November 19, 2018 at 6:04 pm EST | by Brian T. Carney
‘Mary Poppins,’ ‘Aquaman,’ ‘Vice’ and ‘Roma’ among big end-of-year movie releases
European Film Festival, gay news, Washington Blade

Ella Hunt in ‘Anna and the Apocalypse.’ (Photo by Gerardo Jaconelli; courtesy Orion Pictures)

With 2019 just around the corner, it’s time for the final cinematic rush toward Oscar glory and box office gold.

D.C.’s holiday film season gets off to a classy start with AFI’s European Film Festival. Running Nov. 30- Dec. 19, the festival features 49 films from 25 EU member states, including 12 films that have been submitted for consideration as Best Foreign Language Film.

The Festival opens with “Cold War,” a 1950s romance set in Poland and filmed in black and white, and closes with “Stan & Ollie,” the British biopic about comedians Laurel and Hardy starring John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan.

Among the queer films in the festival line-up are “Girl,” a Belgian drama about a young ballet dancer who is transitioning both from her assigned gender and into adulthood; “Knife+Heart,” a campy French thriller set in the seedy milieu of the gay porn demimonde of Paris in the 1970s; “Sorry Angel,”a Parisian romance between an HIV-positive writer and a university student set in the early 1990s; “Euphoria,” an Italian film about two brothers (one gay, one straight) reunited by an unexpected illness; and “Consequences,” a Slovenian drama about teenage angst, sexuality and toxic masculinity set in a youth detention center.

For something completely different, the Festival also includes “Diamantino,” a nominee for the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. After an Italian soccer star makes an unforgivable mistake at the 2018 World Cup, he embarks on a surreal odyssey and a delightfully unconventional romance.

For more information on tickets, passes and glittering receptions, go to

AFI Silver will also host its Holiday Series Nov. 30-Dec.24. Its annual celebration mixes traditional holiday fare with more unconventional films of the season. This year’s offerings include “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “A Christmas Story”; several versions of “A Christmas Carol” and such non-traditional fare as “Krampus” (which will be shown on Krampusnacht on Dec. 5); “Christmas Evil,” which John Waters has declared the best seasonal film of all time; and of course the annual AFI screening of the ultimate Christmas movie, “Die Hard.”

Already generating significant Oscar buzz, “The Favourite” is a sumptuous but irreverent period drama that gleefully mocks traditional depictions of gender, sexuality and politics. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”), this lesbian love triangle is set in the court of England’s Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), where Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and down-on-her-luck aristocrat Abigail (Emma Stone) battle for the frail Queen’s affections and the right to wield her power. “The Favourite” opens in D.C. Nov. 30.

Reel Affirmations will commemorate World AIDS Day by screening the historic AIDS drama “Buddies.” Directed by Arthur Bressan Jr., one of the pioneers of independent gay cinema, the 1985 film tracks the growing friendship between an AIDS patient and the “buddy” who volunteers to help take care of him. The movie will be presented Dec. 6 at the HRC Screening Room (1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.). Tickets are available at

Dec. 7 marks the premiere of a new kind of holiday movie: the zombie Christmas musical. In the zom-com musical “Anna and the Apocalypse,” the small Scottish town of Little Haven is attacked by zombies right before Christmas. Anna and her friends must slash and sing their way through the zombie hordes to save their loved ones. Ella Hunt plays the intrepid Anna and Sarah Swire plays her lesbian friend.

A different kind of threat is the subject of “Divide and Conquer: The Roger Ailes Story,” which also opens Dec. 7. The documentary tracks the rise and fall of the bombastic media mogul from his work with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to his controversial tenure at Fox News.

Another leading Oscar contender is slated to open in D.C. on Dec. 14. “Roma” is a semi-autobiographical tale that chronicles the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City during the turbulent early 1970s. The movie is written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón who is known for his work on “Gravity,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” the dystopian thriller “The Children of Men,” and the homoerotic road movie “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” Yalitza Aparicio has already been widely acclaimed for her breakout performance as the family’s maid.

Another tale of royal intrigue unfolds in “Mary Queen of Scots,” which opens Dec. 14. The movie was written by Beau Willimon (“House of Cards”) and is directed by Josie Rourke, head of London’s renowned Donmar Warehouse theater company. The movie stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I; both women were nominated for Best Actress Oscars earlier this year.

Saoirse Ronan in ‘May Queen of Scots.’ (Photo by Liam Daniel; courtesy Focus Features)

Also opening on Dec. 14 is “Ben Is Back” starring Lucas Hedges as Ben Burns, a recovering addict who unexpectedly leaves his rehab program to spend Christmas with his family. Julia Roberts plays Ben’s anxious mother and the movie is written and directed by Lucas’ real-life father Peter Hedges who wrote “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” and “About A Boy.”

On Dec. 19, everyone’s favorite nanny flies back into cinemas everywhere. Emily Blunt takes over the magical parrot head umbrella from Julie Andrews and Lin-Manuel Miranda plays her chimney sweeper sidekick Jack. “Mary Poppins Returns” is set 35 years after the original in Depression-era London. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is a widower raising his three young children with the help of his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) when the mischievous nanny returns to bring singing and dancing back to 17 Cherry Tree Lane.

Dick Van Dyke is the only actor from the original movie to appear in the sequel; he plays the son of one of his original characters. There are appearances by Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Julie Waters and Colin Firth. Rob Marshall (“Chicago” and “Into the Woods”) directs and choreographs (with John DeLuca and Joey Pizzi). The new songs are by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the openly gay songwriting team who won a Tony Award for “Hairspray.”

Emily Blunt in ‘Mary Poppins Returns.’ (Photo courtesy Disney)

Following in Mary Poppins’ wake, Jason Momoa moves from supporting actor (“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League”), to leading man in “Aquaman” (Dec. 21). Amber Heard plays his love interest Mera and Patrick Wilson plays his half-brother and rival Orm.

Movie theaters will be very busy on Dec. 25 when the last of the big releases finally open.

Felicity Jones plays Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On The Basis of Sex” which follows the early career of the famous Supreme Court Justice. Armie Hammer plays her husband Morty. The notorious RBG herself appears in the movie.

Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in ‘On the Basis of Sex.’ (Photo by Jonathan Wenk; courtesy Focus Features)

Barry Jenkins, director of the Academy Award-winning “Moonlight,” returns to the big screen with “If Beale Street Could Talk,” a straight romance based on the novel by openly gay author and activist James Baldwin.

Finally, Adam McKay (“The Big Short”) directs Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in “Vice,” the story of the ultimate Washington insider. D.C. audiences will be enjoy watching Hollywood celebrities play Washington notables. The supporting cast includes Alison Pill (“American Horror Story”) as Cheney’s lesbian daughter Mary; Amy Adams (Lynne Cheney), Lily Rabe (Liz Cheney), Steve Carell (Donald Rumsfeld), Sam Rockwell (George W. Bush), Justin Kirk (Scooter Libby), Lisa Gay Hamilton (Condoleezza Rice) and Tyler Perry as Colin Powell.

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