Should we wait till December to talk about the 2018 holiday movies I’m most excited to see — or should we dive right in and open our previews early?
I say: EARLY!
But let’s be civilized about it and proceed in chronological order, as we list the “Visions of Sugar Plums” dancing in our heads, aka the reasons to be optimistic about these movies, and the “Lump of Coal Factor,” i.e., potential pitfalls.
‘The House That Jack Built’ (Nov. 28, one day only)
Visions of Sugar Plums: Nothing like heralding the holidays with a serial killer horror film from the ever-polarizing writer-director Lars von Trier. Matt Dillon plays the title character, a psychopath terrorizing Washington state in the 1970s and 1980s.
Reports from the Cannes film festival premiere of “The House That Jack Built” say at the conclusion, the crowd gave von Trier a 10-minute standing ovation.
Lump of Coal Factor: At the same screening, explicit violence prompted more than a hundred attendees to walk out.
‘Roma’ (Dec. 6)
Visions of Sugar Plums: Writer-director Alfonso Cuaron, the blazing talent behind “Gravity” (for which he won best director Oscar), “Children of Men” and “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” was inspired by his own childhood experiences to create maybe the most beautiful movie of the year. (Yes, I’ve seen this one as well).
Set in the early 1970s, filmed in breathtakingly glorious black and white, and featuring enough memorable shots to keep a film class occupied for a semester, “Roma” is at once an intimate, observant portrayal of a young domestic (Yalitza Aparicio) and the family she works for, and a gripping depiction of the intense, sometimes brutally violent political and social confrontations of the era.
Lump of Coal Factor: None. If you love movies, you have to see “Roma.” It’s that simple.
‘Anna and the Apocalypse’ (Dec. 7)
Visions of Sugar Plums: It’s a Christmas zombie comedy musical! Based on a BAFTA-winning short film! I’m told it’s quite the creative mashup of high school movie satire, traditional musical and blood-spattered gore-fest. Reviews from film festival screenings have been overwhelmingly positive, with Richard Kuipers of Variety praising its “originality and crowd-pleasing energy,” while Amy Nicholson of IndieWire lauded the movie for its goofy charm and self-awareness.
Lump of Coal Factor: I’ve been experiencing Zombie Fatigue for a couple of years now. Here’s hoping “Anna and the Apocalypse” has the energy and originality to snap me out of it.
‘Mortal Engines’ (Dec. 14)
Visions of Sugar Plums: It’s a post-apocalyptic steampunk adventure thriller based on the first novel in the celebrated series by Philip Reeve. “Lord of the Rings” masters Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens wrote the screen adaptation, and Jackson protégé Christian Rivers directs.
“Mortal Engines” is set centuries after civilization was felled by a cataclysmic event, and — get this — London is now an enormous, mobile predator city. Hera Hilmar stars as Hester Shaw, the last best hope for humanity.
Lump of Coal Factor: Given that setup and the credentials of those involved, it’s hard to find a caveat, other than it IS yet another post-apocalyptic thriller.
‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ (Dec. 14)
Visions of Sugar Plums: Honestly, I’m excited we’re not getting ANOTHER live-action “Spider-Man” origins story, seeing as how we’ve already been through the Tobey Maguire Spidey and the Andrew Garfield Spidey and the Tom Holland Spidey.
“Into the Spider-Verse” is an animated adventure in which Miles Morales, an Afro-Puerto Rican teen from Brooklyn, acquires Spider-Man superpowers but finds himself in a very complicated alternate superhero universe populated by a cynical, past-his-prime Peter Parker/Spider-Man, not to mention the likes of Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham and Spider-Gwen.
Lump of Coal Factor: That’s a LOT to digest for moviegoers who have never been to Comic-Con or a “Con” of any kind.
‘Ben is Back’ (Dec. 14)
Visions of Sugar Plums: I’ve seen this, and while I’m holding my review until the release date, I can tell you writer-director Peter Hedges has crafted a stark and heart-pounding family drama that unfolds over the course of a holiday weekend. The phenomenally talented Lucas Hedges (Peter’s son) shines as a 19-year-old drug addict who returns home unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, setting off a chain of events that could put the entire family in jeopardy. Julia Roberts gives what might be the performance of her career as Ben’s fiercely protective mother.
Lump of Coal Factor: Through no fault of its own, “Ben is Back” comes out just two months after the very similar “Beautiful Boy.”
‘Mary Poppins Returns’ (Dec. 19)
Visions of Sugar Plums: MARY POPPINS RETURNS! Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) directs the sequel a mere 54 years after the beloved classic. The wonderful Emily Blunt stars as the title character, and the amazing supporting cast includes Lin-Manuel Miranda, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury, Ben Whishaw, Julie Walters — and yes, Dick Van Dyke himself.
Lump of Coal Factor: As we saw with 1991’s “Hook,” it’s not easy to revisit a beloved classic.
‘Welcome to Marwen’ (Dec. 21)
Visions of Sugar Plums: Wow, what an incredible story.
In 2000, a man named Mark Hogancamp was severely beaten on his way home from work and suffered brain damage that erased most of his memories. As a form of therapy, Hogancamp created a small-scale, World War II-era Belgian village called Marwencol in his backyard.
This was the subject of the 2010 documentary “Marwencol,” and now it’s the basis for a fictionalized live action/animation hybrid directed by the consistently innovative Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Forrest Gump,” “The Polar Express”) and starring Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Eiza Gonzalez and Diane Kruger.
Lump of Coal Factor: There’s always the chance something this bold and different could go sideways — but in a movie world dominated by safe choices, how can one not root for “Welcome to Marwen” to come through?
‘On the Basis of Sex’ (Dec. 25)
Visions of Sugar Plums: Talk about a well-timed superhero origins story! “On the Basis of Sex” focuses on the early career and in particular one pivotal case for the young Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Felicity Jones stars as Ginsburg, with Armie Hammer as her husband Marty.
Lump of Coal Factor: Early word says this is a conventional, by-the-numbers biopic. That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be worth seeing, but expectations are already a bit dampened.
‘Vice’ (Dec. 25)
Visions of Sugar Plums: Check out a photo of the legendarily transformative Christian Bale as Dick Cheney, and he looks a bit like current-day Chevy Chase. Check out the TRAILER for “Vice,” and marvel at Bale’s uncanny interpretation of arguably the most influential vice-president this nation has ever seen.
After a string of hugely successful Will Ferrell comedies (the “Anchorman” movies, “Talladega Nights,” “Step Brothers”), writer-director Adam McKay took it to the next level with “The Big Short” (winning the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay with his co-writer Charles Randolph). “Vice” appears to be in the same vein as “The Big Short” — a darkly comic take on real-life events. The cast includes Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney; Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush; Steve Carrell as Donald Rumsfeld; LisaGay Hamilton as Condoleeza Rice, and Tyler Perry as Colin Powell.
Lump of Coal Factor: It IS weird how much Bale’s Cheney resembles Chevy Chase. But hey, maybe we’ll get a “Jimmy Kimmel Live” bit where Chase interrupts Bale’s segment to confront him about stealing his look.