A Hidden Life fox searchlight picture

1917
Legendary screenwriter William Goldman once said of the film industry, “Nobody knows anything,” and this is still mostly true, with one exception: If cinematographer Roger Deakins shot the movie, that movie is worth seeing on the biggest screen possible. Even if 1917 were solely the most impressive work of Deakins’ remarkable career—which it is—I’d be recommending it. But the World War I movie is also one hell of a stunning storytelling experience from director Sam Mendes, co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and editor Lee Smith. “But wait,” you say, “isn’t the whole point of this movie that there aren’t any cuts? Why did they need an editor at all?” 1917’s hook (or less generously, its gimmick) is that it’s meant to unfold in a single, unbroken take. It’s one of the rare instances of a film’s marketing actually benefiting the finished film, because of the way this knowledge is both paid off... and then subverted. (Opens Fri Jan 10, various theaters) BOBBY ROBERTS

2001: A Space Odyssey, Baraka, Dunkirk, Phantom Thread, and Total Recall on 70mm
Title kind of says it all, huh? (Thurs Jan 2-Wed Jan 8, Hollywood Theatre)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
It’s unusual to witness real cinematic magic these days, but the Fred Rogers biopic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood absolutely has it. Director Marielle Heller (Diary of a Teenage Girl, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) wisely avoids the visual slickness one might expect from a Tom Hanks-centric melodrama, instead employing a lived-in style and scene transitions that consist of miniature cities harkening back to the opening of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Hanks is totally committed to Rogers’ appearance and manner, but A Beautiful Day is more about Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) a fictional journalist profiling Rogers. Where Heller’s film becomes transcendent is in its cinematic pressure points: The striking slowness of the narrative (it’s meant to emulate the pace of Rogers’ show, and you get used to it), the mirroring of Rogers and Vogel in their interview styles and drawn-out reaction shots, and a profound moment of silence that grips your heart like, “Did that really just happen? Why was that so intense?” (Now playing, various theaters) SUZETTE SMITH

Black Christmas
A PG-13 reboot of the 1974 slasher cult classic. (Now playing, various theaters)

Bombshell
Margot Robbie, Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Alice Eve star in a dramatization of Fox News’ one billion sexual harassment scandals. (Opens Thurs Dec 19, various theaters)

Cats
Everyone who saw the HUMAN FACE/CAT BODY NIGHTMARE that was the first Cats trailer balked at the weirdly flat faces that seemed to slide off the cast’s half-humanoid, half-feline, all-horny bodies. Some thought Universal Pictures might cave to fan pressure, much like the Sonic the Hedgehog brouhaha that unfolded last spring, and manage to stick those faces on by Christmas. They did not, and as a result, Cats is a horrorshow of computer-narrowed cat chins that can’t support singing, human-sized mouths. (Opens Thurs Dec 19, various theaters) SUZETTE SMITH

Dark Waters
As infuriating and horrifying as the subject matter of Dark Water is—it’s based on “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,” a 2016 New York Times Magazine story by Nathaniel Rich—it is, in many ways, another paint-by-numbers, based-on-a-true-story legal thriller. Here, Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), a corporate lawyer with a history of representing chemical companies, switches sides to reveal DuPont’s decades of catastrophic malfeasance. But Portland arthouse director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Carol) oversees things here, and he captures Dark Waters’ sickening story in chilly blues and jaundiced yellows while figuring out exactly how to get the most from his cast. (Now playing, various theaters) ERIK HENRIKSEN

Doctor Sleep
The Overlook Hotel doesn’t feel quite the same without Jack Nicholson hamming it up and hacking down doors, but then again, that isn’t really the point: Rather than trying to be a slavish follow-up to Stanley Kubrick’s inimitable The Shining, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep is a looser, goofier trip that just so happens to wander some of the same territory that Stephen King first explored four decades ago. (Now playing, various theaters) ERIK HENRIKSEN

Doctor Who
Jodie Whittaker returns, as does showrunner Chris Chibnall. Whittaker’s a fantastic Doctor, but last season’s episodes were a whole lot less fantastic—fingers crossed they found some better scripts somewhere in the TARDIS. (Starts Wed Jan 1, BBC America)

Elf
Are we pretending that this a holiday classic now? Are we the ones who sit upon a throne of lies? (Fri Dec 20-Thurs Dec 26, Academy Theater)

Ford v Ferrari
If you’re a lover of car-racing movies, you should probably check out Ford v Ferrari—because this film is likely to be one of the last of its kind. A biopic about the late ’60s rivalry between failing racecar company Ferrari and the “wants to be sexy soooo bad” Ford Motor Company, F v F is about how corporations can’t help but crush the passion and innovation they so desperately need. But it’s impossible to ignore the two elephants in this room: The fetishization of white male toxicity and car culture. Ford v Ferrari is a very good movie that, a decade ago, would’ve been considered great. Now it feels like a brand-new film that’s already an antique. (Now playing, various theaters) WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY

The Grudge
Another remake of the 2002 Japanese haunted house movie Ju-on, this time featuring GLOW’s Betty Gilpin and Searching’s John Cho. (Opens Thurs Jan 2, various theaters)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
After being brutally disfigured by Mad-Eye Moody (“Stop squirming, boy! That eye won’t pop out on its own!”), young Harry Potter uses his Invisibilty Cloak to start a side-hustle as a “Muggle smuggler”—a human trafficker who sneaks undocumented Muggles into Hogsmeade. (Fri Dec 27-Thurs Jan 2, Academy Theater)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
When the Forbidden Forest’s centaurs destroy Hagrid’s poorly hidden meth lab, young Harry Potter is forced to find a new dealer—but while Moaning Myrtle’s crank puts Hagrid’s to shame, the payment she demands is unspeakably horrifying. (Fri Dec 20-Thurs Dec 26, Academy Theater)

A Hidden Life
The latest from Terrence Malick. See review at portlandmercury.com/film. (Opens Fri Dec 20, various theaters)


The Witcher Katalin Vermes

The Irishman
The chatter around The Irishman has mostly involved Martin Scorsese shit-talking Marvel and/or how Netflix stepped up to fund a three-and-a-half-hour epic after traditional Hollywood studios told Marty to fuck off. None of that is as interesting as The Irishman itself. A reality-inspired crime epic that spans decades, The Irishman’s heart is Frank Sheeran (De Niro), who “paints houses” for big-shot gangsters; his paint, it should be noted, only comes in blood red. Sheeran’s main employer/benefactor/BFF is the intense, sharp-eyed Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), though once Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) enters the picture, Frank’s torn between the sometimes clashing demands of two hard-willed, charismatic men. While the intense focus on Frank & Pals comes at the expense of other characters, like every single woman (Anna Paquin plays the most prominent one, with maybe three lines of dialogue), the end result is stunning: a saga that’s horrifying and funny and melancholy, sometimes in different scenes, sometimes all at once. (Now streaming, Netflix) ERIK HENRIKSEN

It’s a Wonderful Life
Okay, but are we absolutely sure Bedford Falls wouldn’t, just maybe, actually been better off if he’d jumped? (Sun Dec 22 & Mon Dec 23, Hollywood Theatre)

Jacque Demy’s Romantic Trilogy
Three days, three musicals (one without music) from French filmmaker (and husband to absolute legend Agnès Varda) Jacques Demy, who loved big colors, bold gestures, and ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations. (Lola, Fri Dec 27; The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Sat Dec 28; The Young Girls of Rochefort, Sun Dec 29, Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium)

Jojo Rabbit
There’s more to the complicated Jojo Rabbit—set in the waning days of WWII, it focuses on fanatical young Nazi Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) and his imaginary BFF, Adolph Hitler (Taika Waititi)—than first appears, and only a director as committed, inventive, and life-affirmingly good-hearted as Waititi would even have a chance of pulling it off. He does. (Now playing, various theaters) ERIK HENRIKSEN

Jumanji: The Next Level
The first one was fine. (Now playing, various theaters)

Knives Out
Rian Johnson knows his shit. Ever since Brick, the writer/director’s brilliant neo-noir from 2005—and on through his conman caper The Brothers Bloom, his sci-fi action flick Looper, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which somehow managed to both deconstruct all the Star Wars movies to date while also being the best Star Wars movie to date—Johnson has played with genre in ways few filmmakers can. Both a devotee of formula and a guy who can’t resist ripping formulas apart, Johnson makes movies that’re simultaneously comforting and surprising—offering a warm rush of the familiar, chased by the acidic sting of the new. They’re fun, heartfelt, and jaw-droppingly smart—just about the best possible combination of things you want a movie to be. Knives Out, Johnson’s phenomenally enjoyable riff on a murder-mystery whodunit, is no different. (Now playing, various theaters) ERIK HENRIKSEN

Last Christmas
The romantic comedy Last Christmas explores humankind’s greatest question: What if we took George Michael’s song “Last Christmas”... LITERALLY???!?? This movie is bad. It’s so bad. But what’s great is that if it’s even a modest hit, it could inspire a whole cinematic universe of movies loosely based on George Michael songs, and “Father Figure” would be weird as hell. Go see Last Christmas! (Now playing, various theaters) ELINOR JONES


Cats universal pictures

Little Women
I loved Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird so much that I went into Little Women with trepidation. And every hater on my block asked why we needed another Little Women movie when the 1995 version is “perfectly fine” and “has Winona Ryder in it.” The answer: You don’t know how good you can have it! You don’t know how good Little Women can be, you poor fools! Gerwig’s Little Women is Romance-era-oil-painting gorgeous, but it’s also realistic, thanks to the performances of the film’s star-studded cast of March sisters: Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Emma Watson as Meg, Florence Pugh as Amy, and Eliza Scanlen as Beth. Directing her actors to talk over each other, Gerwig turns family scenes into rampaging rivers of voices, while also making sure nothing is lost in the chaos. We see the Marches as we see many families: A force bursting into a room. Laura Dern—for the first time in cinematic history—gives the girls’ mother a full personality. And when the girls’ father turned out to be universally beloved Bob Odenkirk (!) my friend straght-up punched me in the arm because she was already crying and couldn’t talk. (Opens Wed Dec 25, various theaters) SUZETTE SMITH

Lost in Space
Netflix’s light, enjoyable, family friendly sci-fi saga comes back for a second season. Well, it’s family friendly so long as you don’t Google it and find out that a bunch of people want to fuck the robot. (Streams Tues Dec 24, Netflix)

Marriage Story
In 2005, Noah Baumbach wrote and directed The Squid and the Whale, a movie that dug deep into what it feels like to be a kid in a family that’s pulled itself past its breaking point. Baumbach captured the emotions that riot at the core of a divorce so accurately, so sharply, that it was impossible not to feel like the movie like a punch to the gut. Almost 15 years later, Baumbach’s written and directed Marriage Story, a movie that digs deep into what it feels like to be a husband and a wife in a family that’s pulling itself past its breaking point. As was the case in Squid and the Whale, the specifics are aggressively upper class: Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) is a big-deal actress, Charlie (Adam Driver) is an acclaimed theater director, and along with their young son Henry (Azhy Robertson), they spend much of Marriage Story at either a bougie apartment in Manhattan or a bougie house in West Hollywood. But once again, Baumbach—within the film’s opening seconds, even—drills down to unearth the singular combination of grief, fury, melancholy, and pain that can only come from divorce. Marriage Story is brutal and sharp, but it’s also funny and sweet, and captures something that’s impossible to put into words: The feeling of life as it changes, and the feeling of stories as they come to an end. (Now streaming, Netflix) ERIK HENRIKSEN

My Neighbor Totoro
This is the one with the Catbus in it, the one creature in Hayao Miyazaki’s unassailable oeuvre who best exemplifies the man’s uniquely impossible imagination. Because you look at Catbus and you’re like, “Well, that’s a cute enough idea,” and then it meows and starts to operate and you’re like, “Gadzooks! This ungodly thing should not be.” But by the end of the movie you correctly accept Catbus as the adorable truth it is, and you are upset and angry that you will never live in a world with Catbus, and must instead ride the real bus; the one that smells like exhaustion, hostility, and urine, and is infested with bus cops unconstitutionally shaking you down for fares. Anyway, Totoro: Good family film. Fuzzy and warm. Go see it at the theater! (Starts Fri Dec 27, Academy Theater)


Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker lucasfilm

Parasite
Going into Parasite, it’s hard to know what to expect. Advance reviews and discussions of the film speak of the film obscurely. For good reason: There’s a gleeful and terrifying twist—which I won’t spoil—that radically and dramatically alters the tone of the film. But Parasite is director Bong Joon-ho at his very best. At turns hilarious and deeply unsettling, it’s a departure from the sci-fi bent of his recent movies (the post-apocalyptic Snowpiercer and the factory-farming-themed Okja), though it’s no less concerned with the state of society. (Now playing, various theaters) JASMYNE KEIMIG

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Queen & Slim
Queen & Slim may be the best—and is almost certainly the Blackest—film of 2019, and is perhaps most poignant for its gorgeous, complex, and multifaceted portrayal of the Black experience, where sparks of joy and love exist alongside pain, struggle, and oppression. One of the reasons director Melina Matsoukas and screenwriter Lena Waithe’s made the film with Universal Pictures was their guarantee that Matsoukas and Waithe would have say over the final cut—a choice Waithe says was to ensure the film wasn’t influenced whatsoever by the white gaze. They only did one test screening, with an all-Black audience; the result is a new American romance/drama written in the Black American language, told via a fully Black lens, and including a diverse array of characters who show that Black people are not a monolith. For 48 hours after seeing this movie, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. (Now playing, various theaters) JENNI MOORE

Rare Exports
In a country with one boring-ass version of Santa Claus, it’s nice to be reminded that in other countries, Santa can be fucking scary. And thus: 2010’s Finnish horror-comedy Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, a cult favorite in which a dumb little kid discovers the sinister truth behind Christmas. In short: Santa’s coming for you. (Sun Dec 22, Hollywood Theatre) ERIK HENRIKSEN

The Report
The Report is short for “The Torture Report,” which is short for “The Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” which is short for the 6,700-page account of one of America’s most horrifying and shameful stretches of history. Expertly distilling an infinitely complicated, infinitely disturbing chain of events, writer/director Scott Z. Burns follows the efforts of increasingly troubled Senate staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver, excellent as ever), who, under the oversight of Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening), works to discover and document the CIA’s continued use of barbaric and ineffective “enhanced interrogation techniques” on prisoners captured after 9/11. (Now streaming, Amazon Prime Video) ERIK HENRIKSEN

Richard Jewell
Clint Eastwood (wow, still alive!) tells the story of Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), the security guard falsely accused of being behind the bombing at the 2016 Olympics in Atlanta. (Now playing, various theaters)

Spies in Disguise
So Lance Sterling (Will Smith) tries to steal an attack drone. It doesn’t work. The agency he works for thinks he stole it because Robohand (Ben Mendelsohn), the guy who did steal it, could copy Lance’s face somehow. They never really explained that. And he has to find it, but he turns into a pigeon. I thought it was very excellent. The plot device of someone turning into a pigeon through genetic manipulation was unique, to say the least. I think it may have been a little too complicated for some younger kids who may have been the target audience. I think some of it may have gone completely over their heads. Although that might not be true in any way. I’m almost definitely sure there’s going to be a second one of these. (Opens Fri Dec 25, various theaters) SIMON HAM, AGE 12

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
I will begin by making it clear that I found The Rise of Skywalker, the last film in the Skywalker saga, boring. And it was not even a long movie, and I'm a fan of the director's (J.J. Abrams) work (particularly Mission: Impossible III—the best in that franchise), and many of the visual effects are impressive—particularly the haunting business of bringing the late Carrie Fisher back to life. But all together, the film is burdened by too much sentimental family stuff (you are my granddaughter, you are my son, you killed my parents, and so on), and its end did not know how to end for a very long time. (Opens Thurs Dec 19, various theaters) CHARLES MUDEDE

The Two Popes
Hannibal Lecter and the High Sparrow are Popes now! Kind of a step sideways, really, but I’m confident their prior work experience will translate well. (Now playing, various theaters)

Uncut Gems
As Howard Ratner, a professional jeweler and asshole in Manhattan’s Diamond District, a great Adam Sandler rarely leaves the screen in Uncut Gems, and the plot is basically Howard and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. That isn’t a shock, considering the film comes from brothers/writers/directors Josh and Benny Safdie, who party-crashed the arthouse scene with 2017’s Good Time (in which Robert Pattinson was the one playing an asshole having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day). Uncut Gems is larger in scope, but like Good Time, it has a moral vacuum at its center—it takes place in the no-man’s-land where society’s walls crumble, and where those who look out only for themselves can best navigate the rubble. The Safdies aren’t interested in morality tales but amorality tales, and their stories’ no-holds-barred recklessness, at first freeing, steadily grows exhausting. Thankfully, the Safdies also know how to shoot, cut, and score like nobody else. There’s a twitchy, addictive energy to Uncut Gems, and the Safdies’ choppy, rapid-fire cuts coalesce into a surreal, exhilarating landscape of prismatic hues, blaring fluorescents, and sharp LEDs, all while the analog synth score by Daniel Lopatin (AKA Oneohtrix Point Never) adds to the lurid beauty. (Opens Tues Dec 24, various theaters) ERIK HENRIKSEN

Underscan: The Sticky Fingers of Time and Earth Girls are Easy
The Northwest Film Center’s genre series closes out 2019 with director Hillary Brougher’s 1997 black-and-white cult thriller The Sticky Fingers of Time, following a loose coalition of “time freaks” sharing “soul mutations,” followed by Julien Temple’s Earth Girls are Easy, a hairy, brightly-colored romantic comedy from 1988 starring Jeff Goldblum as an inscrutable alien and Geena Davis as a woman inexplicably attracted to him. So, technically, it’s also a docudrama. (The Sticky Fingers of Time, Sun Dec 22; Earth Girls are Easy, Sun Dec 29, Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium)

Varda by Agnès
The final film from essential director Agnès Varda is, appropriately, a documentary retrospective of her long, remarkable career. (Fri Dec 20 - Mon Dec 23, Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium)

Waves
To explain much of the plot of Waves would be a disservice. Even a quick description of writer/director Trey Edward Shults’ story—a uniquely American, character-driven drama about a Florida family’s idyllic bubble bursting—feels like too much of a reveal. As with its title, you need to give yourself over to the film’s turbulent narrative and see where it takes you. The immersiveness of Waves is heightened by its structure: Cinematographer Drew Daniels’ vaporous camera movements and splashy colors combine with a distorted score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and Shults and editor Isaac Hagy find the perfect rhythm to keep the film flowing so smoothly that 135 minutes breeze by. (Now playing, various theaters) ROBERT HAM

The Witcher
Netflix adapts the dark-fantasy novels of Andrzej Sapkowski, about glowering monster hunter Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), who’s basically Batman in Mordor. (Streams Fri Dec 20, Netflix)

Wyrd War Presents: Hundra
Wyrd War loves digging through cinematic detritus and sharing schlock treasures with fellow appreciators of vintage trash. Their early Christmas present this year? 1983’s Hundra, a satirical subversion of the previous year’s smash hit Conan the Barbarian. Director Matt Cimber and star Laurene Landon in attendance. (Sat Dec 21, Hollywood Theatre)