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New in Theaters December 16: Rogue One, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Collateral Beauty

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By Chris Kavan - 12/15/16 at 06:42 AM CT

It's going to be a great weekend for film. While Rogue One is going to get the most attention (with it being likely the second-best December opening behind last year's Force Awakens), two Oscar-worthy limited-release films are getting major expansions. That would be Manchester by the Sea and last week's huge limited debut, La La Land. That leaves the weepy Collateral Beauty as the odd duck, and no amount of Will Smith is going to be able to make the film shine. In any case, I think the weekend will look quite good with the Star Wars stand-alone movie leading the charge.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY Disney's acquisition of the Star Wars brand has already resulted in the largest domestic gross in history. They're plan of action going forward is to release one new film each year - one part of the trilogy that began with The Force Awakens, and one stand-alone film (tied in the universe) between each. This year brings us the first stand-alone film, Rogue One. Taking place before the events in A New Hope, we follow Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), part criminal, part rebellion solider, as she is tasked with stealing the plans for the Empire's greatest weapon, the Death Star, and getting it to the rebellion's hands. Erso's father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) was taken by the Empire when she was just a child and seems to have a hand in the super weapon's creation. Erso is joined by a rag-tag group including clone wars veteran Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), Chirrut ╬mwe, a blind monk who follows the Force despite having no connection to it (Donnie Yen), his protector and heavy-weapons specialist Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), dashing officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a reprogrammed Empire droid (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and a crack pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Together they will face overwhelming odds and the full might of the Empire, including the evil Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and the menace of Darth Vader. By most early accounts the film is good - maybe not great - but still good. It also seems to have loads more action than a typical Star Wars film. Besides a vocal minority complaining about the supposed political slant of the film - I would say any Star Wars fan and any moviegoer in general would be missing out if they didn't go to this one. I already have my tickets and am expecting something great.

LA LA LAND The first of two limited-release films seeing a wide expansion is last week's big winner. La La Land scored the best per-theater average of any film this year, and one of the best in general. Damien Chazelle, who impressed me quite a lot with Whiplash, directs this L.A. tale about a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) who find each other amid their flailing career paths only to both find new opportunity and success - even as their dreams threaten to tear their love apart. Also, this is a musical with a lot of dance numbers and normally that would be enough for me, but Chazelle has eye and ear to pull this off and if the mounting awards and nominations are any indication, I think this is one musical I would be more than willing to watch. Plus Gosling and Stone just look so good together - chemistry is important and, based on the trailers, those two have it in spades. Supporting cast includes J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt, Sonoya Mizuno, Finn Wittrock, John Legend, Tom Everett Scott and Josh Pence. If you are a person who likes to watch the Oscar nominees before the awards, this is definitely one you won't want to miss.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA La La Land isn't the only potential award-winning film to see a wide release this weekend. Manchester by the Sea, which has been climbing each week as it expands, finally gets to to a bigger audience. It already has $8.3 million and looks to up that amount. While La La Land is upbeat, Manchester is a much more dramatic, some might even say depressing, affair. Still, Casey Affleck has been getting major praise (many saying it's the best role in his career) as a man who finds himself being a surrogate father to his nephew after the boy's father dies. Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges help round out the impressive cast. While the movie might get a bit heavy, it has also drawn a lot of praise and finds itself on many best-of lists along with the nominations that come with it. This is another solid choice for those looking for the year's best and I have a feeling it will continue to build upon its already impressive total.

COLLATERAL BEAUTY Now, normally I would say a drama starring Will Smith would be a sure-fire hit, but Collateral Beauty has a lot going against it. Bigger movies, both critically and blockbuster-wise. I have seen the trailer and this just looks too damn sentimental for its own good. Smith's character is about as low as he can be following a major tragedy in his life. He copes by writing letters - to Time, Love and Death - even as he retreats from life and those closest to him. But when Time, Love and Death seemingly show up in his life - he may be able to heal the pain and live life once again. Despite a knockout cast: Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pe˝a, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley and Ann Dowd among them, this movie is simply going to be overshadowed by more popular and just simply better films. A film that would normally be a contender for the top spot is going to have a tough time just making itself known.

It should be an exciting weekend for sure. It remains to be seen just how much Rogue One opens with and how our potential award-winners distinguish themselves in truly wide release. I'll be back on Sunday with the results.


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