Ready or not, the holidays are here! You can either celebrate by catching a holiday-themed film at a local movie house, or escape by losing yourself in one of the latest Hollywood releases. Which ever you choose, enjoy the month and have a happy and safe New Year.
December 5 (national release dates)
Comet – Romcom starring Justin Long and Emmy Rossum. The film rewinds and fast forwards simultaneously and we watch the beginning and end of a relationship.
Pioneer – Set in the early 1980’s, this conspiracy thriller with Wes Bentley and Stephen Lang takes place during the oil boom in Norway and the big business (and big danger) behind the designing and installation of deep sea oil wells.
Wild – Oscar’s already buzzing for Reese Witherspoon starring in this true story about Cheryl Strayed, a hot mess of a heroin addict who decides to start life anew by walking the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail.
Exodus: Gods & Kings – Ridley Scott’s version of what happened when Moses said to Pharaoh “Let my people go!” and Pharaoh said “I’m on the other line, can I you call back?” With Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley.
Inherent Vice – The latest from Paul Thomas Anderson and the first filmed version of a novel by notorious recluse Thomas Pynchon. Revisiting the drug and crime ridden 1970’s (which he did in Boogie Nights) Anderson directs Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin and Reese Witherspoon.
Top Five – Wither Adam Sandler? He’s here in this Chris Rock written and directed film about a comedian who wants to be a serious actor. Also featuring Rosario Dawson, Kevin Hart, Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Tracy Morgan and Cedric the Entertainer.
Annie – An updating of the Broadway musical, which was itself an adaption of the Depression-era comic strip. This time Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) is living with evil foster parent Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz.) Daddy Warbucks is now called Will Stacks and he’s a tycoon/mayoral candidate played by Jamie Foxx. Sight unseen it’s got to be better than the legendarily dreadful 1982 version directed by John Huston.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Concluding chapter of the Tolkien novel. Bilbo and the gang are battling Smaug the Dragon and a whole slew of armies. Director Peter Jackson has announced that the film ends with a 45 minute battle scene … so much for Peace on (Middle) Earth, Goodwill T’ward Men.
Mr. Turner – Something for the grown-ups. Mike Leigh directs Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner, considered the greatest British painter of all time. Artistic genius though he may have been, Turner was also, well … odd, as you’ll find out in this biopic.
Big Eyes – Do you remember those kitsch-y 50’s-era paintings of little kids with the big eyes? They were painted by Margaret Keane but, in the 60’s her husband tried to claim that he did them! Some people are awful, aren’t they? Tim Burton directs Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz.
Into the Woods – The movie event of the season. Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-winning musical mash-up of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack & The Beanstalk, Cinderella and Rapunzel finally makes it to the big screen with an all-star cast including Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep.
Unbroken – Angelina Jolie’s sophomore directorial outing, this one is the true story of an Olympic Runner, Louis Zamperini, who joined the army in 1941, and was shot down by the Japanese and kept in a POW camp for the duration of the war.
Local Independent Screens
Jingle Bell Rocks! – Director Mitchell Kezin goes on the road in search of his 12 favorite alternative Christmas tunes … and along the way runs across Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons of RUN-D.M.C, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, Dr. Demento, filmmaker John Waters and Calypso legend The Mighty Sparrow.
Lolita – Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s infamous novel about Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged English professor who marries a middle-American widow … so he can get close to her 14 year old daughter. About as far away from typical holiday fare as you can imagine. With James Mason, Shelley Winters and Peter Sellers.
White Christmas – Perennial holiday favorite with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen and the always fabulous Mary Wickes. Backstage show biz story about a bunch of performers who try to lift the spirits of a forgotten war hero. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. The title tune, by the way, has been named by the RIAA as the second most important song of the 20th century.
Citizen Four – Documentary about Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who in 2013 released evidence he acquired while on the job proving that the NSA, in collaboration with other global intelligence agencies, had been running illegal surveillance on Americans and American allies.
It’s a Wonderful Life – Jimmy Stewart colludes with an evil banker to rob the town of Bedford Falls. Just kidding! Seriously, is there anyone alive who doesn’t know what this 1946 Frank Capra directed film is about?
The Overnighters – When the fracking oil boom hit North Dakota, people flocked from all over the county in hope of making their fortunes … only to discover almost none of the promised treasure was real. This documentary tells the story of a local pastor who helped them pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.
Chico & Rita – An animated feature-length film from Spain about a songwriter (Chico) and a singer (Rita) in the 1940’s who chase their show biz dreams from Havana to New York to Las Vegas.
Europa Europa – Classic 1990 German-language film directed by Agnieszka Holland based on the autobiography of Solomon Perel, a German Jew who hid from the Nazis and survived the war by pretending to be an elite “Aryan.”
Home Alone – This holiday classic is remembered for two things: The overnight stardom of it’s 10 year-old star Macaulay Culkin playing a young boy who outwits a couple of bungling burglars. But mostly it’s remembered for it’s now iconic movie poster: The wide-eyed, open-mouthed Culkin with his hands slapped against his cheeks.
Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh-based writer and critic.