Bring on the Holiday Blockbusters

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

“Brooklyn.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

December may be the most wonderful time of the year for movie lovers. During that magical window between Thanksgiving and Christmas, many studios release their best bets for Oscar buzz, while others hope to capitalize on the holiday spirit (see “Elf,” “The Family Stone” and “The Santa Clause”). After all, parents need something to occupy the kids while they’re on break from school.

This year, we asked three faculty members from the School of Cinematic Arts in DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media to share their recommendations for the holiday season, including films that are flying under the radar.

Instructor James Choi: “The holiday film I’m most excited about this year is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s ‘The Revenant.’ Iñárritu is considered to be one of the most innovative directors working today. Last year, his film ‘Birdman’ swept the Oscars, where it won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. ‘The Revenant,’ shot on location with mostly natural lighting in the remote terrain of Northern Canada, is expected to garner Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar for Best Actor. Make sure to pay attention to the costumes—DePaul alumna JR Hawbaker (THE ’05) helped design them. ‘The Revenant’ is incredibly visceral and visual, and should prove to be one of the most compelling films of the year. A word of caution that it does contain graphic violence not suited for children or the squeamish.

The most anticipated film this holiday season is ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ which will bring together generations of film lovers and devoted fans of the most popular franchise in film history. If you haven’t pre-bought your tickets to ‘Star Wars,’ expect to wait until after the holiday madness to see the film—it’s expected to challenge ‘Avatar’ as the highest-grossing film ever.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a family option suitable for young children, ‘The Good Dinosaur’ is the most recent film by acclaimed animation studio Pixar. Other notable films this holiday season include Quentin Tarantino’s take on the western genre, ‘The Hateful Eight,’ the Rocky Balboa reboot ‘Creed’ and Spike Lee’s controversial satire about gang violence on the South Side of Chicago, ‘Chi-Raq.'”

Assistant Professor Meghann Artes: “I recently had a baby, so going to the movies has become quite a rarity. But I managed to get out recently to see a movie that I don’t think is getting enough attention. The film is ‘Brooklyn,’ starring Saoirse Ronan and directed by John Crowley, based on the novel by Colm Tóibín. It’s a fairly simple story about an Irish girl immigrating to America in the 1950s, but the film is so beautifully made and Ronan is so compelling in the lead role that I can’t recommend it enough.

It also provides an excellent counterpoint to the current debate on immigration, and I think more people should see it for that reason alone. Many who oppose the possible arrival of those escaping conflict in the Middle East would do well to remember that the great majority of us either came here from somewhere else or that previous generations of our families did. Politics aside however, I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this movie, from the performances to the art direction to the cinematography. It’s definitely worth your time.”

Assistant Professor Brad Riddell: “A movie I’m telling all of my students to see right now is ‘Grandma,’ written, directed and produced by Paul Weitz, who also wrote and directed ‘About a Boy.’ This low-budget road trip stars DePaul alumna Judy Greer (THE ’97), Lily Tomlin, Marcia Gay Harden, Laverne Cox and Sam Elliott. Apart from Elliott’s short but complicated turn, the story is built entirely around women—an obvious rarity. Tomlin plays the lonely, acerbic grandmother to a teenage girl who appears at her doorstep seeking an abortion. Sounds heavy, right? It is in spots, for sure. But this one-day journey across Los Angeles is also funny and heartwarming, and harkens back to the 2010 indie darling ‘The Kids Are All Right.’

‘Grandma’ closed the Sundance Film Festival this year and probably won’t be nominated for best picture, but it could certainly earn an Oscar nod for Tomlin. It was allegedly produced on a $600,000 budget, and in this era of million dollar budgets (see ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’), its unpretentious production, coupled with its narrative complexity, makes ‘Grandma’ a model film for aspiring filmmakers. I also recommend it as a worthwhile watch for those who can tolerate its social issues commentary and appreciate a good family dramedy.”

Which films do you recommend for the holiday season? Share your comments below!

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