Holiday Movie Preview: What's Playing From Now To New Year's

A look at the 50 or so movies — Oscar bait and just plain entertainment — that Hollywood will be offering between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's official. The holiday movie season started the moment "The Hunger Games" sequel, "Catching Fire," caught fire at the box office last weekend. Now, prepare yourself for a surge of Oscar hopefuls and would-be blockbusters. It's a one-month rush that ends along with the holiday season on New Year's. Critic Bob Mondello has this look ahead.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Middle Earth, middle movie in a series where even a middling first installment took in a billion dollars. You have to figure Peter Jackson's latest Hobbit flick, the "The Desolation of Smaug," doesn't have to work too hard to be the season's big box office hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG")

LUKE EVANS: (As Bard the Bowman) If you awaken that beast, you will destroy us all.

MONDELLO: Smaug remained mostly unseen in the first Hobbit movie, and getting a good look at him is a big part of the reason fans want to see this installment.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) Was that an earthquake?

KEN STOTT: (As Balin) That, my lad, was a dragon.

MONDELLO: A dragon played by Benedict Cumberbatch, don't you know. Cumberbatch will also be in the season's big family melodrama "August: Osage County." But in that one, he is not the dragon, Meryl Streep is - a dragon lady of a mom to daughter Julia Roberts, among others.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY")

MERYL STREEP: (As Violet Weston) Soon you'll be gone never to return.

JULIA ROBERTS: (As Barbara Weston) Don't start now.

STREEP: (As Violet Weston) Your father, you broke his heart when you moved away.

ROBERTS: (as Barbara Weston) That is wildly unfair.

STREEP: (As Violet Weston) You were Beverly's favorite, you know that.

ROBERTS: (as Barbara Weston) I'd prefer to think my parents love their children equally.

STREEP: (As Violet Weston) I'm sure you'd prefer to think that Santa Claus brought you presents, too.

MONDELLO: "August: Osage County," adapted from a Pulitzer-winning play, offers a screen full of stars a chance to shred each other for two hours, always fun for the holidays. Elsewhere, quite a few stars will be engaged in crime. Stock manipulators Leo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey in "The Wolf of Wall Street."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE WOLF OF WALL STREET")

MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: (As Mark Hanna) Name of the game, move the money from your client's pocket into your pocket.

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (As Jordan Belfort) But if you can make your clients money at the same, it's advantageous to everyone, correct?

MCCONAUGHEY: (As Mark Hanna) No.

MONDELLO: And con artists Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale, who talk real art in "American Hustle."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "AMERICAN HUSTLE")

CHRISTIAN BALE: (As Irving Rosenfeld) This Rembrandt here, people come from all over the world to see this.

BRADLEY COOPER: (As Richie DiMaso) Yeah, he's good. Yeah.

BALE: (As Irving Rosenfeld) It's a fake. The guy who made this was so good that it's real to everybody. Now, who's the master, the painter or the forger?

MONDELLO: "American Hustle" is based on a headline-making scandal from the 1970s. Elsewhere, a more comically scandalous headline-maker will be disgracing his news desk again, Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy in "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES")

WILL FERRELL: (As Ron Burgundy) Good evening. Tonight's top story is crack. I understand we have some crack and we're going to smoke it right here in the studio. Oh, whoa. Whoa. You feel that right away. It's just refreshing.

MONDELLO: Also courting laughs is Madea in "Tyler Perry's Madea Christmas" which finds her employed - understandably briefly - as a department store's Mrs. Claus.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TYLER PERRY'S A MADEA CHRISTMAS")

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (As character) Does Santa really work in the North Pole?

TYLER PERRY: (As Madea) No. He don't work. He lays on the couch and he drinks all day. He's a trifle. I have to pay all the bills. Kind of like your mama. Next.

MONDELLO: Another comedy is "Grudge Match," which, for a video game, brings together Razor and Kid, two aging boxers who can't stand each other, played by two of the silver screen's better-known boxers, Italian stallion Sylvester Stallone and raging bull Robert De Niro.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "GRUDGE MATCH")

ROBERT DE NIRO: (As Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen) I want to see my old friend. He's been ducking me for 30 years. I missed him.

SYLVESTER STALLONE: (As Henry 'Razor' Sharp) I thought it was how you're missing any meals. I'm out of here.

NIRO: (As Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen) No, you're not.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (As character) Check out this clip that is just blowing up online.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (As character) I got a company that wants the official rematch. They're going to pay you 100 grand.

STALLONE: (As Henry 'Razor' Sharp) Well, I can't be in the same room with that guy. Not worth it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (As character) The hell you mean it ain't worth it? I'm looking at your house.

MONDELLO: Enough comedy. If you're intrigued by the artistic process, how artists think and work, there are a lot of holiday movies dealing with that. Teller, of the magic team Penn & Teller, directed a documentary called "Tim's Vermeer" about a guy who's never held a brush before but who manages to paint an entirely persuasive version of a 17th century masterpiece. Another documentary, "Six by Sondheim," gets Broadway's great composer/lyricist talking about the art of making art as it applies to his own work.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SIX BY SONDHEIM")

STEPHEN SONDHEIM: Nobody goes through life unscathed. And I think if you write about those things, you're going to touch people.

MONDELLO: A guy who writes folk music is the subject of the latest Coen Brothers' movie, "Inside Llewyn Davis."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (As character) Folk singer with a cat, is that part of your act? Every time he plays a C-major, you puke a hairball.

MONDELLO: And another aspiring musician is at the center of the fact-based comedy, "One Chance."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ONE CHANCE")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As character) I knew you were mad (unintelligible), but I didn't know you're completely psychopath.

MONDELLO: "One Chance" is the story of the snaggletooth electronics clerk who wowed Simon Cowell on the first season of "Britain's Got Talent."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BRITAIN'S GOT TALENT")

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NESSUN DORMA")

PAUL POTTS: (Singing in foreign language)

MONDELLO: Then there's the most star-studded of the year's creative sagas, "Saving Mr. Banks," which casts Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as children's author, P.L. Travers. Back in the 1960s, those two had a celebrated case of creative differences over whether her characters should, in her words, cavort and twinkle on screen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SAVING MR. BANKS)

EMMA THOMPSON: (As P. L. Travers) Now, let us begin.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters) Room here for us.

MELANIE PAXSON: (As Dolores Voght Scott-Dolly) She has a lot of ideas.

TOM HANKS: (As Walt Disney) What kind of ideas?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters) multiples riskponsible(ph). Now, how does that sound?

THOMPSON: (As P. L. Travers) No, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. Riskponsible(ph) is not a word.

B. J. NOVAK: (as Robert Sherman) We made it up.

THOMPSON: (As P. L. Travers) Well, unmake it up.

MONDELLO: No mystery about how this work out, of course, but "Saving Mr. Banks," does have fun with the complication.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MARY POPPINS")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters) Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

THOMPSON: (As P. L. Travers) Stop. Mary Poppins is not for sale. I won't have the time to do one of your silly cartoons.

HANKS: (As Walt Disney) Says the woman who sent in a flying nanny with an umbrella to save the children.

THOMPSON: (As P. L. Travers) You think Mary Poppins has come to save the children? Oh, dear.

MONDELLO: "Saving Mr. Banks" is about a difficult real-life relationship and that's something you can also say about "The Invisible Woman" in which Ralph Fiennes plays Charles Dickens and Felicity Jones plays a teenager with overly great expectations about becoming his mistress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE INVISIBLE WOMAN")

FELICITY JONES: (As Nelly Ternan) You cannot marry me.

RALPH FIENNES: (As Charles Dickens) No?

JONES: (As Nelly Ternan) You cannot.

KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS: (as Frances Ternan) There is an insanity to his behavior.

FIENNES: (As Charles Dickens) You have been in every line I have ever read.

MONDELLO: Theirs was a difficult love story, but it's got nothing on the widow and escaped convict romance in "Labor Day," or the wrenching, Iranian divorce story in "The Past," or Spike Jonze's surprising techno love story, "Her," set just a few years from now. You know how Siri seems to have a personality on cellphones? Well, imagine things have progressed a bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "HER")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (As character) Please wait as your operating system is initiated.

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: (As Samantha) Hello. I'm here.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX: (As Theodore Twombly) Hi.

JOHANSSON: (As Samantha) Hi. I'm Samantha. Good morning, Theodore.

PHOENIX: (As Theodore Twombly) Good morning.

JOHANSSON: (As Samantha) You have a meeting in five minutes. You want to trying getting out of bed?

PHOENIX: (As Theodore Twombly) You're too funny.

JOHANSSON: (As Samantha) OK. Good. I'm funny. I want to learn everything about everything.

PHOENIX: (As Theodore Twombly) I love the way you look at the world.

MONDELLO: Joaquin Phoenix generates more heat than you might expect playing opposite Scarlett Johansson's voice in "Her." And there are more potential biggies out there. Keanu Reeves battling a samurai army in "47 Ronin," Ben Stiller battling a dream state in "Secret Life of Walter Mitty," Mark Wahlberg battling his way back from Afghanistan in "Lone Survivor," and Justin Bieber battling his pants in "Believe."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BELIEVE")

JUSTIN BIEBER: (as himself) Sometimes I walk the way I walk, I waddle because my pants are low. Don't let the pants wear you. Wear the pants.

MONDELLO: Movie words of wisdom for the holidays. I'm Bob Mondello.

SHAPIRO: This is NPR.

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