Winter Movie Preview: Ancient Assassins, Christmas Parties, and Space-Age Prequels!

With the lackluster summer of flashy flops and forgettable thrillers now far behind us, and the superhero fatigue mostly subsided, it's now time to look ahead to the holiday season and all the fantastic films set to take over the winter season. From Oscar hopefuls like Martin Scorsese's historical drama Silence and the cheery musical La La Land to tentpole action films like Rogue One and Assassin's Creed, this season is shaping up to be an interesting one for movies. Here are just a handful of films that aim to ring in the new year:  

Sci-Fi Tentpoles, From Ambitious Adaptations to Deep-Space Chemistry:

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Already promising both the return of the vile Sith lord Darth Vader, and the heroic journey detailed in the opening crawl of the original Star Wars, Disney's newest attempt to wring out the Star Wars franchise for all its worth aims to be the first successful film spin-off from the episodic timeline we've all come to know. Set to deliver a string of new characters -- from the young rebel Jyn Erso to the corrupt Director Krennic -- Rogue One will without a doubt bring fans of both the Star Wars franchise, as well as fans of the war thriller genre, to the theater seat. But will it beat out The Force Awakens? I guess only time will tell...

Assassin's Creed - Based on the popular video game franchise, which pits its protagonist into the past to take on an ancient enemy known as the Templars, this month's Assassin's Creed takes on a similar challenge as Rogue One, as it works to surpass the previous iterations in its related genre. Yet, while Rogue One may just need to be as good as The Force Awakens for fans to be pleased, within the video game movie genre, Assassin's Creed has the great challenge of trying to be the next great video game film. With past video game-based films like this year's Warcraft and The Angry Birds Movie failing to successfully rejuvenate its source material for the big screen, Assassin's Creed's artful direction and ambitious storytelling could be enough to make in an enjoyable action-adventure for the holiday season.

Passengers - While Rogue One may rely on its extensive lore to reel in most sci-fi fans across the world this Christmas, and Assassin's Creed may garner fame for its unique story and visuals, another science fiction thriller aiming to shake up the holiday season is this month's Passengers. This time relying more on its Hollywood star appeal rather than story or visuals (although writer Jon Spaihts' script is rumored to be fantastic), the sci-fi romance of Passengers may not look like the most ingenious or pioneering of projects, but its attractive leads in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence might work in the film's favor if its plot falls flat.  

Dazzling Musicals With Just the Right Pitch:

La La Land - Already looking to be a front-runner for the Best Picture award at next year's Oscars, Damien Chazelle's artful Woody Allen-esque musical La La Land aims to also display an attractive cast -- this time in cinematic lovebirds Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone -- while at the same time, deliver a captivating musical experience for the eyes and ears. With its trailers offering us a soothing yet dazzling, dream-like display of not only the musical talents of its cast, but also its enthralling story of aspiring hopes and drowning hearts in Los Angeles, the Whiplash director could hit his target once more with another fascinating and genuinely-human piece of movie magic.      

Sing - Much like every movie season, the typical animated animal adventure has returned again this year, as this month's animated talent show of Sing aims to deliver a fun-filled -- and star-studded -- kids movie. Enlisting in the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Seth MacFarlane, as well as up-and-comers like Taron Egerton, while this musical comedy could have the potential of being an exciting and hilarious project this Christmas, it could still fall into familiar territory in terms of story and structure, much like last year's Minions and this year's lackluster animal-themed comedy The Secret Life of Pets. Still, while most people may gravitate towards sci-fi epics like Rogue One or crude comedies like Office Christmas Party, Sing will be there for anyone seeking a low-key animated film that'll surely garner a few worthy chuckles. Oh, and did I mention McConaughey is a koala? 

Seductive Sequels and Animated Aftermaths:

The Lego Batman Movie - Scraping together some of the best parts of 2014's animated hit The Lego Movie (mostly just Will Arnett's zany take on Batman), this February's ambitious spin-off, The Lego Batman Movie, intends to give the Valentine's Day holiday to the Batman fans, reeling in a whimsical story surrounding a more humorous version of the Dark Knight. With Ben Affleck's live-action Batman film still far off into the future, this flamboyant spin-off sets its sights on delivering a Batman project we'd probably never see in the DC Extended Universe today, tossing in a plethora of villains from Joker to Two-Face, and putting its characters in a world where literally anything could happen. With the success of the 2014 hit offering the Lego brand with a number of spin-off films including this one, it'll be exciting to see just how this film stands up against its predecessor, and how this unusual franchise will continue to build itself up.  

Fifty Shades Darker - Another follow-up set to heat up the Valentine's Day holiday is the sequel to 2015's erotic adaptation of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker. Much like The Lego Batman Movie -- stay with me --  this adult romance series also has its sights set on the future, already laying the plans for the 2018 sequel Fifty Shades Freed. While the first film may not have garnered as much acclaim from critics than it wanted, the second film in the Fifty Shades franchise could end up being a box-office stunner like its predecessor, the continuation of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele's conflicted romance still drawing in fans of both the novels and the romance genre.

John Wick: Chapter 2 - With 2014's action-heavy thriller John Wick giving way to fashionable success for its gritty violence and compelling performance by action-man Keanu Reeves, it was no surprise when the film announced that a sequel was in production soon after its release. Tossing Reeves back into the firefight, this time with fellow Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne on his tail, February's John Wick: Chapter 2 may be another typical action sequel, but will hopefully end up being just as gripping a revenge tale as the original.  

Holiday Comedies, From Office Parties to Fist Fights:

Office Christmas Party - From the directing duo behind comedies like Blades of Glory and The Switch, this month's Office Christmas Party again brings us a raunchy comedy that, on one level, promises both an intriguing cast of characters, as well as somewhat-broad range of originality and style -- but on another level, ultimately may not be that fulfilling or memorable in the end. While some more recent holiday comedies like last year's The Night Before failed to mix the joy of the holiday with the naughty festivities of the genre, while Office Christmas Party might follow a similar structure, it could still surprise audiences with its blasphemous holiday hijinks and favorable star-studded cast. Still, however, it's no Elf.  

Collateral Beauty - Less of a raunchy comedy, and more of an endearing holiday drama, I left this month's Will Smith-starrer Collateral Beauty in this section simply because of the tone I've seen from the film so far. While the plot may detail the hardships of Smith's successful New York executive character and the loss of his young daughter, the hopeful and vibrantly emotional journey which he embarks on after writing letters to the concepts of Love, Death, and Time look to draw this film into a more humorous and satirical nature. Paralleling a similar heartfelt tone we saw in director David Frankel's Marley & Me, Collateral Beauty could end up being an enjoyable mix of comedy and drama, one hopefully sustained by Will Smith's ageless charisma. Oh, and who can't appreciate Helen Mirren as Death? Wait, isn't that a bit of an insult?

Fist Fight - Moving back into the cruder comedies of the holiday season, February's crazed classroom comedy Fist Fight also aims to employ a favorable cast, while also taking all the ill-advised hijinks of other typical comedies and tossing them to the unhinged battlefield of the schoolyard. While this flick may not have the most ingenious plot under its skin, its likable cast in leads Charlie Day and Ice Cube (especially after garnering fame in the Jump Street films) could be enough to sell this film to someone who's seeking a decent schoolyard comedy on Valentine's Day. 

Ambiguous Action Pieces From Affleck and Damon:

Live By Night - It wouldn't be the holiday season without another violent gangster film to ignite the new year -- this time manifesting itself in Ben Affleck's newest project, January's Live by Night. Playing the prodigal son of a Boston cop, who eventually finds himself in over his head when he joins the bootlegging business in the late 1920s, Affleck looks to be shooting towards another Oscar nomination with this intriguing period-piece thriller. But can Live by Night live up to such gangster classics as Reservoir Dogs and The Departed? With the film having a similar taste of action as 2013's Gangster Squad, and the usual dramatic appeal of Affleck's earlier projects like Argo and The Town, Live by Night could harbor some great performances under its somewhat familiar crime tale.    

The Great Wall - While his best pal Affleck might be both behind and in front of the camera for his crime thriller, actor Matt Damon takes center-stage in his own project out early next year in the action set-piece of The Great Wall. While this strange but curious project from director Zhang Yimou may appear to be your average fantasy monster CGI-fest, the charismatic lead in Damon could be enough to make this action flick a box office hit. While this one may not be at the top of my list of must-see films, it could make for a visually-captivating blockbuster from the legendary director. 

Historical Figures, From Pioneering Priests to Fearless Females:

Jackie - Throughout the years, we've seen countless biographical films detailing the triumphs and tragedies of great men in history. From Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. to a number of notorious gangsters and politicians and figures of empowerment (of any degree), the silver screen has given birth to a plethora of demanding performances from actors across the board. But when a film like Jackie comes along, it's hard not to take notice. Detailing the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy's assassination and subsequent emotional breakdown of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, the latest project from Fox Searchlight Pictures aims to deliver one of the most compelling female-centric biopics of the year. With a harrowing performance by Natalie Portman already pushing her up on the list for Best Actress come award season, Jackie's fascinating dive into the past, as well as its gripping narrative will surely make for a must-see for soon as I find out which theaters it's actually playing at.

Hidden Figures - Already earning acclaim for its performances by leads Taraji B. Henson and Janelle Monáe, the biographical drama of January's Hidden Figures pits another pioneering woman against all odds, as the film details the life of African American physicist Kathrine Johnson and her work with NASA on Project Mercury in the early '60s. Looking to be smartly-written drama with witty performances in not only Henson and Monáe, but also supporting players like Kevin Costner and Jim Parsons, Hidden Figures could be a delightful and emotional tale about some of the smaller heroes of the Space Race. 

Silence - It would be a crime to conclude my list of the biggest winter films without mentioning probably one of the most interesting yet cryptic films set to grace the screen. With Martin Scorsese's unexpected adaptation of the 1966 novel Silence already drawing me in with its handsome leads in Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson, as well as its captivating production design, while this film still may be a pretty secretive project from the Wolf of Wall Street director, it already looks like it could lead the race for Best Picture come Oscar season.

While the nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards still may be shrouded in darkness, and indie projects like Moonlight still planning on adding some unexpected delight to the winter season, the coming months are set to bring some interesting projects to the big screen. While action-heavy blockbusters and heartfelt holiday dramas like Rogue One and Collateral Beauty may rule the Christmas season, the new year will surely bring a plethora of exciting -- and award-worthy -- movies to the silver screen!

If you liked this Winter Movie Preview, remember to come back soon for my reviews of the biggest holiday films, as well as my thoughts on whatever indie gems I see along the way. Also stay tuned for a rather massive superhero-themed post, as the trailers for some of Marvel Studios' most-anticipated 2017 projects begin to pop up! (Don't worry, DC isn't left out!)

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