1. Shame (December 2, Fox Searchlight)
What's The Deal? From the moment it debuted at the Venice Film Festival, everybody has been talking about Steve McQueen's "Shame." The follow-up to his universally acclaimed directorial debut "Hunger," "Shame" follows Brandon (Michael Fassbender, who deservedly won best actor in Venice for his performance), a thirtysomething sex addict incapable of sustaining any emotional connection with another human being. His life takes a turn when he receives a surprise visit from his equally troubled younger sister (Carey Mulligan), which forces him into some raw self-examination.
Who's Already Seen It? "Shame" has a B+ average on its film page.
Why is it a "Must See"? Dark, honest, and very explicit, "Shame" makes it clear that the praise McQueen received with "Hunger" was nowhere near unwarranted. Fox Searchlight is respectfully releasing it uncut and rated NC-17, so do your part and make it known that the rating is not a stamp of box office doom.
What's The Deal? This Iranian import from director Asghar Farhadi focuses on a middle-class couple who separate, and the intrigues which follow when the husband hires a lower-class caretaker for his elderly father.
Who's Already Seen It? "A Separation" has a A- average on its film page.
Why is it a "Must See"? The film received the Golden Bear for Best Film and the Silver Bears for Best Actress and Best Actor at the Berlin International Film Festival this past February, becoming the first Iranian film to win the Golden Bear. Picked up by Sony Classics, who likely have high hopes for its contention in the best foreign language film Oscar category.
3. We Need To Talk About Kevin (December 9; Oscilloscope)
What's The Deal? Iys been a staggering nine years since we last saw a Lynne Ramsay film (though notably she was trying to make "The Lovely Bones" in the midst of that). But that ends with "We Need To Talk About Kevin," an adaptation of Lionel Shriver's award-winning 2003 novel about a mother (Tilda Swinton) recounting the events leading up to following her son Kevin's massacre of students and teachers at his high school.
Who's Already Seen It? "We Need To Talk About Kevin" has a B average on its film page.
Why is it a "Must See"? The film earned some raves when it debuted at Cannes, including from Indiewire's Eric Kohn, who called it "a sensationally moving evocation of the ultimate dysfunctional family." There's also the Swinton factor: The iconic actress rarely steers her fans in a direction that isn't wholly interesting and worthwhile. Though note that outside New York and LA (where it is receving a week long run in December), you won't be able to talk about "Kevin" until January.
What's The Deal? "Let The Right One In" director Tomas Alfredson makes his English-language debut in this new adaptation of John le Carré's 1974 novel of the same name. And boy did he find a cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciarán Hinds round it out, with Oldman leading as a middle-aged intelligence expert in forced retirement who is recalled to hunt down a Russian spy.
Who's Already Seen It? "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" has a A- average on its film page.
Why is it a "Must See"? Early reviews have been very strong, with many suggesting this could finally be the film to earn Gary Oldman an Oscar nomination. Yes, despite "Sid and Nancy," “Prick Up Your Ears," "Dracula," and "The Contender," the man has never received one.
5. Pariah (December 30, Focus Features)
What's The Deal? A recent winner at the Gotham Awards for breakthrough director, "Pariah" marks the directorial debut of Dee Rees. The film stars newcomer Adepero Oduye as a 17-year-old Brooklyn high school student coming to terms with her sexuality.
Who's Already Seen It? "Pariah" has a B+ average on the its film page.
Why is it a "Must See"? While comparisons to "Precious" are all but assured (African-American femalecentric narratives to win raves out of Sundance aren't exactly commonplace), "Pariah" is an entirely different entity, in large part because it avoids being as precious as "Precious." Offering a fresh take on the coming out narrative, it provides an all-too-rare look at the triple-edged sword of repression that comes with being female, African-American and gay.
What's The Deal? Roman Polanski has followed up "The Ghost Writer" with an adaptation of Yasmina Reza's play "God of Carnage." It depicts two sets of parents (Kate Winslet & Christoph Waltz and Jodie Foster & John C. Reilly) who meet up to talk after their children have been in a fight that day at school.
Who's Already Seen It? "Carnage" has a B average on its film page.
Why is it a "Must See"? From the source material (a Tony Award for best play ain't too shabby) to that remarkable cast (Jodie Foster seems to have accepted the first role worthy of her in a decade) to Polanski himself (he's on a professional roll lately, even if personally that's not so much the case), "Carnage" has absolutely everything going for it.
7. The Iron Lady (December 16, The Weinstein Company)
What's The Deal? The Weinstein Company brings us another British set, Oscar-hungry biopic (I wonder wherever did they get that idea?) in Phyllida Lloyd's "The Iron Lady." The film finds Meryl Streep aiming for Oscar #3 as she takes on former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Who's Already Seen Them? The film has started screening (and picked up a New York Film Critics Circle honor for Streep's performance, but so far it doesn't have any scores on its film page.
Why Are They "Must Sees"? It remains to be seen whether either film does their subjects justice, but Michelle Williams and Meryl Streep are masters of their respective generations, and generally should be trusted. Seeing them both should also give considerable insight into this year's best actress Oscar race, of which 2/5ths could likely come from this duo.
8. Sleeping Beauty (December 2, Sundance Selects)
What's The Deal? Australian novelist-turned-filmmaker Julia Leigh rose many eyebrows when she made it into Cannes' official competition on her feature film debut. Starring Emily Browning as a high end prostitute who is sedated while wealthy men have their way with her, the film rose even more when it actually debuted.
Who's Already Seen It? "Sleeping Beauty" has a C+ average on its film page.
Why is it a "Must See"? Endorsed by Australian cinema icon Jane Campion, "Beauty" marks a director to watch in Leigh. While it is sure to scare off filmgoers uncomfortable with its content, Eric Kohn's Cannes review suggests it well worth the ride for anyone that can handle it.
9. & 10. In The Land of Blood and Honey (December 23, FilmDistrict) & W.E. (December 9, The Weinstein Company)
What's The Deal? Madonna and Angeline Jolie aren't exactly the filmmakers one associates with a list of must-see "indies." Truthfully, Madonna and Angeline Jolie aren't exactly people associated with being filmmakers. But this December both will attempt just that as Jolie's directorial debut "In The Land of Blood and Honey" and Madonna's follow-up to her little-seen "Filth and Wisdom," "W.E." both hit theaters through specialty distributors FilmDistrict and The Weinstein Company, respectively (though "W.E." is having a limited Oscar qualifying run and will expand in the new year). And both are quite ambitious. Jolie's film is a love story set during the Bosnian War that she managed to shoot in both English and in the Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian language known as BCS (it will be released in two versions). Madonna's film travels back and forth between two narratives, one set in contemporary times and the other during the romance of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.
Who's Already Seen Them? "W.E." has a lowly D+ average on its film page after less than overwhelming screeings in Toronto and Venice, while "Blood"'s reviews have yet to come in (though early word is quite positive),
Why Are They "Must Sees"? C'mon, admit it: You're at least a little bit curious.