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Rating History

Beauty and the Beast
12 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

It's funny that last week, I praised the movie "Sing" for casting well known actors who could actually sing, which is so rare for a big-budget movie. This movie illustrates my point perfectly. The movie has its merits, but is weakest on its voice talent, which is essential to carry a big sweeping musical like this one. The actors all have passable singing voices, but the only one with a voice strong enough to carry their role is Luke Evans as Gaston. Even Josh Gad is not very strong in this. That being said, the film is a decent "live-action" remake of the classic animated film. Though I use that term loosely, as this movie is still about 80% animated...so what exactly was the point of making this movie again? Aside, of course, from the obvious Disney cash grab. You can't help but compare it to the original, and while it's a faithful adaptation (some of it is shot for shot), it falls short in a lot of respects. There are the aforementioned mediocre voice performances, pacing problems (there is a ton of stuff added to beef it up which only end up slowing down the story), and tonal inconsistencies. How do you have a fun song-and-dance number about a vain but harmless buffoon of a character who in the next few scenes suddenly becomes a murderous sociopath? The ending gets really dark, a little too dark, to the point that the moral of the story seems to be that that enchantress was a total epic bitch. On the plus side, there were some changes that I liked better in this version: Belle has more agency, Beast has a back story, and the enchantment/curse is more fleshed out. Also, in this version, they take the time to show how the titular characters end up falling for each other in a way that actually makes sense, while the animated film tried to explain it away in a single 2-minute throwaway song. What the movie really has going for it is how it looks, and it really is gorgeous...but even then, it gets to be too much at times. It's so lavish that it tends to creep over the line into gaudy territory. Sometimes it just tries too hard to top the original, and director Bill Condon seems to have adopted Gaston's philosophy of "most beautiful = best". But more is not always better, and the movie would have been more effective if it pulled back a little in places. It's all spectacle with very little else.

Moonlight
Moonlight (2016)
12 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

This movie is clearly the lowest budget of all the Best Picture nominees, and has the least narrative structure as well. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just different. Rather than tell a defined story, the film is broken up into three segments, each one a snapshot of different points of a single character's life. The first two are fantastic, the third... well, not so much. That third act was SOOO SLOOOOW, it detracted from my overall enjoyment of the film. The movie still packs a solid emotional punch, thanks to the first two acts. This is an important movie, if nothing other than the fact that I think this is the only movie I have ever seen where the main character is a black gay guy. Even so, the themes are universal that anyone can relate to. This is a poignant film with a lot to say, even though it doesn't come right out and tell you. You feel it rather than hear it.

Lion
Lion (2016)
12 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

This is the kind of movie that Oscar loves - an epic with a powerful emotional story at its core. It's the story of a man who is torn between his present and his past and his struggle to find the path between. Dev Patel shines in this role, you can see how he becomes more and more haunted by his memories as the movie progresses and his obsession with finding his biological family deepens. It is profoundly emotionally affecting, but has none of the contrived sugary sweetness that often goes hand-in-hand with that. The emotion of the film is natural and builds as it progresses, and before I knew it, I was surprised to find myself completely and totally invested in this family. "Lion" is the biggest surprise for me this year, as I did not expect to love it as much as I did. Though it is certainly deserving of a nomination, this film falls into the "it was an honor to have been nominated" category.

Manchester by the Sea
12 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

What an incredible film. Though it's heart-wrenching at times, it's not the downer that I expected it to be. There is some seriously heavy stuff here, but the film perfectly balances it with just the right amount of humor. This is a movie that some people may not appreciate due to its subtlety. The genius of this film lies in what is unsaid. Everything you need to know is there on-screen, but it's not spelled out for you - it's in the details: how the characters look (or don't look) at each other, a picture on the wall, a silence between two people. The film exemplifies a naturalism that is rarely seen in movies these days... it immerses you in a world of real people, in a real place, experiencing real crises and real emotions. The characters are SO well written, including the best written teenage character I have seen in a movie, maybe ever. And Casey Affleck is a revelation, he embodied his character so fully, I'd swear it was actually him. He's got that Best Actor trophy in the bag, no one else can touch him. The film is peppered with flashbacks that take some getting used to, but they are used brilliantly to slowly unfold the story behind the story... which is really where the meat of this film is. If I have any complaints, it's that it's a little too long and drags a bit in parts. But for me, this movie is easily one of the best of the year, if not THE best.

Arrival
Arrival (2016)
12 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I struggled with picking this one as my favorite film of 2016 because "Manchester By The Sea" affected me on a more primal level... but you cannot ignore the near flawless execution of this film, from the original story to the fantastic acting to the meticulously crafted atmosphere and tone. Every last beat is damn near perfect. I have heard people criticize this movie for being slow and not making sense, but I was riveted throughout the entire thing, and I can't really argue about the making sense bit without spoiling the whole movie. Suffice it to say that the story gradually reveals itself precisely and intentionally, and is impeccably done. I'll admit it's a slow burn, but oooh, that burn is so good! Director Denis Villeneuve is a master of building tension, and he gets better at it with every film. The concept of this film is entirely original and complex, it's pretty heady stuff that really makes you think. Though the movie is technically about aliens, it is not your traditional sci-fi film. I would categorize it more as a suspense film with a dramatic core. It's about people, not aliens... both individually and as a group. This movie is what "Interstellar" should have been, and more. It's haunting and profound, and it sat with me more than any other movie this year.