Silver Bells and Silver Screens


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Hugh Jackman is P.T. Barnum.

Niko Tavernise, Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Hollywood had a horrible year at the box office (3-D destruction by 1-D characters finally lost its allure) and on the front page (where actresses bravely revealed the trauma of sexual harassment). So, studio execs are fervently hoping this holiday season that (the oft-misquoted) P.T. Barnum was right. That’s not to suggest that the musical biopic The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman as the 19th-century huckster and impresario, isn’t worthy of your time and money. Only that Hollywood is desperate for ticket buyers to line up for movies beyond the latest manic iterations of Star Wars (Ep. VIII: The Last Jedi) and Jumanji (Welcome to the Jungle).

Kids are well-served by Ferdinand and teenagers by Pitch Perfect 3—can we agree that Anna Kendrick is a national treasure?—but what’s in Santa’s bag for adults? Guillermo del Toro’s moving Cold War-era fantasy, The Shape of Water, turns on the discovery of a covert government experiment by lab workers Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer. Errol Morris’ taut docu-thriller Wormwood (in theaters and on Netflix) likewise exposes government secrets while revisiting the 1953 death of a civilian Army scientist. More recent and much pulpier events involving certain Olympic ice skaters propel Craig Gillespie’s wonderfully cheeky I, Tonya, featuring stunning performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney as her mother.  

As always, we’ll have to wait ’til after the first of the year for several high-profile films. Steven Spielberg’s The Post dramatizes editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and publisher Katherine Graham’s (Meryl Streep) 1971 decision to publish the Pentagon Papers. Aaron Sorkin’s debut, Molly’s Game, follows an ace skier (Jessica Chastain) who begins to organize high-stakes card games for celebrities. Finally, fans of the elusive Daniel Day-Lewis are on pins and needles for Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson’s obsessively appointed melodrama about a celebrated dressmaker and a young woman. Set in 1950s London, it’s bound to evoke comparisons with the present. 

This article was published in the December issue of our sister publication, The Monthly.

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