While December is often a time of reflection of the year past, before we embark on such a journey in forthcoming features, it’s time to take a look at what to keep on your radar in the next few weeks. A number of the below films won’t reach their widest release until early next year, but December brings a batch of our festival favorites, a few indies, yet-to-be-seen works from top directors and perhaps one sequel (not involving Hobbits) that we’re hoping will surprise us. Check out our rundown of the must-see films below and let us know what you’re most looking forward to.
Matinees to See: Twice Born (12/6), Out of the Furnace (12/6), Here Comes the Devil (12/13), The Crash Reel (12/13), Some Velvet Morning (12/13), All The Light In The Sky (12/20), August: Osage County (12/25), The Invisible Woman (12/25), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (12/25)
10. The Past (Asghar Farhadi; Dec. 20th)
Synopsis: An Iranian man deserts his French wife and two children to return to his homeland. Meanwhile, his wife starts up a new relationship, a reality her husband confronts upon his wife’s request for a divorce.
Why You Should See It: While I consider Iranian director Asghar Farhadi‘s previous film, A Separation, to be one of the decade’s few masterpieces, one can’t help but feel a bit let down when it comes to his follow-up. Though with strong performances from all involved (reason enough to seek it out), the plot is full of contrivances as its melodrama hits a tipping point. In our review from Cannes, we said the picture “plays out like a soap opera in terms of the details resting inside each character’s relationship and personal dilemma, yet the material is elevated by Farhadi’s carefully nuanced direction, allowing performances to take center stage. The end result is an effective examination of how past lives can sometimes dictate future selves.”
9. Saving Mr. Banks (John Hancock; Dec. 13th)
Synopsis: Author P. L. Travers reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney during production for the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins.
Why You Should See It: On the surface, this story of the journey to bring Mary Poppins to the screen has all the makings of this year’s most Oscar-baity film; there’s Disney themselves crafting their own story, an A-lister portraying a beloved historical figure, and a director coming off undeserved attention (the cloying drama The Blind Side). However it looks like there is something to be admired with Saving Mr. Banks, as early buzz suggests it is a well-crafted, crowd-pleasing charmer.
8. Lone Survivor (Peter Berg; Dec. 25th)
Synopsis: Based on the failed June 28, 2005 mission “Operation Red Wings”. Four members of SEAL Team 10 were tasked with the mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd.
Why You Should See It: Peter Berg could’ve directed just about anything to deliver a step-up from his last film, the failed board game adaptation Battleship, but thankfully he’s returned with a project that clearly invokes passion from all involved. Telling the true story of Marcus Luttrell and his crew’s harrowing mission in Afghanistan, the Mark Wahlberg-led film has received major praise following its AFI premiere and will arrive in limited release at the end of the month, followed by an expanded bow in January.
7. Anchorman: The Legend Continues (Adam McKay; Dec. 18th)
Synopsis: With the 70s behind him, San Diego’s top rated newsman, Ron Burgundy, returns to take New York’s first 24-hour news channel by storm.
Why You Should See It: With an overblown marketing onslaught not privy to even some of the most expensive summer blockbusters, Paramount is making us a bit wary when it comes to the (once?) much-anticipated sequel. I’m all for the return of Ron Burgundy and the film’s inclusion on this list has me wishing for the best, but here’s hoping the final product can capture what has made the first film an infinitely repeatable cult hit.
6. White Reindeer (Zach Clark; Dec. 6th)
Synopsis: After an unexpected tragedy, Suzanne struggles to put her life back together during a sad, strange Christmastime in suburban Virginia.
Why You Should See It: With a severe lack of notable holiday-themed offerings this month, we’re happily looking toward the independent circuit to provide our fix. After a festival tour resulting in near-unanimous praise, White Reindeer will be making its modest bow this week, theatrically and on VOD. Our own Danny King said it’s “an atypical entry into the Christmas-movie genre, one characterized by both a genuine affection for the spirit of the holiday and a thorny character-study plot that, as is to be expected with [Zack] Clark, contains its share of edgy material.”
5. American Hustle (David O. Russell; Dec. 13th)
Synopsis: A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive British partner Sydney Prosser is forced to work for a wild FBI agent Richie DiMaso. DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.
Why You Should See It: Complete with the star power a glitzy ’70’s-set caper might require, eyes are turned to David O. Russell to see if he can continue his streak following The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. While those films turned what could have been heavily dramatic material (which, some would argue, might work more appropriately) into something much more jovial, American Hustle seems to better fit this approach. Expectations are set to have a rollicking good time alongside the likes of Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Bradley Cooper, so let’s hope the film delivers on that front.
4. The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard; Dec. 20th)
Synopsis: This loose update of the Oscar Wilde fable tells the tale of raging, impulsive Arbor, a boy kicked out of school and into an illegal trade, stealing copper cable for sale.
Why You Should See It: After delivering one of the most striking, effective films of the last few years with The Arbor, director Clio Barnard has returned with a new drama, which will finally hit VOD and theatrical release this month. Following two trouble-making boys (Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas), the film’s been acclaimed since its Cannes premiere, so we’re greatly looking forward to seeking it out in a short time.
3. Her (Spike Jonze; Dec. 18th)
Synopsis: A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.
Why You Should See It: A comparable next step following his short take on robot love with I’m Here, Her provides one of the most well-realized relationships on screen this year, between Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly and his operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. It’s no small feat that Jonze makes this believable, but it’s his immaculate production design of the near-future that helps completely sell this world. While not without its problems (detailed in our review out of NYFF), Her is still bound to be one of the more impressive films you’ll see this month.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen; Dec. 6th)
Synopsis: A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.
Why You Should See It: The mark of a great film is one that, no matter an initial impression, seeps into the deepest recesses of one’s mind and leaves a lasting impact. While I was enthused after a screening of the Coens‘ latest during NYFF, it’s one of the year’s few films that I haven’t been able to shake in the following weeks — not that I would want to. As we said in our Cannes review, this is a “vivid portrait of what it means to be a starving artist” and perhaps the Coens’ most emotionally affecting film.
1. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese; Dec. 25th)
Synopsis: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.
Why You Should See It: Our early looks at Martin Scorsese‘s upcoming drama provide endless comparisons that the director was returning to the world of an excessive life of crime not seen since the likes of Goodfellas — and, judging from the first response, it was warranted. While the Leonardo DiCaprio-led film won’t be seen in theaters until Christmas Day, early buzz suggests it is a no-holds-barred dive into a drug-fueled world, something that seems perfectly suited for Scorsese. With a three-hour runtime and a cut that nearly received an NC-17 rating, we can think of no better present this holiday.
What are you watching this month?