Each of those films come with the pedigree of having actors behind the camera (a publicity bonus on the talk-show circuit), with George Clooney directing “The Tender Bar” (Amazon), an adaptation of journalist J.R. Moehringer’s memoir featuring Ben Affleck as the protagonist’s colorful uncle; and “The Lost Daughter” (Netflix), based on “My Brilliant Friend” author Elena Ferrante’s book, starring Olivia Colman in the first film directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal.
The third, “Swan Song” (Apple TV+), presents Mahershala Ali in a classic dual showcase. In a sci-fi concept set about 10 minutes in the future, he plays a dying man who must decide on replacing himself with a perfect replica imbued with all his memories.
And it doesn’t end there. Christmas Day marks the theatrical release of director Joel Coen’s stark black-and-white version of “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, something wicked that comes to Apple TV+ on Jan. 14.
Qualitatively speaking, these movies — which are all courting award voters and year-end lists — represent a mixed bag. Here’s a brief preview to help decide whether to seek them out, either in theaters or (more likely) at home:
The Tender Bar (New York and LA theaters, wide Dec. 22, Jan. 7 on Amazon)
The Lost Daughter (in theaters, Dec. 31 on Netflix)
It’s an impressive directing debut by Gyllenhaal, and Colman is worth watching in almost anything, here in a film whose psychological aspects are somewhat offset by a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion.
Swan Song (Apple TV+)
Naomie Harris and Glenn Close co-star as Cameron’s wife and the scientist behind the procedure, respectively, the latter gently him through this process, as he struggles with the decision on whether to go through with it. The film raises all kinds of intriguing ethical questions, without completely working as a drama.
The Tragedy of Macbeth (Dec. 25 in theaters, Jan. 14 on Apple TV+)
Shot in arresting black and white, Coen has created a stark and occasionally visceral retelling of Shakespeare’s play, which if nothing else is good news for lazy English students.
McDormand (the director’s wife) has seemingly been playing some variation of Lady Macbeth for a while now, but she and Washington bring considerable intensity to the proceedings and are surrounded by a stellar cast.
Granted, there’s a “Why now?” factor in sitting through another cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare, but the explanation for this title also applies to everything else mentioned here: Talent is drawn to these kind of character-driven, CGI-free movies, and streaming services have the money to spend and the shelves to fill.
“People don’t want to go see dramas,” he said. “Then the pandemic hit, and ironically, one of the first few films that was rushed to streaming was ‘The Way Back,’ and people did see it. I said, ‘You know what? This isn’t bad.’ I would rather have people see this and watch it, and I don’t need to be stuck to the old ways. … You have to adapt with the times or you risk becoming a dinosaur.”
For many, that admission is accompanied by a heavy sigh. Yet when it comes to serious dramas migrating to streaming, he’s not alone in having resigned himself to going with the flow.
Can you smell the Christmas cheer?
CNN’s Sandra Gonzalez with a recommendation from this past week.
“If you missed the ‘Young Rock’ Christmas special, I highly recommend gathering the kiddos and watching it together. (It’s available to stream on Hulu.) In the episode, Dewey — the youngest version of The Rock portrayed on the show — learns an important lesson about the meaning of Christmas. I appreciated how a meaningful message was told through the eyes of a young person. So much Christmas fare for kids panders to them, and as ‘Home Alone’ and other greats have shown us, kids have the capacity to understand so much more than we give them credit for. It’s a fun watch for the whole family.”
Missing Great British Bake-Off?
Another weekend recommendation from Sandra.
“During a Holiday Cheer Zoom, my colleague Radhika Marya suggested that I try ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’ because I was going through ‘Great British Bake-Off’ withdrawal. I’m pleased to report that the show, which has had four seasons, delivered. Similar to ‘GBBO,’ the show is like micro-dosing soothing joy. What I enjoy most about these shows is the enthusiasm that people show for their crafts. In a time when we’re often too quick to mock anything or anyone who is too earnest (see: that Jeremy Strong profile), I say give me more of people being proud and passionate about what they love.”