We’re in the final week of the year, the last gasp for those that are sending out films. Below is a look at films opening wide and in limited release just before the end of the year, including a couple of the most anticipated films of the year. If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
A Man Called Otto (Theaters)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mariana Trevino, and Rachel Keller
Synopsis: This film has the tagline, “Fall in love with the grumpiest man in America.” While that seems like a fair description of this new film, starring Tom Hanks, it’s also ironic it’s based on a novel turned film based on a grump in a Swedish town. The film opens in limited release this weekend to make a qualifying run, going wide in mid-January. In it, Hanks is Otto, a grumpy older man who is disappointed in a lot of things. He’s a stickler for the rules in a world that isn’t as interested in meticulous rule-following. When some new neighbors move in, Marisol (Trevino) is committed to breaking through Otto’s icy exterior because she sees his heart. It turns out, Otto is lonely. Through flashbacks, we learn about Otto’s life and love story with his late wife (Keller), and how it impacts the man he’s become. I wasn’t sure what to expect here, but the script from David Magee does a nice job crafting this story. I enjoyed the way Marc Forester puts the film together. Ultimately, it’s the performances that help make this film work as well as it does—and better than perhaps it should. Hanks is delightful as Otto, delivering one of his better performances and most endearing characters in a few years. The find here, thought, was Trevino, who is delightful as Marisol and in a lot of ways the heart of the film. This is a fun film and one well worth checking out when it comes available.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving suicide attempts, and language.
White Noise (Netflix)
Starring: Adam Driver, Gretta Gerwig, and Don Cheadle
Synopsis: This is one of the last releases of the year, and one of the most hotly anticipated. It’s a big swing from Netflix, a prestige film based on the novel from Don DeLillo and directed by Noah Baumbach. It’s a wild story set in the 1980s, focused on a college professor (Driver) and the set of incidents that shake up his world. From the jump, this has a wildly creative look and some amazing dialogue. It’s the kind of film that sucks you in and lets you know you’re going on a great ride. Unfortunately, the beginning and middle of the ride are great, the end of the ride is nothing but bumps. The big third act reveal and much of what happens down the stretch didn’t work for me. It was a shame based on what came before it. Despite that, the closing credits, featuring an original song from LCD Soundsystem that’s in contention for major awards, is again wildly creative and a lot of fun. I loved Driver in this role, and he has a scene with Cheadle near the middle that is nothing short of fantastic. There were aspects of the film I loved, including the creative way it’s told, but it just doesn’t all come together. The film drops on Netflix on Friday, December 30.
Rating: Rated R for brief violence and language.
Wildcat (Amazon Prime)
Synopsis: After a limited opening earlier this month, Amazon debuts this documentary on Friday, December 30. Harry Turner is a British soldier who served in Afghanistan. He suffers from PTSD and tendencies toward self-harm. He’s looking for hope and a purpose. As he travels to Peru and connects with an American PhD student, Samantha, and a non-profit that helps animals in need. Harry is connected with a baby ocelot and spends 18-months helping raise it and teach it to live on its own in the wild. The relationship provides some focus and healing for a wounded man and an animal in need. This probably won’t be a documentary that appeals to everyone, but I found myself moved by much of the story, especially when it focuses on Harry and the ocelot. There is more going on, including Harry’s serious mental health issues and a relationship between he and Samantha that goes south, but it’s the story of Harry and the ocelot that captured my heart at times. I love a good, moving documentary and this one got me in the feels. I enjoyed the ride.
Rating: Rated R for language.
Women Talking (Theaters)
Starring: Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Rooney Mara, Ben Whishaw, and Frances McDormand
Synopsis: A series of brutal attacks. A community in chaos. A short time for a few families to decide the fate of an entire community. The stakes are massive for the characters in Women Talking, a fantastic drama that released in New York and Los Angeles on Christmas Day and will continue to roll out nationwide through January. The film is based on true events and in the script from Sarah Polley and Miriam Toews, a group of women at an isolated religious community must come together to chart a course of action for all the women of their community. Their choices are to do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. After a split vote, a handful of families are elected to debate the merit of all the arguments and decide a course of action for everyone. They employ one man—a teacher (Whishaw)—to keep a record of their discussion. The set up is simple, but in the hands of Polley the director, this film crackles with action and drama. It’s blessed with a phenomenal cast and rich dialogue that gives the film emotion, momentum and provides plenty of food-for-thought. This was one of the most engrossing and engaging films I’ve seen in 2022, and a film that is rightly a big part of the end of the year awards discussion. There are many fantastic performances, but I was particularly taken with the work of Foy, who should be on the short list for supporting actress, and Whishaw, who is beautifully understated in a supporting role. This is one of the best films of the year and a great achievement for Polley, an underrated director.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content including sexual assault, bloody images, and some 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.
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