The holiday movie season often is dominated by awards talk, since its when studios release thoughtful dramas and big-budget fantasy epics meant to capture Oscar voters fancies before the nominations deadline.
But a good time should be part of the equation in every movie season. For that reason, we have ranked the seven prominent holiday films below based not on awards potential but on anticipated fun factor, or AFF.
(Release dates are subject to change)
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Dec. 18)
Anticipated fun factor: 10
Its such a big deal for the fictional mustachioed 1970s newsman and enemy of political correctedness Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) to return to the big screen that we dont even mind the crassly commercial aspects of the movies promotional campaign. Like Ferrell shilling for Dodge in his Ron Burgundy guise.
In the sequel to 2004s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Ron and his news team (including Steve Carell as IQ-deficient weatherman Brick) have left San Diego, the city that lay historian Ron once described as having been discovered by the Germans in 1904.
The team is off to a 24-hour cable news network in New York City, where they finally can sport their fur collars. To get there, they ride in plush style in that 1970s big-shot chariot, the Winnebago.
Grudge Match (Dec. 25)
Robert De Niros artistic comeback with his Academy Award-nominated performance as a sports fanatic in Silver Linings Playbook lasted the duration of last years Oscar season. In Grudge Match, De Niro and Sylvester Stallone play a pair of washed-up boxers out for another shot in the ring.
De Niro won a lead-actor Oscar for his performance as real-life boxer Jake LaMotta in 1980s Raging Bull. Stallones Rocky was named best picture of 1976. Nobodys winning anything for Grudge Match, which looks like a less-serious rehash of Stallones Rocky Balboa.
At this point, there are far more Grudge Matches, Last Vegases and Meet the Fockerses on De Niros résumé than there are Raging Bulls and Taxi Drivers. De Niro clearly regards his own legacy with less reverence than cinephiles regard it.
For that, he wins fun points.
American Hustle (Dec.18)
Believe it or not, David O. Russell has lightened up during the past several years. With 2010s The Fighter, Russell offered a main character (Christian Bale) with a crack problem. But the movies underdog success story moved Russell closer to the mainstream than the Spanking the Monkey director had ventured before.
Mental illness colored last years Silver Linings Playbook, but the movie turned into a feel-good romantic comedy by the end.
Russell dips into coke heads, corrupt lawmakers and perms in Hustle, inspired by the lawmaker-ensnaring Abscam sting of the 1970s. The subject matter suggests Russell might once again be sharpening his edges. But there is joy to be had just in the hairstyles worn by Christian Bale (combed over as a con man) and Bradley Cooper (tightly curled as an FBI man).
The Wolf of Wall Street (Dec. 25)
Martin Scorsese likes a good time, but only as the before portion of a cautionary tale. So for all the go-go 1980s excess in which Leonardo DiCaprio revels as an avaricious New York stockbroker in the Wolf trailer, expect compensatory wallowing and soul searching in the actual film.
For now, well just celebrate the trailers shoulder pads, suspenders and yacht parties and not think about how the real-life crook DiCaprio is playing went to jail for his crimes.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Dec. 25)
Author James Thurbers 1939 story about an ordinary guy who daydreams of derring-do inspired a 1937 Danny Kaye film and the long-ago entry into the cultural lexicon of the term Walter Mitty as shorthand for ineffectual dreamers.
The new films Mitty (Ben Stiller) daydreams of impressing his Life magazine co-worker (Kristen Wiig) but also dives into action, inspired to travel by a photographer (Sean Penn).
Stiller also directs, bringing in a good track record, with three big-screen wins (Reality Bites, Zoolander, Tropic Thunder) and one loss (The Cable Guy).
The sweeping shots shown in the Mitty trailer foretell a wondrous visual experience.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Dec. 13)
Peter Jackson has caught a lot of flak for bloating J.R.R. Tolkiens book into three mega-length movies. Smaug is the trilogys second entry after last years An Unexpected Journey. Like Journey, Smaug will be available in 2-D, 3-D and a 48-frames-per-second 3-D format that makes everything look HD-newscast crisp and thereby diminishes a sense of fantasy.
Journey was good once it moved past its long preamble, and although I cannot say I ever looked forward to a Lord of the Rings or Hobbit film, all have captivated me once I was in the theater. Jackson is a consistently terrific visual storyteller. Smaug is likely to contain at least a few escapist moments.
Saving Mr. Banks (Dec. 20)
The Disney name usually means escapism. But not in this behind-the-scenes account of the making of the 1964 Disney movie musical Mary Poppins.
Emma Thompson plays P.L. (Pamela) Travers, real-life author of the Poppins books.
Travers came to Los Angeles from England before the films shoot and challenged Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and the songwriting Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak, from The Office) about where they were taking her nanny character.
Travers did not want Poppins turned into a gibberish spouter (supercali-what?).
Mr. Banks appears as if it will hold more conflict than laughs.
But a withering Thompson is fun to watch.
Call The Bees Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.