The hol­i­day dozen: 12 films you should see this sea­son

Centre Daily Times - - Front Page - BY MICHAEL O’SUL­LI­VAN

The hol­i­days just got real. And no, I’m not talk­ing about Santa Claus. In a sea­son when cin­e­mas are typ­i­cally larded with es­capist good­ies, like “Aqua­man,” “Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch,” “Ralph Breaks the In­ter­net” and “Mary Pop­pins Re­turns,” this year is notable for how the cul­ture wars have in­vaded the sil­ver screen. And yes, I know that lately it seems ev­ery movie is po­lit­i­cal, es­pe­cially at this time on the cal­en­dar, when Hol­ly­wood’s weight­i­est, most is­sue-ori­ented dra­mas vie for Os­car’s at­ten­tion. It’s just that th­ese days, the top­i­cal­ity feels – for bet­ter or for worse – more ur­gent than ever.

So why cel­e­brate the se­ri­ous sea­son over the silly? Be­cause Th­ese 12 movies grap­ple with race, war, power, pol­i­tics, gen­der and sex­u­al­ity not with empty rhetoric, but in deeply emo­tional and even en­ter­tain­ing ways. Note open­ing dates and rat­ings are sub­ject to change.

“BOY ERASED”

Star­ring: Lu­cas Hedges, Nicole Kid­man, Rus­sell Crowe, Joel Edger­ton, Troye Sivan

By one es­ti­mate, nearly 700,000 Amer­i­cans have been sub­jected to what’s known as con­ver­sion ther­apy, a prac­tice that at­tempts to change one’s sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and – with­out ev­i­dence of ef­fi­cacy – is still le­gal in 41 states. Based on the 2016 mem­oir of Gar­rard Con­ley, whose par­ents sent him to such a pro­gram as a teenager, the film “Boy Erased” tells the story of Jared, a stand-in for Con­ley played by Lu­cas Hedges of “Manch­ester by the Sea.” Crowe em­bod­ies the boy’s Bap­tist min­is­ter fa­ther with trade­mark blus­ter and Kid­man earns cheers as Jared’s ul­ti­mately heroic mother. Ac­tor Joel Edger­ton wrote and di­rected this fol­low-up to his as­sured de­but, the thriller “The Gift,” while also play­ing the “ex-gay” di­rec­tor of the Love in Ac­tion min­istry. (Opens Nov. 9, Rated R)

“A PRI­VATE WAR”

Star­ring: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dor­nan, Tom Hol­lan­der, Stan­ley Tucci

The late war cor­re­spon­dent Marie Colvin was a rare breed: a woman cov­er­ing war zones for the Sun­day Times of Lon­don, along­side mostly male col­leagues. In this film by Matthew Heine­man – a film­maker mak­ing the switch from doc­u­men­tary (”City of Ghosts”) to scripted drama – Pike sports Colvin’s sig­na­ture eye patch, a badge of courage she earned in 2001 af­ter she was in­jured cov­er­ing the Tamil Tiger rebel group in Sri Lanka. As much as the movie fo­cuses on the atroc­i­ties of war in such places as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, “A Pri­vate War” is also about the psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional toll of Colvin’s job and, ar­guably, her ad­dic­tion to its dan­gers. (Nov. 9, R)

“THE FRONT RUN­NER”

Star­ring: Hugh Jack­man, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Sim­mons, Sara Pax­ton, Al­fred Molina

Set in the spring of 1987, over the course of the three weeks in which the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., im­ploded over al­le­ga­tions of in­fi­delity, this wonky yet grip­ping po­lit­i­cal drama has many par­al­lels to the present. In some ways, it’s al­most quaint to see Jack­man as the ide­al­is­tic politi­cian who still holds an ex­pec­ta­tion of pri­vacy and to watch re­porters hes­i­tate about whether it’s eth­i­cal to pry into the per­sonal lives of pub­lic fig­ures. Yes, those were sim­pler times. This story, set at the dawn of a new me­dia age - one in which ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one is fair game presages the 24-hour news cy­cle and our vo­ra­cious, Twit­ter-fu­eled ap­petite for fresh dirt. (Nov. 16, R)

“WI­D­OWS”

Star­ring: Vi­ola Davis, El­iz­a­beth De­bicki, Michelle Ro­driguez, Cyn­thia Erivo, Colin Far­rell, Daniel Kalu­uya, Robert Du­vall, Liam Nee­son

Call it a grit­tier “Oceans Eight.” When three crooks are killed in a rob­bery, their des­per­ate wi­d­ows (Davis, De­bicki and Ro­driguez) are left in debt – and with­out a so­cial safety net. They de­cide to carry out a heist. Di­rected by Steve McQueen (”12 Years a Slave”), who wrote the screen­play with Gil­lian Flynn (”Gone Girl”), “Wi­d­ows” grounds doesn’t set­tle for the su­per­fi­cial tropes of most heist flicks, in­stead ground­ing what might oth­er­wise have been a light­weight crime ca­per in themes of class, race, sex and pol­i­tics. (Nov. 16, R)

“FAN­TAS­TIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDEL­WALD”

Star­ring: Ed­die Red­mayne, Kather­ine Water­ston, Dan Fogler, Jude Law, Johnny Depp

De­tails about this Harry Pot­ter pre­quel, which takes place a year af­ter the ac­tion of “Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” have been trick­ling out slowly, gen­er­at­ing much ex­cite­ment among the fran­chise’s ea­ger fans. Nagini the snake (Clau­dia Kim) used to be a woman? Dum­ble­dore (Law) as a young man was – there’s no other word for it – hawt? But in the buildup to this 10th in­stall­ment of the cin­e­matic saga, there has also been con­tro­versy. That has to do with the cast­ing of Johnny Depp, who was ac­cused of abuse by his ex-wife, Am­ber Heard, as the film’s tit­u­lar vil­lain. (In the new film, Red­mayne’s Newt Sca­man­der switches from the pur­suit of crit­ters to do­ing bat­tle with Depp’s Volde­mort-like wizard.)

If noth­ing else, the blur­ring of real life and fic­tion may com­pli­cate a film that al­ready prom­ises to be darker than the “Fan­tas­tic Beasts” of 2016. J.K. Rowl­ing’s Pot­ter uni­verse has al­ways been about power and its abuses, but this new chap­ter, set in the 1920s, seems likely to res­onate even more strongly in to­day’s world. (Nov. 16, PG-13)

“GREEN BOOK”

Star­ring: Ma­her­shala Ali, Viggo Mortensen, Linda Cardellini Two 2017 Os­car nom­i­nees – Mortensen for “Cap­tain Fan­tas­tic” and Ali, who won for “Moon­light” – team up in this two-han­der, which tells the true story of the un­likely friend­ship be­tween the black clas­si­cal pi­anist – and Catholic Univer­sity grad­u­ate – Don Shirley (Ali) and his Ital­ianAmer­i­can chauf­feur, Tony Lip (Mortensen). Tak­ing place on Shirley’s con­cert tour dur­ing the racially charged 1960s, the film, which won the Peo­ple’s Choice Award at the re­cent Toronto Film Fes­ti­val, takes its name from a guide­book pub­lished to aid African-Amer­i­can trav­el­ers in the Jim Crow South. As ra­cial ten­sions rise in the Trump era, a pe­riod film like this – one that’s about find­ing com­mon ground – feels, iron­i­cally, like a form of es­capism. (Nov. 21, PG-13)

“IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK”

Star­ring: Stephan James, KiKi Layne, Regina King, Brian Tyree Henry, Finn Wit­trock

Os­car win­ner Barry Jenk­ins, the writer and di­rec­tor of “Moon­light,” turns his hand to an adap­ta­tion of James Bald­win’s 1974 novel about a young man in New York City who is falsely ac­cused of rape. James, last seen as Olympic run­ner Jesse Owens in “Race,” plays the im­pris­oned Fonny, with new­comer Layne as his preg­nant fi­ancee, Tish, who strug­gles to prove him in­no­cent. Al­though also a love story, the film’s echoes of to­day’s sys­temic racism are all too un­mis­tak­able. (Dec. TBD, R)

“DI­VIDE AND CON­QUER: THE STORY OF ROGER AILES”

Star­ring: Roger Ailes, Glenn Beck, Alisyn Camerota The rise and fall of Roger Ailes, the late CEO of Fox News brought down by a sex scan­dal, is the stuff of high drama. In fact, a film based on that true story is now in the works, star­ring John Lith­gow as Ailes and Char­l­ize Theron and Nicole Kid­man as on-air per­son­al­i­ties Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carl­son, who brought al­le­ga­tions of ha­rass­ment against him. While we wait for that one to get made, here’s a new doc­u­men­tary to tide us over: Pro­duced by Alex Gib­ney and di­rected by Alexis Bloom, This fol­lows the ca­reer of the Machi­avel­lian me­dia con­sul­tant and po­lit­i­cal king­maker with un­set­tling ur­gency, mak­ing for a great #MeToo primer. (Dec. 7, not yet rated)

“MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS”

Star­ring: Mar­got Rob­bie, Saoirse Ro­nan, David Ten­nant

Ri­vals in the race for the best-ac­tress Os­car only a few short months ago, Rob­bie (”I, Tonya”) and Ro­nan (”Lady Bird”) take on the roles of ri­val mon­archs – and first cousins once re­moved – Mary Queen of Scots and Queen El­iz­a­beth I, who saw Mary as a threat, putting her un­der house ar­rest (ul­ti­mately be­head­ing her). Th­ese are sto­ried roles, which have been filled by the likes of Vanessa Red­grave and Glenda Jack­son. Can it be any­thing but fun to watch two mem­bers of Hol­ly­wood roy­alty tear into this meaty drama? (Dec. 14, not yet rated)

“WEL­COME TO MARWEN”

Star­ring: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Gwen­do­line Christie, Janelle Monáe, Eiza González, Mer­ritt Wever, Di­ane Kruger

Based on the ac­claimed doc­u­men­tary “Mar­wen­col,” di­rec­tor Robert Ze­meckis’ film stars Steve Carell as Mark Ho­gan­camp, an artist who cre­ated a minia­ture world filled with dolls as World War II char­ac­ters in an ef­fort to re­cover psy­cho­log­i­cally from the trauma of hav­ing been beaten by a group of men out­side a bar in 2000. (Carell and other mem­bers of the cast do dou­ble duty as both hu­man char­ac­ters and their an­i­mated al­ter egos).

This is a film that could turn tra­di­tional no­tions of gen­der and gen­der ex­pres­sion on their heads: It not only fea­tures sev­eral strong fe­male char­ac­ters, but there is also a hid­den sub­text, glossed over in the film’s trail­ers but prom­i­nent in the 2010 doc­u­men­tary, of a gen­der-based hate crime. (Dec. 21, PG-13)

“VICE”

Star­ring: Chris­tian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rock­well, Steve Carell

Chris­tian Bale shaved his head, bleached his eye­brows and put on 40 pounds to play Dick Cheney in the film by Adam McKay (”The Big Short”), which pur­ports to tell the “true” story – with McKay’s patented blend of dead­pan hu­mor and dead-se­ri­ous drama – of the for­mer vice pres­i­dent’s role as the power be­hind the throne of the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. Rock­well plays a good ol’ boy­ish Bush, with Carell as im­per­son­at­ing Sec­re­tary of De­fense Don­ald Rums­field and Adams play­ing the for­mer veep’s wife, Lynne. (Dec. 25, R)

“ON THE BA­SIS OF SEX”

Star­ring: Felic­ity Jones, Ar­mie Ham­mer, Kathy Bates, Sam Water­ston, Justin Th­er­oux

On the heels of this year’s ac­claimed “RBG” doc­u­men­tary, – a sur­prise, if mod­est, hit by doc­u­men­tary stan­dards “On the Ba­sis of Sex” dra­ma­tizes the in­spi­ra­tional true story of Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg (Jones), who, as an ACLU lawyer, ar­gued more than 300 cases on gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion, in­clud­ing six be­fore the Supreme Court. The film marks the re­turn of di­rec­tor Mimi Leder to the big screen af­ter the film­maker’s 2000 flop “Pay It For­ward” de­railed what seemed to be a promis­ing ca­reer as that rarest of crea­tures: the fe­male di­rec­tor of block­busters (”The Peace­maker,” “Deep Im­pact”). Let’s hope this film, like some of Gins­burg’s best work, cor­rects that wrong. (Dec. 25, PG-13)

MERRICK MOR­TON Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox

Vi­ola Davis, left, and Cyn­thia Ervio star in “Wi­d­ows,” a film in which wi­d­ows of three crooks try to pull off a heist.

FRANK MASI Columbia Pic­tures

Hugh Jack­man stars in “The Front Run­ner,” the story of Gary Hart’s ill-fated pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 1987.

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