Holiday Movie Preview: ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘The Hobbit’ & More (PHOTOS)

Marlow Stern lists all the must-see movies this holiday season, from the epic musical ‘Les Misérables’ to ‘The Hobbit.’

The Weinstein Company ; Universal Pictures / AP Photo ; Columbia Pictures / AP Photo ; Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The Weinstein Company ; Universal Pictures / AP Photo ; Columbia Pictures / AP Photo ; Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

With awards season upon us, the movie studios are breaking out the big guns, treating audiences to their finest films. There’s truly something for everybody: the epic movie-musical Les Misérables—with Anne Hathaway’s gut-wrenching performance; Quentin Tarantino’s dark comedy–slavery saga Django Unchained; Peter Jackson’s return to the Shire in The Lord of the Rings prequel The Hobbit; and Zero Dark Thirty, a film chronicling the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, directed by The Hurt Locker’s Kathryn Bigelow. Check out the most anticipated films this holiday season.

Nicola Dove, Focus Features / AP Photo

‘Hyde Park on Hudson’ (Dec. 7)

In Hyde Park on Hudson, the incomparable Bill Murray delivers a splendid performance as iconic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill), this beautifully lensed parlor drama centers on, first and foremost, FDR’s critical meeting with King George VI (Samuel West) and his wife, Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman), at the president’s country estate in Hyde Park, N.Y., on the eve of World War II. The second, less captivating thread concerns the randy, wheelchair-bound president’s love affair with his fifth cousin Margaret Suckley, played by Laura Linney. Despite some narrative deficiencies, as well as suffering from some The King’s Speech déjà vu, Michell’s film is worth the price of admission for Murray, who deftly channels FDR—in particular, his droll sense of humor.

James Fisher / Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ (Dec. 14)

Filmmaker Peter Jackson’s last trip to the Shire, 2003’s Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, won all 11 Academy Awards it was nominated for, including Best Picture. Now he’s returned for another movie trilogy based on The Lord of the Rings’ prequel novel The Hobbit. The first in a series that will be released in three consecutive years, is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, centered on Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a hobbit who is hired by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to lead a fellowship of 13 dwarves against the evil dragon Smaug. In addition to McKellenn, several of the other actors from the LOTR trilogy are reprising their roles, including Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, and Orlando Bloom. Will lightning strike again?

Courtesy of Music Box Films

‘Any Day Now’ (Dec. 14)

This based-on-a-true-story film stars Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt as a gay couple in the 1970s who take in a teenager afflicted with Down syndrome (Isaac Leyva) after he’s abandoned by his mother. They become the family he never had—that is, until the authorities catch wind of their “atypical” family environment, resulting in an exhaustive legal fight to retain custody of the adopted son they love. The timely film won the Audience Awards at the Tribeca, Chicago, and Woodstock Film Festivals and has received near-universal praise from critics.

Columbia Pictures / AP Photo

‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (Dec. 19)

Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal’s follow-up to their Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker, is one of the most anticipated movies of the year, and has already been crowned Best Picture by numerous awards groups, including the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle. The film chronicles the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden through the eyes of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a ballsy CIA operative obsessed with finding the mastermind behind 9/11. Zero Dark Thirty not only is one of the best films of the year—and features one of the year’s most badass silver-screen heroines in Maya—but a journalistic triumph as well.

Sam Emerson / Paramount Pictures

‘The Guilt Trip’ (Dec. 19)

Directed by rom-com guru Anne Fletcher, the filmmaker behind the underrated hits 27 Dresses and The Proposal, this road-trip comedy follows Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen), a budding inventor who goes on a cross-country road trip hawking his latest product. In an act of charity, he decides to bring along his single mother, played by the inimitable Barbra Streisand, to give her something to do and possibly reunite her with a former flame. The dynamic duo, naturally, hit many strange bumps along the way.

Sony Pictures Classics / AP Photo

‘Amour’ (Dec. 19)

German-Austrian auteur Michael Haneke has built a solid reputation for his mesmerizing, grim sagas like The Piano Teacher and The White Ribbon, but he exhibits a lighter touch with Amour. The film follows an elderly couple, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a pair of retired music teachers living in Paris. When Anne suffers a terrible stroke that leaves her paralyzed, Georges is forced into the role of doting caretaker, struggling to make his great love’s final days as painless as possible. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, was selected as the Austrian entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, and may be the first foreign-language film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar since 2006’s Letters From Iwo Jima.

Universal Pictures

‘This Is 40’ (Dec. 21)

Like Peter Jackson (The Hobbit) before him, comedy filmmaking guru Judd Apatow has decided to return to the well with this spinoff to his 2007 critical and commercial hit, Knocked Up. The dramedy follows Debbie (Apatow’s real-life wife, Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) as they struggle with their marriage and family (the two daughters are played by Apatow’s real-life daughters, Maude and Iris) after turning 40. The film also boasts a rich supporting cast, including John Lithgow, Albert Brooks, Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy, Lena Dunham, and Chris O’Dowd.

Summit Entertainment

‘The Impossible’ (Dec. 21)

Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona’s (The Orphanage) latest film tells the true story of a family’s harrowing experience during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (the family, however, has been changed from Spanish to British). The couple, played by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, along with their three young sons, are spending their Christmas vacation in Thailand when, on the morning of Dec. 26, 2004, a tsunami destroys their resort and separates the family. This is one of the best disaster films ever made—the tsunami sequences are absolutely jaw-dropping—and the film is beautifully shot. But it’s the performances, especially by Watts and newcomer Tom Holland as the family’s eldest child, Lucas, that make The Impossible one of the best films of the year.

Paramount Pictures / AP Photo

‘Jack Reacher’ (Dec. 21)

Tom Cruise has had an awful year. It included being abruptly dumped by his wife, Katie Holmes, and a subsequent Vanity Fair cover story exposing the Hollywood megastar’s bizarre Scientology-influenced courting process after his previous split with actress Nicole Kidman. He hopes to make a comeback of sorts with the oddly titled action film, Jack Reacher. This adaptation of Lee Child’s 2005 novel, One Shot, centers on Jack Reacher (Cruise), a retired military expert who’s hired after a man is arrested following a sniper attack that left five dead. Reacher subsequently uncovers a conspiracy involving a Russian baddie known as the Zec, played by director Werner Herzog. The film is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who won a Best Screenplay Oscar for penning the 1995 cult classic The Usual Suspects.

IFC Films / Sundance Selects

‘On the Road’ (Dec. 21)

Directed by Walter Salles, who has some road-film chops having helmed 2004’s criticallyacclaimed The Motorcycle Diaries, this movie adaptation of the classic Jack Kerouac beatnik novel follows struggling writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), whose life changes forever after he meets the gregarious and magnetic Dean Moriarty (Garret Hedlund), a free-spirited, anti-authoritarian womanizer. The two, accompanied by Moriarty’s teen flame, Marylou (Kristen Stewart), embark on an epic adventure—running into a cast of unique characters along the way, played by talented actors like Kirsten Dunst, Steve Buscemi, Viggo Mortensen, and Amy Adams.

Laurie Sparham, Universal Pictures / AP Photo

‘Les Misérables’ (Dec. 25)

After winning the Best Director Oscar—along with Best Picture—for The King’s Speech, filmmaker Tom Hooper decided to follow that triumph up by adapting one of the greatest musicals of all time, Les Misérables. The film tells the epic story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a man sentenced to 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. He flees parole and remakes himself, but is doggedly pursued by his former prison supervisor, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe)—all while raising Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), the bastard child of Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a fallen woman. Hooper’s decision to have his game cast sing all the songs live pays off. The musical numbers soar and the performances are stellar across the board in what has emerged as one of the frontrunners for the Best Picture Oscar.

The Weinstein Company

‘Django Unchained’ (Dec. 25)

Every movie by filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is a highly anticipated event. Django Unchained, the writer-director’s follow-up to his stellar 2009 film, Inglorious Basterds, is set in the Deep South and follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who is granted his freedom by a German bounty hunter, played by Christoph Waltz, in order to help the hunter kill the notorious Brittle Brothers. In return, the German will help Django rescue his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), from the ruthless slavemaster Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Oscar pundits are already positioning DiCaprio, long overdue for an Oscar, as the front runner in the Best Supporting Actor race.

Robert Cohen / The Commercial Appeal / Sony Pictures Classics

‘West of Memphis’ (Dec. 25)

While the bizarre case of the West Memphis Three, a trio of teens wrongly convicted of the brutal murders of three boys in Arkansas back in 1993, has already been covered in the Paradise Lost trilogy, this new documentary, directed by acclaimed doc filmmaker Amy J. Berg (Deliver Us From Evil) and produced by Peter Jackson and one of the accused teens, Damien Echols, unearths new evidence exonerating the wrongfully accused teens that was so convincing, it prompted an investigation by Arkansas authorities that is still ongoing.

Sam Jones / Focus Features

‘Promised Land’ (Dec. 28)

No, this is not a film about Israel. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Gus Van Sant and written by pals Matt Damon and John Krasinski—who adapted it from a story by Dave Eggers—Promised Land follows two corporate flacks, played by Damon and Frances McDormand, who visit a depressed rural town to buy drilling rights from the residents. They are met with resistance from a local schoolteacher, played by Oscar-nominated actor Hal Holbrook, as well as a grassroots organizer, played by Krasinski. The film has made headlines for being critical of hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—a controversial resource-extraction process.

‘Gangster Squad’ (Jan. 11)

Director Ruben Fleischer’s (Zombieland) star-studded gangster saga was supposed to be released in the fall, but was forced into reshoots because of the James Holmes theater shooting (the film had a similar theater-shooting sequence in it). It tells the tale of Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) and John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), two LAPD sergeants tasked with running a special police unit charged with bringing down mob kingpin Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and his law-breaking acolytes in 1940s and 1950s Los Angeles. Gosling’s flame, meanwhile, is played by his Crazy, Stupid, Love costar Emma Stone.