By Anne Thompson and Ryan Lattanzio | Thompson on Hollywood December 12, 2013 at 3:08PM
This weekend, "American Hustle," one of the year's biggest Oscar contenders and a recent Golden Globe heavyweight, arrives in select cities before a wide release next Friday. Also hitting theaters is tech prize contender "The Desolation of Smaug," the middle chapter in Peter Jackson's "Hobbit" trilogy, and Mary Poppins origin story "Saving Mr. Banks."
Also coming your way are new films by Tyler Perry and Errol Morris -- the first and last time those two names will be uttered in the same sentence. Trailers after the jump.
While Martin Scorsese's fingerprints are all over David O. Russell's "American Hustle," with its endless cascade of zooms and whizz-bang cinematic bravado, it's an exceptional entertainment anchored by brilliant performances from Amy Adams (a SAG shutout who just picked up a Golden Globe nom) and supporting actress hopeful Jennifer Lawrence. A propulsive 70s soundtrack and impeccable editing drive this Abscam caper comedy, which doesn't go as dark or as deep as "Goodfellas" or PTA's "Boogie Nights." But its charms are hard to resist, and Christian Bale's ghastly weight-gain and slovenly combover make him unrecognizable as a two-timing huckster.
Meanwhile, delightful crowdpleaser "Saving Mr. Banks" is a behind-the-scenes battle of the Titans starring Tom Hanks as mustachioed studio mogul Walt Disney, struggling to wrest control of the movie version of "Mary Poppins" from dyspeptic London-based author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), who hated animation and wasn't even invited to the premiere. She showed up anyway, and wound up a very wealthy woman. A SAG and Golden Globe nominee, whip-smart comedienne Thompson is a lock for a best actress Oscar nomination.
While critics did not favor 2012's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," word is strong for Peter Jackson's near-three-hour second installment in this J.R.R. Tolkien franchise, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Lee Pace and Ian McKellen as our man Gandalf. 3-D "Smaug" made the Oscar VFX shortlist this month, and is a formidable contender in many other tech categories. Box office pundits predict the fanboy flock will rake in about an $85 million opening weekend for this much-anticipated release.
In limited release is Errol Morris' controversial Donald Rumsfeld doc, which did not make the Oscar shortlist. That may be because while this portrait of a man who was close to the seat of power in this country for decades fascinates, Morris lets Rumsfeld off easy. Perhaps the director's tried-and-true interrotron filmmaking method lets him down here; Morris focuses on Rumsfeld's word skills, his blizzard of memos, his sneaky generalizations. And the slippery bastard wins the day.
Still under review embargo (so heed caution) is Tyler Perry's "Madea Christmas" starring the writer/director/man-of-all-trades Perry himself, raunchy comedian Larry the Cable Guy and Chad Michael Murray. In this new Madea film, she gets coaxed into helping a friend pay her daughter a surprise visit in the country for Christmas. Wild family dynamics and rowdiness will no doubt ensue.
"American Hustle" Dir. David O. Russell, USA | Annapurna Pictures | Cast: Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner | 96% Fresh | TIME: "Reveling in its 70s milieu and in the eternal abrasion of sexy women and covetous men, 'American Hustle' is an urban eruption of flat-out fun — the sharpest, most exhilarating comedy in years." Our TOH! review and Q&A
"Saving Mr. Banks" Dir. John Lee Hancock, USA | Disney | Cast: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Colin Farrell | 81% Fresh | NYT: "The best parts of 'Saving Mr. Banks' offer an embellished, tidied-up but nonetheless reasonably authentic glimpse of the Disney entertainment machine at work." | Our TOH! review and Q&A
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" Dir. Peter Jackson, USA | Warner Bros. | Cast: Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Lee Pace | 71% Fresh | Variety: "This robust, action-packed adventure benefits from a headier sense of forward momentum and a steady stream of 3D-enhanced thrills." | Our TOH! review and roundup
"The Unknown Known" Dir. Errol Morris, USA | RADiUS-TWC | 74% Fresh | THR: "An unsuccessful attempt to get inside the head, under the skin or through the looking glass of Bush administration Secretary of Defense and Iraq War proponent Donald Rumsfeld." Our TOH! review and interview
"Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas" Dir. Tyler Perry, USA | Lionsgate | Cast: Tyler Perry, Anna Maria Horsford, Larry the Cable Guy, Chad Michael Murray