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Sam Worthington plays Jake in "Avatar: The Way of Water." Photo courtesy of IMDb.

December film releases: What winter watches wait in store

With winter break approaching for students and staff at the University of New Mexico, a large number of us might find ourselves with much more time on our hands than we anticipated. Thankfully, new films galore await you under the Christmas tree to keep you busy through those long, winter nights.

“Avatar: The Way of Water,” releases Dec. 16

The long-gestating second film in James Cameron’s “Avatar” series is easily the most widely anticipated release of the month, whether it be because the film will need to be one of the top 5 highest grossing films in box office history just to break even, the realization of the long-awaited technology used to create the film or just to see if it’ll even be good (early critic reactions suggest it will). Everyone — whether in the industry or not — will have their eyes on this one.

Even for someone like me who despises the first movie, it’s hard to think of a good reason to miss this one. It’s hard not to be curious about a film that is such an outlandish gamble. There are too many question marks here to count this one out, so make room for “Avatar: The Way of Water” on your holiday schedule.

“Babylon,” releases Dec. 23

Arguably the second biggest gamble of 2022’s holiday movie season, “Babylon” marks director Damien Chazelle’s return to the big screen after the relative flop that was 2018’s “First Man.” With a stacked cast including the likes of Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Tobey Maguire, this film seems, on paper, destined for success.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple: early critic reactions were mixed at best, severely harming the film’s Oscar hopes. The movie also centers around filmmaking — just look at “The Fabelmans”’ and its measly $6 million box office haul for a better idea how audiences feel about that. To top it all off, it’s a little over three hours long. All things considered, it’s absolutely still worth a watch, even if no one else around you sees it.

“Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio,” released Dec. 9

Probably the easiest sell on this list, Guillermo Del Toro’s hotly anticipated adaptation of the classic tale released on Netflix on Friday, Dec. 9 following a limited theatrical run. The film marks Del Toro’s first foray into stop-motion animation, with claymation veteran Mark Gustafson also assisting with the directing duties.

There’s really nothing bad to say about this one: reviews are excellent, there’s excellent talent involved and it’s a perfect story for any person of any age. For those looking to stay inside and avoid the crowds and the cold, I couldn't recommend this one enough.

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” releases Dec. 23

Another obvious choice, Rian Johnson’s follow-up to the critical, commercial and pop culture smash hit “Knives Out” will see its full release on Netflix on Friday, Dec. 23 following a frustratingly short theatrical run over Thanksgiving weekend. Daniel Craig is the only returning cast member here, reprising his role as detective Benoit Blanc. This time around, Johnson has prepared an entirely new cast and mystery for us.

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Again, this one is a no-brainer: you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t like the first film, and even if you did, there’s still a case to be made that the two are distinct enough to warrant a watch for the new one. Come for the pulpy mystery, stay for heated discussions with your extended family about the political subtext of the film.

“Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths,” releases Dec. 16

Acclaimed Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu is back with what is seemingly his most autobiographical film in the form of “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths,” which releases on Netflix on Friday, Dec. 16, following a November domestic release. The draw for American audiences is Iñárritu, whose last feature, “The Revenant,” released all the way back in 2015, propelling Leonardo DiCaprio to his first Oscar win.

This is the one truly personal recommendation on this list: you don’t have to look very far to see that the critical reception for this one is mixed at best, with most critics throwing around the lauded “pretentious” critique in the film’s direction. To be fair, they’re not far off — it is a very obvious self-insert. Taken into consideration, though, the film is still fantastic, chalked to the brim with gorgeous visuals, thoughtful ruminations reminiscent of Terrence Mallick and excellent use of surrealism. If the holidays have you feeling existential, then “Bardo” is for you.

Hopefully these recommendations are enough to keep you jolly throughout the holidays, and provide some entertainment for those who find themselves with too much time on their hands.

John Scott is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at editorinchief@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @JohnSnott

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