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Holiday Movie Preview: ‘Matrix,’ Spidey, ‘West Side Story’ among our 12 films of Christmas

Jennifer Lawrence, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington and Bradley Cooper (twice!) star in December’s most promising titles.

Rival gangs face off in Steven Spielberg’s update of the classic musical “West Side Story.”
20th Century Studios

We’re going back to the future.

Among the major releases coming our way in December, we’re getting a biopic about a couple from the 1950s who changed television forever; an update of a seminal American musical from 1961; two nostalgia-steeped stories set in the 1970s; a franchise origins story that takes place in the early 20th century; a psychological noir thriller set in the 1940s — and for the first time in 18 years, Neo aka Missssster Anderson is returning to the world of the Matrix.

Here are the 12 films you can’t miss this holiday season.

‘Don’t Look Up’ (Dec. 9)

There’s a comet coming our way, so who ya gonna call? It’s up to a couple of relatively low-level astronomers (Oscar winners Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) to go on a global media tour to warn a skeptical world. (Let’s be honest, if this was happening in real life, we know a considerable portion of the populace would call it Fake News.) Director Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “The Big Short,” “Vice”) is a proven vet at social satire and a master at assembling impressive casts; joining DiCaprio and Lawrence are Jonah Hill, Rob Morgan, Mark Rylance, Timothee Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry and … Ariana Grande!

‘Being the Ricardos’ (Dec. 10)

The prolific Aaron Sorkin (“Moneyball,” “The Social Network,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7”) writes and directs this behind-the-scenes story of the tumultuous marriage of Golden Age TV pioneers Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem). From the moment the casting was announced, there was considerable backlash on social media — particularly against Kidman — but as always, my policy on this matter is simple:

Other than expressing optimism (as we’re doing in this very piece), I’ll not comment in depth on casting until after I’ve seen the film. Not the poster, not publicity stills, not the trailer.

The. Film.

‘West Side Story’ (Dec. 10)

Reviewers getting an early look at this film are asked to “refrain from revealing spoilers and detailed story points.” Given Steven Spielberg is updating a 1957 musical that was turned into a 1961 film inspired by “Romeo and Juliet,” this seems a little like a spoiler alert for “Titanic” asking critics not to mention the ship or the ocean. But hey, the Broadway production and the movie were some 60 years ago, and maybe not everybody knows “West Side Story” is Shakespearean-inspired, and perhaps Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner have some fresh takes in store for us. So let’s put a cap on the cynicism and acknowledge we’re pumped to see the new Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler) have their own “Tonight.”

‘Red Rocket’ (Dec. 17)

I’ve seen this one, and I can report the brilliant indie director Sean Baker (“Tangerine,” “The Florida Project”) delivers another unsettling, authentic, original slice of life, this time focusing on a porn star (former porn performer turned MTV VJ turned actor Simon Rex) who returns home to Texas, reconnects with his estranged wife (Bree Elrod) and pursues a predatory relationship with a teenage girl (Suzanna Son). Simon Rex is so good playing a reptilian manipulator you just want to slap him silly. (Not really, Simon. But you get what I’m gettin’ at.)

‘Nightmare Alley’ (Dec. 17)

Academy Award winner Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Shape of Water”) directs this noir thriller based on the 1946 novel of the same name, which was previously adapted in 1947 with Tyrone Power in the lead. Bradley Cooper takes on the role of Stanton Carlisle, a carny and con man entering into an unholy alliance with a psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) who has some tricks of her own. With Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Tim Blake Nelson, Mary Steenburgen and David Strathairn, so yeah, firepower.

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ (Dec. 17)

We can debate forever about who’s been the best Batman, but with respect to Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland has made the role of Spider-Man his, delivering just the right formula of gee-whiz naivete and likable vulnerability — and the heroic ability to rise to the occasion when the bleep hits the fan. In this follow-up to the terrific entries “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” Peter Parker/Spidey turns to the one and only Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to restore sanity to his life after his secret identity has been exposed. A number of villains from previous “Spider-Man” movies will join this multi-verse, while the wonderful Zendaya returns as Peter’s girlfriend, MJ.

‘The King’s Man’ (Dec. 21)

This prequel to the “Kingsman” film series is an origins story about the world’s very first independent intelligence agency and reportedly concerns the obligatory One Man Racing Against Time to stop some of the worst criminals and tyrants in history from wiping out millions. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Djimon Hounsou and Stanley Tucci.

‘The Tender Bar’ (Dec. 22)

Having seen director George Clooney’s warm, funny and sentimental adaptation of J.R. Moehringer’s memoir, I can tell you Ben Affleck delivers one of the finest performances of his career as “Uncle Charlie,” a near-mythic influence on young J.R. (played by Daniel Ranieri as a child and Tye Sheridan as a college student), an aspiring writer whose biological father (Max Martinis) is just a voice on the radio.

‘The Matrix Resurrections’ (Dec. 22)

Nearly two decades after the conclusion of the “Matrix” trilogy, it turns out there’s more story to be told. Lana Wachowski directs, co-writes and produces, with Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne-Moss returning as Neo and Trinity, while Yahya Abdul-Mateen II takes on the role of Morpheus, previously owned by Laurence Fishburne. “Resurrections” picks up the story some 20 years after the events of the third “Matrix” film, and yes, I’ll definitely be rewatching “Matrix Revolutions” to get in the right mind-bending mood for “Resurrections.”

‘A Journal for Jordan’ (Dec. 25)

Denzel Washington directs Michael B. Jordan and Chante Adams in the adaptation of Sgt. Charles Monroe King’s memoir about a soldier who is deployed in Iraq and begins keeping a journal offering life advice to his newborn son. Tissues recommended.

‘The Tragedy of MacBeth’ (Dec. 25)

Another Willy Shakespeare adaptation! And it’s a solo Coen effort? Intriguing. Joel Coen writes and directs the story of a Scottish Lord and a certain trio of witches. Starring Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Corey Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson — and Kathryn Hunter as the witches. Early critical response pegs this as one of the most creative and memorable Shakespeare adaptations in recent memory.

‘Licorice Pizza’ (Dec. 25)

Weeks after seeing this 1970s-set coming-of-age comedy-drama from the great Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “The Phantom Thread”), I’m still smiling about this meandering, strange, wonderful, lovely, weird and deeply original and funny gem, which somehow manages to incorporate everything from the rise and fall of the waterbed to the gas crisis to fringe show business characters to local California politics to Bradley Cooper doing a devastating takedown of Jon Peters, the former hairdresser turned movie producer. In a movie world dominated by sequels, reboots and mega-franchises, “Licorice Pizza” is as refreshing as an ice-cold glass of lemonade on a summer day in 1973.