Finally, it’s December.
Today marks the beginning of December, and in two weeks, hordes of moviegoers and superfans alike will pack multiplexes to see the most anticipated blockbuster tentpole film of the year, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. While the plot synopsis remains behind closed doors at Disney and Lucasfilm, the big-budget sequel promises to take the franchise into a new direction in terms of aesthetics, evidenced by the introduction of several new creatures like the Porg race of birds and the Crystal Fox and a vibrant visual style unique to the Star Wars franchise. I am as excited as everyone else to see what paths that director Rian Johnson sends Finn and Rey down on their adventures in a galaxy far, far away, but there’s a lot to come out this month that could potentially get lost in the shuffle while The Last Jedi breaks box office records, so this list exists to shine a light on a handful of films that I personally am looking forward to for the month of December not under the ‘Star Wars’ banner.
DISCLAIMER: The Disaster Artist would be on this list if I hadn’t already seen it. However, readers should expect a 615 Film group review of James Franco’s hilarious and endearing Oscar contender within the coming week! Also, while a lot of the Oscar contenders do look fantastic (Hostiles, The Post, and Call Me By Your Name, to name a few) and are slated to have an official release somewhere in the country this month, they don’t open near the area this site is based in until January at the earliest, so I will admit I did have to limit myself to films that had a more guaranteed release date.
5. Ferdinand (dir. Carlos Saldanha, releases December 15th)
After how well The Peanuts Movie was handled with its high-spirited tone, dedication to the source material and heartwarming message at its center, I must admit I have a soft spot for Blue Sky Studios. Based on the classic 1930s children’s book, their newest film, Ferdinand, follows the titular bull who would rather smell flowers and be kind to the people and animals in his village rather than live up to what’s he’s bred for as a fighting bull. From what’s been shown in the trailers, it could fall victim to its familiar story and referential gags, but its sense of humor looks to include clever visual gags and misdirects, and it’s being sold as an inspirational tale about becoming who you’re meant to be that’s told in such a heartfelt way. Plus, John Cena lends his voice to the lead role of Ferdinand, and it just gets more and more fun to watch his career transition from professional wrestler to comedic actor.
4. Downsizing (dir. Alexander Payne, releases December 22nd)
Between The Descendants and Nebraska, Alexander Payne has been on a roll as of late, and this year, he comes out with a Charlie Kaufman-esque film that takes place in a world where scientists have solved the overpopulation crisis by discovering the ability to shrink humans to microscopic size and live with sustainable health and major financial benefits. Matt Damon plays a mild-mannered middle class husband who decides to undergo the procedure with a handful of people, and its this ensemble that the film follows as they live their new lives of luxury in the community of Leisureland. The film has an attractive cast that includes the likes of Christoph Waltz, Jason Sudeikis, Kristen Wiig, Neil Patrick Harris and Hong Chau in what could be a breakout role, and at the heart of its intriguing concept looks to be a smart commentary about why and how people fall victim to the social trends of today, and why they may not be worth pursuing despite looking beautiful on the surface.
3. I, Tonya (dir. Craig Gillespie, releases December 8th)
I’m the kind of guy who admittedly flocks to movies set in this time period with this subject matter, having grown up in the nineties and being an avid watcher of all things sports. That being said, I only knew fragments of the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan friendship-turned-feud at the time the saga made national news, other than the infamous clip of Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) wailing, “Why?”, in agony after her knee was injured at the hands of an assault by the hilariously named Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). But in I, Tonya, they are supporting players as the movie looks to follow Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) on her rise toward the top of the professional figure skating world up to those fateful Winter Olympics in 1994, all while portraying her turbulent relationship with her harsh, overbearing mother (Allison Janney). From its technique of breaking the fourth wall and dark sense of humor showcased in the trailer, this looks to be another unsettling but creative success from Neon Studios, and a film that will deservedly garner awards consideration for both Robbie and Janney.
2. The Shape of Water (dir. Guillermo Del Toro, releases December 15th)
Following the gothic romance Crimson Peak, Del Toro returns with another sci-fi/fantasy fairy tale, this time set during the Cold War and taking place inside a government laboratory, where a mute janitor named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) comes to discover a humanoid fish creature (Doug Jones, in a motion-captured performance) being experimented on by the scientists that work there. Through their inability to speak, Elisa and the creature form an unlikely bond as a government official (Michael Shannon) intervenes, ordering more torturous experiments on the creature, prompting Elisa to try to help it escape with violent results. Where The Shape of Water looks so fresh is the romance at its center; to tell a love story between two characters without a line of dialogue will speak volumes of Del Toro as a visual storyteller as well as the acting ability of Hawkins and Jones. Add the cinematography and art direction to it as it captures the mystery of the laboratory and the allure of water no matter if it’s rain or the atmosphere of the creature’s living space, and you have what looks like one of the most beautiful movies of the year.
1. Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, releases December 25th)
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my favorite contemporary directors, and his reteaming with Daniel Day-Lewis after the excellent There Will Be Blood has all the potential to be something spectacular. Set in the world of 1950s fashion in the United Kingdom, Day-Lewis plays renowned clothing designer Reynolds Woodcock, who makes a muse out of the woman he falls in love with until their relationship takes a turn for the tumultuous. In a piece about the trailer written earlier this year, I described my anxieties over how the film would be promoted come awards season, but early word on Phantom Thread has been stellar across the board, being named one of the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review, who also gave it the award for Best Original Screenplay. This bodes well for Anderson, who after the decent but underwhelming Inherent Vice, looks to have put something at the center of Phantom Thread that will erode the relationship between his main players while turning the expectations of audiences on their heads, as he has throughout his career. Add the usual elements of the auteur’s aesthetic to it, from the authentic but unsettling score by Jonny Greenwood to cinematography that isolates his characters in large, wide frames before trapping them in close-ups, and you have a period piece unlike any others in the genre. I am more excited than ever to see Anderson return to form on Christmas Day, and watch Daniel Day-Lewis conclude his acting career with a phenomenal performance in what should be a phenomenal movie.