One of the long-running jokes of the holiday season is that it’s a great time to catch up with family until you can’t stand any more small talk and need to rush into a movie theater for some peace and quiet.
Thankfully, movie studios usually release big blockbusters around this time, and this year you’ll have your pick of them, including the curiously early release of “The Grinch.” This point on the calendar also ushers in the informal Oscar season slate of movies, featuring the buzziest films in contention for February’s Academy Awards.
According to The Washington Post’s film critics, here are five of the movies you should check out over Thanksgiving.
This spinoff of the growing “Harry Potter” universe earned three stars from The Post’s Michael O’Sullivan for its darker elements and surprising reveal. The film is a setup for three more follow-ups in the “Fantastic Beasts” story arc, which features Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, the author of the fictional Hogwarts textbook “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” who is on a mission to bring down the dark wizard Grindelwald.
Grindelwald’s story is set 1927, but O’Sullivan writes that it’s very much relevant to today: ″Grindelwald is a demagogue. He holds rallies. He incites his followers to violence by demonizing the other. His power comes not from a wand, but from dividing people against one another. Sound familiar? It should.”
You might already have a holiday tradition of watching the hand-drawn animated “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or even the 2000 live-action film starring Jim Carrey as the titular green guy, but you might need to make room in your heart for this animated reimagining of the classic Dr. Seuss tale.
Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the mantle of voicing the grumpy grouch who tries to spoil Christmas for the residents of Whoville. Post contributor Pat Padua gave the flick three stars: “This endearing update of a holiday classic reminds us that the Christmas season can be hard for the lonely. It offers up an optimistic message that the Grinches of the world might melt their hard hearts if we meet them face to face — not with rancor, but with love.”
In 1987, the biggest political scandal was an alleged extramarital affair involving a presumptive presidential favorite — doesn’t that seem quaint?
Hugh Jackman stars as Gary Hart, a former U.S. senator from Colorado, whose rise to prominence was stymied by the scandal. Ann Hornaday, The Post’s film critic, gave the movie three stars: “Most profoundly, the filmmakers put Hart’s story squarely in the context of the present, when the norms and traditions that were evolving in 1987 now seem like the quaint artifacts of an era supplanted by a vicious double helix of personal destruction and shamelessness.”
It can be easy for movies to fall into a trap of playing too cute with star-level talent in service of awards, but “Green Book” allows its leads, Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, to take the wheel and drive.
Ali plays Don Shirley, a talented pianist and composer, who enlists Mortensen’s Tony “Lip” Vallelonga as a driver for a tour of the South. The Post’s Ann Hornaday gave the film a perfect four stars: “It will surprise no one to learn that both Tony and Dr. Shirley undergo powerful transformations in ‘Green Book,’ which begins with a scene of Tony throwing out two water glasses used by black workmen hired by his wife, Dolores (Linda Cardellini), and which also includes a scene of Tony encouraging his ever-so-proper employer to eat a piece of fried chicken with his hands. If that image sounds horribly cringeworthy, it’s a tribute to director Peter Farrelly and to Mortensen and Ali that what could be a fatally misbegotten exercise winds up being unexpectedly warm and amusing.”
If you’ve seen the trailer for “Widows,” you might not necessarily know what to expect. The film, directed by “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen and written by Gillian Flynn of “Gone Girl” fame, is an adaptation of a British television series that on its surface is a female-driven heist movie led by Viola Davis.
But the movie reveals itself as a larger look at how our country works. The Post’s Ann Hornaday awarded the film four stars: “Every scene of ‘Widows’ carries with it a sharp-eyed commentary on American life, from its cultural love of violence to its vastly unequal economic system, from its nominal embrace of pluralism to its Darwinian politics. The movie is punctuated by moments of pitiless, horrifying savagery, and one genuinely breathtaking plot twist. But its most memorable quality is the clear-eyed, compassionate honesty with which it depicts the wearying workaday world of navigating structures and interpersonal dynamics inimical to one’s health, safety and very being.”