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Film Review: 2015 HOLIDAY SEASON MOVIE REVIEW ROUND-UP

Published On January 30, 2016 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

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2015 HOLIDAY SEASON MOVIE REVIEW ROUND-UP

The 2016 Academy Awards ceremony is scheduled to be held on Sunday, Feb. 28, from Hollywood, and, with one month to go and with the somewhat ridiculous nominations announced—ridiculous not for any race, gender, creed or nationality reasons, but ridiculous because of several nominations that are wholly undeserved, incompetent and overblown—this is as good a time as any to offer a 2015 Holiday Season Movie Review Round-Up, a collection of brief reviews of several of the 2015 holiday season films.

“The Revenant”

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Forrest Goodluck/Directed by Alejandro Inarritu

The round-up starts with one of the most overblown, over-done, over-rated, over-stated and over-praised films of 2015, “The Revenant,” which, bluntly, didn’t deserve most of its ridiculous nominations. It’s not being unprofessional to note, simply, that this film is so self-centered, so self-aware, and so arrogant in its blatant, even amateurish “LOOK AT ME!” style of direction, acting and cinematography and its over-stated insistence on gray, cloudy, moody, dark, depressing and despondent atmospherics, mood, look and tone—none of which works on a production, direction, writing or acting level—at the great expense of focusing on story, dialogue, plot, story development and character development, the entire film is swallowed whole, becoming dark and morose as a filmgoing experience and in its overall tone of presentation. “The Revenant,” which tells the story of an Old West American fur trapper who is attacked by a grizzly bear, left for dead by his psycho colleagues, and embarks on a revenge mission, is so overly dark, murky, depressing, negative, violent—unnecessarily graphically violent—and sordid that the movie becomes almost unwatchable. The story, dialogue and plot are so thin, there’s barely anything there; the acting is so minimalistic and bare, there’s barely anything there, and the direction, cinematography, editing, pacing and even musical score are so self-centered, so self-aware, the entire exercise actually becomes somewhat laughable—really. “The Revenant” is not worthy of its numerous Academy nominations, and the question that arises in the wake of these odd nominations is valid: Did the majority of Academy members really watch the movie? A good answer is probably not—because if they did, this film would not have received those nominations.

“Carol”

Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara/Directed by Todd Haynes

“Carol” is as over-rated as “The Revenant,” due to the same problems that seem to be attacking too many films in recent years, for some odd reason: A film with potentially strong content and character, but instead doomed due to its threadbare story, dialogue, plot and characterization and overall clumsy, amateurish handling. “Carol” attempts to tell a lesbian love story during a time—the early 1950s–when such things were grossly, horribly misunderstood, hush-hush to the point of ridiculousness, thought to be the result of mental illness, intensely fought to the point of insanity among people holding positions of power in society, and generally marginalized to the point of terrible bias, prejudice and outright hatred toward gay people. That could be a powerful, moving, emotional, insightful story into sexual discrimination, bigotry, bias and hatred and how people fight these hatreds—but that’s not the story told powerfully in “Carol.” Instead, there is one huge, glaring, terribly-conceived, bad-decision plot twist, along with several other bad storytelling decisions, that blows up the entire film. That plot point can’t be revealed, because it would spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it, but it’s quite bizarre that one plot point can ruin an entire film—but it does in the case of “Carol.” Additionally, the film is thin on story, plot, dialogue and characterization, completely wasting what could have been a strong, powerful civil rights story. The acting is average, the direction is terribly slow-moving, and the screenplay never rises above normal. “Carol,” much like “The Revenant,” is a blown opportunity to tell a powerful story.

“Legend”

Starring Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis/Directed by Brian Helgeland

Interestingly, “Legend” is as dark, psycho, depressing, at-time-unwatchable and overly graphically violent as “The Revenant,” and the film presents another blown potential to tell a powerful tale, like “Carol.” In this case, a tale could have been solidly told about good-versus-evil and the powerful pull of the underworld and crime and how those criminal temptations completely destroy people in every manner. But, again, like “Revenant,” “Legend” falls apart also due to its horribly violent, stomach-turning nature (it seems some modern-day filmmakers have completely forgotten how to present stylish, stylized violence in a bloodless manner that doesn’t gross out and turn away audiences). “Legend,” destroyed by its sick focus on stomach-churning violence and the psychotic but not pleasant focus on its wholly unlikeable main characters, fails to focus on what could have been, and should have been, various important messages about the dangers and darkness of crime that are inherent in its true-life story. “Legend” tells the story about the true-life low-life thugs and morons Reggie and Ronald Kray, complete idiots who ran a bunch of shady criminal enterprises in 1960s London, seemingly thinking they were never going to get caught—although everyone from lower-income residents of the thugs’ families’ neighborhoods on up to high-income businessmen and politicians knew exactly what they were doing. So, eventually, they got caught. The Krays, in real life and as presented in this too-violent, too-dark film, are so thoroughly unlikeable, idiotic, violent and, at times, just plain stupid and sickening psychotic, viewers of the film don’t really care about them—and the only thing worth waiting around for is the Kray’s hoped-for, inevitable imprisonment. In real life, and in the film, that end result could not occur soon enough.

Fortunately, and yes, indeed, there were some excellent, deservedly-praised and truly prestigious, exceptional, excellent and intelligent films released during the 2015 holiday season—“The Big Short,” “Concussion” and “The Danish Girl.” All three films are highly-recommended, all are worthy of the highest praise, all are worth seeing in the theaters, and all are deserving of Academy nominations and other equally-noted attention and praise. All three of these films were simply among the very best films released in 2015.

“The Big Short”

Starring Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt/Directed by Adam McKay

“The Big Short” excels on every level, due to inventive, highly original, hilarious, creative and impressively intelligent direction from Adam McKay; career-high, at-time hilarious, at-time highly-emotional, equally inventive and creative and, for some, career-high acting performances by the wonderfully watchable ensemble of Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt; a wildly original and creative screenplay by Adam McKay and Charles Randolph that manages to tell the somewhat complicated (for anyone, not just a layman) story about the subprime mortgage, housing and financial crisis of 2007 and 2008; and an overall funny, emotional, suspenseful, riveting overall production that takes you into this somewhat bubble-world of high-level finance, economics, business, trade, housing and banking. Funny, sad, emotional, suspenseful, intelligent, relevant—to all of us, as everyone suffered from the 2007-2008 financial crisis, and some never recovered, out in the real world—and important to everyone who watches the film, for the just-noted reason, and based on true-life events, “The Big Short” should be seen by, well, simply everyone. Carell delivers a career-high, exceptional performance in a film for the second year in a row; Christian Bale delivers one of his best performances in a role that is about as far removed from “Batman” as the universe is expansive; Gosling is an understandable, sympathetic Everyman; and Pitt is hilarious as an understated, reclusive, but brilliant financial whiz who is too smart for Wall Street, too caring to leave it all behind, and too intrigued and smart to not stick it to the Financial Man one last time. The cast and crew somehow tell a story about finance, economics and banking that could have been, in lesser hands, boring, droll and unwatchable, and they instead make the film suspenseful, funny, emotional, smart, relevant and satisfying. The Academy nominations for “Short”—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Bale and Best Adapted Screenplay—are wholly deserved, and most welcome. Bale should win.

“Concussion”

Starring Will Smith, Albert Brooks, Alec Baldwin/Directed by Peter Landesman

Just like “The Big Short,” director Peter Landesman’s excellent, outstanding—and relevant and important—“Concussion” tells a true-life story in a creative, original, fascinating, suspenseful and smart manner. The film combines excellent, stand-out acting performances from Will Smith, Albert Brooks and Alec Baldwin—among the better career performances by all three actors, it should be noted. There is creative, inventive direction that makes a talk-oriented, dialogue-driven screenplay about the very real, life-threatening, life-taking dangers of very real concussions and brain injuries in football—at all levels—and the criminal, corrupt and completely horrid, disgusting and thuggish attempts by the clueless, greedy and somewhat insane morons at the NFL to cover up a medical threat that is literally killing people, and makes the story move swiftly, suspensefully and entertainingly. And existing clearly, strongly and powerfully throughout the film is a vital, relevant, all-together important and pertinent story and plot about the dangers inherent in sports and football, about greed, about corruption, about abuses of power at all levels of society, and, very powerfully, about the heroism, perseverance, persistence, confidence and strength of Smith’s real-life character, Bennet Omalu, to fight society’s most powerful and corrupt entities—such as the NFL—to prove your valid, needed-to-be-heard medical point that concussions and brain injury exist widely in football at all levels, and are a very real danger to athletes across the country, if not the world. Smith’s portrayal of Omalu is his best—his outright best—performance in his entire career, and his snub from being nominated as Best Actor is an Academy crime. The film should have also been nominated for other major awards, and the film should have been a huge box office success. Alas, in another crime, the film did not dominate at the Academy Awards, and the movie received a very poor response at the box office. Meanwhile, in the one month since the film’s release, there have been media reports about—you guessed it–more football players who have suffered from the very ailment that Omalu fought to bring to light in real life, and that is portrayed in the film. “Concussion” should be required viewing for every football coach in the country, from coaches of young kids to coaches of high school kids, college kids and professional players. The film should also be required viewing for every employee of the NFL—some of whom, in a perfect world, should be watching from their jail cells.

“The Danish Girl”

Starring Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander/Directed by Tom Hooper

Once again, a brilliant film on every level—production, direction, acting, writing, story, plot, character development, plot development, production and art design, costuming, hair and make-up, musical score and cinematography–and, instantly, like “Short” and “Concussion,” one of the best films of 2015. Eddie Redmayne, much like Steve Carell, delivers another stellar, impressive career-high performance—for the second year in a row! And both are still early in their already-excellent film careers! Carell and Redmayne have delivered some of the most powerful, exceptional acting performances in recent years, and filmgoers can only hope that both are continually offered the same level of consistently challenging, inventive, insightful and important roles as they have performed in recent years. It would not be out-of-line or over-the-top if Eddie Redmayne won Best Actor for his performance in “The Danish Girl” and guess what—he should. He should win—it’s that simple. Redmayne is simply breathtakingly effective, emotional, conflicting, startingly daring and courageous, and so multi-layered, complex and intellectual—yes, intellectual—in his performance in “The Danish Girl,” it’s one of those acting performances that leaves one breathless after the film ends. Equally effective in her complexity, layers of emotion, courageousness and strength of acting in the film is Alicia Vikander, who had a standout year in 2015 with starring roles in three major films (much like Tom Hardy in 2015). Vikander gives a stellar performance, but for some oddball, insanely ridiculous move, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress—which makes zero sense. She should have been nominated for Best Actress—simply because her role in the film is a leading role. Nevertheless, she should win Best Supporting Actress. Tom Hooper, once again, excellently, masterfully directs a fascinating, insightful, highly-emotional true-life story. Hooper is truly a master at what he does, and his mastery is present throughout “The Danish Girl.” The film tells the moving and bittersweet story about groundbreaking, courageous and heroic Danish transgender artist Lile Elbe/Einar Wegener (Redmayne) and his wife, Gerda Wegener (Vikander). Elbe struggles in a heartbreaking manner with his gender identity during a time when, once again, seemingly normal people view gay and transgender people as insane or mentally ill and deserving to be locked up in brutal insane asylums, and he fights the difficult fight to be accepted, respected and treated equally in society. Gerda, who loves her husband truly unconditionally, struggles with Elbe’s fight alongside him, offering the highest level of support in life and love that any loving, caring human being can offer. Their struggle, their fight, their relationship and their life is a testament to the power of the human spirit, of love, of unconditional love, and the power of the human spirit to fight for what is right in life. “The Danish Girl” stands as one of the best films of 2015, Tom Hooper’s direction is, again, exceptional from start to finish, the story, plot and dialogue are exceptional, and, again, Redmayne’s and Vikander’s performances are classic. “The Danish Girl” was indeed nominated for several Academy Awards, and it would be a great end result if the film, Hooper, Redmayne and Vikander were rightfully acknowledged for their powerful, emotional and intelligent film work in one of the best films of 2015. However, awards aside, the powerful message of “The Danish Girl” will resonate long after any awards season—the message that people should be able to be who they are, that no one should be persecuted, hated or judged because of who they are, that people should be accepted for who they truly are, and they everyone should support people, no matter the manner of their sexual preferences or sexual identity. Accepting that message, in “The Danish Girl” and in real life, is far more important than any box office numbers or glitzy awards, and it is that message that will remain from “The Danish Girl” long after the film leaves the theater and the lights go down on another awards season. And that type of intelligent, important message is the true lasting legacy of any truly excellent film.

 

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