In Paul Thomas Anderson’s poisonous courtship film Phantom Thread, Daniel Day Lewis’s couturier Reynolds Woodcock pins a little label inside a wedding dress he’s designing for a princess: In charming cursive, sewn with lavender thread, it reads “never cursed.” It’s a romantic gesture in a movie that’s a bit more toxic than the norm, one that inspires a sudden need for quaint, hand-sewn blessings on all items inside the closet. But the hot item this season is the evil twin of that elegant garment: the “always cursed” alternative, fitting for these increasingly cursed times.
Dear 2019, meet In Fabric, Peter Strickland’s sartorial horror film about a red dress that has a murderous grip on its wearer; it’s even more frightening than the fiery number worn by Tilda Swinton in Suspiria. By the way, that film may also come to mind during In Fabric, with its coven of witchy department store clerks, led by one evil Mother Superior-esque Fatma Mohamed, who speaks in riddles with a thick Romanian accent and whips her body around while the dress unleashes havoc, first on a lonely, middle-aged woman (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and then on a recently engaged couple. It also appropriately stars Gwendoline Christie, who has a penchant for head-turning appearances on the red carpet. In Fabric frightens with a wink—it’s aware of its ludicrous leanings and has way more fun than the usual “elevated horror” genre that feels stuffy and pretentious. Plus, there’s an anti-capitalist sentiment that blows up in sublime, climactic fashion.
What to Stream This Weekend—And Which Movie Tickets to Splurge On
The latest must-see coming-of-age film is freshly out in theaters and on Netflix: Mati Diop’s Atlantics, a Senegalese film about a 17-year-old girl who is in love with one man but is to be married to another. This forbidden-love drama is gorgeous and ghostly, and should be top priority viewing. Diop, who had starred in Claire Denis’s 2008 film 35 Shots of Rum, has proven with her directorial debut feature that her mesmerizing power holds behind the camera as well.
Other noteworthy, new-to-stream films include Scorsese’s The Irishman (now on Netflix, for those who need regular leg stretches during a 209-minute runtime), or its predecessor gangster flick about the corrupt American Dream, Chinatown (now on Hulu). If you need something to throw on after a smashing dinner party, turn to Clue (new on Showtime) and then bust out the real board game afterwards to get murderously meta. For those craving a classic love story, Shakespeare in Love and the New Year’s-appropriate When Harry Met Sally are also now streaming on Showtime.
With new-to-theaters films, sprint, don’t stroll, to see the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems when it comes out on December 13. The film is set in 2012, a year that somehow already inspires deep nostalgia (what version iPhone is that again?). Of the many great things it does, the film evokes such a time (the better half of this decade) and place (Manhattan’s Diamond District). I’ve already declared the return of the rimless glasses last month, thanks to the transitional Cartier pair Sandler wears. The film is not out yet, but the color mustard yellow has already fully become Sandler’s. I know you can already picture it: the iconic polo he wears peeking under a leather jacket. It’s a yellow passed down from Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie to Alicia Silverstone’s Cher. Now it’s Sandler’s time to shine in that golden hue. It’s become fashion-in-film canon.
Another new film that’s become a bit of a talk of the town: Trey Edward Schults’s Waves, about an African-American family whose dynamic is ripped apart by a tragedy. It’s got an excellent soundtrack (like, eight Frank Ocean songs!) and newcomer talent (Taylor Russell, who’s empathetic performance is heartbreaking, and Euphoria’s Alexa Demie, who’s becoming a teen drama fixture). There’s a good 30 minutes that could be shaved from the film, and its dizzying camerawork was a little too exhibitionist for my taste (and did not help the already anxiety-inducing plot line!). At the film’s tensest moment, a woman sitting next to me yelled out, “I CAN’T!” and got on Instagram to defuse the situation. I usually hate phone usage in theaters, but I could not blame her. On the bright side, this is a film that gets much better, thanks in large part to the shift in focus on Russell, whose presence is a balm. Perhaps you’ll have an easier time getting on its Waveslength, though.
Silent Night, Unholy Night?
Y’all know what time of year it is… That’s right, there’s a new Christmas Prince movie on the way, baby (December 5 on Netflix). Emphasis on baby because this third entry is about the addition of a little one to the royal family. Why bedeviled, you ask? Because I’ve only ever watched a Christmas Prince movie browned out on turkey during Thanksgiving, and it always leaves behind a fever dream-like memory. But this one is especially sus because the tagline is “expect the unexpected,” which only makes me think something Rosemary’s Baby-ish is going to happen.
Still, a potential Satan spawn probably won’t be as unholy as another Christmastime production: Cats. Will it live up to the months-long Internet roasting it endured? Will it set a precedent for 2020 and the new decade? I shudder to imagine. And while we’re on the topic of cringey Christmas-ish movies, two too-cheesy-not-to-watch 007 flicks of the Pierce Brosnan variety are hitting Netflix in December including The World Is Not Enough, which stars Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones, named that all so James Bond can post-coitously say, “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.” Sigh.
If you’re looking for other sacrilegious ways to celebrate, head over to Metrograph for their annual screening of Eyes Wide Shut (watch on 35mm for the censored orgy or stay at home for the, umm, full experience). Or for something a little less R-rated, head to the same arthouse theater on December 1 for Metropolitan, with writer-director Whit Stillman in person for a Q&A. The unlikable but impossible-not-to-be-fascinated-by Upper East Side crowd here call themselves the UHB (“urban haute bourgeoisie”). Stillman’s dialogue is, as always, sharp, witty, and precise in its depiction of a certain class, and the outfits are so very 80s prom. (For those who cannot experience Stillman IRL, the film is free on the Showtime app or available to rent.)
Make the Stillman viewing a twofer with The Last Days of Disco, also playing at Metrograph, also available to rent or to stream for free with Starz. Starring Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale, the film made my recent iconic female friendships list, and though it sits closer on the unrealistic scale in the ranking, we’re all probably familiar with this brand of toxic femininity to a degree. Good news is, Stillman has rendered this one so fun to watch, and then packed it with a bank-breaking soundtrack of disco’s greatest hits. I love Metropolitan but The Last Days of Disco is a masterpiece (I don’t throw that word around easily!).
Speaking of disco, Sister Sledge famously sang, “We are family,” but oh how easily that sentiment gets chucked out the frosted window during the holiday season. It’s no surprise everyone is programming dysfunctional family flicks in the final quarter of the year. Quad Cinema has picked out five frictional family flicks. I recently watched Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata on Criterion Channel, starring the other I. Bergman (Ingrid) as a matriarch that brings up years of guilt and resentment. If that kind of passive-aggressive slow-brewing is not your beat, go full-out filthy with John Waters’s gloriously trashy Pink Flamingos (though you’ll have to do a little more digging to watch this one at home).
In their ever-growing “Mommy Issues” collection, Criterion Channel will be adding the mother-daughter classic Terms of Endearment on December 12. Though this Oscar winner is a tear-jerker about heartbreak and illness, I have not been able to stop thinking about the fact that Shirley Maclaine and Debra Winger’s long-running, infamous feud involves Winger farting in Maclaine’s face. Now you know, too—and you’re welcome.
Go all out on the fraught family theme when Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story (already out in select theaters) becomes widely available when it lands on Netflix on December 6. I’m such a sucker for Baumbach films and this one, about Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as divorcing parents who lug heir baggage bicoastally between New York and L.A., had me inevitably whipping out the Marriage Story-branded tissues they were giving out at the Paris Theater (thanks for looking out, Netflix). Driver’s Charlie is a thinly-veiled stand-in for Baumbach himself (he and Jennifer Jason Leigh divorced in 2010), and despite Johansson’s Nicole having the comedically cutting feminist lawyer by her side (played brilliantly by Laura Dern), it’s a film that lets its leading man off the hook a little too easily. Some messy flaws aside, I really loved this one.
Baumbach’s current partner, Greta Gerwig, of course, has her own movie coming out—Little Women, duh—with a star in common: Laura Dern. This could make Baumbach and Gerwig the first couple to duke it out in the Best Director category at the Oscars. (The closest we came to that was when exes James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow competed in 2010, with Bigelow, the only female Best Director winner ever, taking home the golden statue.) Anyway, I’m sorry to report that despite the several screenings for Little Women that already got critics abuzz, yours truly has yet to see a peep beyond the trailer. I wait in anticipation with the rest of you.
Women Behind the Camera: We Love to See It
The late godmother of French cinema, Agnès Varda, has a final, posthumous film out now. Varda by Agnès is a comprehensive look back at her career, narrated by the ever so clever and compassionate Varda herself, that is a must-see for any fan. The autobiographical doc made me want to revisit Varda’s filmography, and my prayers were answered with Lincoln Center’s extensive retrospective, which runs from December 20 to January 6. Shortly after her death, I made this mini viewing guide for The Cut, but there’s so much more to discover from the series (or stream, if you can’t make it out). I’ve had the One Sings, the Other Doesn’t Blu-ray for a minute, but have been saving myself for a big-screen watch—which I will do this winter.
The Criterion Channel’s December lineup is too damn good, it’s gonna make me hibernate and watch movies for the rest of the winter. Of the many new things coming to the cineaste’s choice of streaming service are collections for the new female auteurs of arthouse: Toni Erdmann director Maren Ade, American Honey director Andrea Arnold, and Céline Sciamma, whose newest, the lesbian period piece Portrait of a Lady On Fire, will skewer hearts in December and then on Valentine’s Day when it gets the wide release. Swoon! Sob!
And on the note of smouldering French women, Juliette Binoche is getting an extensive retrospective on the Criterion Channel starting December 15 (13 whole movies from her filmography!). They’re all worth watching, but I’d prioritize her collaborations with Leos Carax (Mauvais Sang and The Lovers on the Bridge). If you want to reminisce on warmer days, Olivier Assayas’s Summer Hours, about sibling bonding in the wake of their mother’s death, is perfectly wistful. (Edith Scob, who plays the mother, passed away earlier this year.)
Santa’s not the only one making lists this month. It’s time for year-end list-making, and maybe you’re feeling the fire under your butt to catch up on 2019’s bests. It’s overwhelming, isn’t it? Well let me hold your hand through this. Hop on the Criterion Channel once again to stream Diamantino, directed by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt (for its exclusive streaming premiere on December 2). I’ve been championing this movie to everyone I know, but for those who have yet to hear from me: please watch it, I beg of you. There’s nothing like it out there, and nothing I tell you about it will do its sheer innovativeness any justice (it’s a fantasy espionage action comedy about a Portuguese soccer star, complete with gigantic puppies, evil twins, and a cloning scheme). I know, I confused you even more. Just trust me on this one.
My number one favorite movie of the year is a Japanese doppelganger romantic drama called Asako I&II, though it isn’t available online yet (just jot down that title somewhere for when it is streaming). My other must-watch from the year is the Korean film Hotel by the River, a poignant black-and-white film about loss of love and end-of-life contemplation. It’s rentable on iTunes and—pardon the self-plug—on Blu-ray and DVD, with a booklet essay by moi. Also make sure to watch Jia Zhangke’s Ash Is Purest White, Bi Gan’s Long Day Journey Into Night, and Sydney Pollack’s recently-finished Aretha Franklin documentary, Amazing Grace, which is available on Hulu. Let Aretha take you to church—and purge all that cursed energy from 2019.
Cover Image via A24