Television

Let’s talk about Twin Peaks

A few years back when I was working a summer in-between semesters of college I was engaging in a favorite pastime with a coworker-talking about our shared love of movies. It wasn’t long before he brought up the name David Lynch, asking if I had heard of him or his movies. I had claimed to be a future director and writer of films, but had not heard this name. My fellow colleague stared blankly at me Was I joking with him? He started naming titles of films I had never even remotely heard of; Blue Velvet? No. Eraserhead? Nope. Surely I had heard of Mulholland Dr.? Not even once.

Life continued that way for awhile, too busy consuming other films along with finishing college, and then getting some sort of job here and there. You know, the typical creative path: winding and without a clear direction. Fast forward to last fall when murmurs of a show called Twin Peaks was going to make a comeback much like many shows recently, reanimated from the dead for one last swipe at the small screen. More importantly though the name David Lynch came up again and like a mysterious ringing in the distance, I went to discover what may lie uncovered. So I did what anyone else in my position with an ounce of curiosity would do, I searched Netflix for Twin Peaks.

What I found was a show all it’s own. First and foremost, Twin Peaks is weird. Quite weird in fact. The show takes its time unraveling this weirdness to the audience. We’re introduced to, well, the whole town essentially. It’s a cast of characters that all feel quirky enough on the outside to be real in their own odd way. The show took risks, for the time anyway, as it was aired on television in the early 1990’s. It all began with the murder of the town’s high school homecoming queen, Laura Palmer, beloved by everyone.

The original show, seasons one and two, are still on Netflix and I encourage you to check them out if you haven’t seen them. Twin Peaks is.. many things all at once. It’s an over the top emotional murder mystery that unravels mystery after mystery the more the characters try to dig at the truth. It’s a show about loss and grief, and how a death can affect a community. The show is also about abuse in a multitude of forms. It’s also got a varied sense of humor that morphs over time from stylized black humor, to something a bit dry, sometimes even slapstick, or sometimes simply awkward humor ahead of its time. Between juggling soap opera tendencies with a police procedural, the show’s main attraction are the cast of characters that live in Twin Peaks. The star character and fan favorite of the show though is Kyle MacLachlan’s FBI Agent Dale Cooper. He’s the one through-line of everything Twin Peaks. With everything that happens in this universe, Agent Cooper, in one form or another, is one of the few consistent entities that gets focus. His love of trees, strong black coffee, and his almost childlike optimism throughout his time in the original Twin Peaks quickly made him the lovable, but true to his morals, character that the audience embraced. Which is why the ending of the original show crushed so many. With the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers that ended the series due to its cancellation, many wondered, would we ever find out what happened?

Then, in 1992 a Twin Peaks movie was released and entirely directed by David Lynch unlike the show during its run. Huzzah! Answers! Or at least that’s what most probably assumed they would be getting. Not so fast! The film “Fire walk with me” was a prequel that focused on the last week of Laura Palmer’s life and the events that lead to her death. You may think, if it’s a prequel, should I watch it before the original series? Not unless you want massive spoilers, the film flutters around time and the context that the show gives the film helps to understand what’s happening. The film is far darker than the show, fully embracing the sexual abuse and violence that the original series hinted at. Plus, David Bowie plays an FBI agent, so that’s kinda cool.

Now, twenty-five years later, we have the much anticipated third season of Twin Peaks, which is calling itself “The Return” and is a limited run series eighteen episodes in length airing on Showtime. You can also find the show streaming on Showtime’s website. David Lynch has reunited with writer Mark Frost and is directing every episode of the show’s return. As of the time of this writing Showtime has released eight of the eighteen episodes, and boy, does it get weird. As someone who was never entirely into abstraction in narrative, I have to admit, if I had described this show’s style and demeanor to myself before seeing it, I might not have been so eager to give it a watch. Here, David Lynch has captured my rapt attention. By placing new and innovative visuals and artistic style in the world of a narrative that I’ve come to know and become invested in, he has me returning to Showtime’s website each week to find out what will happen to Agent Cooper? I don’t want to dive too far into the details because it really is something you have to see for yourself, but I must heed a warning; this show requires your viewing patience. If you can’t sit through a three minute scene of someone sweeping up the Bang Bang Bar floor after closing for the night, then you may not enjoy this revival of Twin Peaks. This is not the cozy pacific northwest town you once knew, nor is it the style of show that we are given. However it is fascinating because it feels as though there is a clear artistic vision behind all of the choices being made. The audience may never know exactly what Lynch was planning. Or maybe we will. That’s kind of the beauty of this revival. The term “Lynchian Horror” has been thrown around in describing this show, and though I am not familiar with his other works, it seems appropriate. Between ideas of existential crisis, the origin of a new evil, brooding and unsettling atmospheres abound-this feels like a psychological horror rather than anything traditional.

As I’ve gotten older I have come to appreciate art that challenges the viewer in new ways, and this show is most definitely of that variety. If you’re game for something new and inexplicable, I suggest giving the show- in its variety of forms- a watch. I may return after the show has ended to give my thoughts on this television experiment, until then-try watching something new, it’s good for you!

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Review: Alien Covenant

What can I say? Sometimes reviews come and go out of order. Foregoing the gap of time between seeing this new “Alien” film and this review, let’s get on with it. “Alien: Covenant” directed by Ridley Scott and written by John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen, and Michael Green is a gigantic improvement over Scott’s last foray into space philosophy with “Prometheus” in my opinion. However, while I was not a fan of “Prometheus”, “Covenant” has given me pause to reconsider elements of that initial film.

This time around the focus is on the crew of the Covenant, a colony ship headed towards a new planet for humanity to thrive on. Aboard the ship Walter (Michael Fassbender), a newer model Android with a middle-American accent roams around keeping an eye on the colonists and runs the ship’s tech. Unfortunately for the colonists (but fortunately for the audience), they never make it to their destination of Origae-6. A neutrino blast rocks the spaceship carrying two-thousand frozen colonist members and causes quite the havoc- outright killing the captain (James Franco) and damaging the ship in the process. After the chaos has calmed the crew comes across a signal that Tennessee (Danny McBride) recognizes as a John Denver song. They investigate and find a planet even more suitable for colonization than Origae-6. The former first mate and new captain Oram (Billy Crudup) makes the decision to go for the much closer planet, dismissing the lone contrarian Daniels’ objection (Katherine Waterston), the widow of the late captain.

Only shortly after landing on the seemingly vacant planet does the crew realize the grave mistake they have made. For those curious to know if Ridley Scott could still handle the inherent gore and gross out antics of the xenomorphs, fear not (Or, maybe do?). Scott tries to outdo his own initial chest-bursting alien scene with a fresh and bloody violent vigor. The crew is quickly outmatched by the albino proto-xenomorphs and that may have been the end of it, had it not been for their savior in David (Michael Fassbender, again), the A.I. android from “Prometheus” (coincidentally the best part of that film). The first and third acts of the film are decidedly more “Alien” in nature than “Prometheus” was, however the second act delves back into the Gothic space philosophy that permeated the first film- and this film balances these differing styles and aesthetics fairly well. Scott’s obsession here lies in the big questions surrounding David himself, and he goes to great lengths to give weight to David’s inner turmoil.

David takes great interest in Walter, teaching him to play the flute at one point cleverly pointing out the obvious distance between the models. Walter can take direction and learn, but only David can teach and create. In fact we learn a great deal more about David in this film and the story paints a much more complete picture of his motivations and purpose, which I assume he himself does a lot of thinking on as well. Once again, Michael Fassbender is the best part of this series of films. Having him become the linchpin of these films was a distinct choice and it paid off for Scott. I know some were disappointed in the more predictable “Alien-ness” of these films, and while the ending can be seen from miles away, I love that this universe is finally shaping up to become more recognizable in form. This film at least felt as if it existed in the same universe as “Alien” and “Aliens”, there was even a bright yellow exo-suit worn at one point as a visual reminder and I admit, I cracked a smile at the sight of it.

While this film is not near the heights of the first two films, it is the third best “Alien” movie in the franchise. There are a few moments here and there that were questionable though. At one point David mimes to a freshly born Xenomorph that stands upright and I outright laughed at the screen- it was cheese-tastic and it immediately brought to mind the scene in “Spaceballs” where a freshly chest-burst Xenomorph dons a hat and cane singing “Hello My Baby!”. Probably not the response that was intended or wanted, but hey- don’t do that next time. There was also a sequence where we, the audience, are given the Xenomorph’s perspective a la “Predator”, and that was just an awful idea to be honest. So, while not perfect- this film is highly enjoyable and has finally hooked me into Mr. Scott’s curious prequel series of Alien films. What Ridley Scott does next is anyone’s guess, but I am now invested in finding out what that will be.

Final Score: 2000 Doomed Colonists and 1 Mad Robot

 

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Review: Baby Driver

Edgar Wright’s latest film, “Baby Driver” hits theaters this weekend, and it doesn’t disappoint! While I may have come into the theater with a biased love of this director’s work, I believe it may be his most broadly accessible feature yet. The film still offers loads of winks and nods to those eagle eyed viewers with a heart of celluloid to catch and nod knowingly while still engaging in expertly crafted thrills set to a heart thumping soundtrack.

The film is set in Atlanta this time, a departure from Wright’s usual English countryside comedies, and begins with one of the most entertaining opening scenes in recent memory. We’re introduced to Baby (Ansel Elgort), the quiet yet calculated driver to a rotating crew of bank robbers and general degenerates, as he waits for a job to be completed while he taps and thumps and hums along to his personal soundtrack that’s set to the rhythm of the robbery. You may wonder during these few small moments as Baby joyfully thumps along to the music “Is this kid’s shtick going to become grating?” Hold. As soon as Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and Griff (Jon Bernthal) trot back across the street and hop into Baby’s red Subaru, you’ll know whether you’re into this movie or not. The opening heist alone is a thing of beauty as Baby shows what he’s made of behind the wheel.

Baby is constantly listening to music, earbuds always in, even as the details of an upcoming heist are at hand. As Kevin Spacey’s Doc explains near the beginning, Baby was in a crash when he was young resulting in tinnitus, so he plays music all the time to drown out the ringing. Bats, an unpredictable criminal played chaotically by Jamie Foxx, doesn’t buy it. He calls the quiet kid out, but Baby effectively proves his observative nature and fine tuned attentive skills. Jon Hamm turns in a great performance as Buddy, he chews the scenery with a sort of grimy dignity and was a surprising delight among the cast. Lily James stars as Baby’s love interest Debora, a diner waitress sporting a familiar look if you’ve ever seen the first two seasons of Twin Peaks. While Debora is almost more of an idea than a fully fledged person, the characters do have a bit of that going on, but James and Elgort sell the romance well enough to do the film justice. The film’s downtime between heists focuses on the quiet nature of the lead and delves a bit into his background to give levity to the people Baby cares about in his own life.

Wright is chiefly invested in the music and sound editing of this film. Even when things turn sour and bullets begin to fly, the blast of bullets is set to the beat of the song at hand. Playfully edited to the beat, Wright’s precision here is music to the eye’s ears. The quick cuts and snappy cinematography that have permeated the director’s previous efforts are littered throughout this film. This film is genre at it’s finest. Curiously inventive and turning expectation on its head, this film is about style, music, and some killer getaway sequences. It’s been the most fun I’ve had at the theater so far this summer and I cannot tell people enough: Go see this movie! If you want more originality, more new ideas and stories in film, then please support original films when they’re showing, lest we become entrenched with the same old thing until the end of time.

Final Score: Three red cars & four cups of coffee

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75 favorite movies of the 21st century… so far

In honor of my 75th blogpost (and truthfully just for fun) I’ve created a list of the top seventy-five of my favorite films that have released from the year 2000 until now (2017). For each movie I will give a blurb about what makes each one special enough to get on the list. There will be obvious selections, but if luck serves me I’ll get a few surprises in! Hopefully by the end, this will give a better insight into my taste in film based upon the overall selection. *This list is in no particular order.

 

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1 Fellowship of the Ring 2001

As my favorite of “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy the story begins with Frodo the Hobbit in the shire as he begins his quest to return the one ring back to Mordor and end the power hungry resurgence of Sauron. As most people know the tale by now it’s essentially the quintessential fantasy story of our time with Wizards, Dwarves, Elves, and monsters aplenty. What Peter Jackson was able to do with the source material was genius, an enormous effort was put into the practical effects to create the illusion of scale for the hobbits compared to the other far taller characters. For some scenes the filmmakers would create two versions of a set, one at a normal scale, and another incorporating perspective trickery to keep the illusion without incorporating CGI. For example, they created two versions of Bilbo’s home in the shire, Bag End, to make Elijah Wood’s Frodo appear as though he really were but four feet tall when interacting with Ian McKellen’s Gandalf. Previously considered to be unfilmable before the advancement of filmmaking technology with computers, Peter Jackson’s work with this film series is among some of the most inspiring, for me, when it comes to filmmaking. A classic for the ages, this is one of my favorite films of all time.

 

 

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2 Two Towers 2002

Darker and scaling up in the size of the world and the intensity of the battles, “Two Towers” moves “The Lord of the Rings” plot forward with a ferocious nature. The sequel builds on all of the characters as well as the state of Middle-Earth for the final entry. Aragorn rallies forces for future battles, Merry and Pippin meet Treebeard and the ents, and Sam and Frodo put their trust into Gollum to lead them to Mt. Doom in Mordor. There’s also the infamous battle of Helm’s Deep, which has much less of an emphasis in the pages than on the screen. Needless to say, a lot happens in this sequel. “Two Towers” and “Return of the King” have the most direct changes from the source material out of the three stories, purely for the order in which the stories are told. Although there could be an argument made for the seventeen year period in the literary version of “Fellowship” between the time Gandalf left the Ring to Frodo and later returning to reveal its inscription. Time compression is the largest change between the two mediums as there’s simply no feasible way to film some ideas. “Lord of the Rings” is a slow moving story for the most part and I feel the film adaptions adequately recreate this sensation.

 

 

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3 Return of the King 2003

The final battles for Middle Earth ensue as Frodo, Sam, and Gollum make their final trek through Mordor and up Mt Doom’s slope. There is of course a large battle at Minis Tirith, and Aragorn reclaims his birthright as King of Men by taking up Isildur’s broken sword reforged and shows some ghosts who are impressed enough to help fight the forces of evil. Another change from the books here is that Aragorn’s character arc grows over the course of the films. In the books Isildur’s broken blade, Narsil, is reforged when he joins the fellowship and he intends to reclaim the throne at an appropriate time whereas in the films Aragorn experiences self doubt on the subject and does not gain the blade born again until this film, helping to make his journey a more complete one on celluloid. There’s a whole book of details and impressive filmmaking techniques I could go on about, but as there are seventy-two other films to gush about on this list, I’ll move along. In any case, it’s a great third film in one of my favorite film trilogies.

 

 

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4 Shaun of the Dead 2004

My favorite horror-comedy to date, this initial entry in Edgar Wright’s cornetto trilogy has gut busting wordplay, a zany speed to its editing and shots, and a very human story amongst the rise of the living dead. The lesson learned here is to get up off the couch and do something before life passes you by. I could go on about Edgar Wright’s editing style and polished direction but his work speaks for itself. Wright’s style is unmistakable, you don’t have to watch any of his movies for long to recognize his celluloid fingerprint. The use of music and clever framing makes each of his films stand out in ways that make traditionally mundane shots or transitions transform into vibrant and informative moments. The cornetto trilogy as a whole is one I aspire to as Wright plays around in some of his favorite genres while maintaining his signature quick wit and rapid fire jokes that rely on the snappy screenplays and situational humor. This isn’t just one of my favorite pairings of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, it’s also my favorite Zombie movie.

 

 

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5 Hot Fuzz 2007

Continuing Wright’s trend in comedies, “Hot Fuzz” is a sequel only by the crew involved. This iteration sees Simon Pegg and Nick frost returning- but this time as cops in the English countryside. As expected, they end up working together-begrudgingly for Pegg’s straight-shooting badass cop from the city- to solve the mystery surrounding several murders. This action-comedy takes inspiration from over 100 action films, and it shows. You can tell that the crew involved in making this film are themselves in love with quality genre flicks. In a wonderfully Lynchian turn of face this film presents us with smiling facades and the eerie veneer of small town life that can hide the more unpleasant truths of society. Definitely a good addition to any action/comedy enthusiasts’ collection.

 

 

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6 The World’s End 2013

My personal favorite of the cornetto trilogy, “The World’s End”, is about getting older and learning how to transcend our pasts, for better or for worse. This film combines elements from both “Shaun of the Dead”, normal people thrown into an invasion scenario, and “Hot Fuzz” by placing the action in a small English town that just so happens to be full of its own secrets. The film follows Gary King (Simon Pegg), a forty year old alcoholic with issues of attempting to relive his past. He tracks down his equally aged and estranged friends from school and persuades them to finish The Golden Mile, a pub crawl consisting of the twelve pubs in their collective hometown. When they were teenagers they attempted the crawl and failed to reach the final pub, The World’s End. Edgar Wright has been quoted in saying that he wanted “to capture the bittersweet feeling of returning to your home town and feeling like a stranger.”, which I think he succeeded in thoroughly recreating. However though what really makes this film stand a bit above the other two is the level of emotional honesty that comes with the acting on display. This is the best character piece out of the cornetto trilogy. Both Simon Pegg and Nick Frost up-the-ante in terms of their acting performances by imbuing their characters with a history that feels extraordinarily real and nuanced. They’re also joined by a stellar cast of English actors including Rosamund Pike, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan. One aspect of the film that I find endlessly entertaining are the fight scenes and how each character’s movements and fighting styles compliment their character. There’s also a bevy of easter eggs and thematic clues hidden in clever wordplay and in the names of each of the pubs as well, keep an eye out for them!

 

 

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7 Mad Max: Fury Road 2015

Who knew George Miller, a madman in his seventies, would be flipping cars in North Africa and end up creating one of the very best chase movies of all time? I’m definitely not alone in my love for this film, many adored the wasteland once more when Furiosa broke from the pack and began one of the greatest chases ever filmed. The break neck speed and frantic pace paired with an absurd amount of practical effects, in this day and age, combined to cast audiences under Miller’s spell of cascading vehicular carnage. Hopefully Fury Road’s success will inspire more filmmakers to embrace practical effects and stunts.

 

 

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8 The Hateful Eight 2015

This film is one of the very best to come from Quentin Tarantino. His second western, “The Hateful Eight” boasts an excellent cast of Tarantino regulars with a few new faces mixed in for good measure, and that’s largely why the film works as well as it does. This is a film that relies heavily on exposition from characters to define their worldviews, their own pasts, and a healthy dose of misdirection from all sides. This requires actors that have storytelling on their sleeves, characters that can regale and charm, spin yarns of myth and legend, or tell a white lie with brilliance and fury. Set in one location, a small one-room haberdashery not far from Red Rock, Tarantino squeezes the location for all it’s worth. There’s a variety of shots and camera movements all while utilizing the beautiful extra wide Ultra Panavision 70 lenses that haven’t been in use since 1959’s “Ben Hur”. It’s an excellent “who done it?” mystery western that constantly delivers on all fronts.

 

 

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9 Inglorious Basterds 2009

This is my all time favorite Tarantino film. It spawned one of my favorite scenes in cinema (that tavern in the basement) and, in my opinion, one of the best movie villains of all time in Christoph Waltz’s SS Nazi officer Hans Landa. For the uninitiated, this film is Tarantino’s re-imagining of World War Two in a revenge tale style. We follow two storylines that intertwine under the banner of a Parisian cinema run by Shosanna, the girl that narrowly escaped our opening scene in which Hans Landa executes her entire family. The other path we follow is that of Aldo Raine’s (Brad Pitt) elite team called the “Basterds” by their enemies, a team of Jewish soldiers hellbent on scalping as many Nazi heads as they can muster. “Basterds” has killer dialogue, superb tension, and a playfully violent palate to boot.

 

 

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10 Creed 2015

Ryan Coogler impressed me greatly with this film. The cinematography in the ring is beautiful and innovative in its movements, it hits all the right points in new and inventive ways. Not to mention that the story has weight, it lives and breathes in the “Rocky” universe while not feeling beholden to the successes or failures of the other films that preceded it. It stands on its own while complimenting its roots. Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan excel throughout the film, and best of all, the film relies heavily on the intense passion found in that speech Rocky Balboa gave so many years ago in the first film.

 

 

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11 Gangs of New York 2002

There are many, many, reasons why I love this film, but it is mostly due to Daniel Day-Lewis’ superb performance as Bill “the butcher” Cutting. DiCaprio and Diaz boast competent and efficient lead roles, but it is the cast among the edges of the story that still impress me to this day. Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Liam Neeson, and Brendan Gleeson, all give strong performances throughout the film. Set in 1862 in New York City, the film focuses on the Butcher’s role in “the five points” district while he collects power and political influence as a crime boss known for his temper and outbursts. As a fan of Martin Scorsese, this film ranks among his best, while perhaps not his greatest film, it is my favorite of his cinematic legacy.

 

 

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12 The Departed 2006

This film is outstanding. A modern day gangster drama with authentic grit, palpable tension, and phenomenal performances from every actor involved, this is an instant classic and the film that earned Scorsese his Best Director and Best Picture Oscars! Although an argument could be made that he should have gotten it back for “Aviator” years prior-the Howard Hughes biopic starring DiCaprio once more (An argument could also be made for his boxing film “Raging Bull” starring Robert De Niro). This is the remake to beat if you’re looking for a good film to argue for the case of remakes, this was the adaption of the 2002 Hong Kong film, “infernal affairs”. The story focuses on two cops, both undercover, one is a mole put in the Massachusetts State Police by the Mafia, and the other is a cop set to infiltrate the Irish Mafia in Boston. Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jack Nicholson in his scene stealing role of Frank Costello, the clever and brutal crime boss of the film. The role was perfect for Nicholson, and he had plenty of research material as his character was based almost entirely off of real life criminal Whitey Bulger.

 

 

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13 Step Brothers 2008

This is one of my favorite comedies of all time. I may not always be a fan of Will Ferrell’s choices in film, admittedly “Anchorman” doesn’t quite gel with me, but this comedy will always make me laugh. In the film, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are both forty year old men that live with their parents and live and act as fully grown twelve year olds. The friction starts when Ferrell’s character’s mother marries Reilly’s character’s father and they move in together. I will never not laugh at Will Ferrell rubbing prosthetic testicles on John C. Reilly’s drumset and the fight that ensues. Maybe that says something about me, but hey, comedy’s an art, and all art is subjective to one’s taste. Their rivalry then turns into a ridiculous, and yet unstoppable, friendship. Bonding over shark week and ninja weapons, the duo quickly wreak havoc and become a musical phoenix with their prestige worldwide single, “Boats and Hoes”.

 

 

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14 Pineapple Express 2008

This film came out right when I graduated high school and just before freshman year in college, so the humor was appropriately timed for me. This is the best combination of Seth Rogen and James Franco, and they haven’t quite been able to reach this peak since. That’s not to say they haven’t made or contributed to great films since then, I just don’t think there’s been a comedy with both as leads that has worked as efficiently as this. Blending genres with this stoner/action comedy, Rogen and Franco caught lightning in a bottle with their befuddled would-be heroes that stumbled into the crime world. For me, this is a comfort flick, it will always be in rotation on rainy days.

 

 

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15 The Avengers 2012

I saw this movie five times in the theaters, and I loved every minute of it. The film that proved the Marvel cinematic universe to be a profitable one, “The Avengers” works in every scene. Joss Whedon was slick enough to know how to work these characters in tandem with each other, balancing tone with an abundance of charisma. Prodded by Loki’s involvement with Thanos and his galactic chessboard, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Incredible Hulk join forces with S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop the Norse god of mischief from laying claim to the Earth. For me, this is the superhero film to beat. It has action, comedy, heart, loss, and excellent dialogue that knows the material and characters all too well. Lets hope the Infinity War can match up, of course that will benefit from the horde of superheroes that now populate the Marvel cinematic universe.

 

 

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16 What we do in the Shadows 2014

Take note, this will be the only vampire movie on this list. This is a “MTV Real World” style mockumentary following a handful of vampires living in New Zealand ranging in age from 183 to 8000 years old. It is my absolute favorite mockumentary, the wordplay in the script is brilliant and the comedy is brimming with wit and a proper amount of vampire slapstick for good measure. In the film the vampires allow a documentary crew to film their everyday, or rather everynight, lives as they gallivant through the city at night looking to gain access to clubs, keep up with modern trends and technology, and of course, antagonizing the werewolves that live nearby. The subtle special effects are played for maximum effect as vampires are people too, where a scuffle between roommates can turn into a brawl in midair as they float and scrap. It was the first film of Taika Waititi’s I encountered, and I’m glad I stumbled across it, because now I have another creative to keep on the radar.

 

 

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17 Hunt for the Wilderpeople 2016

Speaking of Taika Waititi, this is the next film he wrote and directed. While “What we do in the shadows” showcased the director’s specific style of humor, it was a much smaller film in scope. “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is an excellent evolution of budgetary allowances as this film is bigger in every way. This is the story of the young and defiant city kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) who begins the film by being placed in a foster care home out in the countryside of New Zealand with Uncle Hec (Sam Neill) and Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata). This film is unique, it’s a zany comedy that evolves into a roadtrip adventure flick with Ricky and Uncle Hec being pursued by police through the wilds of the untamed bush. It also has a surprising amount of depth and heart at its core. Don’t miss this one, seek it out and give it a watch, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

 

 

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18 Iron Man 2008

Way back in 2008 it was considered a bold move to lay the foundation of a newly minted studio, controlled by Marvel for the first time, with a film about a “C grade” superhero in “Iron Man”. It may be hard to remember, but Tony Stark wasn’t the widely popular character he is now. It was a fairly large risk to start their string of films with a character that was known for being an alcoholic billionaire that had issues with sincerity and was generally kind of a sourpuss. Even more of a risk was putting famously troubled actor Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role. It all ended up paying off in one of the best Marvel Studios films that still works in every beat. “Iron Man” made Tony Stark, I mean, Robert Downey Jr. synonymous with the character and has been widely successful in these last nine years since “the little studio that could” made it. Marvel Studios has been breaking records and making even riskier choices with every new victory since-and cinema is a better place for it.

 

 

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19 Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier 2014

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, “Captain America The Winter Soldier” is the sequel in which Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) must come to terms with his adjustment into the modern world after the events of “The Avengers”. Focusing on missions through SHIELD with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) at his side Cap tracks down old hidden secrets and confounding new perspectives on a world that is no longer black and white in its’ morality. This film is now a standard of quality that has propelled all Marvel Studios releases since to measure up to. This film uniquely upended the Marvel Studios universe with its brilliant twist and self aware political thriller attitude. Much akin to “All the President’s Men”, which also stars Robert Redford, The Winter Soldier packs an action packed punch and deftly weaves the story into Steve Rogers past in the most clever of ways. It’s just another reason the Marvel Machine keeps cranking out hits, they know their characters-and they’re willing to trust the audience and take proper risks.

 

 

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20 Captain America 3: Civil War 2016

Rounding out arguably the greatest trilogy from Marvel Studio thus far, “Civil War” brilliantly mashes superhero spectacle with relatable and painful character development. No longer just a “Captain America” movie, although the story is centered on his actions and decisions, this third film fills out the rosters of Marvel characters from every corner of the earth-bound stories told thus far. Returning to direct, the Russos outdo themselves with a sequel that reaches far back in the mythos, even to the first “Iron Man”, to tell a powerful story about friendship and to what lengths you must go to stay true to your values. Introducing both the Black Panther and the new Spider-man into this film was a choice of pure genius in my opinion. Even more impressive was the juggling act in giving each character his or her dues onscreen while making sense in the progression of the story at hand. Now that the Russo bros. have directed two incredibly successful Captain America films, they’re next project is “Avengers: Infinity War” in which they will be connecting all major parts and characters from this growing universe together. God speed gentlemen, they might have the best track record so far, let’s hope they can keep the momentum going!

 

 

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21 The life aquatic with Steve Zissou 2004

One of my favorite Bill Murray films, “The Life Aquatic” is full of perfectly poised deadpan humor. Eccentric and full of whimsy, Wes Anderson’s quirky take on the adventurous life of team Zissou has a tactile nature about itself that combines all it’s tethers together. Bill Murray plays the eponymous Steve Zissou, an oceanographer with an aloof melancholy all his own. Which is slightly odd as he himself describes the story’s main purpose as a revenge tale. There’s a good deal of well known celebrity roles that inhabit the story as well. Owen Wilson as the misbegotten son of Zissou. Willem Dafoe plays Klaus- the German first mate that views Esteban (Zissou’s best friend that dies in the beginning of the film, don’t worry it’s not much of a spoiler) and Zissou as father figures. Cate Blanchett plays Jane Winslett-Richardson, a pregnant reporter that comes along to document the journey. Jeff Goldblum plays a minor role as Alistair Hennessey, a far more successful oceanographer and Zissou’s archrival. Seu Jorge the real life Brazilian musician also stars as Pelé dos Santos, a safety expert and Brazilian guitarist who sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese throughout the film and provides a hefty portion of the soundtrack. Mark Mothersbaugh, a member of the band Devo, composed the other aspects of the score, which is routine for Wes Anderson by this time as Mothersbaugh has worked with the director in this capacity many other times. I think what makes this film special to me is that it wasn’t afraid to be itself, weird-yet full of decisively creative choices.

 

 

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22 The Grand Budapest Hotel 2014

This is my favorite film by director Wes Anderson. As someone who has nostalgia for a perceptibly more elegant era, I fell in love with this film’s visual aesthetics. This film dives through several keyholes of perception before getting to the main timeline in the fictional European Republic of Zubrowka in the early 1930’s. We follow Tony Revolori as Zero Moustafa in his youth when he starts working as a lobby boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel. However the driving force in the film is Ralph Fiennes as the ever devoted hotel concierge Monsieur Gustave H. His speedy delivery along with his cheerful use of profanity keeps the pace of the film clipping along as Zero tries to keep up in the first part of the film. The film quickly evolves into a mystery adventure in which Zero attempts to help Gustave prove his innocence after he is framed for the murder of Madame D (Tilda Swinton) a frequent guest of the hotel whom Gustave “serviced” regularly. The deceased Madame D left Gustave her infamous painting “boy with apple”, itself a fictional renaissance piece, which angers her family greatly. There are plenty of high profile cameos and minor roles throughout the film from the likes of Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, and of course, Bill Murray. The models of the hotel the film uses are particularly eye catching but it’s all of the little things that wrap this package together in a neat little bow of comedy, mystery, and adventure. For a good laugh, check out this link in which includes a fan made trailer mashup between “The Grand Budpest Hotel” and “The Shining”:

http://www.indiewire.com/2015/06/watch-the-grand-overlook-hotel-mashes-up-wes-andersons-movie-with-stanley-kubricks-horror-255363/

 

 

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23 Swiss Army Man 2016

Easily the weirdest movie of 2016, “Swiss Army Man” is an oddly beautiful one that combines emotional nuance.. with farts. I know, but trust me on this one. The best way I can describe this movie is that it’s about a suicidal man that teaches a dead guy that life is beautiful and worthwhile despite the hurdles of confusion and emotions that are thrown at us. Paul Dano’s character starts the film stranded on a small pacific island and is about to hang himself when he spots Daniel Radcliffe’s dead body wash ashore. He clambors down from his noose and inspects the corpse. He quickly finds that this void vessel is full of life, flatuence, and strange abilities-like farts powerful enough to propel him off his island. From there the film follows Hank (Dano) and Manny (Radcliffe) as they discuss life and its many complexities while they wander through the pacific northwest to try to find civilization. I know I’ll be on the lookout from anything that the Daniels (Directors & Writers of the film) make from now on, the special effects, soundtrack, and quirky nature of this flick was the strangest amalgamation put to film this last year and I can’t wait to see what they create next!

 

 

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24 The Dark Knight 2008

This is the film that set the bar for standalone Batman films going forward. Christopher Nolan brilliantly paired a Batman grounded in realism with a believable version of the Joker, a villain that felt as if he could exist in our world right now. Order clashes with chaos as Nolan expertly frames and lights every scene and fully utilizes the mythos of the Batman and the world he resides in. What more can I add to the overwhelmingly large conversation about this film? It’s absolutely a masterpiece of comic-book filmmaking and anyone interested in the subject would do well to study every frame.

 

 

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25 Jet Li’s Fearless 2006

I love a good martial arts film. Whereas I lean more towards Jackie Chan’s style of kung-fu comedy styling, Jet Li is a master in the form and this film is a fine example of this. Touted as Jet Li’s final martial arts epic “Fearless” is the real-life story of Huo Yuanjia, founder of the Jingwu school of martial arts near the beginning of the twentieth century. Visually this film is a feast of stunning choreography and beautiful fighting styles. Jet Li excels in the fight scenes and has the acting chops to sell the perils of Huo Yuanjia’s journey with ease. Jet Li actually had to slow down his fights so that the high speed cameras of the time could keep up with his movements, now that’s intense!

 

 

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26 Gran Torino 2008

Say what you will about the man’s politics, but no one can argue that Clint Eastwood won’t go down in cinema history as a man of incredible acting talent and directing technique. “Gran Torino” is about an aging Korean War vet living in a crime infested neighborhood of Detroit who literally comes face to face with his lingering prejudice when a Hmong teenager attempts to steal the old man’s prized Gran Torino. Working as a clever deconstruction of Eastwood’s earlier films and personas this film waxes poetic on the big parables and questions that we all face in life; morality, the cost of war, and what it means to be an upstanding man or woman in society. In the end this may not be Clint Eastwood’s last, or greatest, film-but I see it as the swan song of his cinematic legacy.

 

 

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27 Master and Commander: The Far side of the World 2003

This film is based on two Napoleonic War-era adventure novels in author Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, “Master and Commander” and “The Far Side of the World”. Personally, this is a favorite genre of film- period specific naval warfare on the open oceans. This film won the oscar for cinematography in 2003 and it shows in every scene, but especially so during beats of battle or when careening over the high rolling seas. Russell Crowe stars as Captain Jack Aubrey of the HMS Surprise along with Paul Bettany (The Vision from Marvel Studios) as Dr. Stephen Maturin, the ship’s surgeon and close confidant of the captain. The film does a marvelous job of creating consistent tension as the HMS Surprise is sent to oust the French privateer ship, Acheron. A larger and heavier ship that had been repeatedly seeking and plundering British whaling ships off the east coast of South America. The film begins a deadly game of cat and mouse from there on and I find it to be an exhilarating naval wartime flick right up until the end credits.

 

 

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28 Dope 2015

Writer and director Rick Famuyima crafted one of the most unique reflections of modern youth today in “Dope”. The story follows Malcolm (Shameik Moore), Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), and Jib (Tony Revolori); three teenagers trying to survive in a tough modern day Los Angeles. The whole point of “Dope” is the idea of the anti stereotype, and the film addresses this mainly through the characters’ core interests and how the plot unfolds. The trio are obsessed with the counter culture from the early 1990’s rap/hip-hop world, play in a punk band together, and all excel in academics. They quickly get entangled in a world of crime after gaining access to a dope party when they unexpectedly get saddled with powerful drugs all while trying to gain admittance to the ivy league schools of their dreams. This a fast paced comedy with lots of heart and flavor, and while the message of the film can weigh on itself a bit at times, I love it for doubling down on what makes itself stand out from the crowd.

 

 

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29 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 2017

I may be in the minority in stating this, but I was more entertained by the sequel than the original in this case. Not that the first “Guardians” was anything less than amazing, I just feel that the sequel expanded on everything presented in the first film extraordinarily well. The scale of the world implied that space, and the all encompassing Marvel Studios Universe as a whole, is even more massive than you might think. However what really pushed this MCU entry into greatness for me was the work done with the characters. Rather than rest on the laurels of beautifully realized CGI and the levity brought by Bautista’s Drax, James Gunn wisely dug into the characters’ backgrounds to further flesh out each individual before their appearance in next year’s “Infinity War”. I’m also glad that the film cleverly avoided the Marvel Studios repeat offense of introducing weak villains. I’ll avoid any spoilers for those that have not caught the flick, but it’s a damn good time in space, check it out!

 

 

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30 Live Free or Die Hard 2007

As it stands, this is the last good “Die Hard” film and I hope we can all wipe “Yippie Kay Yay Mother Russia” or “A Good Day to Die Hard” from our minds. If you haven’t seen “Die Hard 5” do yourself a favor and pretend it doesn’t exist-it’s better that way. Anyways, this “Die Hard”, while not quite as good as the classic Christmas tale, is an entertaining entry in the franchise. The action scenes are engaging and Bruce Willis pulls off an aging McClane in the new technologically advanced world well. His banter with Justin Long’s computer whiz character, along with a Kevin Smith cameo, is memorable and keeps the pace tight.

 

 

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31 Star Wars: Rogue One 2016

“Rogue One” had a lot of expectation riding on it’s release. How would a “Star Wars” film without the Skywalker clan at the center fare? Would audiences embrace this one-off sci-fi about the efforts of the resistance to steal the plans to the Death Star? Will anyone go see a movie in the world of “Star Wars” with almost no recognizable characters? Foregoing the floating fonts in space, the film knew it had to stand out and yet be recognizable. This “Star Wars” entry had a lot in it that I found endlessly entertaining. This was the first “Star Wars” film, for me, that truly felt like it was part of the same universe as the original trilogy. Everything, the spaceships, the environments, the planets and objects- all felt dirty, worn, and lived in. While the characters of Rogue One might not have gotten as much development as others in this unending film series- this does not lessen the entertainment of the film for me as these are characters that will likely only appear in this film, and there’s a fair amount of them to get to. If the film allowed for deep explorations of each character then we’d have a three hour film instead of the two hours and change that we got, which could have thrown off the pacing to say the least. I thought the characters all got their memorable moments and made quite the ramshackle team in the end. Hell, we even got a couple scenes of Darth Vader thrown in for good measure after one of the best space battles in the “Star Wars” canon. With how this movie turned out, I can’t wait to see how other anthology films in the Star Wars universe fare.

 

 

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32 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 2004

Written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is one of the most fascinating films that Jim Carrey’s been involved in. The story follows Joel (Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) as they meet cute, start a flourishing relationship together, and then we watch as it all begins to turn sour. Which is exactly the point when the film becomes grander than it’s intimate beginnings. Wracked with the bittersweet love lost between them Clementine seeks out a more permanent solution in the form of a company that boasts the ability to erase memories. Once Joel hears of Clementine’s actions he too chooses to try and erase his memories of any and all interactions with her as well. Once down this road the film’s visual aesthetic morphs and evolves over the remainder of the film in refreshingly creative avenues. Amongst the more abstract exploration of these ideas of the intricacy of relationships and the pain of loss, is a poetic justice that thrives in the swirl of emotions. It is through the all encompassing process of loss that both characters discover what they had to begin with. This is a romantic fantasy with almost cosmically relatable performances by the two leads, who are accompanied by a handful of equally evocative roles from Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, David Cross, Kirsten Dunst, and Tom Wilkinson. It is easily one of the best films to come out of the first decade of the twenty-first century.

 

 

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33 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 2005

Written and directed by Shane Black “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” is a wonderfully topsy-turvy neo-noir black comedy crime flick starring Robert Downey Jr. pre-Iron Man with a post Batman Val Kilmer. I have a deep love appreciation for noir and detective flicks, “Chinatown” and “The Maltese Falcon” among my favorites, but this film dashes the straight genre effort for more of a mixture of flavors, and I feel this gives the film a perspective all its own. Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer together is one of the most unexpected pairings for the time-but the two bounce off each other and compliment each other’s performances well. Downey’s character, Harry, starts off as a criminal fleeing a burglary gone wrong when he unknowingly stumbles into an audition in which he impresses the producers who mistake his groveling for method acting. He is then flown out to L.A. for his role in this film that he fell into. From there he gets set up to shadow Val Kilmer’s “gay” Perry, a detective the movie studio hired for Harry to get on the job experience as a detective. However things go sour when they witness a body being dumped into a lake and the story goes from there. It’s a fast paced mystery with a bit of romantic comedy and dark humor thrown in for good measure, it’s definitely worth a watch!

 

 

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34 Looper 2012

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, now helming “The Last Jedi”, “Looper” is a damn fine time travel movie. This neo-noir sci-fi thriller takes place, mostly, in the year 2044 in which the thirty year old version of Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works for a Kansas City crime syndicate as a Looper. In the further future from the setting we are initially introduced to, the year 2074, technology has advanced to the point that disposing of dead bodies has been made almost entirely impossible. However since crime still takes place in the future the syndicate utilizes time travel, an invention that was outlawed instantly, to send their victims back in time to a specific location with bags over their heads and payment strapped to their backs in the form of silver bars. Loopers are notified of the time and location and wait with loaded guns to take out the syndicates’ enemies and collect their payment. These agents of the syndicate are called loopers because the syndicate eventually hunts down the future versions of the agents and send them back to their younger selves to end the contract, collect a golden bar payday, and close the loop. The difference with Joe is that his older self happens to be a grizzled Bruce Willis that’s hell bent on taking down the syndicate, and thus a man must confront his past and hunt his future, to preserve the present. It’s a stellar sci-fi romp and one of the more original ideas to come from the genre since gracing the new millenium.

 

 

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35 Clerks 2 2006

As much as I enjoyed the first “Clerks” from writer and director Kevin Smith, I found the sequel to be a more well rounded film, while also retaining it’s silly and very immature core humor. This time around the clerks, Dante and Randall, work at a fast food restaurant chain ironically called “Mooby’s”. This film is also in color whereas the first was, famously, in black and white. Opening with the quick-stop convenience store ablaze in flames, the sequel quickly treads new ground while also fitting comfortably in this new millenium of dvds and “Lord of the Rings” films. It’s another day in the life scenario for the characters, but this entry feels as though the characters are going through a far more mature chapter in their lives by the time the credits roll. However you must realize what a mature evolution means and looks like to these characters; taking command of their own lives for once, choosing healthier people to love, and being emotionally honest for the briefest of moments. It’s a dirty foul-mouthed return to the clerks that gave a face to early 1990’s slacker mentality.

*Random fact: My favorite Kevin Smith film is “Dogma” but it was released a year too early to be on this list!

 

 

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36 It Follows 2015

Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell “It Follows” is a lo-fi horror that plays with the tropes of the genre without wandering into anything particularly cringeworthy. The film’s meaning is open to interpretation, but it focuses on Jay (Maika Monroe) as she is pursued by a mysterious force that slowly stalks its victims. The hook is that the attention of the deadly “it” can be directed at another by the carnal act of love. Yes this unknown entity’s death crawl, as it were, can be passed on to another, most making the connection to a sexual disease metaphor. Although while AIDS may kill you slowly, the “it” is a far more violent messenger of death. I added this film because of it’s unique flavor of tension. Only the victim can see the “it” coming towards them, it masks itself as another human, though it’s gait is unconvincingly hominid and yet considerably haunting. Matched with a synth soundtrack hearkening back to the 1980’s “It Follows” is a fascinating film whose world is based in dream logic, and the director has talked about his meaning behind it, and I believe his reasoning gives the film another layer of consideration. Mitchell has said that while Jay “opens herself up to danger through sex, sex is the one way in which she can free herself from that danger … We’re all here for a limited amount of time, and we can’t escape our mortality … but love and sex are two ways in which we can – at least temporarily – push death away”

 

 

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37 The Raid: Redemption 2011

This film is pure action bliss. From the opening scene until the credits roll this film is almost entirely action sequences, and they lived up to and exceeded the expectations I brought into the theater that night. The plot follows Rama, a special tactics officer that practices Silat, a word encompassing a whole class of indigenous martial arts from a geo-cultural area of Southeast Asia. Rama is part of an elite team set to raid a large apartment building with the goal of eliminating crime lord Tama Riyadi, who has rented out the building to local criminals in exchange for protection. From there the film focuses on Rama’s police squad as they battle and scrap up the many floors on the path to the dangerous Tama. If you’re at all invested in precise and intense choreography, paired with bombastic gunplay, then this film will check all of your boxes and you owe it to yourself to give this film, and it’s sequel, a watch.

 

 

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38 Nightcrawler 2014

Written and directed by Dan Gilroy “Nightcrawler” is a thriller set in Los Angeles that dives into the dark world of stringers, freelance photojournalists, and the lengths some will go to document violent crimes. This film garnered a lot of praise upon its release based mostly on Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance and the originality of the screenplay which did earn it a best original screenplay at the academy awards that year. Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom starts out the story as a petty thief looking for purpose, or at least that’s how it felt to me on the initial viewing. Bloom is essentially an anti-hero, he seeks praise and fortune in every moment. On his way back from an unsuccessful attempt at a job interview Bloom comes across a car crash and witnesses a van of stringers arrive and record a video of the police pulling a victim from the wreck. Joe Loder (Bill Paxton R.I.P.) is one of the stringers and tells Bloom that they sell the footage to the local news. This invigorates Bloom and he becomes obsessed with the idea of being a stringer. After some trial and error Bloom soon becomes a lucrative stringer, though he eventually tumbles a bit too far down the rabbit-hole of obtaining visceral footage for the news. This is a captivating performance by Gyllenhaal and a solid thriller that is most definitely worth your time.

 

 

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39 No Country for Old Men 2007

One of the most gilded films on this list, “No country for old men” is one of the best films from the Coen brothers. It took me awhile to get into the weeds of this film, after several re-watches I’ve come to a more layered understanding of the film. It’s an intense and wildly entertaining game of cat and mouse across the 1980’s Texan fields and through it’s cities. The thrust of the plot begins when Josh Brolin’s character stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong while hunting in the desert. Upon finding two million dollars in a suitcase the Texan welder and Vietnam war vet absconds with the cash only to be pursued by Anton Chigurh (performed masterfully by Javier Baredm) a hitman hired to recover the drug money. This neo-western, neo-noir, thriller has a tense and melancholy spirit about itself and should be on any film lover’s radar.

 

 

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40 O Brother, Where art thou? 2000

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, “O Brother, where art thou?” is an adaptive satire loosely based on Homer’s epic poem, Odyssey. Starring George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson, with John Goodman the film is set during the the great depression in 1937 rural Mississippi. With the notable exception of “The Big Lebowski”, this is one of the Coen brothers films that I enjoy most. George Clooney’s performance is scene stealing throughout and I love the idea of taking pre-world war two Americana and using it as an almost mythical setting for the story. From the sepia-toned coloring of the film to the infectious performance of “Constant Sorrow” by the three leads near the end of the film, most everything about this film flows and ebbs to an entertaining rhythm. If you haven’t seen this one, give it a shot, it’s got a lot to love!

 

 

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41 The Aviator 2004

Directed by Martin Scorsese and written by John Logan “The Aviator” is a biographical drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the infamous aviation pioneer and film producer Howard Hughes from 1927 to 1947. The film has an outstanding cast of supporting actors and actresses, including Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn, Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner, Jude Law as Errol Flynn, Alec Baldwin, Ian Holm, John C. Reilly, Gwen Stefani, Willem Dafoe, and Alan Alda. Howard Hughes was a powerful personality in the 1930’s and ’40’s between his audacious ambition to direct and shoot his aerial dogfight war film “Hell’s Angels” in a realistic fashion and his need to be at the forefront of aviation technologies later in life, he quickly became almost as much myth as man. Hughes retooled “Hell’s Angels”, initially a silent era picture, in mid-production to incorporate sound and cemented it as one of the first action films with sound to hit the silver screen. Hughes even went so far as to personally direct the film’s aerial sequences from overhead using radio control to coordinate the flight maneuvers. More than just the story of one hellacious film production, “The Aviator” is mostly consumed with painting a portrait of the man himself and the insecurities and eccentricities that plagued him as his time waned. After breaking a few speed records in several test flights and helping the army configure some spy aircraft during the war Hughes’ O.C.D. becomes overwhelming and all consuming. It’s a fascinating story masterfully directed by Scorsese and the film earned Leonardo DiCaprio his first nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a leading role among other award nominations and wins.

 

 

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42 Outlander 2008

Directed by Howard McCain and written by McCain and Dirk Blackman, “Outlander” (No, not that one) is a sci-fi action flick starring Jim Caviezel as Kainan, a human from another more advanced planet that has incurred the wrath of a dangerous monster which crashes his spaceship onto our earth during the Viking age in Norway. Kainan is quickly captured by a young Viking from a nearby village as he’s investigating a town recently destroyed by the beast. The film takes a few obvious cues from “Beowulf”, but other than that the film is chiefly invested in the thrill of the hunt once the beast invades the viking settlements. For me, this is simply a fun example of melding sci-fi with a historical setting. That and this film has John Hurt and Ron Perlman as curmudgeonly opposing Viking Kings of separate villages that eventually work together with Kainan to slay the monster, and really, who doesn’t enjoy the idea of that?

 

 

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43 District 9 2009

In the age of Syria’s mass exodus of refugees, this would be a good film to revisit. Directed by Neill Blomkamp and written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, “District 9” is a science fiction film that brilliantly explores xenophobia and social segregation through the use of a colony of aliens whose spaceship landed just above Johannesburg South Africa in 1982. The story is set a few decades later in 2010 after the aliens have been rounded up by the local government and forced into apartheid style ghettos while their spaceship still hovers dormant above the city. The film was shot in a documentary style with interviews and handheld camera movements for a good portion of the film. This is the film that introduced Sharlto Copley to audiences in a big way. We follow Wikus van de Merwe (Copley) who works for the government agency administering the move of the “prawns”, the aliens given nickname, from district 9 to the larger district 10. During an inspection of the initial district, Wikus discovers and confiscates a canister from an alien shack, but accidentally sprays some sort of the fluid on his face. This results in his DNA being altered, slowly mutating into a Prawn himself. He seeks help from Christopher, the prawn that found the canister initially, and attempts to find a cure. This was a thoroughly unique film and if you haven’t seen it, I implore you, give it a watch!

*For fun, check out this newly released short film from Neill Blomkamp (in the link below) called “Rakka”. He’ll be releasing three more short films like this one between now and mid-July, enjoy!

http://www.looper.com/70397/neill-blomkamp-oats-studios-rakka/

 

 

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44 Super 8 2011

Written and directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, “Super 8” is a nostalgic love letter to the sci-fi and adventure films from the 1970’s and 80’s. The story follows a group of kids in 1979 Ohio that witness a mysterious train crash one night while shooting their zombie film.  Abrams initially wanted to make a film about kids in the 1970s making their own film, but feared it wouldn’t garner enough attention so he combined that with the idea of an Alien invasion. I love the aesthetic of this film, it faithfully recreates the sensation of a small town that comes in contact with something eerie and foreboding. The children actors are all effectively “normal” kids and this is due to Abrams team conducting a national talent search to find the perfect amalgamation of charm, acting ability, and normality. If you enjoyed Netflix’s “Stranger Things”, which is also inspired by many of the same films from that era, then I’d bet you’ll find something to love here as well.

 

 

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45 Star Wars 7 The Force Awakens 2015

Also written and directed by J.J. Abrams, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is the direct sequel to “Return of the Jedi” and the first new film in the sequel trilogy going forward. This film had a lot riding on it, first it had to reassure audiences that we wouldn’t be getting more of the lackluster aspects of the prequel trilogy from George Lucas. Then it had to be the beginning of a new trilogy that would, possibly, wrap up the “Star Wars” legacy and bring back the older characters we all know and love all while introducing us to new heroes and villains that should equally measure up to the original trilogy standards. Whew! While the film is somewhat of a retread of the first “Star Wars”, I believe that there was enough of the new aspects that were well done and the old characters handled with enough care that this film should be considered by all “Star Wars” fans as a success! With possibly the most anticipated cliffhanger ending of all time, we can only sit and count the days until “The Last Jedi” hits theaters this winter.

 

 

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46 The Fast and the Furious 2001

With about seventeen “Fast and Furious” films to have come out since this initial entry, I figured I would include this for the list, but to also include a general love for the series as a whole. Vin Diesel’s money machine began back in 2001 and has been going strong ever since. Originally thought of as “Point Break”- but with street racing instead of surfing, Paul Walker (RIP) stars as Brian O’Conner, an undercover police officer sent to investigate the L.A. street racing scene to sniff out hijackers using heavily modified vehicles. Brian soon meets Dominic Toretto, well known for his racing skills, and becomes involved with Dom’s crew while seeking out the car utilizing culprits. This is the most plausible out of all the “Fast and Furious” movies, and possibly the best outright story, after a few more movies and years passing by the series has evolved into an event status film series akin to a Marvel superhero movie. With each iteration new alliances are forged, old friendships rekindled, betrayal, love, loss, and insane stunts that escalate with each new numbered entry-this film series continues to break its own mold and while some are better than others, the series as a whole is always entertaining. I’d recommend giving the original a watch if you’ve never seen it, but I’m pretty sure most of you have seen at least one of these by now.

 

 

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47 Edge of tomorrow/Live.Die.Repeat. 2014

Directed by Doug Liman and written by Dante Harper, Joby Harold, Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth this multi-titled sci-fi actioner “Edge of Tomorrow” is another excellent addition to Tom Cruise’s filmography. Set sometime in the near future after an alien force has invaded the Earth and proven the world’s military might to be ineffective at best, Tom Cruise’s character (William Cage) is a political mouthpiece for the military that gets dropped into the front lines of the incoming surprise attack on the alien forces. Cruise does an excellent job of portraying someone that has no interest in battle whatsoever. Once dragged into the thick of the fight alongside well trained military personnel, he is quickly killed by one of the star shaped aliens. To his surprise, he reawakens at the beginning of the last day of his life and goes through all of the same actions as before, bewildered that he is the only one that knows this has taken place. Every time he dies in the battle he is brought back to the beginning of that same day. Eventually he meets Rita Vrataski (played by Emily Blunt), a skilled warrior from a previous battle with the aliens. She knows of his time-adjacent affliction, as she had the same thing happen to her during her infamous battle. From there the film plays on the tropes of “Groundhog day”, Cage learns how to fight in the military issued Mechanized battle suits and attempts to find a solution to the war. It’s an intensely entertaining film that proves that Cruise still has the action chops and acting charm to step out of his well known roles and expand his sci-fi/action cred even further.

 

 

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48 Spider-Man 2 2004

Written by Alvin Sargent and directed by Sam Raimi, “Spider-man 2” expands the mythos and world that the first movie established while providing the bar for superhero sequels for the next decade. Starring Tobey Maguire once again as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane, and James Franco as Harry Osborn the sequel makes good use of returning cast members while providing impressive new talent in Alfred Molina as Doctor Otto Octavius/Doc Ock. This sequel, unlike the infamous final entry in this film series, adequately juggles Peter Parker’s struggle to balance his super-heroics with the human side of life. Between his college courses, attempting to court Mary Jane, his strained relationship with Harry because of his work connections with Spider-Man- whom Harry blames for the death of his father from the first movie- not to mention his job at the Daily Bugle with the snap jawed J. Jonah Jameson barking orders to no end; it’s safe to say Peter had the world against him. Which is the best way to frame a Spider-Man story. Pinning him against the wall only forces Parker to fight harder and think quicker than his enemies and social structures pressing against him. Spider-Man is the quintessential super-hero in my opinion. He’s the most relatable hero because he has the most relatable problems in his life. This film showcased the personality of the character and the reality of his world and actions impressively. I can only hope this summer’s “Homecoming” film meshes the iconic character into the Marvel Studios Cinematic Universe while maintaining the familiar aspects of the character that made this film so good.

 

 

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49 Harold and Kumar go to White Castle 2004

Written by Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and directed by Danny Leiner “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle” stars John Cho as Harold and Kal Penn as Kumar in a ridiculous, yet effective, story about two friends that get the munchies and go on a wild ride to satisfy that hunger. All in all this is a stoner movie that tries to upend racial stereotypes and induce a few laughs along the way. The film succeeds in this effort due to the two leads’ work. Harold is a successful korean-born financial representative at a well known bank and Kumar is an excellent med school student, but they both share a common love for marijuana. Silliness may be the prime drive in this feature, but the film handles itself well. It knows what kind of movie it’s trying to be and the inspirations from stoner movies past are clear and present. This movie also brought Neil Patrick Harris back into the spotlight, and we all got Barney Stinson out of it- so make of that what you will.

 

 

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50 Super Troopers 2001

Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar and written by the whole Broken Lizard crew (Kevin Heffernan, Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, & Erik Stolhanske) “Super Troopers” is one of my favorite comedies of all time. Is it silly beyond belief? Yes. Does it feature a scene wherein the cast of cops compete in syrup chugging races? Oh, you better believe it. The plot of the film rests on a handful of State Troopers in a small town in northern Vermont that have little to do, so they revel in absurdities and pranks among each other. Once the crew hears of incoming budget cuts that threaten the future of the station the troopers attempt to track down a rumored drug trafficking ring going through the northern border into Canada. Rival police stations also hear of the drug running and heed all caution to stop the criminals before the Troopers can. For me, what keeps this film a multiple viewing affair is the banter and constant quarreling of the Troopers. From the “meow” game among officers to the antics involving Farva, it’s just so ridiculous you can’t help but laugh. This is the best film to come from Broken Lizard and I can’t wait to see how the long awaited sequel turns out once it’s finished.

 

 

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51 Hacksaw Ridge 2016

Written by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight and directed by Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge” is the true story of Desmond T. Doss’ actions during World War Two in which he volunteered for duty as a conscientious objector to serve as a medic on the battlefield. Doss was a seventh-day Adventist that held to his strong beliefs, particularly “Thou shalt not kill” and throughout the film we’re given context as to why someone that won’t even touch a rifle signed up for war. It essentially comes down to Doss’ unbreakable conviction, strong beliefs, and his downright Captain America-esque sense of duty. This war film may rely heavily on the main character’s inspiration for his intentions, but it doesn’t use religion as a rickety crutch for the story, it is the character’s story and how his belief in doing what’s right got him through a horrific battle in Okinawa. With this film Andrew Garfield proved to audiences that he can do more than we might have thought. After the reactions to his spider-man sequel had soured this film brought him back into the spotlight, much as it did for Mel Gibson who was nominated for Best Director for his outstanding efforts on this film. Had it been another year without “La La Land” and “Moonlight” in the competition, he may have won. It’s an inspiring war film that’s surprisingly anti-violence in it’s rhetoric- Even the later war scenes are shot as if the audience were transported to a horror film instead. It’s definitely worth a watch!

 

 

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52 I Love you man 2009

Firstly, who doesn’t love Paul Rudd? Directed by John Hamburg and written by Hamburg and Larry Levin, “I Love you, man” is a story about Peter Klaven (Rudd) who’s about to marry the girl of his dreams, Zooey (Rashida Jones). The only glaring problem facing the two is that Peter has no male friends and therefore no ‘Best Man’ for the wedding. So Peter sets out to go on several “man dates” to find a friend or two. After several failures Peter bumps into Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) and the pair quickly become inseparable. This is a film that might be predictable and near formulaic, but Paul Rudd and Jason Segel sell the comedy on their own awkward terms as sayings like “Pop a Squiznot” and “Totes Magotes” arrive with a joyful cringe to the ear. The two find enough in common between a love for fish tacos and the band Rush that the budding friendship almost becomes too much of a wedge between Peter and Zooey, but as you might expect, things work out in the end for everyone involved, but in times like these, it’s safe to say that the smile-cracking journey is worth the known destination.

 

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53 Me, Myself and Irene 2000

Written by Peter and Bobby Farrelly and Mike Cerrone and directed by the brothers Farrelly, “Me, Myself and Irene” is a black comedy about Charlie Baileygates (Jim Carrey) a Rhode Island state trooper that has a psychotic breakdown after suppressing his rage and inner feelings for years resulting in a deviant second personality in the form of “Hank”. Charlie is a good natured guy that often gets taken advantage of throughout his life. He refuses to believe that his former wife engaged in infidelity even after she gave birth to three black children and left him. Charlie raised the triplets on his own and continued his life of accepting abuse until one day he snapped and Hank was born. Hank is a wild and rude aberration that violently handles the confrontations that Charlie recedes from. After Hank’s arrival and Charlie’s episode is over his commanding officer (Robert Forster) believes Charlie just needs a vacation and orders him to escort Irene Waters (Renée Zellweger) to New York for processing as she reportedly committed a hit-and-run. After awhile Charlie loses his medication to keep Hank at bay and it’s revealed that Irene is involved in something much bigger than just a hit-and-run and things snowball into ridiculous comedy territory including a car chase and more outbursts from Hank that essentially puts everyone’s lives into danger. Jim Carrey is one of my favorite comedic actors and this type of comedy may be of the fairly “silly” variety, but it works for me and I genuinely enjoy it.

 

 

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54 Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol 2011

Written by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec and directed by Brad Bird, “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” is a return to glory for the Mission Impossible films and just the right shot in the arm that the spy series needed. The film begins with the retrieval of Ethan Hunt (Cruise) from a ramshackle Moscow prison that he purposefully got put into to gain intel on the unknown identity “Cobalt”. Hunt and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), upgraded to a field agent for this film, then break into the Kremlin with their impressive spy gadgetry but must escape when an unknown entity broadcasts on the IMF frequency to detonate a bomb which results in the destruction of the Kremlin and subsequently the shut down of the IMF as the act becomes pinned on Hunt and his team. From then on Hunt and his team must go into “Ghost Protocol” to act outside of the IMF’s known sphere of influence. The IMF Secretary (Tom Wilkinson) gives Hunt his last objective and sets him on a course to stop the threat of nuclear destruction from a diplomat gone mad. In this sequel Hunt’s team changes a bit, Jeremy Renner joins as the secretary’s aide Brandt, Paula Patton as Jane Carter a typical but serviceable role for the series as the female lead spy of the group, and Benji’s increased role in the team since the previous film. Ving Rhames does make an appearance as Luther Stickell once more, but only near the end of the film after the dust has settled. This film is a perfect example of white knuckle filmmaking during the action setpieces, the series still hasn’t gotten better than the spider-man antics Cruise pulled on the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, that scene still gives me vertigo to this day. If you like your spy movies with a quick pace and insane stuntwork, then you don’t have to look further than this “Mission Impossible” installment, it’s a solid piece of entertainment!

 

 

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55 Stranger than fiction 2006

Written by Zach Helm and directed by Marc Forster, “Stranger than Fiction” is one of my favorite performances by Will Ferrell in a movie. As someone that enjoys creative writing, this is a phenomenal concept. Will Ferrell stars as Harold Crick, an IRS auditor that starts to hear an omniscient voice one day. This voice knows Harold’s every move, every thought and feeling that he has, even where and when he will die. That voice belongs to Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), an author that just so happens to be writing, what she believes to be, a fictional novel with Harold Crick as the main character. At first Harold believes the voice is something he can ignore, until the author reveals that he will die by the story’s end. Meanwhile Eiffel is having writer’s block on just how to kill her Crick as she’s being supervised by an agent from the publisher (Queen Latifah), giving Harold time to figure out how to stop his imminent death from taking place. He seeks help from a literature professor played brilliantly, as always, by Dustin Hoffman to find the author and beg for his life. Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) also plays a part in helping Crick find meaning in his humdrum life as the owner of a small bakery that he just so happens to be auditing for the IRS. It’s a quirky idea that plays with the rules of reality in hilarious, but also poignant, ways throughout the film. If you’ve never seen a serious performance from Will Ferrell I highly recommend checking this one out!

 

 

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56 Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny 2006

Written by Jack Black, Kyle Gass, and Liam Lynch and directed by Lynch “Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny” is a vulgar comedic rock-and-roll love letter to Heavy Metal’s past and Tenacious D’s future. Over the top antics and performances fill the runtime in this absurd quest of Jack Black and Kyle Gass’ to obtain a mythical relic of legend among the heavy metal community. Once the duo realize a similar guitar pick in several rock and roll magazine covers they set out to find that which gave their idols the musical skill they so desire. There are some excellent cameos and small roles or performances that are sprinkled throughout the film and provide some of the greatest moments of the film. Right from the opening scene of Black’s childhood in a religious household Meatloaf stars as the father of the rebel youth in a song besmirching his son’s guitar shredding idols. Ronnie James Dio bookends the first song in setting Black’s eyes on Los Angeles to become a rockstar. Ben Stiller portrays a guitar center employee huddling in a closet to whisper the myth’s legitimacy to the two bumbling but earnest acolytes early on while later John C. Reilly plays an uncredited performance as Sasquatch in a fungi-inspired fever dream. Dave Grohl plays Satan in a rock-and-roll challenge in the third act as well, but the cameo that never fails to entertain me is that of Tim Robbins’ shambling nomad, a fellow seeker of the pick that lost a leg in his attempt to steal the pick from the museum of rock and roll history. “Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny” is part rock opera, part heavy metal Abbott and Costello, with a dash of foul-mouthed comedy thrown in for good measure.

 

 

 

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57  Pacific Rim 2013

Essentially a live-action blockbuster anime, “Pacific Rim” is a film about dimension traversing giant monsters (known as Kaiju in the movie) that enter our world and fight giant combative robots built and maneuvered by humans, called Jaegers. This is one of my favorite sub-genres of movies, giant monster movies. The atmosphere of giant monster movies can be intoxicating if done correctly. The fear of overbearing and massive monsters from a place unknown, I love it! This film has solid action, a great sense of world building, and a palpable kinetic energy about it when the skyscraper high Jaegers confront the otherworldly monsters. The acting is serviceable, while maybe not award worthy-all performances work for the film. I feel that Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba sold their roles very competently. I also love the fact that Charlie Day had a role as Dr. Newton Geiszler, an arrogant yet radical scientist who’s obsessed with the Kaiju. Much of the levity in the film comes from Day’s character interacting with his scientific opposite Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), a perpetually disgruntled, tweed wearing, classical scientist. Of course, as with most Guillermo Del Toro films, there is a minor role given to Ron Perlman who plays Hannibal Chau, a boisterous businessman making a living dealing Kaiju organs on the black market in Hong Kong. As said before, the film is very much like a live-action anime, and if that sounds entertaining to you, you’d probably get a kick out of this movie.

 

 

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58 The Nice Guys 2016

Critically underwatched, “The Nice Guys” is one of my favorite films of the decade. Set in 1970’s Los Angeles Ryan Gosling is an alcoholic Private-Eye who ends up working with Crowe’s burly muscle-with-a-heart-of-gold when they discover a sprawling conspiracy while investigating the alleged suicide of a famous female porn star. This film has some of the best dialogue of the last few years and has more originality than most. Written by Anthony Bagarozzi and Shane Black and directed by Black in brilliant fashion, “The Nice Guys” harbors hilarity, a snappy script, and unlimited charisma between the leads to combine into a new classic. While the film is somewhat brutal in its depiction of violence, it balances this by including an almost whimsical slapstick bit when concerning Gosling’s affable alcoholism with a notable wit to boot. Russell Crowe also has an impromptu fight scene with Keith David from “They Live”, so that’s almost worth the price of admission alone.

 

 

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59 Kong: Skull Island 2017

With the personal exception of Japan’s newest entry in the Godzilla film franchise “Shin Godzilla”, this is one of the very best monster movies to hit the silver screen in years. Sure, the human characters might not be the most cohesive or focused, but I loved it nonetheless. In fact I’d argue that at the very least this film’s actors seemed invested and engaged in the film that they’re in, unlike say, Gareth Edward’s “Godzilla” flick in 2014. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was entirely wooden and aloof in his performance and the film wasted Bryan Cranston entirely. “Kong” at least keeps it’s characters around long enough to be memorable. There is a gigantic (pun intended) focus on the monsters and their scale, all while serving the mystery and discovery of it all. As an added plus, this film doesn’t cut away from monster fights. Check out this link below on Hideo Kojima’s (The creator of Metal Gear Solid) thoughts on “Kong: Skull Island” and how its entry into the monster movie genre challenges and improves upon the character’s 1930’s Hollywood roots:

http://www.glixel.com/news/kojima-on-how-kong-skull-island-reinvigorates-monster-movies-w471620

 

 

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60  Shin Godzilla 2016

After the recent American “Godzilla” remake was relatively well received Japan decided to do their own remake of the giant atomic lizard. Set in modern day Japan, “Shin Godzilla” smartly uses Godzilla as a metaphor for a debate about the country’s demilitarized state and how to use force, and when. It’s a satire on the current loop of bureaucracy involved with any military endeavors in Japan and it places an excellent “what if?” for its people to consider. Our own American influence is also a plot point that’s excellently played out as Godzilla doesn’t care where you’re from or how many bombs you brought with you, he’s just here to absorb radiation and destroy everything. After lots of thought put to this movie, I have to say- its my new favorite Godzilla movie. I hope they break that record next time around, or that our American sequel learns from the first film’s failures, and Kong’s successes.

 

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61 007 Casino Royale 2006

Many were skeptical when this film opened with our new Bond for the new millennium. Daniel Craig was getting a unique opportunity, his first Bond film would be a reboot of the character, this films opens just as our young film icon gets his license to kill. Casino Royale was a new build of Bond from the ground up. Hyper realism was embraced and a Bond that was more in line with the original character from Ian Fleming’s spy novels was introduced with less gadgets and less bombast than the previous Pierce Brosnan flicks. This marked a brand new day for a character that had recently passed the half century mark at the time of release.

 

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62 007 Skyfall 2012 

A Bond film where the central question being asked is “Do we really need antiquated figures like James Bond in today’s world?”, that is an excellent question to center your film on, and the film answers back with a style and flair like no other film series can. The cinematography blends and borrows from Bond’s cinematic past, while the choreography and fight scenes keep the edge from Daniel Craig’s “Casino Royale” roots. “Skyfall” isn’t just “A good Bond movie” It might be the best Bond film to date!

 

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63 007 Die Another Day 2002

This was the first James Bond film I saw in theaters, so it holds a special place for me. Ironically, even though it was released in 2002 this James Bond film hit peak 1990’s cheese. From the invisible cars racing away from a giant death ray aimed from space to the unending sexual innuendos and puns-I unabashedly love this film. Granted, Daniel Craig’s overall Bond performance is more accurate to the character from the source material, but this is the 1990’s Bond emerging into the millennium and having one last romp before driving into the sunset in an Aston Martin.

 

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64 Birdman: or the unexpected virtue of ignorance 2014

The movie that put Michael Keaton back on the map is also the film that made director Alejandro González Iñárritu a household name in the film community. Masterfully disguised as a one shot film, “Birdman” tells the story of an actor that used to star in big budget superhero films who’s now trying to gain notoriety of a different kind in a Broadway theatrical performance.  He struggles throughout the film to pull everything together, his particular actors, his ego, and his family. The story centers around the idea of the balance between pursuing creativity or chasing financial freedom. Michael Keaton’s Riggan (and obviously in some ways Keaton himself) has had big budget superhero roles in the past, but now he’s got to prove himself as artistically able-bodied to his audience, to his family, and to himself. The supporting cast includes realistic yet layered performances by Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis in a more serious turn, and Emma Stone effectively utilizing her well worn wide-eyed style. I found this film to be a celebration of art, regardless of past or present, and creative pursuits that broaden the scope of any one individual.

 

 

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65 The Revenant 2015

The film that finally gave Leonardo DiCaprio his well earned Oscar for Best Actor, “The Revenant” is the harrowing revenge tale of Hugh Glass, a guide for the North American fur trade in the 1823. The film opens with brilliant cinematography surrounding an attack on the fur traders’ encampment by Native Americans. The cinematography of this film mesmerizes me every time I watch it. The camera movements are fluid and appropriately intense when needed, never yielding the frame to lesser shaky cam techniques that can blur or mar the image. Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance is a grueling one; after he’s mauled by a bear, betrayed by fellow fur trader John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), and left to die he summons his willpower to clamber and scrape through the dirt and snow for vengeance. There’s a reason Iñárritu won Best Director two years in a row for “Birdman” and this film, the direction on display in both films are masterclass examples of the form. Not to mention the insane fact that this film was shot in all natural lighting and it was shot in storytelling order from beginning to end. It’s a visually stunning film that earned its award season status.

 

 

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66 Hector and the Search for Happiness 2014

I found this movie in a particularly depressive period in my life and while it may not be groundbreaking or a box-office hit, I loved it nonetheless. Hector (Simon Pegg) is a psychiatrist in London whose life has become increasingly banal and insipid. He fears he hasn’t really lived a full life and yet he’s giving advice to people whose problems don’t seem to lessen at all. So, he decides to pack up his courage and travel the world to find the secret to happiness. He visits three locales in China, Africa, and Los Angeles. In each he finds life lessons, possibly a bit too hallmark for some, and new dangers. The film takes a surprisingly dark turn in Africa, but oddly it works within the larger framework of the story. I believe this film works mostly because of Simon Pegg and his commitment to the character of Hector. He treats the character with a seriousness and playfulness that isn’t too over the top or cheeky. The ending has more of a complete revelation for Hector and Christopher Plummer delivers it as an author holding a conference in L.A. When looked at as a character piece you should be able to get something out of it. Cynics be warned, you may not enjoy this one.

 

 

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67 The Patriot 2000

Have you ever thought, “I really enjoyed Braveheart, I wonder what it would look like if it were set during the American Revolution?”. Well, that’s what “The Patriot” is, and it’s great. I love a good historical epic, and I do enjoy Mel Gibson as an actor and director. This film simply checks all the boxes that made “Braveheart” great, but with a different historical period, and less torture. If you’re not quite on the Mel Gibson bandwagon, I suggest giving this film a watch. It showcases his acting skill paired with some good ole fashioned revolutionary war era tension and action.

 

 

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68 The Night Before 2015

This is the latest addition to Christmas films that I will be revisiting each new snowy season. “The Night Before” is essentially a comedic re-imagining of the “Christmas Carol” story, with a modern edge. Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Chris (Anthony Mackie), and Isaac (Seth Rogen) are all symbols of past, present, and future as they are each dealing with adulthood in ways that are, have, and will be affecting their lives. Friends since childhood, they have an annual Christmas Eve reunion of debauchery and hilarity in New York City. However now they’re growing apart and the tradition must end, so to make it as memorable as possible they seek out the Nutcracka Ball, a legendary Christmas party that had always been out of reach before. There’s enough gut busting humor and heart mixed in throughout to merit this one as an annual Christmas flick. Plus, Michael Shannon’s performance as “Mr. Green” is a thing of joy.

 

 

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69 Dawn of the Dead 2004

Between this and “300”, I’m never quite sure which movie of Zack Snyder’s I enjoy more, but those are his two best works in my opinion. This is my jam when it comes to a more serious Zombie affair than say “Shaun of the Dead”. It’s not a disservice to the original, rather another filmmaker’s attempt to have fun within the genre while generating enough throwback nods to the original George A. Romero classic. The story is simple, the zombie apocalypse begins and a smattering of survivors all end up in a mall complex and try to survive from there. Gore, a bit of camp for good measure, and some intense reanimated undead thrown together makes for an excellent rainy day zombie flick.

 

 

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70 Deadpool 2016

What can I say about Deadpool that hasn’t already been said ad nauseam in the last year? I just love that Ryan Reynolds was able to continue work with the character, he’s one of those perfect matches for his character, just like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, or Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Ridiculously violent, hilarious, and inventive with its self referential and industry mocking humor-this movie is simply entertaining as hell.

 

 

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71 Gladiator 2000

As you may have noticed, I really enjoy well done historical epics and “Gladiator” is one of the very best. We follow Maximus (Russell Crowe) as his life is torn asunder by the chaos sewn through the death of emperor Marcus Aurelius. Maximus, one of the most skilled Roman generals, is set to be executed as Marcus’ vile son Commodus rises to power. He narrowly escapes but is eventually thrown into slave labor where he lands into the pit of gladiatorial fighting. As he excels through the ranks of combat to the death, he becomes admired and gains notoriety among the people. He then uses this advantage to avenge not only his dignity, his name, and his family, but for the freedom of his people as well. Honestly, I believe this is the last great movie we’ve gotten from Ridley Scott. That’s not to say he hasn’t made entertaining or good movies since then, but for me, none have achieved quite the status as this film or his earlier legendary works.

 

 

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72 La La Land 2016

This was how I started 2017, watching “La La Land” in a sold out theater filled with openly weeping people. Now, that’s creative power. Personally, I wholeheartedly love this movie. Sure, it’s just old movie musical tropes weaved into a modern story with current filmmaking ability, but it works! I didn’t think musicals could be done in a similar fashion in today’s world and not feel overly hammy or cringe-worthy. The Piano is my favorite musical instrument, and I already really enjoyed both leads previous work in Hollywood, so this film worked for me on multiple levels. “La La Land” is a love letter to passion, to finding what fuels you in life and discovering who can make you feel like you’re wading through a dream. As somebody that is hellbent on storytelling by any means possible-this film speaks to me, and I love that it exists in this world, pushing others to chase their dreams. That, truly, is my jam.

 

 

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73 The Cabin in the Woods 2012

Horror is probably my least favorite genre, nothing against it really, it’s just not always for me. However, a few slip through the cracks to reach me, and this is one of them. Directed by Drew Goddard and sharing script duty with none other than Joss Whedon, “The Cabin in the Woods” is wonderfully misleading. It plays on cabin-in-the-woods genre horror tropes by subverting it with a healthy dose of humor. Five teenagers make their way to the eponymous cabin and things start to go wrong, as it goes. Only this time nobody in the group realizes that they are being watched by outside forces. For me, horror works best when meshed effectively with comedy, (one of my favorites being “The Evil Dead 2”) and this flick excels in that regard. Although, admittedly I would have preferred the monster mash in the third act to be more practical effects than a CGI mishmash, but that’s a slight drawback in an otherwise engaging horror-comedy.

 

 

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74  Tucker and Dale Versus Evil 2010

“Tucker and Dale Versus Evil” is another film about subverting horror tropes through comedy. This is a story of a simple misunderstanding. Tucker and Dale are two best friends out on a hunting vacation in their broken down and musty hunting lodge in the woods. They quickly encounter some preppy college kids from the city that mistake the two friendly outdoorsmen for killer rednecks that hide out in the mountains. Tucker and Dale rescue one of the girls from the group after she’s knocked unconscious after which the rest of the her friends believe they’ve kidnapped her. This flick has slapstick comedy, ludicrous amounts of gore, and it has heart. This is a great gem to come across, give it a watch!

 

 

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75 Journey to Planet X 2012

“Journey to Planet X” is a documentary that I absolutely love. It’s about two scientists in Florida that make micro-budget indie sci-fi/fantasy movies in their free time. These two men are Eric Swain and Troy Bernier, and they are doing what many either cannot or believe they could not do, they’re chasing their dreams. I was lucky enough to see this documentary at the Traverse City Film Festival in Northern Michigan about five years ago. Josh Koury and Myles Kane are the two filmmakers that made the documentary about Eric and Troy’s celluloid plight, and they just so happened to be at the festival (I cannot remember if both were there, or it was just one of them for the Q & A), it was encouraging and inspiring to hear the stories surrounding the production of the documentary- of the production Eric and Troy were enduring for their latest sci-fi flick “Journey to Planet X”. I even saw Eric Swain at another showing of a different film later on during the festival and got to congratulate him on the documentary and shook his hand. That was incredibly cool and I doubt I’ll forget it anytime soon. I love this film because it puts a spotlight on nontraditional creatives on the small scale of micro budgets creating whatever they could and making it as good as they could. Whether it was perceived to be cheesy or having unique B-genre qualities, they didn’t care if it couldn’t make any money, it was for the pure joy and challenge of creating films. Isn’t that what’s its all supposed to be about at the end of the day?

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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, or “Space Avengers.. Again!”

Written and directed by James Gunn once more, “The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” brings us back into the fold of the galaxy’s most ragtag team of cackling thieves, opportunistic miscreants, and charming rogues. Proving to be Marvel’s riskiest property yet, the sequel delves deeper into the past and motivations for more of the characters while also aiming to be as filled with comedy as it is with tragedy. After all, isn’t that the age old recipe of a good story?

Set two months after the events of the first film, we find our heroes doing a job protecting powerful batteries from the onslaught of a tentacle wielding and fanged-tooth monster of inter-dimensional origins. After the beast is slain, in one of the best opening credit sequences since “Deadpool”, we’re swiftly introduced to the people of the planet Sovereign, a golden colored species that hired the team because of their well known status after the events of the first film. The people of the Sovereign are easily offended and typically issue death penalties for transgressions against them. So of course Rocket Raccoon maligns them of being considered “douchebags” offhandedly. He also steals from them, as he is wont to do. This kicks the thrust of the film into motion and we’re off! I won’t tread into spoiler territory here, but rather instead focus on what the film did right in my opinion. This is a much more character driven film than the first. That one had its moments and particular storythreads that were serviced quite well, but the sequel dives deeper, especially into characters that you would not expect to get meaningful exposition from.

There is a great effort here to build the world of the MCU’s Cosmic side, and I think this film handles that aspect exceedingly well. Not just in a sense of there being many inhabitable star systems, but even in the size ratios of spaceships. The look of this movie is a fine example of a beautifully chaotic color palette. Neon colors and vibrant hues fill the screen one moment just before another psychedelic barrage pours onto the silver screen as characters bounce across the galaxy, fire their blasters, or leap into danger with their blades drawn. I can’t understate how impressed I was with the framing and the cinematography on display, it was a visual feast to behold.

This film delivers on all fronts for me personally. The threat of the film has increased exponentially since the initial story, and they balance it all with a style of humor that is perfect for this series. Dave Bautista’s Drax has some of the very best comedic lines and jokes throughout the film, but everyone gets their fair share of comedic timing. Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon has a memorable riff on the mutinous ravager known as “Taserface”. It’s a great bit and it works on every beat. Of course Kurt Russell’s character of “Ego” is a joy to behold in his performance. If you thought it was a weird choice to have a film where two of your main characters are a wise cracking Raccoon and a Tree alien who can only communicate with a single phrase, then buckle up because this film outdoes these notions with strange but fascinating creative choices.

If you enjoyed the first Guardians, I suspect you’ll get a real kick out of the sequel. Personally, this is one of the most satisfying sequels I’ve seen from Marvel Studios and it gives me nothing but boundless hope for “Infinity War” and the rest of this universe unfolding before our eyes. Oh, and Stan Lee’s cameo for this film is a great example of the lengths the studio will go in dredging through the many many characters in their lore, I loved it, and you just may too!

Final Score: 300 songs (There’s even a Zune joke thrown in for good measure!)

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Old School Review: Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

Occasionally in history what was once old can become new again. I’ve been revisiting older films as of late and I’ve found several to be incredibly relevant in their stories when compared to the headlines of today. One such story is “Dr. Strangelove (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb)” by legendary film director Stanley Kubrick in 1964. “Dr. Strangelove” is a black comedy that satirizes the rampant paranoia of the cold war conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.

On a lone military base United States Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper issues orders to his subordinate Captain Lionel Mandrake, a British Royal Air Force officer, to put the base on alert. He then issues an order for an unauthorized first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union and locks down the base. “Wing Attack Plan R” is received by the airmen in their bombers and they go about their orders utilizing their CRM 114 discriminator, a device that is programmed to only accept communications from general Jack D. Ripper in the form of a secret three letter code, also known only to the general. From there the film follows the President of the United States, his advisers, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff as they try to recall the bombers and prevent a nuclear apocalypse.

I honestly went into this not expecting to find a new favorite, but it became one nonetheless. It’s a brilliant ploy on the insane paranoia that the fear of the cold war instilled in people. In fact, I find it increasingly relevant in today’s world. The inherent insanity of our own headlines reflect what was once fantasy or farce into reality, I mean, we did elect a reality TV show host as the President. But anyhow, I do love the performances here, especially of George C. Scott (famously known for his role as infamous WW2 general George S. Patton) as general Buck Turgidson who tries to explain the practices of the military in such situations to the president. As he fumbles through, making jokes and getting caught up in his own bravado I couldn’t help but be tickled by the absurdity of it all. Nuclear holocaust being a possibility in real life is terrifying enough, but put the lens of satire on it and it becomes a brilliant sort of laugh factory. Peter Sellers also does a lot to play into the humor here as he plays three characters throughout the film; Lionel Mandrake, the RAF officer that tries to talk down the out-of-his-mind general Ripper, President Merkin Muffley, who has my favorite line in the movie “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, this is the war room!”, and Dr. Strangelove himself, the wheelchair bound nuclear war expert and ex-nazi scientist who has a case of diagnostic apraxia aka alien hand syndrome in which his lame limb lapses into the Nazi salute. Brilliant.

So if you’re looking to fill out your Stanley Kubrick flicks, or just hankering for a comedy satire that plays with real world issues, give this one a watch, it’s worth your time.

Final Score: 31 seats at the war room table (give or take)

*Check out this video on the history of the making of “Dr. Strangelove” on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJ6BiRtGTAk

 

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Review: Free Fire, “Slapstick gunplay meets Reservoir Dogs’ style genre flick”

A24 is the new studio to beat lately. With plenty of oddball flicks like “Swiss Army Man” and “Spring Breakers” or genre infused flicks like “Under the Skin”, “Slow West”, “Green Room” “The Lobster” and ‘Ex-Machina”-they’ve always made curiously unique choices when choosing the films that would fall under their umbrella. They also happened to work with the recent underdog best picture winner “Moonlight”. So with that repertoire behind their filmography I went into “Free Fire” expecting to find another unique flick.

“Free Fire” is a one location story about an arms deal gone wrong in an abandoned warehouse, in 1978 Boston. The wrong guns are brought to the deal, and plenty of high strung emotions as well. Tempers flare when enemies recognize each other and all sense gets thrown out the window. Cillian Murphy leads a band of IRA (Irish Republican Army) members and hired help to purchase a heap of guns, while Sharlto Copley heads a coy operation of arms dealers looking to sell. In between the group mechanics, the side characters emerge loudly and with gusto. This movie is essentially all second act, which clips by at a swift hour and thirty minutes. The tension is kept alive as the characters get clipped by bullets, writhe in the dirt and broken glass of the warehouse floor, and crawl about looking for potential enemies and blindly shooting with the crack shot skill of a storm trooper in a looney-tunes cartoon. Combining slapstick gunplay humor with murderous intent and Tarantino-esque handling of dialogue, “Free Fire” aims to be a bloody good time at the theater.

The best part about this genre flick is the cast. Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer, as Vernon and Ord respectively, steal every scene that they’re in. Brie Larson also pulls a gem of a performance out of “Justine”, the intermediary of the deal. All of the smaller characters that impact the story, like Jack Reynor’s Harry or Sam Riley’s Stevo, are boisterous and big in nature as well, cackling above the crackle of gunfire amidst the chaos. Michael Smiley’s Frank and Babou Ceesay’s Martin also play integral roles even though they may be the quieter parts of the whole.

“Free Fire” wasn’t pretending to be more than what it presented itself as, and that’s part of what made it so damn fun. I enjoyed my time with it, and if you give it a look, I think you might too!

Final Score: 7000 bullets (How many they used in making the film! Check out link below)

Brie Larson and Armie Hammer’s ‘Free Fire’ used 7,000 bullets during production

“Free Fire” is rated R and opened for wide release in the US on 4/21/17