Must-See Holiday Movies from Clooney to Marilyn

Our readers love movies. So, we asked critic Edward McNulty—the author of a series of books about faith and film—to share his personal, year-end “Must See” list with you. Ed’s list may help you plan your own year-end movie viewing. But, please don’t stop there! We know that many of you post your own film comments online—and we would like to see those comments on any of the following movies. We welcome a lively dialogue!

Clooney in Hawaii, Muppets, Hugo and Marilyn:
My Must-See List in Hollywood’s Year-End Rush

By Edward McNulty

We are entering the season when studios inundate theaters. Of myriad Coming Attractions, here are the ones that I am especially looking forward to seeing:


Rated R. Fox Searchlight Pictures. November 16
This is the work of Alexander Payne who also directed Sideways, About Schmidt, and Election. It’s the only film that I have seen on this list, so far. At the moment, it rates my vote for Best Picture. George Clooney plays a land baron in Hawaii, head of the descendants of a Hawaiian princess and a Caucasian. While coping with the alienation of his two daughters and his comatose wife, he must decide whether to sell the family legacy of pristine land coveted by developers. The Descendants is warm and tender, with Clooney turning in a truly Oscar-worthy performance.


Rated PG. Walt Disney Studios. November 23
It will be fun to see the reunion of Jim Henson’s old gang. I loved the original film with its road theme, during which Kermit and Fozzie Bear hear loud music blaring from a church, look inside and see Dr. Teeth’s band with Floyd, Janice, and drummer Animal playing wildly. Fozzie says, “They don’t look like Presbyterians to me.”  In the new movie, the Muppet Theater is threatened with destruction. But, three fans (two played by Amy Adams and Jason Seigel—the latter wrote the script) round up the Muppets to save he place via a telethon.


Rated PG. Sony Pictures. November 23
Martin Scorcese, best known for such adult fare as Taxi Driver, directs this film based on Brian Selznick’s book for young readers, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This is quite a challenge and it will be interesting to see how Scorcese fares with what amounts to a new genre for him. Set in Paris of the 1930s, the main character is a 12 year-old orphaned boy who lives in the walls of a train station.


Rated PG. The Weinstein Company. November 23
The storyline: Colin Clark, who works for the famous actor Sir Laurence Olivier, documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during production of The Prince and the Showgirl. The big interest will be how well Michelle Williams plays this icon of sexuality. Judging by the trailer, she does quite well—and has the great support of Emma Watson, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh and Julia Ormond, the latter two as Sir Lawrence Olivier and Vivian Leigh. Wow!


Rated R. Focus Features. December 9
Forget the silly James Bond fantasies! When it comes to authentic spy thrillers—John le Carré delivers the goods. The buzz is that Gary Oldman’s portrayal of the unheroic agent George Smiley is sure to earn him an Oscar nomination. When things go terribly wrong for Control, Smiley is brought out of retirement to track down a Soviet mole in M16, the British intelligence agency. Interestingly Oldman had a supporting part in the 1979 BBC series, in which Alec Guinness played George Smiley.


Rated PG. Columbia Pictures. December 21
Just seeing the name Steven Spielberg as director makes me eager to see the film—and there is also Peter Jackson. Based on a Belgian comic book, of which Spielberg was a fan, this is a fantasy involving a boy, a model ship, and a voyage to North Africa where 300 years earlier a sea captain had hidden a treasure.


Rated R. Film District. December 23
I am rooting for this film because of my admiration for the social activism of Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie, who debuts as a feature film director. Also author of the script, her story is about Serbian soldier Danijel and Bosnian captive Ajla, a woman he had once been attracted to and now is captive in the prison camp that he oversees. Sounds like an interesting new twist on Romeo and Juliet.


Rated PG-13. DreamWorks. December 25
Wow, a second Stephen Spielberg film, this time based on a children’s book and play of the same name. A father impulsively buys a horse unsuited for work on his farm, but his son falls in love with it. When the horse has to be sold the boy vows to reunite with it, despite the horse becoming a part of a British Army cavalry unit sent to the battlefields of France during WWI. Judging by the trailer, this will be a warm, exciting adventure.


Rated PG.  Warner Bros. December 25
This cast includes Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, enough in itself to recommend this film. But there’s more—the promising young actor Thomas Horn is the center of this mystery/adventure involving a 9 year-old inventor. Also included in the cast are John Goodman, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, James Gandolfini, and Jeffrey Wright. And if that is not enough to make this a must-see film, there is director Stephen Daldry, who also directed The Hours, The Reader, and Billy Elliot.


Rated PG. Weinstein Company. December 30
Meryl Streep makes even a mediocre movie into an enjoyable experience, but this film is special even for Meryl Streep. She takes on one of the most extraordinary women of recent British history: Margaret Thatcher. Regardless of what we might think about her politics, “The Iron Lady” rose to the top of the British political system, bucking the old boys club all the way. The film’s added attraction is the always-watchable Jim Broadbent as Denis, Prime Minister Thatcher’s husband.

Want more from Edward McNulty?

EARLIER he came up with The Top 10 Jesus Movies of All Time, which we published at ReadTheSpirit.
collecting dozens of his reflections on movies that you can read for fun and inspiration—or use to spark spirited small-group discussion.

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(Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.)

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