Movie News & Reviews

Holiday movie guide: The Oscar buzz, the blockbusters and all the rest

In “La La Land,” a wide-eyed aspiring actress meets a curmudgeonly jazz pianist. Seeing that they’re played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, of course they hit it off. The Academy Awards are watching.
In “La La Land,” a wide-eyed aspiring actress meets a curmudgeonly jazz pianist. Seeing that they’re played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, of course they hit it off. The Academy Awards are watching. .

As this weekend’s superhero movie, “Doctor Strange,” shows, summer is not the only time for escapist blockbusters. But November and December are also the height of the year for serious Academy Awards contenders. It’s the season that keeps on giving.

Here’s a week-by-week guide to the splendor of films coming soon. Dates could change any second now.


Oscar buzz:

▪ “Arrival”: Amy Adams is a linguistics expert brought in by the military to figure out whether some incoming spaceships are harboring friends or foes. The Academy Awards are growing more tolerant of nominating sci-fi (“The Martian,” “Gravity”), but the genre rarely wins.

▪ “Moonlight”: Writer/director Barry Jenkins is this year’s fresh find for critics and film fests. In three chapters, his film tells the story of an African-American man struggling to find his identity.

▪ “American Pastoral”: Ewan McGregor stars in this adaptation of Philip Roth’s 1997 Pulitzer-winning novel about a businessman who sees his life destroyed when his daughter (Dakota Fanning) becomes a violent anti-war protester in the 1960s. Early excitement for this drama seems to have waned a bit.

Also opening:

▪ “Almost Christmas”: Danny Glover is a widower who just wants his family to get along for Thanksgiving.

▪ “Shut In”: Naomi Watts is a widow who is convinced a dead boy is haunting her.

▪ “Christine”: Rebecca Hall stars as Florida newscaster Christine Chubbuck, who shot herself in the head on live television in 1974.

▪ “The Handmaiden”: Japanese heiress’s handmaiden is out to defraud her.

Nov. 18

Oscar buzz:

▪ “Bleed for This”: Miles Teller may get an acting nomination for his portrayal of boxer Vinny Paz, who made a comeback after a spinal injury.

Big box office:

▪ “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”: The highly anticipated Harry Potter prequel has Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, a magizoologist in 1920s New York who runs into trouble with the Muggles — called No-Majs in America. Author J.K. Rowling wrote the screenplay for this first in a planned five-movie series.

Also opening:

▪ “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”: Until recently, Ang Lee’s drama about a soldier on leave belonged right up there in the “Oscar buzz” category. Aiming for a crystal-clear picture, Lee shot it at 120 frames per second (24 is the industry standard). But reviews from the New York Film Festival were so mixed that the film seems to have dropped out of contention.

▪ “The Edge of Seventeen”: Haylee Steinfeld is an awkward teen whose life gets more complicated when her jock brother starts dating her best friend.

Nov. 23

Oscar buzz:

▪ “Loving”: This Cannes Film Festival favorite is the true story of interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga), who sued the state of Virginia for the right to be married.

▪ “Rules Don’t Apply”: Warren Beatty wrote, directed and stars in this story of billionaire Howard Hughes in the 1950s and the forbidden romance between an actress and driver who work for him.

Big box office:

▪ “Moana”: This new Disney princess is a Pacific Islander from 2,000 years ago on a quest to find a demigod (Dwayne Johnson) to save her people.

▪ “Allied”: Think “Casablanca.” Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are undercover operatives in 1942 Europe.

▪ “Bad Santa 2”: Billy Bob Thornton returns as the title jerk.

Also opening:

▪ “The Eagle Huntress”: Documentary about a girl in the mountains of Mongolia who trains to become the first female in her family to adopt and train an eagle.

Dec. 9

Oscar buzz:

▪ “Manchester by the Sea”: The best-reviewed movie from this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Casey Affleck plays a haunted handyman who, after his brother’s death, must return home to care for his teenage nephew.

▪ “Miss Sloane”: Jessica Chastain is a lobbyist trying to push a bill through the Senate that would require background checks for gun purchases.

▪ “Nocturnal Animals”: Amy Adams again, this time as an art gallery owner who thinks the violent novel written by her ex (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a veiled threat.

Also opening:

▪ “Office Christmas Party”: Mean CEO Jennifer Aniston plans to shut down a tech company branch, so the manager (T.J. Miller) decides to throw a bash to woo a major client.

Dec. 16

Oscar buzz:

▪ “La La Land”: Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood, so this musical(!), reuniting Emma Stone as an aspiring actress and Ryan Gosling as a jazz pianist, is at the top of the best picture predictions right now.

▪ “Collateral Beauty”: Will Smith is an ad exec who has help recovering from tragedy thanks to three mysterious figures.

Huge box office:

▪ “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”: In this prequel, we find out how the Rebels snatched the plans for the Imperial Death Star from the clutches of Darth Vader and his minions.

Also opening:

▪ “The Space Between Us”: Asa Butterfield is a boy born on Mars who tries to make a life for himself on Earth.

Dec. 21

Oscar buzz:

▪ “Lion”: Dev Patel of best picture winner “Slumdog Millionaire” plays an Indian man raised by Australians who seeks his long-lost birth family.

Big box office:

▪ “Passengers”: What is it with outer space this season? Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are in suspended animation on an interstellar ship when they’re awakened decades too early. Romance ensues.

▪ “Sing”: So many adorable animated critters. And they sing! Matthew McConaughey voices a koala who tries to save his theater by sponsoring an “American Idol”-type singing competition.

▪ “Assassin’s Creed”: In this video game adaptation, Michael Fassbender is a death row inmate and his deadly Spanish ancestor connected to him through some mysterious mumbo-jumbo link.

Dec. 23

▪ “Jackie”: At the very least, Natalie Portman could get an actress nomination for her portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy in this biopic about the days after her husband is assassinated.

Dec. 25

Oscar buzz:

▪ “Fences”: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprise their Tony-winning stage roles in this August Wilson drama.

Also opening:

▪ “Gold”: Matthew McConaughey again, this time as a balding, chubby prospector trying to strike it rich in Borneo.

▪ “Why Him?”: In this comedy, Bryan Cranston is a protective dad who doesn’t want his daughter to marry billionaire James Franco.

Jan. 6

Oscar buzz:

(These movies will open in a handful of cities in December to qualify for contention.)

▪ “Hidden Figures”: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and KCK’s Janelle Monae play the unheralded math geniuses who helped get John Glenn into space.

▪ “A Monster Calls”: A tree creature (voiced by Liam Neeson) helps a boy cope while his mother (Felicity Jones of the latest “Star Wars”) battles an illness.

No KC date

Oscar buzz:

▪ “20th Century Women”: Annette Bening is a strong contender for best actress for her portrayal of a bohemian woman in 1970s Santa Barbara, Calif.

▪ “Elle”: After being attacked and raped, a woman (Isabelle Huppert) seeks revenge.

▪ “The Founder”: Biopic of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), the milkshake machine salesman who turned McDonald’s into an empire.

▪ “Silence”: Martin Scorsese’s tale of 17th century Jesuit priests who try to spread Christianity in Japan.

Sharon Hoffmann: 816-234-4457, @Sharonakc