Sure, there’s certainly plenty to look forward to in the coming year, but 2021 has been an impressive one for movies—and many of the best films are either now playing in theaters or landing in the next few weeks. There’s auteur Paul Thomas Anderson’s coming-of-age dramedy Licorice Pizza, which explores the follies of youth with a tender touch; Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon, boasting Joaquin Phoenix’s most heartfelt turn yet as a middle-age radio journalist tasked with caring for his estranged 9-year-old nephew; Flee, an animated documentary about a gay Afghan refugee’s traumatic voyage to the West; and Red Rocket, a laceratingly funny character study centered on an aging adult film star trying to get his life back on track, from the talented Sean Baker.
And if you’re looking for a movie to check out in theaters over the holidays—provided you’re vaxxed, of course—well, we’ve got you covered. In addition to the above, here are the films we’re anticipating most this month.
WEST SIDE STORY (Dec. 10 in Theaters)
Reteaming Steven Spielberg with one of the world’s greatest living playwrights in Tony Kushner, this remake of the 1961 classic supposedly rights many of the cultural wrongs of the original while infusing the song-and-dance proceedings with dazzling cinematography and even more Rita Moreno. As our own Kevin Fallon wrote, “This West Side Story is faithful and familiar—an homage. There are performances in it that explode off the screen, actors doing right by some of the greatest characters and songs ever written, and then some.”
BEING THE RICARDOS (Dec. 10 in Theaters; Dec. 21 on Prime)
If Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Newsroom have taught us anything, it’s that Aaron Sorkin’s kink is probing TV’s behind-the-scenes drama. His latest takes viewers inside one chaotic production week of the series I Love Lucy, with a red-wigged Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem assuming the guise of Desi Arnaz. Expect plenty of showy monologues, walking-and-talking, and aching sentimentality.
DON’T LOOK UP (Dec. 10 in Theaters; Dec. 24 on Netflix)
Though writer-director Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic Vice failed to capture the torture-loving tyrant’s insidiousness and stain on the American body politic, this commentary on our conspiracy-obsessed culture sees him on more familiar screwball ground. It follows two astronomers (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence) attempting to convince a populist president (Meryl Streep) and her team of morally bankrupt cronies (Jonah Hill, others) that there’s a comet about to strike planet Earth. Leo is a very gifted comedy actor, so it’s nice to see him grimacing in the service of laughs again.
NIGHTMARE ALLEY (Dec. 17 in Theaters)
This remake of the 1947 Tyrone Power cult classic comes from the fertile mind of Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro, and stars Bradley Cooper as a mischievous carny who gets mixed up with a serpentine psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) that sends him down a path of destruction. The ensemble cast also includes Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara, and Richard Jenkins. But the thrill of finally seeing Blanchett vamp it up as a noir femme fatale is the draw here.
SPIDER MAN: NO WAY HOME (Dec. 17 in Theaters)
Who wouldn’t pay to see one of the most delightful real-life couples, Tom Holland and Zendaya, in a web-slinging Marvel superhero extravaganza? The third film in Jon Watts’ Spidey reboot has Holland’s Peter Parker enlist the services of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to restore his secret identity after it was exposed by Mysterio. Universes will subsequently cross, causing baddies from Spidey’s past—including Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, Jamie Foxx’s Electro, Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman, and Rhys Ifans’ Lizard to reemerge.
THE LOST DAUGHTER (Dec. 17 in Theaters; Dec. 31 on Netflix)
An Elena Ferrante adaptation starring the inimitable Olivia Colman as a woman on holiday on an Italian isle whose fixation on a mother and her daughter induces flashbacks to her own fraught upbringing? And with Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Peter Sarsgaard, Ed Harris, and Normal People’s Paul Mescal rounding out the cast? Sign us up for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s assured directorial debut.
THE TENDER BAR (Dec. 17 in Theaters; Jan. 7 on Prime)
Ben Affleck is at his best embodying sadistic bullies (Dazed and Confused), tormented masochists (Chasing Amy, Gone Girl) or working-class bros (Good Will Hunting). He returns to the latter territory here as Uncle Charlie, a bartender and surrogate father to his nephew J.R. (Tye Sheridan), who he encourages to escape his depressed Long Island environs—and terror of a dad—by pursuing his goal of becoming a writer. Directed by George Clooney, the film also stars Lily Rabe, Christopher Lloyd, and Max Martini.
THE KING’S MAN (Dec. 22 in Theaters)
Originally scheduled to be released in November of 2019, the third entry in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman spy series features Ralph Fiennes in a bowler hat, a new young protégé (Harris Dickinson), and some terribly attractive Brits in Matthew Goode, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Gemma Arterton. Here, Fiennes and Dickinson team up to stop a villainous cabal from engaging in an all-out war that could destroy the world.
THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (Dec. 22 in Theaters/HBO Max)
The fourth film in The Matrix franchise is the first to be helmed by Lana Wachowski solo (minus sister Lilly), and is set 20 years after the events of 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions, where Keanu Reeves’ Neo is living a blissfully ignorant life as a San Francisco family man with Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) when Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) slips him a red pill and turns his world upside down—hopefully set to plenty of Rage Against the Machine.
PARALLEL MOTHERS (Dec. 24 in Theaters)
Magic happens any time the great Pedro Almodóvar and Penelope Cruz get together (run and see All About My Mother if you haven’t already), and the same is true of their latest—a gut-wrenching drama about two single women (Cruz, Milena Smit) who accidentally have their babies swapped at birth, and then find themselves exploring the meaning of motherhood, history, and how our past haunts the present.
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH (Dec. 25 in Theaters; Jan. 14 on Apple TV+)
I mean, come on, it’s Joel Coen directing screen titans Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth—how much more convincing do you need? According to our own Nick Schager, it’s “pure, bravura filmic storytelling” and “an aesthetic marvel, its every sight and sound infused with psychological torment”). So yeah, go see it.
MEMORIA (Dec. 26 in Theaters)
Marking the English-language debut of the brilliant Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), this meditative drama stars Tilda Swinton as Jessica Holland, a Scottish expat in Colombia who, after her sister suddenly falls ill from a mysterious disease, begins hearing strange noises in the night. Is it a type of natural phenomenon, the supernatural, or is she losing her mind? Whatever it is, you know Tilda will act the hell out of it.