The time between Thanksgiving through New Years is an often crazy time at your local cineplex. In addition to the number of big holiday crowd-pleasers that the studios cram into theaters, studios are also releasing their more prestigious films as awards season starts to ramp up. So with so many varied options to choose from, what deserves your hard-earned dollar at the ticket booth? Here are 13 suggestions of ours to consider.
Moana (November 23) – Once it was that you would only get excited for a computer animated film from Disney if it had the Pixar named attached to it. But, as of late, films such as Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia have proven that Disney’s in-house CGI animation arm can put out films of the same quality as Pixar. This film is the latest from that branch of the Disney corporation and it looks like it will continue their winning streak. Something to watch out for: Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has written songs for the film. Since he has already won an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy for his theatrical work, if he is nominated and wins an Oscar, he will join an exclusive group of creators who have won all four major awards, an EGOT. — William Gatevackes
Rules Don’t Apply (November 23) – Has it really been fifteen years since Warren Beatty last graced the silver screen? (And even longer since he has appeared onscreen in a good film?) That’s certainly good enough of a reason to look forward to this film in itself. But how about adding in exciting up-and-comer Alden Ehrenreich, in his second film this year to be set in Hollywood’s Golden Age? This time Ehrenreich plays a driver for Howard Hughes’ RKO Studios who falls for a young starlet (Lily Collins) who is new to the lot. Their relationship runs counter to one of studio Owner Hughes’ rules for his employees and things only look to get more complicated when Hughes (Beatty) himself takes a shine to the starlet himself. Beatty has had a long fascination with Hughes and how that manifests itself in what looks to be something of a screwball comedy is certainly intriguing. — Rich Drees
Miss Sloane (November 25) – True, after this past presidential election cycle, the public may be so tired of politics that it doesn’t want to see a taut drama about Washington lobbyist and the Second Amendment. But if you like seeing great actors, the all-star cast assembled for Miss Sloane just might be the lure to get you to the theater. Academy Award-nominated Jessica Chastain headlines as the titular lobbyist who has a crisis of conscience and finds herself switching sides on an important piece of gun legislation with the likes of Sam Waterston, Mark Strong, Allison Pill and John Lithgow rounding out the cast.
Nocturnal Animals (Opens wide November 25) – A titan in the world of fashion, Tom Ford made a big splash in the world of film in 2009 with A Single Man, a film he co-wrote and directed based on a Christopher Isherwood novel. He has finally returned to the big screen with this film, another literary adaptation (of Tony and Susan by Austin Wright) he wrote and directed. As before, the film has a star-studded cast and has won a number awards on the festival circuit. The trailer seems a bit too much style over substance for my tastes, but that might just be me. We’ll see if Oscar voters think any different. — WG
Jackie (December 2) – Natalie Portman reunites with her Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky for this film, six years after the pairing earned Portman and Oscar for Black Swan. Aronofsky is only producing this time around, Chilean director Pablo Larrain is in the director’s chair, but the subject matter might get Portman her second Oscar. She is playing Jackie Kennedy around the time of her husband’s assassination and the film details how she coped with watching the violent death of her husband when she had to put up a brave front for not just her children but also America. It’s a meaty role, and Portman has already won some awards for her performance. You might want to check this out to see what the buzz is about. — WG
LaLa Land (December 9) – Musicals used to be a staple of Hollywood’s output, but these when one comes along it seems that it is just a big screen adaption of a recent Broadway hit. The fact that Lala Land is an original musical certainly makes it a standout this holiday season. It is from director Damien Chazelle, who showed he knows how to intertwine music and film in 2014’s Whiplash and reunites Crazy, Stupid, Love co-stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. — RD
Office Christmas Party (December 9) – Ah, the office Christmas party. If done right, they can be a way to hook up with that guy you like in another department, a way to get blackmail material on your boss, or just a chance to have a blast with the co-workers you are able to stand. Finally, there is a movie about them. And since just taping the random debauchery that goes on at these types of things, this film has a narrative – a man tries to save his company by throwing the most awesome party to impress a client. That premise is a bit of a stretch, but the cast is filled with a bunch of comedy all-stars so they should be able to make it work. Heck, national treasure Kate McKinnon is in it, and that alone is worth the price of a ticket. — WG
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (December 16) – When Disney bought the Star Wars franchise and promised us a film every year, I have to say that at first I was a bit wary. I expected that there would a bunch of stand alone films about the most popular characters such as Han Solo and Boba Fett. Which is good and all and are films we will be getting, but there are only a certain amount of characters that can carry a film. And you’d know we’d eventually get a Bib Fortuna film, which I would love but others might not. This film eases those fears because it shows that Disney is thinking outside the box with what Star Wars fare they are offering. A caper film about stealing the Death Star plans? Brilliant. — WG
The Founder (12/16) – There are some, though not us, who would call Star Wars cinematic junk food. So it is ironic that on the same day that the first major expansion of the Star Wars franchise beyond its traditional boundaries the story of the man responsible for expanding McDonalds from a locally-owned burger joint into a nationwide chain that has in many ways left its mark on Americana the same way that Star Wars has. Michael Keaton, who stars as Ray Kroc, the business man in question who strong arms brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) McDonald into franchising their small Phoenix hamburger stand, has had great films released this time of year the last two years. Will the Founder be his third in a row?
Passengers (December 21) – The past few years have seen a welcome influx of smart science-fiction films that rise above the usual sturm und drang of the big summer blockbusters.(Not that we don’t like our summer blockbusters, but the change of pace is refreshing and hopefully helps to make people think in broader terms about what the genre is capable of. While the trailer for Passengers seems to play up some deep space high adventure, I have the feeling that the core of the film will be the relationship between Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as two interstellar colonists who come out of suspended animation nine decades before the rest of their shipmates. How do two people interact when they are in the most remote place possible?
Patriot’s Day (December 21) – The 2013 Boston Marathon bombings was a horrific way to show how terrorism has changed in this country. It also showed how resilient and strong we Americans are. There are a lot of emotions still wrapped up in that attack, and it might be too soon to deeply examine that day for a form of entertainment. But we are going to do just that. This film details that event and the manhunt that ensued. It has a great cast and one hopes that it will be handled with tact and sensitivity. If it is, it might be a good way to honor those that died or were hurt that day and the brave men who brought the culprits to justice. But if it’s not, well, maybe it shouldn’t be on this list. — WG
Why Him? (November 23) – It’s a time worn story. Daddy’s girl dates someone daddy does not approve of. Conflicts (and hilarity, hopefully) ensues. It’s not the type of plot that one looks forward to, because you’ve seen it a thousand times before. Except in this case the dad is played by the excellent Bryan Cranston and the suitor he doesn’t like is played by James Franco. I think both actors will excel in those roles. The trailer had a lot of laughs, so, yeah, it might be a plot you’ve seen done before, but you’ve never seen these guys do it. And that might make all the difference. — WG
A Monster Calls (Limited November 23) – When a film is pushed back on the release schedule, it typically means that the film is bad and the studio wants to bury it. This film, about a boy who turns to a tree-like monster to help deal with his mom’s terminal illness, might be the exception to that. It was supposed to come out in October but was moved to January with a limited release in December. Fans of the Oscars recognize that release pattern as one that serious Oscar contenders use. So instead of being pushed back because it was so bad, it might just have been pushed back because it is so good. The early reviews seem to bear that out, so, if you were like me and you have been waiting for this film all year, have faith that the film will be worth the wait. — WG