December 2014 in Review

Welcome to 2015, my beloved readers. Unfortunately, there are no hoverboards, but there is another Month in Review instalments. Yay?

December is usually the month when people begin rewatching all the Christmas classics they've seen many times already. I take a different approach with this month, using it to watch films already released from the past year. So, let's see what films I saw in the last month of this year, better known as December.

Whiplash - 5/5 - Damien Chazelle delivers one of the years unique experiences, leaving you emotionally exhausted and white knuckled from the intensity. Miles Teller gives an exemplary performance as Andrew, who has aspirations of becoming one of the greatest drummers ever. He's willing to sacrifice everything, including blood, sweat and tears, into being remembered as one of the greats. J.K Simmons is nothing short of masterful as Terrence Fletcher, the sadistic teacher who throws chairs at his students and regularly fires off a barrage of insults. His reasons for doing so are to push his students the extra mile, motivate them even more than simply saying "Good Job" would do. The overall message Chazelle brings to the board is whether becoming "one of the greats" is worth the sacrifice of essentially everything in your life, a question without a definitive answer. One of the years best, with one of the best endings in recent memory.

Horrible Bosses 2 - 2/5 - The sequel to the 2011 hit takes The Hangover route, turning into a beat for beat remake of the first film that brings to the table unnecessary cameos, a wasted Christoph Waltz and unnecessary racism and a rape joke. Ugh.

Dogma (rewatch) - 4.5/5 - While many people complain about Kevin Smith's later films, such as Cop Out, Red State and Tusk, it's good to revisit the fantastic work he showed way back in the early years of his career. There's no doubt about how controversial this film was, with Catholics issuing out Anti-Dogma leaflets. But it deserves a mention how Kevin Smith gives a lot to think about, especially over the extremities of religious worship, and manages to craft a smart satire on the subject. It helps how the cast are rounded out by a terrific ensemble of View-Askew regulars and well-known actors. What really helps is how downright hilarious the proceedings can be, with Smith's out-there imagination lending a helping hand by casting Alanis Morrisette as God and even having an antagonist made out of shit. Holy crap.

Best film of the month and Best film rewatched:
The Nightmare Before Christmas

Moonraker - 1.5/5 - This is my first venture into the Roger Moore era of Bond, and if this is any indicator, it's an era that I would much like to avoid. Moore's portrayal of Bond comes off as perverted, managing to share little chemistry with any of the females, who are portrayed as little more than objects for sexual pleasure. While I do understand that not all Bond films need to be serious and gritty, there's a fine line between silly fun and cartoonish like Road Runner. The space narrative is the biggest flaw here, as it's clearly inserted to jump on the bandwagon caused by Star Wars, with little to make it feel justified, and it just feels out of place for Bond. Plus, it doesn't help that things are pretty dull.

Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - 4/5 - It could have been an overlong promo for the latest Turtles film, but instead is a celebration of the popular characters that were first printed 30 years ago. It takes an interesting look at their rise in popularity, but skips over the later years. Still, worth a watch.

Paddington - 3.5/5 - A sweet tale that imbues good will into live action films of beloved characters from our childhood. Now if only Nicole Kidmans scenes weren't in the film, for it's all rather unnecessary.

District B13 - 4/5 - Taken director Pierre Morel directs what can be described as a highly entertaining, parkour-infused action film. The leads are all entertaining, with Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle coming off as extremely charismatic, even when they're not pulling off the impressive choreography. Bibi Naceri also deserves a mention, as the entertaining kingpin adversary known as Taha. But despite a promising beginning to her character, Dany Verissimo's Lola is disappointingly turned into another damsel in distress character. But despite this, the proceedings are still very entertaining and worth a watch.

Best film seen in cinemas: Whiplash

Raging Balls of Steel Justice - 3.5/5 - Michael Mort's 15 minute claymation short is an entertaining tribute to bombastic action cop films from the 80s. Chuck Steel is the typical maverick cop, while his sex pervert robot partner is certainly *ahem* unique. Even if things get a bit repetitive, it's still an entertaining way to spend a quarter of an hour.

Jennifer's Body - 1.5/5 - It's clear that Diablo Cody's focus was on the "quirky" attempts at dialogue, as her script chooses to put emphasis on dragging out words like lesbi-gay, tampooning and freaktarded over developing things like well-rounded characters or an actual plot. What doesn't help is how Megan Fox imitates a plank of wood, Amanda Seyfried pulls off the one facial expression she can manage or the needless titillation that is the sight of these two kissing.

Transendence - 2/5 - Wally Pfister directs a 2 hour sleeping pill, as reflected by the dull direction, poor script and bored performances. Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany do good work with what they're given, while the ambition is clearly there. It's just not executed well.

Stretch - 3.5/5 - Initially plodding and generic, Joe Carnahan's latest flick benefits from Chris Pine's disappearance into his maddening performance and the fun race against the clock his character sets for main character, Stretch.

Biggest Disappointment: The Hobbit:
The Battle of the Five Armies

Raging Bull - 4.5/5 - Robert De Niro and Martin Scorcese deliver nothing short of outstanding work, in this unflinching portrayal of Jake La Motta, a boxer full of sexual jealousy and brutality. Seriously, wow on De Niros performance, Paul Schraders script and Scorcese's direction.

Winter's Tale - 1/5 - Will Smith's turn as the devil that is destined to be a classic, in the same manner as John Travolta's Razzie winning performance for Battlefield Earth and Tommy Wiseau's alien performance for The Room. Entertaining in how awful it is, for which we can blame the poor script by Oscar winner Akiva Goldsmith.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - 3/5 - Yeah, this was unnecessarily bloated and dragged out. But still, Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage are glorious.

Dear White People - 4.5/5 - Writer/director Justin Simien's first feature length film boasts a confident voice that's evident within the strong script, taking a razor sharp aim at racial politics. This satire approaches the important topic from every perspective, and astoundingly makes none of them feel heavy handed. What helps is how Simien provides four protagonists that are more than just mouth-pieces for the satire, but actually fully developed, well rounded characters with engaging arcs

Biggest Surprise: District B13

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (rewatch) - 4.5/5 - It has occurred to me how my Letterboxd diary for this December is lacking Christmas films, so I chose Shane Blacks best work to help me rectify that. His script is still an astounding work of wit, subversion and fantastic characters, the acting is nothing short of top notch and the laughs come at a brilliant rate for maximum hilarity. If you don't believe me, try and find another film that includes Native American Joe Pesci, Michelle Monaghan attacking a drunk actor in a robot costume and Val Kilmer shooting a henchman with a gun hidden in his pants.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (rewatch) - 5/5 - There are many fantastic seasonal films, but how many can you say are perfect viewing for two different holidays? And how many work as perfectly as this beautiful masterpiece from Henry Sellick?

The Raid 2 - 3.5/5 - A superior instalment to its predecessor, actually containing character development and a story. Yeah, the former is pretty formulaic and the latter is pretty expository, but the family politics are engaging and the choreography is still exceptional.

Foxcatcher - 4/5 - Bennett Miller's true-life tale bears sinister undertones and a harrowing sense of dread all throughout. A slow burner that may result in some tedious moments, but is brought marvellously to life by a trio of outstanding performances from Channing Tatum, Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo.

Worst film of the month: Winter's Tale

We Are The Best - 3.5/5 - A fun trip of a spirited tale, led by three fantastic young actresses portraying wonderful characters with great chemistry. Just a shame it doesn't linger in the mind for longer.

Life Itself - 5/5 - A heartfelt documentary that pays perfect attention to the life and legacy of Roger Ebert, one of film criticism's most influential and inspiring figures. He lost the ability to speak, but still had a voice through his blog, and retained his famed with & humor. Life may have knocked him back, but he didn't let it get him down, or as Roger puts it "I may have things to be depressed about, but I am not depressed". It's truly inspiring.

Too Many Cooks - 4.5/5 - What did I watch? Whatever it was, I absolutely loved it.

Best film of the month: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Best film seen in cinemas: Whiplash
Best film rewatched: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Biggest Disappointment: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Biggest Surprise: District B13
Worst film of the month: Winter's Tale

Number of films watched: 22