A 2017 Christmas Movie Prequal: 9 Movies I Plan To See This Holiday Season
Here’s my “must see” movies for the next two weeks: I’m making a list and I’m checking it twice.
Christmas isn’t just the time for opening up presents and spreading holiday cheer. Late December also means the release of what promises to be the year’s very best films.
So far, 2017 has been an atrocious year for movies and for Hollywood. No major motion picture released between January-November attracted widespread public and critical acclaim. And it’s been even worse for Hollywood, which has been mired by multiple sexual harassment (and worse) scandals. The movie industry also continues to lick its wounds after the outlandish embarrassment of last year’s Academy Awards caper, which suffered a stupefying humiliation when the “Best Picture” announcement was flubbed in front of tens of millions of dumbfounded viewers. It didn’t help matters when the mistake was corrected and the winner turned out to be a film that virtually no one saw.
Nonetheless, we’re about to see the release of several movies worth seeing and talking about. Over the next few weeks, I expect to see (and review) most of these nine films here at my site. Here’s my list with some advance thoughts on each upcoming movie — listed alphabetically:
All the Money in the World — I know next to nothing about the true-life J. Paul Getty kidnapping case. I intentionally did not look it up and read more, fearing that knowing the real history might spoil the movie’s suspense. A rare case of willful ignorance. Hence, I’m on the edge of my seat already to see how the world’s richest man stubbornly refused to pay what amounted to a paltry ransom (for him) when his grandson was kidnapped by terrorists in the 1970’s. This movie attracted lots of unintended free publicity, due to the great Christopher Plummer replacing Kevin Spacey in the role of Getty, which will probably boost its viewership. Incredibly, the idiot movie executives initially opposed the stately Plummer being cast in the role (he’s 88) of playing an 81-year-old. Instead, they opted for Spacey (the “bigger name,” they insisted) who was plowed with prosthetic facial instruments and slathered in heavy makeup in order to look 30 years older. This looks to be an intense suspense thriller, made even more riveting because the story really happened.
Darkest Hour — World War II remains a popular film topic as this year’s “Dunkirk” and now “Darkest Hour” have shown. Not sure what more there is to be learned about the most grandiose human conflict of the 20th Century. However, it’s important that current and future generations be exposed to the heroes, villains, and ultimately the lessons of history. Gary Oldman, one of the greatest actors of our time (he’s played the most diverse roles of anyone — “Sid and Nancy” and “State of Grace” were particularly stellar roles), should finally-finally-FINALLY! get his much-deserved and long-overdue Oscar nomination and perhaps win for the difficult portrayal of iconic Winston Churchill, so beset with lofty expectations. I’m not sure what else will stand out in this film, but for Oldman’s performance alone, I plan on seeing it.
Downsizing — This looks like a wonderful film, both visually and as a tongue-in-cheek commentary for troubled times. It’s the Lilliputian concept applied to the modern world of constant crisis and diminishing natural resources. Imagine if we could downsize ourselves to the size of a small mouse. Then, we’d all have plenty of clean water, food, fuel, and other resources to live cheaper and far more responsibly. A single doughnut could feed the entire neighborhood. No need to worry about Climate Change. That’s the basic premise of what looks to be a fascinating tale which is obviously set with further complications. No further knowledge of what will happen. I don’t want to know. Can’t wait.
The Greatest Showman — Hugh Jackman stars as the industrious pitchman P.T. Barnum in this true 1800’s period tale of how he became the ringmaster of the greatest show on earth. I enjoy most movie musicals. I loved last year’s “La La Land,” (which was robbed for not winning Best Picture). This movie earned mixed reviews from critics, but I plan on seeing it — and enjoying it.
Lady Bird — This movie was released a few weeks ago and is receiving marvelous reviews. I absolutely loved Irish actress Saoirse Ronan in “Brooklyn.” Here, she plays an American teenager struggling in the often clunky transition to adulthood. This movie, which is all about intertwined relationships and the critical decisions we make which ultimately shape our lives, doesn’t seem to have much of a plot. Rather, “Lady Bird” is a slice-of-life portrait of something far more meaningful which I expect will leave me reflecting once I’ve left the theater. I like movies that challenge me and take me out of my comfort zone. I hope this is one of them.
Molly’s Game — I loathed this book and found it disgusting. Then, proving I know nothing about taste, I was astounded when the magnificent screenwriter and television producer Aaron Sorkin inexplicably decided to make his directorial debut based on this book/story. Of all the fascinating topics he could have chosen, why this one? Why would anyone care about an illegal poker game filled with rich scumbags? Make no mistake — I’m a huge fan of Sorkin’s style of writing, with all the staccato dialogue and witty drop-the-mic comebacks. I’m an even bigger fan of actress Jessica Chastain, cast here in the title role as “poker princess” Molly. She’s become one of the few must-see performers simply because she’s in it and she doesn’t take bad roles. The film is receiving generally positive reviews, probably more the result of film critics being in love with Sorkin’s work and cheerleading his long overdue foray into directing. I will try to keep an open mind when I see “Molly’s Game.” Oddly enough, the advertising trailers which are running non-stop on television the past few weeks, look awful. Frankly, I’m not sure what to expect.
The Post — This is an important movie for our times, especially in the age of a hopelessly misguided and clueless president who so often openly mocks the press and disparages the astoundingly brave work performed by many journalists. We need to understand why the press is so vital to a functioning democracy and films have the power to remind us why this is so (“All the President’s Men” remains the movie canon on the importance of the First Amendment). That said, how could a movie directed by Steven Spielberg starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep go wrong and play so recklessly with the facts? I’m sure there’s some great moments coming in this movie, but I’m also bitterly disappointed with the historical liberties taken by the screenwriters, for which Spielberg deserves at least part of the blame. Though I’m far more pro-Washington Post and anti-New York Times (another article for another time, perhaps), the New York Times was the real groundbreaker and people’s champion on the Pentagon Papers story. Ridiculous historical latitudes have been taken (largely unnecessarily). While I’m glad to see the late Katharine Graham, the Washington Post’s famed iron lady publisher, receive some film time, Hanks cast in the role of editor Ben Bradlee, Jr. looks to be embarrassing. Then again, no one will ever top tough-minded Jason Robards playing Bradlee, for which he won an Oscar. I’ll go see “The Post,” but am likely to have several criticisms about the film.
The Shape of Water — I plan on seeing this today (Christmas Day). Though I’m not a fan of science fiction, special effects, or movie monsters, this looks to be one of the best movies of the year. It’s the emotional story of a deaf cleaning lady set in 1962 Baltimore who makes a profound discovery (and ultimately a love connection) in a secret government science experiment. I teared up watching the movie trailer. I expect to cry and love every second of this movie, which (from what I can tell) has far deeper-reaching messaging about standing up and fighting for what’s right. This is what great filmmaking should be. It likely has all the elements of the most profound two hours this year that I will spend inside a movie theater.
Wonder Wheel — This is the 65th film made by writer-director Woody Allen. I expect it will bomb at the box office. That’s because movie tastes have dramatically changed in recent years combined with Allen being tainted by the broad brush of scandal which now taints his work. That’s unfortunate. Whatever your view, Allen has undoubtedly given us some masterpieces of storytelling and filmmaking. He’s also tackled taboo topics, sometimes to his own detriment. This likely isn’t one of his best works. It’s received mixed reviews. “Wonder Wheel,” set at 1950’s Coney Island also includes some odd casting (Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake) will probably interest only hard-core Allen fans. Everyone else will either skip it or not even notice it was released and quickly disappeared.
Reviews on each film above (and more) to come.
Merry Movie Christmas, everyone!
Postscript: Two more films that were omitted but should be on this list include “Coco” (the animated film receiving rave reviews and described as an instant classic) and “Phantom Thread” (reportedly to be brilliant actor Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film since he’s announced his retirement).