Tag Archives: movies

Best of 2018 Pt. 1: Film

10 Jan

Belated Happy 2019! It’s been a long while for a post as I had an incredibly busy fall. Apologies for those who follow! I have a number of posts half-finished, including Breakfast Fried Rice and Heaven In A Bowl… let’s see how much I can keep on track this year. First, though, we begin with the requisite ‘best of’ posts. 

Below are my favorite films of the year. I have more movies listed than usual this year which surprised me because at the end of summer there were only a few movies I was excited about. But it was a strong fall for features. Not all are ‘great films’ but each achieved something wonderful, moved me deeply or took unusual risks that made the film worth mentioning.  In no particular order:

BEN IS BACK

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Ben Is Back slayed me. I’ve seen it twice, fell apart each time and will watch it again soon. It’s unfortunately one of those movies the studio can’t seem to pay people to go see. But I loved it and encourage you to see it. Julia Roberts give the best performance of her career, which is saying a lot, and Lucas Hedges meets her head on. (What a banner year for Julia, who will also appear in the next post.) I’m a big fan of the writer/director, Peter Hedges – yes, he and Lucas are father and son. See this movie.

ROMA

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A gorgeous, stunning film I can’t imagine working on TV at home, so Netflix’s decision to leave Roma in theatres for only a few weeks around Thanksgiving is incomprehensible. If you tried to watch it at home and turned it off, I understand. It starts very, very slow and certainly is never a wild ride. But the beauty of the directing, the cinematography (whoa!), the performances and the setting make Roma, for many of us, the best movie of the year. Spellbinding.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

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If even two weeks ago you said to me I would pay money to see Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, much less put it on my ‘best of’ list, I’d have laughed in your face. Yet here we are. Ha ha indeed. Thank goodness friends I trust forced me to go see it. Easily the most original and creative movie of the year, this visual feast is a blast from start to finish. It’s also surprisingly moving. Great film.

SEARCHING

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Another movie most people missed, Searching is another extremely inventive movie, a sharp thriller depicted entirely on social media, a narrative device that would seemingly get old but in these capable young filmmakers’ hands, never does. Anchored by a terrific performance by John Cho, this is another ‘find this movie and watch it’ recommendation from me. Terrific.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE VI: FALLOUT

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Mission Impossible VI is not only the best action movie of the year (decade) it’s one of my top 5 of the year. Unlike any other series, MI gets better and better with each movie, meaning MI VI reaches pinnacles rarely seen in this genre. Filled with dazzling actions sequences and stunts done real time — take that, CGI! — the movie in the final act also has an emotional impact rare for actions movies. Director McQuarrie and star/producer Cruise, in top form as always, also were smart enough to bring back Rebecca Ferguson from MI V. May I have an enormous swoon for Rebecca Ferguson? Damn. In love. (Even with a porn-stache, I’ll also give a well deserved swoon to Henry Cavill. Oh my.) Movies don’t get much better than this.

GAME NIGHT

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I love this movie! I first saw Game Night on a plane, annoying everyone around me as I cackled with pleasure the entire time. I’ve shown it to others numerous times since, laughing just as much each time through. An extremely clever comedy unafraid to push boundaries and go to some dark places, Game Night is smart and clever; the first five minutes are so well done I taught this opening in my screenwriting class last Monday. It stays sharp all the way through, is at times wonderfully shocking and the entire cast is outstanding. (Rachel McAdams also makes me swoon. Damn.) I loved it. 

THE WIFE

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If Glenn Close doesn’t win every acting award for her performance in The Wife, there’s no justice in the world. By my count, she should already have two Oscars on her shelf. Yet she has none. Please let this be her year. She gives a master class in screen acting in this small but powerful movie. You can’t take your eyes off her. Close’s gifts are so strong she can do absolutely ‘nothing’… such as sit and listen to a speech… and be intensely riveting.  The movie is also excellent. Sony Pictures Classics is expanding The Wife back into more theatres this weekend. Go see it!

A STAR IS BORN

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The classic Hollywood story remade yet again but this time with depth and empathy. Usually filmed in grand fashion, Bradley Cooper’s decision to shoot the movie in an extremely intimate fashion pays off beautifully. His performance also blew me away, he completely transformed into someone else. And he can sing. Loser! Lady Gaga also is terrific and I love the music. The incredible popularity of the movie seems to have people turning on it as the award season ramps up. I guess that’s what comes with popularity. Awards or none, Cooper and Co. have the last laugh. A Star Is Born remains one of the best movies of the year.

BLACK PANTHER

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It may not be a great movie but Black Panther has many great elements and performances. More importantly, seeing this in the theatre felt like an enormous cultural event. And it was. There are movies that are of their time and movies that transcend time. Both are important so while Black Panther may be the former, being of its time in no way takes away from the movie. It was also a very enjoyable movie to watch.

FREE SOLO

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A documentary as riveting and suspenseful as MI VI, Free Solo is a stunner. A fascinating character study combined with intense thriller, Free Solo is also a beautifully crafted documentary. The less you know the better. Find it.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS

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A delight from start to finish. I know people obsessed with the original who balked at Mary Poppins Returns but I loved it and am glad it is performing well, given the filmmakers daring decision in the modern era to embrace the look and sound of both the original and classic movie musicals in general. Emily Blunt is practically perfect. Her performance seems so effortless I think a lot of people don’ recognize how damn good it is.  (Biggest swoon of the day for Emily, btw. Lord.) Anchored by Emily and wonderful performances across the board, Mary Poppins Returns creates a glorious world you don’t want to leave. I myself love the songs – whoa, amazing orchestrations, so incredibly lush and beautiful – and you’d have to have a heart of stone to be unmoved at the end when both Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury turn up to create even more magic. Infinitely better than it had any right to be. 

DESTROYER

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Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is one of my favorite movies of the last few years so I was excited to see her follow up, Destroyer. It doesn’t disappoint. An ultra dark Los Angeles neo-noir, Destroyer is getting a lot of attention for Nicole Kidman’s performance, which is amazing. The entire cast is superb, however; Bradley Whitford, for instance, is hilariously, deliciously slimy in one of many great scenes. Not perfect but Destroyer keeps you leaning forward the entire time. Definitely worthy of any list.

BEAST

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There are numerous beasts in this stunning debut from writer/director Michael Pearce. Only by the end of Beast can one figure out to whom the title refers and, actually, friends and I are still debating which character deserves the moniker. Moody and creepy, Beast slowly draws you into a beautiful yet disturbing world and Jessie Buckley, as the main character Moll, gives one of the best performances of the year. 

ANNIHILATION

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Okay, yes Annihilation has a lot of problems. But when this daring movie is working, it works so damn well, and takes so many risks, it makes my list. Based on what I considered an unfilmable novel, Annihilation is beautiful and disturbing and thought provoking and often shocking. You can’t take your eyes off it. Alex Garland, who also made the terrific Ex Machina, is bold enough to challenge the audience, asking a lot of us while also asking big questions with his narrative. Stunning visually, this is a movie well worth a look.

Also worth a mention: Bohemian Rhapsody, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Three Identical Strangers, The Favorite, BlacKkKlansman, Cold War, If Beale Street Could Talk

What were your own favorites? What have I forgotten? (Books and TV next week)… Let us know!

 

For the movie nerds…

26 Apr

I’ve been working on, and finally finished, an ‘Open’ to my weekend seminar. It turned out so well my business partner wanted me to make it into a bit of a promo. Whatever the use, I think many of you who follow the blog will enjoy this. It uses clips from many of the movies we cover in class:

Technicolor Dreams

17 Aug

As those who visit this site regularly are aware, I have a few passions. Um, obsessions, Tom, obsessions… Potato, po-TAH-to, whatever. Earlier this year I wrote of my justice issues, centering around the brilliant, seminal, devastating Chinatown. I promised then to write about another passion… um, Tom, it’s an… that’s enough, you. So today I give you Technicolor Dreams.

In the summer of 1977 a movie with a wookie was unleashed on the world and became the obsession – there, I said it – of many a cineaste, including a zillion teenage boys. I was one of these and saw Star Wars 6 times in the theatre. What can I say? As much as George Lucas seems to be trying to kill any love anyone might have for the first three films through his revisions and desecrations of the original texts, Star Wars was and is a wonderful movie. Later that year, though, in November of 1977, another outer-space movie was released to high acclaim. Radically different from Star Wars, this movie took place on the home front, dealing not with galaxies far, far away but with what might happen were aliens from another planet to come to earth.

Movies and books had been exploring alien invasions for many years, of course. H. G. Wells wrote what is perhaps the godfather of such tales. In 1898 (1898!) he wrote War of the Worlds (free download!), a terrifying depiction of what might happen were we invaded by Martians. Orson Welles famously adapted this for radio in 1938, presented mostly as a news bulletin, which anecdotally caused some people to believe the broadcast was true. This was followed by a host of terrific, frightening films about alien invaders, particularly in the 1950’s when the potential invasion by communists was a deep seated fear of many Americans.  Just about every plot involving space aliens coming to earth was a dark, terrifying tale. Until that November 1977 release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

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A Great Movie You’ve Probably Never Seen, Vol. I

21 Apr

“I’m sure you’ll find this amusing, but I’m afraid of the dark.”

                                      Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda) in Klute, 1971, dir. Alan J. Pakula

Anyone working in movies has influences. I certainly have quite a few. Spielberg and DePalma, for instance, both had an enormous effect on me when I was younger. While I’d loved movies all my life, it was after seeing JawsClose Encounters and, particularly, Dressed to Kill that I started to become aware of the camera, of film grammar (English was already my favorite subject so this was not a huge leap) and the other ways these storytellers went about their craft. Spielberg continues to be an influence, of course, the guy continually blows my mind. And there are many other directors who have had an effect, from Hitchcock to Nolan, Wyler to Nichols, Hawkes to Polanski, David Lean. My biggest influence, though, is Alan J. Pakula.

One of the most vivid movie memories I have is going to see Pakula’s adaptation of All The President’s Men with my mom one evening at the Park Plaza Twin Cinema, about which you’ve heard before. I wasn’t old enough to care about Watergate when it was actually occurring, so when I saw the movie a couple of years later, most of what I saw was new to me. The depiction of the Washington Post newsroom is legendary; the movie apparently caused a huge upswing in applications to journalism school. But more than anything, I was transfixed by the style of the movie and how the filmmaker was able to take something that should have been pretty boring and not only rivet me, but at times really scare me. It was my first experience with Pakula.

All The President’s Men (1976) is the third in Pakula’s “70’s paranoia trilogy”, the others being Klute (1971) and The Parallax View (1974).  I saw these in reverse: President’s Men in the theatre, Parallax a couple of years later on TV and Klute many years later in film school. President’s Men, among many other great achievements, has one of the best screenplays ever written. William Goldman deservedly won an Oscar for the film and I am continually amazed, each time I watch the movie, by both the film and the screenplay. Parallax is a weird, creepy, unsettling film starring Warren Beatty, essentially Pakula’s riff on the Kennedy assassination. It’s terrific. And then there is Klute, one of the best films of all time.

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Justice Issues and “Chinatown”

30 Mar

 “You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of anything.”  Noah Cross 

 

We all have archetypes that spur us individually. Our backgrounds, our struggles, our loves, loyalties and rivalries combine to create passions, positive and negative, that charge us. These are passions that energize rather than enervate. Because of these personal experiences and passions, each of us have genres that are intensely meaningful, story types to which we return again and again.

I have two. One is “The Joseph Story” which is any story that follows loosely the account of Joseph from the Old Testament. Favorites that fall under this particular archetype are Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Field of Dreams, Heaven Can Wait (1978 version)andDisney’s Beauty and the Beast. Each of these four, while wildly different movies, follows a similar storyline concerning a dreamer with a vision. In the face of events that drag the character further and further from this vision ever being achieved, the vision miraculously comes to fruition in the end, albeit in an often different way than imagined. It’s a wonderful archetype I’ll write about at a later date.

The second story type that drives me revolves around justice. 

There are a couple of therapy sessions we need not explore here that would explain why I am obsessed with justice…. not particularly for myself but for the people around me and others I encounter in the world. Consequently, movies that explore justice are some of my favorites of all time, movies I will watch again and again and again. Examples here include Erin Brockovich, In the Name of the Father and Norma Rae. (There are quite a few others I could list.) Each of the movies mentioned are splendid movies even apart from my justice obsession. Erin Brockovich is a wildly entertaining movie, more fun than any such movie has a right to be, a movie that cemented Steven Soderburgh’s status as one of the best directors in Hollywood, and a film that plays out in highly original ways while still being very much a crowd-pleaser. In The Name of the Father is simply one of the best movies of the 90’s and would have swept the Oscars in ’93 had it not been for a juggernaut called Schindler’s List. Norma Rae is a surprisingly gritty, wonderful film that holds up beautifully even today. I love these movies passionately and will show them to anyone, anytime. Yet there is one ‘justice movie’ I return to more than any. It’s a movie that had one of the biggest influences on my life; it is also one of the top 5 movies ever made. That movie is Chinatown.

 

I was twelve years old the first time I saw Chinatown…

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The Greatest Decade for Movies

16 Mar

Is there a better decade for film than the 1970s? Feel free to try to convince me otherwise, but I doubt you’ll have much luck. Taken as a whole, the films of the 70s combine into a dazzling, divergent whole that challenges and delights, devastates and uplifts, while also remaining extremely relevant many years later. 

 

We don’t call “On Food And Film” hyperbolic for no reason. 

 

I’ll admit I fell in love with movies during the 70s. My parents, thankfully, loved movies and we often went to the theatre as a family. In my early childhood, there were three main theaters in my hometown. My favorite was The Village Theatre on Gulfway Drive, which sat over 1100 people! It was a huge, wonderful theatre with an enormous screen. It even had a balcony, which we loved as kids…. and loved even more as high-schoolers. Also a great theatre was The Park Plaza Twin Cinema, which was our town’s first double theatre. The Park Plaza had two theaters flanking a giant lobby with crystal chandeliers and a beautiful concession area. The theaters themselves were large and long, sloping beautifully down to very wide screens. Finally, we had a double drive in, Don’s Drive In, which was classic to a drive-in in every sense. My brother and I loved the drive-in but it was harder to convince my parents to venture there. I did have my first experience with James Bond at Don’s Drive In, a reissue double feature of Goldfinger and Thunderball. I’ve been a Bond addict ever since. And Don’s was where I saw the original King Kong for the first time, an incredible experience on the ginormous drive-in screen.

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