December! It’s the end of a hell year! Let’s wrap it up! 2019 will be better, right? Right? Anyway, lots of blockbusters and awards bait, so let’s dig in.
- SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE – Dec. 14. When Sony announced an animated Spider-Man film, no one knew what to expect. With the brilliant Lord and Miller writing, the creative team has delivered one of the best animated films of the year, and arguably the best Spider-Man film yet. It’s really a celebration of the character and all it’s inspired over the last fifty years. An absolute must-see.
- VICE – Dec. 26. Adam McKay has used his comedic skills to create his own sub-genre of political comedy, and he’s followed the massive success of THE BIG SHORT with this shockingly funny portrayal of the rise of Dick Cheney, played by (checks notes) Christian Bale. *cough* The story is completely insane, and it takes a filmmaker like McKay to bring it to light.
- THE FAVOURITE – Dec. 7, limited. Queen Anne(Olivia Colman) and her best friend (Rachel Weisz) have their lives upended with the arrival of a new servant (Emma Stone). Three legendary actresses throwing down in Victorian England? Yes please!
- AQUAMAN – IMAX, Dec. 21. DC’s course correction continues with the adventures of SEA BEEF! He’s not lame anymore. Early word is very positive, it’s actually a lot of fun with set pieces rivaling director James Wan’s work on the FAST & FURIOUS movies. And there’s some proper IMAX work too!
- MARY POPPINS RETURNS – Dec. 19. What seemed like a terrible idea has turned out superca-nope, not going there. But the key word coming out of advance screenings is “magic”. Emily Blunt seems to be a solid choice to continue Julie Andrews’ work, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is a goddamn national treasure. Should be a delight.
- AT ETERNITY’S GATE – Dec. 7, limited. Willem Dafoe hits both ends of the spectrum this month, playing a scenery-chewing heavy in AQUAMAN, and looking for Oscar gold playing Vincent Van Gogh in the new film from the director of THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY. Reviews have been mixed-positive, but Dafoe’s performance is career-defining.
- MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS – Dec. 7, limited. Another royal romp, this time with Saoirse Ronan battling Margot Robbie. Stage legend Josie Rourke makes her directing debut, with a screenplay from HOUSE OF CARDS’ Beau Willimon, so yeah, it’s got some bona fides, though reviews are mixed-positive here too.
- BUMBLEBEE – Dec. 21, IMAX. In a perfect world,this would be the first Transformers movie. It’s basically a light reboot, set in the 80s and keeping a lot of the original designs, plus the main character is a young girl played by Hailee Steinfied. The trailer alone has more heart than the entire Michael Bay series in its seven million minutes, but there’s a lot of competition this Christmas, and most people are burned out on the franchise. Still should hold up on its own.
- HOLMES AND WATSON – Dec. 26. Normally a Will Ferrell/ John C. Reilly joint would set my soul on fire, but without Adam McKay behind the camera it looks a little messy. Luckily it also stars every British actor working today, so there’s lots of distractions. Etan Cohen is a great writer (TROPIC THUNDER, IDIOCRACY), but his only other director credit was the weak GET HARD. The trailer honestly left me cold, but I’m hopeful that the final product will deliver.
- STAN & OLLIE – Dec. 28, limited. Hey, it’s the other John C. Reilly film! This time he’s playing Oliver Hardy opposite Steve Coogan’s Stan Laurel in the tale of the last days of one of comedy’s most successful duos. Again, the performances are great but the material is a little undercooked, and the trailer showed basically the whole damn film.
- VOX LUX – Dec. 7, limited. Natalie Portman tries to follow in Lady Gaga’s shoes in this very similar take on the perils of stardom so recently shown in A STAR IS BORN. Here Portman plays a spiraling pop star looking back on her ascent as she ruins her own relationship with her daughter, played by the same actress who plays the younger version of herself. Sia wrote the music, so that’s a big plus, but in a theme this month the reviews have been (say it with me) mixed positive.
- IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK – Dec. 14, limited. Barry Jenkins’ MOONLIGHT was a massive hit, so obviously the followup has a lot of attention on it. Can he top a best picture winner? Should he even try? It’s another powerful look at love and struggle in the African-American community,this time through the eyes of a pregnant woman dealing with her boyfriend being accused of sexual assault. Lots of great reviews, but it just doesn’t have people buzzing.
- THE MULE – Dec. 14. Clint Eastwood directs himself once again, this time playing a senior forced to carry drugs across the border since no one’s going to look in an old white guy’s truck, right? This one’s deadly serious, but it’ll be hard to look at it objectively given Clint’s clear right-wing stance.
- ONCE UPON A DEADPOOL – Dec. 12. An inside joke about a family-friendly Deadpool movie ends up its own creature. By framing it against THE PRINCESS BRIDE, they’ve retooled DEADPOOL 2 to be a proper PG-13 release with some added material and, well, less swears and blood. I was hoping for a brutal TV-style ADR festival, with lots of melon-farmers and Mr. Falcons. Otherwise it seems like a lame excuse for a theatrical re-release.
- THE MORTAL ENGINES – Dec. 14. Peter Jackson secured the rights to the series during the height of the Young Adult adaptation frenzy, but there hasn’t been a YA hit in a very long time. Jackson co-wrote and produced but didn’t direct, leaving it to one of his WETA acolytes. Will this tale of mobile cities battling on a post-apocalyptic land get eyeballs? Not likely, thanks to lukewarm reviews.
- SECOND ACT – Dec. 21. Thanks to a resume snafu,a struggling mom gets a shot at the corporate big time. Jennifer Lopez is due for a comeback, and this tale of street smarts versus Ivy League could be a big hit, but it feels like a story that needs a light touch and director Peter Segal is from the Adam Sandler part of Hollywood, so it’ll likely be too dumb to work.
- WELCOME TO MARWEN – Dec. 21. To deal with the physical and mental trauma of a brutal attack, a man creates a one sixth scale World War II era town in his backyard and creates elaborate stories for the inhabitants. That’s the story of the documentary MARWENCOL. So of course Hollywood had to dramatize it. Robert Zemeckis and I have a complicated relationship. This project definitely looks like it’ll fall in the “hate it”category, with Zemeckis choosing to use technical wizardry to bring that world to live, making actors look like living Barbie dolls. They couldn’t even keep the name of the damned town, shortening it to the more marketing friendly Marwen. The whole thing seems shamelessly manipulative, and I’d expect nothing less from the director of FORREST GUMP.
As usual, expect the awards films to stay in cinemas well into the new year, but the big-screen efforts will be quickly pushed out of the IMAX screens, so don’t sleep on those. But there’s no shortage of films to see this holiday season to escape the family for a few hours. Enjoy, and I’ll see you in a month for the annual nightmare that is January.