Season's greetings from Hollywood with holiday-timed movie releases

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A pair of princesses, the Carrie Blast Furnace, the Hunger Games and the Hobbit are coming our way this holiday movie season.

Yes, it’s still two weeks till Thanksgiving, but at this time in 2012, “Argo” had been in theaters for a month. It rode the positive publicity and word-of-mouth wave right into Oscar’s embrace.

So it is entirely possible that the best picture of 2013 is out there, given the release of such films as “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Captain Phillips” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” But many other films, such as “American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Saving Mr. Banks” have yet to arrive.

A snapshot of the next two months:

Seasonal film fare: The wintry “Frozen” was inspired by the fairy tale “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen while “The Best Man Holiday” and “Black Nativity” use Christmas as a way to explore faith, friendship and family. “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas” allows the 6-foot-5 performer to dress as a department store Mrs. Claus, for starters. “The Christmas Candle” will offer a family-friendly option with its 1890 English village setting and PG rating.

Pair of Pittsburgh pictures: “Grudge Match” is set in Pittsburgh but wasn’t filmed here, while “Out of the Furnace” allows Braddock and nearby communities to shine in all their gritty glory and for Christian Bale to trade the Batman growl for a Pittsburgh accent and job in the mill.

Children’s hours: “Frozen” will open the day before Thanksgiving while “Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie” will arrive Dec. 20.

Oscar homework: Assuming you have seen pictures already out there, you should try to catch “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Philomena,” “Nebraska,” “American Hustle,” “Saving Mr. Banks,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “Her,” “August: Osage County” and “Lone Survivor.”

Franchise gold: You can bet the Christmas club money on this. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” will be blockbusters.

Lead-off hitters: “The Best Man Holiday,” “Great Expectations” and “Blue Is the Warmest Color” open on Friday, when reviews will appear.

As always, theaters such as the Hollywood in Dormont, the Oaks in Oakmont and Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ venues will sprinkle in holiday favorites and short runs of movies not found elsewhere. Here are mainstream titles and dates, which are subject to change, and the list may grow or shrink by mid-January or before.

NOV. 22

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”: The franchise returns, after 20 months, $691 million and one Oscar for Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook.” Tickets for this sequel, which adds Philip Seymour Hoffman to the cast as new head game maker Plutarch Heavensbee, have been on sale since Oct. 1, with anticipation building since the March 2012 release of the first movie.

“Delivery Man”: In a retelling of the 2011 French-Canadian comedy “Starbuck,” Vince Vaughn is an immature delivery driver for his family’s meat business who finds out he is the biological father of 533 children, 142 of whom are suing to learn his identity. Cobie Smulders is his girlfriend, and Chris Pratt his best friend, a father of four and sometime lawyer.

“Dallas Buyers Club”: Matthew McConaughey lost nearly 50 pounds to portray a real-life Texas electrician who, in 1986, was diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. He seeks out alternative treatments by means legal and illegal and establishes a buyers club to help others who are ailing. He and Jared Leto, who stopped eating to convincingly play a drug addict and fellow AIDS patient, could become first-time Oscar nominees thanks to this film.

“The Book Thief”: Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson and Sophie Nelisse star in an inspirational story, based on the Markus Zusak novel of the same name, about a girl sent to live with a foster family in World War II Germany. Reeling from the death of her younger brother days earlier and timid about her new “parents,” she struggles to fit in at home and at school, where classmates taunt her due to her inability to read.

“The Christmas Candle”: Holiday family film, based on the Max Lucado book, set in an English village called Gladbury where — legend has it — an angel visits the candle maker and touches a single candle. Whoever lights this candle receives a miracle on Christmas Eve but, in 1890 as electricity is becoming commonplace, the legend may end. Hans Matheson, Samantha Barks, Lesley Manville and Sylvester McCoy star, and singer Susan Boyle makes her movie debut.

NOV. 27

“Frozen”: Disney animated comedy-adventure, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” and featuring eight original songs and the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel. Fearless optimist Anna sets off on an epic journey to find her sister, Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter. Anna and a mountain man encounter Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a snowman named Olaf (voice of Josh Gad) along the way.

“Black Nativity”: Kasi Lemmons directs a contemporary retelling of Langston Hughes’ play about a street-wise Baltimore teen (Jacob Latimore), raised by a single mother, who discovers the meaning of faith, healing and family when sent to New York to spend the holiday with estranged relatives. Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and Jennifer Hudson star.

“Homefront”: Action movie about a widowed ex-DEA agent who retires to a small town for the sake of his 10-year-old daughter. The only problem is he picked the wrong town. Starring Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth and Frank Grillo.

“Philomena”: Back from the Three Rivers Film Festival for a regular run. Judi Dench plays a retired nurse who gave birth to a child out of wedlock in 1952 and lost him when the Catholic nuns later placed him for adoption. Steve Coogan is the journalist who joins her in the search for him. Stephen Frears directs this movie inspired by a true story.

NOV. 29

“Kill Your Darlings”: Daniel Radcliffe plays Allen Ginsberg in this story of friendship, love, murder and the pivotal year with Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and David Kammerer that changed his life and sparked his creative revolution.

“Caucus”: AJ Schnack and his documentary team spent 10 months tracking GOP candidates through state fairs and town hall meetings before the Iowa caucus, paying special attention to former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., as well as Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.

DEC. 6

“Out of the Furnace”: After this movie’s world premiere on Saturday, a Variety reviewer called the made-in-Pittsburgh drama starkly powerful, “a much darker and less audience-friendly package than [Scott] Cooper’s Oscar-winning 2009 debut, ‘Crazy Heart,’ but graced by the same lyrical sense of worn-down American lives.” Christian Bale and Casey Affleck play brothers, and the knockout cast includes Woody Harrelson, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana and Forest Whitaker.

“Nebraska”: Bruce Dern won the best actor prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival for his performance as an alcoholic father who thinks he’s won a million-dollar sweepstakes. Alexander Payne directs the black-and-white road movie starring Will Forte as Mr. Dern’s son.

“Blood Brother”: The story of Rocky Braat, who jettisoned creature comforts for an orphanage for children with HIV and AIDS in India, won the grand jury and audience awards for U.S. documentaries at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Made by Mr. Braat’s onetime Pittsburgh roommate, director Steve Hoover.

“A Perfect Man”: Liev Schreiber is a philandering husband who unknowingly falls back in love with his wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn) when she pretends to be another woman.

DEC. 13

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”: Second in the fantasy trilogy continuing the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he journeys with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and 13 Dwarves on an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from a dragon. In High Frame Rate 3-D, 2-D, 3-D and IMAX. Will open at select theaters Dec. 12.

“Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas”: Madea is coaxed into helping a niece pay her daughter an unscheduled visit in the country for Christmas and there are surprises all around in this comedy with Mr. Perry, Kathy Najimy, Chad Michael Murray, Anna Maria Horsford, Tika Sumpter and others.

DEC. 18

“American Hustle”: Fictionalized version of the FBI Abscam operation trying to nail corrupt politicians and — here’s the draw — starring Christian Bale as a brilliant con man with a comb over and paunch, Jennifer Lawrence as his wife, Amy Adams as his partner and a permed Bradley Cooper as a wild FBI agent. Jeremy Renner turns up as a Jersey political operator caught between the con artists in this movie from director David O. Russell.

“It’s a Wonderful Life”: Pittsburgh Filmmakers will once again give moviegoers a touching present with free showings of the Jimmy Stewart classic Dec. 18-22 at the Regent Square Theater, 1035 S. Braddock Ave. It asks patrons to bring canned or nonperishable items for a food drive helping the East End Cooperative Ministry. George and Mary Bailey would be so proud of you.

DEC. 20

“Saving Mr. Banks”: It took more than a spoonful of sugar to persuade author P.L. Travers to allow Walt Disney to turn her novel into a movie. Tom Hanks portrays Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is the curmudgeonly, uncompromising writer protective of her magical nanny Mary Poppins. A two-week trip to LA allows Disney to pull out the stops in his pitch.

“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”: Former San Diego newsman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is still trying to stay classy as the 1980s and a 24-hour news channel dawn. Rocking the hair and fashions of the times with him: Ron’s news anchor wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), weather man Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), man on the street reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and sports guy Champ Kind (David Koechner).

“Inside Llewyn Davis”: A young folk singer (Oscar Isaac) navigates the Greenwich Village music scene of 1961 in this Coen brothers film. The character is fictional but shares some similarities and songs with the real-life Dave Van Ronk, a working-class kid who split his life between music and occasional jobs as a merchant seaman and was a mentor to Bob Dylan. The cast also includes Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund and F. Murray Abraham.

“Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie”: All dinosaurs all the time are on tap in this family adventure in which an underdog dinosaur triumphs to become a hero for the ages.

DEC. 25

“The Wolf of Wall Street”: Director Martin Scorsese reunites with Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays real-life Jordan Belfort, who went from stock-market multimillionaire at 26 to federal convict a decade later. Once scheduled for release in mid-November, it turned out Mr. Scorsese needed more time to shorten and edit his film.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”: Ben Stiller directs and stars in James Thurber’s story of a day dreamer who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. When his job along with that of his co-worker (Kristen Wiig) are threatened, Walter takes action in the real world embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have imagined.

“August: Osage County”: Carnegie Mellon University graduate John Wells directs this dark story of the strong-willed women of the Weston family whose lives have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them. Based on the prize-winning play of the same name and with a cast led by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

“Grudge Match”: Comedy, set in Pittsburgh but filmed primarily in New Orleans, stars Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone as boxers reuniting in the ring after 30 contentious years. Each had scored a victory against the other in their salad days, but Mr. Stallone suddenly retired on the eve of their third bout. A promoter sees big money in a rematch in this movie also starring Kim Basinger, Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin.

“Believe”: New Justin Bieber documentary with fresh interviews with the singer and appearances from manager Scooter Braun, Usher, Rodney Jerkins, Ludacris, Mike Posner and others. It charts the creative process behind the writing of the songs and mounting of the “Believe” tour.

“47 Ronin”: After a treacherous warlord kills their master and banishes their kind, 47 leaderless samurai vow to seek vengeance and restore honor to their people. Driven from their homes and dispersed across the land, this band of Ronin must seek the help of Kai (Keanu Reeves) — a man they once rejected — as they fight their way across a savage world of mythic beasts, shape-shifting witchcraft and other terrors.

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”: Back after two screenings during the Three Rivers Film Festival, this film is based on former South African President Nelson Mandela’s autobiography of the same name, which chronicles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison before working to rebuild the once-segregated society. Starring Mr. Elba as Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela.


“Oldboy”: Spike Lee remakes the Korean revenge thriller about a businessman imprisoned in a windowless hotel room for 15 years. He tacks five years onto the solitary confinement, making it an even 20 for prisoner Josh Brolin and adds Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley and Elizabeth Olsen to the cast.

“The Armstrong Lie”: Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) explores the fall of disgraced cycling champion Lance Armstrong following the 2009 Tour de France, using interviews with teammates, the alleged doping mastermind and the cyclist himself. (December)

“Paranormal Activity: Marked Ones”: No need to wait till Halloween any more for horror movies, which are hotter than ever. This will be the fifth in the series and first to directly target the Spanish-language audience with a Latino cast and storyline about a Catholic inquiry into suspected demonic possession, according to The Hollywood Reporter. (Jan. 3)

“Her”: An original love story exploring the evolving nature — and risks — of intimacy in the modern world. Set in the Los Angeles of the near future, it stars Joaquin Phoenix as a soulful, heartbroken man who becomes intrigued with a new advanced operating system and its voice (Scarlett Johansson). Her needs and desires grow in tandem with his own as friendship deepens into love. (Jan. 10)

“Lone Survivor”: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster play Navy SEALs who, on a covert mission to neutralize a high-level al-Qaida operative, are ambushed by the enemy in the mountains of Afghanistan. They find reserves of strength and resilience in this story based on Marcus Luttrell’s memoir of the same name. (Jan. 10)

“One Chance”: Taylor Swift co-wrote “Sweeter Than Fiction” with fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff that plays over the end credits of this movie inspired by the true story of British tenor Paul Potts’ meteoric rise to stardom via the TV program “Britain’s Got Talent.” James Corden plays Mr. Potts. (Jan. 10)

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”: Chris Pine follows in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck to play Tom Clancy character Jack Ryan alongside Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley and director Kenneth Branagh. (Jan. 17)

“The Nut Job”: Animated comedy about a squirrel who leads a mission to get into Maury’s Nut Store and stock up on food for the winter. With voices of Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser and Liam Neeson. (Jan. 17)

“Ride Along”: When a fast-talking guy, who happens to be a high school security guard, joins his girlfriend’s brother — a hot-tempered and decorated cop — to patrol the streets of Atlanta, he gets entangled in the officer’s latest case in this action comedy starring Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter, Bryan Callen and Laurence Fishburne. (Jan. 17)

“Devil’s Due”: After a mysterious, lost night on their honeymoon, a newlywed couple find themselves dealing with an earlier-than-planned pregnancy. While recording everything for posterity, the husband begins to notice odd behavior in his wife that they initially write off to nerves, but, as the months pass, it becomes evident that the dark changes to her body and mind have a much more sinister origin. (Jan. 17)

“Labor Day”: Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air,” “Juno”) directs a movie version of Joyce Maynard’s 2009 novel about an alienated boy, his lonely mother and the escaped convict stranger who comes into their lives one Labor Day weekend. The cast features Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin and newcomer Gattlin Griffith. (Jan. 31)

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:

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