2017 Holiday Film Preview

If you’re reading this, then Thanksgiving is mere days away (or has past, considering WHEN you’re reading this). Turkey. Stuffing. Popcorn. Raisinets.

Yes, the holidays do mean goodies on the dining room table. But they also mean goodies at the local multiplex. Here is a list of some of the films we’re looking forward to. Please note that release dates are subject to change at the whim of the studios. Some synopsis information courtesy of our friends at IMDB.

I hope this year we get more presents then lumps of coal.

November 22

“Coco”
Starring the voices of: Anthony Gonzalez and Benjamin Bratt
Directed by: Lee Unkrich

The latest from the folks at Pixar. Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to work out the mystery.

Oscar Chances: With over 20 Academy Awards to its name, including six for Best Animated Feature, the chances are good.

“Darkest Hour”
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas
Directed by: Joe Wright

During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds.

Oscar Chances: Look for Oldman to earn his 2nd nomination.

“The Man Who Invented Christmas”
Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce
Directed by: Bharat Nalluri

The backstory to how author Charles Dickens came to write “A Christmas Carol.”

Oscar Chances: Maybe Plummer but I’m thinking this film will get Scrooged.

“Chappaquiddick”
Starring: Kate Mara and Clancy Brown
Directed by: John Curran

The film recounts the tragic events of the 1969 car accident involving U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy and a young, female campaign worker who died at the scene. Kennedy left the scene of the accident and didn’t alert authorities for ten hours. I’ve actually driven across that bridge and it wasn’t easy to traverse in the middle of a bright, sunny day. Just saying.

Oscar Chances: Would love to see Clancy Brown get a nod.   PLEASE NOTE THIS FILM HAS BEEN MOVED TO APRIL 2018

November 24

“Call Me by Your Name”
Starring: Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet
Directed by: Luca Guadagino

In Northern Italy in 1983, 17-year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father’s research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape.

Oscar Chances: Hammer has been getting good festival buzz.

December 1

“24 Hours to Live”
Starring: Ethan Hawke and Rutger Hauer
Directed by: Brian Smrz

An assassin seeks redemption after being given a second chance at life.

Oscar Chances: No.

“The Disaster Artist”
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco and Seth Rogen
Directed by: James Franco

The behind-the-scenes story of the making of the cult film “The Room,” with James Franco playing the film’s star/writer/director/jack-of-all-trades Tommy Wiseau.

Oscar Chances: I personally find James Franco to be a fine filmmaker. If you haven’t seen “In Dubious Battle,” a film from earlier this year, I highly recommend it. It’s easily on my Top 10 List of 2017.

“Wonder Wheel”
Starring: Jim Belushi, Juno Temple and Kate Winslet
Directed by: Woody Allen

On Coney Island in the 1950s, a lifeguard tells the story of a middle-aged carousel operator and his beleaguered wife.

Oscar Chances: With 24 Academy Award nominations, and four Oscars, you can never count the Woodman out.

December 8

“Arthur Miller: Writer”
Directed by: Rebecca Miller.

A profile of the great playwright Arthur Miller, directed by his daughter.

Oscar Chances: A possible Best Documentary nod.

“Bullet Head”
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Adrien Brody and John Malkovich
Directed by: Paul Solet

The three leads play criminals holed up in a warehouse. Or at least that is what I assume from what I can find. There is no synopsis on IMDB!

Oscar Chances: Like the synopsis, non-existent.

“I, Tonya”
Starring: Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan
Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Surely I’m not the only man in America who had a crush on Tonya Harding? When I woke up one day to find she had married a man named Michael Smith and it WASN’T me I was devastated. Apparently here Tonya wants to win the Olympics and her husband gives her a little help.

Oscar Chances: Worth one just to see Tonya Harding at the Oscars. It would be as memorable as the year Woody Harrelson brought Larry Flynt.

“Just Getting Started”
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones and Renee Russo
Directed by: Ron Shelton

A two-hander action comedy in the vein of “Midnight Run” about an ex-FBI agent (Jones) and an ex-mob lawyer in the witness protection program (Freeman) having to put aside their petty rivalry on the golf course to fend off a mob hit.

Oscar Chances: Lots of talent here but the word “comedy” usually scares the Academy.

“The Shape of Water”
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon and Doug Jones
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and a co-worker discover a secret classified experiment.

Oscar Chances: del Toro is one of the great visionaries of our time.

December 15

“Ferdinand”
Starring the voices of: John Cena and Kate McKinnon
Directed by: Carlos Saldanha

After Ferdinand, a bull with a big heart, is mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home. Determined to return to his family, he rallies a misfit team on the ultimate adventure.

OSCAR CHANCES: Possible Best Animated Feature nod.

“Gotti”
Starring: John Travolta and Kelly Preston
Directed by: Kevin Connolly

The story of renowned mob boss John Gotti and his son.

Oscar Chances: 40 years after “Saturday Night Fever” Travolta is still a star.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Starring: Mark Hamill, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley
Directed by: Rian Johnson

Episode VIII begins where VII ended, with Rey finally tracking down the elusive Luke Skywalker. Bring your Kleenex as we say goodbye to the great Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia.

Oscar Chances: Lots of technical nods.

December 20

“The Greatest Showman”
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams and Zac Efron
Directed by: Michael Gracey

Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, “The Greatest Showman” is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Oscar Chances: Hollywood loves Jackman, who got an Oscar nod the last time he sang on screen.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black
Directed by: Jake Kasdan

Four teenagers discover an old video game console and are literally drawn into the game’s jungle setting becoming the adult avatars they chose.

Oscar Chances: Technical maybe.

December 22

“All the Money in the World”
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Williams and Christopher Plummer
Directed by: Ridley Scott

The story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom. This film was already completed with Kevin Spacey playing grandpa Getty. In an unprecedented move, after Spacey’s recent scandals came to light, director Scott re-cast the role with Christopher Plummer and re-shot all of Spacey’s scenes. In six weeks.

Oscar Chances: Ridley Scott should get TWO Oscars if he pulls this off.

“Bright”
Starring: Will Smith, Noomi Rapace and Joel Edgerton
Directed by: David Ayer

Set in a world where mystical creatures live side by side with humans. A human cop is forced to work with an Orc to find a weapon everyone is prepared to kill for.

Oscar Chances: Nope. Sounds too much like “Alien Nation” to me.

“Downsizing”
Starring: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz and Kristen Wiig
Directed by: Alexander Payne

A social satire in which a guy realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself.

Oscar Chances: Payne is an Academy favorite.

“Hangman”
Starring: Karl Urban and Al Pacino
Directed by: Johnny Martin

A homicide detective teams up with a criminal profiler to catch a serial killer whose crimes are inspired by the children’s game Hangman.

Oscar Chances: Don’t see it happening.

“Happy End”
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert
Directed by: Michael Haneke

A drama about a family set in Calais with the European refugee crisis as the backdrop.

Oscar Chances: Very good. Writer/director Haneke gave us “Amour”

“Hostiles”
Starring: Christian Bale, Wes Studi and Rosamund Pike
Directed by: Scott Cooper

In 1892, a legendary Army captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory.

Oscar Chances: Some acting nods possible.

“Pitch Perfect 3”
Starring: Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson
Directed by: Trish Sie

Following their win at the world championship, the now separated Bellas reunite for one last singing competition at an overseas USO tour, but face a group who uses both instruments and voices.

Oscar Chances: Nothing I can imagine.

“The Post”
Starring: Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep
Directed by: Steven Spielberg

A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government. Inspired by true events.

Oscar Chances: Duh!!! You think? Hanks, Streep and Spielberg share over 40 nominations, with Streep leading the way with 20 of her own.

December 25

“Molly’s Game”
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Kevin Costner and Idris Elba
Directed by: Aaron Sorkin

The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target. This is the Oscar-winning writer Sorkin’s directorial debut.

Oscar Chances: Many.

“Phantom Thread”
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Oscar Chances: Again, many. Day-Lewis won one of his three Oscars for Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.”

December 27

“In the Fade”
Starring: Diane Kruger
Directed by: Faith Akin

Katja’s life collapses after the death of her husband and son in a bomb attack. After a time of mourning and injustice, Katja seeks revenge.

Oscar Chances: Kruger won the best-actress prize at Cannes.

December 29

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”
Starring: Annette Bening and Jamie Bell
Directed by: Paul McGuigan

A romance sparks between a young actor and a Hollywood leading lady.

Oscar Chances: Bening is SO overdue. Wake up Academy!

Film Review: “Coco”

Starring the Voice of: Anthony Gonzalez, Gail Garcia Bernal and Benjamin Bratt
Directed By: Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
Rated: PG
Running Time: 115 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Death and life after death are incredibly tricky subjects to maneuver for filmmakers in the animated-children’s movie genre. When making a family friendly film about the passing of a loved one and what waits beyond in the afterlife, you run the risk of not only upsetting children, but also their parents for how you’ve delivered your content. To say Pixar has done it again is an understatement because they’ve seemingly handled the subject matter with ease.

Miguel Rivera (Gonazalez) is an aspiring musician, trapped in a family that has barred music from the household. The Riveras are a shoemaking family because Miguel’s great-great-grandmother started the practice as a way to prove her own independence after her husband abandoned the family to pursue his musical dreams. Hence this is why artistic pursuits in music are frowned down upon, even to the point where Miguel’s grandmother smashes Miguel’s makeshift acoustic guitar after finding it in his secret room/shrine dedicated to popular singer-songwriter, Ernesto De La Cruz (Bratt)

Despite those attempts to dismay Miguel, he develops suspicions that he’s related to his idol Ernesto and enters the Mexican singer’s enshrined tomb on Dia de Muertos (The Day of the Dead). Believing that he’s simply borrowing a long lost relative’s heirloom, Miguel steals Ernesto’s guitar. But instead he’s committing an unspoken cardinal sin that isn’t grave robbing. He’s transported to the afterlife where he meets his long deceased relatives and discovers unspoken family secrets long forgotten.

There’s a lot of moments where “Coco” could have easily coasted on spectacular visuals and charming characters, but instead Pixar does what it does best, surpass expectations and craft a unique and heartwarming vision. The animation studio also manages to package its themes of perseverance, family togetherness, forgiveness and following your dreams, all in a cohesive message that’s easily consumed for parents and kids alike. “Coco” immerses audiences in a culture and tradition that speaks universal truths.

The music, which will surely win an Oscar, by Robert Lopez keeps tempo with the animation pushing audiences into fresh colorful territory, but also bringing audiences back down to Earth during the film’s most subtle moments. The man whose done music for everything from “Frozen” to “The Book of Mormon” makes another catalogue of music that’s seemingly timeless, fitting Pixar’s effort’s to make “Coco” an instant classic, worthy of standing atop their growing catalogue of masterpieces.

“Coco” takes a while to get going, but once it does, it manages to hit every high note along the way. It may not be as clever as “Inside Out” or groundbreaking as “Wall-E,” but it finds a way to wedge itself into contention with many of Pixar’s great because of its expert use and understanding of the Mexican heritage that it uses as a plot device and backdrop. It’s a movie that not only enlightens some about a specific culture, but makes audiences feel like one of the family. And for those who’ve ever dealt with the loss of a relative, you’ll find the ending equally heartbreaking and endearing.