By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Dec 02, 2015 at 11:16 AM

It’s the holiday season, and as per tradition, the only thing that’ll be stuffed more than your stocking will be your local movie theater, as tons of new movies try to grab some Oscar attention – and not to mention grab a hefty box office total. Which ones are worth some festive cheer – and $10? And which ones are the cinematic equivalent of a disappointing pink bunny suit? I’ll try not to lead you astray – or, considering the season, a-sleigh; oh no, I’ve gone too far – with this year’s holiday guide to the movies. 

"Krampus": Nice

It’s been a while since we’ve had a good Christmas creep-out. There’s the grim 1974 classic "Black Christmas" – directed by Bob Clark, amusingly the same man behind "A Christmas Story" – "Gremlins," "Silent Night, Deadly Night" and its sequels, "Jack Frost" and, sure, that insane Kirk Cameron Christmas movie from last year (but that one doesn’t really count). Other than that, the holiday season typically stays a time of laughter and cheer, not slaughter and fear.

But color me excited for "Krampus." It’s got a good pedigree coming from Michael Dougherty, the writer/director of the Halloween-themed cult horror hit "Trick ‘r Treat." It’s got a great cast, from Adam Scott of "Piranha 3D" to Oscar-nominee Toni Collette, that hopefully knows what kind of movie they’re in. And it looks pretty creepy, what with evil toys with crazy demon mouths. Some have fretted about the PG-13 rating, but that just means it won’t be a gorefest, not devoid of scares. The goal is just ghoulishness, not gore. The early word has also rumbled that there’s a bit of a "Gremlins" vibe to the movie – never a bad thing to hear. 

Combine all that together, and "Krampus," you’ve earned yourself a nice preview rating – even if it makes me a little naughty.

(Release date: Dec. 4)

"In the Heart of the Sea": Nice

Ron Howard and Thor himself Chris Hemsworth team back up after "Rush" for this adaptation of the true story that inspired "Moby Dick." And the cast’s 1820s garb and wooden whaling vessels aren't the only things with some age on them. "In the Heart of the Sea" was supposed to come out all the way back in March, but got pushed to now – just in time for it to get bombarded in a week by a whale of a blockbuster in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Getting a nine-month delay isn’t usually great news, but otherwise everything else here looks intriguing. "Rush" was a very solid movie, bringing out some good acting chops in Hemsworth and some new directorial life in Howard, so I’m up to see what the two have to deliver next. Considering the story is the basis of one of the greatest novels ever written, you’d have to imagine there’s something worthwhile there, and at the least, the whale attacks from what we’ve seen look intense as hell. I’m not sure I’m sold on the visual style, which looks oddly cheap and ugly in its jaundiced over-saturation, but we’ll see how it fares in the actual final product. Otherwise, call me Ishmael – and interested.

(Release date: Dec. 11)

"Legend": Nice

A few months back, I wrote up a fall movie preview. The British gangster flick "Legend" headlined the piece, and its blurb was pretty much me spilling verbal drool over my keyboard for 217 characters. Unfortunately, the movie hasn’t arrived here in Milwaukee – or most places – yet, with its nationwide release pushed back to Dec. 11.

Has that dampened my enthusiasm? Well, does the movie still star not one, but two Tom Hardys? Is he still a remarkably charming and charismatic actor? Do the two Hardys still punch people? Is it still written and directed by Brian Helgeland, the guy who co-wrote "L.A. Confidential"? Then, as I’ve said previously, one ticket for EVERY SINGLE SHOWING PLEASE.

(Release date: Dec. 11)

"Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip": Naughty

First off, round of applause for David Cross finally managing to escape this franchise – though they did replace him with fellow Arrested Development" vet Tony Hale (come on, David, couldn’t you help a TV brother-in-law out?). The same can’t be said for star Jason Lee or we the audience, who have another one of these helium-sucking nightmares to either live through or, if you’re lucky, ignore. 

(Release date: Dec. 18)

"Sisters": Nice

Save for combining stars with wars, there would seem to no more surefire successful pairing coming this Christmas than Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in the comedy "Sisters." The story – two grown up sisters throwing one last party in their old house, leading to a likely combination of chaos and life lessons – doesn’t actually matter. Having director Jason Moore, the guy who helped guide the original "Pitch Perfect" to become a sleeper hit, at the helm doesn’t matter either. All that matters here is can Fey and Poehler deliver their beloved comedy tag-team powers to the big screen. 2008’s "Baby Mama" didn’t quite hit the expected highs; this looks more on point. Also: John Cena making another comedy cameo this year? Well, worked fine the first time.

(Release date: Dec. 18)

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens": Nice

Oh yeah, this little thing.

I was all prepared to be cynical toward the rebooted "Star Wars" franchise, what with a movie a year and the impending marketing blitz you’d expect from a now Disney property. I even wasn’t in love when J.J. Abrams was picked to direct; it was the easy, obvious and safe choice. However, everything I’ve seen and heard since – about this movie and all the others to come – has got me truly excited again to head back out to a galaxy far, far away. The action feels both familiarly classic and excitingly new. The visuals look gorgeous – and don’t have that awful green screen sheen the prequels lacquered themselves in. And the cast is filled with faces warmly old and intriguingly new.

Hopefully Abrams doesn’t go overboard in ripping off nostalgia like he did with "Star Trek Into Darkness" – and that he learns how to keep a secret before this whole "where’s Luke" thing blows up in his face like Khan. But those are minor complaints about a major movie that truly feels major heading into it.

(Release date: Dec. 18)

"The Big Short": Nice

Writer-director Adam McKay is secretly – and soon-to-be not so secretly – fascinating. Yes, he makes and produces dumb Will Ferrell movies like "Anchorman," "Talladega Nights," "The Other Guys" and "The Campaign." But for all the dumb gags, those movies are all socially and politically minded, with the "Anchorman" movies taking on work gender politics and modern media, and "Talladega Nights" hitting on post-9/11 American exceptionalism. "The Campaign" has only seemed more on point with the current political races, and, for God’s sake, "The Other Guys" ends with fun facts about the economic collapse and corporate greed.

So maybe it’s not a surprise he’d take on "The Big Short," a star-studded dramedy about four guys who predicted the housing bubble bursting. Topically, it seems admittedly a little late, but with a cast featuring Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale and Steve Carell, perhaps it'll be better late than never. I mean, what could go wrong with that cast? Oh, those wigs. Well, we'll fight through that.

(Release date: Dec. 11, but expected in Milwaukee on Dec. 21)

"Concussion": Naughty

"The movie they don’t want you to see," cries the commercials for "Concussion," the new Will Smith-led NFL head injury drama. As one who’s grown more and more distrustful and disdainful of the shield – and between the concussion issue, domestic abuse debacles and just a overall decline in product quality, how could you not – this couldn’t be more down my alley.

But I’m not quite convinced yet. Some positive early buzz put away some fears I and others had about the NFL sanitizing the movie’s bite, but I’m still concerned that it might be a little punchless. Writer/director Peter Landesman’s track record is filled with movies of good intention but just OK execution ("Parkland," "Trade," last year’s good but forgotten "Kill the Messenger"), and I’m worried the story will be slanted toward another typical uplift-heavy Great Man story rather than the tragedy of what’s happening to aging football players. For now, I’ll reluctantly mark down "Concussion" as naughty, but I’m really looking forward to hopefully being wrong. 

(Release date: Dec. 25)

"Joy": Nice

The triumphant triumvirate of Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and writer/director David O. Russell team back up for … a movie about a woman who invents a mop. Well, no wonder the trailers are short on plot details. True, that’s not a scintillating premise, and true, Russell’s latest batch ("Silver Linings Playbook," "American Hustle") consists of all quite good movies that unfortunately irritated as they became overrated (oh, the things awards season can do to good, if not great, movies).

That’s not the movies’ fault, though, and even when he’s out of control, Russell makes highly entertaining movies with intensely crazed performances. "Joy" seems no different, though I’m still not even sure what kind of movie this will be. Is it a drama, with all of the family and business fireworks? Is it more of a comedy? After all, the co-story credit goes to Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig’s co-writer on "Bridesmaids." No matter the case, it will certainly be the most successful mop-themed movie of the season.  

(Release date: Dec. 25)

"Macbeth": Nice

Everything is lined up for "Macbeth" to impress. The cast is great, featuring Michael Fassbender in the lead and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, and obviously you can’t go wrong with the source material, adapted here into raw, brutal form. The buzz on the seemingly award-bound movie has been quiet thus far, which is somewhat concerning, but there’s a lot of great talent and all-time great material at work here.

Maybe the most intriguing part, however, is the director, Justin Kurzel. He’s in line to reteam with Fassbender for another film adaptation, albeit a very different one: the video game "Assassin’s Creed." If "Macbeth" winds up as riveting and jaw-droppingly beautiful as its trailer, should we be looking forward to the first actually good video game movie?

(Release date: Dec. 4, but expected in Milwaukee on Dec. 25)

"Point Break": Naughty

Here’s the problem with remakes: I’d be much more interested in them if they weren’t remakes. If "Point Break" was called "Action Bros," I’d be much more inclined to check it out. The extreme action in the previews actually looks pretty good. But no, it’s a "Point Break" movie, which means I’ll spend the whole time comparing it to Kathryn Bigelow’s ’80s action great. And I don’t think the comparisons will be favorable. Sorry, Edgar Ramirez, but you’re no Swayze. And that dude from "The November Man" with the screen presence of a surfboard, who do you think you are pretending like you’re Johnny Utah? Please Hollywood, learn your lesson here. As Forbes’ Scott Mendelson preaches, rip off movies, don’t remake them. 

(Release date: Dec. 25)

"The Hateful Eight": Nice

There’s no reason not be excited for Quentin Tarantino’s latest dip into Western territory – this one a little chillier than "Django" from the looks of it. The Tarantino movie that almost wasn’t thanks to a script leak, "The Hateful Eight" lines up a terrific cast of QT regulars and general all-stars – Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins, Michael Madsen, a wonderfully mustachioed Kurt Russell and … Channing Tatum? – with hopefully his usual brilliant blend of pitch-black comedy and high tension in a gorgeous genre setting. The early buzz calls his meanest, darkest movie yet. Sounds like a holly, jolly Christmas to me! 

(Release date: Dec. 25)

"The Danish Girl": Naughty

I’m sure Tom Hooper is a fine person, and judging from his movies ("The King’s Speech," "Les Miserables") he’s very good with his actors. That being said, I hate Tom Hooper. "The King’s Speech" is a very good movie despite Hooper, but who won Best Director that year over David Fincher for "The Social Network" or Darren Aronofsky for "Black Swan" or literally 20 other better directors? Yep, Hooper. And who then amped up his useless canted angles and wide angle lens so I had Hugh Jackman’s face all of in my grill belching songs at me live for no reason in "Les Miserables"? Yep, Hooper again.

So no, I’m not looking forward to "The Danish Girl" – despite the fact that I’m sure Eddie Redmayne is very good as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, the story sounds more than worthy and I’ll see anything with Alicia Vikander in it. Maybe it’ll be good despite Hooper – because until he learns how to use the camera meaningfully, that’s the best you can hope for. 

(Release date: Nov. 27, but expected in Milwaukee on Dec. 25)

"Carol": Nice

Be prepared to hear this name a lot come the end of the year, and not because of Christmas carols. Todd Haynes’ ’50s-set lesbian drama has been earning rapturous raves ever since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. There, it also nabbed a Best Actress win for Rooney Mara, playing a young store clerk who falls for an older woman, played by the always wonderful Cate Blanchett. If you had to put money on a movie to nab Best Picture, "Carol" – with gorgeous visuals, emotional romance and heartfelt performances already snagging critics’ awards across the nation – would likely be your best bet. And, as you’d guess from all of that, I’d say it looks pretty good. 

(Release date: Nov. 20, but expected in Milwaukee on Dec. 25)

"Daddy’s Home": Nice

The last time Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell teamed up, it was in "The Other Guys," and it worked out pretty well for everyone. Wahlberg’s his best when he plays affably dim – see also: "Pain and Gain" – and a relatively buttoned-up Ferrell bounced off him nicely. It also had Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock comedically jumping off a building in triumphant slow-motion to their deadpan splattery dooms. All in all, it was a good time.

"Daddy’s Home" does not have that last part (from what we know, but I’m still holding out hope!), but it does reteam Wahlberg and Ferrell in a potentially laugh-laiden stepfather versus biological father dad-off. What we’ve seen so far is a little hit-or-miss on the gags, but there’s enough promising looking laughs in the trailer – and in the premise – to convince me it’s worth checking out. And hopefully the two leads still have some of that "Other Guys" magic. Even if not, it’ll still probably be better than "Get Hard."

(Release date: Dec. 25)

"The Revenant": Nice

I wasn’t a huge fan of last year’s Best Picture winning "Birdman." You could basically see the sweat dripping through the screen it was trying so hard to be Important Art, and while I don’t like to use the p-word, that’s exactly what it was: pretentious.

Now, that being said, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s next effort "The Revenant" looks friggin’ outstanding. It looks gorgeous – filmed entirely in natural light by cinematographer genius, and likely three-peat Oscar winner, Emmanuel Lubezki – the grimy frontier Western action looks ridiculously tense as hell and it features two great actors in Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy in rather gnarly beards (strong season for bold facial hair). Hopefully Inarritu turns down the pretense and simply focuses on making a strong genre picture rather than yelling his thoughts on art and Twitter at the screen.

Also: If DiCaprio doesn’t win an Oscar for sleeping in animal carcasses and, no, not getting raped by a bear, God knows what he’ll push himself to do in his next movie to get his win. He may actually die. 

(Release date: Dec. 25, but expected in Milwaukee on Jan. 8)

"Anomalisa": Nice

Be prepared for this to be quietly one of the best movies of the year. From the sweetly crazed mind of Charlie Kaufman ("Adaptation"), "Anomalisa" is a drama about a man struggling to connect with people, and why yes, that is a sufficiently vague plot synopsis (the movie’s campaign has been rather enigmatic – and according to those who’ve seen it, that’s for the best). But here’s something to help it stand out a bit more: It’s a stop-motion animated film, voiced by David Thewlis (Remus Lupin from "Harry Potter") and Jennifer Jason Leigh (who’s got a dynamite winter lined up between this and "Hateful Eight").

Judging by the absolute adoring raves pouring out from its premiere, could we see two animated films – "Inside Out" being the other – get Best Picture nominations this year? There have only been three ever nominated in total.

(Release date: Dec. 30; current Milwaukee release date currently unknown)

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.