As is standard for January, it’s a fairly full month, mostly consisting of Oscar nominees. There are seven films in the fight.
First up, Joy is David O. Russell’s latest film, with his usual cast of Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in place. The movie, then, at least has good pedigree, and that shines through in an excellent lead performance by Jennifer Lawrence as the inventor of the miracle mop; a subject matter that shouldn’t be interesting. It’s not the premise that lets the film down, though, but the execution. It has some atrociously clunky dialogue, a host of characters that add very little, and incredibly dull pacing. There’s plenty of screen time to cut here. Worst of all, though, is the quality of the storytelling. All the worst tell-don’t-show tropes make an appearance: heavy narration, flashbacks, and dream sequences. A very poor movie. Avoid. (See my Joy Twitter review).
The Hateful Eight is most definitely a Tarantino movie, for good and bad. His stylised dialogue is unmistakeable, the violence is wildly over-the-top, and the characters are broad and comic-book. The focus in The Hateful Eight on, mostly, a single location shows his excellent eye for staging a scene, if not necessarily a shot. However, some of his worst traits are apparent too. The most obvious problem is the unnecessarily long runtime. The lengthy opening before hitting the main location could either be cut entirely or played out in a much shorter form. The man needs to edit. Enjoyable overall, but the length makes it less easy to watch than other films. (See my The Hateful Eight Twitter review).
Room is about a young woman who has been in captivity for years, stuck in just a single room. During that time, she has had a child who is about to turn five, who knows nothing of the world outside of the room. The film does an extraordinary job of normalising its setting by following the viewpoint of Jack, the little boy. Through his eyes, and the excellent performance of Jacob Tremblay, we see an engaging, tense, but character-driven story play out. Brie Larson is exceptional as the mother, dealing with her situation and showing us the consequences of such an awful situation on a young woman. This film is a must-see, and an easy contender for film of the year. (See my Room Twitter review).
A lot has been made of Leonardo Di Caprio’s performance in The Revenant, with many asking if this will finally be the year he gets his Best Actor Oscar. While it’s probably not his absolutely best movie, it’s still a hell of a thing we see on-screen. Left for dead in the wilderness, with his son killed in front of him, he crawls through the frontier looking for revenge. However, for my money, Tom Hardy steals his scenes as the unhinged party member who sets off the much of the action, casting an imposing shadow over the film. Beyond that, it’s an interesting film technically: extensive use of natural lighting and (faked) one-shots, give a ferocious yet naturalistic feel. The set pieces are stunning, but the film as a whole is a little slow in the middle. Still, very worth seeing this great movie. (See my The Revenant Twitter review).
The period telling of an ancient story, The Assassin looks gorgeous from beginning to end. It’s direction is near-faultless: framing is impressive, staging and camera movement is impeccable, yet subtle. The fights, which we see far too little of, are wonderfully choreographed and stylised, with a strong lead performance by Qi Shu. All of that said, The Assassin is, well, fairly dull. Much of the politicking is uninteresting, and we spent far too little time focussing on the eponymous character doing what she does best. Disappointing. (See my The Assassin Twitter review).
Creed is the latest film in the Rocky franchise, and feels it. Many of the plot points have obvious parallels with the first movie, making it feel somewhat like a reboot. However, there’s enough of a twist here to keep it fresh. Michael B. Jordan, as the son of Apollo Creed, puts in another great performance, while Stallone’s Rocky (now in the mentor role) does fine. It’s everything you expect, montages and all. A good, solid entry to the boxing film world. (See my Creed Twitter review).
Finally, Spotlight is the true story of a lengthy investigation of child abuse in the Catholic Church. It’s a straight-forward story, well-told. The cast are all at the top of their game, with Ruffalo perhaps edging ahead. There are some neat directorial touches (the framing of Liev Schreiber’s character as isolated, in particular), and the whole thing is competently done. Worth-seeing as a solid piece of storytelling, even if it’s not spectacular. (See my Spotlight Twitter review).
The winner for January is Room, a film that is both horrible and fantastic to watch, with some of the best performances in memory.