Didn’t January just fly by? I barely noticed it was here. Regardless, I managed to catch a solid seven films at the cinema last month, with one certain picture getting my money twice! As the Oscar season sped into full view, some unforgettable cinema was on show, as was a slice of total forgettability. If I’ve made that word up, it’s mine.
With seven films seen, there are only two films that miss out on this list, the disappointing The Danish Girl and important Joy, both of which I wrote about earlier this month. Anyway, onto those good enough to make their way onto this esteemed record. Here we go:
5. The Assassin
The Assassin is generally alienating to a wide audience due to its vague plot, slow progression and lack of dialogue. Hou Hsiao-hsien has created a martial arts film with as little conflict in it as possible, featuring sparce death and no bloodshed. It is slow, quiet and patience is needed, but in a world of on-screen destruction, devastation and dino-snores, this slice of solemnity is the rightful solution.
Ambitious and pretentious in equal measure, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight handholds and spoon-feeds his vision of a modern spaghetti western, with predictably violent results.
The Hateful Eight came to Hollywood before Broadway, allowing power, precision and a perfectly familiar collection of actors to inhabit Tarantino’s script. Dern and Jackson’s aged race relations flicker with an untamed rage whilst Roth’s discussions of justice with Russell and Jason Leigh are a civilised precursor to the removal of such civility later in the picture.
3. The Big Short
The Big Short is another example of why award camps need to take ensemble casts seriously. In films such as this, it is hard to see who has shone brightest. The Oscar nominated Brit, Christian Bale, deserves his attention again this year, acting for long periods with just a whiteboard for company. Yet, he hardly stands head and shoulders above the rest of McKay’s assortment. Carell is close to his Foxcatcher best, whilst secondary faces such as Spall, Greenfield and Linklater radiate life and charm.
All of this individual talent needs guidance, and it is McKay’s bold style that wraps everything up in a nice, bright bow. Though The Big Short is hardly great for women but the jovial tone livens the straight talk, as Bale & co. resist speaking down to their audience. The script is aggressively aware of big business’ use of jargon, to bore and confuse us into submission, and uses it liberally to highlight how thickly the wool was pulled over America’s eyes.
The reality of the situation and the power of hindsight make The Big Short contemporaneously terrifying. It is the perfect main course to 99 Homes‘ dessert.
Creed is not innovative but it is a near-perfect incarnation of what this reboot should have been. Creed is not just a worthy successor to the Rocky masthead, not just the best boxing film of the decade but one of the greatest sports films of the modern era.
1. The Revenant
The Revenant drew an abundance of attention thanks to DiCaprio and the visual cacophony of injury he suffers at the hands of a grumpy grizzly. This is the hook, but there is much more to the allure of Iñárritu’s tale of untamed America.
The Revenant whispers of the quiet desolation of a man. Leo’s breath fogs the camera, creating a feeling almost that of an out-of-body experience. The camera revels in the stripped colours, white and grey clouds, snow, water and faces. The camera is always on its toes, free to twirl and twist, rise and fall with the action or lack thereof, moving with timing just as precise as Iñárritu’s Oscar winner. Low, wide and angular shots show the size of the epic landscape, whilst slow and appreciative progression through it adds depth. The result? An overwhelming sense of awe rarely experienced on the big screen.
Whilst this feels like The Alejandro G. Iñárritu Show, his on-screen talent brings the cold tale to the boil. DiCaprio has always been a wonderful physical performer, as Wolf of Wall Street reminded, but The Revenant is his crowning expression of physicality. His grunting, scrambling, straining and pain not only feels real, it is real, performed without the slightest tinge of ‘acting’. DiCaprio is centred by a swirl of pricked characters, each standing out whilst bundled together. Hardy’s character is the obvious standout but the tempered performances of Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson, who seems almost omnipresent this award’s season, should truly be admired.
The Revenant is just as ambitious as Birdman, and just as pretentious. In some ways, The Revenant even surpasses the impact of Iñárritu’s Best Picture victor.
Images courtesy of muni, hitflix, Rolling Stone, outbreak and fox film respectively.