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20th Century Women
Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zaman
Synopsis: A teenage boy in 1979 is raised by three women.
What’s The Word: The last of the late-year Oscar hopefuls, 20th Century Women has been praised for its visual style and for Bening's work as the matriarch Dorothea. The New York Times declared it a critic's pick, laying on the love for Ms. Bening's work. Manohla Dhargis writes, "Dorothea is at once laid back and uptight, which Ms. Bening conveys with moments of shambling, gestural looseness and sudden emotional spikiness." The New York Post declares: "Despite being set in the late 1970s, "20th Century Women" feels like the perfect movie for this moment."
Though it takes place in 1979, critics all seem to indicate that the film, which focuses on coming-of-age, spans across decades. There's also a rallying cry for Bening to receive the Best Actress Oscar — Oscar noms don't come out until late January. We shall see!
Released December 30
Starring: Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, Masherhala Ali
Synopsis: Based on a nonfiction novel of the same name, the movie chronicles the life and times of Black female NASA employees in the 1960's.
What’s The Word: The film plays out in a familiar fashion, but that's not to say it fails. The PG-rated story is perhaps a tad glossy for historical fiction, but satisfying nonetheless. Writing in The New York Times, A.O. Scott declares, "The movie...expands the schoolbook chronicle of the conquest of space beyond the usual heroes, restoring some of its idealism and grandeur in the process." A lot has been said about the movie's charm and "feel-good" qualities.
Alonso Duralde of TheWrap writes, "Feel-good history, but it works, and it works on behalf of heroes from a cinematically under-served community. These smart, accomplished women had the right stuff, and so does this movie." It's family-friendly fun, and important work at that.
Released December 23
Starring: Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver
Synopsis: A monk (Andrew Garfield) ventures into 15th-century Japan to find a lost colleague.
What’s The Word: Martin Scorsese directs this film about questioning faith, and most critics seem a little disappointed in the legendary director, if not totally underwhelmed. The detractors complain that the film is too long, and feels it. The New York Post writes, "Silence" comes to us billed as 30 years in the making. Unfortunately, it plays like 30 years in the watching." Other reviews are more laudatory. Writing for Slate, Dana Stevens admits that "Though it contains many scenes of prolonged suffering and a few shocking moments of graphic violence, Silence bears a contemplative stillness at its heart." And Variety seems to sum it up best, calling the movie, "A taxing film that will not only hold up to multiple viewings, but practically demands them."
Released December 23
Starring: James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Megan Mulally
Synopsis: Bryan Cranston takes on a rabid James Franco in this tale of father meets potential son-in-law.
What’s The Word: It's not getting rave reviews, but did anybody expect it to? The movie, directed by John Hamberg of I Love You, Man, is sophomoric, crass, and unintelligent. Which, in the face of all these heady Oscar contenders, you just might need. A.O. Scott of The New York Times writes, "Proving definitively that slapping Mr. Franco’s scenery-eating grin on any old drivel doesn’t guarantee entertainment, “Why Him?” is trite, crass and insultingly moronic."
The Boston Globe is a bit kinder, writing, "Not as wild as intended, but reasonably diverting just the same." Here's your holiday diversion, folks, and it stars James Franco.
Released December 23
Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis
Synopsis: A screen adaptation of August Wilson's play, Fences chronicles the trials of a black family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
What’s The Word: It's an adaptation of a play, so expect Fences to be dialogue heavy and slow-moving at first. Stay with it, though, and you will be rewarded. A New York Times critic's pick, the film rides on Washington and Davis. Washington, who also directed the film, will surely get an Oscar nom for his verbose performance. A.O. Scott of The New York Times says of the veteran actor, "His voice is a mighty instrument, and if you closed your eyes and just listened to Fences you would hear a verbal performance of unmatched force and nuance."
Matt Goldberg, writing for Collider, also cites Davis and Washington MVP's of the film. He writes, "Fences demands to be seen if for no other than reason than Washington and Davis. They're at the top of their game reprising roles that rightfully earned them Tonys for their work. Now they deserve Oscars."
Wilson's play is a literary classic, and the film will no doubt receive a place in the pop culture canon as well.
Released December 16