Christmas/NY Preview

Every year, in December, I find myself torn between catching up on all the incredible titles that slipped me by this year (and there are a fair few, considering I lamentably caught COVID during my personal Christmastime, the New Zealand International Film Festival), and re-watches of the comfort food variety. Competing with this is the ever-present allure of the cinema, not just because it’s a great place to cool down in the Tāmaki humidity, but because the December/January period is one of the most exciting on the film calendar, with big awards titles and major blockbusters bowing for the holiday season. Here are some of the titles I’ll be keeping an eye out for over the Christmas weeks.


Avatar: The Way of Water (Cameron, 2022): The big Kahuna this holiday season is of course the arrival of James Cameron’s immense science fiction saga, which sees audiences returning to the alien world of Pandora for the first time since 2009. The original Avatar is still the highest grossing film of all time, and rarely has there been more pressure on a film to perform both critically and commercially. Will Cameron’s decade-long production process pay off or prove to be a colossal folly? Are audiences still interested in the world of the Na’vi? Cameron will once again be rolling out the 3D technology that came to define the original film, with some of New Zealand’s finest craftsmen working to build even more jaw-dropping special effects and immense spectacle. Personally, the original Avatar never struck a chord and I was more than happy to bid farewell to the advent of the 3D fad, clunky glasses and all – but it’s never wise to bet against a James Cameron comeback.


The Fabelmans (Spielberg, 2022): From blockbuster contender to Oscar frontrunner: Steven Spielberg’s late-period career has been totally fascinating, delivering masterpieces (West Side Story) and intriguing misfires (Ready Player One) alike. His latest film is surely one of Spielberg’s most personal, drawing from his own experiences growing up as a young filmmaking prodigy. Boasting praised performances from Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen and Judd Hirsch, it’s Spielberg working at an intimate and self-reflective register, telling a story that has a lot more on its mind than mere nostalgia. At the moment, The Fabelmans is looking like a surefire Best Picture and Best Director nominee, if not winner. You’d be a fool to miss the master on the big screen.


The Banshees of Inisherin (McDonagh, 2022): Reuniting with the cast of his breakout film In Bruges, Irish playwright turned director Martin McDonagh teams up with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson for this bleakly funny, acidic drama about the death of a friendship on a remote island in wartime Ireland. Featuring remarkable performances from Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan and especially Farrell, who should be a major contender in acting awards this year, Banshees is McDonagh’s most mature and accomplished work by a long way. 


M3GAN (Johnstone, 2023): Causing a stir online earlier this year with its eerie, oddly hilarious trailer, the new techno-thriller from Kiwi director Gerard Johnstone (Housebound) looks certain to be a campy, bloody delight. The story of a robot toy doll that takes on a life of its own could be a modern day Black Mirror meets Child’s Play – here’s hoping.


Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (Fleischer-Camp, 2022): A hit at this year’s Film Festival, this moving, gentle animated comedy picks up where the enormously successful webseries of the same name from the late-noughties left off, following the story of a tiny shell and the little world they’ve built for themselves in a Los Angeles apartment. It’s a sweet and often shockingly powerful little film, a genuine balm for the soul, perfect for nursing New Years hangovers – and featuring the voice of Isabella Rosselini!

Life may be slowing down come Christmas-time across Aotearoa, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to catch up with some tantalising cinematic offerings, with a range of promising major titles of both the blockbuster and prestige variety debuting in cinemas and on streaming.  

The British Film Festival

Already underway at some cinemas, the British Film Festival has one of the strongest annual lineups of any of the big location-based festivals in New Zealand. This year features a bumper crop, including a retrospective of classic Bond titles including Dr No, Goldfinger, From Russia With Love and Casino Royale. The film I’m most anticipating? That would be Charlotte Wells’ debut feature Aftersun, which received rapturous notices from all corners – and which I had to miss at the Festival. The story of a summer holiday shared between a father and daughter in Turkey, it looks to be a quiet stunner. Also catching my eye is Rogue Agent, a sort-of spy thriller based on a true story and starring Gemma Arterton.


Streaming and TV

Staying home these holidays? There’s plenty to catch on a range of streamers and TV channels this Christmas. Rialto Channel’s lineup is jam-packed with exciting titles, including the continuation of Dominic Savage’s I Am series, which tells the stories of complex, fascinating women dealing with contemporary issues. This season includes performances from Black Panther’s Letitia Wright and Lesley Manville. Robert Downey Jr contends with the looming shadow of his father in black-and-white documentary Sr. over on Netflix, while scandal-plagued Will Smith makes another bid for Oscar glory with Antoine Fuqua’s slavery-set drama Emancipation. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu (of Birdman and The Revenant fame) returns with his semi-autobiographical fantasia Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (your feelings about that title will probably dictate your mileage with the film, too). One of the biggest titles of the season is Glass Onion, the latest in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out series, a mystery with a savage, contemporary bite. Post-Christmas, we will see the release of Matilda: The Musical, which adapts the popular stage show version of the story for the screen. We’ll also finally get eyes on Noah Baumbach’s latest project for Netflix, the satirical and strange White Noise – an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Dom DeLillo.


Classics and Rare Gems on the Big Screen

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without local cinemas rolling out some absolute must-sees from days of yore. Two of the greatest of all films – Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey, are showing at Event Cinemas in early December. Both are not truly experienced until they’re experienced on the big screen. Event is also showing all three Lord of the Rings films this month. Meanwhile, Academy Cinemas is bringing back its tradition of showing fantastic, idiosyncratic Christmas films all through December, and this year is a genuinely astonishing lineup. Most significant is the screening of the entire, television-length version of Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander – an incredibly rare opportunity to experience something very special on the big screen. As is now tradition, Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut will be screened, as well as Gremlins, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, L.A. Confidential, A Muppet Christmas Carol, (ahem) Love Actually and even Jacques Demy’s musical masterpiece The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The Hollywood in Avondale also has a suitably eclectic Christmas-season lineup, including Ichi the Killer, Die Hard, Raising Arizona, Friday, Bad Santa and Russ Meyer’s counterculture masterpiece Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Truly, there is something for everyone to wile away the summer hours at the cinema this Christmas.

Christmas/NY Preview

Movie title: Christmas/NY Preview

Movie description: Life may be slowing down come Christmas-time across Aotearoa, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to catch up with some tantalising cinematic offerings, with a range of promising major titles of both the blockbuster and prestige variety debuting in cinemas and on streaming.

Date published: December 1, 2022

Country: New Zealand

Author: Tom Augustine

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