CAPSULE REVIEWS: Playing catch-up on December awards contenders
This doesn’t happen to me often, but I’m horrendously behind with writing over the last week and a half. Last week closed out the final days of school work before winter break and I crammed in five film screenings in three days at nights after work. That push was to beat the nominations deadline for the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. Only one of those reviews, The Post, got written. The rest have piled up and the Christmas holiday weekend hit with more on the to-do list before year’s end (Molly’s Game, The Disaster Artist, Mudbound, The Greatest Showman, Bright, and the checklist goes on).
Though the day job work was no longer in the way, good times with family and friends was the better thing to do than lock myself in a room on a laptop and write. Three of these films are cracking my Top 20 of 2017 and possibly even my final “10 Best” list. A year-end bang like that deserves to be talked about, and I couldn’t keep sitting on them without getting something out to you. To get the good word out there, here are some quick hot take capsules of the films with full reviews in the works. They are ranked from best to worst.
Brimming with depravity and teaming with talent, I, Tonya is the brashest film I’ve seen this year and, quite frankly one of the absolute best as well. For anyone who thinks Suicide Squad star and The Wolf of Wall Street vamp Margot Robbie is just a hot bod and a pretty face, watch this film and erase that notion completely after observing her play the peaks and valleys of disgraced former champion figure skater Tonya Harding. Her dueling arguments and shouldered rage from Allison Janney’s mother character are caustically compelling and Sebastian Stan gives his best screen performance to date. Moving with all kinds of tonal energy on a mockumentary roller coaster rails, I, Tonya spins a rumor-laced story with dark comedy that leaves you craving its chase for unsubstantiated truth. You’ll be seeing this on my “10 Best” list.
I’ll say this in a capsule and not a full review. I think Paul Thomas Anderson is both brilliant and highly overrated. The guy has an amazing eye and squeezes incredible performances from some of the best actors on the planet. His films are pristine in aesthetics. I’ll grant that all day. For me, he peaked with Boogie Nights and has lost me a little more with every film since, including his highly-regarded There Will be Blood. By the time he trolled us to chase our brain’s tails with The Master a few years ago, my frustration was completely checked out to a Terrence Malick-level. And there here comes Phantom Thread, a film so calculated and impressive that it has me questioning my PTA values. That’s quite a feat. Tight, yet rightly unnerving, the film churns with precision at every layer and level, from the outstanding Jonny Greenwood score to the heightened narrative stresses. If this does end up being Daniel Day-Lewis’s final performance before his rumored retirement, he leaves us with a gem.
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD
I’ve done this soapbox in other places, namely over on Feelin’ Film, but know up front that I’m the kind of movie fan and film critic that makes it a point to separate the person from the performance. I don’t have a boycott list and likely never will of people I refuse to watch because of some factor off-screen, including the current wave of allegations and unearthed transgressions burning Hollywood right now. I can care about all that other stuff off-screen and in the separate arenas where it all belongs. That said, all anyone wants to talk about when it comes to All the Money in the World is the central casting controversy of replacing the scandalized Kevin Spacey. I’m here for artistic medium and entertainment, which is why I would rather answer this buzz on a capsule and leave it out of a future full review (much like my PTA confession earlier), allowing the film to speak for itself. I will do that because Ridley Scott’s thriller can and does speak for itself. I would have watched this film with Spacey, but, hot damn, if Christopher Plummer doesn’t give one of the best supporting performances of the year as a man of true miserly indignation. He steals every scene he’s in, not because of the controversy, but because Plummer is a hell of an actor making this film soar. To pull off the corrections Scott and company did in that short of time is a miracle and one that should pay off.
Opening on a harrowing family slaughter on the prairie, you realize very quickly that this second western for Christian Bale’s resume is not going to be 3:10 to Yuma. Grizzled to the deepest possible marrow, Scott Cooper’s newest film wears both virtue and sin on its sleeves as it follows a conflicted Army captain ushering a released and terminally-ill Cheyenne chief to reservations lands and his family’s freedom. The arid drama and tension are as harsh as it is resonating. Call me impressed. This film has Top 20 potential on my year-end ranks.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Audiences and critics have been quick to call Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name the Moonlight of 2017. This summer romance and coming-of-age story has drummed up strong Oscar buzz for its writing from James Ivory and the raw and brave performances of Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, and Michael Stuhlbarg. The attention is warranted in a curious and often beautiful drama of sexual discovery and conflicted love. With prickly content and a slumbering pace, it’s not a film for everyone, and it missed connecting with me, but the film demands praise and respect on many levels.
Within the last few years, Matt Damon has said on record that he chooses his projects solely on the director. With that strategy, Damon carries one of the most impressive vitaes in Tinseltown. Alexander Payne, the lauded director of Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska, counts as another pedigreed feather in Damon’s hat. That said, maybe Matt Damon needs to start reading some scripts first and not just the name on the back of the chair. After The Great Wall bomb and the subpar Suburbicon, Downsizing is his third lemon this year and the worst of the bunch. This odd and off-putting mixture of utopian science fiction and uplifting comedy misses so many marks, you too might shrink to five inches tall in your seat. I hate to say this, but this is, without question, the worst film I’ve seen all year, and that’s saying something.