November 2016 in Review

November has left us, and we're one month away from 2017. The past month has left many stunned and in fear, and it's unlikely that will change. For now, here's hoping the Christmas season will help them through a tough time. For me, cinema has always been a great help, and going through films from this year and those considered masterpieces has been a wonderful experience. So, here are the films I saw this past November.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie - 1.5/5 - Maybe if I got as inebriated as the characters, then i'd have found some enjoyment out of this.

I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House - 3.5/5 - Available on Netflix, this film sets the atmospheric tone really well, which in turns leads to pretty tense moments, sold by Ruth Wilson's terrific performance. Unfortunate how this is surrounded by a needless voiceover, as well as quite a bit of exposition.

Room (2015) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Received the Blu-Ray as one of my birthday presents, and it remains one of the most touching and emotional films I've born witness to.

The 33 - 2.5/5 - The story of the 33 Chilean miners, who survived underground for 69 days, is certainly deserving of a cinematic adaptation. The result is crafted competently, yet done in such a workmanlike and generic manner. There's good acting from the cast (despite French, American and Irish actors portraying real life Chilean people), but it can't compensate for the generic and uninspired plotting.

Brave (2012) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - One of the most divisive films in Pixar's history, and it's easy to see why. No matter how much we see Merinda and her mothers points of view, both remain rather unlikeable. But there remains plenty to enjoy, especially involving the journey with both characters. Plus, the bear brothers were rather cute.

A Street Cat Named Bob - 2.5/5 - Despite its good nature, the product is as fun as coughing up a hairball.

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Best film of the month, Best film watched
for the first time and Biggest Surprise: Magnolia

The Gift (2015) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - A real gift of a picture from triple threat Joel Edgerton.

Sunshine Cleaning - 3.5/5 - As the sisters lost at where they are in life, Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are nothing short of fantastic. Effortlessly charming in their roles, the two excel in eliciting sympathy for their characters, even when their actions aren't the most sympathetic. The comedy drama aspects work well, but a longer runtime would've been beneficial to fleshing out some aspects and subplots. 

Ant-Man [rewatch] - 4/5 - How did you find out I saw this film? "Baskin Robbins always finds out"

Festen - 5/5 - My introduction to Dogme 95, and it's crystal clear what's important are the performances and the story. The comedic and tragic moments are handled exceptionally well, in this captivating & brutally honest story about a truly dysfunctional family. Between this & The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg is quickly becoming one of my favourite directors with ease.

Maggie's Plan - 3.5/5 - This Greta Gerwig starrer is clearly attempting to buck cliché, and while some of it works, the rest tends to fall into the category of exactly what it's trying to avoid. It is a charming picture though, with Ethan Hawke and an accented Julianne Moore shining the brightest, as they threaten to steal the film from Gerwig and her oft unlikeable character. But the supporting cast does suffer a bit, with Bill Hader merely being there to deliver exposition.

Girls Lost - 4.5/5 - Alexandra-Therese Keining uses this gender fluid tale as an effective allegory for numerous timely issues, on gender politics, sexuality and masculinity. It's an engrossing tale, wonderfully brought alive by the terrific performances. If I had an issue about the film, it'd be that Bella's personal tale is a dangling thread that fails to be wrapped up. The experience was marred by sound issues, as none of the dialogue could be heard. It doesn't detract from the film, especially since I'll be seeing this one again.

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Best film seen in cinemas and
Best film rewatched: Arrival

Do The Right Thing - 5/5 - Typical that the film I pick to view on Election Day has a reference to Donald Trump, of all people.

My first viewing of a Spike Lee film, and it's clear why he's so well regarded. He directs with such a vibrant energy, delivering the fun and humorous moments with as much ease as the powerful moments of racial tension, as we witness it simmer throughout the course of a really hot day. Yet, what's both astounding and saddening is how relevant this film remains today, 27 years after its release.

Weiner (2016) - 4/5 - A stranger than life tale documented in a humorous, yet tragic manner. The tale of Anthony Weiner showcases a man who seems to be good at his job, and care about the people. Unfortunately, the media focused primarily on his scandal, and it gave way to numerous hilarious headlines. 

Don't Breathe (2016) - 4/5 - For the first two thirds of a movie, Fede Alvarez manages to deliver nail biting tension which threatens to overwhelm, and exquisitely utilises the scenario to nigh-unbearable standards. Unfortunately, there's a point in the third act where the tension is let out of the picture, and things fall apart. But the talented cast do fantastic work, perfectly selling the picture. Stephen Lang especially, proving frightening as the blind war veteran who's a grizzled and grounded version of Daredevil

The Handmaiden - 5/5 - After his English language debut, Stoker, didn't do as well as hoped, Park Chan-Wook moved back to Korean cinema to deliver his next feature. And, my goodness, it's utterly masterful. A multi-layered, duplicitous tale about love that would make Hitchcock proud. It's blackly hilarious, utterly compelling, and all kinds of wonderful. The acting is especially marvellous, with Kim Min-Hee and Kim Tae-Ri delivering masterful performances. It's worth the watch, see it as soon as you can (which isn't until February for UK moviegoers). 

Hitchcock/Truffaut - 3.5/5 - Film critic turned director Kent Jones turns his focus onto the long revered book for film fans. The proceedings pour over Alfred Hitchcock's career, as well as the background which led to the title meeting. The focus is cast onto the more popular works of Hitchcock, leaving some of his other films relatively unexplored. Plus, no matter how many big named directors come to talk about what the book meant to them, it can't gloss over how this feels like a glorified DVD extra. 

Ghostheads - 2.5/5 - Ghostbusters means a lot to quite a few people, and that's never been more evident than in 2016. Many have taken inspiration and joined groups, as these "Ghostheads" give back to the community. There are quite a few touching tales about this, but it's unfortunate Brenden Mertens delivers this in such a banal and uninteresting way. Plus, one feels the fingerprints of the studios, as the glossing over non-positive reactions to 2016's Ghostbusters feels untruthful.

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Biggest Disappointment: Maggie's Plan

A Single Man (2009) - 5/5 - Tom Ford's directorial debut is nothing short of engrossing, managing to set the bar high for the remainder of his career as a director. A moving tale about loss & depression, with Colin Firth perfectly capturing the unfortunate position his character is at. Even better is how the masterful performances are combined with the stunning score & the gorgeous cinematography, looking intentionally dreary, with exception to those rays of hope which enter his life. A masterful debut, and a promising start to a promising career.

Arrival (2016) [rewatch] - 5/5 - They really don't make sci-fi films like this anymore. The latest from Denis Villeneuve is a picture which improves after a rewatch, where everything fits into place, the necessity of communication is made ever more apparent, and it's even more clear why Amy Adams is more than deserving of an Oscar nomination, if not a win. Upon my first viewing, this arrived in my top 10 of the year. Another viewing later, and it's risen to the top spot of the films I've seen over 2016.

Still Alice - 4/5 - The directing duo of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland capture the saddening and heartbreaking reality of Alzheimers, emphasised more perfectly by the powerful portrayals from the cast (especially a deserved Oscar winning Julianne Moore). It isn't faultless though, with some characters getting the short end of the stick in terms of characterization, while a subplot about Alice's daughter testing positive for the early onset Alzheimers disappearing rather rapidly. But it's certainly a film one won't easily forget.

Gone Girl [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Oh god, I forgot about the bottle scene. But it caused my housemate to make one hell of a face.

Nocturnal Animals - 4/5 - For his second feature film, Tom Ford blends multiple storylines together, for a mostly compelling tale. The flashbacks do a wonderful job of informing the main storyline, adding depth to Amy Adams' character, and her unfortunate relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal's character.

Then we have the novel, which proves the most engaging of the three tales, grabbing viewers by the throat with a tense opening which one will struggle to pry their eyes from, no matter how much they want it to end (for the sake of the characters onscreen, I must say). It's fascinating to see how Gyllenhaal's author character gets his frustrations out on his ex-spouse, about as much as it is to see him exceptionally portray a second character. Special mention for an entertaining Michael Shannon, and a feral Aaron Taylor-Johnson, with the latter proving rather frightening.

While there's less than engaging lulls in the story, as well as an utterly bewildering opening, it must be said how the finale is pitch perfect. A great way of emphasising how, no matter how much one wonders "What If?", some things just can't be taken back. It's brought alive by the spellbinding performance by Amy Adams, who does a magnificent job, especially when considering how she's mostly reacting to what she's read. Between this and Arrival, an Oscar nomination is more than deserved.

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Worst film of the month: Hardcore Henry

Magnolia - 5/5 - This film is nothing short of a masterful achievement for cinema.

When it comes to both the large cast, and the characters they each portray, there's not a single weak link among them. Each one manages to perfectly capture the lost place they're each at, as well as the unsure feeling of what they should each do next. It's a shame to single out just one out of the many terrific performers, but Tom Cruise delivers one of the best performances of his career, if not the absolute best.

At one point, an impromptu sing along moment occurs, where the characters are at low moments, and each begin singing "Wise Up" by Aimee Mann. It's a moment which could have easily come off as laughable, but thanks to the stunning handling, proves to be an emotionally devastating moment, not easily forgotten.

The lengthy 3 hour runtime is more than deserved, allowing enough time for the audience to understand each character, and sympathise with their own tales. If anything, a longer runtime would be rather welcome. Helping things is how the 3 hours fly by, leaving one eager for a rewatch soon after. 

Sing Street - 5/5 - The plotting may be rather familiar, but with the result being such a fun time, it just doesn't matter. John Carney injects the picture with a great deal of humour, while carrying a great deal of optimism. This results in the overall picture proving itself as plucky and lovable as its own lead characters, who are perfectly brought to life by the talented cast.

It's far from an understatement to declare the soundtrack as one of 2016's absolute best. A great selection of tunes from the era, as songs by The Cure, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet help inspire Conor in his songwriting endeavours, and the band with their musical style. This results in the films best aspect, which is the original songs. Each one is a fantastic creation, with "Drive It Like You Stole It" emerging as the clear standout, and utterly deserving of nominations for Best Original Song. 

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them - 3.5/5 - The Harry Potter prequel series is off to a good start.

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) - 3.5/5 - Harold Ramis injects this family road trip comedy with a great deal of energy, enough likeability, and terrific performances from its cast, all together making this a memorable family trip. Granted, the films comedy doesn't always work, and the darker moments are shocking enough to work best. 

Hardcore Henry - 0.5/5 - Can we skip over the part where about 40 films rip off this ones gimmick, please? It was sickening enough for this one film to do it.

Best film of the month: Magnolia
Best film seen in cinemas: Arrival
Best film watched for the first time: Magnolia
Best film rewatched: Arrival
Biggest Disappointment: Maggie's Plan
Biggest Surprise: Magnolia
Worst film of the month: Hardcore Henry

Number of films watched: 28