Ordinarily, December is the month for stock-taking with all of the prestige pictures. This year it is, well, not. We might the month that movie, and then a couple dozen things that aren’t that movie. Of course we care about some of them, and we do not care about some others, and everybody will have their own take on which is which – but everybody is thinking about that movie, even if it’s only in a negative, “nothing will cause me to see that or care about it” sense. It is the biggest black hole of the movie season, sucking up all the light of the other movies, like nothing has done since- Christ, I don’t even think the hype was was so omnipresent when that other movie came out in the summer of 1999. Anyway.
Only one wide release, it’s the first major English-language film on the Germanic legend of the Krampus, a punishing anti-Santa, titled Krampus. Let me cut to the chase: Michael Dougherty’s second feature, almost a decade past Trick ‘r Treat, could have been about literally anything and I’d be at least provisionally excited. The fact that it’s a horror-comedy about a folkloric beast mostly unknown to English speakers just makes it better; this is, in all honesty, the film I’m most excited about in this last month of the year, excepting that one, since that basically doesn’t count.
Some limited releases of note: Youth, the English debut of director Paolo Sorrentino, whose films I have generally found glossy in all the right ways; a new Macbeth by Justin Kurzel, whose Snowtown Murders I just didn’t cotton to at all, but I’m going to be open-minded; and then Chi-raq. And what shall we say about that? New Spike Lee features are always nerve-wracking; he’s got the worst track record out of all the unassailable great American film directors, but his films are at least never valueless. I do, however, hear tell that he gets Chicago wrong, and that’s going to be an enormous stumbling block for me, at least.
A bad weekend for wide releases, since everything here will have a meager seven days to make money until its legs are sliced off, leaving a cauterised stump to show for it. Which leaves us with In the Heart of the Sea, a Ron Howard picture starring Chris Hemsworth as a 19th Century whaler. Howard films are always a little hard to get super-enthusiastic for, but I am also an easy lay for movies about sailing ships. Also, Howard is so far the only director to get a completely effective performance out of Hemsworth, in the underrated Rush, so I’m chalking this up in the “more excited than I should be” column.
In limited release, there’s a film by Adam McKay, the director of the better breed of Will Ferrell movies, about the housing market collapse in the 2000s. It’s called The Big Short, and no quantity of good buzz can convince me that I give a fraction of a good God-damn.
Hell of a birthday present for me: an effects-driven family-oriented franchise whose last three films have been a bit dodgy, but I’ve spent too much time catching up with them to not check out this latest one. But enough about Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.
And we’ll not even start on Sisters, which I want with every molecule of my being to be excited for; Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, together in a movie at last! Except that I have a longer memory than that: Baby Mama exists, and it is just awful. Maybe this Fey/Poehler adventure will be an improvement; but it’s certainly not something I’m going to get excited for in advance.
So anyway, let’s talk about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Unbelievably bad title, by the way, but this franchise is real good at bad titles. The trailers, of course, are masterpieces – the second one, the “Chewie, we’re home” one, is my favorite – but my suspicion is that their masterpiece status is totally irrelevant. This is a series built on iconic frames – surely it’s not hard for a filmmaker, especially a filmmaker with the thieving magpie instincts of J.J. Abrams, to come up with six minutes of stirring, iconic Star Wars images. Especially especially with that rich and sad orchestration of old and new John Williams music. I’m not saying the film will be bad – I’m saying that what we’ve seen so far could easily be cobbled out of an otherwise bad movie. Look at how great the remix versions with the Force Awakens trailer audio and prequel trilogy visuals make those movies look!
Also, Abrams is at 1-for-4 in my books right now, and that’s only when I’m feeling generous about Super 8. So…
All of which is my way of saying, I think on the whole that it’s likelier for this to turn out to be very mediocre than very good, though “modestly good” is probably the likeliest of all. “Very bad” is off the table – Disney isn’t going to let another prequel trilogy happen. So best-case scenario, it’s the third-best Star Wars, worst-case scenario, it’s the fourth-best. That’s a narrow band of possible quality, and hard to get massively excited over.
And yet for all of that, I’m so excited that it’s idiotic. I have my tickets for a Chicago Navy Pier IMAX screening – that’s the real big one, either the biggest or second-biggest in the Midwest, 70% the size of the Lincoln Square IMAX in New York (the largest in the United States) – on the night of the 18th and all, making a special 4-hour trip in to see it, building an entire weekend out of it. For a movie that I expect will be kind of dodgy. Truly, the draw of nostalgia and marketing is strong. Also Williams music, blasting out of a rig of speakers the size of a five-story building.
You know what I am looking forward to absolutely unabashedly, though? The Rian Johnson Star Wars in 2017. Oh, dear God.
Now now, we can’t let the space movie get us so excited that we forget all about 45 Years, because Andrew Haigh is a miraculous filmmaker and nobody has said anything less than glowing about the two leads.
Pragmatically, Christmas weekend is really just “Star Wars again, but this time with your family”, right? But let’s go through the motions: some kind of Will Ferrell thing called Daddy’s Home, Will Smith boasting a criminally bad accent in Concussion, a hilariously stupid looking “edgier and more x-treme!” remake of Point Break, and last but oh my God not least, Joy, in which David O. Russell continues to inexplicably force Jennifer Lawrence to play roles for which she’s every bit of 20 years too young.
New York and L.A. types get to see The Revenant, the new film by reigning Best Director Oscar winner Alejandro González Iñárritu. I understand that it involves Leonardo DiCaprio having mutually consensual sex with a bear.
Rather more intriguingly, Quentin Tarantino is partying like it’s 1959 with the 70mm Ultra Panavision roadshow extended cut version of The Hateful Eight, if you live within manageable driving distance of one of the chosen few theaters. It’s the kind of situation where even if you expect to fully despise the movie (I don’t but I am very dubious of Tarantino’s filmmaking in a post-Sally Menke world), the grandeur and romance of the distribution scheme is the draw in and of itself. The Weinstein Company is being unbelievably shitty about clarifying which theater those will be, but Chicago’s Music Box is going to be among them, at least. That’s no help to most of you, but it’s all I’ve got. Here’s a story that’s fun for me and probably less so for everybody else in the world: my primary job right now is to keep track of when tickets go on pre-sale at the Music Box, so I can tell David Bordwell, whom I see at least two or three times every week, so he and his wife/co-author Kristin Thompson can buy tickets. And when I say David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, I do mean that Bordwell and Thompson, because I picked the literal best place in the world to get my Ph.D. I get to call him “David”. I don’t think I get to call her “Kristin”, because we haven’t really formally met. This has nothing actual to do with The Hateful Eight, but I take so few opportunities to brag about the exaggerated turn for the better my life has made since I moved to Madison in August, and I figured this was a good opportunity to do so.
The year winds up back on just the coasts, with Charlie Kaufman’s miserabilist animated feature for adults, Anomalisa. Of course I’m looking forward to it – animation that’s not family-oriented is rare and must be nurtured – but Kaufman without the whimsical filter of a Jonze or Gondry is something I’m still very nervous around. So I’m not, like, excited. Pensively enthusiastic, let’s say.