En español | Everyone recovered from Thanksgiving? Good, because boy, are there a bunch of exciting movies coming to screens big and small this week. From the first crop of holiday releases hitting theaters to a pair of fascinating documentaries about Beach Boy genius Brian Wilson and acclaimed author Kurt Vonnegut, we’ve also picked out all (and we mean ALL) the merry-making Christmas movies, specials and TV episodes worth tuning in to this season. Pass the candy cane-topped popcorn! ’Tis the season!
Get excited for this year’s crop of movies opening over the holidays
Don’t you get a tingle up your spine when you see “Coming December 25th” at the end of a movie preview? So does Hollywood, which is why there’s always a fun batch of films opening in the weeks leading up to the holidays (always including a Christmas Day showstopper, and boy, do we have one this year). We’ve rounded up what’s coming and what’s worth a trip to the theater. Break up that holiday shopping with some movie fun!
Get the scoop: 2021 Holiday Movie Preview
Ready for some holiday movie cheer in the comfort of your home?
We thought so, which is why we’ve created a sleighful of watchlists for whatever holiday mood you’re in. Want a heartwarming Christmas flick? The best new holiday originals on Hallmark? Hilarious TV episodes? We’ve got everything here to make you merry!
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Our critics loved this holiday family drama … find out why!
The Humans, R
I love a holiday movie that centers on a family imploding around the turkey. The Blakes have a skeleton in every closet. Patriarch Erik Blake (played from merely uptight to operatic mania by possible Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins, 74) drives wife (Jayne Houdyshell, 68), mother (June Squibb, 92), and older daughter Aimee (Amy Schumer) from Pennsylvania to Manhattan for the big meal. Hosting three generations in her crusty Chinatown walk-up, bossy composer Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her new beau (Steven Yeun) experience a horrifically awkward meet-the-parents. The choice, as the recently dumped Aimee counsels her sister between colitis flares, is whether to be sad together or sad alone. That’s the way the wishbone breaks in a collision of horror and humor that’s as human as it is cringeworthy. —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.)
Two incredible documentaries arrive this week about two legends
Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road, Unrated
As they tour Brian Wilson’s old L.A. haunts, Rolling Stone’s Jason Fine gently coaxes a few stories out of the reticent genius, some interesting. This desultory documentary gives you a sense of his emotional torment, still hearing voices echoing his father’s cruelty. You feel the pain as he plaintively sings, “Gotta keep those good vibrations,” and thrill to hear him say he plans a rock ’n’ roll covers album. The best scenes are musical: Wilson in the studio in the ’60s and today, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and Don Was explicating “God Only Knows” and surf music. “George Martin did [production] for the Beatles, but Brian did it himself,” says Elton. “He had an orchestra in his head.” You wish the scenes of Wilson creating were longer, but even the bits are inspiring. —Tim Appelo (T.A.)
Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time, Unrated
Curb Your Enthusiasm director Robert Weide spent 40 years making this film about the author of Slaughterhouse-Five, and became such a friend that Kurt Vonnegut used him as a personal archivist. Vonnegut’s life is dramatic: growing up in the shadow of a famous scientist brother who invented cloud seeding (inspiring Cat’s Cradle); surviving a firebombing in Dresden; going broke for 17 years as a pulp writer; taking his beloved late sister’s kids into his family (of nine); hitting it rich in midlife; and leaving his brilliant editor/manager wife for Manhattan’s elite, becoming a jauntily disconsolate star like a ’70s Mark Twain. His sharp kids offer trenchant insights: When he says Dresden didn’t faze him a bit, cut to a daughter saying, “He’s full of it.” —T.A.
Don’t miss our powerhouse pair of Netflix watches of the week
The Power of the Dog, R
Who’s the big dog on the Montana prairie? That’s the sly question propelling Jane Campion’s glorious, sweeping and intimate Oscar-bound Western. Set at the volatile crossroads of horse culture and the horseless carriage in 1925, change is in the air. The bachelor Burbank brothers have managed the family ranch for 25 years. Phil, menacingly played by Benedict Cumberbatch, rangy of build and cunning of eye, is a charismatic and cutting alpha dog. Beneath his bullying hide, he has repressed his authentic, vulnerable self. His secrets erupt when Phil’s temperate brother George (rock-solid Jesse Plemons) weds the widow Rose Gordon (a finely wrought Kirsten Dunst). She triangulates their relationship, moving in with her effete son, Peter (a sensational Kodi Smit-McPhee), and threatening Phil’s fierce frontier facade. Campion, who shockingly hasn’t made a feature since 2009’s Bright Star, crafts a compelling tale that connects viscerally with the audience and sticks its devastating landing.
Watch it: The Power of the Dog, on Netflix
Halle Berry, 55, doesn’t play nice in her gritty feature directorial debut. In a cross between Million Dollar Baby and Raging Bull, she stars as hard-drinking MMA vet Jackie Justice. The fighter’s spectacular flameout in the cage left the Newark, New Jersey, native in a spiral of booze, abuse and bad choices. When the 6-year-old son Jackie abandoned as an infant suddenly shows up, mute and damaged, it puts her at a crossroads: Can she regain her dignity and find her inner dragon mom? You betcha — and it will all end in one thrilling flyweight title fight, with a little help from Jackie’s gay trainer, Buddhakan (striking Sheila Atim). Go, Berry, for taking your muscular, agile self where Antoine Fuqua, 55, once took Denzel Washington, 66, and for showing audiences the magnitude of your range. Kick butt, break rules, and direct your first feature after 50? Maybe Berry could be the next Bond. —T.M.A.
Watch it: Bruised, on Netflix
Don’t Miss This: The 21 Best Things Coming to (and Leaving) Netflix in December
Excited for Belfast? We thought you might be
There’s nothing like a director’s personal look at his or her own childhood, which is why Belfast inspired our critics to bring you their favorite films where famous directors from Federico Fellini to Greta Gerwig look back with the kind of artful nostalgia we love. Add one (or more) of these marvelous films streaming now to your week’s watchlist.
Speaking of Jamie Lee Curtis …
Emerging from the pandemic with excitement, enthusiasm and a revised view of the rest of her life, actress, author and advocate Jamie Lee Curtis reveals in AARP The Magazine’s cover story how she is making up for lost time. The former “scream queen” and two-time Golden Globe winner opens up about finding creative outlets, embracing her age, and better appreciating each moment in her life. Curtis also shares an inside look into her longtime marriage with her “one and only,” Christopher Guest.
Get the scoop: Jamie Lee Curtis: A Life in Full Bloom
Football fans, this one’s for you
The NFL is finally back, and not a moment too soon. Fingers crossed, it feels like a baby step toward normalcy. Which is why our Sundays — and Monday nights, and Thursday nights, for that matter — will be booked solid between now and mid-February. For the other days of the week, well, we’ve got a list of the 19 best football movies for you to stream while you’re waiting for the next slate of games to kick off.
Kick it off here: 19 Great Football Movies to Stream Between NFL Games
Don’t open Netflix again until you’ve read this
Do you get a little dizzy from all those “recommendations” the streaming giant proposes for you? Our critic took a close look behind the browsing curtain at Netflix and has some uncomfortable truths about how Netflix is manipulating your browsing experience. Get the whole scoop and find out how to take control of your account (and see better stuff).
21 great movies you didn’t even know were on Netflix!
Sure, you know the big-name shows and original series that the streaming giant wants you to browse … but did you know that Netflix has about 3,700 movies you can stream? Our critics sifted through the whole list to uncover 21 fantastic gems that are ready to watch. So what are you waiting for?
Love Aretha (and Patsy, and Tina, and Loretta)?
Buena Vista/Courtesy Everett Collection; Courtesy Everett Collection; Quantrell D. Colbert/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
The history of popular music in America has been marked by women of massive talent, personality and grit. Moviemakers have tried to capture and share their spirit (and songs). Inspired by this summer’s release of Respect, our critics pulled together an all-star watch list of the best movies to stream online about those divas of stage and screen. Warning: It’s impossible not to sing out loud while watching!
Start streaming now: The 10 Most Rocking, Soulful and Inspiring Diva Biopics
LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL: The funniest movies are here!
Suzanne Hanover/Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection; Frank Micelotta/Getty Images; Courtesy Everett Collection
Our new critics’ watch list, the 20 Funniest Movies of the Last 50 Years, is going to have you ROTFL, guaranteed (and maybe also arguing that your personal faves didn’t make the cut). Check out the list — just reading about these hilarious films might make you laugh out loud — and line up some great summer fun.
Get ready to bookmark this ultimate movie watchlist
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Our critics scanned the entire film catalog from the 1930s to now to handpick just 30 films that you must — must — see. We’re not talking about the best films (everyone does that list) but rather the films that are essential. You want to have seen these movies not just because they’re great (they are), but because they ensure you’re tuned into their cultural moments, the power of their time. So when someone makes a Philadelphia Story reference or deadpans, “the Dude abides,” you know exactly what they mean.
Get the list here: The 30 Movies Every Grownup Should Know
Love rom-coms but tired of watching millennials have all the fun?
Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection; James Hamilton/Focus World/Courtesy Everett Collection
We hear you. Which is why our critics found the 13 best romantic comedies that feature older actors! From an all-grown-up Spencer and Tracy in 1957’s Desk Set to Angela Bassett in How Stella Got Her Groove Back in the late ’90s to Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland in 2017’s The Leisure Seeker, these are love stories for folks who know a thing or two about love. Grab your favorite rom-com date and get streaming here: Grown-ups In (and Out) of Love: 13 Great Rom-Coms Starring Older Actors
Feeling overwhelmed with all the streaming services on your TV?
Disney, HBO, Peacock … it seems like every time you turn around (or turn on the TV), another streaming service is vying for your attention (and subscription dollars). Which streaming services out there are really worth the money? How do you decide what to pick? Here’s what you need to know about your options on Apple, BET, CBS, Disney, HBO and NBC: Too Many TV Streaming Service Choices? Here’s What You Need to Know
More of the very best movies online
It’s truly amazing how many incredible movies there are available on mainstream platforms like Amazon, Netflix and others. Our critics round up the very best for you, no matter what your interest. Check out the latest “Best of” lists from AARP critics. There’s never been a better time to catch up on movies you always intended to watch.
Other movies to watch
The Beatles: Get Back
There’s never been a better time to be a Fab Four fan. Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson turns 60 hours of footage and 150 hours of unheard 50-year-old audio of the Beatles in the studio creating 14 songs (and doing their last public performance) into a spanking-new docuseries with scenes you’ve never seen before. It’s a fascinating, gloriously long documentary, with songs they wrote as teenagers — you wish they’d finished them all, but the bits they do sparkle — and tunes that wound up on Let It Be, Abbey Road and solo albums. You get to be there when songs are born, and as the Beatles bicker, joke, break up and reunite in creative exhilaration. This documentary will make you feel like it’s 1969 again — in a good way. —Tim Appelo (T.A.)
Watch it: The Beatles: Get Back, on Disney+
Don’t Miss This: Giles Martin, son of the band’s first producer, George Martin, tells AARP about his new, five-disc Let It Be album and the new documentary from Peter Jackson. Read it all here: Beatles Fans, Rejoice: New Documentary and Album Set the ‘Get Back’ Record Straight
Licorice Pizza, R
Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread) returns to his Boogie Nights/Magnolia home turf, the San Fernando Valley, for a nostalgic charmer about the relationship between a self-confident teenage boy (Cooper Hoffman) and an acerbic 20-something woman (Alana Haim). The movie, set during the polyester ’70s, is more anecdotal than plot-driven, but the anecdotes are often wonderful — Bradley Cooper is a scream as hairstylist-producer Jon Peters — and the whole thing has an ingratiating summer vibe hanging over it. Plus, it’s a family affair: Hoffman is the son of the late Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman and Haim’s sisters (and bandmates in the rock group Haim) play her sisters. —Ty Burr (T.B.)
Watch it: Licorice Pizza, in theaters
House of Gucci, R
At Gucci, our house is a very, very, very naughty house. Directed by maestro Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator), 83, this long, bouncy tale of the Italian luxury designers’ fall never met a fast car it didn’t slow down to capture. And it loves actors! Jeremy Irons, 73, cast as Rodolfo Gucci, the more effete of the two founding brothers, has played his share of Borgias and corrupt popes. Here, with a John Waters mustache, he’s a deliciously toothless lion in winter. As his craftier sibling Aldo, Al Pacino, 81, roars and roars. And the sons! Adam Driver excels as Rodolfo’s socially awkward, intellectual Maurizio. As Aldo’s Paolo, Jared Leto’s smothered in prosthetics yet emotionally present. OK: So where’s Lady Gaga? She’s Patrizia Reggiani, the outrageous outsider who weds Maurizio and eventually Jengas the entire clan. With her unnatural accent and stilted sway, Lady Gaga’s not the catalyst the movie demands. She sticks out like a cheap knockoff. —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.)
Watch it: House of Gucci, in theaters
The Unforgivable, R
Props to America’s sweetheart Sandra Bullock, 57, for doing the no-makeup, high intensity, chip-on-her-shoulder dramatic actress riff, following Kate Winslet (Mare of Easttown), Charlize Theron (Monster) and Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball), 55. Bullock plays dour ex-con Ruth Slater, who gets out of prison following a violent crime and still takes a licking in the unforgiving civilian world. Viola Davis, 56, and Vincent D’Onofrio, 62, are strong in supporting roles, while Bullock gives Ruth her all. We root for this battered woman, but we’re rooting for the star — she doesn’t disappear into the role the way Winslet does as Mare of Easttown. —T.M.A.
King Richard, R
In the real story of tennis immortals Venus and Serena Williams, the kids (Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton) are all right. They hit all the notes of a sport biopic with a satisfying thwack. But the grownups steal the show. Will Smith (53) outdoes himself as their dad/coach Richard, who survived KKK thugs in youth, protects them from Compton thugs, vows they won’t always have to share a bedroom with three other extremely talented sisters in poverty and shamelessly promotes them to the rich, lily-white tennis establishment. Smith conveys the bizarre drive that made his preposterous plan come true in a performance as impressive as anything he’s done, perhaps more, and entirely new. Remarkably, Aunjanue Ellis (52) is even better in the smaller role of Richard’s wife, Oracene, who stands up to his iron will and coaches just as well. A total feel-good movie. —T.A.
Don’t miss this: The 7 things Aunjanue Ellis suggests doing now
And this!: The ultimate tennis lover’s movie watchlist
C’mon C’mon, R
Joaquin Phoenix is superb as Johnny, a charming, disheveled radio journalist who interviews (apparently actual) kids about how they see the future. Suddenly, his estranged L.A. sister (an excellent Gaby Hoffmann) asks him to look after her 8-year-old, Jesse (Woody Norman). She’s got to tend to her bipolar husband (Scoot McNairy). So Jesse joins Johnny in New York and on the road. He’s a whirlwind of cute-free, extreme eccentricity, and peppers him with questions — “Why aren’t you married?” and “Will I wind up like my dad?” — and scares him witless by wandering off in crowds. Their bond grows, as does Johnny, a bit like Hugh Grant in About a Boy but with infinite naturalism. Some will loathe the movie’s looseness, and the real-kid interview scenes make it like two movies. But go with its shagginess — it will warm you. Norman is one fine child actor, on par with Phoenix at his best. And the black-and-white cinematography is as good as Belfast’s. —T.A.
Watch it: C’mon C’mon, in theaters
Ghostbusters: Afterlife, PG-13
This Ghostbusters for the Stranger Things generation is an action-packed afterlife for the 1984 comedy classic. Single mom Callie (Carrie Coon) drags her kids — nerdy tween Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and antsy teen Trevor (Stranger Things breakout star Finn Wolfhard) — to Oklahoma to obtain the dilapidated farm bequeathed by her father, Egon Spengler (the late Harold Ramis, who died at 69). Paul Rudd (52) is there to greet them as silly science teacher (and love interest) Mr. Grooberson. It’s all gooey fun, with garrulous ghosts and anarchic mini Stay Puft marshmallow men. Bill Murray (71), Dan Aykroyd (69) and Ernie Hudson (75) cheerily reprise their roles during the monster climax of this undead franchise pitched at old fans and their kids. —T.M.A.
Watch it: Ghostbusters: Afterlife, in theaters
Fine-art heist-meister Ryan Reynolds joins FBI gumshoe Dwayne Johnson to catch the biggest art thief of all, the Bishop (Gal Gadot).
Watch it: Red Notice, on Netflix
Not since John Boorman’s 1987 WWII masterpiece Hope and Glory has there been such an inspiring film about a director’s childhood in a war zone — in this case, Kenneth Branagh, now 60, growing up amid the 1969 Protestant-Catholic riots in Ireland. Jude Hill is brilliant as a sensitive kid troubled by the Troubles, playing war with a wooden sword and a trash-can-lid shield as grownups battle for real. Not just a coming-of-age film, it’s an absorbing family portrait: Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan are wonderful as his movie-star-beautiful parents, and Ciarán Hinds, 68, and Judi Dench, 86, still better as the warmly waggish grandparents they live with. It evokes a time and place through a child’s eyes, and makes you feel part of the torn town and the unbreakable family. It’s shot in luminous black and white, except for the color that lights up their lives when they’re at the cinema gasping at fur-bikini’d Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s flying auto. You feel their urgent need to escape the drama erupting in the streets outside, and why they can’t bear to leave, and the way Belfast will always be with them wherever they roam. Expect Branagh to roam down that Oscar red carpet soon. —T.A.
Watch it: Belfast, in theaters
Father Christmas Is Back
Netflix unleashes its biggest avalanche of Christmas flicks yet, including this one starring Elizabeth Hurley, John Cleese and Kelsey Grammer in the saga of four squabbling sisters whose AWOL dad turns up for the holiday at the family manor.
Watch it: Father Christmas Is Back, on Netflix
Bet on Kristen Stewart to win the Oscar as Diana Spencer, better known as Princess Diana. She captures some of what made Di famous: the downcast eyes, shy half-smile, vulnerability, whimsicality, bulimia, motherly love and ghastly oppression by her faithless husband’s old, cold family. She’s not as smart, lively and effectively rebellious as the real Di, because this is billed as a fable, not a fact-based tale like The Crown. Captive in a royal mansion at Christmas as she ponders divorce, Di lives in a fugue state, dreading a beheading like Anne Boleyn’s — when Anne’s shade confronts her in a haunted house, it’s hard to say which is the ghostlier girl. Writer Steven Knight (the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? creator whose Eastern Promises is a must-see) turns Di’s life into a silly, dumb fairy tale made stylish by director Pablo Larraín. Stewart’s moving performance redeems the caricature, as do Sally Hawkins as Di’s beloved dresser and Timothy Spall as her malevolent royal handler. —T.A.
Watch it: Spencer, in theaters
A cross between Wall-E, I Am Legend, The Martian and his own Castaway, Tom Hanks, 65, stars as Finch, a terminally ill robotics engineer scrounging for survival in post-apocalyptic St. Louis, accompanied by an adopted pooch. The sci-fi drama showcases a stringy solo Hanks as we may have never seen him before: licking a dog food spoon clean, naked in profile like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2, and snapping at the latter-day C-3PO he has created to care for the dog should Finch pass. When the weather becomes intolerable, the flawed-but-sincere nomad, his dog and their robot head for San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in an RV on a road trip where life lessons are thicker than dust storms, secrets parceled out like the last can of peaches, and a bond grows between man, machine and canine. —T.M.A.
Watch it: Finch, on Apple TV+
Award-winning actress Rebecca Hall steps behind the camera to direct her adaptation of Nella Larsen’s gripping 1929 novella. Her sharp, closely observed, emotional black-and-white debut gives Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson the riveting leads they deserve — and the time and close-ups to let their characters unfurl in all their complexity and contradictions. Negga and Thompson excel as two old Harlem friends who reconnect after many years — bottle-blonde Clare is passing as white and wed to a Caucasian racist (Alexander Skarsgard), while Irene remains in the old neighborhood, married to a Black doctor (Andre Holland). The pair’s joyful yet fraught reunion stirs up jealousy, dissatisfaction, and issues of identity and betrayal. While the narrative is short on drive, the stellar performances and Hall’s blinding intelligence make this a stunning and sensitive directorial debut. —T.M.A.
Last Night in Soho, R
Gonzo stylist Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver) gets his Swinging London freak on in a suspense thriller that goes from exhilarating to sinister to bloody hell. A mousy modern-day fashion student (Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace) bonds across time with a Carnaby Street dollybird (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Queen’s Gambit). It’s swellegantly directed but pads out the scream time before an effective twist. Viewers who were there can revel in the soundtrack (Cilla Black, Petula Clark, The Kinks) and appearances by '60s legends Rita Tushingham, 79, Terence Stamp, 83, and — in her final role, and a meaty one, too — the late, great Diana Rigg. —T.B.
Watch it: Last Night in Soho, in theaters
The Harder They Fall, R
Like a Tarantino romp only faster-paced, Jeymes Samuel’s Black Western is a sort-of historical hoot and a holler. It really is history-inspired: Blacks were a quarter of America’s cowboys, and the movie’s stampede of stars play wildly fictionalized actual people: Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo, 68), the West’s first Black deputy U.S. marshal; outlaws Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) and Nat Love (Jonathan Majors); and Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), the first Black U.S. mail carrier. Treacherous Trudy Smith (Regina King, 50) is a gas but not real. The shaggy-dog plot involves the Love gang’s vendetta against Buck’s, but it’s just an excuse for tongue-in-cheek genre pastiche, high-noon showdowns and saloon shootouts, shot with flippant style and a killer soundtrack by everyone from Fela Kuti to Jay-Z (a coproducer). It’s overstuffed with terrific actors having a blast, and the fun’s infectious. —T.A.
Don’t miss this: 11 Gems From the Black Film Archive to Watch Now
Few movies justify the word spectacular as amply as this bladder-challenging 155-minute sci-fi epic set on Arrakis, a more impressive desert world than Luke Skywalker ever saw. Its massive dunes look like Lawrence of Arabia’s, only patrolled by giant, lamprey-like sandworms, with eight-winged dragonfly-like helicopters buzzing overhead. There’s a nice intergenerational vibe between the planet’s steward, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), and his son Paul (Timothée Chalamet), ambiguously blessed with supernatural gifts. The fat-as-Jabba-the-Hutt bad guy Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård, 70) gets an entrance resembling Brando’s in Apocalypse Now. As the ruthless truthsayer Reverend Mother Mohiam, who tests Paul’s mystical mettle, Charlotte Rampling, 75, is icy coolness itself. The brooding tale takes its own sweet time, and you sometimes wish it would cut to the chase and have Paul lead the desert tribe of Stigar (Javier Bardem, 52) against the bad guy, already. But it’s brooding, somber, deliberate as a funeral march, haunting. You wonder if it’ll ever end, then get peeved you can’t see the sequel immediately. —T.A.
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
Attention cat people: Here’s the Benedict Cumberbatch period biopic for you — even if that other drama, The Power of the Dog, will get him his Oscar nomination. Directed by the madly imaginative Will Sharpe (BBC crime drama Giri/Haji), Cumberbatch enchants as British illustrator Louis Wain (1860–1939). An impoverished London aristocrat responsible for his five unmarried sisters, Wain chose art and love over family duty. He gained national attention creating anthropomorphized images of felines — and popularized cats as house pets. Extra added bonus? A romance between Wain and the governess, played by The Crown’s Claire Foy, will keep you purring. Sadly, their love was deep but not long, and Wain’s mental condition (possibly schizophrenia) made his images of animals increasingly, brilliantly psychedelic, and landed him in the Napsbury Hospital, where he died at 78. —T.M.A.
The French Dispatch, R
Director Wes Anderson, 52, follows two of his best movies — Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) — with far and away his worst. A tremendous cast (Frances McDormand, Bill Murray and Timothée Chalamet, for starters) is wasted in a visually busy, emotionally sterile collection of short stories from a fictional New Yorker magazine based in France. The movie’s like an explosion in a graphic design factory: Every frame is fit for a coffee-table book and hermetically sealed from the rest. How can a movie so obsessively overdesigned be so dull? For auteurist completists only — and there are many, because The French Dispatch grossed more per screen than any film since the pandemic began, driven by older viewers returning to theaters. But non-completists should stick with the wistful summer island memories of Moonrise Kingdom or the comic melancholy of The Grand Budapest Hotel, with Ralph Fiennes as the soul of prewar Europe in the form of a concierge. —T.B.
Watch it: The French Dispatch, in theaters
No Time to Die, PG-13
Just when he thought he was out, James Bond (leathery but lethally sexy Daniel Craig, 53) gets pulled back into his old mess of international intrigue and MI6 office politics. Assuredly directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation), the film dashes from Italy to Cuba to London in one switchback after another with stunning scenes of escalating danger, stolen kisses, and fast cars. The action sequences, particularly in the thriller’s first two thirds, are seamless and giddy. The plot? It has something to do with bitter orphan Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek veering toward Peter Lorre) and his – mwahaha – scheme to unleash a genocidal DNA-driven bio weapon. Meanwhile, the band’s come back together – Lea Seydoux as the love interest; CIA pal Jeffrey Wright, 55; Ralph Fiennes, 58; Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris as Bond’s office pod; and Lashana Lynch as his 007 replacement. On a stealth mission to Cuba, Bond joins newcomer Paloma (Ana de Armas), who kicks butt in a plunging evening gown. —T.M.A.
DON’T MISS THIS: The 5 Best (and 5 Worst) James Bond Movies of All Time
The Rescue, PG
In 2018, the Wild Boars Youth Soccer League plus coach disappeared in a Northern Thailand cave, inspiring a global panic. As monsoons surged, the real danger was that the 13 would drown. Using existing footage, including a tranche of footage from the Royal Thai Navy Seals, interviews and reenactments, filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin reveal the heroism of all involved. This included a small circle of Western amateur cave divers that risked their lives and tipped the balance. This nail-biter is elevated by the notion that sometimes it takes a global village – plus a small circle of amateur experts exceeding their comfort zone – to save lives when natural disasters strike. —T.M.A.
Watch it: The Rescue, in theaters
Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali, PG-13
Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali’s historically significant, tragically troubled friendship got superb fictional treatment lately in the hits One Night in Miami and The Godfather of Harlem, so it’s a fine time for this thoughtful documentary by Marcus A. Clarke and Black-ish producer Kenya Barris about what really happened, with the piercing insights of Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz and colleagues Herb Boyd and A. Peter Bailey; Ali’s brother, Rahman, and daughters Maryum and Hana, and brilliant professors Johnny Smith, Randy Roberts, Todd Boyd and Cornel West. —T.A.
Yes, it’s formulaic, with foreseeable TV-like beats, but there’s a reason this winsome indie film broke all Sundance Festival sales records. The most feel-good Sundance hit since Little Miss Sunshine, it’s an irresistible coming-of-age tale of a CODA, a Child Of Deaf Adults (Emilia Jones). Ruby helps her irascible hearing-impaired folks (Marlee Matlin, 55, and The Mandalorian’s Troy Kotsur) and brother (Daniel Durant) with the family fishing business in a salty Massachusetts town. She joins the school choir — there’s a cute boy — and proves to be a Glee-level singer with a shot at Berklee College of Music. When Ruby sings “Both Sides Now,” her parents can’t hear it, but they can feel it, bridging the gaps of both generation and hearing. Unsurprisingly, Matlin’s acting is just as good when she’s signing (with subtitles), not speaking. —T.A.
Watch it: CODA, on Apple TV+
DON’T MISS THIS: 10 Things Marlee Matlin Suggests Doing Now
Tim Appelo is AARP’s film and TV critic. Previously, he was Amazon’s entertainment editor, Entertainment Weekly’s video critic, and a writer for The Hollywood Reporter, People, MTV, LA Weekly and The Village Voice.