The biggest news in film this week is of course Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which is good enough to justify the obsessive fanfare and may be just what you need to escape this galaxy. But there are plenty of other options, chosen by our critics and presented below, including Golden Globe-nominated The Shape of Water and holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life. Follow the links for complete showtimes and trailers, or, if you're looking for even more options, check out our complete movie times listings, and our film events calendar.
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Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
This satirical sex comedy from 1969 (tee hee) mocks free love and new-age psychology in a tale of two couples, one free-spirited and one prim, who decide to try their hand at group sex. Among the assets of this film by Paul Mazursky: a performance by Natalie Wood and an original score by Seattle’s own Quincy Jones.
Based on recovered footage of iconic primatologist Jane Goodall during her groundbreaking chimpanzee research in 1960s Tanzania, Jane unfolds in a traditional National Geographic documentary format: beautiful nature footage paired with reserved British voiceover (provided by Goodall herself). Anyone with a passing interest in Goodall’s writings about the social relationships of chimpanzees will be delighted by the dramatic film clips of chimps stealing bananas from her camp set to an energetic score by Philip Glass. Mixed-in moments of Goodall’s perfectly-lit beauty seem out of place with her professional reflections until the film reveals this recovered footage was shot by Hugo van Lawick, a gifted wildlife photographer and, in time, Goodall’s first husband. The authentic relatability to both these love stories—van Lawick falling for Goodall and Goodall discovering her life’s work—pushes Jane beyond the confines of a nature film into the territory of being a pretty ideal date movie. SUZETTE SMITH
SIFF Cinema Uptown
Before he was the first black justice on the United States Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall was a lawyer who traveled the country as the NAACP's first attorney, defending innocent black people who had been accused of crimes they didn't commit. Marshall is about one of those early cases. In a courtroom plastered with murals of bound Native Americans, Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) defended a black man accused of raping a wealthy white woman (Kate Hudson). Marshall wasn’t allowed to speak in the courtroom; that honor fell to his white co-counsel, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad). If this case were tried today, we’d know the cards were stacked against them—but this took place in the 1940s, when schools were legally segregated and Black people were still at the back of the bus. There are a few weird things about Marshall. The first weird thing is that it’s... funny? Boseman and Gad are both great, and the smarmy DA (Dan Stevens) is deliciously hittable. The second weird thing about Marshall—which is notably less delightful than the first—is that a large part of the film focuses on proving that a woman lied about being raped. This is gross, no matter how much we're rooting for the defendant. ELINOR JONES
Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Let's begin by recalling Jake Gyllenhaal’s bulging eyes in Dan Gilroy’s excellent thriller Nightcrawler. They are the eyes of a man who almost entirely lives in his head. With those eyes in mind, let's turn to the star of a new film that's also directed Gilroy, Roman J. Israel, Esq. Denzel Washington—a black American actor who has handled his Hollywood career far more prudently and effectively than, say, Will Smith—plays Mr. Israel, a man who, like Gyllenhaal's character in Nightcrawler, lives deep inside of his head. But we see his extreme inwardness not in his eyes but manner of walk. Roman J. Israel is a lawyer who has a monstrous memory. He can recall with no effort all of the details of dead and forgotten cases; he also lives in his vivid dreams of a better and more just American society. He walks like his mind has no idea that it has a body. Each step Israel takes is as stupid and graceless as the one before it and the one to come. The film is not Washington’s best, but it, and that mindless/lumbering walk, will not disappoint Washington’s fans. CHARLES MUDEDE
Much like Jordan Peele folded acidic commentary and comedy into the shocks and dread of Get Out, Joachim Trier’s fourth feature, Thelma, is a lot more than it appears: as a thriller about a young woman with kinetic abilities.Our introduction to Thelma is as a lonely university student, who, when not fielding weirdly invasive phone calls from her parents, shuffles quietly between classes and the library. As she studies one afternoon, she finds herself gazing longingly at a female classmate, Anja (Kaya Wilkins), then suffering a seizure that sends her falling to the floor and sends crows thumping into a nearby window.As the friendship and attraction between the two women deepens, Thelma reels with fantasies and increasingly dangerous seizures, not to mention an existential crisis, as she begs God to remove this desire from her heart. There’s much more to Thelma, but I hesitate to unpack it and risk ruining the film’s slow-build tension. It keeps you waiting for the dam to burst—and makes the eventual deluge all the more satisfying. ROBERT HAM
AMC Seattle 10
Video Art Showcase
The Forum will henceforth provide a venue for film and video art with showcases of work by community members and more far-flung filmmakers. For the first edition in December 2017, see art by the NWFF community, including Andrew Dimitrov, Bram Draper, Brenan Chambers, Chris Day, JP Schmidt, Patrick Connelly, Paul Henry Siple, Rajah Matthews, Reed O'Beirne, Stephen Anunson, Spencer James Shaw, and Vivian Hua. There will also be a launch for a new zine series by Leo Schnepf, Frank in Slow Motion.
Northwest Film Forum
A year after Fox Plaza, a 35-story tower in Century City, Los Angeles, was completed (1987), it starred in a film that brought it and Bruce Willis fame, Die Hard. Fox Plaza plays Nakatomi Plaza, a building owned by a Japanese corporation, and Bruce Willis plays John McClane, a white NYC cop whose estranged white wife not only lives in LA but appears to have gone to the other side, the Japanese side. While McClane visits his wife at Nakatomi Plaza, things go crazy and we enter the world inside of the building: its elevator shafts, air ducts, and structural spaces. Here, postmodern architecture meets Reagan-era Hollywood cinema and makes lots of movie magic. CHARLES MUDEDE
SIFF Film Center
In which Will Ferrell plays a grown man who has spent his entire life laboring under the delusion that he's one of Santa's elves. The side effects of this include a deeply ingrained sense of whimsy and a proclivity for concentrated sugars. Zooey Deschanel sings.
Central Cinema & Meridian 16
It's a Wonderful Life
Shortly after It's a Wonderful Life's 1946 release, James Agee, one of the few American film critics of that era still worth reading , noted the film's grueling aspect. "Often," he wrote, "in its pile-driving emotional exuberance, it outrages, insults, or at least accosts without introduction, the cooler and more responsible parts of the mind." These aesthetic cautions are followed, however, by a telling addendum: "It is nevertheless recommended," Agee allowed, "and will be reviewed at length as soon as the paralyzing joys of the season permit." Paralyzing joys are the very heart of George Bailey's dilemma; they are, to borrow words from George's father, "deep in the race." The sacrifices George makes for being "the richest man in town" resonate bitterly even as they lead to the finale's effusive payoff. Those sacrifices are what make It's a Wonderful Life, in all its "Capraesque" glory, endure. SEAN NELSON
There was once a time when Bill Murray was the biggest star in the world and then didn’t make any movies for four years. Scrooged was his comeback, and knowing what we know now about his indie inclinations, you can see how conflicted he is about ennobling what is essentially a lavish corporate entertainment that pretends to be critical of the commercialization of Christmas while actually literally commercializing Christmas. Still, Murray is magnificent in the film, the effects are better than you’d expect, and the 1988 version of Hollywood excess is almost quaint by comparison with the CGI purgatory we live in today. SEAN NELSON
SIFF Film Center
The Battle Over Citizen Kane
This documentary examines the battle over one of the most famous films in American history: Citizen Kane, which the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, the movie's inspiration, attempted to have destroyed. Originally broadcast in PBS's American Experience series, the film is worthwhile for its exposition of a notorious artistic conflict in cinema history.
Saturday Morning Cartoons: The Last Unicorn Farewell Party
For the very last time, the international children's animation series Saturday Morning Cartoons will screen at Push/Pull: It's moving to SIFF Film Center in January. See it off with The Last Unicorn, a British Japanese coproduction from the '80s. Donate for donuts and coffee.
The Brand New Testament
Jaco Van Dormael's film imagines God as an ill-tempered, abusive, and sadistic curmudgeon that lives in an apartment in Brussels with his wife and daughter. The daughter, Ea, rebels against God's tyranny and starts her own circle of apostles. The film took four awards including best film and best director at the 2016 Magritte Awards (honoring the best Belgian films).
Blade Runner 2049
Director Denis Villeneuve has his work cut out for him. 2049 not only has to stay true to Ridley Scott’s circa-1982 concept of the future, but also has to deliver a future that feels plausible in 2017. The result—in large part thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins’ jaw-dropping talent—doesn’t disappoint: 2049’s future feels safer and cleaner, lacking Blade Runner’s sensuous grime (there’s not a single cloud of cigarette smoke), but its imagery is no less striking, particularly when Villeneuve and Deakins go wide with hypnotic vistas of a decaying Earth. Even if this future is less believable and tactile than Scott’s, it gets the feel right. The worst parts of 2049 are those that lean hardest on Blade Runner, but thankfully, Villeneuve & Co. are mostly content to build and expand rather than revisit and rehash. There are moments of strange and genuine creepiness; there are jarring sights that, without a single word, evoke hundreds of years of history; there’s a desolate ache that makes the future seem both beautiful and horrible. At its best, 2049 finds LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling) moving through a dreamlike, half-familiar dystopia—asking a few old-school Blade Runner questions about the nature of identity, and adding many more of his own. ERIK HENRIKSEN
AMC Seattle 10 & Meridian 16
The “Coco” in question is the oldest living relative of the film’s young protagonist, Miguel, but the story is driven by Miguel’s passion for becoming a musician—and the conflicted relationship he has with his family, who label music as “bad” for reasons he has yet to learn. But Miguel is tenacious when it comes to performing and after his abuelita smashes his guitar, Miguel steals the guitar of a famous ancestor. Since taking from the dead is a big no-no, Miguel crosses over into the Land of the Dead. Coco ends up being an exceedingly tender kids’ film with deep themes about mortality, ancestry, and memories—and any adult with a soul will be moved, too. JENNI MOORE
The Disaster Artist
Even if you have never seen The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s infamous masterpiece of shocking artistic poverty, there’s plenty to recommend James Franco’s re-creation of its conception and creation. Much like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, this film makes the case that a complete lack of talent and vision are not necessarily bars to entry for a life in show business, as long as you have an unlikely friend, and the strangest accent since Martin Short in Father of the Bride. Littered with hilarious cameos from the likes of Seth Rogen, Megan Mullally, and Bryan Cranston, The Disaster Artist is funny, sweet, and strange, with a central performance by Franco that rises to the level of either high camp or high art. SEAN NELSON
The Florida Project
The real reason The Florida Project is a breakout success, and the reason everyone should see the film, is the rowdy, previously unknown seven-year-old actor Brooklynn Prince. Moonee, played by Prince, is a mischievous tyrant who spends her days terrorizing the Orlando hotel she calls home. Like director Sean Baker’s Tangerine, the characters in The Florida Project don’t want anyone’s pity. Prostitution, drugs, arson, assault—it all goes down in the Magic Castle, the purple hotel (or project) where Moonee lives. Prince—with considerable help from her costars, Baker, and screenwriter Chris Bergoch—resonates beyond the twee and cute. At the film’s climax, Prince delivers a performance that would make even the surliest curmudgeon cry. CHASE BURNS
AMC Seattle 10
Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan, never better) is a teenage girl striving to find a self she can live in while stranded in moribund, lower-middle-class Sacramento, "the Midwest of California." Her efforts begin with that name, which she bestowed upon herself—Christine was too normal—and loudly demands that everyone call her at all times. The crusade also manifests in the form of hair dye, petty crime, habitual lying, sexual experimentation with unworthy boys, and musical theater. Though Lady Bird will perform for anyone, the only audience she truly wants is her exasperated, judgmental, sharp-tongued mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf, almost certainly the greatest living actress). It's an exquisitely observed portrait of a mother and daughter so intractably at war that they can't see how close they are until it's too late. SEAN NELSON
We’ve already had a few fine cinematic attempts to tell the story of the brilliant yet tortured Vincent van Gogh. The one element missing was the beautiful, slightly unsettling look of Van Gogh’s groundbreaking artwork. Loving Vincent, the latest from animators Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela, is the first of these biopics to get it right. That’s because the entire film is composed of actual paintings: The international production employed more than 100 artists to paint each frame of the film on canvas, copying the thick brushstrokes and brash colors of Van Gogh’s most celebrated works. The rest of Loving Vincent doesn’t hit the same heights. Kobiela and Welchman’s script is a leaden, Citizen Kane-style attempt to investigate Van Gogh’s final days in France through the efforts of Armand (Douglas Booth), a young postman’s son attempting to deliver the artist’s final letter. It’s a well-meaning way to let us cross paths with many of the villagers whom Van Gogh painted, but it’s hampered by conspiracy theories and a lumbering pace. ROBERT HAM
Meridian 16 & AMC Seattle 10
On the Beach at Night Alone
South Korea is known for many things, not least its addictive soap operas. The prolific Hong Sang-soo, who specializes in films about self-pitying alcoholics, created a real-life K-drama when he had an affair with The Handmaiden star Kim Minhee, a willowy woman with a dreamy effect. Any other director might have kept a low profile until things blew over, but Hong made a movie, On the Beach at Night Alone, about it and cast Kim as Young-hee, an actress much like herself. His sympathetic, purposefully episodic film privileges her point of view as she talks to other people about the relationship (she's also the heavy drinker in this scenario). In part one, which plays like a prologue, Young-hee travels to Hamburg in the wake of their breakup. In part two, she returns to Korea where she finds herself the subject of gossip, ponders a fling with a woman, and finally confronts the director (Moon Sung-keun). If the film has a moral, it's this: "Men are all idiots." Much as Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits was his apology to his wife, Giulietta Masina, for cheating on her, Hong's 19th film is his apology to his mistress for cheating with her and tarnishing her good name. KATHY FENNESSY
Northwest Film Forum
The Shape of Water
The Shape of Water is strange, sweet, and wonderful, and easily the greatest film ever made about a mute cleaning lady who falls in love with an amphibious fish man. A fairy tale set in 1962, it finds Elisa (Sally Hawkins) working the graveyard shift at the Occam Aerospace Research Center—a cold institution that marks a time, del Toro says, “where America is looking forward. Everything [is] about the future... and here comes a creature from the most ancient past.” That creature—wide-eyed, gilled, and played with strength and inquisitiveness by Doug Jones—is imprisoned at Occam. Locked in a tank and chained in a pool, he’s prodded by a reverent scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg) and tortured by a dominating military man (Michael Shannon). When Elisa finds him, she recognizes a kindred spirit—and feels an attraction that’s met with varying degrees of enthusiasm from her dubious coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her artist neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins). Whether they’re human or... whatever the hell the creature is, The Shape of Water’s characters are played by some of the best actors working today—all of whom give whole-hearted, nuanced performances, anchoring a story that can feel bigger (and weirder) than life. The characters’ depth is reinforced by del Toro: his stories are marked by an earnest affinity for outcasts—which, in the falsely idealized America of the 1960s, includes the mute Elisa, the closeted Giles, and the Black Zelda. ERIK HENRIKSEN
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
The Swedish director Ruben Östlund is a rising star in European cinema. And judging from the buzz about his latest film, The Square, it is only a matter of time before he conquers the United States. At the center of the film is Christian (Claes Bang), the head curator of X-Royal, a huge and powerful modern art museum in Stockholm. One day, three con artists on a city street lure Christian into a clever trap and mug him. He loses his wallet and slick smartphone. Back at the office, and still in a state of shock from what happened to him in broad daylight, he locates his smartphone on the web. It is in a place that we in the US would call the projects. Encouraged by a friend, he decides to take matters into his own hands and does something that changes his life. Before the act, the art was just about names, money, and academic concepts concerning the human condition in a world that has no alternative to neoliberal capitalism. After the act, the art is directly about his life, clothes, car, job, relationships, and city. The art asks: Why is there so much poverty in a rich city? Why is it so easy to ignore beggars? Why is wealth so unfairly distributed? And if it were fairly distributed, would crime vanish? What kind of animal is the human? CHARLES MUDEDE
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The spectacles in Star Wars: The Last Jedi are some of the most powerful and believable in the franchise—Luke Skywalker's dark island, the interiors of the First Order’s battleships, the space battles. The audience is completely immersed in this distant galaxy with its operatic narrative. But what do we find once we get there? A scene that's recognizably pro-vegetarianism; a sophisticated critique of the destructive, elitist principles of the Jedi religion; a feminist rejection of male impulsiveness and a celebration of rational, thoughtful female leadership; and a political economy that springs from the idea that many of the problems of this galaxy might be related to its laissez-faire market. All of this is in the new Star Wars film, which may disappoint Trump supporters but will certainly be enjoyed by every other human in this galaxy. CHARLES MUDEDE
Thor: Ragnarok is, finally, a legitimately great Thor movie—one that proves goofy comedy, goofier mythology, 1980s-tinged sci-fi and fantasy, and Led Zeppelin aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, all that stuff goes together like... whatever Norse gods eat instead of delicious sundaes! And the cherry on top is the Incredible Hulk! And a giant wolf! And Jeff Goldblum! Jeff Goldblum in space! Wow. This sundae analogy fell apart fast. I’m not great at sundae analogies, and to be fair, Ragnarok isn’t great at... ah... narrative cohesion. Some might quibble that Ragnarok is disjointed; I’d counter that its tone—exciting and quippy and sweet—is always dead on. For that, and for Ragnarok’s constant hilarity, we can thank Taika Waititi, the New Zealand director who, until now, has made slightly more low-key fare: Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Like those projects, Ragnarok is as good-hearted as it is clever; as much as its characters might smash each other across garbage planets, and as godlike and monstrous as they might be, Waititi treats them like real people. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
One way you know a film is written by a playwright is when everything everyone says in it is clever and wise and perfect. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, written and directed by Martin McDonagh, never fails on this score. The dialogue, particularly when given life by actors Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, is hilarious and provocative. But the biggest indicator that you're watching the work of a playwright is the sense that there's no way the story is what the film is really about. The three billboards in Three Billboards are signifiers and catalysts, but they're also red herrings (literally red, in fact). The billboards are taken out by Mildred (McDormand) as a way to publicly shame Ebbing's police chief (Woody Harrelson) for having failed to catch the man who raped and murdered her daughter. They also keep her grief alive and present tense. McDonagh depicts graphic violence and hateful language flippantly, in a style people like to call Tarantinoesque. But McDonagh is not a shock artist, not satisfied milking the disjunction of liking the bad cop or the mean lady. He's making the case that humans are complex, that "sympathetic" is relative, and that whatever horrible things people are capable of doing to each other (and they are indeed horrible), we still have to live together when we're done. SEAN NELSON
When a movie comes along that is good—legitimately, sincerely good, like flowers or soup or dogs—I find myself grasping at a way to describe it. Wonder is that good movie. It’s about a little boy, Auggie (Room's Jacob Tremblay), and his mom (Julia Roberts), his dad (Owen Wilson), and his older sister (Izabela Vidovic). Auggie was born with a condition that makes him look different, so that's what Wonder focuses on—but it’s not really what this movie is. This is a portrait of a group of humans—grown-ups and kids, but mostly kids—who are whole, complicated people, who have opportunities to be selfish and opportunities to be kind. Wonder defaults to kindness in a manner that feels both totally inspiring and completely organic. ELINOR JONES