Welcome to L.A. Weekly's Movie Guide, your look at the hottest films in Los Angeles theaters this week — from indie art-house gems and classics to popcorn-perfect blockbusters and new movies garnering buzz. Check here every week before you make your big-screen plans.
Friday, Jan. 4
Escape Room was developed under the title The Maze and originally scheduled for a September 2018 release before being bumped to that most dreaded of positions: the first week of the new year. A high-concept thriller aimed squarely at teens, the movie involves a group of young people who find themselves trapped in a physical adventure game who must solve a series of diabolical clues in order to survive. It's the kind of scenario that seems to write itself, and yet there are some powerful existential questions (Why are we here? Were we chosen?) designed to stimulate rumination. Adam Robitel directed from a screenplay by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik.
Also opening Friday: The Vanishing; State Like Sleep; Rust Creek; American Hangman; Being Rose; Eli.
Monday, Jan. 7
Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek-born director responsible for current release The Favourite, makes a special appearance at the Aero Theatre. Known for his stringently formalist style and misanthropic outlook, the 45-year-old filmmaker burst onto the international scene with his third feature, Dogtooth, which won Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. The evening will begin with a screening of The Favourite, the caustic comedy concerning the deranged rivalry between two noblewomen in the court of Queen Anne, after which Lanthimos will take the stage for a discussion. Concluding the evening is The Lobster, released in 2015, whose high-concept vigor and nihilistic wit earned Lanthimos an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The program is free with RSVP but early arrival is highly recommended, as American Cinematheque members get priority seating one hour prior to showtime. Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; Mon., Jan. 7, 7:30 p.m.; free with RSVP. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.
Tuesday, Jan. 8
If you missed out on First Man when it opened in October, you have another chance to catch this ambitious saga about Neil Armstrong and the crucial years leading up to the original moon landing. Based on James R. Hansen's 2005 book, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, the film provides an intimate view of the space race, focusing on the astronaut's family life, the unprecedented mission into which he was drafted and the personal sacrifices it entailed. Director Damien Chazelle and star Claire Foy will appear at the Aero for a discussion after the screening. Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; Tue., Jan. 8, 7:30 p.m.; $15. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.
Wednesday, Jan. 9
If you're guilty of missing The Guilty, there is still time to catch one of the most compelling thrillers of 2018. Adhering to all three of the classical dramatic unities (unity of action, place and time), director Gustav Möller unfurls his twisty plot over the course of a single evening. The tension is masterfully maintained as we follow an unhappily demoted cop (Jakob Cedergren) on the last night of his stint as an emergency dispatcher. When he receives a call from a kidnapped woman and her assailant, he becomes hell-bent on rescuing her while remaining glued to his desk. Phone thrillers have had a long and fruitful life onscreen, from classics like Sorry, Wrong Number and The Slender Thread to more recent examples such as Phone Booth and Cellular. This Danish nail-biter embraces the formalist rigor that the gimmick demands with a firm grip that lasts for every one of its 85 minutes. Möller will appear to discuss the film afterward. Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; Wed., Jan. 9, 7:30 p.m.; $15. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.
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Thursday, Jan. 10
The American Cinematheque kicks off a retrospective in honor of Leon Vitali, the British actor who played blond Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon and proceeded thereafter to work for Stanley Kubrick for the next two decades. As the famously demanding auteur's personal assistant, Vitali labored tirelessly behind the scenes, often wearing several hats at once, sometimes without credit. He bared his soul in the 2018 documentary Filmworker, and will appear for four consecutive evenings at the Aero to introduce several of Kubrick's films. Thursday night brings Barry Lyndon, a gorgeous period drama based on Thackeray's picaresque novel about a social climber (Ryan O'Neal) who ascends the ladder of English society too swiftly, and pays dearly for it. It's difficult to describe the emotionally compelling yet icily detached style with which Kubrick relates this existential masterpiece, but the coffee table–book images, sumptuously captured by cinematographer John Alcott using special lenses, result in one of the most visually compelling films of the 1970s. Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; Thu., Jan. 10, 7:30 p.m.; $12. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.
L.A. Weekly also recommends (still in theaters): Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse; Aquaman; Once Upon a Deadpool; American Renegades; Mary Queen of Scots; Ben Is Back; If Beale Street Could Talk; Vox Lux; Bohemian Rhapsody; Ralph Breaks the Internet; The Favourite; Creed II.