December naturally brings with it a flurry of holiday content, but there comes a point where a person can’t take a single additional iota of seasonal spirit. Here’s where Prime Video’s deep movie catalog comes in handy, offering up counter-programming directed by some of the biggest names in Hollywood and featuring iconic “it” girls like Gwyneth Paltrow, Winona Ryder, and Megan Fox. Throw in a new Benedict Cumberbatch vehicle, a sci-fi spoof, a Sundance award winner, an under-appreciated ’80s horror sequel, and a classic Robert De Niro performance, and you’ve got our list of the 10 best movies on Prime Video in December.
[Director Tim] Burton succeeded in creating a humanoid hero who was definitely different looking—one that you couldn’t help staring at, but if he were a real person, staring definitely would have been rude. But that’s not what made Edward Scissorhands so unique—this movie’s biggest contribution to monster movies is what doesn’t happen when this weird character goes to live among regular people. [Bryan Lufkin]
An inspired spoof of and tribute to Star Trek, Galaxy Quest stars Tim Allen as the one-time star of the long-canceled, cultishly adored science-fiction show of the title, the captain of a fictional starship whose crew now finds its steadiest employment signing autographs at conventions and opening discount electronics stores ... Director Dean Parisot (Home Fries) makes the most of Robert Gordon and David Howard’s Three Amigos-in-space screenplay, never letting the impressive special effects get in the way of a solid comedy that would have worked at half the budget. But the cast is what makes Galaxy Quest work. Allen suggests the two-dimensional actor who starred on Home Improvement more than the two-dimensional actor who played Captain Kirk, but the rest turn in deft comic performances. These include Sigourney Weaver as the series’ token woman, Daryl Mitchell as its aging wunderkind navigator, Sam Rockwell as a minor player (who died in episode 82) swept along for the ride, and the especially good Alan Rickman and Tony Shalhoub, respectively playing a sardonic British actor tired of being typecast in his Spock-like role and the ship’s sleepy-eyed tech sergeant. It’s a funny, fitting homage to Star Trek and its followers that’s more entertaining than its inspiration has been in some time. [Keith Phipps]
Halloween III: Season Of The Witch
Imagine the confusion and anger fans must have felt when they sat down for another Myers/Strode title fight and were instead treated to the unrelated, somewhat muddled tale of a mask manufacturer attempting to sacrifice the nation’s children to ancient druid gods. (Or something.) Essentially a riff on Invasion Of The Body Snatchers—much of the action takes place in Santa Mira, the fictional town the pod people invaded in that 1956 classic—Halloween III was Carpenter’s attempt to reclaim his franchise, attaching the Halloween brand to what he hoped would be a series of stand-alone stories. Had the strategy worked, part four would have supposedly been a ghost story, but both critics and audiences reacted venomously to this strange blend of horror and science fiction.
Cursed with bad acting and some rather momentous plot holes, Season Of The Witch is nevertheless a fascinating oddity—and for this writer, the most interesting of the Halloween sequels. [A.A. Dowd]
Cody’s actual horror comedy, stylishly directed by Karyn Kusama, stars Megan Fox as a teenage girl who becomes a literal boy-eater after she’s possessed by a demon. Fox drew additional attention to the project, through both the movie’s misguided, sex-heavy marketing campaign and a truly Herculean feat of misogyny that somehow allowed the female lead of two Transformers movies to bear the brunt of disdain for Michael Bay’s dumb toy/military commercials ... Although Jennifer’s Body has the bones of a slasher movie, its horror is more psychologically acute than jump-scare tense. Needy and Jennifer feel like real people even when they’re heightened.
Some of the heightening comes from Kusama’s direction, with its split-diopter shots and gothic-tinged finale. But Cody’s writing is front and center—and a feature, not a bug ... Back in 2009, the movie’s mordant wit was received as Cody stubbornly refusing all of that generous advice that she modulate her voice to some imagined standard of tastefulness. Now it feels more like a justified show of confidence. [Jesse Hassenger]
Little Miss Sunshine
Movie titles are inherently designed as come-ons, but some function more as warning signs. The title of Little Miss Sunshine, like that of 1998's Happiness, serves as a giant flashing sign reading “Danger: Leaden Irony Ahead.” The film’s premise similarly primes audiences for a shrill, misanthropic parade of All-American grotesques. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ Sundance sensation stars Greg Kinnear as a deluded third-rate motivational speaker; Alan Arkin as a heroin-sniffing, porn-obsessed, endlessly profane grandpa; Paul Dano as a Nietzsche-fixated teenager pursuing muteness as an eccentric lifestyle choice; and Steve Carell as a suicidal gay academic. Yet the film accomplishes a remarkable feat of creative alchemy by breathing life and depth into characters that, in lesser hands, could easily have come across as grating caricatures. It helps to have a cast stocked with ringers with the chops to play comedy as drama and drama as comedy. [Nathan Rabin]
Little Women (1994)
Greta Gerwig’s glorious new adaptation both is and isn’t your grandmother’s Little Women. In many ways it’s an even more faithful take on Louisa May Alcott’s original novel than the beloved 1994 Gillian Armstrong version, which downplayed the other March sisters to focus first and foremost on Winona Ryder’s Jo. [Caroline Seide]
Whether it’s laying out its ambush-and-heist schemes or racing through French city streets at breakneck speeds, Ronin expects viewers to keep up. John Frankenheimer’s film makes the groan-worthy mistake of explaining the significance of its title twice—first in a textual introduction, and later via an expository conversation between two characters. Yet in all other respects, the movie is a work of no-nonsense proficiency, moving at a fleet pace that allows the audience to revel in the sights and sounds of freelance ex-military professionals and criminals adeptly concocting and executing elaborate smash-and-grab plans. [Nick Schager]
The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain
Audiences unfamiliar with Louis Wain could be forgiven for assuming that a biopic about his “electrical life,” unfolding in the late 19th and early 20th century, might look something like The Current War, especially since both films star Benedict Cumberbatch. Although Wain did have some scientific interests, and even briefly fancied himself an amateur inventor, he’s remembered mainly for his many whimsical paintings and drawings of cats, which grew increasingly ornate (sometimes verging on psychedelic) over the years. He was also a notable eccentric who may or may not have had schizophrenia (people still argue over ostensible evidence in his work, à la Van Gogh) and Electrical Life, for a while, seems admirably determined to focus on peculiarities rather than serve up the usual Wiki-style checklist. [Mike D’Angelo]
The Thin Red Line
It’s easy, almost inevitable, to see the brutality of war as proof of the absence of God. It takes a peculiar, and peculiarly strong, sort of faith to see things the opposite way. “This great evil, where does it come from? How did it steal into the world?” one character wonders in Terrence Malick’s 1998 film The Thin Red Line, to the accompaniment of some brutal imagery. He may not be thinking big enough. Malick mixes the grim war story of James Jones’ experienced-based World War II novel about the invasion of Guadalcanal with the voiceovers and nature images that have become his directorial signature. As the film progresses, his characters’ thoughts draw toward the conclusion that all living things participate in a cosmic consciousness defined by struggle. It’s a radical, pantheistic vision of the world that might seem pretentious and New Age-y, but the story around it makes the observations seem hard-won, and the sweep and beauty of the film makes them ring true. [Keith Phipps]
The Royal Tenenbaums
Cases for other movies as Anderson’s best can certainly be made (just as they can be made for other Tarantino pictures), but with 20 years of hindsight, [The Royal Tenenbaums] feels like the Anderson urtext. It takes place in a wistful alternate reality with some resemblance to our own; features loads of memorably costumed characters with the immediate iconography of a great comic strip; is soundtracked by an eclectic mix tape that includes the Ramones, Elliott Smith, and a song from A Charlie Brown Christmas; and chases big laughs (really big laughs—it nearly topped our list of the best comedies since the year 2000) with genuine heartbreak.
Anchored by a performance that feels like Gene Hackman’s swan song even though he made a couple more movies afterward, The Royal Tenenbaums recognizes an essential truth amidst its stylizations: that who we are as adolescents can come to define us as adults, for better or worse. For all his supposed nostalgia, Anderson doesn’t indulge it shamelessly. He gives us characters who struggle with how to stay true to themselves while moving forward, iconic outfits or or childhood crushes in tow. Richie Tenenbaum may have failed to develop as a painter, but Anderson has a gift for revisiting his favorite flourishes and finding new notes within them. [Jesse Hassenger]