In the Stern household, it’s a tradition as synonymous with Christmas as stockings. Sometime between the exchanging of gifts and changing out of pajamas, the family will convene—usually at the kitchen table—and, after much deliberation, arrive at a decision on what film to see (past picks include Titanic, Crouching Tiger, Children of Men, and Silver Linings Playbook). Then, we debate its merits and flaws over Chinese.
But really, regardless of whether or not you celebrate Christmas, or have family around, it’s been a long year (Black Panther feels like ages ago), and we could all use a respite from the cold, the chaos, and/or the president’s wacky tweets. With hundreds of movies available across various platforms, choosing one can get pretty, pretty overwhelming.
You don’t need me to tell you to avoid, say, Welcome to Marwen, the awful-looking Steve Carell-with-dolls vehicle that’s set to lose around $50 million, or Holmes & Watson, which wasn’t screened for critics; as far as films you’ll likely want to see, however, here are the ones to check out, and the ones to avoid.
SEE: ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’
Everything you’ve heard about this trippy, visually stimulating, delightfully dorky animated adventure is true. It not only stands head and shoulders above every other CG film this year, and has ushered in an exciting new chapter in the superhero genre, but will induce its own madeleine moment in viewers, transporting them back to comic book-rummaging days of yore. Oh, and it’s got Nicolas Cage chewing up scenery as a noirish Spider-Man.
While not as atrocious as Batman v Superman, the latest entry in the DC cinematic universe is a bonkers, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink misfire whose charismatic leading man (Jason Momoa) can’t save it. As our Melissa Leon wrote, director James Wan’s aquatic flick is weighed down by its “cornball dialogue” and fussy undersea action sequences. Too bad Nicole Kidman’s Atlantean princess is only given a measly ten minutes of screen time, too, as her story seems far more deserving of the blockbuster treatment.
SEE: ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’
Filmmaker Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to his Oscar-winning Moonlight is this stunning adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, centered on two young lovers (Stephan James, KiKi Layne) in Harlem who find themselves separated by a criminal justice system that preys on young black men. Gorgeously lensed—no one frames faces better than Jenkins—Beale Street is, as our Stereo Williams wrote, a film that illustrates the joy, love and pain that guides the Black experience in America.
You’d be far better off indulging in Dick Cheney’s appearance on Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America? It’s far more biting satire than this infuriating mess of a film.
The Transformers films were terrible—a horny hodgepodge of twisted metal and gratuitous T&A from a director who cruelly slut-shamed his leading lady. So I’m pleasantly surprised to report that Bumblebee, a prequel to 2007’s Transformers, is a fun, tightly-constructed E.T. tale that’s brought a dose of humanity back to this cold franchise. What a difference a capable filmmaker—Kubo and the Two Strings’ Travis Knight—makes.
SKIP: ‘Mary Poppins Returns’
Emily Blunt’s snippy take on everyone’s favorite magical au pair is an absolute delight. It’s too bad, then, that she’s let down by a collection of lackluster songs and paper-thin characters. I mean, the songs here are just not good, and it’s so terribly frustrating given the inspired set pieces and performances. If it’s a British charmer you’re after, I’d opt for Paddington 2.
SEE: Netflix’s Offerings
2018 will forever be the year Netflix finally established itself as a major film player, with the streaming service distributing award-worthy gems like Private Life, an IVF comedy featuring one of the finest performances of the year courtesy of Kathryn Hahn; Orson Welles’ long-lost swan song, The Other Side of the Wind; the Coen Bros.’ intriguingly erratic Western The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; and Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful Roma, a leading contender for the Best Picture Oscar. All of these films can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home, and all of them are well worth your time.