Brand-happy though Hollywood is, it’s still rare when three high-profile franchise extenders all debut on the same weekend. Personally speaking, it’s even rarer when all three are follow-ups to movies I liked. (One of which, to be accurate, I only kinda liked.)

In its blatant attempt to revive a scare-flick “franchise” that couldn’t even produce a second sequel, director F. Javier Gutiérrez’s Rings probably won’t make 2002’s The Ring and its 2005 follow-up relevant again, but the results are better than I expected – by which I mean the first 10 minutes are actually pretty good.

With apologies to my parents’ house cat Sam, who I’m crazy about, I’ve always been more of a dog person, and was totally anticipating a good cry at A Dog’s Purpose even in light of that notorious, upsetting footage of a German shepherd seemingly forced into a scary-looking aquatic stunt. Yet while its trailer never failed to slay me, I actually watched director Lasse Hallström’s family weepie completely dry-eyed, given how tough it is to get misty when your primary emotions are confusion, irritation, and offense.

Nominees for the 89th Annual Academy Awards were announced this morning.

Well, that’s not exactly true.

It turns out they weren’t announced so much as revealed, because for the first time since the yearly nominations became an early-morning PR event several decades ago, contenders weren’t recognized in front of a gathered crowd of journalists and publicists. Instead, the news was delivered in a slick, 20-minute online presentation that also featured reminiscences from former Oscar nominees and winners such as Brie Larson, Glenn Close, and Terrence Howard, with Gabourey Sidibe wisely suggesting that when this morning's nominees eventually attend the ceremony, they should be sure to sneak in a flask. (That’s good advice for those watching from home, too.)

James McAvoy in Split

 

 

It’s long been a misconception that M. Night Shyamalan movies are dependent on The Big Twist, because there certainly weren’t any in his run of god-awful 2006-13 titles that included Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth. But Shyamalan’s 2015 scare flick The Visit sure did have a doozy – the twist being “It’s actually pretty good!” – and the whopper of his new thriller Split is that it’s close to great: scary, funny, nerve-racking, and boasting no fewer than three outstanding performances. Many more if you include all of star James McAvoy’s personalities.

Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield in Silence

Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield in Silence

 

By now, we should be used to cinematic miracles from Martin Scorsese. But Silence, his 160-minute, decades-in-the-planning exploration of faith, is still something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: a deeply redundant movie that isn’t at all boring. This sentiment was obviously not shared by the quartet of middle-aged patrons who exited the auditorium ahead of me complaining about the film’s length and dullness and their growling stomachs and the previews being “totally deceptive.” (Personally, I thought the trailers captured the haunting, enigmatic mood about as ideally as a three-minute spot, or a 30-second one on TV, ever could. Were these folks expecting Hacksaw Ridge 2: 17th-Century Gore?) Yet if you have the patience for it – and considering the many scenes of physical and emotional torture, the stomach for it – you may find the experience of Scorsese’s latest riveting. I may have been aware of the thematic and narrative repetition, but I never once yawned.

La La Land

 

Will La La Land match or exceed the record of 14 Oscar nominations currently shared by All About Eve and Titanic? (Matching, maybe; exceeding, no.) Will this be yet another year of #OscarsSoWhite? (Not by a long shot.) Will Mel Gibson be welcomed back into the open arms of Hollywood’s elite? (As we’ve been frequently reminded this past year, anything’s possible.)

These and other questions will be answered on the morning of Tuesday, January 24. But until then, there’s no harm – except, eventually, to my ego – in predicting nominations for the 89th annual Academy Awards.

Mark Wahlberg in Patriots Day
Mark Wahlberg in Patriots Day

Rarely do I want movies to be longer. But there’s enough that’s great about Patriots Day – director Peter Berg’s procedural thriller about the Boston Marathon bombings – that suggests how great it might have been if given a more expansive presentation à la FX’s 10-part docu-drama The People v. O.J. Simpson. Heaven knows Berg had the cast to pull it off – with one exception. One major, infuriating, movie-wrecking exception.


Zoe Saldana and Ben Affleck in Live by Night

Zoe Saldana and Ben Affleck in Live by Night

 

I don’t know about you, but I love watching car chases in movies set in the 1920s, because you know that despite sharp editing and camera angles giving the impression of astounding speed, those vehicles were probably scooting around at 40 miles per hour tops. Live by Night, director/writer/star Ben Affleck’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s 2012 novel, is similarly deceptive. Telling of a petty Boston crook who, between the ’20s and ’40s, becomes a Florida-based rum entrepreneur and bona-fide gangster, the film has a breadth and look and quality performers suggesting an epic tale of venality and greed, like The Godfather with fewer Sicilians and heavier humidity. In truth, however, it’s a dawdling, unsatisfying attempt at an epic, and it is slow. Forget 40 miles per hour; this thing doesn’t have a heart rate of even 40 beats per minute.

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea

 

Looking over my list of favorites from the recently ended movie year, I was trying to find something – anything – that connected them beyond my admittedly eclectic tastes. I mean, seriously: low-budget drama next to Disney animation next to indie horror next to teen comedy next to musical romance next to cops and robbers next to sci-fi next to a woman being transformed into a Shetland pony ... . What the hell kind of cinematic Top 10 is this?

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