"It's the most wonderful time of the year" … especially for catching great films. 'Tis the season when studios strategically release the best they've got for the upcoming awards ceremonies. The following are at the top of Pam Nadon's holiday picks list.
‘SOME VELVET MORNING’
The movie has been described as "a horror film with no blood." Stanley Tucci attempts to reconcile with his former mistress, Alice Eve, after four years apart. She's not interested. He becomes abusive. Director Neil LaBute, known for playing head games, never disappoints. Dec. 13
Spike Jonze directs as Joaquin Phoenix stars in this unlikely love story. A lonely man finds solace in the friendship of his artificially intelligent operating system (the voice of Scarlett Johansson). Has our relationship with technology gone too far? The delicate balancing of fantasy and reality is definitely Jonze's forte. Limited release Dec. 18
Director David O. Russell once again assembles a killer cast (Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams) all of whom play hustlers in one form or another. The story is a fictionalized version of the ABSCAM scandal, which exposed political corruption by the FBI back in the early 1980s. The trailer is hot. Dec. 20
‘SAVING MR. BANKS’
Expect the unexpected when Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) attempts to gain the rights to "Mary Poppins" from creator P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). It seems there was quite a bit of behind-the-scenes fighting going on between the two concerning their visions of how the film should look. The rest is history. Directed by John Lee Hancock. Dec. 20
Shadows of past secrets emerge in this dark character study selected as Iran's entry for Best Foreign Language Film. Berenice Bejo plays a Parisian woman seeking a divorce from her Iranian husband while living with a man whose wife is in a coma. Looks like an abundance of fuel for a fire. Directed by Asghar Farhadi. Dec. 20
‘INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS’
Does luck play a role in separating success from failure? In the Coen brothers’ new film, that concept lies at the heart of this story about a cat-toting, struggling musician trying to get an audition. Problem: He's a folk singer in the early 1960s just as the genre is dying. Leave it to the Coen brothers to play cynical cosmic jokes on unsuspecting characters. Starring Oscar Isaac in the title role. Limited release Dec. 20
‘AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY’
This star-powered film demonstrates that family dinners can become quite dangerous. Meryl Streep plays the "acid-tongued" matriarch of a highly dysfunctional family whose husband (Sam Shepard) has disappeared. They gather together for consolation, which turns into chaos. Director John Wells manages to enlist the likes of Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor and Chris Cooper ... just for starters. Dec. 25
‘THE WOLF OF WALL STREET’
Director Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio team up for the fifth time in this tale of "greed and malfeasance." It’s based on the true story of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who made a fortune in the 1990s through securities fraud. And he had a hell of a time while doing so, judging from the trailer. Dec. 25
Kate Winslet plays a mentally unstable, reclusive mother who agrees to harbor an escaped convict (Josh Brolin). But is it forced or, perhaps, a case of Stockholm syndrome? As she finds herself drawn to him, options become limited. Somewhat of a departure for director Jason Reitman, who is known for lighter fare. Dec. 25
Is the title a spoiler? Peter Berg directs this true account of four Navy SEALS who were ambushed by the Taliban in 2005. From the trailer we learn that Afghan goat herders come, inadvertently, in contact with the SEAL team. A moral dilemma ensues for the soldiers ... kill them or let them go? Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch and Emile Hirsch star in this "true story of incredible courage." Limited release Dec. 27
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Manatee County schools dominated a state technology competition with five of six top-three finishes earned by Manatee County schools during the 35th annual Technology Student Association State Competition late February.