The Top 10 Movies of 2019

1 01 2020

176 movies later, and it’s pencils down on the year in film.

Like always, I wait until the very last minute to file a top 10 list. I either want to spend time rewatching films to make sure I think they can withstand scrutiny in the future or cramming in a final few. But with the notable exception of a late-surging final entrant and some jostling for position among the top five titles, my favorite films of the year have been remarkably stable.

I’ll have slightly more profound ruminating around my best of the decade list that will drop shortly than I do here. Normally I opine on some grander theme or mood, perhaps a through-line I find or something else that makes this more than just a random scattering of movies with numbers attached. Turns out, even after celebrating 10 years at doing this in 2019, I may only have enough juice in me for a single year-end thematic list.

Anyways, that’s enough with my chitter-chatter … because, after all, you really just came to know the movies and rankings! Though I alluded to how easy this year’s list was to assemble, I do want to give a shout-out to a few other films that meant a lot in 2019:

  • “Clemency,” an extraordinary look at America’s prison system and the moral choices it forces from all who interact with it – as seen through the eyes of a black woman
  • “Knives Out,” the kind of joyous original entertainment for smart moviegoers that I spend all year carping for more of, delivered with a killer topical twinge
  • “The Irishman,” a film with such multitudes about life, art and death that a single watch feels like only skimming the surface
  • “Transit,” a groundbreaking merger of period piece and current political drama that makes bold aesthetic choices seem simple
  • “High Life,” which taught me more about how to watch a movie than anything I’ve seen outside of a film studies classroom

Now, on with the show…

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Top 10 of 2018 (My 10th Top 10)

31 12 2018

My goodness, have I really been doing these for 10 years now? I know I play the gobsmacked card at just about every one of these milestones, but when you take a step back and think about how time moves both quickly and imperceptibly, it has the power to bowl you over.

It’s so interesting to look back at my various top 10 lists and see how my top choices reflect how I’ve changed since writing this blog. There was my anxiety about being a loner in high school (“Up in the Air,” “Black Swan“), the awakening of a political consciousness as I watched cinema respond to the Great Recession in real time (“Win Win,” “The Queen of Versailles“), a freakout about identity after a semester abroad revealed a new side of myself (“American Hustle“) and the desire for deep connection and feeling in a dark world (“Manchester by the Sea,” “Call Me by Your Name“). Oh, and there was also a period where I fully believe I chose inarguable masterpieces (“The Immigrant” in 2014, “Inside Out” in 2015).

Who knows how I’ll feel looking back at this crop of choices down the line? I can’t worry about it now or think like that, though. As I can now see, learning more about these movies has also led to me learning more about myself. One unifying theme I picked out of the 2018 list is that six are roughly 90 minutes or less, and none are over two hours long. I watched 173 new releases in 2018 and spent over 875 hours watching movies during the year (thanks, Letterboxd, for that frightening statistic). Making that time count and not wasting it apparently counts for a lot with me these days!

A final note for longtime readers of Marshall and the Movies – namely, friends and family – I’m sure you’ve noticed that I am posting less and less on the blog these days. My work has primarily shifted to doing freelance writing on other websites so I can make a little bit of money off my words. I don’t regret this pivot, but I do wish that I’d done a better job about communicating that change to people who mostly come here (and to the Facebook page) looking for those takes. So, in 2019, I resolve to be better about sharing my work to my first real audience.

Thank you all, as always, for your time and support. No matter how your 2018 went, I hope your 2019 is filled with joy and splendor, be it cinematic or real.

So, without further ado, my 10 favorite films of 2018…

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LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Films of 2018

1 01 2018

2017 is over! 2018 is here!

After a year when my top 10 list only featured one of my stalwart favorite filmmakers, I am very excited to see a number of great directors preparing exciting new works. I had to narrow it down to 10 just for my own sake, but here are some honorable mentions just to show you how stacked 2018 is going to be.

  • Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle In Time”
  • Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs”
  • Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favorite”
  • Laszlo Nemes’ “Sunset”
  • Asghar Farhadi’s “Everybody Knows”
  • David Lowery’s “The Old Man and the Gun”
  • Damien Chazelle’s “First Man”
  • Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born”
  • Jacques Audiard’s “The Sisters Brothers”
  • Robert Zemeckis’ “The Women of Marwen”
  • Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s “Luxembourg”
  • Melanie Laurent’s “Galveston”

But without further ado, here are 10 movies that I will be anticipating the most in the coming year…

#10

“Ocean’s 8”
Directed by Gary Ross
Written by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch
Starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway

…and Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling and Helena Bonham Carter. I, for one, welcome this matriarchy to take over the summer screens.

#9

“Under the Silver Lake”
Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell
Starring Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough and Topher Grace

Mitchell’s last film “It Follows” has lingered in my mind so much to the point that his follow-up is basically guaranteed a spot here. Working with Garfield and Keough, who are making some fascinating career moves, has me especially intrigued.

#8

“Boy Erased”
Written for the screen and directed by Joel Edgerton
Starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Joel Edgerton

Lucas Hedges is on a roll between “Manchester by the Sea,” “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” – one heck of a hat trick. The best might be yet to come with his role as a boy forced into conversion therapy for his sexuality.

#7

“High Life”
Directed by Claire Denis
Written by Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Nick Laird and Zadie Smith
Starring Robert Pattinson, Mia Goth and Juliette Binoche

The Robert Pattinson arthouse director trophy case continues to grow as he notches a film with French icon Claire Denis. It’s a sci-fi script that Zadie Smith has a hand in? Um, yes please.

#6

“If Beale Street Could Talk”
Written for the screen and directed by Barry Jenkins
Starring Dave Franco, Pedro Pascal and Ed Skrein

Barry Jenkins tackling James Baldwin should get everyone excited. Full stop. I cannot wait to see him bring Baldwin’s searing treatment of race in America to the big screen.

#5

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter
Starring Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig and Judy Greer

I am so curious to see how the unique, quirky narration style of Maria Semple’s novel gets translated into cinematic language. The book is in good hands with Linklater and Blanchett.

#4

“Tully”
Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Diablo Cody
Starring Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis and Ron Livingston

The “Young Adult” redemption tour is coming. Get ready.

#3

“Backseat”
Written and directed by Adam McKay
Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell

After “The Big Short” tore pre-recession Wall Street to shreds, I’m eager to see what Adam McKay has in store for Dick Cheney. It will certainly have fangs.

#2

“Widows”
Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn
Starring Viola Davis, Liam Neeson and Colin Farrell

A melding of the minds behind “12 Years a Slave” and “Gone Girl” is the combination I didn’t know I needed. And now I just can’t wait for it to arrive.

#1

“The Beach Bum”
Written and directed by Harmony Korine
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and Isla Fisher

SPRING BREAK FOREVER. About time Harmony Korine has a new movie for me to hook into my veins.

 





Top 10 of 2017: Connections, Failed and Imagined

31 12 2017

Per New Year’s Eve tradition, it’s time to unveil my top 10 list for the year. 2017 was … an interesting year, to say the least. I’m writing this paragraph at the tail end of a screener binge trying to catch as many movies as possible before sitting down to bang out this piece. Funny how you can see 148 films and somehow feel like you’ve failed to get a sense of the year. That’s a far cry from the glut I consumed in 2015, a whopping 200 films in the calendar year.

Yet I feel good about that, somehow. This was a banner year for me keeping my New Year’s resolutions, one of which was to rewatch more movies to gain a greater appreciation of what I’ve already seen. Another was to immerse myself more in classic cinema to better understand the influences of my favorite filmmakers. (If, for some reason, you feel compelled to see my media consumption habits in detail, check out my Letterboxd page.) Still, I don’t think many of you are going to shake a finger at me for seeing as much as I did. From 148 films, there’s more than enough to make a top 10 list.

(Also, I moved to New York in November. I had a lot on my plate besides just watching movies.)

An odd thing to note about my favorites this year: the top 5 has stayed unchanged since late May. That’s in part because I went to Sundance (and made the correct film choices), but I think something larger is at play here. Expectations. Filmmakers whose latest works I was eagerly anticipating largely did not deliver on the promise of their prior films. On the list below, the only director who I would have considered myself a devotee of would be Noah Baumbach.

The upside here is that now I have many new projects to eagerly anticipate! Several of these directors were ones that had just never quite clicked for me. Heck, one of them directed a movie which garnered this site’s only F rating.

I always construct this list purely on merit and feeling, never trying to meet any kind of quota or make any particular statement. But 2017’s list naturally came together to paint a picture of the industry I’d like to see. 3 films are directed by women, 3 films are debut features, 2 films are by black directors and 2 films are by queer filmmakers. There are studio films, indies and Netflix releases. Quality work is coming from every area of the business, and we need to seek out and amplify it as well as its creators.

Before I do my rundown, I suppose I should offer a word about the connective fiber between these films and the year at large. I admit to looking at this group and not having anything jump out immediately. A contemplative walk around the block made me realize that these movies are mostly, to some degree, about people trying to connect. It might be with family members, the love of one’s life, someone’s physical surroundings, or with one’s self. It is likely in spite of some greater obstacle, be they systemic ills like racism and sexism or merely personal hurdles like insecurity and timidity.

This is simplistic to the point of mockery, and I scoff at myself for even being the kind of writer who’d hang an entire year on a concept so nebulously defined that it could come to encompass virtually anything. But in a year when it seemed tough to reconcile seemingly disparate realities and communicate deeply-held values, I’m willing to venture out a bit on this flimsy limb. (Also, some of these don’t really have much to do with “connection” at all! So what!)

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LISTFUL THINKING: The Most Anticipated Films of 2017

1 01 2017

No more ink need be spilled on the collective dumpster fire that was 2016. There were plenty of good movies to be found, but the anticipation factor felt relatively lacking as the year went on. That is likely to change in 2017 given the amount of projects coming from some of cinema’s most talented artists. We’re at the right time in the cycle of production for a serendipitously large amount of directors, and thank goodness for that.

I usually do a few honorable mentions just given the likelihood of many of these films not theatrically releasing in the current calendar year. So here are a few: “Okja,” Bong Joon-Ho’s follow-up to “Snowpiercer,” has Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal in wacky costumes, so I’m in. After “Sicario,” I am very much down for Denis Villeneuve to do anything, including “Blade Runner 2049.” Edgar Wright is such a bonkers and brilliant stylist that “Baby Driver” is sure to get me excited. Sequels to “Star Wars” (especially after Carrie Fisher’s passing), “Planet of the Apes,” “Prometheus” (known as “Alien: Covenant”) and “10 Cloverfield Lane” (still untitled) will pack me in.

But now, on with the top 10! (NOTE: I’m tired on New Year’s Day and will add in more underneath each title on the morning of the 2nd. Sorry, folks, only human.)

Michael Haneke Happy End

#10
“Happy End” (TBD)
Written and directed by Michael Haneke
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Mathieu Kassovitz and Jean-Louis Trintignant

Michael Haneke’s cinema of cruelty feels like the kind of thing we deserve in 2017 – especially in regards to the migrant crisis in Europe, the backdrop of this film.

Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern in Wilson

#9
“Wilson” (March 24)
Directed by Craig Johnson
Written by Daniel Clowes
Starring Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern and Judy Greer

Somewhat showing my bias here since the director, Craig Johnson, is someone I know – but darn if this movie doesn’t look hilarious and awesome.

Downsizing

#8
“Downsizing” (December 22)
Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor
Starring Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig and Christoph Waltz

Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of “Nebraska,” I will always be excited for a new Alexander Payne movie. The fact that his latest is a high-concept satire only has me more intrigued.

Molly's Game

#7
“Molly’s Game” (TBD)
Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin
Starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner

Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut. Incredible cast. Need I say more?

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

#6
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (TBD)
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
Starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Alicia Silverstone

More English-language fun with the director of “The Lobster” is very much what the doctor ordered. Hopefully this is a surreal movie perfectly timed for our surreal times.

untitled-darren-aronofsky-project

#5
“Mother” (TBD)
Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Domnhall Gleeson and Javier Bardem

I am glad Darren Aronofsky got “Noah” out of his system so now he can return to thrillers like “Black Swan.” Hopefully Jennifer Lawrence’s supposed romance/showmance with him does not cast a cloud over the film.

Paul Thomas Anderson Daniel Day-Lewis

#4
Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson/Daniel Day-Lewis Fashion Project (TBD)
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis

There is literally no other information about this film other than the fact that PTA is writing/directing it, DDL is starring and it somehow involves fashion. That’s all I need.

Tully Jason Reitman

#3
“Tully” (TBD)
Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Diablo Cody
Starring Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis and Mark Duplass

The dream team of Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody and Charlize Theron is reuniting. Prepare for my pieces claiming that “Young Adult” is a forgotten gem of the decade.

kathryn-bigelow-detroit

#2
Untitled Katherine Bigelow Detroit Project (TBD)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Mark Boal
Starring John Krasinski, John Boyega and Anthony Mackie

Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal have made two great movies about recent history and the American character, so I’m very curious to see what they’ll find when they venture back a half-century to Detroit’s race riots. They’ve assembled an all-star cast to help them, too.

Dunkirk

#1
“Dunkirk” (July 21)
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance

Chris Ryan at The Ringer said it best: “I Hope ‘Dunkirk’ Is Four Years Long.” Bring it on, Christopher Nolan. I am ready for your war movie. Reach into my chest, pull out my heart, and make it beat at your desired frequency.





In A World… (The Top 10 Films of 2016)

31 12 2016

“In a world…”

Any self-respecting ’90s moviegoer can never forget announcer Don LaFontaine’s literally trademarked invocation. It was an invitation to enter a world apart from our own, be it an entirely invented fantasy realm, a different country or a fresh perspective.

I bring this up in regards to a year end list of 2016 because so many things I could say to describe the events of this year feel so unfathomable that they could only follow “In a world…” Both personally and culturally, the past 12 months have upended plans, expectations and assumptions. It’s not just the result of the 2016 election in America, or the outcome of the Brexit referendum, or whatever the hell happened when Batman battled Superman – and on the positive side, it’s not just the fact that I covered Sundance, tackled SXSW, and interviewed some really talented cinematic artists. It’s everything that led up to that, all the many breaks that went the way they did to get us to this point.

I always do my best to rewatch any movie I put on my year’s best, but this year I found that I had to rewatch more 2016 films not to determine whether they were as good as I had originally thought. Rather, I had to reexamine what I thought they were about at their core. I could go on and on, but for some examples: “Christine” played like a personal psychodrama at Sundance and an elegy for the dignity of television journalism in December. “Jackie” felt like an empowering tale of a former First Lady gaining her agency at the New York Film Festival in October, yet it seemed more like a requiem mass for a fallen dynasty in late November.

Melissa McCarthy as Michelle Darnell in The Boss

Films whose attitudes I had dismissed – “Deadpool,” “The Boss,” “War Dogs” – seemed validated. Others that seemed to champion the virtues of our era – “Denial,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Neighbors 2” – felt somewhat hollow, if not completely naive.

I remain uncertain as to which of these films is weaker or stronger for accommodating such a panoply of vantage points. In a world where nothing seems certain, it was a valuable and instructive experience for me to remember that while a film as an object stays the same, our ideas and understandings about are invariably shaped by the worldview from which we approach them. The conditions of its creation are unchangeable. The context of our reception is always subject to forces beyond our control.

So … in a world where seemingly so much is at stake and so little is known, what place do movies have? And what importance does writing about them take? When I started paring down the 200 theatrical releases from 2016 that I viewed this year (fun fact: that’s exactly the same amount as 2015), I was struck by how many of them had created an irresistible world or replicated our present one with a staggering amount of accuracy and honesty. I realized that for so much of the year, the best cinema was not an escape from the world but a means for better understanding it in this crazy year.

Without further ado, here are my selections for the top 10 films of 2016. Rather than lavish them with superlatives, I simply hope to convey what I found of value in those worlds. (If you want all the praise, look to my reviews – the titles hyperlink to them.) Now, on with the show: in a world…

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LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Movies of 2016

1 01 2016

Well, guess it’s time to cast my gaze towards the horizon and start looking forward to a new year of moviegoing! I’ve slowly gotten better at making these lists, with more and more movies making it on my year-end top 10 list. 2015 was a bit of an anomaly as so many films got pushed back to 2016 – four out of the ten I picked last year will hopefully see release in the next twelve months.

In that period, some of my enthusiasm has dampened for “Everybody Wants Some” (then titled “That’s What I’m Talking About”), “Knight of Cups” and “Midnight Special.” But one title remains, and absence makes the heart grow fonder.

This year’s slate of most anticipated films feels rather odd, as there’s very little I’m crazily expecting. With relatively few of my favorite directors and series churning out work in 2016, I’m left grabbing at straws. Nonetheless, here are ten films that I’m very ready to see!

American Honey

#10
“American Honey” (TBD)
Written and directed by Andrea Arnold
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Arielle Holmes and Riley Keough

After “Fish Tank,” I’m on board to see whatever Andrea Arnold comes up with next. She’s one of the most vital voices working in film today, not only for females but also just in general. I really have no idea what the film is about, and I don’t want to know.

Brad Pitt:Marion Cotillard

#9
Untitled WWII Romantic Thriller (November 23)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Steven Knight
Starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard

This team speaks for itself. I could care less that the casting isn’t even complete.

Passengers

#8
“Passengers” (December 21)
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Written by Jon Spaihts
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt and Michael Sheen

If there was no Jennifer Lawrence movie for me to look forward to, would the year be worth undergoing?

Fantastic Beasts

#7
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (November 18)
Directed by David Yates
Written by J.K. Rowling
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller and Katherine Waterston

Ready to geek out over “Harry Potter” again, and it hasn’t even been five years since the last one. No shame.

The Girl on the Train

#6
“The Girl on the Train” (October 7)
Directed by Tate Taylor
Written by Erin Cressida Wilson
Starring Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson and Haley Bennett

Admittedly, I thought the hype on last summer’s big book was a bit overblown. But I’m still excited to see how this team translates the story into cinema; my imagination often wandered towards I might realize this thriller on the big screen. Can’t wait to compare my ideas with their visions.

Julieta

#5
“Julieta” (TBD)
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Starring Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suárez

Even when playing in minor key, a new Almodóvar film is always interesting. Returning to his favored territory, stories about women, might provide his best since 2006’s “Volver.”

It's Only the End of the World

#4
“It’s Only the End of the World”
Written and directed by Xavier Dolan
Starring Léa Seydoux, Marion Cotillard, and Vincent Cassel

I am SO ready to see Xavier Dolan, the exciting emerging talent of the decade, tackle his first movie with global stars. That one such star is Marion Cotillard only amplifies my excitement.

Hail Ceasar

#3
“Hail, Caesar!” (February 5)
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum

I’m ready for any new Coen Brothers movie, but this one sounds like something special. “It’s about the movie business and life and religion and faith. Faith and the movie business,” Ethan said. Sounds like everything I could ever want from a movie and more.

La La Land

#2
“La La Land” (July 15)
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Finn Wittrock

Chazelle’s follow-up to “Whiplash” was going to be exciting enough. He sweetened the deal by making it a musical that reunites the magnetic on-screen duo of Gosling and Stone.

Silence

#1
“Silence” (TBD)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Jay Cocks
Starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver

Last year’s #2, this year’s #1. I truly cannot wait to see the film that might be Scorsese’s ultimate statement on the religious themes that have pervaded his work for decades.





LISTFUL THINKING: Top 10 of 2015 (Individuals and Institutions)

31 12 2015

The end of the year has arrived once again in its typical fashion – surprising, jarring yet oddly welcome. On this occasion, per usual, it is time to celebrate 2015 in cinema. Thanks to a number of festivals as well as generous assistance from studio and regional publicists, I was able to see more movies than ever before. This year, the tally of 2015 releases alone soared to over 200. (I came so close to reviewing them all … but would rather provide well-considered commentary instead of rushing to meet an arbitrarily imposed deadline.)

When I sat down to pen my first top 10 list back in 2009, I doubt I had even seen 100 films, so the list represented roughly the top 10% of my year. With 2015’s edition showcasing less than 5%, I feel obliged to at least mention 10 other films that left an indelible mark on me this year but, for whatever reason, fell outside the upper echelon. These, too, are worthy of your time and attention. In alphabetical order, they are:

But the ten films that stood out above the rest this year all had one thing in common: they looked beyond their characters and plots towards larger, more difficult concepts to capture. Each in their own way spotlighted (pun fully intended) an institution or a system that guides, influences and even inhibits the actions that take place. I make no secret that my two fields of study in college were film studies and sociology, and to have such an exciting slate of movies that evinces how the former can shed light on the latter was a source of great joy (again, pun fully intended) throughout 2015.

Remarkably, each work never lost sight of the individual personalities that power our emotional engagement. The human element never detracts from the issues at hand, instead providing an entry point to ponder impersonal or intangible forces. In an era where television provides a depth of coverage that has become tough to rival, these films found power in a concentrated bursts of content where every second was carefully and wonderfully calibrated.

So, without further ado, here are my ten favorite films of 2015 along with the individuals and institutions featured within them.

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LISTFUL THINKING: 10 British Actors Who Would Have CRUSHED Harry Potter

12 05 2015

With Eddie Redmayne now in official talks for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” a spinoff of the “Harry Potter” series, I figured now was as good a time as ever to turn a long-gestating list into a published post.  (This has been a note in my iPhone for almost four years now!)

It is easy to forget that the “Harry Potter” series, among its many accomplishments, offered fine roles to a number of talented British thespians.  Pooled together, the cast has amassed 31 Oscar nominations – a number that seems mightly low when you consider the names who graced the eight films.  Kenneth Branagh.  Julie Christie.  Gary Oldman.  Ralph Fiennes.  Maggie Smith.  Emma Thompson.  (Alan Rickman is not included because he has somehow never been nominated for an Oscar.)

Recently, a number of stars have expressed remorse that they were not a part of the series.  Martin Freeman got sad about it with Jimmy Fallon…

…while Eddie Redmayne briefly lamented it before launching into a hilarious story about bombing his audition for “The Hobbit” films.

Redmayne on HP

But just because it did not happen for Redmayne does not mean I cannot imagine a few recastings that incorporates some more talented British actors.  Maybe some roles will have to make cameos in the new trilogy, after all!  And, heaven forbid, Warner Bros. might actually reboot the original books one day.

So, as the title of the list suggests, here are 10 British actors overlooked by the “Harry Potter” casting directors and the roles they could have played brilliantly.

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LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Films of 2015

2 01 2015

Well, time to usher in 2015.  It certainly looks to be another good year of movies with plenty of great actors and directors gearing up with compelling new projects.  And, if you’re a franchise lover, this year ought to be nirvana.

So, here’s a year-beginning top 10 list.  Normally, these do not even come close to lining up with my year end list.  In both 2013 and 2014, only two films from the list were in my final top 10.

It is entirely likely that one or more of these films will not be finished in time for release in 2015 – I mainly worry about “Silence,” which has yet to begin production and will likely be a massive endeavor – so I’ll offer up a few honorable mentions and some 2014 festival holdovers that have yet to be released.

2014 HOLDOVERS: I’m not quite sure what year to file “Maps to the Stars” under given that Julianne Moore was nominated for a Golden Globe this year, but I’ll certainly be glad to see it on VOD (February 27). “While We’re Young” (March 27) looks like an incredibly promising follow-up to “Frances Ha” for Noah Baumbach.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Just outside the list is Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between Oceans” (TBD), which teams the director of “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines” with perhaps the most exciting working actor, Michael Fassbender.  The McConaissance looks to continue in “Sea of Trees” (TBD), a collaboration with Gus Van Sant.

I am sure in a year with two Pixar movies, “Inside Out” (June 19) and “The Good Dinosaur” (November 25), one of them will be decent. And ok, fine, I guess I’ll get somewhat excited for “Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (December 18).

That's What I'm Talking About

#10
“That’s What I’m Talking About” (TBD)
Written and directed by Richard Linklater

Despite all the adoration being heaped upon Richard Linklater after “Boyhood,” the director churns out a “Me & Orson Welles” about as often as he churns out a “Before Midnight.”  I remain cautiously optimistic about his next film, a spiritual cousin to “Dazed and Confused,” which is set in a Texas college in the 1980s and somehow involves a baseball team.  I’m not the biggest fan of “Dazed,” but I’ll definitely be awaiting this one.

Knight of Cups

#9
“Knight of Cups” (TBD)
Written and directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman

How can any film lover not eagerly anticipate whatever Terrence Malick has cooked up next?  The trailer for “Knight of Cups” was certainly … interesting.  This could be a profound meditation on fame or a Sofia Coppola film made on quaaludes.  Either way, I’m excited to see him work with Oscar winners like Bale, Blanchett, and Portman.  (No offense, Olga Kurylenko.)

The Intern

#8
“The Intern” (September 25)
Written and directed by Nancy Meyers
Starring Anne Hathaway, Robert DeNiro, and Rene Russo

Make fun of me all you want, but I absolutely adore all of Nancy Meyers’ movies.  My family stops to watch “Father of the Bride” and “The Parent Trap” each time they are on TV, and I thought “It’s Complicated” was a laugh riot.  That was six years ago, so it’s time for her to make a new movie.  The concept of an adult intern seems a little beneath her (not to mention kind of taken by “The Internship“), but I have faith that she’ll provide a potent blend of humor and heart like always.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler acting during film of their new movie The Nest

#7
“Sisters” (December 18)
Directed by Jason Moore
Written by Paula Pell
Starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph

TINA FEY AND AMY POEHLER IN A MOVIE TOGETHER AGAIN.  This is not a drill, people!  Sure, they’ve hosted the Golden Globes and both cameoed in “Anchorman 2.”  But this is them co-starring in a movie together.  I’m just going to have to watch “Baby Mama” ten times this year to mentally prepare myself.

Revenant

#6
“The Revenant” (December 25)
Written and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson

I did not drink the “Birdman” Kool-Aid quite as much as others, but there is no denying that Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu is making bold, risky cinema.  His next film, shot this fall, brings together Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.  That pairing just needed to happen, first of all.  Iñárritu also requested additional funding so he could shoot the film in sequence, a somewhat odd insistence that has me wondering why it was necessary.  Perhaps to procure that first Oscar for DiCaprio?

Macbeth

#5
“Macbeth” (TBD)
Directed by Justin Kurzel
Written by Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and David Thewlis

I am not necessarily a big Shakespeare dork, but Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are two of the meatiest characters in all of fiction.  Watching Fassbender and Cotillard inhabit them should be nothing short of thrilling.  (They are also directed by Justin Kurzel, whose last feature, “The Snowtown Murders,” needs to be placed at the top of your Netflix queue immediately.)

Midnight Special

#4
“Midnight Special” (November 25)
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and Adam Driver

A big-budget studio sci-fi film directed by the guy who gave us 2013’s indie smash “Mud.”  Hmmm.  I think this could establish Jeff Nichols as the next Christopher Nolan or Steven Spielberg if all goes well.

FFN_IMAGE_51471858|FFN_SET_60081353

#3
“Untitled Woody Allen Project” (TBD)
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, and Parker Posey

A new Woody Allen film is always reason to rejoice.  But this year’s installment features an odd yet intriguing pairing: Joaquin Phoenix and  Emma Stone, Allen’s new female muse.  There is some kind of teacher-student relationship at the heart of the film, which does sound a little clichéd.  Still, to watch those two act opposite each other ought to be a show.

Silence

#2
“Silence” (November)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Jay Cocks
Starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver

For decades, Scorsese’s work has dealt both directly and indirectly with his Catholic heritage.  With his passion project, “Silence,” religion takes center stage with a story about Jesuit priests in Japan.  Shockingly, Scorsese had to come beg for funds at Cannes for the film; you would think by this point, he could just get a check to make whatever he wants.  It has still yet to shoot, so hopefully the final project is not so rushed that it turns out as sloppily self-indulgent as “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Joy

#1
“Joy” (December 25)
Directed by David O. Russell
Written by Annie Mumolo
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert DeNiro

At this point, David O. Russell could direct Jennifer Lawrence reading a calculus textbook, and I would still buy a ticket.  (And it would probably get her an Oscar nomination.)  I’m not quite sure what they see in the story of the inventor of the Miracle Mop, but I am excited to see how they simultaneously find laughter and drama in it.

What movies are YOU excited to see in 2015?  Any of these?!  If you’re just dying to see “Avengers 2,” I guess we can still be friends…





LISTFUL THINKING: Top 10 of 2014 (The Self-Aware One)

31 12 2014

Boyhood stillAnother year gone by, and what an odd and largely unremarkable one (at least for me).  That’s not to say, however, that there were not plenty of good movies to see.  Between two years – this and last – packed with film festivals as well as a summer living in Los Angels, I have racked up a shamefully high film count for 2014.

The final tally: 154.  That’s a gain of over 50% from just two years ago.  And, mind you, I still have many left to see, although only “Selma” and “American Sniper” would likely have ended up on this list.  Impressively, I have actually managed to review all of them (including one for “A Most Violent Year” which irksomely has to be held another month).

I usually try to tie my year-end top 10 list around a theme or a unifying idea, and this year is no different.  At the beginning of the month, my films were essentially set (sadly), but I could not for the life of me find a correlation or angle.  Then, I read a rather snarky piece by Anne Thompson of IndieWire called “How to Make a Ten Best List in Five Easy Steps.”

Thompson is a highly regarded entertainment reporter, and I value her insight on industry news that provides more thorough coverage than the click-bait titles.  At times, though, I find her writing contains a certain aura of superiority that verges on haughtiness.  In this reductionist list, which I believe is meant to be in jest to some degree, here are some of her suggestions for top 10 building:

“1. Include a selection of brainy consensus critical faves of the sort that are likely to be Oscar contenders.

2. Add a few popular hits as well to show that you click with the mainstream.

3. Add at least one wild blue yonder arcane title, either foreign or up-and-coming indie, that will leave readers scratching their heads, impressed with your erudition. This proves that you saw way more movies than they did.”

Pike Affleck Gone GirlI dismissed the piece at first, and then I told myself that such blind herd mentality was something to which I was not susceptible.  I don’t normally drink the Kool-Aid and tow the critics/bloggers party line – I picked “Win Win” and “The Queen of Versailles” as my favorites of their respective years, for heaven’s sake!

Yet I could not shake Thompson’s piece off, for whatever reason.  I kept thinking about it and realized that my top picks for the year might not match up with a ton of external validators, but they did meet a certain set of internal criteria.  As it turns out, I do have a couple of favorite “types” that rear their heads in my annual top 10 list.  These are not necessarily genres or styles of filmmaking so much as they are experiences.

So, without further ado, my extremely self-aware top 10 films of 2014.  I hope no one is incredibly offended by me reducing these films to merely what they meant to me, but if you want to read a pure assessment of their merits, click on the title to be taken to my original review.

Read the rest of this entry »





LISTFUL THINKING: 2013 Superlatives

2 03 2014

It’s hard to believe every year (though perhaps not as hard this year given the prolonged season), but it’s time to close the book on 2013 in film.  The Oscars will have their say, and then history will either smile or frown on their decision.  No matter the outcome, tonight ought to be an exciting exclamation point on a fantastic year in film.   But remember, their favorite movie does not do anything to change YOUR favorite and whatever it may mean to you.

So in that spirit, I give out my superlatives, both the good, the bad, and everything in between!

MOVIES

Amy Adams

The Best

  1. “American Hustle”
  2. Stories We Tell
  3. “Spring Breakers”
  4. “The Past”
  5. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
  6. Blue Jasmine
  7. Philomena
  8. “12 Years a Slave”
  9. The Hunt
  10. “Enough Said”

Spectacular Now

The Worst

  1. Post Tenebras Lux
  2. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  3. The Butler
  4. The Hangover Part III
  5. Jobs
  6. The Internship
  7. Prince Avalanche
  8. See Girl Run
  9. The Spectacular Now
  10. Man of Steel

The Purge

Surprising

  1. Philomena
  2. The Purge
  3. Drinking Buddies
  4. “Spring Breakers”
  5. Stories We Tell

Anchorman 2

Disappointing

  1. The Hangover Part III
  2. Only God Forgives
  3. Gangster Squad
  4. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  5. Trance

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

Forgettable

  1. What Maisie Knew
  2. “Cutie & The Boxer”
  3. The Invisible Woman
  4. “Stoker”
  5. Violet & Daisy
  6. “Parkland”
  7. Admission
  8. The Company You Keep
  9. The Iceman
  10. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Emma Watson in The Bling Ring

Rewatchable

  1. “American Hustle”
  2. “Spring Breakers”
  3. The Bling Ring
  4. “Enough Said”
  5. Blue Jasmine

Before Midnight

Glad to See Once … But Never Again

  1. The Wolf of Wall Street
  2. Fruitvale Station
  3. Lone Survivor
  4. Before Midnight
  5. Blackfish

Gatsby

Underrated

  1. The Great Gatsby
  2. Lone Survivor
  3. “The Book Thief”
  4. The Way Way Back
  5. The Kings of Summer

Blue is the Warmest

Overrated

  1. The Act of Killing
  2. Blue is the Warmest Color
  3. Mud
  4. 20 Feet From Stardom
  5. Gravity

Frances Ha

Better Over Time

  1. Blue Jasmine
  2. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
  3. “Spring Breakers”
  4. “The Past”
  5. Frances Ha

The Place Beyond the Pines

Worse Over Time

  1. Fruitvale Station
  2. The Spectacular Now
  3. “To The Wonder”
  4. The Place Beyond the Pines
  5. The Butler

Catching Fire

Felt Shorter

  1. “American Hustle”
  2. “12 Years a Slave”
  3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  4. “Enough Said”
  5. “Warm Bodies”

Man of Steel

Felt Longer

  1. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  2. The Act of Killing
  3. The Great Beauty
  4. Man of Steel
  5. I’m So Excited

ACTING

Inside Llewyn Davis

Breakout Performances

  1. Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
  2. Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
  3. Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips
  4. Brie Larson, “Short Term 12”
  5. Tye Sheridan, “Mud

The Way Way Back

Breakthrough Performances

  1. Greta Gerwig, “Frances Ha
  2. Joel Edgerton, “The Great Gatsby
  3. Dane DeHaan, “The Place Beyond the Pines
  4. Olivia Wilde, “Drinking Buddies
  5. Sam Rockwell, “The Way Way Back

Sean Penn and Josh Brolin

Breakdown Performances

  1. Sean Penn, “Gangster Squad
  2. Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street
  3. Rachel Weisz, “Oz the Great and Powerful”
  4. Ashton Kutcher, “Jobs
  5. John Goodman, “The Hangover Part III

McConaughey

Best Body of Work

Matthew McConaughey, “Mud“/”Dallas Buyers Club”/”The Wolf of Wall Street

Worst Body of Work

Michael Shannon, “The Iceman“/”Man of Steel

Identity Thief

Most Similar Body of Work

  1. Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Great Gatsby“/”The Wolf of Wall Street
  2. Melissa McCarthy, “Identity Thief“/”The Hangover Part III“/”The Heat

This is the End

Most Disparate Body of Work

  1. James Franco, “Oz the Great and Powerful”/”Spring Breakers”/”This Is The End“/”As I Lay Dying”
  2. Bradley Cooper, “The Place Beyond the Pines“/”The Hangover Part III“/”American Hustle”

Nail polish

Best Ensemble

“American Hustle”

Worst Ensemble

“Oz the Great and Powerful”

Kristin Scott Thomas in Only God Forgives

Best Performance in a Bad Movie

Kristin Scott Thomas, “Only God Forgives

Worst Performance in a Good Movie

Paul Dano, “12 Years a Slave”

Olaf

Needed More Screen Time

  1. Carey Mulligan, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
  2. Josh Gad, “Frozen
  3. Matthew McConaughey, “The Wolf of Wall Street
  4. Emma Watson, “This Is The End“/”The Bling Ring
  5. June Squibb, “Nebraska

Oprah

Needed Less Screen Time

  1. Colin Farrell, “Saving Mr. Banks
  2. Steve Carell, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  3. Terrence Howard, “The Butler
  4. Olivia Wilde, “Rush
  5. Ken Jeong, “The Hangover Part III

Blue Jasmine

Most Obvious Casting

  1. Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine
  2. Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks
  3. Sean Penn, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  4. Tina Fey, “Admission
  5. Shailene Woodley, “The Spectacular Now

Least Obvious Casting

  1. Will Forte, “Nebraska
  2. Ellen Page, “The East
  3. Amy Adams,”Man of Steel
  4. Sandra Bullock, “Gravity
  5. Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Most Random Casting

  1. Taran Killam, “12 Years a Slave”
  2. Catherine Keener, “Captain Phillips
  3. Jerry Ferrara, “Lone Survivor
  4. Spike Jonze, “The Wolf of Wall Street
  5. Christopher Meloni, “Man of Steel

7) Philomena

Best Hero

Judi Dench, “Philomena

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Worst Hero

Forest Whitaker, “The Butler

Fassbender

Best Villain

Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”

Worst Villain

Guy Pearce, “Iron Man 3

JLaw AH

Best Comedic Performance

Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

Worst Comedic Performance

Zach Galifianakis, “The Hangover Part III

Best Cameo

(tie) Channing Tatum, “This Is The End” and Robert DeNiro, “American Hustle”

Worst Cameo

Leonard Nimoy, “Star Trek Into Darkness

OTHERS

Abdi

Best Lines

  1. “Look at all my s–t!” – Spring Breakers
  2. “Maybe all we have in life are poisonous, f—ed up choices.” – American Hustle
  3. “I wanna rob.” – The Bling Ring
  4. “I’m the captain now.” – Captain Phillips
  5. “Take yo panties off!” – This Is The End

5) Inside Llewyn Davis

Best Singing

  1. Oscar Isaac, “Hang Me, Oh, Hang Me,” Inside Llewyn Davis
  2. Keith Stanfield, “So You Know What It’s Like,” Short Term 12
  3. Craig Robinson feat. Rihanna, “Take Yo Panties Off,” This Is The End
  4. Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” Saving Mr. Banks
  5. “Baby One More Time,” Spring Breakers

Best Worst Singing

  1. James Franco, “Everytime,” Spring Breakers

Best Karaoke

  1. Jennifer Lawrence, “Live and Let Die,” American Hustle

Worst Karaoke

  1. Ken Jeong, “Hurt,” The Hangover Part III

American Hustle

Best Music Montage

  1. “I Can’t Stop,” The Great Gatsby
  2. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” American Hustle
  3. “Modern Love,” Frances Ha
  4. “Crown on the Ground,” The Bling Ring
  5. “The Moon Song,” Her

Worst Music Montage

“Mrs. Robinson,” The Wolf of Wall Street





LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Movies of 2014

2 01 2014

I’m still not quite ready to admit that it’s 2014 yet.  Heck, I still have stacks and stacks of 2013 reviews to write.  (Not to mention loads of outstanding reviews dating back to 2009…)  But these 10 movies give me something to look forward to – and I’m sure this is only scratching the surface.  So much of the fun of following and watching movies is finding fun surprises throughout the year.

Most of my top 10 list of 2013 did not come from my most anticipated films of 2013.  In fact, only two did.  But waiting for these films will keep me occupied while the best films of the year do come along.

HONORABLE MENTION

I’m hoping for good things from “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” after 2011’s superb “Rise” successfully rebooted the franchise.  And even though “Mockingjay” was my least favorite book in the “Hunger Games” franchise, the vigor of the “Catching Fire” movie has me excited.  Brad Pitt’s WWII flick “Fury,” helmed by “End of Watch” director ought to be promising for Oscars and entertainment.

Tammy

#10
“Tammy” (July 2)
Directed by Ben Falcone
Written by Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, and and Dan Aykroyd

Ok, I’ll admit I know almost nothing about this movie.  But if Melissa McCarthy could make “Identity Thief” bearable and “The Heat” pretty hilarious in spite of its lackluster plot, then I can really get excited about a project she wrote with her husband.  Yes, her husband was Air Marshal John from “Bridesmaids,” and he’s also serving as co-writer and director.  Should be a hilarious highlight of the summer.

The Fault in Our Stars

#9
“The Fault in Our Stars” (June 6)
Directed by Josh Boone
Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
Starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Willem Dafoe

I read this book in three days this fall.  I’m not saying it was great, but I just couldn’t put it down.  And now I can’t wait to see the movie because I know I’m going to cry like a baby.  (It’s about teenage cancer patients, in case you didn’t know.)  The book almost had me sobbing, which is something only “Where the Red Fern Grows” has accomplished in my life.

Foxcatcher

#8
“Foxcatcher” (TBD)
Directed by Bennett Miller
Written by Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye
Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo

Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball” has continued to grow on me over the past two years, and there’s something oddly intriguing about his follow-up, “Foxcatcher.”  Check out the trailer if you want to see how strange and unconventional it appears to be.  Something tells me he’s going to get shocking career-best work from Carell and Tatum.

Noah

#7
“Noah” (March 28)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel
Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Anthony Hopkins

So the trailer might have been slightly underwhelming, and the supposed studio interference has me a little worried.  But this Darren Freaking Aronofsky’s follow-up to “Black Swan.”  It’s the Bible as we’ve never seen it before, according to the Oscar-nominated director.  And he must be onto something because there are now multiple Biblical epics in the pipelines at various Hollywood studios…

Jersey Boys

#6
“Jersey Boys” (June 20)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by John Logan and Rick Elice
Starring John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, and Christopher Walken

Clint Eastwood hasn’t exactly been on a hot streak as of late (hello, “Hereafter” and “J. Edgar“), but maybe a change in the tenor of his material will bring out the 2-time Oscar winner’s best.  He’s working with some brilliant source material in “Jersey Boys,” which is still one of my favorite Broadway shows.  Those who don’t love the stage musical format should take comfort in knowing the jukebox style lends itself to a much more cinematically friendly transfer.

Transcendence

#5
“Transcendence” (April 18)
Directed by Wally Pfister
Written by Jack Paglen
Starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, and Kate Mara

Christopher Nolan’s films, in particular “The Dark Knight” and “Inception,” have been immaculately lensed by Wally Pfister.  Now, he’s decided to sit in the director’s chair, and he’s brought along Nolan stalwarts Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy for his debut.  The trailer sure looks great – certainly unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.

Inherent Vice

#4
“Inherent Vice” (TBD)
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, and Josh Brolin

Hopefully this one does in fact see a release in 2014, but I’m certainly curious to how on earth Paul Thomas Anderson plans to top “The Master.”  Re-teaming with Joaquin Phoenix is a promising start.  The bold filmmaker’s decision to tackle the difficult prose of novelist Thomas Pynchon means we could be in for another quite enigmatic film … and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

22 Jump Street

#3
“22 Jump Street” (June 13)
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Written by Michael Bacall, Rodney Rothman, and Oren Uziel
Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Ice Cube

21 Jump Street” is probably my favorite comedy of the 2010s, so you can imagine my delight when they announced a sequel that sends Jenko and Schmidt to college.  The first trailer was phenomenal.  Hopefully it’s not the extent of the film’s laughs.

Gone Girl

#2
“Gone Girl” (October 3)
Directed by David Fincher
Written by Gillian Flynn
Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, and Tyler Perry

I read “Gone Girl” essentially in a day over the summer, and I cannot wait to see how Fincher brings it to life.  It seems like a very happy median between the verbal ping-pong of “The Social Network” and the darkness of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it makes a star out of Rosamund Pike, whose talents I’ve been touting since “An Education.”

Interstellar

#1
“Interstellar” (November 7)
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain

Christopher Nolan is releasing a new movie.  That ought to be all I have to say, even though my disappointment still continues to grow over “The Dark Knight Rises.”  The fact that he’s assembled McConaughey, Hathaway, and Chastain, along with Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, and Ellen Burstyn for the film is encouraging (even if the first teaser wasn’t).





LISTFUL THINKING: The Top 10 Films of 2013

1 01 2014

Normally, I can come up with a unifying theme for my top 10 list.  But this year, I really struggled to find a common thread or through-line.  Ironically, even in the absence of some sort of angle for this piece, I would still consider 2013 to be the best year for movies in a long time, at least since 2010.

I suppose one commonality amongst this list is unforgettable characters.  The best cinema of the year entertained, engaged, and enlightened by bringing people to life before our eyes.  As they negotiated everything from familial regret (Philomena Lee) to career frustrations (Llewyn Davis) and even false enslavement (Solomon Northrup), their conflicts became real to me, captured my imagination, and hijacked my thoughts.

Though 2013 is over, my dealing with these films and characters is far from finished.  I will continue to wonder if Llewyn Davis will ever achieve success, if Ritchie DiMasso deserved to be screwed over, if Jasmine is primarily responsible for her own breakdown, if Lucas can ever return to any semblance of normality in his life, and if Epps is just pure evil at his core.

Without further ado, here are the 10 best films of 2013…

10) Enough Said

#10
“Enough Said”
Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, and Catherine Keener
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener

A well-known cliché regarding great comedic actors is that they could somehow make reading the phonebook hilarious.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus would not even have to utter a single word of the phonebook to have me in stitches; just a contortion of the brilliantly expressive musculature in her face makes me laugh.  In her first live-action role on the silver screen this millennium, she is the perfect vessel for writer/director Nicole Holofocener’s humor in an insightful look at the way people act against their own interests and desires in the name of self-preservation.  Intimately scaled and brilliantly observed, “Enough Said” makes for 90 minutes of the most perfectly realized cinema this year.

9) The Hunt

#9
The Hunt
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, and Annika Wedderkopp
Written by Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

I first saw “The Hunt” almost 20 months ago at the Cannes Film Festival, and ever since, I have known it would make my top 10 list.  So needless to say, I’ve been waiting a long time (thanks for that release delay, Magnolia).  It speaks to the strength of the cinema in 2013 that had “The Hunt” been released in 2012, it probably would have topped my list of the year’s best.  Still, this drama of an innocent man put through the ringer stands high and mighty in 2013 thanks to the brilliant performance of Mads Mikkelsen, a screenplay that would make Arthur Miller proud, and the steady direction of Thomas Vinterberg.

8) 12 Years a Slave

#8
“12 Years a Slave”
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o
Written by John Ridley
Directed by Steve McQueen

After making “Shame,” which I firmly believe will be seen as a defining film of the decade for tackling the largely unrecognized pervasiveness of sexuality in society, there was really nothing else the unflinching camera of Steve McQueen could capture except the brutality of American slavery.  What he creates in “12 Years a Slave” is a brilliant hybrid of an art film with a traditional historical narrative movie, clearly communicating a story for all viewers with haunting complimentary imagery.  It’s a film so powerful that it does not just remind us that we need to talk about slavery – it somehow makes us want to talk about slavery.

7) Philomena

#7
“Philomena”
Starring Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, and Sophie Kennedy Clark
Written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
Directed by Stephen Frears

Perhaps the unlikeliest (or at least the most unanticipated) entry on my list, “Philomena” screamed cringe-worthy Oscar bait from its premise.  Yet it pulls off the year’s strangest high-wire act thanks to Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope’s tonally masterful screenplay, managing to be at once funny and tragic while always touching the heart.  Though the movie makes a play for your emotions, it never feels cloying.  Rather, you just embrace Philomena the character played with infectious warmth and forgiveness by Judi Dench and “Philomena” the film all the more.

6) Blue Jasmine

#6
Blue Jasmine
Starring Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, and Bobby Cannavale
Written and directed by Woody Allen

I’ve seen every Woody Allen film, for better or for worse, and I don’t think he’s written a character as complex as Jasmine since Annie Hall herself.  And that was so heavily based on Diane Keaton, so he along with a fearless Cate Blanchett are discovering and creating in “Blue Jasmine.”  No movie has stuck with me more throughout the year than this one; the question of social forces vs. personal agency in Jasmine’s demise haunting my thoughts so much that I paid an obscene amount to see it again four months later.  The debate over her fall from grace will rage on forever, but no discussion is necessary to settle the claim that Jasmine has the right to stand next to such complex female characters as Blanche of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and Nora of “A Doll’s House.”

5) Inside Llewyn Davis

#5
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and John Goodman
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

I’ve always been a fan of the Coen Brothers, but it took “Inside Llewyn Davis” to make me truly come to terms with just how incredible they are.  Masters of their form with an unrivaled attention to detail in this era, they have bottled up their essence and transported it to the nascent stage of the 1960s folk music scene.  Featuring what might be the best soundtrack since – well, maybe even the Coen Brothers’ 2000 “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” – and a stunning lead performance by Oscar Isaac, the latest entry to their remarkable canon may appear slight at first glance.  But look a little harder into their script, which is just as carefully constructed as every shot in the film.

4) The Past

#4
“The Past”
Starring Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, and Ali Mosaffa
Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi

Asghar Farhadi set an unfairly high bar for himself with the consummate “A Separation,” and he scales those heights again with “The Past.”  He once again shows his incredible command and understanding of human behavior, crafting characters with complex emotions and intricate facades to conceal their transgressions.  Everyone acts on multiple levels of motivation, and it’s searingly gripping to observe their worlds unravel.  Farhadi uses the searing realness of these characters, especially Berenice Bejo’s Marie, to show how the past influences and clouds not only the present but also the future.  These are hardly groundbreaking themes, but Farhadi’s impeccable knack for realism makes them worth reconsidering not only in the context of the film but in our own lives as well.

3) Spring Breakers

#3
“Spring Breakers”
Starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, and Vanessa Hudgens
Written and directed by Harmony Korine

I’ve been hesitant to write anything about “Spring Breakers” all year, partially because I don’t think my words can do it justice but subconsciously because I don’t want to demystify it.  The film came over me like a haze or a stupor, took me on the trip of a lifetime, and then released me in slack-jawed awe.  It’s a genius look at the way sex, drugs, and violence intersect in contemporary culture, filmed in simultaneous beauty and grime.  Korine somehow manages to criticize the dark underpinnings of the spring break mentality while also capturing the almost spiritual allure it has.  Misunderstood and misread as pure glorification by many, I’m proud to be a “Spring Breakers” fanatic since the first time I saw it.  I look forward to watching this become a cult classic and a landmark film for my generation.  Spring break forevaaaaa

2) Stories We Tell

#2
Stories We Tell
Directed by Sarah Polley

The year’s most audacious boundary-pushing achievement, “Stories We Tell” is a beautiful documentary that tests the limits of the fiction/non-fiction binary that is currently established.  As director Sarah Polley probes her own story, she finds chaos and confusion amidst the many competing narratives of the past.  Somehow, she manages to find rhyme and reason to it all, presenting all the recollections of her late mother Diane in one giant story that reveals the large gap in between reality as we experience it and the way we ultimately remember and retell it.  Yet somewhere in that hole, she gets at the core of what makes us human, a true treasure gleaned from what could have been a family album.

1) American Hustle

#1
“American Hustle”
Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper
Written by David O. Russell and Eric Singer
Directed by David O. Russell

The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook” showed us that David O. Russell had a mastery of coaching performance, and “American Hustle” is elevated to the realm of the sublime because Russell uses that understanding to create the ultimate performances of performance.  Everyone in the film is playing multiple games and shuffling between multiple identities to get what they want, yet their success comes with an accompanying yearning for a truly real human connection.  Though the characters may groove to Donna Summer and sport comb-overs or perms, this 1970s drama connects to the realities and anxieties of 2013, where many of us interact through various social media profiles and avatars in order to replicate but also mediate and mitigate real relationships.  But this is hardly a somber meditation on the present era, rather an observation of basic human nature: we’re conning, hustling, and BS-ing everyone – including and especially ourselves.  And while you chew this over, Russell will have you grinning from ear to ear as his movie brims over with joy.





LISTFUL THINKING: 10 Performers Who Will Win Oscars in the Next 10 Years

26 02 2013

Before it’s too late and no longer topical, I wanted to share a list that has been floating in my mind for a while.  On Sunday night, the Academy welcomed Jennifer Lawrence and Anne Hathaway into their club.  Now, they can join Daniel Day-Lewis and Christoph Waltz in adding the phrase “Oscar Winner” before their name is mentioned.

But within the next 10 years, who will join them in the pantheon of acting?  I have a few suggestions…

Male

Gatsby

Leonardo DiCaprio
3 Oscar nominations
9 Golden Globe nominations, 1 win
8 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY:  The question isn’t “if.”  It’s “when.”  And that could be as early as this year.

JGL

Joseph Gordon-Levitt
2 Golden Globe nominations
4 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY:  With the boy-next-door turning into a renaissance man as he heads behind the director’s chair, JGL is headed towards golden child status.  Now it’s just time for the Oscars to catch up.

Ryan Gosling in The Ides of March

Ryan Gosling
1 Oscar nomination
4 Golden Globe nominations
2 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY:  I don’t really think I need to elaborate here as Gosling is one of the emerging Hollywood leading men.  The only thing keeping him from an Oscar, in my mind, is his eclectic role selection.

Brad Pitt in Moneyball

Brad Pitt
4 Oscar nominations (3 as actor)
5 Golden Globe nominations, 1 win
5 SAG Award nominations, 1 win

COMMENTARY:  As one of the highest-wattage stars of the past decade moves into a slower, more retrospective phase of his career, the role that will land Brad Pitt his Oscar should materialize.

George Clooney

George Clooney
8 Oscar nominations (4 for acting), 2 wins (1 for acting)
12 Golden Globe nominations (8 for acting), 3 wins
13 SAG Award nominations, 4 wins

COMMENTARY:  Yes, Clooney has already won his Oscar(s).  But I am convinced he will win his trophy for a leading role as he is such a prominent leading man in Hollywood.

Female

Amy Adams

Amy Adams
4 Oscar nominations
4 Golden Globe nominations
5 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY: 4 nominations in 7 years.  That’s impressive.  It’s going to happen, soon.  Perhaps the first time she gets a big leading role?

Linney

Laura Linney
3 Oscar nominations
6 Golden Globe nominations, 2 wins
4 SAG Award nominations, 1 win
4 Primetime Emmy nominations, 3 wins

COMMENTARY:  Though as of late Linney has been more television oriented, I still don’t think the cinematic community is done paying its dues to this talented actress.

Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right

Julianne Moore
4 Oscar nominations
7 Golden Globe nominations, 1 win
10 SAG Award nominations, 1 win
1 Primetime Emmy win

COMMENTARY: If “Game Change” had been released in theaters and not on HBO, Moore would have her Oscar.  It’s been over a decade now since her last nomination, but I don’t think that means the impetus to give her award has disappeared.

10 for '10: Best Movies (The Challenge)

Emma Stone
1 Golden Globe nomination
1 SAG Award win

COMMENTARY: She’s a new Hollywood “It” girl.  Once she lands the big and flashy role, she will get an Oscar.  (Heck, they had her announce the nominations this year, something usually reserved for prior winners/nominees.)  She’s a beloved figure with all the charm and accessibility of Jennifer Lawrence with a little more polish and refinement.

Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams
3 Oscar nominations
3 Golden Globe nominations, 1 win
4 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY: Williams showed she had some serious range in “My Week with Marilyn.”  Not that her mopey characters weren’t good, but now we know she’s the real deal.

What do YOU think?  Who else is destined for Oscar glory in the next decade?