Here are the movies everyone will be talking about this holiday season


With the turning of the leaves, there’s another indication of seasonal change: Movies are about to get better — or at least bigger.

The fall/holiday season is when studios traditionally trot out their Oscar hopefuls — along with, for reasons I can’t explain, dueling “Pinocchios.” (A live-action adaptation with Tom Hanks came out on Disney Plus in September, and Guillermo del Toro’s entry arrives on Netflix on Dec. 9. But wait, you say: Wasn’t there just another “Pinocchio” at Christmastime 2020? Why, yes. Yes, there was.)

This year, women are taking center stage in a number of films, including “She Said,” a fact-based tale of #MeToo reporting; “Nanny,” a horror-infused immigrant tale by Nikyatu Jusu; “Women Talking,” based on real-life rapes in a Mennonite community; and the Whitney Houston biopic “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Even the next Black Panther is likely to be a woman.

But there’s another, more meta theme of movies about movies this year. From “Bardo” (about a filmmaker experiencing a midlife crisis) to “Babylon” (set in the early days of Hollywood), and from “Empire of Light” (centering on workers in an English seaside cinema) to “The Fabelmans” (Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age saga), this season’s offerings focus on filmmakers holding a mirror up to themselves.

Opening dates are subject to change.

Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

Starring: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Griselda Siciliani, Íker Sánchez Solano, Ximena Lamadrid.

Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu, a four-time Oscar winner who has been working to great acclaim in Hollywood after making a splash with the Spanish-language “Amores Perros” (a 2001 Oscar nominee for best foreign language film), has titled his latest movie after the Buddhist concept of a liminal state between death and rebirth. That’s fitting for a cross-border story, the director’s first film shot in Mexico since “Amores.” “Bardo” centers on Silverio (Cacho), a Mexican-born, Los Angeles-based filmmaker who is grappling with ambivalence about national identity as he travels between California and Mexico on the eve of receiving a prestigious filmmaking award.

Talking point: Scattered with allusions to such icons of Mexican culture — high and low, revered and reviled — as poet Octavio Paz, mescal, axolotls, lucha libre and Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, the often-surreal screenplay for “Bardo” is a reunion of Iñárritu and Nicholás Giacobone, his co-writer on the Oscar-winning “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” Available Dec. 16 on Netflix.

For ‘Revenant’ filmmaker, gore isn’t the core of his movie

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Starring: Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Freeman, Tenoch Huerta Mejía.

In the wake of the death of T’Challa/Black Panther (portrayed by the late Chadwick Boseman), there’s an existential threat to the African nation he once ruled in the next installment of Marvel’s superhero saga. As the trailer for the hotly anticipated sequel to 2018’s “Black Panther” strongly suggests, at least one source of peril to Wakanda will arise from beneath the sea, in the form of the half-human, half-Atlantean Namor (Huerta Mejía), Marvel’s precursor to DC’s Aquaman. But the real question on everyone’s mind is: Who will take up the mantle of the film’s titular protector? While there is a glimpse of a baby being born in the trailer (underwater!), we shouldn’t have to wait for a hero to grow up. Exclusive footage released by Fandango of the next Black Panther — masked, yet in a form-fitting suit — appears to confirm what most fans already expect: that she will be a woman.

Talking point: A bittersweet air — grief over Boseman’s death, tempered by expectancy — hangs over the film. But it could help heal our sense of collective loss. As the Nigerian singer Tems sings in her cover of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” in the trailer, “Everything’s gonna be all right.”

‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ trailer: The five biggest takeaways

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau.

Fiennes plays a disgruntled celebrity chef whose elaborate, multicourse meal — served on an island at $1,250 a head for 12 handpicked customers — turns into a deadly piece of performance art in the darkly satirical feature debut of TV veteran Mark Mylod (“Succession”). Though tinged with horror, the film (produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, among others) is also queasily funny, in the manner of Ruben Ostlund’s recent “Triangle of Sadness,” which also skewered the pretensions of the elite — a turning of the tables that seems to be in the zeitgeist.

Talking point: Fiennes prepped for his role by watching Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” and observing Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn, who was brought on set as a technical consultant, creating such fussy on-screen dishes as Dungeness crab served with fermented yogurt whey, dried sea lettuce, umeboshi (salted Japanese plums) and kelp.

‘The Menu’ proves that a chef is the perfect modern movie villain

Starring: Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher.

Following in the fact-based footsteps of such journo-thrillers as “Spotlight” and “The Post,” “She Said” tells the story of New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (Kazan and Mulligan), whose dogged reporting helped break the story of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assault allegations. Like those earlier two films — the first an Oscar winner about the Boston Globe’s reporting on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, and the second an Oscar nominee about this newspaper’s race to publish the Pentagon Papers — “She Said” looks to be a celebration of shoe-leather journalism.

Talking point: The English-language feature debut of German filmmaker Maria Schrader (“I’m Your Man”), “She Said” is based on Kantor and Twohey’s 2019 book by the same name, which lays out the story behind the story — one that led to a shared Pulitzer Prize for the Times and the New Yorker.

How the New York Times broke Harvey Weinstein

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Taylor Russell, Mark Rylance.

To some, Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” — a 2018 remake of the 1977 camp horror classic by Dario Argento — came out of left field, especially following his swooningly romantic Oscar winner of 2017, “Call Me By Your Name.” Perhaps it shouldn’t have. The Italian filmmaker’s new film is loosely based on Camille DeAngelis’s 2015 young-adult novel, sometimes described as a coming-of-age cannibal road trip romance. The Hollywood Reporter says of this cinematic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: “Guadagnino’s seemingly divergent interests in romance and horror have never come together quite so ideally as they do here.”

Talking point: “Twilight” worked, didn’t it?

Luca Guadagnino Q&A: Don’t believe everything you hear about ‘Call Me By Your Name’

Starring: Jonathan Majors, Glen Powell, Christina Jackson.

Based on Adam Makos’s 2014 nonfiction book by the same name, “Devotion” tells the true story of flyboy friendship and heroics involving two U.S. Navy aviators in the Korean War: one Black (Majors, of “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”) and one White (Powell, of “Everybody Wants Some!!”), during a time when our nation was still segregated.

Talking point: Can the film’s formula of male camaraderie and aerial combat generate the same combustible appeal of the summer blockbuster “Top Gun: Maverick”?

The Secret of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is that it doesn’t try too hard

Starring: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Gabriel LaBelle, Judd Hirsch, Seth Rogen.

The “West Side Story” team of director Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner reunite for this semi-autobiographical tale centering on Spielberg’s teenage stand-in, Sammy Fabelman (LaBelle), the child of a workaholic engineer (Dano) and a free-spirited homemaker (Williams). The 8mm films made by Sammy in “The Fabelmans” are re-creations of actual 8mm films Spielberg once made as a teenager.

Talking point: The director has called this project, winner of the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the most “daunting” of his career, describing his brainstorming interviews with Kushner — conducted over Zoom in the early days of the pandemic — as a form of therapy.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Starring: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista.

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s follow-up to the 2019 hit whodunit “Knives Out,” about a bickering family in the wake of the suspicious death of their paterfamilias (Christopher Plummer), has no direct link to the original, other than Craig, who returns in the role of detective Benoit Blanc. Here, the murder that inspires the mystery is said to take place only halfway through the film. While you’re waiting, it’s likely to be fun watching another cast of thousands, including Norton as an Elon Musk-y billionaire and Bautista as an attention-seeking YouTube star.

Talking point: “Glass Onion” is less a proper sequel than a stand-alone film. (That’s a good thing: You don’t need to watch the first film as homework. But do it anyway.) Johnson told the Los Angeles Times: “I’ve never experienced nerves quite like actually sitting down to write something. I also spent 10 years planning ‘Knives Out,’ whereas this, I was kind of starting from scratch.” Available Dec. 23 on Netflix.

Starring: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Spector, Leslie Uggams, Sinqua Walls, Rose Decker.

“Nanny” arrives from Blumhouse, the horror-centric production company known for such titles as “Halloween Ends” and “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” and which together with Amazon bought the film out of Sundance, where it won the Grand Jury Prize for drama. But calling this stylish immigrant drama horror isn’t quite right. Despite some genuine jump scares, the most unsettling thing about it is the ingrained classism encountered by its heroine Aisha (Diop), a Senegalese teacher who takes on the job of child care for a privileged and clueless wealthy White couple (Monaghan and Spector) on New York’s Upper East Side.

Talking point: Two inhuman entities from African folklore haunt Aisha’s dreams in writer-director Nikyatu Jusu’s feature debut: the water spirit Mami Wata (“mother water”) and the trickster figure Anansi the spider. They may seem at times like boogeymen — and are filmed as such — but they’re also a manifestation of empowerment for Aisha. Available Dec. 16 on Amazon.

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu.

This season’s answer to “Encanto” — minus the songs — Disney Animation’s “Strange World” is, like that 2021 film, set in a mythical, visually marvelous world that is under a mysterious threat (here, it’s crops dying). Gyllenhaal voices Searcher Clade, a farmer who, despite his first name, is not the explorer his legendary, long-missing father was. Did I say missing? Searcher’s dad (Quaid) turns up in the trailer to lead a world-saving expedition that includes Searcher’s wife and son (Union and Young-White) and the president of the fictional Avalonia (Liu), where it’s set.

Talking point: Co-director Don Hall, who helmed the film with “Raya and the Last Dragon” co-writer Qui Nguyen, describes the film, partly inspired by early 20th-century pulp adventure magazines, as Jules Verne meets “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

Starring: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, Frances McDormand.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Sarah Polley (“Away From Her”) wrote and directed this adaptation of fellow Canadian Miriam Toews’s 2018 novel about rapes that took place within an ultraconservative religious farming community — itself inspired by real events uncovered more than 10 years ago in a Mennonite colony in Bolivia. The film’s title is said to be an apt description of the film, the bulk of which takes place in a hayloft as the women discuss the limited options that are before them: forgive and forget the menfolk’s crimes, leave the community forever and forsake eternal salvation, or stay and fight.

Talking point: The movie passes the Bechdel Test by every measure, arguably save one: The conversation pointedly revolves around the misdeeds of men — but it is a conversation that, arguably, needs to be had.

Starring: Will Smith, Ben Foster.

The release of this fact-based Civil War saga about the flight of a man (Smith) from slavery in Louisiana — widely considered an Oscar contender — became uncertain in the wake of Smith’s Oscar-ceremony slap of host Chris Rock. After the actor was banned from all Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences events — most notably the Oscars ceremony itself — for the next 10 years, there were questions: Can the star and producer of “Emancipation” be nominated if he cannot attend the ceremony? (Apparently.) Will he be nominated? Who knows, but reaction after an intimate Los Angeles screening last month that included Tyler Perry, Dave Chappelle, Rihanna, Kenya Barris and A$AP Rocky was glowing. “I’m still haunted by ‘Emancipation,’ ” Perry wrote on his Instagram story. “It’s truly powerful, moving and captivating.” Available Dec. 9 on Apple TV Plus.

Talking point: The film was inspired by photos of an enslaved man known as “Whipped Peter,” taken in 1863 during a Union Army medical examination and first published in Harper’s Weekly. One photo, dubbed “The Scourged Back,” became one of the most widely circulated images of slavery, eventually contributing to a groundswell of public opposition to the practice.

Starring: Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Colin Firth, Toby Jones.

Filmmaker Sam Mendes turns his attention from the World War I of his Oscar-nominated “1917” to the early 1980s with “Empire of Light,” a poetic meditation on lost souls centering on two workers in an English seaside cinema. The central relationship is a romance between Colman’s Hilary, the middle-aged duty manager who has an apparent mood disorder, and Ward’s Stephen, an aspiring architecture student. Against the backdrop of Britain’s racist skinhead movement, Stephen, who is Black, and Hilary, who is White, forge a tender and unexpected connection.

Talking point: Mendes has said that Colman’s character was inspired by his mother. “It was very personal,” he told Reuters. “It really was stimulated by memories from my childhood of growing up around someone who was mentally falling apart and yet somehow heroically was also bringing me up at the same time. So it is a love letter to her and to the courage of people struggling with mental illness.”

Filmmaker Paul Dalio mines his bipolar disorder for feature debut

Starring: Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field, Bill Irwin.

Based on a 2017 memoir by TV columnist Michael Ausiello, “Spoiler Alert” is a romantic dramedy — call it a rom-dram — about Ausiello’s relationship with his late husband, Kit Cowan. Helmed by Michael Showalter (director of the Oscar-winning “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and the Oscar nominee “The Big Sick”), the movie stars Parsons as Ausiello, Aldridge as Cowan, and Field and Irwin as Cowan’s parents.

Talking point:Savage Love” sex columnist Dan Savage makes his screenwriting debut here, alongside TV writer David Marshall Grant.

Starring: Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Kate Winslet, Stephen Lang.

How long have we been waiting for the sequel to the 2009 hit “Avatar”? Technically, since 2006, when filmmaker James Cameron first dropped the suggestion that he would like to make sequels to the film (mind you, a film that hadn’t even been made yet). In 2010, after it became a bona fide hit, Cameron confirmed that there would be follow-ups. (Yes, plural. “Avatar 3” is already in the works.) What took him so long? Cameron had to wait for technology to catch up to his vision. Returning to the planet of Pandora, repository of the ore Unobtainium — the dumbest name, by the way — the new film finds the Marine Jake Sully (Worthington) trying to live out his life peacefully with the blue-skinned extraterrestrial Na’vi Neytiri (Saldana).

Talking point: “Avatar: The Way of Water” was filmed using a souped-up version of a technology known as high frame rate. (Anyone remember that from “The Hobbit”?) Called TrueCut Motion, it “provides all the advantages of sharp high frame rate for high-resolution fast action without sacrificing the cinematic feel,” according to its developers.

Why does ‘The Hobbit’ look so weird?

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Zen McGrath, Vanessa Kirby, Anthony Hopkins.

With ‘The Son,’ Florian Zeller Wants to Make Audiences Uncomfortable.” That’s the headline on Vanity Fair’s interview with French novelist-turned-playwright-turned-filmmaker Florian Zeller, who, with Christopher Hampton, won an Oscar last year for the screenplay of “The Father,” adapted from Zeller’s play. (They’re both part of a trilogy of plays, along with “The Mother.”) Jackman and Dern play the divorced parents of a troubled teenager (McGrath) struggling with depression. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Talking point: Hopkins, who won an acting Oscar for his performance in “The Father,” plays another, very different father in “The Son”: the emotionally aloof parent to Jackman’s Peter, reminding us that every father is also someone’s son.

Anthony Hopkins is welcoming old age by embracing his inner child

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau.

The backlash was swift after images of Fraser first appeared online — in prosthetic fat makeup — as a reclusive English teacher struggling with obesity as he tries to reconnect with his teenage daughter (Sink). Though happy to see the actor’s comeback in Darren Aronofsky’s drama (adapted by Samuel D. Hunter from his play of the same name), many weren’t happy about what looked like exploitation. Early reviews have been mixed, with some praising Fraser’s performance while criticizing the use of a fat suit. The Independent captured the collective ambivalence, calling “The Whale,” which garnered Aronofsky three prizes at the Venice Film Festival, both “effective” and “grossly manipulative.”

Talking point: Fraser defended the use of the suit, which added 300 pounds and required six hours to get into, telling Newsweek that he himself is “not a small man. I don’t know what the metric is to qualify to play the role. I only know that I had to give as honest a performance as I can.”

I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Starring: Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci, Ashton Sanders.

Bohemian Rhapsody” screenwriter Anthony McCarten tackles the life story of another music sensation (after Queen’s Freddie Mercury): New Jersey choir-girl-turned-pop-superstar Whitney Houston, played by English actress Ackie, a BAFTA winner for her role in the Netflix series “The End of the F—ing World.” There’s plenty of built-in drama here. Tucci plays record producer Clive Davis, who signed Houston to Arista Records in 1983 at the age of 19, becoming a kind of Svengali to the young singer. (Note: Davis also produced this film.) And Sanders plays Houston’s husband, Bobby Brown, with whom she shared a crippling drug addiction during their turbulent 14-year marriage.

Talking point: Apparently, there’s still no one who can belt it like Whitney. Recordings of Houston’s singing voice will be been used in place of Ackie’s.

10 years after Whitney Houston’s death, what have we learned about her — and ourselves?

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Harvey Guillén, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Florence Pugh, John Mulaney, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone.

Exactly how many lives does this cat have? That’s the question, literally and figuratively, in this latest chapter of DreamWorks Animation’s long-running “Shrek” franchise. Puss (voice of Banderas) has used up all of his lives as the film gets underway, but he’s been granted a reprieve: a chance to restore the ones he’s lost if he can find the mythical Last Wish. Reuniting with Hayek’s cat burglar (and love interest) Kitty Softpaws, our hero sets off on an antic adventure, pursued by characters from various fairy tales.

Talking point: “Puss in Boots,” I wrote in 2011, was “almost shockingly good,” thanks in large part to the talented voice cast (and perhaps also lowered expectations). This cast features Pugh as Goldilocks, Mulaney as Jack Horner, and Colman and Winstone as Mama and Papa Bear.

Starring: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart.

Set in 1920s Hollywood, as the Silent Era was on the way out, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon” spins a raucous, fictionalized tale around Robbie’s starlet Nellie LaRoy; Pitt’s movie star Jack Conrad (said to be loosely based on John Gilbert); and Calva’s Manny Torres, an up-and-comer, born in the United States to Mexican immigrants, with his eye on fame. Although the film’s sprawling cast — including Chloe Fineman, Flea, Lukas Haas, Spike Jonze, Tobey Maguire, Max Minghella, Eric Roberts, Katherine Waterston, Samara Weaving and Olivia Wilde — features some playing real people (e.g., Minghella’s Irving Thalberg), the story, Chazelle has said, is “mostly” made up.

Talking point: Chazelle told Variety that he took inspiration from such films as Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” Robert Altman’s “Nashville” and “The Godfather” — “old-school epics that managed, through a handful of characters, to convey a society changing.”

“Living” — the story of a terminally ill man (Nighy) taking stock of his life and realizing that he hasn’t really lived — has deep roots. First came Leo Tolstoy’s 1886 novella “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” which was the inspiration for the 1952 film “Ikiru” by Akira Kurosawa. (“Ikiru” is also said to have been the inspiration for “Biutiful,” by Alejandro G. Iñárritu.) This new film, a direct remake of Kurosawa’s, is written by Kazuo Ishiguro, whose books have been made into movies before (“The Remains of the Day,” “Never Let Me Go”), but who returns to screenwriting for the first time in 17 years.

Talking point: Set in London in the 1950s and directed by the South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus, whose “Moffie” charted the struggles of a closeted gay soldier, “Living” has all the DNA of an “exquisitely sad” drama of repression and regret, to quote the Guardian’s assessment.

Underneath it all, he’s still Bill Nighy

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