Traditionally this is a big time for movie going and therefore for new releases. Too many, this year, for me to deal with. So the new animated film Migrations isn't in here, nor is the new Zack Snyder film Rebel Moon on Netflix, or the rom-com Anyone But You. I couldn't get previews.

Seven others are here. Or you could try The Holdovers, which is my choice for a very good holiday movie. It's set at Christmas and eloquently expresses the proper sentiments. It's in theaters now.

Also worthy is Aitamaako'tamisskapi Natosi: Before the Sun unwieldy in name but a very good example of the films we're getting from or about Indigenous communities these days. A young Alberta woman works hard to get into bareback horse racing, a sport not usually open to women. I gave it high marks when it played at Hot Docs back in May and it's now available on Paramount+ and for free at Telus Optik TV (if you have access to that). It's worth seeking out.

Or there are these …

The Boys in the Boat: 3 stars

The Color Purple: 3

The Zone of Interest: 4

Anselm: 3½

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom: 2

Society of the Snow: 4

The Iron Claw: 3½

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: Stories about underdogs are always good for the holidays. They're positive and inspiring. George Clooney's presentation of this one (he's the director) is old-style and comfortable but entertaining. It show a group of college athletes from Seattle who got all the way to Berlin for the 1936 Olympics. Hitler was there watching. The film doesn't centre on politics though, but on class and privilege. The boys were working class, teams from rich schools usually won and got to go. Internationally, teams from the big powers were tops. How could these boys possibly compete?

Courtesy of Amazon MGM

I'll leave the final result for you to find, but clearly just getting there meant they managed a lot of wins. The film draws you into the excitement of these races and the drama. There's edge-of-your seat tension as the Seattle team had a habit of starting slow and having to put everything they've got into catching up. With eight boys on the team we don't learn much about any of them but we learn the sport. Much of the task rests with the coxswain who sets the pace and has to get the boys to give more and more. The one actor we're familiar with here, Joel Edgerton, plays the coach and he's as surprised as anybody whenever they win. The film is based on a best-selling book and the story is worth bringing back. (In theaters starting Chistmas Day) 3 out of 5

THE COLOR PURPLE: It started as a novel, became a movie, then a Broadway musical and is now back from in version as a movie. The story is there but you have to be patient. It doesn't flow smoothly. The songs are there but only two are standouts for me: the assertive “Hell No” and the proud “I'm Here” sung by two women, Danielle Brooks and Fantasia Barrino who performed them in stage versions. The story is complex in relating multiple examples of hardship that black woman in America experience. We learn of them through the story of Celia who we follow from young age to old and through the various women she meets.

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Played in adultdood by Fantasia Barrino, Celia is raped by her father, bears two children and is sold off to another abuser known simply as Mister and played by Colman Domingo. What bouys her up is her hope to get back together with her sister Nettie (Halle Baily) who ran off and is now in Africa. She is inspired by the self-esteem of a woman named Sofia (Danielle Brooks) who is married to Mister's son Harpo (Corey Hawkins). He treats her well, which his dad insists is a sign of weakness. There are more women types, including a brassy juke joint singer played by Taraji P. Henson and a singer with a squeaky voice and appropriately named Squeak played by R&B star H.E.R. Together they reflect the pros and cons that black women in America face. That was the appeal of the Alice Walker novel and the elegant film by Stephen Spielberg. It is here too but less involving and not as effective as directed by Blitz Bazawule, known for music videos, and produced by Oprah Winfrey. (In theaters starting Christmas Day) 3 out of 5

THE ZONE OF INTEREST: A holocaust story for the holidays. It's not cheery but does get its point across in an easy manner. It's a family story with the grim elements far in the background. The family doesn't seem to think about them although they live right beside Auschwitz where the father is the commander and faint noises can be heard now and then and fly ash drifts over on to the plants in the garden. The circumstances were true for Rudolf Höss, his wife Hedwig and their children.

The grim stuff isn't in the film (though apparently it is in the novel by Kingsley Amis that Jonathan Glazer made into this film). Rudolf (a stiff Christian Friedel) and Hedwig (a lively Sandra Hüller) don't talk about what's going on. They live like a suburban couple, a comparison that's made even stronger when he is offered a promotion to head up another camp. That raises concerns in her mind. The move might be difficult for the children. A very common discussion for parents I'm sure but these aren't ordinary parents. Do they even think about what's really going on so close to where they live? Do they approve? Do they take it as a something they have to accept for the good of the state? It seems the film wants to raise those questions without being obvious about it. But it knows we'll ponder them. It's another way of expressing the banality of evil and it works. The critics in Los Angeles call this the best film of the year. (In theaters) 4 out of 5

ANSELM: If you know contemporary art, the name Anselm Kiefer may be familiar to you. It's new to me but this documentary by Wim Wenders is an excellent introduction. He's also German, though seems to have re-located to the south of France where he paints large murals. Some are as big as walls in a warehouse. He rides a bike to get around, raises himself up with machines you might see on construction sites and paints with unusual methods. He's seen adding molten metal to his paintings, or straw which he burns with a blowtorch.

Courtesy of Mongrel Media

Wenders shows all this in sparkling 3-D and since it happens in large spaces there's lots of opportunity to show depth. And to let him tell his story. There are re-creations of him in the rubble of post-war Berlin or later in his room. His own son and the director's grand nephew stand in for him there. There are pronouncement from him that the vile part of Germany's history must never be forgotten and that his work is his way of keeping it remembered. It got him in trouble at one point when he was accused of sympathizing with fascists. He had included some of their symbols but not to support, he says, to remember and damn. Several times he quotes philosopher Martin Heidegger and poet Paul Celan thereby showing there's depth to his thoughts on this. It's a fascinating study of one man's grappling with history. (In theaters) 3½ out of 5

AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM: This will likely be the top movie this weekend but it doesn't deserve to be. Its a bit of a mess, with a plot that's either overly familiar or unclear (or both) and little that you can get attached to. And worse, the 3-D it comes in makes it all look murky. That's a real minus because it features a lot of special effects work that the designer says was inspired by an industry legend, Ray Harryhausen. It should be sharp and clear.

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

The film could do well anyway because it's got a built-in audience. It's a sequel to the first, which was a huge hit back in 2018. Several actors are back, chiefly Jason Mamoa, who is very popular, and even Nicole Kidman and Amber Heard in almost minor roles. And also back is a character called Black Manta who was defeated by Aquaman back then and also lost his dad. He wants revenge, that most common motivation in films like this. What is new is his attempt to bring climate change, here still called global warming, into the conflict. Don't ask how; I'm not sure I understand what he's up to but the plot point is written in, possibly to be timely and relevant.

Just as timely is a hint of authoritarianism. Aquaman wants to reveal Atlantis, where he is king, to the whole world. The council that rules with him says no. He won't listen to them. He does amiably ally with his half brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) who he breaks out of prison. There are too many ragged points in this story, the greatest of which has Aquaman as a new father doting on his baby son which leads to a gross scene when somebody threatens to stab the infant. Too much. Too disconnected. The year has been unkind to super-hero films. (In theaters) 2 out of 5

SOCIETY OF THE SNOW: The story is widely-known in South America and was told to us in the 1993 film Alive. (The American producers filmed it in British Columbia.) This one was made right where it happened, in the Andes Mountains, on the west side of Argentina. A plane carrying a rugby team from Uruguay to Chile crashed up there, killing 16 passengers immediately and putting the other 29 through more than two months of hell. They were cold and starving, having only a few buscuits to eat. They debated extreme measures to survive and eventually resorted to them. Eating human flesh. Gross, anti-religious but necessary. Some of the survivors gave the others permission to use their bodies if they died.

Courtesy of Netflix

Spanish director J.A. Bayona, who has made art-house films and one of the Jurassic Park entries, skillfully creates the scene and the mood, the claustrophobia, the inability to do anything, the fear and cold, the futility of walking in the deep snow and the terror of getting a radio working only to hear that search efforts have been called off. There's a voice over from Numa (Enzo Vogrincic Roldán): “This is a place where life is impossible. Out here we are an anomaly”. Despair wasn't common, but revulsion at cannibalism was. Eventually even the holdouts gave in. It's not sensationalised at all. They ate only small pieces covered in snow. But they survived. And they bonded as a group, hence the title. The film is uncomfortable but mesmerizing. (Netflix Jan 4, but theaters in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver now) 4 out of 5

THE IRON CLAW: That sounds like an Asian thriller or a horror movie but is actually about wrestling and is named after a head-gripping move one character uses. We get to see a lot of moves here, many punches and kicks (to the face even) as these athletes compete before raucous crowds in the southern U.S. It's a true story about the Von Erich brothers and the dad who pressured them to succeed to fulfill his own thwarted dreams. So family allegience is a big theme here. The brothers are inseperable and one Kevin, played by Zac Efron, is trying to become the world heavyweight champ. The former teen idol has really bulked up for the role as this poster shows.

Part of the film's poster, courtesy of Elevation Pictures

The heart of the film is not in the many battles in the ring though, it's at the family home when dad pushes the brothers to work towards his vision of "the greatest family in the history of wrestling." One brother isn't part of it; he's into music. Three are and dad not only insists, cajoles, even shames them, he plays favorites. Holt McCallany is absolutely believable playing him as a don't-give-me-any-guff taskmaster. The actors playing his sons are fine but don't compare with him. The film is written and directed by Sean Durkin, who lived in Canada when he was a boy. He manages to get family dynamic exactly right and that's surely why many film critic groups have this on 10-best lists. It satisfies. (In theaters) 3 ½ out of 5