Welcome to the last gasp of 2019, in which moviegoers can binge in blockbusters (a new Star Wars!), literary adaptations (Greta Gerwig’s Little Women!), Oscar contenders anchored by incredible performances (Bombshell, Uncut Gems), smaller films worth your time (Clemency), foreign-language gems (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), formalist spectacles (the one-shot war flick 1917), and the waking-nightmare acid trip that is Cats. Here’s what you need to see this December at a theater near you.
Bombshell (Dec. 13th)
The bigger they are, the harder they fall — which is why the takedown of Fox News head Roger Ailes made a near-seismic impact. Jay Roach goes behind the scenes of the cataclysmic shakeup after decades of sexual-harassment allegations finally caught up to conservative media hub’s figurehead. Charlize Theron is barely recognizable as Megyn Kelly; Nicole Kidman adds a new wig to her collection after playing Gretchen Carlson; and Margot Robbie is cast as an invented character standing in for numerous women forced to negotiate a hostile work environment. All this, plus John Lithgow channeling the late Ailes with the help of a glued-own jowl. Unlike the news organization, the movie doesn’t need to pretend to be fair and balanced.
Cats (Dec. 20th)
A generation’s worth of surreal erotic nightmares begin here, courtesy of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s anthropomorphized humanoid felines and some start-of-the-art “digital fur technology.” Tom Hooper brings the immortal Broadway smash to the silver screen with a stacked cast in tow; James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason DeRulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Rebel Wilson and one Taylor Swift all donned motion-capture suits to enter a world of wonder, whimsy, and self-grooming. Allergy sufferers need not worry. Those frightened by interspecies hybrids born of unnatural CGI, that’s another story.
Clemency (Dec. 27th)
Alfre Woodard quietly hands in a career-best performance as a warden overseeing death row inmates in their final days prior to execution. The tremendous psychological burden of carrying out killings for the state has begun to take its toll on her, and the arrival of a new prisoner (Aldis Hodge) forces her to question everything she thought she knew about her moral code. A big winner at this year’s Sundance, writer-director Chinonye Chukwu’s drama is both a devastating take on capital punishment and a showcase for one of the greatest actors working today.
A Hidden Life (Dec. 13th)
Terrence Malick is once again drawing film-of-the-year plaudits for another epic of gorgeous sweep and titanic ambition. His subject: Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), a common Austrian farmer and devout Christian who refused to contribute to the Nazi war effort during WWII. Despite being tortured and imprisoned, he found strength in pacifism and his dedication to God — and in Malick’s capable hands, his life becomes a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit.
Little Women (Dec. 25th)
After wowing everybody with her directorial breakout Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig takes on Louisa May Alcott’s novel about the post-Antebellum lives of sisters Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen). Also on board: everyone’s favorite dreamboat Timothée Chalamet as suitor Laurie. Yes, this landmark of American literature has been adapted numerous times before. But Gerwig put her own spin on the material via a time-hopping structure and a keen sense of of how the character’s hopes and dreams form a snapshot of womanhood at a time of limited possibilities.
1917 (Dec. 25th)
World War I has inspired plenty of movies in the past, from patriotic propaganda to anti-war parables. So director Sam Mendes and peerless cinematographer Roger Deakins figured they’d go the extra mile in order to stand out. To wit: This account of two soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) relaying a crucial warning of impending ambush to British infantry plays out through several shots sutured together to resemble a single, unbroken take. Take the stiffer-upper-lipped lads of Dunkirk, toss in the formal language of Birdman, and you’re pretty much there.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Dec. 6th)
The word-of-mouth success of this delicate French romance was one of the biggest stories out of the Cannes Film Festival this year, where writer-director Céline Sciamma won the Best Screenplay Award. An artist (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to paint the likeness of a French noblewoman (Adèle Haenel), all the better to nether a rich suitor circa the end of the 18th century. Guess who falls in love? It’s a gorgeous addition to the queer-cinema canon and the sort of heartbreaking romance designed to make the most cynical filmgoer swoon.
Richard Jewell (Dec. 13th)
At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, local security guard Richard Jewell (I, Tonya‘s Paul Walter Hauser) discovered a bomb; he evacuated the area and notified the explosives team. That didn’t stop the FBI from putting him through a gauntlet of questioning, however, or the media from trying him in a kangaroo court before he’d be ultimately cleared. Clint Eastwood gives the whole affair the no-nonsense narrative treatment in his latest true-life retelling of one man’s struggle against an oppressive system of dishonest pencil-necks.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Dec. 20th)
The Skywalker saga concludes with the franchise’s new chosen one, Rey (Daisy Ridley), realizing her destiny … though what that destiny is remains anybody’s guess. Meanwhile, her Sith lord nemesis Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) continues to gain in power as her trusty allies Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) keep fighting the good fight with the Resistance. The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams returns to close out this chapter of the latest trilogy, bringing what assume will be his signature brand of sci-fi whiz-bang to the biggest popcorn franchise not in capes or tights.
Uncut Gems (Dec. 13th)
Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is an impulsive yet charming family man, a degenerate gambler and a profligate philanderer — mostly, however, he’s an ambitious Manhattan jeweler who might be in over his head thanks to a deal involving a rare Ethiopian jewel. Several irritable gangsters, a volatile mistress and Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett also play a part. Directors Josh and Benny Safdie do for the Sandman what they did for Robert Pattinson in Good Time, i.e. play to his strengths while majorly scuzzing him up. You’ll want to take your heart medicine before you see this one. Relentless doesn’t begin to describe it.