With the exception of big showcases for Oscar favorites like Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) and Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), December looks to be an anemic month — in an anemic year — for female-driven projects.
In August: Osage County, Streep and Roberts are fantastic as a mother and daughter whose only commonality is genetics and compulsive bitterness, while Thompson outshines a twinkling Tom Hanks (playing Walt DIsney) in Saving Mr. Banks.
Penelope Cruz, Felicity Jones, and Jane Adams also have star vehicles co-written by women opening this month.
On the indie front, writer-directors Laura Colella (Breakfast with Curtis), Jessie McCormack (Expecting), and Anna Condo (Merry Christmas) will release their newest films, while documentarians, including Lucy Walker (Waste Land), have nonfiction features about subjects as diverse as snowboarding, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, and the journey from Nairobi to the bright lights of Broadway.
Here are the women-centric, -directed and -written films that you should keep on your radar for December.
All descriptions are from Rotten Tomatoes unless otherwise noted.
Breakfast with Curtis – Written and Directed by Laura Colella
Syd, an eccentric bookseller with delusions of grandeur fueled by red wine, caused a rift five years ago between the freewheeling bohemian residents of his house and the family next door. Now over the course of a balmy summer, he tries to draft the boy next door to make videos for his online book business. Introverted young Curtis is reluctant at first, but soon gets drawn in by Syd’s creative fervor. Their unlikely bond dissolves bad blood between their households, replacing old grudges and repressed secrets with new camaraderie and fresh possibility. The transformative power of forgiveness sparks Curtis’s first seminal summer and a season of change for all.
S#x Acts – Written by Rona Segal
Naive teen Gili (Sivan Levy) changes schools and is determined to improve her social status by hooking up with the most popular guys. But as she pushes her own limits with every new encounter — offering a succession of sexual favors and allowing herself to be photographed and filmed — the line of consent begins to blur.
Twice Born – Co-written by Margaret Mazzantini
The year was 1984. With the Winter Olympics fast approaching, Gemma (Penelope Cruz) was in Bosnia when she fell in love with dashing American photographer Diego (Emile Hirsch). Their passions burned bright during their brief time together, but shortly after Gemma voiced her desire to become a mother, civil war erupted and plunged the country — and their romance — into chaos. Flash forward to present day, when Gemma receives word that an exhibition of Diego’s photographs is about to go on display in Sarajevo. Still very much haunted by her complex and difficult past, Gemma boards a plane bound for Sarajevo with her teenage son. The moment she steps off the plane, the memories come rushing back. Later, as Gemma escorts her son around the city sharing stories from her youth, everything she sees seems to stir vivid memories of that ill-fated love affair, and the many ways that the harrowing experience shaped her into the person she is today.
Paradise: Hope – Co-written by Veronika Franz
The concluding chapter of the trilogy tells the story of overweight 13-year-old Melanie and her first love. While her mother travels to Kenya (Paradise: Love) and her aunt does missionary work (Paradise: Faith), Melanie spends her summer vacation at a strict diet camp for overweight teenagers. Between physical education and nutrition counseling, pillow fights and her first cigarette, Melanie falls in love with the camp director, a doctor forty years her senior.
Expecting – Written and Directed by Jessie McCormack
After years of struggling to conceive with her husband, Lizzie (Radha Mitchell) has given up hope of having a baby on her own. But when her best friend Andie (Michelle Monaghan) finds herself pregnant after a one-night stand, an unexpected solution arises: Andie offers to have the baby and give it to Lizzie. The couple agrees to the plan, on one condition: Andie must move in with them for the duration of the pregnancy. But can the women’s friendship survive until birth? Jessie McCormack’s debut is a refreshingly candid comedy about planning ahead for life’s unexpected detours.
Khumba – Co-written by Raffaella Delle Donne
Rejected by his superstitious herd, a half-striped zebra embarks on a daring quest to earn his stripes but finds the courage and self-acceptance to save all the animals of the Great Karoo.
Christmastime is looking swell for pretty, unassuming real-estate-agent Suzanne Barrington: she just sold a house to a nice swinger couple; her weatherman husband Jeff scored a sweet new job; and her favorite holiday is quickly approaching. After a sudden tragedy takes Jeff away, Suzanne is left lost and lonely. Even worse, a friend of his confesses a secret: there’s another woman. Her name’s Fantasia and she works at the “girl club.” In their grief, the two women form an awkward but meaningful friendship. Pushing away the ghosts of Christmas present, Suzanne falls into Fantasia’s world of dance parties, shoplifting and substances! But maybe that’s not what Suzanne’s looking for either.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion
Madoka Kaname has changed the world. In this new world, is what the magical girls see a world of hope… or despair? The story begins after the events of Part 2: Eternal. With an all new story and original animation set for the big screen, there is no doubt that the movie will provide a new experience for both fans who have enjoyed the previous movies, and those who are just seeing Madoka Magica for the first time.
Caught in the Web
This contemporary ensemble drama centers around the story of a young woman, who after learning of a terminal illness, is caught on video mistreating an elderly bus passenger. She quickly becomes the victim of a massive viral internet campaign, with her life, and the lives of everyone around her, slipping into chaos and media scrutiny. A social commentary about the “sound bite society” we are becoming, it is a moving tale of the effects media and technology have on the truth, and the damage quick judgments can cause.
Merry Christmas – Written and Directed by Anna Condo
With money running low, nine New Yorkers forgo their annual Christmas in Aspen and head to Pennsylvania for a murder-mystery weekend.
Street Journeys (doc) – Directed by Tracy Christian
This inspiring doc chronicles the triumphant journey of impoverished Nairobi youths, who, with the help of Kenyan actress Anne Wanjugu, go from the makeshift stage of a small church to the bright lights of Broadway.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Co-written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens
The second in a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the adventure of the title character Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he journeys with the Wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and thirteen Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.
Saving Mr. Banks – Written by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith
Two-time Academy Award-winner Emma Thompson and fellow double Oscar-winner Tom Hanks topline Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks, inspired by the extraordinary, untold backstory of how Disney’s classic Mary Poppins made it to the screen. When Walt Disney’s daughters begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, he made them a promise-one that he didn’t realize would take 20 years to keep. In his quest to obtain the rights, Walt comes up against a curmudgeonly, uncompromising writer who has absolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by the Hollywood machine. But, as the books stop selling and money grows short, Travers reluctantly agrees to go to Los Angeles to hear Disney’s plans for the adaptation. For those two short weeks in 1961, Walt Disney pulls out all the stops. Armed with imaginative storyboards and chirpy songs from the talented Sherman brothers, Walt launches an all-out onslaught on P.L. Travers, but the prickly author doesn’t budge. He soon begins to watch helplessly as Travers becomes increasingly immovable and the rights begin to move further away from his grasp. It is only when he reaches into his own childhood that Walt discovers the truth about the ghosts that haunt her, and together they set Mary Poppins free to ultimately make one of the most endearing films in cinematic history. Inspired by true events, Saving Mr. Banks is the extraordinary, untold story of how Disney’s classic Mary Poppins made it to the screen-and the testy relationship that the legendary Walt Disney had with author P.L. Travers that almost derailed it.
The film follows a mute garment-district seamstress, played by the late model/actress/musician/screenwriter Zoe Lund, who, after falling victim to multiple unspeakable assaults, ignites a one-woman homicidal rampage against New York City’s entire male population
The Crash Reel (doc) – Directed and Co-written by Lucy Walker
This eye-popping, yet intimate, story of U.S. champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce uses years of verite footage to expose the potentially high price of participating in extreme-action sports. Training to compete against longtime rival Shaun White at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Kevin suffered massive head trauma from a 2009 accident in Park City, Utah. His tight-knit Vermont family flew to his side, and together they began an intensive process of trying to rehabilitate him and help him rebuild his permanently damaged life. Kevin’s determination and the tireless support of family and friends kept him focused on recovery. But when he insisted he wanted to return to the sport he loved, his family objected. As an elite athlete, Kevin was a professional risk taker, but as a brain-injury survivor, his skills were now impaired, and even a small blow to the head could kill him.
Tricked – Co-written by Kim van Kooten
During his 50th birthday party thrown by his wife, Remco’s life takes a turn for the worse. His business partners are scheming behind his back to sell him and his former mistress shows up pregnant. [IMDB]
The New Rijksmuseum (Parts 1 and 2) (doc) – Directed by Oeke Hoogendijk
If you’ve visited Amsterdam, you’ve probably been to the Rijksmuseum, one of the world’s preeminent art museums — home to masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer — itself a vast, magnificent structure, built in 1895 by architect Pierre Cuypers. The renovation of the museum (it reopened this past April) went on for 10 long, expensive years, so it is fitting that a documentary on this torturous (and often, inadvertently hilarious) process should turn into not one but two feature-length movies: Spanish architects Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz have designed an ingenious new entryway, but the Dutch Cyclists Union won’t tolerate reduced access for the 13,000 bicyclists who ride through the passageway daily. The museum’s magisterial director, Ronald de Leeuw, and his successor, the younger, scrappier Wim Pijbes, battle with curators, politicians, designers, city bureaucrats, and the public as the price of construction soars to $500 million. It’s a messy, complicated story that New Yorkers will relate to, but fortunately, one with a glorious ending.
All the Light in the Sky – Co-written by Jane Adams
Star Jane Adams stars as an actress living in Malibu who faces harsh realities of the industry as her age exempts her from more and more acting opportunities. Amidst this career and life crisis enters the actress’s niece, played by Sophia Takal, who arrives for a weekend stay and ushers in a complex prism of emotional insecurities. Can the actress confront her fears, complicated relationships, and figure out how to navigate mid-life in Hollywood?
August: Osage County
A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them. [IMDB]
The Invisible Woman – Written by Abi Morgan
Nelly (Felicity Jones), a happily-married mother and schoolteacher, is haunted by her past. Her memories, provoked by remorse and guilt, take us back in time to follow the story of her relationship with Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) with whom she discovered an exciting but fragile complicity. Dickens – famous, controlling and emotionally isolated within his success – falls for Nelly, who comes from a family of actors. The theatre is a vital arena for Dickens – a brilliant amateur actor – a man more emotionally coherent on the page or on stage, than in life. As Nelly becomes the focus of Dickens’ passion and his muse, for both of them secrecy is the price, and for Nelly a life of invisibility.