The thrill of unwrapping gifts is wearing off and you don’t know how much more small talk you can survive with your extended family.
Take refuge in your local movie theater. A host of great films were recently released, such as “Little Women” and “Uncut Gems,” along with much chattered-about pictures that still deserve your attention, including “Knives Out.” And, as a bonus, you’ll have more to discuss with your family after the movie is over.
You can safely skip a trip to a galaxy far, far away to home in on these five possible Academy Award contenders.
1. ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’
For those looking to be reminded of the values that join family, friends and loved ones around the holiday season, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” centered on the beloved children’s TV show host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), is the movie for you.
The film uses a clever perspective to thrust you into the world of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” – and to differentiate it from the superb, straightforward 2018 documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Based on a true story, “Neighborhood’s” tale focuses on a skeptical magazine journalist (played by Matthew Rhys) who might be the only person who is seemingly immune to Rogers’s charm. It won’t surprise you to learn that the TV show host breaks through the writer’s hard shell and is able to tell a rich, fresh tale on the legend of Fred Rogers.
As Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday wrote in her four-star review (Hornaday also selected it as her second-favorite movie of the year), the film proves, “that, with the right cast, script and astute direction, even the most familiar story can feel new – and, given the tenor of these times, urgently needed.”
If you prefer your fictionalized versions of real-life events to be a little more scandalous, then find a showtime for “Bombshell,” the tale of the sexual harassment accusations that took down Fox News boss Roger Ailes.
The movie is told through the stories of three women: former Fox News personalities Megyn Kelly (played by Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), and a new hire Kayla (Margot Robbie) who discovers that the organization is rife with unsavory characters.
While the film does not aim quite as high as trying to capture how the cable news network contributes to the polarizing state of affairs, Hornaday gave the film three stars, saying, “But even without particularly penetrating insights into [Kelly’s] inner drive and motivations, ‘Bombshell’ is notable, if only, as Theron described the film at a screening in Washington last month, as the ‘origin story of where we find ourselves right now.’ ”
3. ‘Knives Out’
One of two films garnering buzz this awards season that skewer perceptions of class is this delightful whodunit directed by “The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson.
Of all the movies to catch this holiday season, “Knives Out” might be the most fun you’ll have at a theater. Johnson brought together a cast of some of the finest character actors – including Michael Shannon and Toni Collette – in delightfully hammy roles as members of the very well-off Thrombey family.
But the film is stolen by James Bond himself (Daniel Craig) as detective Benoit Blanc, whose voice may remind you of Foghorn Leghorn. Hornaday praised Craig and the film in her three-star review: “Daniel Craig delivers a slab of Smithfield-sized ham in ‘Knives Out,’ a cheekily playful updating of Agatha Christie by way of Trump-era politics. Populated by a quirky ensemble of miscreants, ne’er-do-wells, misfits and at least one hilariously moony New Age doyenne, ‘Knives Out’ doesn’t hesitate to get a few licks in regarding immigration politics, liberal hypocrisy, Internet trollery and the we-built-that mythologies of inherited wealth.”
4. ‘Little Women’
This generation is lucky enough to have director Greta Gerwig at the helm of this inventive spin on “Little Women,” the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott.
The “Lady Bird” director blends young actresses Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen as the March sisters with acting luminaries Laura Dern and Meryl Streep playing their mother and aunt, respectively.
Hornaday calls it “a nearly perfect film” in her 3 1/2-star review of “Little Women” (while also naming it her sixth-favorite movie of the year). Hornaday praised the film’s spirit, writing, “There’s something perfect about Greta Gerwig adapting ‘Little Women.’ Louisa May Alcott’s semi-autobiographical ode to sisterly love, competition, creativity and lofty self-sacrifice could have been written as a vehicle for Gerwig to star in, its rambunctious spirit utterly of a piece with her penchant for unpredictability and barely contained physicality.”
5. ‘Uncut Gems’
You might not have expected one of the year’s buzziest films to be a total mind trip starring the typically sophomoric Adam Sandler as a scuzzy New York City jeweler. But “Uncut Gems” delivers the goods.
Sandler takes the role of Howard Ratner to another level using the charisma that has made him a household name. In the latest film from siblings Josh and Benny Safdie (“Good Time”), the film is a frenetic crime thriller that transports you into a world of New York that many are unfamiliar with. “Uncut Gems” weaves together themes of identity with a crime caper focused on former NBA star Kevin Garnett.
Some, including Post film critic Michael O’Sullivan in a 3 1/2-star review, have described the film as one of the most “anxiety-inducing” films of the year. O’Sullivan writes that the stress is well-earned because of how well Sandler embodies his character: “But Sandler is so good, so committed and so watchable that, despite everything – Howard’s irrationality, a rogue’s gallery of unpleasant characters, the foreboding of a bad, bad end – you can’t take your eyes off the screen, which Sandler seldom vacates.”