Concluding 2021, this is my final monthly movie summary of the year. Here's a run-down of some of the movies I watched in December 2021. I watched 33 movies this month, taking the total for the year to 380.
Language Lessons is a two-person movie set on a video call – clearly a product of the pandemic. The story focuses on a wealthy American who is given Spanish lessons as a present and his teacher from Costa Rica. After the initial confusion and awkwardness, the two connect in surprising ways. I expected the format to get boring but you soon forget about the style and are completely engaged with the two characters, their struggles but most of all their connection. There are some depressing moments, but their fun and friendship shine through.
Black Bear is an unusual movie split in to two distinct parts. This is a movie about making movies and being a creative person. Focusing on three characters, Aubrey Plaza leads the story and shows an impressive range. It features a sharp script but the unconventional story will leave some people frustrated.
Another interesting movie was Encounter. It is a movie which features really complex main character, trying to protect his sons, although the story changes direction about half-way. There are some aspects which don’t work, but the primary story is full of twists and turns. The cinematography is good and Riz Ahmed carries the movie.
An alternative Christmas
A rowdy, unorthodox Santa Claus is fighting to save his declining business has to fight off a hit man.
A boy who has a bad Christmas accidentally summons a festive demon to his family home.
On Christmas Eve, three homeless people discover a newborn baby among the trash and set out to find its parents.
A new postman befriends a toymaker and their gifts melt an age-old feud, delivering a sleigh full of holiday traditions.
Fatman was my first alternative Christmas movie of December. It stars Mel Gibson as a drunk disillusioned gun-toting Father Christmas. The idea is a disgruntled kid hires an assassin to kill Santa, and it's an interesting concept. All of the characters are unconventional and there is some decent action sequences, but due to a poor screenplay it didn't work great.
Krampus features a family being terrorised by creatures summoned because they lost the spirit of Christmas. It's quite dark in places but overall it wasn't much fun - aside from the crazy gingerbread men scene.
Tokyo Godfathers is a Japanese anime about three homeless people who find an abandoned newborn baby. As they try to return the baby, they get in to various farcical situations. However, the story finishes with some heavy drama. It's definitely an alternative Christmas movie you should watch at least once.
Klaus tells the story of the beginnings of all the holiday traditions you know and love. It is beautifully animated, full of action, comedy and heart. A fun family movie you should probably make a Christmas tradition each year.
I also watched El Camino Christmas – which as the name suggests – is set around Christmas. This is an odd-ball hostage situation "thriller" which takes place in a small town convenience store. It comes across as a b-movie, with incredibly stupid cops and characters. The movie itself could have easily been set any time, so shouldn't be classed as a Christmas movie at all.
I started off the month watching a few documentaries and movies focusing on mountaineering.
A fearless Nepali mountaineer embarks on a seemingly impossible quest to summit all 14 of the world's 8,000-meter peaks in seven months.
A photojournalist's obsessive quest for the truth about the first expedition to Mt. Everest leads him to search for a climber who went missing.
An Adivasi 13-year-old from Telangana, India, becomes the youngest girl in history to climb Mount Everest.
In Yosemite valley, climbers carved out a counterculture lifestyle of dumpster-diving and wild parties that clashed with conservative values.
14 Peaks is a newly released documentary on Netflix. It follows Nepalese climber Nimsdai Purja as he tries to climb the all the 8,000 meter-peaks in a record time. All the accomplishments are captured as they happened, showing the incredible challenge, unrelenting determination and believing in yourself. It's a truly epic achievement and it is all captured for you to witness.
The Summit of the Gods is a French language animated story of rivalry, mountain climbing and uncovering the secrets of the mountain. It's beautifully animated and every scene is stunningly detailed. The story is interesting and has captivating characters. If you love mountain movies, you should seek this one out.
Poorna is a movie based on a true-story in which a 13 year-old Indian tries to become the youngest girl in history to climb Mount Everest. The recreation style is OK, but I prefer pure documentary-style movies.
Valley Uprising is a mountaineering movie not about Everest. This documentary follows the start of climbing in the world-famous Yosemite National Park, from the 1960s counter-culture to the resurgence in the millennium with a new set of groundbreaking ascents. This would make a great companion movie to both Free Solo and The Dawn Wall which focus more on incredible climbs within the Yosemite Valley.
The Climb is fun conventional narrative movie based very loosely on the story of a guy with no experience climbing the highest mountain in the world. The movie is easy and fun to watch.
Messner is a biography documentary movie about Reinhold Messner and tells of his impressive achievements in mountaineering. However, the movie fails to convey the true scale of the feats described.
A school teacher becomes embroiled with her student, whose dark secrets lead to terrifying encounters with a creature.
The true story of Whitey Bulger, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.
In 1892, a legendary Army Captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory.
Firstly was Antlers which is a slow-burning horror. Centered around a mythological fable, it felt like a weird b-movie. There are some clear themes running through the movie, but frustratingly nothing comes together.
I followed this up with Hostiles, which I have had on my radar for a while. It stars Christian Bale as a Native American-hating Army captain who must escort a Cheyenne chief safely back to his homeland. There are brutal killings, inner turmoil and beautiful cinematography. I'm not a massive Western fan, and this is a slow-burn, but the interesting characters make it in to a decent movie.
Finally, I watched Black Mass which has an incredible cast, above average production and direction, but a stale story combined with despicable characters. I’m really not a mafia / crime movie fan – if you are, it’s probably worth your time.
Charismatic rancher inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, he torments them until he finds the possibility of love.
In the 19th century, a mute woman is sent to New Zealand for an arranged marriage, but is lusted after by a local worker on the plantation.
New York City writing professor has an affair with a police detective who is investigating the murder of a beautiful young woman in her neighborhood.
Promoted with critical acclaim, Power of the Dog has an all-star cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee and was released on Netflix. This is a character study set in the 1920s American west. The cinematography is absolutely incredibly and so is the acting. It is slow-paced but definitely worth watching.
After watching Power of the Dog, I decided to seek out other movies directed by Jane Campion I started with The Piano starring Holly Hunter as a mute forced in to an arranged marriage in a different country. It's a strange movie which is difficult to watch at times, but there are some interesting conflicts and some well-known stars. It's a strange sexual period piece.
In the Cut follows a school teacher and an unlikeable cop. There are bad decisions driven by lust and sex. This '90s murder mystery stars Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The acting is decent and the raw cinematography fits the plot. Every scene feels seedy with sexual undertones, but the story feels muddled and plodding.