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Eight films to watch in December 2013

  • Inside Llewyn Davis

    Three years after the crowd-pleasing True Grit became their highest-grossing film ever, Joel and Ethan Coen return with a film that feels more akin to their darkly comedic mood pieces like Barton Fink and A Serious Man. Inside Llewyn Davis stars Oscar Isaac as an aspiring singer-songwriter navigating the folk music scene of New York’s Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. Bob Dylan-level success proves difficult for him to achieve as he encounters quirky fellow Manhattanites played by Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake. Released 5 December in Germany, 6 December in the US and 24 January 2014 in the UK. (CBS Films)

  • American Hustle

    Director David O Russell essentially combines the casts of his Oscar-winning hits The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook in the story of the FBI’s inquiry into the widespread political corruption in the 1970s known as Abscam. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper don outrageous ‘70s outfits to play the cops and crooks whose intersecting agendas ultimately helped expose the scandal. Released 13 December in the US, 20 December in the UK and 31 January 2014 in Japan. (Columbia Pictures)

  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

    The second installment of Peter Jackson’s blockbuster Hobbit trilogy ups the action considerably compared with 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. That first film barely took Bilbo Baggins and his party of scruffy dwarves beyond the first 80 pages of JRR Tolkien’s rather slim novel. This time the band encounter Lee Pace’s fiercely territorial Elvenking, Orlando Bloom’s expert archer Legolas, a female Elf warrior named Tauriel (invented by Jackson just for the film), and of course, the gold-hoarding dragon Smaug, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. Released 12 December in Argentina, 13 December in the US and UK, and 28 February 2014 in Japan. (Warner Bros)

  • The Past

    Iranian director Asghar Farhadi mined the relationship dynamics of a failing marriage for Hitchcockian suspense in 2011’s A Separation. In his next film, divorce is again under the spotlight, as a Parisian woman (The Artist’s Berenice Bejo) seeks to end her marriage to the husband (Ali Mosaffa) who abandoned her. But a web of extenuating circumstances makes her pursuit of this aim more difficult than she had imagined. Released 5 December in Serbia, 20 December in the US and 25 December in Norway. (Sony Pictures Classics)

  • Saving Mr Banks

    It may seem self-congratulatory for Walt Disney Studios to produce a movie that extolls the greatness of one of their previous films, but Saving Mr Banks offers more than that. It stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, − chronicling his fight to adapt Mary Poppins despite the ferocious opposition of its author, PL Travers (Emma Thompson). The film is not an entirely hagiographic account of Disney company history, though: Uncle Walt is shown smoking, drinking, and being as ornery as his colleagues have claimed. Released 29 November in the UK, 13 December in the US, and 26 December in Australia. (Walt Disney Studios)

  • Her

    For his first film since 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) directs Her, which concerns the influence of technology on contemporary relationships. It stars Joaquin Phoenix as a man who has at least three gorgeous flesh-and-blood women in his life – played by Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, and Olivia Wilde – yet would rather pursue a romance with his computer’s operating system because he is smitten with its sensitive Siri-like voice. Scarlett Johanssen has received such praise for her vocal work as the computer’s artificial intelligence, that, despite never being seen on-screen, some critics have suggested she should receive an Oscar nomination. Whatever its awards season chances, Her is a welcome return for Jonze to Malkovich territory – a meditation on the increasing separation of mind, body, and heart in modern life. Released 18 December in the US, 16 January in Singapore, and 24 January 2014 in the UK. (Warner Bros)

  • The Wolf of Wall Street

    All the seedy decadence and debauchery of gangster life that Martin Scorsese conveyed in his classics GoodFellas and Casino are captured once again, this time in a different milieu: New York’s financial sector. The Wolf of Wall Street depicts the heady days of the prosperous 1990s, when cash-flushed securities brokers like Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) made a killing by ignoring financial regulations and breaking the law. Scorsese’s new epic tries to make the case that white-collar crime is still crime – and can have devastating repercussions. Released 25 December in the US and Canada, 3 January 2014 in Turkey, and 31 January 2014 in Norway. (Paramount)

  • The Invisible Woman

    Charles Dickens’ life has been scrutinised almost as much as his dazzling literary works, but rarely has his own story been brought to the big screen. Ralph Fiennes seeks to correct that by directing and starring in a biopic about Dickens, focusing particularly on his affair with a much a younger woman (Felicity Jones) who became his muse for some of his work. Released 25 December in the US, 7 February 2014 in the UK, and 27 March 2014 in The Netherlands. (Sony Pictures)