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The Last Jedi arrives, plus 26 other movies coming this December

The Post (Photo: 20th Century Fox), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Photo: Disney), and Phantom Thread (Photo: Focus Features).
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So many movies, so little time. Every week brings a new crop of them, opening in multiplexes and arthouse theaters across the nation, and arriving in increasingly high volumes on streaming platforms like Netflix. How’s a voracious moviegoer to keep up? That’s where The A.V. Club comes in. The first week of every month, we’ll be previewing all the major movies coming to theaters (or laptops or gaming systems or Rokus) near you, helping narrow down these upcoming releases by making educated guesses on whether they’re worth your time and money.

The Shape Of Water

Select theaters December 1

Mexican genre visionary Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak) has made more than his share of creature features, but his love of monsters has never been more literal than it is in this baroquely whimsical, Cold War-era spin on Beauty And The Beast. In a basically wordless performance, Sally Hawkins stars as a mute cleaning woman working at a high-tech government facility, where she forges a cross-species bond with the towering fishman (Doug Jones, back in prosthetic gills after his similarly aquatic turn in Del Toro’s Hellboy movies) her bosses have fished out of the Amazon. The supporting cast includes Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Shannon as the bastardly suit looking to dissect the new “asset.”
Will it be worth your time? This is easily the most sentimental movie Del Toro has ever written and directed; besides an unconventional love story, The Shape Of Water is one of those gushing valentines to the cinema, complete with scenes set in a classic movie palace and lots of lovingly lavish throwback period detail. Thankfully, it’s still plenty grotesque, too, offsetting the gooey romanticism with a different kind of gooeyness—a dash of both kink and gore, refreshing for those who prefer the filmmaker’s more disreputable horror fare to his prestige productions.

Wonder Wheel

Select theaters December 1

Woody Allen stages a dinner-theater downer on the boardwalks and boulevards of sunny 1950s Coney Island. There, unhappily married Ginny (Kate Winslet) falls into an affair with a younger lifeguard (Justin Timberlake, who also incongruously narrates through the fourth wall). But trouble invades paradise quickly with the arrival of gangster’s moll Carolina (Juno Temple), daughter of Ginny’s brutish, alcoholic, working-class husband (Jim Belushi). Like the recent Blue Jasmine, it’s a downward-spiral tragedy performed in the key of Tennessee Williams.
Will it be worth your time? The deluge of sexual assault and harassment accusations currently flowing out of Hollywood has made it even more difficult than usual to ignore the long-term controversy surrounding Allen’s personal life—and frankly, Wonder Wheel’s plot doesn’t make it any easier. On top of that, Woody is just repeating himself here, charting the downfall of another depressed heroine, this time to truly predictable ends. But hey, at least it looks beautiful, thanks to Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography, which is even more ravishingly beautiful than the work he did on Allen’s last movie, Café Society.

The Disaster Artist

Select theaters December 1

The Room, the preeminent Z-grade cult movie of our time, gets the Ed Wood treatment in this adaptation of Greg Sestero’s memoir The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. James Franco (who also directed) stars as The Room’s secretive control-freak auteur, Tommy Wiseau, while his brother Dave Franco takes on the role of Sestero, a wide-eyed model who met the vampiric actor-writer-director in a theater class and became his friend, roommate, and co-star. Part of the enduring fascination of The Room lies in the harebrained melodrama’s blatant personal undercurrents, but this movie, which was made with Wiseau’s blessing, leaves most questions about the origins of the film and its singular creator unanswered.
Will it be worth your time? We may be in the minority on this, considering the warm reception that has greeted the film at festival screenings, but The Disaster Artist struck us as less a movie than an over-extended Funny Or Die skit packed with celebrity cameos—which is to say, it makes little sense if you haven’t already seen The Room. This is Franco’s 18th feature as a director, and after years of hacking out unwatchable biopics and literary adaptations (including this year’s In Dubious Battle), he has matured into completely anonymous, tone-deaf semi-competence.

The Other Side Of Hope

Select theaters December 1

Returning to his homeland for the first time since 2006’s Lights In The Dusk, the stoically quirky Finnish writer-director Aki Kaurismäki remains steadfast in his commitment to droll humor, twangy rock music, and self-plagiarizing shaggy-dog stories. Partially refining Le Havre’s refugee plot, he splits his latest evenly between two characters: a Syrian stowaway (Sherwan Haji) who arrives in Helsinki in the coal hold of a Polish freighter and a shirt salesman (Sakari Kuosmanen) who has decided to remedy his midlife crisis by buying a failing restaurant. The similarities between the two men—both trying to start over in humbling circumstances—are blatant enough to be schematic, but that’s sort of the point.
Will it be worth your time? While earlier Kaurismäki films like Shadows In Paradise and The Man Without A Past were deadpan, blue-collar subversions of melodramatic plot points and classic film genres, this is pure self-commentary, best appreciated by fans. The restaurant scenes feature some of his hackiest humor, but the passages that deal exclusively with Haji’s character contain some of Kaurismäki’s purest filmmaking, harkening back to the early days of sound film.


Select theaters December 1

Trapped in a dead-end marriage that’s long since devolved into bitter animosity, unfaithful spouses Boris (Alexey Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) have one thing in common: Neither has much affection for the 12-year-old son (Matvey Novikov) caught in the middle of their spats. So what will happen when the boy disappears? This latest beautiful bummer from Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev (Elena, Leviathan) starts out like an especially grueling divorce drama, before transforming into an almost darkly comic missing-child procedural.
Will it be worth your time? Depends on how much feel-bad you can stomach. This is one of Zvyagintsev’s most formally accomplished and conceptually daring movies, even if you don’t get everything the director is trying to communicate about his country and the Ukraine. But like just about everything else he’s made, it’s also a really bitter pill to swallow, especially given that it involves the potential kidnapping of a sad, neglected child. Be prepared.

Just Getting Started

Theaters everywhere December 8

No, this isn’t Going In Style, Last Vegas, or The Bucket List, but a (technically) different entry in the decade-long cycle of old-codger comedies that star Morgan Freeman and a rotating assortment of non-Morgan Freemans. The sonorous octogenarian plays the local stud of an upscale retirement complex, who may also be a former mob associate hiding out in witness protection. (The trailer is somewhat confused on this seemingly important plot point.) The non-Morgan Freeman this time around is Tommy Lee Jones; the master of disapproving stares plays a retired FBI agent who moves into the community, messes with the Freeman character’s golf game, and possibly helps him evade hit men. (Again, the trailer isn’t very clear on this.)
Will it be worth your time? Writer-director Ron Shelton is the man behind the beloved Bull Durham, the fondly remembered White Men Can’t Jump, and the semi-liked Tin Cup. Unfortunately, his batting average (or handicap or what have you) with everything except sports movies is less than stellar; Just Getting Started is his first feature since 2003’s charmless Hollywood Homicide.

I, Tonya

Select theaters December 8

Margot Robbie disappears into the best role of her still-burgeoning career to play disgraced figure skating sensation and ’90s tabloid “star” Tonya Harding. Building inexorably to the kneecap clubbing heard ’round the world, I, Tonya gives Harding’s life, career, rise, and fall the Goodfellas treatment, complete with lots of rock ’n’ roll needle drops and sardonic voice-over narration. The film’s not-so-secret weapon: Allison Janney as Tonya’s profanity-spewing stage mother from hell, literally beating the need to win into her gifted daughter.
Will it be worth your time? I, Tonya’s Scorsese-indebted assault on the fourth wall can be a little glib, but Robbie deserves all the acclaim she’s already received—for magnetically capturing Harding’s on- and off-the-ice attitude, and for revealing the layers of disappointment beneath. At its best, this entertaining biopic looks past the headlines to deeper questions of class and upward mobility, as Harding faces off against not just the other skaters, but also judges and promoters who resent someone of her low-income upbringing dominating the sport.


Select theaters December 8

Told in three parts, this controversial drama from Israeli writer-director Samuel Maoz (Lebanon) concerns a Tel Aviv couple shell-shocked by the news that their son, a soldier of the Israeli Defense Forces, has been killed in action. But what really happened on that fateful day in the field? After winning the Grand Jury Prize at Venice, Foxtrot was condemned—possibly sight unseen—by Israel’s minister of culture, who insisted that it promotes a negative, misleading impression of the IDF. Despite this anti-endorsement, the film has also been selected as Israel’s official submission for the Foreign Language Oscar.
Will it be worth your time? Foxtrot has earned mostly glowing reviews from the festival circuit, and its divisiveness—the fact that it’s been both denounced and promoted by its country’s cultural gatekeepers—is all the more reason to be curious. Plus, the bereaved father is played by the terrific Lior Ashkenazi, from Late Marriage and Footnote.


Select theaters December 8

Although it spans the entire length of the previous presidency, from inauguration to those last few days in office, and features ominous televised footage of the man who would start mucking things up in the White House shortly thereafter, Quest isn’t exactly the definitive documentary portrait of “the Obama years.” Instead, it uses that recently elapsed cultural era as a framework for an intimate portrait of a North Philadelphia family, opening its home music studio to the city’s hip-hop community and weathering nearly a decade’s worth of hardship.
Will it be worth your time? Following his subjects for eight years allows director Jonathan Olshefski to show how circumstances change (or, pointedly, sometimes don’t change) over time, all while getting us invested in lives that refuse to conform to any tidy narrative arc. Opening in theaters almost a year after it emotionally captivated audiences at Sundance, Quest is further proof that the Steve James model of long-term filming commitments pays big dramatic dividends.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Theaters everywhere December 15

“Let the past die,” murmurs Adam Driver’s black-helmeted black hat Kylo Ren in the trailer for The Last Jedi. Will The Empire, a.k.a. Disney, take his advice and allow the latest installment of the triumphantly reborn Star Wars saga to put what came before it to rest? Certainly, episode 10 will continue what J.J. Abrams started with episode nine, placing Rey (Daisy Ridley) under the tutelage of grizzled saber-wielder Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), while reenlisting John Boyega’s Finn, Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, and perennial fuzzball Chewbacca in the ongoing rebellion. Whether The Last Jedi blazes its own path across the galaxy far, far away or follows the one forged a long time ago remains to be seen. Either way, it will almost certainly be the biggest hit of the year, if not of all time.
Will it be worth your time? As if anyone needs to be told to go see this movie. Exciting as it may be to spend more time with the (admittedly pretty cool) characters introduced in The Force Awakens, what has us at The A.V. Club amped is the opportunity to see what writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) builds in the Lucasfilm sandbox. Even if he ends up sticking close to the trajectory of The Empire Strikes Back, the same way Abrams basically traced over A New Hope, it’s helpful to remember that Empire was, you know, awesome. Bring on the even darker side of the Force!


Theaters everywhere December 15

Munro Leaf’s children’s classic The Story Of Ferdinand, about a pacifist bull who’d rather smell flowers than chase after matadors, gets the big-screen treatment in an animated film that features the voices of John Cena, Kate McKinnon, and, uh, Peyton Manning. It took Leaf only an hour to write the original book, which was adapted into an Oscar-winning cartoon short by Disney in 1938; the makers of Ice Age and Rio apparently think they can wrench 107 minutes out of this material. (Disney only managed seven.)
Will it be worth your time? Blue Sky’s previous attempt at adapting a beloved bedtime read gave us the middling Horton Hears A Who! Expect visual competence, but not much more.


Select theaters and Netflix December 15

Dramatic re-creations have been a staple of Errol Morris’ work since his seminal 1988 justice-system procedural The Thin Blue Line. But Wormwood expands that divisive aspect of the documentary legend’s methodology into uncharted territory, as Morris combines his famously hard-hitting interview style with scripted scenes starring Peter Sarsgaard as a man determined, for several decades, to find out what happened to his father, a scientist who died during the Cold War while working on a top-secret program. The film is being released two ways: in a roughly four-hour theatrical cut and as a six-part Netflix miniseries.
Will it be worth your time? Morris’ re-creations have always irked doc purists, and early word on Wormwood is that it blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction filmmaking even more than usual. But for those not bothered by that medium-crossing approach to a true story, this is probably a must-see; buzz is that Wormwood is the filmmaker’s most exciting, ambitious movie in ages—a labyrinthine investigative epic, rich with conspiracy theory intrigue.

The Ballad Of Lefty Brown

Select theaters December 15

Jared Moshe, the writer-director of the throwback Western programmer Dead Man’s Burden, returns with another straightforward take on film’s most mythologized genre. Doing his best impression of a classic character actor in the Gabby Hayes mold, a scraggly-bearded Bill Pullman stars as the title character, a lifelong Old West sidekick who finds himself on his own after his legendary compadre (Peter Fonda) is killed by cattle rustlers. Accompanied by two pals from their gun-fighting days (Tommy Flanagan, Jim Caviezel), Pullman’s cowboy coot sets off in pursuit of vengeance.
Will it be worth your time? The Ballad Of Lefty Brown premiered at this year’s SXSW, and early reviews promise a solid oater that pays off the promise of Moshe’s shoestring-budget debut.

The Leisure Seeker

Select theaters December 15

Giving the torturous progression of Alzheimer’s disease a Sundance-style treatment, The Leisure Seeker finds Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland playing a retired couple on a latter-day road trip to visit Hemingway’s house, ostensibly as a gift for Sutherland’s aging intellectual. However, he’s also beginning to suffer from the effects of the memory-shredding illness, and as the two progress across the country, they grapple with what it means to suffer such an ignominious end to a happy long-term relationship.
Will it be worth your time? Italian writer-director Paolo Virzì (Human Capital) is an old pro at crafting crowd-pleasing films that also rack up awards. This English-only offering (his first full-length feature shot solely in the language) is a loose adaption of the novel of the same name, but it appears to have lost something in translation, as early reviews have faulted the movie for coming across like exactly the sort of treacly feel-good nonsense threatened by the trailer. Still, it’s got Mirren and Sutherland playing off each other, which surely counts for something.

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle

Theaters everywhere December 20

Tasked with crafting a decades-later sequel to the 1995 family hit while also overcoming the gloomy shadow of Robin Williams’ death, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle sidesteps both of those things, along with most of the original’s premise, with this quasi-reboot. Jumanji is now a video game from the ancient Super Nintendo era, magically sucking in four classic teen movie stereotypes and transforming them all into avatars played by Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black, then forcing them to contend with rampaging jungle animals.
Will it be worth your time? Anyone harboring some protective grudge about a Jumanji sequel without Williams may be mollified to learn that his Allan Parrish serves as a sort of spiritual guide within the film, thus preserving the integrity of this now-franchise. But for most people, it comes down to the desire to see Johnson, Hart, et al. do extended Freaky Friday riffs on being awkward adolescents trapped in very adult bodies, in between being chased by monkeys.

The Greatest Showman

Theaters everywhere December 20

It’s Hugh Jackman, isn’t it? (He can act! He can dance! He can sing!) The four-time host of the Tony Awards continues to expand his repertoire with this fanciful, possibly ill-conceived musical biopic, taking on the role of P.T. Barnum, the 19th-century promoter whose name is synonymous with hoaxes and cynical business practices. Casting the tall, handsome Jackman as the very un-hunky, Harvey-Pekar-looking Barnum might seem like a stretch, but hey, people said no one would buy him as Wolverine. We’ll see if cloying paeans to the circus will outlive the actual big-top business. Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zac Efron, and Zendaya lead the supporting cast.
Will it be worth your time? Let’s hope that, in a Barnum-esque twist, The Greatest Showman has been grossly misrepresented by its gooey, saccharine trailers. Because what we’ve seen so far looks like a big, flat waste of the talent involved, and the original songs (by La La Land lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) sound like they were machine-generated by a computer that was fed nothing but Radio Disney playlists from 2013.

The Post

Theaters everywhere December 22

American godheads Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks join forces for the fifth time for this drama about the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers, the leaked Department Of Defense study that not only revealed the scope and goals of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, but also exposed its covert bombing campaigns in nearby Cambodia and Laos. Meryl Streep stars as Katharine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post; Hanks plays executive editor Ben Bradlee, the same role that won Jason Robards an Oscar for All The President’s Men. The intriguing, character-actor-packed ensemble cast includes Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Matthew Rhys, Michael Stuhlbarg, Pat Healy, and both Bob Odenkirk and David Cross.
Will it be worth your time? Stage-bound and tenuously plotted, The Post is one of Spielberg’s less dramatically involving mediations on moral values and legal fine print; despite some astute observations on the sometimes toxically cozy relationship between the media and the politicans they cover, it struggles to find a center to its story.

Pitch Perfect 3

Theaters everywhere December 22

Ready the pun generator, because the pitches are back for a third spin around the aca-track in Pitch Perfect 3. Those signature bits of wordplay are all but guaranteed to show up in this third installment in the surprisingly successful comedy series about all-female a cappella group the Barden Bellas, who reunite for a USO tour hoping to recapture some of their former glory after failing in their initial attempts at post-college life. Keep an eye out for Ruby Rose in a supporting role as leader of a rival all-girl rock group.
Will it be worth your time? Even the trailer for the film—featuring quick shots of an airplane hangar, a blender mishap, nunchucks, a John Woo-style boat explosion, Rebel Wilson beating up an inflatable shark, and even some (gasp) singing—seems to acknowledge that the aca-franchise is past its expiration date narratively. So only check this one out if you’re a fan of the first two and can’t bear to say goodbye to your pals Anna Kendrick and Wilson yet.

Father Figures

Theaters everywhere December 22

In this bro-comedy spin on Mamma Mia, fraternal twins Owen Wilson and Ed Helms—guess who’s the “uptight” one—undertake a quest to find their real dad, after their mom (Glenn Close) confesses it could have been any of her free-love ’70s paramours. The candidates include Christopher Walken, Ving Rhames, J.K. Simmons, and even Terry Bradshaw as himself, all offering variations on their particular shticks. Meanwhile, Katt Williams is a potentially dangerous man, and he also plays a hitchhiker.
Will it be worth your time? From its shrug of a title (diluted from its original Bastards), to its two years spent in release limbo, to the writing-directing team-up of Office Christmas Party’s Justin Malen and The Hangover cinematographer Lawrence Sher, to a lumpy contrivance of a premise that packs every road-trip comedy cliché into a series of wacky dad vignettes, Father Figures feels very much like the overlooked middle son of a committee—one who’s hoping you won’t be fully sated on filial slapstick after Daddy’s Home 2. Hey, when’s the last time you called your own dad? You know, someday he’s gonna die, and you’ll have wasted 90 minutes you could have spent having an emotional breakthrough on Rhames calling Close a “dick whisperer.”

All The Money In The World

Theaters everywhere December 22

It’s not uncommon for ads to feature takes, camera angles, or even scenes that don’t end up in the finished film. But what about an entire performance? The above trailer for All The Money In The World, Ridley Scott’s upcoming thriller about the 1973 kidnapping of a teenage heir to the Getty oil fortune, is already obsolete. As allegations about Kevin Spacey’s history of sexual assault and predation began to mount, Scott took the unprecedented step of recasting his part and reshooting key portions of the film; ironically, that meant giving the role of tycoon J. Paul Getty to Scott’s first choice, Christopher Plummer, who had been passed over by the studio in favor of the more “bankable” Spacey. Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg star as, respectively, the kidnapped boy’s mother and a former CIA agent hired by the family to investigate the kidnapping.
Will it be worth your time? To say that this formerly low-profile, mid-budget later-period Ridley Scott project has been overshadowed by its behind-the-scenes drama would be an understatement. Intent on keeping the film’s original release date, the director and his team are reworking their film in a matter of weeks. But if anyone can move a Hollywood production that quickly, it’s Scott.


Netflix December 22

Netflix shelled out $90 million to acquire this Max Landis-scripted supernatural buddy-cop thriller, a Tolkien-ified spin on Alien Nation that casts Will Smith as a quippy, Will Smith-y LAPD officer who’s partnered with Joel Edgerton’s orc in a world where archetypes from mythology and urban gang dramas uneasily coexist. The two quickly go from banter-filled routine patrols to being thrown into the CGI shit after a witch and elf begin their epic battle over a magic wand.
Will it be worth your time? The curiosity factor is certainly high on the streaming service’s first aspiring blockbuster, a movie that looks every bit the big-screen effects extravaganza—right down to its sickly neon glow and cacophony of slow-motion fight sequences. Director David Ayer seems to be aiming to combine the Xbox spectacle of his Suicide Squad with his two-hander End Of Watch, plus a dash of Smith’s usual cool-action-hero coasting. It’s another potentially mismatched partnership, but hey, at least your own investment won’t require leaving the couch.


Select theaters December 22

In a world where scientists have found a way to reduce human beings to a fraction of their original size, mostly for purposes of preserving scarce natural resources, shrinking to mouse proportions is the new route to high living. After all, everyone can afford a mansion that’s only as large as a dollhouse. That’s the conceit of the first bona fide “special effects movie” by Alexander Payne, the Oscar-winning writer-director of Sideways and Nebraska. Matt Damon plays the working stiff who decides to get small to live large, but comes to suspect that “downsizing,” as the voluntary procedure is called, may have been a big mistake.
Will it be worth your time? Even those with a yen for Payne’s particular brand of Midwestern tragicomedy may leave his latest wishing that someone with a slightly, uh, bigger imagination had tackled this same premise. Satirically speaking, Downsizing is fairly one-note, and although a world of tiny people provides almost endless dramatic and comedic possibilities, Payne eventually kind of abandons his high concept for an earnest environmental tract. It’s one of his weakest movies.


Select theaters December 22

Call it the Year Of “Actually, It’s A Western.” Scott Cooper (Out Of The Furnace, Crazy Heart) brings his brand of pensive macho posturing to the American frontier with this drama about a hard-hearted Army captain (Christian Bale, sporting a glorious walrus mustache) ordered to escort his terminally ill Cheyenne nemesis (Wes Studi) to sacred ground. The relationship between these two old fighters with a shared violent past recedes into the background of the largely episodic narrative; among the twisted reflections they encounter are a grieving frontierswoman (Rosamund Pike) and a condemned murderer (Ben Foster) who relishes underlining the film’s themes.
Will it be worth your time? Cooper is an old hand at creating individual scenes that evoke characters’ flaws and emotional backstories through a minimum of words and gestures, but the bigger picture seems to elude him. The result is a grimly obvious film with unexpected grace notes.

Happy End

Select theaters December 22

Just in time for Christmas comes the latest and possibly final act of audience antagonism from the reigning scold of European art cinema, Michael Haneke. Happy End gazes, with exacting formal precision, upon the members of a coldly bourgeois European family, played by such alums of the director’s dispiriting filmography as Isabelle Huppert and Amour star Jean-Louis Trintignant. The title, as any Funny Games “fan” could probably surmise, is bitterly ironic.
Will it be worth your time? Haneke has suggested that this could be his swan song, which helps explain why it often plays like a greatest-hits collection, drawing together elements, obsessions, and even characters (Trintignant seems to be playing the same person he did in Amour) from his entire body of work. Unfortunately, that results in the rare sense that this uncompromising filmmaker is just repeating himself. Without any new insights, Happy End does little more than confirm every unfair sling and arrow fired against Haneke; it’s as if he’s gone out of his way to prove his staunchest detractors right.

Phantom Thread

Select theaters December 25

The latest from director Paul Thomas Anderson reteams him with Daniel Day-Lewis for another character study of a ruthlessly driven and difficult man. Day-Lewis plays dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, whose glamorous bachelor’s life in 1950s London is upended after he falls for a headstrong young woman (Luxembourgian actor Vicky Krieps).
Will it be worth your time? Anderson’s previous collaboration with Day-Lewis, 2007’s There Will Be Blood, was one of the best films of the 21st century so far. And while Phantom Thread’s dressing room drama promises to be far more intimate in scope, there’s every reason to expect it will be a similarly riveting actors’ showcase—and if you believe Day-Lewis, it’s also his last. Yes, see it.

Molly’s Game

Select theaters December 25

Jessica Chastain leads a cast of A-listers in the belated directorial debut of venerated screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. The film is based on the true story of Molly Bloom (Chastain), a former Olympic skier who made her reputation—and a lot of money—running discreet underground high-stakes poker games for wealthy clients that included movie stars, powerful businessmen, professional athletes, and, eventually, the Russian mob. After Molly gets busted by the FBI, her defense lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), also becomes her only ally as her story becomes a tabloid sensation.
Will it be worth your time? Based on early reviews out of Toronto, Molly’s Game fits the profile of a screenwriter’s directorial debut, going light on visual flair but heavy on dialogue—gushing torrents of uber-witty, stylized dialogue delivered at breathtaking speed, as the case may be. If you’ve already been initiated into the cult of Sorkin, a solid two-hour chunk of his signature writing style promises to be pure bliss. But the film probably won’t produce any new converts either.

In The Fade

Select theaters December 27

In this topical drama from German director Fatih Akin (Edge Of Heaven, Head-On), Diane Kruger stars as a grieving widow whose husband, a Turkish immigrant, and 6-year-old son are killed in a terrorist bombing. The likely culprits: “very fine people” of the neo-Nazi persuasion. In The Fade chronicles our heroine’s emotional journey, from snorting and free-basing her pain away to taking on the racist perpetrators in court to considering more extreme routes to justice.
Will it be worth your time? There’s no denying the sad, scary timeliness of Akin’s subject matter; although the film is set in Germany, it could easily be relocated to America or any other Western country currently experiencing a spike in violence committed by white supremacists. As a recovery or revenge drama, however, In The Fade is movie-of-the-week generic, following a highly predictable trajectory, even with Kruger pouring herself into the role of a woman seized with grief and rage.

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool

Select theaters December 29

Director Paul McGuigan is much better known for cheerfully low-rent genre silliness (Push, Lucky Number Slevin, Victor Frankenstein) than for penetrating character studies, but Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool finds him helming a much lower-key story. An adaptation of a memoir, the ’80s-set film largely looks to be a chance for Annette Bening to deliver an awards-bait turn as real-life aging film star Gloria Grahame, who falls in love with a decades-younger actor (Jamie Bell), providing a much-needed gender swap on the usual May-December romances offered up by Hollywood.
Will it be worth your time? If you don’t mind the melodramatic tone, both Bening and Bell reportedly turn in stellar performances, and the film tells the story of their romance in flashback, allowing plenty of time for the actors’ chemistry to build and create a satisfying and plausible relationship. It may not be top-tier cinema, but it could provide some charming counter-programming amid the holiday blockbusters.