Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Moana is a computer-animated musical about the eponymous daughter of a Polynesian chief and Maui, the Polynesian mythological figure. Everything about Moana – the music, the plot, the animation – is slick and polished, but while the song lyrics, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina, are sometimes clever, the story is rote and the animation sports a sheen of dead-eyed flawlessness. The movie is depressingly watchable.
Would not see.
Star Trek Beyond
Directed by Justin Lin
Star Trek Beyond, based on Gene Rodenberry’s 1966 television series, is a science fiction action film that recounts an adventure of the USS Enterprise and the third movie in the reboot series. Star Trek Beyond admirably resists J. J. Abrams’s Star Treks’ irritating attempts to create realism and dramatic stakes through an artificial gritty darkness, but it still feels like film by numbers. The tin-eared dialogue, unevenly gifted cast, and mostly perfunctory action sequences make it difficult to appreciate Star Trek Beyond’s occasionally inspired set pieces and return to the franchise’s original optimism.
Would not see.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Directed by Taika Waititi
Hunt for the Wilderpeople, based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, is an adventure comedy drama that follows a child and his cantankerous foster uncle as they travel in the New Zealand bush. Occasionally sentimental, but often quite funny, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is far better than one would expect from its unlikely friendship between a grumpy old man and a persistent child premise. The film isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s eminently enjoyable.
Where the Wild Things Are
Directed by Spike Jonze
Where the Wild Things Are, based on Maurice Sendak’s 1963 book of the same name, is a drama about a child, Max, who goes on a fantastical journey to an island populated by wild things. The film is an excellent adaptation and an excellent film. It captures the intensity and abstractness of childhood emotion, recognizing Max’s sincere fear as well his unencumbered joy. Where the Wild Things Are looks honestly at the frustration and freedom of being a child.
Directed by Werner Herzog
Fitzcarraldo is a surreal drama, loosely based on a historical event, about an Irishman in Peru who attempts to move a steamship over a steep hill to finance the construction of an opera house. Herzog famously transported a 320-ton steamship over a hill in the production of the film (and received criticism for his often contentious relations with the local indigenous Peruvian population). The film is operatic and ambitious. Herzog takes strong positions on nature and art, but his understanding of self-destructive determination at times surpasses his apparent grasp of intercultural interaction and more prosaic human motivations.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Directed by Wes Anderson
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou follows the eponymous oceanographer on a quest of revenge against a jaguar shark that ate his friend, Esteban. The film, like most Anderson, has a meticulous aesthetic and an intentional distance. Like all the best Anderson, beneath the highly crafted visuals, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is filled with a strong core of human emotion.
Bonnie and Clyde
Directed by Arthur Penn
Bonnie and Clyde is a biographical crime film that follows the two eponymous criminals around the American Southwest. The film is violent, striking, and fast with well-crafted visuals and quick editing. Bonnie and Clyde has an unusual and interesting portrayal of the relation between crime and sex and an unexpected attention to character, but a lack of reflection and cohesion hinder the film’s thematic message.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Directed by Wes Anderson
Fantastic Mr. Fox is Wes Anderson’s distinctly personal adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel about a clever fox who outwits three mean farmers. Fantastic Mr. Fox has meticulously animation, an unobtrusively sincerity, and a feeling of effortlessness that greatly belies the rarity of the film’s accomplishment.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Directed by J. J. Abrams
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh installment in the Star Wars series, is an epic space opera. The film is slickly well made with a retro aesthetic designed to provoke nostalgia for the original trilogy. The action is choppier than in the first three films, but Abrams still easily clears the low bar he set himself.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Directed by Joel Coen
O Brother, Where Art Thou? is an adventure comedy film, loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey, and set in 1937 Mississippi. Well written, well paced, and well acted, the film has stunningly innovative cinematography, sharp dialogue, and a precise sense of place. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is the Coen brothers at their best.