Filmography 2017

2017 was terrible, but the movies weren’t. They’ve always been there to help.

THE UNHERALDED:

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Nicholas Hoult and Felicity Jones may be the MDMA-spun romance stars of Creevy’s frantic Autobahn adventure, but the movie’s true backbone rests in the hands of its veteran heavies, who come to learn they’ve outgrown their own crime games. COLLIDE‘s hyperkinetic action revels in its committed comic book-level excess. Any movie in which Anthony Hopkins boorishly calls Hoult “bro” while Ben Kingsley habitually calls him Burt Reynolds is a piece of candy.

Gook

A strong ticking time bomb film with an assured perspective and voice, Chon demonstrates his powerful ability to contextualize real-life horrors with character writing and implications that reach far beyond our narrative comfort zones.

The House

Jeremy Renner shows up as a mafioso for one scene and three minutes later Jason Mantzoukas’s house is on fire. I don’t care how “Sunday 2pm hungover watching TBS” this movie is, it’s hilarious.

Kuso

I would pay an ungodly sum of money to be a fly on the wall for the conversation between Robert Altman and Brian Yuzna that eventually led to this movie being made.

Valerian

One of approximately seventeen million traits that make this bizarre spectacle so memorable: every action sequence is Dane DeHaan doing his best POINT BREAK Keanu Reeves, thrown into the market chase from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Besson’s latest is playful, sincere, and gloriously operatic in its aspirations.

FAVORITE MOVIEGOING EXPERIENCE OF 2017:

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Wright’s action-musical is a bonafide pop art orgasm — a film with rhythm, sound, style, and flavor that pushes what “movies” are capable of accomplishing into a new dimension.

The Q&A at my BABY DRIVER screening eventually turned into the film’s technical consultant — a veteran bank robber with 30 heists and a decade of prison under his belt — holding court on stage over how awesome it is to select albums for the getaway.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

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Scott continues his strange-but-delicious decent into a fetish for contempt and punishment with a fascinating, terrifying, bloodthirsty movie about biblical creation and obsession told through the lens of gothic and Victorian horror. Don’t let the title fool you: the ALIEN prequels are David’s science lab now.

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The homemade aesthetic, a wily Tom Cruise performance, and a true story so insane do enough heavy petting with each other to ensure that this is Liman’s best film since GO.

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BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a transfixing cinematic experience that echoes and expands upon the original film in unprecedented ways. Villeneuve delicately guides us to avoid seeing the ever-popular “chosen one” narrative cliches, and makes new footsteps to point us toward a finale that’s more emotional than any of us could’ve predicted.

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Like any truly great film, things start to get insane when Udo Kier shows up in a suit at the 70-minute mark. I continue to be impressed by Zahler’s spacious approach to staging and framing, and his B-movie-inspired approach to Bradley’s last stand is exactly what genre cinema needs.

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Aims to deliver modern Grand Guignol horror TO THE MAX and definitely succeeds, thanks especially to Jason Isaacs’ chilling performance and Bojan Bazelli’s eerie cinematography. A stunning, torturous nightmare of gaudy proportions.

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The beauty of experimental films is that they can stir up broad conversations about the execution and reflection of art and how we feel. A GHOST STORY is extremely light on exposition, dialogue, edits, and “plot,” but it has more than enough of what’s needed for a conversation. Why do we engage with life if, when we pass on, we’ll just be waiting for external forces to provide us with closure? We write our own answers.

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A soap opera engulfed in flames that exposes the abuse, misogyny, and misperceptions of truth to the way its infamous story has been objectified and trivialized by shallow celebrity culture. Robbie is sublime, Janney is lethal, and Stan is brilliant.

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JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is the brand of action cinema that has consistently proved itself to be king. It celebrates its roots in the same approach to choreography and stylistic rhythm that has made the Hollywood musical an equally adored genre. If we can applaud Gene Kelly’s dancing, then we should absolutely be cheering for Keanu Reeves with tactical weaponry.

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Its bizarro oddities and twisted humor are instantly iconic — everything from the creative creature designs, to the Sam Raimi-inspired in-camera idiosyncrasies, to the moment in which Tom Hiddleston is slicing pterodactyls with a samurai sword while wearing a gas mask. This is one of our era’s wildest blockbusters.

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Spielberg’s latest champions the First Amendment’s right to journalistic free speech just as loudly as it celebrates the thrills of text blocks falling into place, insomniac deadline crunches, and your first lemonade stand. A wonderful film about pushing forward and making all the right moves in the face of adversity.

GREAT PERFORMANCES:

Willem DafoeAna de ArmasTiffany HaddishAnne HathawayBarry KeoghanBQ5A1633.CR2Tatiana Maslany_Jake GyllenhaalChristopher MeloniJason MantzoukasElisabeth MossRobert PattinsonMichelle PfeifferAubrey PlazaChristopher PlummerDaniel RadcliffeSam RockwellSaoirse RonanAndy SerkisKristen StewartDay 16

TOP 10:

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A seriously touching chronicle of America’s “most American” band, and a fascinating study of how cultural trends in music rise, warp, and morph through time and space.

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Peele’s assured debut is a testament to the fact that the peculiarities once suggested to us by “The Twilight Zone” will never fade away. They’ll arrive in our lives with tremors that can threaten to reshape social boundaries, personal relationships, and entire cultures.

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What a satisfying pleasure it is to see pure visual creativity applied to a sincere story of compassion, desire, and connections. The entire film is a sonnet that celebrates the things that make us different, and it sings loud and proud. Bless it forever.

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I’ll never be wholly certain of what this film is “about,” but it’s a fun [?], tumultuous narrative head rush of loud personalities, underseen corners of urban sprawl, LSD far too strong for humankind, an alarmingly precarious bank robbery, the raw stench and sweat of white and Gen Y privilege, FKA Twigs, Utz chips, bizarre fashion choices, chaotic chip reader dilemmas, and Robert Pattinson’s finest work to date.

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The most horrifying and bizarre argument in favor of pre-existing condition coverage you’ll ever see with your own eyes. I’m sure it will be seen as a horror film for decades to come, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the hardest I’ve laughed at a dark comedy in ages.

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The most “lived-in” film of 2017, LADY BIRD is a total delight from every perspective. It’s rich with little details that made adolescence an elevator ride of dramatic ups and downs, and ends with a mother-daughter moment made for screenwriting textbooks.

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Many of Christopher Nolan’s films have been about the subconscious ticking clocks that count down the life expectancy of his heroes’ masculinities. DUNKIRK is his magnum opus. It focuses on many characters, most of whom are seemingly nameless. But they are all motivated by the same things — to survive, to make sure their struggle isn’t for nought, to make sure their efforts have lasting legacies. But the clocks pushing them forward have no manual start/stop function. Trapped on the beach without any reasonable expectation of what will happen next, their ears ring with the noise of an impartial ticking second hand that could decide their fate at any moment. DUNKIRK is the summation of his talents as a storyteller, as a poet, as an architect, and as a visual artist. It deserves ranking as one of the most stunning art films of this or any century.

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A creative, funny, scary, and affecting film about identifying various forms of manipulation and abuse and doing everything in your power to get them off of this planet.

“But I thought it was a movie about giant monsters…?” you might be wondering.

Well, at this point I’d wonder whether or not you’d consider manipulators and abusers to be giant monsters.

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An insanely funny sequel with unexpected dramatic muscle; ghosts haunt us, but the ghosts are us ourselves. Creatively breaks through traditional sequel trappings in unprecedented ways to show how some people can be so obsessed with history and their own pasts that they’ll be forever too stubborn to adapt.

mother

I grew up with a very specific type of anxiety that corners and bullies a fear where no matter how clear my words are, no matter how loudly I express myself, people can still misinterpret me and deliberately disregard my interests. I would see myself spinning into a serious meltdown if I ever felt unheard, shoved aside, dismissed, betrayed, tricked, or lied to.  I thought that phase of my life had ended. But then I saw Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, which found a way to channel that anxiety into a 2-hour hellscape, and because of that it is possibly the scariest movie I have ever seen. I almost had a full-blown panic attack in a movie theater.

I have had elaborate, horrifying nightmares that aren’t half as scary as this film. I know it sounds hyperbolic, but I straight-up cannot believe that this film exists in the form we’re seeing.

But I suppose I should just let Martin Scorsese do the talking:

“After I had a chance to see mother!, I was even more disturbed by this rush to judgment, and that’s why I wanted to share my thoughts. People seemed to be out for blood, simply because the film couldn’t be easily defined or interpreted or reduced to a two-word description. Is it a horror movie, or a dark comedy, or a biblical allegory, or a cautionary fable about moral and environmental devastation? Maybe a little of all of the above, but certainly not just any one of those neat categories.

Is it a picture that has to be explained? What about the experience of watching mother!? It was so tactile, so beautifully staged and acted — the subjective camera and the POV reverse angles, always in motion … the sound design, which comes at the viewer from around corners and leads you deeper and deeper into the nightmare … the unfolding of the story, which very gradually becomes more and more upsetting as the film goes forward. The horror, the dark comedy, the biblical elements, the cautionary fable — they’re all there, but they’re elements in the total experience, which engulfs the characters and the viewers along with them. Only a true, passionate filmmaker could have made this picture, which I’m still experiencing weeks after I saw it.

Good films by real filmmakers aren’t made to be decoded, consumed or instantly comprehended. They’re not even made to be instantly liked. They’re just made, because the person behind the camera had to make them.”

 

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EVERYTHING ELSE I SAW IN 2017:

SLEEPLESS / xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE / THE GREAT WALL / LOGAN / WILSON / THE BELKO EXPERIMENT / SONG TO SONG / THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER / THE LOST CITY OF Z / THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS / FREE FIRE / HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER / GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 / WONDER WOMAN / THE MUMMY / IT COMES AT NIGHT / THE BOOK OF HENRY / THE BEGUILED / 47 METERS DOWN / OKJA / DETROIT / THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD / LOGAN LUCKY / VICTOR CROWLEY / IT / BATTLE OF THE SEXES / WOODSHOCK / KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE / GERALD’S GAME / HAPPY DEATH DAY / JIGSAW / MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS / CALL ME BY YOUR NAME / THOR: RAGNAROK / THE BIG SICK / WIND RIVER / THE DISASTER ARTIST / THE GLASS CASTLE / STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI / ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. / MOLLY’S GAME / DOWNSIZING / JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE / I DO… UNTIL I DON’T / HOSTILES / MONSTER TRUCKS / THE BAD BATCH

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THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK | Roman Petrov (@comrade1138)

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   When Steven Spielberg returned to the director’s chair in 1997 after a four year hiatus, he was coming off perhaps one of the greatest double punches in film history. Schindler’s List had produced his long sought after Academy Awards for Best Picture and Director, and he preceded that film with one of the biggest box office smashes ever. Jurassic Park was an evolutionary landmark in the world of CGI, and Spielberg’s bravado craftsmanship made a blockbuster with few peers. Both films were released in 1993, and thus expectations for his cinematic return were no doubt astronomical. Compiling on to the anticipation was the fact that Spielberg chose to return to his world of dinosaurs. Given the hype and pressure that Spielberg faced, perhaps it’s not a surprise that The Lost World: Jurassic Park was ultimately met with disappointment, and frankly, how could it have exceeded expectations? Jurassic Park was an unprecedented achievement, and any sequel would be hard pressed to escape its shadow. Twenty years on, the reputation of The Lost World hasn’t improved much, especially given Universal’s soft reboot of the Jurassic series. However, a closer look at the film now yields new appreciation for how Spielberg’s direction envisioned it differently from its predecessor.

   As with the first film, The Lost World was adapted from a novel by Michael Crichton. Even moreso than Jurassic Park, the film diverges from the literary source material. Certain sequences and situations were carried over, but the overall arc of the narrative is different, as are the thematic concerns. Where Jurassic Park dealt with both the scientific means and ethics of resurrecting dinosaurs, The Lost World explores how these animals interact socially, and mankind’s interference with nature. Crichton’s book delves deeply into how animal behavior contributes to evolution beyond the basics of natural selection. Spielberg’s film clearly can’t devote the same time to the subject, but Malcolm mentions Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, in which the act of observation also inherently changes that which is being observed. In this sense, the film does produce several key examples, such as the Tyrannosaurus rexes’ territorial violence on the Malcolm team. While Crichton has the luxury of following through on these theories, it’s actually Spielberg’s film that has a stronger narrative through line, even if it’s dependent upon revisiting familiar themes.

   The concept of another island with dinosaurs is an easy way to conjure the possibilities for endless sequels, but The Lost World exploits it perfectly, and frankly, eliminates the necessity for any further narrative avenues. After the disaster at the original Jurassic Park, it makes sense that the board members on InGen would want to exploit a goldmine like “Site B” on a more affordable scale, thus mounting an expedition to capture the animals and profit on them stateside. Indeed, the idea is even more foolish than building a theme park on a remote island, but therein lies the film’s theme of repeating the mistakes of the past. Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard), nephew to John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), is less ambitious than his uncle, but further more foolhardy in his capitalistic risks. Thankfully, the film is self aware of this flawed way of thinking, bringing back the chief skeptic from the first film. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is a changed man in the four years since his visit to Jurassic Park, no longer swaggering his way through the story with comedic relief. His sense of humor is still present, but it’s much more dry, cognizant of the dangers coming back to land of dinosaurs.

   The supporting cast of The Lost World is nearly as impressive as that of Jurassic Park, even if the characters are less well realized. Spielberg has a knack for casting actors who look like the professionals they portray. Sarah Harding is boundlessly enthusiastic about paleontology, and while there isn’t much depth to the character, Julianne Moore completely sells the dialogue about lysine deficiency and the nurturing habits of the animals. Richard Schiff’s Eddie Carr is also something of a sketch at best, yet there’s no doubting his expertise in field equipment and weapons. Today, it’s still a little bizarre to see Vince Vaughn caught amidst all of the dino mayhem, but his reliable charm fits Nick Van Owen’s brash documentarian. Best of all is Pete Postlethwaite as mercenary hunter Roland Tembo, stealing every scene he’s in and primed to kill the island’s male Tyrannosaur. The inclusion of another kid in peril is one of the film’s more questionable choices, and Spielberg does his best to inject some parent/child conflict between Vanessa Lee Chester’s Kelly and her often absent father Malcolm. The film may not have much use for her, but the later ludicrous payoff of Kelly’s gymnastics killing a veliociraptor provides one of the film’s best one liners as a baffled Malcolm asks, “The school cut you from the team?”

   Even if it treads some familiar ground, it’s clear that Steven Spielberg intended for his sequel to differ significantly from Jurassic Park. This begins visually, as he partnered with Janusz Kaminski, his director of photography on Schindler’s List. The look of The Lost World is much earthier than the tropical brightness of Jurassic Park, reflecting the difference between Isla Nublar’s theme park, and Isla Sorna’s untamed wild. The dinosaurs themselves are not glorified in the same way either. Spielberg affords the film a single scene of wonder as Malcolm’s crew witnesses a passing herd of stegosauruses, but the animals are also visualized in harsher environments and backlit. Where in Jurassic Park the dinosaurs had to adapt to human constructs, in The Lost World, the humans must fend for themselves in dino territory. It’s also worth pointing out how just as in Jurassic Park, the dinosaurs are brilliantly brought to life here, thanks to both digital and practical technology. The film still largely relies on similar techniques as its predecessor, such as keeping the animals in shadow to hide digital imperfections, but, as most sequels are wont to do, it does everything on a larger scale. John Williams’ score is also a departure from the wonder and discovery of Jurassic Park, emphasizing the danger and unpredictability of this hostile island.

   Even though he hadn’t made a film in several years, Spielberg’s return to cinema proved that he is unparalleled at constructing action and adventure films. Of course, Spielberg’s cinematic instincts are sublime even in subtle beats, as The Lost World contains one of his very best moments of misdirection. The opening prologue, in which a rich family stumbles upon Site B, climaxes as a young girl is attacked by tiny compsognathuses. Right as her mother screams in horror, editor Michael Kahn cuts to a yawning Ian Malcolm, seemingly on the island as well, but the palm trees behind him are merely an advertisement, giving away his actual location inside a metro station. That change on a dime from terror to humor exemplifies Spielberg’s mastery of the medium.

   On a grander scale, there are simply very few filmmakers who can match Spielberg’s set pieces, and The Lost World showcases some of his very best. Perhaps the hunters chasing down the stampede of herbivores in the early stages of the film is too reminiscent of the gallimimus flock from Jurassic Park. Nevertheless, it’s an undeniable display of visual showmanship, like the shot of the motorcyclist weaving his way through a diplodocus’s legs. More importantly, the sequence has an intended tinge of melancholy to it, as the hunters unapologetically capture the animals in forceful manner, punctuated by several men yanking a graceful parasaurolophus to the ground.

   Starting with Nick and Sarah rescuing the injured baby rex, to the destruction of the research trailers, the central sequence of The Lost World may very well be one of the best exercises of tension in Spielberg’s career. Yes, it’s also a bigger version of the central T-rex set piece from Jurassic Park, but it’s no less a masterclass in structure, and even more visually dynamic. It builds slowly as Nick and Sarah try to set the baby rex’s broken leg and Ian and Kelly flee to Eddie’s high hide. Then, the arrival of the adult pair of rexes amps up the tension as the humans give up the baby rex. Just as it seems the worst is over, the rexes return and flip the trailers, pushing them over the cliff. Spielberg makes the most out of every second that Sarah lays on the slowly cracking glass, looking down to the ocean hundreds of feet beneath her. Then comes Eddie Carr’s heroism in holding down the trailers by tying them to his car, only to meet a cruel end as the hulking rexes return to feast. Spielberg then ends the sequence on a surreal yet exhilarating image as the trailers come plummeting down around Ian, Sarah, and Nick, exploding down into the ocean below. All told, the entire sequence is over fifteen minutes in length, and it’s thanks to Spielberg’s visual storytelling and his crew’s technical precision that the sequence is pulled off masterfully.

   There’s no reason to do a film with dinosaurs if there isn’t at least one memorable death, and while The Lost World has its share of carnage, Peter Stormare’s grisly end is executed marvelously. Earlier in the film, his character Dieter Stark carelessly electrocutes a curious compsognathus, unaware that his eventual fate will be met at the jaws of these seemingly fragile creatures. As he leaves the crew to relieve himself, he gets lost in the forest and happens upon another of these tiny dinosaurs. As he keeps searching, he trips and tumbles into a stream, losing his rifle and suddenly under assault by dozens of these pesky animals pecking at his flesh. Try as he might to rip them away, they continue climbing on and eventually killing him. Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski do a tremendous job with the scene, from low angle point of view shots from the compsognathuses to high angle shots of the Dieter writhing in pain as they swarm all over his body. The final button on the scene is nicely reminiscent of Jaws, as Dieter stumbles over a log and the dinos hop after him, he yelps out in intense pain, and the stream behind slowly turns red with blood.

   After arguably stealing the show in Jurassic Park, it’s hard to see how Spielberg and company could improve on the velociraptors. While well executed, the latter scenes in the abandoned InGen village don’t match the intensity of those in the first film, but a brief scene earlier on exemplifies these animals at their deadliest. After the return of the rexes drives the Malcolm and Ludlow crews into chaos, a fleeing group recklessly runs into a field of long grass. As the hunters rushes through, three raptor heads poke up, and then in an absolutely stunning aerial shot, Spielberg tracks seven raptors as they slowly close in on their prey. One by one, the men are brought down mercilessly, and as one man shrieks as he runs backward, a raptor leaps in the air and onto his defenseless body. The scene is barely over a minute in length, and yet, like the trailer sequence, it too is brilliant in its construction.

   Finally we arrive at the most controversial element of The Lost World, the infamous T-rex rampage in San Diego. Claims that the entire sequence is an indulgence in excess have merit, but when under the direction a filmmaker of such caliber as Spielberg, it can be instructive to simply have some fun. Narratively, the sequence is also necessary to complete Peter Ludlow’s failure, and it represents the furthest extreme that the series’ narrative could go. So yes, it is utterly ridiculous, and yet it shows Spielberg at his most playful. So many children have envisioned a dinosaur in their backyards, and here, Spielberg brings it to life with consequences both humorous and horrifying. The Rex’s misadventures through San Diego can also be seen as the director’s homage to the older monster films that defined the genre, from King Kong to Godzilla.

   Twenty years on, it’s worth reevaluating The Lost World: Jurassic Park, if not for it’s somewhat underwhelming narrative and repetitive themes, then certainly as affirmation of Steven Spielberg’s filmmaking talents. Even in projects that lack his vintage spark, there are still moments of brilliance to be found, and The Lost World is a prime example. While it will never carry the same wonder or grace as its predecessor, it’s still worth appreciating for the craftsmanship that went into giving the film its own identity, and for marveling at the visual storytelling muscles of a master filmmaker that will never atrophy.

filmography-2016

UNHERALDED GEMS:

These are the films that never really saw their worthy light of day. Whether it was due to an unfairly lame box office performance, a violent barrage of negative reviews that was completely uncalled for, or a limited release that just wasn’t enough, these five movies struck a chord with me and deserve much more attention and appeal.

Listed alphabetically

disorder

Disorder is a disturbing and tense PTSD thriller bolstered by a curiously sharp performance from Matthias Schoenaerts. Winocour establishes herself as an auteur to be reckoned with as she dives into thematic pools much stranger and more psychologically perplexing than most films of this ilk have dared to explore. 

green_room

With seriously agile control, Jeremy Saulnier pulls endless unapologetic B-movie thrills from his fascinating, down-and-dirty filmmaking playbook. Green Room is Assault on Precinct 13 as scored by The Misfits, with the kind of horrific gore and violence that would give any sane person wild nightmares. To witness a nihilist-attitude punk band have to scramble to save their own lives is a visceral pleasure of bitter dramatic irony. Also, uh oh, this was accidentally the most prophetic film of 2016. So… bonus points?! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

hardcore_henry

It’s early 90s Steven Seagal overloaded on European street trash PCP. It’s home to the year’s best opening credits sequence. And it has the craziest death of an action movie villain in at least a decade. A representation of vulgar auteurism at its most bombastic and least commercially viable, Hardcore Henry‘s admittedly-puerile humor blasts as frequently as the entertainment value of its carnage aesthetics.

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Colorfully demented anarchy in the U.K. hits newfound nerves of discomfort with the possibilities of capitalism and political freedom experiencing a catastrophic imbalance. Thanks to Ben Wheatley’s bizarro imagery, an eerily copacetic tone, and Portishead’s killer cover of “SOS” by ABBA, High-Rise has the ingredients to become a decade-defining cult classic, and then some.

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS

Cianfrance’s latest film is an extra-ravishing portal to an era of much more serious and emotional romantic dramas that somehow lost its footing in finding a deserved appreciation. Vikander proves that her Oscar win was only the beginning, and Adam Arkapaw’s sumptuous photography paints intricate strokes to tell a tale of a tumultuous relationship that would affect anyone with a pulse.

I WAS THERE WHEN IT HAPPENED:

“The Mermaid recorded an opening day record of US$40.9 million, which is the biggest opening day for a Chinese film and the second biggest of all time there only behind the opening day of Furious 7. Through its seven-day opening week, it grossed a total of $275.1 million, breaking records for the biggest seven-day gross and the biggest-opening week of all time in China, and the third biggest of all time, behind Hollywood films Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. 12 days after release, the film became the highest-grossing film in China with CN¥2.45 billion. It became the first film to gross over US$500 million in China.”

Meanwhile, the details of The Mermaid‘s disappointing United States release are best described by Simon Abrams —

“Its American release is an afterthought for one reason: mismanagement by its American distributor, Sony Corporation of America. (In theory the film is distributed by Asia Releasing, a subsidiary that handles the release of Asian films in the US and Canada, but the print I saw had a plain old Sony logo in front of it.)

Sony ought to be ashamed for keeping such a good film from American viewers who aren’t already part of the Chinese diasporic community. Three of the four Sony representatives I spoke with didn’t even know that the company was releasing The Mermaid. The fourth rep told me that his company hadn’t thought to set up advanced screenings for US press, or even send out an email alerting them to the film’s impending release. I was told that the film had already gotten positive reviews—all pegged to its release in Asia—and that Sony didn’t expect it to interest many people, outside of Chinese or Chinese-American film fans.

This is the sad reality of foreign films in America today: the domestic marketplace is so hopelessly biased in favor of English-language films, most of them produced in the United States, that the second most popular movie in the world is treated as if it doesn’t even exist.”

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And yet I was there, in the audience at the Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza 15 + Xtreme on a weeknight, a SoCal theater I had never heard of before, to see the latest Stephen Chow comedy/fantasy bonanza. The film is a strange, hilarious, and glorious mishmash of more genres than I can name in a single sentence. Chow is our Chuck Jones, and deserves the biggest worldwide audience.

HOT MESS OF THE YEAR:

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Three of the most talented and most beautiful women on the planet acting alongside the most handsome movie star in Hollywood  there was no way any one of them could be swindled into saying turning down this project. Alas, it’s a competent but insanely silly PG-13 children’s fairy tale prequel-and-also-sequel to a movie that nobody liked, strung together like a series of glittery Tumblr GIFs, starring four people who are over 30. Who was this made for? What is this? Why is this? What?

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Because assembling a Top 10 list is a very volatile operation, and the spillage has to land somewhere.

Listed alphabetically

People Brian De Palma

“Holy mackerel!” After giving his audience an exuberant tour through a gallery of some of the most iconic films of the 20th and 21st centuries, the jovial maestro of the macabre slinks out of a New York brownstone, having just left us with a blunt, no-bullshit blueprint of the fascinating mechanics of his mind.

Don't Breathe

Fede Alvarez delicately stages the anxiety of a precarious heist with the. most. elaborate. tension until a Mount St. Helens-sized twist erupts and levels the playing field for every character’s vulnerabilities. Engrossing and alarming all the same, Don’t Breathe was perhaps the most primally entertaining genre film of 2016.

elle

UUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM……….?????????????!!!!!!!

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Sensual thrills & endless, shocking twists punctuate the best Victorian-style thriller in eons. This had so many elaborate left turns that my head legitimately flipped inside out. If you’re not familiar with Park or his work, you should at least know that he studied psychology and Hitchcock in college. Consider this film is his thesis. He has visible control over every framing setup, camera dolly, pivot, and cut. And they all pay off in a shocking and sensual story of deception, romance, and power. It’s a stunning work of craftsmanship that represents the auteur theory at its most dedicated.

8_manchester-by-the-sea

Lonergan, ever the dramatist extraordinaire, manages to score a triple play by substantiating an overwhelmingly emotional grief drama with a hilarious rhythm of humor and stinging personality. It’s a film with career-best work from Casey Affleck (that’s saying a lot) in perhaps one of the most well-rendered vessels of personal anguish since Five Easy Pieces.

moonlight

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A sensitive portrait of a man’s endless hunt for his own identity, Moonlight is just about as close as film can get to pure poetry.

nerve

The Catfish boys took a big leap forward and found a story that perfectly magnetizes to their obsession with the youthful craving for acceptance and thrill-seeking through multimedia platforms in the age of information. Nerve multiplies Nick & Norah and After Hours to deliver an endlessly entertaining ladder-climb of the digital frontier.

PATERSON_D12_0146.ARW

Jim Jarmusch’s casual study of people and places is pleasant in its simplicity and soulful in its subjectivity. It’s a film in which nothing happens, but at the same time, everything happens. Also worth noting: Marvin is a legendary movie dog.

petes-dragon

I wish I had the opportunity to experience this film in a theater as a kid. It is a heartwarming, inspiring, and beautiful story told by artists who care. It’s very sad that such a thing of this size is rarity today, so let’s celebrate it forever.

the-witch

The Witch is among the most frightening, fascinating, and very best horror films I have seen. The stubborn religious agenda of a 17th century Puritan family conflicts with the idea of latent sexuality, before any major precedents of behavioral and social psychology as we know them today have been set in stone. The results are absolutely terrifying. It is a film that is borderline impossible to recommend to anyone who can’t stomach pure terror.

GREAT PERFORMANCES:

Leads & supporting players, males & females, and old & young are all included.

Listed alphabetically by last name

affleckMoonlightchastaindavisehrenreichfiennesgadonhallharrishedgeshullerhuppertjacobsjohnsonlanelangpaulson_duplass.jpgportmanradclifferhodessarandonsaylorstonevikanderwilliams

TOP 10 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2016:

#10

10_white_girl

 A stunning directorial debut with an absolutely fucking knockout performance from Morgan Saylor. Her lip quiver, smile, and running mascara can each launch a thousand ships. The team behind the camera really knows the value of a lingering close-up shot, and how gestures and facial ticks can sell a scene. This film is a wild and sweaty party that won’t let up. You won’t see stronger or more committed bravery anywhere else this year.

#9

7_everybody_wants_some

I went to college and lived in a house off campus with a group of competitive twentysomethings. I can confirm that this film is indeed very real, and enjoyably so.

#8

6_sausage_party

Everyone’s favorite motley crew of comedians dared to make the most vulgar sendup of organized religion by way of fornicating animated food…and…succeeded. Sausage Party is so hilarious in its end-of-the-Roman Empire approach to the ridiculousness of faith that repertory theaters may already be preparing it for a double feature with the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man. Bill Hader as a drunk tequila bottle, Edward Norton’s Woody Allen impression channeled into the prose of a bagel, Salma Hayek as a lesbian taco asserting that “once you go taco, you never go back-o,” and condiments continually taking Nick Kroll’s remarks far too literally are just a few of many reasons that this a masterpiece.

#7

5_la-la-land

To commit to the life of an artist is to commit to the expectation that you’ll be giving and receiving boosts to and from your peers along the way. It just helps if you do it with tap dancing shoes and a winning personality.

#6

jackie.jpg

Portman defiantly portrays personalization of grief via dissociative emotions, while the vintage Arriflex 416/16mm texture adds its own adorning story of love and tragedy. Pablo Larraín’s case study of the absolute worst possible week in anybody’s life demonstrates the fragility of our capabilities and limits.

#5

silence

Our greatest living filmmaker continues to excel at decoding the many languages of life’s passions and pursuits. Silence is, in a way, the summation of everything that Scorsese has ever sought as a filmmaker: Religious anguish multiplied by the bells and whistles of what made the drama in John Ford’s The Searchers so captivating.

#4

**TIE**

4_the-ivitation

 Stacked with equal layers of drama, horror, and shattering reveals, The Invitation is one of the finest and most chilling independent film offerings in years. The numerous red herrings are introduced and dismissed so frequently that, like Logan Marshall-Green’s character, you start to question just how much truth you’re actually witnessing. Ultimately, you realize that the real danger isn’t what’s threatening you, but what drove you there in the first place.

3_kate-plays-christine

The trick to making a great documentary is to go beyond the inherent limitations of its format. Reshaping and repurposing the style of how your story is told will help the film be about more than just its subject matter. Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine is a documentary until it isn’t. It starts as a chilling experiment in research and preparation for someone’s own artistic ambitions, transforms into an investigative piece of emotional detective work, and finally ends as a confrontational case study of what we watch, and the challenges we face in how we watch it.

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** The Invitation and Kate Plays Christine tie for fourth place because they both deal with the confrontations of those who shallowly instrumentalize grief for the benefit of an audience. Well, that, and because I couldn’t fit just ten films here. **

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#3

2_a-bigger-splash

I am fascinated with films that feature the bodies and personalities of its characters–however hopeful, troubled, narcissistic, or passionate–in swimwear. I find that, more often than not, their narratives often go out of their way to strip away not only the clothing, but also the facades that disguise honesty and primal instincts. Frank Perry’s The Swimmer and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers are the two key players in this niche subgenre I’ve claimed for myself. Luca Guadagnino populates A Bigger Splash with the brazen, sun-soaked bodies of actors who are incapable of being photographed plainly. And their presences, postures, and body language speak volumes about their past, present, and futures. A Bigger Splash is a testament to how a film’s use of movement and gestures can make a picture worth a thousand words.

#2

oj made in america.jpg

To understand the criminal justice system, one must first understand present-day O.J. Simpson. To understand present-day O.J. Simpson, one must first learn about “the verdict.” To understand “the verdict,” one must first learn about Los Angeles. To understand Los Angeles, one must first learn about racism. To understand racism, one must first see O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA.

#1

1_american-honey

Improvised auteurism captures the essence of sprawled identity crises and a love/hate relationship for the ages. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is this year’s most sublime film. Its improvisational attitude is a thing of beauty, and the sights, cuts, and sounds are to die for. It’s a honkytonk vision of the country that revels in catching glimpses of multiple identity crises of young Americans who are looking for nationalism, love, passion, and freedom.

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EVERYTHING ELSE I SAW IN 2016:

Dirty GrandpaDeadpoolHow to Be SingleZootopiaKnight of Cups10 Cloverfield LaneThe Brothers GrimsbyMidnight SpecialArt of the PrankThe Jungle BookKeanuMoney MonsterThe LobsterNeighbors 2: Sorority RisingPopstar: Never Stop Never StoppingThe Conjuring 2Central IntelligenceIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe ShallowsThe Neon Demon / The Legend of Tarzan / Captain FantasticStar Trek Beyond / Jason BourneSuicide SquadHell or High WaterWar DogsSullyBlair WitchSnowdenGoatThe Magnificent SevenHeadshotThe AccountantLovingThe Purge: Election YearOuija: Origin of EvilDoctor StrangeJack Reacher: Never Go BackThe ComedianThings to ComeArrivalBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime WalkEvolutionAlliedBad Moms13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of BenghaziToo LateBlood FatherNocturnal AnimalsLionKubo and the Two StringsA Monster CallsAnthropoidRogue One: A Star Wars StoryWeinerHacksaw RidgeHunt for the Wilderpeople20th Century Women / The Edge of SeventeenMoana / PassengersPatriots DayLights OutLive By Night

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2017

THE MUSIC

Favorite Original Score of 2015:

The Hateful Eight by Ennio Morricone

Honorable Mention:

Mad Max: Fury Road by Junkie XL

 

Favorite Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of 2015:

Chi-Raq

Honorable Mention:

While We’re Young

 

UNHERALDED GEMS

These are the films that never really saw their worthy light of day. Whether it was due to an unfairly lame box office performance, a violent barrage of negative reviews that was completely uncalled for, or a limited release that just wasn’t enough, these five movies struck a chord with me and deserve much more attention and appeal.

Listed alphabetically

Eli Roth’s first directorial effort since 2007’s Hostel: Part II is a sick and nasty piece of work. Savage, taut, and surprisingly very funny, it’s the modern late-night horror cult classic that we deserve. Roth has outdone himself. Weak stomachs, beware.
 

 The latest actioner from the underrated Pierre Morel has all the strutting machismo of his earlier work with an added layer of global issue sentiment. Sean Penn’s physicality is borderline monstrous, and the international locations are used beautifully.
 

 It may be a wacky space adventure with flying lizards, bee queens, gravity skates and planet harvests, but it’s OUR wacky space adventure with flying lizards, bee queens, gravity skates and planet harvests.
 

“How much for the Cheetos and water?”
Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 4.01.51 PM 

I saw San Andreas in a D-BOX seat. So when downtown Los Angeles began to crumble, I was in the eye of the storm. It’s the coolest disaster movie I’ve seen in quite some time.

I WAS THERE WHEN IT HAPPENED

We Are Your Friends grossed $1,767,308 in its opening weekend, placing it at #14 at the box office. Box Office Mojo reports with a 2,333 theater count, the film grossed an average $758 from each venue, making it the fourth worst debut for a film with a 2,000+ theater average.”
 
WeAreYourFriends

We Are Your Friends is by no means the year’s worst offering as this box office information may lead you to surmise, but it certainly isn’t that great of a film either. A strangely moody attempt to bring the style and substance of Trainspotting to the world of EDM, this Zac Efron vehicle was better left off of the BPM charts.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Because assembling a Top 10 list is a very volatile operation, and the spillage has to land somewhere.

Listed alphabetically 

 Mann ditches his L.A. cityscapes and turns the global cybersphere into a minefield of terrifying threats. New world of terrorism confronts old world prayer at a Malaysian Nyepi parade, indicating the capriciousness of our modern enemies.

 

A film as big of a breath of fresh air as its scenic title suggests, Assayas’s latest is a sensitive and riveting portrait of aging and legacy.
 

Garland’s debut is a beautifully tense power play between three leads that raises questions at our understanding of human life, making decisions, and intelligence. For the longest stretch of the film we’re not certain who is the villain and who is the victim. But when it all comes full circle, it’s clear that Garland’s authorship is a unique treat.
 

 

Love him or hate him, it can’t be denied that Tarantino has made the world more cinematically literate. Sublime Ultra Panavision 70 photography, a blistering Morricone score, and a baker’s dozen of filmic magic tricks run rampant in this hilarious Western murder mystery.
 
 

In his most personal film yet, Noé tackles the passionate intimacy of youthful lust and its devastating fragility. Every moment feels genuinely organic, even if the expected stylistic flourishes overwhelm the story. But form is content, after all.
 
 

Pohlad’s flair for authenticity lets Love & Mercy stand out as a landmark music biography. Paul Dano and John Cusack share an identity in a beautiful dual performance, but Elizabeth Banks is the film’s secret weapon as the heart and soul of Wilson’s story.
 
 

Maps to the Stars scares us with demons of the past and reminders of the vulnerabilities that often come with fame and fortune. But because this is a Cronenberg film, these elements are delivered in a hauntingly weird, icy tone that first makes us laugh, and then makes us scream.
 
 

This year, I saw films about the sinister behavior of the Church of Scientology, ghouls who follow teenagers through a chain of sexual passing-ons, and a tribe of cannibals deep in the Peruvian jungle. But nothing in any of these films is more terrifying than an audio recording of Warren Jeffs’ voice as he calmly reads scripture or dispels what he thinks is prophecy. He is a true psychopath. Prophet’s Prey, a documentary about the corruptness of the FLDS denomination of Mormonism, is without question the scariest film of 2015.
 
 

Villeneuve is uncompromising with his tension and Jóhannsson is confrontational with his music. When images and sounds like these collide, they stand out as this year’s most visceral experience.

 

Spring is by far 2015’s best “less you know the better” recommendation. A naive courtship becomes an honest romance which becomes…well, I’ll stop there. But the picturesque scenery and Hilker’s wonderful performance add rich flavor to Moorhead & Benson’s unique love story.

 

Great Performances

Leads & supporting players, males & females, and old & young are all included.

Listed alphabetically

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Shannon.jpg
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOP 10 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2015:

#10

Bahrani, once identified by Ebert as “the next great American filmmaker,” demonstrates his ability to pull intelligent suspense and compelling drama out of an ongoing American crime. The tragic story of the financial crisis is made palpable and endlessly relatable by Shannon and Garfield’s searing performances.

 

#9

 

A gold medalist in using film as a visual storytelling medium, The Tribe is an engrossing crime saga that shoves the comforts of dialogue, subtitles, and familiar scenery into a toolshed and throws away the key.

 


#8

 

Wunderkind Dolan’s melodrama makes several bold choices, including but not limited to an unusual aspect ratio, its creative song placements, and a rolling current of emotional substance that doesn’t let up. It may sound cheeky, but Mommy is a pleasant reminder that sometimes you need to stop and smell the roses.



#7

 

If I had my way I would never leave

Keep building these random memories

Turning our days into melodies

But since I can’t stay

I’ll just keep playing back

These fragments of time

Everywhere I go

These moments will shine 

 

Daft Punk, “Fragments of Time”



#6

Smooth, confident, unmeasurably tense, and stirring—all without the slightest shadow of violence. Edgerton’s directorial debut is a rock-solid work that aims to snap scissors at the string we call “trust,” which, it seems, can often be too thin.

#5

It’s fascinating that the lead characters of one of this year’s most rewardingly human stories aren’t people, but the button-pushing emotions themselves. Inside Out is a rich journey through the architecture of a young girl’s feelings, loaded with zeal and the urge to teach us all that feeling conflicted, unwelcome, or left behind is sometimes a healthy necessity.

#4

Five-year-old Jack, newly welcomed into the world of a loving family after being born and raised in terrifying captivity, meets a dog. When his heart swells with discovery, ours melts with compassion. This moment of character evolution is one of many in a film that begs us to appreciate what’s most valuable to us.

#3

Aristophanes’ Lysistrata proves to be timelessly applicable with Lee’s stunning urban satire. Equal parts hilarious and devastating, Chi-Raq’s irreverent style helps to establish it as the preeminent artistic outcry at the many injustices affecting our nation today, whether they be interpersonal or broadly political.

#2

  

Demange’s shocking you-are-there atmosphere meshes with a political climate as palpable as the embers floating through Belfast’s cold night’s wind. ’71 touches on a piece of European history that deserves more retrospect, and does so with disquieting immediacy.



#1

In his review for Lance Hammer’s Ballast, Ebert wrote “I always say I hardly ever cry at sad films, but I sometimes do, just a little, at films about good people.” I have been affected by plenty of films, but few sequences have grabbed me more cathartically than the final exchange between Furiosa and Max. The moments that lead to the end of their tale of liberation and new beginnings are operatic and emotional. It’s one of the best films of my lifetime.

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Everything else I saw in 2015:

 

Taken 3 / Black Sea / Mortdecai / Kingsman: The Secret Service / Everly / Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau / Run All Night / Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief / It Follows / Furious 7 / Lost River / Slow West / Tomorrowland / Entourage / Spy / Jurassic World / Dope / The Overnight / Ant-Man / Trainwreck / Southpaw / Cop Car / Straight Outta Compton / The Visit / Goodnight Mommy / Black Mass / Everest / The Martian / Steve Jobs / The Final Girls Crimson Peak / Beasts of No Nation / Spectre / The Peanuts Movie / Macbeth / Spotlight / Evolution / Disorder (Maryland) / Legend / Youth / Krampus / The Big Short / In the Heart of the Sea / Joy / Anomalisa.

 

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