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Added by the giraffe on 2 Jan 2021 11:31
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Movies the giraffe watched in 2021: January

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Noteworthy: The best films I watched this month

The breakdown: 30 films watched
28 first views, 2 re-watches
30 via streaming
Decades touched: 1980s - 2010s

As detailed below, this month was mostly spent catching up on last year's releases and that effort yielded excellent returns. Joining HBO Max for the next 6 months has given me a lot to choose from, and I'm very excited for what the months ahead will hold as I work through their library. This month I even managed to watch some TV shows they've got, and I hardly ever keep up with TV at all. But the kiddo and I finished the last few episodes of Batwoman we hadn't seen yet, and I watched the first season of How To with John Wilson and finally caught all of the Watchmen series (both totally worthwhile). It just might wind up being the only service I hold onto if they keep up the quality of their selection.

Everything else I have to say is laid out below, though I'll add that I'm including a new section this year. Since I no longer publish my lists during the month they're documenting (with the exception of October) I figured I'd start giving a little peek into what the next month will bring. You'll find that near the bottom of this list.
People who added this item 34 Average listal rating (24 ratings) 7 IMDB Rating 6.5
Spontaneous (2020)
First viewing - Jan. 3rd

So there's a website called WhatToWatch which features some critics who seem to have similar tastes in films to me. Which means when their critics individually released their lists of their top 10 movies of 2020 I paid attention. One common link between most of the lists was Spontaneous, which I took as a sign I needed to give it a look. And I can't thank them enough for that.

I laughed, I cried, I related all too much. The film was made pre-pandemic, yet hits a lot of what's gone on in the past year in ways I didn't anticipate would happen. The original intent was to comment on gun violence in schools, and it nails everything from that perspective too. The cast is stellar, especially Katherine Langford, and it's 100% my kind of film. I'm glad I shelled out to watch it via VOD, and strongly encourage others to do the same. I can't wait to revisit it.
the giraffe's rating:
First viewing - Jan. 9th

It seems like Wolfwalkers appeared on almost every best-of-2020 list I've seen, so I wanted to make sure to watch it with my daughter. As has been established, we're fans of this animation studio which also delivered The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. Their latest effort to date is at least as good as those films, if not a little better. The animation is impressive, the story is both thrilling and heartfelt, and they get bonus points for a story I've never experienced before centered around my favorite animal. We both absolutely loved it, so you can count on it being among my favorites of the year too.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 6 Average listal rating (4 ratings) 7 IMDB Rating 6.7
First viewing - Jan. 1st

This month I've got a couple things going on. First off I'll be focusing on trying to catch as many 2020 releases that I wanted to see but missed, which is why I kicked things off with Charm City Kings. I've also pulled the trigger on 6 months of HBO Max while it was on sale, which looks like an excellent investment given their catalog. Thanks to them I'll have lots to play with, and we'll see whether I keep it going after the end of June.

This film was a good reminder of why I'm never willing to post my favorite films of the year in December. I'd seen positive feedback on it here & there, and it's all accurate. I loved pretty much everything about this film. It's honest, heartfelt, wonderfully acted, expertly told, and I'd gladly spend time with it again. If you've got HBO Max you should add it to your list. If not, track it down and thank me later.
the giraffe's rating:
First viewing - Jan. 18th

I wanted to celebrate Martin Luther King Day with some Black films, so I began with this one. And it's pretty excellent, just as you've likely heard. The cast is outstanding, especially Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman in his final role. I like how it looks at race relations as well as the music industry, and it's a painful reminder of how little progress we've made in America since the time the film takes place in. Absolutely a must see.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 57 Average listal rating (47 ratings) 5.7 IMDB Rating 6
First viewing - Jan. 2nd

Relic is a hell of a film. A nice slow burn horror flick that wonderfully explores its themes in ways that are refreshing. And the finale is just aces. I'm kicking myself for not seeing it sooner, but I'll make up for it in the years ahead by revisiting it periodically.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 64 Average listal rating (38 ratings) 5.9 IMDB Rating 6.2
First viewing - Jan. 29th

Finally managed to catch the latest Benson & Moorhead joint via VOD, and it's fantastic. It took a little time for me to find my way into it, but once I did I was all in. Once again they've created another original, intelligent film with characters I'd gladly hang out with again. Anthony Mackie is especially impressive, and it's great to see him given the opportunity to show off his range. If you've enjoyed their other films you should check it out.
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Home viewings

First viewing - Jan. 1st

This film popped up on a lot of critics' best-of-2020 lists that I saw in December, so I figured I'd give it a look. I thought it was fine. I appreciated the realistic and honest exploration of present-day realities in America around abortion, and the cast is very believable. The whole thing is so grounded in reality it's almost like watching a documentary, and the execution is commendable. But it never endeared itself to me in any way to make me either glad I was watching it or want to watch it again. I felt very removed from the characters, which meant I could only feel so much for their situations, and thus I personally was left wanting more exploration of their interior selves than we're given. So it's not a film that I'd go out of my way to watch again, but I can respect what it's doing and if others like it that's fine by me.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 163 Average listal rating (135 ratings) 5.8 IMDB Rating 5.8
Underwater (2020)
First viewing - Jan. 1st

I really, really had no interest in Underwater, but then some of the critics I pay attention to kept insisting it was worth seeing. And aside from some of the Lovecraftian creature designs, I don't think it was. It's very much Alien repurposed for the bottom of the ocean, and not pulled off with anything near the level of skill of Ridley Scott's film. It was watchable enough, but nothing remotely essential or noteworthy. It didn't help either that my favorite character was the first to die, nor that I've never been a fan of Ms. Stewart. Thankfully it was short, but that's still an hour and a half of my time wasted, just as I'd suspected would be the case from the trailers.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 234 Average listal rating (160 ratings) 7.3 IMDB Rating 7.5
First viewing - Jan. 2nd

I was totally on board with everything going on in this film until the third act, and from then on I struggled with my feelings about it. 24 hours after watching it I'm still not sure whether I'm on board with everything going on here, but I'd be willing to revisit it and find out. I respect the hell out of the story though, and the cast slays all over the place while the cinematography is some of the best I've seen. I'm definitely in love with the visuals here. The more I've thought about it I can't fault the film for challenging my feelings, as that's clearly the point. But we'll see whether I come around to fully embracing that finale.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 77 Average listal rating (55 ratings) 6.7 IMDB Rating 6.5
First viewing - Jan. 2nd

His House does several things really well. It tells a fresh story by honestly and respectfully representing the cultures at play. It delivers thoughtful commentary on refugee experiences, especially with regard to navigating cultural transitions. And it's got some really effectively scary sequences. Some of the transitions are a bit jarring, yet that's clearly intentional...that doesn't mean it works well though, and was my only gripe while watching the film. Perhaps a second trip through will help me feel better about the approach, but even with that being an issue I think the film is pretty excellent. I'm not sure if it's great, but it came close.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 4 Average listal rating (4 ratings) 5.8 IMDB Rating 4.2
First viewing - Jan. 3rd

This was a solid thriller that reminded me at times of Collateral. And let's face it, there are worse influences to have. It's nothing groundbreaking, but I thought the story was well-told enough that it kept me engaged even if I wasn't deeply invested in the characters. It's possible it will get lost in my memory over time, but I thought it was worth a look.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 138 Average listal rating (113 ratings) 6.7 IMDB Rating 6.9
First viewing - Jan. 6th

Love and Monsters was co-written by Brian Duffield, who also wrote & directed Spontaneous, and directed by Michael Matthews, who previously directed Five Fingers for Marseilles, and that's all I needed to know to decide to give it a shot. And it's a lot of fun. The story is well-told, moves at a fast pace, and I dig the world building. You could easily flesh this story out into a series, but I'd be content if they keep it to one film. It's not too tough to figure out where it's going, but the road to get there was worthwhile and the CG monsters work well enough. So while it's nothing great, I'd watch it again, perhaps in a couple years with my daughter as I think she'd enjoy it.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 19 Average listal rating (10 ratings) 6.7 IMDB Rating 6.5
First viewing - Jan. 11th

Unpregnant has a similar premise to Never Rarely Sometimes Always, but where the latter film took everything deadly serious and grounded it in reality this film has a sense of humor about it. And thus it was far more to my tastes. The way the story unfolds endeared me to its characters, and I had a great time with it. The cast is solid, with a couple of pleasant surprises, and it was nice to be fully brought into the journey the characters embark upon. I'd gladly watch it again, and I'm happy I found it on HBO Max.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 164 Average listal rating (116 ratings) 6.1 IMDB Rating 6.3
First viewing - Jan. 13th

Figured I should take a break from 2020 films, so I decided on this night to watch one of the few Steve Martin films I missed. And turns out I didn't really miss it. I mean, it's fine. It's got some funny moments and it's amusing enough, but it's nothing remotely essential. And I guess I knew that'd be the case going into it, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see Martin and Moranis play off one another again. The film is rather uneven, full of as many moments that work as don't. And each part of the film is broken up with title cards which didn't do much for the film in my opinion. I don't regret sitting through it, but I also don't need to watch it again.
the giraffe's rating:
First viewing - Jan. 15th

Pete Davidson is not at all on my radar, but when this came out most people who saw it spoke favorably about it so I figured it'd be worth a look. And much like Trainwreck it turns out Apatow can still direct a film well so long as the script is strong enough. Apparently it's a slightly fictionalized autobiography for Davidson, which probably explains why overall it works well. His character is not someone I'd probably hang out with in real life, but I could empathize with his journey, and it helps that the film is full of excellent actors. I was entertained from start to finish, and overall I enjoyed it. I wouldn't go out of my way to watch it again, but if someone wanted me to I could sit through it with no complaints.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 23 Average listal rating (11 ratings) 5.8 IMDB Rating 6.1
First viewing - Jan. 16th

Of course I'm going to watch the new Soderbergh movie, especially with a cast like this. And it was decent, though I doubt it will appeal to everyone. Seeing this cast engage one another is often rewarding, which makes the occasional stylistic decision of shooting some scenes of them talking with the sound of their voices replaced by music a little frustrating at times. Or at least disappointing. My favorite parts of the film were the scenes between Gemma Chan and Lucas Hedges (a subplot I related to probably too well) and everything with Dianne Wiest. But there's clearly an issue when the ending leaves me emotionless in response to what occurs. It's worth a look, just not necessary.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 301 Average listal rating (223 ratings) 5.4 IMDB Rating 5.4
First viewing - Jan. 16th

WW84 was one of my most anticipated films of 2020, and I'd looked forward to being able to catch it on the big screen with my daughter at this time last year. Well, we know how that turned out. Still, I thought one of the bonuses of joining HBO Max for 6 months was getting to watch it with her...and then she watched it with her mom instead. And then told me I could watch it alone because "it sucked". Reviews were mixed from critics, and our own PvtCaboose91 wasn't into it much either, all of which knocked the wind out of my sails. But I still wanted to check it out for myself, make up my own mind about it...so I lowered my expectations to ground level and dove in.

Perhaps because my expectations shifted I wound up enjoying it far more than I'd anticipated. Sure it's a big overindulgent, but then that makes sense given it's a sequel set in the overindulgent 1980s. Bloated excess was the norm for that decade. I was able to hang with it though from start to finish. There's enough good aspects that it kept me entertained, even if it does take its sweet time getting from start to finish. And yeah, there's the inevitable shoddy CGI battle late in the film, a battle whose impact is lessened by the lack of attention to the dynamic between the characters. But perhaps knowing that's coming made me more accepting of it. I dunno. Point is I guess that it was better than I'd expected, and I don't regret watching it. I'm just glad I didn't go into it with the high expectations I had coming off its predecessor.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 191 Average listal rating (115 ratings) 4.8 IMDB Rating 5.3
First viewing - Jan. 16th

Ah yes, the other much-maligned superhero film of 2020. I figured it made perfect sense to watch this right after WW84 ended, and I went into it with similarly low expectations. And it's fine. I didn't hate it like I'd feared. It helps that Anya Taylor-Joy is present as her acting skills are excellent as always & she seems to be having a blast with her role. It also helped me that I used to read The New Mutants back when it was around and thus knew more about the characters than the film divulges. I dug the darker approach to the material, and there's a romantic relationship that was welcome and refreshing for the genre. But the film has its share of issues. There's no clear exploration of the hospital facility most of the action takes place in to establish where you are...so when a character runs from one place to the next you have no frame of reference for where they're headed. And for a Marvel film (not MCU I recognize, but still) some of the CG-heavy action sequences are incomprehensible. And yeah, were it not for my own knowledge I'd be left confused about who some of the characters are, which is problematic when there are only 6 of them. Thankfully the film keeps to a run-time of about an hour & 1/2, so that it moves quick enough that I was able to forgive its flaws somewhat. It's just a shame the film didn't turn out better as there was a lot of potential here. Maybe if it hadn't been a victim of the Fox to Disney transition someone could have helped Josh Boone and his crew better bring it to life.
the giraffe's rating:
First viewing - Jan. 16th

I've been a fan of Bryan Bertino from the start, and with the exception of The Monster I've had no regrets about that. His latest film, The Dark and the Wicked, is very effective at delivering the scares so I'm here to sing its praises. The overall experience matches the film's title admirably, and that's all I really want to divulge about it. It hits Shudder next month (2/25), so if you've got the service I highly recommend giving it a look. I'll watch it again.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 43 Average listal rating (32 ratings) 6 IMDB Rating 6.2
First viewing - Jan. 16th

Alone is a solid horror/thriller that delivers well on its premise. It could maybe have dug a little deeper into our main character, but watching her keep fighting to survive is rewarding enough. There's no deep message or commentary, just a straight-forward tale that's consistently entertaining. I wouldn't need to watch it again, but I'm glad I gave it a look.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 85 Average listal rating (62 ratings) 6.7 IMDB Rating 6.6
First viewing - Jan. 17th

Since I don't do streaming services much in December I couldn't watch Happiest Season last month, but I still wanted to check it out. This might be my favorite of Kristen Stewart's movies to date, but that's as much to do with the rest of the cast as her. I enjoyed the characters and the story, and found it rather heartfelt and refreshing. I don't know that I'd need to watch it again, but I wouldn't mind sitting through it again.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 72 Average listal rating (41 ratings) 6.4 IMDB Rating 6.6
Above the Rim (1994)
First viewing - Jan. 18th

I'd intended to chase the previous film with Get on Up for another dose of Chadwick Boseman, but wound up not having enough time. Above the Rim had a shorter run-time, so I picked it instead. And it's a solid film...good story, mostly good acting, and overall it kept me entertained. Some aspects could have been better explored or fleshed out, but I thought it was worth seeing once and I'm glad I gave it a look.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 109 Average listal rating (67 ratings) 7.1 IMDB Rating 6.9
Get on Up (2014)
First viewing - Jan. 20th

I still really wanted to watch Get on Up, so I made it a priority on this night after work. I've always liked James Brown's music when I've heard it, but didn't know much about his history. I like the way this takes a nonlinear approach at times to shake things up rather than just following the usual template for these films. Boseman does a great job of playing Brown, and between this and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom I'm even more reminded of what a talent we lost. Thankfully he gave us everything he could while he was still with us. I don't know that I'd go so far as to say the film is great as it gets a little too long, but his performance elevates it and makes it worth seeing. I maybe don't need to see it again, but I wouldn't mind.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 2970 Average listal rating (1812 ratings) 6 IMDB Rating 6.9
First viewing - Jan. 23rd

I remember renting Babe for my daughter to watch, but at the time I was not in the mood to watch it with her. She was almost 3 at the time, so naturally she didn't remember it anymore. We watched it together this time, and both really enjoyed it. It's just a good movie with a clear message about being yourself and treating others well, and it's solidly entertaining all around without feeling like it's only catering to the kiddos. I'm glad I finally watched it.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 1181 Average listal rating (724 ratings) 4.9 IMDB Rating 5.7
First viewing - Jan. 24th

And thus it was no surprise that we watched the sequel the next day. It's far more ridiculous of a film, but Babe retains his best qualities and they guide him through everything he experiences. There are elaborate stunt set pieces that only George Miller could pull off this well, and I found myself in awe of some of them. I wound up enjoying it despite the frequency that it went beyond my suspension of disbelief, but of the two films I'm less likely to sit through this one again.
the giraffe's rating:
First viewing - Jan. 25th

I've been wanting to watch something else with Elizabeth Olsen since I'm enjoying WandaVision so far, and this was on Max. Her performance makes the film worth sitting through and serves as a reminder of why I've become a fan. It's a thoughtful film about reckoning with life-changing experiences as they're processed in the aftermath, which had me thinking of a what-if scenario for someone who got out of the Manson family before it was too late. Which means it's a dark film, and the ending was too abrupt I thought. So it's more a film I found interesting and worthwhile, but not one I'd go out of my way to experience again.
the giraffe's rating:
Re-watch - Jan. 27th

I can't remember the last time I watched this, but since it was leaving HBO Max on 1/31 I figured I'd sit down with it again. And it's better than I'd recalled. I don't know that I'd go so far as to say it's great, but it's far better than I'd given it credit for previously. The only issue I have is with the lack of BIPOC characters, but their absence does not hurt the film. I just find the lack a bit odd given we're in NYC. Overall it's a wonderful film and I'd gladly sit down with it again.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 312 Average listal rating (222 ratings) 6.3 IMDB Rating 6.5
First viewing - Jan. 30th

I remember seeing generally positive feedback on Ad Astra, so I added it to my HBO Max list thinking I'd get around to it later. Then I noticed it was leaving at the end of the month, so I figured I'd try to catch it before it left. It's a solid sci-fi flick, with an engaging if somewhat predictable plot. Pitt gives a strong performance, but that's not unusual. The space sequences are very well-rendered and thus felt mostly believable (I'm not so sure that Mars has the same gravitational force as Earth, but whatever). I didn't get deeply invested enough in it to have any emotional response, but overall it was worth a look once.
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 2250 Average listal rating (1504 ratings) 6.2 IMDB Rating 6.7
Blade II (2002)
Re-watch - Jan. 30th

I've said it before on here, but the details of Blade II just did not stick with me after I saw it the first time. Since it was leaving HBO Max on 1/31, I figured I'd revisit it and see how I feel about it now. And as it rolled along, I recognized more of it than I'd anticipated. I still think it's just OK though. Not bad, not great. The CGI is aging poorly, but the creature design for the reapers is pretty cool. It's fun seeing Ron Perlman banter with Snipes, and Leonor Vargas holds her own but most of the other vampires are forgettable in this. Which might not be so bad, but I'd completely forgotten Donnie Yen was in it and that's not good at all. So yeah, a mixed bag I'd say but entertaining enough that I never felt the itch to shut it off. We'll see whether any of it sticks in my head after two viewings...
the giraffe's rating:
People who added this item 678 Average listal rating (395 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.8
First viewing - January 10th/31st

The kiddo and I were super excited to find some Anime on HBO Max, especially all of the Ghibli films. On this afternoon we initially were going to watch Weathering With You, but it's only available in English or Spanish (why???) dub and neither of us was OK with that. So she looked at all of the Ghibli films and somehow landed on this one. We made it a little over an hour into it and she was bored out of her mind and asked if we could watch something else. So really she gave up on it, not me (though I was happy to stop just to keep her from continuing to interrupt my focus on the film). I thought it was OK from what I saw, just more of a story that would entertain adults instead of kids.

I managed to circle back to it on the last day of the month and watch the rest of it, and it's fine. I didn't sit through the first half again, just picked up about where we'd left off. There are some really amusing moments sprinkled throughout and some of the animation is gorgeous, but I never fully connected with the characters so my entertainment with it never went much beyond the surface. Probably I should sit through it again on my own to see if I react differently, but I doubt I will.
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The Shape of the Month to Come

Next month I'm planning a focus on Asian cinema. Any non-Asian films listed below are here because they're leaving HBO Max by the end of February.

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