Update: In honor of the November movies and the upcoming release of Frozen 2 — I have decided to let it go (let it goooooo) about the state of the fall slate thus far. That includes a. The sheer badness of Last Christmas b. The phenomenon (and ensuing Oscar talk) that is Joker and c. The peculiar disappearance of Jojo Rabbit. D. The shameless child torture/murder scene in Doctor Sleep. Onward! We’re deep into the holiday season now, which means that studios big and small are unveiling some of their most anticipated releases. Trust me when I say there is a present for everyone. Reviews of biggies such as A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Frozen 2 are coming soon. In the meantime, conceal, don’t feel, and keep an eye out for these worthy-of-the-hype choices.
If You Want . . . To Feel the Need for Old-School Speed
Try: Ford v Ferrari
In race car metaphor terms, this solidly built action-drama goes the distance — especially in the last hour. The focus isn’t the two rival motor companies, by the way. Instead, it’s the true story of an unlikely friendship between a straight-shooting American car designer (Matt Damon) and hot-headed British-born driver (Christian Bale in the showier role). They team up to conceive a revolutionary Ford automobile for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 1966, battling physics and pesky corporate interference along the way. There’s nothing terribly revolutionary about the film itself, as it hits all the usual narrative beats and is so irrelevant to modern times that it could have been released in 1995. And surely could have done without all those scenes in which old, white men in suits bicker in meetings. But wait! The race itself is a high-octane, pulse-pounding thrill. Buckle up and smile.
(In theaters Friday, November 15)
If You Want. . . Drama Without a Lick of CGI
Try: The Good Liar
Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Ian McKellan play . . . really, does it matter? They’re two living and breathing acting treasures. How fortunate for us that they happen to costar in a slick, tightly paced drama for grownups. He’s a veteran con artist who counts his lucky stars when he meets wealthy widow online. As she opens her life and home to him, he starts to feel pangs of guilt about his misdeeds. Or does he? Pedigree aside (also note that Gods and Monsters Bill Condon directs), this entry won’t win any awards. Just to underline this point, the late-in-the-film developments are so absurd-with-a-capital-A that you will simply shake your head. But McKellan and Mirren class up the joint and manage to sell it all. The result is terrific popcorn entertainment.
(In theaters Friday, November 15)
If You Want . . . Ultra-Emotional Family Drama
Amid sun-drenched suburban Miami, an affluent African-American family (led by a rather intimidating Sterling K. Brown) copes with the effects of weighted expectations. In the electrifying, breakneck first part, the go-getter teen son (Kelvin Harrison) unravels in a hurry when his girlfriend becomes pregnant; in the meditative second part, the staid daughter (Taylor Russell) deals with the aftermath of his decisions and dips her toe into her first relationship with a student played by Lucas Hedges. The abrupt change in pace is welcome, if only as a breath-catcher — though it’s not nearly as absorbing as what we see in Act 1. Overall verdict? A profound, gun-punching but ultimately uplifting journey, director Trey Edward Shultz has delivered contemporary cinema at its finest.
(In select theaters Friday, November 15; everywhere Friday, December 6)
If You Want . . . A Dose of Real-World Politics
Try: The Report
Back at January’s Sundance Film Festival, this indie was snatched up by Amazon in a mammoth $13 million U.S. acquisition deal. Was it worth every penny? It’s NMM (Not My Money) but the answer is no. Still, this tense and fiery drama that indicts the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation practices serves as an intelligent — if slightly preachy — discourse on our current way of the world. The ever-versatile Adam Driver plays Daniel Jones, the staffer tasked by California Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) to investigate the agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program. What he uncovers is a horrifying account of cruel and unusual torture —portrayed on screen in unflinching flashbacks. There’s a lot of dense information to sift through over the course of two hours, but that doesn’t make the truth any less damning. Fun fact: The Senate floor was replicated in a Queens soundstage.
(In select theaters Friday, November 15)
If You Want . . . Prestige Stars Cutting Loose and Having Fun
Try: Knives Out
At long last, the tired murder-mystery genre has been sharpened up! All it took was Captain America, James Bond, Laurie Strode and Captain von Trapp at their silliest. On the morning after his 85th birthday party, a wealthy patriarch (Christopher Plummer) is found in his room with his throat slashed. A private detective (Daniel Craig, in an exaggerated Southern drawl ) is on the case, and he quickly surmises that everyone in this money-grubbing family — from his cuckold daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis) to his entitled grandson (Chris Evans) to his airhead daughter in law (Toni Collette) — is a suspect. Whodunnit and why? Doesn’t matter. Just focus and marvel on the “how.” Indeed, there’s supreme delight in watching all the game stars turn on the cheeky charm in a clever original story that somehow locks all its pieces together. Please oh please let this be a hit.
(In theaters Friday, November 27)