The holidays are a time to stay home and spend time with family and friends. It’s also a time to trek to the nearest movie theater and pay to sit in silence with a bunch of strangers for a few hours.
At first glance, December appears to be a light month for releases but a closer look reveals a few gems hidden among whatever dad-movie Steven Spielberg is putting out these days. Oh, and the biggest movie of the year.
“The Shape of Water”
Dec. 1 (limited release), Dec. 8 (wide release)
Guillermo del Toro has taken a break from hanging out with Hideo Kojima and making guest appearances in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” to give us his first film since 2015’s “Crimson Peak.”
“The Shape of Water” stars Sally Hawkins as a mute custodian in a government lab who befriends a captured sea creature played by frequent del Toro collaborator Doug Jones in 1962 Baltimore. Michael Shannon plays the villain, an abusive colonel tasked with studying the creature.
If there is one thing del Toro excels at, it’s heartfelt tales featuring fantastic creatures realized through practical effects. It is when he overreaches with a CGI slugfest like “Pacific Rim” that he becomes anything less than visionary. “The Shape of Water” looks to be more in line with 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which told the tale of a young girl’s descent into a dark world of magic and adolescence during the Spanish Civil War.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Rian Johnson tries his hand at helming the biggest film franchise of all time, after J.J. Abrams won back the audience’s good will with “The Force Awakens.” No pressure.
Episode VIII picks up where VII left off with Rey training with the recently rediscovered and all-around disgraced Jedi Luke Skywalker. Kylo Ren is regrouping after getting his emo butt kicked and killing his own father.
“The Force Awakens” was the boost “Star Wars” needed after the almost universally derided prequel trilogy, introducing fresh likeable characters and reuniting us with cast of the original trilogy. “The Last Jedi” should maintain the same level of quality, though the specter of the death of Carrie Fisher looms large over the production.
Director David Ayer and screenwriter Max Landis may be two of the most divisive names in Hollywood today. Ayer won nobody over after the massive misfire that was “Suicide Squad” and Landis’ grating Twitter presence often overshadows any merit his scripts would earn him.
But the two joining forces for a Netflix original film starring Will Smith as a cop with an orc for a partner played by Joel Edgerton is too interesting to ignore.
Ayer’s gritty style is perfect for a cop thriller and he has shown he understands the world in films like “Training Day” and “End of Watch.” Landis understands storytelling more than he is often given credit for as evidenced by his YouTube pitches for the perfect Superman film and Twitter analysis of WWE characters. He has a way with dialogue that seems like it may clash with Ayer’s tough guy sensibilities but should be at home in a film with such a ridiculous premise, coming out of Smith’s mouth.
While it is doubtful Paul Thomas Anderson will provide you with the feel-good Christmas feelings you may want, there is no doubt he will deliver a film that is both visually beautiful and interesting. Whether it will be enjoyable remains to be seen.
The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a dressmaker and lifelong bachelor who spends his life on flings with his clients until he meets a strong-willed woman played by Vicky Krieps who disrupts his perfectly tailored life.
Anderson’s recent films have been spotty. “Inherent Vice,” was a meditation on the end of the Free Love era that felt as stoned as the main character. Before that, “The Master” featured beautiful performances from a brilliant cast in one of the most dully infuriating movies ever committed to film. But he is still the man who gave us “Boogie Nights” and showed us Adam Sandler could act in “Punch-Drunk Love.”
David Tunis-Garcia is a managing editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org