As usual, there aren’t many — sorry, any — big holiday-themed movies this holiday. Instead there are films that death, destruction, blood-letting and rich douchebags who will destroy the world. The movies remind us how old we are and that we’re probably going to die alone. On the other hand, maybe you'll see Chewbacca. Depending on which grim mood you’re in, here’s how this year’s winter awards season looks at the movies:
Films about nostalgia
Today’s franchises aren’t the types that burn bright then fade away. They live forever. A recent piece suggested it’s entirely possible the “Star Wars” series will outlive us all, spawning entries and spin-offs into the infinite. For now there’s “The Force Awakens” (Dec. 18), which does what “Creed” just did to the “Rocky”s: it leaves the movies in the hands of the next generation, passing the baton from the old to the young. Of course, we were all once stoked for the prequels, weren’t we? This one better rock, because we’ll be living with them until we’re caked in pockmarks.
Of course, there will always be the more traditional dumb, unnecessary remake, which is why Christmas Day brings no less than “Point Break” (Dec. 25), a fairly inessential-sounding redo of Kathryn Bigelow’s beloved thriller about surfer bank robbers. The lack of Bigelow’s chops or Keanu Reeves barking about being an agent for the FBI hurts, but at least the Patrick Swayze role goes to Edgar Ramirez, aka Carlos the Jackal in Olivier Assayas’ epic “Carlos.”
Nostalgia takes a different form in “45 Years” (Dec. 23), which is “Star Wars”’ antithesis: an acclaimed, intimate British drama about longtime marrieds (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) whose anniversary is upset when the latter received chilling news about an old ex. No Tie Fighter or Darth Vadar helmet sighting can beat watching legends play people who’ve been together since the Nixon Administration.
Films about family matters
Dealing with the folks, siblings, cousins, their spouses, etc. can be trying. At least the two big family films this season are raucous comedies. The first time Amy Poehler and Tina Fey paired up for a movie it was “Baby Mama,” a sad monstrosity miles below them. Here’s hoping “Sisters” (Dec. 18) is more their speed, with the two throwing a bittersweet — but probably silly and filled with ad-libbing — soiree at their childhood home, which is about to be sold.
Meanwhile, the last time unlikely pair Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg teamed up was the brilliantly nutso “The Other Guys.” They have a lot to live up to with “Daddy’s Home” (Dec. 25), especially considering their second mash-up — in which they play a warring dad and step-dad — is rated PG and therefore at least partly sanitized and fam-friendly and therefore ugh.
Films that teach you inconvenient truths
Despite the homogenization of Hollywood into blockbusters for 15-year-old boys, the studios always make room for eat-your-vegetables issue films, at least if they have flashy names attached. There’s a bunch of stars in “The Big Short” (Dec. 11, NY/LA; Dec. 25, everywhere) which recreates the migraine-inducingly complex and jargon-heavy road to the 2008 economic catastrophe, but with such pretty faces as Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt (and Steven Carell’s not bad-looking either). Even more of a relief: it’s from “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers” madman Adam McKay, who knows how to make preachy funny.
McKay couldn’t round up Will Smith, who was busy with “Concussion” (Dec. 25). Initially it was presumed this would be a brazen takedown of the NFL, but its makers have since insisted it’s only slightly merciless towards America’s most profitable sport. Best to leave the haranguing to Michael Moore, although his latest, “Where to Invade Next” (Dec. 23, NY/LA; Jan. 15, everywhere) — in which he globetrots to find how other countries do American ideals better than us — is sweetly scathing, a return to his more modest and puckish early days when he’d point out random societal ills with more of a smile.
Films about death and dying
The holidays wouldn’t be the same without grim studies of mortality and the struggle to survive. First up is “In the Heart of the Sea” (Dec. 11), Ron Howard’s literally splashy look at the destruction of a whaling ship and its surviving crew. Led by a reliably macho Chris Hemsworth, they make it to the lifeboats before the ship goes down, only to have turn to cannibalism when they become lost at sea. Christmas dinner comes early.
If man-eating-man action isn’t Christmas-y enough, there’s also “The Revenant” (Dec. 25, NY/LA), in which “Birdman” director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu trains his epic long takes on a scruffy Leonardo Di Caprio scampering about the wilderness in 1823, trying to outlive a bear wound. It aims to put us in the mindset of someone trying to escape an almost certain death, as does “Son of Saul” (Dec. 18), an acclaimed Hungarian nerve-jangler that recreates life inside a concentration camp, with one man observing showers, mass fires and finally an attempted escape.
Films from big time filmmakers
Sometimes the director is the big draw. Jennifer Lawrence may be all over the ads for “Joy” (Dec. 25), about a single mom trying to get the Miracle Mop off the ground. But it’s perhaps moreso the latest from her “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” boss, David O. Russell, who likes to cram multiple maniacs — in this case, JLaw, BCoop and Robert De Niro — into anxious shots and watch them go.
Russell, though, has nothing on Quentin Tarantino, who’s such a titan he’s been able to make a blockbuster that a) is a Western, b) is three hours long, c) is being shown, at least initially, only in 70mm and d) stars the not-so-profitable likes of Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruce Dern. Behold “The Hateful Eight,” which opens on Dec. 25 only in theaters equipped with an actual, old-timey 70mm projector, then on Jan. 8 in all those other loser theaters that can only handle digital (which is to say most of them). It’s not clear how long the guy who personally dropped the n-word a bunch of times in "Pulp Fiction" is going to be able to milk his extremely rarified tastes for mainstream bonanzas, especially considering he swears he’s retiring, and especially considering he recently pissed off the nation’s police, who have threatened a boycott. So enjoy it while it lasts.
And then there’s Charlie Kaufman. It’s been too long since the “most original voice in Hollywood” had a film, namely 2008’s peerless downer “Synecdoche, New York.” Independently produced, “Anomalisa” (Dec. 30, NY/LA) has a strong hook: it has puppets. But it uses them to tell a devastatingly mundane story about a depressed motivational speaker (voice of David Thewlis) and his dalliance with a homely woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh again!), all while cramming us in his miserable mind. Take the whole family!
Bonus: What lies in store for January 2016
The first month of a new year is a notorious dumping ground for movies with no chance of winning any awards. That’s not always a bad thing. Indeed, Kevin Hart will probably fire off some decent ad-libs in “Ride Along 2” (Jan. 15) while Ice Cube scours. Hell, Robert De Niro and Zac Efron are probably a barrelful of laughs in “Dirty Grandpa” (Jan. 22), which is not to be confused with the “Jackass” spinoff “Bad Grandpa.”
Then there’s “London Has Fallen” (Jan. 22), the sequel to “Olympus Has Fallen,” the attack-the-White-House-off of 2013 that actually made money. (Poor Roland Emmerich’s ridic “White House Down,” the superior of the two not very good movies.) And no one’s ever going to give anything to Michael Bay than untold trucks of hard cash money, which is why he’s going to expose Hillary Clinton, with the help of Jim Halpert, with his revved-up Benghazi shocker/actioner “13 Hours.” God bless ‘murrica.