KEEP AN EYE OUT
On your screens in December: Natalie Portman as a home-wrecker, Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein, and Nicholas Cage as a hilariously hapless family man
Our non-exhaustive list of films and series to look out for in December on streaming sites and in cinemas.
Love letters to love itself
May December: In cinemas now
A haunting film of interpersonal intricacies. Famous actress Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), to research her upcoming role as Gracie (Julianne Moore), a woman whose relationship with Joe (Charles Melton) became a tabloid saga 20 years ago, moves to their tight-knit suburban community where the couple have been living contently.
As Elizabeth charms them and digs deeper into their story she discovers the juicy details the paparazzi had lusted for, causing long-dormant emotions to resurface.
All three talented leads clash with an intriguing restraint that leaves you just as curious about their fictional secrets as their speculating fans.
Maestro: 20 December on Netflix
Bradley Cooper directs and stars in this tribute film honouring the great American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, and equally, his relationship with Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein (Carey Mulligan).
Both actors are in exceptionally good form, with Cooper’s attention to detail and the contradictions of his brilliant subject upstaging the controversial, initially distracting prosthetic nose; and Mulligan’s effortless screen presence being justifiably considered a career-best.
And what love story could not be epic when accented with Bernstein’s dramatic music?
A sliding scale of dark humour
How To with John Wilson S3: 20 December on Showmax
This zany, manic documentary series never goes stale. In his first season, lovable neurotic cameraman John Wilson created montages of New York people-watching and narrated comedy that largely defies explanation, but is decidedly hilarious.
The show is built on the premise of giving audiences how-to guides for simple tasks, from how to find a public restroom to clean your ears, but 3 seasons in, it has evolved (devolved) in predictably unpredictable ways.
Poker Face S1: 11 December on Showmax
Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll, Orange Is The New Black) is the calibre of actress who turns everything she touches to gold. Are all of her roles just about exactly the same character? Admittedly yes, but that character is as charismatic and fun as it gets.
In this mystery series by Rian Johnson (Knives Out, Glass Onion), Lyonne plays a casino worker who is extraordinarily talented at telling whether people are lying. After a close friend is murdered, she hits the open road, inadvertently stumbling upon strange characters and stranger crimes she can’t help but solve at each stop along her way.
Dream Scenario: 15 December in cinemas
A24 bites for the wackiest, simplest elevator pitch premises and yet, more often than not, they turn out wonderfully.
Nicolas Cage plays a hapless family man, boring as they come, who begins appearing in the dreams of people he has never met for no discernible reason. Very quickly he becomes a household name, and that’s where the real nightmares begin.
One could call it Beau is Afraid-lite – scary but not as revolting, philosophical but with more tongue in cheek.
Local is Lekker:
Die Onderonsie (The Quarrel): 1 December on Showmax
This Afrikaans murder mystery film is for the locals with a streak of dark humour. An annual reunion of five quirky ex-bandmates gets just slightly more out of hand than usual when someone finds a dead body, sending the fists and accusations flying.
With tjommies like these, who needs enemies? The debut feature film from Philip Nolte (Sex in Afrikaans, Vossie Vergas Homself), enjoys a cast of familiar South African faces.
Shaka Ilembe: 4 December on Showmax
Set in the 1700s, Shaka Ilembe tells the story of the rise of the iconic Zulu king, played as an adult by Lemogang Tsipa (The Republic) and a child by newcomer Nyandeni Zondi.
The show was delayed for several years because of Covid, but the premiere of its first episode reached over 3.6 million DStv viewers in South Africa and a second season is already on the way.
The first season focuses more on Shaka’s early life and Zulu lineage than the exploits as a warrior and leader that he is known for.
Possibly the most ambitious South African historical drama, it has all the trappings of pulp entertainment titles like Vikings or Black Sails, the violence, politics, romance, and of course the eye candy.
Trompoppie: premieres 7 December on Showmax, new episodes every Thursday.
A whodunnit cliffhanger series about Luna, a talented young gymnast who is awarded a bursary to a prestigious private school she could never afford. The focal point of her excessively competitive new environment is an elite group of drum majorettes, called the “trompoppies”.
After an initiation ritual goes terribly wrong, majorettes start being found dead and Luna has to look out for herself as this insulated snobbish community begins to eat itself.
A fresh take on the apocalypse
Leave The World Behind: 8 December on Netflix
Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) directs this apocalyptic thriller about a wealthy couple (Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke) who rent a luxurious vacation home for the weekend with their kids. It gets upended when the owners of the house (Mahershala Ali and Myha’la) pitch up in the night bearing world-changing news about a mysterious global cyberattack and asking to move back into their home. Shut in together as the modern world rapidly collapses around them, the families struggle to make peace with their new reality and each other.
Carol & The End of The World: 15 December on Netflix
A mysterious planet is hurtling towards Earth, and the people of the world have accepted that extinction is imminent.
While most feel liberated to pursue their wildest dreams, one quiet and always uncomfortable woman (voiced by Martha Kelly) is seemingly the only one who hasn’t joined the hedonistic masses.
This adult animation takes on the opposite side of the thought experiment which Don’t Look Up used to criticise global complacency about climate change.
But there’s no obvious takeaway, so it has a quirkier style of irreverence.
Great films you may have missed
Asteroid City: 12 December on Prime Video
If you’ve seen one of his movies, you’ve seen them all, and yet it never gets old.
Deadpan humour, symmetrical sets, a retro soundtrack, a primary-pastel colour palette and a cast of familiar actors, some of which are even more famous than Wes Anderson himself.
The auteur’s style has become so formulaic and recognisable that it’s become a popular AI video meme to apply the Wes Anderson treatment to other franchises.
His filmography essentially does the same thing but with movie tropes – his last one was an Anderson-style sci-fi (with a dash of romantic comedy, of course) set in the fifties in a fictional American desert town.
If you missed it in cinemas, now’s your chance to stream it.
Love, Actually: 15 December in cinemas
Surely Richard Curtis would not dare allow a remake of his beloved Christmas romantic comedy, but for its 20th anniversary, the film is getting a cinematic HD digitally restored re-release.
For the rom-com fan who has miraculously not watched this staple film about the lives of eight intertwining couples in the heart of London during Christmas, now’s the time.
More likely, it’s a chance to revisit a nostalgic classic, featuring Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy and Liam Neeson.
The Party: 22 December on MUBI
A guillotine-sharp 2017 satire by Sally Potter with a ludicrously charismatic cast about a family Christmas lunch that turns belly-up.
MUBI is adding this black-and-white emotionally uproarious comedy to their catalogue just in time for viewers to prime themselves to face their wonderful and maybe impossible family over the holiday season. DM
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