10 Films To Watch This December

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    The latest from US animators Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets) “starts out fun and then sneaks up on you for a final stretch that is both rousing and genuinely emotional”, according to The Wrap. Based on an idea by Illumination founder Chris Meledandri, the film stars Matthew McConaughey as a koala with a sweet spot for showbiz. Staging a singing competition in an effort to save his struggling theatre, the marsupial is joined by hopefuls including a porcupine voiced by Scarlett Johansson, a pig (Reese Witherspoon) and a “mouse on the hustle” (Seth Macfarlane). It’s a jukebox musical packed with crowd-pleasing tunes, and, as The Hollywood Reporter claims, “It’s as corny as the syrup tank at a candy factory, but it works”. On general release from 8 December.

    La La Land

    Critics predict Oscar glory for this musical romantic comedy from Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), which stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as a jazz musician and actor chasing their dreams in a Technicolor Hollywood. BBC Culture’s Nicholas Barber gave it five stars, praising the stars’ charisma and chemistry: “Most cinema-goers are already madly in love with at least one of them, and that love will hit stratospheric new heights when they see how skilfully Gosling and Stone balance their absurd attractiveness with goofy self-deprecation”. Opening with a barnstorming song-and-dance number set in an LA traffic jam, La La Land has been credited with putting the Hollywood musical back on its feet. According to Sight and Sound, “Chazelle’s always inventive staging ensures we’re transported to the elevated emotional planes people used to go to the movies to experience: ardour, hope, despair, what have you”. On general release from 8 December. (Credit: Black Label Media)

    Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

    Set shortly before the original Star Wars film, this space opera from Lucasfilm follows a group of Rebel spies on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. Starring Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Diego Luna (Y tu Mamá También), Ben Mendelsohn (Una) and Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal), it’s the first of the Star Wars standalone films. Described as origin stories or spin-offs, they are not intended to overlap with the new trilogy in any way – Lucas has been clear that characters will not cross over. Riz Ahmed, who also appears in the film, has praised British director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) for bringing to the movie “this incredible organic, loose, kind of raw feeling.” Some recent events have politicised the film’s release: in the days after the US election, co-writer Chris Weitz penned a now-deleted tweet that seemed to draw parallels between Donald Trump’s supporters and the Empire. On general release from 15 December. (Credit: Lucasfilm)

    Assassin’s Creed

    Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender star in this adaptation of the action-adventure video-game series. Fassbender is Callum Lynch, who unlocks his ‘genetic memory’ to relive the experiences of his ancestor Aguilar, a member of a secret Assassins Society in 15th-Century Spain. “The Assassins believe that above all else, mankind should have free will,” says Fassbender in a featurette for the film, “making sure that freedom is still protected and cherished.” Directed by Justin Kurzel (Macbeth) and co-starring Jeremy Irons and Brendan Gleeson, it looks set to be more than a Tomb Raider-esque spin-off. Jean-Julien Baronnet, the CEO of Ubisoft Motion Pictures (part of the gaming studio behind the franchise), told French film magazine Premiere that “we want to make a film modelled on [films] like Batman Begins or Blade Runner”. On general release from 21 December. (Credit: Ubisoft Motion Pictures)


    This drama about the days following the assassination of John F Kennedy garnered four stars from BBC Culture’s critic Sam Adams, who argued that “the ideas in play are so heady they’re enough to sweep you away on their own”. Natalie Portman’s performance as JFK’s grieving widow has also drawn praise, with critics predicting an Oscar nomination. According to Time Out, “Portman flutters like a sail in a brisk wind. She is scattered, tense, wrecked and compellingly defiant in the face of those who would have her act a certain way”. Marking Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s English language debut, Jackie weaves the private with the public, and has been described as an unconventional biopic. As Den of Geek argues, “When it comes to making films that work as much for the sake of artistic expression as for capturing a moment in history, there’s little question Jackie might be one of the finest pieces of cinematic storytelling we see this year.” Released 2 December in the US, 5 January in Greece and 12 January in Denmark. (Credit: Jackie Productions)


    Director Martin Scorsese has been trying to make this film for more than 25 years, ever since he first read the 1966 novel by Japanese author Shūsaku Endō. Set during the 17th-Century Christian purges in Japan, it focuses on the real-life Portuguese Jesuit missionary Father Cristóvão Ferreira, who abandoned his faith after being tortured and became an interrogator of Christians. In the film, Liam Neeson plays Ferreira, while Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver are two missionaries who travel to Japan in search of him. As a child, Scorsese wanted to be a missionary – he told the New York Times that he “understood that there’s another way to think, outside the closed, hidden, frightened, tough world I grew up in.” After The Wolf of Wall Street was released in 2014, Scorsese announced that he wouldn’t commit to another film until he had made Silence – he directed the film without a fee. Before its release, Silence will be screened for Jesuits (and possibly the Pope) at the Vatican: although it might seem a world apart from Taxi Driver or Mean Streets, Scorsese sees them all as part of a common outlook. He told the New York Times: “I’ve tried, in my work, to find out how to live life – tried to explore what our existence really is and the meaning of it.” Released 22 December in Greece, 23 December in the US and 30 December in Spain.


    “This is a movie in which very little happens. A bus breaks down. A dog eats a notebook.” As The Independent’s review reveals, film-maker Jim Jarmusch is doing what he does best in his latest movie: resisting conventional Hollywood storytelling. Yet the drama about a week in the life of a New Jersey bus driver and amateur poet (played by Adam Driver) is far from dull. “The space left between events and interactions shows Jarmusch at his most poised,” says Little White Lies. “Everything is structured to evoke poetry through its measured pacing.” According to Empire, despite Paterson’s seemingly banal plot, “Jarmusch’s eye for detail and humanity makes it close to riveting… Quiet, thoughtful and deeply human, this is one of Jarmusch’s finest and features Adam Driver’s best performance yet.” Released 9 December in Spain, 21 December in France and 28 December in the US. (Credit: Amazon Studios)

    The Unknown Girl

    The latest from the Dardenne brothers – two-time winners of the Palme d’Or – has divided critics. While some have been put off by what they’ve seen as heavy-handed moralising, it has been praised by others for its searching investigation of moral codes. Adèle Haenel stars as a doctor attempting to identify a patient who died after she was turned away from her surgery: in this “female-led quest narrative with a sense of ticking-time urgency”, says Sight and Sound, “Haenel is mesmerising… her intense but utterly calm concentration [holds] our attention, although she’s almost never called on to emote on screen in the conventional sense”. Released 2 December in Ireland, 7 December in Hong Kong and 15 December in Germany. (Credit: Les Films du Fleuve)

    Life, Animated

    This documentary, which follows a young man with autism who learned to communicate with his family through classic Disney films, has been called “heart-warming and heart-breaking all at once”. Based on a book by Owen Suskind’s father, the film weaves together present-day footage, animated Disney clips, old home videos and new animated sketches featuring a story Suskind has written about himself called Land of the Lost Sidekicks. The result has been praised by the Sydney Morning Herald as “a remarkable, moving, captivating story”. It’s “intelligent and heartfelt without ever being heavy-handed,” according to the Toronto Star. “Director Roger Ross Williams’ storytelling skills are at their finest in an engaging story suffused throughout with emotion that never descends into mawkishness”. Released 1 December in Russia and 9 December in the UK. (Credit: A&E Indie Films)

    Patriots Day

    Mark Wahlberg stars as a police sergeant in this account of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing and the subsequent manhunt from director Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon). Pieced together from the stories of a Special Agent (Kevin Bacon), a police commissioner (John Goodman), a sergeant (JK Simmons) and a nurse (Michelle Monaghan), the docudrama achieves high levels of suspense. According to the Guardian, “The tension that slowly builds as the inevitable finally happens is brilliantly wrought, with the score… proving a swelling drone which creeps up and peaks in all the right places.” A celebration of the city’s spirit as much as a dramatised account, Variety has praised Patriots Day for being “a composite celebration of the dozens of people who came together to make ‘Boston strong’”. Released 21 December in the US, 25 December in Denmark and 12 January in Chile. (Credit: CBS Films)

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