Happenings

Film Fight 2016: Finale

A mostly very late Film Fight 2016 comes to an end in time. As per my permanent caveat, Film Fight is done in a knock-out style: it’ll let me select my favourite film of the year, but with no guarantees about second place.

First, the honourable mentions. Films that didn’t win their month but were good enough:

  • The Hateful Eight
  • The Revenant
  • Creed
  • Spotlight
  • Trumbo
  • Deadpool
  • Anomalisa
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane
  • Zootropolis
  • Midnight Special
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Everybody Wants Some
  • Star Trek Beyond
  • Rebirth
  • Arq
  • Swiss Army Man
  • Mascots
  • Nocturnal Animals
  • Before The Flood
  • Sully: Miracle on the Hudson
  • Star Wars: Rogue One

And now the monthly winners:

  • January: Room
  • February: Hail, Caesar!
  • March: High-Rise
  • April: Miles Ahead
  • May: Green Room
  • June: The Nice Guys
  • July: Born To Be Blue
  • August: Jason Bourne
  • September: The Girl With All The Gifts
  • October: War on Everyone
  • November: Arrival
  • December: Bleed For This

Looking at the winners, most deserve a place with only a few getting very lucky (Jason Bourne).

Two biopic films about Jazz musicians (Miles Ahead and Born To Be Blue) inexplicably got wins, and both deservedly so. They each deal with addiction and fame in interestingly different ways. Worth seeing.

The Girl With All The Gifts is worthy of a special mention: I didn’t know what to expect and what I got was marvellous. Incredible world-building, decent action, good performances, brutal moments, and dark humour. If you missed it, it’s worth finding a copy when it comes out for a home release next month.

In Green Room we got an exciting and well-written thriller, with some unexpectedly brutal moments and Patrick Stewart playing very against type. In Room we see a horrific situation played out through the eyes of an innocent child, and then we get so much more. Arrival plays with structure in strange ways, revealing a bittersweet and heartbreaking story.

As always, it’s tough to pick a winner, especially between Room and Arrival, but I think the best film (though not the easiest watch) is Room. Brie Larson absolutely deserves her Oscar for a fantastic and nuanced performance, helping bring out a surprisingly good performance in her child actor counterpart, Jacob Tremblay. Room is horrific and beautiful, and manages to do far more than the premise would seem to allow. A worthy winner.

Film Fight 2016: December

A huge December this year, with seven films…

First up, Bleed For This is a story you’ve seen before many times: a brash boxer in his peak gets unexpectedly knocked down a few rungs, and has to overcome overwhelming odds to get back on top. That said, this film is done well enough, with strong enough performances, that you won’t really mind. Aaron Eckhart, in particular, is great as the coach in this drama, based on real events. It’s not doing anything new, but it’s doing it well. Worth seeing. (See my Bleed For This Twitter review)

Allied sees Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard team up as World War Two infiltrators who fall in love, but is this just another long game by the enemy? You probably won’t care too much. The tension being built up never works, mostly because their chemistry seems fairly forced. Moreover, the CG is bad enough throughout (from bad lighting to glaring CG objects) that it’ll distract if you have even the slightest eye for these things. It’s fine, but forgettable. (See my Allied Twitter review)

Tom Hanks rarely fails to give a great performance and he doesn’t fail in Sully: Miracle On The Hudson either. This is the true story of a pilot who, seeing his passenger plane fail, decided to take the risky option of landing on the Hudson River. He saved every passenger. The narrative structure here is splintered, showing the post-mortem investigation, the crash, and many other points of view, as a way of showing his fractious state of mind after the event. It’s straightforward, but well-paced. Decent. (See my Sully: Miracle On The Hudson Twitter review)

The first cinematic side-story in the Star Wars universe, Star Wars: Rogue One, follows new characters who were involved in stealing the plans to the Death Star. Set immediately before A New Hope, we see some interesting details sketched out. More importantly, we get a nice little war story once the film settles down from its exposition-heavy first hour. It plays very differently from the main episodes, by showing the more downbeat side of ongoing guerilla warfare. Reasonably enjoyable. (See my Star Wars: Rogue One Twitter review)

Office Christmas Party is probably everything the name suggests: a comedy in which the main characters have to throw an insane Christmas party to impress a client. There’s over-the-top carnage, some very dumb jokes, and a few decent comic moments. It’s not a classic, but it’s fun enough. See once. (See my Office Christmas Party Twitter review)

Billed as Black Hawk Down meets Ghostbusters, Spectral lacks the action and tension of the former, or the humour and world-building of the latter. In fact, it has very little going for it at all. It’s vaguely enjoyable as mindless fodder, but the plot doesn’t make much sense and the CG is pretty bad. A B-Movie without the knowing winks. Meh. (See my Spectral Twitter review)

Finally, Passengers is a big budget glossy space movie, with a small but excellent cast. Pratt and Lawrence carry what they can as the leads, and Michael Sheen is excellent as the charming bartender. It looks pretty, but it’s empty spectacle. The movie is far too light and fluffy to deal with the weighty issue at its core; a shame because that could’ve improved the movie immensely. Ultimately what we get is something amusing to watch, that skirts around the horrible plot point at its centre. Hard to recommend or hate. (See my Passengers Twitter review)

The winner this month is Bleed For This, which would’ve struggled in other months but did fine amongst a bunch of okay films.

Film Fight 2016: November

For November, there are four films in the fight…

First up, Nocturnal Animals sees Tom Ford follow up his 2009 debut, A Single Man, with something more stylish and moody. A story within a story, the film is sometimes beautiful and sometimes sickeningly ugly, terrifyingly gripping and rigidly dull. The performances are world class, with Jake Gyllenhall standing out in his dual role. Very worth seeing. (See my Nocturnal Animals Twitter review)

Environmental documentaries have a tendency to be po-faced, but Before The Flood manages to bring both insight and charm to such an important subject. Leonardo DiCaprio leads us around the world, showing how current global systems are destroying key environmental elements that will inevitably lead to a collapse. Stark, clear, and succinct, this film delivers its message well. Watch. (See my Before The Flood Twitter review)

The second Amy Adams performance of the month, Arrival, sees her as a linguist asked to decipher an alien language following a group of ships arriving on Earth. Beautifully shot and structured, as the layers of story peel back we realise more about what we’ve already seen than what is to come. There are some tricks here, for sure, but it’s so magnificently managed that we buy into the unfolding bittersweet heartache. From the acting right down to the sound design, this is one of the best films of the year. (See my Arrival Twitter review)

Finally, The Accountant sees an exceptional cast play out a fairly dumb premise. Ben Affleck plays an Accountant by day and assassin by night, none of which quite makes sense. It’s predictable, and silly, with some decent action. JK Simmons, Jon Bernthal and Anna Kendrick make things work better than they might have, but you’re going to have to suspend disbelief for a sizeable period of the run time. Fine. (See my The Accountant Twitter review)

The winner is Arrival for it’s gripping beauty, and unravelling narrative.

Film Fight 2016: October

A big October again, with six films in the fight…

First up, The Magnificent Seven is a remake of a remake that didn’t need to be remade the first time. The plot is a little tired but is serviced by a generally great cast; Peter Sarsgaard is particularly notable as the villian, but Chris Pratt appears to be in a different movie from everyone else. The action sequences are so-so, with a slow and dull pace throughout. An almost entirely forgettable film. Skip. (See my Magnificent Seven Twitter review)

Swiss Army Man is a very strange film. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s weirder than that. Paul Dano’s character goes on an adventure with a corpse who may or may not be speaking to him. It’s never particularly clear where the film is headed, or the intent, leaving it feeling unfocussed, yet still somehow enjoyable. It’s slow, weird, and fun. (See my Swiss Army Man Twitter review)

John Michael McDonagh follows up the dark humour of The Guard and Calvary with corrupt cop comedy, War On Everyone. Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Pena are excellent as the leads, fitting into a world that feels like a Shane Black movie but with the darker comedy we expect from McDonagh. The whole thing is well-shot, well-paced, and well-written. The main villian’s plan starts to feel a little contrived, but just go along for the ride. Fun. (See my War On Everyone Twitter review)

Mascots feels remarkably similar to previous Christopher Guest film, Best In Show. Whether that’s a problem depends entirely one whether or not you like his movies. While some of the eccentricity of the characters is a little forced, the mockumentary works reasonably well. There are some good laughs, a decent cast, and a genuinely heartfelt story at its core. Definitely worth seeing. (See my Mascots Twitter review)

Louis Theroux, having tackled other religious fringe groups, turns his attention to Scientology in My Scientology Movie. It’s an odd documentary, revealing little that is new about the group. However, it’s worth watching for the way that he recreates stories about current Scientology leader, David Miscavige. The actor playing the dramatised Miscavige is genuinely frightening, embodying the stories perfectly. A little flat in places, but watchable. (See my My Scientology Movie Twitter review)

Finally, Doctor Strange is the latest entry in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, taking it into some of the mystical places the lead inhabits. As an origin story, it feels fairly rushed and lacks any kind of originality. Strangely, Benedict Cumberbatch comes across as fairly dull, which I can only assume is due to the writing. Others laughed throughout, but the humour didn’t hit for me either. That said, the final action sequence is genuinely inspired: one of the best, smartest sections of a Marvel film in a long time. Not amazing. (See my Doctor Strange Twitter review)

The winner for October is War On Everyone, for its catchy visuals, witty dialogue, and fun action.

Film Fight 2016: September

September was a decent month with five films that are all at least decent.

First up, Bad Moms is a comedy about a mother who decides to act reasonably(ish) rather than live up to the expectations which society (and the PTA, in particular) have for her. It’s got some very funny moments, a mixture of great and fairly bland characters, and fun (if uneven) plotting. It’s good, but not great. (See my Bad Moms Twitter review)

The Infiltrator sees Bryan Cranston as a US Customs agent trying to infiltrate the Columbian drug cartels. As you’d expect, Cranston absolutely nails his part. One scene, where he is forced to berate an unknowing waiter, is as gripping as it is humiliating. Beyond that, it’s fairly disjointed: moving around the plot and tone a little too incoherently. It’s not bad, just not fully formed. (See my The Infiltrator Twitter review)

I have a soft-spot for movies about time-loops, and Arq is no exception. A strange machine keeps resetting a few hours of a young man’s life just as a home invasion begins. Set in a near-future dystopia, we see a great conflict played out again and again in an odd cat and mouse game. I won’t spoil any of the twists, but it seems to do something different from most in the genre. Worth watching. (See my Arq Twitter review)

The Girl With All The Gifts is a new take on zombie movies that works remarkably well. A young girl is being held by the military for reasons unknown, as they try to keep their encampment clear. As we learn why and the plot moves forward, we see a strange new world from the young protagonist’s point of view. Brutal violence is balanced by darkly funny moments, and sympathetic characters on all sides. Well-shot, and with an excellent score. Great.(See my The Girl With All The Gifts Twitter review)

Finally, Sausage Party is a Seth Rogen comedy (animated, this time) with all that entails. If you dislike his other work, you won’t like this. For the rest of us, this film is very dumb and extremely slow to start. It never manages to land any of the big laughs it wants, but is passably funny. Probably one to have a few drinks before seeing. Okay. (See my Sausage Party Twitter review)

A tougher month than most, but the winner is The Girl With All The Gifts: dark, well-written, and refreshingly original.