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Holiday Movie Preview: 27 cinematic escapes this holiday season


What with the North American box office suffering its worst slump in a decade, the movie business is looking for a miracle this holiday season.

Of course, all it takes is a smash hit to put some cheer in the hearts of worried studios executives. It happened already with It and Thor: Ragnarok in recent months, and expectations are very high that it will happen again with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The second film in the third trilogy spawned by George Lucas’s 1977 space opera arrives Dec. 15 — it’s quite possible you’re already wearing your cosplay outfit.

But as much as Disney’s marketing blitz may imply otherwise, many other movies will arrive alongside it. The year’s second biggest time for movie-going is also your best opportunity to see many films vying for glory in awards season. Then there are all the comedies, family flicks and thrillers that you may find under the proverbial tree.

To get you ready, here’s a survey of the most notable movies hitting theatres in the holiday season and in the first weeks of — yes, it’s almost here already — 2018. (Dates may change, so keep checking the Star’s movies coverage every Friday.)

THE BIG ONES

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Arrives: Dec. 15

Stars: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega

The skinny: Though the replacement of directors on two different upcoming Star Wars movies indicates the perils facing filmmakers within the Lucasfilm/Disney machine, Rian Johnson seems to be making out very well: after helming The Last Jedi, he’s making a new trilogy set in the Star Wars universe. Before that can happen, audiences will see how he makes out with the continuing story of Rey’s Jedi aspirations and Kylo Ren’s embrace of the dark side (and the very deep voice that comes with it).

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Kevin Hart is among the stars of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
Kevin Hart is among the stars of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.  (Frank Masi)  

Arrives: Dec. 20

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black

The skinny: Set 20 years after the first film adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s book about a magical game — a massive hit for Robin Williams and a very young Kirsten Dunst during the holidays of 1995 — this sequel sends the now grown-up characters back into the game. Really, we don’t care what else happens as long as we get to see the Rock on a rhino.

The Greatest Showman

Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman.
Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman.  (Niko Tavernise)  

Arrives: Dec. 20

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams

The skinny: The massive success of La La Land has inevitably spurred the latest resurgence of the Hollywood musical, which is great news for a hardcore song-and-dance man like Jackman. He takes the lead in this lavish musical based on the life of legendary circus impresario P.T. Barnum. La La Land’s songwriters supply the tunes.

The Post

Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee), David Cross (Howard Simons), John Rue (Gene Patterson), Bob Odenkirk (Ben Bagdikian), Jessie Mueller (Judith Martin), and Philip Casnoff (Chalmers Roberts) in The Post.
Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee), David Cross (Howard Simons), John Rue (Gene Patterson), Bob Odenkirk (Ben Bagdikian), Jessie Mueller (Judith Martin), and Philip Casnoff (Chalmers Roberts) in The Post.  (Niko Tavernise)  

Arrives: Dec. 22

Stars: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson

The skinny: Sober-minded films about landmark events in the history of news journalism do not usually inspire moviegoers to rush into theatres. Nevertheless, this period piece about the Washington Post’s 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers will likely benefit from the pedigrees of the talents involved (not just Streep and Hanks but Steven Spielberg, too) and the timeliness caused by the media’s turbulent relationship with today’s tweeter in chief.

Pitch Perfect 3

The cast of Pitch Perfect 3.
The cast of Pitch Perfect 3.  (Quantrell D. Colbert/Universal)  

Arrives: Dec. 22

Stars: Anna Kendrick, Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson

The skinny: The Barden Bellas get together once again to sing their hearts out and presumably add to the pile of money (over $ 400 million worldwide) that’s already been made by the decade’s only a cappella-themed movie franchise.

AWARDS SEASON HOPEFULS

Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.
Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.  (Jack English/Focus Features)  

Arrives: Dec. 8

Stars: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas

The skinny: After Christopher Nolan’s mighty Dunkirk, this biopic about Winston Churchill’s early years in power has emerged as 2017’s other British-made, World War Two-themed drama with major Oscar potential. Even under heavy makeup he wears to play the PM, Gary Oldman is the man to beat for Best Actor.

The Shape of Water

Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water.
Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water.  (Kerry Hayes/Fox Searchlight Pictures)  

Arrives: Dec. 8

Stars: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins

The skinny: Viewers in Guillermo del Toro’s second home of Toronto fell hard for the director’s fantasy romance when it played several rapturously received screenings at TIFF. The familiarity of many local locations used for the film (like the Lakeview Lunch) no doubt inspired even more affection.

Call Me by Your Name

Timothee Chalamet, left, and Armie Hammer in a scene from Call Me By Your Name.
Timothee Chalamet, left, and Armie Hammer in a scene from Call Me By Your Name.  (Sony Pictures Classics via The Associated Press)  

Arrives: Dec. 15

Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer

The skinny: A critical favourite since its Sundance debut in January, the latest by Italian director Luca Guadagnino is a swoon-inducing period piece about the passionate connection between an Italian-American teen and an older man he meets. The chemistry between newcomer Chalamet and Hammer has made awards contenders out of both actors.

Downsizing

Kristen Wiig, Matt Damon, Maribeth Monroe and Jason Sudeikis star in Downsizing.
Kristen Wiig, Matt Damon, Maribeth Monroe and Jason Sudeikis star in Downsizing.  (Paramount Pictures)  

Arrives: Dec. 22

Stars: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig

The skinny: Alexander Payne’s first movie since Nebraska is a satirical-minded comedy-drama that imagines a future in which citizens concerned about the effects of overpopulation can shrink themselves down and try new lives in miniature communities. The director’s surely hoping moviegoers are keener on a mini-Matt than they were on the regular-sized ones in The Great Wall and Suburbicon, two of 2017’s costliest flops.

All the Money in the World

Arrives: Dec. 22

Stars: Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer

The skinny: What was supposed to be another awards-friendly prestige picture by Sir Ridley Scott instead became collateral damage in the sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Spacey. Though Hollywood’s new pariah originally played J. Paul Getty in this true-life drama about the kidnapping of the tycoon’s grandson, Scott enlisted Plummer to replace Spacey in scenes that may very well be in front of cameras as you read this sentence. Makers of that half-finished season of House of Cards are no doubt eager to see how Scott’s desperate scheme works out.

I, Tonya

Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, landing the triple axel in I, Tonya.
Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, landing the triple axel in I, Tonya.  (VVS films)  

Arrives: Dec. 22

Stars: Margot Robbie, Caitlin Carver, Bobby Cannavale

The skinny: Robbie’s star is rising at a rapid clip thanks to her bravura performance as American figure-skater-turned-tabloid-sensation Tonya Harding in this snarky biopic, which attracted one of the biggest deals at TIFF.

Molly’s Game

Arrives: Dec. 25

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner

The skinny: Another breakout TIFF title, this drama about a woman’s legal travails after the FBI catches her running a very-high-stakes poker game is another shoo-in for Oscar nominations due to Jessica Chastain’s performance and the Academy Award already owned by Aaron Sorkin, the film’s screenwriter and first-time director.

Phantom Thread

Vicky Krieps stars as Alma and Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock in writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread.
Vicky Krieps stars as Alma and Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock in writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread.  (Laurie Sparham/Focus Features)  

Arrives: Jan. 12

Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville

The skinny: Having heard the actor say it several times before, the movie world reacted with no little skepticism when Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement after finishing the shoot for his latest collaboration with There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson, a 1950s-set drama based on the life of London’s classiest couturier. Will he stick to his word? Yet another Oscar for Best Actor may cause him to waver.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Arrives: Jan. 26

Stars: Annette Bening, Jamie Bell

The skinny: Bening has also been building up some buzz for her turn as fading but still vivacious movie star Gloria Grahame in this British romantic drama.

COMEDIES

The Disaster Artist

Sharon Stone and Dave Franco in The Disaster Artist.
Sharon Stone and Dave Franco in The Disaster Artist.  (Elevation Pictures)  

Arrives: Dec. 1

Stars: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen

The skinny: In this loving tribute to a very bad filmmaker that’s very much in the tradition of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, James Franco goes deep into the absurd circumstances surrounding the creation of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, the preeminent cult film of our times. Familiarity with The Disaster Artist’s fascinatingly awful source material will likely enhance your viewing experience.

Just Getting Started

Arrives: Dec. 8

Stars: Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones

The skinny: Clearly the king of the geezer comedy after his appearances in The Bucket List, Last Vegas and Going in Style, Morgan Freeman takes another kick at the can with some help from Tommy Lee Jones who, being nine years Freeman’s junior, counts as a relative young’un.

Father Figures

Owen Wilson and Ed Helms in Father Figures.
Owen Wilson and Ed Helms in Father Figures.  (Daniel McFadden/Warner Bros. photo)  

Arrives: Dec. 22

Stars: Owen Wilson, Ed Helms

The skinny: Though dude comedies have been on the commercial decline since the golden age of The Hangover and Horrible Bosses, this buddy film — originally titled Bastards until the studio had second thoughts — about brothers in search of their biological father hopes for a better outcome.

FAMILY FARE

Ferdinand

John Cena and Kate McKinnon provide voices in Ferdinand.
John Cena and Kate McKinnon provide voices in Ferdinand.  (20th century fox)  

Arrives: Dec. 15

Stars: John Cena, Kate McKinnon

The skinny: The Blue Sky animation team behind the Ice Age and Rio movies look to mint another franchise with this adaptation of the classic children’s story about a fighting bull who prefers sniffing flowers to goring toreadors.

Paddington 2

Arrives: Jan. 12

Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins

The skinny: Already a hit in its native U.K., this followup to director Paul King’s delightful revamp of the story about a bear with a hat is one of several films that was originally to be released this season by the Weinstein Company. As you might have guessed, moves were made to ensure that name will not be seen onscreen.

THRILLERS

Insidious: The Last Key

Spencer Locke as Melissa Rainier in Insidious: The Last Key.
Spencer Locke as Melissa Rainier in Insidious: The Last Key.  (Universal Pictures)  

Arrives: Jan. 5

Stars: Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson

The skinny: Though the very beginning of the year has been a typically quiet time for new releases, it’s become a prime spot for some seasonal counter-programming in the form of scary movies. This time, it’s the fourth instalment of the paranormal franchise launched in 2010 by superproducer Jason Blum and the team behind Saw and The Conjuring.

Proud Mary

Arrives: Jan. 12

Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Billy Brown

The skinny: A throwback to the heyday of Pam Grier, this retro blaxploitation thriller stars Empire’s reigning diva as a bad-ass hit woman. Suffice to say, this is not good news for the Man.

The Commuter

Arrives: Jan. 12

Stars: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga

The skinny: Genre movie fans know that very special things can happen when Neeson teams up with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra for another of their thoroughly implausible but irresistibly entertaining thrillers, a partnership that’s already yielded Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night. Now they’re on a train!

MORE NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Sweet Virginia

Arrives: Dec. 1

Stars: Jon Bernthal, Christopher Abbott

The skinny: Toronto director Jamie M. Dagg earned some raves for this Alaska-set, Vancouver-shot, slow-burn thriller about the violence that consumes a small town after the arrival of a hired killer.

The Other Side of Hope

Arrives: Dec. 8

Stars: Ville Virtanen, Dome Karukoski

The skinny: World cinema’s greatest master of the deadpan comedy, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, has earned another bounty of awards and accolades for his story of a Syrian refugee’s misadventures in Helsinki.

Wonder Wheel

Juno Temple in Woody Allen's Wonder Wheel.
Juno Temple in Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel.  (Jessica Miglio)  

Arrives: Dec. 8

Stars: Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Justin Timberlake

The skinny: Spurred on by the sexual misconduct allegations that have rocked Hollywood, there’s been much speculation about how all this may affect Woody Allen, a polarizing figure ever since the very ugly drama surrounding his breakup with wife Mia Farrow and subsequent marriage to his former stepdaughter. A company that’s already plagued with misconduct charges, Amazon Studios is hoping for a more positive kind of attention for Allen’s latest, a noirish drama about a love triangle with a 1950s Coney Island setting.

Ramen Heads

Arrives: Dec. 22

Stars: Osamu Tomita

The skinny: The holiday movie season is sadly skimpy when it comes to foodie fare but thankfully, viewers can sate their appetites with this Hot Docs favourite, about a Japanese master’s quest for the perfect noodle soup as well as the wider history of one of Japanese cuisine’s signature dishes.

Happy End

Arrives: Jan. 12

Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant

The skinny: Another heavyweight auteur, Michael Haneke earned an unusually subdued reception at Cannes for this followup to his Oscar winner L’Amour. It’s a satirical drama about a bourgeois family that ignores the misery in the migrant camps near their home in Calais. Perhaps viewers’ post-holiday guilt will leave them craving the punishment that the director likes to deliver.

Also out in December and January: Big Time (Dec. 8), Chavela (Dec. 8), Naples ’44 (Dec. 22), Den of Thieves (Jan. 19), 12 Strong (Jan. 19), In the Fade (Jan. 19), Hostiles (Jan. 19), Hochelaga: Land of Souls (Jan. 19), The Leisure Seeker (Jan. 26) and Maze Runner: The Death Cure (Jan. 26)

TORONTO STAR

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