And we’re at the end of 2016. A mostly disappointing year for movies closes out with a mostly disappointing month for movies. Even the awards season fare appears lackluster. Surprisingly, of the more than 20 movies to be released this month, only Rogue One: A Star Wars Story would fall under the remake/sequel banner, and even that exists in kind of a grey area. Regardless, let’s get through this.
DECEMBER 2, 2016
The Big: INCARNATE
Incarnate – The only big movie this week is Incarnate, a PG-13 horror movie directed by San Andreas director Brad Peyton and starring Sully‘s Aaron Eckhart and Games of Thrones‘ Carice van Houten and is only set to be released in ~1,500 theaters. The first week of December is traditionally a slow week, so I guess it’s common practice for studios to give us a calm before the torrents of Oscar hopefuls and Star Wars and allow us to catch up on those November awards favorites that we might have missed. (Arrival and Manchester by the Sea are probably the two best bets.) Incarnate is review-less on Rotten Tomatoes as of Thursday, December 1, so it’s shaping up to be a surefire hit.
The Small: JACKIE
Jackie – Jackie is an Oscar hopeful if there ever was one. A biopic of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy (played by Oscar-winner Natalie Portman) that follows her life immediately following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Early reviews have been fantastic with praise being given to Portman’s performance, the costume/set design, and director Pablo Larraín, who makes this his English language debut.
DECEMBER 9, 2016
The Big: OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY
Office Christmas Party – The first of the two R-rated bawdy comedies this month is an ensemble about chaos ensuing during an office Christmas party, hence the easy-to-sequelize title. While audiences seem to have rejected Bad Santa 2 (and rightly so), maybe something like Office Christmas Party with more modern humor and a focus on silly rather than harsh might attract viewers. Even the ads make it clear that the goal of the party is to save people’s jobs, so it’s anarchy … with a heart and social conscience. Plus it has an ensemble so large (with the likes of T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, and Courtney B. Vance), you’d be hard-pressed not to find at least one actor you like. One question this month: which will get more commercial and critical success: this or the other upcoming holiday-themed comedy, Why Him? Before you choose this one, just a warning – it is written by Timothy Dowling, who wrote Pixels.
The Small: LA LA LAND
La La Land – Although it’s almost certainly going to be the art house hit of the season – the music, the glamour, the lavishness! – and possibly even the overall awards favorite of the year – the big question is, whether La La Land will be a crossover hit. My guess is – no, despite the near universal praise this is sure to get. The old Hollywood fetishism that takes awards voters by storm doesn’t generally translate to the general public, and it’s hard to think of the last successful non-animated movie musical that wasn’t based on a pre-existing property. And while La La Land has some star power in leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, neither of them are proven draws in the way Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are. Besides, the last time those two were in a movie together, it was Gangster Squad.
DECEMBER 16, 2016
The Big: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY vs. COLLATERAL BEAUTY
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Star Wars! Again! Every Christmas! From now until eternity! Unlike The Force Awakens, which grew more enticing the closer we got to it, my excitement for Rogue One is waning. Yes, it’s a Star Wars movie, so I am (we are) compelled to see it, and pre-sales have been outstanding, but is this the right foot for the Star Wars Story prequel franchise to start off on? On the one hand, I like the idea of seeing a Star Wars side story that emphasizes the Wars part of Star Wars. Unfortunately, the quest of how the Rebel Alliance got the plans for the Death Star seems relatively unimportant when considering the entire gamut of Star Wars mythology. Though maybe it’s the smartest move. Start simple, irrelevant, and hope to lure us in by seeing AT-ATs, AT-STs, and the rest of our favorite toys on the big screen again.
(Side note: I know that people are trying to imbue meaning into this movie before it’s released and hope to figure out someway it’s connected to The Force Awakens. Fan theories abound that Jyn Erso is Rey’s mother or that the Rogue One-ders are the Knights of Ren. Like most fan theories (e.g. DCEU Joker is Jason Todd), my money is still on none of these coming to pass. Yes, interconnecting these stories can provide real depth to what would otherwise be a pointless tale, but trying to link them could be more trouble than it’s worth. (Where were they in the 40 years between the two trilogies?) Disney is smart enough (or should I say safe enough) not to tie a more-or-less unproven side series so deeply into its flagship franchise. The best hope is that Rogue One will be an entertaining, but ultimately insignificant, action-adventure-war movie made to sell us the toys we already have.)
Collateral Beauty – Putting this up against Rogue One is one of the smartest bits of counter-programming in years. (Or dumbest. Time will tell.) Collateral Beauty doesn’t just want to tug at your heartstrings, it wants to tear them out and beat you with them until you choke to death on your own sobs. Will Smith learns to love again with the help of metaphysical concepts such as Time and Death, following the death of his son? The Pursuit of Happyness made over $160 million and his son was alive in that trailer, so this will be extra sad, which could easily mean extra money. The success of Suicide Squad and the failure of Independence Day: Resurgence shows that audiences still like Will Smith. Combine that with this movie having the designation of this season’s tissue waster all to itself means that it will probably have remarkable staying power. After all, you can’t turn on a TV this month without Love Actually playing somewhere.
The Small: NERUDA
Neruda – Jackie director Pablo Larraín has a second extremely critically-acclaimed movie coming out this month with Neruda. A likely contender for Best Foreign Film, Neruda stars Gael García Bernal as an inspector hunting renowned author Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) in the 1940s, who became a fugitive in his home country of Chile after joining the Communist Party. Much like the early reviews for Jackie, early reviews for Neruda have praised Larraín’s ability to transform the biopic into something inventive and intimate while having more to say than ‘this is a famous person whose name you kind of know.’ Take that, Snowden.