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Nine films to watch in December

The Disaster Artist
Haha, what a great story!” This line from Tommy Wiseau’s all-American hero Johnny in The Room, beloved by many as possibly the worst film ever made, also applies to James Franco’s captivating new film about the making of this cinematic disaster.

Franco directs and stars as Wiseau, an immigrant to the US of mysterious origins who possesses a one-of-a-kind accent, long black locks that make him look like Gene Simmons crossed with Stephen Baldwin, and a talent that can be charitably described as unique. In 2003 Wiseau, rebuffed by many a casting director and talent agent decided to make his own ‘Hollywood’ movie. In possession of apparently limitless financial resources, Wiseau’s cinematic brainchild was The Room, a chamber drama of betrayal that’s become a hit as a midnight movie because it is so laughably terrible. Franco captures Wiseau’s tics to perfection and ends up recreating about a quarter of The Room in this adaptation of actor Greg Sestero’s book The Disaster Artist, about the making of the movie. Unlike The Room itself, this is a movie you can laugh with, rather than at. Released 1 December in the US, UK and Ireland, 6 December in the Philippines and 21 December in Argentina and the Netherlands.

The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro continues to carve out one of the most visually distinctive oeuvres in Hollywood today with this slippery changeling of a movie that won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival: it’s part Lovecraftian beastie horror, part forbidden romance, part Cold War drama, with a few more genres thrown in for good measure. Sally Hawkins plays a mute maid at a US government research facility who falls in love with one of the test subjects, an amphibian creature found in the Amazon – another feat of physicality by Doug Jones, probably the best-known creature actor working today who isn’t Andy Serkis. She tries to help her beloved frog-man flee a one-dimensional baddie in government tough Michael Shannon. In his five-star review, BBC Culture film critic Nicholas Barber wrote that The Shape of Water is “an Oscar contender in pretty much every category” and declared “this is one of the most delightful films of the year.” Released 8 December in the US and Canada.

All the Money in the World
Ridley Scott is briefly leaving blockbusters behind for this docudrama based on John Pearson’s book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J Paul Getty. The oil tycoon was once the richest man in the US, but he was famed for his thriftiness. When his grandson John Paul Getty III was kidnapped by mafiosi in the 1970s he refused to pay the ransom they wanted. His grandson was horribly abused as a result – his kidnappers even severed one of his ears. As dramatic a story as that is, though, All the Money in the World has had nearly as shocking a production. Kevin Spacey, in heavy old-age makeup, was originally slated to play Getty, but after sexual assault allegations were made against him Ridley Scott decided to reshoot his role with Christopher Plummer instead – with only one month until the film’s premiere. Can the quick reshoot possibly result in a good movie? Simply as a feat of daring many critics and cinemagoers are eager to find out. Released 21 December in Greece and Israel, 22 December in Turkey and the US and 27 December in Belgium and France.

Happy End
Isabelle Huppert strikes again. After the one-two punch of Elle and Things to Come, featuring two of the most acclaimed performances of her career, the legendary French actress is back in another equally meaty role: as a stressed mother trying to keep her family, and her family business, together. It helps that Happy End is directed by Michael Haneke, master of the unsettling, who directed her in one of her greatest earlier films, The Piano Teacher. The response at the Cannes and Toronto film festivals to Happy End was mixed, with The Telegraph’s Tim Robey calling it “shockingly familiar.” BBC Culture’s Nicholas Barber gave Happy End five stars, however, saying “75-year-old Haneke proves that he can still generate tension more deftly than most horror directors half his age.” One of the great feel-bad experiences of the year, this scalding look at the super-rich in the age of social media could be called The Discreet Harm of the Bourgeoisie. Released 1 December in the UK and Ireland, 22 December in the US and 25 December in Norway.

Downsizing
If you want a slightly warmer and fuzzier dissection of societal norms, fictions and hypocrisies, there’s always the work of Alexander Payne. The Election director is back another social commentary, Downsizing, a science-fiction comedy about people who elect to have themselves reduced to five inches tall in an effort to minimise the impact of overpopulation and save money. One married couple, played by Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, elect to have the procedure, but while Damon’s character goes through with it Wiig’s backs out at the last minute. That makes the marriage considerably more difficult. Released 21 December in Portugal, 22 December in Spain and the US and 26 December in Australia and New Zealand.

Human Flow
Ai Weiwei’s documentary film-making is sometimes neglected in comparison to his visual art, performance and design work. In the past 15 years he’s made films about the rapid pace of changes in Beijing, the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, his architectural commissions and his battles with the Chinese government. Human Flow is about the global refugee crisis, but Ai links the struggles and traumas of the world’s 65 million displaced people with his own aesthetic concerns, as Indiewire’s David Ehrlich notes: “it’s an epic portrait of mass migration that understands how a lack of empathy often stems from a failure of imagination.” The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis adds, “What Mr Ai seeks is to go far beyond the nightly news; he wants to give you a sense of the scale of the crisis, its terrifying world-swallowing immensity.” Released 1 December in Sweden and 14 December in the Netherlands.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
So will Luke Skywalker accept the lightsaber Rey offered him at the end of 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens or will he fling it into the sea and take up knitting? Nobody knows! The Last Jedi is somehow even more under wraps than the previous instalment, but the few trailers and clips that have been released suggest a darker, more twisted ride this time. Could Luke, one-time sandy haired farmboy turned scruffy hermit, actually be a villain now? Could Rey end up joining forces with the murderous Kylo Ren? The Force will reveal all… in time. The studios behind the saga, Disney and Lucasfilm, must be thrilled with The Last Jedi, though, because they’ve already signed its director, Rian Johnson, the mastermind behind Brick, Looper and some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad, to make a new trilogy of Star Wars films about all new characters and situations. The Last Jedi, though, will mark the last time Carrie Fisher, who died last December, will appear in the saga as General Leia Organa, so as exciting as the film will be expect to shed a few tears too. Released 13 December in Taiwan and Colombia, 14 December in Russia, the UK and Singapore and 15 December in the US, Pakistan and Vietnam.

Ferdinand
Munro Leaf’s 1936 children’s book The Story of Ferdinand, the tale of a bull who would prefer to smell flowers than charge at a matador, is so simple in its execution, with beautiful illustrations by Robert Lawson, but deeply profound in its implications. By contrast, the new animated film based on it appears to be a riot of bright colours and zany antics. Wrestler turned actor John Cena plays the pacifist bull – a stroke of casting that could actually be brilliant, as Cena, like Ferdinand, has had to play down his fierce exterior to reveal who he is inside. Kate McKinnon, Bobby Cannavale, and David Tennant round out the voice cast. Released 14 December in Australia and Malaysia, 15 December in the US and 16 December in the UK.

The Man Who Invented Christmas
Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol is arguably the most beloved Yuletide story ever told – at least since the Nativity itself. It’s certainly one of the most adapted stories of all time, with an almost countless number of film, TV, and animated incarnations. But how did the story itself come about? Bharat Nalluri, the director of the unsung but delightful Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, adapts Les Standiford’s novel of the same name, which argues that Dickens, played here by Dan Stevens, based Scrooge on his own father (Jonathan Pryce). Christopher Plummer assays miserly moneylender Ebenezer himself, which, remarkably, he has never done before. Released 1 December in the UK, 14 December in Portugal and 21 December in Italy.
(BBC)

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