From ‘Knives Out’ to ‘Uncut Gems,’ four must-see movies of the holiday season

A scene from 'Knives Out'
Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon and Jaeden Martell in a scene from “Knives Out.”
(Claire Folger/Lionsgate)

Among the year’s strongest upcoming releases are movies that first screened for audiences at film festivals including Sundance, Cannes, Telluride and Toronto. Here are four of my favorites from the festival circuit, all bound for Los Angeles theaters this holiday season.


Alfre Woodard in 'Clemency'
Alfre Woodard in “Clemency.”
(Paul Sarkis)

As a maximum-security prison warden enduring a slow spiritual death with every lethal injection she administers, Alfre Woodard gives one of her finest, most unflinching performances. The movie, directed with galvanizing force and concentration by Chinonye Chukwu, proves worthy of her gaze; it deservedly won the top prize for American dramas at Sundance.


Knives Out

'Knives Out'
Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, C Callan, Ana De Armas, Christopher Plummer, Michael Shannon, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindholm, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford on the set of “Knives Out.”
(Claire Folger/Lionsgate)

Someone’s bumped off the world’s bestselling mystery writer in this dazzling throwback to the country-house whodunit. Plotted with confounding ingenuity by writer-director Rian Johnson and splendidly acted by an ensemble that includes Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer, Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans, it’s a wry postmodern sendup that also happens to be an instant classic of the form.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

'Portrait of a Lady on Fire'
A scene from “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.”

Céline Sciamma’s exquisite love story traces the physical, emotional and intellectual bonds that form between an 18th century French painter (Noémie Merlant) and her latest subject (Adèle Haenel). Winner of a screenplay prize at Cannes, it’s gorgeous, keenly intelligent filmmaking in which the usual barriers between thinking and feeling, and between looking and creating, are magically erased.


Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler in 'Uncut Gems'
Adam Sandler in “Uncut Gems” from A24..

It should be common knowledge by now, but just in case: Adam Sandler has given great dramatic performances before (“Punch-Drunk Love,” “The Meyerowitz Stories”). But he has never been greater, or sweatier, than he is as a master of high-wire hustle-and-bustle in this latest sustained anxiety attack of a thriller from New York brothers Josh and Benny Safdie.