Nobody is sad to see 2016 go—well, save one tiny-handed, cotton candy-haired billionaire. ’Twas a year in which we lost Prince, David Bowie, and Leonard Cohen, whose magic may have been holding the fabric of the universe together; had social-media sites like Twitter infiltrated by no-sex-having, basement-dwelling neo-Nazi trolls masquerading as the “alt-right”; and witnessed a thrice-married former reality-TV host with a five-decade track record of racial discrimination and misogyny triumph over the first female presidential nominee of a major party.If that weren’t enough, the cinema has failed to provide much of an escape during this Trumpian nightmare. Yes, there have been notable exceptions—the achingly tender Moonlight and punk rock Green Room among them—but by and large, there’s been a dearth of quality films emanating from Hollywood.
But not anymore. Now that awards season is upon us, studios big and small are unloading their best fare. So without further ado, from an awe-inspiring movie-musical to a brand new Star Wars blockbuster, here are all the films to look forward to this holiday season.
JACKIE (Dec. 2)
No, Natalie Portman does not look like Jacqueline Kennedy, and no, the Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain (No) isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think “Jackie O biopic,” but they prove us wrong with Jackie—and much of the credit is owed to Portman’s vulnerable turn as the traumatized first lady. Larrain’s film dramatizes the days following the JFK assassination, as well as the lingering effect it has on Jackie, but is more akin to a psychological horror film (see: Black Swan) than it is your typical historical biopic. Portman’s Jackie wanders the halls of the White House like Danny Torrance in The Shining, surrounded by mementos of her fallen icon of a husband. Few actresses are able to portray inner torment quite like Portman, who is one of the frontrunners for the Best Actress Oscar.
MAN DOWN (Dec. 2)
Shia LaBeouf graduated from Disney star to serious actor with his raw turn in the underrated 2006 drama A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. He’s reunited with that film’s director, Dito Montiel, for this portrait of U.S. Marine who returns from Afghanistan to find that America has been destroyed. He embarks on a frantic search for his wife (Kate Mara) and young son, and along the way, discovers that things may not quite be as they seem. The film, which also stars Jai Courtney, Gary Oldman, and Clifton Collins Jr., is a personal one for the talented LaBeouf, who has a complicated relationship with his real-life PTSD-suffering father—a Vietnam War veteran who’s run afoul of the law.
LA LA LAND (Dec. 9)
La La Land, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s highly anticipated followup to his Oscar-winning Whiplash, is many things: a love letter to the City of Angels, a classic love story, and a throwback to movie-musicals of yore, boasting jaw-dropping musical sequences—including a song-and-dance on the L.A. Freeway that is one of the most unforgettable things you’ll see onscreen this year. But this story of an aspiring actress and a struggling jazz pianist largely succeeds thanks to the outstanding chemistry of leads Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, with her hopeful sparkle and his brooding cynicism in perfect balance. They sing, stare, and tap-dance all over Los Angeles with gusto in what is surely the frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar.
FRANK & LOLA (Dec. 9)
Yes, it’s a bit strange to see Michael Shannon (42) paired romantically with the youthful Imogen Poots (27), but Shannon is one of the most talented actors of his generation, and can do no wrong. Here, he plays a Las Vegas chef who is incredibly suspicious of his younger, more beautiful girlfriend (Poots) and her past lovers. When her French ex (Michael Nyqvist) visits in Vegas, he becomes consumed by jealousy, flying off to Paris to spy on him, and setting off a chain of events that may destroy his relationship. The first feature from filmmaker Matthew M. Ross is a seductive, noirish thriller propped up by Shannon’s fiery performance.
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO (Dec. 9)
Filmmaker Raoul Peck’s (Lumumba) latest, which opens wide Feb. 3, 2017, is a poignant documentary based on 30 pages of an unfinished manuscript by the celebrated author James Baldwin, and that tackles the history of race relations in America through a cultural lens. It weaves in archival footage of the civil-rights movement, racist depictions of blacks in film and advertising, as well as scenes of Baldwin (played by Samuel L. Jackson) reciting his powerful words. As our Jen Yamato wrote, “In weaving the late Baldwin’s vital midcentury observations into his essential documentary, Peck’s film also holds a magnifying glass to everything from the triumphs and tragedies of the civil-rights movement to the new reality of Trump’s America to Hollywood’s diversity crisis—and demands that we all hold ourselves accountable for holding the powers that be accountable.”
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (Dec. 16)
The first non-canon Star Wars film in the new extended universe has been plagued by difficulties, including pricey reshoots and a tweaked ending, but all of the footage we’ve seen from Gareth Edwards’s (Godzilla) spinoff film has looked fantastic (remember, Mad Max: Fury Road had similar production problems). The film is set shortly after the arrival of the Galactic Empire, and centers on a gang of Rebel Alliance fighters, led by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who embark on a dangerous mission to steal the blueprints for the Empire’s planet-destroying weapon, the Death Star. Edwards’s film boasts a talented ensemble cast, including Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, and last but not least, the gifted Aussie character actor Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic, the film’s villain. Oh, and Darth Vader.
COLLATERAL BEAUTY (Dec. 16)
While this weepie ensemble drama gives me major Seven Pounds vibes—the trailers have been just as absurd as its title—it does boast an incredibly gifted cast, including Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, Naomie Harris, and Michael Pena. All of these talented stars are in the orbit of Howard Inlet (Smith), a New York advertising executive consumed by tragedy who’s attempting to reconnect with the world. He pens letters to “Love” (Knightley), “Time” (Jacob Latimore), and “Death” (Mirren), in search of life’s answers, et voila, they appear to help guide him toward his truth.
THE FOUNDER (Dec. 16)
Between Birdman and Spotlight, the man formerly known as Batman has been on an absolute roll of late, and here, in this award bait drama by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), Michael Keaton stars as Ray Kroc—an unsuccessful, wildly eccentric traveling salesman who, through a series of cutthroat deals, rises to become the owner of the McDonald’s fast-food chain. Hancock’s film is written by Robert Siegel (The Wrestler), and also stars Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, Patrick Wilson, and John Carroll Lynch.
BARRY (Dec. 16)
We’ve already seen a surprisingly good film on the Obamas in Southside with You, but while that film was a Linklater-esque recreation of the first date between future President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama (née Robinson), filmmaker Vikram Gandhi’s Barry explores young Barack Obama’s life at Columbia University in 1981—smoking weed, hanging with friends, debating politics, and romancing his then-girlfriend Charlotte, played by The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy. The film, which received rave reviews out of Sundance, also stars Straight Outta Compton’s Jason Mitchell, Boyhood’s Ellar Coltrane, and Ashley Judd.
NERUDA (Dec. 16)
Pablo Larrain has been a very busy man. In addition to his Jacqueline Kennedy biopic Jackie, the acclaimed Chilean filmmaker also has this film on the life of Chilean poet turned diplomat Pablo Neruda, played by Luis Gnecco. However, instead of centering on the life of Neruda, the 1940s-set story is seen through the eyes of Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal), an inspector tasked with hunting down the Nobel Prize winner for joining the communist Party. The film, with its Red Scare themes, is certainly timely, and Larrain and Bernal’s last collaboration, 2012’s No, was one of the best films released that year. Like that film, Neruda has been selected as the Chilean entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Oscars.
ASSASSIN’S CREED (Dec. 21)
Video game film adaptations don’t exactly have a stellar track record, but the talents behind this historical action adventure should allay some of those fears. Aussie filmmaker Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) has reunited with his Macbeth stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard for this time-bending flick about Callum Lynch (Fassy), a criminal who is forced to participate in the Animus Project—assuming the guise of his ancestor, an Assassin during the Spanish Inquisition. In the process, he learns all he can about the Templars, the enemies of the order of Assassins, so he can vanquish them in the present-day. The film, which sounds like a cross between Wanted and The Hunger Games, also stars Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, and Michael K. Williams.
PASSENGERS (Dec. 21)
Directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), this sci-fi romance stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as two astronauts onboard a spaceship headed toward a space colony. A malfunction occurs, causing their hibernation pods to open 90 years away from their destination. But it turns out to have been a blessing in disguise, as the two refugees begin to find other problems aboard the Starship Avalon that could endanger the lives of the 5,259 people onboard. Oh, and they also begin to fall for one another. In addition to the two biggest movie stars on the planet, the film also features the talents of Michael Sheen as a robot bartender, Laurence Fishburne, and Andy Garcia.
PATRIOTS DAY (Dec. 21)
No, this isn’t a film about the National Football League’s New England Patriots, but it is quintessentially Boston. Directed by Peter Berg, the film stars Mark Wahlberg as Sgt. Tommy Saunders of the Boston Police Department, who finds himself in the middle of chaos—and a subsequent statewide manhunt—when two young terrorists set off a bomb at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Berg is a skilled action filmmaker (see: Lone Survivor) with a jingoistic streak, so it will be interesting to see what approach he takes here. The film also stars Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, and Michelle Monaghan.
SILENCE (Dec. 23)
The latest collaboration between legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese and former Newsweek journalist turned screenwriter Jay Cocks (The Age of Innocence, Gangs of New York) is this adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel of the same name. Two 17th-century Portuguese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) embark on a voyage to Japan to find their mentor (Liam Neeson), who is alleged to have committed apostasy. Though its plot is enough to set off any and every “white savior” alarm bell, best to give Scorsese and his talented cast—which also includes the Japanese actors Tadanobu Asano, Issey Ogata, and Shinya Tsukamoto—a chance here.
A MONSTER CALLS (Dec. 23)
Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona has mastered the horror film (The Orphanage) and the disaster epic (The Impossible). Before seeing him helm the next Jurassic Park film, you can take in his stab at a children’s fantasy drama—in this case, an adaptation of the 2011 novel of the same name. The movie centers on Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), a bullied young boy struggling to come to terms with the fact that his mother (Felicity Jones) is dying. He finds clarity in a magical humanoid tree-monster (Liam Neeson), who teaches him to man up come to terms with the hand he’s been dealt. The film also stars Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, and Geraldine Chaplin.
I, DANIEL BLAKE (Dec. 23)
The latest slice-of-life British drama from celebrated populist filmmaker Ken Loach took home the coveted Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and is timely, to say the least, as it tackles how working-class folks are affected by the welfare benefits system. Loach’s film follows a 59-year-old carpenter recovering from a heart attack and a single mother of two children as they navigate the strange welfare system in the U.K. While the political film’s become a hit in its home country, grossing over $12 million on a low budget, it’s attracted both praise and condemnation from politicians who’ve characterized it as either remarkably accurate or too hard on the U.K. Department for Work and Pensions.
FENCES (Dec. 25)
August Wilson had been trying to do a film adaptation of his renowned play Fences for years, but kept running into roadblocks thanks to Hollywood’s insistence on having it be helmed by a white director. Now, over a decade after his death, the late playwright’s screenplay has finally been adapted for the screen—and it comes courtesy of Denzel Washington, pulling triple-duty as director/producer/star. Fences centers on Troy (Washington), a 53-year-old former Negro League ballplayer in 1950s Pittsburgh. Troy struggles to provide for his family as a waste collector, and constantly runs into professional roadblocks due to racism. The Oscar hopeful also stars Viola Davis as Troy’s wife (who is an Oscar lock), Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, and Mykelti Williamson.
20th CENTURY WOMEN (Dec. 25)
The last film by music video director turned filmmaker Mike Mills, 2010’s Beginners, was a lovely autobiographical ode to his gay elderly father. This ensemble drama is more female-focused, exploring the stories of three women navigating life and love in 1970s Southern California. Mills’s film, which earned critical praise—and rampant awards speculation—following its New York Film Festival premiere, stars Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, and Billy Crudup.
LIVE BY NIGHT (Dec. 25)
Though Ben Affleck’s last directorial effort, 2012’s Argo, surprised everyone in taking home the Best Picture Oscar, early reports have indicated that this gangster pic is more mass consumption-y (See: The Town) than award bait. Still, Affleck is a talented filmmaker, and this Dennis Lehane adaptation looks stunning. Affleck stars as Joe Coughlin, the son of a Boston Police Department captain in the 1920s who relocates to Florida and becomes a notorious bootlegger/gangster. The Tommy Gun-heavy film also features the talents of Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Saldana, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, and Chris Cooper.
HIDDEN FIGURES (Dec. 25)
Directed by Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent), this historical drama tells the lesser-known story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), the black physicist/scientist/mathematician who made invaluable calculations for NASA, including the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon. The film follows Johnson and her two colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), who, while working in a segregated section of NASA, help the U.S. in the space race against the Soviet Union. The film also stars Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, and the ubiquitous Mahershala Ali, who will likely receive an Oscar nod for his stellar work in Moonlight.
TONI ERDMANN (Dec. 25)
This German comedy-drama—the German submission for the Best Foreign Film Oscar—has earned critical raves at every film festival it’s played, including Cannes, where it competed for the Palme d’Or. It centers on Winfried (Peter Simonischek), a 65-year-old music teacher who wishes to reconnect with his daughter Ines (Sandra Huller). The two couldn’t be more different—he a soulful hippie and she a corporate businesswoman. So, Winfried decides to assume the persona of Toni Erdmann, a wacky alter ego replete with crooked teeth and wig, and before long, the two find themselves coming closer together.
PATERSON (Dec. 28)
Written and directed by the great Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise), this film stands on the shoulders of an Oscar-worthy performance by Adam Driver as Paterson—a bus driver from New Jersey who spends his spare time writing poetry. His wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) loves his work, and has urged him to share it with the world, but Paterson is reluctant, instead choosing to go about his daily routine—that is, until fate intervenes. Driver, who you probably know from the HBO series Girls and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is one of the most gifted young actors around, and in Paterson he’s found a project that matches his raw talent.