(CNN) — Following a fall movie season filled with tales of gritty survival and the resilience of the human spirit, now comes family dysfunction and corruption.
Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the cineplex will boast a selection that zeroes in on greed (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) and con artists (“American Hustle”), plus families lost (“Out of the Furnace”), found (“Philomena”), comically troubled (“August: Osage County”) and created from operating systems (“Her”).
What a merry season, right? Here are the 10 movies that we can’t wait to dig in to over the next six weeks — for a more comprehensive guide to titles to watch for, check out the holiday movie guide above.
1. “Philomena” (November 27)
What it’s about: Judi Dench stars as an older Irish woman who teams up with journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) to find the son she had out of wedlock 50 years earlier. It’s based on the true story of Philomena Lee, who, as a pregnant teenager in the ’50s, was left at a convent where she was forced to give up her child for adoption. (If you want to catch up on the story behind the film, Martin Sixsmith chronicled the journey in the 2009 book, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee.”)
Who it stars: Directed by Stephen Frears, “Philomena” also stars Michelle Fairley, Mare Winningham and Sophie Kennedy Clark, who portrays the younger version of Philomena.
The buzz: Critics and audiences fell in love with this movie when it screened at the Venice Film Festival. “Philomena” isn’t without its flaws — some have complained that the script can veer toward righteousness — but they’re easy to overlook with Dench and Coogan (who also co-wrote the script) anchoring the touching drama.
2. “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (November 29, limited)
What it’s about: Based on the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, this biopic from Justin Chadwick promises to introduce moviegoers to the man who became a legendary leader. Obviously, that’s a huge promise that inevitably will go unfulfilled — after all, this is the long and influential scope of Mandela’s life we’re talking about. Still, Chadwick, with a screenplay from William Nicholson, retraces Mandela’s rise from boyhood to revolutionary leader to international icon.
Who it stars: Idris Elba (Mandela), Naomie Harris (Winnie Mandela), Tony Kgoroge and Terry Pheto.
The buzz: With such a valuable story at stake, Idris Elba’s performance is being closely watched as a potential contender this awards season. And while early reviews have been mixed, everyone’s agreed that Elba shines as Mandela.
3. “Out of the Furnace” (December 6)
What it’s about: The story of a desperate man seeking justice for his family has been told with success earlier this year — see Hugh Jackman’s “Prisoners” — but Scott Cooper’s “Out of the Furnace” is taking a different approach. This crime thriller centers on brothers Russell and Rodney Blaze. The former is a blue-collar steel mill worker who spends his nights caring for their terminally ill father. The other brother, Rodney, is an Iraqi war vet who literally loses himself in an infamous crime ring. When police fail to locate Rodney, Russell takes the search for his missing family into his own hands.
Who it stars: Christian Bale (Russell Blaze); Casey Affleck (Rodney Blaze); Zoe Saldana; Woody Harrelson; Sam Shepard and Forest Whitaker.
The buzz: “Out of the Furnace” has two draws right off the bat. There’s the return of Scott Cooper as a writer/director following his massive 2009 success with “Crazy Heart.” And then there’s the crazy strong line-up in the cast that left the Hollywood Reporter calling the drama solidly well-acted.
4. “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug” (December 13)
What it’s about: If you really need to know what “Desolation of Smaug” is about, start with J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” as that’s the basis for Peter Jackson’s trilogy. But Jackson has taken some liberties with translating Tolkien’s children’s classic to the big screen. As hobbit Bilbo Baggins joins 13 dwarves on their mission to reclaim their land from the vile dragon Smaug, the crew encounter mythical obstacles as well as a character of Jackson’s own imagination, Evangeline Lilly’s elf Tauriel.
Who it stars: Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins); Ian McKellen; Richard Armitage; Orlando Bloom; and Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug.
The buzz: The first installment of “The Hobbit” franchise, 2012’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” was criticized for both its unconventional film speed and its meandering pace. This time around, trailers have emphasized the greater stakes and action at play in “Desolation of Smaug” — and whenever Cumberbatch is the villain, you know you’re in for a fun time.
5. “her” (December 18, limited)
What it’s about: A modern but sincere love story, “her” follows a lonely, heartbroken writer named Theodore who finds love 2.0 with an operating system. Set in a futuristic Los Angeles, the OS is a female personal assistant named Samantha who can put Siri to shame.
Who it stars: Joaquin Phoenix (Theodore); Scarlett Johansson (Samantha); Amy Adams; Chris Pratt; Rooney Mara; Olivia Wilde; and Portia Doubleday.
The buzz: With director Spike Jonze at the helm, “her” made an ostentatious splash on the film festival circuit this year, setting it up for lots of attention in its limited release. The story raises so many questions about social engagement and matters of the heart in the digital age, and it doesn’t hurt that Phoenix, Johansson and Adams turn in strong performances as well.
6. “American Hustle” (December 18)
What it’s about: Pulling inspiration from the FBI’s Abscam operation of the late 1970s, “American Hustle” is a glorious pairing of criminals and the law in an effort to suss out corrupt politicians. The story centers on con artist Irving Rosenfeld and his partner Sydney Prosser as they’re forced to work with FBI agent Richie DiMaso to pull off the sting.
Who it stars: A cast doesn’t get much better than this: Bradley Cooper (Richie DiMaso); Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfeld); Amy Adams (Sydney Prosser); Jeremy Renner (politician Carmine Polito); and Jennifer Lawrence (Irving’s wife Rosalyn) all star.
The buzz: With so many marquee names — some of whom are reteaming with director David O. Russell after winning over audiences with 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook” — “American Hustle” looks to be all but a slam-dunk with audiences and critics.