With Oscar nominations fast approaching, it’s the perfect time to squeeze in a trip to the theater and judge for yourself which movies actually deserved their nods. Even though January is historically a dump month, there’s still time to enjoy the awards-season darlings, catch up on some bigger releases, and take in a few new titles that pack a punch. (And, no, we didn’t forget to include Glass — basically everything you need to know about it is summed up here.)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
One of the first non-Disney/Pixar animated movies in a while with a serious shot at the academy’s Best Animated Film trophy, this Spider-Man is a superhero movie worth getting excited about. Emily Yoshida writes that the Spider-Verse “tries for a whole new attempt at translating the experience of reading a comic book to the screen,” and calls the effect “kinetic, often abstract, and relentlessly inventive.”
Yoshida writes, “The increasingly wobbly line between reality and unreality is just one tense contraption rigged up in Insidious and Paranormal Activity franchise veteran Adam Robitel’s tight, fun little thriller.” With the “pleasantly surprising quality of its art direction,” the film’s entertaining script will jolt you out of your winter blues.
A Star Is Born
Maybe the noise of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s press tour has overshadowed the fact that the movie itself is also pretty great. If you still haven’t seen it, yes, it’s still in theaters — and for good reason. In his directorial debut, Cooper comes out swinging as Jackson Maine. David Edelstein writes, “Cooper kills in the later scenes, when he’s struggling with sobriety and escalating tinnitus. He doesn’t jerk your tears — he eases them out until you suddenly realize you’re a mess.” And Gaga’s Ally is “very much down to earth and compos mentis.”
If Beale Street Could Talk
Edelstein writes of Barry Jenkins’s now-signature style: “lush and romantic on the surface, hyperrealistic and grim a short flight down. The tone oscillates: seductive, abrasive, seductive — but always beautiful, because Jenkins and his cinematographer, James Laxton, don’t do ugly.” KiKi Layne and Stephan James are “gorgeous,” and the supporting cast, which includes likely Oscar nominee Regina King, is “magnetic.”
The new thriller “dramatizes the story of three lighthouse keepers” who disappear, Edelstein writes, and it’s “phenomenally well-made.” Of Peter Mullan’s performance and facial expressions, Edelstein notes, “There’s a map of the human psyche there for them that know to read it.”
Another possible contender for Best Foreign-Language Film, the “love story told through love songs” is loosely based on director Pawel Pawlikowski’s parents’ own love story. Yoshida writes, the movie “traverses the Iron Curtain and plays out in the shadow of hardship that would threaten to render a little old love story inconsequential by comparison. But it’s in constant dialogue with that backdrop, evolving with every location change and time jump.”
Edelstein writes that the movie is “very entertaining in a middlebrow Broadway comedy kind of way,” but we could all use some easy laughs these days. It’s a Mexican remake of a 2016 Italian original, and the premise is that a group of old friends at a dinner party “decide on a very dumb whim to place their cell phones in the center of the table and share every text or call. This creates moments that are awwwwwk-ward, given all the affairs, lies (white, black, and crimson), and other buried traumas,” and the cast “could not be livelier.”
Three huge performances from three presumptive Oscar nominees make The Favourite truly wonderful. Edelstein calls Olivia Colman “astonishing,” and notes that Rachel Weisz gives a “peerless performance” as Emma Stone holds her own, “move for move.” Edelstein writes that the movie “holds the screen with gnashing teeth and slashing nails.” How fun!
Box-office giant Aquaman is still swimming along. Yoshida writes, the movie’s “visual imagination is genuinely exciting and transportive, and dare I say, fun. If you came for the Aquaman mythos, you won’t be disappointed, but if you’re just here for the creatures of the deep, you’ll be more than satisfied.”
Even though McKay’s movie itself received mixed reviews, it’s worth seeing if only to watch Christian Bale’s complete transformation into Dick Cheney. Edelstein writes, “Bale’s rasp is raspier than his Batman’s, and he nails Cheney’s chilling half-smile, which curls so fluidly into a sneer that in the end there’s no difference.” This is the performance that just might win Bale his first Best Actor trophy.
On the Basis of Sex
The Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic “hits its marks with the subtlety of a legal brief,” David Edelstein writes, but it still comes through given its subject — and help from a solid performance from lead Felicity Jones. According to Edelstein, she nails “Ginsburg’s constant struggle to soften her edges to keep from alienating the men she’s attempting to persuade.”
This Transformers installment is a “restrained” departure from the rest of the series, writes Bilge Ebiri. But Hailee Steinfeld is “an enormously talented actress, and the film knows to spend some time with her and not try to hurry things along to the next big set piece.”