Licorice Pizza, The Matrix and Macbeth: new films to watch in Australia over the holidays

Oscar potentials, indie gems and blockbuster revivals: here’s our guide to what to watch on Boxing Day 2021 and beyond

The holiday season is all about spending time with family, then realising how stressful it is to spend time with family. Luckily, there is a cinematic smörgåsbord to escape into when the conversation (and wine) runs dry. Here are some of the best and most notable releases to watch before 2021 is out.

The Worst Person in the World

Fortunately, this is not a documentary about your ex; it is Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s sprawling, tragicomic meditation on a series of doomed relationships through all their ups and downs: awkward family get-togethers, house party meet-cutes and one very memorable acid trip.

The woman at the centre of it all is Julie (Renate Reinsve), a twentysomething drifter who feels like a spiritual successor to Zooey Deschanel’s Smiths-loving, honey-eyed love interest in softboi manifesto (500) Days of Summer. Like that movie, The Worst Person in the World is also told through fragmented shards – a fusion of day-to-day vignettes and mundanities as well as more lyrical flights of fancy. Time (literally) stops in this film; its place atop multiple best-of lists this year is very well deserved.

  • The Worst Person in the World is in cinemas Boxing Day

Licorice Pizza

When Walt Whitman said “I contain multitudes”, he could have been referring to Paul Thomas Anderson, a man of many hats – most of them very large and intricate. Licorice Pizza, which he has written and directed, is on the simpler side of things, at least by Anderson’s standards; more Punch-Drunk Love than Phantom Thread.

Starring Alana Haim (of Haim fame), Cooper Hoffman (of Phillip Seymour fame) and Benny Safdie (of Safdie fame) – amid a veteran cast that also includes Sean Penn, Tom Waits, and Bradley Cooper – this is a star-making affair about two young lovers (Haim and Hoffman) in 1970s California. It’s an ode to its setting (the film, says Anderson, takes its name from a long-gone SoCal record chain), name-checking 70s icons as it drifts through old studio sets, gas stations and pinball arcades, capturing a freewheeling first love and a blissful, conked-out vision of Americana that now feels like a fever dream.

  • Licorice Pizza is in cinemas Boxing Day

Swan Song

The title here is a double entendre: decked out in minty silks, a perfectly poised neckerchief and sunglasses the size of his ego, screen legend Udo Kier’s character graces Swan Song’s poster like a preening bird – though his glory days as a hairdresser are all but over. Now he’s been relegated – with some degree of indignity – to a small-town nursing home, though it’s not long before one final job lands in his (freshly ironed) lap: to do up a former friend’s hair for her funeral.

So off he goes on a wild, unexpected journey across town, complete with all the necessary detours of a feature film. Kier’s not-so-secret weapon is his ability to pull the rug out from under us without so much as a flick of the wrist, transforming from high camp to hot tears in a split second. The physical pilgrimage is also an emotional one that traverses a long and winding lifetime of friends, enemies, lovers and regrets, including a barbed encounter with a rival stylist played by Jennifer Coolidge – who is, as usual, scene-stealing.

  • Swan Song is in cinemas Boxing Day

West Side Story

The Broadway-musical-to-big-screen pipeline is, by now, well-established: this year alone has already given us dreamy dance numbers (In the Heights) and nightmarish age trickeries (Dear Evan Hansen).

Sondheim’s famous musical is the latest to get the slicked-up treatment in this gargantuan-budget remake directed by Steven Spielberg. It’s a tale as old as time: the Jets v the Sharks, street gang antics, a star-crossed romance, “MARIIIIIIIA” belted at ear-splitting volume above twinkly, orchestral instrumentation. It’s glossy Hollywood fare that has enough tricks up its sleeve to distinguish itself from the much-lauded 1961 film version, and is, by all accounts, eminently watchable for newcomer Rachel Zegler’s performance as Maria alone.

  • West Side Story is in cinemas Boxing Day

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Production company A24 has staked out its claim as the sultan of stylisation, and avid fans will recognise the format here well: vaguely mythical lore painted in auteurist brushstrokes, with chilly palettes and hushed whispers of something perilous around every corner. The Lighthouse is a prime example; so is this year’s Arthurian adaptation The Green Knight.

The latest, a Shakespearean tale rendered in stark black and white (harking back to German expressionism in all its high contrast and sharp edges), stars Denzel Washington as the titular army general and Frances McDormand as his hand-washing wife. Director Joel Coen – striking out on his own from his regular collaborator brother Ethan – crafts a Macbeth that is noirish and austere, stripping back the source material to its barest, eeriest bones.

  • The Tragedy of Macbeth is in cinemas Boxing Day

The Matrix Resurrections

A lot has changed has changed in the past two decades: house prices, the surveillance state, the connotations of the word redpilled. What hasn’t changed, apparently, is Keanu Reeves, who still looks shmick as ever – with rubber ducky in tow – in the trailer for The Matrix Resurrections, the long-awaited follow-up to the Wachowskis’ groundbreaking cyberpunk trilogy.

This time round, Neo is back to his original identity as some dude named Thomas, and seeing … a therapist? Who prescribes him … blue pills?? To stop his visions of … The Matrix??? It’s all appropriately hammed up, and it’s filled with old favourites: Reeves (of course), Carrie-Anne Moss (reprising her role as Trinity), and giant trench coats and tiny sunglasses galore.

  • The Matrix Resurrections is in cinemas Boxing Day

Clifford the Big Red Dog

‘Clifford is not quality cinema, but he is big.’
Clifford is not quality cinema, but he is big. Photograph: AP

Godzilla, Kong, Clifford: all the classic kaiju of cinema history will have graced our screens by year’s end. And what he lacks in fire-breathing frenzy or chest-thumping macho, Clifford makes up for in colour alone – an over-dyed tomato shade that turns the family-friendly pooch into a horrifying sight all the same. Towering over the wayward passersby and unassuming citizens of New York, this 25-foot beast licks, growls and otherwise terrorises his way through Manhattan, while also facilitating a somewhat wholesome coming-of-age story on the side as his school-age human companion defends him against crowds of detractors. Clifford is not quality cinema, but he is big – and that in itself is something to behold.

  • Clifford the Big Red Dog is in cinemas 30 December

Contributor

Michael Sun

The GuardianTramp

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