Year-end movies: The good, the bad and the unknown

Because the end of the year usually brings brief breaks from work or class, it could be seen as a reprieve from ambi­tion.

It could also be seen as a last chance to do something good or noteworthy.

The movie business is a lot like peo­ple in that way. The “Holiday Season” slate of movies is typically occupied by awards-season contenders, family-friendly blockbusters and, surprise, holiday-themed movies.

The holiday season is almost as crowded a movie season as summer is, but the quality of each movie is much more of an attractor than during the summer.

In the summer, if one were to ven­ture to the movie theater to see the latest Michael Bay movie and it ends up being awful, the weather is still great so there isn’t too much to complain about.

If someone ventures out into the frigid air to see a movie and it’s even the slightest bit mediocre, demanding a re­fund becomes a much more reasonable option.

The problem with the crowded holi­day movie season, though, is that the majority of the praise that surrounds certain movies is hearsay.

To make things a little bit easier for eager movie-goers, the following is a list of upcoming movies that are gathering a decent amount of buzz and their current critical standings.

“12 Years a Slave” – Far and away the front-runner in terms of positive buzz, English director Steve McQueen’s newest film is finally starting to reach movie theaters that aren’t in New York City or Los Angeles. That means that the buzz surrounding it could start to turn into genuine wide-scale praise, pro­vided the dark nature of its unflinching view of slavery doesn’t alienate too many viewers. “12 Years a Slave” is now play­ing in select cities.

“Nebraska” – “About Schmidt” and “Sideways” director Alexander Payne relinquishes writing duties for the first time in favor of directing someone else’s solid script. Although Payne is and has been the main critical attraction of his previous films, this time it’s Bruce Dern’s performance that bolsters this movie forward into crowd-pleaser territory. “Nebraska” hits theaters nationwide Nov. 15.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” – Not much really needs to be said about this one. The Coen Brothers could direct a “Twi­light” reboot, and it would still find its way onto a list of the year’s most-antic­ipated movies. “Inside Llewyn Davis” opens in select cities Dec 6.

“Her” – The bizarre visionary Spike Jonze finally has another movie com­ing to theaters. 2009’s “Where the Wild Things Are” may not have gotten the attention it deserved when it was released, but, based on early screening reactions, this weird, futuristic romance could be the movie that makes Jonze the type of hipster icon that Wes Anderson has been for years. “Her” hits theaters Dec. 18.

“All is Lost” – Attention middle-aged women: Robert Redford is back on screen, and he’s there for 100 minutes straight. Despite being relatively new on the scene, writer/director J.C. Chandor has already proven himself with 2011’s “Margin Call” and, based on early re­views, is continuing the trend with this nautical survival story that will most likely make “Cast Away” look like a rom-com.

“Dallas Buyers Club” – As evi­denced by the reception of movies like 2009’s “The Blind Side,” the holiday sea­son is a good time to release the movies that, although full of forced sentimen­tality and subpar in overall quality, are bolstered by unexpectedly great perfor­mances by A-listers. This AIDS drama starring Matthew McConaughey could easily have been one of those films, but the majority of the critics who’ve seen the film are saying that it’s a genuinely great film. “Dallas Buyers Club” is now playing in select cities.

“Saving Mr. Banks” – A movie starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney was always bound to gain buzz, if only from the Disney-obsessed. Early buzz, though, suggests that this movie may not just be for those who refuse to grow up. Apparently, Hanks’ and co-star Emma Thompson’s performances are just cherries on top of this witty and earnest sundae of a movie. “Saving Mr. Banks opens nationwide Dec. 13.

“Blue is the Warmest Color” – Chances are this movie won’t hit small-town movie theaters like Indiana’s. For­eign films rarely do. Films containing graphic scenes of lesbian lovemaking do even less. Offensive elements aside, it was well-received at the Cannes Film Festival and could very well gain enough praise to warrant widespread attention. “Blue is the Warmest Color” is now playing in select cities.

“August: Osage County” – Al­though early reviews suggest that it’s not quite the masterpiece that the Pu­litzer Prize-winning play it’s based on was, this movie’s cast could be enough to overcome any critical hurdles. “Au­gust: Osage County” opens wide Christmas Day.

“Labor Day” – After 2011’s dark “Young Adult,” Jason Reitman brings audiences a love story between a fugitive and the single mother he’s hid­ing out with. It’s a potentially heart­warming film that, aided by stars Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, could sneak up on a lot of the year’s higher profile movies. “Labor Day” opens wide Christmas Day.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” – Maybe this movie has just gone through the wrong channels so far, but it isn’t looking to be the lovable Ben Stiller career revival its trailer seemingly prom­ised. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” hits theaters Christmas Day.

“American Hustle” – Aside from the people who were involved in its cre­ation, almost nobody has seen David O. Russell’s vibrant, star-studded crime movie. With no definite opinions yet, things could go either way. But Russell’s recent track record and the energy con­tained in the two trailers released make it seem more likely than not that this is going to be a winner. “American Hustle” opens in select cities Dec. 13, followed by a Dec. 18 wide release.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” – Mar­tin Scorsese re-teams with Leonardo DiCaprio in this period film about the less-than-admirable yuppie culture of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Much like “American Hustle,” the trailers alone hint at a roller coaster ride of vibrance, violence and humor. “The Wolf of Wall Street” opens Christmas Day.