It’s December and that festive feeling is in the air. Alongside the chaos of Christmas shopping are a handful of seasonal offerings making their way into cinemas, complete with schmaltz… and goat-horned holiday demons.
Of course, there’s also the small matter of a little-known independent film called Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which a few people might decide to see. In all seriousness, Star Wars is going to dominate multiplexes for the next few months and it’s tough to write this article without simply ranting and raving about how exciting it is to be returning to a galaxy far, far away.
Here are ten films you should head out and see this month in UK cinemas. It’s not a spoiler to say that one of them is Star Wars. Frankly, all ten of them could have been.
10. By the Sea (Dec 11)
Hollywood power couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have not worked together on the big screen since they met on the set of Mr & Mrs Smith, which was released ten years ago. Jolie, in her new directorial guise, has opted to work with her husband once again for romantic drama By the Sea.
Pitt and Jolie play a married couple in the 1970s who seem to be growing apart until they reach a quiet seaside town in France. Whilst mingling with the locals and spending time together, they begin to rediscover the spark that had been lost from their relationship.
On paper, By the Sea doesn’t sound like the kind of heavyweight drama that could compete with the Star Wars juggernaut. However, Jolie has proven herself a solid director and her real life chemistry with Pitt could help this to become something special.
9. In the Heart of the Sea (Dec 26)
The final blockbuster of the year is Ron Howard’s take on the story of the whaling ship Essex, which was attacked by a sperm whale, leaving the crew shipwrecked. The real life events inspired author Herman Melville to pen the novel that would become all-time classic Moby Dick.
Chris Hemsworth stars as first mate Owen Chase, alongside Benjamin Walker’s captain. The story is told through a framing device, with Ben Whishaw as Melville being told of the events via Brendan Gleeson, playing the older version of new Spider-Man Tom Holland’s cabin boy.
The film looks like it’s aiming for the visual effects high points of something like Ang Lee’s Life of Pi and, if Howard can pull it off, it could be a great way to bring one of the biggest years in the history of cinema to a close.
8. The Night Before (Dec 4)
It seems remarkable that, until The Night Before, the stoner cabal of Seth Rogen and friends had never put together a festive movie. Admittedly, this time last year, they were a little busy bringing down civilisation with The Interview and its connected furore.
Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie star as a trio of friends who have an annual tradition of partying on Christmas Eve. Given that all three are now entering the grip of real, responsible adulthood, they decide to party one last time and aim to enter the secretive, near-mythological Nutcracker Ball.
This has all of the ingredients in place for a fun Christmas comedy that could be a decent, diverting festive watch. No one will go in expecting comedy gold, but there should be enough to carry the film through as a mild success.
7. Daddy’s Home (Dec 26)
Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg last shared the big screen as comedy buddies in The Other Guys. They turn adversaries this year for Daddy’s Home, with Wahlberg playing the badass wildcard to Ferrell’s mild-mannered bloke.
Ferrell stars as radio exec Brad, who is stepfather to his wife’s kids from a previous marriage. Their fragile equilibrium is disrupted when Wahlberg arrives as the children’s biological father and the two men are forced to compete for the affections of the youngsters.
Trailers for Daddy’s Home promise Ferrell’s trademark amiable manchild shtick and Wahlberg as a muscular bad influence. It’s not going to be the most intelligent or original film of the festive period, but it might be the funniest.
6. Grandma (Dec 11)
In a stellar example of counter-programming, breezy dramedy Grandma opens less than a week before Star Wars rolls into town. The film, from American Pie co-creator Paul Weitz, is attracting rave reviews and potential awards recognition for its star, Lily Tomlin.
Tomlin plays a lesbian poet left reeling by the death of her long-term partner and reconnecting with her daughter. Over the course of a road trip, issues new and old cause friction.
Grandma seems to be an amiable and enjoyable comedy with an empathetic central performance from Tomlin. It’s not going to move mountains in a month dominated by outer space, but it’s got to be worth checking out if intergalactic fatigue sets in.
5. Victor Frankenstein (Dec 3)
It’s not exactly new for a filmmaker to mount a revisionist take on Mary Shelley’s iconic story Frankenstein. The latest to step up to the plate and take on the intimidating text is Sherlock helmer Paul McGuigan, with a script penned by Hollywood wunderkind Max Landis.
James McAvoy portrays the dangerous scientist, but the real focus is on Daniel Radcliffe as his assistant Igor. The story is told from Igor’s perspective, detailing the duo’s experiments and their issues with the authorities, personified in Andrew Scott’s Inspector Turpin.
Landis is a bit of a hit-and-miss writer, but he is something to behold when on form. Hopefully this will be more Chronicle than American Ultra…
4. Sisters (Dec 12)
Anyone who has ever seen Tina Fey and Amy Poehler share the screen knows that they are undisputed comedy gold as a double act. Alongside Amy Schumer, they are perhaps the funniest women in America right now.
In Sisters, the two women play siblings determined to hold a party in their childhood home, which their parents are aiming to sell. Fey plays the immature, childish sister to Poehler’s more jaded divorcee. Maya Rudolph and, brilliantly, WWE superstar John Cena also star.
Sisters has all of the comedic ingredients to be one of the year’s surprise packages. It could sneak under the radar in amongst the awards favourites and end of year blockbusters, but it should reward those who go along to see it.
3. Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie (Dec 21)
For those familiar with the Peanuts comic strip, Snoopy and Charlie Brown are iconic characters. They are perhaps less known to modern youngsters, but The Peanuts Movie, commemorating the 65th anniversary of the comic strip, could change that in a hurry.
The film traces Charlie Brown’s attempts to gain the attention of the Little Red-Haired Girl, with the help of his best friend and loyal pet Snoopy. On learning that she enjoys dancing, Charlie vows to learn to dance.
The Peanuts Movie seems likely to be the ideal Christmas night out for families with kids a little too young for Star Wars.
2. Krampus (Dec 4)
The darker side of Christmas has proven to be a hit for filmmakers over the years, with Gremlins perhaps the most notable example of horror taking place over the holiday period. It’s Joe Dante’s film that is the major touchstone for Krampus, which mines Austrian folklore for festive fright in a similar way to Finnish movie Rare Exports from 2010.
Newcomer Emjay Anthony plays a child who, still a believer in Santa and Christmas magic, becomes tired of his squabbling family. When he tears up his letter to Santa, he unwittingly summons Krampus, who soon terrorises his family in brutal fashion.
Krampus is a fun and inventive Christmas creepfest, anchored by strong comedic performances alongside the great creature effects. It isn’t perfect and there are better Christmas horror films out there. But, given the trite festive fare around this year, this is about as good as it gets.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Dec 17)
What is there to say? After years of waiting, perhaps the most highly anticipated film of all time is finally here. JJ Abrams has left the Enterprise behind and replaced it with the Millennium Falcon, bringing back many of the original trilogy’s characters to join a whole new cast, including Attack the Block’s John Boyega and unknown Daisy Ridley.
Not all that much is known about the film’s plot, but it is known that the film will feature the villainous Kylo Ren, who seems to be in some way inspired by Darth Vader. He will be opposed by old characters as well as new in an attempt to once again bring peace to the galaxy.
It’s tough to contain the excitement about a new Star Wars film given that the hype train has been so relentless. Hopefully, memories of the prequels will be banished and there will be yet another classic sci-fi film for generations to enjoy and obsess over. May the force be with us all…
Which films are you planning to see in December 2015? Are there any I missed or any you will definitely be avoiding? Let me know in the comments section.