Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 10 – Black Panther

Black Panther is a superhero film produced by Marvel Studios based on the Marvel Comic character of the same name. Directed by Ryan Coogler and written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as he becomes the new king of Wakanda, an isolated but technologically advanced African nation that is powered by a mysterious metal called vibranium. Soon after becoming Wakanda’s king and Black Panther, T’Challa is faced with an enemy (Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan) who challenges his reign, and he must rally both friend and foe among the nation’s tribes in an effort to secure the safety and longevity of Wakanda.

BP2I must confess at the outset that I am not a big fan of the live-action Marvel movies – I have only seen roughly half of the franchise’s films. But of the ones I have seen, Black Panther reigns supreme in the Marvel universe (sorry Guardians of the Galaxy). In fact, after my initial viewing, it quickly became one of my top five favorite superhero movies of all time. My lack of passion for most superhero movies (especially in the Marvel universe) is due in significant part to what I view as cookie-cutter plots and characters – yes, most of these films are very well acted and produced, but they generally involve low stakes and follow the same tropes that are trotted out in every predecessor. With Black Panther, the story is much more intimate, and unlike its Marvel counterparts, it has a truly distinct style and personality, both in terms of the plot and the characters.

BP5What sticks out the most for me in terms of Black Panther setting itself apart from most other Marvel films is its writer/director – Ryan Coogler was the perfect choice to be the film’s creative visionary. The 32-year-old filmmaker has built his budding career on the foundation of captivating stories about African-Americans – in his debut Fruitvale Station, Coogler created a thought-provoking sense of anger and heartbreak, and in Creed, he reinvigorated the Rocky franchise with storytelling that was simultaneously nostalgic and fresh. In Black Panther, Coogler takes his creative abilities to new heights, constructing a movie that fits the mold for a superhero movie (e.g., action, suspense, and triumph), while also bringing a certain intimacy and sensitivity to its plotline that induces a beautiful connection between the audience and the characters. Black Panther is a movie about identity, and this is, at its core, a product of Coogler’s imaginative excellence.

BP4As discussed above, Black Panther features some fantastic characters, which were brought to life by wonderful performances. In supporting roles, the film had many outstanding performances, including those from Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Winston Duke. However, the standout supporting performance was delivered by Letitia Wright, who was magnificent as Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister – Shuri is both spunky and fierce, and Wright’s superb performance helped land her the EE Rising Star Award at this year’s BAFTAs. Further, I enjoyed Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, but he didn’t blow me away. This is likely due to the fact that Michael B. Jordan simply stole the show – in fact, for his performance as the villain Killmonger, I believe Jordan should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Aided by a deep backstory that slowly becomes more evident and emotional as the film progresses, Killmonger became one of the greatest Marvel film characters of all time – this is due unequivocally to Jordan’s marvelous performance. Black Panther is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.

Black Panther trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjDjIWPwcPU

Academy Award nominations for Black Panther:

Best Picture (Kevin Feige, producer)

Best Original Score (Ludwig Göransson)

Best Original Song – “All the Stars” (Music by Mark Spears, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, and Anthony Tiffith; Lyrics by Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, Anthony Tiffith, and Solána Rowe)

Best Sound Editing (Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker)

Best Sound Mixing (Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor, and Peter J. Devlin)

Best Production Design (Production Design: Hannah Beachler; Set Decoration: Jay Hart)

Best Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter)

Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 10 – Creed

Creed is a sports drama directed by Ryan Coogler, with a screenplay by Coogler and Aaron Covington. The film follows Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), an illegitimate son of former boxing great Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Despite living a privileged life and holding down a great job, Donnie has a hankering to get into the ring—boxing courses through his veins. Donnie leaves his home in Los Angeles and heads to Philadelphia, the home of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone)—his father’s former foe-turned-friend. Donnie tries to convince Rocky to train him, and despite Balboa’s many rejections to those requests, he finally agrees. Along the way to an eventual title shot, Donnie and Rocky both endure plenty of bumps in the road, but their collective desire to press on places this duo on a resilient path.

Creed2I am a committed fan of the Rocky franchise, and in Creed, my love for the series lives on. Stallone’s original Rocky (1976) was a flawless film with a beautiful story. And although the series came to a fitting end for Rocky as a competitive boxer in 2006’s Rocky Balboa, the character itself endures—albeit in a new, supporting role—thanks to Ryan Coogler and Creed. This film is only Coogler’s second feature of his career. The 29-year-old USC alum debuted on the scene in 2013 with Fruitvale Station, a gripping tale of the real-life events surrounding Oscar Grant’s murder by a BART officer in Oakland, CA. That film, like Creed, features Michael B. Jordan as the lead character. These two guys are completely in sync as a team, and I sure hope they continue to work together in the future. Creed3Coogler’s direction in Creed is nothing short of masterful. He crafts a brand new, stand-alone story, but he does so in a way that pays picturesque homage to Stallone and his beloved Rocky series. In Creed, we see so many parallels between itself and Rocky, including a strikingly similar story arc—Coogler even delivers a romantic subplot that is charmingly reminiscent of Rocky and Adrian’s original affectionate connection. Additionally, one of my favorite scenes of the entire film features Donnie watching clips of his father’s infamous fight with Rocky Balboa on a big screen in his personal home theater—Donnie eventually stands up and shadow boxes with the two legends, and as the sights and sounds of the fight build with the music, I got a zillion chills. Coogler could not have drawn that scene up any better. Although this film is especially incredible to me (given that it builds upon some of my favorite sports films of all time), Coogler gives modern fans a new story that dexterously succeeds in its own individual right. I applaud Ryan Coogler for reinvigorating one of sports’ greatest tales.

Creed4As far as acting, the obvious starting point is Sylvester Stallone. In the modern age of cinema, Stallone is a household name because of his many action-packed, macho-man movies, such as The Expendables, Escape Plan, and Grudge Match. Most simply do not respect Stallone anymore as a credible performer, at least in a critically acclaimed manner—that all changes with Creed. The original Rocky (1976) garnered Stallone Oscar nominations for both Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor (the film was additionally nominated for eight more Oscars, winning three for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing) and rightfully so.Creed1 Stallone showcased his immense acting abilities in the original film, and I was as pleased as anyone to see him steal the show in Creed—he reminded us just how good of an actor he really can be (this is a huge credit to Ryan Coogler for getting the best out of Stallone). His character’s attitudes, facial expressions, and mannerisms are vintage Rocky Balboa; yet, the character is more lonely and broken down than we’ve ever seen him. It is in his delineation of these downhearted emotions that Stallone succeeds. Hard to believe that 40 years after the original Rocky was released, Stallone will (most likely) be snagging an Oscar for his portrayal of Rocky Balboa.

CRD205_000084.tifWith Rocky Balboa taking a more backseat role in Creed, Michael B. Jordan emerges as the story’s new lead, portraying Apollo Creed’s son Adonis. Jordan is a fantastic up-and-coming talent in Hollywood, and in Creed, he gives an incredibly gifted performance. Some have argued that Jordan was snubbed by the Academy. I do not believe this is true; even though Jordan delivered a brilliant portrayal in the film, the Academy’s five choices for Best Actor were simply too good this year. This fact does not lessen the importance of Michael B. Jordan’s performance, however. Adonis is a young, confused kid. He does not quite know who he is as a man, and this is visibly evidenced by his outward frustration and anger. Jordan nails these nuanced emotions to a tee, and in Adonis Creed, he has given film fans a new boxing hero. Creed11In addition to Jordan, Tessa Thompson gives a radiant performance as Donnie’s love interest Bianca, a hearing-impaired musician. As mentioned earlier, the romantic subplot of Donnie and Bianca mimics that of Rocky and Adrian from the original film, and Thompson’s beautiful acting is the fulcrum that holds this on-screen couple together—much like her performance in 2014’s Dear White People, Tessa Thompson delivers tenfold. Creed is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and some sensuality.

Creed trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uv554B7YHk4

Academy Award nominations for Creed:

Best Supporting Actor (Sylvester Stallone)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2015:

  1. ’71
  2. Room
  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  4. Beasts of No Nation
  5. The Martian

Fall Preview 2015: Honorable Mentions

HM Header 2015

“Pain is temporary, film is forever.” – John Milius, co-writer of Apocalypse Now. Welcome back, everyone. This year has already been an incredible journey playing out on the silver screen, and I am ecstatic to be back to blogging about the greatest medium in the world: FILM! As of today, we are 184 days away from the 88th Academy Awards. Per usual, the bulk of my research and preparation for the release of a decent chunk of potential Oscar-worthy movies begins now!

With that, it is time to get the Fall Movie Season started. For the third consecutive year, I have compiled a list of my most anticipated movies of the season. Below is the schedule for my three Fall Preview posts, so make sure to be on the lookout this week:

Today: Honorable Mentions

Saturday: No. 10 – No. 6

Monday: 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!

Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies, set during the Cold War, tells the true story of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), an American attorney tasked with negotiating the release of Francis Gary Powers (Alan Alda), an imprisoned U-2 pilot, in exchange for Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy. With Steven Spielberg directing and Tom Hanks playing the lead, my interest is obviously piqued. Bridge of Spies is the 29th feature film for Spiely as a director, and it is also he and Hanks’s fourth collaboration (Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal). Bridge of Spies 2Although I truly have not enjoyed a Spielberg-directed film since 2002’s Catch Me If You Can, I am holding out hope that the visionary behind the likes of Jaws, E.T., and Jurassic Park, can get back to making award-worthy films. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, supporting actress Amy Ryan gives me that hope: “Watching [Spielberg] create a shot, he looks like the young boy who discovered film for the first time.”

The trailer is incredibly tense, and it showcases Tom Hanks in what appears to be another memorable performance by the 2-time Oscar winner. Despite the fact that the film features supporting performances by seasoned veterans Rylance, Alda, and Ryan, film fans will likely flock to the theaters in droves simply because of Hanks. Bridge of Spies is set for a theatrical release on October 16, 2015.

Director: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln, War Horse)

Starring: Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips), Mark Rylance (The Gunman, Days and Nights), Amy Ryan (Birdman, Devil’s Knot), and Alan Alda (The Longest Ride, Tower Heist)

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

Carol

Carol, set in 1950s New York City, follows Therese (Rooney Mara), a twentysomething shop-girl who falls in love with the titular character Carol (Cate Blanchett), a much older, married woman. Carol debuted at Cannes this year, receiving critical acclaim from all in attendance. Ever since I first heard the buzz about the film, I was instantly drawn in. Cate Blanchett is squarely within my top five favorite actresses in the business, and Rooney Mara has continued to grow on me with her innate acting adroitness.

Carol 2What struck me most about this film was director Todd Haynes’s artistic and genuinely humanistic approach to taking on this taboo subject matter. He told Entertainment Weekly, “[o]f course, it’s a story about a lesbian relationship. But it’s really about how love itself makes you feel at a loss for language, and every gesture is weighted with anticipation and meaning.” Further, Blanchett told the publication that “[i]rrespective of sexual preference, [the film] is honest about the feeling of falling in love.” That is something everyone can get on board with, and I look forward to seeing this love story evolve on the screen.

Back to Blanchett and Mara: wow, what a duo! Blanchett is a two-time Oscar winner, and Mara took home a co-Best Actress award at Cannes for her portrayal in this film. These two hard-hitting, deftly impressive actresses seem sure to give women a powerful presence this fall film season, and I am definitely up to see it all in action. Carol is set for a theatrical release on November 20, 2015.

Director: Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Far from Heaven)

Starring: Cate Blanchett (Cinderella, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies), Rooney Mara (Her, Side Effects), Sarah Paulson (The Runner, 12 Years a Slave), and Kyle Chandler (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Spectacular Now)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt-WC9xa7qs

Creed

Creed is a spin-off/continuation of the famed Rocky franchise, and it follows Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late, great Apollo Creed (portrayed by Carl Weathers in the Rocky series). Rocky himself (Sylvester Stallone) appears in the film, and as the trailer depicts, he will come into the picture just in time to train Adonis. In, in, in—I am in! Of course I love the Rocky franchise (not including Rocky V—BLAH), but I was wary of another addition to the storied series following the not-so-revolutionary Rocky Balboa. However, when I found out Ryan Coogler was directing, I was immediately sold. Coogler, making only his second feature film as a director, debuted on the scene in 2013 with one of the best films of that year, Fruitvale Station. It was a harrowing depiction of a horrible shooting, and it was crafted carefully and executed without blemish—his directorship alone gets me pumped to be back in the “Rocky” ring again.

Creed 1Additionally, the casting of Michael B. Jordan in the lead role is the icing on top of the sundae. Jordan continues to grow as an actor, but it was his heartfelt, dramatic depiction of the lead character in Coogler’s Fruitvale Station that made me sit back and think, “Wow…this guy is good!” Even though they only have the single film collaboration, Coogler’s casting of Jordan in his sophomore effort leads me to believe that these guys get along great and make a fantastic team behind the scenes. For all fans of the Rocky series, this dynamic relationship between Coogler and Jordan is sure to make life enjoyable for us in this much-anticipated film. Creed is set for a theatrical release on November 25, 2015.

Director: Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station)

Starring: Michael B. Jordan (Fantastic Four, That Awkward Moment), Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 3, Grudge Match), Tessa Thompson (Selma, Dear White People), and Phylicia Rashād (Good Deeds, For Colored Girls)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uv554B7YHk4

The Good Dinosaur

The story behind The Good Dinosaur is incredibly simple and yet so intriguing: what would have happened if the asteroid that (reportedly) killed the dinosaurs missed Earth? That question will be answered this fall in a story that follows Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), an apatsosaurus, and his relationship with a feral child, Spot (Jack Bright). An animated movie? On my list of films I am most anticipating this fall? Seriously? Absolutely!

The Good Dinosaur 2Although I generally have enjoyed all of the Pixar movies that I have seen, I have never been too enthusiastic about animated films that have been made subsequent to my childhood. However, that all changed this year when I saw Pixar’s 15th feature, Inside Out. It is one of my favorite movies of 2015, and it brought out the kid in me again. With that said, ever since I saw the trailer for The Good Dinosaur, I was smitten with its story. It is a story about an innocent youth (stricken with tragedy—his father dies early on) and his relationship with a newfound companion. Usually the human is the one taking on a companion (usually in the form of another kid or a dog), but this simple twist in the classic storyline seems to be a good-natured treat for movies fans of all ages. I look for Pixar to knock it out of the (Jurassic) park again! The Good Dinosaur is set for a wide theatrical release on November 25, 2015.

Director: Peter Sohn (Partly Cloudy)

Starring: Raymond Ochoa (Lovesick, Mars Needs Moms), Jack Bright (Monsters University), Frances McDormand (Promised Land, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted), Jeffrey Wright (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1&2, Only Lovers Left Alive), Sam Elliott (I’ll See You in My Dreams, Draft Day), Anna Paquin (True Blood, X-Men: Days of Future Past), and Steve Zahn (Dallas Buyers Club, Escape from Planet Earth)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-RgquKVTPE

The Walk

The Walk chronicles the true-life story of Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a French high-wire artist, who strung a tightrope across the Twin Towers in New York City in 1974 and spectacularly (and dangerously) performed a high-wire routine for 45 minutes, whilst a quarter-mile above the ground. If you know this story, then you know how incredibly amazing it truly is. If you are unfamiliar with it, then boy, are you in for a treat!

The Walk 2My main interest in this film has nearly nothing to do with either Jo-Go playing Petit or legendary director Robert Zemeckis at the helm; instead, I am dying to see this movie because of the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire, directed by The Theory of Everything-director James Marsh. That documentary is by far one of my favorites of all time, and before ever seeing The Walk, I suggest you go check out Man on Wire first—you will not regret it (and it is currently streaming on Netflix). It allows you to get inside the head of this polarizing high-wire artist, and it delves deep into his life-long desires to pull off the NYC stunt. On the strength of Petit’s story, as delineated in Man on Wire, I anticipate The Walk being a memorable experience in theaters.

Notwithstanding my Man on Wire fandom, I am still excited to see JGL take on the role of such a captivating figure, and I know that Zemeckis will bring the same dramatic vigor and breathtaking trepidation to the actual high-wire scene that he did in Flight’s opening plane-crash scene in 2012. The Walk is set for a theatrical release on September 30, 2015.

Director: Robert Zemeckis (Flight, The Christmas Carol)

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Don Jon), Ben Kingsley (Self/less, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), and Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Journey, Yves Saint Laurent)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GR1EmTKAWIw

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 13 – Fruitvale Station

Original byline: RON KOEBERER/

Fruitvale Station is a film written and directed by Ryan Coogler.  The film is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a young man who was killed in the early hours of New Year’s Day in 2009 by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer.  The movie follows Grant (Michael B. Jordan) on his last day alive as he spends time with his family before the New Year’s celebration.  The film is a scant 85 minutes in length.

Fruitvale 2Fruitvale Station is the feature-length debut by Coogler (pictured at the far left with Michael B. Jordan), a 27-year-old filmmaker who has previously made three award-winning short films.  Coogler takes a story that everyone going in already knows the ending to, and yet, he does so in a way that made me emphasize with each character, praying for the inevitable ending not to happen.  The movie has such a limited storytelling, considering it takes place all in one day (with the exception of a short flashback scene), and Coogler uses this to fully immerse the viewers into the world of Oscar Grant.  It is simple, but stylistic; heartbreaking, but beautiful.  This may be the first film from Coogler, but his inspiring debut effort has garnered critical acclaim from everyone in Hollywood—he has signed on to direct Creed, a spin-off from the Rocky series that is sure to be a blockbuster affair.

Fruitvale 1Apart from Coogler’s striking filmmaking, the movie succeeds with tremendous acting, especially from Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer.  Little by little, I have followed Jordan’s young acting career, from his early roles in the Keanu Reeves film Hardball and HBO’s The Wire to his recent appearance in Chronicle (2012).  Even from his early days in the business, I could tell Jordan had a wealth of potential, and I am glad to see that coming to fruition.  In Fruitvale Station, Jordan acts with incredible dexterity as he portrays a troubled young father trying to escape his past to provide a better life for his family.  At times, the character is brash and angry, but at other times he is sensitive and caring—Jordan’s delineation of the complicated Grant made me feel for his character no matter which way he was leaning on the emotional spectrum.  I was hoping that Jordan would receive either a Golden Globe or Oscar nomination for his performance, but this film proves that he will most likely get there, deservedly, in the near future.

One performance not to be overlooked in this film is that of Octavia Spencer in the role of Grant’s mother.  Spencer is a particularly established actress, having won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Help (2011), and even though you do not spend a large amount of time with her character, her performance is what acts as the glue to hold this tragic story together.  She plays the character with honesty and command, and her performance was definitely one of the film’s many gems.  Fruitvale Station is rated R for violence, language throughout and some drug use.

Fruitvale Station trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crMTGCCui5c

Academy Award nominations for Fruitvale Station:

NONE

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club