The best thing about the winter holidays is that no one expects you to play sports after dinner to “burn off some of those calories haha.” No, it’s too cold. You get to go to the movies instead, and even luckier — many of the movies that are in theaters right now are good. You don’t even have to have a family with you! You can go alone. You can go with your gal pals, your significant other, or your anger. You can take a neighbor, a plant, or a quiet pet. There are films for all of these social situations. You can go see something that will expand your mind or something that will make you chuckle or something that will make you weep bitterly and then punch a snow drift. Whatever you want, honestly.
Let’s run down your options and select what is best for your needs.
Just to be part of it all
Nothing sucks up the oxygen like a new Star Wars movie, and you’re more or less obligated to see it if you want to be part of the cultural conversation for the next three months. On the bright side: generally, these movies range in quality from “fine” to “very good,” and there are worse examples of peer pressure to succumb to. If you have $12.50-ish to spare then just go ahead and see the movie everyone else is seeing. It will feel nice! (Although I’ve heard that this movie is very dark, so it might not feel nice immediately.)
In theaters: Now.
As a joke
Will Smith stars in this film, which is sort of an updated A Christmas Carol and seemingly very messed up and bad. Terrible movies are great, but terrible movies in which characters reportedly say the title of the movie in reverent awe half a dozen times are better. Go to this one with some pals you need to catch up and giggle with. The movie theater is a better venue than your local bar, where you’re apt to run into your AP history teacher, or the mall food court, where you’re likely go deaf from the ruckus of screaming children. After you’re done, you can just watch a Will Smith movie you actually like, such as Focus.
In theaters: Now.
To feel too much
La La Land
La La Land is everything you have heard: it’s a technical masterpiece that will impress even the most logistically talented and organized among us; it’s a full-throated endorsement of spectacle and song and Technicolor and tap dancing; it’s a fine love story; it is nice to see Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling work together, as they’re good at it and seem to enjoy it; it is, I think, very embarrassing for John Legend, who may or may not be playing a parody of himself. You will laugh and cry. That is a fact and not a platitude!
In theaters: Now in limited release. Opens nationwide on December 25th.
With the whole team
Every time the TV spot for Sing comes on my mom giggles for 45 seconds then shakes her head a little bit and whispers “I want to see that.” It’s about cartoon animals auditioning for spots on an American Idol-inspired show and it features the voice work of some people you probably like, including Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, John C. Reilly, and Nick Kroll. It also features an original song from Ariana Grande and Stevie Wonder. It was made by the same people who made Despicable Me, a film you can debate the merits of but can’t deny its cultural influence. I bet your whole family would be into it if you went to this movie together. I mean, the snail is very cute!
In theaters: Now.
The Eyes of My Mother
The Eyes of My Mother is a black-and-white horror film about a young woman who lives in isolation in rural America and does... non-traditional things with human body parts. It is very difficult to eat anything while watching this movie, and it’s also very difficult to think about anything else because the film’s so engrossing and nightmarish. So, this is the ideal movie to see if you catch yourself in the middle of the holiday vortex just sort of stress-devouring fudge and thinking “haha what?” about everything that has happened in the United States of America over the past 12 months. Snap out of it. Watch a woman snap someone’s vocal chords, instead!
If your holidays were preceded by a gnarly breakup
Fashion designer Tom Ford’s second feature-length film has an all-star cast (Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Laura Linney for three seconds) and a gruesome premise. In it, the ultimate revenge for a brutal breakup is to write about it with violent, thinly veiled metaphors in an impressive debut novel. “If someone breaks your heart, compare them to a vile psychopath who murders children and keeps his toilet on his porch,” this film says. I agree! If you’re a fan of Flannery O’Connor stories, the 1982 Bruce Springsteen album Nebraska, art as a means to a petty end, or the world’s greatest living actor Jake Gyllenhaal, check it out.
In theaters: Now.
To make fun of men
Frank & Lola
I recently stumbled into a showing of Frank & Lola as a self-preservation tactic because the New York City streets were hosting a Purge-inspired ritual known as Santa Con. It stars Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots as two lovers who suffer because of the incredible phenomena known as “male jealousy” and “male ego.” It’s shot primarily in Las Vegas and Paris and has a lot of cooking sequences, making it very pleasant to look at. Shannon is at the height of his powers here, and basically no other actor could even have been considered to star in such a darkly comedic romantic noir. You can also catch him in Nocturnal Animals, or just hanging around your neighborhood if you happen to live in Red Hook! Jokes aside, Frank & Lola is a tightly written psychological thriller and the debut film for writer-director Matthew Ross. It’s worth your time and money to place a bet on this guy.
When you want to see a play but also want popcorn
If you missed Viola Davis and Denzel Washington appearing in the 2010 Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Pulitzer-winning play Fences (either for logistical reasons, or because you object to experiencing art without the opportunity to munch on popcorn), you can soon catch them reprising the roles in a film. Washington also directs, and the screenplay was completed by Wilson shortly before his death in 2005. Fences is a classic play about class mobility, masculinity, and race in mid-century Pittsburgh, and from what we can see in the trailer it looks like the film will be faithful not just to the script of the original play but also to a lot of its staging. It’s a good chance to experience important American theater from the comfort of one of those bonkers reclining leather seats with the huge cup holders.
In theaters: December 25th.
A video game movie that won’t make you barf
I don’t know anything about Assassin’s Creed the video game series, but my co-worker Adi Robertson says the Michael Fassbender-fronted Assassin’s Creed movie does a pretty good job of being better than all other video game movies (which have historically been terrible). You can read her review below, but she also privately said things like “It’s not so bad!’ and “I genuinely did enjoy watching this movie.” You can take her at her word, if you want. She is reliable, I’ll say privately to anyone who asks and also right now on this very public website.
In theaters: Now.
If you haven’t yet, for goodness sake
If you haven’t seen Arrival yet, see it now. If your family hasn’t seen Arrival yet, take them. If your neighbor hasn’t seen Arrival yet, invite them along or suggest they go to a separate showing (ASAP), depending on how much time you’re interested in spending with them. Arrival is the definition of a crowd-pleaser: optimistic about humanity, creative about portraying alien spaceships, semi-interested in romance, and full of brain-bending plot twists your younger brother can feel free to declare “[eyeroll] so obvious” while secretly being impressed. Amy Adams is perfect as the unassuming and brilliant linguist who holds the key to humanity’s continued existence, and Jeremy Renner is fine at whatever. Go see this because you’ll regret it if you don’t.
In theaters: Ages ago, what are you doing?
I will personally be seeing
James Franco and Bryan Cranston seem like a more-than-solid comedic team, and this movie looks like a treat. A sweet winter treat for me, a girl who — like everyone — has had a rough year.
In theaters: December 23rd.