It’s not hard to imagine how Ben Affleck was convinced to sign on to The Accountant. “Hey Benny!” director Gavin O’Connor shouted into the phone, probably. “Gotta real good movie for ya. So this accountant guy, he’s just like Good Will Hunting, but also he’s Batman!” “I’m in,” grunted Affleck, and voila! Movie magic is made. The problem, though, isn’t that The Accountant is two ill-matched movies smooshed together—it’s actually more like five or six, and none of them are thought-out enough to carry the day. NED LANNAMANN Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.
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.
The Assassin’s Creed games have a history of appealingly wonky premises (stab templars in the Sistine Chapel!) marred by frustratingly botched play mechanics. (Get stuck in a bush outside the Sistine Chapel!) The movie adaptation, unfortunately, fails to find a happy medium between cool stuff and coherence. Cherrypicking randomly from the mythology of the games, the plot follows a death row inmate (Michael Fassbender!) forced by a scientist (Marion Cotillard?) to revisit his past life as a 15th century superkiller. Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling stop by occassionally to glower. Director Justin Kurzel, who worked with both of the leads for last year’s visually stunning Macbeth, has action chops to spare, particularly during a bravura parkour sequence that makes you realize just how damned hard it must be to appear weightless. The lack of any real narrative logic connecting the set pieces, however, makes Assassin’s Creed destined to be an ambitious one-and-done curio. That said, if a sequel does somehow happen, it could conceivably include the part from the games where the hero gets in a fistfight with a superpowered pope! ANDREW WRIGHT Various Theaters.
The Hollywood tearjerker is an art form of pure privilege. Your life a little too comfy and bright? Here are some well-paid, attractive people acting out manipulative drivel to get those eyes a-weepin’. At this particular moment in history there are some pretty fucking important things to cry about for real—but here comes Collateral Beauty, a vile shitfleck of a movie that whispers, “No, no, don’t worry about Aleppo; shhh, don’t grieve over the death of American democracy,” then tells you some baloney about dead cancer kids and thrusts a box of tissues into your hand. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
Somewhere around a decade back, it became fashionable to answer “Die Hard” when asked “What’s your favorite Christmas movie?” People would laugh and go, “Yeah, I guess that counts.” But then—like bacon, unicorns, and LOLcats—the shit got played the fuck out, to the point where people now say “anything but fuckin’ Die Hard. God! Ugh!” Here’s the thing, though: No matter how many corny dipshits might vomit up this title as their go-to response? They’re not wrong. You could do a hell of a lot worse than arguably the single best action film ever made as your pick. So pull up a seat, kick off your shoes, and make some fists with your toes. Christmas has a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho. BOBBY ROBERTS Mission Theater.
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 Various Theaters.
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 Laurelhurst Theater.
Are we pretending that this a holiday classic now? Are we the ones who sit upon a throne of lies? Academy Theater, Mission Theater.
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.
Last night, while leaving a screening of the solid and engaging adaptation of August Wilson’s play Fences, which was directed by Denzel Washington, a man walking behind me said to the woman walking next to him that this is not the kind of Denzel film he likes. It’s too act-y, it’s all about the Academy Awards. Clearly, he wanted Washington to shoot more and talk less, but Fences has no guns and a whole lot of talking about life; it deals with failed dreams, race relations in mid-century America, marital problems, parenting problems, working-class problems, drinking problems, problems with debts, with mental health, and, ultimately, with death. What might kill the character Washington plays in Fences is not a car chase or a shootout, but blocked arteries. He is a normal guy with a very standard suite of personal and social issues. The man behind me was correct; it is likely Washington will be recognized by the Academy for this performance. And thank God! It is good to see a great actor take a break from his fall into the abyss of crap and produce something of social, artistic, and cultural value. CHARLES MUDEDE Various Theaters.
It’s a Wonderful Life
The holiday classic beloved by those valiantly fighting the slow, crushing, inevitable truth that their lives have not mattered at all. Various Theaters.
Natalie Portman’s portrayal is nothing less than amazing, perfectly capturing Jacqueline Kennedy’s intense drive, strength, occasional pettiness, and overwhelming grief. She, along with director Pablo Larraín and a talented cast, go a long way to reshape our shared memories of Kennedy as simply a fashion plate in a pink pillbox hat, revealing a figure far more complicated and heroic. Jackie is a stunning, heart-wrenching meditation on truth, the American ideal, and the incredible pressure on first ladies—women who represent just as much, if not more, than their husbands. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
La La Land
A grand, over-the-top, razzly-dazzly love story that won’t make you puke one bit. It might even help you forget the horrors of reality, however momentarily—and after the year we’ve had, that practically makes La La Land a public service. MEGAN BURBANK Fox Tower 10.
At the age of 82, director Robert Bresson made his final film, an adaptation of a lesser-known Tolstoy drama called The Forged Coupon, about a man falsely accused of being a criminal deciding to become one in response. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
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 Hollywood Theatre.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
I haven’t liked a Tim Burton film since Batman Returns, and I’m saying that now to illustrate how much I did like his latest, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Coming from an overly precious book series and an eccentric director, I don’t know how MPHPC turned out so relatable, exciting, and heartwarming, but it’s a friggin’ romp. It’s like a good Harry Potter movie without the awkward mandate to follow the book’s plot. MPHPC the film throws MPHPC the book out the window. (Polite opera claps.) Plus, Asa Butterfield is the perfect empty persona for the audience to latch onto, and Samuel L. Jackson actually has fun for once! But wait, my space is running out and I have to warn you about the messy time trav— SUZETTE SMITH Academy Theater.
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.
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 Cinema 21.
Office Christmas Party
There’s nothing more depressing than a bad office Christmas party. The music is schmaltzy, the eggnog has a skin growing on it, and Walt from marketing starts getting reeeeal enthusiastic about getting you into the copy room. But a good office Christmas party gives everyone the chance to let their hair down, to show off a saucy side their buttoned-up workday personas don’t allow for. As evidenced by the title, Office Christmas Party is not a particularly imaginative movie, but it does place some incredibly charismatic TV actors in a new setting, giving them a chance to improvise and earn a hefty paycheck in the process. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
The Polar Express
A corpse-eyed CGI Tom Hanks abducts innocent children and imprisons them on a hellish train. OMSI Empirical Theater.
The Red Shoes
This is the Powell/Pressburger ballet drama from 1948. Not the series of softcore Skinemax yankfests from the early ’90s. Those are the Red Shoe Diaries. These are just the shoes. On the plus: this is way more classy. On the negative: No Duchovny. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One is a Star Wars story born of the present, but it ends in May of 1977. It’s a direct prequel to a movie made in response to Nixon’s reign, and it resonates all the more strongly for opening at the dawn of the Trump era. It’s Star Wars in A-flat minor, using most of the same notes from 40 years ago, pounded out on the black keys. That’s not to say that Rogue One is “edgy,” meaningless as that phrase has become. But it is on edge: Its heroes are nervous and squirrelly, angry and tired, and frequently scared shitless—of the fascist nightmare of the Empire, of the defeatist infighting of the Rebellion, and of the possibility that the pain of fighting for a better tomorrow will all be for nothing. But this is still a Star Wars movie, and that means it’s a hopeful one. The kind of hope at Rogue One’s center isn’t triumphant and rewarding like the original. It leans on the inevitability of its premise—these are the doomed spies who stole the Death Star plans—to give the characters a more muted victory, the kind that sets up a better future for their loved ones, whether or not they see it themselves. BOBBY ROBERTS Various Theaters.
The directing team behind award-winning nature documentaries Winged Migration and Oceans close out their loose trilogy with Seasons, following the adventures in the air and at sea with a look at the wildlife living in the European forests. Cinema 21.
It’s kinda like the plot of Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo, but instead of Ice-T and a bunch of breakdancers saving a community center, it’s a bunch of anthropomorphic animals trying to save a koala bear’s theater via a singing contest. Also, I guess an ice-skating German pig strips down to his gold lamé underwear at some point? The kids at my screening of Rogue One chuckled a little when they saw that in the trailer. There’s a hole for his tail to poke through. It’s the little things that really sell a joke like that, yunno? BOBBY ROBERTS Various Theaters.
Sonic Cinema: One More Time with Feeling
Nick Cave narrates his creative process while perservering through personal tragedy in this documentary about the making of his album Skeleton Key. Hollywood Theatre.
The Tales of Hoffman
A digital restoration of Powell and Pressburger’s adaptation of Offenbach’s 1881 opera. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
Things to Come
One of two Isabelle Huppert dramas you can catch this winter, Things to Come follows Nathalie (Huppert), a middle-aged philosophy teacher. All at once, her husband leaves her, her aging mother declines, and her publishers note that while her textbook is certainly prestigious, it’s no longer marketable. Nathalie confronts these challenges against a backdrop of her students radicalizing—an act she respects ideologically but also resents, perhaps because her students bring her bourgeois problems into focus. Thanks to the cast and the script by writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve, Things to Come is tranquil but never boring: there are no monotonous shots, no Deeply Meaningful Looks, no tortuous pacing to convey emotion. Like its resilient protagonist, the film takes its domestic upheavals in stride. KJERSTIN JOHNSON Living Room Theaters.
It’s not often that Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally are the comedic saviors of a movie, but that’s 2016 for you. They rescue Why Him? from abject mediocrity as the parents of a college girl (Zoey Deutch) who’s taken up with a dopey-grinned tech millionaire (James Franco, in his wheelhouse) with “no filter” (a screenwriting hack that lets a character say and do whatever you want him to). Spending Christmas at his tacky mansion, the parents are alarmed by the guy’s erraticism, unsure of his trustworthiness. This setup (from I Love You, Man director John Hamburg) leads to stale farce scenarios like Confusingly High-Tech Japanese Toilet and Eavesdropping from Under a Desk, but Cranston and Mullally wring every ounce of humor they can from it, aided by Keegan-Michael Key as Franco’s manservant. The laughs are scattershot, but the tone is good-natured, the humor un-cruel. ERIC D. SNIDER Various Theaters.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” Academy Theater.
The Wizard of Oz
An acid-trip wonderland from the 1930s full of flying monkeys and melting witches and lions and tigers and bears and little dogs, too. Joy Cinemas.
MEANS WE RECOMMEND IT. Theater locations are accurate Friday, December 23-Thursday, December 29, unless otherwise noted. Movie times are updated daily and are available here.