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Holiday Movie Guide: From 'Jackie' to 'Patriots Day,' 15 movies to see this season

2017 will be nearly a month old before the final movie eligible for 2016 prizes reaches Tampa Bay theaters.

Gold, starring Matthew McConaughey, probably won't be worth the wait.

We're used to waiting for award contenders at this time of year. We don't live in New York or Los Angeles where movies go to qualify, so the red carpet marathon doesn't pass through here.

Academy Award contenders like Taraji P. Henson or Annette Bening show up on talk shows plugging Hidden Figures or 20th Century Women opening in select markets that aren't ours. Vatican City opened Martin Scorsese's Silence before us. We'll get Why Him? right on time but Patriots Day? Forget it.

So, we wait.

But there's plenty to keep moviegoers occupied until then, including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, out Thursday.

Review: 'Rogue One' will engage 'Star Wars' diehards

Our annual Holiday Movie Guide highlights 15 releases closing the book on 2016 movies, with nearly half opening next year. Release dates are subject to change but, really, how much farther can they get pushed back?

Happy holidays.

Dec. 21

Jackie - Natalie Portman's uncanny portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy in the aftermath of JFK's assassination will certainly earn Oscar voters' attention. Ditto for Mica Levi's mournful musical score. The screenplay by Noah Oppenheim is impure speculation made mesmerizing by director Pablo Larrain.

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La La Land - Seven Golden Globe nominations for Damien Chazelle's neo-musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Currently the frontrunner for Academy Awards posterity, a charming, chaste valentine to classic Hollywood song and dance romances. Not even a third act lull can spoil the spell Chazelle casts from the opening number, a traffic jam in the best way.


Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are space colonists awakened from suspended animation 90 years too soon. No awards potential except in technical categories where production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas and set decorator Gene Serdena deserve attention. Their corkscrew spacecraft is often the most interesting thing on screen.


True story of an Indian boy (Sunny Pawar) lost in Calcutta and adopted by Australians, who grows into Dev Patel and then uses Google Earth to find his birth mother. Patel is an awards contender and Pawar should be, but Nicole Kidman as the adoptive mother is likelier than either. Garth Davis' feel-good movie could be a factor in awards balloting.

Assassin's Creed

Michael Fassbender deserves an Oscar by now. Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons already have theirs. What are such esteemed actors doing in a fantasy flick based on a video game series? Your guess is as good as ours. (Our guess is fat paydays.) No awards potential; voters likely won't bother to see it.


Smooth-talking koala (voice of Matthew McConaughey) stages a singing competition that should be called Animators Got Talent, but won't be. Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson and Seth MacFarlane joins the studio recording booth fun. No awards shot without original songs in a strong year for animation.

Dec. 23

Why Him?

Bryan Cranston will win an Academy Award someday, but not for this raunchy comedy co-starring James Franco as a skeevy tech billionaire wooing his daughter. In a weird way, Cranston proves what a terrific actor he is, making relatively high art of such down and dirty comedy. If you only see one movie desecrating Christmas this year, make it this one.

Dec. 25


Viola Davis' name can be engraved on the best supporting actress Oscar any time now. She's heartbreaking, then fierce as Denzel Washington's long-suffering wife, in his movie adaptation of August Wilson's play that operates like it's still on a stage. Washington the director needs some of Washington the actor's fire.

Jan. 6

Hidden Figures

Lots for Oscar voters to love: A true, unheralded story about African-American women jumpstarting America's aerospace program in the 1960s and a smart, solid crowdpleaser. Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae and Henson may all make the academy cut, along with Kevin Costner as NASA's version of Branch Rickey. Expect a best picture nomination, too.

A Monster Calls

A strange, sentimental mix of horror and hope that could earn attention in technical award categories. A boy (Lewis McDougall) is bullied at school and crushed at home by his mother's (Felicity Jones) terminal illness. Then a giant tree monster (Liam Neeson in motion capture) arrives to teach the boy hard life lessons.

Jan. 13


Patriots Day

Director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg reunite for another stirring true profile of courage. This time it's the 2013 Boston Marathon terrorist attack, and the manhunt that locked down the city. Patriots Day is a bruising cinematic experience, richly detailed and imbued with the respect for victims, survivors and first responders that marked Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon. Could be this year's American Sniper.

Live By Night

Ben Affleck's adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel is the finest movie about Tampa Bay that wasn't filmed here. Affleck stars as a small-time Boston criminal becoming a bootlegger in Ybor City, circa 1930. The replica Ybor City built in Georgia where production was cheaper is impressive, and along with costumes and period design could sway academy voters.

Jan. 20

20th Century Women

Hilary Swank didn't make a movie this year, so Bening's Oscar chances look better than ever. Two of her four previous losses were to Swank. Bening is a frontrunner again, playing an eccentric SoCal mother in the 1970s. Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning co-star in a dramedy from writer-director Mike Mills, who guided Christopher Plummer to an Oscar in Beginners.

The Founder

Michael Keaton continues his second-wind career as Ray Kroc, who invented the fast food franchise concept after acquiring a burger joint owned by the McDonald brothers. Sound familiar? St. Petersburg's own Patrick Wilson co-stars as the man from whom Kroc stole a wife (Linda Cardellini). She took Kroc's name, but the restaurants didn't. Seriously, who'd want to eat at a place called Kroc's?

Jan. 27


McConaughey plays a dreamer turned schemer after discovering gold in Borneo. Considering McConaughey's previous hunts for the precious metal, the belly flops Sahara (2005) and Fool's Gold (2008), we'll consider this one out of the awards loop. Speaking of bellies, McConaughey gained 40 pounds to play this guy.

January, February, who knows?


Then again, there's Scorsese's long-gestating epic about Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) spreading Christianity in 17th century China. A tough sell at 159 minutes that Paramount Pictures hasn't figured how to handle. Pope Francis gave it thumbs up at a Vatican City premiere; moviegoers are left praying for a chance to see it.

Contact Steve Persall at or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Holiday Movie Guide: From 'Jackie' to 'Patriots Day,' 15 movies to see this season 12/13/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 13, 2016 12:13pm]
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