Who’s ready for another qualifying round of award season contenders? In Part 1, we took a look at the introduction to award season—the months of September and October, when the award season buzz is still building. Now let’s take a look at November and December, when award season gets real and some of the most eagerly-anticipated films of the year finally arrive in theaters.
Again, keep in mind that release dates aren’t set in stone here. I’m listing films by week, typically using Friday as the standard release day. Some, however, will open earlier in the week to get a jump on the weekend. Many will open in limited release and expand in later weeks—so release dates may vary, depending on where you live. And other release dates will change a few times before the film actually hits theaters. So be sure to check your local listings for exact dates.
And now...head to your starting block. It’s race time.
Who says superhero movies are just for summer? This week, Benedict Cumberbatch joins the growing ensemble of Marvel superheroes while traveling through alternate dimensions to protect the universe in Doctor Strange.
For the kids, there’s Trolls, the animated story of a bunch of lovable Trolls who are constantly on the run from troll-eating Bergens.
Or, for some award season fare, there’s Loving, which tells the true story of an interracial couple sentenced to prison in 1958 just for getting married.
Kristin’s Pick: Marvel + Benedict Cumberbatch = a formula that I’m willing to bet on. I’ll give Doctor Strange my pick.
Nothing says “Award Season” quite like a new film by a two-time Oscar-winning best director—and, this week, Ang Lee returns with his latest, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which follows a young soldier as he returns home from Iraq for a victory tour of the States, all the while reflecting back on his experiences in battle.
But it’s not just award season, it’s also the holiday season—so, this week, you can also choose the holiday dramedy Almost Christmas, which gathers a dysfunctional family together for Thanksgiving dinner.
And, finally, this year’s sci-fi award season entry is Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, starring Amy Adams as a linguist who’s called in to help the military speak to aliens who have arrived on Earth.
Kristin’s Pick: Denis Villeneuve has made some fascinating films (and some maddening ones, too), but I’m looking forward to seeing Arrival.
If the end of the Harry Potter franchise left you with a big, gaping hole in your movie-magic-loving heart, you should be the first in line for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the Harry Potter spin-off, starring Eddie Redmayne as magical writer and researcher Newt Scamander.
Also this week, in The Edge of Seventeen, Hailee Steinfeld plays an awkward teenager whose high school years become even more maddening when her best friend starts dating her perfect older brother.
If you prefer something more dramatic, there’s The Shack, based on the best-selling book about a man who’s invited to meet with God after the death of his daughter. And, in Manchester by the Sea, Casey Affleck plays a man who takes in his teenage nephew after the death of the boy’s father.
Kristin’s Pick: I may not be as Harry Potter obsessed as some, but I’ll admit that I’m looking forward to returning to Harry’s world (albeit long before the Boy Wizard’s existence) in Fantastic Beasts.
Thanksgiving weekend is usually jam-packed with new movies—and this year is no exception. As usual, there’s a little bit of something here for everyone. For the kids, there’s Disney’s new animated musical, Moana, which follows a young girl who sets out on a voyage to save her family, with a little help from the demi-god Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson).
For some holiday laughs, there’s Bad Santa 2. The long-awaited sequel to 2003’s wild comedy hit finds Billy Bob Thornton’s Willie once again on a mission to con his way through the holidays.
Also this week, Warren Beatty directs Rules Don’t Apply, a 1950s rom-com about an actress and a driver whose romance is strictly forbidden by their boss, Beatty’s Howard Hughes. Dev Patel stars in Lion, the story of an Indian boy who was adopted off the streets of Calcutta and later returns in a quest to find his family. And Brad Pitt stars in Robert Zemeckis’s war-time romance, Allied.
Kristin’s Pick: The deeper we get into award season, the tougher these picks get. There are so many interesting options this week. But since I’m a sucker for a good Disney musical, I’ll give my pick to Moana.
This week, Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle returns with another one of the year’s heavily-buzzed releases, La La Land, a Hollywood love story about an aspiring actress and a jazz musician (played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling).
For a little holiday horror, there’s Keep Watching, about a family trapped inside their home, forced to play a game of “kill or be killed.” And every parents’ nightmare plays out as Halle Berry searches for her son in Kidnap.
Kristin’s Pick: I loved Whiplash—and I love Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling together—so I’m looking forward to seeing La La Land.
The holiday season just wouldn’t be the same without a wild Christmas movie. This year, it’s Office Christmas Party, which follows a manager who attempts to save his branch by throwing a huge Christmas party to lure a big new customer—but, of course, it quickly spirals completely out of control.
Or, for something completely different, there’s horror flick Bye Bye Man about three college kids who unleash an ancient evil and must work together to save themselves.
Kristin’s Pick: By the middle of the holiday season, most of us could use a good laugh. So I’ll give Office Christmas Party my pick.
Sure, there was a new Star Trek movie this year, but most sci-fi fans are really excited about this week’s big release: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This spinoff takes a closer look at an event in Star Wars lore, following Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso as she joins with the Rebels to steal the plans for the Death Star.
Also this week, Will Smith stars in Collateral Beauty as an ad man whose life takes a tragic turn.
Kristin’s Pick: Star Wars mania shows no sign of slowing down—and I can’t wait to see what director Gareth Edwards brings to Rogue One.
Ho ho ho! After you’ve finished your Christmas dinner, it’s time to head to your favorite theater! Whether you’re looking for action, drama, or laughs this Christmas, you’ll find plenty of options—starting with one for the family: Sing. The Illumination Animation team pulls a double-feature this year—first The Secret Life of Pets and now this story of a koala who sets out to draw business to his struggling theater by hosting a singing competition—and, apparently, nearly everyone in Hollywood joins in the fun.
For more award season fare, The Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum returns with Passengers, a sci-fi adventure starring award season regular Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as space travelers whose sleep chambers malfunction while traveling to a distant colony, causing them to wake up 60 years early. Meanwhile, director Peter Berg helms Patriots Day, which explores the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the aftermath, and the resulting manhunt. And Matthew McConaughey heads to Indonesia in search of treasure in Gold.
For some holiday laughs, there’s Why Him?, starring Bryan Cranston as a father who doesn’t approve of his daughter’s tech billionaire boyfriend (played by James Franco).
And, finally, for something completely different, there’s video game adventure Assassin’s Creed, which stars Michael Fassbender in an surprisingly un-award-season-like role as a man who’s placed inside the memories of his 15th-century ancestor, allowing him to battle a present-day evil.
Kristin’s Pick: There are so many options here—and they’re all so different. But I’m going to give my pick to award season staple J-Law and Passengers.
After the Christmas rush dies down, there’s really not much going on during the last weekend of the year. In fact, at this time, there isn’t a single release on the radar. So that gives you another week to check out this year’s Christmas-week releases. For some New Year’s fun, you might want to take the family to see Sing.
And, with that, we’ve come to the end of yet another award season—a season filled with so much promise. So raise your jumbo Icee with me in a toast to this year’s award season movies—may they surprise us, move us, and (of course) entertain us.
Happy award season, everyone!