The 2019 holiday movie season is under way, with “Frozen II” providing an appropriately wintry box-office juggernaut (call it this year’s alpha reindeer) and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and “Marriage Story” leading the Oscar conversation.
Now we’re in December, a great month in the movie calendar. This year it’s packed with surefire blockbusters (there’s a new “Star Wars” movie), awards hopefuls and the kind of high-profile movies you can go see with the whole family during those long post-Christmas afternoons. Why else would “Cats” exist?
It may be due to a calendar anomaly (Thanksgiving Day fell later than usual this year) or maybe just Hollywood holding back from the bloodbath that can happen when too many films get released at once, but this year’s slate looks leaner than usual. In terms of quality, rather than quantity, things still look good — and in a year where Adam Sandler is up for a Best Actor nomination (he just won the award from the National Board of Review), anything can happen.
The stakes are high, and the prospects are promising. Here’s a look at what unfolds over the next six weeks or so. Yes, that means January — some of 2019’s Oscar contenders will open in New York and L.A. in order to qualify for awards, but won’t bow hereabouts until the New Year.
“Richard Jewell.” Films directed by Clint Eastwood have become a December staple, and here’s this year’s edition. Jewell was the security guard who alertly saved lives in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, only to be publicly questioned as a possible suspect. Paul Walter Hauser (he played the beefy conspirator in “I, Tonya”) is remarkable in the title role, ably surrounded by Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates and Jon Hamm.
“Jumanji: The Next Level.” Sequel to the surprise 2017 blockbuster, a movie that was much more fun than expected. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan return as the video-game avatars whose gaming becomes real-world. A few celeb cameos (Awkwafina, Danny DeVito) liven up the action.
“Two Popes.” This Netflix production will get a theatrical run in hopes of generating Oscar interest. It’s got Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as the future Pope Francis, in a drama about the Vatican skullduggery behind Benedict’s unusual decision to retire from office — and the deep ideological differences between the two popes.
“Black Christmas.” What would the Yuletide be without a slasher movie? This is a remake of the 1970s horror picture, in which college students are relentlessly stalked by a creepy killer. The usually capable Imogen Poots leads the cast in this version.
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” The series is coming off “The Last Jedi,” its best installment since the first “Star Wars.” (I know, I know, the fans hated it. So sue me.) The saga’s story concludes here, probably (and I am just guessing here) with space battles and lightsabers. Director J.J. Abrams returns from “The Force Awakens,” and here’s hoping he doesn’t reverse some of the wittier “Last Jedi” plot turns.
“Cats.” One of Broadway’s biggest-ever musical hits comes to the big screen, as a group of felines present the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber (and the words of T.S. Eliot, whose poems formed the inspiration for the thing). The first trailers prompted a reaction somewhere between horror and mystification, but the show’s reputation should still bring in the curious. The cast includes Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson (she’ll sing “Memory”) and Judi Dench.
“Bombshell.” The inside scoop at Fox News, filtered through the stories of Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman). Both were prey for Fox chief Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), the loathsome creep who shaped the character of 21st-century America, as well as setting the bar for sexual harassment around the office. With Margot Robbie.
“A Hidden Life.” The highly regarded director Terence Malick has been on a serious slide lately, but this World War II story is rumored to be a return to form — even if the form stretches out to 173 minutes, in this case. It’s based on the true story of a conscientious objector who refused to fight for the Nazis, at the risk of his own life.
“Little Women.” The oft-filmed novel by Louisa May Alcott gets another treatment, this time adapted by director Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”). The talented cast is led by Saoirse Ronan — this already makes it a must-see — Timothee Chalamet, the terrific Florence Pugh (“Midsommar”) and Emma Watson.
“Spies in Disguise.” An animated extravaganza for the season, with Will Smith leading the voice cast in a tale about a super-slick international spy who is turned into (let me get this straight) a pigeon. Tom Holland voices the super-not-slick nerd who invents the man-to-bird formula.
“Uncut Gems.” A frantic new film from the makers of “Good Time,” Josh and Bennie Safdie. It’s already garnered career-best reviews for Adam Sandler, as a New York jeweler up against the wall thanks to his gambling addiction and dangerous debts. The enthusiastic reviews come with a warning about this being maybe the most exhausting film of the year.
“1917.” There’s a technical tour de force in this World War I saga. Its story is conventional — two British soldiers must weave through enemy lines to deliver a crucial message. But director Sam Mendes (“Skyfall”) takes a gripping approach: The entire film unfolds in just a couple of long, unbroken shots (or appears to, anyway). It will be very surprising if anyone other than the great Roger Deakins wins the Best Cinematography Oscar this year.
“Just Mercy.” A tale of wrong justice, based on a true case. Michael B. Jordan (“Black Panther”) plays an idealistic Harvard lawyer who goes to Alabama and represents a Death Row inmate (Jamie Foxx) who was railroaded into jail. The story has resonance not only as an outrage of the judicial process, but as a study of a society in which facts no longer matter. With Brie Larson.
“Seberg.” The sad life of actress Jean Seberg, who shot to fame in the late 1950s and died under tragic circumstances in 1979. Kristen Stewart plays Seberg, which is a pretty good visual match; this biopic concentrates on Seberg’s problems with the FBI, which compiled a dossier on her after she became politically active in the 1960s.