Nobody will top Chuck Jones’ 1966 TV classic version of the Dr. Seuss story starring Boris Karloff as the green guy who stole Christmas, but the first-ever animated film (starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role) just beat Jim Carrey’s wildly popular 2000 live-action version — in fact, the kinder, gentler Grinch had the best first weekend of all time for a Christmas movie. The Grinch gets a motive for his meanness — he’s an embittered orphan who plays “All by Myself” on his pipe organ — and three of the Whos are voiced by Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson and Angela Lansbury, 93.
Even though it’s in black and white, in Spanish, and it has no stars you ever heard of, this touching story inspired by the childhood of director Alfonso Cuarón, 56 (Gravity), could be up for numerous Oscars. Yalitza Aparicio is irresistible as an indigenous Mixtec woman who becomes a domestic worker for a middle-class family in strife-torn 1960s Mexico City and a second mother to the kids. It’s on Netflix starting Dec. 14, but its stunningly gorgeous photography is even better on a big screen.
The selling point of this Netflix holiday offering is child star turned tough guy Kurt Russell, 67 (The Hateful Eight), as Santa Claus, hunted by some Chicago kids who catch him on camera, screw up his delivery, then help him save the day. Russell started out in a 1963 Elvis movie and played him in Elvis (1979), so it’s apt that he sings “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” with Steve Van Zandt’s band. Since the producer is Chris Columbus, the elves resemble his Gremlins, and there are echoes of his Home Alone.
PHOTO BY: Mark Schafer; LD Ent./Roadside Attractions
At 51, Julia Roberts is back big time with this three-hankie drama about a mom (Roberts) whose teen son (Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges) comes home from rehab on Christmas Eve. She’s thrilled to see him, and terrified he’ll relapse — which her husband and daughter (Courtney B. Vance, 58, and Kathryn Newton, both sensationally good) are betting on, since the boy has conned his family before. Director Peter Hedges, 56, (Lucas’s dad) made the wonderful Thanksgiving film Pieces of April, and though this tale has darker thriller elements, it deserves to be a Christmas hit.
Clint Eastwood, 88, directed and stars in this unlikely tale inspired by the true story of Bronze Star-winning World War II hero Leo Sharp, imprisoned at 90 for being a courier for Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel. Eastwood’s character only signs up because he’s broke and alone and doesn’t know what he’s getting into, but soon he’s got DEA agent Bradley Cooper on his trail — and if the feds don’t get him, the cartel might. Dianne Wiest, 70, and Laurence Fishburne, 57, costar. If it doesn’t turn out to be Eastwood’s fifth Oscar winner, it sounds like a good ride anyway.
Want a jolly holiday? Catch Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins and Hamilton!’s Lin-Manuel Miranda as a Dick Van Dyke-like character in the reboot of the 1964 smash by Rob Marshall (Chicago), with a new story and new tunes by Marc Shaiman, 59, and Scott Wittman, 63 (Hairspray). Dick Van Dyke, 92, is back, playing the son of Mr. Dawes, who died laughing in the original. Van Dyke is spry enough to dance on a tabletop — and if this movie lives up to its big buzz, you may do so after seeing it.
Jennifer Lopez, 49, plays a grownup version of Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, a thwarted Costco employee with a lousy job who rebels against her age-discriminating bosses and breaks into the fast lane on Madison Avenue (partly with a résumé sweetened with a fake Wharton degree and pictures of her with the president). It’s a romantic comedy with a serious goal. “People try to put women to sleep at a certain age,” Lopez has said. “Second Act is a story that empowers every woman to do more.”
PHOTO BY: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics
Sure, we want to see Jason Momoa as the saltiest half-human, half-Atlantian member of the Justice League. But frankly, we’re looking forward even more to seeing Nicole Kidman, 51, as his mom, who kicks the soggy bottoms of lots of home-invader soldiers in the opening scene — her debut as an action heroine — and Willem Dafoe, 63, as his mentor Vulko, who rides a giant hammerhead shark like a steed.
Hot on the heels of the Oscar-front-runner documentary RBG, about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, the also smart Cambridge University grad Felicity Jones portrays her in a biopic about the epochal fight against sex discrimination that made her famous, and also her love story with her husband (Armie Hammer). Sam Waterston, 77, plays her Harvard Law dean, and Kathy Bates, 70, plays her ACLU lawyer ally. The film is a comeback for ace director Mimi Leder, 66 (Deep Impact).
They were a winning team in Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, so Will Ferrell, 51, and John C. Reilly, 53, are ideal to play what could turn out to be the most buffoonish Sherlock and Dr. Watson in film history.
Nicole Kidman has never looked less glamorous (nor any cooler) than she does as a bitter, hardbitten undercover LAPD cop in this dark action film. She sleeps in her car, whose trunk sometimes contains criminals she abducts, she’s an awful mother, she looks like she smells bad — but in a beautifully filmed bank robbery shootout, you want her on your side.
PHOTO BY: Sony Pictures Classics
Stan & Ollie (Dec. 28)
The ubiquitous John C. Reilly graces four big movies this year, but the most bittersweet is his turn as film comedian Oliver Hardy, whose routines with reed-thin partner Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan, 53) were so iconic they inspired generations of clowns (and also Waiting for Godot). The film takes them from their 1930s conquest of Hollywood to their sad U.K. comeback tour 16 years later.
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