Monday, January 09, 2017

Movies: Awards Season Review-a-rama

As it does every year, last night's Golden Globe Awards began in earnest the jockeying, campaigning, and cajoling for the Academy Awards (nominations voting closes this Friday). Here are some movies I've seen this year that are sure to be in the running when the envelopes are opened February 26th...

Arrival - This mid-budget alien encounter movie is based on a 1998 short story from Ted Chiang, and it shows. While Amy Adams turns in a fine performance as a linguist trying to comprehend the inscrutable heptapods, there isn't much plot to fill the two-hour runtime, and the dramatic stakes never feel very high. One of two sci-fi movies this year to waste the talents of Forest Whitaker. Rating: 7/10

Captain Fantastic -

A Viggo Mortensen vehicle that follows an isolated hippie family as they attempt to attend the funeral of their mother. If you've seen "Little Miss Sunshine," you've seen all these dramedy beats, but in a much funnier, more cohesive way. Still, I did like the performances from the young ensemble cast. Rating: 6/10

Hacksaw Ridge - Mel Gibson's escape from Hollywood Jail is a biopic about someone as blemish-less as can be: WWII hero Desmond Doss. You'll like the aw-shucks performance from Andrew Garfield and the sweet portrayal of Doss's marriage; you'll cringe at the over-the-top gore and violence of the battle scenes. It's not bad, but it's not "Saving Private Ryan" Rating: 7/10

Hell or High Water -

Chris Pine's big problem is that, despite having true Tinseltown bona fides (he worked as a Roger Corman production assistant, for heaven's sake), he's too good-looking to be taken seriously as an actor. He's trying hard, though, as shown by this gritty modern Western heist film set in the sleepy towns of West Texas. Pine and co-star Ben Foster have a fun sibling chemistry that you don't see very often in movies, and it gives the film's finale unexpected emotional heft. Rating: 8/10

La La Land -

The 800 pound gorilla of awards season, "La La Land" gleefully ticks off all the checkboxes to appeal to Academy voters. Story about making movies? Got it. Old Hollywood song and dance? In spades. Soulful performances by a couple we love to see onscreen? You know it. What's surprising is that it also brings back some of the tonal complexity that Hollywood has forgotten - more "Casablanca" than "The Notebook." The movie's occasionally brought down by the so-so vocal performances of the two leads (who, in fairness, never claimed to be great singers), but it still deserves front-runner status. Rating: 8/10

Moana -

It was a mild upset when "Zootopia" took home the Golden Globe for best animated picture last night, but it was guaranteed that one of the two Disney behemoths this year would win. Of the two, I think "Moana" is the better film. It's a small movie in some respects (there are only really two characters), but epic Polynesian mythology and an outsized vocal turn from the Rock give it a big heart. Rating: 8/10


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