365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About

16Jan/180

I, Tonya (2017)

Boy, do I have a completely different opinion of Tonya Harding after seeing Craig Gillespie's (Lars and the Real Girl, The Finest Hours) I, Tonya. The movie revolves around the 1994 Winter Olympics when her main competition for a gold medal that year (Nancy Kerrigan) had her knee taken out after a 1993 skating session in Detroit, MI by someone on Harding's payroll. Kerrigan's recorded screams of "Why?! Why ?!" that were then shown in media outlets throughout the world still resonate in our heads. Harding became the punchline of every late night talk show host's monologue and, unlike any time other time in history, we had a physical, life-altering altercation between two of the very best competitors in their sport. Even without all of the facts, we identified Kerrigan as the protagonist and Harding as the antagonist. And rightfully so. However, though it is made clear from the film's first scene that what we were about to see was going to be a "mostly true, wildly contradictory" account of what happened. Yes, Gillespie only gave us one side of the story, but it's a side that makes us think of Harding as an extremely sympathetic, misinterpreted, and even likable character who was, perhaps, as much a victim as Kerrigan was. Personally, I have a newfound affinity towards Harding that I hadn't had in the 24 years since the near 25 years since the incident happened. 

14Jan/180

Darkest Hour (2017)

Before I start the review for Darkest Hour, we might as well get one thing out of the way. It's Gary Oldman's (Sid and Nancy, The Dark Knight Rises) will win this year's Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. Whoever the other four nominees don't even need to show up for the ceremony. Buried in thick coats of makeup and padding that make him unrecognizable, Oldman (who was only six years younger in real life than the many he was portraying on screen was at the time of this movie but who clearly takes better care of himself physically than the man he is portraying) pulls off one of the most remarkable actor/character transformations in recent memory in his portrayal of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  His performance will draw comparisons to Colin Firth's portrayal of King George VI (who ironically was a character in this movie) in 2010's The King's Speech, a role in which earned numerous awards for, including the coveted Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Oscar. When an actor's performance is so much greater than that of his peers in a given year, I often find myself comparing that role against roles in previous years. I do believe, had Darkest Hour come out last year that Oldman would have beat Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) and had it come out in 2015, he would have given Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) a run for his money. Ultimately, though, this is a movie review site and not an acting review site. Darkest Hour is a good movie but, in my opinion, doesn't rival The King's Speech, Manchester by the Sea, or The Revenant in terms of entertainment and lasting impact. But in terms of the importance of telling its story and doing so in a way that keeps the audience interested and educated, Darkest Hour tops the other three.

10Jan/180

All the Money in the World (2017)

You know it's a great year for actresses in a leading role when Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, Manchester by the Sea), arguably the greatest actress of her generation gives one of the greatest performances of her career and won't even get a sniff when it comes to an Oscar nomination. But that is what we have in 2017. We have a year that, as a whole, hasn't produced a lot of great movies nor has it given us many great performances for actors in a leading role, but has given us so many amazing lead actress performances that the likes of traditional heavyweights Williams, Jessica Chastain (Molly's Game), Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes), Jennifer Lawrence (mother!). Williams gives one of the top five performances of her career in Ridley Scott's (Gladiator, The Martian) All the Money in the World. But it likely will be forgotten for two reasons. The first is that it is not one of the five best performances of the year and thus won't be recognized during awards season. The other is that a good portion of this movie was reshot following the claims of sexual assault against Kevin Spacey, one of the key figures in the movie. The movie might be more known for what went on behind the scenes than for its final product. Scott replaced Spacey with Christopher Plummer (Beginners, The Last Station), brought in all the key players to reshoot the scenes involving this character (often 18 hour days), spent an additional $10 million to do so, and only delayed the release of this movie by three days. It was the right thing to do. I applaud Scott and all of the people who sacrificed time and money to do what was the right decision. If you've heard about this, I'll mention that I did too. But I felt it was downplayed some because Plummer was only in a few scenes. That is not the case at all. In my opinion, Plummer made this film. He stole every scene he was in and it's impossible to picture anybody doing a better job. This decision could earn All the Money in the World its only two Oscar nominations (Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing). All in all, it's a very good movie with top-notch performances. But it isn't quite as memorable nor does it hold the weight of the movies that will be recognized this Oscar season.

7Jan/180

Stronger (2017)

Jake Gyllenhaal (Life, Everest) continues to take on roles that, seemingly, are each more challenging than his previous. In terms of how Academy Awards, I'm not sure if there is another actor under 50 years of age who has been snubbed as frequently as Gyllenhaal. To date, his only nomination is for 2005's Brokeback Mountain. However, I truly feel that he has been the odd man out with a number of other roles, most notably in Southpaw and, particularly, Nightcrawler. While I would put his performance in David Gordon Green's (All the Real Girls, Undertow) Stronger as one of his top six performances of all-time, I'm not sure it's in his top three or four. While he was absolutely terrific, this movie did not captivate me in the same way that movies like Brokeback Mountain, Nightcrawler, Southpaw, Nocturnal Animals, Life, Love and Other Drugs, or Brothers did. But it should have. This was based on a true story. It had the sentimentality about an average person overcoming odds and becoming a symbol for patriotism all wrapped into one. And while this movie was very good, it wasn't even Gyllenhaal's best performance about a character overcoming adversity. That belongs to Southpaw. But just because the movie wasn't amazing, doesn't mean that it was not very good. Because it was.

5Jan/180

The Big Sick (2017)

I was all set to review this movie and talk about, what I considered to be, its major flaw before I did one thing first...I looked at other reviews and learned that this film is based on a true story. So rather than belabor the point I wanted to make, I'll simply reference it a little later in the review and talk more about its merits and more minor flaws. Before I begin, I'll mention that I didn't think Michael Showalter's (Hello, My Name is Doris) The Big Sick was marketed all that well when it was released over the summer. First of all, the title of the movie, its poster, its actors, and even its plot just didn't make sense. Through in that Judd Apatow's name was attached to it and you had the thought that this was a raunchy comedy, much in the mold of Trainwreck, This Is 40, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and a host of other movies he didn't even direct but was affiliated with as a producer or screenwriter. The Big Sick felt out of place from the start. It took word of mouth for this movie really to get noticed and appreciated by audiences (despite its 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). If anything, moviegoers were told that this movie was more like This Is 40 than any of Apatow's other films, but even that film received more leeway because it was a sequel to Knocked Up, which was as foul-mouthed as they come. It didn't help that The Big Sick had a cast of relative unknowns. Sure it had Ray Romano (television's Everybody Loves Raymond, television's Parenthood) and Holly Hunter (The Piano, The Firm), but these two, while having a decent amount of screentime, clearly supported the two leads. Kumail Nanjiani (HBO's Silicon Valley, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), a relatively unknown at the time, penned and stared in this film as himself. It was a calculated risk that clearly paid off in the end. Another relative unknown, Zoe Katan (Revolutionary Road, The Savages), stars opposite Nanjiani as his on again/off again girlfriend Emily. They work as a couple and the trials and tribulations experienced by each aren't completely far-fetched. Heck, it's based on a true story so some might say they aren't far-fetched at all. This movie surprised me with how much I enjoyed it and how engaged I was with it, despite its unevenness (at times) and that its conclusion could be seen by all miles away.