The best films in the cinema this Christmas

From Mary Poppins Returns to Holmes and Watson.

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How would you feel if the presents you opened on Christmas morning were just snazzily repackaged gifts that you’d already received? Welcome to the cinema release schedules. Let’s be Blunt – Emily Blunt, that is – and admit that the smash of the season is in the bag. That likeable actor kept shtum for most of this year’s horror hit A Quiet Place but she’s compensating with some show tunes in Mary Poppins Returns (21 Dec), where she takes up the brolly last brandished 54 years ago by Julie Andrews. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton, plays the apprentice to the cockney chimney-sweep Bert. The original Bert, Dick Van Dyke, is on hand too, though presumably not as dialect coach.

Also in the Looks Familiar department is Holmes and Watson (26 Dec), a comic romp through the pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to add to the others we’ve had over the years (Without a Clue; The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother; the Peter Cook/Dudley Moore Hound of the Baskervilles). This slapstick outing surrounds the Step Brothers duo Will Ferrell and John C Reilly with Brits (Ralph Fiennes, Rebecca Hall, Steve Coogan) and finds room for the line “No shit, Sherlock”. Meanwhile, Charlie Hunnam is in the clink for a remake of Papillon (21 Dec). His crime? Appearing in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur. Throw away the key, I say.

The future of Spider-Man looked uncertain at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. Put it this way: he died. But when did that ever harm a franchise? The animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (12 Dec) proposes a cluster of diverse spider-creatures fighting crime together, including an African-American teenager, an anime girl and a pig. Think string theory rather than web. There’s every sign this will be a blast: the producers, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, possess an irreverent sensibility (they directed The Lego Movie and the Jump Street comedies) and the distinction of having been fired from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Many of these titles haven’t been screened for press at the time of writing. But I can vouch for the brain-warping and eventually mind-numbing horror of Lars Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built (14 Dec), which gives a suave serial killer (Matt Dillon) two-and-a-half-hours to reflect on his greatest hits in a kind of psychopathic PowerPoint presentation – a Ded talk not a Ted talk. The victims include Uma Thurman and Sofie Gråbøl of The Killing, as well as several children; a fluffy duckling also gets it in the neck, or rather the leg. For all its gruesomeness, it’s a work of self-lacerating honesty and even contrition on Von Trier’s part. It premiered to boos and walk-outs at one prestigious film festival, hence the knowing tag-line on my screening invitation: “Crucified at Cannes! Back for Christmas!” 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.

This article first appeared in the 05 December 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special