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  • Writer's pictureHunter Friesen

2021 Holiday Movie Preview

The waning winter months usually mark the time when many of the year’s best films are released to the public, either in theatres or on streaming. These films can either be late-breaking contenders with Oscars in their sights, or big blockbusters looking to capitalize on the festivities. This is a selected list of several films that deserve your attention over the holiday break, including release dates and brief summarizations.

West Side Story (December 10)

Legendary director Steven Spielberg has been clamoring to make a musical ever since he used a rendition of “Anything Goes” for the introduction to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Now, after several decades (and a pandemic), Spielberg is finally getting his chance with a remake of West Side Story, which he cites as a foundational piece of his childhood. Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler star as the Romeo and Juliet-inspired leads of Tony and María, respectively.

Reviews for the film have heaped praise on Spielberg’s direction and the cast, as well as Tony Kushner’s script, which stays true to the source material while also instilling new ideas. As the Great Musical War of 2021 nears its close, it seems that Spielberg may come out as the victor, an outcome many of us probably saw coming.

Nightmare Alley (December 17)

Guillermo del Toro has always been interested in the strange and macabre. He’s been a critical darling throughout his career, with his previous film, The Shape of Water, netting him the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture. Like Spielberg, del Toro is looking to crash this year’s Oscar race with a remake, this time of the 1947 film of the same name.

But instead of telling a story of forbidden love through song and dance, Nightmare Alley follows Bradley Cooper as a conman who swindles people through psychic manipulation. He eventually gets in over his head, leading to some bloody outcomes. Surrounding Cooper is an eclectic mix of heavyweights and character actors including Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, and David Strathairn.

Being the Ricardos (December 21) (Amazon Prime)

Writer/director Aaron Sorkin - only a year removed from releasing his timely courtroom drama, The Trial of the Chicago 7 - is keeping his biographical streak alive with Being the Ricardos, which tracks a week in the life of I Love Lucy stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as they endure both professional and personal struggles. Early reactions say that this is Sorkin’s best work yet as a director and that Kidman and Bardem are serious Oscar contenders.

Don't Look Up (December 24)

Gone are the days of Adam McKay making the “bromantic” comedies of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Step Brothers. With his last two films, he’s shifted over to more serious topics such as the Great Recession (The Big Short) and the reign of Dick Cheney (Vice).

His newest endeavor will be his biggest yet, both literally and metaphorically. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as astronomers who attempt to warn people about an incoming asteroid that will destroy Earth. McKay has never concerned himself with subtlety, as he readily admits that Don’t Look Up will be a more-than-obvious parable for the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of climate change. Hopefully, McKay will be able to spread that important message while still keeping his trademarked satirical wit.

American Underdog (December 25)

UNI alum Kurt Warner gets the biopic treatment, with Zachary Levi (Shazam!) portraying the famed quarterback as he undergoes the inspirational true story that took him from stocking shelves at Hy-Vee to two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Fame quarterback. The film aims to be an uplifting story that demonstrates that anything is possible with grit and determination. It should be a great film for the whole family.

Licorice Pizza (December 25)

Paul Thomas Anderson returns to the San Fernando Valley for this coming-of-age dramedy. Cooper Hoffman (son of the late PTA collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Alana Haim (one-third of the band Haim) star as young adults experiencing first love in 1970s California. Anderson is one of the most dependable auteurs working today, and early word is that this is nothing short of a crowd-pleasing masterpiece.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (December 25) (Apple TV+)

Hearing that Denzel Washington will be playing Macbeth alongside Frances McDormand’s Lady Macbeth is all that is required to make this one of the most anticipated films of the year. It doesn’t hurt that writer/director Joel Coen is at the wheel in his first directorial outing without his brother Ethan. Joel’s adaptation is said to offer a more truncated version of the classic tale, with the visuals taking influence from the disorienting dark style of early silent films, with the whole thing filmed in black-and-white on sound stages.

Other Films to Seek Out

  • Red Rocket (December 10)

  • The Hand of God (December 15, Netflix)

  • Spider-Man: No Way Home (December 17)

  • Swan Song (December 17, Apple TV+)

  • The King’s Man (December 22)

  • The Matrix Resurrections (December 22)

  • Parallel Mothers (December 24)

  • A Journal for Jordan (December 25)

  • The Lost Daughter (December 31, Netflix)

  • The Tender Bar (January 7, Amazon Prime)

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