It costs a lot to take your family to the movies these days. One false move and you’re out two hours and, between the tickets, parking and refreshments, a cool hundred bucks. Why do you think so many people partake in mediocre fare like The Ranch, starring this fucking asshole?
Don’t worry, though: we’ve got you covered.
While I’ve already put together a list of the most overlooked movies this year, including little-seen gems Columbus and A Ghost Story—most of which are available to rent or purchase on iTunes or Amazon—and you should definitely make it a point to check out Lady Bird and The Florida Project, two of the very best movies of the year that are still playing in select theaters nationwide, these recommendations concern the films that have recently opened, and that you probably want to check out with your friends or loved ones over the holidays.
SEE: ‘Phantom Thread’
Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Daniel Day-Lewis, the pair behind the modern masterpiece There Will Be Blood, have reunited for this fine-tailored tale of a 1950s London dressmaker and his muse (the Luxembourgish Vicky Krieps, divine). There isn’t a wasted frame in this, Anderson’s meditation on the push-and-pull that exists between obsessions professional and personal; the performances are first-rate, including Lesley Manville as Day Lewis’ icy sister; and if Jonny Greenwood’s score is not justly rewarded, there will be outrage. Quite the swan song for Day-Lewis, if true.
SKIP: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’
Seeing as this supercharged Mouse House sequel grossed about $500 million worldwide in its opening weekend, I know I’m in the minority here, but director Rian Johnson’s follow-up to The Force Awakens felt overstuffed and incredibly disjointed; a collection of uncorrelated rah-rah scenes and little else. Kelly Marie Tran is a breath of fresh air, Carrie Fisher is given a warm goodbye, Mark Hamill is excellent as the grizzled, elder Skywalker and Daisy Ridley once again impresses as his disciple Rey, but I’m still at a loss as to what he actually taught her, or why Benicio Del Toro’s character was remotely necessary (other than as a plot device). Half the film consists of Skywalker-sulking and Finn and Rose Tico navigating an intergalactic casino. The one beacon of hope is Domhnall Gleeson, the only person who realizes just how silly this all is.
SEE: ‘The Disaster Artist’
This year has been frustratingly short on quality comedy films, with the powers that be intent on serving us table scraps like Rough Night, Snatched, Baywatch, The House, and fucking Daddy’s Home 2. So thank goodness for this laugh-riot about the messy making of the best-worst movie ever, The Room. Directed by and starring a stellar James Franco as its eccentric, vampire-clown creator Tommy Wiseau, it’s a hilarious and at times heartwarming film about the lengths people will go to achieve their wildest dreams.
SKIP: ‘The Post’
There are people—so, so many people—who will lavish praise upon Steven Spielberg’s Pentagon Papers saga for its perceived timeliness, casting it as a star-filled rebuke to the president’s war on the fourth estate, and by extension, the truth. Don’t believe them. It’s mawkish tripe, filled with scene after scene of agonizing preachiness. There is one moment in particular where Meryl Streep’s publisher exits a courtroom, prompting every woman in the crowd assembled outside to turn and face her in slo-mo-unison, that will make your eyes roll into the back of your head. Plus, at a time when publishers are “pivoting to video” (translation: gutting their editorial departments), is it really all that “timely” to have a film lionize a newspaper owner while diminishing the efforts of the brave whistleblower and dedicated reporters who actually broke the story?
SEE: ‘Call Me by Your Name’
The most sensual film in ages; a transcendent exploration of first lust, first love, and first heartbreak seen through the eyes of a hormonal teenager. That it is set in the ‘80s, and concerns a gay affair between a 17-year-old and a slightly older man only raises the dramatic stakes, amplifying the feelings of crippling self-doubt and romantic ecstasy that are part and parcel with one’s sexual awakening. Luca Guadagnino guides the story with grace, Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer sizzle as the two lovers, and the always-impressive Michael Stuhlbarg delivers the most heart-stirring movie monologue of the year.
A high-concept “comedy” better suited to, say, Mike Judge, the latest from Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election) proposes a future wherein families shrink themselves down to ostensibly save the environment, but really to live in the lap of luxury. Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig play a husband-and-wife who decide to go through with the procedure, only for Wiig to back out at the last minute, leaving hubby in the lurch. Yes, it’s another “stranded Matt Damon” movie, and what could have been a fascinating study of loneliness soon transmogrifies into a “We Are the World”-style schmaltz-fest harping on and on about the need for reciprocal altruism.
SEE: ‘Darkest Hour’
Sure, it’s a paint-by-numbers biopic about British Prime Minister Winston Churchill facing down the Nazis, but when the acting is this good, who gives a damn. Gary Oldman, buried under heaps of prosthetics, is an absolute wonder as The British Bulldog, vividly conveying his insecurities, gravitas, humor, and unparalleled charisma. It’s a performance that will likely land Oldman his first Academy Award, and it will be justly earned.
It is, to put it bluntly, a $90 million steaming pile of orc shit. This travesty, directed by David Ayer from a Max Landis screenplay, marks yet another career low for star Will Smith, who has arguably appeared in the worst movie of the year in four of the last five years (Bright, Collateral Beauty, Winter’s Tale, and After Earth). Nothing about this film makes sense, the effects and design look terrible, the dialogue is cringeworthy, it’s bursting at the seams with offensive Chicanx gangland stereotypes, and the actors—save poor Joel Edgerton—all seem to be mailing it in. Oh, and if all that weren’t enough, the screenwriter sounds like a total creep. Hard pass.
SEE: ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’
There is something to be said for a film that delivers just what you want from it, and this wholly unnecessary sequel to the 1995 Robin Williams-starrer is just that. It’s got fun action set pieces, The Rock oozing charisma, Jack Black and Kevin Hart providing some comic relief, and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Karen Gillan kicking serious ass. What more could you really want from a Jumanji sequel? Fun for the whole family, as they say.
SKIP: ‘Molly’s Game’
Jessica Chastain is a fine actress. Idris Elba is a fine actor. Aaron Sorkin is one of the greatest screenwriters to ever live. Unfortunately, the three of them flounder here in this, Sorkin’s directorial debut about a “poker madam” overseeing a high-stakes celebrity-filled underground game of Texas Hold’em. The dialogue in this film is just terribly overwritten. At one point, Chastain’s character materializes in the office of her lawyer (Elba) in the middle of the night, riffing on the cosmos; in another, her father (Kevin Costner), in a dreadful display of pater ex machina, pops up out of nowhere to explain (and explain, and explain) their mutual hostility. This one would’ve been far more interesting as a documentary, assuming you could get some of the big-name subjects—Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck, Alex Rodriguez—to participate.
SEE: ‘The Shape of Water’
I fell hard for this movie from its very first screening at this year’s Venice Film Festival. Few directors manage to harness the transportive power of cinema quite like Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, whose exquisite creations—from his period sets to his delicate creatures—continue to inspire awe. This 1960s-set fairy tale, about a mute cleaning lady who falls head over heels for a mysterious sea creature, is made with such tenderness and love that it’s impossible to resist. It is, at times, extraordinary, as during a musical number later in the film, and Sally Hawkins proves the ideal vessel for del Toro, an actress who inspires more goodwill than just about any other.
SKIP: ‘I, Tonya’
There is a good film to be made about Tonya Harding, a tragic figure who was unfairly branded “trailer trash” and subsequently shunned from the hoity-toity world of figure skating. This is not it. Despite the best efforts of star Margot Robbie, who shines as the embattled Olympic skater, I, Tonya is an ugly, ugly film masked as a satire/black comedy; a tone-deaf point-and-laugh look at poor rural white Americans that treats its subjects with a surfeit of scorn, and tempers its jarring scenes of domestic violence with comedy. This is Tonya-as-caricature. The real thing is far more engrossing.