December has something to suit every aficionado, from White Christmas and Star Wars to Election and some off-beat gems.
Apparently it’s my new holiday tradition – two years running now – to recommend that you make your own holiday tradition out of Circle Cinema’s showings of White Christmas. Why? One of the great holiday films, White Christmas is best seen on a large screen (for the dancing), with an engaged audience (for the sing-a-longs), and with plenty of cheer in the air – here provided at select screenings by a live organist. Start your winter break off right with a showing; it runs Dec. 15-24.
Alexander Payne has made seven films in a 20-year career, not exactly a blistering pace. What he lacks in speed, however, he makes up for with fastidious filmmaking; his scripts are always polished and his directing style revels in subtle touches. This month, Criterion Collection releases a new DVD edition of his masterpiece, the acidic 1999 satire Election. Adapted from Tom Perotta’s novel, the story is a loose retelling of the 1992 presidential election, transferring the action to a student council race in an Omaha, Nebraska, high school.
Filled with sly jabs at national politics, the film mines most of its many laughs from its attention to personal detail. Sad sack teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) tries his best to stop the election of suck-up Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon in her breakout role), but life keeps getting in the way. Broderick’s manic desperation plays well against Witherspoon’s perky, go-getter attitude, and the cast is nicely filled out, especially by an extremely funny Chris Klein as Flick’s dimwitted opponent.
The big event this month is, of course, Star Wars: The Last Jedi – but you knew that already. As excited as I am to see what new director Rian Johnson can do with the hallowed property, in this space I want to highlight two films also worth your time.
It’s a good month for Payne; not only is Election back on DVD, but his seventh feature film, Downsizing, hits theaters. In some ways, this looks like a big departure for Payne – his films are largely realist, but Downsizing dabbles in science fiction, telling the story of a family drawn to new technologies that can shrink people to pocket size. Still, the underlying thrust appears to be classic Payne as he skewers society while navigating family politics.
Meanwhile, actor/director James Franco contributes one of the oddest offerings of the year in The Disaster Artist, a film about the making of another film, Tommy Wiseau’s infamous The Room. Beloved by bad film buffs everywhere, The Room is one of the strangest, most inexplicable films to ever make it onto the midnight circuit. Casting himself as the ineffable Wiseau, Franco appears to have had a lot of fun with the film, which should transfer over to those watching from the seats.