Every holiday season, I diverge from my standard film reviews to a more festive format. Since trips to the movie theater are more likely during the holidays, you might be wondering which movies are worth those excursions. So here is a pre-release look at a few films arriving in theaters this December. This has also been a great year in movies, so there are also a couple of universally-loved films from this year (reviewed by guest writers) that you might project on your small screen with a warm cup of hot chocolate. And to round off the list, enjoy a short review of one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time: Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
Coming Soon to Theaters:
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
In theaters: December 15
MPAA Rating: Unrated at this time (expect PG-13)
Following the enormous successes of The Force Awakens and Rogue One, The Last Jedi is the eighth installment of the Star Wars franchise (and the second of the so-called “sequel” trilogy). It is directed by Rian Johnson (Looper) and is said to be a generally darker film compared to the rest of the series. We could potentially discover both the origins of Rey and who this “last Jedi” is.
The Greatest Showman
In theaters: December 20
Rated PG for thematic elements including a brawl
On May 21 of this year, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus “The Greatest Show on Earth” closed their doors after 146 years after a depressing decline in sales. However, the dreams and awe it created among its viewers has inspired and motivated the production of a new biographical film of P.T. Barnum, one of the circus’s founders. Starring Hugh Jackman as Barnum, The Greatest Showman is a musical with original songs written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (from La La Land and the recent stage musical Dear Evan Hansen).
In theaters: December 25
Rated R for language
Rumored to be multiple-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis’s final bow after four decades, Phantom Thread is sure Oscar bait once again. Day-Lewis plays 1950s British dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, who is inspired by and becomes lovers with a young customer, Alma (Vicky Krieps). As the second-time collaboration with Day-Lewis—with There Will Be Blood as their first—Paul Thomas Anderson directs this period drama set to release in theaters with much publicity and fanfare.
On Digital, DVD and Blu-ray
with contributions from guest writers:
Spider-man: Homecoming – written by Gai Rancy
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Spider-man Homecoming is by far the best and most enjoyable Spider-Man reboot in my memory. In particular, I enjoyed the youthfulness of this version of Peter Parker and the diversity of the supporting cast. Marvel’s decision to focus purely on Peter’s adventures instead of another origin story was a welcome change of pace. Their inclusion of characters only found in the comics certainly built upon the gripping narrative and got me theorizing about the plots of future Marvel films well before I even left the theater.
Baby Driver – written by Hannah Shum
Rated R for violence and language throughout
After Baby Driver, I’ve never forgotten to check the ratings of movies. Yes, it was rated R, and it did it have a ton of cussing, which bugged me. Nonetheless, Baby Driver is an exciting and wild ride from start to finish. I was completely in awe of the use of color coordination and wonderful character development. But for me, and maybe for everyone else who’s seen it, the star piece of this movie was its music. Simply put, it added an element of awesomeness.
Dunkirk – written by Victoria Marinov
Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language.
This year, moviegoers yet again experienced director Christopher Nolan’s brilliance in the form of his war thriller Dunkirk. This film relates to the historical event of the evacuation at Dunkirk; during World War II, Allied troops were cornered on the beach of Dunkirk, and the British people came across the English Channel in civilian boats to rescue their soldiers. The film follows three narratives: land, sea, and air, which all converge at the climax. Nolan avoids the usual tools of storytelling such as profuse dialogue, characterization, or backstory. Instead, he employs stunning visuals and sound design, along with brilliant acting to tell this story of survival. Where other storytellers may have failed, Nolan succeeds in inspiring audiences with a story of bravery, duty, and hope in the face of darkness.
The LEGO Batman Movie – written by Aaron Tanaka
Rated PG for rude humor and some action
Black. Every important movie begins with a black screen. Right from the beginning, you know this movie is going to be really, really quotable. The LEGO Batman Movie is a film about the typical: identity, love, family—but it does so with superb Lego animation and a snarky yet enjoyable script. The film is clean for the most part, and considering its qualities and shortcomings, I would rate it a seven out of ten. It’s a one-time watch for me but very enjoyable all the same.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Director: Frank Capra
Rated PG for thematic elements, smoking and some violence
There has been perhaps no other Christmas film more perennially viewed than Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. After all, it never fails to re-run on TV year after year, which won’t come as a surprise if you’ve watched this over three times. But back in the day, it wasn’t as loved, as its initial run was a massive box office flop. It was panned by critics and disappeared into the void for a whole three decades. It was from that first negative reception that it was given the chance to rise to the top of public awareness and garner the acceptance it deserved. Years after its first lackluster release, it landed on TV due to a chaotic copyright screw-up, and audiences nationwide were now able to experience the magic conceived by Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart. This is one of the few movies that improves as it ages.
One reason it stands out from the other Christmas films is that the message it delivers doesn’t baby-feed some half-hearted message at the end. With vivid characters and unconventional means of storytelling, It’s a Wonderful Life doesn’t plunge into a sappy sentimentality typically found in Christmas Hallmark movies. However, it still retains its own campy moments, especially at the emotionally powerful and memorable ending, but it works. I can’t explain it—it simply works. Frank Capra can pull off any extremely clichéd troupe and turn it into a masterpiece with seemingly no effort.
As with all his other roles, Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey is an endearing and lovable character. Ever since he was a kid, his life’s been miserable, from the time he went deaf to when he tried to save his crumbling business from bankruptcy. He once entertained big dreams of “seeing the world” but sacrificed that for the wellbeing and care of others, consequently driving himself to pennilessness and misery. I want to give the poor guy a hug. It’s this character and Frank Capra’s energetic dialogue that makes this film what it is–excellent. With years to cement its distinction, It’s a Wonderful Life has not only become a staple of Christmas but has also shaped the holiday into what its modern form.
Many thanks to Gai Rancy, Hannah Shum, Victoria Marinov, and Aaron Tanaka for their contributions to this article.
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