Oscar Time: Five Non-Holiday Movies Worth Seeing

The holidays are a great time to get a head start on Oscar viewing.

December is Oscar time. Filmmakers need to get their movies in under the wire so they'll be in the running for this year's awards. Consequently, this month is a weird mix of crowd-pleasing mediocrity and painfully long masterpieces that mix horribly with a need for fluff. But what's a movie lover to do? Gotta see them!

Having only viewed two of these films — "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook" — I'm as in the dark as you all are about how truly great these movies are, and how they measure up to each other as far as acting and scripting are concerned. All I know is what I hear, and I'm hearing a lot. All the critics associations are putting together their lists of bests, and they all influence how the Oscars go.

So far, these are the movies with the most — or most interesting — buzz.

Now is your chance to see for yourself. Here are five movies that are being released this holiday season that are decidedly not Christmas-y but will prepare you better for awards season — and at the same time give you an excuse to avoid conversation with your family, should you so desire…

  • "Zero Dark Thirty" — Kathryn Bigelow is once again in the running for best director, along with Steven Spielberg. This movie will be released Dec. 19. I haven't seen it. (Next year I'll be part of the Washington Area Film Critics Association and get access to all the advanced screenings, praise goddess!) Starring Joel Edgerton — an Aussie actor who was in "Animal Kingdom" and "The Thing" — and gorgeous-actress-of-the-moment Jessica Chastain, who the National Board of Review gave Best Actress, this story follows how Osama bin Laden was tracked down and eliminated. Not exactly Christmas viewing, but what Oscar film is? Both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review named it the Best Film of 2012.
  • "Lincoln" — The only competition for Best Actor this year is coming from Hugh Jackman in "Les Miserables," and he is practically a dark horse thanks to Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. Day-Lewis is not only mesmerizing, but the words he speaks — courtesy of another Oscar contender, Best Screenplay front-runner Tony Kushner — are worthy of repeat viewing. It's a long movie but a great break from shopping and the craze of visiting family — over two-and-a-half hours of blessed relative-free darkness.
  • "Les Miserables" — Based on some of the buzz, you'd think this version of the blockbuster musical starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway is the best thing since (stolen) sliced bread. I will remain impartial until my review. Director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech") is definitely being mentioned for Best Director, and Jackman and Hathaway have been praised for their performances. The National Board of Review offered it an award for best ensemble cast.
  • "Silver Linings Playbook" — Predictably, David O. Russell's quirky flick about a mentally unstable group of folks getting their lives together is being touted for Best Screenplay, and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are being chatted up for Best Actor and Actress — though it's hard to imagine anyone beating Day-Lewis. "Looper" also is in the running for Best Original Screenplay by Rian Johnson. Neither movie is quite as heavily promoted as the big releases, but they still are worth seeking out.
  • "Django Unchained" Leonardo DiCaprio's role as plantation owner Calvin Candie is elevating what might otherwise just have been Quentin Tarantino's take on the spaghetti western. Over the top as always, this film is being released on Christmas, making it the holiday-inappropriate thumb-nose of releases that day. "Les Miserables" and the family comedy "Parental Guidance" are the other two releases that day. Depending on how your holiday goes, it might be just what the doctor — or psychiatrist — ordered. Also starring Jamie Foxx as Django, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson, it's the pre-Civil War story of a slave working to rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from Candyland, Candie's notorious plantation. I doubt Santa would ever visit that plantation…

Please do see a few of these movies, then weigh in here. I'd love to hear what you all think as you compare these actors, scripts and movies as a whole. You can always DVR those holiday movies! You can be the first on your block to be able to speak to what is worthless and worthy this Oscar season. Cinema Siren wants to know what you think! Meanwhile, be safe and good luck with your holiday shopping!


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