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PHOTO BY: LACEY TERRELL/CTMG
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Nov. 22)
En español | A hard-bitten journalist (The Americans’ Matthew Rhys, 45) rolls his eyes when he's assigned to profile kids show host Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks, 63), whom he considers corny. But soon Rogers’ shyly titanic niceness overpowers him, and the empathetic TV star in the trademark cardigan manages to help the journo come to terms with the abusive father he loathes (Chris Cooper, 68). Hanks hasn't had an Oscar nomination in 19 years, but he'd better get his tux out of mothballs this year.
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PHOTO BY: Claire Folger/MRC II
Knives Out (Nov. 27)
Writer-director Rian Johnson, 47, whose great genre movies playfully mock their cliches (Looper, Brick), fields an all-star grownup cast for this Murder on the Orient Express pastiche. Someone slit the throat of a tyrant (Christopher Plummer, 89) in his Victorian manse. Was it his plutocrat kid (Jamie Lee Curtis, 60) in the secret passageway? Her cheating husband (Don Johnson, 69)? A Poirot-ish detective (Daniel Craig, 51), who has an accent so Southern-fried someone sarcastically asks him if he's from CSI: KFC, tries to find out.
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PHOTO BY: Peter Mountain/Netflix
The Two Popes (Nov. 27)
The wittiest fact-based movie of the year is a world-class acting duel between Jonathan Pryce, 72, as an Argentine cardinal who asks Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins, 81) to bless his retirement — only to be ordered to become the next pope, Francis. In a fascinating debate that affected the fate of a billion Catholics, traditionalist Benedict and his toughest, most liberal critic face off. In these bitterly divided times, this sweet tale of reconciliation through respectful intellectual combat feels downright redemptive.
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PHOTO BY: Courtesy of Amazon Studios
The Aeronauts (Dec. 6)
Liked Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones’ sizzling chemistry in The Theory of Everything? They're back as adventurers setting an altitude record in a hot-air balloon in 1862. Redmayne's character is real — he passed out from altitude sickness at around 35,000 feet, where jets fly today, and at the three-mile level the balloon dropped like a rock. Jones’ character is a composite of actual pioneering women scientists. Two weeks after it hits select theaters, it streams on Amazon.
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PHOTO BY: A24
Uncut Gems (Dec. 13)
Funnyman Adam Sandler, 53, keeps proving himself a gifted serious actor, but he hasn't had a role this ambitious since Punch Drunk Love, and some critics call it the performance of his career. He's an adulterous gambling addict and jeweler who's in huge debt and really needs to get his hands on a million-dollar opal. The overlapping dialogue is Robert Altman-like, the pace is frenetic, and there's a bit of comedy along with the nerve-racking drama.
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PHOTO BY: Hilary B Gayle/Lionsgate
Bombshell (Dec. 13)
Nicole Kidman, 52, and Charlize Theron, 44, blazingly portray Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, the newswomen who accused Fox News CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow, 74) of sexual harassment. The cast is a glittering parade of A-list talent: Connie Britton, 52, as Ailes’ loyal, cheated-on, much younger wife, Allison Janney, 59, as Ailes’ famous feminist (or feminist turncoat?) lawyer Susan Estrich, Malcolm McDowell, 76, as Fox owner Rupert Murdoch, plus Margot Robbie and Kate McKinnon.
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PHOTO BY: Amblin Entertainment
Cats (Dec. 20)
Full of sound and furry, signifying nothing but fun, the world-conquering feline musical by T.S. Eliot and Andrew Lloyd Webber will likely make a mint, since it's directed by Tom Hooper, 47 (Les Miserables, The King's Speech) and stars cool movie cats like Judi Dench, 84 (Old Deuteronomy), Ian McKellen, 80 (Gus the Theatre Cat), plus kittens like James Corden (Busopher Jones), Jennifer Hudson (Grizabella), Idris Elba (Macavity) and Taylor Swift (Bombalurina).
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PHOTO BY: Lucasfilm Ltd.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Dec. 20)
Thanks to tech wizardry, the late Carrie Fisher makes her final bow in the ninth episode of the Skywalker saga, a film that was supposed to feature her centrally. Living cast members include Mark Hamill, 68, perhaps as a “Force ghost,” Billy Dee Williams, 82, returning all these years later as Lando, the amazing Adam Driver as Darth Vader's grandson Kylo, and Anthony Daniels, 73, the only actor appearing in all of the films, as C-3PO.
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PHOTO BY: Wilson Webb/CTMG
Little Women (Dec. 25)
In the eighth movie version of Louisa May Alcott's coming-of-age classic, directed by Oscar-nominated Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Meryl Streep, 70, is the tart-tongued Aunt March and Laura Dern, 52, plays the matriarch Marmee with more anger and less saintly patience than in past adaptations. The non-grownup women are Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen, with Tracy Letts, 54, as Mr. Dashwood and Bob Odenkirk, 57, as Mr. March.
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1917 (Dec. 25)
Since the schlocky yet action-packed WWII film Midway was an unexpected hit, hopes are sky-high for this prestige picture about two WWI soldiers (Richard Madden and George MacKay) who go behind enemy lines to save 1,600 fellow recruits from an imminent ambush. Oscar-winning writer-director Sam Mendes, 54 (Skyfall, American Beauty) instructed Oscar-winning cinematographer and 13-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins, 70, to shoot the entire film in one long take. We smell a 14th Oscar nomination for him.
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PHOTO BY: Sundance Institute/Eric Branco
Clemency (Dec. 27)
Alfre Woodard, 67 (12 Years a Slave) hasn't had an Oscar nomination since 1983's Cross Creek, but she just might get one as a tough, no-nonsense maximum-security warden who loses her composure (and threatens to ruin her marriage to doting husband Wendell Pierce, 55, of Suits and The Wire) after watching a dozen executions, some of which went wrong in traumatizing ways. Aldis Hodge of TV's Underground is good as her 13th death row inmate, who claims he never killed that cop and could be telling the truth.
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