Movie reviews:  'Hidden Figures' and 'A Monster Calls' headline this Golden Globes weekend
20th Century Fox, 2016.

Yes, Sunday is the Golden Globe Awards, which comes on the heels of last month's Critics Choice Awards.  That means that we are knee-deep into award season, and just a few short weeks away from when the official Oscar nominations are announced.  Many films that see wide release in January are actually still eligible for 2016's crop of awards, having qualified with short theatrical runs in LA and New York towards the end of last year.  In other words, you can still enjoy yourself at the movies for the next couple weeks, before the crap hits in it always seems to.

Here are the movies headlining this weekend at the movies, all of which open on Friday, Jan 6:

"Hidden Figures"

"Hidden Figures" is based on the true story of female African-American engineers at NASA, who were responsible for the success of some of the very first space missions back in the 1960s.   On the surface, it follows very familiar tropes of the "underdog" or "unlikely hero" movie, but the film rises to the occasion with great ensemble work from its leads, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, as well as its supporting players like Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst and Mahershala Ali.  Both Ali and Monae also appeared in the film "Moonlight," the film that is receiving all kinds of Oscar and awards-season acclaim.  The film is light, bouncy and even funny as we see the odds that these women had to overcome, in an era of America where it was not easy for women to advance their careers...let alone black women, who faced the added pressures of racial inequality.  Theodore Melfi is the director, who also did "St. Vincent" in 2014.  That movie surprisingly has a similar tone to this one, despite its subjects being worlds apart.  This movie is sure to be a crowd-pleaser though, but it falls way short of greatness.  There's just too much artificiality to how it's presented, so despite the story's importance, it just feels like a movie that's been watered-down.  But that extra solubility makes "Hidden Figures" easily digestable.  Grade: B.

Genre: Drama, Historical.  Runtime: 2 hours, 7 minutes, Rated PG.  Starring: Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst.  Directed by Theodore Melfi ("St. Vincent").

"A Monster Calls"

Felicity Jones has been on the fast-track to super-stardom over the past few years, now having hit the top of the stratosphere as the star of December's "Rogue One:  A Star Wars Story."  But this week, she shows her range in "A Monster Calls," as a mother with a terminal illness.  The movie centers around a young boy, Lewis MacDougall, and his attempts to confront the realities surrounding his mother's fading health.  He grapples with reality by slipping into fantasy.  Given the premise, where this young boy befriends a giant tree monster, one would think that this is set-up to be your basic family fare, but "The BFG" this is not.  "A Monster Calls" is actually a very dark and humorless movie, that takes an intellectual stab at how a child might learn to cope with tragedy.  The tonal weight of this story is sometimes jarring given our expectations, but director J.A. Bayona - who brought us the 2012 emotional powerhouse "The Impossible" - knows how to handle this serious material.  It's of course based on the popular book of the same name, by author Patrick Ness, who also adapted the screenplay.  Jones is good but her role is limited, and MacDougall is a stand-out, but the film never finds that elusive silver lining.  The monster - voiced by a gruffed-up Liam Neeson - is hard to relate to, even if his stories are surprisingly impactful...they are not normal fairy tales or children's stories that have clear heroes and villains.  These tales - told to the child throughout the film - challenge his intellect and offer up no easy answers.  Much like "A Monster Calls."  Grade:  B+.

Genre:  Drama, Fantasy.  Run Time:  1 hour 48 minutes.  Rated PG-13.  Starring:  Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell.  Directed by J.A. Bayona ("The Impossible," "The Orphanage").

Also in theaters this week:  Kate Beckinsale and Theo James star in "Underworld: Blood Wars."

Next week:  Reviews of "Live By Night," "Paterson," "Patriot's Day," and Martin Scorcese's "Silence."

These films all open locally on Friday, Jan 13, 2017 (check for showtimes).

Click here for the Top 20 Movies of 2016.