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Holiday movie preview: What to expect on the big screen

With the Academy Awards on the horizon, November and December are packed full of reasons for movie lovers to get excited, including a number of films aimed at family audiences.

Here’s a look at this holiday season’s upcoming releases, including information on what parents should expect before taking their kids along.

Nov. 9

“Skyfall” (PG-13) — Daniel Craig’s third outing as James Bond is already breaking records overseas and being hailed as possibly the best film in the 50-year-old franchise. Of course, the globetrotting exploits of the world’s most famous superspy have never been overly kid-friendly, but “Skyfall,” in particular, is being touted as a darker, grittier film than even Craig’s previous two. Expect quite a bit in the way of violence and sexuality.

“Lincoln” (PG-13) — In Steven Spielberg’s latest film, notorious method actor and two-time Oscar-winner Daniel Day Lewis (“There Will Be Blood”) steps into the shoes of the 16th president during the tumultuous final months of the Civil War. Unlike Spielberg’s previous historical films, the main conflict in “Lincoln” — the fight to abolish slavery — doesn’t take place on a battlefield, but some scenes of the Civil War could still be too intense for some audiences.

Nov. 16

“Anna Karenina” (R) — Set in 19th century Russia, this lavish adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel reunites Keira Knightley with her “Pride and Prejudice” director Joe Wright. “Anna Karenina” is no stranger to the big screen, having been adapted 11 times before, but Wright’s version updates the story of illicit love with postmodern flair, including staging the movie as if it were a play. Rated R for sexuality and violence.

“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2” (PG-13) — The epic conclusion to Stephenie Meyer’s vampire romance series is less than a week away, and fans will be pleased to know that early buzz is calling this the best in the franchise. As with the other movies in the series, most of the violence will probably be bloodless (the vampires seem to turn to stone when killed), but expect some frightening imagery nevertheless.

Nov. 21

“Life of Pi” (PG) — After being shipwrecked, a zookeeper’s son must share a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel is being called the best use of 3-D since “Avatar” and a likely Oscar contender. Best of all for parents, though, “Life of Pi” is a movie that should be safe for most older kids.

“Red Dawn” (PG-13) — Originally filmed back in 2009, this remake of the 1984 cult classic about a Soviet invasion of the U.S. recasts North Korea as the bad guys with Chris Hemsworth stepping up as the leader of a ragtag band of guerrilla teenagers. Based on the trailers alone, it seems like the amount of violence is being bumped up a few notches from the 1984 version.

“Silver Linings Playbook” (R) — In the latest film from David O. Russell, Bradley Cooper stars as a man recently released from a mental institution who’s trying to win back his wife. Along the way, he befriends a young widow (Jennifer Lawrence) who offers to help him out if he’ll dance with her in a competition. “Silver Linings Playbook” is rated R for language and sexuality, including nudity.

“Rise of the Guardians” (PG) — An Avengers-style team of holiday mascots gather to fight off an evil spirit named Pitch in the latest film from DreamWorks Animation. Featuring the voices of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman and Alec Baldwin, “Rise of the Guardians” will probably appeal most to young boys, thanks to its superhero-inspired setup.

Nov. 30

“Killing Them Softly” (R) — Writer-director Andrew Dominik was nominated for a Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival on the strength of his latest feature, which stars Brad Pitt as an enforcer investigating a mob-protected poker game. Not surprisingly given its subject, “Killing Them Softly” is aimed at older audiences and contains pervasive violence, language and drug use.

Dec. 7

“Hyde Park on Hudson” (R) — Bill Murray is already generating Oscar buzz for his role as Franklin D. Roosevelt in this period comedy set during a visit from the king and queen of England to the States. Earning an R for “brief sexuality,” “Hyde Park on Hudson” will likely appeal to fans of 2010’s Best Picture winner, “The King’s Speech.”

Dec. 14

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (Not yet rated) — The first of a new trilogy set in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, “An Unexpected Journey” begins the story of Bilbo Baggins and his adventure to help recapture the Dwarf kingdom Erebor. Audiences who have seen Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films should know basically what to expect in terms of content.

Dec. 19

“Monsters, Inc. 3D” (G) — Paving the way for “Monsters University” next June, Pixar’s 2001 animated favorite is getting its own 3-D re-release. With so few films aimed at young children these days, parents may welcome the opportunity to see this family-friendly classic on the big screen once again.

“Zero Dark Thirty” (Not yet rated) — The latest film from “The Hurt Locker” director Kathryn Bigelow chronicles the hunt for Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of 9/11. Given Bigelow’s track record, it would be surprising if this received anything other than an R.

Dec. 21

“Jack Reacher” (PG-13) — Tom Cruise steps into yet another action movie franchise as the titular loose-cannon homicide detective. The yawn-inducing title notwithstanding, “Jack Reacher” could turn out to be Cruise’s “Taken.” Judging from the trailers, prospective audiences should expect something similar in terms of content.

“This is 40” (R) — After his last directorial effort, “Funny People,” failed to live up to its name, fans of Judd Apatow’s crude-but-heartwarming brand of filmmaking should look forward to this sort-of-sequel to 2007’s “Knocked Up.” Picking up the story of Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann), “This is 40” takes a comedic look at the realities of getting older.

Dec. 25

“Django Unchained” (Not yet rated) — Quentin Tarantino delves even deeper into U.S. history with “Django Unchained,” a film Tarantino is pitching as the first “Southern.” Jamie Foxx stars as a former slave bent on freeing his wife from a corrupt plantation owner (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). As with all Tarantino films, this one will definitely not be family-friendly.

“Parental Guidance” (PG) — Billy Crystal and Bette Midler co-star as a couple asked to look after their grandkids while the children’s parents are away for work. What seems like a simple task, however, proves to be far more difficult than anyone expected as old school values clash with 21st-century parenting.

“Les Miserables” (Not yet rated) — Last but not least, the upcoming film from Tom Hooper, the Oscar-wining director of “The King’s Speech,” looks to be a solid adaptation of the musical version of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.” Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, it stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, an escaped convict who devotes his life to atoning for the crimes that put him in prison while all the while being hounded by the callous Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe).

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.