Why you should care

Because you want a break from all that ho-ho-ho and fa-la-la-la-la.

’Tis the season for carols, TV specials, and more holiday uplift than you can shake a fist at. But any Grinch feeling left out in the cold should know that, among the cheerful biopics and Disney musicals being released this yuletide, there are some decidedly less festive options. You can have your fill of class division, corruption and cinematic serial killers — if only you know where to look.

Inherent Vice

In select cities December 12, wide release January 9

This sun-baked detective drama (heavy emphasis on baked) is not without its darker shades. Paul Thomas Anderson directs Joaquin Phoenix as a bumbling P.I. in Los Angeles in an adaptation of a 2009 Thomas Pynchon novel. The neo-noir is a welcome return to the filmmaker’s late ‘90s style; unlike his far grimmer recent output, here the occasionally overpraised writer-director is at his best counterbalancing the bleak with the bizarre. The hilariously convoluted plot is rife with deception, substance abuse and murder as the optimism of the ‘60s gives way to the disenchantment of Nixon’s ‘70s. The film threatens to give you a contact high and harsh your mellow all at once.

Follow the film on Facebook for screening updates.

Winter Sleep

In limited release December 19

Check @wintersleepfilm for screening updates.

In Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s lachrymose, Palme d’Or-winning film, the Turkish auteur teases out a slow-burning crisis within his protagonist — which at 196 minutes isn’t always an easy proposition for the audience. Aydin is a narcissistic writer and former actor who oversees the intricately beautiful, cave-like hotel he inherited from his late father. The gorgeous images have a faint golden glow, a warmth that emanates from their center and illuminates the pale, untouched snow surrounding the forlorn characters. The actual narrative may sometimes trudge along like a traveler braving a blizzard without snowshoes, but Ceylan makes the smallest of moments (a child throwing a rock at a moving car, a drawn-out conversation about class and spirituality) feel like apocalyptic harbingers.

A Most Violent Year

In theaters December 31

Writer/director J.C. Chandor has improved steadily with each of his films, and A Most Violent Year fulfills the promise of his talky Margin Call (2011) and the nearly silent All Is Lost (2013). Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain star as the power couple behind a burgeoning heating-oil empire in 1981 New York. Their meteoric ascent is fueled by grit and determination on one hand, compromise and corruption on the other. Not every mid-level gangster starts out with their hands dirty, and Chandor charts the moral decline accompanying financial gain with weary-eyed aplomb.

Tales of the Grim Sleeper

In limited release December 11, coming to HBO in 2015

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It’s no coincidence that the most genuinely disturbing anti-holiday film on offer is also the only one that takes place in the real world. The eponymous serial killer took the lives of somewhere between 10 and 180 women (depending on whom you ask) over a 25-year period beginning in 1985. The fact that he preyed upon homeless prostitutes in South Central Los Angeles meant that the only people who bothered connecting the dots went largely unheard. Controversial documentarian Nick Broomfield takes all involved to task for their (mis)handling of the case in this dispiriting portrait of a cast-aside community.

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