In viewing films from beyond the classic era, January was a month mostly dedicated to catching up on popular 2015 releases and award nominees. I also watched a couple of odd titles from Netflix. Here are tiny reviews of all of January’s modern movies.
The Big Short (2015) – I had heard little about this film until award season came around and it started racking up the nominations. Even then, I didn’t know much about it other than the fact that it had something to do with the 2008 financial crisis, so I went in pretty blind. I ended up enjoying it a lot and would probably rank it among my top films of 2015. I love the incorporation of the pop culture of the time, the fourth-wall breakage, and the cameos thrown in to explain financial concepts. The performances are very good, too. Thought-provoking, informative, funny, frustrating, and frightening all at once, The Big Short is a film that kept me hooked from beginning to end.
Ex Machina (2015) – The screenplay Oscar nomination for this film is very well-deserved. Fascinating exploration of artificial intelligence and one eccentric, reclusive billionaire’s experiments with it. It’s got wit, suspense, intrigue, twists… all of the necessary elements to create a very gripping film. The performances are great as well. Oscar Isaac is quickly becoming one of my favorite modern-day actors; Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson are wonderful in their roles, too. Definitely ranks among my favorite 2015 releases as a top contender for the “#1 favorite of the year” spot.
The Ladykillers (2004) – Based on the 1955 film of the same name. I was very underwhelmed by this film, which I expected to enjoy since it involves Tom Hanks, J. K. Simmons, and the Coen brothers. I haven’t seen the original, so comparison to that wasn’t the problem for me. I just found much of it unfunny. After watching I discovered that this film is regarded by many Coen fans as one of their worst films, if not the worst, and sadly I’d have to agree.
Life of Crime (2013) – Fun little comedy-thriller that captures the ’70s pretty well with the costumes, the wood-paneled walls and muted color schemes, the old cars, the hair and makeup. It’s set in Detroit but doesn’t take any cheap shots at the city, which I was pleasantly surprised to find, as a native Detroiter who is very fed up with seeing Detroit used as a punchline in film and TV scripts. The story isn’t particularly unique or new, but I enjoyed watching it.
Room (2015) – A heartbreaking but somehow hopeful film with great (truly, great) performances. I’m rarely impressed by child actors but Jacob Tremblay is captivating as young Jack, a boy born into captivity — the son of a kidnapper and his victim — and raised for the first five years of his life in a small garden shed, with no access to the outside world and no one to talk to but Ma. Nice script by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the novel on which the film is based.
The Revenant (2015) – Brutal, but beautifully made. After watching the first few minutes I was kind of expecting it to turn into one of those “poor innocent fur trappers vs. evil savages!” stories, but that fate was avoided thanks to the fact that so few of the characters in the film are likable. (The fur trappers are neither poor nor innocent, and the film makes a point to explicitly state/show some of the injustice perpetuated against the native people by Europeans.) The cinematography is absolutely stunning and Tom Hardy is damned good at playing the asshole. Gotta give him props for making me hate his character since I typically associate him with puppy cuddles.
Spotlight (2015) – Somewhat difficult to watch at times due to its subject matter (several audience members at my matinee showing left in tears), but a very good film. Performances are top-notch, and this film features one of the most realistic on-screen newsrooms I’ve ever seen. I like the fact that the film isn’t afraid to place the blame on everyone. The church and a few lawyers may have covered up these terrible crimes, but they weren’t a well-kept secret. The community at large and even the reporters themselves bear some of the responsibility. The film shows the depth of the investigation conducted by the journalists and emphasizes the importance of the newspaper in uncovering the truth, but doesn’t let the media completely off the hook.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – I feel like I was literally the last person on Earth to see this movie, but I wanted to go when there wasn’t a crowd — not an easy feat when my local multiplex was selling out showings well into January, even at the matinee! I’m happy to say that it was worth the wait. I’m not what you’d classify as a Star Wars super-fan; I’ve seen all of the films but can’t recount every detail of them (or the name of every side character), and I haven’t re-watched them often. However, Star Wars has been in my life for a very long time, with my dad introducing me to Episode IV at a revival screening in the mid-’90s, when my age was still in the single digits. This film reminded me of everything I’ve loved about the series, engaged my attention for every second of its run-time, has great characters, is action-packed, and made me want to re-watch the old favorites immediately. It was a real delight to watch with my dad, about 20 years after he first introduced me to these films. Wholeheartedly entertaining.