Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 11-26-12

Star of Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise

Star of Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - In Theaters December 14

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - In Theaters December 14

Les Miserables - In Theaters December 25

Les Miserables - In Theaters December 25

Happy holidays: December is one of Hollywood’s happiest boxoffice months since holiday ticket sales are typically second only to the much longer summer season.

And after a record-setting Thanksgiving holiday weekend with grosses of about $290 million – way better than 2009’s previous best of $273 million — there’s good reason to be optimistic that moviegoing will also surge from Christmas through New Year’s.

December’s a tricky month in terms of attracting moviegoers. The two weeks period from Wed., Dec. 19 through New Year’s Day is considered ideal for films with playability to family audiences. Over the years moviegoing’s become part of celebrating the holidays and films that the whole family can see together tend to have a big advantage.

In December’s earlier weeks, however, holiday shopping and partying provide stiff competition for adult moviegoers’ time and money. Not as many films open early in the month because the danger is if they don’t catch on immediately, they’ll be losing theatres by the time the holidays arrive and moviegoing expands. Films targeted to younger moviegoers have a better shot at working in early December as the under-25 audience tends to be more available then.

Besides big wide releases – like New Line Cinema and MGM’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” opening Dec. 14 via Warner Bros. — that will dominate December’s boxoffice charts, Hollywood will also be launching smaller Oscar contender films. These tend to be serious dramas targeted to adults. For these films, boxoffice success in limited release plays a big part in generating nominations from Academy members.

Critics groups will start handing out awards in early December, but the most important nominations will be revealed Dec. 13 when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announces its nominees for the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards to be held Jan. 13, 2013.

The Globe nods will come just before Academy members begin marking their Oscar noms ballots Dec. 17. The ballots are due back earlier than in the past — by Jan. 3 so the Academy can announce its nominees Jan. 10 (rather than Jan. 15 as originally planned). There’s simply not enough time for Academy members to see all the films hoping to be nominated. Many Oscar voters leave on winter vacations in mid-December and even with stacks of DVD screeners to spare them having to attend screenings in person, they still can’t cover everything. The Globe noms typically signal which movies are the ones they simply must see before marking their Oscar ballots.

I’ll be looking at Globes and Oscar contenders in upcoming columns, but today’s focus is on December’s wide releases. The first two weekends of December will be light on wide releases. Film District’s PG-13 romantic comedy “Playing for Keeps” is the only movie opening wide Dec. 7. Directed by Gabriele Muccino (“Seven Pounds”), it stars Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel and Dennis Quaid. Its tracking best with 25-plus females.

Butler plays a former sports star whose career’s tanked and is now trying to turn his life around by coaching his son’s soccer team.

MGM and New Line Cinema’s fantasy adventure “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” will face no competition from other wide releases when it arrives Dec. 14 via Warner Bros. Directed by Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings” franchise), it stars Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage. Its screenplay by Fran Walsh & Phillipa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro is based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel “The Hobbit.”

Its tracking best with 25-plus males and nearly as well with under-25 males. Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy grossed over $1 billion in domestic theatres and “Hobbit” is expected to appeal to “Rings” fans.

Freeman plays hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who’s quest is to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug.

The boxoffice competition heats up quickly starting Wed., Dec. 19 when two wide releases kick off the holiday season.

Paramount’s PG-13 comedy “The Guilt Trip” is directed by Anne Fletcher (“The Proposal”) and stars Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as an inventor and his mom on a road trip to sell his latest invention.

Disney and Pixar’s re-issue in 3D of their 2001 blockbuster G rated animated comedy adventure “Monsters, Inc.” is directed by Pete Docter (“Up”), David Silverman (“The Road to El Dorado”) and Lee Unkrich (“Toy Story 3”). Its voice talents include Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Mary Gibbs.

Three other wide releases will also be hitting the multiplexes Fri., Dec. 21 in time for pre-Christmas weekend moviegoing.

Paramount and Mutual Film’s PG-13 rated action drama “Jack Reacher” is one of the holiday season’s highest profile films since it stars Tom Cruise in the title role. Written for the screen and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (“The Way of the Gun”), it also stars Rosamund Pike and Richard Jenkins.

The film’s based on the novel “One Shot” by Lee Child. In the book, by the way, Reacher is described as standing 6’5” and weighing 210 to 250 pounds, not exactly a perfect physical match for the slimmer and shorter Cruise.

Reacher’s investigating a case where a man’s been arrested for the sniper killing of five people, but claims he’s innocent. When he publicly asks for Reacher’s help, Reacher arrives to look into what happened, initially thinking the accused is guilty — but then learning more than he anticipated.

Paramount has a second but very different wide release Dec. 21 in the 3D fantasy “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away.” Directed by Andrew Adamson (“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”), it features the Cirque du Soleil troupe in an original story with good playability to family audiences.

Universal’s R rated comedy “This is 40” rounds out the pre-Christmas weekend openings. Directed by Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”), it stars Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann as Pete and Debbie a few years down the road in a quasi-sequel to “Knocked Up.”

Three additional wide releases will turn up as Hollywood’s presents under the tree on Christmas Day.

Universal’s PG-13 rated romantic musical drama “Les Miserables” is directed by Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) and stars Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried.

Based on the hit stage musical that, in turn, is based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel set in 19th Century France, “Les Miz” is the story of Jean Valjean (Jackman), a paroled prisoner seeking redemption.

Universal has begun an aggressive program of screenings for Academy members in L.A. and New York, which has already sparked an Oscar buzz with extraordinary heat. Many Oscar observers are speculating that “Les Miz” will not only be nominated for best picture, but will flat out win the race. There’s also speculation that the film could wind up with 15 or 16 Oscar nominations, beating the 14 nominations record held by “All About Eve” and “Titanic.”

“Les Miz” is also likely to have a strong showing in the Golden Globes nominations when they’re announced Dec. 13. Because the Globes has separate categories for best picture-drama and best picture-comedy or musical, “Les Miz” will have an even better shot in the Globes competition because it won’t be competing with strong drama contenders like Warner Bros.’ “Argo” or DreamWorks and Disney’s “Lincoln.” Its strongest comedy or musical competition in the Globes will likely be from The Weinstein Company’s “Silver Linings Playbook.”

A strong showing in the Globes noms by “Les Miz” will be perfect timing to help drive ticket sales when the film hits theatres Dec. 25.

Also competing for Christmas Day family moviegoers will be Universal, Chernin Entertainment and Walden Media’s PG rated comedy “Parental Guidance,” directed by Andy Fickman (“You Again”) and starring Billy Crystal, Bette Midler and Marisa Tomei.

Billy and Bette play a couple babysitting their grandchildren, whose Type A parents are away. Not surprisingly, 21st Century kid problems collide with the grandparents’ old-school values.

Christmas Day will also see the arrival of The Weinstein Company and Columbia Pictures’ western drama “Django Unchained,” directed by Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”) and starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson.

Foxx plays Django, a slave whose freedom’s been bought by Waltz’s character, one-time dentist Dr. King Schultz. Although Schultz plans on making Django his deputy bounty hunter, Django winds up by mistake in the hands of ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio).

Bottom line: With moviegoing typically expanding from Christmas through New Year’s, Hollywood should enjoy a very happy holiday season.