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.

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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
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Fall Preview 2016: Honorable Mentions

Welcome back, everyone. Usually I release my Fall Preview each year at the end of August to encompass all theatrical releases between September and December; however, due to being a bit busier than usual this—and the fact that September is always the weakest month of the fall in terms of film releases anyways—I have delayed the release of my list until now. With the 89th Academy Awards just 148 days away, the bulk of my research and preparation for the release of a decent chunk of potential Oscar-worthy movies begins now!

Okay, let’s get the fall movie season started. For the fourth consecutive year, I have created a list of my most anticipated movies of the season. My list consists of ten films (plus five honorable mentions) that, on their face, look like they could be very good. I take into account a range of criteria when considering films for this list, including, but not limited to, the cast, director, producers, media hype, trailer, and pure conjecture. Below is the schedule for my three Fall Preview posts, so make sure to be on the lookout this weekend:

Today: Honorable Mentions

Sunday: No. 10 – No. 6

Tuesday: No. 5 – No. 1

Kicking off this year’s Fall Preview are the five films that just missed out on making my list of the Top 10 movies I am most looking forward to seeing (in alphabetical order). Enjoy!

The Accountant

The Accountant is a film about Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), a mathematics savant with little to no social skills. Although it appears Christian is a small-town CPA, he makes his living as a forensic accountant for dangerous criminal organizations. With the government on his heels, Christian takes on a state-of-the-art robotics company as a legitimate client. As he gets closer to the truth about a discrepancy that involves millions of dollars, the body count starts to rise.

the-accountant-2This film is either going to be really good or really bad. But I cannot help myself from being intrigued by the casting of Ben Affleck in such an atypical role. Whether he is the good guy or the bad guy, Affleck historically portrays characters with copious amounts of charisma—that clearly is not the case here, as Christian Wolff embodies the exact opposite of term “social butterfly.” With the addition to the cast of the firecracker Anna Kendrick, the Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons, and the ever-brooding Jon Bernthal, The Accountant has the dominant “acting” factor on its side.

I am also interested to see what director Gavin O’Connor will bring to the table here. I have not seen his 2011 film Warrior, which featured performances from Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, but the praise it received is undeniable nonetheless. Further, he impressed me in 2008 with Pride and Glory, so my hope is that he continues to find his groove, building upon the success of these two particular films. The Accountant is set for a theatrical release on October 14, 2016.

Director: Gavin O’Connor (Jane Got a Gun, Warrior)

Starring: Ben Affleck (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gone Girl), Anna Kendrick (Trolls, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), J.K. Simmons (Zootopia, Whiplash), and Jon Bernthal (Sicario, Fury)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBfsgcswlYQ

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a war drama based on the 2012 award-winning novel of the same name. The film follows Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), a 19-year-old Army specialist fighting in Iraq. Following an intense battle where Billy and his comrades barely survive, they are brought back home to the US and celebrated as heroes. Once they are back, they embark on a promotional tour across the country, which ends in a halftime show at the annual Thanksgiving Day football game. There, the film follows Lynn as he recounts the tragic memories of the war and losing his sergeant in a firefight.

billy-lynn-2When I first watched this trailer, I had two distinct thoughts: (1) Wow, this story looks like it is going to be an intense, tear-jerking ride; and (2) Damn, part of this looks like Ang Lee went full-blown Disney. If the latter turns out to be the case (i.e., cheesy melodrama…blahhhhh), I know I will not enjoy the film. Therefore, I am hopeful that Ang Lee is relentless in making this feel-good film all the while intense and dramatic. The veteran director rarely makes mistakes as a filmmaker, which is why I am putting a fair amount of faith in Billy Lynn’s potential to be a sleeper hit this fall.

Despite having Ang Lee at the helm, the film could epically fall flat as a result of its cast. With Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, and Steve Martin on board, the film has hope; however, I still have reservations about Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, and the movie’s lead, Joe Alwyn. As far as Diesel goes, I will be frank—other than his motion-capture and voice work as “Groot” in Guardians of the Galaxy, I have little reason to believe he is a worthwhile actor at all, as his filmography epitomizes the term “weak sauce.” Throw Kristen Stewart into the picture, and I become far more concerned—Bella is a complete and utter drag to stomach on the screen. Lastly, the trailer seems to show Alwyn giving a fantastic performance; however, it is his debut performance. Because of that, it only makes sense to exercise caution. How can I have such worrisome thoughts while still having hope for the film? It all comes down to Ang Lee for me. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is set for a theatrical release on November 11, 2016.

Director: Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain)

Starring: Joe Alwyn (this is Alwyn’s debut film), Kristen Stewart (Café Society, Twilight), Chris Tucker (Silver Linings Playbook, Rush Hour), Garrett Hedlund (Pan, Unbroken), Vin Diesel (Guardians of the Galaxy, Fast and the Furious), and Steve Martin (Love the Coopers, Pink Panther)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUULFJ_I048

The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation tells the true-life story of the slave rebellion led by Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a literate slave and preacher. The film follows Turner as his financially strained owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As Turner witnesses countless atrocities—against himself and his fellow slaves—he orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.

I have been awaiting the release of this film for a long time. With such anticipation, what is the reason for only including it on my Honorable Mentions instead of higher up the list? It is simple: It is hard to overlook the sexual assault controversy surrounding the film’s auteur, Nate Parker (I am not going to address it any more than I already have, but I encourage everyone to read into this compelling story at http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/08/why-the-debate-over-nate-parker-is-so-complex/496700/).

the-birth-2Back to the film. My interest in the film dates back to the conclusion of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. After taking home the festival’s most prestigious award­­—the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic—filmmaker Nate Parker inked the largest film-rights deal in Sundance history: Fox Searchlight Pictures bought the worldwide rights for $17.5 million (Parker also took home the Audience Award: Dramatic, as well). Mix in some serious critical acclaim, and I was hooked. I was also drawn to Parker’s desire to bring about systemic change via the silver screen with his film; in 2015 he stated, “There’s so many things that are happening right now in 2015—100 years after the original ‘Birth of a Nation’ film, here we are. I’d say that is what I hope sets my film apart, is that it’s relevant now—that people will talk about this film with the specific intention of change.” Despite Parker’s personal controversy, I am looking forward to his film’s underlying message of social change in a time where our nation desperately needs it. The Birth of a Nation is set for a theatrical release on October 7, 2016.

Director: Nate Parker (this is his feature-length directorial debut)

Starring: Nate Parker (Beyond the Lights, Red Hook Summer), Armie Hammer (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Lone Ranger), Aja Naomi King (How to Get Away with Murder, The Rewrite), and Jackie Earle Haley (RoboCop, Lincoln)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4TTbcXG1GQ 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a fantasy film inspired by J.K. Rowling’s book of the same name, which itself was the supposed textbook in the “Harry Potter” universe authored by fictitious Newt Scamander. The film follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he arrives in New York City in 1926 to meet with an official from the Magical Congress of the United States of America. At this meeting is a magically expanded briefcase, which houses a number of dangerous creatures and their habitats. When the creatures escape from the briefcase, it sends the American wizarding authorities after Newt.

beasts-2For anyone that knows me well, it is obvious that this film would always be on my radar this fall—I am a devoted fan of the entire “Harry Potter” universe developed by genius author J.K. Rowling. It has been five years since the last Harry Potter film was released, so for me, to come back into Rowling’s magical universe is a dream come true. The film’s director and screenwriter only add to my eagerness: David Yates and J.K. Rowling, respectively. I have extremely high hopes for the film with Yates behind the scenes, as he directed the final four Harry Potter films—those films definitely took the series to a new level, and with Yates’s deep knowledge of Rowling’s universe, he will surely deliver a gem. Speaking of Rowling, the “Harry Potter” mastermind penned her first screenplay with Fantastic Beasts. On paper, Rowling has never let me down—I have the same hope for her debut script. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set for a theatrical release on November 18, 2016.

Director: David Yates (The Legend of Tarzan, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

Starring: Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything), Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs, Inherent Vice), Dan Fogler (Barely Lethal, Take Me Home Tonight), and Colin Farrell (The Lobster, Winter’s Tale)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGNnv_g9h4k 

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea, set and filmed in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, 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 separated wife (Michelle Williams) and the North Shore community.

If you have not heard much about this film—which I imagine most haven’t—it is high time to get familiar. I wish I could vouch for Kenneth Lonergan as a film director, but I simply cannot—I have never once seen one of his films (to my credit, he basically hasn’t done anything as a director). However, what will probably pique your interest is a major writing credit on his résumé: Gangs of New York. That film is one of my all-time favorites, and Lonergan’s script was dramatic, intense, and as witty as they come—I sure hope he is able to emulate that dexterity here in Manchester by the Sea (Lonergan also penned this script).

manchester-2As far as acting, this film has a variety of talented actors that will surely put on fantastic performances. But the one person that makes me want to rush out to see this the moment it hits theaters is Casey Affleck. In my opinion, Casey is a far superior actor to his older brother Ben (you know, Batman). He has continually impressed me with well-crafted, nuanced performances in films like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Gone Baby Gone (the latter of which was directed by Batman Affleck himself), and after watching the Manchester by the Sea trailer, all signs point to another gifted performance. Manchester by the Sea is set for a wide theatrical release on November 18, 2016.

Director: Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret)

Starring: Casey Affleck (Triple 9, The Finest Hours), Michelle Williams (Oz the Great and Powerful, Take This Waltz), and Kyle Chandler (Carol, The Wolf of Wall Street)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsVoD0pTge0

Fall Preview 2013: No. 10 – No. 6

6-10 Fall Preview

Hey movie fans!  I hope everyone enjoyed the introductory post to my Fall Preview 2013 a couple days ago, which included five honorable mention films set to debut in theaters in the next few months.  Today’s post reveals films No. 10 through No. 6 on my list of Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season.  This batch includes some surefire, award-quality works of cinema, and if you are looking for a great movie to go see in theaters in the next few months, this post will give you some top-notch options.

No. 10 – Prisoners

Prisoners is a film about two girls that go missing and follows a detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a desperate father (Hugh Jackman) as they work to track both girls down.  Even Prisonersthough the trailer presents the film as a thriller following two families trying to track down their daughters, Gyllenhaal says it is much more than meets the eye: “What’s different about this story is the idea that revenge just begets more revenge and you become a prisoner of that need to seek revenge.”  The trailer initially caught my eye with its dark, menacing demeanor, and not only was I captivated with the idea in general, I was even more fascinated with Paul Dano’s role.  He has long been a fantastic character actor, and I expect nothing but a superb supporting performance in this film from the twenty-nine-year-old star.  Prisoners is set for a theatrical release on September 20, 2013.

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Incendies)

Starring: Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables, Wolverine), Jake Gyllenhaal (Brothers, End of Watch), Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood), Terrence Howard (Crash, Hustle & Flow)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpXfcTF6iVk

No. 9 – Rush

Rush tells the true story of Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda.  At the 1976 German Grand Prix, Lauda (Daniel Brühl) was involved in a disastrous crash that nearly took his life.  The film follows his comeback and relationship with Hunt (Chris Hemsworth).  I am always a sucker for a quality sports-themed movie, and I have been aware of Rush Rushfor quite some time.  Not only is the story emotional and uplifting, but the film also features two exceptional actors playing these infamous lead roles.  Over the past couple of years, I have become a huge fan of Hemsworth’s acting abilities, highlighted in Thor, The Avengers, and The Cabin in the Woods.  I also expect big things in this film from Daniel Brühl, whose breakout performance was in my favorite film of all time, 2009’s Inglourious Basterds.  Lastly, the film features a supporting performance by one of my favorite actresses in cinema, Alexandra Maria Lara.  Needless to say, this movie has everything going for it, and I anticipate moviegoers everywhere to “rush” to the theater to see it (pun clearly intended).  Rush is set for a theatrical release on September 13, 2013.

Director: Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon)

Starring: Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Cabin in the Woods), Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds), Olivia Wilde (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Drinking Buddies), Alexandra Maria Lara (Downfall, L’affaire Farewell)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA3XN54J8nY

No. 8 – Her

Her is a film about an introverted writer named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) who is dealing with the end of a long relationship.  He decides to buy a new computer operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), and through their conversations, Theodore begins to fall in love with “Samantha.”  The first time I saw this trailer, I thought, “wow, what an oddher phoenix premise.”  But the more I watched it, the more engrossed I became with the subject matter.  Half of my intrigue dealt directly with this unique plot, but the other half came from the people involved with the film.  No matter how odd he may be as a human being, Joaquin Phoenix is still one of the single most talented actors working in Hollywood, and his involvement with the film foreshadows an excess of award praise for the movie.  I am also looking to this movie to put Spike Jonze, the director, back on the cinematic map.  He has had success directing on the silver screen in the past, with movies like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, but his 2009 live-action adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are was clearly less than spectacular in my book.  I am hoping Her revitalizes my enjoyment of Jonze’s films.  Her is set for a theatrical release on December 18, 2013.

Director: Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, The Master), Amy Adams (The Master, American Hustle), Scarlett Johansson (Hitchcock, Don Jon)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJTU48_yghs

No. 7 – Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace is a film that follows an ex-convict (Christian Bale) as he seeks revenge on a crime boss (Woody Harrelson) that he suspects has something to do with the disappearance of his missing brother (Casey Affleck).  Obviously, with a couple of the out of the furnaceheavy hitters of Hollywood in this film, specifically the always-remarkable Christian Bale, it will definitely be one to look out for come Oscar season; however, I am most eager for the film because of the director, Scott Cooper.  Cooper has only directed a single feature film before Out of the Furnace: the 2009 drama Crazy Heart, which earned Jeff Bridges the Academy Award for Best Actor.  I immediately fell in love with Crazy Heart after seeing it for the first time, and I have been eagerly awaiting Cooper’s next film for four years.  Luckily, he has come back strong with a motion picture that is already receiving a fair amount of Oscar buzz, and I cannot wait to see how his second go-round pans out.  Out of the Furnace is set for a wide theatrical release on December 6, 2013.

Director: Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart)

Starring: Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises, American Hustle), Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games, Now You See Me)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClzRVlMhU2E

No. 6 – Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis is a film about an anti-social musician (Oscar Isaac) and the struggles he faces as he tries to salvage any success in his personal and professional lives.  The24-inside-llewyn-davis newest Coen Brothers film does not quite look like any other that they have created before, but my devotion to their work is unrelenting, and I believe this film will captivate not only myself, but also all movie fans alike.  For Mumford & Sons fans, this movie will be right up your alley—Marcus Mumford and Academy Award-winner T-Bone Burnett produced the folk-style music incorporated throughout the film.  Some gifted young performers appear in the film in addition to Isaac, including Mr. “Suit and Tie” himself, Justin Timberlake, and Carey Mulligan, one of the most popular and talented young actresses in the business today (not to mention she’s Marcus Mumford’s wife).  The film debuted at Cannes earlier this year, winning the second-most prestigious award available, the Grand Prix, and it was met with rave reviews—based on 23 critics reviews, the film has already garnered a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  With this film, expect the same amazing product the Coen Brothers have been handing out for many years, including just the precise balance of emotion and their classic satirical humor.  Inside Llewyn Davis is set for a theatrical release on December 6, 2013.

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, True Grit)

Starring: Oscar Isaac (Drive, The Bourne Legacy), Carey Mulligan (Drive, The Great Gatsby), John Goodman (Argo, Flight), Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy, Country Strong), Justin Timberlake (Trouble with the Curve, Runner, Runner)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl8DidbbTQM