Every year, about this time, I hurriedly try to catch up with all of the great films that were released during the year - this year, it's because I was so busy trying to finish "Revengeance" and some new shorts.
So now I get up at 5:30 am every day, to watch a film in the morning, then late at night, before bed, I watch a feature. Since I've been doing this for the last two months, I've had a few revelations.
All the media people are talking about just three films that seem to be the leading contenders for the Oscars this year. They are:
"La La Land" - a throwback to the Astaire/Rogers musicals of the 1930's, except that as clever as the film may be, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone can't sing and can't dance (at least, not as well as Astaire and Rogers...)
"Moonlight" - a film about a young boy growing up in the ghetto and dealing with his homosexuality. A very nice film, but nothing very ground-breaking.
and "Manchester By the Sea", with Casey Affleck, directed by Kenneth Lonergan, which in my mind, is completely overrated. It's a one-note ode to tragedy. If you like films where everyone is depressed, then this film is for you - I couldn't wait for it to end.
But, on the other hand, I discovered some real gems that got lost in the big money/big publicity race for the Oscars -
"Hunt for the Wilderpeople" - a modest comedy from New Zealand - directed by Taika Waititi and starring Sam Neill. A very small adventure film, full of deadpan and wacky comedy.
"The Jungle Book", directed by Jon Favreau, is a marvelous re-telling of the classic Rudyard Kipling story, using the full power of CG.
Along the same lines is "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them", directed by David Yates, based on a story from J.K. Rowling. Although it's set in a quite different environment from "Jungle Book", it still celebrates the magical, fantasy potential of computer animation, but with a great helping of humor. Eddie Redmayne is perfect in this.
"American Pastoral", from a book by Philip Roth, is directed by, and stars, Ewan McGregor - a very sad and illuminating tale about the rebellious 1960's - it wasn't in theaters very long, but it's a real gem.
"Miss Sloane", starring Jessica Chastain, is a razor-sharp analysis of big business and the glass ceiling that awaits ambitious women -
"Elle", directed by Paul Verhoeven, starring Isabelle Huppert, is such a wild mix of emotions: horror, violence, drama, comedy, I never knew what to expect next. A pure delight.
"Love & Friendship", directed by Whit Stillman, starring Kate Beckinsale, is a marvelously droll comedy of manners among the rich in 18th century England.
"Christine", directed by Craig Shilowich and starring Rebecca Hall, is a humorous re-telling of the story of the infamous Tampa Bay news reporter who shot herself on air in mid-broadcast. An excellent look at the early days of TV news, with super acting and direction.
And lastly, a real classic Hollywood-type film, "Allied", directed by Bob Zemeckis, starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. First of all, I love World War II films, they've got the perfect setting for conflict. Add some romance and some spies with a heart-wrenching ending, and I'm hooked.
Now, I hate it when people bring up films that no one else has seen, and claim that they're the best films ever. And since it's hard to see some of these films, of course, it's difficult to argue back. And it may seem like I've selected mostly obscure, limited-release movies. But with access to the internet now, a lot of these films are watchable - so please check out my list of films, I think you'll like them as much as I did.
Happy New Year,