Fall Film Preview – 2018

We are nearly one month into my favorite time of the year for movies – the fall film season. Each year from September through December, most of the year’s heaviest hitters start making their way to the big screen in hopes of garnering an abundance of buzz for the Academy Awards – and indeed, Oscars success is generally tied to a fall release.  In fact, the last Best Picture winner that wasn’t released theatrically during the fall film season was The Hurt Locker in June 2009.  Which films will steal the show this fall? Only time will tell.  But in the meantime, here is my list of the films I am most looking forward to seeing over the course of the next few months!

No. 1 – First Man (October 12)

Film Title: First Man

First Man is a biographical drama that follows the story of Apollo 11’s famed mission to the Moon in 1969.  I am incredibly excited to see First Man due to the two men behind the direction and screenplay of the film – Damien Chazelle and Josh Singer, respectively.  Chazelle’s first two films (Whiplash and La La Land) have been some of the very best made in the past few years (in fact, Whiplash was my favorite film of 2014), and I have been patiently awaiting his next directorial endeavor.  This time, instead of penning his own screenplay, which he did for his first two films, Chazelle has employed a script by Singer, who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Spotlight and was nominated for a Golden Globe last year for The Post.  Starring Ryan Gosling in the lead role as Neil Armstrong and The Crown’s Claire Foy as his wife, this film looks set to attract some serious Oscar buzz this fall. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSoRx87OO6k&t=20s

No. 2 – If Beale Street Could Talk (November 30)

If Beale Street Could TalkIf Beale Street Could Talk, based on the 1974 novel of the same name, is a drama set in Harlem during the 1970s and follows an African-American family’s enduring spirit of love and humanity as they navigate a racially charged era in American history.  This film is Barry Jenkins’s follow-up effort to his Best Picture-winning drama Moonlight, and although the trailer does not give too much away, it is evident that Jenkins looks to passionately pull at the heartstrings of moviegoers everywhere once more – I cannot wait to see what he has in store this time. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4m3t3G3Zqc

No. 3 – Bad Times at the El Royale (October 12)

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYAL

Bad Times at the El Royale is a thriller that follows seven strangers whose lives and dark secrets intersect at a rundown hotel in Lake Tahoe.  Bad Times is immediately intriguing due to its ensemble cast, which features the likes of Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, and Chris “Thor” Hemsworth.  But aside from this stellar group of actors, I am personally looking forward to this film due to its writer/producer/director, Drew Goddard.  The 43-year-old filmmaker has previously penned the scripts for Cloverfield, World War Z, and The Martian, but it was his directorial debut in 2012 with The Cabin in the Woods (Goddard also wrote the screenplay) that has me looking forward to Bad Times the most – the trailer reeks of Cabin-like imagery and obscurities (which is definitely a good thing), and I can’t wait to see if Goddard can capture that same rousing energy again.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7wzBVARwaU

No. 4 – Hold the Dark (September 28 – Netflix)

Jeffrey Wright in the new film Hold the Dark. Photo credit: Netflix

Hold the Dark is a thriller set against the backdrop of the Alaskan tundra, and it follows the aftermath of the mysterious death of a young boy by a pack of wolves. From an acting standpoint, this film brings together some of my current favorites in the game – Jeffrey Wright (Westworld), Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road), and Alexander Skarsgård (Big Little Lies).  However, the factor that weighs most heavily in terms of my anticipation for the film is its director and writer – Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair, respectively.  Saulnier wrote and directed two of my favorite films from the past few years (Blue Ruin in 2014 and Green Room in 2016, both of which featured Blair as an actor), and Blair wrote and directed one of my favorite movies from last year, I don’t feel at home in this world anymore. All three of those films were thrilling and unique, and I expect nothing less from Hold the Dark.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFAwDO6b5KI

No. 5 – The Favourite (November 23)

The FavouriteThe Favourite is a drama (set in England in the early 18th century) that follows the struggle between Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and her cousin Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) as they jockey for the attention and adoration of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman, aka as the new QEII in The Crown).  The Favourite is the newest film by the inimitable Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos.  If you haven’t seen any of Lanthimos’s films yet, go watch the trailer for The Favourite ­– it will absolutely give you a taste of this man’s distinctive style. Lanthimos broke out among American audiences in 2015 with his film The Lobster – although the first act of that movie had me hooked, he simply couldn’t keep that momentum going for me throughout the entire film.  No matter – Lanthimos returned last year with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which was thrilling, compelling, and darkly hilarious for its entire two-hour runtime.  Because of my deep appreciation for that film, I am very much optimistic that his newest endeavor will be a great achievement.  Trailer –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqYlnvghV-U

No. 6 – Widows (November 16)

WidowsWidows is a thriller that tells the story of a group of women who attempt a heist after their criminal husbands are killed.  The uber-talented British filmmaker Steve McQueen is back with his first feature film since 12 Years a Slave, the Best Picture winner that I named my favorite film of 2013.  McQueen is such a unique storyteller, and if the critical success of his complete filmography (Hunger, Shame, and 12 Years a Slave) gives us any indication, Widows is sure to be a fantastic piece of cinema.  Oscar winner Viola Davis also stars as the lead, which is another reason this film is likely to impress. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nN2yBBSRC78

 No. 7 – A Star Is Born (October 5)

A Star Is BornA Star Is Born is a musical drama about a country musician (Bradley Cooper) who discovers and falls in love with a young singer (Lady Gaga).  This iteration of A Star Is Born (which marks Cooper’s directorial debut) is the third remake to the original 1937 film (it was remade with Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954 and with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976). Truthfully, the trailers for this film that have been playing repeatedly on TV lately have me hooked – I love the sound of the music, I love the apparent chemistry between the two leads, and I love the style in which it is shot.  And I am already buying into the hype surrounding Lady Gaga’s performance, simply based on what I can see from the trailer.  No one would doubt that Lady Gaga is a standout performer in general, not just as a singer, and I look forward to seeing her acting talents on the big screen in what has already been characterized by many in the industry as an early Best Picture darling.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSbzyEJ8X9E

 No. 8 – Outlaw King (November 9 – Netflix)

Outlaw KingOutlaw King is an epic historical film about Robert the Bruce, one of the most famous Scottish warriors and eventual King of Scotland.  David Mackenzie directed this film, which is the very reason that it is on my list.  Mackenzie’s previous two films both ranked in the top 4 of my year-end lists (I ranked Starred Up as my No. 4 film in 2014 and Hell or High Water as my No. 2 film in 2016) – based on that track record, I am obviously looking forward to his newest film.  I will admit that a couple of weeks ago, this film was trending toward the top of my most anticipated list – however, early critical reviews have not been jaw-dropping, which is why its position has slipped a bit here.  Regardless of those early reviews, I am still confident that Mackenzie will bring a quality picture to the big Netflix screen – his cast of Chris Pine (fantastic in Hell or High Water), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (wonderful in everything he touches), and Florence Pugh (a vision in last year’s Lady Macbeth) will surely add some definite firepower.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-G1BME8FKw

No. 9 – Welcome to Marwen (December 21)

Welcome to MarwenWelcome to Marwen is a dramatic film inspired by the true-life story of Mark Hogancamp, a victim of a brutal assault, who undertakes an enormous effort to build a miniature World War II village in his backyard in an effort to cope with the trauma he has endured.  Yes, this movie features a great cast, including Steve Carrell as Hogancamp. Yes, the film is directed by Robert Zemeckis, who always seems to turn in quality work, year after year.  And yes, the film’s mixture of live-action and animation looks incredibly unique and charming.  But for me, my anticipation for this film stems solely from my profound reverence for the 2010 documentary that it is based on, Marwencol.  When I first saw Marwencol, I was enthralled by Mark’s story and utterly fascinated by his artistry and imagination.  Marwencol is definitely one of my all-time favorites, and I hope that Zemeckis’s film provides a great companion piece to the documentary.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6dy7xQ8NeE

No. 10 – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (November 16 – Netflix)

Buster ScruggsThe Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a western anthology film by the Coen brothers that features six separate chapters, each with its own cast.  I won’t lie – I have generally fallen out of love with the Coen brothers.  In terms of their directorial efforts, I really haven’t enjoyed many of their films from the past decade, outside of A Serious Man in 2009.  However, I continue to hold out hope that these cinematic visionaries can again replicate the success of their past hits (e.g., Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men).  The trailer here has me genuinely intrigued by what the Coen brothers can do with the anthology concept, and given their established résumé in the business, I am willing to keep giving them chances.  Trailer –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2PyxzSH1HM

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Creed IICreed II (November 21) – The sequel to Creed is set to follow Adonis Creed as he prepares for his next big fight – a bout against the son of Ivan Drago, the man that killed Adonis’s father in the ring so many decades ago.  I am always down for more from the Rocky universe, and I expect Michael B. Jordan to dominate the screen again in Round 2. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPNVNqn4T9I

Fantastic BeastsFantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (November 16) – The sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will follow Newt Scamander as he looks to take down Gellert Grindelwald, one of the wizarding world’s most powerful dark wizards.  The previews for this film have already revealed a return to Hogwarts, Jude Law as a young Albus Dumbledore, and the origin of Nagini – all of that is plenty to overcome the casting of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald.  I am very optimistic about this film, as I will always put my faith in J.K. Rowling and David Yates. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bYBOVWLNIs

Mary, Queen of ScotsMary, Queen of Scots (December 7) – This historical drama tells the story of the “Rising of the North,” an infamous conflict that pitted two half-sisters, Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, against one another in an epic struggle for power in England.  This film has a lot going for it.  First, Beau Willimon (creator of the Netflix hit House of Cards) wrote the script. Second, and most importantly, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie star as Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I, respectively. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnqjSgMU36U

Under the Silver LakeUnder the Silver Lake (December 7) – This is a neo-noir film that follows Sam (Andrew Garfield) as he searches the seamy depths of Los Angeles to solve the disappearance of Sarah (Riley Keough), a mysterious woman he met at an apartment swimming pool.  This movie is director David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up effort to 2014’s It Follows, an incredible film that re-wrote the rules of horror flicks.  Based on my love for It Follows, I have a lot of confidence in Under the Silver Lake’s potential.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwgUesU1pz4

ViceVice (December 25) – This biopic follows the political rise of former Vice President Dick Cheney.  This is the only film on this list that still does not have a trailer yet released, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t expect big things from it.  Adam McKay – the comedic genius behind Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys – directs, but it is his directorial work on The Big Short that has me most pumped for this movie.  Christian Bale completely transformed his body (again – see The Machinist, American Hustle) to play Cheney, and one of my favorite actresses of all time (Amy Adams) is set to play Lynne Cheney. Trailer – NONE

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90th Academy Awards: My Ballot and Countdown of the Best Films of 2017

As you have probably noticed, my annual “Countdown to the Oscars” blog was a bit nonexistent this year – and by “a bit,” I mean completely!  Due to an incredibly busy work schedule over the past year, I have been unable to see quite the number of films I usually prefer to see or devote a chunk of time to blogging about them – next year I hope to get right back on the review train for a complete season of best-of-the-year blogging!  Nonetheless, with tonight’s Academy Awards quickly approaching, I still wanted to share with you my thoughts on the past year in film.

https---blogs-images.forbes.com-johnarcher-files-2018-01-BladeRunner2049CarSmoke.jpg?width=960.jpgAlthough I surely missed some movies this year that many have loved, such as Wonder Woman, War for the Planet of the Apes, and Coco, I was lucky enough to watch a large number of incredible films that made me laugh, made me cry, and certainly made me think.  Below, you will find my Top 10 Films of 2017, as well as a more complete ranking of each movie I watched from this past year at the end (45 in total).  Also, so that my blog is not completely devoid of movie reviews this year, later this week I will share my full review of my favorite film from 2017: Blade Runner 2049.

shapeAdditionally, you will find below my personal Oscars ballot for this year – per usual, it includes my ranking of each nominee in the fourteen categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance.  This year, although it ranks as No. 3 on my list of the year’s best movies (the top two were not nominated for Best Picture), my pick for Best Picture is The Shape of Water.

So, check out my ballot and list of my favorite movies from 2017, and make sure to tune into the 90th Academy Awards tonight at 7:00pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Enjoy, film fans.

Top 10 Films of 2017

1. Blade Runner 2049
2. The Big Sick
3. The Shape of Water
4. Get Out
5. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
6. Good Time
7. The Disaster Artist
8. Call Me by Your Name
9. Wind River
10. Dunkirk

90th Academy Awards Ballot

Best Picture

  1. The Shape of Water
  2. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  3. Get Out
  4. Call Me by Your Name
  5. Dunkirk
  6. Lady Bird
  7. Darkest Hour
  8. Phantom Thread
  9. The Post

Best Actor

  1. Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
  2. Timothée Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
  3. Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
  4. Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
  5. Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Best Actress

  1. Frances McDormand – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
  3. Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
  4. Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
  5. Meryl Streep – The Post

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
  3. Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  4. Willem Defoe – The Florida Project
  5. Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Allison Janney – I, Tonya
  2. Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
  3. Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
  4. Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water
  5. Mary J. Blige – Mudbound

Best Director

  1. Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
  2. Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
  3. Jordan Peele – Get Out
  4. Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
  5. Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Jordan Peele – Get Out
  2. Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani – The Big Sick
  3. Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
  4. Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  5. Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
  2. James Ivory – Call Me by Your Name
  3. Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
  4. Virgil Williams and Dee Rees – Mudbound
  5. Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green – Logan

Best Original Score

  1. Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water
  2. Carter Burwell – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  3. Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
  4. John Williams – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  5. Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk

Best Cinematography

  1. Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
  2. Hoyte van Hoytema – Dunkirk
  3. Dan Laustsen – The Shape of Water
  4. Bruno Delbonnel – Darkest Hour
  5. Rachel Morrison – Mudbound

Best Film Editing

  1. Sidney Wolinsky – The Shape of Water
  2. Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos – Baby Driver
  3. Jon Gregory – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  4. Lee Smith – Dunkirk
  5. Tatiana S. Riegel – I, Tonya

Best Production Design

  1. Dennis Gassner (Production Design) and Alessandra Querzola (Set Decoration) – Blade Runner 2049
  2. Paul Denham Austerberry (Production Design) and Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin (Set Decoration) – The Shape of Water
  3. Nathan Crowley (Production Design) and Gary Fettis (Set Decoration) – Dunkirk
  4. Sarah Greenwood (Production Design) and Katie Spencer (Set Decoration) – Darkest Hour
  5. Sarah Greenwood (Production Design) and Katie Spencer (Set Decoration) – Beauty and the Beast

Best Sound Editing

  1. Mark Mangini and Theo Green – Blade Runner 2049
  2. Richard King and Alex Gibson – Dunkirk
  3. Julian Slater – Baby Driver
  4. Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreria – The Shape of Water
  5. Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Sound Mixing

  1. Ron Bartlett, Dough Hemphill, and Marc Ruth – Blade Runner 2049
  2. Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, and Gary A. Rizzo – Dunkirk
  3. Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin, and Mary H. Ellis – Baby Driver
  4. Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern, and Glen Gauthier – The Shape of Water
  5. David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, and Stuart Wilson – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Complete Ranking of Films Seen from 2017

1. Blade Runner 2049
2. The Big Sick
3. The Shape of Water
4. Get Out
5. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
6. Good Time
7. The Disaster Artist
8. Call Me by Your Name
9. Wind River
10. Dunkirk
11. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.
12. Lady Bird
13. Lady Macbeth
14. The Work
15. Darkest Hour
16. Phantom Thread
17. I, Tonya
18. Molly’s Game
19. The Beguiled
20. I, Daniel Blake
21. Dealt
22. Baby Driver
23. The Girl with All the Gifts
24. The Meyerowitz Stories
25. The Post
26. Spielberg
27. Burning Sands
28. All the Money in the World
29. Berlin Syndrome
30. To the Bone
31. Brawl in Cell Block 99
32. Logan
33. Star Wars Episode VII: The Last Jedi
34. Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press
35. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
36. The Hero
37. The Florida Project
38. Unrest
39. Score: A Film Music Documentary
40. Roman J. Israel, Esq.
41. Beauty and the Beast
42. Oklahoma City
43. Split
44. Fifty Shades Darker
45. The Little Hours

Review: My Oscars Ballot and Countdown (2016)

For the fifth consecutive year, my annual “Countdown to the Oscars” has concluded. And, the Oscars are TONIGHT! In preparation for tonight’s ceremony, I have provided below my personal Oscars ballot—it includes my ranking of each nominee in the eleven categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance. I have also included my final list of the Top 10 Films of 2016.

Check out my ballot, revisit my reviews of the year’s best films, and make sure to tune into the 89th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Enjoy, film fans!

89th Academy Awards Nominations (My Ballot)

Best Picture

  1. Manchester by the Sea
  2. Hell or High Water
  3. Arrival
  4. Moonlight
  5. Lion
  6. La La Land
  7. Fences
  8. Hidden Figures
  9. Hacksaw Ridge

Best Actor

  1. Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
  2. Denzel Washington (Fences)
  3. Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
  4. Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
  5. Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)

Best Actress

  1. Natalie Portman (Jackie)
  2. Emma Stone (La La Land)
  3. Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
  4. Ruth Negga (Loving)
  5. Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
  2. Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
  3. Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
  4. Dev Patel (Lion)
  5. Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
  2. Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)
  3. Viola Davis (Fences)
  4. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
  5. Nicole Kidman (Lion)

Best Director

  1. Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
  2. Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
  3. Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
  4. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
  5. Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
  2. Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)
  3. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
  4. 20th Century Women (Mike Mills)
  5. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou)

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney)
  2. Fences (August Wilson)
  3. Arrival (Eric Heisserer)
  4. Lion (Luke Davies)
  5. Hidden Figures (Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi)

Best Original Score

  1. La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
  2. Lion (Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka)
  3. Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)
  4. Jackie (Mica Levi)
  5. Passengers (Thomas Newman)

Best Cinematography

  1. Arrival (Bradford Young)
  2. La La Land (Linus Sandgren)
  3. Moonlight (James Laxton)
  4. Lion (Greig Fraser)
  5. Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)

Best Film Editing

  1. La La Land (Tom Cross)
  2. Arrival (Joe Walker)
  3. Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts)
  4. Moonlight (Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon)
  5. Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert)

Top 10 Films of the Year:

  1. Manchester by the Sea
  2. Hell or High Water
  3. Arrival
  4. Moonlight
  5. Lion
  6. O.J.: Made in America
  7. La La Land
  8. Fences
  9. Zootopia
  10. Nocturnal Animals

 

Full List of Films I Saw from 2016: Ranked from 1 – 53

1 Manchester by the Sea
2 Hell or High Water
3 Arrival
4 Moonlight
5 Lion
6 O.J.: Made in America
7 La La Land
8 Fences
9 Zootopia
10 Nocturnal Animals
11 13th
12 Gleason
13 Hidden Figures
14 Hacksaw Ridge
15 Green Room
16 Captain Fantastic
17 Don’t Breathe
18 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
19 Sully
20 Jackie
21 Weiner
22 20th Century Women
23 Morris from America
24 Finding Dory
25 Hands of Stone
26 Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
27 Elle
28 The Birth of a Nation
29 Tickled
30 The Program
31 Silence
32 The Witch
33 Amanda Knox
34 Loving
35 The Shallows
36 Bad Moms
37 Florence Foster Jenkins
38 Allied
39 Keanu
40 Office Christmas Party
41 Nerve
42 The Lobster
43 Passengers
44 The Brothers Grimsby
45 The Neon Demon
46 Sausage Party
47 Me Before You
48 The Girl on the Train
49 Suicide Squad
50 The Secret Life of Pets
51 Moonwalkers
52 The Choice
53 The Divergent Series: Allegiant

Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 1 – Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea is a drama written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. The film tells the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). Following the sudden and unexpected death of Lee’s older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee becomes the legal guardian of Patrick, Joe’s son. The story then follows Lee back to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, as he must deal with his new role while balancing issues with his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the North Shore community.

In every single way, Manchester by the Sea is an absolutely and unequivocally perfect movie—and it all starts with its visionary filmmaker, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan. As I wrote when I briefly previewed the film on the Honorable Mentions post of my Fall Preview last August, until Manchester by the Sea, I was completely unfamiliar with Lonergan as a director. However, I did have some understanding of Lonergan as a screenwriter, as he was previously nominated for Best Original Screenplay for penning the dramatically intense and entertainingly sharp script for Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002). It was this fact that originally piqued my interest in the film. man8Although Gangs of New York was stunningly imaginative in its storytelling, it is in Manchester by the Sea that Lonergan has penned his magnum opus. I will not sugarcoat anything, though—this story is sad, distressing, and emotionally heart-wrenching, and it had me crying throughout. However, Lonergan spectacularly mixes in the perfect dose of humor. In Manchester by the Sea, Lonergan has crafted one of the most comedic melodramas known to cinema—although that sounds like a textbook oxymoron, Lonergan embraces the contradiction and defies all traditional notions of screenwriting principles.

Lonergan’s storytelling techniques in Manchester by the Sea are nothing short of incredibly effective and manifestly felicitous.man5 The story is simple: Lee, a dejected handyman living in a basement apartment in Boston, must return to his hometown following his brother Joe’s death, where he learns that Joe has chosen him to be the legal guardian of Patrick, Joe’s teenage son. We quickly learn that Lee is angst-ridden with the return to his hometown, and Lonergan brilliantly refuses to give the audience any quick answers as to why Lee is so particularly apprehensive about coming back—all that we know is that Lee lives a despondent life due to some family tragedy. Over the course of the film, Lonergan slowly unveils the heartrending truth behind Lee’s downward spiral, impeccably utilizing flashbacks to tell that story. To say anything more about the plot would give away far too much—but I assure you, the truth is more painful than you can imagine, and Lonergan tugs at the audience’s heartstrings relentlessly.

In order for Lonergan to most effectively tell his story, he assembled a cast of performers who far exceeded any expectations I could ever have had. In the lead role, Casey Affleck is superlative as Lee. man4In the present, Lee is as miserable and melancholy as one could be, but in the flashbacks, he is an upbeat and enthusiastic family man. Lee is truly a tale of two men, and Affleck is better than ever in this divergent portrayal. I have always been a fan of Affleck’s work, especially in Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the latter of which earned him his first Oscar nomination, but in Manchester by the Sea, Affleck has cemented himself as one of the elites. He is quite deserving of the Oscar he will surely win for Best Actor.

Michelle Williams is also nominated for an Academy Award (in the Best Supporting Actress category), and her performance as Lee’s ex-wife Randi was emotionally driven and vital to the story. Although her screen time comes at a premium, Williams, who has previously been nominated for two Oscars, brings an emotionally packed punch to every scene she is in.

MBTS_3869.CR2

One of the single greatest scenes in the film, which truly captures the pain and sorrow of its plotline, depicts Lee and Randi unintentionally encountering one another in town. Again, to speak about the scene in any more detail would reveal far too much about the story, but trust me when I say that it makes for the textbook tear-jerker. Both actors bring a keen sense of virtuosity to the scene, and it stands out as one of the biggest highlights of the film.

Further, the film features exquisite supporting performances from Kyle Chandler and star-in-the-making Lucas Hedges. Chandler is a seasoned film veteran, and as Lee’s brother Joe, he is superb—each flashback scene benefits greatly from his presence and acting prowess. But Lucas Hedges nearly steals the show as Patrick, Joe’s teenage son. Patrick tries to hide his emotions about his father’s death by focusing on hockey, his rock band, and his two (yes, two) girlfriends. 636149906567091653-mbts-1236-rHedges brings a refreshing sense of innocence to his character, but he does so with spectacular deftness, as if his filmography was busting at the seams with experience. His apt for acting is particularly elucidating in scenes where Patrick is at his most vulnerable—when he finally comes to grips with father’s death, the moment hits you like a ton of bricks, all thanks to Hedges’s passionate commitment to the role. This kid is sure to do big things in the years to come. Manchester by the Sea is rated R for language throughout and some sexual content.

Manchester by the Sea trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsVoD0pTge0

Academy Award nominations for Manchester by the Sea:

Best Picture (Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck, and Kevin J. Walsh)

Best Director (Kenneth Lonergan)

Best Actor in a Leading Role (Casey Affleck)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Lucas Hedges)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Michelle Williams)

Best Original Screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan)

Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016:

  1. Hell or High Water
  2. Arrival
  3. Moonlight
  4. Lion
  5. O.J.: Made in America
  6. La La Land
  7. Fences
  8. Zootopia
  9. Nocturnal Animals

Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 2 – Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water is a western film directed by David Mackenzie, with an original screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.  The film follows Toby (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) as they carry out a series of bank robberies in West Texas in an effort to scrape together enough funds to save their family’s ranch. However, two Texas Rangers, led by Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), are right on the Howard brothers’ heels the entire way.

To be completely honest, until Hell or High Water was released theatrically in August, I had barely any knowledge about what the film was even about—if it were not for my favorite film podcast reviewing the movie shortly after its release, I would not have even been able to give someone a cursory description of the plot. I did not end up seeing the film until December, but when I finally did, I tweeted this:

hell5If my No. 1 film did not exist this year, Hell or High Water would have clearly ended up with my coveted “Best Film of the Year” moniker—the movie is exhilarating. Hell or High Water is directed by David Mackenzie, who is a familiar face on my list: Two years ago, his unbelievably raw prison drama Starred Up ranked as my No. 4 film of the year. This year, Mackenzie is back with an even better movie. Just as with Starred Up, his knack for shameless filmmaking is clearly evident here, and his direction is self-assured and impeccable.

161112a_0092-683x1024Helping Mackenzie along the way is Taylor Sheridan’s perfect (yes, perfect) script. Sheridan’s screenwriting debut was in last year’s Sicario, another of my favorite films, and in Hell or High Water, he has continued to tap into his screenwriting strengths, penning a script that is both emotionally visceral and distinctively enigmatic. Hell or High Water is the single greatest modern western since the Coen Brothers’ Best Picture-winner No Country for Old Men (2007), and to be honest, I actually like this one better (which seems almost sinful to say, considering No Country for Old Men is utterly amazing)—Hell or High Water is a much broader and deeper character study, causing you to be emotionally invested into the back-stories of nearly all of its characters. Needless to say, Mackenzie and Sheridan have crafted a classic in the western genre.

hell3To top it all off, Hell of High Water is masterfully acted. Chris Pine has made his mark in Hollywood as the current Captain Kirk in the reboot of the Star Trek franchise, but in this film, he proves that his acting chops are worthy of broader critical praise. His character devises the plan to rob local banks in order to “stick it to the man,” as those very banks threatened to take his family’s ranch. In carrying out these robberies, Pine’s Toby is focused and resolute. This is much the opposite of his brother Tanner, brilliantly played by Ben Foster. In films like Alpha Dog, 3:10 to Yuma, and 2016’s The Program, Foster has long proved that he is an incredibly talented artist; however, he gives the best performance of his career as Tanner Howard. 1_HR6A9395.CR2Tanner is a former convict who has been recently paroled, and the idea of risking his freedom for more crimes does not faze him one bit—in fact, Tanner embraces it. While Toby is more concentrated during the robberies, Tanner is a bit more erratic. In one scene, while the brothers are taking a break from their robberies to eat lunch at a local diner, Tanner walks across the street to single-handedly rob another bank, risking the entire operation. Tanner is intense and unpredictable, and Foster portrays these characteristics with precision.

hell1However, as can be expected, the show is stolen by a vintage performance by Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges as Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton. Bridges is clearly one of the best to ever do it, and he channels that first-rate acting in Hell or High Water. Closing in on his retirement, Marcus spends much of his time joking with his partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham), and contemplating life. However, when it comes to chasing the Howard brothers across West Texas, Marcus is as focused as ever. The character is methodical and precise in his investigation, and Bridges plays it beautifully—this is definitely one of those performances I will remember for a long time. Hell or High Water is rated R for some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality.

Hell or High Water trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQoqsKoJVDw

Academy Award nominations for Hell of High Water:

Best Picture (Carla Hacken and Julie Yorn)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jeff Bridges)

Best Original Screenplay (Taylor Sheridan)

Best Film Editing (Jake Roberts)

Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016: 

  1. Arrival
  2. Moonlight
  3. Lion
  4. O.J.: Made in America
  5. La La Land
  6. Fences
  7. Zootopia
  8. Nocturnal Animals

Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 3 – Arrival

Arrival is a science-fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve, with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer, which is adapted from Ted Chiang’s award-winning short story and novella “Story of Your Life.” The film follows a team that is put together to investigate when multiple mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe. As the world scrambles for answers, mankind comes ever closer to global war. In order to find those answers, language expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams), physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) take a chance that could threaten their lives, and, quite possibly, humanity.

arrival6Back in August, I ranked Arrival as the No. 1 film I was anticipating for the fall film season, and that hype was well worth it—Arrival is one of my favorite science-fiction movies of all time. The reason I was looking forward to the film so much a few months ago was the director, Denis Villeneuve. After making a series of critically acclaimed foreign language films (such as Maelström and Incendies), Villeneuve broke into mainstream Hollywood with Prisoners, an emotionally disturbing and suspenseful film starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. I was a big fan of Prisoners, but Villeneuve impressed me even more in 2015 with Sicario, a gripping thriller about the viciousness of drug cartels starring Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro. However, in Arrival, Villeneuve is at his very best.

arrival5Aside from exhilarating visuals and riveting drama, Arrival succeeds because Villeneuve and screenwriter Heisserer have mastered the art of science fiction.  If Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan were to birth a cinematic love child, Arrival would be that progeny. The film taps into the best parts of the legendary Scott’s Alien, Blade Runner, and The Martian, while also channeling Nolan’s renowned mind-fuck films like Memento, Inception, and Interstellar. arrival3Needless to say, Arrival is an epic adventure about space and time, life, communication, and love, and it finds itself in my Top 3 films of the year because it just may be the single best out-and-out sci-fi film of the past decade! If you are skeptical of science-fiction movies (like me) and need a film to help restore your faith in the genre, Arrival is absolutely a must-watch.

In supporting roles, former Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner and former Oscar winner Forest Whitaker are serviceable—the two illustrious stars always bring an immense amount of talent to their projects, and nothing changes in Arrival. arrival1The leading performance by Amy Adams, though, is noteworthy and exquisite—in fact, I think the single biggest Oscar snub this year was Adams missing out on a Best Actress nod. The 42-year-old star is one of my favorite actresses in film, and she is at her finest in Arrival. As the linguist Dr. Louise Banks, Adams portrays her character as quiet, but confident, and above all, indomitable. Adams’s performance is both emotionally moving and dignified, and it is a shame the Academy chose not to recognize her brilliant abilities this year. Arrival is rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

Arrival trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFMo3UJ4B4g&t=2s

Academy Award nominations for Arrival:

Best Picture (Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, and David Linde)

Best Director (Denis Villeneuve)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Eric Heisserer)

Best Sound Editing (Sylvain Bellemare)

Best Sound Mixing (Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye)

Best Production Design (Patrice Vermette and Paul Hotte)

Best Cinematography (Bradford Young)

Best Film Editing (Joe Walker)

Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016:

  1. Moonlight
  2. Lion
  3. O.J.: Made in America
  4. La La Land
  5. Fences
  6. Zootopia
  7. Nocturnal Animals

Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 4 – Moonlight

Moonlight is a drama directed by Barry Jenkins, with a screenplay by Jenkins and story by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The film tells the story of Chiron, a young black kid balancing his dysfunctional home life and coming of age during the “War on Drugs” era in Miami, Florida. The story of his struggle to find himself is told across three distinct chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality.

moon3Back in August, I revealed Moonlight as No. 6 on the list of my Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of the fall movie season. In writing about my eagerness for the film’s release, I included the following quote from Justin Chang, a writer from the Los Angeles Times, about director Barry Jenkins’s second film: “He’s made a film that urges the viewer to look past Chiron’s outward appearance and his superficial signifiers of identity, climbing inside familiar stereotypes in order to quietly dismantle them from within . . . . [Moonlight] doesn’t say much; it says everything.” When I first came across that quote, it made me incredibly excited to see Moonlight.  After having seen this film, Chang’s quote is more than just a review—it truly embodies the emotional brilliance of one of the best films 2016 had to offer.

moon5Prior to Moonlight, I had never heard of Barry Jenkins. After seeing Moonlight, I am quite confident that this man has a long, successful future of filmmaking ahead of him. Jenkins’s storytelling in Moonlight was exceptional, and he fiercely tackled a delicate subject. Chiron (first known as “Little” and played by Alex Hibbert, then known simply as “Chiron” and played by Ashton Sanders) is an adolescent growing up in a poor neighborhood in Miami with an addict mother. All the while, he is struggling with his sexual identity at a time and in a culture where being gay was not accepted. moon3Jenkins magnificently delineates Chiron’s difficult life with expressive palpability, depicting a wide variety of emotionally heart-wrenching “coming of age” moments in his life. Jenkins is clearly a natural-born storyteller, and his focus on the evolution of Chiron’s complicated relationship with his childhood friend Kevin is one of the film’s greatest assets.

moon8As far as acting, Moonlight produces many remarkable performances. From Trevante Rhodes as the adult Chiron (known as “Black”) to André Holland’s composed performance as the adult Kevin, the film is packed with talent. However, the two performances that stand above the rest come from Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali. Harris plays Chiron’s mom Paula, a drug addict with emotionally abusive tendencies, and she brings a self-possessed intensity to the character. I hated Paula for her rejection of her son, but as the film progressed, I felt a sense of empathetic tenderness for her—this contrast is 100% due to Harris’s stunning performance.

mahershala-ali-moonlightThe single greatest highlight of the film, though, is Mahershala Ali in his role as Juan, a crack dealer in Chiron’s neighborhood. Juan is such a polarizing character because of the duality that he represents. On the one hand, Juan is sensitive and caring—he finds “Little” and makes a concerted effort to look out for him. However, Juan also slings crack on the streets, including selling directly to Paula—thus, despite Juan’s commitment to being a father figure for Chiron, he is also directly contributing to the breakdown of Chiron’s home life. These characteristics make Juan utterly complex, and Ali gives the performance of a lifetime.  It is no surprise he is considered the runaway favorite to win Best Supporting Actor—he deserves it. la-1487513359-dnnq6xcawn-snap-photoAli’s striking portrayal is on full display in one of the most emotionally affecting scenes in any film this past year—at his dinner table one day, Juan has to fight back tears as “Little” asks him questions about what “faggot” means and if Juan sells drugs to his mother. It is one of the most powerful scenes I have ever watched, and Ali is the glue that holds it together. Bravo, Mahershala! Moonlight is rated R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.

Moonlight trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NJj12tJzqc&t=4s

Academy Award nominations for Moonlight:

Best Picture (Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner)

Best Director (Barry Jenkins)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Naomie Harris)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney)

Best Original Score (Nicholas Britell)

Best Cinematography (James Laxton)

Best Film Editing (Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon)

Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016:

  1. Lion
  2. O.J.: Made in America
  3. La La Land
  4. Fences
  5. Zootopia
  6. Nocturnal Animals

Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 5 – Lion

Lion is a drama directed by Garth Davis, with a screenplay by Luke Davies. lion5Adapted from the real-life Saroo Brierley’s biography A Long Way Home, the film follows Saroo (Sunny Pawar), a five-year-old boy from India, who gets separated from his older brother one night at a train station. Saroo eventually boards an empty train looking for his brother, but that train eventually takes him over a thousand miles away from his home. Lost on the streets of Calcutta, Saroo struggles to scrape by as a homeless youth, but he is eventually adopted by an Australian couple that relocates him to their home in Tasmania. Twenty years later, Saroo (Dev Patel), who cannot remember where he is originally from, sets out to find his family in India using Google Earth technology.

lion4Although there were some emotionally affecting films this past year that brought out the water works, none ripped open my tear ducts quite like Lion. The thing I was most drawn to in Garth Davis’s feature debut is its bilateral emotional journey. On the one hand, the story of Saroo becoming lost from his family is exceptionally heartbreaking, and this definitely tugged hard at my heart strings. Conversely, the story is one of hope and inspiration, and it is hard not to find a sense of strength in Saroo’s drive and determination. Davis and screenwriter Luke Davies bring Saroo Brierley’s beautiful story to life in an amazingly reverential manner, and I assure you, these filmmakers have absolutely earned each and every Oscar nomination that Lion has received.

lion1So far, I have talked almost exclusively about Lion’s emotion, and rightfully so—the film’s passion is what sucked me in. However, that emotion flows from the film’s outstanding acting performances. Given their Oscar nominations, it is clear to see why Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman have garnered the vast majority of the film’s widespread attention. Patel, who rose to worldwide fame with his performance in the Best Picture-winner Slumdog Millionaire (2008), gives a competent performance as the adult Saroo, ardently portraying the main character’s tortured fixation on finding his family. Patel definitely deserves his Oscar nod. Kidman also gives a quietly exceptional performance as Saroo’s adopted mother Sue, a woman with an undeniable maternal love for her son—Kidman portrays the character’s emotional rollercoaster sharply.

lion2The highlight of the film for me, though, was newcomer Sunny Pawar’s performance in the film’s first act as a young Saroo. By the end of the film, you are completely invested in Saroo’s journey; however, I am confident in saying that if it were not for Pawar’s performance in the first third of the movie, this emotional connection would not be near as strong. Pawar absolutely nails every distant look, every subtle whimper, and every enlightened smile—despite his lack of acting experience, Pawar shines like a seasoned star on the silver screen. Lion is rated PG-13 for thematic material and some sensuality.

Lion trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RNI9o06vqo

Academy Award nominations for Lion:

Best Picture (Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, and Angie Fielder)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Dev Patel)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Nicole Kidman)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Luke Davies)

Best Original Score (Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka)

Best Cinematography (Greig Fraser)

Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016:

  1. O.J.: Made in America
  2. La La Land
  3. Fences
  4. Zootopia
  5. Nocturnal Animals

Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 6 – O.J.: Made in America

O.J.: Made in America is a sports documentary feature directed by Ezra Edelman and produced by ESPN Films. The film, released in five installments (and in a limited theatrical release) by ESPN as part of its 30 for 30 series, depicts the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson.

oj1To put it simply: O.J.: Made in America is one of the greatest documentary films I have ever seen (and to be honest, it just might be my favorite). With the award-winning FX series The People v. O.J. Simpson and Ezra Edelman’s 467-minute documentary here, 2016 seemed like 1995 all over again—O.J. Simpson was everywhere! For many people across the nation, O.J. Simpson and the “trial of the century” are only concepts they have heard about from stories. oj7For many others, the tumultuous times surrounding the Hall of Fame running back’s acquittal of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman seem just like yesterday. Considering the varying degrees of O.J. knowledge, Ezra Edelman executed his Made in America project in such a way as to fully explain the social significance of O.J. Simpson and his 1995 trial to any novice, while also uncovering new plot threads for those that lived through it in real time.

oj6The reason O.J. Simpson and his infamous trial were so enthralling at the time—and continue to be today—is because that story had everything, including the perfect blend sports, fame, and race. Ezra Edelman captures the historical impact of O.J. Simpson brilliantly. While Ryan Murphy’s The People v. O.J. Simpson delved deep into the story at the time of the trial, Edelman explored the complete story of O.J. Simpson—the film essentially spans Simpson’s entire life. Edelman vividly examines the early part of Simpson’s life, prior to his fame and fortune, but he is at his best when depicting the social significance of Simpson, a black man, being the most adored figure in America. oj2At a time when black athletes were using their platform to stand for social justice and bring about change, Simpson stood by the motto, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” Edelman fiercely investigates how O.J.’s stance of transcending race played the central role in making him a figure that white people could adulate. The story of O.J. Simpson’s fame is one of the most fascinating real-life character studies to ever exist, and Edelman’s examination of this enigmatic figure is spectacular.

oj4A story about O.J. Simpson would not be complete without a vigorous survey of the 1995 murder trial. To capture the spirit of Simpson’s trial, Edelman included interviews with many key figures, including Marcia Clark, Bill Hodgman, Gil Garcetti, Carl Douglas, F. Lee Bailey, Barry Scheck, and even the notorious Mark Fuhrman. Edelman takes a vividly introspective look at one of the most recognized events in TV history, and he does so with immeasurable social awareness. oj5Edelman digs into O.J.’s horrifying pattern of domestic violence against Nicole and the role it played in reshaping his perception among a significant portion of the general public; however, Edelman also unveils the role of institutional racism in molding black Americans’ perspective on police brutality and prejudice. The O.J. Simpson trial revealed an intense divisiveness in American society, and Ezra Edelman’s exploration of that discord is superb. O.J.: Made in America is not rated.

O.J.: Made in America trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrB3rOcrJxg

Academy Award nominations for O.J.: Made in America:

Best Documentary Feature (Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow)

Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016:

  1. La La Land
  2. Fences
  3. Zootopia
  4. Nocturnal Animals