It’s that time of year again. The kids are getting out of school, the in-laws are flying into town. Maybe you’re making an error of Griswaldian proportions and inviting the entire family over to your house. Who knows? But the inevitable conclusion is this: at some point, everyone’s going to argue over what to watch. Do you want something goofy or serious, fantastical or down-to-earth, at home or in the theaters? It’s the immortal question, and everyone’s gonna have their own take. Which is why I’m bringing to you all, as an early Sacred Wall Christmas gift, the Sacred Wall Holiday Guide.
Below is a list of every major film recently released or about to be released, both streaming and at the multiplex. Maybe it’s a major Oscar contender ready to make its play this awards season. Maybe it’s one of 2021’s best and you just happened to miss the zeitgeist. Or maybe it’s just the type of feel-good story you want to throw on to keep the uncles from bringing up politics. No matter the reason, this list is here to help you break down all the new releases this holiday season. But a simple list of options doesn’t really help narrow things down, now does it? That’s why I’m sharing some brief thoughts on the below selections, as well as a handy guide to help with decision-making. If a film is marked with a *, that means it’s an Oscar contender in at least two or more major categories (Picture, Screenplay, Acting, etc.). If it’s marked with a #, that means it is a Sacred Wall Full Recommendation, meaning it’s in the Top 25 of the nearly 100 films I’ve watched this year. And at the end, I’ll pick five films off the list that I absolutely endorse for the whole family – hell, I’ll be making mine watch them too. Understand the rules? Perfect. Then let’s start talking about what’s out there right now.
- West Side Story *# – Spielberg’s big splashy remake of the beloved classic should serve as a fun weekend outing for the whole family
- C’mon C’mon # – If the adults in the family are looking for a good film to laugh or cry to, Joaquin Phoenix’s family dramedy should move them to tears
- House of Gucci – For the family members that want an adult outing that will tick all the boxes – laughs, gasps, and beyond
- Licorice Pizza (OPENS DECEMBER 25TH NATIONWIDE) * – A major Oscar contender, PTA’s 70s-set comedy could serve as the type of adult crowd pleaser that made Lady Bird a hit
- Cyrano (OPENS DECEMBER 31ST) * – Do you want your musical to be big and original and ridiculous? Peter Dinklage is heading for his first Oscar nomination in this musical take on a classic
- Spider-Man: No Way Home – Looking to take your kids to the theaters? Got a relative who’s way to into Marvel? Are the millennials nostalgic for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies? Have I got a film for you
- Encanto * # – Perfect for the youngsters out there, since animated fables are what Disney does best
- Nightmare Alley * – Tired of weepy feel-goods? Want to just feel bad about everything? Mad at your grandparents and want to ruin their favorite genre? Nightmare Alley is the film for you
- Belfast *# – Easily one of the year’s most delightful films, this Oscar frontrunner is the perfect film for the whole family. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hug. The perfect holiday movie
- Dune * – For the sci-fi and blockbuster relatives. Lord of the Rings was a huge hit around the holidays for a reason. Maybe Dune will fill that void.
- No Time To Die *# – Far and away the year’s best blockbuster, now’s the perfect time to watch Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond
- The French Dispatch *# – More of a comedy for when the kids go to bed, The French Dispatch will be one of the most delightful comedies you’ll see all year
- I’m Your Man # – Hanging out with your cool cousins who like foreign films or the aunts who like sexy rom-coms? This German sci-fi romance is a sheer delight
- Roadrunner – For those relatives still mourning Anthony Bourdain and in need of an outlet
- Nine Days # – My favorite film of the year, nothing will make you feel more in touch with your family and with life than this modern classic
- The Green Knight # – I mean, you may have to explain to the young ones what’s all over Dev Patel’s hand, but this thinking man’s fantasy will have the family captivated
- The Last Duel * – Something for the history buff dads in the room, because that’s Ridley Scott’s target demographic
- Tick, Tick…Boom! *# – Musicals always land big around the holidays, and this weepy crowd pleaser should delight everyone who watches it, especially the cousins just out of the closet
- The Power of the Dog *# – A major Oscar frontrunner, it’ll please the dads looking for a Western as well as the college kids who want something intellectually stimulating
- Don’t Look Up (PREMIERES DECEMBER 24TH) * – Not exactly feel good, but all those stars? Most of your relatives should be pretty well-pleased, except the uncle who keeps sending you Plandemic videos
- The Mitchells vs. The Machines *# – Perhaps the most delightful film for the whole family. The kids will love it, the adults will love it, and the teens will REALLY love it
- The Harder They Fall # – A good, fun Western; there’s something for everyone in the family. Let Dad think he picked the next Tombstone, it should make it easier to choose an outlandish next film
- Passing * – Great acting is the biggest draw to this awards contender. Certainly will result in awkward, yet hopefully productive conversations over Christmas dinner
- The Sparks Brothers # – If you’re looking for a musical doc that’s NOT about the Beatles or Nina Simone (we’ll get to those), then The Sparks Brothers should do the trick
- Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) *# – The year’s greatest documentary frontrunner; thankfully, it’s lively enough that you’ll never feel bored, and may make great background noise if you’d rather just talk
- Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar # – Make it a Jamie Dornan double feature with the delightful laugh-out-loud comedy Barb and Star. SEAGULLS IN THE SAND CAN YOU HEAR MY PRAYER?!?
- Pig # – Looking to weep? Got a relative who’s obsessed with Nicolas Cage (that’s me in my family)? Go with Pig, a film that will shake you to the core
- King Richard (UNTIL DECEMBER 19TH) * – Only a few more days on this one until it becomes theater-only, Will Smith’s making his Oscar play in this feel-good family fable. Likely to be your aunt’s favorite movie
- In The Heights # – Again, musicals are always a great choice for family movie night. In The Heights got slept on in the theaters. Now’s the perfect opportunity to catch up with it
- Shiva Baby # – Mostly for you and your significant other to watch when you remember how much you hate excessive time with your family. The perfect movie about how holiday gatherings are terrible, filled with great jokes and performances
- The Matrix Resurrections (COMING DECEMBER 22ND) – For the action-oriented relatives and that one cousin who’s really into Elon Musk for all the wrong reasons
- Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Again, musicals. Plus this one is outwardly gay, so if the cousin who just came out needs a break from answering grandma’s questions, maybe hatch an escape to watch this together
- Being The Ricardos * – It’s a major Best Actress contender. I kind of hated it, but maybe your aunt who loves Lucille Ball or your uncle who loves Aaron Sorkin will get a kick out of it
- The Voyeurs – Looking for some sexy alone time with your significant other? This is the perfect alternative when all the younger relatives want to watch Frozen II for the millionth time
- CODA *# – One of the year’s best, this is another perfect film to watch with the family. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, everyone will walk away happy
- The Tragedy of Macbeth (COMING JANUARY 2022) – Technically it doesn’t come out until January, although there will be screenings in December. Maybe if you want to pretend you’re seeing something challenging while still enjoying Coen jokes?
- Finch – Like sci-fi? Want to cry over Tom Hanks, a robot, and a dog? Apple’s under-the-radar crowd pleaser Finch may make for surprising counterprogramming
- The Velvet Underground – To watch with your hippie uncles while everyone else goes out shopping
- Get Back – Everyone loves The Beatles. This is the perfect way to embrace their legacy and be dazzled by the songwriting process
- The Rescue *# – Probably my favorite documentary of the year, it feels more like a visceral, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Might make a surprise hit the whole family will love
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Again, everyone (mostly) loves Marvel. No one has to think, no one has to get hurt
- Cruella – This one will please the kids, and you’ll get to marvel at Emma Stone’s performance and the sheer opulence of the soundtrack budget
The Sacred Wall’s Top Five Choices:
- Belfast – Get a leg up on the Oscar race with the year’s most feelgood film. I promise you the whole family will love it
- CODA – Don’t want to pay any money? Watch the year’s second most feelgood film. Again, I can’t imagine anyone hating this one
- The Mitchells vs. The Machines – Need something a little more kid friendly? This ode to family and fantasy will dazzle ages 5 to 75
- The Power of the Dog – Maybe not the easiest watch, and certainly not for kids, but as counterprograming to treacly sentiment, it’s hard to top
- The Rescue – I feel there should be one documentary option, and what better than the film that feels shocking and different and narratively sound?
I hope this list helps you out during the holiday season. I’ll hopefully be back with a couple Christmas lists before next Saturday, as well as some reviews of my favorite films of the year over the next week. Until then, happy holidays, and happy watching.