It's the calm before the cinematic storm.
More than a dozen major releases are scheduled between Dec. 14 and Christmas Day, and that influx brings everything from superheroes (“Aquaman,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) to period dramas (“Mary Queen of Scots”) to vice presidential biopics (“Vice”).
The Christmastime rush also comes with a slew of questions: Will “Aquaman” be more like “Wonder Woman” or fall flat like “Suicide Squad?” Will “Bumblebee” be the first “good” Transformers movie? Will “Mary Poppins Returns” capture the spirit of the original or add to a checkered 2018 for Disney that has included duds like “A Wrinkle in Time?”
While we wait to find out, now is a good time to look back at the best of what 2018 has already delivered, in the hopes that we can add a couple of new gems to the list by New Year’s Eve.
‘Mission: Impossible - Fallout’ (PG-13)
Last summer, I suggested we clone Tom Cruise to make sure he can keep making “Mission: Impossible” movies, and a few months later, I’m still only half kidding. It’s much of the same stuff — crazy set pieces, black ops gone bad, evil terrorist organizations trying to destroy the world — but somehow, “Fallout” manages to squeeze in about 50 percent more twists and stunts than the franchise’s usual high dosage.
Content advisory: Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is rated PG-13 for frequent sequences of intense action and at times brutal violence, as well as some mild sexual innuendo and profanity, including a single use of strong language.
‘A Quiet Place’ (PG-13)
John Krasinski’s postapocalyptic portrait of a family trying to survive in a world where a creaky floorboard could summon grisly death — featuring young Utah actress Millicent Simmonds — was a valuable reminder that you don’t need over-the-top gore to make a good horror movie. Even better, it created the kind of suspenseful atmosphere that actually got 21st-century audiences to put their phones away, stop talking to their neighbors and pay attention to a movie.
Content advisory: “A Quiet Place” is rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images.
‘Beautiful Boy’ (R)
“Beautiful Boy” is one of two late 2018 releases that focuses on the plight of young men in the grip of substance abuse and the attempts of loving parents to save their children (the other, “Ben is Back,” comes out later this month). But if there’s a short list of current issues that deserve a second (or even a third) look, opioid addiction should be on it. With stellar performances from Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet, “Beautiful Boy” is a film that will stick with you for a long, long time.
Content advisory: “Beautiful Boy” contains vivid depictions of drug use and some mild sexual content, but primarily draws its R rating from scattered profanity.
‘The Old Man & the Gun’ (PG-13)
Even without the news that this performance would be Robert Redford’s last, this based-on-a-true-story tale of an aging bank robber in the 1980s felt like the perfect complement to a storied Hollywood career that all began in the dusty boots of the Sundance Kid.
Content advisory: “The Old Man & the Gun” is rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
‘Leave No Trace’ (PG)
Several recent films have tried tackling the challenges of PTSD for our returned servicemen. Both 2017’s “Thank You for Your Service” and this year’s “Indivisible” dug into the way PTSD has torn at the fabric of military families, but none did it quite as tenderly as Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace,” which follows a veteran and his teenage daughter as they try to survive on their own outside of traditional society.
Content advisory: “Leave No Trace” is rated PG for thematic material throughout.
‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ (PG-13)
It would be easy to pick another comic book movie like “Infinity War” — the dramatic culmination of 10 years’ worth of Marvel foreshadowing — but I’m still annoyed that they “killed” off characters who already have future movies on the schedule. My favorite comic book movies are lighthearted — movies like the “Ant-Man” series, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” series and whatever you call the piece of brilliance that was last year’s “Thor: Ragnarok.”
Content advisory: “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence.
‘A Star is Born’ (R)
If you’d told me last year that one of 2018’s most moving films would feature Lady Gaga in the lead role, well, I wouldn’t have conjured up images of “A Star is Born,” Bradley Cooper’s heartfelt — and heartbreaking — drama about a pair of musicians who cross paths on opposite trajectories of fame and fortune.
Content advisory: Like the previous “A Star is Born,” which featured Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand in the lead roles, Cooper’s film draws an R rating, primarily for steady adult profanity and some flashes of female nudity. There’s also some comic violence when Ally (Lady Gaga) punches out one of Jackson’s (Cooper) unruly fans at a bar early in the film.
It seems like every year offers up a handful of movies for dog lovers, but this visually stunning coming-of-age saga about a prehistoric teen and the very first “man’s best friend” easily transcended the scope of its peers — even if it didn’t make a big box-office splash.
Content advisory: “Alpha” is rated PG-13 for some intense peril.
‘Free Solo’ (PG-13)
You could practically build this list out of 2018 documentaries alone. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” was a tender and engaging look at the singular personality behind “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and “Three Identical Strangers’” crazy story was too bizarre not to be true. But the one that will stick with me is “Free Solo,” the fascinating character study of a man determined to climb El Capitan without a rope.
Content advisory: “Free Solo” is rated PG-13, but audiences should note that the film contains sporadic use of R-rated profanity throughout the film, specifically the F-word, which is used a handful of times.
‘First Man’ (PG-13)
Some audiences may wince at “First Man’s” deliberate pacing and its claustrophobic style that recreates the feeling of being one of those life-risking astronauts from the 1960s. But Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to “La La Land” is a moving and powerful experience with a fantastic finish and is a testament to what we can accomplish in the pursuit of noble goals.
Content advisory: “First Man” is rated PG-13 for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language.