‘Magnolia’ (Dec. 31)
With “Licorice Pizza” rolling into cinemas across the country this month, it’s a fine time to revisit this earlier effort from the writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson, another of his dizzy explorations of the colorful characters and emotional crises of the San Fernando Valley. Borrowing the Robert Altman template of big-canvas, big-cast, intercut-narrative storytelling, Anderson tells stories of addiction, familial estrangement, romantic obsession and the inevitability of mortality, crashing his disparate narrative threads together in unexpected yet delightful ways. The ensemble cast is outstanding, with an Oscar-nominated Tom Cruise the standout as a misogynistic self-help guru.
‘Mystic Pizza’ (Dec. 31)
Three young working-class women contemplates the lives ahead of them — and away from the pizzeria where they work and hang out — in this charming romantic comedy-drama. The wise and witty script (whose authors include the groundbreaking filmmaker Amy Holden Jones and the playwright Alfred Uhry) is a real gem, but the key to the film’s success may well have been the director Donald Petrie’s keen eye for young talent: The film features, in early and important roles, Julia Roberts, Lili Taylor, Annabeth Gish, Vincent D’Onofrio, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it debut appearance by Matt Damon.
Five Movies to Watch This Winter
‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ (Dec. 31)
Like Paul Thomas Anderson, Guillermo del Toro has a new film in theaters this month (his take on the film noir classic “Nightmare Alley”), which provides all the excuse you need to revisit his 2006 masterpiece, winner of three Academy Awards. Deftly intermingling the conventions of fairy tales, supernatural horror and period drama, del Toro tells the haunting and often disturbing story of a young girl in post-Civil War Spain, where she must face magical creatures, her ill mother and her evil stepfather. The pieces shouldn’t fit, but del Toro is a master puzzle-maker, and this remains one of his most visually arresting and narratively compelling efforts.
‘Spy Kids’ (Dec. 31)
It’s easy to forget these days, but once upon a time the idea of Robert Rodriguez — the director of such adult-oriented genre films as “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Desperado” and “The Faculty” — directing a family movie seemed surprising, if not downright subversive. But his rapid-fire comic sensibility and affection for gadgetry made this 2001 adventure a surprise hit — it spawned three sequels and an animated spinoff series — and it remains fresh and funny, with Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino in charming, glamorous form as married super spies whose fates may rest in the hands of their children (Alexa PenaVega, credited as Alexa Vega, and Daryl Sabara).
‘The Great British Baking Show: The Beginnings’: Season 1 (Dec. 31)
OK, pay attention, because there might be a quiz later: When PBS and Netflix imported “The Great British Bake-Off” from the BBC, the title wasn’t the only thing that changed. The seasons (or “series,” as they call them across the pond) came over out of order, with the fifth series streaming as Netflix’s first “collection,” the fourth series as Netflix’s second collection, and this, the show’s third series, streaming under the alternate title “The Beginnings.” Confused? Relax. “The Beginnings” offers up all the pleasures of the regular series: delicious dishes, feisty hosts, terrified contestants and more.
‘Tommy Boy’ (Dec. 31)
Most critics dismissed this Chris Farley and David Spade buddy road comedy as yet another tired “Saturday Night Live” cinematic spinoff when it hit theaters in 1995. But time has proved kind to it, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Farley’s big-screen output was sadly limited, and he never found a better vehicle for his particular vintage of needy gregariousness. It also sports a fine supporting cast, with juicy turns by Brian Dennehy, Dan Aykroyd and Rob Lowe. And the prickly comic chemistry of Farley and Spade makes this one now look like something of a junior “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” with Spade’s fussy company man particularly well matched to Farley’s rowdy anarchy.
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