Look, times are tough.
The world appears to be coming apart at the seams, as climate change continues to wreak havoc on the environment, and every morning you’re stirred awake by the 280-character ravings (often targeting black people) of an orange, cotton candy-haired man-child. On top of all that, you’re headed home for Thanksgiving, where a two-beers-deep confrontation with your not-so-tolerant relatives and/or in-laws looms.
In times like these, your local cinema offers a much-needed refuge: two whole hours to escape into a world of make-believe, while stuffing your face full of buttered popcorn.
Last year’s Thanksgiving weekend featured an embarrassment of riches, from eventual Best Picture winner Moonlight to the riveting rape-revenge thriller Elle, starring the inimitable Isabelle Huppert. And there’s plenty to take in at the movies this year, too. Here are all the movies this holiday weekend to see (or skip).
SEE: Lady Bird
Marking the directorial debut of actress/writer Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), this coming-of-age story features Saoirse Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a wily and capricious youth navigating her senior year of high school in 2002 rural Sacramento. With her father (Tracy Letts) laid off and her mother (Laurie Metcalf, brilliant) working double shifts as a nurse, Lady Bird must traverse this treacherous terrain sans the social-boosting merch of her bourgeois classmates, leading to little white lies and clashes with her headstrong, seemingly unaffectionate mom. While Lady Bird crosses the familiar high-school mile markers—the first kiss, playing hooky the first time—it is never less than achingly honest and heartfelt thanks to its star and her director, upon whose life the film is based. Gerwig’s film will make you feel both wistful for your lost adolescence, when little victories felt like triumphs and losses the depths of despair, and eternally indebted to your mother for putting up with you. It is also, without question, one of the best movies of the year. (Disclaimer: Lady Bird was released in partnership with IAC Films, which is owned by The Daily Beast's parent company.)
SEE: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The latest from playwright turned filmmaker Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) centers on Mildred Hayes, a divorced mother who, with seven months elapsed since her teenage daughter’s violent rape and murder and a grand total of zero leads or suspects in custody, rents three billboards on the outskirts of town calling out the local sheriff. Woody Harrelson is in top form as the noble sheriff and Sam Rockwell has never been better as a dirty cop hell-bent on protecting him, but really, this movie is mostly a monument to the greatness of Frances McDormand, whose Mildred—dressed like Rosie the Riveter in blue coveralls and a bandana—scours the countryside in pursuit of justice, laying waste to anyone that stands in her way. She is an absolute force of nature; a one-woman army waging war against the patriarchy.
SKIP: Daddy’s Home 2
Because fuck Mel Gibson.
SEE: Call Me By Your Name
I must confess that, of all the movies on this list, this gay love story from Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash) is the only film I haven’t yet seen. But it’s received raved reviews across the board—including a standing ovation at Sundance, where it premiered—and is said to feature mesmerizing turns from newcomer Timothée Chalamet, playing a 17-year-old summering on the Italian coast in 1983, and Armie Hammer as the 24-year-old object of his desire. “Shot in Italy and benefitting from an almost preternatural connection between Hammer and Chalamet, it’s a film that is drenched with sunlight and hormones. The idyllic Italian setting and new-love raw intimacy emanates from the film like pheromones you are carnally drawn to. By the time Elio and Oliver start having sex, your own sex drive kick-starts as well. It’s that primal,” wrote our own Kevin Fallon in his rave review.
SKIP: Justice League
Though its gaze-reversal is commendable—and, in this post-Weinstein climate, entirely necessary—and it’s not a tormentingly mirthless affair, like the abysmal Batman v Superman, this DC Comics’ superhero extravaganza is still possessed of the myriad problems plaguing these popcorn flicks: thinly drawn villains, overcrowding, and tedious battle sequences. While Jason Momoa’s buff Aquaman and Ezra Miller’s quippy Flash inject some fun into the proceedings, and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman kicks a variety of evil ass, Justice League ultimately pales in comparison to The Avengers, or even the recent Thor: Ragnarok.
SEE: Darkest Hour
Mark my words: Gary Oldman is going to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. It will be his first Oscar, and richly deserved for his spellbinding portrayal of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose handling of the Dunkirk evacuation and his political foes in Parliament, as well as his steadfast leadership, helped Great Britain avoid the clutches of Adolf Hitler. Oldman completely disappears into the role. Beyond the obvious physical transformation—four hours of daily prosthetics application, fat suit—Oldman manages to make each and every rousing political speech soar to the heavens, while also providing sporadic glimpses of the British Bulldog’s humanity: his doubts, fears, and splashes of humor. An absolute tour de force.
“I think art breaks down otherness,” Dee Rees told me at Sundance. “Art makes you see people as individual, unique human beings.” And her latest film, Mudbound, juxtaposing the trials and tribulations of two families—one white, one black—on a flood-plagued farm in post-WWII rural Mississippi, is a haunting and elegiac work exploring America’s racist past, the bonds of servitude, and what it means to be an American. “Mudbound is something else entirely—a grand old Hollywood production brimming with scene after scene of chaos and lyrical splendor, which immediately places Rees in the upper echelon of directors,” I wrote. The film is now streaming on Netflix and playing in select theaters nationwide. Do yourself a favor and check this one out on the big screen.
SEE: The Florida Project
Anyone who’s seen Tangerine, shot on several modified iPhone 5s’, is aware of filmmaker Sean Baker’s exceptional talent. Few are able to capture the agony and ecstasy of raw human emotion quite like him, and in The Florida Project, he focuses his lens on the struggling tenants of Magic Castle, a run-down motel a stone’s throw from Walt Disney World, as seen through the eyes of Moonee, a perspicacious (and mischief-making) 6-year-old raised by Halley (Bria Vinaite), an unemployed single mother who dabbles in various side hustles to make ends meet. Baker’s film is gorgeously shot, as Moonee wanders around strip malls and abandoned housing projects with her friends, blissfully unaware of the poverty surrounding her; it also captures one’s childlike sense of wonder better than any film since Beasts of the Southern Wild. Willem Dafoe lends warmth and compassion to the role of Bobby Hicks, the manager of the Magic Castle, while newcomer Brooklynn Prince is a revelation as Moonee, and may, at 7 years old, become the youngest Oscar nominee in Academy history.
Come on, man! It’s a Pixar film not named Cars. Of course it’s a must-see.