Starts Dec. 4
Orson Welles is generally remembered as the sole genius behind “Citizen Kane,” the artistic pinnacle of Hollywood’s Golden Age. It wasn’t until Pauline Kael’s controversial 1971 essay “Raising Kane” that Herman J. Mankiewicz, the movie’s co-screenwriter, rose to the fore as a creative dynamo steamrolled by the director’s ego. “Mank” explores the tumultuous, alcohol-fueled period of Mankiewicz’s writing of “Citizen Kane,” with Gary Oldman earning Oscar buzz for his portrayal of the embattled screenwriter, and Amanda Seyfried earning praise as actress Marion Davies. Director David Fincher shot the film in luminous black-and-white, filling it with visual Easter eggs for fans of Welles and Old Hollywood.
Starts Dec. 18
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
This much-anticipated adaptation of the 1982 August Wilson play will be forever etched in film history as Chadwick Boseman’s final film appearance, as an ambitious trumpeter in the band of Chicago blues pioneer Ma Rainey. (The actor died in postproduction.) The movie, produced by Denzel Washington in an extension of the actor’s relationship with Wilson’s oeuvre, stars Viola Davis as the titular “mother of the blues” during an eventful recording session in which tempers flare, old wounds are reopened, and race and money wield unfortunate influence over art. This one should be a must-see.
Starts Dec. 23
The Midnight Sky
George Clooney, no stranger to being stranded in a lonely abyss, directs and stars, complete with lumberjack beard, as Augustine Lofthouse, an astronomer in a desolate research station in the Arctic. His only companion is the mysterious child he discovers; when Mission Control suddenly goes dark, it’s up to both of them to contact an intrepid crew of American astronauts en route from Jupiter—among them Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo—that Earth has been decimated by an apocalypse. With so many major studio pictures removed from release this year, 2020 has been lacking big-budget spectacle; this race-against-time adventure should help make up for it.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Starts Dec. 25
This powerful period romance set among the jazz subculture of New York City circa 1957 stars Nnamdi Asomugha as saxophone player and audiophile Robert, and Tessa Thompson as the title character, whom he meets while working at his father’s record store. They enjoy a summer romance, only to part ways and reconnect years later, after Sylvie has worked toward breaking color barriers as a television producer. Praised by critics who attended its Sundance 2020 premiere as an “old-school romantic drama” with a dynamite jazz soundtrack, “Sylvie’s Love” is, for viewers of intelligent but sweet holiday fare, just what the doctor ordered.
ON HBO MAX
Starts Dec. 10
Let Them All Talk
Ever the renegade, director Steven Soderbergh shot his latest dramedy aboard an actual cruise on Britain’s regal Queen Mary 2 ocean liner, completing the film in the two-week voyage, and using paid cruisers as extras. He also photographed and edited the movie himself. “Let Them All Talk” is an ensemble film for grown-ups, in which Meryl Streep, as a best-selling author whose peak years are behind her, books a cruise with a couple of old friends—played by Dianne Wiest and Candice Bergen—one of whose life she mined, cruelly, in one of her novels. The result is an understated actors’ showcase that promises to be HBO Max’s highest-profile prestige picture of the year.
Starts Dec. 25
Wonder Woman 1984
This, of course, is the most lucrative feather in HBO Max’s cap for 2020, a distribution coup that should be enough to keep this new-ish streaming service in the black for the year. Also opening in theaters on Christmas Day, after being held by Warner Brothers since its originally slated opening of June 5 of this year, the D.C. Universe sequel finds Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince furthering her romance with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor during the Cold War chill of 1984, while battling a formidable villain: former ally Barbara Ann Minerva, aka the Cheetah, featuring comedic actor Kristen Wiig cast against type. Pedro Pascal also joins the cast as devilish businessman Maxwell Lord.
ON APPLE TV
Starts Dec. 11
I’ve had a chance to see this site-specific animated adventure, and it’s well worth a look—both for its fashionably retro 2D animation style, and its transcendent overarching themes. It’s set in a mythical Ireland, where the protagonist, Robyn Goodfellowe, aspires to be a wolf hunter like her protective father. On the verge of wiping out the last pack of wolves that prowls outside her city, Robyn finds unexpected commune with the beasts, in the form of a shape-shifting peer who can morph into both lupine and human forms. Kids will appreciate its great songs and ebullient adventure, while adults may discover a cautionary tale about authoritarianism and xenophobia.