Every movie opening on Christmas Day has both the fortune and misfortune of occupying the shadow —ahem, the "dark side" —of The Force Awakens. On one hand, they're consigned to second or third-banana status at the box-office and in the media. On the other, so many Star Wars screenings are destined to be sold out that they'll be on the receiving end of some overflow ticket sales. Either way, Christmas moviegoers will have no shortage of options at the Cineplex this holiday weekend.
The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino's boffo Western mystery opens Friday at Valley View -- the only theater in Ohio showing the film as Tarantino intended it to be seen, in "glorious 70 mm," intermission and all. It'll open in wide distribution in January. The movie, which follows in Tarantino's period-piece phase (Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained), is as visually stunning as it is meticulously scripted. It tracks a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) and his captured criminal, a sadistic murderer named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as they make their way to an inn in Wyoming and are forced to wait out a blizzard alongside a handful of sinister patrons. Tarantino's penchant for violence eventually asserts itself, but far more compelling in The Hateful Eight is the gradual revelation of each character's motives and backstory. It's almost as if Agatha Christie co-produced. Prepare for a three-hour-plus experience, and prepare to be absolutely gosh-wowed. Hands-down a top-ten film of the year. (Sam Allard)
The Big Short
The Big Short offers up a terrifically entertaining semi-comical account of the mortgage crisis that hit the states in the early 2000s. While it might get lost in the mix of Oscar-caliber movies hitting area theaters this week, the film has plenty going for it. With its mix of vintage news and sports clips taken from the era, the movie comes off as a Wolf of Wall Street-Drunk History hybrid. Working from Michael Lewis's book of the same name, director Adam McKay masterfully turns finance into high drama. He gets some help from a terrific cast that features Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt and Steve Carell. Gosling plays Jared Vennett, a financial investor based on Deutsche Bank trader Greg Lippmann, who talks another group of investors led by Mark Baum (Carell), a character based on loudmouth hedge fund manager Steve Eisman, into buying up his junk bonds. All the while, hedge fund guru Michael Berry (Bale) has recognized the signs of a subprime mortgage crisis and invested heavily, betting that he can profit from the collapse. McKay holds nothing back in this outlandish, but pitch-perfect production. (Jeff Niesel)
Actor Will Smith can ham it up with the best of them. But every so often, he delivers a performance that shows his incredible range. In Concussion, a film about the NFL's attempts to cover up a doctor's research into the severity of head injuries sustained from playing the sport, he portrays Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who discovered what is now known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). After the eccentric doctor from Nigeria publishes his findings in a report, the NFL tries to discredit him, and Bennett must fight one of the country's most powerful organizations. Despite Smith's performance, it doesn't transcend the subject matter and too often comes off as a made-for-TV movie. (Niesel)
The Danish Girl
Though it seems almost inhumane that the academy would deny Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar for his tortuous performance in The Revenant (out Jan. 8), Eddie Redmayne surely presents Leo's stiffest competition as a painter who transitions from male to female in The Danish Girl. (Hot take: Redmayne's performance is way better than Leo's, which consists chiefly of bleeding, wheezing, eating raw meat and crawling through mud – shit the academy loves). Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, Les Miserables) directs The Danish Girl, and his early 20th century sets are as assured and elegant as ever. The real beauty and power of the movie, though, rest almost entirely in the hands of Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, who plays the wife and unconditional friend of one of the transgender community's first pioneers. The film has received some flak from that community, some of whom have maintained that a transgender actor should play a transgender role, but it's difficult to find fault with Redmayne's go-for-broke portrayal. Oscar bait or no, this one's the tearjerker of the season. (Allard).
Not every movie hitting theaters this week has Oscar potential. Daddy's Home offers up predictable comedy designed to appeal to the entire family (even though a few jokes are rather crude). The film centers on Brad (Will Ferrell), a straight-laced smooth jazz radio executive who tries his hardest to be the best stepfather he can be to his wife's (Linda Cardellini) two children. Despite his efforts, the kids still draw pictures of him with poop on his head. He takes it all in stride, however, until the kids' badass biological father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) arrives. Dusty wants to reconnect with his wife and kids and Brad naively lets him stay at the house. The film has some very funny moments, but the plot is so flimsy that the movie struggles to command attention for the full 96 minutes. It opens areawide on Friday. (Niesel)
Eh. David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) and his clique (Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro) have made a competent film about a gutsy, gifted woman – Joy Mangano, who invented the self-wringing Miracle Mop – which is unfortunately not too terribly interesting. It's your standard rags-to-riches saga, but with a bizarre collection of peripheral characters and storytelling devices (posthumous voiceover, dreamscape, flashback). Despite tremendous personal stakes – financial survival – and recurring risk involved in Joy's ascent, life and death on the Home Shopping Network somehow fails to bestir the moviegoer's soul. (Allard)