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  • Blue Sky Studios-Twentieth Century Fox John Cena provides the voice of “Ferdinand,” a pacifist bull that refuses to square off against a toreador, opening Dec. 15.

  • Paramount Pictures Kristen Wiig, Matt Damon, Maribeth Monroe and Jason Sudeikis star in "Downsizing." MUST CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

  • Twentieth Century Fox “The Post” tells the story of the Washington Post’s handling of the Pentagon Papers. It hits theaters Dec. 22.

  • Justina Mintz, A24 James Franco and Dave Franco in "The Disaster Artist." MUST CREDIT: Justina Mintz, A24

  • Sony Pictures Classics Armie Hammer, left, and Timothée Chalamet star in “Call Me By Your Name,” a film centered on a summer romance in Italy. It opens Dec. 15.

Sunday, November 26, 2017 1:00 am

Spend holidays at theater

Seasonal or not, there's plenty of good ones coming up

Michael O'Sullivan | Washington Post

There are holiday movies, and then there are holiday movies.

The second category includes exclusively seasonal fare already in theaters: “A Bad Moms Christmas”; the Nativity-themed animation “The Star”; and “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” a story about Charles Dickens and the writing of “A Christmas Carol.” But those films have, by definition, a short shelf life, with sell-by dates of Jan. 2.

“Holiday,” in the first and loosest sense of the word, suggests a break from routine. Although looking forward to a great new movie brings a sense of anticipation akin to an unopened present, it's a gift that, if chosen carefully, will keep on giving regardless of the season. With that in mind, here are some films to put on your wish list. Some of them we've already taken a peek at, and others we can't wait to unwrap.

Opening dates are subject to change.

'Coco'

Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal

The voice-over in the trailer for “Coco,” an animated adventure set in the Land of the Dead of Mexican folklore, intones: “No living person has ever visited their world – until now.” Um. Maybe the folks at Disney/Pixar forgot a little animated feature from 2014 called “The Book of Life,” which features a Mexican hero traveling to – you guessed it – the Land of the Dead. Setting accusations of plagiarism aside for the moment, Pixar's new film is about a little boy (Gonzalez) who accidentally gets stuck in the underworld. “Coco,” which was visually inspired by the art of Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada, won't be the last word on the Day of the Dead theme. A sequel to “The Book of Life” is already in the planning stages. (Now in local theaters, PG)

'Roman J. Israel, Esq.'

Cast: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo

Writer-director Dan Gilroy's legal drama about the existential crisis that results when a pro-bono crusader for the disenfranchised goes to work for a fancy firm, making a morally compromising decision in the process, may share some themes with Gilroy's “Nightcrawler.” Like that 2014 examination of journalistic ethics, the new film features Washington transformed for the title role of a disheveled legal savant, with a shaggy Afro, aviator-frame glasses and mismatched suits. (Now in local theaters, PG-13)

'The Disaster Artist'

Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Zoey Deutch, Alison Brie

Is it possible to make a good movie about a bad one? A very, very, bad (yet hysterically funny) one? Based on the 2013 book by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell recounting Sestero's experience as an actor in the film “The Room” – a film that has been called “the 'Citizen Kane' of bad movies” – “The Disaster Artist” stars Franco as the cult film's enigmatically accented writer, director, star and producer, Tommy Wiseau. (Friday, R)

'Darkest Hour'

Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas

Call it the flip side of “Dunkirk.” Opening in early May 1940 – just before Winston Churchill was named prime minister of Britain – this period drama tracks, in minute detail, the backroom strategizing that took place as Parliament and Churchill's war cabinet struggled to find a way to rescue British soldiers stranded on the beach at Dunkirk. (Dec. 8, PG-13)

'The Shape of Water'

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg

The latest adult fairy tale from Guillermo del Toro (“Pan's Labyrinth”) centers on the unlikely bond that develops between a mute cleaning woman (Hawkins) and an amphibious humanoid creature (Jones) who is being kept in a secret government lab. Set in 1962, at the height of the Cold War, and referencing midcentury monster movies and musicals, del Toro's swooningly romantic film is less of a thriller and more of a love letter to old Hollywood. (Dec. 8, R)

'Call Me By Your Name'

Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet

Based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman, “Call Me by Your Name” centers on a summer romance in scenic Italy between a 20-something academic (Hammer) and the 17-year-old son of his mentor.

The buzzy film, which has proved to be a popular favorite at recent festivals, has won praise for its sensitive portrayal of forbidden love. (Dec. 15, R)

'Ferdinand'

Cast: John Cena, Kate Mc-Kinnon, Anthony Anderson, Bobby Cannavale, Gina Rodriguez

Wrestler-turned-actor Cena voices the title character: a pacifist bull who refuses to face the toreador in this animated adaptation of Munro Leaf's classic children's book. The style of animation – from Blue Sky Studios – deviates, as it must, from Robert Lawson's charming black-and-white illustrations in the original 1936 book, but the story comes courtesy of a reliable, if not familiar, name: Carlos Saldanha, who directed or co-directed five films in the studio's popular “Ice Age” and Rio” franchises. (Dec. 15, PG)

'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher

The demand for early tickets to Disney's latest installment in the “Star Wars” franchise – which centers on Rey (Ridley) as she learns to control the Force under the tutelage of Luke Skywalker (Hamill) – was so great that Fandango and other sites experienced digital traffic jams last month. (Dec. 15, not yet rated)

'Downsizing'

Cast: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Jason Sudeikis

Social satirist Alexander Payne has turned his magnifying glass on the Midwest (“Nebraska”), Hawaii (“The Descendants”) and California wine country (“Sideways”). In “Downsizing,” he tackles the whole planet. Written with longtime collaborator Jim Taylor, this futuristic fantasy imagines a world in which people can opt to miniaturize themselves to the size of dolls as a solution to the Earth's overpopulation crisis. (Dec. 22, not yet rated)

'The Post'

Cast: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Alison Brie

Call it “Star Wars” for wonks. In Steven Spielberg's latest slab of Oscar bait, Hanks plays the late Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, with Streep as the paper's late owner, Katharine Graham. The fact-based drama is about the newspaper's 1971 decision to publish classified documents – known as the Pentagon Papers – that showed that the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson had lied to Congress and the American people. (Dec. 22, not yet rated)

'Molly's Game'

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner

Writer Aaron Sorkin (“Steve Jobs,” “The West Wing”) makes his directorial debut in a film based on Molly Bloom's 2014 memoir about her time running an underground poker club that catered to such Hollywood elites as Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio. (Dec. 25, not yet rated)