That’s all, folks! It’s that most wonderful time at the end of the year when every movie that hopes to be an Oscar contender opens …oh and there’s the matter of holiday gatherings, presents, and cheer, to boot. Whether it’s action or musical, sci-fi, comedy, or drama you love, Santa has your back with a little bit of everything this month. So after the kidlets are down, grab your favorite couch partner (be they human or furry — or both?) and settle in for a long winter’s tale. Merry everything to you and yours, and may all your celebrations be glorious and safe!
December 3, (Limited Theaters) December 10, 2021 (Prime Video)
Directed by Michael Pearce (Beast, Rite, Keeping Up with the Joneses); written by Pearce and Joe Barton (Humans, The Ritual); starring Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Janina Gavankar, Rory Cochrane, Lucian-River Chauhan, and Aditya Geddada. Ahmed heads up this science-fiction thriller as a former Marine trying to protect his sons from an alien invasion, though word on the street is that this isn’t just another run-of-the-mill variant on the theme. In other words, there’s a twisty road ahead. With its excellent cast and Ahmed playing the protective father, Encounter promises a nice departure from traditional December fare. Speaking of …
December 3, 2021 (Theaters, VoD)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven (Elle, Basic Instinct, Black Book, Total Recall, RoboCop, Showgirls); written by Verhoeven and David Birke (Elle, Slender Man); starring Virginie Efira, Charlotte Rampling, Clotilde Courau, Daphné Patakia, Olivier Rabourdin, Lambert Wilson, and Hervé Pierre. Fans of the eclectic director know Verhoeven will go all the way with his take on one of the earliest true stories of lesbianism — at a Catholic nunnery, no less. While investigating her claims of visions, stigmata, and other mystical events, it was discovered (and meticulously documented) that Benedetta and another nun were sleeping together. In competition for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the film is said to be an exploration of “sexual freedom and its relationship to faith.” Despite its holy setting, maybe don’t watch this one with the grandparents around.
December 10, 2021 (Theaters, VoD)
Directed by Steven Spielberg; written by Tony Kushner (Munich, Lincoln, Angels in America) — based on the Laurents/Bernstein/Sondheim play, loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; starring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler and featuring Rita Moreno, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Brian d’Arcy James, and Corey Stoll. I’m no proponent of remakes — especially not when it involves iconic properties like West Side Story — but this actually looks as if Spielberg has another winner on his hands. With Moreno (who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the 1961 film version) in as an executive producer and a commitment to keeping the original musical numbers, this looks a gorgeous winter treat (with cinematography by longtime Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kamiński).
December 10, (Limited Theaters) December 24, 2021 (Netflix)
Directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Ant-Man); written by McKay and David Sirota; starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Chris Evans, Timothée Chalamet, Jonah Hill, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman, Himesh Patel, Rob Morgan, Matthew Perry, Gina Gershon, Michael Chiklis, Tomer Sisley, Ariana Grande, and Scott Mescudi. Lawrence and DiCaprio play low-level astronomers trying to warn the world of impending doom…and getting nowhere fast. This sci-fi satire is packed to the hilt with wry ridiculousness and star power — heck, even DiCaprio looks like he’s having fun. In other words, just see it.
December 21, 2021 (Amazon Prime Video)
Directed and written by Aaron Sorkin; starring Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Clark Gregg, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, and Linda Lavin. Despite their pedigrees, nobody is really sure about the Bardem/Kidman castings, but it’s the story of Lucy and Desi’s relationship that’ll draw in the crowds. Set during one week (September 1952) of I Love Lucy production, the film delves into accusations of communism against the couple and the reality of the people behind their public personae. This is the time to let go of expectations and watch the story unfold. Early reviews are roundly raves.
December 10, 2021 (Theaters, VoD)
Directed by Sean Baker (The Florida Project, Tangerine); written by Baker and Chris Bergoch; starring Simon Rex, Shih-Ching Tsou, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son, Brenda Deiss, Judy Hill, Marlon Lambert, and a bunch of other actors we don’t yet know. Earning a five-minute standing ovation at Cannes and multiple nominations and wins at various film festivals — that says all we need to know. Auteur Sean Baker is about to do it to us again — meaning blow us away with another glorious character portrait. Rex aka Dirt Nasty stars as a former porn star coming back home to a town where nobody really wants him. One peek at the trailer and you’ll know whether or not this A24 gem is your thing.
December 17, 2021 (Theaters, Starz – not for a loooooong time)
Directed by Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Far from Home/Homecoming), written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers; starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, J.B. Smoove, Benedict Wong, Jamie Foxx, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Rhys Ifans, and Harry Holland. I don’t need to write another word, do I? Didn’t think so.
December 17, 2021 (Theaters, VoD)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, Hellboy, Pacific Rim); written by del Toro and Kim Morgan (The Forbidden Room); starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, Clifton Collins Jr., Paul Anderson, Jim Beaver, and Holt McCallany. Based on the William Lindsay Gresham novel about the seedy underbelly of Hollywood through the lens of “psychic” Stan Carlisle (Cooper), who hooks up with Blanchett’s questionable Dr. Lilith Ritter (and he may live to regret that decision). Conning at a carny is only the start of their not-so-beautiful friendship set against a stylish 1940s backdrop with gorgeous costumery. This dark tale is right up del Toro’s (ahem) alley and between its magical director and a phenomenal cast, we’re in for a gorgeous time.
December 17, (Limited Theaters) December 31, 2021 (Netflix)
Feature directorial debut and written by Maggie Gyllenhaal (who won Best Screenplay at this year’s Venice Film Festival), based on the Elena Ferrante novel; starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Domińczyk, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Peter Sarsgaard, and Ed Harris. The always-spectacular Colman stars as Leda, an unhinged woman obsessed with a young mother she meets on holiday. Clearly, something happened with Leda’s own motherhood experience and we cannot wait to unravel that mystery.
December 17, 2021 (Apple TV+)
Directed and written by Benjamin Cleary (Wave, Stutterer); starring Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Glenn Close, Awkwafina, and Adam Beach. Ali stars as a terminally ill family man offered the opportunity to live …in an unusual and emotionally disturbing way. The trailer basically gives away everything — except the opportunity to watch Ali give us his all. This is really the perfect time to consider such quandaries, as I expect our days of immortality through technology are close at hand. And we couldn’t ask for a more perfect cast, especially the criminally underrated Harris.
December 22, 2021 (Theaters, HBO Max)
Directed by Lana Wachowski; written by Wachowski, David Mitchell (Sense8, Cloud Atlas), and Aleksandar Hemon (Sense8); starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Christina Ricci. Plug in and watch as Neo reenters …well, you know. That “Have we met” trailer moment gave me chills and I know fellow Matrix fans simply cannot wait for this sure-to-be exhilarating return (here’s hoping a few old friends drop in).
December 17, 2021 (Hulu)
Directed and written by Mattson Tomlin (Little Fish, The Batman); starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Algee Smith, and Raúl Castillo. Every single person who’s read a science-fiction book or seen a movie knows humanity will die at the hands of our robot overlords — yes, the very ones we’re in the midst of creating right now — and so it’s no surprise our books and movies keep trying to warn us. This latest addition is a harrowing thriller about a mother-to-be trying to escape to safety with her boyfriend after Amazon and Google’s home devices orchestrate an uprising. I mean, December can’t be all Santa and toys, can it? (*sob*)
December 22, 2021 (Theaters, VoD)
Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass); written by Vaughn and Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion, Trespass); starring Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Daniel Brühl, Djimon Hounsou, Stanley Tucci, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, and Charles Dance. Vaughn continues his wildly popular series based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ comics; this one, a prequel. Obviously, if a load of the world’s baddies band together to wreak havoc, somebody has to start up their own spy agency to fight the bastards. And duh, since Ralph Fiennes already has experience in such matters (*coughBondcough*), he’s the man to do it. Fiennes’s Orlando introduces his protégé Conrad (Harrison) to Secret Spy World just as Colin Firth’s Harry did with Taron Egerton’s Eggsy in the first film, and next thing you know…mayhem ensues. Between this and The Matrix Resurrections, closing out 2021 will be action-packed.
December 25, 2021 (Limited Theaters), January 14, 2022 (Apple TV+)
Directed and written by Joel Coen; starring Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Corey Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Bertie Carvel, Stephen Root, Moses Ingram, Ralph Ineson, and Harry Melling. Here’s where we find whether Shakespeare and A-listers still draw a crowd. If you’re in the market for a murder or two, or curious how McDormand and Washington’s aged renditions of the Lady and Lord might affect this telling; “… it is their last chance for glory.” (McDormand)