There are holiday movies, and then there are holiday movies.
The second category includes exclusively seasonal fare: “A Bad Moms Christmas” (now in theaters); the Nativity-themed animation “The Star” (also in theaters); and “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (Nov. 22), a story about Charles Dickens and the writing of “A Christmas Carol.” But those films have, by definition, a short shelf life, with sell-by dates of Jan. 2.
“Holiday,” in the first and loosest sense of the word, suggests a break from routine. Although looking forward to a great new movie brings a sense of anticipation akin to an unopened present, it’s a gift that, if chosen carefully, will keep on giving regardless of the season. With that in mind, here are several upcoming films to put on your wish list. Some of them we’ve already taken a peek at, and others we can’t wait to unwrap.
Opening dates are subject to change.
Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Cast: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo
Writer-director Dan Gilroy’s legal drama about the existential crisis that results when a pro-bono crusader for the disenfranchised goes to work for a fancy firm, making a morally compromising decision in the process, may share some themes with Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler.” Like that 2014 examination of journalistic ethics — a bravura performance by an emaciated Jake Gyllenhaal — the new film features Washington transformed for the title role of a disheveled legal savant, with a shaggy Afro, aviator-frame glasses and mismatched suits. (Nov. 22, PG-13)
The Disaster Artist
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Zoey Deutch, Alison Brie
Is it possible to make a good movie about a bad one? A very, very, bad (yet hysterically funny) one? Based on the 2013 book by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell about Sestero’s experience as an actor in “The Room” — a film that has been called “the ‘Citizen Kane’ of bad movies” — “The Disaster Artist” stars James Franco as the cult film’s enigmatically accented writer, director, star and producer, Tommy Wiseau. (Dec. 8, R)
The Shape of Water
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg
The latest adult fairy tale from Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) centers on the unlikely bond that develops between a mute cleaning woman (Hawkins) and an amphibious humanoid creature (Jones) who is being kept in a secret government lab. Set in 1962, at the height of the Cold War, and referencing midcentury monster movies and musicals, del Toro’s swooningly romantic film is less thriller than love letter to old Hollywood. (Dec. 8, R)
Cast: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Anthony Anderson, Bobby Cannavale, Gina Rodriguez
Wrestler-turned-actor Cena voices the title character: a pacifist bull who refuses to face the toreador in this animated adaptation of Munro Leaf’s classic children’s book. The style of animation — from Blue Sky Studios — deviates, as it must, from Robert Lawson’s charming black-and-white illustrations in the original 1936 book, but the story comes courtesy of a reliable, if not familiar, name: Carlos Saldanha, who directed or co-directed five films in the studio’s popular “Ice Age” and Rio” franchises. (Dec. 15, PG)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher
The demand for early tickets to Disney’s latest installment in the “Star Wars” franchise — which centers on Rey (Ridley) as she learns to control the Force under the tutelage of Luke Skywalker (Hamill) — was so great that Fandango and other sites experienced digital traffic jams last month. Now comes news, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, that the studio is so confident in its new product that it plans to take an unprecedented 65 percent cut of revenue from theaters (compared with the more typical 55 to 60 percent). Theater owners will also be contractually obligated to screen the film for four weeks on the largest screen. Sounds like the Empire is feeling pretty good about its new Death Star. (Dec. 15, not yet rated)
Cast: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Jason Sudeikis
Social satirist Alexander Payne has turned his magnifying glass on the Midwest (“Nebraska”), Hawaii (“The Descendants”) and California wine country (“Sideways”). In “Downsizing,” he tackles the whole planet. Written with longtime collaborator Jim Taylor, this futuristic fantasy imagines a world in which people can opt to miniaturize themselves to the size of dolls as a solution to the Earth’s overpopulation crisis. As Damon’s character finds out when he agrees to undergo the procedure, when one man shrinks, his problems grow, along with the size — metaphorically — of his heart . (Dec. 22, not yet rated)
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Alison Brie
Call it “Star Wars” for wonks. In Steven Spielberg’s latest slab of Oscar bait, Hanks plays the late Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, with Streep as the paper’s late owner, Katharine Graham. The fact-based drama is about the newspaper’s 1971 decision to publish classified documents — known as the Pentagon Papers — that showed that the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson had lied to Congress and the American people. Calling all Washington policy and media types: Your popcorn-movie awaits. (Dec. 22, not yet rated)
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner
Writer Aaron Sorkin (“Steve Jobs,” “The West Wing”) makes his directorial debut in a film based on Molly Bloom’s 2014 memoir of her time running an underground poker club catering to such Hollywood elites as Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio. Chastain, in a title role that continues the multiple-Oscar nominee’s habit of playing steely, successful women who have virtually no personal lives, “roars through the performance,” as the Hollywood Reporter put it, “with a force and take-no-prisoners attitude that keeps one rapt.” (Dec. 25, not yet rated)