One can usually mark Christmas weekend as a clearinghouse for the major winter releases: the prestige pictures vying for awards consideration, the late season blockbusters, the would-be holiday classics. Disney flipped the script this year, releasing Star Wars the week before and all but demolishing anyone else's chances of topping the box office. It pushed the wide release of Tarantino's Hateful Eight into the New Year and turned Christmas into the day of the also-rans. The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper, seems awfully serious, and after what he did to me with Les Miserables, I can't bring myself to trust him. Similarly, Concussion looks intentionally stern, with Will Smith swinging for the fences. That and the fact that the NFL, an organization I increasingly see as the Evil Empire, signed off on it soured me completely. Among the other offerings:
DADDY'S HOME offered more laughs than I had let myself expect, even if it is predictable and innocuous. Hannibal Buress stands out in a supporting role. PG13. 96m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
POINT BREAK. The remake is, as expected, unnecessary and completely devoid of the original's oddball charm and rich early 1990s SoCal aesthetic. Substituting X-Games, Euro-trash uber-cool just doesn't cut it. Some of the stunt sequences are undeniably impressive, but work better as YouTube clips than as elements of a feature. PG13. 113m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
JOY, like all David O. Russell pictures, looks great, feels authentic, and is genuinely weird. The story of a young, down-on-her-luck divorcee (Jennifer Lawrence) who invents a household item to stave off the claustrophobic terror of real life, it is compelling if unsurprising. Russell's biggest trick might be in making excellent cinematic technique seem effortless. As a result, his lesser work (this one, American Hustle) becomes easier to pick apart for minor shortcomings. PG13. 124m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
In light of the fact that none of the above stood out, here follows a list of 10 favorites from the past year, in no particular order:
TRAINWRECK might be the best movie of the year; a real act of feminism in as much as it thumbs its nose at many conventional notions of feminism but remains hilarious and heart-warming as it does. The first truly successful 21st century screwball comedy.
THE GIFT. A horrific, nearly perfect, won't-leave-the-psyche thriller from an actor turned writer-director (Joel Edgerton) with whom I'd like to share drinks.
AMY is, without doubt, the year's biggest heartbreaker. A slow motion car wreck, the onscreen unraveling of a formidable talent is a study in the corrosive effect of celebrity.
SPOTLIGHT. A grown-up script and performance-driven drama about significant real events? Where did this come from? I thought these were illegal now.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Everybody else has said everything about this. I don't think it's The Best of the year, but it rescued me during a season of pathetic non-starters. And it pissed off a lot of right-wing, open-carry, compensatory, male non-men who feel the need to complain about the power of women. And of course it is stunningly gorgeous.
KRAMPUS. A genre combo that most people probably don't care for or about, but one that resonates with me in a specific, important way. Maybe the best ending of any movie this year.
SICARIO. The One. Towering performances, perfect cinematography, a surfeit of menace and violence. Denis Villeneuve continues to demonstrate his singular vision and unrivaled focus.
STEVE JOBS. Furiously written and acted, directed with unusual precision and calculation by Danny Boyle, this turns three product launches into riveting, atmospheric drama.
THE END OF THE TOUR. An under-supported, perhaps over-discussed road movie about a couple of nerds getting to know each other. It would never have gotten made were it not about David Foster Wallace, but I wish his reputation didn't overshadow it.
CREED. A nearly flawless boxing picture with tremendous performances from Michael B. Jordan (expected) and Sylvester Stallone (shocking) and a one-shot fight sequence that we should all be re-watching right now.
And a few more:
FURIOUS 7. Do I need to go into it? I love 'em all.
THE NIGHT BEFORE might have become part of my Christmas canon. I found its druggy take on A Christmas Carol and surprisingly clear-eyed look at the realities of adulthood completely charming.
SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. A rare commodity: an unassuming but surprisingly effective horror comedy. It strains belief that this even got made.
CHAPPIE was almost universally reviled but is somehow beautiful to me.
BLACKHAT. A lesser Michael Mann work, but so much better than almost every other action movie. The climactic fight scene alone is worth more than a ticket to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Because we are cloistered here in rural America, there are a handful of majors that would likely make this list, but which will not be available locally until January, if ever: Adam McKay's The Big Short, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's The Revenant, Todd Haynes' Carol and Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa among them.
I am quite sure I have omitted some substantive entries from my list. Feel free to weigh in on my glaring omissions by commenting online or tweeting at @ncj_of_humboldt.
— John J. Bennett
Fortuna Theatre listings were not available at press time. For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Director Quentin Tarantino hits the frozen Wyoming trails with Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Expect choreographed brutality, Western homage and N-bombs. R. 187m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: ROAD CHIP. The singing rodents you can either stand or you can't are out to thwart the romance of their handler Dave (Jason Lee) and keep the band together. PG. 86m. BROADWAY.
CONCUSSION. Will Smith plays a real-life forensic pathologist who discovers, to the NFL's chagrin, how hits and tackles are messing with football players' heads. PG13. 123m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE DANISH GIRL. Eddie Redmayne is generating award-season buzz for his portrayal of a transgender woman in 1920s Europe. R. 172m.
THE GOOD DINOSAUR. Animated interspecies buddy movie set in an alternate universe in which dinosaurs and humans coexist. With Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand. PG. 100m. BROADWAY.
HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2. The last nail in the franchise's coffin is so dull you may have to fight your way to the exits. PG13. 136m. BROADWAY.
IN THE HEART OF THE SEA. Ron Howard's Melville moment has Chris Hemsworth as first mate on a ship beset by an angry whale. It's visually thrilling but the rest is the same old fish story. PG-13. 121m. BROADWAY.
KRAMPUS. An entertaining holiday horror with the Christmas spirit and a spirited cast. Toni Colette and Adam Scott star. PG13. 98m. BROADWAY.
SISTERS. Comedy stateswomen Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are funny enough, but play it safe in this coming-of-middle-age comedy. R. 118m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. The writing and visuals are a bit too faithful to the original, but they work in this nostalgic return. Leads John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are as compelling as more familiar faces. PG13. 135m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill