How crowded was December at the movies? Crowded enough to push George Clooney and "The Monuments Men" into an early 2014 release. And that's good! That's good. Because a little quality to go with our winter movie diversions would be good.
Here are 10 coming in the next three months. And here's hoping they're all equally brilliant. (Dates are tentative and very much subject to change.)
"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," Jan. 17. What becomes a reboot most? It helps to have the piercing eyes and attendant, highly imposing eyebrows of Chris Pine. The "Star Trek" headliner stars as the CIA's intel whiz and man of action, created by Tom Clancy, played in earlier films by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. Kenneth Branagh directs this prequelly story of a Russian terrorist attempt to destroy the U.S. economy, and our man Jack's valiant efforts to show these terrorists who's boss.
"Ride Along," Jan. 17. Ice Cube and Kevin Hart co-star in director Tim Story's action comedy, set in Atlanta, about a cop, his security-guard brother-in-law, and an eventful 24-hour patrol. A mismatched law enforcement duo: If this thing's a hit, I wonder if that concept will catch on?
"Labor Day," Jan. 31. Adapted from Joyce Maynard's novel, director Jason Reitman's drama stars Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. She's a lonely single mom; he's a dangerous yet exciting escaped convict. Sparks fly; secrets are revealed; hard truths are learned by all. We'll see what the actors can do with it.
"The Lego Movie," Feb. 7. Finally, all those stray, nubby, tiny pieces of plastic get their own animated film. From the folks behind "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," which is promising. Voice cast includes Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett and Morgan Freeman, also promising.
"The Monuments Men," Feb. 7. A ridiculously crowded December release calendar kicked director and star George Clooney's World War II adventure into an early 2014 launch, but you know what? I'm glad. A little breathing room. A sterling cast: In this true-life tale of a platoon tasked with stealing back precious works of art from Nazi thieves, Clooney co-stars with Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and Jean Dujardin.
"Pompeii," Feb. 21. From energetic schlockmeister Paul W.S. Anderson comes this no-doubt historically accurate action picture about an ex-slave gladiator (Kit Harington) racing against time, Fate and the elements in a mission to save the leading lady and avoid the wrath of Mt. Vesuvius. Also starring Emily Browning and Carrie-Anne Moss.
"The Wind Rises," Feb. 21. In limited release and festival action last year, animation genius Hayao Mayazaki's plaintive portrait of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of World War II Japanese fighter planes, landed on several end-of-year "best" lists. Each new Mayazaki film is special; this one, we hear, is more special than most.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel," March 7. Wes Anderson's follow-up to "Moonrise Kingdom" is a between-the-wars period piece with a mouth-watering cast of sly farceurs. Among them: Ralph Fiennes as the title hotel's concierge. Also starring Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Mathieu Almaric, Jeff Goldblum…I mean, come on. That's a lotta droll.
"Muppets Most Wanted," March 21. Though audiences were split on the recent Muppets reboot's sardonic streak, the box office results were strong, and a sequel was inevitable. This time the gang gets mixed up in a Euro-jewel heist. The genuinely funny human cast (depending on material, of course) includes Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, Ricky Gervais, Tom Hiddleston and Stanley Tucci.
"Divergent," March 21. The extraordinarily good Shailene Woodley of "The Descendants" and "The Spectacular Now" stars in this futuristic thriller, shot in Chicago by director Neil Burger. Kate Winslet co-stars.Copyright © 2015, RedEye