Watching in a Winter Movieland: There are plenty of films to choose from this 2021 holiday season

click to enlarge Don't Look Up will debut on Netflix Dec. 24. - Netflix
Don't Look Up will debut on Netflix Dec. 24.
If your true love really wanted to give you something special, they’d forget about the French hens and turtledoves and turn the next couple of weeks into a massive movie marathon featuring some of the most anticipated releases of the year.

Studios, unfortunately, didn’t allow the Current to pre-screen the Marvel sequel Spider-Man: No Way Home, in theaters Dec. 17, or the sci-fi sequel Matrix: Resurrections, in theaters Dec. 22, but we were able to see plenty of other features that will debut this 2021 holiday season.

Here are capsule reviews of eight new features that will hit theaters or streaming services between Dec. 17-29. If you start now, you can probably get through all of them just before it’s time to open gifts Christmas morning.

Nightmare Alley
With exquisite, Oscar-worthy production design and a strong lead performance by Bradley Cooper, this modern noir by Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro is a sight to behold. Even without his customary cinematic monsters, del Toro has fashioned a fascinating tale of human barbarism and delivers one of the most satisfying, albeit predictable, movie endings of the year. In theaters Dec. 17.

The Novice
Actress Isabelle Fuhrman delivers an intense and physically brutal performance in this sports drama that features hints of horror. Fuhrman plays a college freshman who becomes obsessed with perfection and making her university’s rowing team. The unhealthy drive that pushes her to the brink is only stymied by portions of the script that don’t fully explain the motivation behind her madness. In select theaters and on demand Dec. 17.

Don’t Look Up
Filmmaker and Oscar-winning screenwriter Adam McKay has an obvious agenda in his satirical sci-fi disaster movie, and sometimes the sharp jabs from its script hit the target. Others they swing wildly in hopes of revealing the humor behind some of society’s most glaring problems. The all-star cast, which includes Oscar winners Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep are game, but they can only carry the silliness so far. Debuts on Netflix Dec. 24.

Parallel Mothers
Spanish director and Oscar-winning screenwriter Pedro Almodóvar reunites with Oscar winner Penélope Cruz, this time for a melodrama that centers on two women whose lives cross paths inside a hospital’s maternity ward. Almodóvar’s script blends a story about the sins of the past with the story of a family’s hopeful future in a mature and thought-provoking way. In theaters Dec. 24.

Licorice Pizza
Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson has already explored romantic stories between characters in Punch-Drunk Love, Phantom Thread and even Magnolia, but this film set in the San Fernando Valley during the 1970s is love in its purest and most light-hearted form. First-time actors Cooper Hoffman (the son of late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Alana Haim (a member of the Grammy-nominated trio HAIM) radiate with charming chemistry. In theaters Dec. 25.

American Underdog
The story of St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner isn’t one you’ll likely hear again, but as a film it feels familiar and trite. As far as inspirational sports flicks go, it’s tough to make an underdog movie sound distinct when so many similar ones have hit the same beats. Warner was a star. His biopic is just your average backup QB. In theaters Dec 25.

The Tragedy of Macbeth
Oscar-winning director Joel Coen ventures out to make a film without his brother for the first time and does a first-rate job with this Shakespeare adaptation. Anchored by a riveting performance by Oscar-winner Denzel Washington, the traditional narrative is enhanced by Bruno Delbonnel’s haunting black and white cinematography. In limited theaters Dec. 25. Streaming on AppleTV+ Jan. 14, 2022.

In a career-best performance, actor Clifton Collins Jr. (Traffic, Pacific Rim) takes the reins of this emotionally resonant sports drama and makes it soar. The film follows an aging jockey in the twilight of his career as he looks for one more shot at glory. It’s an understated character study that’s moving, authentic and passionate. Collins goes deep and comes out on the other side a legitimate leading man. In select theaters Dec. 29.

Other films opening during this time are Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Lost Daughter, Mother/Android, Swan Song, The Tender Bar – Dec. 17; The Matrix Resurrections, Sing 2 – Dec. 22; and A Journal for Jordan – Dec. 25.

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