We’re at the end of October, with November on the cusp. The final two months of the year bring holiday films and some serious award contenders, but it’s important not to lose sight of the contending films we’ve already gotten. I look at a couple of those this week. If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
All Quiet on the Western Front (Netflix)
Starring: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, and Daniel Bruhl
Synopsis: The novel for All Quiet on the Western Front, written by, Erich Maria Remarque, has been required reading for many students for years. It’s also been adapted to film before, a theatrical release in 1930 and a TV Movie in 1979. But this is the first time it’s been adapted as a German language feature, which makes sense since it’s told from the perspective of German soldiers on the Western Front during the brutal fighting of World War I. The new film follows the action and provides some modern war film aesthetics. It’s often violent and tough to watch, which befits a narrative that is decidedly anti-war. The opening sequence from director Edward Berger, who worked on the screenplay, sets the scene and draws you in. It’s grim and heart-breaking, providing a juxtaposition to Paul (Kammerer) and his friends, who are excited to join up and move to the front, unprepared for the harrowing times that await them. This film is well-crafted and told. Still, the story remains grim and a bit of a slog. The film runs about two and a half hours, and while powerfully made I still don’t love the story. For those that treasure the book, this is an adaptation that should be seen.
Rating: Rated R for strong bloody war violence and grisly images.
The Good Nurse (Netflix)
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jessica Chastain, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Noah Emmerich
Synopsis: Another potential award contender for Netflix, this one is based on the true story of Charlie Cullen (Redmayne) a nurse who moved around to a number of hospitals, leaving mysterious deaths in his wake. In the film, Chastain plays Amy, a single mother and ICU nurse with a heart condition. She needs to survive a few more months to get health insurance and get the treatment she needs. When Charlie starts at the hospital, they form a fast friendship. Charlie also appears to be someone she can lean on, and someone who becomes a part of her life at work and at home. When patients start dying, Amy gets drawn into an investigation. Working with detectives (Asomugha and Emmerich), who soon realizes Charlie is responsible and must sacrifice her friendship to do what’s right. Chastain and Redmayne are great here, elevating what otherwise feels something like a straight-forward biopic. Redmayne gives a wonderful and layered performance. His breakdown during interrogation is one of the better sequences of the film. Chastain is also quite good, playing the anguish that comes from having to blow up her personal life to bring down a friend and the strong pull to protect her patients no matter what. It’s a well-crafted film, one that is worth checking out.
Rating: Rated R for language.
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant, and Mark Strong
Synopsis: Todd Field is a powerful storyteller. Though it’s been a few years since he directed an original film, his previous films like In the Bedroom and Little Children have created indelible characters and powerful stories, even if they sometimes don’t sit well. That’s certainly true of his latest, Tár, which features an incredible lead performance and an incredibly difficult narrative. The film is set in the world of classical music, centering on a decorated conductor, Lydia Tár (Blanchett), who is on the verge of finishing her masterpiece. She’s doing a press tour, promoting her upcoming book and leading rehearsals. All the while she’s balancing a rocky relationship with her partner (Hoss) and skeleton’s in her closet that are threatening to come to life, including bad behavior covered up by her assistant (Merlant). Can she achieve greatness? Will the truth of her behavior come back to ruin her career? Those are the challenges that are explored in the film, which runs more than two and a half hours. It includes plenty of slowly paced character work, some impressive dialogue and some gorgeous shots from Field. It is also buoyed by a fantastic performance from Blanchett, who is likely to be a strong contender for Best Actress. And she should be. Her performance is mesmerizing at times, carrying what can be a difficult narrative. It reminds me, in some ways, of J.K. Simmons work in Whiplash, bringing intensity and life to a character so driven by their work they can’t be bothered to conquer their demons and bad behavior. While I loved the performance from Blanchett and appreciated a lot of the craft here, I didn’t love the story. It’s difficult to watch, intentionally so, but that kept me from sinking into the narrative more. Still, it’s an impressive work with a fantastic lead performance that demands to be seen.
Rating: Rated R for some language and brief nudity.
Wendell & Wild (Netflix)
Starring: Keegan Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Lyric Ross, and Angela Bassett
Synopsis: The latest from Netflix is a stop-motion animation title. It comes from director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), who co-wrote the screenplay with Jordan Peele, based on his unpublished book with Clay McLeod. In it, Kat (Ross) loses both her parents and feels like an outcast. Her special powers, however, grant her the ability to summon demons Wendell (Key) and Wild (Peele), with the promise they’ll raise her parents from the dead. It’s a promise that isn’t without some complications, and soon Kat finds herself under the wing of a nun (Bassett) who knows a little something about demons and getting out of a jam. This has a fascinating look and some great animated style. Selick has worked in the medium for a long time, crafting some classic films. This has a look and a feel that matches the previous work. Where it loses me some is the story. There’s a lot going on and it’s incredibly complex and at times a lot to follow. It squeezes a lot of plot into its run time and that doesn’t always make for a smooth presentation. I enjoyed the visuals but I wasn’t taken with the story despite the talented voice cast.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for some thematic material, violence, substance use and brief strong language
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.