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December Preview: The 5 Must-See Films

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire December 1, 2010 at 6:13AM

This December is about to offer quite the selection to movie-goers, as made clear by the films listed on indieWIRE's calendar. Typically the month where specialty divisions and indie distributors save their big Oscar hopefuls (though October and November certainly had some as well), its an overwhelmingly full month for great cinema. So as an extension of our fall movie preview, indieWIRE has decided to offer the third of three monthly "must-see" lists to make cinematic decision-making as easy as possible.
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This December is about to offer quite the selection to movie-goers, as made clear by the films listed on indieWIRE's calendar. Typically the month where specialty divisions and indie distributors save their big Oscar hopefuls (though October and November certainly had some as well), its an overwhelmingly full month for great cinema. So as an extension of our fall movie preview, indieWIRE has decided to offer the third of three monthly "must-see" lists to make cinematic decision-making as easy as possible.

It wasn't easy to narrow it down to just five, and attention should additionally be directed to two highly anticipated studio films - David O. Russell's "The Fighter" and Joel and Ethan Coen's "True Grit", as well as a slew of other worthy specialty films like Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere", Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu's "Biutiful", Ry Russo-Young's "You Wont Miss Me", Tanya Hamilton's "Night Catches Us", and others. But with that in mind, here's a list of the films that are subjectively the five best bets:

1. Black Swan (December 3; Fox Searchlight)

What's The Deal? Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career in this psychological thriller about Nina (Portman), a ballerina confronting her demons as she competes against a new addition to the company (Mila Kunis) for the lead role of the White Swan in "Swan Lake." The fifth film by Darren Aronofsky - think of it as a violent, sexual, ballet world update of "All About Eve."

Who's Already Seen It? 36 critics gave "Black Swan" an average of B+ on the film's criticWIRE page

Why is it a "Must See"? From its mouth-watering (and lip-locking, in Kunis and Portman's case) cast, which also includes Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey, to its always-interesting director, "Swan" has a lot going for it. And ever since it debuted in Venice, critics have generally gone wild for it, suggesting you might too...

Check out the trailer here:


2. Another Year (December 29; Sony Pictures Classics)

What's The Deal? Mike Leigh follows up 2008's lauded "Happy-Go-Lucky" with this character study of a group of aging people trying to make sense of their lives. "Vera Drake" cast members Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville and Imelda Staunton all return for "Another" collaboration with Leigh.

Who's Already Seen It? 41 critics gave it an average of B+ on the film's criticWIRE page.

Why is it a "Must See"? The virtually unstoppable Leigh found many critics proclaiming "Year" among his best work when it premiered in Cannes. "Leigh magnifies the existential reflections of his middle-aged subjects, eschewing plot for mere observation and stuffing emotional realism into near-theatrical constraints," indieWIRE's Eric Kohn wrote at the time.

Check out the trailer below:


3. Rabbit Hole (December 17; Lionsgate)

What's The Deal? John Cameron Mitchell adapts David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a couple (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) dealing with the aftermath of their child's death.

Who's Already Seen It? 19 critics gave it an average of B+ on the film's criticWIRE page.

Why is it a "Must See"? Tight, focused and quietly haunting (with perfect sprinkles of humor to keep things from going off a deep end), "Rabbit Hole,' also brings out fantastic (and award-worthy) work from Kidman, Eckhart and Dianne Wiest. "Where movies with delusions of grandeur would aim for a sappy climax, 'Rabbit Hole' hugs the ground," writes Eric Kohn in his review. "Mitchell only turns up the volume for a confrontational screaming match between the couple, the kind of angry throwdown that can prove a challenge for any two actors. Fortunately, they handle it with incredible dexterity, ably avoiding the danger of sounding shrill."

Check out the trailer:


4. Blue Valentine (December 31; The Weinstein Company)

What's The Deal? Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a married couple whose relationship is severely deteriorating in Derek Cianfrance's time-shifting drama. The Weinstein Company picked it up out of Sundance (and are still fighting against its recent NC-17 rating), and is giving it a limited New Year's Eve release date followed by an expansion through January (which stretches the idea of a "December" preview, we realize).

Who's Already Seen It? 37 critics gave it an average of B+ on the film's criticWIRE page.

Why is it a "Must See"? Showcasing perhaps career performances for both Gosling and Williams (which is saying quite a bit), "Valentine" is an intensely emotional anti-romance that already has passionate critical support out of Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto. Though taking your New Year's Eve date to "Valentine" might not exactly result in fun times afterwards.

Check out the trailer:


5. The Illusionist (December 25; Sony Pictures Classics)

What's The Deal? Based on an unproduced script that the legendary French actor and director Jacques Tati had written in 1956, "The Illusionist" is director Sylvain Chomet's follow-up to the acclaimed "The Triplets of Belleville." Revolving around a struggling illusionist who visits an isolated community, the animated film debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year.

Who's Already Seen It? 15 critic gave it an average of B+ on the film's criticWIRE page.

Why is it a "Must See"? Shall we simply repeat this sentence? Based on an unproduced script that the legendary French actor and director Jacques Tati had written in 1956, "The Illusionist" is director Sylvain Chomet's follow-up to the acclaimed "The Triplets of Belleville." If you need more that that, read this review, and check out the film's trailer:


Check out indieWIRE's December calendar for a full list of titles.

This article is related to: In Theaters