‘Tis the season to be jolly! And with a massive December film slate, it’s difficult not to be. This month has everything from awards contenders to blockbusters (we’re being a bit presumptive here). And if you’re looking for a little fun in the midst of these thought-provoking films, December’s still got it! In the face of an overwhelming selection, we’ve decided to make a list of films that we’re excited about! Be sure to click the film title for the trailer.
JACKIE (December 2nd, limited)
Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Caspar Phillipson, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt
Director: Pablo Larraín
Synopsis: A grieving Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) examines her husband’s (Caspar Phillipson) legacy as the nation mourns his death.
Why you should see it: There’s already Oscar buzz surrounding this feature from acclaimed Chilean director, Pablo Larraín (El Club). And with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 93% and a previous screening at the New York Film Festival, the film has garnered massive critical acclaim which is essential this awards season.
L’AVENIR (THINGS TO COME) (December 2nd)
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Roman Kolinka, André Marcon, Édith Scob
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Synopsis: A passionate middle-aged philosophy professor (Isabelle Huppert) rethinks her already much-examined life after an unforeseen divorce.
Why you should see it: At the young age of 35, French writer/director, Mia Hansen-Løve, has already made a sizable impact on the film world. With acclaimed features such as Father of My Children and Goodbye First Love, Hansen-Løve’s newest film has already received highly favorable reviews. And with iconic actress Isabelle Huppert in the lead, Things to Come is worth the 1 hour 42 minute investment.
ALWAYS SHINE (December 2nd)
Cast: Mackenzie Davis, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Lawrence Michael Levine
Director: Sophia Takal
Synopsis: Two women, both actresses with differing degrees of success, travel north from Los Angeles to Big Sur for a weekend vacation. Both see the trip as an opportunity to reconnect after years of competition and jealousy have driven a wedge between them. Upon arrival at their isolated forest retreat, the pair discover that their once intimate friendship has deteriorated into forced conversations, betrayals, petty jealousies, and deep-seated resentment.
Why you should see it: This second feature from young director, Sophia Takal, is a stylistic thriller with hints of David Lynch and Brian De Palma (The Hollywood Reporter). The film, which played this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, has been the subject of critical praise, noted for its aesthetic flourishes, strong performances, and tight direction. Always Shine is a film that not only entrances, but lingers, even after the credits roll.
INCARNATE (December 2nd)
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Carice van Houten, David Mazouz
Director: Brad Peyton
Synopsis: An exorcist (Aaron Eckhart) taps into the subconscious mind of a tormented boy (David Mazouz) who’s possessed by a demon.
Why you should see it: From the production company that brought us Paranormal Activity, The Purge, and other micro-budget horror franchises, comes Incarnate. And with action director, Brad Peyton at the helm, the film is sure to be an exciting, yet effective horror flick.
MAN DOWN (December 2nd)
Cast: Shia LaBoeuf, Kate Mara, Gary Oldman, Jai Courtney
Director: Dito Montiel
Synopsis: When U.S. Marine Gabriel Drummer (Shia LaBeouf) returns from Afghanistan, he finds the place he once called home is no better than the battlefields he fought on overseas. Accompanied by his best friend, a hard-nosed Marine whose natural instinct is to shoot first and ask questions later, Gabriel searches desperately for his estranged son and his wife, leading to a suspect who has vital information about their location.
Why you should see it: Though the cast is impressive, what may be most interesting about Man Down is its attempt to examine its lead character’s psychology within a mystery/thriller plot thread. Though it played last year’s Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals, the drama has been the subject of mostly negative reviews; however, the story and cast make it worth the gamble.
OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY (December 9th)
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Kate McKinnon, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller
Directors: Josh Gordon, Will Speck
Synopsis: When the CEO (Jennifer Aniston) tries to close her hard-partying brother’s (T.J. Miller) branch, he and his chief technical officer (Jason Bateman) must rally their co-workers and host an epic office Christmas party in an effort to impress a potential client and close a sale that will save their jobs.
Why you should see it: After the release of Bad Santa 2, another mature Christmas comedy should definitely help keep the comedic ball rolling. And with the participation of director Josh Gordon (Blades of Glory) and actors Jason Bateman and Kate McKinnon, Office Christmas Party is sure to pack tons of laughs.
MISS SLOANE (December 9th, wide)
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mark Strong, John Lithgow
Director: John Madden
Synopsis: Willing to bend the rules for her clients, Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) remains one of the most sought-after lobbyists in Washington, D.C. When asked to help oppose a bill that imposes regulations on firearms, she instead joins a scrappy boutique firm that represents the backers of the law. Her defiant stance and determination to win now makes her the target of powerful new enemies who threaten her career and the people she cares about.
Why you should see it: Miss Sloane is an all too-timely political thriller supported by strong actors and relevant subject matter. Though director John Madden has a diverse film slate (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Shakespeare in Love), his previous thriller, The Debt highlights his ability to create a compelling drama filled with intrigue.
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (December 9th, wide)
Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon
Director: Tom Ford
Synopsis: A successful Los Angeles art-gallery owner’s idyllic life is marred by the constant traveling of her handsome second husband. While he is away, she is shaken by the arrival of a manuscript written by her first husband, who she has not seen in years. The manuscript tells the story of a teacher who finds a trip with his family turning into a nightmare. As Susan reads the book, it forces her to examine her past and confront some dark truths.
Why you should see it: Written and directed by fashion designer, Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals is his second feature film, after his highly acclaimed drama, A Single Man. Crafted by a massive force in the fashion industry, Nocturnal Animals is stylish, yet compelling, as evidenced by its receipt of the Grand Jury Prize at the the 2016 Venice International Film Festival. It’s also worth noting that Ford’s previous film generated Oscar buzz with a Best Actor nod for Colin Firth. So, Ford’s latest feature should hopefully, follow in those footsteps.
ROGUE ONE (December 16th)
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed
Director: Gareth Edwards
Synopsis: In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.
Why you should see it: This film really needs no explanation. We all know that we’re going to see it. However, for those who still need to be swayed, Rogue One is the first stand alone film in the Star Wars universe. In other words, it takes place in the same realm; however, it introduces new characters with a new story.
LA LA LAND (December 16th)
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend
Director: Damien Chazelle
Synopsis: Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are drawn together by their common desire to do what they love. But as success mounts they are faced with decisions that begin to fray the fragile fabric of their love affair, and the dreams they worked so hard to maintain in each other threaten to rip them apart.
Why you should see it: Director Damien Chazelle has quickly become one of cinema’s golden boys. After his 2014 hit, Whiplash, audiences and critics have been patiently waiting for Chazelle’s follow-up. And with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 97%, La La Land delivers, further cementing Chazelle’s place in the cinematic realm. With beautiful cinematography and a compelling soundtrack, an added bonus is that the film marks the third collaboration of its two leads–Gosling and Stone (Crazy, Stupid, Love; Gangster Squad).
COLLATERAL BEAUTY (December 16th)
Cast: Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley
Director: David Frankel
Synopsis: When a successful New York advertising executive (Will Smith) experiences a deep personal tragedy and retreats from life entirely, his colleagues devise a drastic plan to force him to confront his grief in a surprising and profoundly human way.
Why you should see it: Once again, we have another impressive cast whose star power alone should be enough to fill theater seats. At the same time, director David Frankel has a number of charming dramedies under his belt–The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me, Hope Springs—so Collateral Beauty should be a winning film during this holiday season.
THE FOUNDER (December 16th)
Cast: Michael Keaton, Laura Dern, Nick Offerman
Director: John Lee Hancock
Synopsis: The true story of how Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) maneuvered himself into a position to buy the 1950s burger operation of Mac and Dick McDonald and create a billion-dollar fast food empire.
Why you should see it: Michael Keaton takes on a morally complicated role that generally works incredibly well for him. So, we can definitely expect a strong performance from him. Coupled with the direction of The Blind Side’s John Lee Hancock, The Founder promises to be a gut-wrenching drama that makes us love and hate its lead character.
NERUDA (December 16th)
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Luis Gnecco, Alfredo Castro
Director: Pablo Larraín
Synopsis: An inspector hunts down Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, who becomes a fugitive in his home country in the late 1940s for joining the Communist Party.
Why you should see it: Once again, director Pablo Larraín makes our list with the Spanish language entry–Neruda. Much like Jackie, this biopic has received positive accolades and it’s Chile’s submisson for the 2017 Best Foreign Language film Oscar.
SING (December 21st)
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane, Jennifer Hudson
Director: Garth Jennings
Synopsis: Dapper Koala Buster Moon presides over a once-grand theater that has fallen on hard times. An eternal optimist, and a bit of a scoundrel, he loves his theater above all and will do anything to preserve it. Facing the crumbling of his life’s ambition, he takes one final chance to restore his fading jewel to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition. Five contestants emerge: a mouse, a timid elephant, a pig, a gorilla and a punk-rock porcupine.
Why you should see it: The film is not only brimming with celebrities, but it also features 85 pop songs including Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me.” Brought to you by Illumination Entertainment (The Secret Life of Pets; Despicable Me), Sing is sure to be a healthy dose of family fun this holiday season.
ASSASSIN’S CREED (December 21st)
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson
Director: Justin Kurzel
Synopsis: Through a revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) experiences the adventures of his ancestor, Aguilar, in 15th-century Spain. Callum discovers he is a descendant from a mysterious secret society, the Assassins, and amasses incredible knowledge and skills to take on the oppressive and powerful Templar organization in the present day.
Why you should see it: Derived from the immensely popular video game of the same name, Assassin’s Creed is sure to be an action-packed fantasy ride with the help of director Justin Kurzel (whose cinematically powerful rendition of Macbeth breathed new life into the familiar tale). And with Kurzel favorites, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the film’s leads, we know that we won’t be disappointed.
PASSENGERS (December 21st)
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Morten Tyldum
Synopsis: On a routine journey through space to a new home, two passengers, sleeping in suspended animation, are awakened 90 years too early when their ship malfunctions. As Jim and Aurora face living the rest of their lives on board, with every luxury they could ever ask for, they begin to fall for each other, unable to deny their intense attraction until they discover the ship is in grave danger. With the lives of 5,000 sleeping passengers at stake, only Jim and Aurora can save them all.
Why you should see it: The original script for Passengers was written approximately 10 years ago and after a period of auctions and recasting, we now have the Jennifer Lawrence-Chris Pratt feature. December is the perfect time for sci-fi releases, just look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avatar. So, Passengers should feel right at home during this competitive film season. And when we consider director, Morten Tyldum’s previous success with the Norwegian action-thriller Headhunters, the film only seems all the more enticing.
JULIETA (December 21st)
Cast: Adriana Ugarte, Emma Suárez, Rossy de Palma
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Synopsis: A chance encounter causes a woman (Emma Suárez) to reflect on the tragic circumstances surrounding the disappearance of her daughter.
Why you should see it: Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar delivers another stylish film, lead by strong female characters. Having premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Julieta represents the sixth time that Spain has nominated Almodóvar for the Foreign Language Academy Award.
SILENCE (December 23rd)
Cast: Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver
Director: Martin Scorsese
Synopsis: Two 17th-century missionaries (Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver) face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan to find their missing mentor (Liam Neeson).
Why you should see it: There’s been a lot of talk surrounding Scorsese’s latest narrative feature. The film, which is the director’s passion project, had its premiere at the Vatican earlier this week without the usual pomp and circumstance. This premiere is significant, as it highlights Scorsese’s interest in the theme of Christianity, which he has explored subtly in films, such as Mean Streets and much more openly in 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Attached to this passion project is actor, Adam Driver who lost a significant amount of weight to play the role. The firm dedication and talent of everyone involved in its creation, makes this film a must-see.
WHY HIM? (December 23rd)
Cast: Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch
Director: John Hamburg
Synopsis: Over the holidays, Ned, an overprotective but loving dad, and his family visit his daughter at Stanford, where he meets his biggest nightmare: her well-meaning but socially awkward Silicon Valley billionaire boyfriend, Laird (James Franco). The straight-laced Ned thinks Laird, who has absolutely no filter, is a wildly inappropriate match for his daughter. The one-sided rivalry — and Ned’s panic level — escalate when he learns that Laird is about to pop the question.
Why you should see it: Another mature, holiday comedy joins this season’s list of must-watch movies. Directed by John Hamburg (I Love You Man, Along Came Polly), Why Him? promises to be an over-the-top, laugh fest. We love seeing James Franco in a comedic role and this sort of absurd family comedy brings us back to Bryan Cranston’s Malcolm in the Middle days.
I, DANIEL BLAKE (December 23rd)
Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Natalie Ann Jamieson
Director: Ken Loach
Synopsis: When an ill carpenter finds himself in need of state welfare, he meets a desperate single mother who needs the same thing. Together, the duo discovers that negotiating through the red tape is a challenge.
Why you should see it: From acclaimed director, Ken Loach (The Wind that Shakes the Barley), I, Daniel Blake has made this year’s festival rounds with stops at Cannes, where it won the Palme d’Or and Locarno, where it won Prix du Public. With its heavy subject matter, the film has received both praise and criticism from politicians, while the film community seems to adore it. So, consider it emotionally stirring and a bit controversial.
FENCES (December 25th)
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Jovan Adepo
Director: Denzel Washington
Synopsis: A former professional baseball player (Denzel Washington) creates tension in his family when he denies his teenage son’s dream of playing college football and comes home with the baby he had through an affair.
Why you should see it: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are back, reprising their Tony award winning roles in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play. The film’s dramatic trailer, no doubt, radiates that Oscar glow, with a heart-wrenching tone. So, it’s no surprise that Fences has already generated Oscar buzz.
HIDDEN FIGURES (December 25th)
Cast: Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner
Director: Theodore Melfi
Synopsis: Three brilliant African-American women at NASA — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world
Why you should see it: With a compelling story, star-studded cast, and a score composed by Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams, Hidden Figures seems to have it all. Derived from a true story, the film has mass appeal, offering the young and old a bit of inspiration during the holiday season.
TONI ERDMANN (December 25th)
Cast: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek, Vlad Ivanov
Director: Maren Ade
Synopsis: A reluctant woman (Sandra Hüller) must spend time with her estranged father (Peter Simonischek) when he comes for a surprise visit.
Why you should see it: Toni Erdmann was a smash hit at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the prestigious Palme d’Or. Since then, it’s played the New York and Hamptons International Film Festivals, where it enchanted audiences. So, naturally, it would be Germany’s submission for the 2017 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. We, at MoviePass, have been following the movie for about 5 months, since we featured a spotlight piece on its director, Maren Ade. And just last week, we featured a review of the film on our blog. So, consider this another gentle reminder to add this film to your watchlist.
LIVE BY NIGHT (December 25th)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper
Director: Ben Affleck
Synopsis: It’s the Roaring `20s and Prohibition hasn’t stopped the flow of booze in an underground network of gangster-run speakeasies. The opportunity to gain power and money is there for any man with enough ambition and nerve, and Joe Coughlin, the son of the Boston Police superintendent, long ago turned his back on his strict upbringing for the spoils of being an outlaw. But even among criminals there are rules, and Joe breaks a big one: crossing a powerful mob boss by stealing his money and his moll.
Why you should see it: Affleck is a triple threat, writing, directing, and starring in this gangster period piece. And with the help of cinematographer, Robert Richardson (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained, Hugo), Live By Night is sure to be a well-shot—dare we say it?—masterpiece. And if the director, cinematographer, and cast are not convincing enough, then let’s take a look at the film’s source material. The novel of the same name, is penned by Dennis Lehane whose previous works include Mystic River, Shutter Island, and The Drop–all of which were adapted into critically acclaimed films. So, we’re definitely bracing ourselves for this one.
PATERSON (December 28th)
Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Synopsis: A hardworking bus driver (Adam Driver) in Paterson, N.J., writes heartfelt poems every day before his shift begins.
Why you should see it: From iconic director, Jim Jarmusch, comes a film about the “poetry of everyday life” (Daily Mail). In true Jarmusch style, Paterson has an effective soundtrack. It is notably minimalistic which helps underscore its quiet tone. And with Adam Driver in the lead, the film works perfectly.
Did we miss something? We hope not, but we probably have. So, we welcome you to share your list with us! We’re always looking for a good recommendation.