Carol Cate Blanchett

So Many Movies to See this Christmas 2015 Weekend

Friday, December 25, 2015 Rob Samuelson

This Christmas, it's pretty much all prestige, all the time. Unless, of course, you are contributing to Star Wars: The Force Awakens's march toward becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time. If you want something brand new, though, you have a few more-than-solid options. As those who have read my writing here for any length of time will probably guess, one of these three is far and away my most anticipated, although each offers plenty of intrigue. For those of the Christian persuasion, you can finish up your family gatherings and head to the ol' movie house – merry Christmas, by the way. For those who aren't celebrating that bearded fella's birthday, you can make a day of it and see all three.

The Hateful Eight
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Channing Tatum

May as well lead off with the big one for me. There is not a Quentin Tarantino movie that is anywhere below the “great” level of quality, so any new film by him is an event. When it's a snowy Western, shot on 70mm film, starring some of the most charismatic performers around, and takes place in a cabin filled with deceit, it's even more reason to get excited. Kurt Russell plays a lawman tasked with bringing Jennifer Jason Leigh's convict into town to hang for her crimes, but the weather gets in the way. They are stranded in the aforementioned cabin for the duration of the blizzard, alongside a crew of seemingly dastardly and/or duplicitous men who wouldn't mind grabbing a piece of the reward for themselves. It looks ripe for alliances, double crossings, and Tarantino's ability to ratchet up tension with the threat of violence hanging over everything.

Director: Todd Haynes
Writer: Phyllis Nagy
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler

This one is almost up there with The Hateful Eight on my anticipate-O-meter. Todd Haynes directed one of the most dazzling movies I've ever seen, the quasi David Bowie biopic, Velvet Goldmine. Carol appears to be just as lush as its rocking older sibling, but much more tender in that it deals with a forbidden romance full of sideways glances and knowing nods. I don't know much more about it other than Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara fall in love in the '50s and that one of my favorite critics, Rolling Stone's David Erlich, has had a semi-pathological attachment to it. He has spent all year singing its praises on Twitter, so I'll defer to him on its quality and say, “Just go see it.” I'll be there.

Director: Peter Landesman
Writer: Peter Landesman
Starring: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks

The NFL likes to casually go about its business as if its business does not include irreparably destroying the brains of its cash cow players via repeated head trauma. This is the story of the doctor (Will Smith) who blew the whistle on the NFL's consistent covering up of all the traumatic brain injuries suffered by its players and the early graves these athletes send themselves to. If you can't tell, football is not “Rob's sport,” neither for how the league conducts itself nor the gameplay. Baseball's steroid era has nothing on this garbage. Anyway, this could very well provide a major challenge to Leo's Oscar chances (see below) in the form of America's leading man, Will Smith, who would be another first timer.

Daddy's Home
Director: Sean Anders
Writers: Brian Burns, Sean Anders, John Morris
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini

I swear I've already written about this one before for this very segment. I'm too lazy and/or rushed to look it up, but it could have been delayed. Beats me. Anyway, it's here now. You can go see Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg reteam, this time as enemies after their buddy cop spoof The Other Guys. Ferrell is the standup, responsible stepfather to the ne'er do well Wahlberg's kids, but of course the kids swoon for their real daddy. Wahlberg gets home from a long time away (cough, probably prison, cough) and the whole family has to learn how to get along, despite some dirty tricks involving motorcycles and Ferrell's head going through some drywall. This is the only film of the holiday weekend that isn't expected to be a sort of high drama, and its family-friendly overtones should go well for the families who don't feel like going to Star Wars again.

The Revenant
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writers: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson

I am, for the most part, an Alejandro González Iñárritu neophyte. I have only seen last year's Oscar winner, Birdman. You can read my review to see why I think that award was, to put it lightly, a poor choice. But for as much as Birdman irritated me, everything I've seen about The Revenant, another snowbound Western about survival, I can't help but feel the tingles in my tummy. It looks thrilling and visceral, plus its production was a nightmare for all involved, so it's a near-miracle that it got to the finish line at all. There has been something of a sense of resignation that this will finally be the movie that wins Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar, so that's important as well.

Director: David O. Russell
Writers: David O. Russell, Annie Mumolo
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramírez

David O. Russell is a filmmaker who hasn't quite put it all together in a while in my eyes. I was a big fan of The Fighter, but Silver Linings Playbook was more than a little dishonest in its second half regarding its thoughts on how to overcome mental illness, and American Hustle was a glitzy good time without much else going on. Those three prestige pictures are what have brought Russell's career to a place where he can do pretty much whatever he likes, and that means a biopic of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano, with frequent Russell collaborator Jennifer Lawrence in the lead. That's enough to make the movie worth seeing, and the rest of the cast is full of knockouts, too. It's just that, well, we haven't had the idiosyncratic, lovely Russell of Three Kings and Flirting with Disaster since the Clinton administration. Here's hoping his recent turn toward slickness can meld with his older, more satirical instincts.

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