"Anomalisa" stars David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan. Released on December 30, 2015, the film is about an author who perceives everyone as identical until he meets a unique woman at the hotel.
The film is directed by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman, who also directed Synecdoche, New York. It is based on the 2005 play of the same name by Kaufman. Animation can be used in different ways. It can be used as a source of entertainment to delight little kids and their families or as an art form to express the film's storytelling, characters, and themes. That's where this unique film comes into play. Rarely we've seen animated films that are aimed towards adults, like 'South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut' for example, but we haven't seen an animated film that's filled with human drama. This film is one of the nominees for Best Animated Feature at this year's Oscars, competing with other films like Boy & the World, When Marnie Was There, and, my personal favorite to win, Inside Out. But the question is, does it really stand a chance against them?
The film offers only three actors to voice the characters. One of the characters is Michael Stone (voiced by Thewlis), a self-help author who travels to Cincinnati, Ohio to promote his new book about costumer service. The problem with him is that he's socially awkward and he always distances himself away from everyone, including his wife and son. The reason is that they all look and sound identical. That is until he meets a young woman named Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). At first, having one actor (Noonan) voice everyone in the movie besides Michael and Lisa does seem a bit…off-putting, especially for other female characters. But as the film goes on, I can fully understand why. I think it's a way of showing that Michael sees everyone as the same person. With Lisa, he sees her as a person who is different than everyone else. That's basically what I thought based on what I saw. The animation was absolutely incredible from start to finish. Like I said before, animation can be used to express the film's storytelling, characters, and its themes. It brilliantly captures the emotion and the reality of these characters. It's pretty rare to see an animated film that acts and feels like a live-action independent film.
Of course, it's not a perfect animated film. The story was pretty simple and quite short, like 90 minutes. The first act does seem to drag a little bit, but the rest of the film does seem to pick up a little bit afterwards.
Overall, with its brilliantly crafted animation, great voice work, and its use of adult themes, "Anomalisa" is an animated gem that works as an art form and as a piece of independent cinema. I would love to see more animated films like this, but as of now, this will have to do. If you're a fan of indie films or a fan of animation in general, I would highly recommend it to you if it's playing at a theatre near you.
"The Lady in the Van" stars Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam, and Jim Broadbent. Released in the United Kingdom on November 13, 2015, the film is based on a true story about the relationship between Alan Bennett and Miss Mary Shepherd, who lives in her van on Bennett's driveway for 15 years.
The film is directed by Nicholas Hytner, who also directed films such as The Crucible, Center Stage, and The History Boys. While it's not considered an Oscar contender, it did receive a Golden Globe nomination for Smith's performance as Shepherd. Since I'm going to be busy reviewing the new releases and watching the Oscars this weekend, I thought I would give this unique film a watch and, to no surprise, it was actually quite good.
The performances were remarkable. Maggie Smith was wonderful as Miss Shepherd.
Some of the comedic moments were spot on without being forced.
The screenplay was witty and charming.
A couple of scenes felt a bit slow.
Final thoughts: It does have its slow moments, but "The Lady in the Van" makes up for it with Smith's lovable performance and its charming, yet sometimes bizarre, storytelling. If you're looking for a film that doesn't involve any violence, superheroes, or demonic creatures that kill people, I would say give this one a shot.
"Spotlight" stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, and Stanley Tucci. Released on November 6, 2015, the film follows a team of newspaper investigators and their investigations towards several cases of child sex abuse by numerous Roman Catholic priests.
The film is directed by Tom McCarthy, who also directed films such as The Station Agent, Win Win, and The Cobbler. It is based on actual stories about The Boston Globe's 'Spotlight' team. I've been waiting to watch this film ever since I heard such great things about it. It even got six Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director for McCarthy. Before this film, I have no idea that this type of situation has been happening for a long time, mostly because I haven't been watching the news on television. I would have seen it sooner, but I didn't feel like traveling more than 20 miles to a different theater. Now that I finally got a chance to see it for myself, does it live up to its hype?
The film has plenty of noticeable actors such as Keaton and Ruffalo, and they delivered some really strong performances. Keaton was marvelous as Walter Robinson and Ruffalo delivered one of his best performances in his career as Michael Rezendes. Rachel McAdams definitely deserved an Oscar nomination for her realistic portrayal as Sacha Pfeiffer, one of the members of the Spotlight team. She looks, feels, and acts like a professional interviewer with flawless results. The direction in the film was very well-handled as it never lost track of its concept. McCarthy knows about the situation that has been happening for years and the way he tells it through the eyes of The Boston Globe was spot on. Another big highlight of the film was its screenplay. Out of all of the films I've seen that are nominated for Best Original Screenplay, this film's screenplay tops the others by a mile. Not only was it compelling and insightful, but also descriptive. The majority of the film consists of a lot of discussions from the Spotlight team and some interviews of the victims who had been sexually abused when they were children. It may seem boring to those who aren't into journalism, but to me, it's interesting. Their stories of what happened translates descriptively and mentally into my brain, and it made me feel bad for them. The film does feel a bit slow in the beginning, but as the film goes on, it started to get more and more engaging.
Overall, "Spotlight" not only offers a spectacular example of journalism, but also a rich and compelling story about the shocking discovery through the eyes of the Boston Globe. With its strong performances, great sense of direction, and its descriptive screenplay that contains realism and depth, this film is one heck of a page-turner despite a couple of slow moments in the first act. It's worth recommending to those who are into journalism and to those who are familiar with its real life concept.
"Room" stars Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, and William H. Macy. Released on October 16, 2015, the film is about a woman who allows her son to experience the outside world for the first time after being trapped in an enclosed room for years.
The film is directed by Lenny Abrahamson, who also directed films such as Adam & Paul and Frank. It is based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. I've been hearing a lot of good things about this film, especially Larson's performance. It has been nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, so it would make sense for me to see it for myself. Before I saw this film, one question came to my head: Just how can a film about a woman and a child in a small room together be so…inspiring? I'll tell you how, it's how they portray its themes, and this film succeeds in doing that.
Brie Larson plays a woman named Ma, who is held captive inside a small room with her son Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay. After successfully escaping from their captor, she tries to help Jack adjust to the world outside of the room for the very first time. Larson did a beautiful job portraying that character. She felt more like an actual mother rather than an actor. She definitely deserves that Oscar nomination for her breathtaking performance. I would also give props to Tremblay's performance as Jack. He was nothing shy of brilliant from beginning to end. Funny story, by the way, my mom and I were watching the Critics' Choice Awards yesterday and when we saw a clip of the film with Tremblay, my mom questioned whether the child actor is a boy or a girl because of his long hair. Yeah, my mom is weird, but I love her. What's really inspiring about this film is the concept and the direction. The film is more than about the relationship between the mother and her son, but about adjusting to the new world for the first time. I believe we have some experiences of learning how to adapt to the world around us as we grow older or trying to teach our kids to adapt to the world around them. This film expresses that theme in a fresh new way for me and it never felt dried out. Abrahamson showcases "Room" like it was a poem; a poem that expresses the feelings and the changes of these characters with their actions, not just through dialogue. The pacing in this film can be a bit slow for some people, but I was engaged to it until the credits started rolling. There's also some emotional depth that really works for a film like this. I got all teary-eyed a couple of times, but it's enough to make the film just as engaging as the characters themselves.
Overall, with its brilliant performances, smart direction, strong themes and screenplay, and masterful storytelling, "Room" is a must-see for indie fans everywhere. It's the kind of film that not only left me inspired, but also made me think about how I adjusted to the world around me. I can assure you, guys, this film did not disappoint me and I'm sure it will not disappoint you too.
"The Revenant" stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, and Will Poulter. Released in limited theaters on December 25, 2015, followed by a wide release on January 8, 2016, the film is about a frontiersman who seeks revenge against his own men who left him for dead.
The film is directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who also directed the Oscar-winning film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). It is inspired by the real life experiences of frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass, and is based in part on the novel by Michael Punke. Inarritu really impressed me with Birdman back in 2014 and I was curious to see how he was going to handle this follow-up. When I first saw the trailer for this film, I figured that it may be possible that this could be DiCaprio's year where he can finally claim his first Oscar win. But the real question is: is it any good?
The film takes place in the 1820s, where modern technology wasn't even invented yet and people have to rely on sticks, guns, and knives in order to survive the harsh wintery weather. DiCaprio portrays Hugh Glass, a man who goes on a revenge-seeking quest after one of his own men, John Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy), killed his son (Forrest Goodluck) and left him for dead. DiCaprio has shown some great talent in his film career. This film proves that he's not slowing down anytime soon. His performance was not only based on his dialogue, but also his actions on how he survives the pain from being mauled by a huge bear and the harsh weather. My guess is that he's providing some strong competition in the Oscar race this year. Tom Hardy also did a great job playing Fitzgerald, although sometimes he sounds like he's trying to imitate Jeff Bridges. The direction was also grand in terms of how realistic the violence is and how believable the characters were. One of the biggest highlights of the film was the Oscar-worthy cinematography. This film offered some breath-taking long shots that made me feel I was a part of the experience myself. From the bear attack sequence to the final 20 minutes that caught my eye, this is the best use of cinematography I've seen since Sicario.
One of the things that prevented me from loving this film was the length. There were a couple of dialogue-driven scenes that could've been a bit shorter in order to keep the audience's attention. I also believe that the relationship between Glass and his son could've been a bit stronger. It's very sad to see the son die, but it would've been more emotional if we explored more of that relationship. Another flaw I would like to point out (although I wouldn't consider it a flaw, more like an observation) was that the entire film was depressing. The fact that it seems depressing was because of the execution of its concept, the realistic violence, its settings and lightings, and the musical score. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, it's more like a warning to those who are planning on seeing it.
Overall, "The Revenant" doesn't have that many qualities to gain 'best movie' status, but thanks to DiCaprio's strong performance, its brilliant cinematography, and its unique, yet brutal and depressing, direction, it is still a worthy addition to Inarritu's filmography. It's worth recommending to those who are fans of DiCaprio or Inarritu's filmography.