We have to start this piece with Netflix. The streaming company has major awards contenders out this season that we may not have the chance to see in theaters. Last year, that is what happened to Roma, Netflix’s main Oscar pick which was cheated out of a Best Picture win by a determined lobbying effort on the part of Steven Spielberg and a misguided attempt to protect the primacy of the theatrical experience. (And so the putrid Green Book won the Oscar. Great job, everyone.)
This year, Netflix has two films that can plausibly be considered as the movie of the year. The first is The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s 179-minute epic that ranks among his finest gangster films. Robert De Niro stars as Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, the real-life confidante of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) who claimed to have played a part in Hoffa’s murder. The other is Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach’s drama with career-best performances by both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as a couple who don’t want their divorce to become acrimonious and wind up hurting each other really bad. These films are both currently playing in indie theaters in Dallas. The major theater chains (AMC, Cinemark, and Regal) won’t show these movies because Netflix won’t keep them off their streaming services for 90 days after they release. That’s why we didn’t see Roma in theaters last year unless you drove to Dallas like I did. This year, however, the unaffiliated Grand Berry Theater is up and running, and it could provide those films to Fort Worth moviegoers (hint, hint, heavy hint).
Baumbach’s life partner, Greta Gerwig, has her own awards contender out opposite his, an excellent adaptation of Little Women with a bubbling mix of performances by its actresses. Elsewhere with prestige fare, Sam Mendes’ 1917 is a World War I film with a gimmick: It tells its story about two British soldiers on a near-impossible mission in what’s meant to look like a single take. More topically, Bombshell is a quick-hitting, funny, and scathing look at the sexual harassment scandal that enveloped Fox News in 2016, with Charlize Theron imitating Megyn Kelly’s delivery to perfection and John Lithgow under about 100 pounds of prosthetic fat to play Roger Ailes. I wrote up Just Mercy in my recap of the recent Lone Star Film Festival, and it features Michael B. Jordan and Brie Larson as defense lawyers who aim to free a wrongly condemned killer (Jamie Foxx) in Alabama. Also, Adam Sandler is earning some of the best reviews of his career, playing a lowlife Jewish diamond merchant with a gambling problem in Uncut Gems. If you were creeped out by the trailer for Cats, the director has promised that the CGI in the finished film looks much better. We’ll see.
If your tastes run more lowbrow, Black Christmas is another remake of the 1974 slasher flick and the first version of the story directed by a woman. (Not just any woman, either. Sophia Takal did some unsettling work with her psychological horror film Always Shine.) A scant 10 months after the last Ip Man “sidequel,” Ip Man 4: The Finale hits theaters, with Donnie Yen as the kung fu master who sets up shop in America. I’m looking forward to this because it will give a big-screen showcase to the shamefully underappreciated British martial-arts fighter Scott Adkins.
If the Frozen sequel didn’t sate your appetite for animated films, more are coming. Spies in Disguise features Will Smith as the voice of a superspy and Tom Holland as the scientist who accidentally turns him into a pigeon. Less heralded is A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, which is for anyone who was charmed by the original stop-motion film. Meanwhile, Japan’s submission to the Oscars is Weathering With You, an anime film by Makoto Shinkai (Your Name) about a runaway boy who meets a girl who can change the weather.
Specialty releases are a specialty of mine, of course. Alla Kovgan’s Cunningham is a documentary about the choreographer Merce Cunningham that features creatively filmed performances of his dances. In a whole different vein, The Russian Five is a highly entertaining documentary about how the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997 by being the first NHL team to field five Russian players. On the live action front, Austin’s Trey Edward Shults’ family drama Waves reaches us this week, and I’ll weigh in in some form. Kristen Stewart stars in Seberg, a biography of the American actress of the French New Wave whose romantic relationships earned her a thick FBI dossier. France’s submission for the foreign film Oscar is Les Misérables, which I also mentioned in my LSFF wrap-up, but many people in France were upset that Portrait of a Lady on Fire wasn’t submitted in its place. The 18th-century lesbian romance dazzled viewers at Cannes.
Let’s see, am I forgetting something? Ah, yes, this particular Star Wars trilogy comes to an end with The Rise of Skywalker, with returning appearances by Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who might not be all that dead. When I know more, dear readers, so will you.