13 Hottest Movies to See Over the Holidays, From J.J. Abrams’ ‘Star Wars’ Finale to Taylor Swift’s ‘Cats’
Don’t waste your hard-earned money on trash. Here are the most hotly anticipated movies to see this holiday season, from groundbreaking indies to star-studded blockbusters.
As far as the movie-release calendar goes, January is purgatory, an ash heap of half-baked genre films thrust upon the unsuspecting masses. It’s designed as a respite of sorts for the studios, allowing them to focus on Oscar campaigns, Sundance, and tent-pole marketing strategy.
December is quite the opposite, replete with everything from awards-bait fare (because recency bias) to blockbuster extravaganzas (something to do with out-of-school kids). That means a lot of options. So, how do you spend that hard-earned money? Which movies will serve as a sanative elixir, cleansing your mind of impeachment, elections, and the general state of things? These are the movies to see this holiday season.
MARRIAGE STORY (Dec. 6)
Adam Driver may not want to witness his turn in Noah Baumbach’s Netflix drama, but you really should. It’s a towering achievement, capturing the agony and despair of coalescence lost. Of divorce as amputation. Scarlett Johansson proves a more than worthy sparring partner for Driver (though the scales are tipped in his favor), offering heretofore-unseen levels of vulnerability, while Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Alan Alda all shine in support. It’s this generation’s Kramer vs. Kramer.
UNCUT GEMS (Dec. 13)
The two finest male performances of the year come courtesy of the Adams—Driver and Sandler. Yes, as a Manhattan diamond dealer/degenerate gambler for whom the thrill of a high-stakes win is akin to sexual release, the Sandman is an all-time shmendrik; a pyramid-scheming, double-dealing dirtbag whose titular opal, acquired from an Ethiopian mine, may grant him the score of a lifetime, or curse him forever. Sandler is relentless here, matching the Safdies’ kinetic direction and Oneohtrix Point Never’s pulsing score, proving once and for all that he is capable of Great Acting.
A HIDDEN LIFE (Dec. 13)
It’s been a mixed bag for visionary filmmaker Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven, Badlands) of late, what with the uneven Song to Song and Knight of Cups, and the absolutely dreadful To the Wonder, which felt like self-parody. But he’s back to full strength here, telling the real-life story of an Austrian farmer who resisted the Nazis. It’s a stunning, lyrical ode to anti-fascism, and to doing what is decent in the face of unspeakable evil.
RICHARD JEWELL (Dec. 13)
It’s a shame that director Clint Eastwood and actress Olivia Wilde took it upon themselves to smear the dead—in this case, the late Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs, who is depicted trading sex for tips with Jon Hamm’s FBI agent—because it overshadows what is a fascinating exploration of media and government overreach, as well as gripping work from Paul Walter Hauser as the besieged security guard who impeded the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, and Sam Rockwell as his straight-shooting attorney.
BOMBSHELL (Dec. 13)
Is Bombshell good? No, far from it. But it does, for the uninitiated, help shed light on the toxic atmosphere at Fox News, where Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and others preyed on female staffers with impunity, and features a pair of fine performances from Charlize Theron (as Megyn Kelly, with A+ makeup work) and Margot Robbie as a neophyte targeted by Ailes.
THE TWO POPES (Dec. 20)
Things have been pretty spotty for Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles following the killer one-two punch of City of God and The Constant Gardener. So consider this pas de deux, with Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce portraying Pope Benedict XVI and the future Pope Francis as the two grapple with their differing approaches and the future direction of the Catholic Church, a return to form.
STAR WARS: EPISODE XI – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (Dec. 20)
I can’t say that I care too much about this new Star Wars trilogy, a cynical cash grab from the Hollywood studios’ favorite remix artist, J.J. Abrams, but it does boast Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac and Mark Hamill, along with newcomers Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell, so what the hell. May be worth a spin despite all the mixed reviews.
CATS (Dec. 20)
Have I seen Cats, director Tom Hooper’s insane-looking adaptation of the Broadway musical about a group of felines deciding which of them gets to ascend to cat heaven? Hell no. Will I eventually catch it on an airplane and laugh my ass off? Probably. While our resident reviewer Kevin Fallon called it “boring” and “joyless,” there may still be some unintentional comedy to be mined here. A boy can dream.
INVISIBLE LIFE (Dec. 20)
Though it didn’t make the Oscars’ shortlist for International Feature Film, Brazil’s submission is a stirring tale of two women in 1950 Rio de Janeiro who, while separated, each fight back against a stifling patriarchy to pursue their passions. Timely as ever.
LITTLE WOMEN (Dec. 25)
If the critics are correct, actress-turned-filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s not only proven that the wonderful Lady Bird was no fluke, but has crafted the definitive movie adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s seminal novel about the four March sisters, who come of age and, in their own ways, push back against the constraints society’s imposed on them. And, with a cast that includes Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Timothee Chalamet, Laura Dern and The Meryl Streep, how can you go wrong?
JUST MERCY (Dec. 25)
Though this reeks of a paint-by-numbers legal drama, and filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton has thus far failed to match the promise of his masterful feature directorial debut, Short Term 12, it does feature the always-brilliant Michael B. Jordan as the odds-defying young attorney, and Jamie Foxx as the wrongfully-accused. Oh, plus the talented Rob Morgan, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Oscar winner Brie Larson, doing her pal a favor.
1917 (Dec. 25)
Though American Beauty may be one of the worst films to ever take home the Best Picture Oscar (and has aged terribly, given the Kevin Spacey of it all), and Revolutionary Road is, in this writer’s opinion, a dizzying display of overacting, here is a World War I drama shot by the renowned Roger Deakins and presented as a oner. So it’s bound to look stunning.
CLEMENCY (Dec. 27)
Two words: Alfre Woodard. Go see one of our finest actresses deliver one of the finest performances of the year as a death-row warden both hardened and haunted by her station, and the prison-industrial complex writ large. That she isn’t a lock for a Best Actress Oscar nod is a literal travesty.