Holiday movie showdown: What are you going to see?
November 29th, 2013
04:52 PM ET

Holiday movie showdown: What are you going to see?

The new movie options are so plentiful at the box office this weekend, it might be hard to choose just one.

There's the family friendly tale "Frozen," the holiday musical "Black Nativity," a Sylvester Stallone-penned action epic ("Homefront") and a heartwarming story of a woman's enduring love for her son ("Philomena").

To help you figure out which film is most deserving of your money and your time, we've rounded up the critical consensus for all the new titles that have flooded the box office. Which movie are you planning on seeing?

"Frozen": Animated movies have been particularly spotty this year, but Disney's "Frozen" is leading the way this holiday weekend. The family film is a spin on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Snow Queen," and features the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad and Jonathan Groff. It may have an icy premise, but critics are on fire for its return to Disney's roots. IndieWire calls it "a singularly gorgeous movie" that "feels like classic Disney animation. If someone had announced 'Frozen' as the studio's follow-up to 'Beauty & the Beast,' no one would blink. It's that good."

The New York Post warns that the "action scenes (seemingly thrown in to attract boys) are uninvolving, and the comedy sidekick, a talking snowman named Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad), can be annoying." But overall, "'Frozen' is a great big snowy pleasure with an emotionally gripping core, brilliant Broadway-style songs and a crafty plot."


"Oldboy": If you've already seen (and are a fan of) the South Korean original, you'd probably be fine with skipping Spike Lee's interpretation of the vengeance thriller. Although Josh Brolin is committed in his portrayal of a man who was sadistically imprisoned for 20 years without knowing why, and director Lee doesn't skimp on the vicious action. While The Hollywood Reporter believes "It would be unreasonable to expect Spike Lee's 'Oldboy' to deliver the disgusting thrill of Park Chan-wook's 2003 original, the story of a man seeking revenge after being imprisoned for many years ... proves durable."

Time magazine agrees that newcomers to "Oldboy" will be "startled" by "its story ingenuities and morbid revelations," but "connoisseurs of the source film (will be left) wondering why Hollywood couldn’t have left great enough alone."

"Homefront": Jason Statham stars in this action pick that was adapted from a Chuck Logan novel by Sylvester Stallone. The premise, which involves a former DEA agent (Statham) who relocates to small town Louisiana with his 10-year-old daughter, only to find himself entangled with an unimpressed meth dealer (James Franco), has all the ingredients of a fun, if empty, good time. Surprisingly, "Homefront" doesn't quite live up to its expectations.

"There are few if any pleasures in movies today as reliable as watching Statham lay waste to a succession of toothless in-breds and other unworthy suitors with a few swift punches and well-timed kicks — and 'Homefront' offers no such shortage," Variety says in its review. "But given the available elements here, the movie is a surprisingly joyless affair, lacking the grisly deadpan humor of Statham’s best vehicles or any real sense of peril."

San Francisco Chronicle warns that"in 'Homefront,' good and amusing and horrible are jumbled all together," although "there's never any impulse to stop watching. ... It takes a certain sense of humor to appreciate a movie like this. You have to savor the movie's extremeness and preposterousness without getting so removed that you fail to enjoy its genuine excitement and tension. You have to find it funny without particularly caring, one way or another, whether anyone intended the movie to be funny."


"Black Nativity": Actress and filmmaker Kasi Lemmons has adapted and directed Langston Hughes' stage production for the silver screen. Critics found the story predictable and hokey, but if you're in the mood for a re-telling of the Christmas story starring acting heavyweights and accompanied by an incredible soundtrack, this syrupy tale might be exactly what the doctor ordered.

"The film, like the play, has a captivating gospel flavor that easily raises the roof beams," says the Chicago Sun Times. There’s nothing in 'Black Nativity' that is not predictable; you know the ending. With that in mind, it’s the journey that matters. And (director Kasi) Lemmons and her cast, aided by some great music, have created an interlude sure to lift the spirit during the holiday season."

Yet to Entertainment Weekly, "Kasi Lemmons' 'Black Nativity' is a lot like a glazed holiday ham: sticky, sweet, and all too easy to mess up. ... While (Jennifer) Hudson's and costar Mary J. Blige's soulful, stirring musical numbers are absolute dynamite, the rest of the film's story is larded with enough soap opera twists and heavy-handed schmaltz that you'll feel like you're being bludgeoned with a hymnal."


"Philomena": Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in this drama about an Irish Catholic woman searching for the son that was taken from her when she was an unwed teen, and as a pair they uphold the film to critical acclaim.

USA Today calls "Philomena" "compelling, poignant and gently funny," with "only a few plot holes (that) keep the film from greatness."

At it's best, says Rolling Stone, "the film exposes a church that likes to sweep scandal under the rug and hypocritical institutions on both sides of the Atlantic that help it happen." And "it's Dench, showing how faith and hell-raising can reside in the same woman, who makes 'Philomena' moving and memorable."


"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom": Idris Elba is racking up loads of acclaim for his portrayal of iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela in a new biopic, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." Directed by Justin Chadwick, the film tries to hew closely to Mandela's expansive autobiography of the same name, and unfortunately is unimaginative as it squeezes in the usual biopic beats.

Time Out New York calls Chadwick's attempt to present Mandela's full life on screen "admirable," but notes that "there's much missing from this overview, which travels in an unilluminating straight line from the subject’s circumcision at 16 to his election as president of South Africa at 75. As a primer, it’s respectable; as cinema, it feels like a biblical gospel, always gearing up for the next big speech or moment, yet shackled by the greatness of its subject."

Yet with Elba as its centerpiece and Naomie Harris as the supporting star, critics say "Mandela" is still worth its cost of admission.

"The performances of Elba and Harris — who plays his wife Winnie, a volatile firebrand whose simmering anger can erupt at any moment — give a crucial human dimension to this streamlined, panoramic, would-be epic," the New York Times says in its review. "Elba conveys the agony as well as the nobility of Mr. Mandela's quest for South African racial inequality."


Filed under: movies

soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. MashaSobaka

    Whenever I feel like I haven't been exposed to enough bigotry and racism I always head to the comment sections on CNN articles. "Dose durn dirty blecks and dere stupid movies! Only white peepel get movies! Ooga-booga!"

    December 1, 2013 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. svann

    You say "broadway style songs" like that's a good thing.

    December 1, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. timverba

    Does CNN staff reporters anymore, or is it just a news aggregator? If I wanted the critiques of the New York Post, Time Magazine or the San Francisco Chronicle, then I would go to those publications. If CNN is not going to invest in original and primary source entertainment reporting, then it should not have an entertainment section.

    December 1, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tarod

    so, "black nativity"? hmm, Jesus was a Jew and of Arabic decent yet now they portray him as black? and all the characters are black? hmm, what next Asian? so we can alter characters to be black but, what about the reverse? white people playing black historical characters? MLK played by, oh, Brad Pitt? hmm...

    December 1, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • MashaSobaka

      White actors have been playing black characters (all characters of color, really) since we've had mass entertainment. But you only get a bug up your butt about it when it's the reverse, I see. How typical.

      December 1, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Gene Davis

    They left out "Best Man's Holiday"
    OK, I admit it, I was not expecting much from this movie when the girlfriend wanted to see it. I was really suprised. It was a great show. Go see it and decide for yourself.

    December 1, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Alvarez

    I must have eaten a lot of corn and peanuts yesterday.

    December 1, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Goomba

    People still go to movie theaters?

    December 1, 2013 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  8. Gilberto53

    Is a hacker troll. A filthy. Hacker. Troll.

    November 30, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sacramento

    I am so tired of double standards and tolerance for this black nativism/tribalism/ra cism. Like Kwanzaa: What the he11 is that? A made up holiday that you have to be a particular color to participate in. Go play with Oprah and Spike Lee and the rest of the ra cists. Move back to Africa.

    November 30, 2013 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frisco

      So, what you're saying is you're all for intolerance? I'll bet you're ok with bullying too, right. You seem like that type of person.

      November 30, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sacramento

      Realist. Go to Oakland after dark and tell me how it turns out. Love the lib tactic: When one encounters a position contrary to the lib narrative, demonize the messenger and change the subject. Watch and learn: Frisco, you are a demonic ch1ld molester for saying such things, Obamacare will bring prosperity and success to millions! See?

      December 1, 2013 at 7:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Frisco

      How did I "demonize the messenger" when you outright stated that you were so tired of tolerance? I called you out on your own statement, and like a bully, you go on the offensive. Typical right wing tactic – when your shortcomings and ugliness are exposed, go on the attack.

      December 1, 2013 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Tigerflower

      Now you two both calm down. Frisco you kinda did call Sacramento a bully, a "right winger" and ugly, all because you didn't understand the point he/she was trying to make which was really mean. And Sacramento, "demonic child molester"? Puhleez! We just had a holiday. Both of you kids play nice. So far as the original comments about Kwanzaa are concerned, I understand the point about exclusion that Sac was trying to make. For someone not of African decent, it fells a bit as it might if Northern Europeans tried to appropriate the traditional trimmings of Christmas as only for people of their ethnicity. So if suddenly Santa and lighted trees and brightly wrapped packages were only for people who shared one skin color and origin. Frisco, I hear your side of things too. Maybe too often in this world it seems as if people of one ethnicity DO own the holiday and Kwanzaa gives some balance and voice to those from other parts of the world. In the best possible place, we would all share equally in celebrating each other. Please let's forget the hate and remember the lessons the holidays celebrate to begin with. Peace to both of ya. /hugs

      December 1, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • U will never be in, fat azz whiny hack-victim

      Quit trying to sneak back in here, filthy troll.

      December 1, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ha ha @Desperate Backstabbers

      Phat phuck twinkie addict thinks she will ever be thin. She be old, fat an uglee! Dream on, whiny fat azz.

      December 1, 2013 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Alvarez

    It looks like a mudslide in my underpants.

    November 30, 2013 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ellen

    Gee, Black Nativity and Mandela during the Yuletide season, right on the heels of The Butler, Twelve Years a Slave, Django... It's no wonder that race has become completely rac!st, gobbling down a steady stream of victimhood so they can externalize blame for all their inadequacies and shortcomings. Thanks, Hollywood.

    November 30, 2013 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • So Ellen

      Would your middle name be Sokman?

      November 30, 2013 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Beer Belly

      First, middle and last. Sokman can't fool anybody.

      November 30, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • VOR

      So in all those stories you see victim hood? The story of a man trying to reunite with his family that was broken via slavery, how exactly is that a display of victim hood and not strength and a man's love for his family? How is the story of Mandela, a revolutionary who fought relentlessly for equality and spent 27 years of his life in prison only to become an international inspiration and the first president of South Africa not underneath an apartied regime, how is that victim hood? There is something wrong with your brain if you don't see these as stories of triumph.

      November 30, 2013 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • @VOR, you need to chill

      There's no reasoning with a white supremacist. You can't even carry on an intelligent conversation with one – they are that freaking stupid. It must be the inbreeding.

      November 30, 2013 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tigerflower

      So what's wrong with "black cinema"? Doesn't it just help to restore some of the balance that the predominantly white film industry brings to the table? Well kinda. The problem the original poster feels, I think, is that even as these timely films speak to a Hollywood film industry vacuum, there's also a dated time stamp on them and a feel that we already should have moved on. Anyone ever see Superfly? It was made in 1972 and Wiki calls it a "blacksploitation" film, all true. But at the time it was seen as edgy and groundbreaking because it featured a black hero in a contemporary setting. Although there's no comparison to the fine films mentioned in the post, there's still that feeling of separate but equal about them. They're still at heart, "blacksploitation". They give some of us the feeling that they should already be in our historical rear view mirror instead of being seen as avante garde. The suggestion is that maybe we haven't come as far as we sometimes think we have.

      December 1, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Love the confidence...


      December 1, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mark

    That "it's" in "At it's best" should be: its.

    November 30, 2013 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  13. cormac zoso

    nice to see not only a bigoted statement toward blacks but also the gay community ...

    this is never gonna stop, is it ..........................................

    November 30, 2013 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Ellen

      Do you mean critical analysis of facts and reality and freedom of expression? I hope not. Thanks for your invitation to be mindless drones oppressed by political correctness. I decline...

      November 30, 2013 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  14. Mike

    The quote says "equality" not inequality. Whoever wrote this, please correct it.

    November 30, 2013 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  15. M stun

    Black nativity. Just amazes me. White nativity is racist, so why the former as well?

    November 30, 2013 at 6:21 am | Report abuse |
    • N stam

      Your post. Does not. Make sense. :/

      November 30, 2013 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Nicole

      Because black people have not enslaved, segregated, killed, and discriminated against white people for over a millenia. When they do, though, you can totes go forward with that plan.

      November 30, 2013 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
    • C3po

      No worries, it will surely flop.

      November 30, 2013 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Slick1

      I believe there is a "White Nativity", but it is only shown during White History month. I believe Funding was provided by a grant from the United White College Fund

      November 30, 2013 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • The thing is...

      assuming the events of the Christian bible are rooted in factual history, there weren't any white people in the original nativity either. Not unless they migrated to the Middle East from northern Europe, which seems unlikely. And the bible certainly doesn't mention Jesus's family being European immigrants.

      November 30, 2013 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Theologian

      Umm, Mediterraneans together with nordic and alpine are all subphylums of the caucasion race. Judea was populated with Mediterraneans. Perhaps you've heard of the Roman Empire? Brrng, cluephone is ringing, pick it up!

      November 30, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  16. mickeymommy

    Frozen was PHENOMENAL! My new FAVORITE Disney flick, period! Hands down.

    November 30, 2013 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
    • mickeymommy

      Also saw Catching Fire a few days ago. Really liked it, but LOVED Frozen. I'd give Catching Fire a 7.5 and Frozen a 9.99999.

      November 30, 2013 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
  17. legumepod

    The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug...I don't see it and it's the only film I'm spending cash on this christmas.

    November 29, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vegas82

      They're asking about the Thanksgiving holiday weekend movies. Not the Christmas holiday movies. I went with some people to see Thor. There were quite a few other people who were in the theater as well.

      November 30, 2013 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  18. mgmchicago

    Saw Dallas Buyers Club today.
    Truly excellent acting by both McConaughey and Leto.

    November 29, 2013 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  19. mc105

    Everybody wants to see Catching Fire and I don't blame them. This one blew me away unlike the first one.

    November 29, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  20. StanGold

    What about THE CHRISTMAS CANDLE - the best uplifting holiday movie of the season with a splendid cast including Susan Boyle?

    November 29, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |

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