Now that summer blockbuster season has bled into the Christmas period as well, we should probably start this preview of the season with the big-ticket items. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an animated take on the comic-book character that is garnering glowing advance word for its Deadpool-like metafictional take on the web-slinger’s saga. Speaking of which, the unkillable Canadian is back for Once Upon a Deadpool, a PG-13-rated cut of Deadpool 2 that includes new jokes and Fred Savage portraying himself and saying that Deadpool without Disney’s backing is “like the Beatles produced by Nickelback. It’s still music, but it sucks.” Meanwhile, Bumblebee looks to attempt a more light-hearted chapter of the Transformers franchise and Aquaman tries to give us a DC movie that actually works.
Of course, we might have no prestige dramas left in our multiplexes if it weren’t for the Christmas season. Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges deliver performances worth seeing in the addiction drama Ben Is Back, while Clint Eastwood plays an old man drawn into the drug trade in The Mule. Adam McKay follows up The Big Short with Vice, another scabrously funny drama about real-life men in power, starring Christian Bale as Dick Cheney and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush. It’s receiving adulatory advance reviews, but it will have some way to go to supplant If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’ breathlessly romantic adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel that bears out the skills that the director showed in Moonlight.
The foreign Oscar contenders are no less accomplished than our domestic product as Oscar winner Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War is a gorgeous black-and-white film about a Polish couple whose romance spans decades and both sides of the Iron Curtain, filled out with music ranging from Polish folk to jazz. Also in black-and-white is Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, which is earning the director of Gravity some of the best reviews of his career for its autobiographical portrait of Mexico during the 1970s. Hirokazu Kore-eda won the Golden Palm at Cannes for his drama Shoplifters, about a poor Japanese family that adopts an abused kid despite their own straitened financial circumstances. Well-regarded Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki may finally grab some well-merited attention in our country with Capernaum, the story of a boy who sues his parents for abusing him.
If Christmas leaves you in a British sort of mood, there’s plenty to choose from, starting with Mary Poppins Returns, Disney’s sequel to its 1964 musical, starring Emily Blunt as everyone’s favorite English nanny returning to Cherry Tree Lane a quarter century later to tend to a grown-up Jane and Michael (Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw) and their kids. Mortal Engines is a steampunk fantasy that imagines a postapocalyptic future in which the city of London has become a world-devouring juggernaut on wheels. Adapted from Philip Reeve’s novel, it has Peter Jackson as a scriptwriter. On a lighter note, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly put on English accents plummier than the real thing in Holmes & Watson, their comic take on the Sherlock Holmes stories.
Then there are dueling films about English queens, with Mary Queen of Scots casting Saoirse Ronan as the ill-fated Scottish monarch and Margot Robbie as her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. That’s a high-powered duo, but they’ll have a tall task to better The Favourite, a film that’s currently playing in Dallas and will likely expand. Inaugurating the subgenre of lesbian historical farce, it tells the story of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) as she’s caught between her ladies-in-waiting and bedmates (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) who are jockeying for political power and the queen’s heart.
Among the musicals that might fly under your radar are Vox Lux, with Natalie Portman as an aging pop star and school shooting survivor, and Dumplin’, a Netflix-produced entry about an overweight small-town Texas girl who enters her local beauty pageant, with original songs by Dolly Parton. For offbeat, though, you won’t match Anna and the Apocalypse, a British teen Christmas zombie musical comedy with some genuinely catchy songs sung by a cast of schoolkids as their Scottish town is decimated by a plague of the undead. Season’s greetings, everyone.