So here we are at the end of all things, well, 2014. It’s coming to that time of year to reflect on the past 12 months, to re-evaluate what we’ve been through and most importantly to organise the staff Christmas party somewhere that doesn’t mind a bit of vomit on the carpets. We can’t help feel all that little bit older and that little bit wiser following the year that gave us the surprise brilliance of The LEGO Movie and, for me, the general disappointment of Interstellar. Now we know and knowing is half the battle etc. That all taken as read nothing says end-of-the-year like a highly varied buffet of seemingly disjointed items and this December is no exception: we’ve got roaring fantasy epics, festive twee, one of the final performances by Robin Williams, ocean-bound derring-do, under-sea derring-do, Bill-friggin’-Murray, Ridley Scott’s version of The Bible, the war-time biopic to end all war-time biopics and talking penguins. Or should that be ‘talking pengwengs’? ‘Pangwerngs’? How do you say it again, Benedict?
St Vincent – 5th December
Believe it or not, some people don’t actually like Bill Murray. Well, I say ‘people’ but I really mean the occasional director and crew-member that make the films he so often appears in, so I guess they’re not really people at all, are they? In any case, despite the potential proclivities over Bill Murray, in St Vincent there is none more Bill Murray, which I believe is the correct adjective for the kind of self-centred, cantankerous and yet charming old git that Murray portrays here. When Melissa McCarthy and son move in next door, ol’ grumplestiltskin begins to unwittingly bond with the tyke in that way people only seem to do in films, you know the kind I mean: with hijinks, wit and slow motion sequences and so on.
Penguins of Madagascar – 5th December
I’m not going to say that the chalice of “spin-off-film-from-an-animated-movie-franchise” is a poisoned one, but I can’t say that many shining examples leap excitedly around in my head. I mean, it sort of helps that out of the somehow-a-series of Madagascar movies the best part of them finally gets it time to shine. I realise this was said about that whole Pirates of the Caribbean thing and we ended up with that shackler of rams On Stranger Tides, but we’re talking about secret agent penguins here! Not the most high-brow of concepts, yes, but it could work given their mission to team up with Benedict Cumberbatch’s team of high-tech secret agents to stop a super-villain who is not only obviously an octopus, but also obviously John Malkovich. Obviously.
Black Sea – 5th December
I always feel bad for movies within that sub-genre of ‘submarine drama’ due to the plodding inevitability of a comparison to ‘Das Boot’, and that’s not fair. Kevin ‘Last King of Scotland’ Macdonald’s latest is a ridiculously tense thriller wherein a Scottish Jude Law takes on an illegal salvage mission with some right shady types (including my friend and yours, Michael Smiley) to recover $182 million of Nazi bullion from the depths of the Black Sea, where things go awry in all the ways you wish they wouldn’t in a submarine. If you can deal with the obvious, earlier-mentioned similarities with the ol’ Boot you can guarantee this’ll be great.
Get Santa – 5th December
I don’t suppose the name Christopher Smith rings any bells does it? Unless your name actually is Christopher Smith or you’re a fan of small-scale, safe, and by-the-numbers British horror films, I have a feeling it won’t. In any case, the Christopher Smith behind little British horrors Creep, Severance and Black Death is making this list’s only ‘proper’ Christmas film, which sees Santa (frequent Santa-portrayer and all-round top actor Jim Broadbent) thrown in the ol’ nick to do some porridge (by which I mean he goes to prison). It’s up to a small boy’s belief in the festive season, his bumbling dad, farting reindeer and Warwick Davis to bust him out and save Christmas. Bit of a change of pace for Chris, wouldn’t you say?
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – 12th December
Do I really have to tell you about this? Alright, I know some people have been lukewarm-to-tepid about this more recent string of Middle Earth films and I know that this, the final film from Peter Jackson’s vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s universe, looks like more of the same, but ladies and gentlemen, it’s the end. This is the last time we get to take this journey to the cinema in December, and as such it’s an event. I could tell you it’s the culmination of the last two years’ worth of Middle Earth film stuff, featuring the biggest battle the series has committed to screen and the full fury of Smaug the Terrible and Greatest Calamity of our Age, but you already know if you want to see it. All I’m saying is that this is the kind of spectacle the cinema was made for, and you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t take the chance to do so.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb – 19th December
The third in the series of “y’know, Robin Williams DOES look like Teddy Roosevelt” films sees the same old schtick of museum exhibits coming to life to irritate Ben Stiller and completely ignore Ricky Gervais brought to London for plot reasons. Yeah, this is more family-orientated adventure prattle with urinating monkeys and caveman Ben Stiller, but as well as the always watchable Robin Williams we also get Dan Stevens’ continued rampage on Hollywood as the none-more-dreamily-English Sir Lancelot. Again, a bit of a far cry from his roles in The Guest and Walk Among the Tombstones, but the man’s got charisma to burn. Handsome, handsome charisma.
Kon-Tiki – 19th December
There have been a few films based around the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition, but nothing that makes the name sound like anything other than an obscure style of coffee. Despite being released in the US in 2012, Kon-Tiki finally sees the light of day over here in the UK and follows a pretty darn incredible real-life story: Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, became so possessed of his theory that the people of South America could have colonized Polynesia in pre-Columbian times that he builds a raft they would have used, assembles a crew and sets off from Peru trying to do the same. Just for the educational purposes alone, I implore you go.
Exodus: Gods and Kings – 26th December
Also known as ‘Egyptian Gladiator’, Exodus: Gods and Kings sees Ridley Scott take his modern, slate-coloured apocalyptic aesthetic to one of the most popular Biblical stories around, which seems all the more fitting as the events of the story of Moses are pretty damn apocalyptic. For the Egyptians anyway. I do kind of wish Scott would scale things down a bit and make a small, personal film once in a while (I’m choosing to ignore The Counsellor for reasons I shouldn’t have to repeat), but at least here his sense of the epic is being put to pretty damn impressive use. Expect Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Sir Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver and, yes, Aaron ‘Jesse Pinkman’ Paul to butt heads in an expectedly factorial fashion.
Unbroken – 26th December
If you already know the life and adventures of Louis Zamperini, then I applaud your knowledge of mid-twentieth-century Olympic runners. If you don’t however, well, this film is going to fill you right in. Unbroken follows the life of Louis Zamperini (played here by Jack O’Connell, fresh from his work on ’71), who not only became a runner in the 1936 Olympics, who not only joined the United States air Force to fight the Japanese, who not only got shot down over the Pacific, who not only survived a Japanese P.O.W camp, but lived to the ripe old age of 97. Hope that’s not a spoiler by the way. This, frankly incredible, story is the directorial debut of one Angelina Jolie with a script penned by none other than Joel and Ethan Coen. If you have to ask who the Coens are, I’m not speaking to you.