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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From Boxing Day

2020's holiday viewing spans superheroes, sublime dramas, documentaries about spectacular desserts, animated sequels and spy movies.
By Sarah Ward
December 24, 2020
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By Sarah Ward
December 24, 2020
  shares

Every year, once gifts have been given, turkey and prawns devoured, drinks sipped and backyard games of cricket played, the festive season delivers another treat. Whatever you spend your Christmas Day doing, Boxing Day is just as exciting if you're a movie buff — or even simply eager to escape the weather, and your house, to relax in air-conditioning and watch the latest big-screen releases.

2020 might've seen cinemas Down Under spend months empty, with projectors silent, theatres bare and the smell of popcorn fading; however, the country's picture palaces are well and truly back in business. And, they're screening a wide array of Boxing Day fare as always — so at least one thing about this chaotic year is proceeding as normal. If you're wondering not only what's screening, but what's worth your time, we've watched and reviewed the day's slate of new titles. It spans superheroes, sublime dramas, documentaries about spectacular desserts, animated sequels, spy films and more, so don't say you don't have anything to see.

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NOMADLAND

Frances McDormand is a gift of an actor. Point a camera her way, and a performance so rich that it feels not just believable but tangible floats across the screen. That's true whether she's playing overt or understated characters, or balancing those two extremes. In Fargo, the first film that earned her an Oscar, McDormand is distinctive but grounded, spouting midwestern phrases like "you betcha" but inhabiting her part with texture and sincerity. In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, her next Academy Award-winning role, she's an impassioned mother crusading for justice and vengeance, and she ripples with deep-seated sorrow mixed with anger so fiery that it may as well be burning away her insides. Now, in Nomadland, McDormand feels stripped bare and still a commanding force to be reckoned with. She's tasked with a plucky but struggling part — defiant and determined, too; knocked around by life's ups and downs, noticeably; and, crucially, cognisant that valuing the small pleasures is the hardest but most rewarding feat. It'll earn her another Oscar nomination. It could see her nab a third shiny statuette just three years after her last. Both are highly deserved outcomes because hers is an exceptional performance, and this is 2020's best film.

Here, leading a cast that also includes real people experiencing the existence that's fictionalised within the narrative, she plays the widowed, van-dwelling Fern — a woman who takes to the road, and to the nomad life, after the small middle-America spot where she spent her married years turns into a ghost town when the local mine is shuttered due to the global financial crisis. A slab of on-screen text explains her predicament, with the film then jumping into the aftermath. Following her travels over the course of more than a year, this humanist drama serves up an observational portrait of those that society happily overlooks. It's both deeply intimate and almost disarmingly empathetic in the process, as every movie made by Chloe Zhao is. This is only the writer/director's third, slotting in after 2015's Songs My Brothers Taught Me and 2017's The Rider but before 2021's Marvel flick Eternals, but it's a feature of contemplative and authentic insights into the concepts of home, identity and community. Meticulously crafted, shot and performed, it truly sees everyone in its frames, be they fictional or real. Nomandland understands their plights, and ensures its audience understands them as well. It's exquisitely layered, because its protagonist, those around her and their lives earn the same term — and Zhao never forgets that, or lets her viewers either.

Read our full review.

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WONDER WOMAN 1984

When it hit cinemas three years ago, the first movie about Princess Diana of Themyscira — also known as Diana Prince — stood out. Even though the DC Extended Universe started five years after the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC bested its rival by focusing on a female character in its fourth film (for Marvel, it took 21 movies, only achieving the feat with 2019's Captain Marvel). DC didn't waste its opportunity, either. Wonder Woman isn't a mere cookie-cutter superhero flick, just focusing on a character of a different gender. It champions understanding and emotional intelligence, handles its engaging origin story with sincerity and warmth, and unfurls an adventure where both strength and vulnerability exist in tandem. It also relays a fulfilling tale; a sequel was inevitable, but the initial movie didn't just whet the audience's appetite for the next, plus all the other caped crusader films certain to follow. That second effort is now here but, sadly, it doesn't continue its predecessor's best achievements. No matter how much returning director Patty Jenkins and the powers-that-be behind the DCEU hope that Wonder Woman 1984's viewers sport an expression of wonder — and how much they believe that simply making a sequel to their 2017 blockbuster is enough to cause it — the movie doesn't earn much more than a resigned sigh.

In Wonder Woman 1984, Diana (Gal Gadot, Justice League) tells everyone again and again that being truthful is far more important than anything else. That, and taking a more-is-more approach, are the feature's main driving forces. Jumping forward almost seven decades within the Wonder Woman films' timeline, Diana has taken up an anthropologist job at the Smithsonian, and turned swinging through malls on her Lasso of Truth to fight crime into her side hustle. But then insecure archaeologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, Where'd You Go, Bernadette) starts working beside her, gets tasked with assessing a mysterious gem, and lets Donald Trump-esque infomercial salesman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal, The Mandalorian) take the strange object home with him. It's no ordinary rock, however. It grants wishes, so Maxwell wants to take advantage of that power — and, unknowingly, both Diana and Barbara have already uttered their dreams aloud while holding the stone. These fantasies come at a cost, of course, even before Maxwell uses his to try to take over the world. Wonder Woman 1984 doesn't spin the most complicated story, but it's so repetitive and meandering across its 151-minute running time that it's needlessly bulky, muddled and weighed down. It also pushes Gadot to the side far too often; this sequel certainly knows how to trot out well-worn beats packaged as part-upbeat heroism, part-social satire, but it just doesn't realise where its true strengths reside often enough.

Read our full review.

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OTTOLENGHI AND THE CAKES OF VERSAILLES

Marie Antoinette didn't actually say "let them eat cake", no matter how often the statement is misattributed to the 18th-century royal before her date with the guillotine. But New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art was surely hoping she would've approved of its hedonistic June 2018 food gala, which tied into the venue's Visitors to Versailles exhibition in the same year — and, in line with the place and period under the grill, put decadence on the menu. Overseeing the spread of desserts fit for a queen: renowned Israeli English chef and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi. He didn't make the Feast of Versailles' lavish cakes himself; instead, he trawled Instagram to source and select five pâtissiers known for delicious, innovative and aesthetically appealing wares. He found them, too, enlisting Dominique Ansel, the NYC-based French pastry chef who invented the cronut; Sam Bompas and Harry Parr, the London food artists known for their striking jellies and unique food events; architecturally trained Ukrainian Dinara Kasko, who approaches her desserts with the same design principles; Ghaya Oliveira, an award-winner and veteran at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Daniel; and Singapore's Janice Wong, who aims to turn chocolate into edible art.

The exacting theme that views art and history through an untraditional lens, the melding of varying creative arenas, the roll call of significant names in their field, the theatricality on display, the iconic setting — if it all sounds a bit like a culinary version of The Met Gala, that was undoubtedly the intention, too. This was no ordinary serving of sugar. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that, as the venue's fashion-focused event did before it, Feast of Versailles has also earned the documentary treatment. Where The First Monday in May chronicled the preparations for 2015's Met Gala, Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles does the same with the quest to recreate the Palace of Versailles' gardens with chocolate and multi-coloured fondant, whip up a tiered mousse cake that resembles the French castle's sculptured detail, and pair them all with swan-topped pastries, wobbling palace-shaped jellies and a cocktail-filled whirlpool fountain. Viewers of cooking-focused reality television will know what's in store. That may not be the comparison one expects with a doco about a Met event, but it fits, with documentarian Laura Gabbert (City of Gold) taking a superficial and straightforward approach. That seems to be what happens in docos about Met events, and it's always noticeable. Accordingly, Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles is glossy, gleaming eye candy for those with a sweet tooth. It never feels like a full meal, though.

Read our full review.

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HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE

After starring in High Life, Who You Think I Am and The Truth, all in just the past two years, Juliette Binoche adds another eclectic role to a resume that has deserved that term for decades. How to Be a Good Wife takes its radiant star back to 1967, to Alsace in Eastern France, and to a school designed to mould bright-eyed teenage girls into dutiful and subservient future housewives. Binoche's casting is a sign, thankfully. The film starts out following her character, the prim and proper Paulette Van der Beck, as she runs Van der Beck's School of Housekeeping and Good Manners for her husband Robert (François Berléand, Someone, Somewhere). She preaches the seven pillars required to ensure all her pupils fit her ideal vision of womanhood, with her single sister-in-law Gilberte (Yolande Moreau, The Summer House) assisting as the facility's cook, and superstitious nun Marie-Thérèse (Noémie Lvovsky, The End of Love) helping keep the girls in check. Of course, with the school part of Robert's family for decades, it isn't actually Paulette's own picture of feminine perfection that she's espousing. She might not have realised that fact, however, if her current cohort of students — the site's smallest for years, arriving with the 60s in full swing and as protests are beginning to sweep the nation — weren't instantly bristling against the notion that their lives should be spent in service to men.

An unexpected tragedy also complicates matters, with an uprising soon threatening not just France in general, but one of the places that has upheld and instilled the patriarchal status quo and the conservative stereotypes that go with it. As directed by Martin Provost (The Midwife), and co-written by the filmmaker with Séverine Werba (Spiral), How to Be a Good Wife flits between playfully satirical and earnestly rousing as it charts Paulette, Gilberte and their students' journey — and yes, the fact that two of the main characters have feminised versions of male names as their own is emblematic of the movie's knowing approach. Binoche is the lynchpin, stepping into Paulette's shoes with sincerity as well as winking, nudging spirit; she's well aware of exactly the kind of woman she's playing, and the attitudes she's parodying as well. But, while the talented actor is posed and poised in a purposeful and often amusing way, the film itself doesn't always strike the same balance. It's easy to smile and internally cheer along with How to Be a Good Wife (and to revel in its period costuming and decor, too), but it's also just as easy to see when and where it overplays its comedic hand. One such example: the film's out-of-left-field climax, which is both glorious and clunky all at once.

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END OF THE CENTURY

Memories and dreams are our brain's version of time travel; escape into either, and you can relive the past and ponder a possible future without the need for a Delorean or a telephone booth. New York-based Argentinian poet Ocho (Juan Barberini, Penelope) experiences that sensation in End of the Century, a queer romance that takes Weekend's lusty meet-up, combines it with Call Me By Your Name and Monsoon's passion abroad, and turns it into an evocative contemplation of love, sex, connection, choices, and roads both taken and forsaken. After more than ten minutes of dialogue-free, naturalistically lensed footage, watching Ocho rove around Barcelona, check into his holiday rental, sun himself at the beach and notice Javi (Ramon Pujol, Gran Nord), the film jumps into a vacation romance. Ocho and Javi strike a chord quickly, both physically and emotionally, and get deep just as swiftly in their post-coital conversation. To Ocho, there's a familiarity about the situation, as there should be. First-time feature writer/director Lucio Castro then leaps back 20 years earlier — before Ocho was fresh into a break from his partner of two decades, and before Javi had a daughter with his husband of four years — with the two men also crossing paths at the prior time.

From the outset, one certainty is apparent: End of the Century favours understatement. That's true in how it unfurls the different parts of its narrative, and how they connect together; in the movie's performances, including from the beguiling Barberini when he's alone and surveying Barcelona; and in the feature's choice to peer on at Ocho and Javi's multi-layered story, and find both intimacy and distance depending on whatever the mood and scene calls for. As a result, it's a film that can seem slight, but also heaves with feeling at every moment. Castro knows the difference between unnecessarily complicating a narrative, and mining a situation's inherent complexities. He puts that awareness to excellent use, and draws viewers further into the movie's tale as a result. And, he benefits from his excellent casting choices — because making a feature that's both stripped bare and has its own authentic twists requires much of the folks within its frames. There's a slipperiness to End of the Century, too, as Ocho's experiences play out in various time periods. As this tender movie moves seamlessly back and forward, the audience is so enraptured with Ocho that they take the emotional journey with him.

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A CALL TO SPY

"I want you in charge of recruiting some ladies," Vera Atkins (Stana Katic, Castle) is told in one of A Call to Spy's early scenes. The film's title makes it plain exactly what her colleague is referring to, and this specific piece of dialogue — and many more like it — demonstrates just how overtly the movie intends to proceed. This isn't a nuanced drama. It's inspired by true stories, but it rarely even flirts with the type of depth and detail that reality serves up. Still, by telling the tales of three women who became British spies in France during World War Two, all as part of Winston Churchill's ongoing effort to use unexpected means within the government's newly created Special Operations Executive to defeat the Nazi regime as it strengthened across Europe, it plunges into an important part of history. This chapter from the not-too-distant past springs from a familiar pile, after all. If you haven't heard of Atkins, Virginia Hall (played by Sarah Megan Thomas, who also penned the screenplay) and Noor Inayat Khan (The Wedding Guest), that's understandable; their lives, like those of many other women who've achieved commendable and crucial feats, haven't received the attention they should. That feeling ripples through A Call to Spy and, while it can't lift this Lydia Dean Pilcher (Radium Girls)-directed movie alone, it definitely leaves an imprint.

Initially, Atkins is A Call to Spy's focal point. Charged with enlisting women who are "passionate about stopping Hitler" (another of the movie's needlessly clumsy lines), she finds several. Because she has a Jewish Romanian background, Atkins also receives more scrutiny within her own organisation than she should — an experience shared with Hall, who has a prosthetic leg; and Khan, who is of Indian Muslim heritage; and also heightened because of stereotypical opinions on gender anyway. Pilcher follows her three determined protagonists as they are initiated into their new roles, and into the field, while always viewing the many obstacles in their way. In the process, her film doesn't overcome the usual war-movie tropes that countless others have relied upon over the past 75 years, but it always endeavours to see them through Atkins, Hall and Khan's shared and individual ordeals. Even though it lacks in subtlety, A Call to Spy is nonetheless workmanlike that way, recognising that the stories it's relaying are important and moving enough, and that it can convey plenty by honing in on its characters' professional activities. It helps that Katic, Thomas and Khan all turn in involving performances, although Thomas wrote herself the best role.

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THE CROODS: A NEW AGE

Cavemen (and women) were people, too, and there was more to their lives than simply dwelling inside rocky crevices. That's an overly simplistic summary of 2013's animated hit The Croods, of course. Intricacy wasn't a big part of this big-screen successor to The Flintstones, though, or its messages of togetherness, seeing past immediate perceptions and rising to face all challenges. The film took a family of neanderthals — including teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone, Zombieland: Double Tap), her overprotective father Grug (Nicolas Cage, Color Out of Space), far more carefree mother Ugga (Catherine Keener, Kidding), siblings Sandy (debutant Kailey Crawford) and Thunk (Clark Duke, Veronica Mars), and grandmother (Cloris Leachman, Mad About You) — then disrupted their literally sheltered existence. Not only were the titular characters pushed out of their comfort zone, but they were thrust into the orbit of homosapien Guy (Ryan Reynolds, 6 Underground), who Eep quickly fell for with a teen's intensity. Everyone had to adjust, naturally, and an average all-ages friendly comedy ensued. So did big box office numbers, sparking sequel The Croods: A New Age, the return of its predecessor's high-profile voice cast, and a new storyline that stresses the same sentiments.

This time around, in a film directed by feature first-timer Joel Crawford, (a storyboard artist on The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, Trolls and The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part), The Croods are well-acquainted with roaming the big, wide, wild and dangerous prehistoric world. But Eep and Guy start thinking about a different kind of life — one that doesn't involve sleeping on the family pile, for starters — so the still controlling Grug tries to find everyone a new permanent home. And he thinks he has done just that in the vast walled-in gardens inhabited by Phil (Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones) and Hope Betterman (Leslie Mann, Blockers) and their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran, Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker). Alas, this seeming paradise isn't everything that it appears. Once again, this franchise opts for narrative and thematic simplicity and even crudeness, and for a zippy pace and onslaught of colour and movement designed to excite younger viewers. Once more, it's a standard affair all-round, and delivers little other than Cage and Stone's to-type voice work for the adult members of the audience. It's entertaining to hear Cage's voice bellow from Grug, in the same way that it's entertaining to see and/or hear him to anything (like swear in Netflix's upcoming series), but it doesn't help an over-energetic, giddily lively rehash of a past hit exceed its basic template, or do more than merely hit its marks.

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If you're wondering what else is currently screening in cinemas — or has been throughout the year — check out our rundown of new films released in Australia on July 2, July 9, July 16, July 23 and July 30; August 6, August 13, August 20 and August 27; September 3, September 10, September 17 and September 24; October 1, October 8, October 15, October 22 and October 29; and November 5, November 12November 19 and November 26; and December 3, December 10, and December 17.

You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as The Personal History of David Copperfield, Waves, The King of Staten Island, Babyteeth, DeerskinPeninsula, Tenet, Les Misérables, The New Mutants, Bill & Ted Face the Music, The Translators, An American Pickle, The High Note, On the Rocks, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Antebellum, Miss Juneteenth, Savage, I Am Greta, Rebecca, Kajillionaire, Baby Done, Corpus Christi, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, The Craft: Legacy, RadioactiveBrazen Hussies, Freaky, Mank, Monsoon, Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie's Dead Aunt), American Utopia, Possessor, Misbehaviour, Happiest Season, The Prom, Sound of Metal, The Witches, The Midnight Sky and The Furnace.

Published on December 24, 2020 by Sarah Ward

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