We’ve finally come to the end of 2017, which means: lots of under-the-wire Oscar hopefuls! The return of the Bellas! A brand spankin’ new Star Wars! Along with the final push of awards contenders (Steven Spielberg! Paul Thomas Anderson! Guillermo del Toro!), viewers can look forward to a pair of biopics about ethically compromised women, two vastly different musicals and the Rock taking on motorcycle-riding warriors and a safari’s worth of jungle creatures. Oh, and James Franco giving what may arguably be the single greatest performance of the year. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. Here are your 10 best bets for holiday moviegoing in December.
The Disaster Artist (limited Dec. 1st; wide Dec. 8th)
Perhaps you’ve heard of The Room, a 2003 independent film so staggeringly incompetent it has assumed cult-movie canonization and urban-legend status. Maybe you’ve attended one of the raucous midnight screenings with hundreds of fellow so-bad-it’s-great–cinema aficionados. But even if you haven’t, James Franco’s retelling of the bizarre circumstances behind its production – and his astonishing take on Tommy Wiseau, the madman with the vision to make it happen – is still funny enough to crack a couple of ribs. The story of the heavily accented auteur’s uncomfortable, faintly homoerotic relationship with his star Greg Sestero (portrayed by Franco’s brother, Dave) and their absurd journey through Hollywood doubles as an ode to the topsy-turvy business of show – where someone with no idea what he’s doing can become a folk hero.
The Greatest Showman (Dec. 20th)
How better to conclude a year as surreally mixed-up as 2017 than with a glossy circus musical about being true to yourself? Hugh Jackman dons the top hat of P.T. Barnum, a frustrated office drone who reinvented himself and singlehandedly created the modern-day big-top spectacle. Barnum saw an ensemble of stars in a group of castoffs and misfits (including Zac Efron and Zendaya) and pushed them to embrace their differences as what makes them special. The showtunes come courtesy of songwriting duo Pasek and Paul who, as the minds behind La La Land‘s soundtrack and Broadway smash Dear Evan Hansen, know a bit about magic, and entertainment. and feelings. Own your spotlight!
I, Tonya (Dec. 8th)
In 1994, world-class figure skater Tonya Harding conspired with then-boyfriend Jeff Gillooly on a notorious attack against rival Nancy Kerrigan. Unless, that is, she didn’t. With a comic streak blacker than a bruised thigh, this thorny biopic sorts through the conflicting accounts of Harding’s troubled life, with Margot Robbie playing the unreliable narrator as the champ-turned-punch-line. Also present to offer their takes on the story are Harding’s abusive beau Jeff (Sebastian Stan) and her equally abusive mother LaVona (Allison Janney), twinned figures of tragedy in pur antiheroine’s violent upbringing. This easily ranks as one of the year’s more unruly Oscar contenders.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Dec. 20th)
Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, folks. Fond memories of the 1995 fantasy film about a pair of kids trapped in a enchanted board game have now begat this remake-cum-continuation-cum-whatever, which trades the analog format for a retro video game. Now, a quartet of teens boot it up while cleaning their school’s basement and get sucked into the virtual tropics, assuming the bodies of their chosen avatars. That’s where stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Kevin Hart come in, who have to dodge charging rhinos, swarms of insects and one determined hunter. The next generation of Nineties Kids begins here.
Molly’s Game (Dec. 25th)
For his first feature behind the camera, newly minted writer-director Aaron Sorkin sinks his incisors into the stranger-than-fiction story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), the “Poker Princess.” The would-be Olympic skier ran the most exclusive, high-stakes card game in New York – until drugs, alleged ties to Russian mobsters and the Feds brought her empire crashing down. With his trademark muscular verbosity, Sorkin tracks her audacious rise and fall, framing it all through Molly’s protracted game of moral chess with her new attorney (Idris Elba).
Phantom Thread (Dec. 25th)
Paul Thomas Anderson likes to keep details on his new features hush-hush for as long as possible, though the trailer for his upcoming character study gave viewers a good deal to titter over. What we do know: Daniel Day-Lewis makes what is allegedly his final onscreen appearance as the ornately-named Reynolds Woodcock, a virtuosic designer running a top fashion house in 1950s London. A willful young woman (Vicky Krieps) enters the scene as his muse. Everything falls apart. Beyond that, it’s all guesstimations and crystal-ball consultations, though this being a PTA joint, we’re sure it’s breathtakingly beautiful, probably cryptic and assuredly a can’t-miss.
Pitch Perfect 3 (Dec. 22nd)
Step aside, Jump Street revival, there’s a new comedy franchise capable of lacerating self-awareness! The third installment of the mega-popular a cappella series finds the Barden Bellas struggling to acclimate to life after graduation. Then an opportunity pops up for the girls to reunite for one last performance – a USO tour that doubles as a battle of the bands! – and they’ve got to contend with the nagging feeling that they’re clinging to something past its expiration date. Will the final piece of this trilogy strike a chord with audiences? Or the third time be out-of-tune and/or off-key? Does anyone else have any other music puns they’d like to share?
The Post (Dec. 22nd)
Steven Spielberg still believes in America, and he’s whipped up an august tribute to the Fourth Estate and its vital checks to government power. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep portray the head honchos at the Washington Post during the turbulent months leading up to their publication of the infamous Pentagon Papers. The Nixon administration attempted to turn the heat up on both the New York Times and the D.C. daily; luckily, the free press held fast to the truth. As in Lincoln and Bridge of Spies, Spielberg stands up for those who stand up for the people, providing a bracing dose of heroism in a cynical time. Attacks on the media, classified-info leaks, democracy dying in darkness – yeah, this is not timely at all.
The Shape of Water (limited Dec. 1st; wide Dec. 8th)
Is there a better elevator pitch than “the Creature From the Black Lagoon gets freaky with a mute Sally Hawkins?” Possibly, but there’s so much more to Guillermo del Toro’s ravishing new romance beyond that snarky reductionism. Yes, Sally Hawkins’ silent janitor falls head over heels for Doug Jones’ amphibious mutant imprisoned at the clandestine Cold War-ear government facility where she works. But the supporting characters (notably a coworker portrayed by Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins as Hawkins’ trusty pal) jointly form a richer portrait of unrequited desire and nonconformity. It’s horror, it’s fantasy, it’s a melodrama and it’s a beautifully scribbled love letter to the concept of love itself.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dec. 15th)
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, Lucasfilm gave the reins of power to Rian Johnson. The director of such fine films as Looper and Brick apparently has big plans for Skywalks & co., and from the looks of the previews, Rey (Daisy Ridley) will undergo training in the ways of the Jedi from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). She’ll also prepare for a final reckoning with the nefarious Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Meanwhile, back on the battlefront, Finn and Poe Dameron (John Boyega and Oscar Isaac) provide the high-octane space dogfights and hold down the fort. And the porgs … oh, the porgs! Brace yourself for some serious Episode VIII-tasticness.