This season’s biggest films looking to make a splash at the box office.
Now that the holiday season is upon us, there will be plenty of reasons to celebrate. That goes especially at the box office, where the movie landscape is about to change and the Oscar races come into focus. This month is when the parent companies release their most promising projects, designed to grab attention, impress the critics—and the people. So, here’s a glimpse at the lineup of upcoming films competing for your attention this holiday season.
MARRIAGE STORY (December 6)
Genre and Plotline: A comedy-drama about a modern marriage on the rocks and a family trying to stay together.
Major Players: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Merritt Wever, Laura Dern, Wallace Shawn, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda and Julie Hagerty
Behind the Camera: Writer-director Noah Baumbach was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Screenplay for 2005’s The Squid and the Whale, and he has also directed Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg, Frances Ha, While We’re Young, Mistress America and De Palma.
Oscar Prospects: Baumbach’s movies may be an acquired taste, but he has carved out a distinctive and impressive career—and the Academy has acknowledged his gifts.
Commercial Prospects: The audience that has acquired that taste is a narrow one, so expectations are modest.
Reason To See It: There are oodles of talent both in front of and behind the camera.
PLAYMOBIL: THE MOVIE (December 6)
Genre and Plotline: A LEGO-ish animated comedy-adventure inspired by the other titular toy brand.
Major Players: Anya Taylor-Joy, Gabriel Bateman, and the voices of Jim Gaffigan, Daniel Radcliffe, Kenan Thompson, Meghan Trainor and Adam Lambert
Behind the Camera: Animator Lina Di Salvo makes his directorial debut.
Oscar Prospects: What are you, kidding?
Commercial Prospects: True, good or bad, it’s a feature-length commercial for a line of toys. But enough kids will demand to see it for it to turn a tidy profit.
Reason To See It: If you’re a youngin’ and there’s no such thing as too much animation, have at it.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (December 13)
Genre and Plotline: A suspense-thriller remake about a group of students stalked by a stranger during their Christmas break.
Major Players: Cary Elwes, Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Brittany O’Grady, Lily Donoghue and Ben Black
Behind the Camera: Actress Sophia Takal, the writer-director, has previously directed Green and Always Shine.
Oscar Prospects: Two chances: slim and none.
Commercial Prospects: Nothing special, but—let’s face it—the horror audience shows up.
Reason To See It: Is there one? Just what the world needs: the second remake of a holiday-season slasher film. Yikes.
JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (December 13)
Genre and Plotline: An action-adventure sequel about a group of friends attempting a rescue in an effort to escape an imposingly dangerous game.
Major Players: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Danny DeVito, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Colin Hanks and Danny Glover
Behind the Camera: In addition to directing Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, writer-director Jake Kasdan has directed Orange County, The TV Set, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Bad Teacher and Sex Tape.
Oscar Prospects: It’s well-regarded, but not really perceived as an award candidate.
Commercial Prospects: Its predecessor did just fine at the box office, and if it’s anywhere near as well executed, there’s no reason why the sequel shouldn’t thrive as well, especially with that familiar ensemble cast.
Reason To See It: If you found Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle as enormously entertaining as its wide audience did, that’s reason enough.
THE AERONAUTS (December 20)
Genre and Plotline: A biographical action-adventure-drama about a pilot and a scientist who fight to survive in a hot-air balloon.
Major Players: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Anne Reid, Phoebe Fox, Tim McInnerny, Tom Courtenay and Himesh Patel
Behind the Camera: British writer-director Tom Harper’s résumé lists Wild Rose, War Book, and many television projects.
Oscar Prospects: Keep your eye on Redmayne, an Oscar winner for The Theory of Everything and a nominee for The Danish Girl, as well as Jones, a nominee for The Theory of Everything.
Commercial Prospects: This 19th century period piece is a bit too removed and esoteric for the mainstream American movie audience, although Oscar buzz would help.
Reason To See It: Anyone who enjoyed the Redmayne-Jones pairing in The Theory of Everything would probably be happy to see them in anything.
CATS (December 20)
Genre and Plotline: An animated adaptation of the theatrical musical fantasy about a tribe of cats called the Jellicles, based on the poetry collection by T.S. Eliot.
Major Players: Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, Taylor Swift, James Corden, Ray Winstone, Jennifer Hudson and Mette Towley
Behind the Camera: Not only did director Tom Hooper win the Oscar for Best Achievement in Directing for The King’s Speech in 2010, he also directed two other Oscar-winning films—Les Misérables (2012) and The Danish Girl (2015).
Oscar Prospects: Oscar recognition seems highly unlikely.
Commercial Prospects: Plenty of people swear by the stage show, and plenty of others detest it. So expectations for the film are justifiably modest.
Reason To See It: If you love the play or musicals in general, these “Cats” may be right up your alley. If, on the other hand, you’re a hater, just walk on by.
BOMBSHELL (December 20)
Genre and Plotline: A biodrama about the group of women who decided to challenge Fox News honcho Roger Ailes and the sexist culture he created at the network.
Major Players: Margot Robbie, Charlize Theron, John Lithgow, Nicole Kidman, Alice Eve, Kate McKinnon, Brooke Smith, Connie Britton, Allison Janney, Alanna Ubach and Stephen Root
Behind the Camera: Accomplished director Jay Roach has also brought us three Austin Powers comedies, Mystery, Alaska, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, Dinner for Schmucks, The Campaign and Trumbo.
Oscar Prospects: With Oscar winners Theron (Monster) and Kidman (The Hours), and Oscar nominee Robbie (I, Tonya), this one has an awards pedigree and should be taken seriously.
Commercial Prospects: This politically timely offering—a #MeToo movie if ever there were one—should at least hold its own at the box office.
Reason To See It: That’s a pretty irresistible cast, is it not?
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (December 20)
Genre and Plotline: The final action-adventure sci-fi fantasy in the Star Wars franchise focuses on the attempted survival of the Resistance as they take on the First Order.
Major Players: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Domhnall Gleeson, Keri Russell, Carrie Fisher, Lupita Nyong’o, Richard E. Grant, Ian McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams
Behind the Camera: Writer-director J. J. Abrams also brought to the screen Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, Super 8, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens.
Oscar Prospects: The Oscars are pretty much a foreign country, but then that’s never been the point of this popular franchise anyway.
Commercial Prospects: It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a Star Wars flick. Watch it blow the box-office roof off the multiplex.
Reason To See It: If you’ve never seen a Star Wars movie, there’s no way you’re venturing out to this one, which winds up the franchise. But if you’ve seen them all—or even most of them—you’re probably already in line.
1917 (December 25)
Genre and Plotline: A military drama that focuses on two British pirates during World War I on a seemingly impossible mission.
Major Players: Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Teresa Mahoney, Richard Madden, Colin Firth, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman
Behind the Camera: Writer-director Sam Mendes won the Oscar for Best Director for American Beauty in 1999, and also directed Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Revolutionary Road, Away We Go, Skyfall and Spectre.
Oscar Prospects: Mendes and Cumberbatch have Oscar-level credibility, so call it an outside chance.
Commercial Prospects: Modest, given that it’s a period project far removed from American audiences, but an award or two would help the cause.
Reason To See It: Trust Mendes, who has an impressive directorial batting average.
LITTLE WOMEN (December 25)
Genre and Plotline: A reboot of a romantic drama about four sisters who come of age during the period after the Civil War.
Major Players: Saoirse Ronan, Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet, Bob Odenkirk, Chris Cooper and Tracy Letts
Behind the Camera: Actress Greta Gerwig, the adapter-director, also created Lady Bird, for which she was Oscar-nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, and she co-directed Nights and Weekends.
Oscar Prospects: With so many Oscar nominees sprinkled throughout the impressive ensemble cast—and Streep and Gerwig along for good measure—color this one worthy of an Oscar nod.
Commercial Prospects: Blockbuster Boulevard may be a long way off, but this one has a lot going for it and should be able to attract a sizable audience.
Reason To See It: There have been lots of versions of this chestnut, but it still speaks to people. And what a cast.
SPIES IN DISGUISE (December 25)
Genre and Plotline: An animated action-adventure offering about a debonair spy who is accidentally turned into a pigeon and must help save the world.
Major Players: The voices of Tom Holland, Will Smith, Karen Gillan, Rachel Brosnahan, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn and Reba McEntire
Behind the Camera: This marks the feature-film directorial debut for animators Nick Bruno and Troy Quayne, who co-directed.
Oscar Prospects: There may be a few too many animated attractions competing for the Animated Feature Oscar for this one to thrive.
Commercial Prospects: But there’s no reason why this offering with its catchy title shouldn’t do business, as so many of its animated brethren do.
Reason To See It: If your kids want to see it, chances are you’ll have no choice but to attend.
UNCUT GEMS (December 25)
Genre and Plotline: A crime comedy about a New York City jeweler who makes a series of high-stakes bets in pursuit of the ultimate score.
Major Players: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, The Weeknd and Eric Bogosian
Behind the Camera: Independent co-directing brothers Josh and Benny Safdie have previously collaborated on Daddy Longlegs, Good Time and Heaven Knows What.
Oscar Prospects: That Sandler is even being mentioned as a possible Oscar player—and he is—is already somewhat of a shocker. But that’s where we are.
Commercial Prospects: Sandler remains a bankable star, even when he’s critically lambasted. So there’s no reason to believe this won’t do business.
Reason To See It: Watching Sandler in an artistically ambitious project is both refreshing and intriguing.
SUPERINTELLIGENCE (January 1)
Genre and Plotline: An action comedy about a woman selected for observation by a form of artificial intelligence that could threaten the world.
Major Players: Melissa McCarthy, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Beach, Jean Smart, James Corden and Sarah Baker
Behind the Camera: Director Ben Falcone, the real-life husband of Ms. McCarthy, also directed her in Tammy, The Boss, and Life of the Party.
Oscar Prospects: McCarthy has two acting nominations—Bridesmaids and Can You Ever Forgive Me?—on her résumé, which makes her an Academy force to be reckoned with.
Commercial Prospects: McCarthy’s popularity with moviegoers is likely to be demonstrated yet again.
Reason To See It: Although the collaborations between spouses McCarthy and Falcone have been wildly uneven, she’s one of a kind.
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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 16, Issue 9 (December 2019).
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