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.
Thursday, Dec. 6
Mary Queen of Scots is certainly the most ambitious retelling of the life of Mary I of Scotland since Vanessa Redgrave took a crack at the role in 1971. This time, Saoirse Ronan rises to the occasion as the 16th-century royal who challenged Queen Elizabeth of England (played by Margot Robbie) for the throne and was subsequently imprisoned and beheaded for her trouble. An old-fashioned historical pageant with characters dressed up to resemble pincushions, Josie Rourke's film boasts a screenplay by Beau Willimon (The Ides of March) and features a plethora of European character actors with terrific voices. The Landmark, 10850 Pico Blvd., West L.A.; $12-$15; (310) 470-0492, landmarktheatres.com. Also playing at the ArcLight, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; $16-$18; (323) 615-2550, arclightcinemas.com.
Peter Hedges is back with Ben Is Back, a drama about a troubled teen (Lucas Hedges) who drops in on his family over the Christmas holiday, much to the surprise of his ever-loving mom (Julia Roberts). His folks worry that he'll backslide into drug addiction but Ben has even bigger problems than that, as dark figures from his past threaten to drag into criminal behavior. Writer-director Hedges (Pieces of April, Dan in Real Life) is a specialist at creating nuanced character studies, and this vehicle, written with his son in mind for the lead role, seems like a particularly personal one. The Landmark, 10850 Pico Blvd., West L.A.; $12-$15; (310) 470-0492, landmarktheatres.com.
Friday, Dec. 7
Anna and the Apocalypse, so far the only Scottish zombie musical of the season, will expand nationwide after playing in two theaters locally last week. Exuberantly odd and gleefully gory, John McPhail's instant cult item stars Ella Hunt as a small-town girl who must hack, slash and, yes, sing her way through a zombie outbreak with her freaked-out school chums. A crowd favorite at last year's Fantastic Fest, the movie is a classic example of Christmas counterprogramming. For more information, including theaters and showtimes, visit aatafilm.com.
Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes is the slick new documentary from the makers of Taxi to the Dark Side and Going Clear. It chronicles the extraordinary career of the former Fox News chairman-CEO who rose to prominence as a media specialist and consultant for several U.S. presidents before numerous sexual misconduct allegations prompted his resignation. Ailes died last May, but his legacy as a shrewd, implacable and finally ignominious TV executive lingers on. Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A.; Fri., Dec. 7-Thu., Dec. 13, various showtimes; $9-$12. (310) 473-8530, landmarktheatres.com.
Schindler's List, Steven Spielberg's passionate 1993 biopic of the German industrialist who saved more than 1,000 Jews during World War II by employing them in his factory, is being given a one-week rerelease by Universal for its 25th anniversary. Holocaust dramas all carry a heavy burden, and this one, shot in inky black-and-white and clocking in at 3 hours and 15 minutes, is certainly among the heaviest. It's graced with several warm, humanizing performances, including those by Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley, as well as a memorably icy one by Ralph Fiennes. Opens in select theaters Fri., Dec. 7, various showtimes and prices. For more information, visit schindlerslist.com.
Saturday, Dec. 8
The American Cinematheque is paying tribute to Spike Lee — Hollywood's most influential African-American filmmaker — with a weekend retrospective at the Egyptian Theatre covering four of his choicest works. BlacKkKlansman, released this summer to solid reviews and strong box office returns, tells the amazing story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black cop who boldly infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s with the aid of his partner, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). Lee concludes this fact-based drama with footage from the infamous Charlottesville rally that left one dead and 19 injured in 2017, explicitly arguing that the infamous hate group has been reinvigorated by the current political climate. Lee will appear in person for a discussion following the movie. The screening is free with RSVP. Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Sat., Dec. 8, 4 p.m.; free with RSVP. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.
Saturday evening at the Egyptian concludes with a screening of Malcolm X, Spike Lee's 3½-hour biopic of the incendiary civil rights activist. Denzel Washington's movie star charisma carries the viewer through Malcolm's early days as a petty criminal, his spiritual re-education as a prison inmate, and his emergence as one of the most devoted and controversial activists of his day. Lee will introduce the picture. Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Sat., Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m.; $15. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.
Sunday, Dec. 9
Return to the Egyptian Theatre Sunday evening for a powerhouse double feature that begins with Do the Right Thing, widely considered to be Spike Lee's masterpiece. This searing 1989 drama, set in Brooklyn on the hottest day of the summer, follows several characters in the same neighborhood whose lives intersect and collide as racial tensions rise. This masterfully orchestrated slice of Americana helped define a black cinematic aesthetic and incorporates a rich vein of street-smart comedy into the mix. Filling out the bottom half of the double bill is Crooklyn, a semiautobiographical portrait of Lee's family, including his schoolteacher mother (a fabulous Alfre Woodard) and jazz musician father (Delroy Lindo). Lee will appear between films for a discussion. Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Sun., Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m.; $12. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.
If you grew up in the early 1990s, you may have the warm fuzzies for The Muppet Christmas Carol, a musical retelling of the Dickens holiday classic. The half human, half puppet cast mingle adroitly in this likable film, the first Muppet feature following the death of Jim Henson. (His son, Brian, is the credited director.) Michael Caine stars as Scrooge and keeps an admirably straight face in his duet with Miss Piggy. The Aero will show a 35mm print. Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; Sun., Dec. 9, 2 p.m.; $12. (323) 466-3456, americancinemathequecalendar.com.
Monday, Dec. 10
True, TNT and/or TBS shows it 12 times in a row every year, but have you seen A Christmas Story on the big screen? For the film's 35th anniversary, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences screen a 35mm print of this scrappy, rollicking Christmas classic. Special guests include Peter Billingsley (unforgettable as the bespectacled kid who longs for a BB gun from Santa), set decorator Mark Freeborn, production designer Reuben Freed and costume designer Mary E. McLeod. There will even be holiday cookies and a photo op with Santa after the screening. This show will likely sell out but there will be a stand-by line starting at 5:30 p.m. if you feel like taking your chances. Samuel Goldwyn Theater, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; Mon., Dec. 10, 7:30 p.m.; $5. (310) 247-3000, oscars.org.