Holiday movie preview: 12 promising films take us everywhere from the prom to the Arctic to 1920s Chicago
During a pandemic, there’s no place like home for the holiday screenings. This season, you can watch George Clooney, Tom Hanks and (twice) Meryl Streep.
In most cases these days, when we “go to the movies,” it means we dim the lights and burrow into the sofa and call up the title of our choice on demand — and indeed the vast majority of titles for our annual holiday preview will be available ONLY on home video.
As of this writing, a few major late December movies are scheduled for theatrical release. Fingers crossed that will be a safe and viable option.
The good news is that this is a promising group of films, including a highly anticipated sequel, a half dozen legitimate Oscar contenders and Chadwick Boseman’s final, award-worthy performance in a masterpiece set in Chicago.
These are the dozen releases I’m most looking forward to seeing.
‘The Happiest Season’ (Nov. 25)
Kristen Stewart’s Abby thinks she’s found the perfect time and place to propose to girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis): Harper’s annual family holiday extravaganza. That’s until Abby learns Harper hasn’t come out to her conservative family. In the years since the “Twilight” saga, Stewart has done consistently fine work in a variety of genres. Meanwhile, Mackenzie Davis has been flying just under the radar of stardom with terrific turns in films such as “Terminator: Dark Fate,” “Blade Runner 2049” and “Tully.” They could be electric together. On Hulu.
‘Black Beauty’ (Nov. 27)
Do we really need another adaptation of Anna Sewell’s beloved novel from 1877? With the talented Ashley Avis writing and directing and a cast that includes one of our best very young actors in Mackenzie Foy (she was young Murph in “Interstellar”!), Kate Winslet, Claire Forlani and Iain Glen, I say yes. On Disney+.
‘Let Them All Talk’ (Dec. 10)
Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from movies about seven years ago — and since then has been one of the most prolific filmmakers in the world. And that’s to our great benefit. Soderbergh’s latest sounds like something from the Nora Ephron catalog: Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest, Candice Bergen, Lucas Hedges and Gemma Chan star in a comedy-drama-romance about an author trying to come to terms with her past. How can this NOT be clever, frank, funny and whip-smart? On HBO Max.
‘I’m Your Woman” (Dec. 11)
Julia Hart directed one of the my favorite underappreciated movies in recent years in “Fast Color,” and now she’s behind the camera for this 1970s period-piece crime drama and character study starring Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) as the wife of a criminal who has gone missing after betraying his partner. I’ve seen an early cut of this film, and it’s an expertly crafted gem with transformative performances by Brosnahan and Marsha Stephanie Blake as the fellow wife of a criminal. On Amazon Prime.
‘The Prom’ (Dec. 11)
This has all the makings of the kind of movie that hardcore superfans will watch on repeat for years to come. Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story,” “Glee,” “The Politician”) helms an adaptation of the Broadway musical about a group of self-absorbed theater stars who make the journey to small-town Indiana to support a high school student who has been banned from taking her girlfriend to the prom. Starring Nicole Kidman AND Meryl Streep AND Keegan-Michael Key AND Andrew Rannells AND Kerry Washington AND James Corden AND Tracey Ullman AND Ariana DeBose, oh my! On Netflix.
‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ (Dec. 11)
Raise your hand if you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned romantic comedy starring Emily Blunt as Rosemary Muldoon, an Irish farmer who has no use for the American (Jon Hamm) who might be inheriting the family land. It also stars Jamie Dornan and Christopher Walken, and, judging by the trailer, in which Walken sorta-kinda affects an Irish accent as the narrator of the story (his pronunciation of “Rosemaaaaaary MAHL-doon” is fantastic), this could be a real hoot. In theaters and on demand.
‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ (Dec. 18)
“Hello, Chicago!” That’s how Chadwick Boseman’s slick and temperamental Levee greets some lovely ladies he sees on our city’s streets when he first arrives in town in the 1920s for a memorable recording session in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” director George C. Wolfe’s adaptation of August Wilson’s classic stage work. I’ve had the opportunity to see this one, and it’s a searing, soaring, brilliantly executed work. Expect the film, Boseman, Viola Davis as Ma Rainey and Glynn Turman as Toledo to garner serious Oscar consideration. On Netflix.
‘The Midnight Sky’ (Dec. 23)
A long-bearded George Clooney directs and stars in this post-apocalyptic, sci-fi thriller about an aging astronomer named Augustine (Clooney) living in solitude in the Arctic and an astronaut known as Sully (Felicity Jones) leading a crew home after a mission to the deep reaches of outer space. Mark L. Smith (“The Revenant”) adapts the beautiful and haunting novel by Lily Brooks-Dalton. On Netflix.
‘Soul’ (Dec. 25)
In a different world, the latest animated film from Pixar would have been a summer sensation. But, after a couple of postponements, “Soul” now appears locked for streaming on Christmas Day.
Pixar veteran Pete Docter, who has had writing and/or directing credits on “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Up” and “Inside Out,” among others, directs the story of Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a music school teacher who is on the verge of getting his big break when he’s in an accident that separates his soul from his physical being. Joe winds up in the Great Before, where souls grow and develop before being sent to Earth. The voice cast includes Tina Fey, Daveed Diggs, Questlove, Angela Basset, June Squibb and Graham Norton. On Disney+.
‘One Night in Miami’ (in theaters, Dec. 25)
You have to love this premise: In 1964 Miami, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) get together after Clay’s heavyweight title upset of Sonny Liston. Granted, this didn’t really happen, but wouldn’t it have been cool if it had?
This is Regina King’s feature directorial debut, adapting the acclaimed stage play of the same name. With that source material and that cast and that premise, it’s hard to imagine “One Night in Miami” NOT being sensational. In theaters.
‘News of the World’ (Dec. 25)
America’s Dad himself, Tom Hanks, plays Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who in 1870 is tasked with escorting a 10-year-old girl (Helena Zengel) across hundreds of miles of unforgiving land in a search for home. Directed by the great Paul Greengrass, who has delivered some of the most viscerally impactful films of his generation, from “Bloody Sunday” to the “Bourne” movies to “United 93” to arguably Hanks’ best non-Oscar role in “Captain Phillips.” In theaters.
‘Wonder Woman 1984’ (Dec. 25)
It seems like we’ve been waiting for “Wonder Woman 1984” SINCE 1984, but now we’re assured Patty Jenkins’ globally anticipated sequel to the monster hit of 2017 will be hitting theaters and HBO Max simultaneously on Christmas Day. Gal Gadot returns as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. And even though we thought we had said goodbye to Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, he’s back as well, as are Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta and Robin Wright as Antiope. (I thought she was gone, too, but, you know, flashbacks and superhero movies, so anything is possible.) “WW84” is set during the Cold War, with Wonder Woman facing off against Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah, and it will be interesting to see how the enormously likable Wiig transforms herself into a supervillain. In theaters and on HBO Max
See you at the movies. Or maybe we can just watch at home and Zoom about it afterward.