On Screens: Not set in Italy or about football, 2018’s film of the year

If we’ve learned one thing this year – besides the German football team being human, Denmark becoming a byword for socialism in alt-right circles, and Dr Cliff Huxtable’s preferred form of bedside manner switching from sedation to fellation – it is that it is less remarkable to see blockbusters premiering on a streaming service.

This December, however, a new strategy is emerging, and it would appear to be thanks to the enterprise of selected cinemas. Why not, they reason, grab the cinematic release rights for a streaming service title, even if it only gives them a one-week window of opportunity to show it where it belongs: on the big screen.

Grand Teatret in central Copenhagen was one of six Danish cinemas to start showing Roma (95 on Metacritic; released on Netflix on Dec 14) from December 6, while Bird Box (60; at cinemas on Dec 13, via Netflix on Dec 21) is following a similar route. In fact, Valby Bio is showing both films.

The third amigo
Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), the member of powerhouse Mexican director triumvirate who many tend to forget in the shadow of Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro – they were all born within three years of one another in the early 1960s and have won four of the last five Best Director Oscars – has delved into his own childhood for inspiration.

At first glance, Roma’s name and premise (a middle-class family going about their business) suggests it is set in Italy and extremely dull. But substitute ‘middle’ for ‘master’, and then raise it one and swap ‘class’ for ‘piece’, as the reviews have been nothing short of spectacular.

Roma is currently the second favourite to win the Oscar for Best Film, and were it to triumph it would become the first movie not made in English to take the award. Several previous winners have had foreign settings, but bizarrely chosen English as their language – most notably the recently deceased Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1987 winner The Last Emperor, whose authenticity (parts were even shot in the Forbidden City) was second to none in a cinematic era notably short on quality.

Denmark’s very own Susanne Bier, meanwhile, directs a strong cast led by Sandra Bullock in Bird Box – another sense-deprivation thriller in the tradition of the T-Rex scenes in Jurassic Park and the ghoulies in the excellent A Quiet Place (now on C More), in which the script builds suspense around the predator’s handicap. Only this time, the humans are the ones who can’t see, spending half the film blind-folded. It doesn’t work half as well.

Putting it bluntly
Following her strong turn in A Quiet Place, British actress Emily Blunt is finishing 2018 on a high with what could prove to be one of its biggest hits: Mary Poppins Returns (Not Released Worldwide; Dec 25). Despite its Christmas debut, the film has picked up several Golden Globe nominations (including best film and a nod for Blunt), while the American Film Institute has included it in its Top 10 Films of the Year list – not bad for a movie that nobody has yet reviewed on Metacritic.

Judging by the trailer, it looks like of one of those films that US audiences will embrace for its jovial depiction of Brexit-like eccentricity, but that British audiences might find a little twee. And Blunt would appear to have the accent all wrong. Poppins wasn’t overly posh; she just happened to have a beautiful voice.

Blunt isn’t the only one taking over from a legend like Julie Andrews, although Michael B Jordan in Creed II (67; Dec 20), the eighth film in the Rocky franchise, has already had a film to warm up in. Along with Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren is reprising his role as the Russian fighter Ivan Drago, now training his son to send another member of the Apollo Creed dynasty to the morgue. It’s not as good as the first film, but then again that has a higher Metacritic score than the original (82 vs 70).

And rather bizarrely, Jason Momoa (the one who looks like a centaur in Game of Thrones) is taking on a role previously played in a film within a TV series. The fictional character Vincent Chase’s big Hollywood break in the long-running Entourage came in Aquaman (NRW; Dec 13), and no doubt the makers of this superhero flick were anxious not to recreate anything too reminiscent of the splashy promo shots primarily played for laughs. Maybe that’s why they cast manly Momoa to offer stark contrast to actor Adrian Grenier’s boyish looks. Coincidentally, perhaps, both Andrews and Lundgren feature.

A ride for the emotions
With Roma coming out, it was already a strong month for films, and the release of Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (91; Dec 6), Spider Man: Into the Spiderverse (84; Dec 13) and The Rider (92; Dec 13) ensure there’s plenty of quality out there.

At 197 minutes long, Ex Libris certainly takes its time, but the praise has been universal (okay, there was one negative review, probably written by somebody convinced the majority were going to condemn the long running time). You’ll probably love it if you find libraries peaceful, and likewise Spider Man if you can still stomach cartoons.

That leaves The Rider, the tale of a crippled rodeo star desperate for one last human-equine connection to make sense of his life. This film is really resonating with the public – a tear-jerker (not in the Bill Cosby kind of way).

At the bottom end of the scale, Hunter Killer (43; Dec 25) is a risible ‘Hunt for Arse over Elbow’ affair; Transformers 6: Bumblebee (NRW; Jan 3) can just buzz off now and save us all the anguish; and your feelings watching Under the Silver Lake (59; Jan 3) starring Andrew Garfield will either sink or swim, depending on your predilection for the drippy Brit, patience (139 mins) and penchant for weirdness.

Notting Hill meets Dexter
The star of You (Netflix on Dec 26), a new series in which a bookshop owner makes a famous author fall in love with him, has a Garfield resemblance going on. Before you start thinking this sounds like Notting Hill, it’s been compared to Dexter, so it could be a good choice for a post-Christmas binge.

Meanwhile, American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (74; Netflix on Dec 21), Top of the Lake: China Girl (HBO Nordic on Dec 15) and Thirteen (73; HBO Nordic on Dec 22) are all making long overdue debuts.

Movies-wise, this time it’s C More obliging with the Oscar-nominated films: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Dec 28) and Get Out (Dec 21), while Mary Shelley (C More on Dec 19), Game Night (Netflix on Dec 25) and The Christmas Chronicles (Netflix since Nov 22) are also worth checking out.

The latter stars none other than Kurt Russell as old busy beard himself – yeah, Snake Plissken is playing Santa. With that, and the festive edition of this year’s The Cosby Show confined to the limits of State Correctional Institution – Phoenix, it’s shaping up to be a great Christmas.