This weekend, Seattle's movie theaters are full of Oscar nominees (including the Animated and Live Action Shorts programs), new releases like the haunting should-have-been-nominated love story Atlantics, and unkillable classics like John Carpenter's The Thing and the Bill Murray-starring Groundhog Day. Plus, check out hidden Eastern European treasures at The Romanians: 30 Years of Cinema Revolution. See all of our film critics’ picks for this weekend below, and, if you're looking for even more options, check out our film events calendar and complete movie times listings.
Movies play Thursday–Sunday unless otherwise mentioned.
* = Nominated for a 2020 Oscar
Legendary screenwriter William Goldman once said of the film industry, “Nobody knows anything,” and this is still mostly true, with one exception: If cinematographer Roger Deakins shot the movie, that movie is worth seeing on the biggest screen possible. Even if 1917 were solely the most impressive work of Deakins’ remarkable career—which it is—I’d be recommending it. But the World War I movie is also one hell of a stunning storytelling experience from director Sam Mendes, co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and editor Lee Smith. “But wait,” you say, “isn’t the whole point of this movie that there aren’t any cuts? Why did they need an editor at all?” 1917’s hook (or less generously, its gimmick) is that it’s meant to unfold in a single, unbroken take. It’s one of the rare instances of a film’s marketing actually benefiting the finished film, because of the way this knowledge is both paid off... and then subverted. BOBBY ROBERTS
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director (Sam Mendes), Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects
2020 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animated Program and Live Action Program
Sure, the Oscars’ depressing obsession with Joker (11 nominations! lol) has done even more damage to the crumbling reputation of an obsolete institution that barely even pretends to be anything other than an artistically meaningless, months-long bullshit marketing campaign. But once you look past a certain movie about how hard it is to be a white clown in America, there is some stuff getting recognized that’s actually good—and you’ve got a decent chance of catching some of it in the programs that collect this year’s nominated live-action, animated, and documentary shorts. If you’re only catching one of the programs, the animated one’s generally the way to go. ERIK HENRIKSEN
SIFF Cinema Uptown
"The greatest form of protest is on display in Afghan Cycles: women daring to ride their bicycles even though it's forbidden," wrote The Stranger's Nathalie Graham on Sarah Menzies' SIFF-featured documentary. "It's a feminist anthem for the ages propelled by two wheels and the drive for freedom." This screening will feature an introduction by the director, plus a post-film group discussion.
New Holly Gathering Hall
The funniest entry in the MSCU (Martin Scorsese Cinematic Universe) follows an office drone on a long night in New York’s underground, populated by punks, artists, and Cheech and Chong.
And the Winner Is...
Cinerama screens the "absolute best in filmmaking this awards season," including this weekend's selections: the lauded Parasite, the Academy-snubbed Uncut Gems, and Little Women.
The sea is ever present in French writer-director Mati Diop's first feature film, Atlantics. The ghost-haunted love story follows Ada (Mama Sane) after losing her beloved Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), who disappeared one night on a raft aimed for Spain along with other boys in town. It takes place on the outskirts of Senegalese's capital, Dakar, which is the westernmost city on the continent and dug into a peninsula. The Atlantic is the thread that binds Ada to Souleiman. It becomes a chorus that narrates from the wings: it is the sea that can be seen from Dakar's luxury houses that Souleiman helped build, but never saw payment from; the sea that Ada constantly, worryingly, looks into as if Souleiman's face, body, and soul would rise up and present itself to her, unharmed. The sea gives this ghost story a logic. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Bad Boys for Life
Michael Bay's absence behind the camera (although he briefly appears in a cameo that I reflexively booed) is immediately apparent. The action—still glistening, swooping, and forever circling, as directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah do some damn good Bay-raoke in their debut—is slower and mostly coherent. But even more remarkable: For the first time that I can remember, this is a Bad Boys movie primarily fueled by emotion as opposed to disdainfully rejecting it. And get this: That emotion? HUMILITY! I know. What the fuck, right? But fucks are abundant in Bad Boys for Life, and given often, flying just as freely as the one-liners, bullets, and grenades going off frequently and everywhere. BOBBY ROBERTS
The director of the devastating Last Men in Aleppo delivers a look into the lives of Syrian women doctors from 2016-2018. Despite danger and sexism, these women work to treat patients in an underground hospital under the city of Ghouta, near Damascus. This documentary won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival.
Thursday & Saturday-Sunday
Nominated for: Best Documentary
Oscar-winning documentarist Alex Gibney turns his considerable filmmaking prowess to a portrait of the former oligarch and current political exile Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who, after his imprisonment and seizure of assets, was forced by Putin to leave Russia.
A young man enjoying his last summer as a bachelor, goaded by an old friend, begins a flirtation with a teenage girl...only to fall in love with the girl's sister. Another wry, light, moralizing satire from Eric Rohmer.
Seattle Art Museum
A psychologically tortured death row warden played by Alfre Woodard finds herself growing close to the man she's supposed to help kill in this Sundance Grand Jury Prize–winning drama by Chionye Chukwu.
Cleo from 5 to 7
Agnès Varda's 1961 film tells the story of two hours in the life of a pop star, Cléo, as she waits to hear the results of an ominous medical test. It's a classic piece from the Left Bank of the French New Wave.
SIFF Film Center
Jean Epstein's expressionistic Marseille love story from 1924 was an excuse for the avant-garde filmmaker to explore innovative cinematic techniques, striving to create something as far as possible from other art forms. Film history enthusiasts shouldn't miss this screening.
Color Out of Space
I didn’t go into Color Out of Space thinking it would be great, or even very good. Starring Nicolas Cage and based on a story by HP Lovecraft about a weird alien presence/virus/organism/wtf that comes crashing in from space via meteorite, I figured it’d be entertaining at the very least. And that it was, but it was also tremendously, spectacularly bad, with some classic bad-acting Cage on tap. You’re not here for the plot. You’re here for campy-as-fuck sci-fi horror and Nicolas Cage, of which Color Out of Space has both in spades. It has the potential to be the next great (terrible) cult classic, and will definitely find a sympathetic audience in both die-hard Cage fans and D-level horror film enthusiasts. Also, the colors are pretty. LEILANI POLK
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
Merce Cunningham (who, as you Northwest dance aficionados may already know, attended Cornish College in the '30s) had a seven-decade career in dance and choreography, founding the world-famous Merce Cunningham Dance Company. This documentary juxtaposes archival footage, interviews, and new dance footage.
SIFF Cinema Uptown
The Deadly Spawn
The Beacon presents this ultra-low-budget 1980s flick about a teenage horror-movie enthusiast who's the world's only hope against an onslaught of alien flesh-eaters. The theater assures us: "It’s funny. It’s cozy. It’s creepy. It’s got that Something Is Happening vital energy."
Part of Haunted Light
At its worst, Fantastic Fungi gets too woo-woo wacky for its own good (when the film’s discussion turns to magic mushrooms, the visuals turn into what is, as far as I can tell, just a psychedelic screensaver from Windows 95), but at its best, the doc pairs fantastic time-lapse imagery with a good dose of actual, mind-blowing science. Affable, passionate mushroom researcher Paul Stamets is joined by talking heads Michael Pollan, Andrew Weil, and narrator Brie Larson to examine everything from massive fungal networks that carry signals between disparate, distant plants to the psychological benefits of psilocybin. It’s an uneven trip, but a good one. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Varsity Theatre & SIFF Cinema Uptown
*Ford v Ferrari
F v F is about how corporations can’t help but crush the passion and innovation they so desperately need. In this case, the crushees are race car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driving phenom Ken Miles (Christian Bale), both of whom are forced to cajole, finagle, and manipulate the suits at Ford in an attempt to win the famed Le Mans road race. Director James Mangold (Logan) smartly avoids the emotionally manipulative tricks found in other sports biographies, and Damon and Bale are, unsurprisingly, excellent and affecting. The problem? It’s impossible to ignore the two elephants in this room: The fetishization of white male toxicity and car culture, topics which society is trying to deal with and solve… not celebrate. This makes Ford v Ferrari a very good movie that, a decade ago, would’ve been considered great. Now it feels like a brand-new film that’s already an antique. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY
Regal Meridian 16
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
There’s an odd (and fun) sense of formality to The Gentlemen, director Guy Ritchie’s newest crime flick that trades the downtrodden, violent British grit of his former films (like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch) for a classier vibe that’s still violently gritty. Matthew McConaughey is, as usual, McConaughey (that’s a good thing), Colin Farrell is a case study in unflappable hilarity, Hugh Grant is England’s greatest treasure, and The Gentlemen is a fun, twisty-turny joyride through Britain’s well-heeled drug trade. Its moments of shocking, often comical violence should pair nicely with a snifter of good cognac. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY
Grave Plot Film Festival
Resurrect Halloween in February with a panoply of gory, nasty, scary, funny short films.Ark Lodge Cinemas
Gretel and Hansel
Osgood Perkins, son of Anthony Perkins (of Psycho fame) and director of the well-reviewed artsy-horrors The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, takes the classic woodsy fairy tale to folk-grotesque extremes.
Bill Murray stars in this surprisingly light-hearted yet existential classic about time and death and consequences with Punxsutawney Phil. Bill Murray bears repeating.
Aside from the assistance that the formerly enslaved Harriet Tubman got from the Underground Railroad, it’s hard to imagine exactly how she pulled off all her heroics. With Harriet, audiences are given a live-action reimagining of Harriet Tubman’s journey to self-liberation: changing her name, hiding in bales of hay, being chased by dogs, and getting cornered by armed men on a bridge before jumping into the river. Harriet shows how Tubman (Cynthia Erivo) got help from a secret network of safe houses and trusted free Blacks (Leslie Odom Jr. and Janelle Monáe) who stuck their necks out to help her cause. Throughout the film, the only music you’ll hear, gladly, are negro spirituals—songs that enslaved Blacks used to express their sorrow and joy, and to secretly communicate. Harriet doesn’t subject the sensitive viewer to excessive gore or violence (though there is one particularly unsettling scene), because for once, this is a story in the “slave movie” genre about tremendous triumph, leadership, and Tubman’s unwavering faith, both in God and herself. JENNI MOORE
Nominated for: Best Actress (Cynthia Erivo), Best Original Song ("Stand Up")
Holy Flame of the Martial World
It's another cartoony, no-holds-barred, no doubt amazingly entertaining wuxia fantasy from the famous Shaw Brothers, replete with "wire-fu, murderous laughter, snakes used as weaponry, flying swords, somersaults, and candy-colored, flesh-peeling energy bolts" (according to cinema host Jazmyne Moreno).
The latest from Taika Waititi starts off with a bright, Wes Andersonian whimsiness: Young Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) joyously bounces about at summer camp, having the time of his life as he frolics and laughs with his second-best friend Yorki (Archie Yates) and his first-best friend, the imaginary Adolf (Waititi). Just one thing: Jojo is at Hitler Youth camp—their campfire activities include burning books—Adolf is Adolf Hitler, and World War II is winding down, with Germany not doing so great. Both because of and in spite of its inherent shock value, Jojo Rabbit—based on a book by Christine Leunens—is just as clever and hilarious as Waititi’s other movies, but as it progresses, the story taps into a rich vein of gut-twisting melancholy. There’s more to the complicated Jojo Rabbit than first appears, and only a director as committed, inventive, and life-affirmingly good-hearted as Waititi would even have a chance of pulling it off. He does. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Production Design, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (Scarlett Johansson), Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design
In this dramatization of a true, infuriating story, Michael B. Jordan plays the lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who, with the help of activist Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), fights racism and systemic legal injustice to save the life of an innocent condemned man, Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx).
Knives Out [is] Rian Johnson's phenomenally enjoyable riff on a murder-mystery whodunit. The less you know going in, the better, but even those familiar with mysteries will likely be caught flat-footed. Things begin in the baroque mansion of famed mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who is very, very dead. Through flashbacks, monologues, and the genteel but razor-sharp questioning of investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), we meet the rest of the Thrombeys—played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford, and more, with everyone clearly having a goddamn blast—and we hear about a billion motives and a billion alibis. Somebody killed Harlan, and while Benoit Blanc is on the case, Knives Out quickly spirals into unexpected territory. In a time when filmgoing is dominated by familiar franchises, seeing an original movie executed with as much care, glee, and skill as Knives Out feels like an experience that's entirely too rare. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Nominated For: Best Original Screenplay
Suburban poverty and police violence provide a throughline from the 19th-century setting of Victor Hugo's novel to the Muslim populace of present-day Paris in Ladj Ly's critically acclaimed, Cannes Jury Prize-winning adaptation. In a suburb of Paris, Brigadier Stéphane Ruiz takes part in an arrest that turns deadly, and the neighborhood responds with fury to the act of police brutality.
AMC Seattle 10 & Varsity Theatre
Nominated for: Best International Picture
I say this with my whole heart: Greta Gerwig's Little Women is wonderful. Full of wonder, inspiring wonder, embodying wonder. Which is hard to do as the eighth adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's beloved 1868 novel of the same name. Gerwig's adaptation—which she both wrote and directed—feels neither redundant nor stale. Rather, it's a fresh, modern-feeling take on a well-trodden story, stuffed with excellent performances, witty dialogue, and gorgeous costumes. The film jumps between Jo's "present" life in a post-Civil War America and her childhood, living at home with her three other sisters and mother, awaiting the family patriarch to return home from the war as they struggle to make ends meet. The direction and sense of characters are particularly strong in this adaptation. It fleshes each sister out so that she feels real and worthy of empathy, not purely serving as a star vehicle for Ronan in the same way the Winona Ryder version arguably did. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Florence Pugh), Best Costumes, Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay
NT Live: 'Fleabag'
This stage show by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, about a mad and sexually hungry young woman trying to make sense of life, inspired the Emmy-nominated TV show of the same name. See it broadcast live from London.
SIFF Film Center
*Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
We spend the bulk of our time with three people: Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an earnest, anxious, B-list actor whose career is right about to curdle; Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Rick's toughed-up, chilled-out former stuntman and current BFF; and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), a bubbly, captivating actress who's just starting to enjoy her first taste of success in show business. Two of these people—the ones who're beginning to realize the world is no longer all that interested in what they have to offer—are fictional. The third is not, and how much you know about the real-life events that occurred in and around Los Angeles in 1969 will profoundly color your experience watching the film. How Tarantino plays with history in Once Upon a Time is one of the more intense and surprising elements of the film—and, thankfully, it's also one of the best. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director (Quentin Tarantino), Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Brad Pitt), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
Parasite is director Bong Joon-ho at his very best. It's a departure from the sci-fi bent of his recent movies, though it's no less concerned with the state of society today. Set in Seoul, South Korea, the families and class issues at play reflect our global era, in which the disparity between the haves and have-nots seems to be widening. Parasite follows the Kim family, who secretly scam their way into the lives of the wealthy Park family. Slowly and methodically, the Kims begin to drive out the other domestic workers at the Park residence, each time referring another family member (who they pretend not to know) for the vacant position. And so the poorer family starts to settle comfortably into the grift—until a sudden realization turns their lives upside down. The resulting film offers an at turns hilarious and deeply unsettling look at class and survival, its essence echoed in the environments the characters inhabit. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director (Bong Joon-ho), Best Film Editing, Best International Feature, Best Production Design, Best Original Screenplay
Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project
Matt Wolf's offbeat documentary chronicles the strange habit of Marion Stokes, a wealthy former civil rights activist who recorded 70,000 hours of news on VHS over a period of 30 years.
Northwest Film Forum
The Romanian New Wave began in the 2000s, and the country's film industry has been generating intellectual, thorny, blackly funny, inventive films ever since. This retrospective by the American Romanian Cultural Society (ARCS) presents some of the very best of these (as well as some older movies from the 1990s), including Snails' Senator, California Dreamin' (Endless), Stuff and Dough (one of the first of the wave, and highly recommended), and Niki and Flo, all at SIFF, plus The Train of Life at Northwest Film Forum.
SIFF Film Center & Northwest Film Forum
The Singing Shoes
Bulgarian singer Lеa Ivanova (whose communist country sent her to a labor camp for promoting "retrogressive" behavior in her music) and composer Edi Kazasyan are at the center of the 2016 docudrama The Singing Shoes, screened here for free.
Song to the Siren: The Beacon Guide to 4AD
In the wake of the December 2019 death of Vaughan Oliver, head of the English indie label 4AD's in-house design company 23 Envelope, Seattle indie movie theater the Beacon is hosting "Song to the Siren: The Beacon Guide to 4AD." Oliver was crucial in creating 4AD's mystique, his imagery on its record covers an ideal analogue to the music's often gothic, enigmatic, and emotionally fraught qualities. The Beacon plans to celebrate 4AD's audio/visual splendor with a profound plunge into the label's fascinating history via music videos, television appearances, rare live footage and interviews, segments from the 1985 film 23 Envelope Documentary, and more. DAVE SEGAL
*Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
I found The Rise of Skywalker, the last film in the Skywalker saga, boring. And it was not even a long movie, and I'm a fan of the director's (J.J. Abrams) work (particularly Mission: Impossible III—the best in that franchise), and many of the visual effects are impressive—particularly the haunting business of bringing the late Carrie Fisher back to life. But all together, the film is burdened by too much sentimental family stuff (you are my granddaughter, you are my son, you killed my parents, and so on), and its end did not know how to end for a very long time. CHARLES MUDEDE
Regal Meridian 16 & Regal Thornton Place
Nominated for: Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing
A very grumpy Kurt Russell, a very manly Keith David, and a bunch of other dudes (and dogs) on a remote Arctic station try to withstand a shapeshifting alien that can imitate other life forms in John Carpenter's eternally rewatchable landmark of horror. The real star of the show is special effects master Rob Bottin's revolting creature, still one of the grossest monsters ever committed to film. JOULE ZELMAN
As Howard Ratner, a professional jeweler and asshole in Manhattan’s Diamond District, a great Adam Sandler rarely leaves the screen in Uncut Gems, and the plot is basically Howard and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. That isn’t a shock, considering the film comes from brothers/writers/directors Josh and Benny Safdie, who party-crashed the arthouse scene with 2017’s Good Time (in which Robert Pattinson was the one playing an asshole having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day). Uncut Gems is larger in scope, but like Good Time, it has a moral vacuum at its center—it takes place in the no-man’s-land where society’s walls crumble, and where those who look out only for themselves can best navigate the rubble. The Safdies aren’t interested in morality tales but amorality tales, and their stories’ no-holds-barred recklessness, at first freeing, steadily grows exhausting. Thankfully, the Safdies also know how to shoot, cut, and score like nobody else. There’s a twitchy, addictive energy to Uncut Gems, and the Safdies’ choppy, rapid-fire cuts coalesce into a surreal, exhilarating landscape of prismatic hues, blaring fluorescents, and sharp LEDs, all while the analog synth score by Daniel Lopatin (AKA Oneohtrix Point Never) adds to the lurid beauty. ERIK HENRIKSEN
A collage-comedy shot entirely on VHS, Jack Henry Robbins's exercise in retro hilarity is about a teenager who accidentally tapes over his parents' wedding tape. The result: an invasion of TV madness into the boy's reality.
Weathering With You
Audiences seem to love director Makoto Shinkai (Your Name) and his approach of pairing an original plot with standard anime emotional blocking: boy meets girl, girl has weather powers, boy and girl reach for each another’s arms in climactic moments, a character runs until they are exhausted and then they keep running, and also someone must die. Even when Shinkai introduces some interesting ideas about an impending climate apocalypse (oh, like us!), it all feels familiar: The world isn’t saved, but the world doesn’t end. The world continues, changed. SUZETTE SMITH
Regal Meridian 16
Keiichi Hara, the director of Colorful and Miss Hokusai, has come out with a charming adventure about a young girl who's whisked away to a magical world that a mysterious alchemist tells her she must save—despite the fact that she just wants to go home.