In the bright light of something shiny and new, it’s easy to declare that thing an outlier: To smile and point and proclaim that here, at last, is a thing that makes everything that follows a little bit different. I saw Arrival Monday night, which means it’s undoubtedly just a bit too soon to declare it a science-fiction classic. Given that we’re finally (finally, finally) coming to the end of 2016, though, it’s probably fair to declare it this: One of the bright points, and one of the greatest movies, of this horrible, awful year. It’s also likely the best film yet from Denis Villeneuve, the director behind the excellent Sicario and Prisoners—and who, with Arrival, offers something entirely different. Arrival is an ominous, thrumming, beautiful thing that starts out being about aliens who need a decoder ring. It ends up being about something quite different. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
There’s a sequel to this now. Don’t go to that. Go to this. Not only does it work better as a stand-alone story of cheerful misanthropy, but it also works better as a Gilmore Girls finale, thanks to the presence of Lauren Graham. Plus for as long as this movie is running, you can pretend that Bernie Mac and John Ritter are still alive, and that’s a Christmas miracle all by itself. At least right up until the point where Bernie gets hit by a car and electrocuted (spoilers.) But still! Watch this. Avoid the sequel. Celebrate the hate. Merry fuckin’ Christmas. BOBBY ROBERTS Laurelhurst Theater.
Bad Santa 2
A Christmas movie doesn’t have to be that good to make it into the yearly holiday rotation. (Cases in point: Elf. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Love Actually. Don’t @ me.) So when a Christmas movie is just a little bit better than it needs to be, it’s reason to rejoice. After all, we’re gonna be stuck watching the damn thing every year for the rest of our lives, so every little bit counts. Bad Santa is one of those above-average Christmas movies. Bad Santa 2 is not. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
Bleed for This
A boxing movie that never dares to think outside the box. (It pulls its punches. Its bull never rages. Et cetera.) MARC MOHAN Laurelhurst Theater.
Director Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women arrives in theaters at an oddly appropriate moment. As America gazes in disgusted fascination at the spectacle of a misogynistic boil being lanced on the most public of stages, Reichardt’s delicate but powerful triptych of Montana-set tales is a reminder of how quietly radical it can be to tell stories about women’s lives—simply, and with unforced empathy. MARC MOHAN Laurelhurst Theater.
Cinema Project: Color in Film & Video
A two-night program, with artist Margaret Honda presenting her latest 35mm creation Color Correction on Tuesday, Dec 13, and an evening of shorts and video works following Honda’s lead on Thursday, Dec 15th. See cinemaproject.org for more. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
Doctor Strange first appeared in the 1963 Marvel Comics anthology Strange Tales as a crippled neurosurgeon apprenticed to a wise Tibetan sorcerer, the Ancient One. After ascending to the position of Sorcerer Supreme, Strange went on to defend Earth from magical attackers and, eventually, chill with the Avengers. As recently as 2011, Strange was loaning the Avengers his manservant, a Chinese man named Wong. It was kind of fucked up. Now the action-packed, eye-popping Doctor Strange movie reboots Dr. Stephen Strange’s origin story, and Marvel is finally trying to make good on that bad. Doctor Strange might have a lot of baggage, but more than anything else, it’s fun. SUZETTE SMITH Cinemagic.
The Edge of Seventeen
Get ready for a classic take on high school experience where all the characters are wealthy in ways we can’t identify with (pools 4 everyone!) and played by 30-year-olds (not creepy to find them attractive, whew!). Edge of Seventeen proposes we accept well-timed, adorable stammering as signs that these characters are weird. None of us ever sounded this good. BUT this is produced by James L. Brooks, so even though a lot of it is sanitized and the ending is slapped on, I liked the jokes. The sins of John Hughs are passed down to first-time director Kelly Fremon Craig, who writes a smokin’ hot Korean-American guy (Hayden Szeto) as a runner-up love interest to a medium-for-Hollywood white dude (Alexander Calvert). PLEASE STOP DOING THAT SHIT. Otherwise I’m giving you a pass, Craig. Do better on the next one. SUZETTE SMITH Fox Tower 10.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
“I annoy people,” says Eddie Redmayne in the opening half-hour of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a five-part Harry Potter prequel series. Redmayne ain’t lying. “Annoying” is the perfect term for his portrayal of Fantastic Beasts’ hero, Newt Scamander, a shrugging, slumping sack of stammers and tics. He’s like Doctor Who with gout, and yet—just like the good Doctor in even his lamest incarnations, there’s just enough charm glimmering beneath the surface and shining through the contrivances that you can’t write him off entirely. See? Pretty fucking annoying. BOBBY ROBERTS Various Theaters.
In a world where we’re always connected—to a sometimes-frightening degree—there’s an added value to truly foreign experiences. We travel to get out of our ordinary environment, and we’re generally thrilled by how vast the differences are. Take comfort, then, in the strangeness found in Japanese Currents—the annual NW Film Center-hosted overview of noteworthy and contemporary Japanese films. It’s proof that the internet hasn’t succeeded (yet) in drumming out the idiosyncrasies of culture. MARJORIE SKINNER NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
Kung Fu Theater: Martial Arts of Shaolin
This month’s installment in Dan Halsted’s ongoing celebration of all things whoop-ass is one of the world’s first looks at Jet Li, Martial Arts of Shaolin, a 1986 Lau Kar Leung classic about a humble monk with a gift for botany who seeks to woo a beautiful woman with his amazing floral arrangem—hah! Just fucking with you, it’s a weapon-filled vengeance quest featuring Jet Li killing the shit out of people on the way to murder the man who took his parents from him. BOBBY ROBERTS Hollywood Theatre.
This is a heck of a time for a movie like Loving. The historical drama/romance, from director Jeff Nichols, examines the lives of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial Virginia couple who were jailed for their marriage, and who won a 1967 Supreme Court case that declared any existing laws prohibiting interracial marriages as unconstitutional. It’s a story of civil rights, of the power and persistence of love, of the victory of human decency over hatred and prejudice. It’s positively brimming with the type of hope America needs right now. And it’s... kind of boring. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
Manchester by the Sea
The history of American men on screen is the history of repressed emotion. From Marlon Brando’s animalistic slow boil to Cary Grant’s Teflon-coated savoir-faire, movie icons have embodied the masculine inability to just say what they feel, for God’s sake. It is this rarified company to which Casey Affleck seeks admittance with his emotionally constipated performance in Manchester by the Sea. I’m being a little snarky, because it’s an impressive performance, especially coming from Casey Affleck. Damn it, there I go again. I like Casey, and it has to be tough trying to escape big brother Ben’s shadow. But as a grieving (and grieving, and grieving) New England handyman who’s unexpectedly put in charge of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Affleck seems to be trying a bit too hard, straining towards a profundity that he can’t quite grasp. MARC MOHAN Various Theaters.
If you need hope for the next generation, look no further than Disney’s latest. Moana provides a great message for little girls (and grown ones) in a time when their feminine power and the sanctity of the environment are under threat. JENNI MOORE Various Theaters.
Moonlight is a movie about what it’s like to grow up male in America. Moonlight is also a movie about what it’s like to grow up gay in America. And Moonlight is, in addition, a movie about what it’s like to grow up black in America. That inevitably makes Barry Jenkins’ justly acclaimed film sound like it will appeal primarily to gay, black, and/or male audiences. And indeed, people who share some or all of its protagonist’s characteristics will be overjoyed at the belated depiction of lives like theirs on screen. But Moonlight, if I can swoon for a moment, does what all true art aspires to do. It shares something unique but universal about what it’s like to be human. MARC MOHAN Cinema 21, Hollywood Theatre.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
“When Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse!” Academy Theater.
Fashion-designer-turned-director Tom Ford’s second film (and his first since 2009’s A Single Man) looks great, and the story is intriguing and disturbing. But the movie’s a downer, and it has the misfortune of showing up in theaters exactly when we really don’t need a downer—especially one about the emotional scars of rich, well-dressed white people. MARC MOHAN Various Theaters.
Portland Latin American Film Festival: The Longest Road
A documentary following Spanish-music superstar Enrique Bunbury on his 2010 tour across the United States with his wife, his cat, and a new band. Hollywood Theatre.
QDoc: The Freedom to Marry
The long-running queer film festival presents a screening of The Freedom to Marry, a look at the same-sex marriage movement in the final months of a long grassroots campaign, followed by a Q&A featuring researcher Thalia Zepatos and Basic Rights Oregon co-director Nancy Haque. Hollywood Theatre.
Queer Commons: Me, Myself & Her
This month’s installment of the Hollywood’s queer-focused series is Me, Myself & Her, about a couple of five years still unsure as to whether they’re really a couple—especially when one half of the relationship has a bit of a crisis following a meeting with her former crush. Hollywood Theatre.
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 cinematic experiment Rope is based on the play of the same name, and feels it—shot in exceedingly long takes, this tale of strangulation and subterfuge plays out with an unsettling patience. Plus: Jimmy Stewart! ERIK HENRIKSEN NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
Rules Don’t Apply
TV may get all the shine nowadays, but old-fashioned movie-star charisma goes a long way. Case in point: Warren Beatty, who’s returned to movies after a 15-year hiatus. He wrote, directed, and stars in Rules Don’t Apply, a wholly fictitious movie about billionaire Howard Hughes (Beatty) that foregrounds a forbidden romance between two of Hughes’ employees, starlet-in-the-making Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) and her driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich). Narratively, the movie’s a mess. But like a bowl of melted ice cream—in this case, Hughes’ preferred flavor, Baskin-Robbins’ Banana Nut—it’s still pretty delicious. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
Spartacus and Sleeping Beauty in 70mm
Until we cure cancer or whatever, humankind's technological progress has reached its apex with Netflix and Hulu. But that said: When it comes to watching a movie—like, really watching a movie—there's nothing that can touch a movie projected from 70mm film. As the only theater in Oregon that can still show movies in 70—most theaters ditched the beloved format once cheaper, easier, and crappier options came along—the Hollywood Theatre has brought Portlanders some unforgettable 70mm screenings, from Lawrence of Arabia to The Hateful Eight. This weekend, the theater will crank up their speakers, polish their lenses, and screen two more must-see movies on 70: Stanley Kubrick's 1960 masterpiece Spartacus and the 1959 Walt Disney landmark Sleeping Beauty. If you're a parent, you're legally obligated to drag your snot-smeared spawn to Sleeping Beauty so they can see how gorgeous animated movies used to be, and if you're anybody else? Buckle up—because not only will Kubrick, Kirk Douglas, Lawrence Olivier, and Jean Simmons remind you why Spartacus is a stone-cold classic, but Spartacus' whole “rebellion against a corrupt republic” thing? Possibly relevant. ERIK HENRIKSEN Hollywood Theatre.
Your kids don’t care that this shit is about 20 years too late. Neither did the film company that made it, or the actors who cashed the sizable checks they got to voice it. Nobody gives turd one whether anyone on this Earth ever wanted or asked for a fucking Trolls movie. Its here, and your children will numbly stare at it for two hours of relative calm and peace in the rancid tire fire that is 2016, and that has more than enough worth all by itself. Anyway, we didn’t bother going to this screening, and there’s one month left until 2017. Hold on. Be strong. Troll on. Who cares.
MEANS WE RECOMMEND IT. Theater locations are accurate Friday, December 9-Thursday, December 15, unless otherwise noted. Movie times are updated daily and are available here.