Top Ten Best Television Shows of 2020, So Far

Tags

,

It has been a very strange year.

Not only has it been a strange year for me personally, but the state of the industry within which I work (film and television entertainment, and the coverage of both) has witnessed a seismic shift that has forever changed the ways in which we consume media. The seeds of this have been sown for several years, in the decline of the theatrical experience, the advent of streaming technology, and the emphasis on corporate IP, but the current world crisis has only amplified these concerns and thrust the entire entertainment world into flux.

As you may have noticed, there haven’t been a ton of new reviews posted over the last few months; theaters are shut down, and while I’ve tried to keep up with some of the streaming releases, I’ve spent a lot of time catching up with classic film and television. If you’re still curious with what I’ve been up to, please check out my articles on both Dallas Observer and Taste of Cinema.

While I haven’t been as active in doing new reviews as I perhaps should have been, I thought it would be appropriate to look back at the first half of this dismal year by looking at the best there was to offer. There unfortunately haven’t been enough quality films for me to string together a mid-year list, but thankfully the small screen has provided a number of quality options.

These aren’t full reviews, but rather brief recommendations and thoughts on some of the best shows I’ve watched this year. Here are my top ten television shows of the first half of 2020.

 

10. The Pale Horse

thepalehorse

BBC and Amazon have really been on a role lately with their Agatha Christie adaptations, and The Pale Horse is another delightfully pulpy melodrama. There’s a classy formality to the way the show is designed; from a distance, the elegant design and polished interiors would seem indistinguishable from any costume drama, but the glossier elements help to make the sordid characters and depraved details all the more apparent.

Unlike some of the other Christie tales, The Pale Horse is less of a formal investigation and more of a studied morality tale, and a story like this requires a truly commanding leading performance. Rufus Sewell’s work here is scenery chewing at its finest, and its this rotting soul of a character that grounds the most absurd elements in a legitimate human drama.

 

9. I Am Not Okay with This

imnotokaywiththis

Hailing from filmmaker Jonathan Entwistle and comic book author Charles Forsman, the team behind The End of the F***ing World, I Am Not Okay with This is another warped tale of teen angst mixed with an element of pulpy genre fiction. I respect what Entwistle and Forsman were able to do with these shows; they’ve worked to a craft a genre-bending black comedy that allows the audience to empathize with loners who feel isolated from normal feelings, yet they’re still able to look back and satirize the ridiculous heightened emotions that come from coming of age tales.

Both shows have an element of pulp, complete with comic book style framing, sharp cuts and transitions, off putting violence, and a blunt voiceover, but where I Am Not Okay with This differentiates itself is the fantastical elements. There’s relatively little background granted to the specifics of how these powers are developed, but there doesn’t need to be; the concept of superpowers as an element of found identity has been used before, but I Am Not Okay with This shows it in digestible, bite sized chunks. 

 

8. The Outsider

theoutsider

Stephen King has always been one of Hollywood’s favorite authors, but thanks to a recent series of revitalizations, King has once again become a brand that can be tossed around in the same vein as Marvel, DC, or any other popular franchise. The joy of King adaptations is that they’re so vast in scope and scale that they can be contorted into a myriad of different genres, and The Outsider is a full on serial investigative crime drama, hailing from veteran writer and novelist Richard Price.

It has all the hallmarks of a great detective story; you’ve got a stubborn detective with a tragic past (an imminently watchable Ben Mendelsohn), a suspect whose more than he appears to be (Jason Bateman in another stunning dramatic role), and a quirky investigator whose unusual skill set just may come in handy (Cynthia Erivo in another tremendous character role). These characters are etched with a specificity of human tragedy that is often lost in investigative tales, and the supernatural King elements are able to heighten, not hinder, the heart of the mystery.

 

7.  I Know This Much Is True

knowthismuch

“Emotionally gruelling” is a phrase I’d often associate with Derek Cianfrance, the novel filmmaker behind such artsy weepies as Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines, and The Light Between Oceans. There’s perhaps no filmmaker alive who is as fascinated with the consequences and beauty of human tragedy than Cianfrance, and his sensibilities are well equipped for this miniseries, which stars Mark Ruffalo as two twin brothers. Dominick is the respected, if somewhat disregarded house painter who is tasked with letting his schizophrenia brother Thomas out of an asylum.

Ruffalo’s performance instantly catapults him to a hall of fame. It’s not that the visual innovation is unnoticeable, but the fact that each individual performance is so gripping that I couldn’t even begin to think about the amount of commitment it would take to share such emotionally wrought scenes with yourself. It’s a dour six episodes, but the human heart is so evident that it never verges on being exploitive.

 

6. Devs

devs

What exactly is Devs? Spoiler alert: it doesn’t really matter. The existential sci-fi series from Ex Machina and Annihilation filmmaker Alex Garland is interested in asking a lot of big questions about the nature of free will and whether or not predestination exists, and the result is a dizzying series of escapades and extended conversations. There’s a murder mystery at the center, but the purpose of the mystery isn’t neccessarily about the culprit as much as it is about the gap that this death leaves in the world.

The cycle of repetition that comes from viewing the world through the eyes of a creator is an interesting twist on the inherent mythos of science fiction. Generally, sci-fi stories revolve around the search for answers, yet Devs is about the loneliness that stems from knowing the truth of where things end up. I’ll be the first to admit that the show would often lose me when it got too heady or too ingrained in the Silicon Valley culture, but I remained dazzled by the journey it took me on.

 

5. Westworld

westworldiii

For all of Westworld’s visual inventiveness, eye popping action sequences, and long winded conversations on the nature of humanity and consciousness, it’s primary success is in demonstrating the essentially puzzlebox nature of serialized television. It’s a show that challenges its audience to keep up, teases them to look for details, and for the most part delivers answers that are compelling and satisfying. Each season of Westworld has taken a different approach to unwinding its narrative, but all have succeeded in taking isolated character narratives (that individually work as cool genre pieces) and fitting them into a larger direction that contextualizes their coexistence.

The third season of Westworld is perhaps the most novel reinvention yet, featuring a slick, futuristic neo-noir thriller beset by corporate politics and an emerging war between man and machines. Instead of telling the story out of order, the third season masks each of the main characters’ intentions as they break into a larger world, one that’s more expansive, yet no less hedonistic than the hellish theme park where they were conceived. Newcomers Aaron Paul and Vincent Cassel help to ground the narrative with a much needed dose of humanity, taking the form of the disgruntled blue collar worker and the shrewd capitalist, respectively.

 

4. Bojack Horseman

bojackend

Bojack Horseman is perhaps the show of the moment. For the last six years, Bojack Horseman has been the show that not only put a twisted turn on the world of media diffusion and Hollywood celebrity worship, but a sobering study in how the mental health crisis affects people on every level of the totem pole. It’s also the rare show that’s been able to evolve as it goes along, both in keeping up with emerging trends and doubling back to deepen, and ultimately criticize its own existence.

So it makes sense that the conclusion of Bojack Horseman would be a bittersweet affair. When looking back at the second half of the sixth season that aired in January, I’m mixed on how I felt; it’s not a joyous conclusion that wraps every character arc up, nor is it the completion of the downward spiral that many expected for Bojack and crew. Rather, it leaves things in media res, and I think reflecting on the idea that life goes on is a rather poignant way to cap this journey. The optimism of Bojack Horseman isn’t in deceiving us into an easy solution, but in reminding us that change can occur.

 

3. The New Pope

newpope

The 2016 miniseries The Young Pope is one of the defining cinematic achievements of the past decade, regardless of the medium. I confess I did not view it in time to rank it on my list of the best shows of the decade, but believe me when I say that it would be high up there. Legendary Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino painted his abrasive, eccentric, yet moving study of a crisis of faith haunting the highest authority with a sense of grace and patience that is rarely seen on television, so suffice to say expectations were high for the follow up series The New Pope.

The New Pope doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor, but it emulates many of its best values. Sorrentino is a flashy filmmaker, but he’s not all style, and just as the story of how Lenny Berlado (Jude Law) grew from an uproarious powderkeg to a introspective cry for community in The Young Pope, The New Pope deconstructed a fierce papal power struggle into a sobering take on what we want from a leader. It remains as completely strange and aesthetically overwhelming as anything I can remember, and manages to continue the perfection of The Young Pope with ample creativity.

 

2. Ozark

ozarkseason3

Ozark has been a very interesting ride over the past few years. The first season was so jaw dropping because of how quickly it worked to its conclusions; instead of languishing within the familiar beats that most shows would take several seasons to go through, the series rocketed forward with a relentless pace that never left its characters to dry. The second season was a more challenging affair, as it was forced to reap the consequences of being a show that was so intent on being shocking, but the third season returned with an element that sparked new life into the world of the Byrdes: humanity.

More interesting than the world of drug cartels, money laundering, and insider trading are the people that work in it, and Ozark has always been about a morally questionable guy who drags his family into an unwinnable situation. The strength of the series is seeing Marty (Jason Bateman) adapt to his situations, and this season is focused on the essence of his marriage as Marty realizes that his wife Wendy (Laura Linney) may be the real monster. It works within the confines of the show’s structure better than ever before, and the introduction of wildcard Ben Davis (Tom Pelphrey) is the perfect addition of propulsive energy and raw pathos that the show needed to survive.

 

1. Star Wars: The Clone Wars

swtcw7

So here’s a funny story: in the summer of 2008, my family moved from New Hampshire from Texas. I don’t recall too much about our trip, but I vividly remember the first movie we saw in a new state was the theatrical film Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I was already a pretty massive Star Wars fan at that point, but seeing it on the big screen was pretty cool, and as I began my first month at a new school, the first season of the animated series began airing, greeting me with a new 22 minute installment of the Star Wars saga every week.

Looking back, I cannot overstate just how important this show was to me. Not only was it a consistent end of the week treat for five years, but something that sparked, and continues to affect my approach to creativity. The groundbreaking ways in which Dave Filoni and crew were able to develop the vastness of their universe through experimentation and years of planned character work was quite a path, and it was for many years the single most important creative aspect of my life. So perhaps it is fitting (or maybe the will of the force) that the postponed final season wrapped up the week I graduated college.

What The Clone Wars always excelled at was complimenting the preexisting universe while intertwining its own new additions, and the final season handles this balancing act beautifully; it’s cool to see how the events of the show lead up into Revenge of the Sith, but it works because the characters of Ashoka Tano and Captain Rex have become fully fleshed out characters that deserve proper conclusions. At the end of the day, the show ended up following two former idealists who realized the reality of their circumstances, and watching a former Jedi and clone soldier make their way into an unknown future is perhaps the purest embodiment of George Lucas’s blissful hope for the future since Luke Skywalker gazed at the Twin Suns back in 1977.

The final twelve installments of The Clone Wars are a perfect encapsulation of the variety of stories that can be told by this creative team; you have a brothers in arms story that looks at how comradery allows us to escape the frivolous nature of our circumstances, a smuggler’s erand about some of the background players who will never know the events they’ve dabbled in, and an epic conclusion that brought the humanity back to the story’s canonical conclusion. I will be forever grateful to this show for the countless memories, and I’m happy to say that it went out on a high note.

Bad Education- Movie Review

Tags

, , , , , , ,

bad education

Bad Education is about a con, but perhaps not the con you may think. Yes, it’s about the largest public school embezzlement scandal in American history, but the mismanagement and allocation of public funding is just the tip of the iceberg in what the film is skewering. This is about the fundamentally broken nature of education- where competition turns students into stats, success stories into slogans, and reputations into justifications for gaming the system.

What’s fundamentally clear from the film’s opening scene, in which Long Island’s beloved Roslyn District Superintendent Dr. Francis Tassone (Hugh Jackman) strides into an adoring crowd of parents and educators celebrating their skyrocketed national ranking, is that this isn’t about learning, but about politics. Tassone preps his cologne in the bathroom in a sequence that could easily be lifted from Jackman’s role as Gary Hart in The Front Runner, and his spirited speech to rapturous applause plays out like any good politician playing their hit catchphrases. In politics, everybody is a liar, and what makes Bad Education so fascinating is its examination of where the facade ends, and how it breaks.

The nature of the deception stems from Jackman, who delivers what is perhaps the best performance of his career. He’s the type of educator whose a father to the kids, easily remembering every student’s name, college of choice, focus, and enough quirky details to prove he’s done more than scan their transcripts. He’s able to dismantle any problem before it begins because he’s a fixer; when a parent complains that her clearly slow son isn’t in the gifted program, he’s able to ease her bubbling emotions with the words of any great politician in a crisis situation: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of this.”

Given Jackman’s extensive background in theater, it makes sense that he’s able to deliver on the theatricality of a man who lives and dies on the reputation of his district, but as the story unravels the extent to which Tassone has fogged his intentions, it becomes clear just how multifaceted the performance is. When you have a whole persona crafted to be endearing, it’s clearly in the pursuit of something, but key moments of sincerity suggest that being #1 isn’t the only thing on Tassone’s mind. He confesses at one moment that his scam could’ve easily been an excuse to live lavishly or indulge himself, but that he fueled this money back into activities that helped the school rise within the ranks. Is he being sincere, and does he actually believe in this system? Tassone, and in turn, Jackman, is so convincing that moments like these play for ambiguity.

If the story feels centered around how a conman like this rose to through the ranks, the rest of the film is able to focus on the institutional culture that allowed him to succeed. Take Allison Janney’s character Pam Gluckin, a shrewd school board member whose just as cunning as Tassone, but even more dangerous because she’s not branding herself or particularly concerned about her own reputation outside of the school’s. Janney has cornered the market on these types of dark, domineering characters, and Gluckin has the cruelty of I, Tonya‘s LaVona Golden with the personable swiftness of The West Wing‘s C.J. Cregg. If Janney ever risks chewing too much scenery, the film is able to double back and show how a career player like Gluckin has grown into a staple of the culture, and how in many ways she’s the result of instilling these sorts of number games into a system that was initially intended to be about teaching children. When risking expulsion at one point, Gluckin remarks “I went to college for years!” as her out, and the film is savvy enough to let the viewer simply imply what could be a follow up line of “So that makes me better!”

It’s prudent and effective to the satire that the perspectives of the students themselves are kept mostly out of the story; this is a story about the advancement of scores and admissions, and not the students who may or may not have earned them. The one exception is that of junior Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan), the plucky new recruit to the school newspaper whose seemingly straightforward examination of the school’s budget is what tipped off the scandal. The perspective of an outsider helps put into perspective how fragile the system is, or perhaps how unwilling anyone surrounding it was too look any deeper. Either way, it’s a breakout role for young Viswanathan, who does well with the limited personal details about Rachel that we learn. It’s hard for her to hear about how her school’s been embezzling money when her dad is out of work, and it’s even harder to retain journalistic integrity when her editor is getting a college recommendation letter from the superintendent.

Writer/director Cory Finley impressed me a few years ago with his debut Thoroughbreds, a gorgeously formal film with brilliant comedic timing and remarkable framing, albeit some half baked ideas about classism and adolescence. Finley is a playwright, and his heart seems to be with the stage, which is something that comes across brilliantly with the captivating simplicity of the environments he crafts. With Bad Education, he’s working from a much stronger script from Mike Makowsky, one that’s able to call attention to the glaring issues while leaving some things in the background. As per the playwriting background, this film is mostly a series of conversations, but it’s the context of this often claustrophobic environments that make them so riveting, as you don’t have to look hard to see the excess or the ignorance lingering in the background.
It’s hard to call Bad Education a satire when the facts are so blatant and the truths are so crystal, but what makes it so intriguing is that nothing is treated as an isolated, wild tale. While it’s told in a very entertaining, easily digestible way, the film doesn’t make this story out to be larger than life, because it’s a product of a system of self congratulation and warped expectations that exists to this day. Less a call to action than it is a compulsively watchable train-wreck in motion, Bad Education is a film of novel authenticity. Grade: A-

Beastie Boys Story- Movie Review

Tags

, ,

beastieboys Risking making broad generalizations, in general there seems to be two types of music documentaries. There’s the concert film, be it the brilliantly edited immersion of Stop Making Sense or the “in the moment” capturing of a historical event like The Last Waltz. There’s also the documentary film, one that has a goal of informing the audience about the life of a musician that includes archive footage and a mix of new and historical interviews.

With Beastie Boys Story, Spike Jonze has made an amalgamation of both of these concepts, crafting an introspective narrative in which surviving bandmates Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond reflect on their entire career, from their early days playing local clubs to their final performance prior to the death of Adam Yauch. The catch is that these personal reflections weren’t made in a studio, but in front of a series of live audiences in Brooklyn’s Kings Theater last year, in which Horovitz and Diamond bared their life, regrets, and legacy with the accompaniment of interactive documentary footage.

The brilliance of this approach is that Jonze captures all the intimacy of a live performance, even if Horovitz and Diamond aren’t performing their music. They are performing, however, as their reflections aren’t off the cuff ramblings, but finely tuned prose (co-written by Jonze) that summarizes the story of the main chapters in their lives into truisms about the changes they experienced. Even if the transitions between chapters are often played for laughs through the banter between Horovitz and Diamond, it does give the live performance a structured approach that avoids indulging in any one section.

But structure doesn’t mean it’s static, as the interactive nature allows for moments of spontaneity; Horovitz and Diamond will cut each other off, insert jokes that aren’t in the script, and even call out Jonze himself for any awkward transitions or imprecise cues. Not only does this enforce the feeling that you’re watching two old friends look back on old times, but it justifies the words themselves because it feels as if these guys are speaking from the heart, and not a teleprompter. A key final moment, in which Horovitz can barely make it through a tearful soliloquy about Yauch’s passing, is the type of emotional honesty that simply couldn’t exist in a traditional documentary interview.

It’s also impressive that the film is able to push past the inherent nostalgia. They’re accompanied by a crowd who clearly loves this group; they’ll cheer for even the minor players within the Beastie Boys mythology, they’ll recite lyrics from even the most obscure songs, and they’ll fill the theater with thunderous applause as Horovitz and Diamond tease the story of how they composed “Sabotage.” It’s exciting to feel like you’re a part of this crowd and community, but Horovitz and Diamond are still able to speak candidly about the more troubled periods in their lives.

While there’s an obvious amount of gloss surrounding certain elements of the narrative, namely the group’s initial abandonment of Kate Schellenbach and their contract disputes with Russell Simmons, they’re still gifted moments of contemplation from Horovitz and Diamond; there’s no point in which the two remise about the things that could have been, but rather they blatantly acknowledge everything that happened.

The overriding theme of the show is how the Beastie Boys crafted, curated, and ultimately evolved their identity, and the chaptered approach allows Horovitz and Diamond to indulge in each era without looking back at it with rose-tinted glasses. They acknowledge that they started as a group of friends that just tried to make each other laugh, and while they’re able to laugh at early pranks and aggression, they don’t celebrate those same attitudes. Similarly, they look at how their “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” era ended up confusing their perception about whether they were parodying or celebrating bro culture.

While the reflections about how the group grew to be more progressive can often feel artificial, they’re made authentic by the personal anecdotes that Horovitz shares. When asked about whether the “Right to Party” guys were hypocrites to call on men to be better, Horovitz remarks “I’d rather be a hypocrite than the same person I used to be.” It’s a rather easy way to make up for years of uncomfortable behavior, but it’s told with a conviction from Horovitz that feels like he believes what he’s saying.

Between the kinetic energy of recording a new album or the absurdity of the creative process, the show captures an “aw shucks” sensibility from Horovitz and Diamond, who are able to acknowledge how moments that didn’t seem novel at the time ended up being monumental. There’s a formal significance in the amount of archive footage available from the adolescent days, MTV videos, interviews, and the random goofy photos in between, but it’s the raw and personal touch from two guys playing themselves that makes Beastie Boys Story such an infectiously joyous experience. Grade: A-

Extraction- Movie Review

Tags

, , , , , ,

extraction

Chris Hemsworth’s character, who is hilariously named Tyler Rake, gets two separate introductions in Extraction. The first is a standard action movie opening, in which the story flashes forward to a key moment in the climax where Rake is left wounded and reflective (Will he live? Will he die? Stay to the end, or since this on Netflix, scroll through to find out!)

The second introduction, which comes approximately ten minutes and several expository setups later, sees Rake in a secluded hideout where he jumps off a cliff and into a lake in order to sober up- the type of easily “gif-able” moment that will surely be featured heavily on Netflix’s digital marketing campaign over the next few weeks. Surely, this would be a great moment for Hemsworth to throw out a one-liner, but instead he sits solemnly at the bottom of a lake; in case you haven’t guessed already, he is a very serious person.

These two openings set up the sort of experience that Extraction ends up being; it’s working safely within the confines of standard action movie mechanics (i.e. drug cartels, mercenaries, car chases, and a whole lot of headshots), and while there’s some wonderfully ridiculous moments, the film isn’t self aware enough to lean into the campier side of a movie about Tyler Rake (who you guessed it, kills somebody with a rake).

That’s not to say that all action movies need to be in the mold of the frantic, comically overstuffed 90s throwback mold, and perhaps director Sam Hargrave and crew were intending to make a very serious movie about a mercenary with a heart of gold. However, a film that sticks this hard to formula really does need to distinguish itself in some way, and Extraction isn’t fun enough to be memorable or developed enough to feel like an elevated take on the genre its aping.

So what is the story? It’s essentially a kidnapping movie turned manhunt, where the 14-year old son of an Indian crime lord, Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), is kidnapped by a rival drug lord in Bangladesh. This is where Tyler Rake comes in; he’s a tough as nails mercenary whose “in it for the money” (or so he says), and agrees to save the boy and bring him out of the hostile city. Although the script is penned by Marvel veteran Joe Russo, who managed to instill rather poignant political philosophy into Captain America: The Winter Solider and Captain America: Civil War, don’t expect any nuanced statement about the state of global politics here; this is mostly a movie where Tyler Rake transports Ovi between setpieces like an object (which to the film’s credit, is something Ovi himself acknowledges).

The major draw here isn’t the story, or even Hemsworth himself, but the action sequences. The film’s director, Sam Hargrave, is a longtime stunt coordinator within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and his aptitude for labor intensive setpieces is easy to recognize, particularly in the standout 12-minute tracking shot that will surely give the film some notoriety. It’s an impressive sequence that contains some brutal hand-to-hand combat (although there’s a lot of shaky cam and it lacks the pristine edge of something like John Wick), but it mostly exists so that there can be a 12-minute tracking shot.

The scenes that exist between the action draw attention to just how shallow the script really is. There’s a vague idea that Rake is caught in a lifestyle he doesn’t agree with because of traumatic events in his past, but these only exist in a few passing lines of dialogue and don’t transcend the context of the individual scenes. Even the appearance of the energetic David Harbour in a few drawn out scenes fails to instill the film with any sort of real personality.

The thing that stitches these loose odds and ends together is Hemsworth. Hemsworth is an interesting actor and an interesting movie star; outside of the Marvel universe, he doesn’t have any stone cold classics, but he’s given a lot of interesting performances, be it in semi-prestige awards fare (Rush, In the Heart of the Sea), subversive genre pieces (Cabin in the Woods, Bad Times at the El Royale), and even being the best part of a very bad movie (Ghostbusters). It’s become apparent that Hemsworth is more than another chiseled beefcake and has a real sense of comic timing, which makes the steely seriousness of Rake more off putting.

But that changes in a key scene about halfway through. It’s another boringly shot exposition dump, but it reveals some key details about Rake that at least explain the restrained, dismissive nature of the character. It’s in this brief sequence, where Rake is far more vulnerable that he is when he’s jumping off rooftops or ramming cars into people, that shows why the film requires an actor like Hemsworth at the center, and not just another tough guy like a Gerald Butler or a Jason Statham. It’s in this moment that Hemsworth transcends the material, and even if his fatherlike protection over Ovi is fairly simplistic, it’s the essence of thematic depth that the film needs to be more than just a few really cool setpieces hobbled together.

But it’s hard to credit the sincerity of a moment like this when the rest of the film is just begging to be taken seriously. This is an extremely violent movie where kids are pushed off roofs, fingers are cut off, and headshots come at you with the frequency of a Call of Duty game and the realism of something like The Hurt Locker. It’s not that the violence is neccessarily off putting, but for the most part Extraction is a fairly joyless two hours to get through, and the dialogue within the action sequences is rarely anything more than “Come on, kid!” or “We’ve got to keep moving!”

Sometimes I feel like I should grade Netflix movies on a bit of curve; if you’re not really paying for it, perhaps there’s more lenience on what’s acceptable, and I’m confident that many people will have an entertaining enough time watching Hemsworth dash through the streets of Bangladesh mowing down hoards of indistinguishable hitmen. But outside of some exemplary formal elements, there’s nothing that really stands out about Extraction, and I expected a little more from a film in which Tyler Rake kills someone with a rake. Grade: C

 

2020 Academy Awards- Predicting the Winners

Tags

, ,

2020oscars

With little over a week until this year’s ceremony, here are my final predictions for the 2020 Academy Awards.

 

Best Picture

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Could Win: Parasite

Snubbed: The Farewell

 

Best Director

Will Win: Sam Mendes, 1917

Should Win: Sam Mendes, 1917

Could Win: Bong Joon-ho, Parasite

Snubbed: Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story

 

Best Actor

Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Should Win: Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Could Win: Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Snubbed: George McKay, 1917

 

Best Actress

Will Win: Renne Zellweger, Judy

Should Win: Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

Could Win: Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

Snubbed: Florence Pugh, Midsommar

 

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Could Win: Joe Pesci, The Irishman

Snubbed: Shia Labeouf, Honey Boy

 

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Could Win: Parasite

Snubbed: The Farewell

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: The Irishman

Should Win: The Irishman

Could Win: Little Women

Snubbed: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

 

Best Editing

Will Win: Ford v. Ferrari

Should Win: Parasite

Could Win: Parasite

Snubbed: Waves

 

Best Cinematography

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Could Win: Joker

Snubbed: A Hidden Life

 

Best Original Song

Will Win: “I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” Rocketman

Should Win: “I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” Rocketman

Could Win: “Into the Unknown,” Frozen II

Snubbed: “Turning Teeth,” Under the Silver Lake

 

Best Original Score

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Could Win: Joker

Snubbed: Ad Astra

 

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: The Irishman

Should Win: The Irishman

Could Win: The Lion King

Snubbed: Ad Astra

 

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Could Win: Ford v. Ferrari

Snubbed: John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum

 

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Could Win: Ford v. Ferrari

Snubbed: Rocketman

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Will Win: Bombshell

Should Win: Bombshell

Could Win: Joker

Snubbed: The Lighthouse

 

Best Production Design

Will Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Could Win: Parasite

Snubbed: Knives Out

 

Best Costume Design

Will Win: Jojo Rabbit

Should Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Could Win: Little Women

Snubbed: Dolemite Is My Name

 

Best Animated Feature

Will Win: Toy Story 4

Should Win: Toy Story 4

Could Win: Klaus

 

Best Foreign Language Film

Will Win: Parasite

Should Win: Parasite

Could Win: Literally nothing else, but I suppose Pain and Glory is the #2

The Gentlemen- Movie Review

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

gentlemen-poster

The Gentlemen is, as the title may suggest, a classy film. Its material is dense, its sense of humor is dark and often cruel, and there’s enough double crosses and plot twists to confuse even the most astute viewer, but whatever The Gentlemen is presenting, it does so with style. There’s so much material to sift through in this world, particularly when certain framing devices suggest that not everything you’re watching should be taken seriously, and there are certainly plot threads and characters that seem meandering. But what the film never does is lose its sense of debonair perfectionism; filmmaker Guy Ritchie is invested in telling a variety of jokes and escapades, and the fact that he’s able to string them together in a relatively intelligible narrative speaks to his uncompromising auteurism.

Ritchie is an interesting case study amongst cult filmmakers; emerging in the post-Tarantino era of the late 90s, Ritchie made his name with quippy, intricate action-crime-comedies such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and Revolver. However, instead of languishing as an underground favorite, Ritchie became somewhat of a mainstream guy, helming blockbusters such as the Sherlock Holmes films, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and Aladdin. With the exception of Aladdin, these films are among the most unique and stylistically unique blockbusters of the past decade, but The Gentlemen is Ritchie in his purest form; the scope is expansive but there’s not an emphasis on spectacle, and all the shackles of conventional studio plot lines and inoffensive humor have been stripped away.

And so you have a fun comedy caper in which its never entirely clear who is conning who and which character has the upper end until Ritchie stops the show for his big reveals. Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is one of the premiere marijuana dealers in the world, but he’s considering selling his business to Jewish billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong). As the deal closes, Pearson is threatened by Dry Eye (Henry Golding), a Chinese gangster who also has an eye for the lucrative business opportunity. The story, as it is told to the audience, is told primarily in flashbacks as Pearson’s henchman Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) is interviewed by the eccentric tabloid journalist Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who has been dispatched by his editor Big Dave (Eddie Marsden) to get dirt on Pearson.

This form of storytelling fits perfectly; is there’s ever been a filmmaker with the sensibilities of a guy telling stories at a bar, its Ritchie. The “film within a film” method is helpful in explaining all the details of the wheelings and dealing without overloading the exposition, and it also gives the characters Raymond and Fletcher the chance to revel in the absurdity of the story. Of course, no one can be trusted and nothing is what it is initially meant to seem, but the back and forth between Hunnam and Grant is an effective window into this world.

It also helps that these two, as well as the entire cast, are firing on every cylinder to make sure you know they’re having a good time. Ritchie’s dialogue ranges from clever takedowns of British gangster machoism to a level of crassness that shockingly made it to screen, and in both regards, the actors deliver the lines with such enthusiasm that its easy to get lost in the overall plot just for the sake of listening to the fun conversation happening at the present moment. Hunnam is as much of a straight man as the film has, but he’s got a quiet rage that makes him a suitably intimidating fixer who can also do physical comedy (a sequence in which Hunnam interrogates a group of stoners in a high rise speaks to his ability to make even the most threatening of Ritchie’s prose wickedly funny).

Grant is just having a blast here; he’s never intending to scratch too deeply under the surface of what is a stereotypical tabloid journalist, but his constant nagging of Hunnam’s character and means of introducing additional stylistic devices to the film make him an unforgettable screen character. McConaughey is also having the time of his life as a deathly serious Oklahoma kingpin, and he’s able to deliver the most ludicrously imagined monologues about the nature of leadership as it relates to the animal kingdom with the upmost sincerity (he’s also aided by an equally steely Michelle Dockery as Pearson’s ruthless wife Rosalind).

If I had to pick a favorite performance though, I’d have to go with Colin Farrell as a part time gangster, part time boxing gym owner known only as “Coach.” Coach and his rag-tag group of henchmen don’t fit the standard mold of gangsters, and they serviceably manage to shake the story up whenever things begin to become to clear cut. Farrell is an actor who naturally gravitates towards idiosyncratic parts, and his eccentric heists and strange philosophical yearnings are enough to disrupt any of the more straightforward motivations of the other characters.

The Gentlemen is so entertaining on a scene to scene basis that its still able to land its surprises at the end; some of the clues laid ahead of time end up being vital to the conclusion and some are just added to add extra dashes of personality, but either way its worth crediting Ritchie for managing to convince the viewer that everything they’re watching is important. Between his frequent means of torturing his characters and relentless lampooning of various groups, Ritchie is as uncompromising as ever, but he’s also constructed a film that is inherently self aware (a tactic that is brilliantly paid off at the end). It’s a web of crime and chaos lifted from his primary interests, but its one worth getting caught in. Grade: B+

 

2020 Academy Award Nominations Predictions

Tags

, ,

Oscars Popularity Contest, Beverly Hills, USA - 6 Feb 2017

Yesterday, I broke down my personal picks for this year’s Academy Awards nominations, and today I’m listing my predictions for the nominees in some of this year’s major categories.

 

Best Picture

1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

2. 1917

3. Parasite

4. The Irishman

5. Marriage Story

6. Joker

7. Jojo Rabbit

8. Ford v. Ferrari

9. Little Women

If there’s ten:

10. The Two Popes

Possibilities:

11. Knives Out

12. Bombshell

13. Uncut Gems

14. The Farewell

15. Rocketman

16. Dolemite Is My Name

17. Pain & Glory

18. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

19. Booksmart

20. Richard Jewell

 

Best Director

1. Sam Mendes, 1917

2. Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

3. Bong Joon-ho, Parasite

4. Martin Scorsese, The Irishman

5. Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story

Possibilities:

6. Todd Phillips, Joker

7. Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

8. Pedro Almodovar, Pain & Glory

9. Greta Gerwig, Little Women

10. Josh and Benny Safdie, Uncut Gems

 

Best Actor

1. Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

2. Adam Driver, Marriage Story

3. Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

4. Taron Egerton, Rocketman

5. Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems

Possibilities:

6. Robert De Niro, The Irishman

7. Christian Bale, Ford v. Ferrari

8. Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

9. Antonio Banderas, Pain & Glory

10. Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name

 

Best Actress

1. Renee Zellweger, Judy

2. Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

3. Charlize Theron, Bombshell

4. Cynthia Ervino, Harriet

5. Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Possibilities:

6. Awkwafina, The Farewell

7. Lupita Nyong’o, Us

8. Ana de Armas, Knives Out

9. Beanie Feldstein, Booksmart

10. Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose

 

Best Supporting Actor

1. Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

2. Joe Pesci, The Irishman

3. Al Pacino, The Irishman

4. Song Kang-ho, Parasite

5. Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes

Possibilities:

6. Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

7. Jamie Foxx, Just Mercy

8. Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse

9. Sam Rockwell, Jojo Rabbit

10. John Lithgow, Bombshell

 

Best Supporting Actress

1. Laura Dern, Marriage Story

2. Margot Robbie, Bombshell

3. Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit

4. Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers

5. Florence Pugh, Little Women

Possibilities:

6. Nicole Kidman, Bombshell

7. Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell

8. Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell

9. Annette Bening, The Report

10. Margot Robbie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

 

Best Original Screenplay

1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

2. Marriage Story

3. Parasite

4. The Farewell

5. Knives Out

Possibilities:

6. 1917

7. Uncut Gems

8. Booksmart

9. Bombshell

10. Ford v. Ferrari

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

1. The Irishman

2. Jojo Rabbit

3. The Two Popes

4. Joker

5. Little Women

Possibilities:

6. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

7. Just Mercy

8. Hustlers

9. Richard Jewell

10. Toy Story 4

2020 Academy Awards- My Personal Picks

Tags

, ,

oscar2020

A fun tradition I’ve done the last few years on my blog is filling out a personal ballot of what I would nominate if I was voting for this year’s Academy Awards. These are not predictions, as my taste is unlikely to line up completely with the Oscars (although there may be some overlap), but are rather what I’d like to see get nominated in some of the major categories.

 

Best Picture

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

1917

Parasite

Marriage Story

The Irishman

Honey Boy

The Farewell

Jojo Rabbit

The Two Popes

Rocketman

 

Best Director

Sam Mendes, 1917

Bong Joon-ho, Parasite

Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story

Martin Scorsese, The Irishman

 

Best Actor

Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

George McKay, 1917

Taron Egerton, Rocketman

Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name

 

Best Actress

Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

Florence Pugh, Midsommar

Awkwafina, The Farewell

Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Lupita Nyong’o, Us

 

Best Supporting Actor

Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Song Kang-ho, Parasite

Joe Pesci, The Irishman

Shia Labeouf, Honey Boy

Wesley Snipes, Dolemite Is My Name

 

Best Supporting Actress

Shuzhen Zhao, The Farewell

Taylor Russell, Waves

Julia Butters, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell

Julia Fox, Uncut Gems

 

Best Original Screenplay

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Parasite

Marriage Story

1917

The Farewell

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Irishman

Jojo Rabbit

The Two Popes

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Motherless Brooklyn

 

Best Original Song

“I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” Rocketman

“Turning Teeth,” Under the Silver Lake

“Daily Battles,” Motherless Brooklyn

“One Little Soldier,” Bombshell

“For You My Love,” Blinded by the Light

 

Best Original Score

1917

Ad Astra

Marriage Story

The King

Motherless Brooklyn

 

Best Editing

Parasite

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

The Irishman

Waves

Apollo 11

 

Best Cinematography

1917

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum

The Lighthouse

Parasite

 

Best Visual Effects

Ad Astra

Avengers: Endgame

Rocketman

High Life

Doctor Sleep

 

Best Sound Editing

Rocketman

1917

Ford v. Ferrari

John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum

Avengers: Endgame

 

Best Sound Mixing

Rocketman

1917

Ford v. Ferrari

Yesterday

Blinded by the Light

 

Best Production Design

1917

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Dolemite Is My Name

Midsommar

Knives Out

 

Best Costume Design

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Dolemite Is My Name

Little Women

1917

Jojo Rabbit

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Rocketman

Midsommar

Judy

Bombshell

The Lighthouse

 

Best International Film

Parasite

The Farewell

Pain and Glory

Les Miserables

The Best Films of the 2010s: #10-1

Tags

Over the past ten days, I’ve counted down the top 500 best films of the past ten years. Now, we’ve finally reached the end. Here are the top ten best films of the 2010s.

 

  1. You Were Never Really Here

you were never really here

The sight of Joaquin Phoenix carrying his mother’s corpse to the bottom of the lake is one of the most striking images in the history of cinema. When people talk about movies being an experience, this is what they’re talking about.

 

  1. First Reformed

First Reformed

“I know that nothing can change, and I know there is no hope” isn’t just the truest line in any film ever written, but also the catalyst for the most honest depiction of faith to ever come from the medium.

 

  1. 1917

1917

The “all in one shot” style of filmmaking is more than a gimmick, and is the only way to tell this story and depict war with this amount of grace and brutality. The physicality of the performers is absolutely astounding, and the film’s potent, yet never obvious commentary on the small victories of war is powerful. Sam Mendes has time and time again proven to be auteur who can reshape any genre in his own image- it’s an astounding achievement.

 

  1. Skyfall

Skyfall

The best James Bond film ever made, Skyfall delivers on any visceral thrillers we could’ve asked for from this series with phenomenal set pieces, whilst literally deconstructing Bond’s origins, because after over twenty films, we’re still wondering who this guy really is. Roger Deakins has shot one of the most beautiful looking movies of the decade, but credit is due to both Javier Bardem as the villain that really got under Bond’s skin and Judi Dench as the only woman he ever saw as his better.

 

  1. Blade Runner 2049

blade runner 2049

Quite simply, the greatest sequel ever made; this is a film that looks like a visual painting and utilizes every element of noir to be engrossing, shortly before dumping an emotional wall on anyone who’s ever wondered why the most beautiful things never last.

 

  1. The World’s End

The world's end

A critique of nostalgia from the perspective of someone trying to relive their youth, The World’s End is the crowning achievement of Edgar Wright’s career, both as an emotional gut punch to all those who wish their life had been better and a joyous expression of an artist reveling in their own mythology.

 

  1. The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys

No film deserved to be a franchise more than this; I cannot express the amount of joy I’ve gotten from Ryan Gosling’s catalogue of great quotes in this film, or Shane Black’s eclectic mix of violence and sex into a film that manages to be both cynical and sincere.

 

  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

A collection of thoughts, musings, and misadventures about the Golden Age of Hollywood and the innocence that ended with it, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a complete celebration of the era that doesn’t mock its history and codes all its humor in a warm blanket of sincerity. The end if among the most provocative things Tarantino has ever done, molding history into a more optimistic version of what it was.

 

  1. The Social Network

The Social Network

Whip smart and stunningly cool, The Social Network holds up a decade later as the film that disassembled what it’s like to communicate in a more connected world, and the doomed friendship that shaped the internet as it is. It’s scarily prophetic.

 

  1. The Big Short

TheBigShort

The crowning achievement of modern cinema. Thrilling in its approach, hilarious in its presentation, and ultimately crushing in its finality, The Big Short is the epitome of what this decade was. Whether you view it as a pitch black satire, a searing political indictment, a meditation on failure, or a dark comedy about the consequences of greed, this was the film that presented the chaos of the world into a breathless surge of energy.

 

The Best Films of the 2010s: #50-11

Tags

Starting at #500, I’ve counted down my favorite films of the 2010s, and now we’re almost at the end of my list. Here are entries #50 through #11 on my list of the decade’s best films.

 

  1. Brigsby Bear

brigsby bear

Creativity is all about weirdness, and Brigsby Bear is crazy weird and appeals to the age old idea of “what if we could just run into the woods and make something?” It’s a movie about an adult man who’s sheltered from the real world by his insane adopted parents who keep him trapped in their confines by producing a children’s television show made for only him, and the man’s escape from that world, his adjustment to normal life and family, and his journey to recreate the show his parents made for him with the help of new friends. It’s just as incredible as it sounds.

 

  1. Honey Boy

honey boy

An unprecedented look of on screen introspection, Honey Boy was written by Shia Labeouf as a means of coping with his own childhood trauma, and Labeouf gives the performance of his career as a character based on his own father. Noah Jupe gives one of the greatest child performances of all-time in this affectionate retelling that ends with a bitter, not quite conclusive note.

 

  1. The Irishman

the irishman

This is Martin Scorsese’s Unforgiven, a return to the genre that gave him his name that shows how these larger than life characters can give a lifetime of service and age into nothingness. The brilliant deaging digital technology allows Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino all live out and live past their own glory days, visualizing a legacy that passes them by.

 

  1. Gone Girl

gone girl

Gillian Flynn’s novel is one of my all-time favorites, so to say I was nervous about this adaptation is an understatement; fortunately, David Fincher really knows what he’s doing an understood that media circus, unhappy marriage, murder, botched police investigations, and celebrity can all be funny if we think about it. The perfection of the casting of Ben Affleck as the hapless and morally dubious husband who becomes an icon cannot be overstated.

 

  1. Dunkirk

dunkirk

War is chaos and survival is victory. Dunkirk explores the experience of war more than any one person. It shapes the overall vision based around individual struggles, giving us a journey that allows sucks us into the chaos before treating us to the tapestry.

 

  1. Jackie

jackie

As history becomes myth and people become characters, it’s easy to forget the real ramifications and consequences of an event that occurs after it has faded from the news cycle. Jackie is a testament to the end of Camelot, but from the perspective of those left in King Arthur’s wake.

 

  1. Brad’s Status

brad's status

There’s so much wisdom packed into this heartwarming, introspective father and son story; Ben Stiller’s character wrestles with how his son’s success may or may not fulfill the perceived gaps in his life, and the film expertly pokes holes in middle aged cynicism and the wide-eyed innocence of college.

 

  1. Everybody Wants Some

everybody wants some

I’ve never wanted to hang out with characters in a movie more than I’ve wanted to hang out with the characters in Everybody Wants Some. I’ve never wanted to sing “Rapper’s Delight” with anybody in a car more than the characters in Everybody Wants Some. I’ve never wanted to go to a theater kid party more than I’ve wanted to go with the characters in Everybody Wants Some. I’ve never wanted to sleep through classes with anyone more than the characters in Everybody Wants Some.

 

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

the grand budapest hotel

Wes Anderson redefined his own style but telling a story about what stories are; he allows us to dip into the most exciting, most accessible, most satisfying version of what a real story could be, showing that the past is a fun place to be for a little while, but isn’t a place to stay.

 

  1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

tinker tailor soldier spy

The best spy film ever made. Real life espionage has a lot less explosions and car chases, but in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy the realistic is made to be gripping. Also, the best ending montage in any movie ever, and I’ll stand by that.

 

  1. Bohemian Rhapsody

bohemian rhapsody

The music of Queen has always energized and inspired, and Bohemian Rhapsody channels this inherent energy into a fast-paced blast through the life of the legendary frontman, crossing through his major life events at the speed of “Don’t Stop Me Now.” It’s an energetic romp that navigates gracefully between the extremes in the life of Freddie Mercury, portrayed by Rami Malek in the role that rightfully earned him an Oscar. 

 

  1. Inception

inception

Like Hitchock before him, Christopher Nolan has developed a real relationship with the audience in which he draws us in, demands we pay attention, and still pulls the rug out beneath us. This is a journey into the mind of someone who has an incredible imagination.

 

  1. Good Time

good time

I don’t have a take on what the underlying message of Good Time is, but for a film that takes on the “one wild night” premise, Good Time ups the ante on the wildness in every situation, managing to feel sporadic in a way that is always satisfying.

 

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road

mad max fury road

This is what movie reboots and sequels should be; stripping away the nonsense and delivering the visceral thrills that only a master filmmaker could, Mad Max: Fury Road is absolutely the best version of what a Mad Max movie could be.

 

  1. Her

her

Her is perfectly attuned to the future of what our world today may look like, not necessarily because of the technological angel, but because the honest depiction loneliness feels authentically suited to where we are headed.

 

  1. Argo

argo

This is a movie about a fake movie that was used to rescue real people, and of all the true events that feel suited to be adapted into a movie, none feel as perfect as this movie. A movie for people that like movies, not just because of the effervescent references to other movies, but because it mines all the possible dramatic and comedic situations that could occur considering the premise of this movie. Movies!

 

  1. Call Me By Your Name

call me by your name

Luca Guadagnino understands that relationships can’t be formatted into a three-act structure or a series of tear-ridden exchanges; Call Me By Your Name just lets us sit back and watch emotions develop and letting the inevitable occur.

 

  1. Burning

burning

The genius of Burning is that it’s a thriller where we’re not entirely sure what we should be dreading, calling into question what we should see as real and what is just a byproduct of the characters’ fantasy. Burning lets us linger within its world long enough that we guess how every action will have consequences, leading to a jaw dropping ending that both recontextualizes the entire story and question what was important and what wasn’t.

 

  1. Lady Bird

lady bird

Being a teenager really, really sucks, and a film like Lady Bird is all about the juxtaposition of hilarity, regret, and heartbreak that everyone experiences during their transitional years.

 

  1. Phantom Thread

phantom thread

Daniel Day Lewis’s career has been a gift to cinema like no other, and there’s perhaps no better way to let him go out than as an obsessive, caustically witty, imminently selfish, and gloriously watchable. The film buff’s rom-com.

 

  1. Roma

roma

There are a lot of films that have attempted to explore the day to day experiences of life, but given that most of them aren’t directed by Alfonso Cuaron, they don’t have the pitch perfect composition or devastating reversion to routine that Roma does. 

 

  1. Django Unchained

django unachained

Darker, richer, and more fulfilling than nearly everything Tarantino has ever done, Django Unchained is a deep genre flick rooted in uncompromising anger. Cinema has never seen a villain like Calvin Candie. 

 

  1. 12 Years a Slave

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE

Essential in a way that only this story could be, this is a film that everyone should see, not because it is a totality of the ugliest period in American history, but because it is an example of the countless stories that could be told.

 

  1. Cold War

cold war

As Tommy Wiseau might say, “love is blind,” and in Cold War, it’s also fatal.

 

  1. Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

birdman

“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige”- Mike Shiner.

 

  1. The Tree of Life

tree of life

The most ambitious take on the vastness of time and the entirety of existence since 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Tree of Life is one of, if not the most beautiful looking movie ever made.

 

  1. Marriage Story

marriage story

Marriage Story doesn’t try to explore what every divorce is like, but gives us a lot of insight into one specific one. What’s important is that we don’t end up hating either party, and we’re left wishing they could get back together while knowing that it will never happen. A refreshing update of Kramer v. Kramer for a new audience.

 

  1. Whiplash

whiplash

What are the lengths we’d go to achieve perfection in any given medium? Whiplash makes us realize that all aspirations are based partially in obsession, and leaves us to question whether it was all worth it.

 

  1. Manchester by the Sea

manchester by the sea

Possibly one of the most depressing movies ever made, but there’s insight in the banality of Manchester by the Sea, and the discussion regarding grief doesn’t ask questions as much as it explores its own complexity.

 

  1. La La Land

la la land

Forget the cynics, and forget the Oscars; this is a bombastic and expertly crafted musical that pays tribute to the classics, whilst pushing the genre closer to the future.

 

  1. Parasite

parasite

Equal parts disturbing and hilarious, Parasite shows how deep the wealth gap cuts into family priorities, allowing us to laugh at the absurdity and shake our heads at its relevance. The final act is an elegantly sinister coordination of brewing tensions that finally rise to the surface.

 

  1. Thunder Road

Thunder Road

Jim Cummings writes, directs, and stars in this hyper-realistic take on a small town police officer’s mental breakdown following a series of traumatic events- like its opening twelve minute shot, Thunder Road lingers longer than should be comfortable and makes us laugh when we don’t have any other way to express ourselves. Cummings’s performance is affectionate and brave in its excruciating honestly; this film is proof that a crowd pleaser doesn’t have to be entirely comfortable.

 

  1. First Man

First Man

Envisioning the Moon Landing as a parent’s journey to cope with the loss of a child, First Man is a highly emotional experience that is elevated by Justin Hurtwitz’s operatic, all-time great score. Space can be exciting, but in First Man it’s also terrifying, as a group of brave astronauts venture into the great unknown with tragedy in the past and only shaky technology to aid them.

 

  1. The Favourite

THE FAVOURITE

As someone who has never related to period pieces and their attempts to humanize the most privileged, I found The Favourite to be a hilarious take on how we can be caught up in the bizarre maneuvering of the worst of people.

 

  1. Boyhood

boyhood

It may resonate with those who grew up in this decade the most, but the simple collection of moments that constitute growing up should be enough to resonate with anyone.

 

  1. The Revenant

The Revenant

Revenge and obsession feel more like destiny than fulfillment, and this epic odyssey of a tale is a testament to the everlasting relevance of revenge stories; they appeal to our darkest instincts, but the realized fantasy is often a grueling and fraught conquest.

 

  1. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

No, there’s probably never been a movie made for me more than Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, but I’ve rarely been more aware that the creators of a film really love films more than this.

 

  1. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Life is ultimately a series of conversations, and Steve Jobs condenses the life of its titular lead into three really great ones. Michael Fassbender is brilliant, but you already knew that.

 

  1. Baby Driver

Baby Driver

Baby Driver is an age old story attuned to the specificity of today; this is a gimmick movie that knows how to use its gimmick, and gives a lot of great actors the chance to have a blast with some really wacky characters. If you don’t like Baby Driver, I’m assuming you’re either deeply cynical or just don’t like movies.

 

  1. The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wold of Wall Street

It’s influence that draws people into something. The seductive cries of slickness. The Wolf of Wall Street is a rise and fall story that pans the audience for indulging, yet still leaves us wanting more. Sell me this pen.