Starring: Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Lil Rel Howery, Finn Witrock, Rachel Blanchard
On the surface, Vic and Melinda live a carefree, exuberant lifestyle. He retired early after developing and selling microchip technology which is now used for drone warfare. His days mostly consist of riding his bike around town, tending to his snail collection, and spending time with their daughter. As for Melinda, we’ll get to that shortly. They live in an upper-class mansion and attend formal catered dinner parties with their friends, seemingly on a weekly basis. But look closer, and their life together is far from ideal. In fact, most of their friends openly acknowledge how troubling their public life has become, voicing their concerns to Vic whenever possible.
Take one part horror film, one part revenge thriller, a heavy dose of post-MeToo commentary, and a good helping of chemistry between two likable actors, and you have the perfect distillation of Fresh. First-time director Mimi Cave, working from a script by Lauryn Kahn, displays a nice confidence in the material, but lacks the discipline in a few key areas to make the film truly memorable. Nevertheless, Cave populates the film with Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan, two capable, charming actors as the leads, which goes a long way to making Fresh an enjoyable ride overall.
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Haley Lu Richardson, Sarita Choudhury
Kogonada’s sophomore feature further establishes the writer and director as a unique voice amongst new filmmakers. His 2017 debut, Columbus, explored how beauty can be found amongst the mundane, and After Yang contains similarly profound ideas. Specifically, the film is about preserving the memories of those we love after they’re gone. What will we remember about them? And what will they remember of us?
Starring: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, Brendan Gleeson, Kathryn Hunter
Denzel Washington is 66 years old (67 shortly after this film hits theaters on Christmas Day). Frances McDormand is 64. It’s rare when an actors’ age makes such a distinct difference in an interpretation of a film, but such is just one of the many unique choices that writer and director Joel Coen has made in his Shakespeare adaptation, The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Starring: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son, Brenda Deiss
It’s a shame that there’s already a 2021 film called The Worst Person In the World because it would be an apt title for Sean Baker’s newest film. Baker has become a master since 2015’s Tangerine, his breakout hit, at showcasing slices of American life that often go under-represented or unfairly depicted in film. In those films, Baker has shown a unique skill at showing the humanity of people just trying to scrape by in the unforgiving modern American landscape. Red Rocket takes that undercurrent of empathy inherent in his protagonists and rips it to shreds.
Starring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie
The San Fernando valley in the 1970s is the setting of Paul Thomas Anderson’s breakout hit, Boogie Nights. For his latest original creation, he returns to the time and setting to tell a coming-of-age tale that transcends the genre’s familiar trappings. Anderson is at his best when exploring the inner workings of his protagonists – usually grown men – as they’re thrust into situations that upend their rigidly-focused lives. And while he’s dipped his toes into the romantic comedy genre in 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love, that film was ultimately about a neurotically isolated man as he accepts a new possibility for himself. Licorice Pizza concerns itself with the feeling of young love, and about discovering the difficulties of figuring out the rest of your life when you’re still so young.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Ron Perlman, Timothée Chalamet
Don’t Look Up is billed as director Adam McKay’s return to straight-up comedy after the Oscar-bait offerings of The Big Short and Vice. While it’s true that the film has more lighthearted bits of comedy than his most recent films, it continues the downward trajectory of his career as a maker of satire aimed at the easiest of targets. There’s plenty of satire to be mined from the end of the world – in this case an impending asteroid – but Don’t Look Up limps around for 145 minutes trotting out the same lazy observations without having anything new or interesting to say.