Let’s be real. We all look forward to getting a few days off to spend with the family over the holidays, but it’s often better in theory than in practice.
By Noah Gittell
Let’s be real. We all look forward to getting a few days off to spend with the family over the holidays, but it’s often better in theory than in practice. After 48 hours of uninterrupted family time, you might be looking for a way out. That’s where Hollywood comes in. This year, eight films are being released on or around Christmas Day, and while extended families often harbor a wide range of tastes and opinions, there is enough here to satisfy the whole crowd. My recommendation? Head over to the multiplex as a group, each of you pick a different theater, and meet up two hours later. Here are your options.
The collaboration between director David O. Russell and actress Jennifer Lawrence has proved a fruitful one. “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” both garnered awards attention and turned significant profits, and “Joy” is likely to continue the trend. It’s a biopic about an unlikely hero: Joy Mangano, a Long Island single mom who invented the “Miracle Mop” and became a business magnate. Uneven in parts, the film still sports Russell’s signature playful style and a magnetic performance by Lawrence. A virtuosic sequence set at then-fledgling cable network QVC is the high point; as she sells her wares and watches the sales roll in, Mangano self-actualizes on live teleivision. In the end, it’s a film about the magic of commercialism, which makes it just right for Christmas.
Director Andrew Haigh (“Weekend,” TV’s “Looking”) has always had a keen eye for the minutiae that matter in relationships, but he has outdone himself with “45 Years,” a small, British indie that is earning awards attention for its two leads. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) have lived in wedded bliss for four decades in their small English town, but when Geoff receives word that the body of his first girlfriend (who disappeared on a dangerous hike) has been found, it creates a crack that threatens to break their marriage open. A compelling character study and treatise on the vulnerability of marriage, “45 Years” applies a lens of scrutiny to its characters and story that are too often missing in Hollywood dramas. Rampling and Courtenay give strong, subtle performances that linger in the mind long after the credits role.
Before you head to the couch on Sunday for Week 16 of the NFL season, you owe it to yourselves and the sport to watch “Concussion,” the story of physician Bennet Omalu’s efforts to bring the truth about the long-term impacts of football head injuries into the light. The film has been a subject of controversy for months now. There were early rumors that journalist-turned-director Peter Landesman (“Parkland,” “Kill the Messenger”) modified the script to appease the concerns of the league (they were later revealed to be false). More recently, Sports Illustrated reported on an early screening for former NFL players that left many viewers in tears. Regardless of its content, “Concussion” earns credit for its courage. It’s not easy to depict the dark side of a business that, as one character puts it, “owns a day of the week.” Here’s hoping the film lives up to the hype.
“The Hateful Eight” and “The Revenant”
If you’ve been wishing for tales of revenge set in the Old West, Santa has got just the thing for you. Two things, actually: Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” a bloody riff on Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians,” and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “The Revenant,” the true story of a fur trapper (Leonardo DiCaprio) seeking revenge on his ex-partner who left him for dead after a bear attack. Each director attacks their stories with a different style – Tarantino’s bloodshed will be more cartoonish, while Iñárritu seeks a more existential plane – but given the talent and filmmaking acumen involved, neither can be missed.
“Where to Invade Next”
Get ready for a warmer, cuddlier Michael Moore. Gone is the liberal documentarian’s confrontational style. His newest film is nearly utopic. The title is a fake-out; it hints at an incisive takedown of the military-industrial state (for that, see the excellent doc “Why We Fight”), but instead “Where to Invade Next” features the filmmaker visiting various European countries and “stealing” their best ideas for America. It’s a celebration of democratic socialism that should find great success among Democrats and left-leaning Independents this election season. But if yours is a politically divided family seeking an escape from holiday squabbles, there might be better choices at the cinema.