It's finally December, which means that after many lazy months at the multiplex, it's time for you to buckle down, go Christmas shopping, prepare elaborate dinners for your family and friends, and get all Clark Griswold with those lights on the roof. But hey, not so fast! Don't you dare run away from movie theaters just yet. December is arguably the best movie month of the year, boasting a huge range of everything from Oscar bait to giant action thrillers, giving you the chance to root for a misanthropic young adult author one day and watch Tom Cruise climb the world's tallest building the next. This December seems especially jammed with killer releases-- December 21 alone boasts 5 movies you'll have to see before ringing in the new year. Who has time for holidays amongst all that?

To prepare you for this deluge of cinematic goodness, we've put together the 8 December films we're most excited to see. Whether you're looking for dark dramas set in the Swedish wilderness or a heartwarming tale of a boy and his horse, you can find pretty much anything at the movies this month-- and we're going to help you find the best of it.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
December 9
If you prefer your espionage thrillers slow burning, narratively complex and very very English, then Tomas Alfredson's followup to the outstanding Let the Right One In might be the December release for you. Adapted from the classic John Le Carré spy novel and a remake of a British mini-series from the late 70s, the new Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy features perhaps the best ensemble this year with Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, John Hurt and, last year's Best Actor, Colin Firth. The film boasts very positive reviews that already have the key players talking sequels for protagonist George Smiley, a character that just might land Mr. Oldman his, believe it or not, first Academy Award nomination. After being bombarded by action-heavy spy thrillers for the last few years, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a thinking man's entry in the genre, is more than a welcome change of pace.

Young Adult
December 9
Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody's last collaboration, the Best Picture-nominated Juno, was often derided for being too cute, too cloying, and way too concerned with being cool. All evidence points to their new film Young Adult being exactly the opposite. Starring Charlize Theron as the kind of vicious, ugly, take-no-prisoners lead character that's almost never played by men, Young Adult puts a nasty spin on the classic rom-com format by having Theron's character, a young adult fiction writer who becomes convinced she needs to rescue her high school boyfriend from his dull domestic life, be a completely unlikeable crazy person. That doesn't mean it's not any fun to follow her around-- Theron's Mavis is magnetic in exactly the way the meanest, prettiest girl in your high school was, and even when you watch her self-destruct you can't look away. Young Adult is prickly and weird, but maybe also the perfect respite from Christmas cheer.

We Need To Talk About Kevin
December 9
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo claims to be 'the feel bad movie this Christmas' but it should get some pretty stiff competition in the depression department from Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin. It's grimness might not be the best selling point but the film's willingness to honestly (and brutally) explore a fractured mother-son relationship makes the tough watch worthwhile. Of course, it doesn't hurt when the lead actress is Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton, who supposedly delivers another devastatingly accurate yet subtle portrayal, this time of a mother who simply does not (or cannot) love her own son. Joining Swinton are the excellent John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller (in a break-out performance). Boasting the Best Film prize from the London Film Festival and Best Director at the British Independent Film Awards, if Kevin is as devastating as the two-minute trailer, we can't wait.

Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol
December 21
It may have some of the strangest punctuation we’ve ever seen in a movie title, but we can’t help be but excited for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. A bit of action to break up the more serious Oscar-contending dramas, the trailers look like a blast, with Tom Cruise back in fine form as Ethan Hunt. Some of the set pieces, from the explosion at the Kremlin to Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa (the world’ tallest building), look absolutely stunning and it’s even more exciting that select scenes were filmed in IMAX, something we haven’t seen since 2008’s The Dark Knight. Most intriguing of all? It’s the live-action debut of Pixar legend Brad Bird. If he can develop characters as well as he did in Ratatouille and craft action as solid as what was seen in The Incredibles, we should be in for a real treat.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
December 21
At this point if you’re not excited for the new David Fincher film, you’re doing something wrong. While the man has always been a great talent, he’s coming off what is arguably the best film of his career – The Social Network – and we can’t wait to see what does here, with a perfect marriage of director and material. Fincher has always shown a predilection for darker stories, and it doesn’t get much darker than the first book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. His star Rooney Mara is also primed to explode, looking perfect as brooding heroine Lisbeth Salander, and if the six-track sampler is any indication, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have delivered yet another score worthy of our praise and admiration. It’s not just that we’re looking forward to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo this month; we’ve been looking forward to it all year.

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
December 21
Fans of Steven Spielberg’s obvious Oscar bait can get in line for War Horse. Those of us who prefer the director’s popcorn-peddling action blockbusters (think Jurassic Park or the Indiana Jones franchise) are gearing up for Tintin, which finds Spielberg adapting the early works of famed comic illustrator Herge for the first of a planned trilogy of adventure. Tintin (Jamie Bell) is an investigative journalist searching for a sunken ship who finds himself in a daring race against the forces of evil to retrieve a buried treasure. Word is this is Raiders mixed with the Playstation’s Uncharted series. Could be. I’m basically going to absorb Spielberg’s first experiments with motion-capture animation and 3D technologies. Plus, early reviews say the motorcycle chase through the alleyways of Morocco is more than worth the price of an inflated 3D ticket. Count me in.

War Horse
December 25
Early buzz on Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, an anticipated adaptation of Nick Stafford’s Tony Award-winning stage play, is that it needs to be seen on a big screen. The Oscar-winning filmmaker masterfully weaves through a heart-wrenching story of an earnest farmhand (Jeremy Irvine) and his beloved horse, Joey, who are separated by poverty and conflict as World War I invades their lush, English homeland. So make it your goal this month is to catch Spielberg’s emotional epic on the biggest possible screen, where Janusz Kaminski’s sprawling, warm cinematography can properly unfurl -- at its best, War Horse channels John Ford circa The Quiet Man -- and John Williams’ shamefully sentimental score can pluck away at the heartstrings with each tender note. Buy a ticket. Bring tissues.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
December 25
6 years ago, with the wounds of 9/11 still literally visible in lower Manhattan, New Yorker Jonathan Safran Foer wrote a book about a young boy processing the death of his own father in the World Trade Center through a cockamamie but cathartic scavenger hunt. The book was praised for its many visual inventions, such as animated flip-book pages, and it's a real question how director Stephen Daldry will capture any of that in his movie adaptation. He's already got a leg up with a perfect cast, including Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks as the boy's parents, Max von Sydow as the mute old man he encounters, and newcomer Thomas Horn as the boy Oskar-- we haven't seen his performance yet, but his eyes alone on the poster seem to speak volumes. If things turn out the way we're hoping, Extremely Loud will be a weepie and Oscar shoo-in that, like Daldry's other films The Hours and Billy Elliott, is a damn good movie too.

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