Around the holidays, sometimes things get tense. It’s gonna happen when people who have only one bond all get together and force themselves to be chummy for as much as a week at a time. Especially this year when politics just totally went to hell. Sometimes you want to go to a place where everyone is socially mandated to sit in the dark and shut the hell up.
Or hey, maybe you love your family and this is just your thing? No matter what, the holidays are always chock-full of new movie releases, and you need some help parsing through them all to find which one won’t lead to even more awkward conversations.
“I need a movie for everyone!”
Why this one?: The Best Picture frontrunner is never a bad idea around the holidays. You’re all going to feel smarter for doing it and you’re jumping on the bandwagon that everyone’s gonna be talking about.
But La La Land is particularly well-suited for your family outing. For starters because it is an incredible picture, passionate and exciting and plenty of stuff to chew on. But also because it’s a crowd-pleaser, a film that everybody can find something in. It’s got pretty people in a beautiful romance, plenty of great song and dance, and generous amounts of laughs and tears. Plus, it’s fairly chaste for the more conservative family out there.
Who should avoid?: Those who absolutely do not do musicals, your cousin who spends a whole lot of time on hyper-ironic Weird Twitter and can no longer engage with sincerity.
Why this one?: It’s Star Wars. An almost universal modern mythology that everyone has some kind of connection with. You’re socially obligated to see it at this point and hell, why not go ahead and see it with your family.
It may be a flawed movie, but there’s also still a hell of a good time to have here, big and thrilling and messy. Unless you’ve got a family of dedicated film buffs, they’re probably not gonna care about the story sagging and just get swept along in the grandeur of the whole thing. Plus, that final act is gonna leave your family chattering for a while.
Who should avoid?: Families with younger and more impressionable children, due to the intensity of the violence and the horror it occasionally dabbles in. Also, if you’ve got family that says embarrassing things about minorities from time to time, this may not be the movie for you.
“I need to take some kids!”
Why this one?: There’s not a whole lot of other explicitly kid-friendly entertainment coming out this season, so Sing is pretty much it.
Besides, the kids might be asking for this one anyway. Coming from the same animation studio that brought you The Secret Life of Pets, Despicable Me, and the slow encroaching plague of Minions, the marketing blitz for this one is dense and effective. A feature-length version of that part in every kid’s movie where they dance and sing to a popular song, there’s enough funny animals and energy to keep them going.
Who should avoid?: Anyone without kids. Illumination can muster up an alright story every so often, but there’s enough far better musical fare right now as well as a wealth of better movies for teens and above.
“I need to get some teenagers out of the house!”
Why this one?: The kids love James Franco, right? Is that a thing? Or Cranston?
Well, regardless, Why Him? is the kind of insane gross-out comedy that everyone loved as teenagers, why not be the cool parent/aunt/uncle/cousin who takes them to it? I could think of worse things to do with your time during Christmas (like anything involving “Christmas Shoes”) and you may end up having an alright time yourself, getting a few laughs out of the comic capabilities of Franco, Cranston, Megan Mullally, Keegan Michael-Key and I’m sure some surprise cameos.
Who should avoid?: Those with excessively good taste, those who want to punch James Franco on sight.
Why this one?: I assume video games are popular among the youth, and who doesn’t love a good action movie starring Europeans that is half in Spanish?
It’s a familiar property for sure, the Assassin’s Creed games are still a pretty big thing. But through the eye of Justin Kurzel and with an Oscar-worthy cast (Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Michael K. Williams), it might stand to be more interesting and exciting than just paying 8 bucks to pull one of the older games out of Gamestop.
Who should avoid?: Any member of your family that still refers to all video game systems as a “Nintendo.”
“I need to impress my Liberal family!”
Why this one?: A big, based-on-a-true-story/book crowd pleaser about an adoptee seeking to find the family he lost? What’s not to love? It’s a feel-good movie with a prestige coating and it might make everyone a little more grateful for the family that they actually do have around them.
Who should avoid?: Those who have a problem with Google, those who still haven’t forgiven Dev Patel for The Last Airbender. Or Chappie.
Why this one?: It’s an adaptation of August Wilson starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. If you aren’t already putting this one on your calendar, then why aren’t you? The early talk centers around the incredible work Washington gets out of his actors and how much it does feel like the original stage work. Why not bring your family to the movies for Christmas so you can bring them to the theater?
Who should avoid?: The extraordinarily impatient, your weird aunt who’s a total theater snob.
“I need to impress my Conservative family!”
Why this one?: The second movie in the now surprisingly common genre of “Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg do a true story movie about a recent major news story.” This one on the Boston Bombing promises a bit of feel-good Americana about Bostonians uniting and doing good for each other and seems to serve as a bit of patriotic reminder of Americans being decent to each other.
Who should avoid?: The wokest members of your family, Uncle Mikey who swears Mark Wahlberg stole his seat at a Sox game.
Why this one?: A good old-fashioned tale of capitalist derringdo (read: moral turpitude) starring the secret crush of the members of your family who grew up in the 80s. The movie equivalent of one of those “The True Story of…” pop history books that people buy up in droves, The Founder is a look at the complex web that got McDonald’s into the multibillion dollar franchise it is.
Who should avoid?: People who are more into Burger King, people who get real defensive about things
“I need to impress my film buff cousin I only see once a year!”
Why this one?: It’s a long-gestating Scorsese passion project, what more could you ask for? I mean, besides the version of this that starred Benicio del Toro, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Daniel Day Lewis, but that’s a pipe dream.
Based on one of my favorite books ever written, Silence is a harrowing and powerful examination of faith in the face of the unimaginable and an examination of exactly how universal any belief truly is. The talent here is extraordinary and this is certainly one that’s going to be worth giving serious consideration and thought.
Who should avoid?: Anyone who bought a ticket for God’s Not Dead 1 or 2. Also, if you happen to be related to Emma Stone, probably shouldn’t remind her she’s gonna have to see her ex at the Oscars this year.
20th Century Women
Why this one?: A24 is pretty much the millennial version of Miramax in the 90s and if you get that reference this is probably the movie for you.
A movie starring a murderer’s row of critics’ favorite actors (Annette Benning, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup) that has a plot that seems pretty applicable to The Way We Live Now. It’s the kind of indie flick that Sundance dreams are made of, but I’m probably being dismissive towards what seems to be a smart and deeply felt film with some killer people leading it.
Who should avoid?: Anyone who doesn’t get that first line, your great aunt who still swears when she says Jimmy Carter’s name
“I need to make sure my family never lets me pick the movie again!”
Why not this one?: Because it’s repellent garbage created by cynicial human trash who find a heartening Hallmark tale out of a film where a grief-ridden depressed man is mostly an obstacle to a business deal.
Who should go?: No human. Or maybe your grandfather who possibly murdered some people.
Why not this one?: Look, I swear the script for this one was really pretty good and interesting and the sort of difficult and morally complex science fiction that we don’t often see in film. But somewhere along the way it got people who were way too charming for its roles cast and it got turned into a big, slick production and given to a director who isn’t capable of nuance if he tried. So, now it seems that it’s mostly here to sustain the thinkpiece industry, too bland for anyone else.
Who should go?: Your cousin who needs another article for Slate to make rent this month.