Director/producer/actress Katie Holmes (center) on the set of All We Had, 2015.
Here are twelve new movies due to be released in theaters this December, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.
DECEMBER 2: Best and Most Beautiful Things (dir. Garrett Zevgetis) (DPs: Sarah Ginsburg and Jordan Salvatoriello) – PBS Independent Lens synopsis: “In rural Maine, a quirky, charming, and determined young woman named Michelle Smith lives with her mother Julie. Legally blind and on the autism spectrum, Michelle has big dreams and proudly wears the badge of outcast. Searching for connection, Michelle explores love and empowerment outside the limits of ‘normal,’ including a provocative sexual awakening. Best and Most Beautiful Things tells Michelle’s joyful story of self-discovery as a celebration of outcasts everywhere.
“After receiving an extraordinary education at the Perkins School for the Blind, a world-famous institution outside Boston which was attended by the young Helen Keller, Michelle becomes isolated after graduation, spending hours and days alone in her room, struggling to envision her future. She attends an alumni weekend where a school administrator unexpectedly offers her the possibility of an animation internship in Los Angeles. While Michelle eagerly anticipates this dream opportunity, her family and teachers worry about real-world logistics and Michelle’s readiness to live independently on the other side of the country.
“Michelle passes time on the computer, feeding her interests and bold curiosity about the world beyond her walls. Online, she meets and falls in love with a young college student named Michael, and together they become involved in a local fetish role-playing community. Through her relationship with Michael and their adventures with kink and BDSM, Michelle experiences a burgeoning empowerment and finds the acceptance that has eluded her since her time at Perkins. Best and Most Beautiful Things gently reveals how all the most beautiful things, including love and sexuality, are not bound by disability.”
DECEMBER 2: First Lady of the Revolution (dir. Andrea Kalin) – From the film’s official website: “While visiting an aunt and uncle in the exotic countryside of Costa Rica, a young Southern Belle from Alabama accepted a ride on the back of a motorcycle belonging to a charismatic local farmer. That ride would propel her into history.
First Lady of the Revolution is the remarkable story of Henrietta Boggs, who fell in love with a foreign land and the man destined to transform its identity. Her marriage to José ‘Don Pepe’ Figueres in 1941 led to a decade-long journey through activism, exile and political upheaval, and ultimately, lasting political reform.
First Lady of the Revolution is not only a depiction of the momentous struggle to shape Costa Rica’s democratic identity; it’s also a portrayal of how a courageous woman escaped the confines of a traditional, sheltered existence to expand her horizons into a new world, and live a life she never imagined.“
DECEMBER 2: Things to Come (dir. Mia Hansen-Løve) – Excerpt from Variety review by Guy Lodge: “Midway through Things to Come, Isabelle Huppert’s protagonist has a disconcerting encounter in a cinema, distracting her from Juliette Binoche’s own on-screen emotional uncertainty in Abbas Kiarostami’s 2010 jewel, Certified Copy. It’s a cheeky move to so fleetingly cameo that level of perfection in one’s own work, but Mia Hansen-Love’s fifth — and possibly best — feature pulls it off with warmth and grace to spare. At once disarmingly simple in form and riddled with rivulets of complex feeling, this story of a middle-aged Parisienne philosophy professor rethinking an already much-examined life in the wake of unforeseen divorce emulates the best academics in making outwardly familiar ideas feel newly alive and immediate — and has an ideal human conduit in a wry, heartsore Huppert, further staking her claim as our greatest living actress with nary a hint of showing off. Following widespread distribution for the dazzling but younger-skewing Eden, the arthouse future for Hansen-Love’s latest is surely a bright one.
“Among the more minor losses endured by heavily burdened philosopher Nathalie (Huppert) in the course of Hansen-Love’s gently meandering narrative is one of pedagogical authority. As her favorite student, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), grows into a writer and thinker of independent, often conflicting, agency, she’s both gratified and saddened that the path on which she placed him has diverged from hers; the student has become not the master, but merely his own man.
“Hansen-Love knows a thing or two about what we give and take from our teachers. Like her four previous films, Things to Come bears the delicate tonal imprint of her former mentor and now husband, Olivier Assayas — the wily presence of the great Edith Scob isn’t the only nod here to, in particular, Assayas’ Summer Hours. Yet the pic’s glinting aesthetic textures and searching philosophical preoccupations are quite plainly her own. As filmmakers, they share tastes and interests in the way lovers must do, as if they were mutually beloved songs. Hansen-Love’s sharply feminine and subtly feminist worldview, however, is marked by a guarded generational idealism and resistance to nostalgia that sets it richly apart from others in the current French canon; in Things to Come, her rotating sensibilities as intellectual, humanist and sensualist converge most satisfyingly.”
DECEMBER 2: Two Trains Runnin’ (dir. Samuel D. Pollard) (DP: Natalie Kingston) – From the film’s official website: “Two Trains Runnin’ is a feature-length documentary directed by acclaimed filmmaker Sam Pollard, narrated by Common, and featuring the music of Gary Clark Jr. The film pays tribute to a pioneering generation of musicians and cuts to the heart of our present moment, offering a crucial vantage from which to view the evolving dynamics of race in America.
“In June of 1964 hundreds of college students, eager to join the civil rights movement, traveled to Mississippi, starting what would be known as Freedom Summer. That same month, two groups of young men–made up of musicians, college students and record collectors–also traveled to Mississippi. Though neither group was aware of the other, each had come on the same errand: to find an old blues singer and coax him out of retirement. Thirty years before, Son House and Skip James had recorded some of the most memorable music of their era, but now they seemed lost to time.
“Finding them would not be easy. There were few clues to their whereabouts. It was not even known for certain if they were still alive. And Mississippi, that summer, was a tense and violent place. With hundreds on their way to teach in freedom schools and work on voter registration, the Ku Klux Klan and police force of many towns vowed that Freedom Summer would not succeed. Churches were bombed, shotguns blasted into cars and homes. It was easy to mistake the young men looking for Son House and Skip James as activists. Finally, on June 21, 1964, these two campaigns collided in memorable and tragic fashion.
“In telling this remarkable story, Two Trains Runnin’ revisits an important moment when America’s cultural and political institutions were dramatically transformed. The movie is all the more pointed and relevant today, in an era of renewed attention on police brutality and voting rights.”
DECEMBER 9: All We Had (dir. Katie Holmes) – Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Genna Terranova: “Ruthie Carmichael (Stefania Owen) makes the best of bad circumstances, pulled along in the wake of the hard luck of her mother Rita (Katie Holmes). From escaping a bad boyfriend to their car breaking down on the road to going broke, they continually find themselves in search of stability. When their attempt at settling in a new town hits a stumbling block, and as the shine wears off of the kind strangers who supported them when they had first arrived, even Ruthie struggles to keep it together. Based on Annie Weatherwax’s 2014 novel, Katie Holmes’s feature directorial debut is a sensitive rendering of the Great Recession as told by people who were unprepared for the shortfall and could not have seen it coming. Owen and Holmes are perfectly matched as they explore a mother-daughter bond crashing against universal teenage themes: growing up under hardship, realizing the imperfections of parents and facing the many little dramas that overwhelm positivity and progress. Holmes finds in All We Had a stimulating and ultimately enriching coming-of-age drama about a resilient mother and daughter who find strength in each other.”
DECEMBER 9: Solitary (dir. Kristi Jacobson) – Human Rights Watch Film Festival synopsis: “Solitary tells the stories of several inmates sent to Red Onion State Prison, one of over 40 supermax prisons across the US, which holds inmates in eight-by-ten foot solitary confinement cells, 23 hours a day. Profoundly intimate, this immersive film weaves through prison corridors and cells, capturing the chilling sounds and haunting atmosphere of the prison. With unprecedented access, award-winning filmmaker Kristi Jacobson investigates an invisible part of the American justice system and tells the stories of people caught in the complex penal system – both inmates and correction officers – raising provocative questions about punishment in America today.”
DECEMBER 16: Collateral Beauty (dir. David Frankel) (DP: Maryse Alberti) – Excerpt from Warner Bros. synopsis: “When a successful New York advertising executive suffers a great tragedy he retreats from life. While his concerned friends try desperately to reconnect with him, he seeks answers from the universe by writing letters to Love, Time and Death. But it’s not until his notes bring unexpected personal responses that he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.
“Collateral Beauty features an all-star cast, including Will Smith (Suicide Squad, Concussion), Edward Norton (Birdman or [The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance]), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Michael Peña (The Martian), Naomie Harris (Spectre), Jacob Latimore (The Maze Runner), with Oscar winners Kate Winslet (The Reader, Steve Jobs) and Helen Mirren (The Queen, Trumbo).”
DECEMBER 25: Fences (dir. Denzel Washington) (DP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen) – Excerpt from The Wrap review by Robert Abele: “It’s taken nearly 30 years for August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences to make it to movie screens since its roiling portrait of an embittered African-American mid-20th-century man exploded on Broadway in 1987. But if anybody was going to do it justice as a film, it’s Denzel Washington.
“The stage-trained megastar played Wilson’s Troy Maxson — former ballplayer, ex-con and struggling Pittsburgh garbageman — in a celebrated 2010 revival, and he’s now taken the reins behind and in front of the camera for a film adaptation that amounts to a great actor’s dedicated stewardship of the late dramatist’s considerable gifts. Can you tell it’s a play? Absolutely. Does that mean a damn thing? Not when the writing is this richly evocative, and the cast so often soars with it.
“It’s not just Washington in home-run form, but Viola Davis, too, as Troy’s long-suffering wife Rose, a role she also played in the Washington-headlined production. Together they bring to vivid life the complexities and contradictions in an 18-year marriage built on a sense of duty neither realized was as fragile as it was. It’s a safe bet these in-the-moment powerhouses will be in plenty of accolade-centric conversations for the rest of the season.”
DECEMBER 25: Hidden Figures (dir. Theodore Melfi) (DP: Mandy Walker) – Fox Movies synopsis: “Hidden Figures is the incredible untold story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.”
DECEMBER 25: Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade) – New York Film Festival synopsis: “An audacious twist on the screwball comedy—here, the twosome is an aging-hippie prankster father and his corporate-ladder-climbing daughter—Toni Erdmann delivers art and entertainment in equal measure and charmed just about everyone who saw it at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Maren Ade’s dazzling script has just enough of a classical comedic structure to support 162 minutes of surprises big and small. Meanwhile, her direction is designed to liberate the actors as much as possible while the camera rolls, resulting in sublime performances by Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek, who leave the audience suspended between laughter and tears. A Sony Pictures Classics release.”
DECEMBER 30: Dr. Feelgood: Dealer or Healer? (dir. Eve Marson) – From the film’s official website: “Dr. William Hurwitz was a preeminent doctor sentenced to 25 years in prison for overprescribing painkillers. His story provides a window into the ethical dilemma of opioid prescriptions. Painkillers give doctors tremendous power to relieve pain, a primary goal of any physician, but this power begets trouble when the same drugs can lead to addiction, abuse and death.
“In 2016, painkiller abuse continues to skyrocket, the federal government has issued its first guidelines to control opioid prescriptions, and the investigation into Prince’s death only furthers finger-pointing at Big Pharma, doctors and addicts.
“There could not be a more critical time to spark discussion on the topic and call for careful thought and action.”
DECEMBER 30: Miss Violence (dir. Alexandros Avranas) (DP: Olympia Mytilinaiou) – Excerpt of Starburst review by Martyn Conterio: “Ever since Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth wowed audiences back in 2009, Greek cinema has become the new Michael Haneke. Although Lanthimos and others have weaved into the fabric of their sometimes controversial work a certain absurdist humour, the award-winning second feature by Alexandros Avranas, Miss Violence, paints it black and black only.
“Angeliki (Chloe Bolota), on her 11th birthday, jumps out of an open window. She is smiling as she does so. The family appear sad and upset for five minutes and then carry on as if nothing untoward has happened. No questions are asked and no soul-searching undertaken. It’s like the poor girl has been erased from memory. But why?
“For a long time, and the film’s pace is pitched at glacial, Avranas feeds the viewer crumbs of information about the dynamics at work within the family unit. From the very first scene, even before the shocking act of Angeliki’s suicide, there’s something not quite right. Could it be the Leonard Cohen song, “Dance Me To The End of Love,” playing on the stereo system or the bland colour scheme of the home interior and costume design?
“Miss Violence is an experimental mixture of thriller narrative (removed of all genre thrills), a horror movie and a detective story, complete with a series of revelations so astoundingly grim that the overall reaction, as the film draws to a close, is one of absolute devastation.”