Another year ends, deep in the depths of one of the most banal seasons for Oscarbait in recent memory. It is a bit strange, even upsetting to me, that I’m kind of to substantially excited for some of the popcorn movies coming out this months – ones I should know more than to be excited for, even – and the awards movies, with one bright shining exception, look pretty whiffy.
And what could be whiffier than a weekend with absolutely no new wide releases, unless you decide for some reason to count the 25th anniversary re-release of Schindler’s List. Which is… not as enticing as other Spielberg re-releases have been and might be in the future.
Otherwise, the limited releases are dominated by three of the less optimistic awards hopefuls: Mary Queen of Scots, which by all accounts is better than it looks, though given how it looks, that’s a low bar; and Ben Is Back, which has the handicap of being both the season’s second Lucas Hedges vehicle and also its section “my son is a drug addict” drama. There’s also Vox Lux, an arty film about the horrible life of a pop star about which I’ve heard one good thing, and it’s from the specific friend I’m least inclined to trust on movies like Vox Lux.
Over on Netflix, we have the premiere of Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, a movie apparently so good that Warner Bros. decided to lose money selling it to the streaming site rather than risk distributing it.
A family-friendly re-edit of Deadpool 2 co-starring Fred Savage, pitched as a Christmas release? That’s so crazy it just can’t work, but it’s also carzy enough that I’d consider myself very curious if it wasn’t coming out at the worst possible time of year.
But then again, there is such a thing as great Netflix content, which by all accounts is very true of Roma, a grand-scale domestic epic directed by Alfonso Cuarón that’s somehow leading the year’s Oscar buzz despite being in black-and-white and Spanish and also being on Netflix. Conrado loved it, everybody else loves it, and I have no doubt that I will love it. My easy pick for most-anticipated of the month, and I hope like hell I can manage to see it in a proper theater…
Speaking of theaters, we finally get some wide releases that are actually new, and only Mortal Engines looks like shit. But visually spectacular shit, at least. Otherwise, we’ve got Clint Eastwood’s “last” film, The Mule, which at a bare minimum is surely going to be his best film of 2018, not that The 15:17 to Paris makes that a hard target to hit. But at best, it looks like it could easily be a return to his mid-2000s run of mini-masterpieces. And better still, there’s the animated superhero movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which disappoints me on only one count: I feel like having Miles Morales’s first big-screen adventure as an adaptation of the massively overpopulated Spider-Verse is setting the character up to fail. Still, if the trailers are even slightly accurate, this is going to be by far the most interesting-looking animated feature of the year. My easy #2, and in any month that there wasn’t a new Cuarón film, I can’t imagine what could top it.
Out in limited release, we’ve got the Foreign Film Oscar hopeful Capernaum, and the all-the-Oscars hopeful If Beale Street Could Talk (another film Conrado has seen; he was much less hot on this one), about which I’m no more excited than I was when it was allegedly coming out in November. Though I still think it looks like it ought to be very pretty.
Everything about Mary Poppins Returns is calculated to piss me off, or at least annoy me, but a couple of things give me pause. One, it’s getting the kind of rapturous early social media praise that you can’t just handwave away. Two, there are only two human beings that I’d like to see play a successor to Julie Andrews’s epochal Mary Poppins, and Disney had the good sense to hire one of them, Emily Blunt (the other is Anne Hathaway, who has the handicap of not being British). So let’s say that I’m looking forward to it despite myself.
Speaking of looking forward to things despite myself! Jason Momoa’s Aquaman was close to my least-favorite part of Justice League, but here we are with him taking the lead in Aquaman itself, and again with the social media: I needed to hear one thing and one thing only, which was that it was colorful and fun, and apparently it is very colorful and extremely fun. But being excited for that movie is practically stone-cold rationalism compared to looking forward to Bumblebee. The Michael Bay Transformers movies have all been soul poison, so having a spin-off prequel to that franchise should be absolutely the most appalling thing imaginable. And yet, along come the trailers to promise that, for the first time in six movies, we’re going to get to see a large robot transform into a normal car in such a fashion that you can see how all the parts fit together, and also the robot looks like it’s made out of car parts, and not jagged metal shards. Plus, it’s directed by Travis Knight of the great Laika animation studio, so that’s something, at least.
Elsewhere, Robert Zemeckis directs Steve Carell in the latest of the actor’s naked, desperate attempts to win an award, Welcome to Marwen. This has the added demerit of being based on a documentary that had no real need to be made into a feature, but I try not to count Zemeckis out until I have to.
Lastly, there is an inspirational character drama called Second Act, unenviably filling this December’s slot for a nice movie for adults that nobody will ever see or talk about, though somehow it manages to turn a profit at the box office anyway.
In limited release comes Cold War, which is apparently not very good, though it is also apparently gorgeous, and either way it’s 88 minutes long, so I’m sold.
I don’t care for the ongoing trend of Christmas Day getting releases that nobody in their right mind should want to see on Christmas. I guess maybe I get where Holmes & Watson, an anachronism-driven comedy about the great detective, with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in the title roles, is kind of parents-and-tweens thing, even if I think it looks dreadful. But what in God’s name are we to make of Vice, a seriocomic biopic of Dick Cheney starring Christian Bale in a bald cap and fat suit? Other than that critics are treating it with fairly unrelenting hostility, which makes it sound even more swell than that little blurb already did.
In limited release, it gets even bleaker, with the by-all-accounts deeply unpleasant Nicole Kidman cop movie Destroyer. And to round things off, Ruth Bader Ginsburg gets her own biopic, On the Basis of Sex, which compounds all of its obvious problems – it’s a biopic, it’s a political movie factory-designed to give its audience a handjob for having Righteous Opinions, it’s Oscarbait that attracted not one molecule of awards attention – by casting Felicity Fucking Jones as Ginsburg.
Rounding out the year, also without apparently making a single ripple along the way: Stan & Ollie, in which Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly play Laurel & Hardy in – oh there’s that word again – a biopic. If nothing else, that makes it a banner year for Reilly playing characters I would prefer that he did not play.