Here's some good news for movie lovers during the pandemic: This year’s Oscar contenders are coming to a couch near you.
With cinemas in New York City and Los Angeles closed, the major studios have pulled nearly all their biggest movies from release this year, leading to a near-total shutdown of the theatrical film industry. Rather than cancel the 93rd Oscars, however, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences extended its eligibility period into February 2021, made a one-time allowance for streaming-only films and pushed the ceremony to April 25. That means Oscar-bait movies will roll out this winter as usual, and while many will indeed play in theaters it’s a safe bet that most people will watch them at home.
Forget the usual months-long gap between a theatrical release and home viewing. "Mank," David Fincher’s ode to the Golden Age of Hollywood, debuted in theaters Nov. 13 but will rush to Netflix Dec. 4. "Sound of Metal," an Oscar dark horse featuring Riz Ahmed as a rock musician with hearing loss, will make an even speedier transition from theaters Nov. 20 to on demand Dec. 4. Following a similar pattern are "Ammonite," starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan as 19th-Century lovers, and "Hillbilly Elegy," Ron Howard's drama featuring Glenn Close and Amy Adams as hard-knock Appalachian women. Even "Wonder Woman 1984," the Warner-DC superhero sequel starring Gal Gadot, finally joined the trend: After weeks of holding firm to a theatrical-only release on Christmas Day, the film will now premiere simultaneously on HBO Max.
Of course, there will be rom-coms, family films and holiday fare as well. Here’s your at-home guide to the 20 big movies of the winter season:
DOLLY PARTON’S CHRISTMAS ON THE SQUARE (Nov. 22, Netflix) A Dickensian musical starring Christine Baranski as a modern-day Scrooge. Parton, who wrote the songs, plays an angel; Debbie Allen, of "Fame" fame, directs.
HILLBILLY ELEGY (now in theaters; Nov. 24 on Netflix)
A Yale law student returns to his Appalachian hometown. With Amy Adams, Glenn Close and Gabriel Basso. Directed by Ron Howard; based on J.D. Vance’s bestselling memoir.
HAPPIEST SEASON (Nov. 25, Hulu) Abby plans to propose to Harper over a family Christmas dinner – until she realizes Harper’s family doesn’t know she’s gay. With Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis ("Tully").
THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES: PART TWO (Nov. 25, Netflix) Kurt Russell returns as a hip-and-happening Santa Claus in this sequel to Netflix’s 2018 sleeper hit. Darby Camp reprises her role as young Kate, now a cynical teenager. Written and directed by Chris Columbus ("Home Alone," "Mrs. Doubtfire").
UNCLE FRANK (Nov. 25, Prime) In 1973, a gay man who fled the rural South for New York City returns home for his father’s funeral. With Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi and Judy Greer.
STARDUST (Nov. 25, in theaters and on demand) Following his 1971 tour of America, David Bowie (Johnny Flynn) begins to create his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust. With Jena Malone as Angie Bowie and Marc Maron as manager Ron Oberman. The film, unauthorized by Bowie’s estate, does not feature his original music.
SUPERINTELLIGENCE (Nov. 26, HBO Max) An unassuming woman (Melissa McCarthy) must save humanity from a rogue A.I. (the voice of James Corden). Directed by McCarthy’s husband and frequent collaborator, Ben Falcone.
LOVERS ROCK (Nov. 27, Prime) The second in Steve McQueen’s ambitious five-film anthology (collectively titled "Small Axe") is a love story set against an underground party in 1980. Critical praise followed its opening night screening at this year’s New York Film Festival.
AMMONITE (now in theaters; Dec. 4 on demand) In 1840s England, paleontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) begins a romantic relationship with the geologist Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan). Written and directed by Francis Lee ("God’s Own Country").
BILLIE (Dec. 4, on demand and in theaters) This documentary on the iconic jazz singer Billie Holiday draws from 200 hours of never-before-heard interviews – with Charles Mingus, Count Basie and others -- conducted by the late journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl.
LOVE, WEDDINGS & OTHER DISASTERS (Dec. 4, on demand and in theaters) An inexperienced wedding planner (Maggie Grace), a celebrity caterer (Jeremy Irons), his blind date (Diane Keaton) and a lovelorn tour guide (Andrew Bachelor) come together at a wedding. Written and directed by Dennis Dugan ("Happy Gilmore").
SOUND OF METAL (Nov. 20 in theaters; Dec. 4 on Prime)
A punk-metal drummer (Riz Ahmed, "Rogue One") begins to lose his hearing. With Olivia Cooke and Mathieu Amalric.
MANK (now in theaters; Dec. 4 on Netflix)
Gary Oldman plays Herman J. Mankiewicz, whose screenplay credit on "Citizen Kane" is one of Hollywood’s favorite debates. Directed by David Fincher from a screenplay by his late father, Jack Fincher.
LET THEM ALL TALK (Dec. 10, HBO Max) An acclaimed author (Meryl Streep) takes a journey with some old friends (Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest) and her nephew (Lucas Hedges). Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
I’M YOUR WOMAN (Dec. 4 in theaters; Dec. 11 on Prime) Rachel Brosnahan, of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," plays a young mother in the 1970s whose criminal husband goes on the run.
THE PROM (Dec. 11, Netflix and select theaters)
Meryl Streep and James Corden play Broadway stars who rally behind the cause of a small-town high-schooler (Jo Ellen Pellman) who has been banned from bringing her girlfriend to the prom. With Nicole Kidman and Kerry Washington. Based on the Tony-nominated musical.
WILD MOUNTAIN THYME (Dec. 11, on demand and select theaters) In this comedy-romance from "Moonstruck" writer-director John Patrick Shanley, a headstrong farmer (Emily Blunt) falls for a neighbor (Jamie Dornan) whose family seems to be under a curse. With Jon Hamm and Christopher Walken.
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (Dec. 18, Netflix)
Chadwick Boseman, in his final film performance, plays a trumpeter who joins a recording session with the legendary blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis). Adapted from August Wilson’s play.
GREENLAND (Dec. 18, on demand) As a comet races toward Earth and sends humankind into panic, John Garrity (Gerard Butler) and his family make a perilous journey to find a safe haven. With Morena Baccarin and Hope Davis. Ric Roman Waugh (Butler's "Angel Has Fallen") directs.
THE MIDNIGHT SKY (Dec. 23, Netflix)
George Clooney directs and stars in this story about an Arctic scientist trying to stop a crew of astronauts from returning home to a global catastrophe. With David Oyelowo, Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler and Demián Bichir.
SOUL (Dec. 25, Disney Plus) Pixar’s latest focuses on middle-school band teacher Joe Gardner (the voice of Jamie Foxx), who enters the realm where souls acquire their personalities. With Tina Fey and Daveed Diggs.
Are there any big releases you can’t see on demand or streaming this year? As of press time, there are a few — though keep in mind that Hollywood’s plans have been changing fast.
THE CROODS: A NEW AGE (Nov. 25) With few major releases on the horizon, struggling theaters are hoping this animated sequel about a prehistoric family will sell some tickets. With the voices of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds.
NOMADLAND (Dec. 4) Frances McDormand has already generated Oscar buzz in this drama as a woman adrift in the wake of an economic collapse. The studio, Searchlight, has not announced a date for streaming or on demand.
NEWS OF THE WORLD (Dec. 25) Tom Hanks and his “Captain Phillips” director Paul Greengrass reteam for this drama about a Civil War veteran who encounters a girl raised by the Kiowa tribe as one of their one. The studio, Universal, recently made a deal with AMC Theatres to show movies theatrically, then move them quickly to digital and share those profits as well. Netflix owns the international distribution rights to this title.
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI … (Dec. 25) Regina King’s directorial debut, about a gathering of black icons (from Sam Cooke to Malcom X), seems sure to be an Academy Awards contender. The cast includes Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr. It’s due on Amazon Prime Jan. 15.
WONDER WOMAN 1984 (Dec. 25) This potential blockbuster, starring Gal Gadot as the feminist superhero, recently became one of the last theatrical dominoes to fall. After months of insisting on a big-screen-only release, Warner Bros. finally agreed to a simultaneous debut on HBO Max.
— RAFER GUZMAN