As the year comes to an end, we’re getting ready to cover the November-December awards season where studios stuff their best releases into the last two months of the year in order to qualify for Oscar voting. It’s a bit of a tricky system and one that explains why movies released earlier in the year don’t often get nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes. There are exceptions, of course, but it seems like the voting body for both ceremonies suffer from a lot of recency bias, leading studios to hold on to their biggest contenders until right before voting commences in January.
Long story short, every weekend from now until the end of the year will have at least one capital-g Great Movie or a wildly misjudged attempt at a capital-g Great Movie, otherwise known as Oscar bait. Thankfully, this weekend seems to be comprised almost entirely of the former…oh, and an end of the year superhero movie?
“The Marvels” (In Theaters)
It’s been a rough couple of years for the superhero genre. Besides “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” superhero movies haven’t exactly been making a killing at the box office anymore, at least not since “Avengers: Endgame” killed off most of their original lineup. This year, however, was especially rough. The only superhero movies that made any money or even had a lasting impact on audiences were sequels to established, successful franchises. Even still, movies like “Blue Beetle,” “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” had a rough go at the box office, with the new “Shazam!” movie making less than $60 million domestically.
Judging by the complete lack of hype for “The Marvels,” the trend seems like it will continue into 2024 (and beyond). This latest film is the culmination of at least three different Marvel properties, including the original “Captain Marvel” and the “WandaVision” TV show. It’s all hopelessly convoluted at this point and completely impenetrable for those who haven’t been keeping up on the increasingly indecipherable plot developments. But at least Nia DiCosta directed it! That’s a plus!
But with Marvel once again retreating to television and reserving their big-screen offerings for name brand characters, it looks like the era of the superhero movie is finally and mercifully coming to an end.
“The Killer” (Netflix)
It’s been awhile since we got a really Fincher-y David Fincher movie. Prior to his out-of-the-box biopic about Herman J. Mankiewicz finishing the screenplay for “Citizen Kane,” the director released his 2014 adaptation of “Gone Girl” and helped create “Mindhunter,” which is still the best Netflix original series ever made. Now, he’s back with “The Killer,” a seemingly straightforward film about a heartless assassin hunting down a group of contractors who tried to have him killed.
Here, Fincher seems to be returning to his roots, with his latest fitting more snugly between movies like “Fight Club” and “Panic Room” than any of his more recent offerings. If he wanted to, Fincher could have just kept making action movies and would still be one of the best to ever do it, but he just had to go off and become one of the greatest directors of all time. It’ll be interesting to see how, more than a decade since his last real genre offering, his style has developed beyond the boundaries of what we’d call a traditional action film.
“The Holdovers” (In Theaters)
We haven’t heard much from Alexander Payne since his 2017 film, “Downsizing,” became the only one in his career to receive bad reviews from critics. Prior to that film’s release, Payne had one of the highest batting averages in recent American cinema. At one point, it seemed impossible that he would release something that wasn’t immediately and universally beloved by just about everyone. But you know what they say! The bigger you are, the harder your movie about bite-sized Matt Damon sucks.
Like Fincher’s “The Killer,” Payne’s latest looks like a much-needed return to form, a grounded dramedy starring Paul Giamatti that does away with the high-concept conceit of “Downsizing” and, instead, focuses on telling the kind of relatable, human story that made Payne so popular in the first place. Giamatti stars as an almost comically strict teacher at a prestigious prep school who is tasked with supervising the handful of students who didn’t go home for Christmas break. Of course, that gives him an opportunity to connect with the students that, like him, have nowhere to go for the holidays and learn a lesson about kindness and connection in the process.
“Perfect Days” (In Theaters)
Lastly, we have the new film from “Paris, Texas” director Wim Wenders. In a way, Wenders is like the dysfunctional family equivalent of Martin Scorsese. He’s a late-stage filmmaker who just wants to tell the stories that interest him for as long as he can. His latest, “Perfect Days,” looks like something he would have made in the heyday of his career, while at the same time feeling like a film that could only be made by someone who has eight decades of life under his belt.
The film was made by Wenders, a German filmmaker, in collaboration with a number of Japanese producers. “Perfect Days” follows the simplistic life of an aging toilet cleaner in Japan. Over the course of four short stories, we learn more about his past through his present, “perfect” days. The film was nominated for a Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is also Japan’s official entry for the upcoming Academy Awards.
Josef Rodriguez is a writer, filmmaker, and film critic living in New York City.