15 movies you absolutely must see this holiday season, from 'Star Wars' to 'Frozen 2'Brian TruittUSA TODAY
Santa's being extra nice to film fans this year, and for the holidays he's bringing a new "Star Wars" in his hefty bag of movie gifts, as well as Anna and Elsa, the Terminator, Mister Rogers, Jellicle kitties, she spies and The Rock.
Everything's pretty huge in the next couple months on the big screen, from the respective bicep sizes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dwayne Johnson to the box office potential of "Frozen 2" and "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker." Whether you dig blockbusters, movie musicals, Oscar-ready projects, Stephen King horror, adaptations of beloved books or #MeToo-themed films, there's something you'll want to check out between all the Christmas shopping and carol singing.
Here are the 15 must-see movies of November and December, with exclusive photos and intel:
‘Harriet’ (Nov. 1)
Stars: Cynthia Erivo, Janelle Monae and Jennifer Nettles
Director: Kasi Lemmons
The skinny: Harriet Tubman was "one of the original action heroes," but in playing the slave-freeing abolitionist of the Underground Railroad, Erivo most connected with the fact that her story started with love and heartbreak. "That grounded her completely for me," the British actress says. "Harriet" gave her "the opportunity to really experience what it is to be resilient," and Erivo found in the inspirational Tubman a woman like herself who was black, small in stature and underestimated. "If she changed the world, then I also have that potential and to know that is really empowering."
‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ (Nov. 1)
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Mackenzie Davis
Director: Tim Miller
The skinny: Hamilton's Sarah Connor returns to the sci-fi franchise for the first time since 1991's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," and no one is more excited than Miller. "I mean, Arnold, God love him, but he's been in all of them. You can't keep him away from it," Miller says. Teaming with her old robotic frenemy (Schwarzenegger) and a futuristic super-soldier (Davis) against a state-of-the-art new Terminator (Gabriel Luna). Sarah is a "much darker" warrior this time around, Miller adds. "If you knew Linda, light and fluffy is not what she wants to do."
‘Marriage Story’ (Nov. 6)
Stars: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson and Laura Dern
Director: Noah Baumbach
The skinny: With shades of "Kramer vs. Kramer," the dramedy (streaming on Netflix Dec. 6) centers on the relationship breakdown and increasingly nasty divorce between a New York stage director (Driver) and an actress (Johansson) who relocates their 8-year-old son (Azhy Robertson) to LA. Driver and Johansson "revealed so much of themselves and the performances are so personal. They're my words, but they feel so of them," says Baumbach, a child of divorce who later went through one himself. "I found myself actually moved in ways that I haven't felt as a director making a movie before."
‘Doctor Sleep’ (Nov. 8)
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Kyliegh Curran and Rebecca Ferguson
Director: Mike Flanagan
The skinny: Stephen King's "The Shining" sequel returns a grown-up Danny Torrance (McGregor) to the Overlook Hotel, which spawned a lifetime of nightmares that drove him to suppress his psychic powers with drugs and alcohol. He gets sober, though, and helps a youngster with the "shine" escape a gang of psychic vampires, though their journey takes them to that infamous snowy locale. Danny "realizes that this is also part of his growth," McGregor says. "It's quite interesting to step back from the actual plot and look at it as somebody's path from addiction into recovery."
‘Charlie’s Angels’ (Nov. 15)
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska
Director: Elizabeth Banks
The skinny: With her new team of awesome secret agents – scientist Elena (Scott), ex-MI6 agent Jane (Balinska) and wild child Sabina (Stewart) – Banks celebrates the '70s "Angels" show and the 2000s movies but also wants to break from modern female superhero fare with a story "about women who don't have supernatural ability, but who just have grit and stamina and training and sisterhood." Banks' priority was recruiting an inclusive girl group that "the audience wants to hang out with," she says. "Part of why you love these movies is that sense of sorority that everyone feels."
‘Ford v Ferrari’ (Nov. 15)
Stars: Matt Damon, Christian Bale and Caitriona Balfe
Director: James Mangold
The skinny: In the car-racing drama, automotive designer Carroll Shelby (Damon) and British driver Ken Miles (Bale) are hired by Ford to develop a car that will beat rival Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans. Mangold thought of them as "brothers" who have thoughtful meals together but also a fight involving fisticuffs and a loaf of bread. "They're not really trying to break each other's noses. It may have been Jason Bourne and Batman, but that's not who they were in this movie," Mangold says. "They're playing that really unique dance of where we roughhouse with each other but there's a bond inside it all."
‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ (Nov. 22)
Stars: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys and Chris Cooper
Director: Marielle Heller
The skinny: Hanks inhabits the iconic Fred Rogers in the drama about a troubled journalist (Rhys) assigned a story on the children's television legend. In addition to donning eyebrows, a wig and that red sweater, Hanks had a breakthrough into his portrayal while watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood": "I probably was about seven hours into it when I said, 'Oh, this is not for us.' If you know how the world works, this show was not for you because it's meant to be an explanation about how odd the world can be and yet how wondrous at the same time. That's not anybody who's above the age of 8 or 9."
‘Frozen 2’ (Nov. 22)
Stars: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell and Josh Gad
Directors: Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck
The skinny: A mystery is afoot in the animated musical sequel, as Elsa (Menzel) seeks the origins of her magical powers, but everything, from characters to songs, have matured in the follow-up to the 2013 hit. Buck views Elsa, Anna (Bell), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and snowman Olaf (Gad) as if they "just graduated college. So now what? The world is wide open." Lee adds that "Frozen 2" revisits the theme of love vs. fear from the original: "What's the day after 'happily ever after' look like? Usually, it means changes come and it affects your relationships. Change is a big part of life and it's a big part of their lives."
‘Knives Out’ (Nov. 27)
Stars: Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans
Director: Rian Johnson
The skinny: When a successful crime novelist (Christopher Plummer) is found dead after his 85th birthday party, an eccentric Southern-fried detective (Craig) is called in to investigate the matter and the old man's oddball relatives. Johnson's modern spin on the murder mystery features twisted tropes, Hitchcockian elements and a darkly comic side.
"How do you put the engine of a thriller into a whodunit so that it carries you through with a little more momentum than just clue-gathering and still has all the pleasures of the setup and the payoff," says Johnson, a lifelong Agatha Christie junkie.
‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ (Dec. 13)
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black
Director: Jake Kasdan
The skinny: A rescue mission is on the itinerary for the sequel, which features Johnson, Hart, Black and Karen Gillan as characters in a dangerous video game world. This time, the real-world personalities swap avatars, the action sequences are bigger and more elaborate (speedy ostriches! attacking monkeys!) and "the combination of those things gave us a chance to wake up all of it," Kasdan says. The rules of "Jumanji" are still the same, though the main characters "find that in fact it's a new sort of playing field and they are actually no more prepared than they were the first time."
‘Bombshell’ (Dec. 20)
Stars: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie
Director: Jay Roach
The skinny: "Bombshell" follows how the women at Fox News, including Megyn Kelly (Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Kidman), took down sexually abusive media mogul Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). But it also digs into how lesser-known employees – symbolized by fictionalized character Kayla Pospisil (Robbie) – dealt with Ailes’ “almost cult-like requirement for loyalty,” Roach says. The underlying question of this story “is will women speak up for each other in a world where they're actually almost required to attack each other if somebody dares question the male-driven sense of entitlement?”
'Cats' (Dec. 20)
Stars: Taylor Swift, Idris Elba and Jennifer Hudson
Director: Tom Hooper
The skinny: The popular (and idiosyncratic) stage musical, about Jellicle cats who make the choice of which feline persona will be reborn into a new life, is coming to the big screen with an "enhanced" story and more than just Swifties in mind. "The intention is to satisfy all of the legions of global fans the show already has and open it up to a new family audience," says producer Eric Fellner. "You can take a beloved musical score and story, and when you put it under the camera rather than a proscenium arch, it makes everything that much more immediate and that much more exciting."
‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ (Dec. 20)
Stars: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac
Director: J.J. Abrams
The skinny: "Everything has led to this moment," Boyega teases about the new film, which wraps up the current "Star Wars" trilogy "in a nice, red bow" and also finishes off the 42-year Skywalker saga. Boyega's Stormtrooper-turned-hero Finn is back with his friends in "Rise of Skywalker," and since 2015's "The Force Awakens," he's felt his character needed "to eventually find his place and to have a team that he’s fighting for" without losing his strong personality along the way. "I wanted to show him in a light that shows growth and more of an understanding of his world and of the people in it."
‘Little Women’ (Dec. 25)
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh and Meryl Streep
Director: Greta Gerwig
The skinny: Louisa May Alcott's coming-of-age classic was read to Gerwig at such a young age that "I don't remember a time" when Jo March (Ronan) and her sisters weren't a part of her inner life, the filmmaker says. Unlike the book, Gerwig shows the Marches as adults first, with flashbacks to childhood "to walk with their younger selves." But her version emphasizes Alcott's themes of financial inequality: "Women have always had difficulty making money, certainly in the 19th century. And this is the conversation we're still having now. That felt urgent to me."
‘1917’ (Dec. 25)
Stars: George MacKay, Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth
Director: Sam Mendes
The skinny: Loosely based on a story Mendes' grandfather told him when the filmmaker was a boy, "1917" is more thriller than World War I combat movie, with two young British soldiers (MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) having to deliver a message before a 1,600-men battalion walks into a deadly trap. Filmed to be one continuous shot, the drama shows "the human costs of the war viewed through these two men in this one particular journey in time on this one day," Mendes says. "That idea conveyed the size and the destruction of World War I perhaps better than trying to do the whole thing."