By Reed Canaan
Before you head to the theater for the next great summer blockbuster, consider catching up on these great films that you might have missed this academic year.
Recently, animated movies have been having a major impact in cinema. Critics’ darling “Inside Out” broke records at the box office, “Anomalisa” dominated the festival circuit and “Zootopia” inspired numerous think-pieces on the Internet. The greatest strength of “Zootopia” is its widespread appeal. Kids can enjoy watching an empowered bunny fight her way to success within the police bureau, and parents can enjoy the fact that this movie isn’t really about animals at all. Discriminatory police practices are so prevalent in today’s discourse that the discussion has made its way into children’s movies. “Zootopia” is smarter than it might first appear, refusing to handle the issues it discusses by labeling characters as good or bad.
I agree with The Academy on this one. “Spotlight” takes an important story — uncovering a history of sex abuse in the Boston Catholic church — and does it justice with an incredibly moving treatment. The film’s briskly shocking pace is like that of an action movie. The screenplay balances notes of humor with heartbreaking scenes discussing sexual assault. It sent waves in the Catholic Church, and Mark Ruffalo even joined a rally in support of victims and survivors of sex abuse prior to attending the Oscars. Grounded by Oscar-nominated performances, “Spotlight” illuminates the Catholic Church’s flaws with grace and power.
“The Hateful Eight”
Tarantino’s eighth film didn’t necessarily receive the hype that surrounds “Kill Bill” or “Pulp Fiction,” but it was still one of my favorites. There’s a blizzard coming, and all the characters seek shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery. It’s particularly reminiscent of “Reservoir Dogs,” with a majority of the action taking place in one room. It’s also easy to see echoes of “Reservoir Dogs” in the performances of Michael Madsen and Tim Roth. “Hateful Eight” is filled with ridiculous characters and a standout performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh as the fugitive Daisy Domergue. It might not endure as Tarantino’s most popular, but it’s nevertheless worth spending some time with these characters.
Like Tarantino, the Coen brothers belong to that elite club of filmmakers who can bring a crowd to anything attached to their names. Just as “Hateful Eight” isn’t “Pulp Fiction,” “Hail, Caesar!” isn’t quite “O Brother Where Art Thou?” But it doesn’t matter. George Clooney lends his talents again, this time as Baird Whitlock, the darling of a 1950s Hollywood studio. The film is absurd in the most outlandish ways, including dance numbers from Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson complaining about how tight her mermaid tail is. It’s self-aware, which allows the film to successfully critique the absurdities of Hollywood while being completely complicit in perpetuating them.
“The Jungle Book”
This is one remake that I might have enjoyed more than the original. Certainly, Disney’s first “Jungle Book” was an essential basement VHS, but this version eliminates the blatant racism and even changes some plot points. Bill Murray’s Baloo is completely lovable, even as a CGI. Neel Sethi is Mowgli, particularly impressive both due to his youth and his ability to interact with animals not yet coded into existence. It’s touching, includes songs you can sing along to, and is guaranteed to impress you with both its graphics and its improved messaging.
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