The final watchlist of 2022 has a little bit of everything, from returning series to moving documentaries and Christmas blockbusters making it before the Oscars submissions cutoff.
That means the beautiful people of New York City’s Constance Billard-St. Jude’s School and Toronto’s most deadpan nanny are back for the second seasons of “Gossip Girl” and “Sort Of.” And after making their way through the year’s film festivals, the cerebral but heartfelt documentaries “Framing Agnes” and “Nelly and Nadine” finally get to tell their forgotten histories to the world. Not long after, “Babylon” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” with their giant budgets and all-star casts, open in theaters.
For more traditional holiday fare, audiences can catch a screening of the heartbreaking rom-com “Spoiler Alert” or enjoy Matt Rogers’ can’t-miss Showtime comedy special from home. Because what would the holidays be without laughter and tears? So break out the tissues, cuddle up on the couch or head to the theater, and enjoy the best of what December has to offer.
Season one of HBO’s “Gossip Girl” reboot revealed that, this time around, it was the embittered teachers of the newly renamed Constance Billard-St. Jude’s School sowing chaos in the halls of the prestigious high school. (Millennial habits die hard.) By the end of the season, the mastermind behind the newly inaugurated Gossip Girl Instagram account, Kate Keller (Tavi Gevinson), was spiraling out about the ethics of her quest to take down her privileged students, which somehow leads her to partner with “it girl” Julien (Jordan Alexander).
As the series returns, expect many more power plays, including the rise of Julien’s previously loyal minion and the private school’s reigning lesbian, Monet (Savannah Lee Smith). Hopefully, Max (Thomas Doherty), Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind) and Aki (Evan Mock) can avoid being sucked into any more drama. After a rocky path to polyamory, the threesome finally found themselves in a good place by the first season’s finale, making it the only healthy romance to come out of the reboot so far. Unlike in season one, which was split into two parts, fans will be able to watch what happens to the love birds in season two in a block of episodes released weekly.
“Gossip Girl” season two premiered on HBO Max on Dec. 1.
Season two of Bilal Baig’s Peabody Award-winning series, “Sort Of,” makes its way to HBO this month after premiering on Canada’s CBC in November. The final moments of season one ended with a slew of revelations. In addition to opening up to their family about their gender identity — and not without backlash — Sabi (Bilal Baig) received the news that their employer and close friend, Bessy (Grace Lynn Kung), had woken up from a coma. Despite having to face the fallout from season one’s developments, there’s hope on the horizon for the Toronto-based network of family, chosen family, friends and maybe even new lovers.
Despite the return of the family’s conservative patriarch from Dubai, Sabi’s mother (Ellora Patnaik) is clinging to their newfound closeness. Paul (Gray Powell), Bessy’s husband, is finally learning about boundaries as both his wife and Sabi, their longtime nanny, put themselves first. And, perhaps most exciting of all, Sabi’s best friend, 7ven (Amanda Cordner), may finally convince Sabi to branch out and do something for themselves — in partnership with their best friend, of course.
“Sort Of” season two premiered in the U.S. on HBO Max on Dec. 1.
Notable trans actors join director Chase Joynt for this experimental film that blurs the lines between documentary and narrative feature. In “Framing Agnes,” Joynt and the actors — which include Angelica Ross (“Pose”), Jen Richards (“Mrs. Fletcher”) and Zackary Drucker (“Transparent”) — use a talk-show format to re-enact interviews conducted by a UCLA clinic studying sex and gender in the 1960s.
The clinic, led by sociologist Harold Garfinkel and psychoanalyst Robert Stoller, performed some of the first gender-confirming surgeries in the country and, as part of their research, interviewed prospective patients. Perhaps the most well-known person to participate in the study was a woman called Agnes, who initially presented herself as intersex in order to qualify for treatment.
As the film delves into the story of Agnes, portrayed by Drucker, it also explores the history of transgender visibility in the United States and how, even within a marginalized community, some people have enjoyed more privilege than others. Among the consistently compelling performances, Ross stands out in the role of Georgia, a Southern transplant to Los Angeles who is making a new life in the racist and transphobic climate of the era. Outside of portraying their characters in the black-and-white, staged interviews, the actors provide frank and illuminating accounts of their own experiences as trans people living in America.
“Framing Agnes” opened in select U.S. theaters Dec. 2.
Jim Parsons stars opposite Ben Aldridge in the heartbreaking film adaptation of entertainment writer Michael Ausiello’s 2017 memoir, “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies.” In the memoir, Ausiello chronicles his 13-year relationship with his husband, the photographer Kit Cowan, who died from colorectal cancer at 42. Parsons, who plays the TV-obsessed Michael, and Aldridge, who plays the dashing Kit, portray the highs and lows of the couple’s early romance, honeymoon phase, contentious later years and the end filled with tragedy and love. Joining them are former Broadway co-stars Sally Field and Bill Irwin, who bring their signature comedic stylings and dramatic talents to the roles of Kit’s parents. And orchestrating it all is director Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”), whose talent for melding tragedy and romantic comedy are on display.
“Spoiler Alert” opened in U.S. theaters Dec. 2.
‘Matt Rogers: Have You Heard of Christmas?’
From the high-strung assistant with a heart of gold in “I Love That For You” to the bratty but relatable Luke in “Fire Island,” Matt Rogers has turned out some of the year’s most memorable comedic performances. So, it seems only fitting that he should have a comedy special to usher in the most fabulous, fun-filled and over-the-top time of the year. “Have You Heard of Christmas?” is something between a variety show, Christmas special and late-night stand-up set at Joe’s Pub (which, incidentally, is where it was filmed). In between raunchy, original holiday songs, Rogers stars in sketches where he pitches his team on leaving comedy to become a pop star, beginning with recording a Christmas album. He also performs stand-up along with his “Las Culturistas” podcast co-host, Bowen Yang, Josh Sharp and Aaron Jackson.
“Matt Rogers: Have You Heard of Christmas?” premiered on Showtime on Dec. 2.
Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel, “Women Talking,” based on the true story of a group of women who were subjected to sexual assault in a remote religious community, stars an impressive ensemble cast led by Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy. The film, which has been a festival audience favorite since it premiered at Telluride, also stars nonbinary actor August Winter as a character whose gender transition challenges the women’s concepts of solidarity and acceptance.
“Women Talking” opened in select U.S. theaters Dec. 2.
Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan,” “The Wrestler”) seems to have a knack for making controversial festival darlings. And his new feature, “The Whale,” starring Brendan Fraser, is no exception. In the film, Fraser plays Charlie, a 600-pound, homebound English teacher who has essentially been eating himself to death since the loss of his partner, Alan, a few years prior. Despite the best efforts of his nurse and best friend, Liz (Hong Chau), Charlie has little time left and decides to try to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink), whom he abandoned when he met Alan. Fraser, who largely disappeared from Hollywood in the past decade after suffering a series of stunt-related injuries and allegedly being sexually assaulted, received a six-minute standing ovation at this year’s Venice Film Festival, where “The Whale” had its world premiere. And although both he and Aronofsky have since been the subject of backlash for the film’s use of a fat suit and prosthetics, it looks like the actor has a healthy chance of winning his first Oscar for the role come March.
“The Whale” opens in U.S. theaters Dec. 9.
‘Nelly and Nadine’
In “Nelly and Nadine,” Swedish documentary filmmaker Magnus Gertten once again finds inspiration in an archival newsreel of German concentration camp survivors arriving in his hometown of Malmö in 1945. Like in the first film of the trilogy, “Harbor of Hope,” Gertten digs into the past of one of the reel’s many compelling faces, in this case Nadine Hwang, who met and fell in love with Nelly Mousset-Vos in 1944, when they were both imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp.
Their love story came to Gertten through Nelly’s granddaughter Sylvie, who approached the filmmaker after a screening of the second film, “Every Face Has a Name.” What Sylvie offered to Gertten was a wealth of photos, letters and Super-8 footage documenting the women’s secret, decadeslong love affair. The documentary retraces Nelly and Nadine’s great romance, from meeting in the concentration camp to being separated for the last year of the war and, finally, reuniting against all hope to live the rest of their lives together.
“Nelly and Nadine” opens in U.S. theaters Dec. 16.
‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’
After a very short run in theaters over Thanksgiving weekend, the well-received sequel to “Knives Out” makes it’s way to Netflix for murder-mystery-loving families to enjoy over the holidays. In “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” director and writer Rian Johnson sends Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to Greece to crash a murder-themed dinner at the private island getaway of tech tycoon Miles Bron (Edward Norton).
But the ascot-wearing Benoit isn’t there just to have fun and mingle with the glamorous guests — played by the likes of Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr. and Kate Hudson — as it seems murder may be more than just a party theme for Bron. Adding even more tension to the gathering is the arrival of the tech billionaire’s estranged, former business partner, Andi (Janelle Monáe), which seems to set everyone but Benoit on edge. In “Knives Out” style, there are plenty more twists and turns awaiting the partygoers and the audience, including a brief cameo by Hugh Grant, who plays Benoit’s partner, Philip, and cameos by the late legends Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury, in their final screen appearances.
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” is available on Netflix on Dec. 23.
“La La Land” director Damien Chazelle’s 1920’s Hollywood fantasia, “Babylon,” has failed to impress critics ahead of its release later this month. But the cast alone is almost reason enough to brave this big-budget spectacle. Margot Robbie leads the group as Nellie Laroy, a hard-partying, scantily clad up-and-comer who has her eyeliner-rimmed sights set on becoming screen royalty. (Think silent-film sex icon Clara Bow morphing into Joan Crawford.) On her way to the top, she lures in aging screen icon Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), modeled on silent-film star John Gilbert, and Manny Torres (Diego Calva), a Mexican-American film assistant with much bigger ambitions. But it isn’t just the men of Tinseltown who take notice. Nellie also catches the eye of Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li), modeled after the legendary Chinese-American actor and queer icon Anna May Wong, who could prove to be stiff competition for the boys in her signature top hat and tails.
“Babylon” opens in U.S. theaters Dec. 23.
‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’
Since Whitney Houston’s tragic death in 2012, there have been plenty of attempts to capture the singer’s life on screen — from the Angela Bassett-directed 2015 biopic “Whitney” to the 2017 documentary “Can I Be Me.” Now, working closely with Houston’s estate and her mentor, Clive Davis, screenwriter Anthony McCarten (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) and director Kasi Lemmons (“Harriet”) try their hand with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” The biopic, which is being released just in time for Oscar consideration, stars Naomi Ackie as a still undiscovered Houston who makes her meteoric rise up the pop charts, with the help of Davis (Stanley Tucci), and explodes onto the world stage. Unlike previous onscreen portrayals, the film will also explore the singer’s relationship with Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams), Houston’s childhood friend who later became her creative director. The trailer for the film hints at what Crawford wrote about in her 2019 book, “A Song for You”: She and Houston had a romantic relationship that was effectively ended by industry pressures, just as their professional relationship was later ended by familial ones.
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” opens in U.S. theaters Dec. 23.