Back in the saddle again

By Christian DiMartino

Greetings and salutations.

I realize that it has been a long while since I have written a review here. Truth is, I was planning on writing my review of Arrival, but that weekend I had a funeral to attend, and since then, my inspiration has just sort of vanished.

But now it’s a new year. I’ve taken two months off, and I think it’s time I got back on the horse. It’s a damn shame too, because I have seen a lot of films that I would have loved to discuss, both positively and negatively. It seems as if Hacksaw Ridge (my last review) sparked a string of great films, because there was a good while there where I simply could not stop raving. What began as a somewhat lame year for film has since redeemed itself.

I will soon write my Best of the Year list, but I have a few loose ends to take care of first. In the meantime, I am going to recap every film from 2016 that I caught AFTER Hacksaw Ridge. Yes, there’s a lot. But I’m hoping that I will bring you up to speed (who am I kidding? Nobody reads this page!) and that surely enough, I am back in the saddle again.

Here we go…

  • Arrival: Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival once again shows that this guy is the real deal. Arrival is hypnotic, dizzying, unpredictable, and truth be told, rather brilliant. In fact, in the car on the way to that funeral, I kept thinking about this film over and over and over again, and the more I thought about it, the more I loved it. Amy Adams will be adding yet another Oscar nomination to her already brilliant resume (4 stars).
  • True Memoirs of an American Assassin: This latest Kevin James outing is so forgettable, I’m not even sure if I got the title right. (1.5 stars)
  • Moonlight: One of the truest achievements of the year, and among the most haunting, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight truly is a masterpiece. It’s a flawlessly written, directed and acted masterpiece in that the only real flaw is that each segment isn’t long enough, and I mean that in the best way. (4 stars)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: As one who truly loves the wizarding world of Harry Potter, I of course fell for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Yes, it has its share of flaws, but the film really hits its marks visually, and it shows that JK Rowling really is some kind of genius. (3 stars)
  • Allied: Something of an Oscar non-starter, Robert Zemeckis’ Allied still managed to be pretty damn entertaining, anchored by two strong performances from Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt. Great? Nah, but damn fine entertainment. (3 stars)
  • Rules Don’t Apply: Rules Don’t Apply marked the return of the legendary Warren Beatty, both behind and in front of the camera. Sadly though, the film was kind of dead upon arrival. It bombed at the box office (I was literally the only one in the theatre… on its opening day) and it had a tepid reception. I personally enjoyed it though. While certainly messy and uneven, Rules Don’t Apply is also funny and undeniably charming, with a performance by Beatty that will probably, sadly, be overlooked. (3 stars)
  • The Edge of Seventeen: Did anyone expect The Edge of Seventeen to be as funny and sharp as it turned out to be? I know I didn’t. But yes, it was. Best of all though, The Edge of Seventeen further helps prove my point: Hailee Steinfeld is no fluke. In another year, her name would be on the Oscar ballot. (3.5 stars)
  • Bad Santa 2: The year of the overdue, unnecessary sequels continued with Bad Santa 2, a film that tried to be Bad Santa, but was only really half successful. Basically, if you didn’t have a good idea 13 years ago, there’s no saying you do now. (2 stars)
  • Loving: Jeff Nichols’ Loving is a quiet, haunting drama. Some might say too quiet. But yet I admired Nichols’ subtle approach, because it helps the film avoid what it very well could have been: Oscar bait. Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton both deserve Oscar nominations if you ask me. (3.5 stars)
  • Bridget Jones’ Baby: In a year with a bunch of crappy, unnecessary comedy sequels, our beloved Bridget Jones decided to return and… it was actually good? You bet. I don’t like the ending. It’s a bit much. But besides that, Bridget Jones’ Baby is pretty funny and charming, and about as good as Bridget Jones’ Diary. (3 stars)
  • Morgan: Ridley Scott…’s son Luke Scott made his directorial debut with Morgan, and maybe the apple has fallen far from the tree. Morgan is goofy and relentlessly ridiculous, squandering a great cast and executing a decent idea poorly. Save your time and watch Ex Machina again. (1.5 stars)
  • Moana: I admit I wasn’t too thrilled to see Moana, but what a lovely film. Visually gorgeous, hilarious, creative, trippy, and charming, Moana, with the help of some musical magic, feels like Disney’s best outing in a long time. (4 stars)
  • Nocturnal Animals: Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is something of a disturbing work of art. Thrilling, frightening, perfectly written and acted, it’s a film that held me under its bizarre spell from the opening frame (featuring fat, naked dancing women) until the final fadeout. It also proves that Ford’s first (and previous) film A Single Man was no fluke. (4 stars)
  • Manchester by the Sea: Kenneth Lonerghan’s Manchester by the Sea is one of the major Oscar contenders, and with good reason. What’s impressive about it is how Lonerghan will depress the hell out of you one second, and then elicit laughs the next. Really though, Manchester by the Sea is a tragic, beautiful slice of life that will win Casey Affleck a much deserved Oscar. (4 stars)
  • When the Bough Breaks: You don’t really wanna know what happens when the bough breaks, but I’ll tell you: it’s pretty hilarious. (1 star)
  • Incarnate: Aaron Eckart is such a frustrating actor, because he can act, and he does a lot of good movies. But here and there, he’ll have a turd like Incarnate up his sleeve. Incarnate is basically an awful offspring of Inception and The Exorcist, and if that sounds jarring to you, that’s because it is. (.5 star)
  • The Light Between Oceans: The Light Between Oceans is one gorgeous soap opera. You have to wait a good 40 minutes for anything remotely interesting to happen, but when it does, you can’t help but get caught up in the madness. Not to mention, Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander sell it beautifully. (3 stars)
  • American Honey: I can’t put my finger on it, but I really enjoyed American Honey. What can I say? It’s an experience. (3.5 stars)
  • Miss Sloane: One of the most ridiculously entertaining movies of the year. I went into it expecting to be bored out of my damn mind, but nope. I was proven way wrong. Jessica Chastain needs an Oscar someday, and this film is further proof as to why. (3.5 stars)
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Honestly, I liked Rogue One more than Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Not by much, but this film just felt refreshing and dark. Very dark, in fact. And if you haven’t heard about that last ten minutes by now, well, let me say, it’s orgasmic. (3.5 stars)
  • Jackie: Why isn’t everyone doing backflips over this movie. Pablo Lorrain’s Jackie is a masterpiece of haunting power. Some four weeks after seeing it, I’m still not over it. There’s moments, images, sequences, scenes, and dialogue that truly struck a chord with me, and furthermore, Natalie Portman gives the performance of the year in the title role. Give her the Oscar and be done with it. (4 stars)
  • Fences: There’s times where I wanted to call Fences a great film. Alas, I can’t quite. But it is still a very good film, featuring one of the best screenplays of the year, and performances from Washington and Viola Davis that are more than shoo-ins for Oscar noms this year. (3.5 stars)
  • Passengers: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt have a lot of charisma and star power, but not even they can rescue Passengers from falling into mush. The film feels like three concepts for a film slapped together, and it never meshes. Worst of all though, if you’re going to make a romantic sci-fi adventure, you at least have to make the romance work. The romance here falls on its creepy fat one. But hey, it looked great at least. (1.5 stars)
  • La La Land: Believe everything you’ve heard: Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is utterly amazing. A lovely, beautiful, and tragic work of art that brings out the best in Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, while also tampering with the musical genre in the best way imaginable. It will win the Best Picture Oscar, and deservedly so. (4 stars)
  • Elle: Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is the ballsiest film of the year, and indeed one of the best. A kinky sex farce, a mystery, and a fascinating character study all rolled into one, it’s the kind of film that America would be too afraid to touch. It indeed takes people with balls. What Verhoeven and his star, Isabelle Huppert, have done with Elle is a stunning, bonkers revelation. Something that needs to be seen to be believed. (4 stars)
  • Toni Erdmann: Clocking in at nearly three hours, Toni Erdmann is a hilarious, wild, unpredictable, and ultimately bizarre film that more than justifies its runtime. We grow to really enjoy these characters, and that there is something to admire. (4 stars)
  • Trolls: I had a headache within minutes of Trolls, and chances are, so did you. Yes, it’s colorful. But it’s too colorful, not to mention obnoxious and not necessarily funny. The voice cast is completely game though. (1.5 stars)
  • Keeping up with the Joneses: Did anyone expect Keeping Up with the Joneses to work? Eh, probably not. But thankfully, it works better than it should have. It is mediocre and very hit or miss, but at the end of the day, it’s no turkey. It’s just a very obvious time-waster. (2 stars)
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople: What a movie. Hunt for the Wilderpeople might have a few stretches where the comedy air leaves the balloon, but for the most part, Taika Waititi’s film is hilarious and completely charming, with a great, unexpectedly hilarious performance by Sam Neill. (3.5 stars)
  • Dog Eat Dog: Dog Eat Dog, for a good 45 minutes, is enjoyable trash. But strangely, once it begins to take itself seriously, the fun dies. (2 stars)
  • Office Christmas Party: Like Keeping Up with the Joneses, Office Christmas Party is simply a hit-or-miss time waster. If you’re trapped in the house on a rainy day, you could do worse. (2 stars)
  • A Monster Calls: I didn’t know what to make of A Monster Calls even by the time I hit the halfway mark, and perhaps you won’t either. But don’t give up on it. It’s a film with a haunting, tragic, unique, and somewhat moving trick up its sleeve. It may take a while to make its point, but when it finally does, its worth it. (3.5 stars)

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