The Christmas vacation week has been a great time for movies for many years now. Knowing that people are on vacation and (possibly) eager to escape the odd family obligation or two, studios plan big releases for Christmas day, which is also conveniently one of the last big release dates of the year, making the time also a prime spot for the release of films with big award season campaigns. That means there are also many choices this week, from new releases to films that have been in theaters for a week or more, and the plethora of VOD offerings. So here’s a list of twenty movies to watch this Christmas.
Here, we’ll run down the big options for Christmas week movies, and give you some clue of which audiences might get the most out of each.
This isn’t a list of Christmas films — we did a an internal poll of /Film’s favorite Christmas movies, which is coming along later this week. Rather, this is a list of many other options you can see right now.
New to Theaters
Note: after press time, The Interview was also slated to play this week, and there is also the single-screen release of the Dardenne Brothers’ Two Days One Night.
If you’re interested in this month’s must-see film: Selma
Ava DuVernay directs an excellent portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. (played with resonant power by David Oyelowo) as the activist leads protests for African-American voting rights from Selma to Montomery, Alabama in 1965. Rather than attempting to depict the full span of King’s life, this film focuses on a specific point in time, revealing King as a man who is as flawed and plagued by doubt as any of us — which makes his achievement all the more significant. Selma also does not shrink from showing the division within African-American communities as they responded to voting restrictions.
If you’re looking for a set of command performances: The Gambler
Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt remakes a ’70s picture that originally starred James Caan, now with Mark Wahlberg in the lead role of a college professor whose life is dominated by his gambling addiction. Some shockingly on the nose music choices and a fairly throwaway role for Brie Larson undermine the movie, but there’s no mistaking the energetic performances from Wahlberg, Larson, Michael K. Williams, Jessica Lange, and John Goodman.
If you’re looking for some escapism with a musical accompaniment: Into the Woods
This year’s Christmas week openings are, by and large, not exactly feel-good family fare, but Rob Marshall gets closer than anyone else with his big-budget adaptation of Stephen Sondheim‘s musical. Several fairy tales are unified into something like a single story, but the real attraction is the star power, as the cast features Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, and Emily Blunt.
If you’re looking for a tough but generally down the middle award-season effort: Unbroken
Angelina Jolie‘s second film as director looks like the product of someone who has spent time studying under Clint Eastwood — expect a straightforward tale of courage and perseverance in the face of great adversity as Jack O’Connell plays Louis “Louie” Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who spent two years in a Japanese POW camp after the B-24 on which he was a crew member crashed in the ocean south of Hawaii.
If you’re from a military family, or if you’re ready to see Bradley Cooper challenge himself: American Sniper
Speaking of Clint Eastwood, the man is back with his own biopic of a major figure in American military history. In this case the subject is Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL sniper who was credited as the most lethal sniper in Navy history before his murder at a Texas shooting range in 2013. Bradley Cooper plays Kyle, and the film follows the man’s conflicts both at war and at home, and especially deals with how the two environments clash in his psyche.
If you want an actor showcase, or a relationship gone wrong: Big Eyes
Tim Burton‘s latest film stars Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz as married couple Margaret and Walter Keane, who became famous in the ’60s for Walter’s paintings of big-eyed children. But the paintings were actually by Margaret; Walter took credit for her work, leading to a bitter battle between the two. Burton doesn’t often turn to real-world stories — his last was Ed Wood, twenty years ago — so this is a pleasant change of pace for the director.