As the year comes to a close, filmgoers face a decision at the ticket window: Should you prepare for awards season by catching up on the contenders, or shut off your brain for a couple hours and enjoy some mindless fun?
This holiday season provides both options, with blockbusters that surprise with their depth and heart, and an early awards favorite from the director of “Moonlight.” An added gift for those who can’t make it out to the theater: You have the option to stay home to watch the best film of 2018.
Here’s a guide to the holiday crop of movies, featuring advice from Washington Post critics.
The Marvel webslinger was one of the first full-fledged efforts to have comic-book movies taken seriously, but it’s also been rebooted with a new Peter Parker donning the mask. Now, he’s gone animated. While this version isn’t directly tied to the Marvel cinematic universe, it might be the best depiction of Spider-Man put to film.
The Post’s David Betancourt says it’s “a one-of-a-kind, wall-crawling experience.” The movie is unique because there’s more than one Spider-Man — due to a dimensional breach that spawns many other spider-people (voiced by the likes of John Mulaney and Nicolas Cage). Betancourt says the inspirational film hits all the right notes of a superhero tale: “It deserves top ranking among Spider-Man’s greatest cinematic achievements, live-action or otherwise.”
“Aquaman” earns points for its production design and romantic subplot, anchored by a charismatic performance from Jason Momoa. The actor plays amphibious superhero Arthur Curry, who is part human, part sea creature, born to the queen of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman). Curry must square off with two baddies in this superhero tale: one, a cartoonish evildoer Manta — a bad guy in a bug suit — and his jealous half brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson).
If 2017’s “Justice League” left you wanting more, this spinoff might be what you’re looking for — if what you’re looking for is multiple movies mushed into one. The Post’s Michael O’Sullivan wasn’t a huge fan, saying the new DC Comics movie “doesn’t register as one movie but a myriad.” Still, it’s dazzling to watch.
Maybe one of the biggest holiday surprises is that Hollywood made a good “Transformers” movie. Gone are the big, clunky robot battle sequences (fear not, action fans, there are still some robo-fights), and in its place is a surprising amount of humor and tenderness.
Post contributor Kristen Page-Kirby says the movie succeeds by focusing on the relationship between Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and the title Autobot, Bumblebee (voiced by Dylan O’Brien). “Underneath the metal veneer, there is a genuinely touching story of two friends who help one another along a road that, in the beginning, neither of them thought they could walk,” Page-Kirby says. “Or drive.”
On paper, it seemed like a surefire hit: a play for nostalgia by returning to the classic world of “Mary Poppins;” casting the inimitable Meryl Streep and “Hamilton” mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda; and picking the underrated but always appreciated Emily Blunt to fill the title role made iconic by Julie Andrews. The film is set 20 years following the events of the original, centered on the now-grown Banks children. Michael, a widowed father of three children, is ridden with grief following the death of his wife, and the bank is about to foreclose on the house.
This is when the charming Blunt floats on screen to get the family out of its funk.
The Post’s Michael O’Sullivan says the movie works hard to recapture the magic of the original, but it doesn’t always pay off: “There is so little tolerance for spontaneity, in a film that feels calibrated to the millimeter to be magical, that reactions like delight and surprise — when they occur at all — feel manufactured.”
Film purists may suggest you head to a theater to see “Roma,” but your best bet this holiday season can be streamed on Netflix right from your home.
“Roma” is a semi-biographical work (shot entirely in black-and-white) of director Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood in a Mexico City household in the 1970s — told through the eyes of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a houseworker. Ann Hornaday, The Post’s film critic, gave the “masterful” film four stars and named it her favorite of 2018. What stands out to Hornaday is the craft and skill of Cuarón’s direction and cinematography: “['Roma'] feels less like storytelling than poetry, shot through with shrewd social observation that never swamps the film’s deep emotional core.”
While many 2017 headlines focused on the “Moonlight” best-picture envelope mishap, there was no question as to why it had earned the prize: the extraordinary filmmaking talent of Barry Jenkins, who has found cinematic magic again with his adaptation of a James Baldwin novel. “If Beale Street Could Talk” earned four stars and the No. 2 spot on Hornaday’s list of best movies of 2018.
Hornaday cites Jenkins’ ability to “meld color, music and portraiture to do more than tell a story.” That story — gorgeously told in a nonlinear narrative that holds together because of its deliberate pacing and emotional core — centers on the romance of Tish and Fonny, played by KiKi Layne and Stephan James. Hornaday says the film “invites audiences to venture beyond the screen in front of them to connect with the characters and their world on a deeper, more mystical plane.”
In the mood for a vulgar and hilarious spin on a period piece this holiday season? “The Favourite” is the movie for you. Based loosely on an 18th-century British royal court, the film is about Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and the two women (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) jockeying for the queen’s attention and affection.
Instead of the staid portrayals of royalty, the movie is “bursting with schemes, subterfuges, sexual antics and sly social commentary worthy of the Restoration era they depict so lavishly,” writes Hornaday.
Sometimes the actor outshines the movie, and that’s the case with Christian Bale as Dick Cheney. Hornaday says Bale “brings his A game, his Z game and everything in between to ‘Vice.’"
Director Adam McKay nailed the 2008 financial crisis in his 2015 takedown “The Big Short,” and he brings the same frenetic editing and breaks of the fourth wall to this tale chronicling Cheney’s rise into one of Washington’s premiere power players. But ultimately, Hornaday says: "‘Vice’ is a mess, zigging here and zagging there, never knowing quite when to end, and when it finally does, leaving few penetrating or genuinely illuminating ideas to ponder.”