Lights of the Season: The Year Closes Out with ​Films You can Share with the Family or See by Your Own Damn Self

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Dec. 5

There's nothing not to get excited about in this feature-length debut. Not only is it shot in glorious black and white, it's also an Iranian (!) vampire (!!) western (!!!), complete with Ennio Morricone-style music. If that doesn't turn you on, you may already be dead. (See review this page.)

Top Five, Dec. 5

Chris Rock's directorial career has been sparse but fascinating. His previous film was a remake of an Eric Rohmer picture, and his new movie has shades of Woody Allen's Stardust Memories, as Rock plays a comedian who doesn't want to make funny movies anymore. Unsurprisingly, it looks very funny.

Happy Valley, Dec. 5

It's the holidays! Time to gather loved ones, get a little reflective, maybe watch some football, and, um, revisit the awful sex-abuse scandal that brought shock and disgrace to Penn State. Berkeley-raised doc-maker Amir Bar-Lev, previously of The Tillman Story, doesn't shy away from sensational controversies. What he does is dig into them, seeking humanity and shades of gray. Here that involves the hazards of uncritical sports-culture obsession.

Zero Motivation, Dec. 12

The genre of Israeli military comedies — and it is a genre, albeit an obscure one — gets new life from Tayla Lavie's debut film about two female soldiers struggling with boredom in a remote desert outpost, and their superior officer, who just wants her career to go somewhere.

The Imitation Game, Dec. 12

After breaking Nazi codes and basically winning World War II, British mathematician Alan Turing pretty much invented the computer and modern-day artificial intelligence. Then he was chemically castrated for being gay, and poisoned to death with cyanide — either murder or suicide, depending on who you ask. Last year the Queen granted Turing a posthumous pardon, but nothing really says “we're sorry” like Benedict Cumberbatch playing him in a posh, Oscar-hungry historical thriller.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Dec. 17

Sure, it's the third part of an overlong adaptation of a children's book, but that's how blockbusters work now, so, whatever. The real warning sign is that subtitle, which makes the film sound sleep-inducing. Martin Freeman is always good, but you might want to smuggle in a pillow just in case.

National Gallery, Dec. 19

Last seen in these parts with the lauded At Berkeley, documentary grandmaster Frederick Wiseman now delves into one of the world's greatest museums, a London institution housing seven centuries' worth of art and several individuals responsible for keeping it freely available for public observation.

Annie, Dec. 19

Obviously Hollywood loves comics, and musical theater, and rebooting (aka cashing in on) old stuff. So who are we to resist a movie based on a comic, and a musical, when it's produced by Jay-Z and Will Smith, stars Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx, and is about a headstrong orphan girl and a billionaire industrialist?

The Interview, Dec. 24

The new James Franco and Seth Rogen comedy has the unique no-such-thing-as-bad-publicity advantage of being described by the government of North Korea as an act of terrorism. Is that why a recent sneak preview screening at the Castro Theatre was securitized to within an inch of its life? Is it why North Korea is threatening more nuclear tests?

Into the Woods, Dec. 25

Its drab color palette notwithstanding, this adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's storybook mashup musical appears to contain that all-important element lacking from so many modern fairy tale movies: fun. Remember when “fun” was a thing, before fantasy movies had to be all dark and gritty to appeal to boys?

Big Eyes, Dec. 25

Tim Burton's stock has dropped over the decades as he's gone from a daringly inventive upstart in the '80s to the current purveyor of big-budget schlock. (See also: Sam Raimi.) But redemption may be found in this biopic written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the scribes of Burton's 1994 masterpiece Ed Wood.

Mr. Turner, Dec. 25

Mike Leigh directs Timothy Spall as the prolific 19th-century English painter J.M.W. Turner, whose work became a sublime segue from Romantic landscapes to Modernist abstractions, and whose life was full of gropes and grunts. (Stay tuned for our interview with Spall at

Inherent Vice, Jan. 9ish

The first Thomas Pynchon book ever to become a movie goes all out and becomes a Paul Thomas Anderson movie — a zany, many-sided detective story starring a spectacularly mutton-chopped Joaquin Phoenix!

Related Stories