"Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens" takes place 30 years after the death of Darth Vader in a galaxy we know well by now. It opens the evening of Thursday, Dec. 17. Already it's a bigger deal than Christmas. It constitutes, in fact, a war on Christmas, and when Fox News figures this out they'll send out the storm troopers in force.
Speaking of which ... earlier this month news came down, hard, on the "Star Wars" fanatics who are counting the days. Many, if not all, U.S. theater chains have banned moviegoers from attending the new "Star Wars" film accompanied by any "Star Wars" toy weaponry or storm trooper masks, or even from wearing face paint.
From the AMC corporate office: "Guests are welcome to come dressed in costume, but we do not permit masks. In short, bring your lightsaber, turn it off during the movie, and leave the blaster and Darth Vader mask at home."
The Cinemark chain goes a step further. At Cinemark theaters, "Star Wars costumes are welcome. However, no face coverings, face paint or simulated weapons (including lightsabers/blasters) will be allowed in the building."
The good news? A month prior to "The Force Awakens," one of the best films of the year, "Spotlight," opens and there's no ban on attending "Spotlight" disguised as a style-neutral, unglamorous investigative journalist. Also, no one's nixed dressing up as Leonardo DiCaprio's early 19th century frontiersman in the forthcoming drama "The Revenant." But who wants half their popcorn ending up somewhere in an unkempt fur-trapper beard? I've had that beard. It's a grooming nightmare.
Here are 10 to watch this season. Dates reflect national release openings, and are subject to change.
"Spotlight," limited release Nov. 6, wide release Nov. 13. The most affirmative newspaper movie since "All the President's Men" stars Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Brian d'Arcy James as the four-person Boston Globe investigative journalism unit that exposed the scarily wide-ranging Catholic archdiocese sexual abuse scandal.
"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2," Nov. 20. The trilogy (expanded to four, because the movies have made a tremendous amount of money) concludes with Jennifer Lawrence proving, once and for all, that Donald Sutherland does not know how to run a country! Directed by Francis Lawrence, who did the previous two.
"Creed," Nov. 25. Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa eases into the Burgess Meredith gruff-but-wily mentor position in this story of Rocky training the son (Michael B. Jordan) of Apollo Creed for a title shot. Directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, who did the excellent "Fruitvale Station."
"The Good Dinosaur," Nov. 25. Disney/Pixar's latest ruthless assault on our emotions tells the tale of Arlo the Apatosaurus, his kindly preteen human savior and the value of interspecies friendship in a world of predators as well as wonders. The voice cast includes the stalwart Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand.
"Chi-Raq," Dec. 4. It's already notorious and nobody's seen it yet. Spike Lee's brash update on the ancient Athenian anti-war comedy "Lysistrata" takes place in modern-day, bullet-strewn Chicago, where the "gorgeous Nubian sistah" Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris of "Dear White People") organizes a sex strike in response to an epidemic of gun violence. Following a limited theatrical release "Chi-Raq" will stream on Amazon Instant Video.
"Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens," Dec. 17. Our national space folk tale continues with new characters, new lightsabers and good ol' Harrison Ford and Chewbacca.
"Joy," Dec. 25. The woman who invented the Miracle Mop doesn't sound like ripe biopic material. But writer-director David O. Russell told the Abscam story his own way, wonderfully, with "American Hustle," and he's reteaming with key collaborators with whom he's scored in the past. Jennifer Lawrence, for starters. Robert De Niro, for seconds. Plus Bradley Cooper, hoping to put the flameout of "Burnt" behind him.
"The Revenant," Dec. 25. Last year, "Birdman" co-writer and director Alejandro G. Inarritu gave us an egocentric movie star in crisis, and on Broadway. This year he's going back to the wilds of early 19th-century America, for a fact-based tale of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), left for dead after a bear attack, and his vengeance on the trapper (Tom Hardy) who forged on without him.
"The Hateful Eight," limited release Dec. 25, wide release Jan. 8. Quentin Tarantino's latest, shot in old-fashioned widescreen 70 millimeter on the substance formerly known as "film," reportedly mashes up elements of Agatha Christie, "Bonanza" and half of everything else once commonly sharing the same video store shelf. It's a post-Civil War tale, set among a shifty cadre of snowbound characters with secrets, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth and Channing Tatum.
"Anomalisa," limited release Dec. 30, wide release January. Wonderful, sad, trenchant, delicate. It's also a more interesting animated achievement than "Inside Out," though this is not for kids. The Duke Johnson/Charlie Kaufman collaboration, based on a stage project, tells of a customer service expert (voiced by David Thewlis) and his travails on the road, specifically his time spent in a (fictional) Cincinnati hotel named after a delusional paranoiac condition. If you appreciate Kaufman's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Adaptation" or "Being John Malkovich" scripts, you know how useless a conventional narrative description can be with his searching brand of human comedy.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune Newspapers critic.