Well, we’ve made it this far.
Nearly 10 and a half months into the Trump presidency, one marked by scandals, snafus, and snide tweets, and in the midst of a long-overdue celebrity creep purge, comes a unique holiday movie season. ’Tis a season devoid of Harvey Weinstein’s cloying Oscar bait and one with precious little tolerance for petty bullshit. And there are plenty of must-see movies, too.
If epic blockbusters are your thing, you’ve got Rian Johnson’s supercharged Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which hopes to be the Empire of the new trilogy. In the mood for an expertly crafted prestige picture? Phantom Thread, the Paul Thomas Anderson-Daniel Day-Lewis collaboration about a 1950s couture designer, is just the ticket. And if it’s mindless laughs you’re after, the Dwayne Johnson/Kevin Hart vehicle Jumanji should do the trick.
So without further ado, here are the most anticipated movies hitting theaters this holiday season.
THE DISASTER ARTIST (Dec. 1)
The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 passion project, is widely regarded as one of the best-worst movies ever made; a tone-deaf disasterpiece of hilarious proportions, but this film chronicling the making-of is the best comedy of the year, anchored by a cheeky, committed turn from James Franco (who also directed) as Wiseau. More so than last year’s tap-dancing La La Land, here is a tender ode to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem.
THE SHAPE OF WATER (Dec. 1)
Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) has essentially fashioned his own genre of cinema: gothic science fiction. A master of fantastical creatures inhabiting dark, phantasmagorical worlds, his latest is his sweetest film yet. It’s a 1960s-set fairy tale love story between a mute cleaning lady (Sally Hawkins, wonderful) and a creature from the deep. Throw in Michael Shannon as a sadistic government agent, Richard Jenkins’ closeted artist, Michael Stuhlbarg as a compassionate scientist, and a scene-stealing Octavia Spencer, and you’ve got a recipe for greatness.
WONDER WHEEL (Dec. 1)
Vittorio Storaro’s lensing and Kate Winslet are exquisite in this Woody Allen fable, about a jaded wife (Winslet) in 1950s Coney Island who finds herself involved in a love triangle with a handsome young lifeguard (Justin Timberlake) and her stepdaughter (Juno Temple). But the film also, at times, seems to function as justification for Allen’s romance with his own much-younger stepdaughter, Soon-Yi—in addition to, you know, the disturbing Dylan Farrow controversy.
I, TONYA (Dec. 8)
There are some serious tonal deficiencies in I, Tonya, which my colleague Kevin Fallon did a great job of summing up here, but Margot Robbie is absolute dynamite as embattled figure skater Tonya Harding, capturing her fears and idiosyncrasies with expert precision. She is matched step-for-step by Allison Janney as her chain-smoking terror of a mother. This would be a good double-bill with the excellent Lady Bird, showing two very different mother-daughter relationships.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (Dec. 15)
No members of the press have seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi yet, but really, what do you need to know? It’s a freakin’ Star Wars movie that brings back the surviving cast of The Force Awakens—including the legendary Carrie Fisher, in her final film performance—along with newcomers Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, and Kelly Marie Tran. Oh, and Princes Harry and William cameo as stormtroopers. And its directed by the talented Rian Johnson, the man behind Brick and Looper. Who are you kidding? You’re gonna see this.
THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR (Dec. 15)
A powerful—and vital—documentary by filmmaker Nancy Buirsky that captures the story of Recy Taylor, a black woman who in 1944 was kidnapped while leaving church and gang-raped by six white men. The men were never indicted, a tragic miscarriage of justice which brought shame to the nation. The incident served as a precursor to the Montgomery bus boycott that occurred nearly a decade later. Taylor, by the way, is still alive at 97, and paid a visit to the White House in 2011, where she was greeted by the first black president.
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (Dec. 20)
Bill Condon knows a thing or two about movie-musicals, having helmed Chicago, Dreamgirls, and the recent Beauty and the Beast, and here he’s back with a sweeping musical inspired by P.T. Barnum and the renowned Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Hugh Jackman plays Barnum, and he’s joined by Zac Efron (Hairspray), Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, and Zendaya. Expect plenty of fireworks and high-wire activity.
JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (Dec. 20)
This sequel to the 1995 Robin Williams flick is set 20 years after the events of the first film, only now, the swashbuckling board game has somehow transformed into a video game, and somehow sucks in four teenagers who then “play” the game as their avatars—coming in the form of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black. Pop star Nick Jonas also pops up as a supporting player, as does Bobby Cannavale as the Big Bad.
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD (Dec. 22)
There’s quite a bit of curiosity surrounding Ridley Scott’s latest because, when the sexual misconduct revelations came to light against star Kevin Spacey, the filmmaker took it upon himself to recut the film in a matter of weeks, replacing Spacey with Christopher Plummer. The film, meanwhile, dramatizes the real-life abduction of heir John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) and his father John Paul Getty’s (Plummer) refusal to pay his ransom. The film also stars Michelle Williams as the kidnapped boy’s desperate mother, and Mark Wahlberg as a former CIA agent tasked with finding the boy.
DOWNSIZING (Dec. 22)
Every film by Alexander Payne is worth your time. After all, he’s the man behind modern American classics like Election and Sideways. Here, he takes his first step into the realm of science fiction, envisioning a future world where environmentally conscious (and cost-efficient) humans choose to shrink themselves down and live in miniature communities in order to create less waste—and live in the lap of luxury. Unfortunately, when Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to get downsized, she backs out of the procedure at the last-minute, leaving him to navigate the world of little people alone.
FATHER FIGURES (Dec. 22)
This looks like a very silly holiday comedy, but hey, laughs are in short supply these days. It centers on two wacky brothers (Owen Wilson and Ed Helms) who, after realizing their mother (Glenn Close) lied about their father’s death, go on a cross-country trip to track down mom’s ex-suitors and discover who their real dad is. The suspects are played by the likes of J.K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, and Terry Bradshaw, and the cast is rounded out by Ving Rhames, Katt Williams, Harry Shearer, and Katie Aselton.
PITCH PERFECT 3 (Dec. 22)
The second Pitch Perfect was not nearly as good as the first, but for those who need some pitch-slappin’ cheer, the third and final installment in the a capella franchise sees the Bellas—now struggling looking for jobs post-college—embark on a USO reunion tour. Plenty of hijinks, of course, ensure. Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, and the gals all return, and are joined by newcomers John Lithgow, Ruby Rose, and the inimitable DJ Khaled.
HAPPY END (Dec. 22)
Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke is responsible for some of the finest films of the past 20 years, including Amour, The White Ribbon, and Cache. He’s reunited with his frequent collaborators Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant for a bourgeoisie-skewering satire touching on issues ranging from familial dysfunction to the refugee crisis. And with Haneke at the helm, you can expect this one to cut deep.
HOSTILES (Dec. 22)
Filmmaker Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) has joined forces once more with his Out of the Furnace star Christian Bale for this period Western that traces the journey of a U.S. Army captain (Bale) in 1892 America who reluctantly agrees to escort Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), a dying Cheyenne chief, and his family back to their tribal lands in rural Montana. The $55 million film also stars Rosamund Pike, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Ben Foster, and “It boy” Timothee Chalamet, of Call Me by Your Name fame.
THE POST (Dec. 22)
Directed by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay co-written by Spotlight scribe Josh Singer, this timely political thriller casts journalists as real-life superheroes in telling the true story of The Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed the Johnson administration’s various lies concerning the Vietnam War. The Oscar bait flick features the incomparable Meryl Streep as Post publisher Kay Graham and Tom Hanks as Post editor Ben Bradlee, alongside Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Carrie Coon, Bruce Greenwood, and Matthew Rhys as famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.
MOLLY’S GAME (Dec. 25)
Marking the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin, the Oscar-winning screenwriter behind The Social Network and the TV series The West Wing, it tells the real-life story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), an entrepreneur who set up a high-stakes private underground poker game for A-list celebrities, including Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck, only to eventually have her game raided by the FBI due to its Russian mob ties. The film, boasting plenty of Sorkin-y monologues, also stars Idris Elba as Bloom’s attorney, Kevin Costner as her father, and Michael Cera as Player X, aka Tobey Maguire.
PHANTOM THREAD (Dec. 25)
Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) may be the finest American filmmaker right now, and his latest may serve as the swan song for star Daniel Day-Lewis, who has claimed it is his final acting role. Day-Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock, a coveted couture designer in 1950s London whose exquisite dresses contour the bodies of the rich and famous. His precision and exacting nature, however, torments those in his inner orbit: sister Cyril (Lesley Manville, never better) and romantic partner Alma (Vicky Krieps, subtly magnificent). With direction, acting, and a score as fine as Woodcock’s divine frocks, it’s truly a sight to behold.
IN THE FADE (Dec. 27)
One of the biggest surprises out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival was this gut-wrenching German drama by Fatih Akin (The Edge of Heaven). After losing her Kurdish husband—a former drug trafficker—and their daughter in a bombing attack, Katja (Diane Kruger) slides into despair and decides to take her own life… before changing her mind and pursuing justice, convinced that the authorities have it wrong when it comes to those who murdered her family. Kruger was awarded Best Actress at Cannes, and Akin’s film was selected as Germany’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.
FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL (Dec. 29)
The always wonderful Annette Bening stars as screen siren Gloria Grahame, who in the final years of her life engages in a passionate affair with a young Liverpudlian fellow named Peter Turner, played by Jamie Bell. It’s a charming, lovingly crafted period piece, boosted by supporting turns from Vanessa Redgrave, Julie Walters, and Stephen Graham.