessica Chastain).
What You Need To Know: After flirting with "Triple Frontier," Kathryn Bigelow finally set out, with collaborator Mark Boal, to follow up her Oscar-winning "The Hurt Locker" with a film about the failed hunt for Osama Bin Laden, only to find one major stumbling block; Seal Team Six caught and killed the terrorist leader. Nearly a year later, Bigelow finally got underway on her project, now with a completely different script, and the film finally hits theaters in limited release this month before going wider in January. With breakout star Jessica Chastain leading a cast that includes most of our favorite actors -- Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, Jennifer Ehle, Edgar Ramirez, Kyle Chandler, Mark Duplass and a few dozen others -- hopes were always high, and most reviews, including ours, suggest that those expectations have been met, with a detailed, gripping procedural that might not be for everyone, but is certainly winning over many, many fans, and should be a serious awards season player. When we reviewed the film a week or so ago, we called it "a transfixing drama, flecked with powerhouse, engaging action beats" that "will surely test casual moviegoers" due to being "dense, crushingly systematic and disciplined with a payoff that everyone already knows about." But with an extraordinary cast, not least Chastain, and Bigelow at the peak of her game, it's going to be essential for fans of "The Hurt Locker" and beyond. It's "an electric, sprawling and ambitious effort that’s easy to become absorbed by, and a picture that should impress those keen on the director’s intelligent, composed and determined brand of filmmaking."
When? Limited release on December 19th, before opening wide on January 11th.