4½ out of 5 stars
Looking for some quality sci-fi? “Arrival” fits the bill perfectly. A delicate film about the inexplicable arrival of a fleet of hovering spaceships and the scientists working to communicate with the beings inside, “Arrival” is miles away from the celluloid vomit of a typical alien invasion movie: no death-defying stunts, no exploding skyscrapers, no faux-inspiring monologue from an American president. Instead, we have Amy Adams delivering one of the year’s best performances as a language expert working with the government to decipher the alien’s messages.
Props to director Denis Villeneuve, a Nolan-esque French-Canadian who is rapidly becoming one of the best directors working today. He manages to convey the emotional core of the film through gorgeous long shots and carefully composed frames, fully realizing cinema’s potential as a visual storytelling medium.
Deputy Scene Editor
4.5 out of 5 stars
While drowning in boredom in her postmodern Los Angeles mansion, Susan (Amy Adams), an impeccably dressed art gallery owner, receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The manuscript, “Nocturnal Animals,” focuses on Tony (Gyllenhaal) and his family (Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber) as they head on a deadly road trip through Texas.
Ford weaves in and out of both stories, as Susan reveals what destroyed her first marriage. Adams gives the best performance of the film, portraying a cold and heartless Susan who begins to thaw under the crushing guilt of what she did. But the real star is Seamus McGarvey’s beautiful cinematography. Every part of the film looks like it belongs in a ridiculously expensive coffee table book. Tom Ford’s second film is a visual masterpiece you can’t look away from.
Bleed for This
3 out 5
“Bleed for This” tells the story of the biggest comeback in boxing history. It’s the true life story of Vinny Pazienza, starring Miles Teller. Like every underdog story, we see the punches coming before they’re thrown, from the initial win in the first act until the car accident that almost leaves Pazienza paralyzed. Aaron Eckhart, playing coach Kevin Rooney, gives the performance his all with his pot bellied appearance and New England accent. The same can be said for Teller (“Whiplash” and “The Spectacular Now”), a solid actor who is able to make us root for his portrayal of Vinny Paz, who possessed all the cliched flaws of an athlete (gambling, women, cockiness).
During the training montage, you can’t help but hum the “Rocky” theme in your head, even though the soundtrack is completely different. Julia Holter provides the film score with emotion in a nuanced and subtle way. The film’s hard hitting song, “Too Dry to Cry” by Willis Earl Beale, has a beat you can’t stop bopping your head to. Unfortunately, the best thing about this film is the soundtrack and film score. As much as this film was uplifting and tried its hardest not to be “Rocky,” the tropes hit you over the head so much, you have to try and duck to not be suckerpunched by the end. Seriously, go watch “Rocky” instead.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Rating: 4 out of 5
Fans of the original wizarding series will remember Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as the author of a magi-zoological reference book; in this film, we learn about his travels to America in the 1920s. After arriving at Ellis Island, the nebbish Scamander manages to lose track of a bevy of brilliantly animated magical creatures, gets entangled in a plot to turn No-Majs (the American word for Muggles) against wizards, and is forced to help the Magical Congress of America keep New York City safe.
The action scenes are brilliantly shot by returning Potter director David Yates, and J.K. Rowling’s original screenplay manages to create a wonderfully detailed new magical world. Shoutout to Redmayne and his co-stars (especially a charming Katherine Waterston), who manage to make these new characters feel as familiar as Harry, Ron and Hermione. Be warned though: if you haven’t read the books (wtf?) you’ll probably be a bit lost.
20th Century Women
Rating: 4 out of 5
A24, the independent studio that brought you “Swiss Army Man,” “Moonlight” and “American Honey” delivers yet another masterpiece. Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women” is a comedic drama set in Santa Barbara, CA, during the summer of 1979. The film follows five characters—a mother, her son, their two housemates and her son’s close female friend—as they explore love, freedom and feminism.
Mills’ wonderfully crafted comedic drama consists of an exceptional screenplay—which effortlessly shifts from multiple character narrations—and incredible performances from Annette Bening, Lucas Jade Zumann, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, and Billy Crudup.
With a unique selection of music ranging from the late 60s to early 80s—such as Black Flag and Talking Heads—combined with an original score from Roger Neill, and incredible performances from a diverse and talented cast, “20th Century Women” will be remembered as one of this year’s best films.