Art at its most Abstract
Anomalisa (2015): A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary.
What a unique film. Anomalisa is unlike anything else you'll see this year. After all for starters this film is filmed in stock-motion animation. Actually, the story of even how this film was made is fantastic, featuring a production cycle of several years. This film was made with a painstaking attention to detail, and you can really see the love pouring through in every scene. It is literally impossible to hate this film, but when you add an incredible story of normality versus anomalies it makes this film one of the best of the year without a doubt, and easily the best animated film of 2015. You also have great voice performances from the leads David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and we can't forget the GREAT artistic choice of having Tom Noonan voice everyone else in this film. And there are a lot of other characters in this film. There are a few problems here, but they are certainly not enough to detract from one of the most unique films of 2015. It's short, coming in at only 90 minutes, and I STRONGLY recommend checking it out and seeing it for yourself. Don't take my word for it, but this film is incredible.
The Verdict: 9/10 Damn Near Perfect
A culinary disaster
Burnt (2015): Adam Jones is a chef who destroyed his career with drugs and diva behavior. He cleans up and returns to London, determined to redeem himself by spearheading a top restaurant that can gain three Michelin stars.
Wow. Talk about overdone. 2015 has not been a good year for Bradley Cooper. Burnt is no exception. Because here we are with another "white guy finds redemption" film featuring an absolutely despicable lead character how's arc is laughably not earned by the end when, of course, everything ultimately goes right for him. The main problem here lies in the fact that Cooper's character is simply just unlikable, so its very hard to root for him as he finds his undeserving redemption. Couple that with a supporting cast who's all over the place in terms of their performances, and you have an over-seasoned, overcooked mess featuring a (wait for it) burnt steak at its center. Boy you could say I'm.....on fire with all these food puns right now. I think I just conjured up a better dish than this film does, despite all the awesome food porn throughout its 101 minute runtime. Go watch Chef again instead. It is on Netflix right now and if you haven't seen it you should change that right now.
The Verdict: 3/10 Bad
An important story improperly told
Concussion (2015): In Pittsburgh, accomplished pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who suffer repeated concussions in the course of normal play.
Well, I decided to give this a go. And I can see why it didn't receive any nominations. The film starts out promising, but it takes too many creative liberties with its story to be truly taken seriously. As time went on in this film, I cared less and less about this story, and that's not something you should be saying about something as important as this issue and the NFL's continued attempts of covering it up. But the main problem here is in the fact that this story is really about Dr. Bennet Omalu, a man who's presence in this entire affair is sadly vastly overblown. If only this film were more about the NFL's cover-up and not Omalu. But Omalu's presence dominates this entire film. Which, on one hand is fine since Will Smith is easily the best thing about this film, but on the other hand it's not because Omalu simply just isn't very interesting. I hope in the future this story is told again, but from the NFL's perspective. And that time please please PLEASE don't cast Luke Wilson as Roger Goodell.
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
In the Heart of the Sea
A disappointing Spectacle
In the Heart of the Sea (2015): A recounting of a New England whaling ship's sinking by a giant whale in 1820, an experience that later inspired the great novel Moby-Dick.
This film makes me sad. See I was really excited to see In the Heart of the Sea, because it was initially scheduled to be released way back in March and then Warner Brothers pushed the film back to December for no real reason. To me, this lack of reason could have only meant that someone at Warner Brothers thought this film was good enough to be a legitimate Oscar contender and so they wanted the film to be released towards the end of the year. That means it must be good, right? NOPE. Not at all. Whoever thought this was a legitimate Oscar contender needs to be fired. This film tanked because of its release date, but had it been released back in March it would've been competing against other box office disasters like Seventh Son and Jupiter Ascending instead of coming out one week before that film called....um.....what's its name? Oh right. Star Wars. So why does this film suck? Well, let's start with the accents. Lol the accents in this film are hilarious and all over the place, least of which is Chris Hemsworth. His Boston accent is essentially just a deeper Thor voice. Actually, I had more fun pretending Hemsworth was Thor in this film than anything else, because the "story" surrounding these guys is paper thin, to put it lightly. While the film looks great, and the CGI whale was great to behold, just about every other aspect of this film was terrible. Ron Howard came back in a big way with 2013's Rush, but there's no doubt this film is a huge step backward for him. Go watch Rush again if you need a Ron Howard fix. (Though why would you need a Ron Howard fix....?)
The Verdict: 4/10 Below Average
Messy But Fun
Legend (2015): The film tells the story of the identical twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, two of the most notorious criminals in British history, and their organised crime empire in the East End of London during the 1960s.
Well, the biggest takeaway I had from Legend is that Goodfellas is one of the greatest films ever made. As much as I love gangster films, it's almost impossible for any film of the genre nowadays to break out of the shadow of Martin Scorsese's masterpiece, and when Legend wasn't throwing as many ideas against the wall as it possibly could, it was paying homage to Goodfellas to the point that it just felt like.....wait for it.....a British Goodfellas. Wooooo! But that certainly isn't a bad thing. This film was still fun to watch at points, though at 132 minutes it was way too long. Additionally, the music choices (which certainly emulated Goodfellas) were extremely obvious, and did nothing more than reiterate what we were seeing on screen at that moment. You gotta be smarter with your musical cues, guys. However, Tom Hardy was fantastic. Easily the best part of this film, Tom Hardy is pretty much the only reason anyone should see this film, though it was nice to see Emily Browning put in the best performance of her career, (though that is certainly damning with feint praise given her career) and her character actually had a bit of depth. Just a bit, but given the fact that most of the films recently the women have just had generic "love interest" roles I have to praise Legend for at least giving its primary female character some substance. Ultimately, while this film is incredibly messy from a cognitive standpoint, it was still an absolute blast to see two Tom Hardys on the screen at the same time.
The Verdict: 6/10 Above Average.
Suffragette (2015): The foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State.
I liked Suffragette. It was a fine film, but it suffered from many problems. First off, the story was a tonal mess. It struggled to find its identity, particularly with its main character, who was in more of a "witness to every major event in the suffragette movement" position than actually in the suffragette movement, and as a result I found it really hard to buy the main character. This character was also played by Carey Mulligan, who I think is one of the most overrated actresses out there right now. She's....alright, but this film really fell on her shoulders and as much as she tried to hold it up....she couldn't. That said, she had a great supporting cast around her, led by Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Whishaw. Meryl Streep also showed up for essentially one scene, but she too was excellent in that one scene, bringing all the charisma she needed to. However, the one who truly stole the show and brought out the ugly cry in me was child actor Adam Michael Dodd. Holy crap in his few scenes as the child of Whishaw and Mulligan....this kid absolutely killed it. And it's his first film too. I hope to see him again. Other than the acting there's really not much to say about this film. The production design is fine, but definitely not noteworthy until the major Derby Day scene towards the end of the film. The cinematography was aggravating, with uncomfortably close close-ups littered all throughout the film and, of course, shaky cam. But, the scene that counted at Derby Day, was shot excellently. In short, the only two reasons to watch this film are for Adam Michael Dodd (the child actor) and the Derby Day scene towards the end. Otherwise, your time is better spent watching The Big Short or Spotlight.
The Verdict: 6/10 Above Average.
A heavy-handed film that somehow earns it
The Danish Girl (2015): A fictitious love story loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda's marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili's groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.
I am so conflicted about this film. On the one hand, this film is blatant and obvious Oscar bait. Every aspect of this film screams it and it's full of heavy-handed "well, now you should feel like this now" moments, and everything is played as safe as humanely possible. The film features an obviously Oscar-bait-y performance from Eddie Redmayne, and honestly? The whole film feels very pretentious. And yet.....I was suckered in. Damnit Tom Hooper. This film's subject matter is so engrossing, and the main character's story is one that is emotional no matter how pretentious the environment around it is. Within 5 minutes I could tell this film was Oscar bait. And yet 119 minutes later I didn't care. How did this happen?
Well, let's switch things up and talk negatives first so I can get them out of my system. First off, I really did not like the cinematography. This film only shot its characters from straight on, and to me here it feels like "art for the sake of art" and very superficial. This is not Snowpiercer or The Grand Budapest Hotel where nearly every shot in the film is shot from left to right or straight on for a reason. Here only the dialogue was, and it just felt like they did it to say, "Oh look at me, look at how important I am." I also hated the extraordinarily obvious music cues. The music would swell at an emotional moment and die down elsewhere, further adding to the, "you must feel like this right now." vibe that seeped through this entire film. Really the vibe that seeped through this film was pretentiousness, and had the film been shot with a bit more respect for its subject matter it might have been one of the best films of the year.
As I said, this film is very heavy-handed. And yet.....even though I knew it was trying to make me feel emotional at any given moment, I still felt myself becoming emotional. It takes a lot for a film to be able to obviously say to me, "Hey, I'm going to make you feel emotion right now." And then actually make me feel emotion at that moment. Arguably the biggest reason for this was Alicia Vikander. If there's any takeaway to be had from this film, it's that Alicia Vikander is a freaking movie star who has inserted herself squarely into the Hollywood elite. For me, she almost single-handedly carried most of this film as (wait for it) the Danish girl: a wife struggling to cope with her husband's transformation into his true self. If Eddie Redmayne's performance felt super pretentious, Vikander's felt the exact opposite. Her performance was extremely grounded and flawless, and were it any other year when the Supporting Actress category was filled with, you know, only Supporting Actress performances, I'd say she'd be guaranteed an Oscar for this performance. But no, Rooney Mara's harrowing performance as the LEAD in Carol is in this category so we'll see what happens.
But it doesn't end there. While Redmayne was Oscar-ing it up, his character arc was fantastic. What Lili goes through to become her true self in this film is heartbreaking, and by the end I was certainly rocking the ugly cry. This film is one that should be watched by everyone who is struggling to find their true identity so that they can realize that they are not alone. Not only that, but Vikander has an excellent story arc she goes through as well. The supporting cast is limited, but the two other biggest characters are also played excellently by Ben Whishaw (I freaking love this man) and Matthias Schoenaerts. Finally, the costume and makeup crew were outstanding, providing some much needed depth to an otherwise (relatively) shallow film. Why there's only 3 makeup nominations every year is beyond me because it locks out some otherwise worthy candidates like The Danish Girl. Please fix this Academy!!!
Ultimately, The Danish Girl.....well, The Danish Girl has evoked more thought out of me when writing my review than almost any other film has this Oscar season. I mean I've gotten to this point in the review and I STILL have no idea what number I'm going to give this film. Most of the time, obvious Oscar bait films can't get past the part where they're obvious Oscar bait, and I have no problem picking apart these pretentious films. Just ask Trumbo. Yet I couldn't help but enjoy The Danish Girl because its story is inspiring no matter how you portray it. I think I'm gonna cop out and say this was a good film. It truly TRULY could've been a perfect film had it not been filmed in such a pretentious manner. Had the Oscar bait feeling not seeped through its pores. But this just holds the film back from reaching its true potential, and what we end up getting is merely a good film. I hope one day this story gets retold and is treated with the respect it deserves. But this film is definitely a good start.
The Critique: Despite its pretentious Oscar bait nature, The Danish Girl is an emotional and courageous story featuring one of the year's best performances from Alicia Vikander.
The Recommendation: Definitely a great date film as well as one that should be watched by the entire LGBTQIAP+ community. Really, I think anyone who knows someone who might by transgender should watch this film so as to try and see the human side of it.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
The Best Rocky Film Ever?
Creed (2015): The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.
Ryan Coogler is a genius. I can see why many are saying he was snubbed by the Academy in not receiving a Best Director nomination for Creed. Creed is the brainchild of Coogler, and it just might be the best Rocky film ever made. This is easily my personal favorite Rocky film, which is high praise from me because I am absolutely a sucker for boxing films. I will defend Southpaw and Real Steal till the end of my days as good films, and Raging Bull is one of my favorite films ever. But Creed is not just a great boxing film, it is a great film, and certainly on of my favorites from 2015. So, let's talk about it, shall we?
There's a lot this film got right. Let's first talk about the acting. If Ryan Coogler isn't the biggest snub of the year, then Michael B. Jordan is. He puts in one of the best performances of the year as Creed, and its a quantifiable performance as well given the fact that he added about 40 pounds in muscle weight for the role. Why Bryan Cranston was nominated for Best Actor and not Michael B. Jordan is beyond me. But, don't worry! Because the one white guy involved in this entire movie, Sylvester Stallone, is! There's no doubt that this film is Stallone's best performance of his career, buuuuuuuuut that's really not saying much. But don't worry! He's nominated and Michael B. Jordan is not. That makes sense.....somehow. I doubt he'll win because there are definitely better supporting actor performances out there this year. But you never know. Stallone could get a legacy pick because the Supporting Actor category isn't exactly strong. Anyway, Tessa Thompson also puts in a great and hugely underrated performance as Bianca, though her story arc is for another conversation in a bit. What else does this film do right? The editing. Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver did a phenomenal job as the editors for this film. From great "info screens" on the individual fighters to the frantic cuts of the final fight, I was extremely impressed by the work of these relatively new editors. Additionally, there was some awesome cinematography from Maryse Alberti in this film. This includes one of my favorite moments in film from 2015 in the first fight. The first fight in this film is shot in a single take, and what the camera does to make you feel like you are the ref of this fight and right next to the expertly choreographed action was by far the best part of the film. Well done to everyone involved who helped make that awesome scene happen.
However, there were a few problems with the film. The biggest one was Bianca's character. Surprise! Bianca basically solely exists to be the love interest for Creed. As I said Tessa Thompson puts in an absolutely fantastic performance as this bland character, but the story arc of Bianca's character really failed to add any depth to her character. She's totally underused. Sadly, this is not unusual nowadays. My next problem is with how similar this film is to the original Rocky. Now, this isn't a huge fault since the original Rocky is a great film, but especially after the new Star Wars it was slightly amplified this time around seeing how similar this was to the original. However, these complaints are relatively minor all things considered, and I definitely still think this is my favorite Rocky film of the franchise. If you love this franchise, or even just the first film, you should absolutely check out Creed. You'll be happy that you did.
The Critique: One of the big snubs of 2015, Creed is a fantastic reboot for the Rocky franchise featuring a great performance from its deserving new lead.
The Recommendation: A must-watch for any fan of boxing films, or Sylvester Stallone, or Michael B. Jordan. Everyone else? This would also qualify as a great film to invite a couple of friends over, grab some alcohol, and have a good time. It's definitely a great party film.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
A touching, Human Drama-with some new and deserved controversy
45 Years (2015): A married couple preparing to celebrate their wedding anniversary receive shattering news that promises to forever change the course of their lives.
Charlotte Rampling, why do you have to be racist? She has hardly ever been in the spotlight because she has made her living as an actress overseas, but she is certainly not using her new found spotlight for good. Not 5 minutes after finishing this film, I saw she was trending on social media because she said the boycott against the Oscars by stars like Will Smith and Spike Lee was racist against whites. Wow. Don't believe me? Here. Proof. You know what's really ironic, though? Rampling herself does not deserve to be on the list for Best Actress. She's on it because she is a great actress who's been in the business since the 60's (internationally) and has never been nominated for an Oscar. Is she great here? Yes. She's easily the best part of the film. This is a very down-to-earth performance from her and she's excellent. As she always is! I've seen a few other films with her in it and she's always excellent. But is this performance better than Charlize Theron's in Mad Max? Is she better than Rooney Mara in Carol? (Who should be in the Best Actress category.) Is she better than freaking Daisey Ridley in that Star Wars film no one saw? ......No. No she is not. She was a legacy pick by the Academy if there ever was one, and yet she has the nerve to say boycotting the Oscars is racist against whites? You cannot tell me she would've been nominated had she been an African American. Not a snowball's chance in hell. So there's some irony for ya. Anyway, now that I've gotten that off my chest, how was 45 Years? Well, it was.....good.
45 Years is a different film. And different is good in this case. It doesn't try to have a grand message. It's not a tale about morality. It's not trying to tell an important story. It is simply a film about a couple who have been married for 45 years and are experiencing some turbulence. That's it. That's all it is. Obviously, this film is not for everyone, but if you're looking for a very real and grounded romantic drama you cannot go wrong with 45 Years. And the story delivers some great moments.... and it even had some twists that I did not see coming. The acting was great by both Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, and they needed to deliver since they are basically the only two people in this 95 minute film. Geraldine James makes an appearance, but most of the film it's just them. And they're great! But is that enough for most people? No. From a technical standpoint, this film is more like a play than anything else. Actually that's exactly what this film is. It's an on-screen play. A good one, for that matter, but if you don't get invested in these two people you aren't even going to be able to finish this short film.
That said, it's pretty hard not to get invested in this drama, which is why the film is as good as it is. Basically, you have a very grounded film featuring two very grounded performances from its leads. It's short, as I said, but you could say it covered a lot of.....ground in its 95 minutes. (I'll see myself out in just a minute.) But ultimately, I did enjoy myself. I just don't really have a lot to talk about with this film. There are certainly faults with the story as some of the twists that we encounter....well, we encounter them and then they are never brought up again. And, of course, the film is very bland from a technical standpoint. But then again how many plays do you go out to see and expect explosions, great editing, or great CGI? I mean, I guess you can expect great costumes and makeup, (which, by the way, those departments are just fine and nothing more in this film) but that's about it. Well, and a great set to. All I can say about the set in 45 Years is it's a very pretty house, and they at least bothered to make the town they live by populated with extras, but I think it's safe to say we should expect that in films by now. But combine that with very subdued cinematography, and you have a film that rides solely on the performances of its two leads. Which it certainly does. However, it's hard to think of a reason why you would see 45 Years other than to cross it off the Oscar checklist, but I guess I will say this is a great film to watch with your parents, or a significant other you've been dating for years when you're trapped inside because of snow. Other than that? Watch the other performances the Academy nominated, because those actors and actresses really deserve it. (Well, most of them-looking at you Bryan Cranston....)
The Critique: While its appeal is limited, 45 Years is a simple and well-executed drama featuring great performances from its leads.
The Recommendation: A great film to watch with your parents or significant other with a bottle of wine. Definitely not one to bring the party over for though.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
Brutality shows no mercy
Sicario (2015): An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by a government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.
Ok first off, this film is freaking brutal. I mean like holy crap levels of brutal. If you are feint of heart, do not make any effort to see this film. Just leave, now, because I don't know what I'm gonna talk about yet and something might come up that scares the crap out of you. (And me, honestly, because some of the images I have from this film aren't leaving my mind anytime soon...) for the rest of you, let's talk about Sicario.
Sicario is a good film. A good film that suffers from a few problems, but let's talk positives first. First off, the film looks absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography from legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins is fantastic, and EASILY the best part of the film. Every shot of this film, even the Call-of-Duty-esque fighting sequences, looked absolutely wonderful thanks to Deakins. It almost makes me sad that he's not gonna win an Oscar, but Emmanuel Lubezki is Emmanuel Lubezki so there's that. Additionally, the film is wonderfully acted by Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin. Emily Blunt is asked to do a lot here, and she does an excellent job. Also I didn't think they could make Emily Blunt not look stunning, but they accomplished that somehow. She only looks relatively attractive in this film. Kudos to the makeup department for that one. Also, this film does have a relatively engaging, despite it being an incredibly brutal watch. But Benicio Del Toro had a really interesting character arc, and there were some "twists and turns" that I wasn't expecting. That said, these character arcs is where one of my major problems with the film come in.
I did NOT like Emily Blunt's character arc. I get that she's supposed to be beaten down by the events of this film, and she's supposed to be how we would react, but after seeing how much of a boss Blunt could be in Edge of Tomorrow......her character really could've been played by anyone. This character arc really took away Blunt's ability to be as fantastic as she usually is, and that made me sad. Additionally, this film was just....too much for me. I don't know a whole lot about the drug war of Mexico, but this film made it seem like it is as bad as like ISIL is in the Middle East. There's a scene where Emily Blunt looks into a Mexican town, and there are gunshots everywhere and even some explosions. It looks like a total war zone, and I simply just find it hard to believe that the Mexican drug war is really that much like open warfare. Oh and no way would Josh Brolin's character arc exist. I didn't really appreciate that either. Ultimately as the film went on it started feeling like American Sniper to me, and when a film feels like that.....that's not good.
So, despite the fact that this film looks fantastic and has a pretty engrossing and unpredictable story, Sicario just takes too many liberties for me to truly appreciate its attempt at realism. Despite the fact that there are three great performances from its main characters, their arcs were just all over the place and not quite my style. While still above average, this film definitely could've been better had it, well, just toned it down a bit. Man that's an odd thing for me to say about a film, but I guess there's a first time for everything!
The Critique: While beautifully shot, Sicario suffers from the rare problem of being too brutally "realistic" which limits the film to being merely above average.
The Recommendation: If you like Emily Blunt, or brutal realism, or Roger Deakins, then this film is for you. If not? Stay away.
The Verdict: 6/10 Above Average
2015's smartest film
The Big Short (2015): Four denizens of the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight.
Wow. What a film. The Big Short is a bold undertaking. This film attempts to explain what made the financial crisis of 2007 happen in a way that we, the normal plebeian, could understand. Not only that, but it also brands itself as a comedy. So, it attempts to explain what caused the 2007 financial crisis, all while trying to be humorous. That's a tough sell. But you know what? The Big Short nails it, and, with only a few films left to watch from 2015, it just made my short list as a serious best film of the year candidate. So, let's dive into it, shall we?
There's so many things to compliment in this film. Let's first talk about the editing. The editing is EASILY the best I've seen in 2015, and even rivals the incredible editing of the best film I've ever reviewed on this blog, Whiplash. (Which you can check out here if you wish to relive it!) The editing is the sole reason the pacing of this 130 minute film (of essentially a bunch of people talking to each other and nothing else) feels so incredibly brisk. Seriously. These 130 minutes flew by because of this editing. It's amazing what some quick, frantic cuts and syncing your cuts up with music can do for your film. I fully expect this film to win the Oscar for Best Editing if nothing else. The acting is also spectacular. This, too, is a daring challenge: this film features an ensemble cast with no one person in charge. This film tells its story from a few different perspectives, and while each of these "stories" have a main character, no one really stands out as a lead. That's ok, though, because everyone in this film puts in some of their best performances in years, particularly Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell. (Where was this Steve Carell in 2014's Foxcatcher??) Gosling and Carell are the ones who stood out to me, but the Academy decided that Christian Bale deserved the nomination. But he's great too, so that's ok. I am honestly quite impressed with how well-acted this film is, but that's been a surprising norm for director Adam McKay over the years. (Just....don't look at McKay's IMDB page. You'll be too shocked by his repertoire.)
But let's talk about the comedy/subject matter. One of the best things about this film is how it explained to us what was going on. This film did a phenomenal job of breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to us, the audience, and using visual aids and people who weren't even remotely connected to the rest of the film to help explain things to us. Want to learn what a sub-prime mortgage is? Well, here's Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to explain it to you. It's brilliant! It's freaking brilliant. (That one happens in the first 10 minutes and there are several more so I'll leave the rest of these great scenes unspoiled for you.) All throughout the first 90 minutes or so, this film is absolutely hilarious. But, right when the crisis begins, the tone of the film turns on a dime, and it SOMEHOW becomes a great drama, one that left me....angry. This film made me mad at Wall Street for not only letting this happen, but for already starting to do the things that made it happen just 8 year ago. Because of the last 40 minutes, I strongly recommend this film to anyone and everyone, because this is EASILY the best film ever released that tries to explain to us why 2007 happened. And this is coming from a guy who has watched about as much content about 2007 as he could get his hands on. (Even though there's honestly not much out there.) Really the only complaint I have with this film is the fact that despite all its explaining, some of it still went over my plebeian head, but the rest of the film is so great that this fact just makes me want to watch it again. This film is not only the smartest film of 2015, but of all the films released it just might be the one that most deserves your attention. And your outrage. While some of the incomprehensible dialogue is just enough to bump this down from a perfect 10, The Big Short just might be my favorite film of 2015. Least it certainly is up to this point.
The Verdict: One of the best films of 2015, The Big Short is a gripping and hilarious "dram-com" that recants how the 2007 financial crisis came to be better than any film has to this point.
The Recommendation: A universal recommendation. You owe it to yourself to see The Big Short. Please. And schoolteachers? HOLY CRAP THIS WOULD MAKE A GREAT FILM TO WATCH IN A COLLEGE ECONOMICS CLASS. You'll just have to warn your students when the nudity comes cause there is a small bit of that. But the story itself still NEEDS to be told.
The Verdict: 9.5/10 (I never bust out the .5s nowadays, but its truly too good to be a 9 while falling just short of being a 10.)
Obvious Oscar BAit is Obvious
Trumbo (2015): In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood's top screenwriter, until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.
Ohhhhh Oscar season. Every year there's always that one film that exists solely for Oscar consideration. This year, it's Trumbo. Trumbo is simply just a standard film. It features a solid story that Hollywood loves telling about itself, an a-list cast led by a favorite of the business Bryan Cranston, and has a very "moving" theme that it feels the need to remind you of over. And over. And over. And over. All this combined makes Trumbo merely an average film. An average film that now has a very undeserving Oscar to its name.
So, let's talk about the things Trumbo does right. Even though we've seen this story a lot, (the story of the Hollywood Ten has been told a lot over the years) it's still a great story. The film features good performances from its entire cast, including a particularly great performance from Louis C.K. That dude can act. There's also a great performance from Diane Lane, even though her role as "the wife" is a fairly standard Hollywood role for a woman, and Elle Fanning (of Super 8 fame) also does great in the limited role she has. Bryan Cranston is fine but he's essentially playing a not-as-crazy Walter White. Which is fine, but definitely not Oscar-worthy. Finally, the set design was easily the best part of the film. The crew did a great job making the film look and feel like the 1950s. If only this film got a nomination for set design instead of acting....
Then there's the bad. This film is sooooooooo freaking heavy handed. Jay Roach felt the need to be inspired by new trilogy George Lucas dialogue and spoon feed every bit of information to us, which made the 124 minute film feel so freaking long. It's as if this film is appealing to 14 year-olds who just discovered that film is a thing but aren't smart enough to actually think for themselves. It led to some incredibly yawn-worthy moments, and even a few points where I really wanted to yell "Oh my God stop talking and move on to the next scene already!" The pacing of the film was all over the freaking place because of this. This continued all the way to the end of the movie, when director Jay Roach felt the incredible need to flash forward 10 years just so Cranston could deliver a speech and tell us what the film was all about. The film could've easily shaved off 30 minutes of its run time and it still would've been too long. All this combines for a mess of a film. Trumbo really had potential, but because of its heavy-handed and overall Oscar bait-like feel, it falls flat on its face. Dalton Trumbo is rolling in his grave.
The Critique: While an interesting story, Trumbo wreaks of the dreaded Oscar bait formula and ultimately falls flat on its face for a variety of reasons.
The Recommendation: If you really like stories about the history of Hollywood, then this film is for you. If not? Well....there's not much to see here.
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
Leo's Finally Gonna Win an Oscar, Everybody!
The Revenant (2015): A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820's fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.
John Wayne would be jealous. The Revanant is, simply put, the most realistic Western ever filmed. This is thanks almost entirely to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and his daring decision to film this entire movie using only natural light sources. What ensues is 157 harrowing minutes of a brutally realistic tale of survival. The film also features another fantastic performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, which does put him in perfect position to finally win his first ever Oscar. If he doesn't, then this year more than any other year will showcase the pettiness of the Academy. (Yes. He made a political statement back at the 1998 Oscars by not showing up when he wasn't nominated for his performance in Titanic. (Though can you seriously blame him when he wasn't nominated and Kate Winslet was? Because let's be real-her performance is easily the worst part about that film.)) But it's time to let that go, Academy. He is incredible here in The Revenant, and so is Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, (what a freaking year this guy has had) Will Poulter, and Forrest Goodluck. Who is a complete nobody, by the way. Goodluck has fewer credits than even Daisy Ridley going into this film, so kudos to him for putting in a great performance. ALL THAT SAID, however, this film is by no means a perfect film. Or really anything near perfect, for that matter. And I have no intention of seeing it again anytime soon. So what do I mean by that?
I usually talk about the positives first, but that segue kinda requires me to talk about the negatives now. So! What's wrong with The Revenant? It's too long. Yup. Holy crap is this film too long. Now, before you say I hate long films, I must mention that my favorite film of all-time is Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Extended Edition. That film comes in at an unheard of 250 minutes. So, what does that film have in 250 minutes that this film doesn't have? Scenes like this, also known as humor. It has humor. Or scenes like this. Scenes that make you get up and cheer. The Revenant has none of that. It's 157 minutes of sheer brutal survival, and when Gravity feels like an epic when its only 91 minutes long, how can you not think The Revenant is too long at almost twice that lenght? 157 minutes felt like 500 minutes watching this movie. It was utterly exhausting to watch, despite how gorgeous everything looked.
While this is a major gripe I have against this film, (the story itself) and will likely reduce it to nothing more than an honorable mention on my top ten list, it will still be an honorable mention because of everything else. Because yes, this film is a technical and acting masterpiece. Emmanuel Lubezki is certainly on his way to his third straight Oscar for cinematography, and director Alejandro González Iñárritu just might become the first man since Joseph Mankiewicz all the way back in 1950/1951 to win the Oscar for Best Director in back-to-back years. (Though if it were up to me I'd give the award to George Miller because the production cycle of Mad Max was ridiculous.) But this film would be deserving of the award nonetheless because of the artistic accomplishments here. However this greatly limits the appeal of this film, and due to the strenuous experience that is watching it....it's simply not as good as 2014's Birdman. Hopefully Iñárritu will find his magic again with his next film.
The Critique: While a technical masterpiece, The Revenant suffers from being overlong and humorless, making it a very rough movie-watching experience. Whether you enjoy that or not is up to you.
The Recommendation: Definitely not for everyone, The Revenant is worth seeing, but only after some mental preparation. I'd say wait for it to come out on HBO and watch it with some friends/beers.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 8/10 Great.
Creativity Trumps Coherency
Joy (2015): Joy is the story of the title character, who rose to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty.
I am so torn about this film. Because I love David O. Russell. With the exception of Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell is, to me, the single most creative director in Hollywood right now. His last film, American Hustle, (we don't talk about his altar ego creating Accidental Love, which just might pop up on one of my lists) was number 3 on my best movies of 2013 list, and 2012's Silver Linings Playbook would've made it on my list for that year as well. But this film? This film is what happens when David O. Russell is given too much creative license. When he thinks he can cast someone as charismatic as Jennifer Lawrence and then ask us to believe she's down in the dumps and struggling to make ends meet. When he tries to cram three or four separate films into one. In short, Joy is a mess.
First off, let's talk about what this film does right. Because at several moments I was joyously reminded that David O. Russell is as great as he is. When Bradley Cooper first shows up and talks to Jennifer Lawrence about a 24 hour sale channel, this film works. Cooper and Lawrence work so well together, and there's an immense amount of tension as Lawrence prepares to deliver her first pitch on the network. And Jennifer Lawrence, despite the miscasting, is excellent! I mean she's always wonderful and Joy is no exception. The film also looks the part as Linus Sandgren, Russell's cinematographer from American Hustle, returns to make this film look gritty and dirty. Sadly, though, the rest of this 124 minute film is.....not so good.
Can a director really be penalized for being too creative? To be so creative that he loses coherency? That’s what happened to David O. Russell here with Joy. This film is an absolute and unfortunate misfire because of a totally incoherent plot. This film could never find its identity at any point during it, and as a result the film is all over the place from a tonal perspective. And when you can't find your identity, you can't create a theme, so basically what we got was 124 minutes of voiceovers, miscasts, and an attempt to tie up the entire plot in 10 minutes. Oh ya, did I mention the miscasts? Because Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Virginia Madsen all felt really out of place in this film. There's this attempt that's made on trying to put Jennifer Lawrence and De Niro and Madsen together in this really wacky and poor suburban family that just didn't work because....well because could you see that working? There's no real chemistry here, and while that may have been Russell's point, it doesn't excuse the fact that it doesn't work. This film could've really benefited from better casting choices here. After all do you really expect us to believe that Jennifer Lawrence got married and had two kids and still looks as young and beautiful as she does? Ya.....no. But it doesn't end there. The ending.....holy crap the ending sucks. Russell basically tries to tie up this entire two hour film in the span of 10 minutes. To say it feels rushed is an understatement. Now most of the time I'd say here that I wouldn't mind another 20 minutes of film when Russell is the director, but by this point in the film I could tell it was a misfire so I was kinda glad that it came to a screeching halt.
In the end, Joy is an example of what American Hustle or Silver Lining's Playbook could have been as we see David O. Russell become so creative that it defeats a coherent story. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest disappointments of the year, and while not a bad film by any means, when David O. Russell is directing....anything short of great is terrible. Now excuse me while I go cry myself to sleep over the thought of having to wait for an indefinite length of time until David O. Russell returns.
The Critique: One of the biggest disappointments of the year, Joy is a shining example of creativity trumping coherency. Not even Jennifer Lawrence can save this one.
The Recommendation: Just....don't. Don't become sad like me. Just don't.
The Verdict: 4/10 Below Average
Is 3 hours of Tarantino dialogue a bad thing?
The Hateful Eight (2015): In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.
How can you not love Quentin Tarantino? One of Hollywood’s craziest directors, Tarantino has a knack for making some of the best films out there, including major hits like Django Unchained, Pulp Fiction, and Reservoir Dogs. But you already knew that. You want to know how The Hateful Eight was, right? Well, first off, I should mention I got to see this film in its native 70mm, and I must say that was awesome. This film has been out for about a month now, so most theaters have dropped the 70mm showing, but if you have the opportunity to see it in 70, DO IT. The format really does add to the overall experience, and leads to a very full, fun, and engaging experience. This is not a gimmick like 3D, and I hope to see more directors bring back this (now) ancient form of movie making.
As for the movie itself, it really comes down to if you like Tarantino dialogue or not. If you do, you’ll love this film. If you don’t and just want his characters to get on with it and kill each other, holy crap avoid this film like snake oil. Because that’s essentially what this film is. 187 minutes of dialogue with very little action in between. I love Tarentino dialogue, so I had no problem with this movie. However it definitely lowers the rewatchability factor as this film is basically a three hour whodunit tale. But the film features some great performances from its core 8 characters, including an AWESOME performance from Tim Roth as well as Samuel L. Jackson gleefully reminding us why he’s Samuel L. freaking Jackson. Kurt Russell also puts in his best performance in years which was nice to see.
In addition to the acting, the score and editing were awesome as well. Now this isn’t really all that surprising: after all editing is Tarantino's forte, but it was still refreshing to see a film try to be creative on this front and feature some creative and jarring cuts between scenes on top of a few jump-cuts. Really I have no qualms with this movie other than what it is at its core level: it is a film where Quentin Tarantino salutes himself. It is Quentin Tarantino paying homage to Quentin Tarantino. So if you don’t like his style of directing, this film will do absolutely nothing to change your mind. If anything it will make your beliefs even stronger. It’s really hard for me to really get behind 3 hours of dialogue, but the 70mm format really did help make the film engrossing and fun to watch on first viewing. I just don’t intend on watching it again anytime soon.
The Critique: Three hours of the best Tarantino dialogue imaginable. However let's not forget the part where this film is 3 hours of dialogue nonetheless.
The Recommendation: If you like Quentin Tarantino, you should definitely go see it on the largest screen possible. However if you don't Tarantino this movie will certainly not change your mind.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
By: Joseph Kathmann and Peter Kosanovich
A Wonderful Nod to Classical Filmmaking
Carol (2015): An aspiring photographer develops an intimate relationship with an older woman.
Hey guys! We are mixing it up today at Enter the Movies. Today, I am joined by a very special guest and periodic guest writer on the site, Peter Kosanovich, to talk to you about one of the "important" films of 2015, Carol. So, is it as good as it's been made out to be? Read on and find out!
Peter: Starring Rooney Mara as main character Therese Belivet, the movie tells the story of Therese in 1950’s New York City during the holiday season, as she comes into contact and eventually develops a relationship with the eponymous Carol, portrayed by Cate Blanchett. Therese, a 20-something aspiring photographer/seasonal shop worker, first sees Carol one morning shopping for Christmas presents for her daughter, before the title-character approaches her for gift advice. Through calculated moves, Carol is able to invite Therese to her house as company, a guest for an afternoon, to interact with her and her daughter. It is then revealed to Therese that Carol is in the midst of a divorce from her husband Harge, and their relationship is strained. Without giving away too much of the specifics, as you should really see this film, Therese and Carol embark on a bit of an adventure together, during which their relationship is able to blossom and develop into a form of lust and love.
Joseph: I love this film. I need to get that off my chest right off the bat. One of the things that was really enjoyable to me was the innocence of Rooney Mara's character. Innocence is, to me, a central theme of this film through the first act and part of the second act. Therese is able to see that Carol is in the middle of an ugly divorce, but she, to me, looks at it from a very innocent perspective. A "what could possibly go wrong?" sort of way. And Rooney Mara really conveys this in spectacular fashion-both she and Blanchett put in two of the best performances of the year in this film-and sucked me in immediately.
Peter: Looking at many movies today you see bigger and bigger, more expensive, more CGI and special effects – more, more, more! Carol is a precious little film, for it does the exact opposite. It is a simple film, beautiful and tragic, yet nothing over-the-top or ridiculous. What makes this movie so wonderful is in the intimacies and nuances it gives to the individual performances and the camera work. None of the shots are overly complex, but are instead very simple, and illustrate exactly what needs to be seen, while at the same time deliberately focusing on key elements in a shot or scene for the audience to pay special attention to – a glove here, a hand there, the color pink. There is no unnecessary motion to the camera, only what needs to be done to appropriately fit or enhance the moment.
Joseph: I couldn't agree more. The camera work orchestrated by cinematographer Edward Lachman and director Todd Haynes is phenomenal throughout the 118 minute film. Buuuuut there are a few exceptions. A few times throughout the film, the cinematography was almost....too good. There were a few shots that were shot that made me say, "Did you really have to do that?" and it would take me out of the film briefly. While these moments were few and far between, they were just enough to say this film is not perfect, because with the exception of this complaint it is.
Peter: At the same time the performances given by these women, as well as Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson in supporting roles, are completely genuine and to a T. Mara is able to be impressionable and naïve while still showing herself as a capable and functioning adult. She portrays Therese as a very “proper,” 1950s, traditional girl who is always doing as she is told, but then evolves into a heartbroken and yet remarkably self-sufficient woman. This, while at the same time Blanchett makes Carol appear seductive one minute and incredibly motherly the next, she is able to balance complete control and immense vulnerability. Carol showcases incredibly grounded characters that tell a beautiful and sad love story.
Joseph: They really are grounded roles. I think this is the most down-to-earth performance we've gotten out of Cate Blanchett in years. Not only that, but her wonderful chemistry with Rooney Mara is there right off the bat. And thanks to the incredible attention to detail from the set crew and costume/makeup department, this will fall into a category of being a truly "timeless" film. The tragic love story is a phenomenal one to watch unfold before you, and it is worth every second of your time. Expect to hear this film's name called a lot this award season.
Peter's Critique: I’ve already used these words, but I don’t more accurate words could describe this film than beautiful and tragic, yet refreshingly simple. A wonderful film.
Joseph's Critique: A great tribute to classic filmmaking, Carol is a tragic love story done right. Featuring some of the year's best performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and great attention to detail in the 1950's setting, it is certainly one that should not be missed.
Peter's Recommendation: Though it is a slow-paced movie it never felt like it dragged, you feel completely engrossed in the 1950s setting. But because it is slow, I would not necessarily recommend it to everyone. I would recommend that people should watch it though, as it really is an excellent movie.
Joseph's Recommendation: There could not be a better date movie out there from 2015 between this film and Brooklyn. Guys, put your desire for action aside and watch this with that special someone. Do it.
Oscar Talk: We would be shocked if either Rooney Mara or Cate Blanchett didn’t receive nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Mara already won (tied) Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival this past year. That being said, The Academy doesn’t always like to reward films that premiered at Cannes, so we wouldn’t be surprised if it did not get a best picture nomination, though it really should. (Joseph: I do believe this will receive a Best Picture nomination because ever since the field expanded to 10 there's always been one "indie" film that makes the list. I think this year that film will be Carol.) Also expect a Best Original Score nod to Carter Burwell. The film is also based the book The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, so we would expect a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay as well.
Bridge of Spies (2015): During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.
You know, this is another great example where a review could be summed up in two words: it's fine. But this is Enter the Movies, where saying a film is fine is never enough! So let's talk a lot about this ultimately fine Steven Speilberg-directed Tom Hanks film, shall we? You know you'd think this film could easily be great when you think about it. After all, it's director is one of the most recognizable names from the last 30 years of Hollywood, and there's little doubt that Tom Hanks is, well, anything short of great. And both show up here and do a wonderful job. This is a very Speilberg-esque film, and Hanks is as charming as ever, once again reminding us why he's, you know, Tom Hanks. I mean it's really amazing how this actor continues to impress after 30 years and continues to take on demanding roles. I'm sure sooner or later he'll fall into the "legacy" category and take on easy/bad films just for the massive paychecks, (Robert De Niro in Dirty Grandpa, really?) but he has undoubtedly turned down these roles to continue to play the "important" roles. The "demanding" roles. The only other actor that I put in the category of Hanks right now is Leonardo DiCaprio, but Hanks has about 15 years on that equally great actor. And yet.....this film fails to reach that level of "greatness" for a couple reasons. So, let's dive into it shall we?
First off, what this film gets right. Well, the film certainly looks the part, with Steven Speilberg doing his job as well as he has ever done. But it's not just the direction. The lighting crew and cinematographer also show up and do an outstanding job with the lighting, with smears of natural/artificial light shining down on characters and bits of scenery in just the right way. Ryan Copeland did the lighting for this film, and he certainly deserves a lot of credit for it. And of course the acting/dialogue are excellent. Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks and the supporting cast around him is also excellent. Mark Rylance is really solid as the Russian spy, and Amy Ryan is excellent as "the wife." Ya she's massively underused, and her role is incredibly simple and could've been played by a freaking sex doll, but she nails it, as usual. It's just a shame that this role falls right into the plight of being an actress in Hollywood. Additionally, this film does a great job in the first act in drawing comparisons to modern America and how we treat Muslims/perceived terrorists. The initial trial of this Russian spy is easily the best part of the film, with Hanks' character pleading with the criminal justice system to treat this man like they would an ordinary criminal, but being denied this because he's a Russian and perceived to be a spy. Sure does sound familiar, Mr. Trump. But really, in this first act Speilberg and company do a phenomenal job of showing how history has repeated itself as time has gone on. Sadly, though, the film kept going after this trial.
You know, I'm making this sound like a bad thing. The third act of this 141 minute film is not bad. It's just....predictable. Boringly predictable. There are super obvious "twists" that occur, but in addition the U2 pilot is massively underdeveloped, and the Russian cast that Hanks is put up against during his time in East Berlin is also massively underdeveloped. So much so that there were points where I was honestly kind of confused. Like, "Why is East Berlin trying to make a separate deal with Hanks and then reneging on it when they find out the USSR is also involved? Isn't East Berlin like owned by the USSR or something?" there's this East Berlin figure in Vogel that makes literally no sense but whatever. There's just....a lot of that. Like Hanks assistant at the beginning of the film who shows up for essentially one joke and seems to be gearing up for a major role in this film but then we never see him again. Ok cool, guys. Also the score here is pretty lackluster, but that may be in part because Speilberg's usual partner-in-crime, John Williams, was caught up with Star Wars, and his replacement, Thomas Newman, can be very underwhelming. Like he is here.
But that's really it. The story is predictable, and its characters are underdeveloped. But still, even during the final act of this film the acting and dialogue still more than made up for the shortcomings of the story. And the lighting was still excellent. All of this leads to what I said at the beginning of this review: it's fine. It has its moments, but there's just too much muck here preventing this film from achieving the greatness it set out to reach. This is why I suspect this film will be largely forgotten by the Academy when the nominations are released in a few weeks. But that's it. That's all I got. You wanted me to explain why this film is fine and I did. You're welcome, Internet.
The Critique: While Tom Hanks and Steven Speilberg are their usual selves, Bridge of Spies suffers from a boringly predictable second and third act that bar it from being anything more than good. It's fine.
The Recommendation: This film is definitely targeted for those who lived through the Cold War. Tom Hanks fans will find goodness here, but everyone else? You're time is better spent elsewhere.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 7/10 It's fine.
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