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Holiday Movie Review 2023

Our movie critic is here to help you choose what movie to see this year with his annual holiday season recap.
T. Collins / Oakville News
T. Collins / Oakville News

Going to the movies is a tradition and extremely popular activity during the holiday season - and audiences are more than ready to enjoy some well-earned leisure time with their loved ones. But with so many choices, how do you pick what to see?

2023 is special because the last three years of going to the movies have been dampened (either partially or completely) by health restrictions and/or release changes. But for the first time in four years, the multiplex is full throttle with several great new films to see. Better still, there's still an extra week of holidays left this year!

Our resident film critic loves writing this story every year - it's now the eighth year in a row he's written it. It's an annual collection looking at the best and worst movies now playing during the busy Christmas movie-going season, and hopefully this helps you decide what to go and see.

Which new movies are worth your time and money? Which ones are in theatres and which ones are streaming - or both? These are confusing questions, especially with so many films all coming out at once. But everything in this list has been released over the last month, with many of them releasing in the last several days.

Each film is organized chronologically and listed with our rating, description and a guide to how you can watch them at home. There’s also a paragraph or two highlighting our thoughts on each.

This is the busiest movie-watching time in years, and 2023 is going out with a big bang. Go out and see a movie (or two! or three!) as a fun end to the year. Happy watching!


6 out of 10

Directed by Ridley Scott.

14A, 2hrs 37mins. History Drama.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby.

Released November 22nd. Now Playing at Cineplex Winston Churchill & VIP. Coming to streaming PVOD in January 2024 and Apple TV+ in February 2024.

Sony / Apple TV+
Sony / Apple TV+

Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix gives a stirring performance as the unlikable and genius brute Napoleon Bonaparte in a historical epic from director Ridley Scott - a reunion of the team after 2000's Best Picture winning Gladiator.

This film succeeds in its large-scale, exciting battle scenes and show Napoleon's true influence on European history on the battlefield. But that's only 50% of the long run time, and the slow-paced, unfunny dialogue scenes drag down what could have been a deeper look into the main events of the man's life.

Some lines are so ridiculous you can't help but laugh' a tantrum at dinner makes Napoleon scream, "Destiny has brought me this lamp chop!" at guests. When the film is serious about it's war scenes and history, it's great. The rest of the personal drama is excessive and dull.

Trolls 3: Band Together

3 out of 10

Directed by Walt Dohrn.

G, 1hr 32mins. Animated Musical Fantasy Adventure.

Starring Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Eric André, Kenan Thompson, Camila Cabello and Amy Schumer.

Now Playing at Cineplex Winston Churchill & VIP and now streaming on PVOD for rental.

Dreamworks / Universal
Dreamworks / Universal

The third entry in the Trolls franchise sees Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake) reuniting with their long lost siblings to fulfill a rescue mission to stop two fraud, wannabe pop stars. Ironically, the story and screenplay reek of more bad pop music covers and a pandering message of inauthenticity to kids, exposing the characters and their overpaid voice cast as doing this movie just for the easy paycheque.

I wrote mixed reviews of the first two Trolls films, but somehow each new movie gets worse, as the jokes get more crass, the songs more distorted and shallow, and the characters more thin and self-absorbed. If you want animation, go see Migration. If you want a musical, see Wonka. If you want a headache, see Trolls 3.

The Holdovers

10 out of 10

Directed by Alexander Payne.

14A, 2hrs 13mins. Christmas Comedy Drama.

Starring Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa and Da'Vine Joy Randolph.

Released December 8th. Now Playing at Cineplex Winston Churchill & VIP and now streaming on PVOD for rental.

Focus Features
Focus Features

Alexander Payne hasn't released a movie in six years, with the last being 2017's disappointing Downsizing. But The Holdovers is a deep, quirky, dramatic masterpiece, focusing on staff and students held over at a Massachusetts boarding school for a 1970s Christmas.

The film is completely charming and heartfelt, and easily one of the best films of the year. It's the most balanced and interesting story about students and teachers since Dead Poets Society, of which Holdovers borrows obvious style from. The lead three performers are all terrific, including Paul Giamatti's best role to date, a mature debut from Dominic Sessa, and a likely Oscar win for the grounded and sharp Da'Vine Joy Randolph.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

6 out of 10

Directed by James Wan.

PG, 2hrs 4mins. Superhero Fantasy Action.

Starring Jason Momoa, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Amber Heard, Randall Park, Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman.

Released December 22nd. Now Playing at Film.Ca Cinemas, Cineplex Winston Churchill & VIP and Cineplex Oakville & VIP.

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

Coming five years after its waterlogged first film, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom doubles down on all the good and bad from the 2018 original. The goofy characters are goofier, the menacing foe more menacing, and the weird creature designs are even more weird.

If the first film was campy, the ridiculous tone in the script and delivery from all the underwater heroes have been amplified tenfold. The run time is more succinct than the first, but there are also fewer major events in the story. I did really like the nurtured relationship between Arthur (Aquaman) and his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) - that's the heart of the film and Momoa's silly lead performance is heartfelt enough to get a pass.

This is the rare superhero movie that's almost exactly equal to its predecessor; not better, not worse, but somehow exactly the same.


7 out of 10

Directed by Benjamin Renner.

G, 1hr 23mins. Animated Family Comedy.

Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks, Caspar Jennings, Tresi Gazal, Keegan-Michael Key and Danny DeVito.

Released December 22nd. Now Playing at Film.Ca Cinemas, Cineplex Winston Churchill & VIP and Cineplex Oakville & VIP.

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

This is as simple as they come, but a rare thing in theatres now: Migration is a totally original animated movie without any modernization or forced character branding. What follows is a zippy, bright, and overwhelmingly cute story of a family of ducks as they attempt their first ever long-distance migration to Jamaica.

The movie is mostly told in vignettes of the mallard family's travels, from swamps, farms, parks and the big city, and a connected plot doesn't really emerge until the second half. But this 80 minute delight would be a great first trip to the movies, and the winsome characters are really sweet. 

While there's a big celebrity voice cast of comedians, the real scene-stealer is Tresi Gazal as young Gwen the duck, who masters every line with masterful comedic timing and an inescapable cuteness. After years of shallow sequels, this is Illumination's best animated movie since the original Despicable Me films a decade ago.

Anyone But You

5 out of 10

Co-Written and Directed by Will Gluck.

14A, 1hr 43mins. Romance Comedy.

Starring Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney.

Released December 22nd. Now Playing at Film.Ca Cinemas, Cineplex Winston Churchill & VIP and Cineplex Oakville & VIP.

Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

In terms of likability, Anyone But You is a stylish and unique look at the wedding genre of romantic comedy. It's very, very loosely inspired by Shakespeare's play "Much Ado About Nothing", where stars the winning pair of Sydney Sweeney (TV's Euphoria) and Glen Powell (Top Gun: Maverick) star as frenemies Bea and Ben. Most of the film sees them pretend to be a romantic relationship to trick their families while at a destination wedding in Australia.

This plot is a tongue-in-cheek inverse of Shakespeare's plot, but the fun of audiences discovering that is robbed from audiences when the characters themselves directly mention it. The backgrounds also have several quotes from the play hidden in the movie's set decor, which comes across as tacky instead of classy.

If you want bright, bubbly escapism, Anyone But You serves it reasonably well. It's rarely funny, but I'll admit the few show-stopping comedy vignettes really deliver the laughs (the Koala scene in particular had me rolling in laughter!)

The Color Purple

9 out of 10

Directed by Blitz Bazawule.

PG, 2hrs 20mins. Musical Drama Epic.

Starring Fantasia Barrino, Colman Domingo, Danielle Brooks, Taraji P. Henson, Corey Hawkins, H.E.R. and Halle Bailey.

Released December 25th. Now Playing at Film.Ca Cinemas, Cineplex Winston Churchill & VIP and Cineplex Oakville & VIP.

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

The Color Purple, based on Alice Walker's novel, is back in cinemas for the first time in 40 years with this grand, lavish remake. Originally a movie based on a book, this soulful and maybe-too-slick version is a movie based on a stage musical based on the movie based on a book. Almost half of the stage musical's songs have been cut into this movie, but the good news is that only the best songs made it in.

Director Blitz Bazawule's last project was co-directing the 2020 art film Black is King with Beyoncé for Disney+, and his experience in modern choreography mixed with the production design of African history is now infused into narrative with The Color Purple.

Mix in a terrific cast led by Fantasia Barrino (reprising the lead role of Celie, who she played on Broadway in 2007), Colman Domingo, Danielle Brooks and Taraji P. Henson, and you've got a deeply cultural experience that more than justifies its reintroduction to new audiences.

In addition to the above, there have been some other terrific movies released in the month of December all playing in theatres now. Wonka is now playing in all local theatres (Review here), and new releases The Iron ClawThe Boys in the Boat and American Fiction are all so new they weren't screened for press in advance.

No matter what you go see, happy new year and happy movie-going!

You can read more reviews and entertainment news with @MrTyCollins on Facebook and Twitter.