The 91st Oscars: Who Should and Will Win

The road to this year’s Academy Awards is primed to overshadow the show itself. Beginning from the tone deaf proposal of a “Best Popular Film” category, to the Kevin Hart hosting saga, and now the decision to air all of the categories live, it’s easy to forget that there are movies to talk about. The charm of every Oscars is predicting to whom that gold statue will belong to, based on not only merit, but also based on the Academy’s tastes. It’s a weird juggling act, but having watched each Oscars since 2013, one can infer the routes The Academy will take.

The categories covered are Cinematography, Screenplay (Adapted/Original), Supporting Actress/Actor, Lead Actress/Actor, Director and Best Picture

 

Cinematography

Cold War – Łukasz Żal

The Favourite – Robbie Ryan

Never Look Away – Caleb Deschanel

Roma – Alfonso Cuarón

A Star Is Born – Matthew Libatique

Should: Roma

Small shoutout to Cold War, though, for being a beautifully helmed black and white drama. The one man band that is Alfonso Cuaron’s stunning work on Roma is a film that can be admired through so many cinematic perspectives, and his role as cinematographer turns the quiet black and white tale into a gorgeously framed, lit foray into his memories. Black and white films can carry a stigma for looking “old” or “dated” but whether it’s the opening frame of f*cking floor tiles or a forest fire, the visual flair of Roma shines a light on normalcy, showcasing the tragic beauty of everyday life.

Will: Roma

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Cuaron’s got this in the bag. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Roma winning for all of its technical nominations (watching it on headphones or surround sound makes the viewing experience otherworldly).

Adapted Screenplay

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Screenplay by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

BlacKkKlansman – Screenplay by Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee

Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty

If Beale Street Could Talk – Screenplay by Barry Jenkins

A Star Is Born – Screenplay by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters

Should: BlacKkKlansman

Part crime thriller, comedy, romance, historical drama, documentary and history lesson, Spike Lee’s latest is a return to form that masterfully juggles fusion of genres. The dialogue between characters is snappy, clever and perfectly suited for each character. The achievement here is its political commentary. While it’s clear the film is a response to the Trump presidency, it’s a drama first that cares about story progression and characters. And, it’s damn entertaining.

Will: A Star is Born

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While enjoying a colossal amount of nominations this award season, A Star is Born hasn’t won a ton. While I want BlacKkKlansman to take the award, I feel that the Academy will award the film here and for “Shallow”, since it’s such a crowd favorite. Wouldn’t be mad, though!

 

Original Screenplay

The Favourite – Written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara

First Reformed – Written by Paul Schrader

Green Book – Written by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie and Peter Farrelly

Roma – Written by Alfonso Cuarón

Vice – Written by Adam McKay

Should: The Favourite

There’s a reason this is my third favorite film of the year. The Favourite is a tour de force of acting, writing and directing. It’s as if Yorgos Lathimos heard some people complain about the writing in The Lobster and challenged himself to direct a story with a script that is overflowing with wit cleverness. The screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara is air tight endlessly enjoyable to hear. With some minor tweaks, it could work as an audio book.

Will: First Reformed

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I’m going with my gut here, willing to bet that Paul Schrader will finally get his first and long overdue Oscar, and it doesn’t hurt that First Reformed  might be the best faith based film ever made. Not too shabby.

 

Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali – Green Book as Don Shirley

Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman as Philip “Flip” Zimmerman

Sam Elliott – A Star Is Born as Bobby Maine

Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me? as Jack Hock

Sam Rockwell – Vice as George W. Bush

Should: Sam Elliott

It’s hard to make a unique or defining role out of such a recognizable figure, but Sam Elliott’s turn as Jackson Maine’s oddly older brother is a career highlight. The way he deals with Maine’s quirks as mere formality, before reaching a breaking point is a true sight to behold. Also, how can one man make backing out of the driveway so heartbreaking?

Will: Mahershala Ali

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I regretfully haven’t seen Green Book, but Ali’s been racking up this Award Season, making it hard to see anyone else win in this category; one of the few locks of this year’s Oscar.

 

Supporting Actress

Amy Adams – Vice as Lynne Cheney

Marina de Tavira – Roma as Sofía

Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk as Sharon Rivers

Emma Stone – The Favourite as Abigail Masham

Rachel Weisz – The Favourite as Sarah Churchill

Should: Rachel Weisz/Emma Stone

Two of the very best performances you’ll find this year. Weisz and Stone act off their jealousy of one another to such a perfect degree, I’d be happy with either of them winning the award.

Will: Regina King

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King is an odds-on favorite, having won the Golden Globes and Critic’s Choice Award for her role in If Beale Street Could Talk. Though I didn’t find myself particularly enthralled by her performance, I’d still be happy to see her win nevertheless.

 

Lead Actress

Yalitza Aparicio – Roma as Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez

Glenn Close – The Wife as Joan Castleman

Olivia Colman – The Favourite as Anne, Queen of Great Britain

Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born as Ally Maine

Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me? as Lee Israel

Should: Olivia Colman

I sadly haven’t seen The Wife, so I’ll have to make do with Olivia Colman’s star making performance as Queen Anne. Though she’s certainly well known (Hot Fuzz, Broadchurch), Colman finally gets her public due in a role of a lifetime. The range of emotions that she conveys, sometimes within the same scene, is insane as well as a glory to behold. A helpless, lonely, comedically clumsy Queen rooted in tragedy, Olivia Colman shines in a film that is already filled to the brim with the brilliance of her fellow thespians.

Will: Glenn Close

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And it’s about damn time, too!

 

Lead Actor

Christian Bale – Vice as Dick Cheney

Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born as Jackson “Jack” Maine

Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate as Vincent van Gogh

Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody as Freddie Mercury

Viggo Mortensen – Green Book as Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga

Should: Christian Bale

Though I adore Rami Malek’s role in Bohemian Rhapsody (it’s the only good part of the movie), Christian Bale’s turn as Dick Cheney is not only insane from a visual front, but is a performance that elevates the material of Vice. Had the role been played by a lesser actor, I feel the rest of the film wouldn’t be as effective as it was. Bale captures the mannerisms, famously monotonous manner of the former VP to the absolute tee, in a juggling act that doesn’t glorify or outright condemn the man himself, but helps us see things through his deranged eyes.

Will: Rami Malek

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Rami’s been sweeping this award’s season, and I don’t see the Oscars having it any other way. Also, it helps that the Academy loves biopics and the acting roles in those biopics, bonus points if it’s about a musician.

 

Director

Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman

Paweł Pawlikowski – Cold War

Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite

Alfonso Cuarón – Roma

Adam McKay – Vice

Should: Alfonso Cuaron

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To some, the pacing and direction of Roma is weightless and, for a lack of a better term, boring. I hate to get on my high horse, but as someone who studies film and artistic intent, Cuaron’s direction in Roma is a masterclass in intimate and emotional filmmaking. Every tilt or pan of the camera, every second of another expertly done long take, and the bluntness in which he displays the film’s emotional turmoil is astonishing. The award for Best Director should go to a film that, had it been directed by someone else, the movie would be fatally worse for it. Alfonso Cuaron is the only man who could’ve directed Roma, because it’s his story, his brainchild, his memories, and we’re all the better for watching it.

Will:

Cuaron, although Spike Lee has a real chance at an upset.

 

Best Picture

A Brief Rundown of the Nominees:

Black Panther ­– pretty good, just shy of greatness.

BlacKkKlansman – fantastic tale of the past that mirrors the present.

Bohemian Rhapsody – bland, unoriginal biopic that’s boosted by its music.

The Favourite – brilliantly crafted, well acted, deliciously twisted.

Green Book – trailer looks dope.

Roma – exercise in personal filmmaking. Alienating for some, beautifully open for others

A Star is Born – familiar story elevated by top form directing and acting.

Vice – off the wall, uneven yet endlessly intriguing political biopic with a legendary performance.

Should: The Favourite

I’ve written about why I love The Favourite in past posts, but I cannot sing this film’s praises enough. Yorgos Lathimos channels his inner Kubrick and makes a spellbinding picture that’s to be admired for its entertainment value as well as its top tier craftsmanship. It’s the sharpest film of the year, and for a film about love, betrayal, and the surprising similarities between the two, I’d say that’s fitting.

 

Will: Roma

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Still, this is the year of Roma, and I do not see any other film winning Best Picture. The Academy loves historical dramas, and have already honored Cuaron for Gravity. Like Birdman and The Shape of Water before it, this year’s Best Picture is being awarded to a film by one of the Three Amigos of Cinema.

The Best Films of 2018

After watching yesterday’s Oscar nominations, I’d realized that I neglected to write a list of my favorite films from 2018. Ironically enough, my new year’s resolution is to be more punctual. Nevertheless, different from years’ past, instead of doing a traditional Top 10 list, I’ve elected to just highlight films that I flat out love, in no particular order, culminating in a Top 5 list. Without further ado, let’s get started.

 

Annihilation

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Josie Radek: Imagine dying frightened and in pain and having that as the only part of you which survives.

Following up his 2015 tech marvel Ex Machina, Alex Garland goes in head first within sci-fi horror. The end result is a weird, confusing, but endlessly fascinating breach into the unknown reminiscent of Alien. The storytelling techniques can easily surprise and even turn people off from the film, but what’s found here is a gloriously original and unapologetically fearless science fiction odyssey that cements Alex Garland as a director to look out for.

 

Isle of Dogs

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Nutmeg: Will you help him, the little pilot?

Chief: Why should I?

Nutmeg: Because he’s a twelve year old boy, dogs love those.

The first truly great film of 2018. Wes Anderson has always been a delight of a filmmaker to watch, constantly coming up with new and inventive ways to tell his stories. Isle of Dogs is Anderson at top form, following each wondrous scene with something new and endlessly evocative. Stop motion animation feels tailor made to the man’s style, long, symmetrical shots that can easily be a beautiful desktop wallpaper. Armed with his trademark quirk, humor, and comically illustrious cast, Isle of Dogs is yet another stroke of genius from a man who makes it look easy.

 

Avengers: Infinity War

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Thanos: I know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail nonetheless. It’s frightening, turns the legs to jelly. I ask you to what end? Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same. And now it’s here. Or should I say, I am.

The idea and possibility of superhero fatigue will always persist, but for a fleeting moment, I can honestly say Avengers: Infinity War made such an idea nonexistent. The ten year experiment known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be one, colossal failure if this movie didn’t work. The Russo Brothers are to be applauded for their expert management of ten years worth of movie lore and countless superhero icons that constantly fill the screen. The two hour, twenty minute run time goes by like a Saturday morning cartoon, always delivering information and surprises that makes Infinity War not only one of the best MCU films ever, but one of the most eventful, spectacular moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had.

 

 

First Reformed

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Reverend Ernst Toller: Will God forgive us for what we’re doing to his creation?

For all intents and purposes, I can say with confidence that First Reformed could very well be the greatest faith based film of the decade. What is known as “Christian Cinema” is typically filled with shallow, pandering and emotionally manipulative movies that hardly serve any purpose other than to preach to the choir of its audience. To tell a story of one’s faith and their struggles keeping it can be endlessly interesting and profound, and Paul Schrader knows this. The man behind Taxi Driver dives deep into the psyche of a Priest who finds himself in extreme conflict with the world around him, and the very God he swears by. This is a slow burn in every sense of the word, and can be seen as boring, or uneventful, but what draws me to First Reformed is Ethan Hawke’s understated but virtuous performance, and the methodical approach of storytelling Schrader adopts to tell a story that’s dependent on faith, and the psychological and emotional toll it can bring.

 

Sorry to Bother You

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Cassius Green: This place is fucking nuts.

Steve Lift: Thank you for the backhanded compliment.

The true WTF film of the year, and I mean it in the best way possible. Boots Riley creates a satire that is outrageously hyperbolic but feels like a legit vision of the future if we play our cards wrong. The comedy can be subtle to in your face in mere moments without losing any momentum. The less said about the plot, the better, as there are legitimate surprises and moments of batsh*t ingenuity. Just know that Sorry to Bother You is a wholly original meditation of what it means to live the American Dream, and how it could be one’s paradise whilst being another’s hell.

 

BlacKkKlansman

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If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am for myself alone, who am I? If not now, when? And if not you, who?

I can seldom consider a movie to be “important”, but the very basis of art is self-expression in the context of the here and now. Spike Lee’s latest joint is a glorious return to form for the filmmaker. Telling the true story of a black police officer (a star-making performance from John David Washington) secretly infiltrating the KKK is an outrageous premise, but turns out to be one of the most relevant and outspoken pieces of cinema in quite some time. As mentioned before, Washington (son of Denzel) is electric as the lead, and Adam Driver is hilarious as Washington’s partner aiding operation. Topher Grace is terrifyingly charismatic and down to earth as David Duke, showing how a likability and niceness can erase any true notion of prejudice and evil. What makes BlackKklansman special is context. The political fever pitch we constantly reside is the DNA of this film, a comedy, drama, thriller, blaxpoitation tribute, history lesson and PSA the evils of today, making us wonder how did we end up here.

 

Eighth Grade

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Eighth grade is the worst.

Written and directed by Bo Burnham, the one word I think of when Eighth Grade comes to mind is “genuine”. His depiction of late middle school life is sharply well done, complete with dialogue consisting of ramblings, stuttering and hilariously accurate use of “like”. Far too many teen films paint a glossy, glitzed up portrait of adolescence, with perfect hair and makeup being the name of the game. Elsie Fisher is terrifically vulnerable and achingly convincing as Kayla as she clumsily maneuvers her way through the labyrinthian maze of adolescence, making Eighth Grade a brush of youthful brilliance.

 

A Star is Born

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Jack talked about how music is essentially twelve notes between any octave. Twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes.

“Feels” is the name of the game for A Star is Born. This is a picture that expresses joy, love, lament, anger, regret and pure bliss in a constant, brisk basis, thanks to Bradley Cooper’s directing talent. Many expressed surprise that Cooper was such a capable filmmaker, but take a look at his line of work and the directors he’s worked with (David O’Russell, Clint Eastwood and Derek Cianfrance) and it becomes a no brainer. The film is, like La La Land, a testament to the artistic spirits of people who fear to have their voices heard, in fear of judgement or ridicule. For Mia, it was to cheer “the fools who dream”, and for Lady Gaga’s Ally, it was to sing her heart out in front of thousands in “Shallow”. The timidity slowly turning into inescapable conviction is near biblical in its execution and emotional value. A Star is Born is an emotional piece of cinema, but is never pandering or manipulative, as Bradley Cooper mans the ship of a familiar yet resonant story with career best performances from himself, Lady Gaga and the mythically awesome Sam Elliott (how can someone make backing out of a driveway so heartbreaking?).

 

First Man

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Pete Conrad: Neil, I was sorry to hear about your daughter.

Neil Armstrong: I’m sorry, is there a question?

Pete Conrad: What I… What I mean is… Do you think it’ll have an effect?

Neil Armstrong: I think it would be unreasonable to assume that it wouldn’t have some effect.

I’ve reviewed First Man already, and also highlighting Ryan Gosling’s performance, so I’ll make this brief. Damien Chazelle is a filmmaking maestro, making 3 films that are brilliant in their own, unique ways. Though it doesn’t reach the highs of his predecessors, lightning never strikes twice, let alone thrice. First Man is a personal tale about the man himself, culminating in a finale that is visually spectacular and emotionally poetic.

 

Free Solo

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Let’s hope for a low-gravity day.

The all too true tale of Alex Honnold’s journey to climb “El Capitan” is the subject of Free Solo. The world of free solo climbing is an obscure one as well as an insane one. Just one slight misstep can spell sudden death for the climber, and having seen the film without knowing the outcome of Honnold’s big climb, the 90 minute runtime was one of, if not the most suspenseful, intense, anxiety inducing experiences I’ve ever had in the cinema. You catch a glimpse of Honnold’s everyday life, ranging from daily exercises to personal quirks that make him such an interesting protagonist. The climbing sequences are spectacularly well done as it captures the patience testing aspect of the climb while showing the personally sky high stakes within the same frame. If you don’t mind your palms to sweat a gallon’s worth, then Free Solo is absolutely worth viewing.

 

Suspiria           

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Love and manipulation, they share houses very often. They are frequent bedfellows.

Call me squeamish, but I was so, so close at walking out early on my viewing of the Suspiria remake. The inciting incident (I dare not spoil it) made my stomach churn in a way I’d hardly experience before. Luckily I trudged through, loving nearly every minute afterwards. Luca Guadagnino crafts a film that harkens back to the low budget horror cinema of old, using film grain, crash zooms and framing that just screams “throwback”. This is one of the films that I’d advise to watch without knowing much about it, as every surprise and bit of story progression was done to perfection. Dakota Johnson turns in a performance that is terrific, and Tilda Swinton gives off serious Lancaster Dodd vibes, once again showing her incomparable range as an actor. Being one of the most polarizing films of 2018, I found myself in love with Suspiria, an unapologetically horrific and ambitious picture that’s unbound by convention.

 

Widows

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Veronica: [to her gang] Now the best thing we have going for us, is being who we are.

Alice: Why ?

Veronica: Because no-one thinks we have the balls to pull this off.

 Steve McQueen follows up Oscar glory with a heist film that actually cares about filmmaking and has actual regard for storytelling. He uses an all star cast to full effect in a tale of twists, turns and character. The use of long takes is a staple for McQueen, and his use here, whether it’s one featuring a car ride, or a scene stealing Daniel Kaluuya in a basketball court, what elevates a familiar premise is Gillian Flynn’s brilliant screenplay and the director’s brilliance as a filmmaker. His use of music, particularly a scene featuring Nina Simone’s “Wild is the Wind” works graciously, is done to great satisfaction. Widows reaches the highs that Ocean’s 8 merely dreamed of, showcasing that the heist film can still have some tricks up its sleeve.

Roma

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Sra. Sofía: We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.

Netflix has a true award caliber film in Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. I primarily mention directors when talking about a given film, since its their vision that the audience sees. Not only does Cuaron work as writer/director, but handles the cinematography and even serves as editor, truly making this film his very own. With that being said, Roma is receiving unanimous acclaim, and I feel that anyone watching it can very well psyche themselves out, expecting the film to be in a certain way, being underwhelmed by the final product.

For me, Roma is an absolute triumph of film. Cuaron helms an intimate, painfully personal look into the life of a housemaid as she experiences various hardships. The presentation lacks closeups or swelling music to highlight the more somber moments. Characters don’t scream at the top of their lungs, and the camera doesn’t intrude the character’s personal space. Cuaron presents a window into another life, one filled with inner turmoil and burdened with truths that she should’ve never known about. It’s up to you whether you want to take a peek.

Paddington 2

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Aunt Lucy said, if we’re kind and polite the world will be right.

The fact that Paddington 2 has been essentially absent awards wise is downright sickening. In a time of perpetual bleakness and cynicism, this marmalade loving bear is a damn ray of sunshine, evoking the best out of everyone he meets. Beyond being a feelgood film, Paddington 2 is a fantastically well made film, featuring top notch comedy bits and an animated sequence that rivals the creativity of some of the very best animated films today. Lovingly made by Paul King, the themes of family are the hearbeat of this film, being one of the most heartwarming and wholesome pictures of recent memory. This bear will change your life (probably).

 

Vice

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I will not apologize for keeping your family safe. And I will not apologize for doing what needed to be done so that your loved ones could sleep peacefully at night. It has been my honor to be your servant.

The political spectrum is one currently paved in outraged immediacy, and Adam McKay is fully aware of it. Vice is said to be a biopic of Dick Cheney and his ascendance up the Washington ladder, and while it very much is, it shows the groundwork and foundation of what has made our political climate so toxic and morally decadent. McKay is at his most meta, breaking fourth walls seamlessly without halting the pacing of his picture, honing his style that The Big Short made famous. Christian Bale is award worthy as Cheney, unsurprisingly immersing himself in the role to the point where he’s unrecognizable. Vice has understandably been met with polarizing opinions, as politics inherently make a divide. McKay’s thesis doesn’t consist of condemning or endorsing the former Vice President, but shows his actions as a way to ask a question all countrymen need to confront: “Do we draw a line in our love of country?”

 

And now, my Top 5:

 

  1. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

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Delivery Man: Fate whispers to the warrior.

Ethan Hunt: A storm is coming.

Delivery Man: And the warrior whispers back.

Ethan Hunt: I am the storm.

Being a lifelong fan of the M:I franchise, I find myself stunned that nearly a quarter decade after the first entry, the series has never been more renowned and prevalent than now. We’re talking six movies in a series that honestly could’ve been shelved with how bad the second one was. Fallout is not only the best installment of the Mission series, but stands as one of the greatest action films ever made. Every composite of an action scene is done harmoniously with every preceding scene, resulting in an action spectacle second to none. Whether it’s Ethan Hunt riding a motorcycle into oncoming traffic with the music amped to 11, or a brutal fight in a restroom accompanied by nothing but punches, grunts and razor sharp intensity, the film is a pure action bliss. Tom Cruise is on top form, climbing mountains, jumping out of helicopters, and even flying a helicopter, sparing no expense to ensure that the audience gets the best experience possible. What can’t be overstated,, however, is Christopher McQuarrie’s efforts as a writer and director. His near orchestral conduction of story and spectacle is a stroke of pure genius, challenging an entire genre of film and saying “checkmate”.

 

  1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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Love is at the root of everything – all learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.

The task of every film is to entertain, inform and, well, justify its own existence. Some films exist to entertain, and others elect to lecture. The beauty of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is the entertainment value is seamlessly woven with its information. The documentary is about Mr. Rodgers as it is also about one’s capacity to do good, and be a beacon of positivity. Learning about the man’s personal demons not only recontextualizes certain aspects of his show, but also showcases how one decides to tackle their demons. It’s truly inspiring to see a man handle his inner plight by preaching love and patient understanding. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is truly essential viewing, as it reminds us that nobody is above lending a helping hand: now more than ever, we need one.

 

  1. The Favourite

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Abigail: My dear friend and cousin, how good to see you’ve returned from…

Lady Sarah: Hell. I’m sure you shall pass through it one day.

Easily the best acted film of the year. The trifecta of Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are an a force to be reckoned with, emoting with the greatest of ease while delivering dialogue as sharp as a double-edged sword. The production and costume design are insanely authentic and detailed, blurring the lines of a film set into 18th century Britain. Yorgos Lathimos is certainly a required taste, with nearly all his films meeting a polarizing response. Though he’s not a writer here, The Favourite has his trademarks all over it, an edgy, darkly hilarious, gorgeously twisted tale of attempted superiority.

 

  1. Hereditary

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Charlie: Who’s gonna take care of me?

Annie: Uh, excuse me? You don’t think I’m gonna take care of you?

Charlie: But when you die?

Never being one for horror films, going into watch Hereditary was purely incidental. I didn’t watch any trailers, read any review, knowing absolutely nothing about it apart from the poster showing the character of Charlie. Two hours later, I was stunned in silence over what I’d seen. Hereditary is a modern day horror masterpiece, cementing its quality of terror alongside true horror classics from before. What is so affecting about the movie is the constant, yet subdued sense of dread in the beginning, hinting to the audience that the worst will inevitably come. When it comes, the rest is history. Toni Collette is wondrous as Annie, a tour de force that was shamelessly and stupidly snubbed by this year’s Oscars. Time will be kinder to Hereditary, though. Ari Aster has gone on record saying that he wanted the movie to feel “evil”, an experience that was truly terrifying. He’s done it, as Hereditary is a grim, stressful and sinister picture that checkmates what a modern day horror movie could and should be.

 

  1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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*excerpt from screenplay*

MILES (V.O.)

“When do I know I’m Spider-Man?”

BACK ON MILES– Moving closer and closer to the edge.

PETER (V.O.)“You won’t. That’s all it is, Miles… a leap of faith.”

Miles walks to the edge of the roof, the wind buffeting…

and LEAPS! The camera is UPSIDE DOWN. Miles isn’t falling

through frame. He’s RISING.

 

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired and replaced from a well known project, and went on to produce and help write another movie. The film they were booted from became the first Star Wars flop, and the film they helped make changed the superhero genre forever.

What a year for Spider-Man. After being a huge highlight in Infinity War (“I don’t feel so good) and being part of one of the best superhero games ever made, the true crowning achievement for the character, and for superhero films in general, is found Into the Spider-Verse. Apart from the visual glory (that I detailed in my review) and the pitch perfect comedy, this is a deconstruction yet celebration of Stan Lee’s greatest creation. We’re constantly reminded why we love the character of Spider-Man, not only as children, but now as adults who need to take that “leap of faith”. Miles Morales’ arc is the thing of legend. His plight of finding his true potential, to find that spark of greatness, culminating in him jumping off that building, stands as the most satisfying and awe inspiring moment of 2018. Where countless comic book films try to be the next Dark Knight, what makes a great film great is pure ingenuity, the illusion that what you see on screen isn’t predetermined or predictable, as if you’re watching events as they happen. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a hectic, melodic (that soundtrack!), fever dream of a film that stands as the very best that cinema can offer in 2018.

 

 

 

 

The Most Surprising Movies of 2018

As one very intelligent philosopher said, expectations are a devil, aren’t they? It’s so easy to overhype a film from a two minute trailer, only to have that hype squandered with the final product. However, it’s even easier to be a cynic in this day and age, watching a two minute trailer and thinking “that’s got to be a terrible movie.” Surprisingly though, there are a number of films that were seemingly destined to fail, and miraculously ended up being quality films.

 

Crazy Rich Asians

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God forbid we lose the ancient Chinese tradition of guilting your children.

The trailer for Crazy Rich Asians did absolutely nothing to convince me that it was going to be nothing more than a dopey, melodramatic affair. Upon watching it, however, I can honestly say I had a legitimately good time. The character of Rachel Chu and her determination to have the approval of her boyfriend’s very protective mother is the heart of the film, complete with great performances across the board. The surprising standout is Akwafina, who delivers some of the very best laughs in the entire film. Her comedic timing is razor sharp, enough to make haters into fans, myself included. Though it isn’t groundbreaking, Crazy Rich Asians is a cultural milestone that is respectful of its heritage yet lucid to the ever changing times that heed a response. Also, it has what could be the most beautiful wedding ever put on film.

 

Upgrade

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Grey Trace: See, you thought I was a cripple but you didn’t know that I’m a ninja.

Stem: While I am state of the art, I am not a ninja.

I somewhat expected Upgrade to be a tolerable film, but MAN OH MAN did I not see this coming. It’s a Rated R retelling of Ratatouille, and this time, he’s serving up kills.

I’ll see myself out.

Still, Leigh Whannell’s futuristic revenge tale is everything that Venom should have been: Violent, creative in its shocking violence, a reluctant hero, and a lurid sense of fun. The future aesthetic feels as though it takes place in the Blade Runner universe but still feels like Whannell’s brainchild with its soaring creativity. Upgrade is an insane piece of cinema, unbridled and uncompromised by convention, delivering a refreshingly original and at times innovative sci-fi film.

 

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

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Matt Graver: You gonna help us start a war.

Alejandro: With who?

Matt Graver: Everyone.           

Well what do ya know, this didn’t suck. I can’t say that after watching the first Sicario, I thought to myself “Oh boy, we need a cinematic universe of this!”. Though not directed by Denis Villeneuve, Day of the Soldado is once again written by Taylor Sheridan, who’s been proving to be a great writer/director in his own right, so the tone and feel of the original is very much intact. Stefano Sollima is at the helm and, though he does do a brilliant job as director, it pales in comparison to Villeneuve’s masterful direction that made the original an modern classic. Fortunately, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin are the main focuses this time around, and they are in top form. Day of the Soldado is a perfectly fine companion piece to the 2015 original, developing del Toro’s already-iconic character of Alejandro even further, and actually having me want there to be a third film. Here’s hoping!

 

Halloween

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Laurie Strode: I always knew he’d come back. In this town, Michael Myers is a myth. He’s the Boogeyman. A ghost story to scare kids. But this Boogeyman is real. An evil like his never stops, it just grows older. Darker. More determined. Forty years ago, he came to my home to kill. He killed my friends, and now he’s back to finish what he started, with me. The one person who’s ready to stop him.

It’s incredible that it took four decades, but we finally got a good Halloween sequel. Having spent the summer prior watching every film in the series, I had zero expectations for this new installment. The lore of the Halloween series is downright comedic, and it was an act of wisdom that David Gordon-Green and co. decided to retcon all of the sequels, leaving this and the 1978 original canon. The end result is something surprisingly well done. To me, what made Michael Myers the quintessential horror icon is the lack of information. We don’t know what motivates him to kill, or if he even gets pleasure from it. He is the embodiment of pure evil, and that’s reason enough to be frightened. Halloween 2018 knows this, and delivers the most satisfying portrayal of Michael Myers to date. The tracking shot of Michael Myers going from house to house is worth the price of admission. Though there’s some questionable comedy (“I got peanut butter on my penis!”), and some truly baffling character decisions that grinds the film to a complete halt at one point, Jamie Lee Curtis’ homecoming to the series breathes new life into the once dead franchise, with a phenomenal score by series creator John Carpenter to boot.

 

Bumblebee

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Agent Burns: [to Charlie and Bumblebee] Don’t run. Do *not* run.

[Bumblebee runs off, carrying Charlie]

Agent Burns: She ran.

After twelve years and five horrifically dated films, the Transformers series finally netted a good, at times great entry. Being notorious for its portrayal of its women and the damsels they play, the inclusion of Hailee Steinfeld as the lead Charlie is more-than-welcome change of pace. It’s quite the testament to this film for being able to stand on its own, while belittling the crass humor and racist undertones that Michael Bay’s films ravished in. Steinfeld is typically fantastic, playing a wide range of emotion to perfection, once again showing us that she’s an actress to look out for. John Cena is reliably charismatic, though a little offputting in the more serious scenes with his character, which is ironic considering the sheer mass of the man. The title character is done lovingly, with director Travis Knight conducting a Transformer story that actually does the original cartoon justice, implementing a tone that evokes adolescent wonder reminiscent of ET (to a certain fault). In the end, though it’s not as flashy or explosion filled as its predecessors, Bumblebee has its feet on the grown, delivering a down-to-earth film that isn’t focused on its ludicrous action, and instead acts as a much needed breath of fresh air for the series.

Searching

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David Kim: I didn’t know her. I didn’t know my daughter.

A huge temptation when making a movie is to end up being preachy. Every film has a message, an intention, sure, but that message is almost always conveyed best when its conveyed with subtlety. Searching is very much a cautionary tale concerning social media and the prevalent and constant dangers it can produce with ease. However, there was no point where the message overwhelmed or stole the narrative’s momentum, telling a story of a father desperately looking for his missing daughter. John Cho delivers a career best performance, perfectly invoking the confusion, uncertainty, anger, anguish that his character is burdened with throughout the film. The main surprise here is the near perfect and terrifying portrayal of social media websites and the dreadful trends we all see on our feed. This isn’t pandering, though it easily could’ve been, and instead portrays those trends and regularities with the terror and oddness that, deep down inside, we all know it to be.

 

The Most Disappointing Movies of 2018

Expectations are a devil, aren’t they? As moviegoers, we should be trained and privy to how a movie can disappoint us, no matter how much we want it to be good. Whether it’s a new entry to a famed franchise, or a new film from an acclaimed filmmaker, I found myself disappointed from more films in 2018 than previous years. In any event, though, here’s some films that could have been so much, much more.

Pacific Rim: Uprising

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Moment of Cringe: Charlie Day given way more material than anyone asked for; the “TROLLOLOL” song plays as a way to calm one of the characters; the terrible YouTube ads featuring a stupidly mixed Tupac song.

I didn’t even love Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 original, but it delivered in being an overtop, adrenaline pumping epic that’s fluent in spectacle. Uprising, however, from the very first frame, loses any and all sense of adventure that the original had. I wanted to root for this film, since I never even thought a sequel to Pacific Rim would be in the cards, but with a terrible script, huge disregard for returning characters, and a lack of ingenuity, Pacific Rim: Uprising truly makes you wish Idris Elba never canceled the Apocalypse in the first place.

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story

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Moment of Cringe: Having an Imperial Officer name Han “Solo”, as if we needed that explanation.

While Solo has grown on me through repeat viewings, it’s still impossible to think of what the film could’ve been if all of those directorial conflicts were avoided. Ron Howard directs a fairly well made film in the span of six months, which is nothing to short change. However, knowing that Phil Lord and Chris Miller were originally slated to bring Han Solo back to his former glory, Solo feels like a missed opportunity, a competently done film that nobody asked for in the first place. At least we know Han speaks Wookie, I guess.

 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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Moment of Cringe: Chris Pratt running away from a meteor shower; Bryce Dallas Howard bringing the most unqualified people possible to the island, “Oh you’re a computer guy? Help me man the Jurassic World security system!”; The New Dinosaur follows laser pointers; the guy with a dinosaur tooth fetish; the use of Jeff Goldblum.

I’ve never considered myself to be much of a Jurassic Park fan. The films were oddly absent throughout my childhood, and I’d only seen the original the day before I saw the first Jurassic World. Though Fallen Kingdom is helmed by JA Bayona, giving the film a darker, more horror-twist to the increasingly stale series, any sliver of innovation on his part is floundered and essentially invalidated by the horrendous screenplay. The idea of destroying Isla Nublar is an admittedly ballsy one, and the same could be said for having the film take place in a large mansion, but any potential this change of pace is floundered from a lack of focus for the passage of events and the delusion that we actually care about these characters.

Bohemian Rhapsody

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Moment of Cringe: Nothing, really. Just underwhelming.

Apart from the showstealing Live Aid performance and Rami Malek’s incredible transformation as Freddie Mercury, Bohemian Rhapsody barely scratches the surface in regards to its subject. Strip away the music and the amazing lead performance, and you get a by the numbers biopic that isn’t interested in giving a compelling narrative so much as it wants to remind you of Queen’s iconic discography by just playing Under Pressure in the background. Rhapsody is also notable for its well documented directorial troubles, culminating in a film that is oddly timid to take any real chances, something Freddie Mercury encouraged on the daily.

Venom

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Moment of Cringe: Just about everything.

The character of Venom is my favorite Spider-Man villain, so the idea of a Venom movie WITHOUT Spider-Man was odd to say the very least. Apart from Tom Hardy’s performance as Eddie Brock and even voicing Venom, the film is just stale. Venom feels like a film stuck in time, feeling like it’d be better suited to be released in the early 2000’s than in the current highs of the superhero genre. The character of Eddie Brock is nobody to root for, but the movie insists upon it, completely missing the mark as to what made the character great. Oh, and Woody Harrelson’s wig is atrocious.

Welcome to Marwen

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Moment of Cringe: Zemeckis doing a self parody

Robert Zemeckis is one of the most innovative and prolific filmmakers in history, constantly pushing the boundaries of what a movie can show and be. The man has always flirted with technology, delivering all time classics such as Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Forrest Gump. His latest, Welcome to Marwen, is a misfire from almost every direction. While the concept of blending animation and live action is certainly clever, especially when taking into account the real life subject, the execution is somewhat unsettling. The predominant theme is trauma, as we follow Mark Hogancamp’s struggle with everyday life after suffering a vicious assault. The idea of incorporating Hogancamp’s use of dolls into the story sounds profound and tailormade to the kind of emotion Zemeckis is known for, but Welcome to Marwen has no idea of what it wants to be: an action blockbuster? A romance? A comedy? A PTSD drama? The end result is a sad, disappointing mess.

The Predator

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Moment of Cringe: Existing

I really don’t know who to blame for this film being such a letdown. I don’t know if Shane Black is to blame, or 20th Century Fox for ordering extensive reshoots, or God himself for allowing this movie to be made. The 1987 original Predator is an action/horror masterpiece, being a masterclass in suspense filmmaking while containing quite possibly the most masculine and testosterone fueled cast of brawny men in history. It’s a classic in every sense of the word, and I have always found myself waiting for a new entry to live up to the quality of the original. I held out hope for The Predator because of Shane Black, a filmmaker known to deliver layered, thoughtful and subversive comedies (Iron Man 3 is way better than you remember). Hell, Black was in the original film, playing the vulgar Hawkins. The miscalculation of The Predator is so large and monumental that a simple journal entry can’t do it justice. This is the epitome of what’s wrong with the filmmaking industry: cash grabs done with the wrong people, both in front of the camera and behind it. There is not a single moment of ingenuity or innovation that justifies its existence, than being a hollow, sad shell of a franchise that once had potential. The Predator is, as Arnold said “one ugly motherf***er”.

My Favorite Performances of 2018

I have seen an absurd amount of movies over the last calendar year, and with my financial detriment in the form of movie tickets comes the amazing chance to witness fantastic performances on the silver screen. This isn’t a Top 10 list, nor is the placement of any of these performances comprehensive (except for the last one), so without further ado, here’s to my favorite performances of 2018:

Joaquin Phoenix You Were Never Really Here

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As more time passes by, and as he widens his filmography, the more I begin to recognize how much of an underappreciated acting juggernaut Joaquin Phoenix is. You Were Never Really Here finds Phoenix as a Travis Bickle-type hitman who rescues kidnapped little girls. Burdened by PTSD from his time in the military and FBI, the character of Joe is a physical embodiment volatility: a man who wants to do good but is constantly pushed to the edge by his psyche. Phoenix sinks his teeth into the role, once again showcasing his incredible range and ability as an actor, being the true highlight of an equally stellar and offbeat film.

Josh Brolin –Avengers: Infinity War

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Perhaps the most common criticism of the MCU is the shortage of truly memorable villains. The more recent films have actually drastically improved this glaring flaw (see Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther) but any improvement would be moot if the franchise big bad was anything less than stellar. Luckily enough, Josh Brolin’s Thanos was damn good. Though done entirely through motion capture, Brolin brings an unexpected humanity that actually makes you identify with the Titan hellbent on genocide. The very success of Infinity War was riding on Thanos. Never before has a MCU villain been as hyped up and mythologized as he, with several characters speaking of him through hushed tones and discomfort. Brolin plays Thanos to absolute perfection, capping off the ten year experiment known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe . Also, if your character is given the meme treatment, you’ve done something right.

Mackenzie Davis – Tully

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I feel Tully flew under the radar, hardly reaching anyone’s best of lists. Nevertheless, the picture features two of the best performances of 2018. It’s no surprise that Charlize Theron delivers a stunning portrayal of a mother of 3 (she gained about 50 pounds for the role), but what was truly the gem of Tully was Mackenzie Davis’ turn as the title character. Her likability, laid back nature and energy was what Theron’s character had essentially forgotten. Her twenty-something naivete and optimism is absolutely contagious to not only the character, but to the viewer. Up to that point, Theron was a punching bag in every aspect of her life, as a mother and a wife. Davis’ inclusion to the film lightens the character’s load, and brings a calmness and comfort to the rest of the film that works in spades due to the actor’s charisma. With Blade Runner 2049 and now Tully, Mackenzie Davis is truly one to look out for.

Ethan Hawke – First Reformed

Related imageFirst Reformed is religious film done right, and Ethan Hawke is frighteningly terrific as a Priest of a failing church who is trying to prevent a tragedy in other’s lives. The synopsis given was a vague one, and rightfully so. First Reformed is less about the passage of events and more of the emotional impact that these events bring. Hawke plays a man of conviction, who has been labored by personal tragedy. His subtlety and down to earth nature is not a performance of indifference, but rather one of an attempt to keep emotions at bay amidst turmoil.

Tom Cruise – M:I – Fallout

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Say what you will about the man, but the actor by the name of Tom Cruise is the definition of a movie star. Charismatic, likable, charming and eager to take on new challenges, perhaps his best work could be found in the latest Mission: Impossible film. Once again performing his own stunts (the man flies a helicopter AND ride a motorcycle through oncoming traffic), Cruise’s dedication to the craft of acting and the filmmaking process is something to marvel. He knows the character of Ethan Hunt like the back of his hand, giving an all time great Mission performance, whether it be in the air, or in the ground.

Ryan Gosling – First Man

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Ryan Gosling’s turn as Neil Armstrong was a polarizing one, displaying a stoic and distant man, a far cry from the American hero that pop culture loves to paint. First Man is about Armstrong’s humanity amidst accomplishing the greatest human achievement in history, and Gosling delivers a performance that perfectly compliments this narrative subversion. Quiet, calculating, and burdened by tragedy, the Neil Armstrong brought to life by Ryan Gosling is less about a man sticking an American flag on the moon, but rather a character study of a man overcoming his personal demons amongst impossibly historic circumstances

Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody

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Bohemian Rhapsody is a textbook example of how an actor can elevate the material. The film’s writing, character development and creative liberties make up a mostly mediocre and by the numbers biopic, but Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury is a pure delight. Malek’s mannerisms, walking, talking and overall demeanor as the Queen front man is on point, being less of an imitation of the man and more of a physical manifestation of the man. Malek has gone on record as to the extensive research he’d undertaken for the part, and every bit of it shows and shines beautifully, even if the rest of the movie doesn’t.

Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz – The Favourite

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More so than any of the films, I couldn’t decide which performance to single out than in The Favourite. All three of these actresses come in with their A game from the opening moments of the film to the moments the credits start rolling. Every bit of humor, spite, jealousy and envy found in these characters are perfectly captured and expressed by this trio, delivering three of my top three favorite performances of the year. The Favourite could very well be my favorite film of 2018, with the efforts of Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz delivering a pure masterclass of the art of acting.

Yalitza Aparicio – Roma

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The name of the game for Roma is realism. Director Alfonso Cuaron writes and directs a story told from the deep recesses of his memory as a child. A near masterpiece in filmmaking, the true heart and soul lies within Yalitza Aparicio’s take as a housemaid to a Mexican family. The hardships and trauma, whether it be physical or emotional, understandably hit Cleo like a ton of bricks. However, where a lesser film resorts to insert sad music or have the character deliver a monologue only seen on the silver screen, we find characters and emotions that are deeply personal and intimate, and Aparicio, a real life school teacher, captures emotional turmoil only truly felt within life itself.

Christian Bale – Vice

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Famously known to go insanely deep for his roles, Christian Bale does no different in Vice as former Vice President Dick Cheney. Gaining more than forty pounds and wearing a fair amount of prosthetics, the British Oscar winner brings one of the most polarizing and vilified political figures to life. Bale perfectly captures the rugged, famously monotonous nature of Cheney to full force, bringing an attention to detail seen in only Daniel Day-Lewis films. Vice has garnered sharply divided responses across the cinematic and political spectrums, but Bale’s turn as the title character is truly something to behold: a talent who shows no sign of slowing down.

Toni Collette – Hereditary

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Just the mere thought of Hereditary brings a sense of discomfort. It’s a modern horror classic with a downright amazing performance by Toni Collette. Say what you will about Hereditary, but a common consensus among virtually all reviews was that of Collette’s performance. Playing a mother reeling off the death of her children’s grandmother, Collette is a damn acting heavyweight in every scene that requires her brilliance. Her character of Annie experiences enough tragedy and trauma to cover the entire family ten fold and she delivers such a convincing and emotionally powerful masterclass. It is a long shot, with it being a horror film, but an Oscar nomination and win is more than deserving here, my favorite acting performance of 2018.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse – Movie Review

3E47320A-3EAC-485C-83D8-3B3F1C4A6E64Hard to believe that just four short years ago, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 acted as a second nail in the cinematic coffin for the webslinger. After the film’s loathsome critical reception tagged with a high, but supposedly disappointing box office return, Sony buckled down and granted Marvel Studios to welcome the character home in the MCU. Ever since 2016’s brilliant Captain America: Civil War, the character of Spider-Man has once again become a fan favorite, whether it be in part to Tom Holland’s pitch perfect portrayal, or the wondrous highs that the PS4 game had in mass abundance. Now, in the twilight of 2018, Sony once again takes another crack at making a Spidey picture. This time, with the help of Sony Animation, the final result is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a weird, offbeat and gloriously entertaining odyssey that perfectly captures the essence of the title character in ways never seen before. Sony has finally struck gold.

Into The Spider-Verse is the first film to center on fan favorite Miles Morales. The film follows his all too relatable high school days, as he maneuvers through one awkward encounter after another. Complete with a conflicted family life at home, we can truly see Miles’ emotional plight that is tailor made for Spider-Man. Before we know it, multi-dimensional elements hit the normalcy of his life like a train, leading him to meet Peter Parker, albeit an older (and fatter) iteration. Before you know it, a slew of (mainly) unknown and obscure versions of Spider-Man pop up, including Spider-Noir, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Ham, a pig version of the character (Homer Simpson would be so proud), and an anime inspired take called Peni Parker.

The synopsis given may be seen as vague, and rightfully so. Movies are to be cherished and met with a sense of mystery and discovery, and Into the Spider-Verse has this in mass abundance. The visual palette is something to fall head over heels for. Take a comic film like Watchmen, which was touted as a comic film brought to life, perfectly realizing the moody visual aesthetic of its source material, working as a perfect cinematic translation of Alan Moore’s original. Nearly ten years later, here we have a film that practically transports the audience into the comic book panels, delivering the most comic book-y film ever put on screen. The animation uses this to its full advantage, with Sony Animation delivering an innovative and at times groundbreaking view of what a superhero movie could and should be. Speech/thought bubbles are used to great comedic effect, giving the film a spontaneous feel with an urgency that only some of the best comedic films achieve. The use of color and lighting are something to behold, possibly offering the most visually appealing film of the year. A recent gripe that I’ve had with many MCU films is the at-times lifeless direction given to scenes that don’t involve action. Too often does the camera do the bear minimum to show that two characters are having a conversation. In the case of Into the Spider-Verse, the visuals only heighten and amplify any and all emotional heft provided within these characters.

What makes Spider-Man such a beloved character is his optimism, his will to keep moving forward despite being dealt with a bad hand. Even given all the adversity that one could possibly endure, both physical and emotional, the character of Spider-Man finds a way to progress, to outdo and grow from the present danger. This film perfectly encapsulates this characteristic. No matter how dire things seem for Miles Morales, his first instinct is to think how he can make things right, when a lesser person would submit to the pain. By the end of this, Miles Morales becomes a beloved addition to the vast Marvel cinematic landscape, proving to be more than worthy to earn the name Spider-Man.

In a year of true superhero triumphs, whether it be the cultural shockwave of Black Panther or the cosmic juggling act that was Infinity War, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stands out by being a visually intoxicating odyssey compared to the normalcy of the two aforementioned films. It’s clear from the get-go that the filmmakers are crafting this movie with love, knowing full well what makes the character so special and Stan Lee’s greatest creation.

Final Grade: A+Spider-Man.(Character).full.2232897

First Man: Movie Review

“We need to fail. We need to fail down here so we don’t fail up there.”

In the span of four years, Damien Chazelle has gone from a wunderkind to a legitimate force to be reckoned with. His last two features Whiplash and La La Land are masterful cinematic works that fully realize the potential of their topics, themes, and characters. With both of these films being my favorite of their respective years, I was instantly on board for whatever Chazelle would do next. Would he make another musical? Go back to the jazz scene? Will JK Simmons destroy the moral and dreams of the main character? In short, the answer is no. First Man is Chazelle’s follow up to his Oscar-winning La La Land, on the spectrum of variety, it seems that he has no intent on slowing down. He has given us a picture that shares completely different DNA from what has come before, delivering an intensely intimate, personal and melancholy character study of Neil Armstrong.

First Man depicts the life and times of Neil Armstrong, beginning from 1961, culminating into the fateful Apollo 11 moon landing. We follow Armstrong through every mountainous high along with every devastating low. First Man very much lives up to its title as it almost focuses solely on the trials and tribulations Armstrong had to endure, as well as his then-wife Janet getting the brunt of it.  Some viewers may expect the film to center around the Apollo crew or NASA as they prepare to take on an immensely dangerous space mission, and those viewers may end up disappointed. This isn’t a modern telling of Apollo 13 or an ensemble piece of the crew. The film focuses on the man, and the turbulent journey he took to be the first man to ever walk on the moon.

In spite of a laser sharp focus, the same cannot be said for its storytelling. First Man takes place over the span of eight years, and despite a lengthy 140 minute run time, the passage of time isn’t done with the care and focus that other aspects of the film are given. There are time stamps that give the audience an idea over how much time has passed since the prior scene, but hardly anything else is done to show how the characters have changed in the span of that time. That certainly may have been the intention given Armstrong’s perceived indifference to the world around him, but the execution can hinder the film’s pacing; and for a near two and a half hour film, that can be severely damaging.

With the narrative focusing primarily on one character, it is imperative to have an actor who can not only be compelling enough to justify their being there, but also bring humanity to a person who has always been described as a reluctant celebrity. Ryan Gosling shines as Neil Armstrong, bringing his trademarked stoicism and quietly fierce demeanor to the role. First Man does not paint Armstrong as an overtly patriotic or grandiose presence. There is a subtlety to Gosling’s performance that brings awareness and attention to whatever is happening to him at a given moment, but also an odd emotional detachment from the rest of the cast that can be initially frustrating for the viewer, but later becomes one of the Armstrong’s defining features. The lack of explosive acting is not to be confused with disinterest or indifference. This is a damaged and emotionally torn man who is tasked with completing what is arguably the greatest human achievement in history. There has to be some sort of reservation within the man.

As expected, Damien Chazelle directs this film with the confidence and prudence that has won over a legion of moviegoers. Stylistically, First Man is head-to-toes different from anything in his filmography. Music is hardly the focus this time around, and on top of this being a biopic, anyone hoping for an encore of Whiplash or La La Land will be left as cold as the blackness of space. There is a handheld, documentarian feel to the movie that legitimately feels like we are watching archive footage from Neil Armstrong’s life. The constant use of closeups, crash zooms and purposeful shaky cam over its grainy color palette ensures a level of realism and intimacy that is lacking in even some of the best biopics. Also, it is nearly impossible to tell what effects were practical or digitally done. The crashes, the soaring of the spaceships, and the lighting transitions from Earth’s blue to the blackness of space is immensely well done and seamless. This is less a cinematic presentation as it is a recreation of what it would actually feel like to be in what is essentially a metal trash can being launched into space. The launch scenes can range from being awe-inspiring to suspenseful to nausea inducing to absolutely terrifying. There is a large abundance of spontaneity and unpredictability to these scenes, which is quite an achievement since this is one of the most documented events in human history.

The moon landing itself, done with IMAX cameras is the true selling point of the film. Gone are the grainy and amateur feel of old. I dare not go into detail as to what happens during the sequence, but it acts as a beautifully done and powerful payoff to the film’s central arc. The omission of an American flag being planted into the moon’s surface has been absolutely blown out of proportion in favor of political speak and the need for a headline. In the context of the film, and the storytelling that is in effect, every shot, cut, use of silence and sway of the camera is done to absolute perfection. In a visual perspective, and as well as a narrative conclusion, the lunar sequence is a near-perfect and satisfying culmination of this incredibly personal story.

First Man is not anti-American. It does not paint a liberal’s paradise or is overtly politically correct. Director Damien Chazelle showcases the humanity and internal conflict of the man who is centered around the moon landing. It is so easy, tempting even, to fall into the media wonderland that was present in covering this event. Political ideologies and patriotism could have easily drowned out the human component of this story. Though not as finely tuned as his prior work, Chazelle has once again given us an experience so special and engrossing, bringing a mastery and wisdom to his craft well beyond his years.

Final Grade: A-

Pulp Fiction: Making New out of the Old

To understand a film’s structure is the first step in understanding a film’s meaning. Few filmmakers are as audacious and original than that of Quentin Tarantino. His use of music, cool and breezy dialogue, and shocking, often impactful violence has changed the landscape of modern cinema, never having witnessed a filmmaker so brash and proudly indulgent. With Tarantino now a household name, it’s difficult to remember a time before Kill Bill, Django Unchained, or Inglourious Basterds. In 1994, Quentin Tarantino changed nearly ever facet and convention of the cinematic artform with his second feature, Pulp Fiction. A film that is so iconic, so well beloved, that a viewer can easily be overwhelmed and even intimidated by its popularity. While his debut film, Reservoir Dogs, contained several elements that went on to be common traits in future films, it wasn’t until Pulp Fiction where those elements were more finely tuned and used more effectively. However, these very things that made Pulp such an iconic film would have fallen on deaf ears, or seen as simply unremarkable, if it hadn’t been for structurally odd, yet iconic, storytelling.

While Tarantino is no stranger to non-linear narratives, his films essentially use a conventional, three-act structure with a beginning, middle and end. In other words, the ending of the film is the last thing that happens. Aldo Raine stares in awe at his “masterpiece”; The Bride and her daughter are happily reunited; and Django and Broomhilda ride off together after blowing up Candyland. Pulp Fiction’s ending however, would fall in the middle of chronological events. Jules and Vincent Vega leaving the diner (with “BAD MOTHERFUCKER” wallet intact) would barely be included in a traditional film’s second act. Instead, the film tells its stories through a series of chapters that are told almost completely out of order, with various characters crossing each other’s paths along the way. Technically speaking, Bruce Willis’ segment in the film would act as the finale, and is instead placed in the end of the second act. This unorthodox structure helps give the film a compelling and, more importantly, unpredictable pace that breathes life into worn out stories.

These characters and stories are, for lack of a better term, are old, and Tarantino is keenly aware of this fact. The first image of the film is a dictionary definition of the word “Pulp”:pulpdefinition

 

Even before showing a single frame of film, Tarantino is showing his acknowledgement of how these stories typically are: inconsequential, lifeless and boring. It is with the film’s unique structure where he gives life and relevance to stories that have been repeatedly told for ages. Pulp Fiction is a tribute and revival to the stories of old, showing a hitman with a love of burgers, complete with an existential crisis. The poster girl, Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace is the archetypal gangster’s wife, but it’s Tarantino’s screenplay and knack for character development that helps alleviate a tired shell of a character to one of cinema’s most endearing roles. Pulp Fiction is often credited to have perfected the concept and template of the postmodern film, which is a kind of film that strays away from narrative conventions and makes a wholly new picture. Such a definition points to why Pulp Fiction is as enduring now as it was back in 1994. Traditional films are obsessed and terrified of the notion that their story may grow boring or overlong, hoping that the story can gradually build and result into a spectacular climax. Tarantino knows the hand he’s dealt with in Pulp Fiction. At the slightest hint of mundanity, the film abruptly fades to black and tells another, seemingly unrelated story from the one previous, keeping the momentum from what came before. His mission to make new from old is the DNA of this film, from the Jack Rabbit Slim’s diner with various actors portraying some of pop culture’s greatest hits of yonder, like Richard Nixon and Marilyn Monroe, to the iconically eclectic soundtrack spanning from Rock ‘n Roll to Soul.

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Pulp Fiction is a landmark in original filmmaking. Quentin Tarantino deconstructs pop culture, and the audience’s knowledge of it, and creates a motion picture that is in a genre unto itself. Through all the retrospective pomp and circumstance, it is easy to forget the true, understated mastery of its storytelling. It is Tarantino’s awareness of the stories’ limited longevity that makes the film’s structure endlessly vital to its eventual success and enduring relevance. Had it been told by conventional means, its brilliance and acute self-awareness would be suppressed to a tragic minimum. Pulp Fiction is greater than the sum of its parts because of how the story is told, turning what was once thought to be pastiche into true cinematic ingenuity.

6 Hidden Gems of 2018 (So Far)

As with just about every year, 2018 has provided a ton of amazing films that are not only entertaining, but innovate and progress the very art of filmmaking. Having just reached the hallway mark of the year, there has already been several films that I would absolutely give a perfect score. That being said, this list won’t be a “best of” like the ones I’ve posted prior, but rather a list of films that I feel haven’t gotten the attention they deserve (and may or may not make the Top 10 end-of-year list). Sure Infinity War and Incredibles 2 are fantastic pieces of entertainment, but those films are essentially money making machines, hardly in the need of any more exposure.

These movies will not be ranked, so their placements on the list won’t represent their superiority or inferiority to other films.

 

Isle of Dogs

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Rex: To the North; a long rickety causeway over a noxious sludge marsh, leading to a radioactive landfill polluted by toxic chemical garbage. That’s our destination. Get ready to jump.

I know I’ve already written a review for this, but damn if I don’t love Isle of Dogs. Wes Anderson’s latest oddity is yet another original, quirky, and offbeat adventure that is an absolute delight from beginning to end. Armed with the underappreciated method of stop motion animation, Anderson and co. deliver a beautifully animated visual fest that is still the year’s best animated film (sorry, Incredibles 2). Whether it be the reliably odd dialogue, perfectly framed shots or its ridiculously star-studded cast, Wes Anderson’s fingerprints are all over this project, reminding us of his natural instinct to deliver films that are aimed to please and charm. Also, who doesn’t love dogs?

 

You Were Never Really Here

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Nina: Joe, wake up. It’s a beautiful day.

Arguably the most simply plotted film of the list, as well as the most divisive, You Were Never Really Here is a character piece at heart, and a disturbing one at that. Depicted here is Joe, played effortlessly by Joaquin Phoenix, a hitman of sorts who specializes in saving abducted young girls. Make a long story short, a job goes wrong, and we learn more of Joe and his tortured past in the process. While it may be initially jarring to see what that pasts ultimately consists of, and how it’s taken a toll on his psyche, this is a textbook character study at the highest degree. This sort of dark, disturbed territory is familiar footing for writer/director Lynne Ramsay, making a film that is so subdued yet invitingly cavalier with its flirtations of the violent and demented. You Were Never Really Here might prove to be an uneasy viewing for some, if not most, but is easily one of the most well realized and chaotically focused look at the combustible tendencies of its protagonist.

Unsane

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Sawyer: I’m not fucking crazy!

Not an incredibly quotable film, but just the way Unsane was made deserves a viewing. Steven Soderbergh’s latest film post-retirement sees a woman wrongfully admitted to a mental institution after a simple therapy session. Later on more is revealed about the woman, played by the excellent Claire Foy, as she starts to uncover the true motives of the institution, if there is any. While the premise may leave a bit to be desired, the fact that the entirety of the film was filmed on an iPhone 7 Plus camera is such an intriguing method of filmmaking, especially for a director of Soderbergh’s caliber. I’m sure that a ton of indie films filmed on a cell phone already exist, but for an Oscar-winning director using that avenue of filmmaking is commendable, and it’s quite impressive to see what’s captured. Though it’s instantly noticeable that we aren’t looking through the lens of an IMAX camera, Soderbergh works magic with the phone camera, presenting a story that is told through a filter and lens that we are all familiar with, outweighing Unsane’s familiarity with an intimate sense of dread.

Tully

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Marlo: Your twenties are great, but then your thirties come around the corner like a garbage truck at 5:00 a.m. 
Tully: Girls heal
Marlo: No, we don’t. We might look like we’re all better, but if you look close, we’re covered in concealer.

An ode to hardworking and overworked mothers, Tully is just wonderful. Wonderful performances, music, writing, directing, and I think that was what Jason Reitman wants the viewer to see. Beginning with the birth of her third child, Charlize Theron’s Marlo is mentally destroyed with the difficulties of motherhood, parenting three children who are each at a differently difficult part of their childhood. She finally submits to hiring a night nanny, the title character played by a miraculous Mackenzie Davis. Marlo finally has time for herself, whether it be to sleep, or even interact with people who she didn’t birth. This renewed sense of wonder and optimism is contagious, with Theron and Davis having lovable chemistry with one another, making their interactions with each other compelling and endlessly enjoyable. Tully is Reitman’s best film in years.

First Reformed

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Michael: Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to this world?
Toller: Who can know the mind of God?

Christian films have a tendency to, uhh, shall I say, suck. Even more so than horror films, the margin of error for Christian films is so huge that it’s practically impossible to make a competently made Christian film that has fewer holes in its logic than Swiss cheese. They’re never made to convince or convert cynics into believers, being the epitome of preaching to the choir.

First Reformed, however? This could be the greatest faith-based film ever produced. I’d rather not delve into the story details of the film, but I will say that the most refreshing aspect of this film is that while there is certainly a protagonist to this story, the idea of there being a hero is entirely moot. Where other films celebrate the idea of Divine Intervention, First Reformed instead asks the questions that many believers are trialed with. How can someone look at the horrors that engulf this world and not question a few things? To tackle religion in a film requires complexity and sensitivity, which the vast majority of faith-based films disgracefully lack. Paul Schrader, whose penmanship is responsible for some of cinema’s most influential and essential films, once again delivers a story of conflicted faith, not out of flirtation with the devil, but out an urgent assurance of one’s faith.

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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 Fred Rogers: “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Well, I suppose it’s an invitation. It’s an invitation for somebody to be close to you.

 

We end on the highest of high notes. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a documentary about the life of Fred Rogers and his show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, one of the most iconic and beloved children’s shows ever made. The trailer alone is a tear-jerker, and the film is 95 minutes of pure wholesomeness in the best way possible. While it may be seen as a tribute to Fred Rogers, the film does not have a case of hero-worship. The documentary offers insight into Rogers’ personal life, and some of the inner turmoil he carried with him throughout the show’s production. In a time where so many celebrities and actors are being ousted for outrageous and egregious behavior, it is a godsend that Fred Rogers remains a figure of kindness and empathy, now more than ever. He viewed children as human beings, people who may be unfamiliar with complex emotions, but are still burdened with them nonetheless. He never talked down to children, often viewing his child guests and the viewer as his equal. Won’t You Be My Neighbor is such an uplifting delight, a glimmer of sunshine in a world that has only known rainy days.

 

 

Nobody Hates Star Wars More…

Than Star Wars fans.

Free speech is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? To have the freedom to speak your mind, to voice your opinions without fear of governmental retribution, so long as it is civil and doesn’t allude to any illegal actions. You don’t have to agree with me on every minutia of life. You can hate the movies I love, and even love the politics I resent, but if we are able to talk about our differences, acknowledge them, understand and hone them, there isn’t any reason to hate. I love talking about movies, whether it be the actual content of a film in the form of a written review, or discussing current cinema culture as it happens. The movie industry is an ever changing one, making there no shortage of discussion or argument.

However, and this is where we go into the rabbit hole, as much as I adore and revere the movies, there are some that only have passionate feelings for the films they watch, they are consumed with an ungodly obsession for it. Expectations are a dangerous thing, especially for the cinematic-obsessed. You dream of how a movie will turn out. How it begins, how it progresses the narrative, how it ultimately concludes. The idea that the finished product doesn’t exactly resemble your projected fantasy disgusts you and you resent the thing you love, because you just so happen to not be a creative consultant. It was Daisy Ridley two years prior, Kelly Marie Tran’s departure from social media is as sad as it is infuriating, because, for a golden second, I actually thought that we’ve gotten better. How you feel about a film, or how you feel about one of the film’s actors is one thing, but to through verbal shit towards them that is laced personal, racial, and sexist speech is pathetic and gutless. Back in ’99, Jake Lloyd received a whirlwind of hate for his part as Anakin in The Phantom Menace. How you feel about an actor’s performance should never, ever hold any bearing when discussing the content of the actor’s true character, let alone when talking about an eight-year-old. Lloyd was verbally pulled through the mud throughout his entire adolescence, making an inevitably awkward point in his life even more unbearable. The Star Wars fandom, known for their love and unwavering passion for Star Wars, destroyed the wonderment of a child and drove him into insanity, before he even reached the age of 30.

Hell, even George Lucas gave Star Wars, his own creation, up because of the toxic fandom. To give him the moniker George “Raped My Childhood” Lucas is dastardly and just pitiful for those who let this, or any franchise have such an unhealthy influence on them. It is perfectly fine to dislike something, or disagree with a film’s perceived direction, but wishing death to those attached to the project, just because you don’t like it, shouldn’t be a problem in the first place, but here we are. Leslie Jones caught the brunt of the Ghostbusters reboot backlash with sexist and racial hate, not because of artistic license, or any means of constructive criticism. “Fans” didn’t go after the film or the characters, but routed to the people themselves, the cast and crew who are ultimately doing their job, earning their livelihood .

To take Star Wars or Ghostbusters, or any work of fiction this seriously, while not giving the time of day to issues that matter and immediately impact our world will never cease to astonish me. If you love film, or music, or anything, you’ve got free reign to express your love and passion for it for the whole world to see. Discuss, argue, and even disagree. That’s what makes the world go round. But when all is said and done, respect. In the problem plagued world we live in, he have to pick and choose our battles. Pick the ones that have consequence. Choose the ones that need investment, care and time to be correctly addressed and helped on, instead of wasting your breath over the idea that diversity and equality is killing your sacred space opera.