Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 10 – Nocturnal Animals

nocturnal-2Nocturnal Animals is a psychological thriller written and directed by Tom Ford, with a screenplay adapted from Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan. The film follows Susan (Amy Adams), a rich art gallery owner in Los Angeles. One day, Susan receives a package from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) that contains the manuscript for his newest novel, which is dedicated to her. As Susan reads further and further into Edward’s sadistic thriller, the more unsettled she becomes.

nocturnal-1Many of you know Tom Ford from his prominent position among fashion royalty (or from the catchy line “I don’t pop molly, I rock Tom Ford” from Jay-Z’s 2013 hit “Tom Ford”), but Ford is also one hell of a filmmaker. The 55-year-old designer first broke into Hollywood with his 2009 debut effort A Single Man, a heartfelt and poignant drama about a gay university professor dealing with the loss of his partner, which earned Colin Firth an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. A Single Man was an amazing film, but Ford has truly outdone himself with his sophomore effort Nocturnal Animals. He has an almost innate ability to create the picture-perfect blend of style and story, and his venture into noir here is to cinema’s benefit.

nocturnal-5What Ford excels the most at in Nocturnal Animals is his storytelling. Tom Ford seamlessly intertwines three separate narratives: the past, the present, and the fiction. We spend time following present-day Susan, as well as exploring her failed marriage to Edward many years ago—all the while, we see a visual representation of Edward’s novel acted out while present-day Susan reads the book. It is a unique storytelling device that thrives thanks to the profoundly creative mind of its creator. Ford fiercely examines love, heartbreak, revenge, and the notion that we can never turn back time to right our wrongs—the story is disturbing and beautiful, all at the same time. Nocturnal Animals is not a perfect film; but I assure you, it is a striking piece of cinema that absolutely sticks with you!

nocturnal-4In Nocturnal Animals, Ford has brought together a stellar cast of actors, each with his or her own talents and contributions that make this film so great. For starters, Amy Adams thrives as Susan—she has always been one of my favorite actresses, and, per usual, she shines in every one of her scenes. Further, I am surprised Jake Gyllenhaal has not gotten more attention for his magnificent portrayal of two characters: Edward in the “past” scenes and Tony in the visual depictions of Edward’s novel. Edward and Tony are two vastly different characters, and Gyllenhaal nails the dichotomy in his performance of both roles.

nocturnal-3The two actors garnering the most attention, though, are Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Although Taylor-Johnson won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor (upsetting Mahershala Ali in the process), he did not even receive a nomination at the Oscars; conversely, Shannon snagged an Oscar nomination in the Supporting Actor category. Both actors are exceptional talents in Nocturnal Animals, and I greatly enjoyed their performances. Shannon plays an inexplicable Texas lawman in Edward’s novel, and he knocks his performance out of the park. On the other hand, Taylor-Johnson stole the show for me as the terrifying Ray, the ringleader of a band of thugs in Edward’s novel that torment Tony and his family on the side of the highway in the single greatest scene in the film. Although his character is not one the Academy usually celebrates, I truly believe he deserved that nomination over Shannon. Nocturnal Animals is rated R for violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language.

Nocturnal Animals trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-H1Ii1LjyFU

Academy Award nominations for Nocturnal Animals:

Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Michael Shannon)

Fall Preview 2016: No. 10 – No. 6

Happy Sunday! Today I am revealing films No. 10 through No. 6 on the list of my Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season.  This batch includes a wide range of films, including a likely heavy hitter at the box office, 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 among the films that look most poised for success.

No. 10 – The Founder

The Founder details the true story of McDonald’s and its rise to fast-food domination. The film follows Illinois salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) as he meets brothers Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman), who operate a hamburger restaurant in California. Controversially, Kroc tactically maneuvers himself into a position to take control of the McDonald’s brand, which grows into one of the world’s best-known brands after Kroc buys the chain for $2.7 million in 1961.

the-founder-2The source of my interest in The Founder is one man: Michael Keaton. Beginning with Birdman in 2014 (for which Keaton won the Oscar for Best Actor) and Spotlight in 2015 (which won the Oscar for Best Picture), Michael Keaton has undergone a true film renaissance. The resurgence of Keaton as an acting powerhouse is undeniable, and from the looks of the trailer for this film, I can only believe that he is set to kill it once more. The role seems to include elements of comedy, drama, malice, and deceit—a veteran like Keaton is sure to embrace this challenge and deliver a balanced performance.

One of the film’s keys is also one of the film’s (potential) downsides: director John Lee Hancock. Hancock’s directorial history consists of The Rookie, The Alamo, The Blind Side, and Saving Mr. Banks. The positive here is that Hancock clearly knows how to take a true-life story and mold it into a solid movie. The drawback, though, is that each of these films—while well-crafted—got a bit cheesy and cliché at times. As is evident from the trailer, The Founder takes on a seriously controversial subject matter, and I am hoping that this factor takes the film into the category of “drama,” rather than “melodrama”—I want the Big Mac, not the Big Sap. The Founder is set for a theatrical release on December 16, 2016.

Director: John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side)

Starring: Michael Keaton (Spotlight, Birdman), Laura Dern (99 Homes, Wild), and Nick Offerman (Danny Collins, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AX2uz2XYkbo

No. 9 – Loving

Loving follows the courtship and marriage of Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man. The two are arrested and sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 because their interracial marriage violates the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. The couple eventually sues the state of Virginia in a series of proceedings leading to the United States Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Loving v. Virginia, which holds that laws prohibiting interracial marriage are unconstitutional.

loving-2Before I even knew much about this film, I was interested. As most of you probably know, in May I graduated from Oklahoma City University School of Law. During my time in law school, I examined the case of Loving v. Virginia in my constitutional law course. It is a case that stands as a pillar of change during a truly despicable time in American history, and I am more than happy to see the Loving’s story played out on the silver screen. Like I have felt with most films coming out this fall, however, the story appears quite susceptible to an overload of sap. But Richard Lawson, a critic for Vanity Fair, claimed the film’s lack of schmaltziness (for lack of a better word) take away the film’s “heft.” For me, I would always err on the side of avoiding anything that makes a story mawkish, so Lawson’s criticism does not bother me whatsoever.

I first heard about Loving this past spring when it competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Although it did not win the coveted award, the film still ultimately won—it received a standing ovation following its screening and many critics considered the film a surefire Oscar contender. Most of this success can be attributed to Loving’s director (Jeff Nichols) and stars (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga). Nichols is a filmmaker that continues to, movie by movie, build up a critically acclaimed filmography. The beautifully crafted Mud served as my introduction to Nichols as a writer/director, and I look for him to bring that same poise and dexterity to Loving. As far as acting, I haven’t seen much of Ruth Negga, but I can definitely vouch for Joel Edgerton’s abilities—he has proven to be an underrated master of his craft, and all signs point to the same level of sharp performance that I have grown accustomed to seeing from Edgerton. Loving is set for a theatrical release on November 4, 2016.

Director: Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud)

Starring: Joel Edgerton (Midnight Special, Black Mass), Ruth Negga (Warcraft, Fury), Nick Kroll (Sausage Party, Knight of Cups), and Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon, Midnight Special)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33g-ZHBQdNU

No. 8 – Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals follows Susan (Amy Adams), a successful LA art-gallery owner, whose idyllic life is marred by the constant traveling of her handsome second husband. While he is away, Susan is shaken by the arrival of a manuscript written by her first husband, who she has not seen in years. The manuscript tells the story of a teacher who finds a trip with his family turning into a nightmare. As Susan reads the book, it forces her to examine her past and confront some dark truths.

nocturnal-2Tom Ford. Tom Ford. No, I am not quoting lyrics from Jay-Z’s 2013 song “Tom Ford”; I am talking about the director of Nocturnal Animals. While Tom Ford is universally known as one of the world’s greatest fashion designers, he is also an acclaimed filmmaker. In 2009, Ford wrote, directed, and produced A Single Man, an award-winning film starring Colin Firth. I was a huge fan of Ford’s debut effort, and when I found out he was returning this year with Nocturnal Animals, I was on board. Aside from Tom Ford at the wheel, my interest in this film further derives from its acting stars: Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. Adams definitely ranks in the top five of my favorite actresses currently working, and I cannot wait to see her take on this thrilling role. With Gyllenhaal, we all know what we are going to get—a charismatic yet enigmatic performance; it is a recipe for success and Gyllenhaal rarely lets the audience down. Nocturnal Animals is set for a theatrical release on November 18, 2016.

Director: Tom Ford (A Single Man)

Starring: Amy Adams (Arrival, Big Eyes), Jake Gyllenhaal (Demolition, Everest), Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon, Midnight Special), and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kick-Ass)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juFmTNbFh8g

No. 7 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first of three stand-alone spin-off films set in the Star Wars universe and takes place (temporally) sometime between the conclusion of Episode III and the beginning of Episode IV in the Star Wars franchise. The film is set 18 years after the formation of the Galactic Empire and follows the Rebel Alliance as it recruits Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to work with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a team to steal the Death Star plans.

To be completely honest, I did not watch a single Star Wars movie until last fall when I binge-watched the entire series in anticipation of the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Although the franchise had always been a cinematic blind spot for me, I got caught up in a short span of time and was not disappointed. With the exception of Episodes I and II, I found all of Star Wars films to be highly entertaining and well-crafted pieces of cinema. Because of this, I have an enormous interest in the newest addition to the Star Wars universe.

rogue-one-2As was probably the case for most Star Wars fans, the trailer for Rogue One had me hooked. Aside from a journey back to a galaxy far, far away, Rogue One also grabbed my attention with its out-of-this-world (see what I did there) cast. Leading the way is Felicity Jones, a fetching actress who more than impressed me with her Oscar-nominated performance in 2014’s The Theory of Everything. Joining Jones are actors Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, and Forest Whitaker, a group with varying degrees of experience but unwavering levels of precision. Led by Gareth Edwards (the director of Monsters and Godzilla), this cast has everything going for it to make the newest Star Wars film a success. Let’s hope Rogue One delivers. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set for a theatrical release on December 16, 2016.

Director: Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters)

Starring: Felicity Jones (A Monster Calls, The Theory of Everything), Diego Luna (Blood Father, Elysium), and Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind, Slow West)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juFmTNbFh8g

No. 6 – Moonlight

Moonlight tells the story of a young black man balancing his dysfunctional home life and coming of age in the “War on Drugs” era. 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.

Moonlight is one of those films that looks to have everything necessary to strive as a sleeper hit this fall. After debuting at this year’s Telluride Film Festival, Moonlight was met with universal acclaim—David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter stated the film was “fluid and seductive, deceptively mellow, and shot with shearing compassion,” while Time Out New York’s Joshua Rothkopf hailed the film as “without a doubt, the reason we go to the movies: to understand, to come closer, to ache, hopefully with another.” For me, these early reviews triggered an immense interest in the film, and I cannot wait to see where Moonlight goes from here.moonlight-2

The film does have some question marks though: director Barry Jenkins and lead actor Trevante Rhodes (who plays Chiron) epitomize the term “unknown.” Although I have never heard of Jenkins, the critics at Telluride collectively praised his abilities. Justin Chang from the LA Times suppressed any apprehension I had about Jenkins, stating that he “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.” Moonlight is set for a theatrical release on October 21, 2016.

Director: Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy, My Josephine)

Starring: Trevante Rhodes (The Night Is Young, Weightless), André Holland (The Knick, Selma), Naomie Harris (Our Kind of Traitor, Spectre), and Mahershala Ali (Free State of Jones, House of Cards)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NJj12tJzqc