All we want for Christmas are big, shiny films

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      If you’ll forgive an Xmas-centric take on this year’s holiday releases: here they come, broken down into categories of sheer entertainment, Oscar bait, art-house efforts, and documentaries. Keep checking the movie version of your Advent calendar, but all these titles should show up before the cinematic wasteland of February arrives.

      Popcorn for the tree

      Say hello to my little friends! They’re back in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Peter Jackson’s report on his visits to Los Angeles). At the other end of the money ladder, guess who dons the fat suit again, this time for Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas? Have another helping, Madea? (December 13)

      Moving his mustache into the 1980s, Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy returns in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. A little further back in time, Walking With Dinosaurs 3D lets you go all Jurassic. But will the wee ones feel reassured just because these in-your-face reptiles have been given the voices of Justin Long and others? (December 20)

      Ben Stiller directed and stars in a high-octane update of James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Keanu Reeves stars in 47 Ronin, a (sort of) remake of the samurai classic of the same name. It’s no do-over, but when Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro play aging boxers in Grudge Match, you may feel like you’ve been there before. (December 25)

      This year’s winner of the War on Christmas, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, stars a whole bunch of people you’ve never heard of. (January 3)

      Night-blooming opera singer Paul Potts—no, not the dead Cambodian dictator—gets the bio treatment in One Chance. He’d be no match for Mark Wahlberg and Eric Bana as members of a SEAL team on a doomed 2005 mission, as suggested by the title Lone Survivor. (January 10)

      Holy Harrison Ford, Chris Pine! Who knew you’d become Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit? Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley also skulk, alongside Kenneth Branagh, who also directed this Tom Clancy prequel. Rosemary is not the only one with a bad baby, as we find out in Devil’s Due, made by the main guys from V/H/S. And Will Arnett goes all squirrelly in The Nut Job, an animated visit with some adorable little tree muggers. (January 17)

      A bolt-free Aaron Eckhart says I, Frankenstein in this CGI-heavy update of Mary Shelley’s monster mash; guess I, Frankenstein’s Buffed-Up Promethean Creation wouldn’t fit on the marquee. (January 22) Zac Efron is among the young dudes contemplating That Awkward Moment when a fling turns into a grown-up relationship. (January 31)

      Christian Bale and Amy Adams are among the all-star cast of David O. Russell’s American Hustle, set among high-level thieves.

      Reaching for the top

      The magic of Mary Poppins, and how it got made, is recollected in Saving Mr. Banks, with Tom Hanks featured as a suave Walt Disney pushing some movie medicine on the tale’s reluctant author, played by Emma Thompson. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence are among the all-star cast of David O. Russell’s American Hustle, set among high-level thieves. (Both December 20)

      Leo DiCaprio is a real-life ’90s hustler in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. In August: Osage County, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts play Oklahoma mother and daughter who are distraught at the sudden disappearance of patriarch Sam Shepard. And the Coen brothers travel back to the pre–Bob Dylan Greenwich Village music scene in their splendidly chilly Inside Llewyn Davis, while England’s Idris Elba is tasked with playing the heroic South African leader in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. (December 25)

      A married Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) asks for more when he meets The Invisible Woman (Felicity Jones), the secret mistress of his final years. (January 10) Still getting over her stop on Revolutionary Road, a bummed-out Kate Winslet gets entangled with escaped convict Josh Brolin in Labor Day, a sober change of pace for Juno director Jason Reitman. (January 31)

      The director of A Separation returns with The Past.

      Imported gifts

      South Korea’s plainly titled Friend 2 jumps 17 years from where the prequel left its abused-child protagonist, now caught up in a life of crime (December 13). Punk music comes to Belfast at the turn of the 1980s in Good Vibrations, (January 3) and Sicilians search for Terraferma when non-Italian immigrants arrive on their island. (January 10)

      No hockey in The Rocket; instead, a fireworks-loving boy travels across Laos in this Australian-made adventure. The director of A Separation returns with The Past, about an Iranian man at an impasse with his French wife, played by The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo. (January 17)

      Kids in Northern England struggle for survival in The Selfish Giant. (January 24) An aging playboy contemplates The Great Beauty in his life, both female and formal—the latter encompassing the architecture of Rome. (January 31)

      And, back home, First Nations women oversee their Empire of Dirt. (Date TBA)

      Boxing-day reality

      Waste Land documentary codirector Lucy Walker captures a long-standing skateboard rivalry in The Crash Reel, while The Trials of Muhammad Ali recalls the boxing great’s battles with the U.S. government during the Vietnam War. (December 13)

      Some stand-up guys and gals explore the roots of Jewish humour in When Jews Were Funny, perversely paired at the Vancity Theatre with The Wagner Files, a multistyle approach to the anti-Semitic composer’s music. (Both December 20)

      And one Germanophile singer pulls out the concertizing stops in Justin Bieber’s Believe. (December 25)

      For Desert Runners, masochistic marathoners convene in increasingly harsh corners of the world. (January 3)

      Roughnecks have a singing competition in Oil Sands Karaoke (January 17), and a 14-year-old girl wants to sail around the world—alone—in Maidentrip. Finally, the real Canadian story behind Argo’s Iranian escape is captured by Our Man in Tehran. (January 24)