Here come gray skies, cold temperatures and idiots who don’t clear all the snow off the roof of their car. But winter also brings some of the best cinema of the year. While big, loud movies dominate the summer, December is for awards bait, as studios release films before the Oscar deadline. Here are four we expect will take home trophies when spring rolls around.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
In contention for: Best Picture, Best Actor (Gary Oldman)
Release date: Dec. 16
Based on John le Carré’s spy thriller, this film is the antithesis of “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” also out this month. Oldman plays George Smiley, a man out to catch a mole. Known for his often-frenetic performances, Oldman turns down the volume here but maintains a stunning intensity in this smart, stylish thriller.
In contention for: Just about everything
Release date: Dec. 25
It’s already taken a ton of awards, and there should be no stopping this silent (yes), black-and-white (again, yes), film at the Oscars. French actors Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo play old-time Hollywood stars whose careers and lives touch as she’s on the rise and he’s tumbling down. It’s the funniest, saddest, most beautiful film you never expected to see in 2011.
The Adventures of Tintin
In contention for: Best Visual Effects or Best Animated Film
Release date: Dec. 21
We’re not sure whether this Steven Spielberg-directed film, which uses a combination of animation and live actors à la “The Polar Express” (though much better), counts as a cartoon. Either way, it should get recognition for its spectacular use of 3-D and sweeping scenery. It’s an adventure reminiscent of the “Indiana Jones” movies; even those who’ve never read the Hergé comics will enjoy it.
In contention for: Best Actress (Adepero Oduye), Best Screenplay (Dee Rees)
Release date: In D.C., Jan 6
Other cities get it in time for the Oscar deadline, but we have to wait for the new year to see rookie director Rees and little-known actress Oduye explode onto the scene. Oduye plays Alike, an African-American lesbian teenager dealing with questions of sexuality, gender norms and family tensions. As Audrey, Alike’s mother, Kim Wayans gives a nuanced, powerful performance you never thought possible if you remember her only from “In Living Color.”