'Star'-studded: The Force is with the holiday film season

  • The highly anticipated "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" opens Dec. 20.

    The highly anticipated "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" opens Dec. 20. Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Lucasfilm

 
 
Updated 12/1/2019 7:40 AM

We should consider ourselves blessed to possess such a pleasing plethora of presents waiting under our cinematic Christmas tree this season.

The most precious one may well turn out to be Greta Gerwig's fresh take on Louisa May Alcott's March sisters saga "Little Women."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The former Mumblecore queen who wrote and directed "Lady Bird" (one of my Top 10 films of 2017) does the same here, infusing the story of aspiring writer Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) and her family with cinematic invention and new relevance.

Plus, Gerwig's period drama -- set for a Christmas Day release -- showcases British actress Florence Pugh (as Amy), gifted with the sultriest female vocal chords since Kathleen Turner steamed up "Body Heat."

But wait.

The March siblings will have stiff competition for audience attention from some heavy hitters on the schedule.

"Little Women" gets another remake, this time from Greta Gerwig. The film comes out on Dec. 25.
"Little Women" gets another remake, this time from Greta Gerwig. The film comes out on Dec. 25. - Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

We can thank our lucky "Star Wars" that original composer John Williams returns once more to create his final series score for J.J. Abrams' "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" (Dec. 20), Chapter IX in the iconic franchise and the third installment of the trilogy following "The Force Awakens" (2015) and "The Last Jedi" (2017).

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Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and John Boyega rejoin the late Carrie Fisher, who will appear in footage originally shot for previous films.

Then we have "Cats" (Dec. 20). Based on the fourth longest-running Broadway musical in history, this is a film we kept expecting to get sometime during the last 25 years, but never did.

Bustopher Jones (James Corden), center, performs with feline friends in "Cats."
Bustopher Jones (James Corden), center, performs with feline friends in "Cats." - Courtesy of Universal

"Digital fur technology" transforms James Corden, Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Rebel Wilson and other actors into the singing felines from T.S. Elliott's original book of cat poems. "The King's Speech" and "Les Misérables" helmsman Tom Hooper directs.

Meanwhile, 89-year-old Clint Eastwood continues his interest in exonerating besmirched real-life heroes with "Richard Jewell" (Dec. 13), starring Paul Walter Hauser as a security guard whose life became wrecked by press reports identifying him as a suspect in the bombing of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. This after being hailed as a hero for saving lives. Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates star.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For the artsy crowd, enigmatic auteur Terrence Malick presents "A Hidden Life" (Dec. 20), a historical drama that polarized critics at the Cannes Film Festival with a portrait of Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian who refused to pledge his allegiance to Hitler and was thusly executed.

Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), right, speaks with Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) in "The Two Popes."
Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), right, speaks with Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) in "The Two Popes." - Courtesy of Netflix

"The Two Popes" (Dec. 6) gives us an engaging mash-up of "My Dinner With Andre" and "The Odd Couple" as conservative Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) verbally fences with liberal future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce).

"1917" (Dec. 25) could be a solid Oscar contender for Sam Mendes, directing an old-fashioned war drama about British soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) trying to save a battalion from certain slaughter during World War 1. The film also stars Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch. Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins make "1917" look as if it had been shot in a single continuous take.

"Richard Jewell" stars Paul Walter Hauser as a security guard identified as a suspect in the bombing of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
"Richard Jewell" stars Paul Walter Hauser as a security guard identified as a suspect in the bombing of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. - Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Now for the quirky stuff, mainly the second remake of Bob Clark's 1974 "Black Christmas," a creepy and prescient predecessor to the mad slasher genre popularized by "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th." Directed and co-written (with a film critic, no less) by Sophia Takal, the film stars Imogen Poots as a student in a college dorm occupied by a giggling sociopath. (Dec. 13)

On a local note, Jennifer Reeder ­-- a professor at the School of Art and Art History at the University of Illinois Chicago -- directs and writes "Knives and Skin," a David Lynchian tale about a teen girl's disappearance that triggers psychosexual shock waves through a small Illinois town. It's been compared to works such as "Heathers, "Carrie," "Donnie Darko" and John Hughes films. (Dec. 13 at Chicago's Music Box Theatre).

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