- Joe Gross American-Statesman Staff
Like the song says, for many, eeets the mooost wonderful tiiime of the yeeeear. But maybe, just maybe, not for movies.
Welcome to December, when studios large and small roll out what cynics might call “stuff you can see with your family,” often counter-programmed against “stuff you absolutely should not see with your family.”
The big kahuna here, obviously, is “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” a movie so ubiquitous I thought for a minute it was already out. To wit, this actually happened:
Editor: “Don’t forget to include ‘Star Wars.’”
Me: “Oh yeah, right. Of course.”
Here are 18 buzzy and not-so-buzzy movies coming out between now and early January. Release dates are, as always, subject to change, especially in Austin, which tends to get some films a few weeks after major markets.
“The Shape of Water.” Rumor has it that this fish-out-of-water story (ahem) is Guillermo del Toro’s strongest flick since “Pan’s Labyrinth.” The often-terrific Sally Hawkins stars as a mute woman who develops a relationship with an amphibious humanoid creature (who bears more than a passing resemblance to the Creature from the Black Lagoon) held captive in a lab in 1962 Baltimore. Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg and Octavia Spencer co-star.
“Just Getting Started.” Ron Shelton, the man who gave us the classic “Bull Durham” and also “Tin Cup” directs Morgan Freeman (never heard of him) as the incredibly movie-named Duke Driver, the manager of the luxury Palm Springs resort the Villa Capri. With Tommy Leo Jones as an ex-military guy and Rene Russo as the lady in whom they are both interested.
“Darkest Hour.” Playing Winston Churchill feels like a rite of passage for actors of a certain age. Albert Finney took a swing in “The Gathering Storm” in 2002; John Lithgow, of all people, does a bang up job in the TV show “The Crown”; and now Gary Oldman (who really couldn’t look less like Churchill) gets a chance in “Darkest Hour,” about Churchill in the opening days of World War II.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Aka Episode Eight. Rian Johnson (“Brick,” “Looper”) writes and directs Mark Hamill (reportedly not wild about the decisions made for Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (who finished her scenes before she died in 2016), Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and many, many more.
“Ferdinand.” You’ve been waiting for it, I’ve been waiting for it, the American people have been waiting for it: I am talking about John Cena voicing Ferdinand, the gentle bull from the classic children’s book, in an animated motion picture. Other voices include those of Kate McKinnon, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias and Bobby Cannavale.
“The Greatest Showman.” Wolverine stars in a musical about P.T. Barnum. OK, not really. Hugh Jackman (“Logan”) stars as the noted entertainment promoter. The songs are by Academy Award winners (no kidding) Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“La La Land”). The cast includes such singing folks as Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Zendaya.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” An update of the much-darker-than-you-remember 1990s film (itself an adaptation of the stunning children’s book), this iteration concerns a video game (rather than a board game) that sucks into its world four teens — their avatars played by Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan. I suspect this will not be as grim as the original.
“Call Me By Your Name.” Everyone I know who saw this thing at the Austin Film Festival raved about it, it currently holds at 98 percent average rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is considered one of the big indie films of the season. Directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by James Ivory, it concerns the budding romantic relationship between a 17-year-old Italian-American, Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet, who is also in “Lady Bird,” the season’s other must-watch indie film), and his father’s American student, Oliver (Armie Hammer, whose career keeps chugging along in spite of various facts).
“All the Money in the World.” Charlie Plummer plays poor John Paul Getty III, the kidnapped 16-year-old grandson of mega billionaire J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, no relation to the star and replacing Kevin Spacey in every scene the latter was in). Getty Sr. refuses to pay the ransom, much to the horror of Getty III’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams). Which is to say, this is a deeply American story.
“Downsizing.” Alexander “Election” Payne’s new one looks to be an environmental sci-fi drama (I think) starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as Paul and Audrey Safranek, an upper-middle-class couple who, after the widespread distribution of shrinking technology, decide to shrink themselves and start a new life in a shrunken community. Could be terrific; could be a mess.
“Pitch Perfect 3.” Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp and many more join John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks in another go around the world of competitive a capella. Now graduated from college, the ladies land a USO tour that involves bands with, like, instruments and stuff. After an entertaining debut, “PP2” was a bit of a letdown. Will this flick right the ship, or is it just that the pitches are getting a tad exhausting?
“Father Figures.” Owen Wilson and Ed Helms star as two men whose mother (Glenn Close) told them their father died when they were young. When they discover this to be false, a quest for Daddy ensues.
“Molly’s Game.” We know Aaron Sorkin as the legendary writer of (deep breath) “A Few Good Men, “The American President,” “The West Wing” and many other cinematic and televisual totems of sincerity and whip-smart dialogue. Here, he tries his hand at directing Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong and Chris O’Dowd in the fact-based story of Molly Bloom, a Olympic-level skier who ran perhaps the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade. Then she was arrested in the middle of the night by FBI agents wielding automatic weapons.
“I, Tonya.” A biopic of the one and only Tonya Harding, the Oregon skater who became a working-class hero in a sport dominated by the very wealthy, only to see her Olympic dreams destroyed in one of the most bizarre sports scandals of the past 30 years. Margot Robbie stars as Harding, Sebastian Stan as her alternately idiotic and abusive husband Jeff Gilooly, Julianne Nicholson as her coach and the almighty Allison Janney as her mother.
“Proud Mary.” Don’t tell me you are not looking forward to this thing: Taraji P. Henson is Mary, a hit woman with a heart of … well, I have no idea, but the trailers are stellar. Directed by Babak “London Has Fallen” Najafi.
“The Commuter.” Liam Neeson plays that guy that Liam Neeson seems to play now, this time playing a man whose chance(?) encounter with a mysterious stranger (Vera Farmiga) results in his daily commute getting very thrilling indeed.
“The Post” Meryl Streep IS newly-minted Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham! Tom Hanks IS swashbuckling-yet-self-involved Post editor Ben Bradlee! Matthew Rhys IS Daniel Ellsberg! Stephen Spielberg cranked out this drama about the Pentagon Papers inside of nine months while his next effects-heavy epic “Ready Player One” was in post-production. Expect acting with a capital A.
Sometime in January
“Phantom Thread.” Aka the new one from Paul Thomas Anderson, a filmmaker for whom I, personally, will always show up. Dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are the most important clothing designers in 1950s London. Vicky Krieps plays Alma, the woman who becomes Woodcock’s muse and lover. Should be stunning looking. (Note: While it will open in some markets Dec. 25, the Austin release date is still up in the air.)