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15 Movies to Check Out This Holiday Season

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Remember The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? He somehow escaped Whoville right around March and spread jeer around the movie world throughout 2020. (It’s a sad day when watching a reading of 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High on a laptop just to pick up on vibes between Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt was a highlight.)

But, the biggest cinematic gifts are arriving just in time for the holidays. Think comedies from Melissa McCarthy and Meryl Streep, dramas from George Clooney and Olivia Colman, a documentary from Shawn Mendes and maybe even Wonder Woman, all before the clock strikes midnight on January 1. Here are 15 movies (fingers and toes crossed) coming soon to a screen near you.

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In Wonder
“This isn’t a story about a famous musician. This is a story about a guy growing up.” That’s Shawn Mendes in this intimate documentary, filmed over the past few years and featuring childhood videos as well as footage from his 2019 self-titled world tour. And yes, he goes there re: his relationship with Camila Cabello. (Netflix, November 23)

Hillbilly Elegy
A Yale law student (Gabriel Basson) traveling back to his hometown in the Appalachians reflects on his eclectic, loving upbringing. Amy Adams is his troubled-but-scrappy mom; an unrecognizable Glenn Close is his no-nonsense grandma. This steely drama is based on author JD Vance’s 2016 memoir. (Netflix, November 24)

The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two
Officially, this is a follow-up in which our heroine Kate (Darby Camp) is transported to the North Pole to save Christmas from Santa Claus’ holiday-hating cousin (Julian Dennison). Unofficially, this is a chance to see Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn — one of Hollywood’s most durable couples and the reason why 1987’s Overboard still holds up — on screen together as Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus. (Netflix, November 25)

Superintelligence
When times are tough (and they are!), a totally harmless Melissa McCarthy comedy can do wonders. She plays Carol Peters, dubbed the most average person on Earth. She’s chosen by an all-powerful Superintelligence (James Corden) in a study to decide whether humanity is worth saving. Um, here’s hoping the answer is yes. (HBO Max, November 26)

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Black Bear
This Sundance Film Festival darling lives up to the hype. Plot: A couple (Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon) living in a remote Adirondacks lake house are tested after inviting an actress and filmmaker (Aubrey Plaza) into their abode. On one level, this is quirky relationship drama with an intense chaser. On another, it’s a clever, deconstructive turn … well, just see for yourself. (Select theaters and VOD, December 4)

Nomadland
Director Chloe Zhao is suddenly the hottest director in Hollywood thanks to the one-two punch of the 2021 Marvel movie The Eternals and this highly nuanced drama about a life off the grid. She focuses on a disenfranchised widow (Frances McDormand) who crisscrosses the country in her beat-up van, trying to make a go at it. This won the top prize at both the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals. (Select theaters, December 4)

James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Keegan-Michael Key in ‘The Prom’. MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX

The Prom
Even though Broadway has gone dark through June, at least we get to see a star-studded version of one of its brightest entries in recent years. Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington and James Corden lead the cast of this musical, which follows a student barred from taking her girlfriend to the prom. Enter a group of washed-up Broadway stars to the rescue. (Netflix, December 11)

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
It still seems impossible to believe that Chadwick Boseman died in August at age 43. This drama, about the members of a band in 1920s Chicago awaiting the arrival of its lead singer, blues legend Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), marks his final role. Boseman plays an ambitious trumpeter who, over the course of a day, lets his emotions get the best of him. Based on an August Wilson play. (Netflix, December 18)

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The Father
With the Oscars pushed to April, many shoo-in contenders have been bumped to early next year. This high-brow, highly pedigreed drama is one exception. Sir Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman team up to play a father and daughter who must deal with the loss and trauma that comes with advancing age. Both stars deliver heartbreaking, lump-in-your-throat performances. (Select theaters, December 18)

George Clooney as Dr Augustine Lofthouse in ‘The Midnight Sky’. Netflix

The Midnight Sky
George Clooney stars and directs a post-apocalyptic drama purported to be science fiction. After a global catastrophe, his scientist character searches for a way to warn a space crew against returning to Earth. It was shot ahead of the COVID-19 shutdown and the onslaught of fires and hurricanes. But Clooney recently insisted that his movie is hopeful. (Netflix, December 23)

News of the World
All these years later, we still know what we’re going to get with a Tom Hanks movie: A wonderful and interesting acting performance. He goes to new frontiers in this Western, portraying a Civil War veteran and storyteller who travels the nation spreading true-story tales of presidents, queens, world disasters, feuds and more to townsfolk. The direction of his journey changes upon meeting a 10-year-old girl. (Select theaters, December 25)

Promising Young Woman
Try not to read too much about this incredible genre-twisting mindbender, which offers a titillating take on toxic masculinity — and Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” The purposely vague details? A never-better Carey Mulligan confronts the traumas of her past while pursuing a new romance. Despite the wild tonal shifts, it all comes together in breathlessly unexpected ways. Shout out to first-time writer-director Emerald Fennell (Killing Eve) for delivering the goods. (Select theaters, December 25)

Gal Gadot in ‘Wonder Woman 1984’. Warner Bros. Entertainment

Wonder Woman 1984
Every time I tease this sequel in a seasonal preview, the movie gets delayed. Trying this again for old times’ sake. Gal Gadot’s Princess of Themyscira (i.e., Diana Prince) has fast-forwarded to the totally awesome 80s. That’s where and when she faces off against two new foes: The Cheetah (Kristen Wiig) and Max Lord (Pedro Pascal). And even though Chris Pine’s dashing war hero Steve Trevor died in the 2017 original, he returns as well. (Select theaters, December 25)

Soul
All Pixar movies have brains and a big heart. This entry has soul to spare. It centers on a middle-school music teacher (Jamie Foxx) who dreams of becoming a jazz performer. But just before his big break, he gets in an accident that causes his soul to be separated from his body. Will he get it together before it’s too late? Of course he will! And we’ll love the character all the more for it. This one is supposed to be great even by Pixar standards, BTW. (Disney+, December 25)

Sylvie’s Love
In 1957 New York City, dreamer Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) can’t help but fall for a sweet saxophonist (Nnamdi Asougha) (i.e., Kerry Washington’s husband!) while her fiancée is overseas at war. Though time passes and they lose touch and move on with their respective careers, their flame never burns out. Just like the wonderful, similarly themed Brooklyn from 2015, You’ll love the pair’s gorgeous, appealing and romantic story. (Select theaters and Prime Video, December 25)

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