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​2021 Holiday Movie Preview: 14 Films Not to Miss

From ‘Being the Ricardos’ to ‘West Side Story,’ from Spider-Man to Macbeth, get excited for a thrilling month of new movie releases

Denzel Washington stars in the film The Tragedy of Macbeth and Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler star in West Side Story

A24; Niko Tavernise/20th Century Studios

(Left to right) Denzel Washington in "The Tragedy of Macbeth," and Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler in "West Side Story."

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Holiday season means movie season as much as it means balsam firs and hot chocolate. Hollywood rolls out the big flicks it’s betting the ranch on, so there’s more than a Santa’s sackful of promising films with great stars and terrific directors coming up between now and New Year’s Day. Mark your calendars and settle in!​​

Note: If you choose to visit a theater to see a film, read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus health and safety guide and consult AARP’s latest news on the coronavirus.​​​​​

Coming Dec. 10

Being the Ricardos

When TV writer turned movie auteur Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) cast Javier Bardem and Nicole Kidman as the I Love Lucy stars during one grueling week for their show and their tattered marriage, Hollywood pundits scoffed. Now they’re talking Oscars. Said critic Kyle Buchanan: “Lucy, you’ve got some campaigning to do!”​

Coming to: Limited theaters and Dec. 21 to Amazon Prime

Don’t Look Up

In a disaster farce, the president (Meryl Streep, 72) won’t believe scientists (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence) who warn that a comet is coming. “She’s a hybrid of all the ridiculous leaders we’ve had for the past 10, 20, 30 years,” notes writer-director Adam McKay.​

Coming to: Theaters nationwide and Dec. 24 to Netflix

West Side Story

The greatest American playwright, Tony Kushner, and the greatest director, Steven Spielberg, adapt the great New York musical by the great Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (in turn adapting the Bard), and the preview-audience applause is deafening.​

Coming to: Theaters nationwide


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Coming Dec. 17

The Tender Bar

George Clooney, 60, directs a heartstring-fiddling adaptation of J.R. Moehringer’s memoir about a boy (Tye Sheridan) who grows up absent a father in a Long Island bar full of surrogate dads, including his doting bartender uncle (Ben Affleck, 49), who becomes his literary mentor and instructor in “the male sciences.” ​

Coming to: Theaters nationwide and on Jan. 7 to Amazon Prime

The Lost Daughter

In the deeply moving directing debut of actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, a professor (Olivia Colman, 47) meets a young mom (Dakota Johnson) on a Greek vacation, stirring up her own mixed feelings about motherhood. Ed Harris, 71, excels as her would-be midlife sweetheart. ​

Coming to: Theaters nationwide and on Dec. 31 to Netflix

Nightmare Alley

How hardboiled is Guillermo del Toro’s remake of the 1947 noir classic? A drifter turned grifter (Bradley Cooper) thinks he’s got trouble when he sets fire to a house containing a corpse — then he meets a carnival barker (Willem Dafoe), a fortune-teller (Toni Collette), a magician out of tricks (David Strathairn) and one scary psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett).

Coming to: Theaters nationwide​​​​​

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Movie superheroes are typically youngsters, but their dastardly opponents are often played by seasoned actors at the peak of their powers, like Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe, 66), Vulture (Michael Keaton, 70), Electro (Jamie Foxx, 53), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church, 61) and Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina, 68), some of whom torment the hero (Tom Holland). ​

Coming to: Theaters nationwide

Coming Dec. 22​​

The King’s Man

In World War I times, the Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes, 58) and his super-secret service battle villains, including versions of historical figures like British warrior Lord Kitchener (Charles Dance, 75), Rasputin (Rhys Ifans, 54) and the monarchs of England, Germany and Russia (all played by Tom Hollander, 54).​

Coming to: Theaters nationwide

The Matrix Resurrections

In the trippiest of sci-fi sequels, Neo (Keanu Reeves, 57) reunites with hacker Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, 54), gets a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) and discerns reality from fiction … or does he?

Coming to: Theaters nationwide and to HBO Max​​​

Coming Dec. 24

Parallel Mothers

​Two single moms, one middle-aged, one young (Penélope Cruz and Milena Smit), give birth the same day in the same hospital, and find their lives entwined in a Pedro Almodóvar movie — only it’s not a comic romp but a tale involving the dark legacy of Franco’s brutish Spanish Civil War. ​

Coming to: Limited theaters​​​​

Wicked

​Cynthia Erivo plays the not-so-wicked witch of the East and Ariana Grande is Glinda the allegedly good witch in the adaptation of the musical that hit Broadway like a Kansas twister. ​​

Coming to: Theaters nationwide

Coming Dec. 25

A Journal for Jordan

​“I have been wanting to bring Dana Canedy’s treasured book to the big screen for over 20 years,” says director Denzel Washington, who tells the heroic story of Pulitzer Prize winner Canedy’s doomed partner’s Iraq War journal addressed to their infant son.​​

Coming to: Theaters nationwide

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Frances McDormand played Shakespeare’s lady of direst cruelty at 56 onstage, and now again at 64 onscreen, with Denzel Washington, 66, as her throne-heisting husband, and her actual husband Joel Coen, 67, as director. “I’m so glad I didn’t do it when I was younger,” said McDormand, because it gave the Macbeths a fresh new take: “an older couple at the end of their ambition rather than at the beginning.”

Coming to: Theaters nationwide and on Jan. 14 to Apple+

Cyrano

Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) helps a friend woo beautiful Roxanne with sparkling verse while pining for her himself in a musical adaptation of a classic that needs new ideas — such as Dinklage using not a big schnoz but a short frame to motivate Cyrano’s alienation and stylish defiance.​

Coming to: Theaters nationwide

Tim Appelo covers entertainment and is the film and TV critic for AARP. Previously, he was the entertainment editor at Amazon, video critic at Entertainment Weekly, and a critic and writer for The Hollywood Reporter, People, MTV, The Village Voice and LA Weekly.