This month, Neo is back, Lucy and Desi are in trouble, and Oscar favorites arrive from Italy and the U.S.
The Power of the Dog
As we mentioned in our Week Ahead column a couple of weeks ago in advance of its limited theatrical release, “The Power of the Dog” is receiving much Oscar buzz, and should catapult to the top of your “must watch” list, even if you’re not the keenest fan of westerns. Director Jane Campion’s first film in 12 years is a gritty, lived-in drama set in 1920s Montana, where a feared local rancher (Benedict Cumberbatch, in one of his most acclaimed performances to date) spars with his meeker brother (Jesse Plemons) after the latter brings a new wife (Kirsten Dunst) and son into the family. Tensions flare in this psychological, subtly feminist spin on the male-dominated western, significantly directed by the second woman to ever earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, for “The Piano.”
Starts Dec. 15
The Hand of God
I’ve had the opportunity to screen this much-hyped Italian coming-of-age story, and it’s worth every bit of its accumulating buzz. Director Paolo Sorrentino is no stranger to epic, Felliniesque visions, having imprinted a certain baroque style across films such as “Il Divo” and “The Great Beauty.” While still capturing the city of Naples in all its ragged grandeur, “The Hand of God” is a more intimate and personal affair. Sorrentino drew from his own biography through the character of his teenage protagonist Fabietto (Filippo Scotti), who undergoes a transformative final year of high school. The director’s episodic structure allows the various dramas and pleasures of Fabietto’s life to achieve a crystal-cut clarity, built up around a love for 1980s Naples that you can practically smell and taste from your living room. The magical-realist forays that bookend the film are the icing on a cinematic layer cake.
Starts Dec. 31
The Lost Daughter
Another Academy Award hopeful (we’re fully into that season!), “The Lost Daughter” is the directorial debut of Maggie Gyllenhaal, who also appears in a supporting role. She adapts Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel of the same name, finding much poetry in motion in a story about a solo vacationer on a seaside island (Olivia Colman at her customary best) whose interactions with a young mother and daughter resurrect buried traumas from her past. These play out through extended flashbacks, with Jessie Buckley dexterously inhabiting Colman’s younger self. I’ve seen this one too, and it casts an almost mystical spell, with the influence of Michelangelo Antonioni’s art-house languors apparent in Gyllenhaal’s oblique storytelling and deliberate pacing. Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t hold your interest for every second, but its emotional payoffs are worth it.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Starts Dec. 10
Riz Ahmed and Octavia Spencer lead the A-list cast of British director Michael Pearce’s second idiosyncratic feature, one that captures our paranoid zeitgeist. Decorated marine Malik Khan, armed with the knowledge of a pending alien invasion, has left in the middle of the night with his two estranged sons—a “road trip” that’s really a rescue mission, until he’s stopped by the police, who seem to be in cahoots with a corrupt government. Conspiracies from the fringes infect Malik—those with an aversion to bugs might want to tread carefully—so much so that extraterrestrial invaders seem the least of his problems. But it’s the movie’s emotional core, the connection between father and sons, that buttresses its sci-fi speculation.
Starts Dec. 21
Being the Ricardos
Writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s star-studded latest follows a tumultuous week during the production of “I Love Lucy.” Nicole Kidman steps into influential shoes of Lucille Ball, and Javier Bardem plays her husband and on-screen partner Desi Arnaz, whose attempts at sitcom magic are upended by sinister outside forces: accusations that Ball is a communist, and the tabloid dissemination of Arnaz’s alleged extramarital affairs. It all coalesces, in dressing rooms and soundstages, with a meticulous sense of period detail and, we suspect, Sorkin’s penchant for flashy dialogue and transcendent speechifying.
ON HBO MAX
Starts Dec. 22
The Matrix Resurrections
The trailer for Lana Wachowski’s giddily anticipated fourth feature in the “Matrix” franchise says almost nothing concrete about the movie’s plot, but isn’t that mystery a gift to the viewer? We know that it’s 20 years after the events of “The Matrix Revolutions,” and that Neo (Keanu Reeves) is now living as a normal human in San Francisco, where he sees a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) who prescribes him—what else?—blue pills. It takes an intervention from Morpheus (this time played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and a handful of red pills to bring the reluctant savior back into the fold for a new adventure. There are plenty of references to Alice in Wonderland in the trailer; chances are “The Matrix Resurrections” will include plenty of rabbit holes worthy of our downward spiral.
Starts Dec. 17
Alfred Hitchcock’s mad genius, in “The Birds,” was imagining the unthinkable: What would happen if these species, with which humans have peacefully coexisted for eternity, suddenly decided to turn on us, using their superior traits (i.e., flight) to their advantage? Mattson Tomlin takes a similar approach in his directorial debut, only instead of birds, it’s AI automatons—the synthetic “helpers” we’ve let into our lives and gifted with all of our personal data—who have decided, with the invisible flip of a cosmic switch, to turn us all into grey goo. Singularity, meet apocalypse. Chloe Grace Moretz and Algee Smith play a young and expecting couple whose only chance to see their child born in a sane world is a cross-country escape to a community in Boston where no AIs can penetrate.