December movie preview: From Avatar to Pinocchio to Violent Night, 2022 is going out with a bang

Clockwork from bottom left: Avatar: The Way Of Water (Photo: Walt Disney Studios); Pinocchio (Photo: Netflix); I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Photo: TriStar Pictures); Violent Night (Photo: Universal Pictures)
Clockwork from bottom left: Avatar: The Way Of Water (Photo: Walt Disney Studios); Pinocchio (Photo: Netflix); I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Photo: TriStar Pictures); Violent Night (Photo: Universal Pictures)

December brings movie fans an eclectic mix of blockbusters, awards fare, and just plain odd films. Combining all three is, of course, the month’s marquee title, Avatar: The Way Of Water, James Cameron’s long-awaited return to Pandora. Other prestigious contenders include Brendan Fraser in The Whale and Naomi Ackie in the Whitney Houston biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Streamable from the comfort of your living room will be Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, White Noise, and Something From Tiffany’s. And if it’s naughty-yet-nice you’re seeking, Violent Night is a major highlight of the holiday moviegoing season. Read on for The A.V. Club’s guide to the December 2022 films you should see.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Select theaters November 9; Netflix December 9

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GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO | Official Trailer | Netflix

After decades of trying and failing to get his version of Pinocchio off the ground, Guillermo del Toro finally brings his vision of the story about a puppet who longs to become a real boy to life. The director based the stop-motion animated film on the dark, fantastical designs of artist Gris Grimly—a perfect complement to his visual and storytelling sensibilities. The film also boasts an impressive voice cast, including Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro, Ron Perlman, Christoph Waltz, and Tilda Swinton. Could this be the feature version of Pinocchio that actually gets it right for once? At the very least, it’s enough to make you forget all about Disney’s uninspired live-action adaptation from earlier this year (the studio certainly would like you to). [Cindy White]

White Noise

Select theaters November 25; Netflix December 30


White Noise | Official Trailer | Netflix

American author Don DeLillo can be challenging to read with his poetic prose, post-modern leanings, and dense philosophies, but fans of his work remain rabid. It’s long been said his writing is not adaptable to film—and if you’ve seen David Cronenberg’s 2017 film Cosmopolis, you can probably see why. But these challenges did not dissuade Noah Baumbach, whose latest film White Noise is an adaptation of DeLillo’s 1985 novel of the same name. The trailer makes the case for chaotic family fun, as we see Adam Driver as the patriarch of a large family alongside Greta Gerwig, Baumbach’s wife and frequent co-conspirator. It also seems to be a zany 1980s era disaster flick, and while fans of Baumbach’s dry sense of humor and catchy one-liners won’t be disappointed, it’s pretty clear the film’s producers at Netflix are looking to do a bait-and-switch as it’s pretty much guaranteed White Noise is going to be a lot stranger than it seems. Let’s hope so. [Don Lewis]

Spoiler Alert

Theaters everywhere December 2


SPOILER ALERT - Official Trailer [HD] - Only In Theaters December 2

Let me inform you immediately that the titular spoiler alert here (and the subtitle of the book that the film is based on) is “the hero dies,” so make sure to bring tissues. Spoiler Alert, based on a bestselling memoir from TV journalist Michael Ausiello, details his love story with husband Kit Cowan, who sadly passed away from cancer. Emmy-winner Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) and the swoony Ben Aldridge (Pennyworth) play Michael and Kit with the perfect amount of humor and warmth, making a story that could have been macabre into something surprisingly lively, smart, and entertaining. They are assisted by two-time Oscar winner Sally Field, who swoops in as Kit’s stubborn, type-A triathlete mom Marilyn and steals every scene she’s given. If you’re worried about sobbing uncontrollably at the end, spoiler alert: you will. But the film is also a beautiful and witty portrait of queer love rarely showcased on the big screen, and well worth having to reapply your mascara. [Matthew Huff]

Violent Night

Theaters everywhere December 2


Violent Night - Official Trailer

A mix of Silent Night, Deadly Night, and Home Alone, Violent Night is ideal alternative Christmas fare if you’re looking for something a little darker and edgier this holiday season. The movie comes from Tommy Wirkola, the writer of the cult horror hit Dead Snow and its sequel, so this feels right in the filmmaker’s wheelhouse. David Harbour (Stranger Things) plays Santa Claus—not a mall Santa—as he is literally Old Saint Nicholas, complete with a magical naughty or nice list.

While delivering presents to a prolific household, Santa is interrupted by a team of mercenaries (led by John Leguizamo playing a character named, yes, Mr. Scrooge) hellbent on holding the family hostage for their wealth. Bad news for those guys. Santa wastes no time in cracking skulls and blowing up baddies, with the kind of gleeful seasonal kills you’d find in something like Black Christmas. If the trailer is any indication, it looks like an absolute blast. After all, you can’t go wrong with Harbour’s Santa delivering a pun like “Time for some season’s beatings.” [Brandon Kirby]

Women Talking

Theaters everywhere December 2


WOMEN TALKING Trailer (2022) Rooney Mara, Frances McDormand

Sarah Polley leaped from acting (Road To Avonlea, The Sweet Hereafter, John Adams) to feature directing with 2006’s Away From Her, and proved herself to be a particularly formidable filmmaker with 2011’s Take This Waltz and the powerful 2012 documentary Stories We Tell. Now, finally, she’s back in the director’s chair for Women Talking, an adaptation of Miriam Toew’s harrowing 2018 novel about eight Mennonite women who contemplate how to deal with the men in their colony, who have drugged and raped them for years. Polley has gathered a top-flight cast that includes Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Frances McDormand, Sheila McCarthy, and Ben Wishaw, and together they explore notions of rebellion, faith, change, violence, and solidarity. The loud buzz emanating from festival screenings suggests that Oscars and other award nominations are all but a sure thing. [Ian Spelling]

Empire Of Light

Theaters everywhere December 9


EMPIRE OF LIGHT | Official Trailer | Searchlight Pictures

Awards season 2022 is awash with major directors crafting cinematic memoirs that serve as either a chronicle of their past or a love letter to their art. So far, we have Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths, James Gray’s Armageddon Time, and Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans. Now comes Sam Mendes’ Empire Of Light, a look at race relations in Margaret Thatcher-era Britain during Mendes’ formative movie-going years.

Oscar-winner and Actress Who Can Do Anything Olivia Colman toplines as the lonely, middle-aged manager of a faded cinema in a coastal English town in the 1980s whose perspective on the world broadens when she strikes up a romance with a young, Black employee (Michael Ward). Mendes (1917, Skyfall) makes his solo screenwriting debut here and he’s also assembled an ace below-the-line crew that includes cinematographer Roger Deakins and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Empire Of Light looks to be Mendes’ nostalgia-fueled ode to the old-school films that not only ignited an entire generation’s love for cinema, but also served as a respite from a Britain torn apart by racial strife and economic uncertainty. Plus, any movie that name-checks The Blues Brothers, Chariots Of Fire, and Being There is worth a trip to the multiplex. [Mark Keizer]

Something From Tiffany’s

Prime Video December 9


Something From Tiffany’s - Official Trailer | Prime Video

It’s the holiday season in New York City and love is in the air, exemplified by all the small baby blue boxes—filled with the shiniest of shiny things—in baby blue bags being carried out of Tiffany’s. Well, a couple of boxes wind up in the wrong hands, as Rachel (Zoey Deutch) receives an engagement ring from Gary (Ray Nicholson), and Vanessa (Shay Mitchell) opens a pair of earrings from Ethan (Kendrick Sampson). Vanessa and Ethan are actually ready to wed, while Rachel and Gary aren’t quite there yet. The switcheroo causes romantic entanglements between the couples, entanglements that grow even more complicated when Rachel and Ethan feel a mutual attraction upon meeting each other. It’s often hard to judge chemistry solely from a trailer, but Deutch and Sampson genuinely spark. Daryl Wein (Lola Versus, How It Ends) wrote and directed Something From Tiffany’s, and it promises to be his most commercial film to date. [Ian Spelling]

The Whale

Theaters everywhere December 9


The Whale | Official Trailer HD | A24

After strong showings on the film festival circuit this summer (including a standing ovation in Venice that brought star Brendon Fraser to tears), A24’s The Whale has been part of the 2022 Oscar conversation for months now. It’s also been part of some difficult conversations about its portrayal of obesity and fatphobia, though those criticisms have been mainly aimed at director Darren Aronofsky and playwright Samuel D. Hunter, who adapted his own work for the screen. Fraser stars as a reclusive English teacher struggling to heal his broken relationship with his teenage daughter (Sadie Sink, also having a great year between this and her harrowing performance in the most recent Stranger Things season). Despite the controversy over the film, we’re happy to fully endorse the Brenaissance. With everything Fraser has been through during his time in Hollywood, he deserves a win. [Cindy White]

Avatar: The Way Of Water

Theaters everywhere December 16


Avatar: The Way of Water | New Trailer

It’s been 13 years since the release of James Cameron’s box office mega-champion Avatar, and you’d be forgiven for spending some of that time wondering if those long-promised sequels would ever actually materialize. Now, at last, Avatar: The Way Of Water is here to end all of those questions, and perhaps raise a few others. Set many years after the first film, The Way Of Water will follow Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) as they raise a daughter (Sigourney Weaver), visit the reef-dwelling Na’vi (Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis) of their home planet of Pandora, and face a devastating new threat from an old enemy (Stephen Lang). Cameron has spent the decade-plus since the last Avatar film perfecting the underwater filming technology necessary for The Way Of Water’s aquatic sequences, as well as crafting a complex five-film arc for the overall story. Now, the first part of that epic gambit will play out before our eyes. Will that James Cameron magic strike again? We’ll find out on December 16. [Matthew Jackson]

Puss In Boots: The Last Wish

Theaters everywhere December 21


Puss In Boots: The Last Wish - Official Trailer 3

The sequel to the spin-off of Shrek—which is still technically a prequel to it—sees footwear-obsessed feline fighter Puss (Antonio Banderas) on the last of his nine lives, and more than a little concerned about losing the final one. If he can find a fallen star, he might just get a wish granted to restore the rest, but other fairytale characters are equally so inclined, including Jack Horner (John Mulaney) and Goldilocks (Florence Pugh), both considerably less benevolent than the stories might have us believe.

Visually inspired by the likes of Into The Spider-Verse, this second Puss In Boots solo feature boasts a new animated style, resembling painting over cel-shading, similar to the recent The Bad Guys and distinct from any other Shrek-verse films. Salma Hayek returns as Kitty Softpaws; new cast additions include Olivia Colman and Ray Winstone as Mama and Papa Bear, and Harvey Guillén as Perrito, a therapy dog masquerading as a cat in order to scam shelter with Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s crazy cat lady. [Luke Y. Thompson]

Babylon 

Theaters everywhere December 23


Babylon Trailer #2 (2022)

Just as Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was Quentin Tarantino’s take on how he wanted to remember Hollywood in the late ’60s, Babylon is Damien Chazelle’s imaginary take on the ’20s and the ’30s in the biz as he’d like to picture it. Conveniently, both films share the same big-name leads. Through excesses like mountains of cocaine and actual party elephants with diarrhea, the story seemingly revels in the over-the-top lifestyles of the first movie makers, as it follows the fortunes of an upcoming starlet (Margot Robbie), a drunken star on the way down (Brad Pitt), and a Mexican-American film assistant (Diego Calva) who uses his proximity to the other two to work his way upward into the industry.

Inevitably, the coming of sound and the Hays code changes everything, and the culture of indulgence has to adapt or die ... as do its participants, sometimes literally. Featuring probably every idea on the subject Chazelle has ever had, his three-hour-plus epic of excess positions itself in some ways as the real, uncensored story Singin’ In The Rain might have been based on. It could take massive arrogance and ambition to pull something like this off, but the La La Land director just might have both in spades. [Luke Y. Thompson]

Corsage 

Select theaters December 23


Corsage - Official Trailer | HD | IFC Films

More Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, less PBS Masterpiece, Corsage plays like an energetic take on the royal costume biopic. Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread, Old) plays Empress Elisabeth of Austria, a popular 1800s monarch and trendsetter, as she reaches her 40th birthday and grapples with the constraints of her duties. The mode, tone, and soundtrack evoked by filmmaker Marie Kreutzer are unexpected for this sort of film but fits her expansive and irreverent vision for this royal drama. An empathetic portrayal of how being in the public eye can take a toll on someone’s psyche is a familiar story nowadays. For evidence, just look at two recent depictions of Princess Diana in Spencer (2021) and the current season of The Crown. Distinguishing Corsage is Krieps’ exhilarating performance. It’s a modern and idiosyncratic portrayal in which she speaks several languages and peels off the complex psychological layers of this popular royal, providing the audience reason enough to check another biopic. [Murtada Elfadl]

Living

Select theaters December 23


LIVING | Official Trailer (2022)

It is nearly impossible to think of a film more British than this period drama about well-mannered, bowler-hat-wearing bureaucrats in 1950s London who sit stiffly in a cozy office scribbling all day. Except of course that Living, directed by South African Oliver Hermanus (Beauty), was written by Nobel Prize-winning, Japan-born Brit Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, and is based on Ikiru, a 1952 Japanese film from Akira Kurosawa, which was, in turn, based on the Russian novella The Death Of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. The heart of the movie (and much of its Britishness) stems from a tremendous performance by Bill Nighy as the dapper, organized Mr. Williams, who, after spending his whole life doing what is prim and proper, awakens to the fact he might have missed out on what is human and fun. Nighy’s exceptional character work is certainly worthy of the veteran’s (first!) Oscar nomination, and he finds well-matched scene mates in Sex Education’s Aimee Lou Wood as his chipper secretary and The Hustle’s Alex Sharp as his protege. The touching and delightful slice of Britain is certain to appeal to fans of The Crown and Downton Abbey, and would receive a stern nod and curt “good job” from Mr. Williams. [Matthew Huff]

I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Theaters everywhere December 23


I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY - Official Trailer (HD)

Whitney Houston is the latest superstar to get the biopic treatment. Directed by Kasi Lemmons with a screenplay by Bohemian Rhapsody’s Anthony McCarten, I Wanna Dance With Somebody promises to be a love letter to the pop diva who passed away from a drug overdose in 2012. The film chronicles Houston’s (Naomi Ackie) rise to stardom from her humble beginnings as a choir girl, being plucked from obscurity by legendary record producer Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci), and eventually becoming one of the best-selling artists of all time. The movie’s teaser trailer showcases some of Houston’s most iconic moments, from belting out the National Anthem at the Super Bowl to making her “How Will I Know” and “I Will Always Love You” music videos. It also hints at some of her career hurdles, including criticisms that her music wasn’t “Black enough” and financial grievances with her father. [Bryan Cairns]

Broker

Select theaters December 26


Broker (2022) 브로커 Movie Trailer | EONTALK

If you want to get a head start on watching the potential nominees for the 2023 International Feature Film Oscar, then Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Broker should be near the top of your December must-see list. Kore-eda is already one of cinema’s great directors, having earned the 2018 Palme d’Or for Shoplifters. For Broker, he managed to reunite two key players from 2020’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Parasite: cinematographer Hong Kyung-Pyo and star Song Kang-ho.

Broker pegs off controversial “baby boxes,” where mothers can anonymously drop off their unwanted newborns who are then taken in by the church. Song plays a church volunteer who, with the help of an accomplice (Gang Dong-won), occasionally steals these abandoned babies and sells them on the black market. When a remorseful mother (Lee Ji-eun) returns for her child, the trio hit the road in search of better parents for her son. While Broker is essentially a story about child trafficking, Kore-eda is noted for his empathy and love for his characters. So despite the two dogged detectives chasing the group around South Korea, the film is more about family and human connection, both of which can be lost and found in the most unusual of circumstances. [Mark Keizer]

Plus:

Tilda Swinton in The Eternal Daughter
Tilda Swinton in The Eternal Daughter

Joining the ranks of brilliant director-actor pairings, Joanna Hogg and Tilda Swinton reunite for The Eternal Daughter (select theaters December 2), an atmospheric ghost story. Along similar psychologically thorny lines, Anna Kendrick produces and stars in Mary Nighy’s portrait of an abusive relationship, Alice, Darling (select theaters December 30). Meanwhile, uncertainty clouds Antoine Fuqua’s abolitionist drama Emancipation (select theaters December 2; Apple TV+ December 9) thanks to producer-star Will Smith’s post-slap reputation, but we won’t have to wait long to assess its reception—and award season chances.

Less serious fare this month includes the always-game Tom Hanks in A Man Called Otto (theaters everywhere December 25) and two delightful TV movies: Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical (Netflix December 9) and Reno 911: It’s A Wonderful Heist (MTV and Comedy Central December 3). And if you’re like us and looking to revel in the spirit of the season, there’s Christmas With The Campbells (select theaters December 2), Christmas In The Caribbean (select theaters December 2), and even Christmas Bloody Christmas (Shudder December 9). [Jack Smart]

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