This weekend is a great time to catch up on the Oscar-nominated films that are playing in Seattle (like The Favourite and Cold War), but there are also other great options, including classics like Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Wizard of Oz, as well as the Children's Film Festival. Follow the links below to see complete showtimes, tickets, and trailers for all of our critics' picks, and, if you're looking for even more options, check out our film events calendar and complete movie times listings.
Adult Life Skills
Adult Life Skills focuses on Anna, played by Jodie Whittaker, who you might know from that fantastic Black Mirror episode, “The Entire History of You,” or perhaps as the first-ever female Doctor Who. Anna is stuck in a grief rut after the death of her twin brother Billy, and has been living in self-imposed isolation in her mom’s backyard shed for the past 18 months, producing her own existential videos starring her two thumbs. “You look like a homeless teenager, you should have a dog and a piece of string,” her mother complains at one point, and ultimately gives Anna a move-out deadline—her 30th birthday, which is about a week away. The premise of Adult Life Skills isn’t remarkable or ground-breaking, but its execution is near impeccable—excellent casting, believable characters, first-rate script, simple yet elegant cinematography—and the result is a film that is quietly poignant, quirkily endearing, and humorous without seeming to try too hard. LEILANI POLK
In this dystopian 1988 cyberpunk classic, a teenage gang member is granted psychokinetic powers in a government experiment, but the transformation process doesn’t stop there—and all Neo-Tokyo is in danger. The film melds body horror, moto gangs, and a Godzilla-style creature in a fever dream of animation and taiko drums.
Aquaman is very goofy, and if it was an hour shorter, it would totally be worth your time. As the affably bro-y fishman, Jason Momoa punches CGI monsters and supervillains who wear stupid costumes; he also, in the film’s best moments, flips back his dripping hair and, angling his shirtless torso for maximum gleam, all but winks at the camera as an electric guitar wails. Eagerly and clumsily, Aquaman dispels the joyless grimdark that’s infested other movies based on DC Comics, and director James Wan delivers some genuinely great stuff—a horror-tinged encounter with dagger-toothed wretches from the deep, a psychedelic submarine chase through a fluorescent Atlantis. But he’s hampered by too much plot, dreary politicking that aims for Game of Thrones but lands at Phantom Menace, and a plasticky sheen that cheapens everything from the bad guys’ Power Ranger suits to the digitally de-aged faces of Temuera Morrison, Willem Dafoe, and Nicole Kidman. Aquaman’s super fun when it embraces its silliness—there’s an octopus who plays the drums! there’s an army of cranky crab-men!—but by the end, it just feels bloated and squishy. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Based on retired police detective Ron Stallworth’s 2014 memoir Black Klansman, director Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman stars John David Washington (son of Denzel Washington) as the first Black cop on the Colorado Springs police department in the early 1970s. Answering a recruitment ad in the local newspaper—and a knack for talking on the phone using his best “white guy” voice—Stallworth gets in good with the local Klan in Colorado Springs. But his attempt to infiltrate the organization hits an obvious stumbling block when it comes time to meet in person. Enter fellow police officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a nonpracticing Jew who agrees to pretend to be Stallworth in person. It’s difficult to know what to make of Lee’s latest joint. As with many of his other films, BlacKkKlansman constantly feels like Lee’s not sure what tone he wants to hit, so he hits them all, often with the subtlety of a brick to the face. It’s a solid work, albeit one that’s flawed in the same ways that nearly all of Spike’s best films are flawed. DAVID F. WALKER
AMC Seattle 10
Why is it a good movie? Because it depicts and embodies the complicatedness of artistic collaboration, because it shows the downsides and the virtues of a brilliant person's out-of-control ego, because it dramatizes the way repression warps people, because it suggests what the world lost with an entire generation of gay artists who were wiped out (this was only one person, and yet the loss here alone is huge), because the music's fantastic (duh) and it was written by the characters we're seeing depicted on-screen, and because it manages to depict an artist who died of AIDS without ending with him on his deathbed succumbing to AIDS. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE
Here's a question prompted by the last 30 years of Transformers movies: "Is it even possible to make a good movie out of this shit?" Bumblebee is the answer, and it's a legitimately good one. Nothing about it ever threatens to edge into "great" territory, but it's winsome, earnest and good-hearted, and that's more than enough to make it easily the best movie in the series. The story is largely unimportant—alien-robot puppy-car has to stop a robot-alien car-plane and a helicopter-car alien-robot (voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux) from Skyping the Decepticons to come burn Earth to a cinder—but most of what works in Bumblebee works on a character level, not a plot one. The novelty of genuinely liking a Transformers movie for its characters (!) might wear off pretty soon, but I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts. BOBBY ROBERTS
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
In Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Melissa McCarthy stars as real-life best-selling biographer Lee Israel. But this isn’t a life of literary glitz and glamour that you're imagining after such a juicy introductory sentence! After falling on hard biographer times, Israel turned to a life of writerly crimes, forging letters from long-dead authors to make just enough cash to pay her rent, take her cat to the vet, and aggressively drink. This all sounds sad, I know, but there’s warmth underneath, thanks to Israel’s friendship with the charming, equally self-destructive Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). McCarthy, who’s made a career of portraying loud women, is a different kind of jerk here—a real person who lashes out not for laughs, but because life is hard and she knows she’s making bad choices. ELINOR JONES
Children's Film Festival Seattle
The Children's Film Festival is founded on two premises: 1) Children are not stupid and 2) they deserve beautiful world cinema just like us grown-ups with underused film degrees. The organizers at Northwest Film Forum believe that art can do heavy lifting for "racial equity and diversity, inclusivity, social justice, [and] global awareness" through brilliant storytelling and lovely sound and imagery. Special events this year include a sing-along with The Muppet Movie (1979), a live score by Miles and Karina for The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Lotte Reiniger's 1926 animated film, and a silhouette-animation installation for kids in the lobby.
Northwest Film Forum
There are two films that critics can’t stop singing about today: Roma and Cold War. These films have the air not of cinematic originality, but cinematic importance or grandeur. Cold War is set in the heart of the Cold War, the period in the 20th century when all nations had two main geopolitical choices: to side with either the Eagle (the United States) or the Bear (the USSR). Poland was close to the Bear, and so was caught in its political and military orbit, but it somehow managed to develop its own distinct, non-socialist realist cinema. Post-Soviet Cold War is certainly a part of that rich cinematic tradition. CHARLES MUDEDE
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
In Karen Kusama's thriller, a tortured detective (played by an unrecognizable Nicole Kidman) becomes obsessed with taking down the leader of a gang whom she previously failed to defeat in a sting operation as a young cop. It sounds tremendously grim and maybe a bit sludgy—the SF Chronicle's Mick Lasalle says it "makes Manchester By the Sea seem like an afternoon party with clowns and balloon animals"—but generally worthwhile for Kidman's performance.
AMC Pacific Place
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos knows how to get under the skin of emotions and situations in a way that’s surreal, but it makes his observations feel closer to actual truth. The Favourite is a historical period piece that pulls less heady tricks than his previous efforts, its focus on the relationship between two cousins (played by Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) vying for the favor of Olivia Colman’s sickly Queen Anne in early 18th century England. The actresses churn out incredible performances, hysterically and humorously jockeying for control over each other, the palace, and themselves. Lanthimos still manages to throw in a few strange elements, like the use of a fish eye camera lens and silly dancing sequences, but in a way, it only heightens the characters’ believability. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Fantastic Mr. Fox
To me, the greatest Wes Anderson film is Fantastic Mr. Fox—it's the one time Anderson exacted near-total control over that perfect rectangle. Aside from their voices, the actors do his bidding. Rumor has it, Anderson physically acted out scenes for his animators to emulate, the way Chaplin would go around his sets and demonstrate to each individual bit player exactly how they were to behave on-screen, so every character in a Chaplin film was Chaplin himself. These puppets look like foxes and badgers, but they're really all Anderson. PAUL CONSTANT
Green Book tells the supposedly true story of a Black jazz pianist, Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), and his white driver, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), as they go on a concert tour through the segregated South in 1962. Although they’re both from New York, they’re from entirely different worlds: Shirley moves through the rarified air of highbrow culture. Tony, on the other hand, is an Italian American stereotype made sentient, a “whattsamattayou” tough guy with a tenderly soft underbelly. Green Book’s biggest red flag is that it’s essentially another Driving Miss Daisy story about how to solve racism in three convenient acts. But the movie’s really nice, and it’s hard to get too mad at it. Ali and Mortensen are both awfully good, and the script, for all its familiarity, is kind of comforting in its shtick-y predictability. NED LANNAMANN
If Beale Street Could Talk
The first English-language film adaptation of a James Baldwin novel, the Barry Jenkins–helmed If Beale Street Could Talk is set in 1970s Harlem. It follows the story of Fonny (Stephan James) and Tish (KiKi Layne), a young and deeply in love black couple torn apart after Fonny is falsely accused of raping a woman and thrown in jail. After learning that she's pregnant, Tish and her family race to clear Fonny's name and get him out of prison before the baby is born so their life together can continue. Okay, yes, I followed the story, and yes, I got teary-eyed and enraged at the appropriate moments. But as I made my way out of the Regal Meridian, I was thinking not about the movie I'd spent a good part of my afternoon watching but about my fucking groceries. Not love, not the carceral state, not actor Stephan James wearing nothing but his boxers, not the souls of black folk, but whether the cucumber in the back of my fridge had spoiled and if I'd need to buy another one. As a Baldwin fan and a Jenkins fan, it seems almost sacrilegious to admit to being unmoved, or worse, bored, by their work—this pairing should be a slam dunk. And although the film is beautifully shot and filled with great performances, ultimately If Beale Street Could Talk lacks that deep gut punch that makes a movie stick. JASMYNE KEIMIG
The Magic Lantern of Ingmar Bergman
Swedish visionary film director Ingmar Bergman would have been 100 this year. His deeply introspective, unabashedly emotional, despairing yet strangely life-affirming oeuvre will once again be onscreen at Seattle Art Museum (in association with the Nordic Museum). Oh, hey, and they’re showing one of the most traumatizing movies about relationships ever made, Cries and Whispers, on Valentine’s Day. Happy coincidence? On tap this week: the hallucinatory horror film Hour of the Wolf. JOULE ZELMAN
Seattle Art Museum
Mary Poppins Returns
Undisputed, inarguable fact: Emily Blunt is an international treasure. If the makers of Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns did nothing else right, the casting of Blunt as the “practically perfect” magical nanny was a stroke of inspired genius. Unfortunately, it’s a fool’s game to try to force lightning to strike in the same place twice, which is why Blunt’s performance—which is easily equal to that of the great Julie Andrews—is the best thing about Mary Poppins Returns. That isn’t to say the film is a poorly considered waste of time. The story of a now grown-up Michael Banks (played by an excellent and heartbreaking Ben Whishaw), who’s raising his three children (played by bland bars of soap) following the death of his wife while desperately trying to hang on to his childhood home adds an affecting layer not seen in the original. The problem lies in slavishly trying to re-create something that’s practically perfect—if one aspect isn’t right, magic just ain’t gonna happen. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY
Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots is the latest effort to bring 16th-century British historical drama into the millennial age, and for better and worse, it bears many of the hallmarks of such an effort: It's got two legitimate movie stars at its core, with Saoirse Ronan as the titular monarch and Margot Robbie as her cousin Elizabeth I. Maybe it's just Westeros withdrawal talking, but I got a consistent sense that Mary and Elizabeth's rivalry compares to the one between Daenerys and Cersei on Game of Thrones. Mary, despite (or because of?) her Catholicism is the warmer, more progressive ruler, while the famously virginal, always tense Elizabeth, pox-afflicted and slathered in white face paint, resembles no one so much as a meth-addicted Harley Quinn in RenFaire garb. Toss in some hipster-worthy facial hair, a dollop of rough sex, and some nontraditional casting, and, even without dragons, Mary Queen of Scots should help tide you over until Game of Thrones returns in April. MARC MOHAN
Meridian 16 & Varsity Theatre
Mamoru Hosoda is quickly gaining a rep for lushly imagined and exceptionally executed anime features, especially after The Boy and the Beast. Follow-up Mirai appears to be another dazzler, about a young boy who encounters a magical garden that allows him to travel through time and meet his relatives from different eras—with help from his younger sister from the future (so she’s actually older and wiser than him). The premise seems mildly confusing but ultimately intriguing, especially based on a recent Vulture review (“In the film’s strange, upsetting, and ultimately ravishing finale, Hosoda goes just macro enough with the concept to dazzle kids and send the adults out sobbing”). Buy the ticket, take the ride… with your child. LEILANI POLK
SIFF Film Center
Mysterious Doctor Satan
The cinema's pulpy Saturday programming, which aims to resurrect the tradition of the serial matinee, is starting up again. This time, it's going to be The Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940), shown, as always, on 16mm. The serial involves a mad genius, an army of robots, and a hero known as "the Copperhead." But that's not all! After the episode, there'll be a secret cult, adventure, sci-fi, or art house film.
Ralph Breaks the Internet
The sequel to Wreck-It Ralph is Disney's strangely savvy and grown-up (but still fun-for-kids) take on the viruses, ads, social media networks, videos, and snake pits of idiocy on the web. Charles Pulliam-Moore of i09 wrote, "In its accurate depiction of the highs and lows the internet has to offer, Ralph Breaks the Internet also casually, and perhaps unavoidably, draws attention to something else about the ever-flattening global culture we’re all swimming in—and how Disney owns the rights to way, way too much of it."
AMC Pacific Place
Scarecrow Academy - 1959: The Best Movie Year Ever
The video rental library's new series contends that 1959 was the best year in film history ever. It saw "a high point of Hollywood studio filmmaking, the rise of new independent cinema, the great flowering of international movies, and the beginning of the French New Wave." Film critic Robert Horton will delve into the highlights of this landmark year, beginning on January 26 with François Truffaut's beautiful coming-of-age film The 400 Blows.
The family in Shoplifters lives in a small home in some forgotten quarter of Tokyo. The father is unable to work because of an accident at a construction site. The mother was laid off from a crummy job at a factory. The mother's sister works in the sex industry. The children shoplift to make ends meet. The family's only sure source of income is the grandmother's pension transferred to her from her dead husband. (The grandmother also has a taste for gambling.) One day, the family adopts a stranger—a girl from an abusive home. She is a runaway. She joins the family and soon also learns the art of shoplifting. There is a good reason why Shoplifters won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival. It is a carefully and beautifully crafted work that appears to be about one thing (the strong bonds of family life), but is really about something else—the way a city forces us to invent our lives. CHARLES MUDEDE
SIFF Cinema Uptown, AMC Seattle 10 & Grand Illusion
Sicilian Ghost Story
The film, which received a 10-minute standing ovation at last year's Cannes Film Festival, and is set in the mid-1990s, is really about a 12-year-old girl, Luna (Julia Jedlikowska), who falls in love with a 13-year-old boy, Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez). The girl comes from a middle-class family. The boy comes from an upper-class family. Then he disappears. He stops coming to school or riding his dark horse near the Sicilian village. Where is he? Luna loses her mind looking and longing for him. Her heart is broken. She throws herself into a lake. But there is more to the story. The missing boy's father is tied to the Mafia. And so, on the surface, Sicilian Ghost Story is just another crime movie. But the work was filmed not like a thriller but like a terrifying fairy tale. It is the fairy-tale mood that makes this movie special. There is the old and twisted tree deep in the woods, where all that shines is a sinister sun. There are the pagan ruins by the sea with all of their monster-sized bones and long-forgotten dead. There is the wizard-like man fucking the witch-like woman in a crumbling house that has a basement filled with funereal water. Even the girl's mother seems evil, emerging sometimes from a sauna like a bride of Satan emerging from a room in hell. CHARLES MUDEDE
As a mediocre student of Russian, I once tried to procrastinate studying for an exam by watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris. I reasoned that since the movie was in Russian, it was the same as learning how to use the genitive plural. I was wrong. The philosophical heft of a film that dealt with love, space, and the meaning of life proved too heavy and slow for a distractible 19-year-old attempting to avoid work. So after about 20 minutes, I went back to my book and I haven’t returned to the film since. I regret that decision immensely—so catch me cozied up in the back of the Grand Illusion this weekend, watching this masterpiece of science fiction in its entirety. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse
Mashing up the bombast of Marvel with the glory days of Pixar, Spider-Verse feels decidedly different—funnier, weirder, more daring—than most American animated movies. This is almost a meta, post-modern take on Spider-Man: Instead of being all about Peter Parker, Spider-Verse stars Miles Morales (excellently voiced by Shameik Moore), a kid who also gets bit by a creepy spider and also gets creepy spider-powers. But Miles—a Afro-Latino teenager who, for all his cleverness and heart, feels out of place at his fancy Brooklyn school—not only has a different perspective on the whole "great power, great responsibility" thing, but has his own obstacles to becoming a hero. Luckily for Miles, a whole slew of other spider-people from alternate dimensions show up to help him out. This is a big, fun blockbuster, but it's also the rare big, fun blockbuster that dares to have a strong point of view and a fresh, exciting personality. As Spider-Verse dazzles and twists, thumping to a hip-hop soundtrack and glimmering with every color in the universe, it captures the thrill, smarts, and irreverence that mark Spider-Man's best stories. ERIK HENRIKSEN
A damning, decades-spanning portrait of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Vice is a far cry from the genial comedies Adam McKay used to make, like Anchorman and Step Brothers. Instead, it’s an angry, messy, overbearing, and frequently brilliant film—one that's indulgent in ways that are simultaneously admirable and irritating. At worst, it feels like a mashup of Oliver Stone's and Michael Moore’s worst tendencies. At its best, though, Vice is an elaborate juggling act of ideas and techniques, including broad comedy, documentary footage, propaganda, fourth-wall-busting, vicious satire, expository narration, and reworked Shakespeare. It’s impressive. It’s also exhausting. NED LANNAMANN
Based on a novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, the wife, in this case, is Joan Castleman—played by a brilliant Glenn Close, in perhaps the most captivating role in her career. Joan is married to Joe Castleman, a much lauded novelist who has just found out he's won the Nobel Prize. When Joe receives the good news, Joan celebrates and quietly simmers at once. The undercurrent of Joan's anger plays throughout the film, and the viewer doesn't know why, exactly, she can't fully indulge in her husband's big win. He's been selected to replace Bill Clinton on the cover of TIME (this, along with ample smoking indoors, is one of the few reminders that the film is set in the early '90s). Why can't she just be happy for her man? The Wife sticks with you. Watch it with a friend—or, even better, your spouse—so you'll have someone with whom to discuss this Oscar-worthy work of art. KATIE HERZOG
AMC Seattle 10
The Wizard of Oz
Judy Garland meets a cowardly lion, a tin man, a scarecrow, a couple of witches, and a host of other technicolor characters in this 1939 perma-classic.
AMC Pacific Place
Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin
Arwen Curry's documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin explores the life and legacy of the late feminist author, featuring insights and interviews with writers like Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Michael Chabon, and others. Bring your favorite Le Guin excerpt or poem to read before each screening.
Northwest Film Forum
Jekeva Phillips has been all over the place. Earlier in the fall, she helped run Lit Crawl Seattle, which was well attended again this year. A few months before that, she ran Bibliophilia, a summer festival that pairs Seattle writers with improv performers to create a series of readings you actually want to attend. And now she's launched a new TV series, produced by Word Lit Zine (which she also runs) and Seattle Colleges Cable Television (which is maybe the only thing she doesn't run). At Northwest Film Forum, she'll be hosting a screening of the show. RICH SMITH
Northwest Film Forum
Our critics don't recommend these movies, but you might like to know about them anyway.