In times long past Boxing Day was traditionally one of the biggest days on the year’s movie calendar, with stacks of major releases vying for the attention of people eager to get out of the house after the non-stop eating marathon commonly known as Christmas Day.
The scale of Boxing Day movies might have dropped a peg or two in recent years (thank you, Covid), yet there are still plenty of films on offer. Some of them are even worth watching. To save you some time, here’s a quick run- through of the post-Christmas movie feast, including some choice titles going into 2024.
The closest thing to a Boxing Day blockbuster is Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, a sequel to the hit 2018 superhero film that has not been previewed to the media (Warning! Warning!).
At a reported cost of $200 million, the film promises the usual spectacle. It was meant to be released a year ago but was moved several times so the producers could get enough visual effects artists to finish the film, their availability restricted by – you guessed it – Covid. The film has a big hurdle to clear with the recasting of Amber Heard alongside headliner Jason Mamoa. Her return was opposed by a petition of more than four million fans owing to her performance in the Johnny Depp defamation trial, which she lost.
In a big gamble, the studio heads have backed her, though they’re obviously trembling over the possibility she now has negative box office appeal. If that turns out to be true, Aquaman 2 might well be her last shot.
Set to be the biggest film for kids is Migration, a funny animated treat from the makers of Despicable Me about a family of mallards who decide to leave the safety and boredom of their pond to fly south with all the other birds.
Hoping for paradise they end up in the big city where dangers abound, especially when they are targeted by a crazy chef. The film is a hoot, has plenty of slapstick visual humour and comes with the lovely short Mooned, starring Vector and some Minions from the Despicable films.
Unlikely to ring the same bell is Wish, an expensive and rather dull musical fantasy that is set to join the long list of recent Disney movies that show just how badly the studio has lost touch with its traditional family audience.
The film, which has already bombed in the US, tells of a singing teen called Asha who tries rescuing the collected wishes of her community being held captive in floating bubbles by the nasty King Magnifico.
Though there’s none of the identity politics that have marred other Disney films, the trouble here is how abstract and uninteresting the premise is, with the drab songs and overall lack of humour simply failing to engage. Heaven help Disney if they can’t improve after this.
But enough with the kids. There’s a swag of really good films for grown-ups opening on Boxing Day.
Alas, Anyone But You is not one of them. An American romantic comedy set in Sydney and very loosely based on William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, it’s a predictable lark about two one-night standers (Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell) who pretend to be a couple when they attend a wedding.
Too light on laughs and with way too many shots of the Opera House, the film is pure rom-com fluff that will play best to the easily pleased who like watching young people wearing little or no clothing.
Woody Allen continues his latter life winning streak with Coup De Chance (Stroke of Luck), a French-language comedy thriller in which socialite Fanny (Lou de Laâge) comes to question her happy marriage to wealthy businessman Jean (Melvil Poupaud) after running into old flame Alain (Niels Schneider).
Allen brings his masterful lightness of touch as Fanny’s mother Camille (Valérie Lemercier) becomes suspicious of Jean’s activities, prompting him to seek the services of a hitman. Fans of Allen will see how his love for nuanced performances remains strong as ever, whatever the language.
In One Life, Anthony Hopkins is at his understated, brilliant best as Nicholas Winton, a British share broker who helped rescue hundreds of children from Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s before the Nazis took charge and closed the borders.
Skipping between the pre-war period – where Johnny Flynn plays the young Winton with subdued stoicism – and 1987, the film details the brave volunteer effort to save the children and Winton’s late-life efforts to share his story. This is a gem of a film, a moving, true-life tale about real heroes.
For those eager to dive into something different and deranged, director Yorgos Lanthimos and Australian writer Tony McNamara bring us a decidedly twisted tale in Poor Things.
Set in Victorian Europe, Emma Stone is amazing as Bella, a brain transplant patient of a crazy doctor (Willem Dafoe) who runs off to discover the world with her forlorn lover Duncan (Mark Ruffalo).
With great performances – Stone is unrecognisable early on – and astonishing cinematography that flips from black-and-white to luscious colour, Poor Things is a wonderfully weird, sometimes graphic tale designed for aficionados of the bizarre.
New Year’s Day sees the release of two notable films: the psychological comedy Dream Scenario, in which Nicolas Cage plays a professor who unwittingly becomes a media sensation when he begins turning up in people’s dreams; and Next Goal Wins, a sweet sports comedy about a down-and-out soccer coach (Michael Fassbender) who takes charge of a team in American Samoa that has never scored a single goal. Very warm, very funny.
On 4 January we get the very good biopic Ferrari, starring Adam Driver and George Clooney’s The Boys in the Boat, an inspiring, fact-based underdog sports drama about the University of Washington rowing team that went from being losers to triumphing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which upset Hitler a great deal. Think of it as Chariots of Water.
And on 11 January catch the splendid Paul Giamatti in The Holdover. Set in 1970, he plays a curmudgeonly boarding school teacher who is punished for his honesty by being ordered to look after a small group of students who can’t go home for the Christmas holidays.
Directed by Alexander Payne, Giamatti – so good in Payne’s 2004 hit Sideways – puts in a performance that is truly Oscar-worthy.