The worst film I watched in December was Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals. I was a big fan of Ford's A Single Man, which I found to be an aesthetically gorgeous and emotionally rich study of grief and loneliness, and while Nocturnal Animals was, if anything, an improvement in terms of achieving a better balance between story and style, the story it's telling is utter horseshit. A multi-stranded, multi-fictional narrative about an art dealer (Amy Adams) who receives a book written by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), the violent plot of which she suspects is a form of revenge for past wrongdoings, it's a film whose overwrought cynicism winds up being completely laughable thanks to Ford's unceasing ponderousness. There are some good performances - Michael Shannon, unsurprisingly, is fantastic as a character in Gyllenhaal's book - but it's all in aid of a pointlessly mean movie which doesn't even find fun in its meanness.
Among the crush of new releases, work and Christmas, I found time to rewatch two Coen Brothers movies which I had underestimated on first viewing. First, Burn After Reading, which I didn't like when I saw it in the theatre back in 2008 because it felt aimless and incomplete, two of the main reasons why I liked it this time. It's not their funniest movie or their best comedy in terms of structure and intent, but it's a charming bit of nonsense filled with great actors having a lot of fun. Taken out of the original context - i.e. coming mere months after they won Best Picture, Director and Screenplay for No Country For Old Men - it's much easier to enjoy as a lark, a way for the Coens to unwind after making such a heavy drama. It also felt weirdly appropriate to watch a movie in which two of the most repeated refrains were "The Russians?" and "What the fuck?!"
I also watched Hail, Caesar! which I started an hour or so before midnight on New Year's Eve, so it was the last film I watched in 2016 and the first I watched in 2017. Unlike Burn After Reading, I enjoyed Hail, Caesar! on first viewing, but came away from my second with an even greater appreciation for it. Like the earlier film, its story is pretty superfluous to the jokes, but what becomes more apparent with each viewing is how lovingly the film views its motley crew of film industry types, and the appreciation it has for their skill and craft. From Eddie Mannix's (Josh Brolin) ability to somehow keep a studio running (even if it requires threats and manipulation) to Hobie Doyle's (Alden Ehrenreich) knack for lasso tricks, it's an oddly touching tribute to people who find comfort and fulfillment in their work, even if the work itself doesn't amount to much more than gossamer.
Let's dig in to the good stuff. Here are the ten best films I watched for the first time in December of 2016.