7 Movies to Catch Over Thanksgiving Break: ‘Lion,’ ‘Moana,’ ‘Moonlight’ and More!

Allied
Allied Daniel Smith

Maybe we all can’t agree on politics or the presidential election or politics. But starting now, let’s agree to be thankful for something truly important this time of year: amazing Oscar-caliber movies!!!!! Yup, it’s time to stash the comic-book flicks in the drawer until 2017 and get down to business. The current cinematic lineup is deep and diverse, as everyone from Frozen-addicted kids to emotionally fraught teens to brokenhearted-and-pissed-about-it adults can find a captivating winner. As a special bonus, the films provide two hours worth of much-needed escapism. Hallelujah, indeed. 

Allied

3 stars (out of 4)

Marianne (Marion Cotillard) and Max (Brad Pitt) have never met. Yet as soon as they make eye contact at a restaurant, they embrace each other like longtime loves. And it’s 100 percent believable. Their unbridled passion drives this absorbing and satisfying period piece. Pitt plays an American intelligence officer in 1942 who must pretend to be married to Cotillard’s French operative during a mission in Casablanca. At first, the relationship is all professional — she even barks at him about doing a Parisian French accent. They can’t resist their sexual impulses, and post-assignment, they settle down for real in London and have a daughter. Then a shocking discovery about Marianne threatens to tear them apart. What could have been a cheesy romance novel come to life delivers as a sexy drama. When Pitt and Cotillard get it on for the first time in a car while a desert sandstorm rages outside, the screen singes with their heat. (The alluring, Oscar-winning Cotillard far exceeds him in the acting department, though.) And when the story drags a bit, their 1940s style offers sumptuous eye candy. Enjoy. (Opens Wednesday, November 23)

Moana
Moana DISNEY

Moana

3.5 stars (out of 4)

For holiday family entertainment, it does not get better than a fantastically lush Disney musical. Moana (voiced by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho), the daughter of a Polynesian island chief, would much rather venture beyond the reef of her home than settle down with a dark-haired hunk. She gets her chance when she volunteers to sail the ocean, find a legendary demigod named Maui (Dwayne Johnson, incredible) and save her land from ruin. What the story lacks in originality, it makes up for in breathtaking sun-kissed animation and charming humor. (The short-fused Maui tries to throw Moana overboard many times, and warns her, “If you start singing, I’m going to throw up!”) Plus, the soaring, memorable melodies are creatively infused into the narrative — and supplied by Hamilton maestro Lin-Manuel Miranda. “How Far I’ll Go” is the new “Let It Go”! (Opens Wednesday, November 23)


Nocturnal Animals
Nocturnal Animals Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Nocturnal Animals

3.5 stars (out of 4)

The opening credits feature an obese woman dancing around buck naked. And that’s the least mesmerizing part of designer turned director Tom Ford’s tense and taut noir thriller. The doozy of a plot: A chic, unhappy art gallery owner (Amy Adams) reflects on her first marriage while poring over a novel written by her cuckold ex (Jake Gyllenhaal) and dedicated to her. In the film-within-a-film, a Texan man (Gyllenhaal again) is torn apart because of his wife’s grisly murder and seeks retribution with the help of a wily sheriff (scene stealer Michael Shannon). Just in case the theme isn’t clear, midway through Adams becomes unnerved while standing in front of a painting with “Revenge” sprawled on it. Still, Ford uses his gift for striking visuals to create a must-see. (Now in theaters)

Moonlight
Moonlight David Bornfriend

Moonlight

3.5 stars (out of 4)

One of the best movies of the year is an unlikely and profound coming-of-age story. In three unforgettable chapters, a lost boy named Chiron grapples with his masculinity under the pink Miami skies. As a child, Chiron gets a confidence boost thanks to a drug dealer (future Oscar nominee Mahershala Ali) who acts as a father figure — only for it to all unravel in his adolescence when he develops feelings for his best friend. The indie drama, coproduced by Brad Pitt, touches on themes of race, sexuality and isolation in ways that are rarely depicted in cinema. And its quietest moments are the most powerful. (Now in theaters)

Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea Capital Pictures

Manchester by the Sea

4 stars (out of 4)

Casey Affleck has found his career-defining role. He delivers a devastating performance as Lee, a Boston janitor who has retreated from the world around him. He emerges after his beloved brother (Kyle Chandler) dies and names him the legal guardian of his teen son. Despite Lee’s obvious bond with his hockey-playing nephew, he’s reticent to uproot back to his hometown of Manchester and assume the responsibility. Intermittent flashbacks reveal why. Lee carries himself with a heaviness for a reason, while fleeting sightings of his ex-wife (Michelle Williams, splendid) only add to his pain. Director Kenneth Lonergan, in his third feature, has crafted a masterful all-American tale that delves deep into the black hole of grief. (Even the Massachusetts skies are cast in a permanent dreary gray.) At times, it can all be emotionally overwhelming — but isn’t that a characteristic of a great movie? Don’t turn away from it. (Now in theaters)

The Edge of Seventeen
The Edge of Seventeen Courtesy of STX Entertainment

The Edge of Seventeen

3 stars (out of 4)

This girl-powered coming-of-age film is so terrific that Molly Ringwald herself would adore it. Introverted, self-dubbed “old soul” high school junior Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) becomes unglued upon learning that her only friend (Haley Lu Richardson) has fallen for her stud older brother (Blake Jenner). Her acerbic teacher (Woody Harrelson) seems to get her, but, ugh, she’d rather just hide out till college. Nadine isn’t an athlete, a criminal, a basket case, a brain or a princess — she’s just lost. She’s also the heroine of her own story. Thanks to its edgy sense of humor and achingly accurate poignancy, the flick will touch a nerve with anyone who has ever had to ride that tidal wave of teenage angst. By the way, that’s everybody. (Now in theaters)

Lion
Lion Long Way Home Productions

Lion 

3 stars (out of 4)

Ditch the cynicism; take the Kleenex. This heartwarming drama deserves a full heart and open mind. In India, an adorable 5-year-old named Saroo (Sunny Pawar) accidentally becomes separated from his family on a train. Saroo ends up in an orphanage and is eventually adopted by a loving couple (Nicole Kidman, David Wenham) living all the way in Tasmania — but he never forgets his former life. That’s why, 20 years later, the now college grad (Dev Patel) uses Google Earth in the slim hopes of tracking them down. It’s based on actual events, so anyone can predict the final destination of Saroo’s long journey. And in the second act, during which he stares intently at his computer screen and shuts out his parents and girlfriend (Rooney Mara), the film seems to exist just for the big payoff. Still, what a deeply cathartic and moving ending it is. In those moments, Lion roars. (In theaters Friday, November 25).

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