December 2016 Movie Roundup

Hey hi hello I watched eight movies this month so no time for small talk it’s a new year and it’s time to dive right in!

(Refresh your memory on the hierarchy here and off we go!)

The Golden Goal
La La Land
It’s impossible not to have heard the raves about Damien Chazelle’s latest, and for once here is a movie that hits and exceeds expectations. I was a huge fan of Chazelle after seeing Whiplash (2014), and the more I read about the incredible achievement it was to create and bring this movie to life, the more I am impressed by the sheer dedication and creativity of the production. Visionary direction, original music, fresh yet familiar storylines — these are the kinds of films I want to see coming from the industry in the next years. I don’t want to spoil even a single thing — just do not miss this movie. Let it take you on whatever journey it wants to tell you. Let it sweep you away into a world at once so familiar and so original. Sit back and enjoy it for what it is. But just don’t miss this movie. (And don’t say I didn’t warn you when it sweeps the Globes this Sunday).

The Hat Tricks
A Monster Calls
I should preface this by saying I’m not a big crier at movies. I tend to tear up a bit but always keeping it together. Now I’m not saying this movie broke my streak — but I’m also not not saying that either. This is one of the purest, most deeply touching movies I’ve seen in quite a while, and I truly wish it was getting more attention. Led by industry veterans Sigourney Weaver and Liam Neeson (voicing the “Monster”) and anchored by heart-wrenching performances from Felicity Jones and newcomer Lewis MacDougall, you’ll be taken on a deeply personal journey that feels startlingly realistic for a movie whose strength also lies in the mystical fantasies of a young boy. Just don’t forget your tissues (seriously the free screening I went to had to give us free food and drinks to make up for the emotional turmoil you’ll feel when the credits roll — you’ve been warned).

I’ve been looking forward to this movie for a long time now, mostly for the stunning story it aims to tell but also because I love Dev Patel (okay fine it was like 90% Dev Patel shut up). During one of my last days at TIFF, I ran into my supervisors who were coming out of a screening — they had no words to say except “Wow.” And honestly, that about sums it up. It’s another powerful movie about the human experience, yet so original and unique in its own way. But the most incredible part is how it all rests on the shoulders of little Sunny Pawar, the first-time child actor who was picked from thousands to play five-year-old Saroo in the first half of the film. Yes that’s right. A first-time child actor holding down the first half of a major feature film is absolutely riveting to watch, and Sunny’s performance is nothing less than astonishing. And I’d be remiss not to mention that on top of that, the first half of the movie is all in a foreign language (alternating between Hindi and Bengali) — and somehow it only helps to elevate the story, highlighting the universally human emotions at the core. Lion is not to be missed.

Manchester by the Sea
I don’t know what it is about December releases this season with movies that rip your heart out, but this was another tough watch — though no less impacting. Director Kenneth Lonergan comes back in full force with a beautifully shot, brilliantly acted, and deeply emotional film that explores the effects of tragedy on one New England family. For me personally, it was a bit on the slow side (I think it could have been more tightly edited) but at the same time, the drumbeat pace worked well with the melancholy atmosphere, especially as a build to the movie’s most emotional reveal. Also I do have to mention, as I did for Birth of a Nation, about the similar scandals surrounding Casey Affleck — and again as I mentioned with that film, let it be at your own discretion how you want to approach this viewing.

It’s not often that a play can be successfully adapted into a film — the mediums are so different, and it’s easy to fall short or fail to capture the intimate nature of the play when it’s opened up to the expansive world of film. Fences is not one of those cases. Of course, it’s helped hugely by tremendous performances from Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. I mean, seriously that kind of acting is a work of art for the ages. It’s unbelievable work for a film that once again, demonstrates a quiet snapshot of the human experience, again in its own unique way, with a limited cast and setting. The film is worth watching for the two leads alone but it also rises above that, managing to bring the entire world around the characters to life and reeling the unsuspecting audience in for the gut-punching reveal.

The Bicycle Tricks
Rouge One
It’s a lucky time to be alive when we get two new Star Wars movies back to back. Rouge One delivered on everything it promised — a prequel/sequel story enjoyable to everyone from the casual moviegoer to the most die-hard Jedi, filling in the blanks of the most obsessed-about film series and bringing new and old fans together for the ride. Now I realize I may be in the minority, but I did like The Force Awakens significantly better (does it have to do with Oscar Isaac maybe probably shut up). But no jokes aside, while I absolutely loved the movie I did have my gripes. The ending was by far the best part but the beginning seemed off — the lack of character development and motivation made me feel disconnected from the movie as a whole because I couldn’t quite get attached to the leads. That’s not to say I didn’t love seeing Felicity Jones and (even more so) Diego Luna kicking ass and taking names. But I was never able to connect with their characters the same way I did with Rey, Finn, and Poe — or for that matter, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. That’s just my two cents though. It’s still an incredibly fun movie, and you won’t ever hear me complaining about more Star Wars.

The trailer for this was so good. Like every time I watched it, my only thought would be “must watch!!” And you know, it was good. But that’s about it. Enjoyable for its target audience, really fun at certain moments, and the songs were super entertaining (which is why it’s in this category as opposed to the one below). But it did go on way too long for a simple animated movie, the best jokes were all spoiled by the trailer, and at the end of the day it just wasn’t memorable enough to stand out in a really competitive animation year. Again, this is my super uber critical mind. My low-key carefree side loves it for what it is — adorable cartoon animals singing and dancing and being cute and funny and fun. And honestly, what more could you ask for? Also the lead is a koala.

The Yellow Card
Collateral Beauty
The only good thing I can say about this movie is that at least it didn’t try to be better than it was. How so many incredible actors signed on to something as cliché and blasé as this movie, I don’t know (looking at you Will Smith and Kate Winslet). Not that the average moviegoer won’t enjoy it — but this movie, about a father’s grieving after the passing of his young daughter and the coworkers who try to bring him back to life, doesn’t even try to go deep into the emotional complexity of death and trauma. And in a year that gives us movies like Manchester by the Sea and A Monster Calls that not only confront tragedy but explore it in deeply affecting and impactful ways, it’s hard not to wince at the surface-level attempts of Collateral Beauty. Catch it on demand if you must, but skip it entirely and you won’t be missing much.

And that is all folks! Before wrapping up I should also mention that another incredibly well-deserving movie that came out in December was Jackie, starting Natalie Portman as a grieving Jacqueline Kennedy and representing Chilean director Pablo Larraín with his first English-language film. Not included in this post because I managed to catch it at TIFF but I wrote a few sentences about it here — I’m betting Natalie Portman will sweep Best Actress awards so it’s definitely not one to miss.

This month, the awards circuit finally starts heating up and I will be emotionally tweeting and writing about all the things. Among them:

  • 1/9 Golden Globes (this Sunday!!!)
  • 1/13 Oscar voting closes (getting closer!!)
  • 1/24 Oscar nominations announced (and closer!!)
  • 1/28 PGA Awards (precursors!!)
  • 1/29 SAG Awards (more precursors!!)

Movies on my list for January include (in priority order):

  • 20th Century Women
  • Silence
  • Hidden Figures
  • Patriots Day
  • Live By Night

Whoo. Okay. This was a lot. Told you there was no time for small talk. It’s crunch time y’all so get thee to a movie theater and I’ll see you back here for the Globes! Happy watching!


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