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Holiday films showcase A-list directors

Margot Robbie as Tony Harding in I, Tonya, a darkly comic interpretation of one of the craziest sports-related soap operas in the 90s. Photo credit: 2017 NEON

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Even for the traditionally prestigious holiday movie season, the rest of the 2017 calendar is loaded with Hall of Fame talent.

I'm not talking about the actors, though dozens of the brightest stars in the world WILL be featured in upcoming films. I'm talking about the filmmakers:

  • Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth)
  • Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator)     
  • Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice)     
  • Aaron Sorkin (writer of A Few Good Men and The Social Network)     
  • Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants)     
  • Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood)
  • Steven Spielberg (he's Steven Spielberg)

That each of these artists has a film coming out in December tells us this could be one of the most memorable movie months of the decade. In chronological order, the 2017 holiday movies I'm most anticipating:   

The Disaster Artist     

I think we don't give James Franco enough credit for being a genuine talent, as an actor and beyond. Franco's an all-over-the-place 21st-century artist, dividing his time between acting and writing and directing and teaching and continuing his higher education and doing campy things such as General Hospital and sometimes acting like a goof in radio interviews and on social media.     

Well. That might be the perfect resumé for someone to direct The Disaster Artist, a movie ABOUT one of the most infamously terrible films ever made: The Room from 2003, labeled by film scholar Ross Morin as "the Citizen Kane of bad movies." Franco directs and stars as Tommy Wiseau, the architect of The Room. His brother Dave Franco and his buddies Seth Rogen and Zac Efron also star.     

This could be the best movie about inept filmmaking since Ed Wood.     

Darkest Hour

The list of esteemed thespians who have portrayed Winston Churchill includes Brian Cox, Michael Gambon, Albert Finney, Timothy Spall, Richard Burton, even Christian Slater, but having seen Darkest Hour, I'd rank Gary Oldman's performance in Joe Wright's World War II drama as among the best, if not THE best, interpretation of Churchill ever put on film.     

Unrecognizable (but not buried) under makeup and padding, Oldman disappears into his performance as the newly minted prime minister, who refuses to yield to Hitler even as the vast majority of his ground troops are hopelessly surrounded in Dunkirk.

I, Tonya   

On the heels of the breezy Battle of the Sexes, which chronicled arguably the craziest sports spectacle of the 1970s, we get the equally entertaining I, Tonya, Craig Gillespie's darkly comic interpretation of one of the craziest sports-related soap operas of the 1990s: the story of how ice skater Tonya Harding, her idiot husband, Jeff Gillooly, and Gillooly's even dopier "henchmen" conspired to take out Harding's rival Nancy Kerrigan, who was whacked in the knee with a club and famously cried out, "Why, WHY, WHYYYYYYY!"   

Harding became the most hated woman in America, even as she maintained complete ignorance of her on-again, off-again spouse's half-baked plan. Through faux-news interviews in present day with Harding (Margot Robbie, doing her best work to date) and Gillooly (an equally terrific Sebastian Stan), we get two wildly different accounts of just about every significant event in the disastrous union of Harding and Gillooly. Allison Janney is sure to merit supporting actress consideration for her work as Harding's mother, whose heart is colder and icier than any rink Tonya ever met.   

The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro, owner of one of the most fertile imaginations in all of filmmaking, directs a fantastical tale about a mute woman in Baltimore in the 1960s who works at a top-secret government research facility housing a monster -- an actual monster.   

So of course they fall in love.  

The Last Jedi   

By Movie Law, all film critics must include all Star Wars movies in their lists of most anticipated movies.   

OK, that's Fake News, but given the recent resurgence in the quality of Star Wars sequels (The Force Awakens) and standalone films (Rogue One), and the credentials of those involved with The Last Jedi, there's every reason to believe this will be another winner.   

Rian Johnson directs a cast that includes young returnees Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver, and of course the legends from the first generation of Star Wars films: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and the late Carrie Fisher (Gen. Leia Organa).   

All the Money in the World   

Just a few weeks ago, there was best supporting actor Oscar buzz about Kevin Spacey's performance as legendary oil tycoon J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott's dramatization of the 1973 kidnapping of Getty's grandson, John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer). After Spacey was accused of sexual misconduct by a number of men, he was dropped from the completed film. In an extraordinary move to salvage the movie, the studio recast Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty, and spent a reported $10 million to have director Scott and cast members including Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams re-shoot with Plummer.   


And now for something completely different: Matt Damon plays Paul Safranek, an ordinary office worker who signs up to be downsized -- literally. In the universe of Alexander Payne's sci-fi social satire, scientists have perfected a procedure that can shrink humans down to five inches, as a long-term solution to overpopulation.   

Think about it: If we're all super small, we'll have lots of extra room!   

The Post   

As our real-world president routinely accuses the esteemed journalists of The Washington Post and New York Times of reporting FAKE NEWS!, what better time for a "based on a true story" movie about the reporters and editors at the Post and the Times who in the 1970s published the leaked Pentagon Papers.   

Steven Spielberg directs. Tom Hanks stars as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, Meryl Streep is Post publisher Kay Graham, Tracy Letts is a government official and Bob Odenkirk is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter.   

Molly's Game   

Writer-director Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of the best-selling nonfiction book by Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who finds herself organizing some of the biggest private high-stakes poker games in the country, featuring famous actors and athletes and filthy rich millennials. Jessica Chastain stars as Molly, and the supporting cast includes Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Chris O'Dowd, Graham Greene and Michael Cera, who just might be playing a thinly disguised version of a certain Hollywood actor whose name rhymes with Moby Acquire. Shuffle up and deal!

Phantom Thread   

Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson reunites with There Will Be Blood Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis in a mid-20th-century period piece set in London. Day-Lewis stars as a brilliant dressmaker named Reynolds Woodcock, who along with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), creates wardrobes (and acts as confidant and muse) for everyone from movie stars to heiresses to the royal family. Everyone who is anyone wants to be draped in the styles of the House of Woodcock!   

If you pitched me that movie based on the plot alone, I can't say I'd be leaping on the sofa with enthusiasm. But add PTA and DDL to the equation, and I cannot wait to learn all about the House of Woodcock.

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