17 movies to see (or not) over Christmas 2017
Ahh, Christmas. A time of holiday lights, presents under the tree, and arguing with your extended family about what movie you’re going to go see.
This year, theaters will be packed with everything from family-friendly comedies and sci-fi blockbusters to feel-good crowdpleasers and awards bait. Whether you’re looking to kill a few hours after Christmas dinner or just trying to escape your weird cousins who are visiting, we’ve rounded up all the biggest new releases in theaters and streaming.
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner
Director: Aaron Sorkin
EW review: “With a gift as unique as Sorkin’s, it was always only a matter of when — not if — he would try his hand at directing one of his own scripts. Still, who could’ve predicted that he’d be such a natural behind the camera the first time around? Aside from a few misdemeanor writerly indulgences, Sorkin’s fast-and-funny new morality tale, Molly’s Game, doesn’t feel like a directorial debut. It feels like an assured story told by a seasoned pro. Sorkin grafts his signature staccato lines onto the true story of Molly Bloom — a former Olympic skier who would end up channeling her iron will into more illicit ventures. Namely, running one of the country’s biggest and most exclusive underground poker games. That is, until the feds finally crashed the party. Sorkin, who’s always seemed more comfortable with alpha male types, was smart (or exceedingly lucky) to cast Jessica Chastain as his heroine, Molly. The film is easily the best showcase she’s had since Zero Dark Thirty.” A-
Who to watch with: Your cool older cousin who taught you how to play poker.
All the Money in the World
Starring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg
Director: Ridley Scott
EW review: “It’s hard to say of course how [original star Kevin] Spacey would have filled the role without actually seeing him onscreen (aside from the fact that he did look odd in the heavy aging prosthetics shown in the initial trailers, like a refugee from a Dick Tracy villain camp circa 1990). But there’s none of the cold Keyser Söze snake in the 88-year-old Plummer’s performance; he’s pitiless, without question, but pitiable too: a lonely old man clinging to things — estates, objets, Old Master paintings — because he can’t trust a human heart, least of all his own. It’s already earned him a Golden Globe nomination (Williams received one as well, as did Scott, for best director), which may be the industry’s way of recognizing an achievement in logistics as much as in quality filmmaking. At its best though, Money makes you forget all that and surrender to a story that might be almost too strange to believe, if it wasn’t entirely true.” B+
Who to watch with: Your grandpa who, unlike J. Paul Getty, would pay a lot of money for your ransom if you were kidnapped.
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
EW review: “Now that the movie is finally here, it can now called for what it actually is: the new Paul Thomas Anderson-Daniel Day-Lewis film that, despite all of the anticipation, is a little underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong — like all of Anderson’s films (the best of which remain Boogie Nights and Magnolia), Phantom Thread is meticulously crafted, visually sumptuous, impeccably acted, and very, very directorly. But until the final act, this straight-jacketed character study is also pretty tame stuff — emotionally remote, a bit too studied, and far easier to admire than surrender to and swoon over. It seems to exist under glass.” B
Who to watch with: Your fashion-obsessed older sister.
Pitch Perfect 3
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow
Director: Trish Sie
EW review: “All things must come to an aca-end. And so after five years, three outings, and an uncountable number of pitch puns, the house that multipart harmonies built is signing off — and if its swan song sometimes feels more like a wild goose chase, plotwise (or maybe a day-drunk penguin), the sheer nutty charisma of its sprawling cast still carries the series out on a pretty sweet high note.” B
Who to watch with: Your old college friends you haven’t seen in a while.
The Greatest Showman
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya
Director: Michael Gracey
EW review: “First-time director Michael Gracey, working from a script by Jenny Bicks (Sex & the City) and Bill Condon (Chicago, Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls), plunges ahead in a giddy rush, carving out ample opportunities for his stars to sing the soaring rock-opera compositions penned by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the gifted musical duo behind La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen. What he doesn’t make much room for is subtlety; every emotion is signaled to the peanut gallery, every story beat landed with a foot stomp and a handclap.” B
Who to watch with: Your 12-year-old cousin who wants to be a Broadway star when she grows up.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jack Black
Director: Jake Kasdan
EW review: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A group of high school kids representing different archetypes (the brain, the princess, the basket case, and so on) meet in detention and, a few hours later, discover that they’re not so different after all. Now stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A seemingly harmless game sucks its players into a magically perilous jungle world of wild flora and rampaging animals, ultimately leading to valuable life lessons. Congratulations, you’ve not only seen 1985’s The Breakfast Club and 1995’s Jumanji, you’ve also already seen the latest Hollywood intellectual-property retread/reboot no one knew they were asking for. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a film as busy as a mediocre video game and as familiar and by-the-numbers as a dozen other brand-recognition titles that have recently trundled off the Tinseltown widget assembly line.” C
Who to watch with: Your sibling, who was traumatized by the CG animals in the original 1995 movie.
Starring: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau
Director: Alexander Payne
EW review: “Director Alexander Payne (Nebraska, Election, About Schmidt) specializes in a kind of deadpan heartland absurdity, but he’s never delved into anything nearly as fantastical as this. Though the little-people terrarium of Leisureland may not be what Paul had hoped, it’s also where he learns to stop worrying and love the small, thanks to his hedonist neighbor (Christoph Waltz) and a left-field romance with Vietnamese dissident Ngoc (Hong Chau, bossy and funny and refreshingly oblivious to lip gloss). The result is a dadaist swirl of satire, pie-eyed whimsy, and speculative futurism — like Gulliver’s Travels through the wrong end of a telescope.” B+
Who to watch with: Your Alexander-Payne-loving cousin, who’s watched Election a thousand times.
Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi
Director: Scott Cooper
EW review: “Shot in New Mexico and Colorado, Hostiles is visually stunning. And its themes of blind hatred and eventual understanding between the races is reminiscent of Dances With Wolves, minus the preachiness. Still, the biggest draw is watching Bale deliver another master class in invisible acting. Every gesture feels authentic. You immediately understand this spiritually spent man — for better and worse. Westerns can be a tough nut to crack, but Hostiles may be the finest example of the genre since Unforgiven. ” A
Who to watch with: Your dad, who always complains about how nobody makes any good Westerns anymore.
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson
Director: Steven Spielberg
EW review: “Steven Spielberg’s The Post is set in 1971, yet it couldn’t be more about 2017 if it tried. There are period-specific sideburns, mustard-colored shirts, and a screen choked with cigarette smoke, but it’s a timely wake-up call about speaking truth to power in the ‘fake news’ era.
Movies, of course, take a long time to gestate, and when this rousing ink-stained procedural about The Washington Post’s race to publish the Pentagon Papers was being written, the 2016 election wasn’t yet over. Spielberg caught a lucky break — if you can call anything related to that election lucky. The message of the movie is so obvious it’s a shame it needs repeating: namely, that an adversarial press is essential to democracy.” B+
Who to watch with: Anyone who likes Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. (So, everyone.)
STILL IN THEATERS
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill
Director: Rian Johnson
EW review: “There are a handful of truly spectacular moments in The Last Jedi—some as visually sumptuous and others as emotionally poignant and raw as anything in the intergalactic ring cycle so far: The sight of Rebel X-wing fighters emerging from light speed and skidding to a halt; a kamikaze crash rendered in giddy, gasp-inducing super slo-motion; a vertiginous, ground-scraping dogfight on a salt-mining planet that kicks up plumes of velvet-cake red dust. These, along with a few touching reunions and farewells from beloved characters that some of us have known like family for 40 years, will go down as instant classics that will be catnip for fans young and old. That said, I’d stop short of calling director Rian Johnson’s undeniably impressive initiation into the Star Wars fold the masterpiece that some desperately want it to be. The film simply drags too much in the middle. Somewhere in the film’s 152-minute running time is an amazing 90-minute movie.” B+
Who to watch with: Your nerdy friends, who won’t mind seeing it a second (or third) time.
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor
Director: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina (co-director)
EW review: “Mamas don’t let their babies grow up to be mariachis. That’s one thing Miguel (voiced by newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) knows for sure: Ever since his great-great-grandfather abandoned the family decades ago to pursue la vida musical, every descendant has shunned both his tainted memory and any stray melody unwise enough to drift past a window. They are shoemakers now, not dreamers. But Miguel, a tenacious 12-year-old with a single dimple in his cheek and an unhushable song in his heart, can’t help it; his fingers ache for a guitar. And like every hero on a quest, he will find one. Though unlike most — especially in the shiny world of Pixar, whose Technicolor critters, toy cowboys, and anthropomorphized race cars often seemed to come in every shade but brown — he is also proudly, unmistakably Mexican.” B+
Where to watch: In theaters everywhere (buy tickets)
Who to watch with: Your young nieces and nephews (who hopefully won’t judge you if you get a little teary).
Starring: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Gina Rodriguez
Director: Carlos Saldanha
EW review: “Munro Leaf’s children’s book The Story of Ferdinand is a bona fide classic. With its charming drawings and kid-friendly prose, Ferdinand was an instant hit upon publication in 1936. (It also became politically controversial during the Spanish Civil War and World War II, thanks to its pacifist message, and Hitler famously banned it.) The story is simple: Ferdinand is a strong but peaceful bull who has no interest in bullfighting and would rather spend his days sitting under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers. Because of his seemingly fierce appearance, Ferdinand is taken to Madrid and put in the ring to face a matador — only he refuses to fight.
Walt Disney released a short, animated adaptation in 1938, but Ferdinand is making his true big-screen debut now, with John Cena voicing the titular bull in an animated adaptation. Leaf’s book is less than 800 words long, so understandably, director Carlos Saldanha had to add some padding to create a full-length feature. Unfortunately, Ferdinand buries the original story’s message under frenetic action scenes and grating sidekicks, turning a classic tale into just another flat animated comedy.” C+
Who to watch with: Your young nieces and nephews, when their parents could use a break.
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Lois Smith
Director: Greta Gerwig
EW review: “Gerwig doesn’t trap her protagonist in the oblivious underage bubble that most coming-of-age dramedies inhabit; Lady Bird’s parents, played by Tracy Letts and Laurie Metcalf, are fully formed humans with their own deep flaws and vulnerabilities. Their messiness is hereditary but it’s also a gift, the wind beneath their weird little Bird’s wings.” A-
Where to watch: In theaters now (buy tickets)
Who to watch with: Your mom, obviously.
The Shape of Water
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon
Director: Guillermo del Toro
EW review: “If this all sounds bizarre, well, it is. But it’s also poignant, tender, funny, romantic, and flat-out breathtaking in its shoot-the-moon ambition. There’s even a Busby Berkeley dance-fantasia number! If you’re willing to go with this fishy fairy tale, The Shape of Water is a haunting sci-fi love story like nothing you’ve ever seen before — or dreamed that you ever wanted to see. It’s pure movie magic.” A
Who to watch with: Your significant other, because nothing says romance like a movie about a mute cleaning lady and her fish-monster beau.
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Joe Wright
EW review: “I’ll be honest, Oldman hasn’t been this good for a very long time. To be even more honest, he’s starred in a lot of junk in the past decade. But remember, this is the actor who played Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy and was so hypnotic (and often scary) in Prick Up Your Ears, State of Grace, JFK, The Professional, True Romance, Immortal Beloved, and The Contender. It’s both a relief and revelation to see him get the chance to swing for the fences again.” B+
Who to watch with: Your dad, who loves World War II history and loved Dunkirk.
The Disaster Artist
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen
Director: James Franco
EW review: “Isn’t it better to fail spectacularly than to never try at all? Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 magnum opus, The Room — an accidental cult classic once dubbed “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” — was the hard-won sum of his Hollywood dreams; it was also possibly the best worst thing to happen to cinema since Ed Wood picked up a camera. And it feels only appropriate that James Franco, an actor and director for whom weirdness is next to godliness, would be the one to tell his story.” B+
Who to watch with: Your friend who thinks he has a great Tommy Wiseau impression.
Starring: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace
Director: David Ayer
EW review: “Genre mashups can be fun! In theory, the idea of a gritty police drama set in a modern-day America where orcs, elves, and humans coexist could be enjoyable! As a general rule, for a genre mashup to succeed, a film has to get at least one of those genres right. Netflix’s Bright, which bills itself as part buddy-cop movie, part lavish fantasy, does neither justice, resulting in lazy nonsense that’s too silly to be good and too self-serious to be any fun.” D+
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix
Who to watch with: On second thought, maybe you better put on Netflix’s A Christmas Prince instead.