|Office Christmas Party|
|La La Land|
|Land of Mine|
|Frank & Lola|
Quick capsules from a mediocre to poor December to date:
"The Founder": Michael Keaton portrays Ray Kroc as, basically, Michael Keaton in a watchable but square and devoid-of-nuance biopic that plays like the movie equivalent of a large-print book.
"Office Christmas Party": Sad to see such talents as Jason Bateman, Kate McKinnon and a game Jennifer Aniston wasted in a laugh-free zone that could turn anyone into a Grinch.
"La La Land": Ryan Gosling continues to be sex on a stick, and Emma Stone adorable, but this movie is so much less fun than I'd hoped, with a jazz-downer middle two-thirds between a boffo opening number and a poignant coda. No memorable music.
"Land of Mine": A somnolent import, the Danes' official Oscar entry, about a regiment of young German soldiers forced to find and deactivate thousands of land mines before leaving Denmark. Having seen several films involving land mines, I've concluded they're surprisingly un-cinematic. Either they go off or they don't; it's too Boolean to generate much suspense.
"Frank & Lola": Michael Shannon shows he's got a great body under that Butterface, but this visually appealing straight-to-VOD romantic thriller (co-starring Imogen Poots) involves way too much plot, and characters talking about the plot, before it spins out of control entirely.
"Collateral Beauty": A treatment rather than a movie, this mawkish High Concept picture features perhaps the most ridiculous plot of the year, wasting the talents of Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley, Edward Norton, Michael Peña, Will Smith and Kate Winslet (wow). Only Helen Mirren as a barely repressed diva ("Maybe I should play all the parts. It so happens I do know all the lines") keeps it from a spot among the year's worst.
"Neruda": Pablo Larraín's elegantly mounted literary chase movie puts Gael García Bernal's police inspector on the trail of the Chilean poet and ousted Communist senator Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco). There are moments of wit, but repetitiveness sets in, as does, at a certain point, ennui.
"Fences": In a season that threatens to inundate us with Affirmative Action Oscars, Denzel Washington richly merits accolades for his work as resentful garbageman and too-early-for-his-time baseball player Troy Maxson. Washington's solidity fleshes out the seminal August Wilson character, albeit at the expense of the actors playing the other men in the family, who come off as either callow or comic relief. His direction never transcends filmed play status, with the geography of the neighborhood, home and even the fence unclear. Take away the racial overlay and the material is fairly generic domestic drama, but Viola ("Look, my nose is running…again") Davis holds her own, and veteran Wilson player Stephen McKinley Henderson deserves a special shout-out as Troy's jovial but wise friend Bono.
Fewer than a dozen titles remain in 2016. Will any of them catapult onto my year-end top-ten?