Monthly Preview: December 2014

calendar2Ah, December. The year’s almost over, and as always Hollywood is doing its best to end things with a bang. And while the big bombastic tentpole efforts look far from compelling this month, there are still plenty of exciting movies looking to pick up the compelling-slack. The big surprise for me is how many great-looking comedic efforts on tap here, which is different but welcome. Not to mention that a few of these Prestige Awards films look downright fantastic and distinctive, and not at all limited by crowd-pleasing considerations. Let’s take a look at what we’ve got, after the jump.

Zero Motivation: The presence of female combat soldiers in the Israeli military is something that was used to dramatic effect in one of my favorite comics (Y: The Last Man), and I’m excited to see the same concept put to use in what appears to be a very Stripes-esque comedy. But even aside from the uncommon particulars (Israeli, female-led), it’s supposed to be a well-crafted bit of comedy. There’s a very dry wit on display in the footage here, combined with some slapstick that gives it a very British flavor… something I certainly won’t complain about. The first of several comedies being released this month, Zero Motivation sets the tone for what feels like a very uncommon December this year.

Top Five: Chris Rock has always been a stellar comedian, but his film career…. not so much. Thankfully, recognition of that seems to be one of the many things on Rock’s mind with his latest directorial effort, along with just being flat-out funny. And based on the trailer and early reviews, it seems to fall into the same sort of comedic category of this year’s brilliant Obvious Child, where the humor comes less from contrived plot machinations and more from naturally funny people interacting with each other. With the sheer volume of funny people assembled here, I’d expect it to be funny, but word is that Rock digs into some deeper and smarter themes as well; all the more reason to check this one out.

Inherent Vice: I can’t imagine that I have to sell anyone here on a new Paul Thomas Anderson movie; with one or two notable exceptions in my life, there’s no one I know that doesn’t at least respect his work, if not completely love it. And besides PTA’s personal top-tier talent, and the host of great actors he’s collected for this latest feature, the movie itself thankfully looks flat-out FUN, and could be at least a partial return to the Boogie Nights PTA that we haven’t seen for some time. Probably my most anticipated movie of the month, and another likely contender for Favorite Film of the Year.

Selma: The awful events of Ferguson only add an extra layer of timeliness and impact to this film, which chronicles one of the major events of the civil rights movement. And while the thought of an Oprah-produced, almost-directed-by-Lee-Daniels MLK movie encourages nothing but eye-rolls, it seems that director Ava DuVernay has committed to the ugliness of the subject matter, and rightfully realized that some of the less-saintly behavior ot King was key to demonstrating how truly great his accomplishments were. This was a movie that I didn’t have much interest or investment in a few months ago, but the more I see and hear from it, the more I hope it could be something truly special.

The Interview: The fact that North Korea is actually acting like a petulant supervillain about the release of this movie (up to and including maybe crashing Sony Pictures’ servers the other day) only adds to the enjoyment factor here. Even without that, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg putting together what seems to be a modern day iteration of To Be Or Not To Be sounds like a good damn time to me, with plenty of the Hollywood meta humor that they handled so well in This Is The End. It’s also nice to find comedic filmmakers outside of Edgar Wright willing to commit to mixing their brand of humor with different movie genres… really hoping they do a space opera next.

A Most Violent Year: I remember being quietly impressed by Margin Call back in 2011, and while All Is Lost is still waiting patiently in my Netflix Queue I still know enough about it to recognize that JC Chandor is a versatile talent to watch. Even without his involvement though, A Most Violent Year excites, thanks to the one-two punch of Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain. Plus, when watching the trailers, it’s hard to not be reminded of classic New York crime epics of yore, a cinematic tradition of which I am a longtime devotee. While the title is apparently a bit of a misnomer (it only covers one month of time in 1981, not the entire year), that’s probably the only “negative” thing I can think of going in. This one looks like a tense and powerful bit of drama to end the year with, and I can’t wait.

Both Annie and Into The Woods seem like serviceable and probably entertaining movie musicals, though neither seems to be doing much to stand out; Leviathan is supposed to be a downright brilliant movie from Russia, but I’ve yet to develop a serious interest in it; films like Wild, Mr. Turner and Unbroken all seem like well-made and potentially compelling dramas, though any-to-all of them could fall down the rabbit hole of awards-bait snooze-fests; and The Gambler looks like it could be a fun, seedy little drama, but it hasn’t shown me enough yet to convince me that it will be anything unique.

A special mention should also be made this month for Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, which I actually saw a preview screening of back during the summer. While it’s entirely possible that they fixed some of the issues the film had at the time, there were a lot of issues to fix, which too bad considering that when the film worked it was by far the best live-action thing Burton has done since at least Big Fish (if not since Ed Wood). On the one hand, I hope Big Eyes does well so that maybe Burton will focus more on movies like this; on the other hand, the film was flawed enough before that I don’t know if it would be worth fully recommending. So… meh?

And with those films, 2014 can draw to a close, and by this time next month it will not only be a new year but a new edition of the annual Favorite Films list. Enjoy the end of the year, and let’s go 2015!

 

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