“August: Osage County” — Oscar-bait alert: Tracy Letts adapts her own Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play for director John Wells, who goes for the dysfunctional family throat in this tempestuous study of a few days in the lives of the scattered Weston family, re-united by crisis in the Oklahoma home where they grew up. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts strike the hottest sparks as warring mother and daughter, and the amazing cast also includes Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch and Margo Martindale. Expect plenty of raised voices.
“47 Ronin” — Keanu Reeves exercises his martial-arts muscles anew, this time in 18th century Japan, when he joins a samurai band determined to avenge the death and dishonor of their master. This marks the big-screen debut for newbie director Carl Rinsch, who allies Reeves with Rinko Kikuchi and Kiroyuki Sanada in their blood feud against the despicable Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano). Unless it can deliver the ’tude that helped make “The Matrix” so memorable, this seems an unlikely December champion.
“Grudge Match” — Call this “The Sunshine Boys” in a boxing ring. Retired rival fighters Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone are coaxed into a “television event” 30 years after their last match: one final bout, strictly for publicity purposes. Naturally, it becomes personal. I can’t see this being much more than caustic one-liners and winks toward the camera.
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” — Hollywood vanity projects don’t come much more cynical than this one, with director/star Ben Stiller likely to ruin the gentle James Thurber story on which this no-doubt-witless comedy is based. (Anybody remember the debacle of Stiller’s “remake” of TV’s “Starsky & Hutch”?) Stiller’s day-dreaming Walter Mitty finds that he must take action in the real world, in order to save his job and that of the woman (Kristen Wiig) he admires from afar.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” — More Oscar bait: Director Martin Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio team anew for this fact-based saga of fraudulent stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who roared through the 1990s on a wave of hedonistic excess financed by his extremely shady deals. Call this the Wall Street equivalent of “Goodfellas,” with Belfort’s rise followed by an inevitable fall. Terence Winter’s screenplay is based on Belfort’s eyebrow-lifting book, and the supporting cast includes Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill and Rob Reiner.