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2016 Holiday Movie Preview: 22 New Films to See This Season

From awards contenders to feel-good family films to indie offerings, this season has something for everyone.

This year’s holiday season is full to bursting with new movies, from the expected awards contenders to a number of festival favorites and some true-blue feel-good offerings to round out the pack, and we’re pleased to offer up 22 of the coming weeks’ best bets for film fans of all stripes. Whether you’re looking to beef up on your Oscar contenders, take the whole family to see something they all can enjoy or you just want to lose yourself in the magic of the movies, the rest of 2016 has something for you.

Take our advice, there’s no better place to spend the season than at the movie theater, so start here.

“Allied” (November 23)

Allied

“Allied”

Paramount

Robert Zemeckis has had an interesting relationship with on-screen history. “Forrest Gump” reimagined decades worth of Americana and “The Walk” turned a grace note of New York history and crafted a spectacle. “Allied” finds him in historical thriller mode, telling the story of an American intel man in WWII (Brad Pitt) who finds out that his relationship with a French Resistance lover (Marion Cotillard) might not quite be what it seems. With a supporting cast including Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan and Simon McBurney, it looks like Zemeckis might have made a period piece that doesn’t just rest on 1942 details. Immersed in its North Africa, all against a Steven Knight (writer/director of “Locke”) script? Intriguing intrigue. -SG

“Rules Don’t Apply” (November 23)

Rules Don't Apply

“Rules Don’t Apply”

20th Century Fox

Warren Beatty is no stranger to the idea of overblown debacles (after all, the guy starred in “Ishtar”), but for a while it seemed like he had been knocked down for the count after the financial disaster of 2001’s “Town & Country,” a benign romantic comedy that somehow cost $90 million and lost almost just as much. But there’s no director’s jail in the world that can hold Hollywood royalty of his caliber, and now — 15 years since he last appeared on screen — Beatty is back with a kooky movie that will remind you why you’ve missed him. A light little love story that’s wrapped around a Howard Hughes biopic (Beatty’s prolonged absence only strengthens his performance as the reclusive tycoon), “Rules Don’t Apply” focuses most of its attention on the starry-eyed crush that develops between the billionaire’s newest driver (Alden Ehrenreich) and one of the wannabe starlets living on his dime (Lily Collins). It may not pack the pathos of “Reds” — or even “Bulworth,” for that matter — but Beatty’s potential swan song is a fun and frothy throwback to a time when the stars shined so bright that you could see them in anything. -DE

“Evolution” (November 25)

"Evolution"

“Evolution”

YouTube

French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s follow-up to “Innocence,” her debut, blends dreamy storytelling with body horror of the best kind. Ten-year-old Nicolas (Max Brebant) spends his days in an isolated seaside hospital, along with several other children, all of whom are subjected to an alarming medical process. His mother, and the other women who tend to the boys, obscure the reasons behind the confined setting. When Nicolas spies on them after dark, he gets no closer to answers. But the puzzle pieces gradually congeal into a strangely consistent world of transgressive sexuality, body horror and laboratory birth. Nicolas doesn’t piece it all together, but as he develops his individuality, he takes action against the ominous events around him. It’s the year’s wildest coming of age story. -EK

“Always Shine” (November 25)

"Always Shine"

“Always Shine”

Sophia Takal previously mined the rich and thorny world of female friendships and jealousies in her “Green,” but her latest feature, the Mackenzie Davis- and Caitlin FitzGerald-starring “Always Shine,” ups the ante and skill with lasting impact. The pair play best friends — and fellow actresses — who attempt to reconnect by taking a girls’ weekend to the leafy environs of Big Sur. While the intentions are (seemingly) pure enough, the film happily and ambitiously zings into wild territory right off the bat. Takal’s film uses the girls’ professional animosity as a jumping off point to address their very tangled relationship, effectively shining a big ol’ light on Hollywood’s demands of its female stars while also cutting to the bone of their own friendship. At turns scary, illuminating and disarmingly well-measured, it’s the kind of thriller that packs plenty of scares while also providing the sort of cultural commentary that leaves you shaken long after the credits roll. -KE

“Miss Sloane” (November 25)

Miss Sloane - Jessica Chastain

“Miss Sloane”

EuropaCorp

Jessica Chastain excels at tackling complex characters defined in part by their moral ambiguities, so it was only a matter of time before she played a lobbyist. In director John Madden’s political thriller “Miss Sloane,” Chastain plays a fast-talking D.C. power broker who will do whatever it takes to get her way. But her mission hits a wall when she’s hired for a gig that requires more of a sacrifice than even she’s willing to make. At a moment of extreme instability in Washington politics, “Miss Sloane” is poised to stand out in the national conversation. “Scandal” fans, watch out — there’s a new fixer in town. -EK

“Lion” (November 25)

Lion - Dev Patel

“Lion”

The Weinstein Company

Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) was accidentally and tragically separated from his rural Indian family when he was only five and too young to know how to get back home. Twenty years later, having been raised by his adopted Australian parents (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), he uses Google Earth to find his birth village and mother. It’s one of those based-on a real life stories too good to be true, where you know the ending beforehand and you assume you know what the cheesy American movie version of it will be like. And that’s where this film surprises you. Director Garth Davis’ first feature (he directed four episodes of “Top of the Lake”) is subtle, going out of its way to not pull on our heartstrings, while focusing on the emotionally messy. The director gets a huge hand grounding his film with a soulful performance from Rooney Mara (Saroo’s college girlfriend), stunning natural light photography by DP Greig Fraser, and a beautiful, yet appropriately restrained score by Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran. -CO

“Things to Come” (December 2)

Isabelle Huppert in Things To Come

“Things to Come”

Okay, it’s now official, you don’t miss a movie made by Mia Hansen-Løve (“Eden,” “Goodbye First Love”). The French director’s fifth feature about a philosophy professor (Isabelle Huppert) finding herself having to recalibrate after her husband of 25 years leaves her, seems like a sharp left turn for a director known for anchoring her films in the vibrancy of youth. As IndieWire’s David Ehrlich so aptly observed though, similar to Hansen-Løve’s previous protagonists, Huppert’s character “is a top who’s just begun to wobble, someone’s who’s trying to pretend that she can keep spinning on the strength of centrifugal force alone.” Watching this remarkable character, played by arguably the greatest living actress in her prime, coming to learn and accept who she’s become in the process of toppling is one of the great introspective cinematic pleasure of the year. -CO

“Jackie” (December 2)

jackie natalie portman

“Jackie”

By now you’ve heard the raves over Pablo Larrain’s experimental biopic “Jackie,” particularly for Natalie Portman’s career-best work in the title role, but nothing can truly prepare you for what these two artists achieve. Structured around Jacqueline Kennedy’s interview with LIFE magazine reporter Theodore H. White in the week after her husband’s assassination, “Jackie” reveals itself as a daring stream of consciousness, unleashing our subject’s memories to prove just how essential she was in creating and cementing President Kennedy’s legacy in the history books. “Jackie” feels like an entirely new way into the head and heart of a subject’s soul, and for that it’s easily one of the year’s best films. -ZS

“La La Land” (December 2)

"La La Land"

“La La Land”

Summit Entertainment

Damien Chazelle wowed the film world with “Whiplash” back in 2014, the young director’s percussive story of music and its malcontents opening the door for him to make pretty much whatever he wanted. Suffice it to say, he’s not throwing away his shot. With “La La Land,” Chazelle finally gets to bring his Technicolor dreams to life, delivering a swoon-worthy meditation on modern romance that also happens to be the most full-throated and uncompromising movie musical since Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark.” Telling the kind of love story that could only happen in Tinseltown, Chazelle taps into the proven chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone for an all-singing, all-dancing, all-sobering affair that brings the mellifluously melancholy spirit of Jacques Demy into the digital age. “La La Land” will remind you what it feels like to fall in love, but also what it feels like to hit the ground. -DE

“Neruda” (December 16)

Neruda

“Neruda”

Joining Jeff Nichols in the Highly Prolific 2016 Directors Club, Pablo Larrain will likely draw much of the year-end attention for “Jackie,” his portrait of a post-JFK assassination Jackie Kennedy. But don’t overlook “Neruda,” his biopic of a slightly different sort that follows the iconic poet on the run from the Chilean government. The film reunites Larrain and “No” star Gael Garcia Bernal, here playing the officer charged with tracking Neruda down. A cat-and-mouse thriller with a literary twist, it’s another feather in the cap of one of the world’s most exciting filmmakers, who’s made quite a career offering specific reflections on 20th century life. -SG

“Passengers” (December 21)

"Passengers"

“Passengers”

This epic space romance stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as two passengers on a 120-year journey to a distant colony planet. When Jim (Pratt) and Aurora (Lawrence) both wake up from their hibernation pods 90 years too early, however, they find themselves stranded on a giant spaceship that may be dangerously malfunctioning, threatening the lives of the thousands of passengers on board. Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”), the film also stars Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne and Aurora Perrineau (“Equals”). -GW

“Patriots Day” (December 21)

Patriots Day

“Patriots Day”

The second of two 2016 collaborations between director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg focusing on American heroism in recent times of crises, this dramatization of the events surrounding the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings manages to capture the citywide (and in some cases, nationwide) dread that followed the horrific attacks. JK Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon and Melissa Benoist also headline a strong ensemble cast that covers the aftermath from multiple angles. The depictions of the bombing and the subsequent standoffs between police and the perpetrators are unflinching, but Berg also manages to craft a rousing tribute to the policemen, investigators and everyday citizens who helped bring the city back to a point of healing. It’s a similar combination that led “American Sniper” to widespread attention a few years ago, so expect this to find a similar national audience. -SG

“Julieta” (December 21)

"Julieta"

“Julieta”

Add “Julieta” to the acclaimed list of female-powered melodramas that Pedro Almodóvar has practically built his career on. This new feature, Spain’s official Oscar entry, may feel at times like the director is playing it safe (there’s nothing too unorthodox or out-of-the-box about this story of a woman reminiscing on her fraught relationship with her daughter), but it proves that after 36 years of making movies, Almodóvar is unmatched when it comes to emotional control. “Julieta” satisfies in every scene. Each shot is crafted straight from passion, and the performances he draws from  Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte put your emotions into overdrive. It may not be his best, but “Julieta” confirms Almodóvar is still the master. -ZS

“I, Daniel Blake” (December 23)

I, Daniel Blake

“I, Daniel Blake”

Sundance Selects

At 80 years old, Ken Loach surprises with one of his best and most emotional movies in years thanks to Palme d’Or winner “I, Daniel Blake.” This kitchen sink drama is a blunt and often devastating experience with two powerhouse performances from Dave Johns and Hayley Squires front and center. Johns plays an out-of-work widower who befriends a struggling single mother, both of which are trying and failing to make a living in Britain’s welfare system. In the hands of these two actors, “I, Daniel Blake” won’t leave a dry eye in the theater. -ZS

“Silence” (December 23)

"Silence"

“Silence”

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Martin Scorsese’s secretive new film might never actually see the light of day — it began shooting almost two years ago, and we still haven’t seen a frame of footage from the finished product — but the director’s latest passion project will indeed be playing in theaters in just a few weeks. Adapted from Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name, “Silence” tells the story of two Christian missionaries (Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield) who travel to Japan in the 1600s and search for their mentor (Liam Neeson) in the hopes of helping him spread their religion. To say that they’re met with resistance would be a massive understatement: Masahiro Shinoda’s masterful 1971 version memorably includes a scene in which the white foreigners are buried up to their necks in sand and run over by wild horses. We can’t yet say why Scorsese is so compelled to adapt a novel that has already been brought to the screen so brilliantly, but the director has described the project as “an obsession,” so we have faith that he has his reasons. -DE

“Fences” (December 25)

"Fences"

“Fences”

Paramount Pictures

Denzel Washington returns to the director’s chair for a big screen version of August Wilson’s beloved play “Fences,” which also returns him to his Tony-winning role as disaffected Pittsburgh garbage man and failed baseball player Troy Maxson. Washington starred in the recent revival of the lauded play, and he’s joined by his Tony-winning scene partner Viola Davis, who is gunning for a Best Supporting Actress nod with her cinematic turn as Troy’s beleaguered and betrayed wife Rose. The film follows the Maxsons during a turning point in their lives, as Troy’s pain over his unsatisfying life bleeds over — and hurts — everyone around him. Washington and Davis were both lauded for their stage work, and the film version of the story similarly affords them plenty of room to bust out some all-timers of acting fireworks. – KE

“Hidden Figures” (December 25)

"Hidden Figures"

“Hidden Figures”

The unbelievable — and little-known — true story of three African-American women whose prodigious talents helped shape not only the foundation of NASA but the world-shaking Space Race as well finally gets its due in Theodore Melfi’s wonderfully crowd-pleasing new feature. Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and rising star Janelle Monae as a trio of NASA scientists who tore down barriers while doing incredible work, the film is all but built to make people stand up and cheer (and, yes, probably cry, too). Bolstered by stellar supporting turns from Kevin Costner, Mahershala Ali and Glen Powell, few of this year’s late-season awards contenders are so damn inspiring. More like this one, please. – KE

“Toni Erdmann” (December 25)

"Toni Erdmann"

“Toni Erdmann”

If you’ve been following the 2016 festival circuit, chances are you’ve met several critics who are head over heels in love with Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann.” The breakout hit of the Cannes Film Festival, where it earned two rapturous mid-screening applauses, this father-daughter comedy is so funny and so introspective, it leaves you in a state of self-reflective transcendence. The plot should not be spoiled, though it does concern the relationship between a prank-loving father and his corporate-climbing daughter. The script awakens their bond, but only after a push-and-pull dynamic sends them both on a collision course with their own identities. In the excellent Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller, “Toni Erdmann” creates two endlessly relatable characters you desperately want to keep watching. It’s the fastest two-and-a-half-hour dramatic comedy you’ll ever see. -ZS

“20th Century Women” (December 25)

Annette Benning in 20th Century Women

“20th Century Women”

A24

It may center around the coming of age of a Santa Barbara teenage boy, but there’s a reason Mike Mills’ wonderful new movie is called “20th Century Women.” Thanks to excellent work from Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning, this drama is a love letter to women as complex, emotional role models. Bening gives the kind of fully-charged performance that awards were made for, while Gerwig and Fanning prove just how well-rounded every supporting performance should aspire to be. Their women are messy, funny and tragic, and they make this experience one of the most relatable movies of 2016. -ZS

“Live By Night” (December 25)

"Live By Night"

“Live By Night”

Ben Affleck is taking his “one for me” capital and is using it in the same way he launched his directorial career: on the foundation of a Dennis Lehane novel adaptation. Like “Gone Baby Gone,” this too will have an Affleck on front of the camera, this time with Ben pulling triple duty as writer, director and star. The ’20s-era backdrop and Boston organized crime setting sure feels like Affleck pulling out all the stops before being pressed into service on his forthcoming standalone Batman movie. With a capable cast and top-tier DP Robert Richardson to help set the mood, here’s hoping this is more “Untouchables” than “Gangster Squad.” -SG

“Paterson” (December 28)

"Paterson"

“Paterson”

Fred Elmes / Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

Jim Jarmusch’s lyrical drama has been attracting universal acclaim since its premiere in May at the Cannes Film Festival, with many critics hailing it as his best feature ever. IndieWire’s Eric Kohn called it Jarmusch’s most personal film yet, good enough for the film to earn an A rating. The story of a New Jersey bus driver and poet played by Adam Driver is remarkably simple and methodical, but the film’s intimacy can be moving. As is often the case with Jarmusch’s movies, the writer and director finds beauty in the smallest of details, creating a film whose events unfold like lines in a poem. The Cannes crowdpleaser is Amazon Studios’ second -ever original movie, and hits theaters on December 28.

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