By Matt Mueller and Colton Dunham   Published Dec 08, 2014 at 9:16 AM

The holidays are approaching, and that means the local movie theaters will soon be doing their best stocking impressions, stuffing themselves to the brim with cinematic presents – and maybe some cinematic coal.

To help guide you through the plentiful options coming out in the next few weeks, movie gurus Matt Mueller and Colton Dunham went through the list of upcoming new releases, checked it twice and organized them into two lists based on what movies they're excited for. Which ones are naughty? Which ones are nice? We'll find out for sure when they come out, but until then, let's see which ones have look like gifts and which ones look like driving on a slick iced-up road in the middle of a blinding snowstorm.

"Wild" (opening Dec. 12)

Colton: Nice – Out of all the movies being released this holiday season, there’s not one I’m looking forward to more than "Wild." Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, the movie stars Reese Witherspoon as a woman who takes a very, very long hike – more than a thousand miles, to be exact – along the Pacific Crest Trail after the dissolution of her marriage and the death of her mother. Believe it or not, but this is one of very, very few films this holiday season that feature a lead female character. Witherspoon is usually great, and judging from the preview and the buzz surrounding the movie, she gives quite a daring performance.

Matt: Nice – Haven’t I seen this Oscar bait before, just with Emile Hirsch in the lead and an "Into The" in front of the title? Snark aside, I’m oddly looking forward to "Wild." Witherspoon’s raw performance – which sounds in line with her strong work in limited screentime in last year’s underrated "Mud" – has earned raves from the critics on the coasts lucky enough to see it already. Its secret weapon, however, is director Jean-Marc Vallee, who’s proven to have a deft touch when it comes to Oscar bait. Just ask Matthew McConaughey and "Dallas Buyers Club."

"Exodus: Gods and Kings" (opening Dec. 12)

Matt: Naughty – Man, that is one white looking Egypt. It’s 2014; I think we’ve reached the point where we have Middle Eastern actors strong enough to lead a blockbuster, rather than put some Brits in heavy, laughable makeup. And contrary to his tone-deaf comments on the matter, Ridley Scott has the power and sway to make it happen. "Prometheus" wasn’t packed with stars, and that got made – and made its money back.

Visually, Scott seems to be on his game. Other than that, however, I’m not even really sure why "Exodus" exists. I’m not sure what new Scott’s film will have new to offer that "The Ten Commandments" and "The Prince of Egypt" haven’t already covered – and covered really well. Judging by the advertisements, the answer seems to be crocodile attacks.

Colton: Naughty – I’m going to see this for three reasons: Ridley Scott, Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton. All three are supremely talented at their craft. Although this has enormous, tidal wave-sized potential, I’m still a little weary about the final result. This just seems like another one of Hollywood’s "Hey guys, let’s turn a biblical story into an epic movie with a bunch of choppy-looking CGI and let’s pray that the money roll in" sort of films that seem to be making their way into multiplexes little by little. After all, no matter how talented they are, Scott, Bale and Edgerton have all made poor mistakes in their careers. I’d be pleasantly surprised if this isn’t one of those.

"Top Five" (opening Dec. 12)

Colton: Nice – I’m not the first to state this, but here I go anyway: Chris Rock has been in a lot of stinkers. A lot of them. I won’t list them all here, but he has proved multiple times that he’s much funnier on a stage telling jokes in front of a crowd than he is in front of the camera. That fact might change, however, with his latest movie "Top Five," which he wrote and directed as well.

The film, which is supposed to be a satire on the media and celebrity culture, received quite a bit of buzz after it premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Some are even claiming it as Rock’s shot at success during awards season. I’m excited to see this, quite simply to see if Rock changed his movie brand from the ridiculously stupid to something that’s whip-smart, actually funny and has something to say, much like how his stand-ups turn out.

Matt: Nice – As with most movies, Rock has been making the publicity rounds pretty heavily for the past few weeks. Not like most movies, the "Top Five" writer-director has been lobbing Malatov truth bombs on the tour, discussing the tenuous relationship between Hollywood and race in brutally honest fashion. If "Top Five" is half as honest as his Hollywood Reporter op-ed and half as funny as his stand-up, we’re looking at a strong comedy for Christmas.

"Inherent Vice" (opening limited Dec. 12; MKE release date Jan. 9)

Colton: Nice – It’s almost weird that it has taken only two years to welcome a new Paul Thomas Anderson movie with open arms. The director certainly likes to take his time, but he didn’t waste any more years to release his latest, the zany-looking crime caper "Inherent Vice," based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon. Joaquin Phoenix leads the large cast as Larry "Doc" Sportello, a private eye detective who is asked by a former lover to help her unfold a plot that involves her billionaire boyfriend being kidnapped by his wife and her boyfriend to throw him in the loony bin. It looks amusingly bonkers, hazy and a nice change of pace for the master filmmaker.

Matt: Nice – P.T. Anderson and his gorgeous 70mm cinematography are back? Sign me up! He’s doing a comedy? Sign me up! It’s some kind of crazy Thomas Pynchon ’70s stoner noir? Sign me up! It stars Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, Joanna Newsom, Maya Rudolph and Joaquin Phoenix doing perhaps the greatest pratfall in cinematic history? In the words of the wise poet Barney Gumble, "Put it in my veins!"

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" (opening Dec. 17)

Colton: Naughty – "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy? Remarkable. "The Hobbit" trilogy? Please make it stop. The third and thankfully final film of Peter Jackson’s trilogy comes to a conclusion later this month. We’ll finally see Bilbo’s journey end in what appears to be an action packed but emotionally ungratifying finale.

I can’t be the only person who finds the first two "Hobbit" films to be tough to sit through. I just can’t be. It’s sad because going to see "The Two Towers" and "Return of the King" felt like big events. "The Hobbit" films just seem so flat and tired that the films don’t seem like big events at all, but rather just films that I feel compelled to see at least once because I’ve already seen the first one. I can’t leave a trilogy unwatched.

Matt: Naughty – Who would’ve thought that, after years of begging and hoping for a modern "Hobbit" movie, we’d be going to the final chapter seemingly more out of obligation rather than actual excitement? It’s kind of sad, really. Stretching Tolkien’s story – a much lighter saga – into three movies was a bad idea to begin with, made only worse by Peter Jackson’s evolution into a new George Lucas, falling in love with CGI and technology rather than the tangible effects audiences originally fell in love with. I’ll go, but it’ll be like eating a salad: I’m eating it because I feel like I should, not because I want to.

"Annie" (opening Dec. 19)

Colton: Naughty – I have to admit: I hate musicals. I hate, hate, hate, hate, HATE them. They bore me whether I’m watching one on a screen or one unfolding on stage. "Annie" is a movie that I wouldn’t go see even if someone paid for my ticket. It has nothing to do with the cast, even though most of them are supremely talented – especially Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale. I’m also glad to see that Quvenzhané Wallis is getting larger roles after her outstanding Oscar-nominated performance in the otherwise overrated "Beasts of the Southern Wild." No matter how much I like the talent involved, this doesn’t strike me as a movie that I’m going to see any time soon – if ever.

Matt: Naughty – Unlike my colleague, I enjoy several musicals. "Annie," however, isn’t one of them. It’s a cloying show, and the movie doesn’t seem to have toned that down at all. Who knows? Maybe its sugary sweetness and really strong cast – minus Cameron Diaz, who’s acting and comedic stylings always strike me as trying too hard – will win me over. Most of my interest in "Annie," though, is merely to see if "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was a fluke or if Wallis can actually act.

"American Sniper" (opening limited Dec. 25; MKE release likely Jan. 16)

Colton: Nice – I watched the teaser trailer for Clint Eastwood’s upcoming war drama "American Sniper" a few weeks ago, and my heart is still racing. At 84, Eastwood is still churning out movies like no one’s business. Some are decent ("The Changeling," "Hereafter"); some are not-so-decent ("Gran Torino," Jersey Boys"), but he seems to have more creative energy than most much-younger filmmakers.

"American Sniper," a former Steven Spielberg project, is based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle (portrayed in the film by Bradley "Rocket Racoon" Cooper), who was deemed as the U.S. military’s most lethal sniper. Although some who have already seen the film have noted that it has its set of war drama clichés, if the majority of "American Sniper" is as riveting as the teaser is, then it may join the list of Eastwood’s hits rather than misses.

Matt: Nice – I used to be able to say Clint Eastwood was one of our better directors – Letters From Iwo Jima" is still a terrific war movie – but the past few years have not been kind to that opinion. "Hereafter," "Invictus," "J. Edgar" and this summer’s drab "Jersey Boys" all felt as old and creaky as the man behind them. 2008's "Gran Torino" was his last really good movie, but repeat viewing have not done it any favors either. I’m hoping "American Sniper" is his return to form. The trailer certainly is, providing a breathtakingly tense look into the difficult and complex dilemmas a military sniper faces on the job. We'll see if the rest of the movie is strong enough to keep me from asking for Dirty Harry’s badge and gun.

"Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" (opening Dec. 19)

Colton: Naughty – For some reason, there’s going to be a second sequel to "Night at the Museum." The first was entertaining kids fare, a movie in which I wouldn’t mind revisiting sometime in the near future. The sequel, which was released five years ago, was terribly bland even with the inclusion of the always-talented Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart. A second sequel only seems more unecessary. Yes, we get it. The museum comes alive at night. There’ll be zaniness. Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt will probably be delightful. Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan will once again be scene stealers. There’ll probably be some kid-friendly chaos. All will be well in the end. Unless something new will be attempted with the concept and the characters, this will be one kids movie that I may have a hard time seeing this holiday season if I’m dragged to theater by my little cousins.

Matt: Nice – They’ve made a third "Night at the Museum" movie? OK then, I guess it’s better than a fourth "Alvin and the Chipmunks." *clicks on the trailer link* Alright, I guess we’re going to London this time. Oh look, it’s Rebel Wilson! She’s funny … usually. Overall, I guess I’d say this looks pleasantly inoffensive and blandly entertaining. Its styrofoam mania isn’t exactly my thi … wait, who’s that playing Lancelot? Is that Dan Stevens from "Downton Abbey" and "The Guest"?! Clear my Christmas plans; I’m in!

"Unbroken" (opening Dec. 25)

Colton: Nice – As far as the annual Oscar bait goes, Angelina Jolie’s World War II pic "Unbroken" is atop of the small heap. It’s about the true story of Louis Zamperini, an olympic runner who was captured and held prisoner by Japanese forces during the war. It’s definitely Oscar bait material. I mean, take any story from World War II, and you’re gunning for gold.

It doesn’t matter if this is bait material, however, since I’m already totally hooked. It’s already a known fact that Angelina Jolie has quite the on screen presence with many outstanding roles over the years. However, with her impressive directorial debut "In The Land of Blood and Honey," Jolie is slowly becoming a strong presence behind the camera as well. She nabbed rising star Jack O’Connell in the lead role along with a strong supporting cast. "Unbroken" looks much larger in scale as compared to her first movie, which means that she’s taking much bigger risks. I have a strong feeling that this is one movie that’s going to reel me in.

Matt: Nice – Yeah, you don’t get much more Oscar bait than this. In fact, "Unbroken" is like three different Oscar bait movies all in one film: an inspiring Olympic champion story, a tense survivor at sea story and a harrowing prisoner-of-war story. Award season cynicism aside, Zamperini’s story is, by all means, incredible, and given the right big screen treatment, it could be a true emotional journey. Jolie’s an unproven talent behind the camera, but I’m willing to see what she’s got – especially with the legendary Roger Deakins as cinematographer. Plus, the Coen Brothers have a screenwriting credit. Wait, THE Coen Brothers? Well, damn, this might actually end up as amazing as Zamperini’s life.

"The Interview" (opening Dec. 25)

Matt: Nice – "The Interview," otherwise known as the movie that supposedly got Sony hacked by North Korea. How can you not want to see that? James Franco and Seth Rogen’s cinematic bromance has already seen insane police corruption and the end of days – each one crazily hilarious. Now it’s off to North Korea for the attempted assassination of Kim Jong-un. Franco and Rogen have great comedic chemistry together, while Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s direction usually takes their script’s insanity and cranks it up to creative extremes. Who knows, maybe we’ll even get another Backstreet Boys cameo!

Colton: Nice – This will be in theaters on Christmas Day, so if you must know where I’ll be for the holiday, I’ll be in a theater somewhere hopefully watching hilariousness ensue with my family (because nothing is more Christmas-like than North Korea and an assassination plot). With Rogen and his creative partner Goldberg, the duo who last directed the amusingly wacky apocalyptic comedy "This is The End," this will be a comedy that will undoubtedly have enormous balls and won’t lend itself to safe comedic theatrics.

"Into the Woods" (opening Dec. 25)

Colton: Naughty – Did I mention that I hate musicals? Well, the same applies here. If you’re unfamiliar with the musical, "Into The Woods" is the musical mishmash of Disney fairy tale characters as they attempt to end a curse or whatever. Yes, I know that the movie features a great ensemble cast with the likes of Meryl Streep as a witch, Johnny Depp in a wolf Halloween Express costume, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella and the always-fantastic Emily Blunt as The Baker’s Wife. Even though the cast almost intrigues me enough to suffer through it, I'll watch the trailer once again just to shrug my shoulders, sigh and move on.

Matt: Nice – "Into the Woods" is an odd musical. It seems like everybody knows of it, but nobody seems to actually really like it or have strong feelings about it (comments section is below!). At least I’m of that opinion. I like musicals, but "Into the Woods" has never really scratched my musical spot. But how can I not be excited about a movie with this cast and crew? The always great Emily Blunt, Captain Kirk himself Chris Pine, the charming queen of the millennials Anna Kendrick and Madame Academy Award Meryl Streep, all directed by Rob Marshall of "Chicago"? I didn't even mention Johnny Depp because, sigh, who cares anymore about Johnny Depp. Still, there’s too much talent here to ignore, even if "Into the Woods" itself is pretty ignore-able.

"Big Eyes" (opening limited Dec. 25; MKE release date TBD)

Colton: Nice – In Tim Burton’s drama "Big Eyes," you’ll see the rise and fall of the relationship and collaboration between artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz), who famously took credit for her work in the 1960s. I’m excited to see this because this seems like it’ll be much different from Burton’s usual Johnny Depp-led, CGI-laden snore fests that have creeped into theaters over the last few years. When Burton stays more grounded, he usually churns out his more impressive work, like he’s proven with "Ed Wood" and "Big Fish." Both of those movies, of course, have fantastical elements but they’re by far more reserved than "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Alice in Wonderland" or the cringe-inducing "Dark Shadows." With "Big Eyes," Burton is trying something he hasn’t done in awhile: drama, and he gathered a tremendous cast to play out the tale of an artist and her con-artist husband.

Matt: Nice – I’m excited … for a Tim Burton movie!? Have I transported to the mid ’90s? When Burton untethers himself from the auteurist style quirks he’s run into the ground with "Alice in Wonderland" and "Dark Shadows," Burton is a lovely storyteller. After all, "Ed Wood" and "Big Fish" are strong movies of heart, whimsy and beauty. "Big Eyes" seems much closer to that latter group than the former, and that’s wonderful news – though I’d be willing to put money on Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter making cameos as big eyed paintings.

"The Gambler" (opening limited Dec. 19; MKE release date TBD)

Colton: Nice – In case you were wondering, this is a remake of the 1974 "The Gambler" starring James Caan. 40 years later, James Caan is replaced by Marky Mark Wahlberg as a literature professor (you’ll really have to suspend belief for a couple of hours) and high-stakes gambler who gets in way over his head when he gets in trouble with a loan shark and a few gangsters.

Usually remakes spell trouble, but this actually looks quite entertaining. As you’ll notice watching the trailer, Marky Mark has toned down his beefiness and lost a lot of weight – meaning he’s really aiming for Oscar gold this year (watch out, Cumberbatch). He’s joined by the always-fantastic Brie Larson ("Short Term 12") as his student and younger lover, John Goodman as a not-so-nice Mr. Clean and Jessica Lange ("American Horror Story") in a role that might actually not require her to be terrifying. Yes, this also has potential to suck, but it looks like it could be worth going all in for.

Matt: Nice – There’s a lot to be excited about with "The Gambler." Wahlberg looks like he’s in "The Fighter" form – acting wise, not in terms of muscle mass – and it’s hard to top a supporting cast featuring Larson, Goodman and Lange. But I think its secret weapon might be behind the camera. Director Rupert Wyatt pulled off the seemingly impossible: He helped "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" defy the odds and resurrect its seemingly dated franchise into a surprisingly solid blockbuster. I’m intrigued to see what he does for a follow-up – especially one penned by William Monahan, the writer of "The Departed."

"Selma" (opening limited on Dec. 25; MKE release date likely Jan. 9)

Colton: Nice – Here’s a great question: Why has it taken so long for us to finally have a potentially great movie that surrounds Martin Luther King Jr. and his efforts during the Civil Rights Movement? Without trying to formulate an answer, I’m just particularly happy that "Selma" is finally making its way into theaters.

The movie, which is directed by Ava DuVernay ("Middle of Nowhere"), chronicles the three-month timeframe in 1965 when Martin Luther King Jr. led a campaign for equal voting rights that was met with extreme opposition and violence. As history proves, the march from Selma led to President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is one of the most significant victories in the movement.

David Oyelowo leads the large impressive cast. This will undoubtedly be a significant movie for its portrayal of historical importance as well as a relevant companion to current day racism and oppression. Oh, and if all is well in the world and if the buzz surrounding the film is accurate, Ava DuVernay may very well become the first ever female black director nominated for a best director Oscar. That alone would be worth celebrating.

Matt: Nice – A ditto to everything said above by Colton. It’s pretty insane that it’s taken this long for a Martin Luther King Jr. biopic to hit the big screen. A great cheer that the time has finally arrived – and what a time for it to arrive, indeed. It doesn’t need to be said that "Selma" is incredibly timely; a scroll through the news section or a quick scan through any news network could tell you that. Then again, the terrific and tragic "Fruitvale Station" was timely last year too, and look how much has changed.

Anyways, the buzz radiating from "Selma" is terrific, with the always strong Oyelowo looking at a potential Best Actor nomination in a packed field. And even if DuVernay doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director (another packed field this year), a black woman’s directorial voice getting a wide release is a wonderful victory in its own right – even if it’s still far, far too rare.