Note: Movies play Thursday to Sunday unless otherwise noted.
2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animated, Live Action and Documentary
In this year's crop of animated short film nominees, meet characters like animals in therapy, a sweet little bao dumpling come to life, a Chinese American girl who wants to be an astronaut, and other charming folks. In the live action films, an aging woman bonds with her nurse; two young boys are interrogated over the death of a toddler; a mother receives a call from her young son, whose father has apparently abandoned him while on vacation; and more in these tense and touching films. The documentary subjects include a Zen hospice, Nigerian immigrants facing racism in England, refugees rescued from the Mediterranean, Indian women fighting menstruation stigma, and 20,000 American Nazis in 1939.
SIFF Cinema Uptown (live action & animation only) & AMC Seattle 10
Alita: Battle Angel
I have never recommended seeing a movie in 3-D, let alone IMAX 3-D, because films should either succeed in 2-D or they aren’t worth seeing. But for Alita: Battle Angel, I will—for the first time—tell you to splurge on the IMAX. I can’t stop dreaming about the glimmering city in the clouds that hovers above the film’s sci-fi setting. The story (cyborg woman is found comatose in trash heap, makes heroic journey to rediscover her past and her martial arts skills) lovingly smooshes at least three story arcs’ worth of plot into a single 122-minute film. I have no idea how Alita could have been done better. I’ve read all the Battle Angel comics, which manga artist Yukito Kishiro started publishing in 1990, and I could rattle off all the differences and references in director Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation. But I’d rather talk about what this film is: a fun, exhilarating realization of a sci-fi story that, even now, audiences may not be ready for. Salazar’s sensitive portrayal—enhanced by Alita’s robotic limbs and oversized, anime eyes—only strengthens the focus on conflict and competition that makes Alita so exciting. From the very start, Kishiro’s Alita was a battle comic—a serialized story to entertain young people with artful fight scenes. SUZETTE SMITH
Adventure films don't have to be full of special effects and fastmoving action, as Joe Penna's first feature, Arctic, proves. Mads Mikkelsen plays a research explorer who survives an airplane crash, only to be stranded in the Arctic wilderness (the film was shot in Iceland, so you'll get an eyeful of gorgeous icy shots, if anything). As Owen Gleiberman put it in Variety, "The movie, in its indie way, is the anti-Cast Away. Yet that’s what’s good and, finally, moving about it. It lets survival look like the raw experience it is."
AMC Pacific Place
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
Because I do not want to spoil the experience of this movie, I will not describe the path of the film's plot to its core problem, which concerns the unification of black Africa with black America. Out of a comic book, director Ryan Coogler crafted an important concept about how, from the unification, a post-pan-Africanist global Africanism can emerge. It comes down to this: black Africans and black Americans have to admit their respective failings. (My feeling is that Coogler is much harder on black Americans than black Africans.) As a whole, Black Panther is lots of fun and will excite a lot of discussion and strong opinions. But the most revolutionary thing about Black Panther is its city. The capital of Wakanda has skyscrapers, a monorail, sidewalks of grass, green buildings, farmers markets, and no cars. The whole idea of private transportation is foreign to this fictional society. If this black African capital has anything to share with the world, it's its city planning. CHARLES MUDEDE
Central Cinema and Museum of Pop Culture
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
A 12-year-old boy, played by real-life Syrian refugee Zain Al Rafeea, sues his parents for the “crime” of giving him life in this awful world. This film from director Nadine Labaki reportedly does an incredible job of dramatizing life for refugee children condemned to non-personhood by their lack of identity papers.
SIFF Cinema Uptown
Oh my god, it’s Liam Neeson. Oh my god, someone has fucked with him again. As in his other action films, he is just a guy trying to lead a normal life, but then the shit hits the fan and the bullets start flying. Oh my god, I can never get enough of Neeson’s troubles. I can’t stop watching him in the same story. The latest, Cold Pursuit, is based on a 2014 film called In Order of Disappearance, which Stranger contributor Andrew Wright described as “a Scandinavian thriller that certainly hits the Coen piñata hard.” [Ed.'s note: Since this preview was written, of course, Liam Neeson has been in the news for bad reasons.] CHARLES MUDEDE
Meridian 16 & Thornton Place
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
Dick and Jane Drop Acid and Die
What's more romantic than taking your honey to this self-explanatorily titled 1991 movie about psychedelia and early mortality? Absolutely nothing. Also enjoy a "secret short" from VHS Über Alles.
My Fair Lady
The real reason you should rush to watch this film in a glorious, comfy theater isn't Audrey Hepburn—nothing against Hepburn. It’s Cecil Beaton’s visionary and subversive costume design. Set in early-20th-century London, the film is often viewed as a period piece, but what Beaton did so perfectly was fuse wild 1960s styles (the film was made in 1964) with the fashion of the film's time and place. His final, magnificent garments tightrope-walked the chasm between the contemporary and the classic. Go see these legendary frilly things on the big screen. CHASE BURNS
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
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
AMC Seattle 10
Isn't It Romantic
In Isn’t It Romantic, Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is unlucky in love... until she suffers a blow to the noggin that transforms her world! Natalie’s brain injury transforms the world around her to a glossy romcom version of New York City, complete with Adam DeVine as her platonic (?) male friend, Priyanka Chopra as her stunning competition, Brandon Scott Jones as her gay bestie, Betty Gilpin as her office nemesis, and Liam Hemsworth as Natalie’s impossibly handsome love interest who deserves some sort of trophy for his performance (or, at the very least, a kiss on the mouth from me). The film mocks every cliché of the romcom while simultaneously delivering a flawless execution of the genre, something that's both brilliant and entertaining. And it checks my "Is Liam Hemsworth Playing a Saxophone Bare-Chested?" box, which is just the icing on the cupcake. ELINOR JONES
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
Lego 2 picks up immediately where the first film left off: The Lego universe faces invasion from the girly Legos of Bianca (Brooklynn Prince), the younger sister of Finn (Jadon Sand). Lisp-laden challenges are uttered, glitter is thrown, and a battle of clicking plastic ensues until the toy metropolis of Bricksburg resembles a post-apocalyptic landscape. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part squarely occupies (sorry!) a middle ground between the first The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie: The premise is played, but there's still some fun to be had, and you can see it with your kids. The bold messaging of the first film isn't present here, and the morality slides off after 15 minutes so. But it's nice that Maya Rudolph tried to teach me how to share, even though the message probably won't stick. SUZETTE SMITH
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? 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
Mysterious Doctor Satan
Grand Illusion'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.
The 2019 edition of this excellent annual festival features classic films, many of them newly restored. It closes with the underappreciated race noir Odds Against Tomorrow, which has one of the creepiest racist scenes in all of cinema. It happens like this: White ex-con Earle (Robert Ryan) is walking down a city street. Birds are in the air and children are playing on the sidewalk. One of them, a black girl, accidentally bumps into Earle. He picks her up and says to her small and confused face: “Hey, you little pickaninny, you are going to kill yourself flying like that.” The girl smiles weakly; he smiles wickedly, puts her back down, and walks into the seedy Hotel Juno. What makes the scene so creepy is not so much that he calls the girl a pickaninny, but that he talks to her in the way one usually does to a dog or a cat. Earle can’t see the human in the black girl, but only a lower, dim animal. This unsettling scene sets us up for the bad news Earle is about to receive from the planner of a bank heist: He has to work with a black man, Johnny (Harry Belafonte). Earle hates black people. He wants nothing to do with them. But he needs the money, and the heist will not work without the decoy of a black man. The ending of this film is a full-blown race apocalypse. CHARLES MUDEDE
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
This Hong Kong martial-arts film was completed in one of the most important years of the 20th century, 1989. It stars its director, Sammo Hung. He is the pedicab driver. He falls in love with a woman who has lots of problems, the biggest of which is her boss. He is a bad, bad man. The film also has other complications, which the hero must confront and solve if he ever hopes to hold the woman he loves in his arms forever. CHARLES MUDEDE
See Roma, and see it on a big screen, and see it loud. Alfonso Cuarón’s first film since Gravity is decidedly less flashy—a semi-autobiographical drama, it’s set in the early 1970s and is almost entirely focused on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a live-in housekeeper and nanny for an upper-class family in Mexico City. But while Roma is smaller in scope, it can be as jaw-clenchingly intense as Gravity, as melancholy and humane as Y Tu Mamá También, and as viscerally overwhelming as Children of Men. Roma is Cuarón firing on all cylinders. That impact is due, in large part, to its striking black-and-white 70 mm cinematography and its immersive sound design, neither of which are going to come across on a TV screen or laptop speakers. It’s easy to forget that movies are as much about sound as they are images, but Roma is a reminder of the power of both—in the roaring unrest of a Mexico City street, in the scratch of a broom against concrete, in the body-shaking thud of waves that feel real enough to knock you over. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Ark Lodge Cinemas
Scarecrow Academy 1959: The Greatest Year in Film History
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, including this week's North by Northwest, one of Charles Mudede's top five films ever.
To Sleep With Anger
What makes To Sleep With Anger the greatest black American film in the history of cinema (and, in the wider context of global black cinema, it's second only to Djibril Diop Mambéty's Hyenas) is, among several things, that it's a black film about not being black. This concept might be hard to understand for some white readers. But it goes something like this: White filmmakers make movies with no idea or consideration of the public fact that their characters are white (A Star Is Born, Vice, The Favourite, and so on). There are no white people in their plots. The characters do not feel themselves to be white. They are in a drama. But if one looks at all of the black films (or films with black themes) in this year's Oscars, for example, all the blacks in those works know they are black. Black Panther—black superheroes. Green Book—black pianist. BlacKkKlansman—black detective. But do blacks always think of themselves as black? No. They do not. It is mostly a public identification (and representation), rarely a private one. The only film I've ever watched that completely expressed a condition that I call black non-blackness is To Sleep With Anger. CHARLES MUDEDE
Northwest Film Forum
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 Star Is Born
If you’re entering the theatre simply desiring a couple solid musical numbers, then your $15 will not have been spent in vain. Unfortunately, the movie falls flat as only a two-dimensional vignette of common misogyny can. Ally, the lead character played by Lady Gaga, is a woman who knows she has talent but needs to hear that she is sufficiently pretty to be an appropriate vehicle for said talent. Like any woman vying for a piece of the proverbial pie, she is just one man away from success. One man to lead her, to mold her, to push her through to the finish line. This man-shaped void is filled by her father, her husband, her manager, her producer, her choreographer, and her photographer, all of whom take credit or receive credit from other men for her creative output and appearance. A Star Is Born is a classic tale, meant to be mutable, fluid, to adapt within each age it is reimagined. But the flaws of the inherent narrative are too real, too every-day damaging to continue being told in the form of a cinematic fantasy. KIM SELLING
AMC Seattle 10
They Shall Not Grow Old
Peter Jackson has led a team of restorationists and lip-readers (!) to snatch back moments of World War I in living detail. Archival films from the era were colorized and repaired, and experts were called in to decrypt what the people in the shots were saying. The results, bolstered by interviews and reminiscences, are history as you've never seen it.
AMC Seattle 10
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
In the 1980s, my film professor assigned us Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, auteur Melvin Van Peebles’s low-budget, avant-garde, proto-blaxploitation film. My main memory is of Van Peebles running away from the “pigs” to the extraordinary, kinetic funk of pre-hit-making Earth, Wind & Fire while wearing gold velvet trousers. It’s a motif that sticks with you. The plot—wherein Sweetback (MVP), a brothel sex show performer who gets trapped in a convoluted scheme involving a Black Panther, tries to escape US authorities by crossing into Mexico—is less important than the fantastic soundtrack, the sex and fight scenes, and the sensation of black men beating the system while looking fly. DAVEL SEGAL
Alberto Isaac's attack on conservative political virtue-signaling is set in a burlesque theater, which is frequented by corrupt two-faced politicians. This screening is part of the Cine Mexicano: ‘70s Art House series.
Northwest Film Forum
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
The Women on the 6th Floor
This film follows two different worlds in 1962 Paris: a wealthy one dominated by traditional families, and a working-class one filled with underpaid Spanish maids. When stockbroker Jean-Louis Joubert and his wife ask their new maid Maria to move furniture up to the sixth floor, which they use for storage, they discover that maids—including Maria—have been living in its unheated rooms. At this French Truly Salon screening, stay on for a discussion of France and Europe's transition out of arranged marriage in the 19th century.
SIFF Film Center
Our critics don't recommend these movies, but you might like to know about them anyway.