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Holiday Releases Await Cinephiles

Updated: Dec 22, 2023


By Nathan Lerner

Invariably, the studios hold the release of some of their top theatrical releases until the holidays. 2023 proves no exception to this customary approach. A spate of screen treats awaits eager cinephiles. These vehicles will provide a wide array of different genres to accommodate a variety of tastes.

This time around, the studios have adopted a dimorphic release strategy for their year-end films. The release of holiday films will be divided between Friday, December 22nd and Christmas Day proper, Monday, December 25th. The release of three of the most highly touted features, The Color Purple, Ferrari, and The Boys in the Boat, will be held in abeyance until this latter date.


In the romantic fantasy, All of Us Strangers, two gay men have a random encounter. One night, Adam (Andrew Scott) meets his enigmatic neighbor, Harry (Paul Mescal) on an isolated London block. The fledgling relationship disrupts Adam's complacent outlook on life. Soon, he is reexamining his childhood memories, particularly those which involve his mother (Claire Foy) and father (Jamie Bell).

The 1987 source novel, Strangers, by Taichi Yamada had already spawned the Japanese adaptation, The Discarnates. This time around, Andrew Haigh is making his debut as a feature director, using his own screenplay as a template.

All of Us Strangers has garnered an exceptionally strong critical response. In addition, the film won seven awards at the 2023 British Independent Film Awards, including the categories of Best Director and Best Screenplay.

Searchlight Pictures R (for sexual content, language and some drug use) 105 minutes.


For years, Jeffrey Wright has consistently shone in a litany of supporting roles. He displayed his versatility in such decidedly diverse films as Shaft, Hamlet, and The French Dispatch. American Fiction affords Wright an opportunity to deliver a bravura performance in a lead part.

In American Fiction, Wright portrays Thelonious "Monk" Ellison, a brilliant, albeit hapless, character. Years before, Monk had published a successful novel and parlayed it into an academic position at a renowned university. These days, despite his consummate erudition, Monk is struggling, He is dealing with a failed marriage, cancel culture, university politics, his identity as a well-educated African American, and his stalled efforts to publish a follow-up novel.

Adding to his woes, Monk's mother (Leslie Uggams) has developed Alzheimer's disease and is resisting efforts to place her in a supported living facility. Monk's sister (Tracee Ellis Ross) and brother (Sterling K. Brown) are both physicians with successful practices. However, they both balk at paying for their mother's care. It is a catalyst for a resurgence of the unresolved sibling rivalry, which the Ellison siblings experienced as children.

A book by a fellow writer, Sintara Golden (Issa Rae)which panders to African American stereotypes, achieves considerable commercial and critical acclaim. Meanwhile, Monk's efforts to publish his sophisticated prose prove unavailing. His literary agent, (John Ortiz) exhorts Monk to write something that is Blacker. To assuage his frustration, Monk writes a novel in Black vernacular that celebrates the thug life. Monk recoils when he learns that the same publishing houses, which passed on his serious literary efforts, are now vying for the rights to his intentionally crass parody. 

This dramedy marks the promising directorial debut of Cord Jefferson, who also penned the screenplay. It was adapted from the 2001 novel, Erasure, by Percival Everett.

Early reviews hail American Fiction for artfully blending hilarious vignettes with the poignancy of family dynamics and its well-drawn characters. In addition to being named as one of the top 10 films of 2023 by the American Film Institute, American Fiction has been nominated for two Golden Globe awards.

Amazon MGM Studios Films R (for some drug use, brief violence, sexual references, language throughout) 117 minutes


Anyone But You is a romantic comedy, saddled with a smarmy premise.

As gleaned from the trailer, Ben (Glen Powell) and Bea (Sydney Sweeney) are two strikingly attractive twenty-somethings, with a lot of sexual chemistry between them. Undaunted by the fact that one of them is affianced, the duo has a memorable tryst. After a short-lived fling, the pair experience an acrimonious split.

Wouldn't you know it... Ben and Bea are thrown together again at a destination wedding being held in Australia. It just happens to involve Ben's erstwhile fiancée, who he had betrayed. The duo of estranged cheaters hatches a scheme to pose as a happy couple. Their plan is putatively designed to arouse the jealousy of Ben's ex and somehow trigger the former couple to reunite. Really?

Anyone But You is a curious anomaly. It has been allocated a coveted slot in the holiday season release line-up. However, the studio seems intent on burying their film. There has been scant promotion of the work, and no advance reviews are available online. Instead, the internet is full of viewer commentary, which castigate the film's distasteful trailer.

Anyone But You features a beautiful couple but is predicated on an ugly notion.

Columbia Pictures R (for brief graphic nudity, sexual content, language throughout) 100 minutes


With no Marvel movies on the horizon, DC seems intent on filling the superhero void with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.

Following up on 2018's Aquaman, Jason Momoa is back as Arthur Curry/Aquaman. A reluctant superhero, he is compelled to resume his role as protector of Atlantis and his loved ones. The villainous David Kane/ Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) has procured the cursed Black Trident and is poised to unleash irresistible destructive powers. Desperate for help, Aquaman tries to forge an unlikely alliance with his half-brother, Orm Marius/Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson). The latter is imprisoned following his crimes against Atlantis.

In smaller roles, look for Nicole Kidman as Atlanna, the former Queen of Atlantis, who is Arthur and Orm's mother; Amber Heard, cast as Mera, the wife of Arthur Curry; and Dolph Lundgren cast as Nereus, the King of Xebel and Mera's father.

James Wan is returning to helm this sequel from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick.

This looks like a film, which will appeal strictly to fans of the genre.

Warner Bros. Pictures PG-13 (for sci-fi violence and some language) 124 minutes


With an unrecognizably pumped-up Zac Efron in the lead, The Iron Claw portrays the Von Erich clan, a dynasty of professional wrestlers. The Texas grapplers enjoyed peak success back in the '80s. The film's title derives from a hold developed and practiced by the family.

Directed by Sean Durkin from his own original screenplay, The Iron Claw earnestly tries to transcend the hackneyed tropes of a sports drama. In particular, the film focuses on the relationships between the autocratic family patriarch, Fritz (Holt McCauley) and his beleaguered, subordinate sons (Efron, Kevin Allen, Jeremy Allen White, and Harris Dickinson).   

Those who hold professional wrestling in low esteem might be reflexively dismissive of this film. However, early reviews have been quite strong. Even the tony National Board of Review has anointed the film as one of the top ten of the year.

A24 R (for language, suicide, some sexuality and drug use) 132 minutes


What would the holiday season be without a family-friendly animated film?

In Migration, the members of a family of mallard ducks need respite from their ennui of forever padding around the pond. They decide to depart their bucolic New England countryside, fly through the urban environs of New York City, enroute to a vacation destination in Jamaica. As a prelude to their trip, they must convince their angst-ridden, risk aversive patriarch (voiced by Danny DeVito) that it is a safe idea.

Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks. Caspar Jennings, and Tresi Gazal provide the dad, mom, son, and daughter of the Mallard nuclear family. Awkwafina, Keegan-Michael Key, and Carol Kane provide vocal personification to the leader of a menacing Gotham pigeon gang, a parrot with a Jamaican patois, and a friendly heron respectively.

The film is directed by Benjamin Renner, co-directed by Guylo Homsy, and written by Mike White. Renner had previously helmed traditional animated films. With Migration, he was tasked with adapting his simple drawing style to accommodate a computer-animated vehicle. Renner has promised to avoid lazy writing and fart jokes.

Migration will no doubt contain plenty of anodyne hijinks and fun for children. Whether it will prove engaging to adult sensibilities remains an open question.

Universal Pictures PG (for action/peril and mild rude humor) 92 minutes


Directed and co-produced by George Clooney, The Boys in the Boat recounts the inspirational story of the University of Washington crew team. With the 1936 Olympics on the horizon, these scrappy athletes from working class backgrounds must compete against their polished rivals from elite rowing clubs, just to qualify. What chance do these upstarts possibly have?

The film revolves around Joe Rantz (Callum Turner), a down-on-his luck fellow, who had been abandoned by his family at an early age. He takes up rowing as an unlikely means to score a scholarship and earn a baccalaureate. Boat-builder, Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton) is charged with molding the team into a winning unit.

With a screenplay by Mark L. Smith, this sports drama is adapted from a true–life inspirational story, captured in the non-fiction book of the same name by Daniel James Brown.

This film boasts top-notch production values, particularly the cinematography by Martin Ruhe (Control, Midnight Sky) and an original score by Alexandre Desplat (Academy Awards for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Shape of Water).

Despite embodying all the elements of a prestige vehicle, thus far, The Boys in the Boat has garnered disconcertingly tepid reviews.

Amazon/MGM Studios PG-13 (for language and smoking) 124 minutes


Set in the early 20th century South, the film follows three African American women and their respective struggles to cope with the evolving world around them.

The remake of The Color Purple retains the same narrative skeleton as its multiple precursors. Derived from an acclaimed novel by Alice Walker, the original 1985 film was a straight-ahead drama, directed by Steven Spielberg. Lauded as a groundbreaking work, the cast of the original included Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, and Danny Glover. This begat a Broadway musical, which enthused audiences. This remake incorporates elements of the source novel as well as the original movie and merges them with many of the tunes from the stage play.

Here, Fantasia Barrino (making her screen debut) and Danielle Brooks reprise their stage roles as sisters, Celie and Sophia. Taraji P. Henson (Hustle and Flow) portrays the third principal female, Shrug.

Colman Domingo (Rustin) portrays Albert "Mister" Johnson, Celie's cruel and abusive husband. Halle Berry, H.E.R., Corey Hawkins, and Phylicia Pearl Mpasi round out the cast. The remake is directed by Blitz Bazawule from a screenplay by Marcus Gardley. 

Long regarded as a cultural touchstone, this latest permutation has aroused high expectations. Judging from the rave critical reviews and awards that The Color Purple has already culled; the remake is a worthy addition to the novel's myriad adaptations.

Warner Bros. Pictures PG-13 (for thematic material throughout, including some violent sexual content, brief nudity, some suggestive material, brief violence, language including some slurs, drinking and some smoking) 140 minutes.


This biopic focuses on Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver), the founder of the Italian car manufacturing firm. It is 1957 and Ferrari's son, Dino, has recently died, his marriage to his wife, Laura (Penelope Cruz) is floundering, and his company is on the cusp of bankruptcy. The film depicts Ferrari entering his racing team into the prestigious Mille Miglia.

The film is directed by Michael Mann (Last of the Mohicans, Heat) and bears many of his hallmark narrative flourishes. The screenplay by Troy Kennedy Martin is adapted from the non-fiction book, Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races, the Machine, by motorsport journalist, Brock Yates.

The film debuted at the 80th annual Venice Film Festival, where it competed for the Golden Lion Award. It elicited a strongly positive, albeit far from universal, critical response. The acting by Driver and Cruz as well as the sleek production values of the film were particularly lauded.

Neon R (for some violent content/graphic images, sexual content and language) 131 minutes

Nathan Lerner was a syndicated Film Critic with the Montgomery Newspapers chain and its corporate successors for twenty years. He welcomes feedback at

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: December 18, 2023.

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