The Oster Guide to this season’s best(?) movies

The Michigan weather is bitter over the holidays and families are looking for group activities, so naturally the multiplex is the obvious solution.

With the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks generally big box-office periods, studios are releasing nearly 60 films over this timespan.

If you’re not a movie freak, like myself, who will see literally everything and anything, you probably need my expert advice on how to wisely spend your dollars and hours.

To avoid my natural biases and preferences, I created my own ranking system to come up with the most necessary viewing for the holiday season.

Dozens of films were scored based on the following four categories:

Box Office Potential

Pop Culture Value

Oscar Necessity (award possibilities)

OSTER Necessity (my personal excitement/adoration for the film)

Each film was scored 1-10 in each category, with the sum averaged for the film’s final “Crucial Score.” This is a science; don’t question it.

 Here are your Top Ten Most Crucial Films of the 2014 Holiday Season:


10. “The Theory of Everything,” Crucial Score: 6.9

This Stephen Hawking biopic isn’t as nerdy as it sounds. Director James Marsh focuses the love story of Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife (Felicity Jones) on their struggle with Stephen’s motor neuron disease rather than his technical theories and equations. The film has been getting rave reviews and Oscar buzz for Redmayne and Jones. It loses points from its Crucial Score for its lack of moneymaking potential and pop-culture hype.


9. “The Interview,” 7.25

James Franco and Seth Rogen star as talk show hosts who attempt to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Written and directed by the same team who made 2013’s hit comedy “This Is the End,” there is some major box office here, even with the lack of award pedigree. The controversial premise and cult following of Franco and Rogan give the film a chance to be a pop culture landmark.


8. “Whiplash,” 7.25

The winner of the top prize at Sundance Film Festival back in January, “Whiplash” is slowly being released into theaters nationwide. Miles Teller stars as a drummer in his first year at the most prestigious music school in the country. J.K. Simmons plays his fierce, abusive conductor. It’s wonderfully filmed and one of the most intense movies of 2014. There is some major award talk for both Teller and Simmons. “Whiplash” is also a dark horse Best Picture candidate.


7. “Unbroken,” 7.4

This is the true story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, who was a Japanese prisoner of war during WWII. The screenplay was co-written by Academy Award regulars Joel and Ethan Coen and directed by Angelina Jolie. Just watch the trailer and your body will be covered with inspirational goosebumps every damn time. “Unbroken” may have more award promise than any other film on this list.


6. “Big Hero 6,” 7.5

This Disney animated superhero film is based on a Marvel comic book series. Literally everything Marvel touches turns to gold at the box office and with critics. Unfortunately, seldom do animated features create award buzz which hampers the “Big Hero 6” Crucial Score, but it may be the most pure family film of the season.


5. “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” 7.63

The third and final installment of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” franchises scores high based solely on its ability rake in cash. It’ll top $200 million domestically without a problem. However, the decision to stretch a barely 300-page novel into over eight hours of screen time was seemingly ill advised. “The Hobbit” films are long, bloated and a bit unnecessary. That being said, I’m still borderline-amped anytime Peter Jackson & Co. return to Middle Earth.


4. “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” 7.63

Director Ridley Scott, after a string of hits in the late 1990s and early 2000s, hasn’t made an Oscar-worthy film in almost a decade. With his humungous, sprawling epic of Moses and Ramses, he may finally return to form. With Christian Bale in any lead role, I’m already stacking my bets. Bale literally as Moses? I’m going all in, no hesitation.


3. “American Sniper,” 8

“Sniper” may have the most intense, edge-of-your-seat trailer in the history of cinema. I’m not hyperbolizing. Bradley Cooper plays the real life, most lethal sniper in United States history in this war thriller directed by legend himself Clint Eastwood.


2. “Interstellar,” 8.13

This is a pure cinematic experience. An instant classic sci-fi odyssey help together by some of the best visual effects of all-time, Matthew McConaughey’s jarring performance, and Christopher Nolan’s masterful, visionary directing. Yes, it has its flaws, but the wonder of the magic on screen is reminiscent of the original Star Wars trilogy. Seeing it at the Henry Ford IMAX is an otherworldly experience. “Interstellar” is on pace to gross over $160 million domestically, which is quite promising for an original sci-fi film with no built-in fan base and no 3D glasses to bump up ticket prices. It’s a lock for at least a nomination in every technical/visual Oscar category and has an outside shot at Best Actor for McConaughey and the granddaddy of them all, Best Picture.


1. “Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One,” 8.5

As far as major studio films go, “Mockingjay” has one of the highest ceilings ever. It will be a definite box office freight train and surely 2014’s highest-grossing film. The major question will be its ability to crack the top ten films of all time. But the Hunger Games franchise seems to focus as much on putting out a quality product as well as making piles of cash. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss would be a serious Oscar threat if not for her three previous nominations including 2012’s victory for Best Actress. “Catching Fire” has already entered the lexicon as one of the best blockbuster sequels of all time, but “Mockingjay Part One” needs to grow off it. This could be difficult with “Part Two” looming on the horizon for next year. “Part One” could merely be a stepping-stone in the Hunger Games’ pursuit of fiscal and critical domination.