1. American Pastoral - This is an amazing story, and should, in theory, be an amazing film. Something's missing, though, and I can't quite put my finger on it. It's Ewan McGregor's directorial debut, and it's certainly not bad for a first effort. The cast is phenomenal - especially Jennifer Connelly. She's one of the most consistent actresses in Hollywood, and somehow is still under-rated. I wish the story delved into her psychology more (which I have a feeling the novel does); mostly because I wanted to watch more of Connelly in this role. Dakota Fanning is still awesome - she gets a lot of hate now, while everyone praises her sister (whom I also adore), but it's totally unnecessary to compare the two (although, I am a complete hypocrite because Kate Mara > Rooney Mara). Also, the daughter at a younger age is played by the little girl who plays Josslyn Jacks on General Hospital and holy crap....she's a good little actress!! I think the biggest problem I have with the movie is the narration from the brother and his friend (told from a 45 year high school reunion) - it doesn't really make sense how these two people would really know the inner-workings of this family dynamic. My other problem is that it just doesn't go deep enough. The whole dynamic of this entitled family during this time of racial tensions (the Newark riots of 1967 is a key scene, and eerily reminiscent of watching the present day news) and how this family is torn apart by this entitlement is fascinating. The extreme rebellion of the daughter is the driving force of the story, yet strangely not really explored enough. There's so much there to explore, too! Like how she goes from violent protests to Jainism. It's incredibly interesting. I added the novel to my read list, hopefully it dives much deeper than this film.
2. Manchester by the Sea - I was prepared for an emotional movie. So many people commented on crying during this movie; I waited to watch it in order to fully prep myself. For most of the movie, I was left confused. It's sad, sure, but hardly an innovation at emotional manipulation. Then, towards the end, the scene with Michelle Williams that has been used in many ads, and all of Michelle's awards clips, broke me. It's like I've seen it so many times, but I never really understood what it was referring to. Obviously, knowing the story behind it, is heartbreaking. *spoilers* I guessed from the initial viewing of this scene, that they lost a child together. But, Jesus Christ, all three children?? From a fire?? Ugh. I can't think of anything worse. So, when she says "you can't just die", I just burst into tears and I couldn't stop. And, in all honesty, if I lost my three children in a fire that was my fault, I would want to die. I can't imagine living after that. I like that the ending didn't try to erase anything, or give any closure. Overall, I think the movie is a very successful story of loss (in many different forms). As far as Casey Affleck goes, I'm not sure it's an award-worthy performance. However, I've been a Casey Affleck fan ever since Ocean's Eleven. And as far as the controversy, I feel like it is extremely one-sided, and as much as it pains me to say, I don't really believe the story 100%. However, it also bothers me that Affleck has never denied any allegations. So, I'm on the fence about the whole thing. I'm bothered that these allegations from 2010 have suddenly resurfaced as a "dark secret"- I remember reading about it when it happened, it was public information and was reported on extensively. Why is it suddenly a thing just because he's in a movie that had awards buzz? It's like it was purposely meant to destroy his awards momentum, and that is ridiculous. Anyway, Michelle Williams does give an award-worthy performance and she's in the movie far more than I was led to believe. And what is it with Kyle Chandler picking small roles in Oscar nominated movies?? He has a knack for it and it kind of blows my mind (Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, Carol, The Wolf of Wall Street). On a side note, I didn't know that there is an actual town called "Manchester-by-the-sea". How cute! Learn something new everyday!
3. Complete Unknown - I never heard of this movie, but I have Amazon Prime now, and it was listed as a new release starring Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon...and YES PLEASE! Apparently, it is an Amazon original. I had no idea they did original movies (and a lot of them!). I don't think this one was given a wide release, though. And I understand why. The story is good, but it's just really slow and really boring. It's set up like a slow-burn mystery, but it is given away from the beginning, so I'm not sure what the "mystery" is supposed to be. I can relate to the main character, because I've done the whole "start over" thing (and am sort of doing it right now), although not to such extreme (I've always remained myself, and I keep in contact with the important people in my life). I understand the need to start over, though. I understand the need to have a blank slate. Ultimately, I find it a bit unfulfilling. I regret not keeping in touch with certain people - ones who have had a positive effect on my life. It's a bit of a psychotic nature to just show up in someone's life, which is the plot of this movie. She disappears, and then reappears in her ex-boyfriend's life and pretends she's someone else. He obviously recognizes her and begins to question her motives (which aren't as exciting or malicious as we expect). It's just a blah movie, however, the actress who plays Shannon's wife is absolutely stunning. I've never seen her before, but now I'm obsessed (her name is Azita Ghanizada).
4. Hacksaw Ridge - Where do I begin? I will start by saying I liked this movie much more than I was expecting to. I've read a lot of mixed reviews, and I haven't really been a fan of Mel Gibson's previous directorial ventures. I was expecting to be bored, and I wasn't in the least bit. It is full of energy, intensity, and urgency. However, the real success is deemed from the story, itself, and boy, is it an incredible one. I would argue that it would be hard to make a "bad" movie out of this true story. And I can (perhaps) argue that a better one could have been made. I will always be aggravated by films that show war heroes "falling in love" before they go to war, as if it makes his life "more" worth living, and/or makes someone "more" worth saving. The love story is completely unnecessary, and horribly over-dramatic (and grossly over-acted by both parties) and if you research the "real" story, it isn't even portrayed in a correct timeline. There are quite a bit of differences in the true story vs the film, which always happens in movies, in order to create dramatic effect. However, a very minor thing that bothers me (in a major way) comes from a comment that my boyfriend (who LOVED the movie) made during a key scene in the movie in which a Japanese "sniper" is featured - my bf pointed out that the Japanese did not have snipers in WWII because it wasn't an honorable way to kill someone. That's a pretty big error...right? Especially when it seems that Gibson went out of his way to show the Japanese "honorable" war tactics. So, I looked it up and found several articles about a Japanese sniper actually shooting our hero (that was cut from the movie version). And I thought, well, my bf is wrong (it happens sometimes). Then, I curiously looked up the word "sniper" in relation to WWII, and it has a completely different definition than our modern-day sniper. So basically, Gibson heard/read the story of him getting shot by a Japanese "sniper" and decided to add a sniper scene to the movie (without doing SIMPLE research that took me 2 whole minutes to find). And that drives me insane. It's also necessary for me to address the elephant in the room, that it is very problematic for a known anti-Semite to make a movie about WWII. It's an interesting choice, and in my opinion, a calculated move to focus on the Japanese enemy. I'll just leave it at that, though: Problematic. I also think that Vince Vaughn was a terrible casting choice. I'm a huge fan, but his performance is laughable (and not in a good way). It felt like a parody. As for Andrew Garfield, someone I'm also a fan of, I didn't love his performance either. He played the character very dopey. That could have been based on the character, although nothing I've read described him that way. It's an odd choice, and it didn't work for me. As for the brilliance of the film, starting from the initial climbing of Hacksaw Ridge until the end - it's a stunning achievement. The violence is visceral, and never forgiving in its brutality; Combined with the sheer act of bravery and selflessness from Desmond Doss, I can't help but be blown away. Some of those battle scenes are the best ever put to screen, and as much as I would like to, I can't deny that Gibson created an extraordinary film. Well, half of a film, at least.
5. Kubo and the Two Strings - The animation is wonderful, and stunning, and magical, and OH MY GOD I WROTE A WHOLE PARAGRAPH AND BLOGGER WENT DOWN AND DIDN'T SAVE IT. Ugh...now I have to write the whole thing again and I have no memory of what I wrote. Anyway, so yeah...the animation is great. However, the story is kind of slow and depressing. There is a nice uplifting ending as a payoff, but it takes so long to get there, and I'm not sure it's worth it. The voice actors were a little off for me - especially Charlize. Her voice was so monotonous, and part of the reason the film moves so slowly. I hardly recognized Matthew McConaughey's voice. It sounded like a Brad Pitt/George Clooney hybrid. I would have preferred his natural voice. And *spoiler* were we not supposed to know those were his parents the whole time? Because it's obvious from their very first introduction. I think even kids would have picked up on that. I think the tone of the movie was a bit all over the place, too. It was too mature for children, and a bit too scary (but hey, Scar from The Lion King was pretty damn scary too, I guess), but the jokes were all catered to children. It just didn't work for me. Overall, though, if you are a fan of animation, I highly suggest watching this just to experience the beauty of it.