There’s no surer proof that we’re entering the best time of year for movie-loving grownups than this: Honest-to-goodness adults Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore each have two films hitting theaters.
Streep stars as a witch looking back on her life in the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, opening Christmas Day, and has a small role in the already-in-theaters The Homesman, which was written and directed by its co-star, Tommy Lee Jones. Moore is the President in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1, in theaters now, and is already being touted as a likely Oscar winner for playing a professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice, which opened Dec. 5 in some cities and will go wide in January.
Those four films cover a broad spectrum: a musical, a western, an adventure and a tear-jerking drama. But there are many more movies for grownups coming out soon, ranging from several that take nostalgic looks back (including the eagerly-awaited World War II drama, Unbroken) to a pair of documentaries about aging that have their eyes firmly on the future.
Note: many of these films are being released in New York and Los Angeles first and will then be released widely later; check local listings for what’s playing in your area.
Here’s what is on tap:
Foxcatcher — Wanna know how not to prepare for what comes next? Model yourself on the sad life of Steve Carell’s character, fiftysomething multimillionaire John E. DuPont, in a drama based on the story of him setting up a camp to prepare U.S. wrestlers for the Olympics in the late 1980s. Channing Tatum, as one of the wrestlers, gives the most eye-opening performance, but it is DuPont’s refusal to attend to his own mental health issues and lack of purpose that propels the story toward tragedy. (in theaters now)
Flamenco, Flamenco — Plotless and visually spectacular, it’s as much a tribute to the dancers and musicians on screen (including guitar virtuoso Paco de Lucia, who died shortly after filming) as it is to Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and Spanish director Carlos Saura, both of whom have been making movies for five decades. (in theaters now in limited release)
The Imitation Game — The British-made drama argues that the individual who contributed the most to winning World War II was mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), who led the team that broke the Nazis’ code — and, by the way, basically invented the modern computer in the process. In the years after the war, Turing had to keep both his heroism and his homosexuality secret, which is where Imitation really resonates. Even more compelling than the recounting of Turing’s race to defeat Hitler is the depiction of the shocking gulf between the treatment of gay people 60 years ago and today. (in theaters now in limited release; Dec. 25, nationwide)
Night Will Fall — Any list of the all-time great directors would include Alfred Hitchcock, so news that he has a “new” film this year is a Christmas present for movie fans of all ages. Like The Imitation Game, Night Will Fall depicts WWII, but this film is a long-lost, nonfiction one that shows the horrors Allied troops found when they liberated Nazi concentration camps. (Dec. 5, limited release)
The Immortalists — Do you like living? Then, you’ll probably be interested in the quirky scientists depicted in this cheeky documentary. Bill Andrews, 62, and Aubrey de Grey, 51, claim we’ll be able to “cure” death within a decade. Next Avenue’s Richard Eisenberg reviewed and recommended this film after he saw it at the South by Southwest festival this year. (in theaters now in limited release)
Wild — Reconciling yourself to the legacy of your parents is the key theme in the adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir about her months-long solo hike through the mountain trails of California and Oregon. More tightly focused than the book, Wild takes place almost entirely in the head of Strayed (an uncompromising Reese Witherspoon) as she struggles to survive while reflecting on the mistakes she made in her relationship with her late mom (Laura Dern). (in theaters now)
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry — Just as gay men can look to The Imitation Game for history and inspiration, anyone interested in feminism should head to this documentary, a trip back to the ’60s and ’70s origins of the women’s movement that says — to borrow a phrase — that we’ve come a long way, baby. (in theaters now in limited release)
Do You Know What My Name Is — This documentary offers a possible strategy to halt or reverse dementia. In Do You Know What My Name Is, a Japanese neuroscientist claims to have had remarkable success with the puzzles and techniques he teaches residents of an Ohio nursing home. (in theaters now in limited release)
Inherent Vice — The latest from writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) recalls the free-loving, alternative spirituality-seeking, pot-smoking ’70s. Based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon, inheritor of the late J.D. Salinger’s title of world’s most wackily reclusive author, Inherent Vice follows Joaquin Phoenix on a quixotic journey. (in theaters now in limited release. January, nationwide)
Isn’t It Delicious — Kathleen Chalfant, who originated the part of the mother in Tony Kushner’s stage masterpiece, Angels in America, gets a rare film role as a terminally ill woman in her 70s, determined to use her remaining time to put her relationships in order. (in theaters now in limited release)
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks — Living legend Gena Rowlands plays a feisty dame who takes on a new challenge with the help of a handsome instructor (Cheyenne Jackson): ballroom dancing. (in theaters now in limited release)
Mr. Turner — British maestro Mike Leigh, whose Topsy Turvy is one of our best movies about the theater, takes on art in his biography of painter J.M.W. Turner, played by Leigh favorite Timothy Spall (Secrets and Lies). (Dec. 19, limited release. January, nationwide)
American Sniper — Don’t dismiss 84-year-old Clint Eastwood, possibly the busiest movie director around. Last summer’s Jersey Boys may have been a disaster, but he rebounds with the lean and riveting tale of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who recorded 160 confirmed kills in Iraq but had trouble adjusting to life back home. Bradley Cooper is outstanding as Kyle. (Dec. 25, limited release. Jan. 16, nationwide)
Into the Woods — Sure, Into the Woods involves fairy tales but it’s not for kids. The adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s stage musical follows the paths of such familiar characters as Rapunzel, Cinderella and Jack (of beanstalk fame) but forces them to confront questions we all face when we reach our middle years: How do we respond to empty nests? What’s the best way to make use of our years? If we discover the things we thought we wanted are not what we wanted after all, what should we do? Meryl Streep’s character, the Witch, leads the way, using the song, Stay With Me, to warn her Grimm cohorts that “the world outside is dark and wild” but that the best way to navigate it is to face uncomfortable truths with open eyes. (Dec. 25)
Big Eyes — Anyone who was alive in the 1960s remembers the omnipresent paintings of Walter Keane, which depicted moppets with faces dominated by enormous irises. There’s one problem, though: Keane (played by Christoph Waltz in this Tim Burton film) didn’t paint them. His wife, Margaret (Amy Adams), did. (Dec. 25)
Selma — Another truth-based ’60s story stars Brit David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, marching in Alabama and scoring a crucial victory in the civil rights movement. (Dec. 25, limited release. Jan. 9, nationwide)
Unbroken — The most eagerly-awaited of this month’s “Good War” movies is the adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s hugely popular nonfiction account of the struggle for survival of Louis Zamperini. He was on a path to medaling as a distance runner in the Olympics until becoming derailed in World War II, a plane crash, months at sea and a brutal prisoner-of-war camp. Joel and Ethan Coen wrote the screenplay. (Dec. 25)
A Most Violent Year — Writer/director J.C. Chandor’s last movie was the gripping Robert Redford survival tale, All Is Lost, which also wouldn’t be a bad title for this melodrama about a businessman (Oscar Isaac) and his Lady Macbeth-like wife (Jessica Chastain), trying to stay on the right side of the law in mobbed-up, 1980s New Jersey. (Dec. 31, limited release. January, nationwide)
Chris Hewitt is a movie and theater critic who has written for MSNBC.com, Today.com and The History Channel magazine as well as Next Avenue and whose reviews have run in newspapers across the country.
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