What a year it’s been: Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman, First Reformed and First Man, Gotti and … well, Gotti. And now we finish 2018 nice ‘n’ strong this month with a last gasp of award contenders (Natalie Portman goes pop; Christian Bale bulks up; Steve Carell plays with dolls) and holiday-market studio tentpoles (Aquaman goes solo, Mary Poppins makes a comeback, Spider-Man gets into quantum physics). Here’s what you need to see this December.
Aquaman (Dec. 21st)
The dampest member of the Justice League gets his moment in the limelight, courtesy of this undersea epic from The Conjuring franchise’s favorite director James Wan. Meet Arthur Curry a boy with a strange connection to fish and who will age into the strapping physique of Game of Thrones‘ hunk Jason Momoa. Half human and half superhuman, he returns to his home of Atlantis to assume the throne; his war hawk half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) has other plans. From the battle-whales to the giant lava kraken to laser showdowns, no blockbuster expense has been spared. Willem Dafoe (!) and Amber Heard rocking some sweet Little Mermaid hair (!!!) costar.
Bird Box (Dec. 13th)
You know what A Quiet Place did for the human sense of hearing? This new post-apocalyptic horror chiller from Danish director Susanne Bier hopes to do the same, apparently, for sight. The world has been invaded by creatures that showing us visions of our worst nightmares; forced blindness is the only safe course of action. Sandra Bullock stars as a survivor leading her family through this hostile terrain, eventually joining a band of stragglers (a well-cast ensemble including Lil Rel Howery, Trevante Rhodes, and John Malkovich) as they prepare a counter-offensive to reclaim the planet. As with this year’s earlier sleeper hit, the tension starts at a 10 and stays there.
Cold War (Dec. 21st)
The latest from Oscar-winning Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida) charts the on/off romance between a strong-willed singer (Joanna Julig) and a sensitive pianist (Tomasz Kot). As they flirt and fight and fall apart, the couple also traverse a Europe in its own turbulent transitional period, the specters of fascism and authoritarianism always looming. Filmed in gorgeous black-and-white and clocking in at a svelte 88 minutes, it’s the most time-efficient (and overwhelmingly rapturous) way to bone up for this year’s foreign film Oscar race.
Mary Poppins Returns (Dec. 19th)
Same umbrella, same handbag … new face. Emily Blunt carries on the legacy of Julie Andrews as the world’s most famous screen nanny, emerging from retirement to sweeten up the lives of the now-adult Michael and Jane (Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer). To fill Dick Van Dyke’s soot-tarnished shoes, we’ve got no less than Lin-Manuel Miranda stepping in as a merry chimneysweep with an untouchable tenor. And yes, that is Meryl Streep as an oddball Poppins cousin who goes by the name of Topsy. They’ll all strike up a chipper chim-chim-cheree in this tune-heavy revival drawing on a rich vein nostalgia. It’s a strictly BYOSOS (Bring Your Own Spoonful of Sugar) affair.
Mary, Queen of Scots (Dec. 7th)
House of Cards creator Beau Willimon sticks with the political intrigue as the writer of this period piece, moving it across the Atlantic and back a few hundred years to the 16th century. In 1569, sisters Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and Elizabeth (Margot Robbie, barely recognizable under a pound of prosthetics) respectively reigned over Scotland and England. They did so harmoniously until jealousy and machinations from scheming courtiers drove a wedge between them. As director Josie Rourke vividly visualizes the war of pettiness of violence that broke out, two accomplished actresses sink their incisors into a pair of meaty roles. Let no one say Robbie’s not making an effort to stretch her range.
The Mule (Dec. 14th)
Here’s how long 2018 has been: this crime thriller marks the second new release from Clint Eastwood in this calendar year alone. (That’s right, The 15:17 to Paris was only 10 long months ago.) The director/star plays Earl Stone, a geriatric veteran turned reluctant drug runner for a Mexican cartel. The strange-but-true story kicks into high gear when an enthusiastic DEA agent — played by Clint’s American Sniper muse and fellow actor-turned-auteur Bradley Cooper — picks up his trail. Add another steely-faced antihero to Eastwood’s gallery of badasses, shitkickers and all-around tough guys.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Dec. 14th)
It doesn’t matter whether you’re preferred screen webslinger is Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield or Tom Holland; this animated entry cuts through the continuities by introducing Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore) as our new Spidey. A scheme from Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) to open a dimensional rift flings a parallel universe’s Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) into the mix, along with a handful of other assorted spider-persons — including a hard-nosed gumshoe Spider-Man Noir (Nic Cage!) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). Word on the street is that it’s not only an incredible take on your friendly neighborhood you-know-who but that it’s one of the best superhero movies, live-action or toon, of the past decade. Only one way to find out.
Vox Lux (Dec. 7th)
In 1999, a young woman named Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) survives a traumatizing episode and writes an anthem of mourning with her sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin). The twosome become an overnight musical sensation. Flash forward to 2017, in which the now-adult singer (Natalie Portman) courts scandal as an on-the-edge pop star that’s equal parts Lady Gaga and Gena Rowlands. Director Brady Corbet strings a national commentary between these two halves, tacitly linking terrorism, mass culture and hysteria in America with an ambition bordering on the Kubrickian. All this and Portman giving a go-for-broke performance of unapologetic brashness.
Vice (Dec. 25th)
Once upon a time not so long ago, a rather unsavory fellow named Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) seized an unprecedented degree of executive power from the President’s right-hand seat. This darkly comic biopic from Adam McKay (The Big Short) tracks the politico from his younger days as a Republican upstart to his quiet coup under George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell). And through every turn, there’s his trusty wife Lynne (a stern Amy Adams), ready to offer Machiavellian counsel. With angry attentions currently occupied by Trump, this mad-as-hell movie may provide a helpful reminder that Americans had been taken for a ride long before 2016.
Welcome to Marwen (Dec. 21st)
The Polar Express director Robert Zemeckis once again spelunks into the uncanny valley with his fantastical tale of how real-life WWII veteran Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) withstood a brutal and unwarranted assault from some local thugs. A head wound began to wreak havoc with his memory — so he built a wartime-accurate village of miniatures, complete with figurines based on himself and assorted women in his life (Janelle Monae, Leslie Mann, Merritt Wever, Gwendoline Christie, Eiza González). Expect tears, tenderness and more than a few talking dolls.