Well it’s November, and we finally have a month of movies worth writing about. Especially good news after October where both the Awards Bait (e.g. The Birth of a Nation) and the blockbusters (e.g. The Accountant, Jack Reacher: Never Say Die) failed to catch on.
NOVEMBER 4, 2016
The Big: DOCTOR STRANGE v. HACKSAW RIDGE v. TROLLS
Doctor Strange – It’s been six months since the last MCU movie and three months since the last comic book movie. We criticize them when they’re around, but when they’re gone, we feel their absence. Especially when there’s really nothing else around worth seeing or writing about. There’s not much for me to say about Doctor Strange that you can’t find in thousands of other articles available online that go into greater depth about the comic character and the movie, but it’s Marvel, it has a great cast, and early reviews have been positive.
Hacksaw Ridge – Mel Gibson returns behind the camera for a World War II movie that seems to hearken back to old school-style war epics. Starring Andrew Garfield as Army medic Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor, the trailer has vibes of the WW1 classic Sergeant York plus features the outstanding imagery we’ve come to expect from Mel Gibson as a filmmaker. I mean sure, he has his fair share of personal foibles, but as a writer-director Gibson is terrific and one of the few who knows how to make personal, human epics that don’t rely extensively on CGI. Maybe not the best move to put it up against Doctor Strange – though this one probably skews older – but it’s probably going to be an interesting film nonetheless.
The Little: LOVING
Loving – This hasn’t been the best year for socially conscious movies. Films such as The United States of Jones, The Birth of a Nation, and Ghostbusters: Answer the Call have all attempted to tackle important social issues but failed critically, commercially, or both. So what makes Loving different? It’s writer-director Jeff Nichols, who earlier this year made the Best Of 2016 candidate Midnight Special. Loving, which is about Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that ostensibly made interracial marriage legal throughout the United States, is a much different type and style of movie than pretty much anything Nichols has done before. However, Nicholas has proven himself as a filmmaker who appreciates the humanity in his characters, and if this movie is more about the people than about using them as empty avatars for The Cause, it has definite potential for critical love and awards consideration.
NOVEMBER 11, 2016
The Big: ARRIVAL v. BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK v. ALMOST CHRISTMAS
Arrival – Blade Runner 2(049)‘s Denis Villeneueve’s Arrival is probably my most anticipated movie for the rest of the year. A fantastic director and a fantastic cast tackling what is hopefully intelligent science fiction – rather than using an interesting premise (“how do we communicate with extraterrestrials?”) to devolve into action shlock. It’s a concept that has been done before, ranging from Andre Tartovsky’s beautifully esoteric Solaris to Contact to the dire The Day The Earth Stood Still remake, but it’s a genre worthy of more exploration. And thankfully, early reviews have been fantastic.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – Second war movie in as many weeks, though this one probably won’t fare as well as Gibson’s venture. The film, which is directed by Oscar-winner Ang Lee, takes place mostly in flashbacks as the eponymous War on Terror hero Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) is celebrated at halftime during a football game. While the world only knows the fantasies of his heroics, we get to see what really happened to him in wartime, and all the mental and physical scars he carries with him. Furthermore, Lee is using a relatively basic story to experiment with completely new technology – 120 frames per second in 4K HD resolution; it’s supposed to be more intense and “real to life” than what Peter Jackson used in The Hobbit trilogy … and we all saw how well that worked out. Advanced reviews are mixed, with many simultaneously praising and bashing the unique frame rate as a remarkable achievement that also might make you sick. Coming out so soon after Hacksaw Ridge is also a problem, as not only is last week’s offering a more conventional film, but World War II lacks the moral uncertainty that filmmakers have to contend with when portraying the War on Terror on screen.
Almost Christmas – This urban-audience focused holiday comedy definitely has hit potential. Along with having a popular cast, it’s actually a good time for these sorts of movies (The Best Man Holiday made $70 million its theatrical run during its release in mid-November 2013), plus it’s the first holiday movie of the year.
The Little: ELLE
Elle – It’s been a long time since we’ve had a new film from Paul Verhoeven. One of the most important directors of the 1980s, he has only had 2 films in the past 15 years: 2006’s World War 2 drama Black Book (which is fantastic) and 2012’s Tricked (which I haven’t seen). This film, which is about a business woman who tries to track down the man who raped her, seems a good fit for the Total Recall and Starship Troopers director. Verhoeven is a director who does not shy away from controversial material and generally adds a dark and/or satirical edge that you’re not likely to get from other directors. He’s willing to understand and even appreciate brutality rather than having a moral detachment or flat-out condemning it without providing the audience with intellectual nuances that makes it powerful. It also helps that his star is Isabelle Huppert, who has had strong roles in films like The Piano Teacher, Amour, and the Eleanor Rigby…trilog-ish?
NOVEMBER 18, 2016
The Big: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM v. BLEED FOR THIS v. EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them – What happens when your mega-successful mega-franchise ends? It’s something that every mega-producer must sadly consider, no matter how scary or depressing the thought might be. Well, with Harry Potter all grown up and not yet ready to film The Cursed Child the answer was – make a prequel series set half a century prior to the Boy Wizard finding the Sorcerer’s Stone, which is a better move than doing some sort of contemporary or sequel series. From the little I’ve read, the first movie doesn’t seem like it will have any characters from the original series, but with Beasts now a five-movie series, we’re sure to run into at least one of them. I’m not emotionally connected to the Potter series and the trailers haven’t sold me on this as its own film, so I have no real interest in seeing it; but it’s sure to be a hit.
Bleed For This – Miles Teller tries Oscar bait; fails. In Bleed For This, Miles Teller stars in a biopic about a boxer who becomes paralyzed by a car accident and then learns to fight again. Why do the Oscars love boxing so much? Is there any other sport that has gotten nearly the amount of awards consideration than fisticuffs? But early reviews haven’t been positive and we had Creed (starring his Fant4stic co-star, Michael B. Jordan) last year at around this time, so maybe they’re hoping for some of that success to repeat itself. But it probably won’t.
Edge of Seventeen – Coming of age film about a teenager. There’s really not much more for me to say, except I’m surprised it’s rated R. Hopefully it’ll give the movie a bit more edge than your typical YA fare. Or it’ll just be an excuse for extra curse words.
The Little: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA v. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Manchester by the Sea – It’s been sixteen years since writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s debut feature You Can Count On Me, a well-regarded drama starring Laura Linney and Matthew Broderick. He’s only written and directed one movie since then (2011’s Margaret), but his latest film has been receiving terrific early reviews and it has the potential to be this award season’s standout gimmick-less drama. Starring indy darlings Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, Manchester is a drama about an uncle having to take care of his nephew after his father dies. Unlike this year’s earlier water-and-adoption-based drama The Light Between Oceans, Manchester actually has a good deal of positive buzz following it, rather than the over-the-top melodrama stink of the Michael Fassbender film. And between this and Certain Women, this might be the year Michelle Williams finally gets her Oscar.
Nocturnal Animals – Yet another of my most anticipated movies of the year that also coincidentally stars Amy Adams, who coincidentally starred in another of 2016’s most anticipated films that ended up being one of the most despised movies of the year. This adult drama/revenge thriller co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon and is the second film by writer-director-fashion designer Tom Ford. His first film A Single Man was a small but terrific piece about a homosexual in the 1960’s with real soul and a visual poignancy; hopefully, Animals is a respectable follow-up.
(The weekly digression; A Single Man featured what is probably Colin Firth’s best performance, far more so than A King’s Speech, for which he did win the Best Actor Oscar. With a lot of Oscar talk coming up, it’s worth remembering that A King’s Speech won Best Picture in 2010. That’s right. You probably forget that, didn’t you? If you want to talk about how out-of-touch the Academy is and how pointless the awards are, A King’s Speech was named Best Picture of the Year. Is it a fair movie? Sure, I guess. But does it have any longevity or staying power? That was the year of Inception, Black Swan, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, to name a few. So while it’s nice seeing your favorites win, six years later, ask yourself which of those movies are on your DVD shelf.)
November 23, 2016
The Big: MOANA v. ALLIED v. BAD SANTA 2
Moana – Well Disney sure has this month locked up, doesn’t it?
Allied – A World War 2 thriller featuring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as spies, except Cotillard might be a German double agent whom Pitt needs to uncover and, possibly, kill. We’ve been burned by suspense thrillers recently (e.g. The Accountant) but director Robert Zemeckis is certainly bringing a great deal of visual flair to Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt. The trailer shows off his flourishes of old Hollywood class and prestige that gives this movie a bit more oomph than it otherwise would have. With films like Flight and The Walk, Zemeckis has thankfully moved out of his creepy CGI animation phase and is re-establishing himself as a director deserving of far more consideration.
Bad Santa 2 – As a fan of the first one, this is going to be a mistake. And the trailer doesn’t even look that bad, but … it’s going to be a disappointment. There’s no way around it.
The Small: RULES DON’T APPLY v. MISS SLOAN v. LION
Rules Don’t Apply – After seemingly being in hiding for the past 15 years, Hollywood icon Warren Beatty (whose last screen appearance was in Town & Country in 2001) returns with Rules Don’t Apply, a movie that was kept pretty secretive up until relatively recently. Written and directed by Beatty (whose last turns as a filmmaker were 1998’s Bulworth and 1990’s Dick Tracy), Rules also co-stars Beatty as Howard Hughes, unquestionably one of the most fascinating individuals of the last century. (The Aviator barely begins to touch on just how remarkable he was or what an amazing a life he lead, and Warren Beatty at any age would have been a great choice to play him.) However, Hughes doesn’t look like the focus, rather it’s his spectre hanging over the love story between two young employees played by Alden Ehrenreich and Lily Collins. How this movie will play out remains to be seen – will we want more Hughes, less Hughes, will Hughes be nothing but a gimmick, like I.Q. - the movie where Walter Matthau’s Albert Einstein tries to hook up characters played by Tim Robbins and Meg Ryan – but it’s one to look out for.
Miss Sloan – A movie about a super cold lobbyist facing off against gun control. It’s a very thin line to walk between intelligent political thriller/drama/satire/whatever genre and annoying sermonizing about the Cause of the Day, and when your main character is a lobbyist, you’re fully expecting the Damascus moment followed by The Big Speech. Jessica Chastain is a great actress, though, so hopefully the film will end up more subtle or clever than its premise implies.
Lion – Based on a true story, Lion stars Dev Patel (and co-stars Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara) as a boy who lost his family decades prior and uses Google Earth to find and reconnect with them. It’s the type of movie that might have been a major Oscar contender during Hollywood’s period of India fetishism of the late-2000s, but now? Probably not. Early reviews are positive (currently 74%/6.6/10 average on Rotten Tomatoes), and it will be interesting to see whether it maintains that strong average or if subsequent reviewers find it too emotionally cloying, as it very well could end up being.
(Lion and Miss Sloane open in theaters on November 25th; while Rules Don’t Apply opens on November 23rd.)
So that’s November. Probably the best month this year. Every week has at least one thing worth seeing, and many weeks have two. And there’s something for everyone: big budget action movies, franchise bait, adult sci-fi, adult dramas, crappy looking cartoon movies, bawdy comedy, teen comedy, bawdy teen comedy. Hopefully, many of these movies will remain in theaters for awhile since December doesn’t look nearly as interesting – even with Star Wars Goes Tropical.