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What to see at the movies over Winter Break

By Jack Ryan, Senior Staff Writer

December is traditionally a great time at the movies, and this winter is no different.

Kicking off this month's run of high quality flicks are a handful of independent films coming this weekend. Most notable is Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq," a satire of gang-violence in Chicago's infamous south side. "Chi-Raq" stars Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes and Samuel L. Jackson, and is supposedly the controversial director's return to form after a series of misfires.

Two major foreign films, Justin Kurzel's "Macbeth" and Paolo Sorrentino's "Youth," also hit the domestic market Dec 4. "Macbeth" is an adaptation of Shakespeare's timeless drama, with major stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard playing the title role and Lady Macbeth, respectively. "Youth" is Sorrentino's follow-up to his Oscar-winning "The Great Beauty," and looks to secure the Italian director another Best Foreign Film nomination.

The following Friday, Dec 11, also sports three major releases: "In the Heart of the Sea," "The Big Short" and "Legend."

"In the Heart of the Sea" looks to reveal the true story behind Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," and, knowing director Ron Howard's history in disaster film with "Apollo 11," this is sure to be a unique cinematic experience.

"The Big Short" is a biographical dramedy that covers the 2008 financial crisis and sports a large cast of big names - Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale, to name a few.

Finally, "Legend" is the crime biopic of the notorious twin gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray, both played by the immensely talented Tom Hardy.

I don't even need to explain what will be happening Dec 18, since "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" has transformed from a series reboot into a global phenomenon. Featuring veteran cast members reprising their roles (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill), newcomers to the galaxy far, far away (Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley), and ambitious director J.J. Abrams, there is no doubt in my mind that this will be the biggest movie of the year.

Dec 18 also sports "Son of Saul," a Hungarian film that follows an Auschwitz prisoner struggling to properly bury his son. "Son of Saul" is the current front-runner for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in February, and is undoubtedly worth searching out.

The only thing that could possibly top Dec. 18 as the best film day of the year is 2015's current Christmas line-up, which features four films that will most likely be considered among the years best.

"Joy" is the most recent film from "Silver Linings Playbook" director David O. Russell, and Russell manages to bring most of that prolific cast back together for this biopic of Miracle Mop inventor, Joy Mangano, with Jennifer Lawrence taking the lead role

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Another major director makes his long-awaited return on Christmas day - Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino continues his recent streak of historical dramas with "The Hateful Eight," an ensemble-cast driven western that should appease any fan of violence, witty dialogue or cult films.

Although "Hateful Eight" carries some controversy along with its release, it's doubtful any film will have a greater cultural impact this year than "Concussion." Starring Will Smith as CTE-discovering pathologist Emmet Omalu, "Concussion" tackles the NFL's denial and lack of action towards the destructive disease with brutal honesty.

Finally, Christmas Day provides the wide release opening for "Carol," the Cate Blanchett/Rooney Mara romantic drama that has opened to universal acclaim for the two leads, as well as director Todd Haynes' impeccable work.

Unfortunately, things slow down substantially in January, with only two films debuting worth major recognition.

The first is "Anomalisa," surrealist writer Charlie Kaufman's stop-motion release, which should give "Inside Out" a serious run for its money in the Best Animated Film category. As of now, however, "Anomalisa" has only a broad release date of sometime in January.

Last, and my speculative pick for best film of the year, is "The Revenant."

Opening Jan 8, "The Revenant" is the story of betrayed fur trapper Hugh Glass and his search for revenge. Leonardo DiCaprio looks to finally end his Oscar drought, and director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki hope to complete back-to-back wins after the success of "Birdman" last year.

No matter which movies you choose see this holiday season, spend part of your Winter Break at the movie theater.