2019 Academy Awards Predictions

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With a little over a week until this year’s Academy Award nominations are set to be revealed, I have compiled my predictions for this year’s nominees. Here are my predictions for the 2019 Academy Awards in eight of the key categories.

 

Best Picture:

1. A Star is Born

2. Roma

3. BlacKkKlansman

4. Green Book

5. The Favourite

6. Vice

7. Black Panther

8. Bohemian Rhapsody

9. If Beale Street Could Talk

If there’s ten:

10. Crazy Rich Asians

Possibilities:

11. Mary Poppins Returns

12. A Quiet Place

13. First Man

14. Eighth Grade

15. First Reformed

16. Can You Ever Forgive Me?

17. Cold War

18. The Wife

19. Beautiful Boy

20. Widows

 

Best Director:

1. Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

2. Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born

3. Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

4. Peter Farrelly, Green Book

5. Adam McKay, Vice

Possibilities:

6. Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite

7. Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

8. Ryan Coogler, Black Panther

9. Damian Chazelle, First Man

10. Rob Marshall, Mary Poppins Returns

 

Best Actor:

1. Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

2. Christian Bale, Vice

3. Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born

4. Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

5. John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman

Possibilities:

6. Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

7. Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate

8. John C. Reilly, Stan & Ollie

9. Steve Coogan, Stan & Ollie

10. Ryan Gosling, First Man

 

Best Actress:

1. Glenn Close, The Wife

2. Olivia Colman, The Favourite

3. Lady GaGa, A Star is Born

4. Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

5. Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns

Possibilities:

6. Yalitza Aparicio, Roma

7. Viola Davis, Widows

8. Toni Collette, Hereditary

9. Rosamund Pike, A Private War

10. Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

 

Best Supporting Actor:

1. Mahershela Ali, Green Book

2. Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

3. Timothee Chalamet, Beautiful Boy

4. Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman

5. Sam Elliot, A Star is Born

Possibilities:

6. Sam Rockwell, Vice

7. Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther

8. Brian Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk

9. Jonathan Pryce, The Wife

10. Steve Carrell, Vice

 

Best Supporting Actress:

1. Amy Adams, Vice

2. Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

3. Emma Stone, The Favourite

4. Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

5. Claire Foy, First Man

Possibilities:

6. Margot Robbie, Mary Queen of Scots

7. Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place

8. Nicole Kidman, Boy Erased

9. Linda Cardellini, Green Book

10. Michelle Yeoh, Crazy Rich Asians

 

Best Original Screenplay

1. The Favourite

2. Roma

3. Green Book

4. Vice

5. Eighth Grade

Possibilites:

6. First Reformed

7. A Quiet Place

8. Bohemian Rhapsody

9. Cold War

10. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

 

Best Adapted Screenplay:

1. BlacKkKlansman

2. If Beale Street Could Talk

3. A Star is Born

4. Can You Ever Forgive Me?

5. Black Panther

Possibilities:

6. First Man

7. Crazy Rich Asians

8. The Death of Stalin

9. Leave No Trace

10. Beautiful Boy

 

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2019 Academy Awards- My Personal Picks

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We’re only a few weeks away from this year’s Academy Award nominations, and while I will soon be providing my predictions, I have put together my personal picks for what deserves to be nominated this year. These are not my predictions, but rather what I think deserves nominations this year in nineteen of the major categories.

 

Best Picture

First Reformed

The Favourite

Bohemian Rhapsody

You Were Never Really Here

First Man

Mission: Impossible- Fallout

Roma

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Vice

If Beale Street Could Talk 

 

Best Director

Lynne Ramsay, You Were Never Really Here

Paul Schrader, First Reformed

Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite

Christopher McQuarrie, Mission: Impossible- Fallout

 

Best Actor

Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

Christian Bale, Vice

John C. Reilly, The Sisters Brothers

Robert Redford, The Old Man & The Gun

 

Best Actress

Yalitza Aparicio, Roma

Toni Collette, Hereditary

Charlize Theron, Tully

Glenn Close, The Wife

Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns

 

Best Supporting Actor

Jesse Plemons, Game Night

Tim Blake Nelson, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Nicholas Hoult, The Favourite

Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Alex Wolff, Hereditary

 

Best Supporting Actress

Emma Stone, The Favourite

Cynthia Ervino, Bad Times at the El Royale

Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace

Elizabeth Debicki, Widows

Kayli Carter, Private Life

 

Best Original Screenplay

First Reformed

Green Book

Game Night

Vice

The Favourite

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Wildlife

If Beale Street Could Talk

BlacKkKlansman

The Death of Stalin

The Front Runner

 

Best Editing

First Reformed

You Were Never Really Here

Mission: Impossible- Fallout

American Animals

Game Night

 

Best Cinematography

Roma

You Were Never Really Here

Mission: Impossible- Fallout

Wildlife

The Rider

 

Best Original Song

“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

“Ashes,” Deadpool 2

“Shallow,” A Star is Born

“Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” Mary Poppins Returns

“Revelation,” Boy Erased

 

Best Original Score

You Were Never Really Here

First Man

Mary Queen of Scots

If Beale Street Could Talk

Paddington 2

 

Best Visual Effects

Avengers: Infinity War

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Ready Player One

Aquaman

Annihilation

 

Best Sound Effects Mixing

Bohemian Rhapsody

Mission: Impossible- Fallout

American Animals

A Quiet Place

Mary Poppins Returns

 

Best Sound Effects Editing

Bohemian Rhapsody

Mission: Impossible- Fallout

American Animals

A Quiet Place

Blindspotting

 

Best Production Design

First Man

A Quiet Place

Mary Poppins Returns

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Game Night

 

Best Costume Design

Mary Poppins Returns

Bohemian Rhapsody

Bad Times at the El Royale

The Favourite

At Eternity’s Gate

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Vice

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourite

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

At Eternity’s Gate

 

Best Animated Feature

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Isle of Dogs

Incredibles 2

 

 

2019 Golden Globes Predictions

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This Sunday, the Golden Globes telecast will air and reveal this year’s winners. Below are my predictions for the film awards, as well as my personal picks to win and some snubs from the nomination list.

 

Best Motion Picture- Drama

Will Win: A Star is Born

Should Win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Could Win: BlacKkKlansman

Snubbed: First Reformed

 

Best Motion Picture- Comedy/Musical

Will Win: Green Book

Should Win: The Favourite

Could Win: Vice

Snubbed: Paddington 2

 

Best Director- Motion Picture

Will Win: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

Should Win: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Could Win: Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born

Snubbed: Lynne Ramsey, You Were Never Really Here

 

Best Actor in a Motion Picture- Drama

Will Win: Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born

Should Win: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Could Win: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Snubbed: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

 

Best Actress in a Motion Picture- Drama

Will Win: Lady GaGa, A Star is Born

Should Win: Glenn Close, The Wife

Could Win: Glenn Close, The Wife

Snubbed: Toni Collette, Hereditary

 

Best Actor in a Motion Picture- Comedy/Musical

Will Win: Christian Bale, Vice

Should Win: Christian Bale, Vice

Could Win: Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

Snubbed: Steve Buscemi, The Death of Stalin

 

Best Actress in a Motion Picture- Comedy/Musical

Will Win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Should Win: Charlize Theron, Tully

Could Win: Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns

Snubbed: Kathryn Hahn, Private Life

 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Will Win: Mahershela Ali, Green Book

Should Win: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Could Win: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Snubbed: Jesse Plemmons, Game Night

 

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Will Win: Amy Adams, Vice

Should Win: Emma Stone, The Favourite

Could Win: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Snubbed: Cynthia Ervino, Bad Times at the El Royale

 

Best Screenplay- Motion Picture

Will Win: The Favourite

Should Win: The Favourite

Could Win: Green Book

Snubbed: First Reformed

 

Best Original Score- Motion Picture

Will Win: First Man

Should Win: First Man

Could Win: Black Panther

Snubbed: You Were Never Really Here

 

Best Original Song- Motion Picture

Will Win: “Shallow,” A Star is Born

Should Win: “Shallow,” A Star is Born

Could Win: “All the Stars,” Black Panther

Snubbed: “When a Cowboy Trades his Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

 

Best Animated Feature Film

Will Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Should Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Could Win: Incredibles 2

 

Best Foreign Language Film

Will Win: Roma

Should Win: Roma

Could Win: Literally nothing else, but I suppose Capernaum has the best shot.

Top Ten Best Films of 2018

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To say that 2018 was a great year for film isn’t necessarily unusual; this entire decade we’ve been lucky enough to have countless memorable films each year. That being said, 2018 was no different, and there were many wonderful films this year that spanned different genres, perspectives, and interpretations.

I was able to see most of the films that I wanted to this year, but as with every year, there were some I missed and some that haven’t opened up in my area yet- being a film fan outside of New York or Los Angeles is very challenging when you’re a fan of independent cinema. To see what films were considered for my list, you can check out my catalogue of reviews on my blog.

It’s always difficult narrowing down the films I saw to just ten, and this may have been the most difficult list I’ve ever had to compile. There were so many great films this year, many of which were criminally underseen, but ultimately I selected ten that I felt were of the highest quality.

As always, there are many films that I loved that didn’t end up making my list, and as with last year, I decided to select my top 40 runners up to my top ten. I strongly considered making a full top 50 list, but I am confident in my top ten and encourage my readers to see all the mentioned films in my list and honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions- The Top 40 Runners Up

Beautiful Boy

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Private Life

Mid90s

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

A Star is Born

The Wife

Mary Queen of Scots

Annihilation

Black Panther

Incredibles 2

Outlaw King

Boy Erased

The Front Runner

Avengers: Infinity War

Creed II

The Sisters Brothers

Leave No Trace

The Mule

The Death of Stalin

A Quiet Place

Isle of Dogs

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Game Night

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Paddington 2

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Bad Time at the El Royale

Mary Poppins Returns

American Animals

Tully

Blindspotting

Widows

Hereditary

The Old Man & The Gun

Green Book

At Eternity’s Gate

Wildlife

The Rider

BlacKkKlansman

  1. If Beale Street Could Talk

            bealestreetA powerful cinematic romance brought to life by two marvelous performances from Kiki Lane and Stephen James, If Beale Street Could Talk is a simply gorgeous film that realizes the pain brought by the justice system and explores a rich culture through a wonderful ensemble of characters who each bring something new to the film. The film boasts a wonderful score, and the tight close ups and elegant, portrait like cinematography make this one of the most visually dazzling films of the year.

  1. Vice

            viceAdam McKay provides another infuriating and unescapably prevalent story of how the strive for power came at the expense of the American people, this time showing the circumstances that led Dick Cheney to become one of the most influential figures in modern political history. While a huge element is McKay’s willingness to follow the bread crumb trails to find what actions affect us today, he’s also fascinated in what makes Dick and Lynne Cheney tick, and Christian Bale and Amy Adams deliver transformative performances that delve into the psyche of these figures. No other movies this year was so creative in its infusion of humor, structural shifts, and untraditional narrative (and narrators!) to tell its story.

  1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

            FredrogersWon’t You Be My Neighbor? is a singular tribute to the power of positive thinking and kindness, and while there are perhaps more striking or innovative ways of making a documentary, the film captures the spirit of Fred Rogers through wonderful anecdotes, insightful interviews that reach meaningful conclusions, and rewarding animated segments that capture Rogers and his journey. It’s simply a good hearted and respectful tradition, one that evokes a full pallet of emotions as we wrestle with what Mr. Rogers can teach us.

  1. Roma

romaAlfonso Cuaron may be the greatest visual artist of his generation, and Roma is without a doubt one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve ever seen. The story of a wealthy Mexican family falling apart is not only a window into a culture and people who don’t get their stories told, but a fascinating look at the essence of family. Yalitza Aparicio’s character, the maid who’s story leads the film, gives an amazing performance as the latent glue of the family; the film is episodic yet flows, and ends with an emotional wallop like no other while not resolving itself in a storybook way.

  1. Mission: Impossible- Fallout

            falloutMission: Impossible-Fallout is straight up one of the greatest action films ever made; while films like this are often defined by one sequence or moment, Fallout is able to remain engrossing, exciting, and unpredictable throughout, with each set piece topping the next. Christopher McQuarrie elevates the entire genre with an unprecedented level of craftsmanship- the cinematography and use of color is simply stunning, and the score brings to life the melancholy and humanity in an otherwise relentless film. The standout, however, remains Tom Cruise; after over 35 years in the industry, he reminds us why he’s the greatest movie star on the planet with his incredible dedication to giving us an authentic and personal experience.

  1. First Man

firstmanFirst Man is both of celebration and a challenge of the idea of the idealized 1960s America, pulling back the noise of history by focusing on Neil Armstrong’s personal journey that includes family tragedy and individual rebirth. Space here is scary, thrilling, yet strangely beautiful, and First Man details the intense and challenging years that predated the first lunar mission. Illuminated by an all-time great score by Justin Hurwitz, First Man is an intimate and gripping historical tale that culminates in a leveling emotional payoff.

  1. You Were Never Really Here

           youwereneverrealyhere An artful tone poem unlike anything I’ve ever seen, You Were Never Really Here is a visceral experience that tells its story in a way that’s both untraditional and accessible. The beautiful cinematography, score, and sound are breathtakingly orchestrated by masterful filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, who captures a terrible week in the life of veteran forging a one man war against insidious forces. Joaquin Phoenix does some of his best work in this dour, hallucinatory work, and the result is a captivating and impactful film.

  1. Bohemian Rhapsody

bohemianrhapsodyBohemian Rhapsody captures the essence of Freddie Mercury- the wit, the charm, the contradictions, the tragedy, the passion, and the pure, unadulterated talent. Rami Malek delivers the best performance of the year with his tour de force performance as the legendary front man, but the film is also brought to life by a terrific ensemble, specifically Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joseph Mazzzello, as Queen members Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon, respectively. Each scene pulsates with energy and emotion; the film is reflective as Freddie lives to see his own legacy at the end of the life, and it concludes with an incredible recreation of the Live Aid that ranks among the greatest cinematic moments of the decade.

  1. The Favourite

            the-favourite-trailer-1The Favourite is the most purely enjoyable film I’ve seen in years, a shocking and hilarious takedown of wealth and politics through three deceitful and devious women. Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman deliver exemplary work and bring humanity to these rather unlikeable characters. Nearly every bit of staging by director Yorgos Lanthimos- the lighting, the music, the action, the color- is as perfect as it could be, and the humor is persistent until the point that the film reaches its natural conclusion, a chilling denouement to the excess and vileness that preceded it.

  1. First Reformed

            firstreformedThe best film of the year is a slow, piercing meditation on faith, purpose, and despair anchored by Ethan Hawke’s greatest performance to date. Legendary writer and director Paul Schrader crafts the best depiction of faith in a modern context ever seen on screen and delivers on an eerie noir with the vibrant mysticism of Taxi Driver wrapped in a conflicted and fascinating lead character. No film this year demands more viewings like First Reformed, and no line is quite as all-encompassing as “I know that nothing can change, and I know there is no hope.”

If Beale Street Could Talk- Movie Review

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If Beale Street Could Talk is a true achievement, a technical marvel, and the host of one of the year’s best ensembles. The film, inspired by the novel of the same name, is an enchanting work that boasts and elegant cinematography that finds the beauty in simple moments, and utilizes a simple yet non-sequential narrative structure to bring us into its world. It’s a testament to director and writer Barry Jenkins how well the film is put together; its heartwarming and sad, and manages to touch on larger issues whilst mostly focusing on one couple and family.

Set in the early 1970s, the film follows a young couple, Tish (Kiki Lane) and Fonny (Stephen James), who fall in love and are separated after Fonny is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. The entire ensemble is full of wonderful characters that illuminate the screen and offer their own sensitivities, particularly Regina King as Tish’s mother and Brian Tyree Henry as an old friend of Fonny’s, but its the two leads that anchor this story. Their romance is told with patience and grace, making their time apart seem all the more unbearable.

The film switches back and forth between the events following the alleged crime and the origin of Tish and Fonny’s romance; the flashbacks are simply joyous and enchanting, and the following events detail the legal and emotional lengths taken to achieve justice. Each cast member brings something here, making even inconsequential events another excuse to spend time with these characters, and while the film’s ending may seem unsatisfactory to some, it couldn’t have been a more realistic conclusion or a better finale to the emotional arc of the story. If Beale Street Could Talk is a wonderful journey of thoughtfulness and empathy, a true masterpiece from Barry Jenkins. Grade: A

Vice- Movie Review

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Three years after The Big Short, writer/director Adam McKay returns with another modern history retelling, moving from the financial crisis to the fascinating true story of Dick Cheney’s rise to power. Infusing many similar elements, such as creative fourth wall breaks, humorous editing, and untraditional structure, McKay has once again made a compelling and rage inducing film that takes the complexities of politics and lays it out in a way that is approachable. It’s a lot more cut and dry than The Big Short, but McKay is never claiming to be subtle, and this time he’s going for a deeper dive to see the factors that inspired the power couple of Dick and Lynne Cheney.

Based on a true story, Vice follows Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) from their early days following Dick’s withdrawal from Yale, and follows them as Dick rises to prominence within Washington. The film flashes forward at the appropriate moments to give us context, but for the most part its a sequential narrative, layered by McKay’s signature editing techniques, which utilize voice overs, freeze frames, intercut sequences, and other clever methods to make the point of each scene clear and add humor into the mix.

It cannot be overstated the transformation that Christian Bale makes; rarely is such a famous actor completely recognizable, and beyond the amazing work of the makeup department, Bale is able to explore how Cheney’s various opportunities and experiences shaped his work, and lead him down a sinister path that affected the world in countless ways. Amy Adams is also terrific here; she transcends the “wife” role that is common within biopics and sheds light on a woman who was unable to be the face of change, but could be the latent inspiration of it. The Cheneys here aren’t sympathetic, but their understandable, and McKay makes the best of his Macbeth and Lady MAcBeth duo.

Steve Carrell is also really great here as Donald Rumsfeld, another figure who’s path was commonly intertwined with Cheney’s, and their complex relationship and separate strives for power is fascinating to watch. There’s also a really fun side performance from Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush; while Rockwell’s interpretation comes off as a tad too goofy, he’s imminently watchable and brings insightful comedy to each scene.

Vice presents its story in a truly creative and accessible manner, reaping all the possible consequences of Dick Cheney’s life to create an upsetting and impactful film. The humor here is used to make the story more tangible, but its also used as a “laugh and shake our heads” sort of reflection on how ambitious political figures transformed the country in unchangeable ways. Still, its a reflection on Cheney himself, and questions what he hoped to achieve, and who he was unwilling to betray. What is his legacy, what would he change, and what did he hope to accomplish? Grade: A

Mary Poppins Returns- Movie Review

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1964’s Mary Poppins was the first movie I ever saw as a kid; its one of the timeless films that speaks to each generation without parallel. Following up something like that is undoubtably a very challenging task, so I’m very happy to say that Mary Poppins Returns feels like an authentic sequel that captures a lot of the magic of the original. It’s repetitive of many of the elements of the original, both on a story and a thematic level, but it doesn’t feel derivative, and this feels more like a natural reintroduction of the story to a new generation than just a recycled clone.

In 1930s London, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is at risk of losing his home and struggles to care for his three children with his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer). When time begins to run out for the Banks family, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to whisk the family on a new adventure and help them through hardship.

The shoes left by Julie Andrews are not easy to follow up, but Emily Blunt gives it her all in what is without a doubt one of the best performances of the year. Blunt nails the prim, proper, “practically perfect is every way” mannerisms of Andrews with all the wit, warmth, and charisma along the way. In fact the entire ensemble is filled with memorable actors who bring the adventure to life; Ben Whishaw is ultimately the heart of the film as the father who finds his inner child, and Lin-Manuel Miranda gives a fun performance as a Dick Van Dyke-esque side character who factors into the adventure.

The musical numbers here are simply stunning, and while there are many odes and tributes to a more classical animation style, there’s also some really groundbreaking visuals when it comes to materializing the complex musical numbers. The music itself feels akin to the style of the original, but I liked that the numbers were original; since the story is so similar to the first film, the musical numbers are where the film gets to differentiate itself in a significant way, and they capture the childlike sense of wonderment and imagination necessary for this story.

Mary Poppins Returns is a very satisfying sequel that tells its story for a new generation whilst completing many of the story and character arcs of the original. It’s a film that speaks to both children and adults, and I was impressed by just how exciting and fulfilling the music is onscreen. I was glad to take this journey again, but in many ways it felt as if no time had passed it all- perhaps that’s just a testament to the staying power of Mary Poppins. Grade: A

2018 Movie Catch Up

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Every year it’s difficult to see everything in theaters, and 2018 was no exception. I tried to see as much as I could this year, but there were a few films I missed initially and caught up with later. Here are some brief mini-reviews on some 2018 films I didn’t get the chance to do full reviews for.

 

Game Night

gamenightGame Night is one of the best studio comedies of the past decade; instead of relying on unfunny improv or gross out gags, Mark Perez’s script is incredibly tight and consistently clever in its mystery antics. There’s a level of craftsmanship here that’s simply not seen in other comedies, as the film’s set pieces and environments are smartly made to resemble a board game, and despite its comic timing, there are some genuinely impressive sequences, including an iconic tracking shot at the film’s climax. There’s an intelligent story of rivalry between brothers Jason Bateman and Kyle Chandler that avoids getting too sappy, and Jesse Plemons’s tour de force performance as a peculiar cop is Oscar worthy. Grade: A-

 

Paddington 2

paddington2

One of the greatest family films ever made, Paddington 2 is a tribute to the spirit of a character who’s kindness and good heart are not affected by his colder reality. The direction is surprisingly meticulous, drawing humor from its deliberate, yet not relentless pace, and our lead character’s ability to draw out the best in every situation and character he encounters. It’s a thoroughly delightful experience that’s uncynical, yet willing to confront some more serious themes. Grade: A

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Societyguernsey-c2a9-studiocanal-s-aA charming period romance, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is fairly straightforward in its storytelling, and features an interesting true life story and some luscious visuals. The period production design and flashbacks are well done, and the chemistry between Lily James and Michiel Huisman gives the film an added sense of charm and whimsy. Grade: B+

 

First Reformed

firstreformedFirst Reformed is the best depiction of contextualizing religion in the wake of modern crisis ever depicted on film. Writer and director Paul Schrader crafts a deeply layered study of the effects of man’s transgression on faith and asks deeply thought provoking questions regarding the responsibilities of religious people in the wake of epidemics that would seemingly impact their beliefs. The film is starkly shot with wonderful long takes that allow us to focus on the performances, although Schrader also gives us beautiful outbursts of color to create a portrait-like sensibility. Ethan Hawke gives the performance of his career as a priest overtaken by darkness and blind to joy, and joins the ranks of the finest actors today with his deeply motivated role. A masterpiece for the ages. Grade: A+

 

Disobedience

disobedience-tiff1Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz give deeply moving, affectionate performances as women of faith who reunite after a childhood relationship divided them. The performances are stellar and the script crafts complex characters that deal with a wide range of cultural and personal conflicts, but the film is also slow to the point of being laborious. There’s a deeply moving tale here, but it’s also somewhat of a drag to get through. Grade: B

 

Crazy Rich Asians

crazyrichCrazy Rich Asians broke records and earned fame for being the first all Asian studio film in nearly twenty years, and the reputation is earned; the film is an earnest discussion about culture, heritage, and family, and gets perspectives from all types of the Asian and Asian-American experience. Outside of that it’s a fairly formulaic rom-com, albeit a very charming one with some very charismatic performances from Constance Wu and Henry Golding. The film allows us to indulge in the rich lifestyle while still being realistic in presenting its troubles, and doesn’t feel obliged to wrap anything up too neatly either. Grade: B+

 

Leave No Trace

Leave-No-Trace-movie-poster.jpgLeave No Trace is a quiet, immensely powerful drama that excels in telling a gradual story of a father and daughter living off the land and remaining fiercely independent. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie give great performances and don’t feel the need to go too “big”; there’s no huge blowout or screaming, and the pair works best in the moments of silence that tell more than exposition ever could. The film doesn’t give us too many details about their past and only hints at their future, but by the end we feel that we have walked in their shoes. Grade: A-

 

The Death of Stalin

deathofstalinArmando Iannuncci, the brilliant mind behind In the Loop, brings another hilarious political satire, following the aftermath of Stalin’s death in Communist Russia. The film crackles with terrific dialogue from a brilliant cast that includes everyone from Steve Buscemi to Jeffrey Tambor. The dialogue is fast and witty, and while the political backstabbing and goofy shenanigans are endlessly entertaining, the film reminds us of the horrors that this system inflicted and brings us back into the cycle of corruption and lies. Grade: A

 

Sorry to Bother You

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Without a doubt the most original and bonkers movie I saw this year, Sorry to Bother You is certainly a bold statement by filmmaker Boots Riley. While much of the satire is fairly broad and obvious, the film gains points for the sheer insanity of it all and it’s humorous banter, stunning visuals, and terrific lead performance by Lakeith Stanfield. Some of its metaphors are hardly original, but it’s stylized in a way unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Grade: B-

 

Private Life

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A thoroughly melancholy, complex film about a couple trying to start a family as they reach middle age, Private Life has some of the year’s best performances from Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn. The film is a raw, uncompromising look at the struggles of getting older and feeling unfulfilled, and is perhaps one of the most sobering and honest depictions of mid-life crisis on film. It’s a slow burn that doesn’t attempt to reward you too much, and ends on the perfect ambiguous note that fulfills the film’s thematic core. Grade: B+

 

Chappaquiddick

chappaquiddick-tiff-3A terrific historical drama, Chappaquiddick takes a look at the complicated legacy of Ted Kennedy following his 1969 scandal and thoroughly examines how the pressures of living up to his family name and his own ambitions affected the surrounding media circus. Jason Clarke gives the best performance of his career and explores both the sympathetic and ugly Kennedy. In fact, the film’s entire ensemble is great, particularly the nuanced dramatic roles from normally comedic actors Ed Helms and Jim Gaffigan. Grade: B+

 

Outlaw King

outlawA fantastic historical epic, Outlaw King moves at a relentless pace yet gives us a great sense of scope and range, with impressive tracking shots and terrific set pieces. Chris Pine is captivating at the titular Robert the Bruce, and the film gives us a real sense of humanity as it explores his rebellion against the English Crown. Grade: A

 

Eighth Grade

eighthgradeWhile unfortunately relying heavily on clichés commonly found in the coming of age genre, Eighth Grade does feature some terrific performances from Elsie Fischer and Josh Hamilton. There’s some dull moments, but the thematic center about finding oneself is inspired and I’m curious to see what writer/director Bo Burnham does next. Grade: B-

 

Tully

tullyAnother splendid collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, Tully is a realistic portrayal of parenthood that takes its premise in very interesting, insightful, and inspiring directions. The screenplay is near perfection, with dialogue that is both witty and mundane, and is able to continuously provide payoffs. Charlize Theron and Ron Livingston both do the best work of their respective impressive careers, making for a beautiful and engaging story. Grade: A

 

Blindspotting

BlindspottingA powerful, energetic force of nature, Blindspotting shows the complex modern issues in Oakland through the eyes of two lifelong friends, played by real life best friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. Diggs and Casal form an instantly iconic duo, and they explore the complex divide between the two as Casal’s character becomes more violent. It’s a very insightful look at Oakland, but it’s also hilarious, and creatively integrates music to tell its story. Grade: A

 

The Rider

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Perhaps the most gorgeously shot film of the year, The Rider is a deeply introspective and emotionally resonant film that takes us into America’s heartland and the world of rodeo riders. The film explores our lead character, played wonderfully by newcomer Barry Jandreau, as he wrestles with his lifestyle and own mortality, and the film is able to surpass stereotypes with its sharp writing and realistic characters. Grade: A

Aquaman- Movie Review

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aquaman

Aquaman is a massive, sprawling epic that may rank among the bro-iest, most testosterone fueled action movies in years; its also the best thing to happen to the DC Cinematic characters since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy concluded in 2012. While the DC universe has struggled to create characters that people connect with and maintain cohesive and memorable stories, Aquaman is the complete vision of director James Wan, who has created a thoroughly weird and vey exciting underwater world. Without a doubt, there are some very cheesy moments and the film’s runtime can get tedious, but at the center of the film is a genuine attempt to do something viscerally different by the means of telling an age old story.

Set shortly after the events of Justice League, Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa) is fighting on his own to protect the world from threats in the water, both man and monster. After learning that his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) is intending on uniting the kingdoms of Atlantis and declaring war on the surface, Arthur travels with his companion Mera (Amber Heard) to search for a lost trident in order to take his rightful place as King of the seven seas.

Again, this is a mix of fairly conventional story elements found in other comic book worlds, but the film commits so much to the ridiculous that its hard not to appiciate it, and its also self aware enough to recognize its own silly nature. The visuals and action are just dazzling here, and the world of Atlantis feels like a vibrant and exciting new medium. Even when the exact underwater politics of different kingdoms or how exactly Arthur’s quest fits into everything are held together by fairly thin story beats, I was happy to be taking this journey.

Jason Mamoa is perfectly cast, and certainly evokes the ’80s action star charisma of an Arnold Schwarzenegger or a Sylvester Stallone; he’s good at beating up people and has a strong enough comic timing that makes him an insanely charismatic performer. With all the action and explosions and such, the film leaves sometime for emotional weight in the form of Arthur’s parents, played by Nicole Kidman and Temuera Morrison; the two of them give Arthur a humanity and reason to be undertaking his quest.

After years of being in the shadow of Marvel, I think DC has a real winner in Aquaman, and while its not experimental neccessarily when it comes to story or plot, they hit the exact tone necessary for a big, swashbuckling adventure movie. This is a world and group of characters that I liked spending time with and would be open to seeing again, and director James Wan deserves all the credit in the world for realizing his vision. Grade: B+

Roma- Movie Review

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roma

Roma is perhaps one of the most personal films I’ve ever seen. Many films are out there attempting to recreate something that will emulate reality, but in Roma everything is so specific and intimate that it couldn’t be anything other than an autobiographical work. Granted, what is being told is a small part of whether or not a film works, and Roma benefits from the mastery of writer/director/cinematographer Alfonso Cuaron, who has crafted what is without a doubt one of the best looking films I’ve ever seen.

Set in Mexico in the early 1970s, Roma follows a family over a few months time through the perspective of their young maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). The silent, black and white approach gives the film a sense of intimacy that few films have ever reached; we feel as if we are intruding on private moments, and Cuaron’s cinematography is so elegant and potent that each frame could be studied like a great work of art. The motion of the shots is slow, and each scene feels like its own vignette, a personal memoir lifted directly from Cuaron’s own life.

I can’t say enough good things about Yalitza Aparicio, the first time non-actress that takes the role of the maid. The entire ensemble is filled with impressive performances, particularly from the child actors, but Aparicio in particular is absolutely perfect; we feel how she’s been accustomed to this world, and the untraditional way in which she fits into the family is without a doubt the film’s most effective undercurrent.

It’s hard to review a film like Roma, and I’m not sure if I’d be able to do anything other than repeat the countless praises that the film has received since its festival debut months ago. I think Cuaron’s films resonate with people because they feel fresh and new; nobody thinks to tell stories this way or from this perspective, and his ability to elevate the medium is part of the reason films like Children of Men, Gravity, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban work so well. With Roma, its less of a statement and more of a soliloquy, a personal memory brought to life in the most vibrant of ways. Grade: A+