It's that time of year again. No, not the days of cooler weather, holiday shopping, and rampant consumerism. It's awards season. Studios like to save their most Oscar-worthy films for the end of the year so they remain freshly in the minds of academy voters when nominations are announced in January in the run-up to February's big night. This season looks like a lot like those of awards seasons past: There's a teary musical, a fantastical epic, a brutal war picture and a sentimental story of survival. But those looking for a lighthearted night out have plenty to choose from this year, too: Not every film released over the holidays is Oscar-worthy -- though at least one lowbrow comedy is better than most of the movies rumored to be in contention for Best Picture.

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

Opens: Dec. 14

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

Story: Peter Jackson returns to J.R.R. Tolkien for another trilogy. His first of a planned three-part adaptation of "The Hobbit" is a prequel to "The Lord of the Rings" -- though characters Tolkien didn't invent until the later work do make appearances here.

Awards outlook: It's surprising this film isn't getting more awards buzz, considering that the final "Lord of the Rings" film won all 11 Oscars for which it was nominated.

Fnal cut: Thousands of fantasy fans have been waiting for this movie for years -- for far longer, in fact, than since the "Rings" trilogy closed in 2003.

"The Guilt Trip"

Opens: Dec. 19

Stars: Seth Rogen, Barbra Streisand

Story: A young man taking a cross-country trip to market something he's invented takes his mother along for the ride.

Awards outlook: It's possible academy favorite Streisand will get a nod, but only slightly.

Fial cut: With a script by "Crazy, Stupid, Love" writer Don Fogelman and "The Proposal" director Anne Fletcher at the helm, this comedy is likely to be gold -- even if it doesn't take it home.

"Jack Reacher"

Opens: Dec. 21

Stars: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins

Story: Cruise plays the title character, the hard-edged former military cop Lee Child created in best-selling novels such as "One Shot," on which this first of a possible franchise is based.

Awards outlook: Tom Cruise doesn't do those sorts of movies often.

Final cut: Child fans were outraged when Cruise was cast, as he's nearly a foot shorter than the character of the books. Height? That might be one of Hollywood's tiniest casting sins ever.

"This Is 40"

Opens: Dec. 21

Stars: Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel

Story: Judd Apatow revisits married couple with kids Pete and Debbie from his 2007 hit "Knocked Up" as they face midlife crisis.

Awards outlook: Mann might do better work here than some actresses who will actually get Oscar nods.

Fial cut: Apatow rarely does wrong, and "This Is 40" is no exception. It's the perfect Christmas movie for families a little on the edge.

"The Impossible"

Opens: Dec. 21

Stars: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor

Story: A couple and their three sons get caught in the tsunami that ravaged Thailand in 2004.

Awards outlook: Naomi Watts could get notice for her portrayal of a woman fighting desperately to save her family.

Final cut: This film is coming out so long after the natural disaster because of the care taken in the special effects used to re-create the tsunami.

"Les Miserables"

Opens: Dec. 25

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway

Story: The big musical, based on the big 1862 Victor Hugo novel, finally makes it to the big screen.

Awards outlook: Hollywood loves musicals, historical dramas and socially conscious cinema -- this one's a shoo-in for a Best Picture nod.

Final cut: This is the kind of thing you'll like if you like this kind of thing.

"Django Unchained"

Opens: Dec. 25

Opens: Dec. 25

Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio

Story: Quentin Tarantino calls his much-anticipated film a "Southern" -- a spaghetti Western set in the Deep South. Waltz is a German bounty hunter who sets the slave played by Foxx free and promises to do the same for the slave's wife (owned by DiCaprio) if he helps capture his latest bounty.

Awards outlook: The critics usually drool over Tarantino films, but the academy hasn't shown him much love.

Final cut: "Django" sounds as gloriously over the top as we've come to expect from Tarantino.

"Not Fade Away"

Opens: Jan. 4

Stars: James Gandolfini, John Magaro, Will Brill, Jack Huston

Story: Gandolfini plays the father of a boy who starts a rock band in 1960s New Jersey, in this film based on the director's own youth.

Awards outlook: This is the feature film debut of "The Sopranos" creator David Chase, who catapulted Gandolfini to icon status.

Final cut: Expect a work with much more tenderness than your average episode of "The Sopranos."

"Broken City"

Opens: Jan. 4

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones

Story: Wahlberg plays a former cop New York City mayor Crowe hires to find out the identity of his wife's lover.

Awards outlook: At a reported budget of $35 million, this is a surprisingly low-key action flick.

Final cut: Looks like your typical movie about a guy who inadvertently stumbles onto a political conspiracy that threatens to engulf him.

"Zero Dark Thirty"

Opens: Jan. 11

Stars: Chris Pratt, Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton

Story: Kathryn Bigelow's much-delayed follow-up to her Oscar-winning "The Hurt Locker" takes us through the successful manhunt for Osama bin Laden.

Awards outlook: Look for Bigelow's name when nominations are announced -- as well as that of Chastain, who plays a CIA analyst.

Final cut: Some complained the filmmakers were given access to classified information about the Pakistan operation that killed bin Laden. Whether or not it's true, there are few Americans who wouldn't want to see revenge reproduced in every gory detail.

"Gangster Squad"

Opens: Jan. 11

Stars: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Sean Penn

Story: Brolin and Gosling are 1940s LAPD cops struggling to keep East Coast mobsters out of Los Angeles -- like the one played by Sean Penn.

Awards outlook: This wasn't meant to come out during awards season: It got pushed back after the Aurora, Colo., "Dark Knight Rises" shooting took place. Executives decided to cut and reshoot a similar cinema massacre in this film.

Final cut: Good-looking men fighting to do good in the stylish 1940s, with the promise of plenty of action -- sounds good to me.


Opens: Jan. 11

Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert

Story: Austrian master Michael Haneke's latest film is in French, featuring legends Trintignant and Riva as an elderly married couple in what might be their last days.

Awards outlook: The Cannes Palme d'Or winner will get at least a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, if not nods in the acting categories as well.

Final cut: "Amour" is being released in New York and Los Angeles in time for Oscar consideration. Look for it in D.C. in early 2013.