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Awards bait and blockbusters: Previewing Hollywood's year-end offerings

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As we come to the end of another cinematic year, certain elements of the Hollywood machine are ramping up into high gear.

Obviously, we’re entering into prestige season, where studios have traditionally trotted out their awards contenders in order to ensure that they are fresh in the minds of voters when balloting takes place.

Granted, that has changed somewhat in recent years – the combination of an expanded Best Picture field and a willingness to recognize more mainstream and commercial fare has led to less specificity with regards to where a film lands on the calendar. Still, the lion’s share of Oscar bait rolls out close to the cutoff date.

On the flip side, this late part of the year has also become a sort of second summer in terms of blockbuster fare. Films expected to do massive box office are no longer just the purview of June and July – December has now become a perfectly acceptable spot to place your nine-figure franchise powerhouse.

What follows is a look at some of the upcoming films that are closing out 2018, divided into two categories – “Awards Bait” and “Blockbusters.” This should give you an idea of not only what films are coming our way, but what KINDS of films they might be. Take a look.

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AWARDS BAIT

Green Book – Nov. 21

First on the list, first in my heart – this might be the buzzy movie I’m most excited to see. “Green Book” is based on the true story of an African-American entertainer and his white driver making their way through the Deep South on a concert tour in the 1960s. The pair – played by Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortenson, respectively – use the “Green Book” of the title (a guide for safe establishments for African-Americans) to navigate their trip.

The sheer talent involved in this one is incredible. Ali and Mortenson will almost certainly be mesmerizing to watch, the supporting cast looks great and Peter Farrelly (yes, THAT one) is behind the camera. Expect a handful of nominations for this one.

Roma – Nov. 21

It has been a while since we last saw director Alfonso Cuaron’s work on the big screen. With “Roma,” he moves about as far as possible away from the distant majesty of “Gravity.” The semi-autobiographical film is more or less pulled from Cuaron’s memories of his childhood; it’s a tale of a domestic worker and her family dealing with the realities of life in 1970s Mexico City. The film was shot in black-and-white and is already being hailed as an honest-to-goodness masterpiece.

I’ve loved every film of Cuaron’s I’ve seen; there’s no reason to expect that to change now. He’s as gifted a filmmaker as there is right now, and with him going personal, this promises to be a tremendous film.

The Front Runner – Nov. 21

This movie has a pretty impressive pedigree. You’ve got Jason Reitman at the helm, directing from a script he co-wrote. You’ve got Hugh Jackman as your lead – always strong. The supporting players include talents like J.K. Simmons and Vera Farmiga. However, the truth is that the story of Gary Hart – former Presidential candidate whose 1988 campaign was derailed by a sex scandal – might not resonate as well as it would have, say, two or three years ago.

The drastic shifting in the political landscape has made this story seem almost quaint in comparison. This would have been a legitimate contender in 2014, but at this point, it has probably missed the boat.

The Favourite – Nov. 23

Director Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the more polarizing filmmakers out there currently. Movies like “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” have challenged audiences in unexpected ways. “The Favourite” might be the film that allows him to move beyond the label of provocateur and settle into the status that his talent should warrant. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone play competing for the favor of Queen Anne.

I run hot and cold on Lanthimos personally, but the casting looks spot on and the early enthusiasm for the film makes me think this one might run hot for me.

Mary Queen of Scots – Dec. 7

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. There’s certainly a lot of potential in the premise, exploring the dynamic between the widowed teenaged Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The fact that Mary is being played by Saoirse Ronan and Elizabeth by Margot Robbie doesn’t hurt matters either. David Tennant and Guy Pearce are along for the ride as well. Compelling story plus ferociously talented female leads equals awards buzz.

These kinds of movies always do well come awards season – this should be no exception. Ronan and Robbie will almost certainly be picking up nominations left and right; playing queens puts you in line for hardware.

If Beale Street Could Talk – Dec. 14

Barry Jenkins is back and not a moment too soon. Count me among the many who adored “Moonlight” – I’m genuinely excited for this follow-up from Jenkins. This story – adapted by Jenkins from a James Baldwin work – is certainly timely, a tale of lives upended by racism and false accusations in 1970s Harlem. It’s the sort of story that Jenkins tells masterfully; Stephan James and KiKi Layne take the lead in what will surely be a gut-wrenching tale.

Don’t be at all surprised if this movie makes serious waves during awards season. It’s a bit of a dark horse at the moment, but the right reception could help it surge to the front.

Welcome to Marwen – Dec. 21

People need to go ahead and accept that just because Steve Carell was good at comedy first, it doesn’t change the fact that he might be better as a dramatic actor. “Welcome to Marwen” sounds like precisely the sort of vehicle that takes full advantage of Carell’s abilities; based on a 2010 documentary, the film tells the story of a man whose recovery from a brutal beating involves getting lost in a miniature world of his own creation. Robert Zemeckis directs.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing for me is the movement between live-action and CGI. If both sides of that coin are compelling, this movie could be something truly special.

On the Basis of Sex – Dec. 25

Considering the internet’s ongoing love affair with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg – not to mention the success of the recent documentary “RBG” – it’s no surprise that she’d get the biopic treatment. This movie features Felicity Jones as a young RBG in her early days battling for gender equality. It features a KILLER cast – Armie Hammer, Kathy Bates, Justin Theroux, Stephen Root – to go with its inspiring subject.

I have a sinking feeling that this one might get lost in the shuffle a little bit, which is too bad, but if Jones drops the hammer like she’s capable of doing, she could lead this movie to an impressive number of nods.

Vice – Dec. 25

It’s a little weird to think that a biopic of Dick Cheney would be the kind of movie that inspires awards chatter, but when a movie has the sort of pedigree that “Vice” brings to the table, it has to be in the conversation. Christian Bale once again goes transformative in a role, playing Cheney. Adam McKay wrote and directed the film. The cast is phenomenal – Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld and so many more.

As someone who loved “The Big Short,” I’m dying to see what McKay and company do with this one. Look for this to get nominations by the fistful – and for McKay in particular to get some love.

Stan & Ollie – Dec. 28

I’m legitimately curious about this one. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly star as Laurel & Hardy, the legendary comedy duo. The film follows the pair as they make an effort to kickstart their flagging film careers; we watch as they undertake a tour of post-war Britain. It’s the sort of film that promises to be both funny and poignant – ideal stuff for awards voters. It’s an unconventional choice for a biopic, but one with potential.

We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out. There’s no disputing that Coogan and Reilly LOOK the part, but capturing the essence of these comedic icons won’t be easy.

Blockbusters

Wreck It Ralph 2 - Nov. 21

This sequel – full title: “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2” – is going to have a tough time living up to the delightful first installment, but all indications are that it’s going to give it a try. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman are back, only this time, they’re going to head to the internet. Prepare for a fast and furious flurry of goofy gags and internet jokes aimed at the kiddos – and a few solid bits just for the grown-ups.

Disney’s in-house animation team has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance after a less-than-fertile creative stretch. Movies like this one will keep them on the upswing, even if it does fail to live up to its predecessor.

Anna and the Apocalypse – Nov. 30

It’s probably a stretch to drop this movie in among the “blockbusters,” but I don’t care. While it seems unlikely that “Anna and the Apocalypse” is going to set the world on fire at the box office, it still has a chance to be an entertainingly offbeat winter offering. Basically, the zombie apocalypse breaks out in a small town at Christmastime and a young woman named Anna has to deal with it, fighting for survival … and singing.

Oh, did I not mention that this was a musical? A zombie Christmas musical? Because that’s what this movie is. Yeah. Will it be good? I have no idea. Do I want to see it? Desperately.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle – Dec. 7

We just got a new “Jungle Book” movie not so long ago, but this one promises to be different. The vocal talent is legitimate – Benedict Cumberbatch, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett headline, but the rest of the cast is packed with folks who are excellent without being household names. And you’ve got Andy Serkis steering the ship – a guy who knows a thing or two about the wonders of motion capture.

Again, I’m not sure this movie is necessary, but there’s a lot of talk about how this is a grittier, darker take on Kipling’s work than we’ve seen before. If it works, it’ll be pretty great – and Serkis might be just the guy to do it.

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse – Dec. 14

I’m legitimately pumped for this animated Spider-Man offering from Sony. It’s a chance to bring together iterations of Spider-Man from all over, ranging from relative newcomer Miles Morales to obscurities like Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham (yes, really). Its lack of connection to a larger cinematic universe allows for a great degree of freedom, so expect some bold fun. And with a stacked voice cast to boot - Nicolas Cage, Mahershala Ali, Liev Schreiber and Jake Johnson lead the way.

I have no idea how successful this movie will be, but I know that I am HERE FOR IT. There can never be too much Spider-Man content in the world. I expect this to be awesome.

Mortal Engines – Dec. 14

This one looks to be right up my alley. While I’m unfamiliar with the Phillip Reeve books upon which this is based, the trailers look solid. The notion of giant steampunk cities that move around and consume one another at the behest of their rulers? And a cohort of suspiciously good-looking young people devoted to overthrowing the current unfair system? Plus, you’re rolling out Hugo Weaving as one of the baddies? Yeah, you’ve got me.

It has been a bit since a YA adaptation really hit screens hard – I think this might be the one that reignites the flame. We’ll see if “Mortal Engines” is the gigantic engine that could.

Mary Poppins Returns – Dec. 19

Look, I don’t think any of us really thought that a sequel to “Mary Poppins” was something that we’d ever see. Who even thinks of something like that? Yet here we are, with Emily Blunt assuming the iconic umbrella and musical theatre giant Lin-Manuel Miranda joining in as not-Dick Van Dyke. Apparently, Mary Poppins will be dealing with the children of her former charges from the original movie. The nostalgia factor is going to be HIGH.

“Mary Poppins Returns” almost sounds like a joke title of a movie made by a bad producer in a comedy about Hollywood. Instead, it will probably be one of Christmastime’s biggest box office hits.

Aquaman – Dec. 21

Anyone with any love for comic books and superheroes has made a joke or three about Aquaman. However, with this new movie, the oft-maligned Atlantean might just be the biggest thing going in the DC filmmaking realm. Jason Momoa is a legit star, bringing a charisma that no one would ever have associated with the character. It looks big and bold, with a sense of humor that we don’t usually get from DC’s grimdark style.

“Aquaman” is the only blown-out big-budget superhero offering coming in this stretch, so I expect it to be a massive success. The character might be second-tier, but so was Iron Man back in 2008. Think about it.

Second Act – Dec. 21

One of two big comedies landing at year’s end – we’ll get to the other one in a second – “Second Act” features Jennifer Lopez back on the big screen. She plays a hard-working woman employed at a big-box store who is trying to climb the corporate ladder – and failing due to a lack of credentials. Her best friend (played by Leah Remini) has her son fake up some cred and before long, J-Lo’s on Madison Avenue.

I’m not sure where I come down on “Second Act,” but at the very least, it’ll be interesting to see what happens when real-life besties like Lopez and Remini get to do their thing together.

Bumblebee – Dec. 21

That’s right, gang – MORE TRANSFORMERS. This latest iteration is a prequel, giving us the Bumblebee origin story we never knew we wanted. Probably because we didn’t want it. Anyway, it’s a chance to move in a different direction with the franchise and introduce a few new faces; John Cena is here to, I don’t know, flex and wave his hand around, while Hailee Steinfeld is probably spending her time fondly remembering “True Grit.” Director Travis Knight makes his non-animated debut.

Look, I don’t care about “Bumblebee.” But Hollywood doesn’t care about what I don’t care about; this movie will make a bazillion dollars and crush the overseas box office.

Holmes and Watson – Dec. 25

A reunion of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly would be enough to warrant a trip to the movies on its own. But when you throw in the fact that they will be playing the iconic detective Sherlock Holmes and his trusted advisor/biographer and you’ve got something special on your hands. It will be broad and goofy and silly as all get out. It will also be an absolute delight. Oh, and for those into other Holmesian characters? Hugh Laurie is Sherlock’s brother Mycroft and arch-nemesis Moriarty will be Ralph Fiennes.

We’re long overdue for these two to team up again. Even if this one misses the mark by a bit, it will still likely be the funniest movie to his screens this December.

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