At our merriest time of year, holiday movies offer heart-warming, heroic stories: NASA pioneers, Boston police searching for terrorists, and a man’s quest for his lost family.
The year-end releases are heavy with Oscar hopefuls, too – the indescribable musical “La La Land,” the emotional powder-keg “Manchester by the Sea,” the gangster drama “Live by Night” and Martin Scorsese’s Christianity epic “Silence.”
Gripping true stories from pivotal moments in the 1960s and the real people behind the headlines are often crowd-pleasers, and “Jackie” and “Hidden Figures” feature prominent actresses recreating historical women.
It’s also time for fantasy blockbusters. Another Star Wars story has emerged, but it’s a standalone feature, “Rogue One,” about the rebels fighting to save the galaxy from the evil empire, setting up the epic saga of the first “Star Wars — A New Hope.”
Here is a list of the movies scheduled for local release dates in December and January, including a slew of Oscar hopefuls. As always, dates are subject to change.
Women of substance
“Miss Sloane” — Dec. 9
Who: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu-Mbatha Raw, Alison Pill and Michael Stuhlbarg. Directed by John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”).
What: A dramatic thriller about a Washington gun-control lobbyist.
“Jackie” — Dec. 21
Who: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig and John Hurt. Directed by Pablo Larrain.
What: First Lady Jackie Kennedy’s days following the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of her husband. As a nation mourns, she struggles through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children and shape JFK’s legacy.
“Elle” — Dec. 23
Who: Isabelle Huppert.
What: Ruthless businesswoman Michèle, head of a video game company, is attacked in her home, which changes her life forever. She tracks the man down, and they are drawn into a dangerous game.
“Hidden Figures” — Jan. 13
Who: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali and Kirsten Dunst.
What: The true story of three African-American women who blazed trails at NASA in the early days of the space program.
“20th Century Women” — TBD
Who: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning and Billy Crudup. Written and directed by Mike Mills (“Beginners”).
What: The year is 1979 in Santa Barbara. In a rooming house run by his mother, learns about life from several influential women.
The real story
“Lion” — Dec. 21
Who: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara and Sunny Pawar.
What: At age 5, Saroo was separated from his brother on a train. He searches for his family in India with the help of Google Earth and intricate math calculations. Twenty-five years later, he locates the tiny village where he lived. This is based on a true story.
“Patriots Day” — Jan. 13
Who: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan, Melissa Benoist and JK Simmons. Directed by Peter Berg (“Lone Survivor”).
What: The Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, as seen through the eyes of the police force.
“The Founder” — Jan. 20
Who: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson and Linda Cardellini, directed by John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side.”)
What: The inside scoop on how Ray Kroc bought the McDonald brothers’ business, and created a fast-food environment.
“Gold” — Jan. 27
Who: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Bryce Dallas Howard and Corey Stoll. Directed by Stephen Gaghan (“Syriana”).
What: An unlikely pair search for gold in Indonesia.
“Office Christmas Party” — Dec. 9
Who: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, T.J. Miller, and Kate McKinnon.
What: Self-explanatory title.
“Sing” — Dec. 21
Who: Voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth McFarlane, Scarlett Johannson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton and Tori Kelly. BND Cartoonist Glenn McCoy did some story work on the animated film.
What: From Illumination Entertainment (“Minions”), in a world populated by animals, koala bear Buster Moon must save his crumbling theater by staging a big singing competition.
“Why Him?” — Dec. 23
Who: Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch and Megan Mullaly.
What: Parents visit daughter at Stanford, meet her Silicon Valley billionaire boyfriend, and are horrified by her choice.
“Manchester by the Sea” — Dec. 2 (limited release); will open wider
Who: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol and Matthew Broderick. Written and directed by playwright Kenneth Lonergan.
What: His brother’s death forces Lee to confront his past. His brother has named him guardian of his 16 year-old nephew. A meditation on grief, loss and moving forward that features some of the year’s best acting.
“Collateral Beauty” — Dec. 16
Who: Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, JK Simmons, Keira Knightley, Michael Pena and Edward Norton. Directed by David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”).
What: After a tragedy, a man writes letters to Time, Death and Love. He gets responses.
“Fences” — Dec. 25
Who: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and Mykelti Williamson. Directed by Denzel Washington.
What: An adaptation of August Wilson’s potent family drama about a former Negro League ballplayer, now a garbage collector in Pittsburgh. He’s mad at the world. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis won Tony Awards as Troy and Rose in the 2010 Broadway revival, and recreate their roles here.
“Paterson” — TDB
Who: Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani. Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch.
What: Bus driver in Paterson, N.J. is happily married and writes poetry. A slice-of-life film on dreams and random events.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” — Dec. 16
Who: Felicity Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker and Jimmy Smits. Directed by Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla” 2014).
What: The Rebels try to get a map of the Death Star. This action takes place right before the events of the first “Star Wars” movie in 1977.
“Assassin’s Creed” — Dec. 21
Who: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons and Michael K. Williams.
What: Adaptation of video game. Scientist unlocks genetic memories and discovers he’s descended from a 15th Century group called The Assassins, and the skills he learns, he is able to take on the oppressive Templar organization.
“A Monster Calls” — Jan. 6
Who: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver and Liam Neeson (voice). Directed by J. A. Bayona (“The Impossible”).
What: A young boy, a budding artist, conjures up an imaginary monster to help him cope while his mother fights cancer. Based on Patrick Ness’s book.
The envelope, please
“La La Land” — Dec. 16
Who: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, JK Simmons, Finn Wittrock and John Legend. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”).
What: A musical set in Los Angeles about the love affair of an aspiring actress and a jazz musician. Their dreams threaten to tear them apart.
“Passengers” — Dec. 21
Who: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia. Directed by Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”).
What: A spacecraft traveling to another colony planet malfunctions, and two passengers are awakened 90 years early.
“Silence” — Jan. 6
Who: Liam Neeson, Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield. Directed by Martin Scorsese (“The Departed”).
What: Based on a true story of two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to find their mentor and propagate Christianity in the 17th century.
“Live by Night” — Jan. 13
Who: Ben Affleck, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning and Brenda Gleeson. Directed by Ben Affleck (“The Town.”)
What: Crime drama set in Boston in 1926. Prohibition-era mobster tale, adapted from novel by Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”).