Regardless of your faith or beliefs, Christmas Day is one of the best days to see a movie.
By Noah Gittell
Regardless of your faith or beliefs, Christmas Day is one of the best days to see a movie. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s a perfect way to spend a day on which most other businesses are closed. If you do celebrate it, you’re usually looking for ways to fill the rest of the day by mid-afternoon. Either way, a trip to the multiplex is in order, and this year, there is something for everyone. Desperate for an edge in a particularly slow year, the major studios (and one indie) are releasing five movies on December 25. Here are your options. Now good luck finding one the whole family can agree on.
1 “The Gambler”
Your enjoyment of this remake of the 1974 James Caan thriller may depend one giant suspension of disbelief: accepting Mark Wahlberg as a literature professor. At least the character has a dark side: He’s a gambling addict who gets in over his head and has to bet his way out. So the premise isn’t great, but the supporting cast is. A bald-headed John Goodman plays his bookie, Jessica Lange (not seen enough on the big screen these days) is his mother, and Brie Larson (so good in last year’s social work drama Short Term 12) is his student and love interest. “The Gambler” is decidedly adult material, which makes it an odd fit for a Christmas Day release, but with the stakes so low, it might just pay off.
Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” was a distinct if imperfect war story, showing the rarely seen impact military conflict has on women. Her sophomore effort, an adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s beloved World War II book, takes the road more traveled. It seems designed to win Oscars by offending no one. The true story of Louis Zamperini, Olympic athlete who suffered for years in a Japanese POW camp, needs little embellishment, but the early word on “Unbroken” is that Jolie lays on the cinematic conventions – lush cinematography and string-heavy score – a little too thick. Still, if you’re looking for an adult movie, this might be a good one.
3 “Mr. Turner”
Veteran character actor Timothy Spall grunts and grumbles his way through this Mike Leigh film on the life and death of J.M.W. Turner, one of Britain’s most famous painters. I caught this one at the New York Film Festival, and it’s a mixed bag. Spall is unforgettable as the enigmatic Turner, embodying both his animal instincts and his subtle creative genius, and the cinematography is good enough to pass for one of his paintings. But the film is shapeless and awfully long, and when Turner finally passes on, you can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief.
4 “Big Eyes”
Tim Burton (“Batman,” “Edward Scissorshands”) takes a step away from the macabre for this story of American artist Margaret Keane, whose husband passed off her amazing paintings as her own. The late release date was set to draw the attention of the Academy; with Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz as the leads, the film certainly has an Oscar pedigree. But Burton’s track record has been pretty spotty of late, and buzz on the film has been surprisingly quiet.
5 “Into the Woods”
Earlier this year, “Maleficent” subverted the story of Sleeping Beauty, and was a box office smash. It only makes sense that, “Into the Woods,” the Stephen Sondheim musical that does the same for nearly every other fairy tale, would follow. Disney has rounded up an intriguing cast – Meryl Streep as the Witch, Johnny Depp as the Wolf – and director Rob Marshall is a whiz with movie musicals (he took “Chicago” to a Best Picture win). Although it will be hard to live up to its source material, it’s equally difficult to imagine this one won’t have its share of wonders.
And if none of these satisfy your cinematic needs, there are plenty of award-worthy films that were released earlier but are still playing in theaters.
Recommended: “The Imitation Game,” “Birdman,” and “Wild.”