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Amy is an easy mark for a hustle

Amy Adams loved the over the top costumes on 'American Hustle' where she is reunited with Director David O. Russell and Christian Bale.

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During the coming weeks and months, a slew of big movies will be unleashed, largely related to the upcoming 86th Academy Awards, to be held on March 2. Landmark releases include Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, which is guaranteed to leave audiences speechless, and screen legend Robert Redford sailing solo amid trecherous conditions in J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost. Away from the Oscar contenders, which will be announced on January 16, a clutch of must-see arthouse releases include The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, and The Past, from Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi. If you're with the kids, you can't go past Disney's red-hot animation adventure Frozen, or Free Birds, while in the blockbuster world The Hobbit is back, larger and louder than before, and 1980s cult classic Robocop is reborn. A thrilling summer? You bet.

 

Oscar contenders

Dame Judi Dench in <em>Philomena</em>.

Dame Judi Dench in Philomena.

Philomena

Out: December 26
Stars: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
Buzz: Dench is superb

Dame Judi Dench inhabits the real-life persona of Irish catholic Philomena Lee like a glove, in Stephen Frears' wickedly funny reading of a single mother determined to find the son snatched from her by the church. Comedian Steve Coogan plays it straight as Martin Sixsmith: the journalist who inadvertently became her chief campaigner and mentor. EG

Julia Roberts in <em>August: Osage County</em>.

Julia Roberts in August: Osage County.

August: Osage County

Out: January 1
Stars: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts
Buzz: A-list cast soars

John Wells's adaptation of Tracey Letts' play is a tour-de-force ensemble piece, in which members of a dysfunctional family are forced to face one another and each other. Although it veers towards the over-wrought at times, Wells elicits superb performances from an all-star cast. Meryl Streep's cancer-riddled matriarch is irresistibly toxic, with the effortlessly caustic delivery of Julia Roberts matching her all the way. EG

American excess: Leonardo DiCaprio in <em>The Wolf of Wall Street</em>.

American excess: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street.

Saving Mr Banks

Out: January 9
Stars: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson
Buzz: Disney delivers its own

Tom Hanks is cast as Walt Disney, struggling to honour a promise to his daughters to bring P. L. Travers's Mary Poppins to the big screen. The book's writer (played by sassy British thespian Emma Thompson) is no shrinking violet, which presents a series of challenges for the Hollywood pioneer. EG

Elsa in <em>Frozen</em>.

Elsa in Frozen.

Inside Llewyn Davis

Out: January 16
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan
Buzz: Folkie hipsters delight

A highlight at this year's Cannes Film Festival, this fictionalised look inside the 1960s' folk revival scene of New York's Greenwich Village casts Oscar Isaac as a Bob Dylan-esque singer, who appears incapable of ever striking it lucky. The Coen brothers paint a vivid picture of Beat-era life in the Big Apple, with a supporting cast of Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake. EG

Welcome to Australia: Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) torments more tourists in <em>Wolf Creek 2</em>.

Welcome to Australia: Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) torments more tourists in Wolf Creek 2.

Her

Out: January 16
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson
Buzz: Joaquin at his gentlest

Indie favourite Spike Jonze's much-anticipated modern romance places a loner salesman (Joaquin Phoenix) with an operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and has brought the former music video king back into fashion, even if his female star has been deemed ineligible for any Oscar attention. Phoenix's supreme screen presence - and Johansson's ever-seductive purr - have, apparently, held the Academy enthralled. EG

Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in <em>The Railway Man</em>.

Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in The Railway Man.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Out: January 23
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill
Buzz: Scorsese's back in business

Martin Scorsese's much-anticipated return to live action sees him back with Leonardo DiCaprio, in a vibrant reading of fallen finance king Jordan Belfort's colourful memoir. Details of the shoot were kept strictly under lock and key, although the pair has finally opened up to the Hollywood Reporter about the making of the piece (which DiCaprio describes as being "almost like a modern-day Caligula"). EG

Dressed to thrill: Amy Adams in <em>American Hustle</em>.

Dressed to thrill: Amy Adams in American Hustle.

12 Years a Slave

Out: January 30
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender
Buzz: America's dark history stuns

Widely viewed in his native Britain as one of the finest filmmakers of his generation, Steve McQueen (Shame, Hunger) looks set to finally trouble the Academy, with this confronting dramatisation of Soloman Northup's 1853 autobiography. Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a respectable family man living in New York state, who is suddenly drugged, kidnapped and forced into slavery. Twelve years of brutality follows. Brad Pitt cameos and produces. EG

Clueless: Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) in <em>Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues</em>.

Clueless: Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Photo: Mark Seliger

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Out: February 6
Stars: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris
Buzz: Posthumous biopic of a titan

The lean, charismatic Idris Elba plays the legendary Nelson Mandela in a film that traces the many stages of his remarkable life in apartheid-era South Africa and beyond: prominent lawyer, revolutionary leader, jailed, martyr, and democratically elected president. With Naomie Harris (Skyfall) as wife Winnie, who turned suffering into vengeance before Mandela's triumphant release. CM

Dallas Buyers Club

Out: February 13
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto
Buzz: Convincing, electric performances

Matthew McConaughey's indie rebirth continues with this riveting fact-based drama, in which he plays a Texan redneck hustler struck down with AIDS in 1985. Frustrated by government red tape, he takes to selling medicine to his fellow sufferers. Mirroring the physical change in the real-life Ron Woodroof, McConaughey dropped more than 20 kilograms in weight. Leto is a hoot as a drag queen. EG

Nebraska

Out: February 20
Stars: Bruce Dern, Will Forte
Buzz: Black-and-white delight

A warm, loving ode to his beleaguered home state, director Alexander Payne (The Descendents) reignites veteran Bruce Dern's career, casting the Silent Running star as a grouchy father who vows to cross America, having apparently won the Lotto. Shot in black and white,which only emphasises the wheat belt's evocative landscapes and the cast's nuanced performances beautifully. EG

All Is Lost

Out: February 20
Stars: Robert Redford
Buzz: A one-handed wonder

It took 30 years for one of his Sundance alumni to cast him, but the wait appears to have been worth it. Screen legend Robert Redford gives the performance of his career in J. C. Chandor's man-lost-at-sea drama, where dialogue is replaced by the terrifying brutality of Mother Nature. EG

 

Blockbusters

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Out: December 26
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen
Buzz: Mayhem in Middle Earth

After the 169-minute introduction that was last December's An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings' prequel gets up to speed with hobbit, wizard and dwarves travelling to the lair of the Dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) as new and familiar elven faces are encountered. In brief: fewer dwarf songs about washing up, more orc fighting. CM

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Out: January 16
Stars: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley
Buzz: International intrigue and explosions

Star Trek's new Captain Kirk, Chris Pine, gets a second franchise, replacing Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck as the recently departed author Tom Clancy's hardy CIA analyst Jack Ryan in an action-thriller reboot that has Keira Knightley as Mrs Ryan, Kevin Costner as his mentor, and director Kenneth Branagh as the nefarious Russian villain. CM

Robocop

Out: February 6
Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Abbie Cornish
Buzz: New suit, old punishments

Brazilian filmmaker Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) updates Paul Verhoeven's 1987 sci-fi nightmare about an honest police officer in a dystopic 2028 Detroit whose barely living body is inserted inside a crime-fighting robot. Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman (The Killing) plays the cyborg, Abbie Cornish his wife, backed by a scenery-chewing supporting cast: Gary Oldman, Samuel L Jackson, and Michael Keaton. CM

Lone Survivor 

Out: February 20
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch
Buzz: Gritty military survival struggle

Back to reality after Battleship, filmmaker Peter Berg oversees an adaptation of Marcus Luttrell's memoir about a failed 2005 mission in Afghanistan undertaken by his SEAL team. Mark Wahlberg play the Special Forces veteran, with Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster as his comrades, while Eric Bana is in command. A key battle reportedly runs for almost an hour, recalling Black Hawk Down. CM

Wolf Creek 2

Out: February 20
Stars: John Jarratt, Ryan Corr
Buzz: Mick's back …

Having scared audiences around the world half to death in 2005, director Greg Mclean and star John Jarratt bring back their unique Crocodile Dundee from Hell, as bush psychopath Mick Taylor once again terrorises a selection of tourists who've made the mistake of visiting the Australian outback. There's a bigger budget, a rendition of a Rolf Harris song and more bloody endings. CM

 

Family

Frozen

Out: December 26
Stars: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel
Buzz: An animated Disney snow job

Updating Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, this Disney animation returns the studio to its 1990s successes such as The Lion King with the story of two royal sisters shut away from the outside world due to the older sibling's magical powers. When adulthood brings a big chill to their kingdom, songs and a comic relief snowman are required.

Free Birds

Out: January 9
Stars: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson
Buzz: Buddy comedy with feathers

Owen Wilson voices Reggie, a modern-day turkey who barely survives America's Thanksgiving eating habits only to travel back in time to when the turkey-eating tradition began in the company of Woody Harrelson's turkey revolutionary Jake. This is the next 3D computer-animated release, directed by Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who!) with added vocal input from the mighty Amy Poehler and Star Trek's George Takei. CM

 

Arthouse

The Railway Man

Out: December 26
Stars: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman
Buzz: Haunting, healing drama

Aussie filmmaker Jonathan Teplitzky follows up his criminally underrated Burning Man with this affecting adaptation of Eric Lomax's 1995 best-selling autobiography, in which the former British soldier recounted struggling to overcome brutal torture by Japanese forces during World War II. Colin Firth stars as Lomax, with Nicole Kidman as his devoted but despairing wife. War Horse's Jeremy Irvine stars as the young Lomax, with Japanese action star Hiroyuki Sanada as Lomax's tormentor. EG

The Past

Out: February 6
Stars: Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim
Buzz: Kitchen-sink drama delivers

Following up his Oscar-winning A Separation, about a marriage in crisis, Asghar Farhadi again uses the device of divorce for something infinitely more layered in tone and style, and boasting an extraordinary performance from Berenice Bejo (The Artist) as the wife who's forced to make difficult decisions. More complex in outlook than its predecessor, The Past solidifies the Iranian filmmaker's newfound success on the world stage. EG

 

Body of work

Amy Adams fleshes out American Hustle, writes Jenny Cooney Carrillo.

Amy Adams admits her role in the '70s comedy American Hustle forced her to embrace a new side of herself.

''When I signed on to this film, David didn't tell me it was going to be like a boob show,'' the 39-year-old redhead confides shyly, referring to director David O. Russell, who also directed her in the 2010 drama The Fighter.

''It wasn't until I saw the reference boards that I knew I was going to have to take a deep breath and embrace the costumes and the era, which was all about female empowerment,'' the softly spoken actress adds.

''Sydney was definitely the kind of woman who got caught up in the idea that we are sexual equals to men now. We make our choices. Roe v Wade had happened and the birth-control pill was out and she was somebody who found that very empowering.''

The film is a fictional take on the Abscam scandal of the 1970s in Long Island, when overzealous FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) recruited brilliant conman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his partner and mistress, Sydney Prosser (Adams), for a sting to expose corruption.

The film reunites Russell with the cast of his last two films - Bale and Adams from The Fighter and Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Rosenfeld's wife, from Silver Linings Playbook.

Adams first turned heads as a naive candy striper (hospital volunteer) wooed by another conman, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, in Catch Me If You Can (2002) and has earned four Oscar nominations during her mainly good-girl career. Russell cast her as the tough girlfriend of boxer Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) in The Fighter.

Adams and Bale played enemies in The Fighter, but that wasn't the only difference. ''It wasn't like working with Christian again, but that I had worked with Dickie [his character in The Fighter] and now I was working with Irving,'' she tries to explain. ''What's so brilliant working with Christian is every day you go on this journey of commitment that he has taken.''

The actress was also impressed with Cooper's commitment to his role, ''the sexiest man alive'', wearing pink perm curlers on screen.

''I thought it was pretty brave, so we tried not to make fun of him or Christian's comb-over, because we all looked a little over the top and everybody was really going for it.''

American Hustle is out now, rated M.

 

An even bigger deal

Only Barack Obama didn't make the long list of Anchorman 2 cameos, writes Sarah Thomas.

It's no surprise there was a long list of famous names lining up for cameo roles in one of the hottest comedies of the year, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

But director Adam McKay says there was only one person on their wishlist of famous names contacted who didn't make the riotously funny sequel to the 2004 classic: Barack Obama.

''We had a friend who had a connection at the White House who was like, 'You know, they're not saying no', and we were like, 'What?' '' McKay says.

''And at one point we heard maybe they would like us go to the White House with a green screen and just shoot him and we can insert him. And then, of course, I'm sure someone finally said to the President, 'Do you want to do this?' and he's like, 'No! I've got a country to run, what are you talking about?!' ''

Avoiding too many spoilers, it has already been reported that one of the biggest moments of the movie is a battle scene that includes cameos from numerous stars including Kanye West, Jim Carrey, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

In a monumental upgrade from the news team fight scene in the original, this battleground was a huge task for McKay. ''It was insane. I've never done this before but I went a little bit Michael Bay. I had a tent with a microphone and the monitors, because we had five to seven cameras going at all time and I wouldn't have been able to direct if I'd been out on the field doing it. So I just sat in the tent and was orchestrating it. It was chaos, it was insanity.

''The first one was kind of a small little movie and this one we're jokingly calling the Ben Hur of comedies, it's pretty epic.''

Paul Rudd, who plays pervy news anchor Brian Fantana, says boundary-pushing comedy is what defines the work of its two writers, McKay and Will Ferrell. ''It's inherently who they are as funny people not to play it safe,'' Rudd says. ''To really go for things that are risky and in keeping with what kind of made the first one work, and while there are certain aspects of this that pay homage to the first one, it isn't recycled.''

One of Rudd's biggest scenes is where he's running a photoshoot of cute cats, only he's doing it in the manner of the most predatory of porn directors. ''That was the first thing I shot,'' he says. ''It was just gross. A lot of things with that character are really toeing the line in ridiculousness and disgustingness.''

It's taken nine years to get to this sequel but McKay says he's not ruling a third outing for Burgundy and his team.

''I'm going to do what we did on the first one, which is wait for the audience to tell us,'' McKay says. ''There's a certain amount of ownership from the audience, and if they say we want a third one, we will definitely consider it and probably do it. But the worst thing to do would be finish this and go, 'Here's another one'. If there's really a call for it, and you can feel it in your gut there can be a good third one then we'll do it.''

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is out on Thursday, rated M.