film

10 of the best films I saw in 2018

Look, definitive Top Ten lists litter numerous webpages and blogposts this time of year, and I normally deviate from rankings and scores anymore on the subject of a film’s merit- however, I will write here about ten of the films that caught my eye (and heart) this year at the theater; it’s just a nice round number to work with. I didn’t see all of the films I wanted to (like every other year) and if I catch one later I’ll write up a review if I found it noteworthy. I suspect “Eighth Grade” and “Upgrade” will get this treatment in the new year. Last year I made an effort to get to older films that I’ve either neglected or just missed entirely, classics that I needed to check off of lists, and the occasional odd pick resulting in a new favorite (Here’s looking at you “Stalker” [1979]). So, it was a strange and fascinating year of movie watching for me. *Most, but not all (MI6 Fallout & Spider-Verse), of the films listed below have received their own movie reviews over the course of the year so if you’d like a more in-depth discussion take a peek through my 2018 reviews and check them out!

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. “Infinity War” was the culmination of a decade of Marvel Studio’s Cinematic Universe, eighteen movies of interconnected storytelling resulted in the ultimate payout for both longtime Marvel fans and execs. Thanos proved he had more tricks up his sleeve than just a space throne and profoundly undid the expanded universe with a snap of his fingers. Even with all of the combined might of these comic-book characters, it wasn’t enough to stop the Mad Titan. If you, somehow, still haven’t seen this movie, get on it! “Endgame” is mere months away and you’re gonna want to be caught up for the second part of “Infinity War”.

ISLE OF DOGS

Wes Anderson’s latest foray into stop motion animation was simply a delight. Filled to the gills with celebrity voice actors, some Anderson faithfuls were present, however there were some new additions to the quirky symmetry loving director. From Bryan Cranston and Edward Norton to Frances McDormand and Yoko Ono the voice cast imbued the whimsical production with an extra layer of indelible charm. The film’s story is about breaking down the barriers of communication with a tale of a boy, Atari, and his lost dog, Spots. Set in the not so distant future of Megasaki City ‘Dog Flu’ sweeps through the city and swift legislation is ordered condemning all canines to be quarantined on trash island off the coast of Japan. Atari sets out to trash island to find his dog Spots and discover the mystery behind the mass migration of mutts. I recommend this one to anyone fascinated by animation or especially stop-motion animation, it’s a beautifully crafted film and the story it sets out to tell is pretty fun!

ANNIHILATION

This was one of the smartest and strangest sci-fi films to come out in years. In the opening of the film, a meteor crashes into a lighthouse in southeast North America and emits a strange and ever expanding phenomena. Naturally, the Government ascends upon the affected area and labels the abnormality The Shimmer. After a few years of failed Military efforts the Feds finally send in a scientifically minded team consisting of five women. Lena (Natalie Portman) is recruited after her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns to her after being sent into The Shimmer months prior in one of the many Military missions. He is the only person to have returned from The Shimmer. Equal parts horrific scientific exploration and beautiful abstract mystery, “Annihilation” is one of the most cerebral and original sci-fi films in years and you owe it to yourself to check out this slow-burn Lovecraftian horror.

SUPER TROOPERS 2

The comedy sequel is a hard sell. Especially for a cult classic like “Super Troopers“, but even more rare is the comedy sequel that excels past the quality of the first film and improves on what worked in the first place. “Super Troopers 2” is such a rarity. The long gestating bookend from Broken Lizard may have taken 17 years to realize, but it’s one that was well considered. The movie reunites the Vermont State Troopers as the transition team that oversees a section of Canada being turned over to the Americans after a few ancient documents revealed the border to be incorrect. Naturally this gave Broken Lizard the opportunity to have an assortment of Canada vs America jokes veiled in a film that cleverly retraces the first film’s steps while sidestepping the faults with that film’s story structure. This is one of the best comedy sequels out there, if you enjoyed the first one, odds are you’ll have a good time with this one too.

HEREDITARY

Ari Aster’s directorial debut was one to remember. I’m not the most likely person to suggest a horror film, but when there’s an overwhelming chorus of people pouring praise on such a film- well, then I had to go see it. This film is very good. I don’t know how soon I’ll see it again, but that’s mainly because it turned my own house into a creepfest for a good two weeks this last year. This horror film is slow, it doesn’t hold your hand, and it doesn’t fully reveal the plot’s underpinnings until the very last scene and it’s all the better for it. Toni Collette should receive awards recognition for her work here as it is both spellbinding and horrific in the best way possible. Check this one out if you have the patience for some good scares!

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 6: FALLOUT

Who knew that the “Mission Impossible” franchise would get better with each installment (with one notable exception)? The plot is almost unnecessary at this point, though still fine in this film, we’re just here to see Tom Cruise risk his life doing crazy insane stunts for our amusement. This film definitely delivers on that front, he learned how to fly helicopters for the third act, broke his ankle jumping between rooftops, and completed over 100 Halo jumps in preparation for this film. Throw in a mustachioed Henry Cavill for good measure and you’ve got yourself an excellent action spy movie that adds fuel to the “Mission Impossible” franchise.

Left to right: Emily Blunt and John Krasinski in A QUIET PLACE from Paramount Pictures.

A QUIET PLACE

This film earned it’s place on my list this year purely out of shock at how damn thrilling it was. I saw this film on its opening night on a whim and I was rewarded heavily for this game of chance at the theater. The concept was perfect, the shots and dialogue were lean and efficient, and the surprise masterclass execution of suspense was outstanding. The film is a tight white-knuckle exercise in how quiet a theater full of people can get- the crowd I was with was a sold out group of loud, chatty, people of all ages eating snacks and loudly laughing during the previews, but after that first scene the room went silent and the only audible sounds from the audience for the remainder of the film were gasps and quiet murmurs of exclaimed expletives.

HALLOWEEN (2)

Working as a direct sequel to the original slasher film in John Carpenter’s “Halloween“, this film had a lot to live up to. Earning the blessing from Carpenter went a long way to assuage my own suspicions before seeing the film. This sequel/reboot brought back Jaime Lee Curtis and Nick Castle and stitched together a highly entertaining new film in the franchise. The filmmakers made Michael legitimately scary again, and they skillfully crafted the present day Haddonfield to be the serial killer’s playground once more. Jaime Lee Curtis killed it as a paranoid, and simultaneously broken and stronger, Laurie Strode. While there are small hiccups that deviate a bit from the overall mood, I thought this was an excellent horror film and I can’t wait to see it again!

CREED 2

While not quite as phenomenal as the initial outing, this sequel delivers a thrilling journey for the son of Apollo. The only nitpick, if I can even call it that, I have with the film is that some of the cinematography wasn’t quite as immersive as Coogler’s “Creed“. That being said, this film has a better villain in the son of Ivan Drago, Viktor. The story further evolves all of the returning characters in nuanced ways, but especially concerning Ivan and Viktor Drago. The fights are visceral, the losses were shattering, and the montages stayed as galvanizing as ever. If you’re a fan of the “Rocky” franchise, this is fine addition to the legacy.

INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Having already seen three live-action Marvel movies, “The Incredibles 2“, and trying to fit in a potential “Aquaman” viewing before it leaves theaters this year- my bar was fairly high for the super-hero genre walking into the theater this time. Which is why I was so massively impressed with “Spider-Verse”. Not only is the hybridization between Pixar-level 3D-Animation and the natural hand drawn flair outright impressive, but the storytelling skill on display far exceeded my expectations. The team-up between the two core Spider-Men in Peter Parker and Miles Morales was vastly entertaining and surprisingly moving. Pile on four more “Spider-People” from other comic-book universes and any other story would have been overwhelmed and chaotic, but this film cut through the fat and produced a pitch-perfect, brilliant, animated film.

Honorable Mentions: “Mandy“, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs“, “Best F(r)iends Vol 1

MOVIES I MISSED IN 2018:

“EIGHTH GRADE”, “UPGRADE”, “IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK”, “THE FAVOURITE”, “lOVE, SIMON”, “SEARCHING”, “WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?”, “PADDINGTON 2”, “GREEN BOOK”, “ROMA”, “BLINDSPOTTING”, “FIRST MAN”, “SORRY TO BOTHER YOU”, “THUNDER ROAD”, “BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY”, “SHOPLIFTERS”, “MARY POPPINS RETURNS”, “CRAZY RICH ASIANS”, “BURNING”, “BUMBLEBEE”, “SUSPIRIA”, “AQUAMAN”, “TULLY”, “VICE”, “THE MULE”, “THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN”, “THE SISTERS BROTHERS”, “GAME NIGHT”, “RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET”, “THE GRINCH”, “BLOCKERS”, “THE HATE YOU GIVE”, “LET THE SUNSHINE IN”, “NIGHT COMES ON”, “A SIMPLE FAVOR”, “A STAR IS BORN”, “VENOM”, “THE TALE”, “THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT”, “MADELINE’S MADELINE”, “COLD WAR”, “THE DEATH OF STALIN”, “YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE”, “LEAVE NO TRACE”, “THE RIDER”, “THE NIGHT COMES FOR US”, “WIDOWS”, “PRIVATE LIFE”, & “FIRST REFORMED”

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film

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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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Movies of 2016

2016 may have been one of the most divisive years in recent memory, but when I looked back on the movies that came out I began to realize that while there were certainly big duds among the crowd there was an abundance of quality movies that came out last year. Below is the list of a majority of the films that came out last year with my thoughts on them. Enjoy!

The Good

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Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds gets a lot of credit for this one. He stuck around after his character’s horrific introduction and then incredible misuse in the first standalone Wolverine movie back in 2009 and kept pushing for this film to get greenlit. Self referential and winking at the screen knowingly, “Deadpool” is everything you want it to be if you know the crude character in the slightest. Violent, crass, and fourth wall breaking, this film is the best direct adaption of a comic character, possibly ever.

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Captain America 3: Civil War

Proving that you can take two characters with idealogical differences and pit them against each other and actually have the story work (Looking at you, Zack Synder), “Civil War” isn’t just one of the best Marvel movies, it’s one of the best Superhero movies ever made. Captain America and Iron Man take opposite sides of a government mandate and string up followers on each side to punch each other until you cry when it gets serious (You know what scene I’m talking about). Captain America 3 is one of the few exceptional blockbusters from this year!

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Dr. Strange

“Dr. Strange” continues to prove that Marvel can take any of their properties, no matter how Strange (Ba-dum-tss!), and make it work. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Strange, a brilliant Neurosurgeon that has his hands crippled in an auto accident and ends up traveling the world and spending his last dollar in search of a cure. Instead he meets the Sorcerer Supreme (Tilda Swinton) aka the Ancient One, and begins his path of mastering the mystic arts of sorcery and otherworldly magic. What sold me for this origin tale is the third act, and how Strange solves his own villain dilemma. No Sky beams. No faceless army to beat into submission. No, here lies a creative solution that I will not spoil, but it’s well worth the watch.

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Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson’s directorial return to cinema is not one to miss. Easily one of my favorite films of the year, this film changed my view on Andrew Garfield. The true story follows Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector in wartime to receive the medal of honor for saving 75 men in the battle of Hacksaw Ridge, in WW2, without a firearm. The first half follows Doss’ battle to stick to his beliefs and to train as a field medic, without holding a weapon, as it was his belief not to kill another man. The second half depicts the battle, and well, hold onto your butts because it is relentless in it’s violence and horror. Gibson deserves a best director nod at the very least.

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Star Wars: Rogue One

Who knew a film with a widely known ending could be this good? “Rogue One” is pure Star Wars fun. This film had a lot riding on it going into it’s opening. Would the first standalone Star Wars movie be a success? Would audiences care about a film with little to no recognizable faces throughout the runtime? As the first film in the franchise to focus more on the “war” than the “stars” Rogue One swiftly introduced us to a cast of rebels devoted to the cause. Jyn Erso leads the band of resistance as the daughter of the head engineer of the Death Star while the Empire puts the finishing touches on their shiny new superweapon. Each member of the team has notable moments throughout- Donnie Yen’s “Chirrut Imwe” is a blind, force sensitive, kung-fu martial artist with a deep belief in the power of the force- and an excellent example of this. The film goes to extreme lengths to recreate the dirty, lived-in world of the original series, from 3D printing toy model sections for digitally recreating star destroyers to the use of practical effects and some puppetry throughout. The film also breaks new special effects ground by reviving Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin not simply just for a cameo, but as a character that has several scenes and deliberately pushes the plot forward. The film adeptly handles the mythology with caring hands and even fills in former plot holes, such as the infamous womp-rat sized hole in the Death Star, while also taking new risks, like the ending. Which I won’t ruin just in case you haven’t caught this movie yet-somehow. Darth Vader also has one of his best scenes ever put to film near the ending-right before the reveal of a youthful CGI Princess Leia who, in a timely sense, reminds us to have Hope. Rest in Peace Carrie Fisher.

 

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Swiss Army Man

Easily the weirdest movie of the year, “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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Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Set in New Zealand, this film follows defiant city kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) as he is placed into his newest foster care home to be raised by the jovial Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and grumbly Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). Written and directed by Taika Waititi (Helming the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok) this film is an excellent example of his ability to juggle wildly different tones with impeccable skill. The film ends up becoming a buddy roadtrip comedy, in a sense, between Ricky and Hec as they are chased in a manhunt throughout the wilds of the New Zealand bush that is in parts hilarious but also a touching and heartfelt showcase of friendship, family, and how to deal with loss. Between this and Waititi’s last film “What we do in the shadows” he has become one of my favorite directors to keep in mind. Seek this one out, you won’t be disappointed.

 

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The Jungle Book

The latest adaption of Rudyard Kipling’s 1893 literary allegory of anthropomorphic animals was released by Disney last year in groundbreaking fashion. This was one of the rare times when a reboot or reimagining of a property gave new life to the material and improved upon various versions of the story. This iteration, directed masterfully by Jon Favreau, combined some of the most cherished musical numbers from Disney’s earlier animated classic with a dash of the darker nature and tone that came from the original tale. Photorealistic computer generated imagery breathes new spectacle into the century plus old story, each of the animals move and react in a beautifully realized digital jungle with a human actor as Mowgli (Neel Sethi) that physically interacts with the imagined world around him. Of course it would be remiss of me not to mention the stellar voiceover cast with the likes of Christopher Walken as King Louie, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Sir Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, and of course-the perfect casting choice, Bill Murray as Baloo.

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Star Trek Beyond

The third movie in Star Trek’s newest revival of sci-fi films, “Beyond”, is a smaller film in terms of the scope of the adventure and thus feels more like a true ‘Trek’ episode than the previous films. While there is much to enjoy here, my only nitpick was some of the editing and cinematography choices during the action sequences, it was a departure from the sweeping glides of JJ Abrams whereas this seemed a bit clunkier and rife with shaky cam. The newest story takes place while the crew is on their five year deep space mission when they get stranded on an alien planet, the enterprize gets destroyed again, and thus the team is fractured into pairs where they must all work together to strive against the might of Krall, played effectively by Idris Elba. Simon Pegg pens the script here and you can feel his influence throughout in the playful pairings of the crew, Spock and Bones in particular was a great choice. The film leans a bit into nostalgia, and the revival series has earned it’s place among the canon to do so. It’s a bright future for the franchise and I can’t wait to see what they do next in “Infinity”… I mean, it might not be called that, but if they don’t name it “Infinity” they clearly missed an opportunity.

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Kubo and the Two Strings

This stop motion animated epic from Laika Studios is one of their very finest work.Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, & Matthew McConaughey throw their talent behind the voices of Monkey, the Moon King, and Beetle respectively and much of it works to great effect. Kubo (Art Parkinson from Game of Thrones) is our hero who must retrieve his lost father’s armor and weapons to defeat the evil Moon King once his hiding place is discovered. Akin to a Legend of Zelda set up, this adventure wisely relies on wit and humor with crazily intricate fight sequences throughout to craft an entertaining and solid flick for children and adults.

 

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Snowden

Oliver Stone’s newest film tackles the recent international affairs of Edward Snowden, the name known the world over for unleashing news of America’s sweeping surveillance program put in place by the NSA. These revelations that our government was spying, not just on other nations, but on our own citizens has changed the course of history and will have a lasting effect on policy and politics. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt effectively portrays the title character in a very true to life scenario. Shailene Woodley also stars as Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, and injects an authentic charm into the film, which is a role that I believe will net her more projects in the future. The film may lag in spots because of it’s devotion to reality, but it doesn’t make this tale any less fascinating or important.

 

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La La Land

Combining a love and devotion to Golden age Hollywood Musicals with modern sensibilities and new age ability “La La Land” is easily one of my favorite films of 2016. This is a film that was made by somebody that had something to say, and that is powerful. When a crew this dedicated to perfection comes together-it’s palpable. The amount of pure determination showcased in this film with all of the choreography, the dancing, the music, the acting, the lighting, it’s astounding how it all works! This film is about the push and pull of love of art versus the art of love, but more than anything else, it’s about hope and the pursuit of happiness. If you’re a creative person at all (and that can be applied to many, many, many variations) you will likely love this film. If you love film, you may even adore it. Even more importantly than that-you should see this movie, challenge yourself if you’re not a musical person, these are extremely human characters telling an incredibly relatable tale. This is masterclass filmmaking at it’s finest, so much so that Damien Chazelle will likely become a household name after this, and he’s earned it!

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The Nice Guys

Critically underwatched, “The Nice Guys” is definitely one of my favorites of the year! Set in 1970’s L.A. Gosling is an alcoholic Private-Eye who ends up teaming with Crowe’s burly muscle with a heart of gold when they stumble upon a sprawling conspiracy while investigating the alleged suicide of a famous female porn star. This is hands-down the best script of the year and possibly the hardest I laughed at a movie all year, although “the Hunt for the Wilderpeople” gives that title serious competition. Directed by Shane Black in brilliant fashion, “The Nice Guys” harbours hilarity, a snappy script, and unlimited charisma between the leads to combine into a new classic.

 

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Sing Street

As the second musically themed movie on this list, “Sing Street” shares similarities about love and risk, but it is also about family and brothers. Set in the 1980’s in Dublin, Ireland the story centers on Conor, a 14 year old boy that’s strained by the familial stress at home from his parents’ arguments about love and money after he’s sent to a rough-and-tough inner city public school. He eventually finds a cool girl named Raphina whom he invites to be in a music video for his band. Then he sets out to create said band. The film is full of optimistic heart and catchy tunes from the era as Conor and his newfound friends play music, engage in youthful rebellion, and fall in love. “Sing Street” shows us that music has the power to sweep us away from the turmoil of everyday life and transform us into something far greater.

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Zootopia

Proving to be smarter than your average anthropomorphized animation, Disney’s “Zootopia” is a well crafted tale with timely lessons held within it. The story is about assumptions based on appearances, and how we (or in this case the animals of Zootopia) should approach diversity and challenge our reactions. The film follows Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin), a small town bunny with big city aspirations. She desperately wants to be a police officer, which would make her Zootopia’s first bunny cop. Right away she is placed on meter maid duty but stumbles upon a case much bigger than expected by association of Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), a sly Fox that she encounters on her first day as an officer. From there the two reluctantly work together to follow the scent of foul play afoot. This is a wildly entertaining movie by Disney that has enough humor and stylish zany cartoon antics to keep children appeased with a story that adults can also appreciate. Also starring in the film as various animals are J.K. Simmons, Idris Elba, Kristen Bell, Alan Tudyk, Tommy Chong, and Shakira. Definitely check this one out if you missed it!

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Shin Godzilla

Toho Studios revived their radioactive giant once more last summer in Japan to soaring review scores while also becoming a box office home-run. This is a smart monster flick that utilizes the current political landscape in Japan as a foundation for tension as well as mindful social commentary. There is camp and visceral destruction to be had of course but, the film also deftly uses Godzilla as an opportunity to decide whether or not to use force when the country effectively has no military. The film casts a wide net on the scope of the film by showcasing how Godzilla’s very presence effects the lives of the people in Tokyo and surrounding areas. This does a lot to present the audience with an effective grasp on just how many moving parts would have to come into play under such an event. There are many conversations between leading personnel about the streams of red tape and hurdles they have to jump through just to get anything done. A lot of the plot rests on these debates. The film carefully considers the weight of taking action, of following procedures, and whether or not to choose independently. As an added plus this new Godzilla has a ridiculous range of destruction rendering abilities.

 

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Silence

Ending an incredibly long creative journey for legendary film director Martin Scorsese, “Silence” is a long and thought provoking summation on religion, faith, and to what lengths two men of faith will go to spread the teachings of their religion. Set in the 1640’s this is the story of two Portuguese Jesuits (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver respectively) who travel to Japan to retrieve their former mentor (Liam Neeson) who had been reported as denouncing his faith in public. Scorsese is one of the last great American film directors from an age when films took their time to tell you their story. Patience is important regarding “Silence”, but while it has a long runtime, the film rewards you with visual cinematic beauty. This is not in reference to any special effects, but rather classical imagery evocative of renaissance paintings, for much of the movie regards framing, movement, and staging in this manner. Andrew Garfield will find similar themes and ideas here in comparison to his most recent role in Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge”. However while Gibson’s  film had Garfield’s character utilizing his faith as a source of power-as the solution to his problems- the same cannot be said for Scorsese’s epic where Garfield’s character has to ponder whether or not his religious convictions are causing his problems. Adam Driver, still riding high from his villainous role in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, encounters a supporting role that isn’t quite as involved as Garfield’s, but is meaty with the themes that weigh on the shoulders of the story nonetheless. This a beautifully realized film, however you should measure your expectations for the type of story you’ll be encountering. If you are appreciative of the visual arts or the art of cinematography and directing in film then this is something you’ll likely enjoy.

 

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*A Monster Calls

Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, and Liam Neeson (as the Monster) surround Lewis Macdougall as Conor, a young boy dealing with familial illness, schoolyard bullies, and the trials of youth. This is an engrossing coming-of-age story that is awash in vibrant color, brilliant special effects, and dark themes that the film boldly never shies away from. The film seems to be partly fantastical in it’s cinematography and art direction while deftly weaving in a teary-eyed story of loss and growth. Keep an eye out for this one.

 

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*Hell or High Water

A modern day Western in the skin of a bank heist thriller, “Hell or High Water” offers a tried and true formula that is ultimately satisfying on multiple levels.  Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are two renegade brothers that start running multiple bank heists and subsequently getting rid of the evidence, then starting up the cycle again constantly keeping the cops at bay. That is, until Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Briudges) arrives on the scene looking for one last grand pursuit before retirement becomes his reality. The efficient pacing and solid character work here elevates this above mindless popcorn gunplay, comparisons have even been made to a more bombastic “No Country for Old Men”. If you enjoy the Western genre or a solid cat and mouse heist thriller; you’ll likely find much to enjoy here!

 

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*Nocturnal Animals

Written and directed by Tom Ford (a well established American fashion designer, this is his second film), “Nocturnal Animals”follows Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal as a divorced couple that get caught up in a haunting romance thriller. The film begins with a passion-lost Amy Adams owning an art gallery and living in a mansion in L.A. while her current husband (Armie Hammer) flubs their planned vacation and she ends up reading a book sent to her that was written by her former husband, Jake Gyllenhaal. This opens up the story contained within the book, a film within a film if you will, in which Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-johnson also star as side characters. Eventually the book melds with elements of the modern day storyline to form a violent and dark thriller that has a mixture of revenge, love, cowardice, and art all intertwined together.

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*The Edge of Seventeen

Not just another coming-of-age movie, “The Edge of Seventeen” wisely plays on the humor and emotional trauma of what it’s like to be a young woman in today’s world. The plot centers around Nadine, played with appropriate angst that endears sympathy by Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), as her popular older brother starts dating her best friend. Ouch. That’s prime awkward Teen comedy/growth material. Woody Harrelson is also a supporting character here portraying Nadine’s History teacher who becomes a sort of venting partner/mentor throughout the film. A step above many in this genre; “The Edge of Seventeen” effectively reminds us of classics like “The Breakfast club”, “Sixteen Candles” and “St. Elmo’s Fire” particularly because it doesn’t hold back its punches and inserts some well respected honesty into the story.

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*Arrival

Hailed as one of the most memorable performances from Amy Adams in a leading role, “Arrival” is the thinking man’s (Or woman’s!) science fiction film. This alien invasion starts the film as an elite team is brought in by the government to try to understand this possibly invading force. Adam’s character, Dr. Louise Banks, is a superb linguist joined by a welcoming physicist Ian Donelly (Jeremy Renner) as agents of the military, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and others, inform them with what they know. There are eleven other gigantic alien crafts besides the one floating out in the wilderness of Montana, the alien spaceships reside in plain view as solitary stone-like structures in Shanghai, Siberia, Sudan, and Sierre Leone to name a few. Their mission is multifacted. They must open a line of communication with the aliens quickly, before the Russians or Chinese do, while yet learning more about them than what they can learn of us, the military influence pressures this with overbearing intent. This film is delibreate, cerebral, mysterious, and tension permeates the dialogue throughout. Another exceptional entry from Denis Villeneuve, who also directed Sicario, cementing yet another director to keep an eye out for!

 

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*Manchester by the Sea

After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has made him the sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the sea” has been bandied about as the character piece that will likely skyrocket Casey Affleck to the top of many Oscar contenders lists. This is a painful yet powerful tale of the tragedies of life along with the nuances that accompany it. There is a palpable sadness that is true to life, it makes the experience fuller, and richer with humanity than it would have been without. This seems to be among the top awards contenders, showcasing unchained acting that feels authentic beyond measure.

 

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*Green Room

Posing as a genre B-movie thriller, yet proving to be much more, “Green Room” offers an offbeat and intelligent addition to the horror/thriller genre. Punk rock band, “The Ain’t rights” are roughing it out, low on money, gas, and energy when they hear of an odd opportunity in the backwoods of Oregon- playing a show for Neo-Nazis. Reluctantly they accept but end up accidentally witnessing a brutally violent act. The club’s owner, played with a fiendishly fun and elegantly evil performance by Sir Patrick Stewart, quickly mobilizes his cronies to get rid of the outsiders. The rest of the film delves into murderous fun full of dark humor, expertly crafted tension, and a wicked good time. With the exception of his role as Chekov in “Star Trek Beyond” this is Anton Yelchin’s last starring role, and its one that’s worth watching if you’ve been craving a unique and violent genre flick.

 

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*The Lobster

Requiring an acutely acquired taste, “The Lobster” will most undoubtedly be a rare viewing opportunity for most. Despite its drab color scheme, muted and bleak, or the nature of its droll adaption of society, this film creates a truly unique effort. In the near future being single has been outlawed. If found to be single, you’re quickly transferred to a prison/hotel of sorts, with strictly enforced rules, where you must meet another single participant and become a couple within forty-five days or you’ll be transformed into an animal of your choosing. The film isn’t a straight up comedy, but there are many moments throughout that elicit laughter, particularly for the absurdity of the scene itself. It acts as a social commentary on how society can pressure people into finding soulmates so much that it leads to reckless choices, however the film flips this ideology by applying this radical treatment to people who are happy being single. The films stars Colin Farrell in the lead role (an uncharacteristically oddball choice for the actor), and Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, Angeliki Papoulia as supporting characters.

 

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*Paterson

The latest film from Jim Jarmusch “Paterson” is about Paterson (Adam Driver) who lives and works as a bus driver and would-be poet, with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) in the town of Paterson, New Jersey. If you’ve never seen a Jim Jarmusch film, you might say, “Wow, not a lot happens in this movie”, welcome to his style. This is, much like his filmography suggests, a repetitive rumination with beauty and comedy meshed in-but here it excels beyond previous efforts because of the performances and the ideology of the story. Paterson is about everyday life and trying to create art inbetween shifts at work, and the different ways people approach this. His girlfriend Laura, for example, treats every day as a new art project and switches from country music singing to another skillset or genre altogether. Paterson writes art, but Laura lives it. Jarmusch doesn’t play favorites with each character’s personal style either, both are presented as different approaches from different perspectives, no right or wrong here. Charmingly mundane, “Paterson” is a collection of very human moments, where Paterson will overhear bus passengers tell tales, catch up on the love lives of the barflies at the local bar he frequents, banter with bartenders, and passes by a late-night laundromat where Method Man (as himself) is rapping about the 19th-century black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. It’ a pretty Zen film and a lovely change of pace, check it out for something new!

 

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*The Witch

One of the freshest horror films to come out this year, “The Witch” delivers it’s scares with proper skill and serious commitment. In a dread filled, puritan embellished flick set in New England in the 1600’s, this film has an unreal amount of dedication to the correct period piece way of life. Not only does the film boast proper spoken English for the period, it is also regionally specific to that time, with Carolinian prose for these Calvinist settlers. Realism is key in this setting, because in this world, the supernatural does exist. There really is a witch out in the woods plaguing the town, and how the film builds tension versus how it unravels it’s secrets will grip you until the credits.

 

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*Moonlight

“Moonlight” acts as a series of one act plays all centering on a character in three specific periods of his life: as a child, as a teenager, and as an adult. Accordingly, three different actors perform as Chiron during these eras of his life (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes). This all makes sense as it is an adaption of the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Told in these particularly powerful stanzas is the story of Chiron and his path in life as he attempts to understand society and more closely, himself. Witnessing Chiron’s progress is both thrilling and agonizing as he tackles manhood and the issues he faces because of his sexuality. Being his second film, Barry Jenkins crafts a story that is very specific yet it has an inclusive nature of universality among its scenes without ever weakening the value of whose story is being told. The nature and meaning of manhood is the most primed focus here. How tough are you supposed to be? How cruel, or tender? How brave? And how are you supposed to learn? These are all pondered on and exemplified throughout the film. As powerful and challenging a look at life as you will ever come across, “Moonlight” is more than deserving of its award season buzz.

 

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*Fences

Starring, and directed by Denzel Washington “Fences” is an adaption of the 1987 Pulitzer prize-winning play by August Wilson. This isn’t the first time Washington has played around with the material though as both he and Viola Davis, also starring in the film adaption, were awarded Tonys for their 2010 revival of the Broadway play. The film, set in the mid 1950’s, is about Troy (Washington) and the inner workings of his family, through thick and thin. There may be temptation to limit Troy to his outwardly friendly demeanor at first, however upon peeling back the layers we see a man who is far more complex than is first realized. Bitter that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier years after he was able to play on the national stage, Troy barks harshly at his children who dream of being musicians and college football players undercutting their hopes with a dark realism that the world has not changed as ideally as they would like to believe. Troy’s wife Rose (Davis) battles him verbally as the film progresses and enters into a monologue at the end that will ensure her name in the best supporting actress nomination. Intense and raw acting paired with brilliantly impactful dialogue, this is definitely among the best performances from this year.

 

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*The Founder

The story of Ray Croc, founder of the franchised McDonalds, is a story-as the trailers say- of persistence. Michael Keaton looks to soar in this grimy power grab of a film about the rise of McDonalds through shear determination.. and slimy business tactics. This is the tale of how a wily businessman took an idea and made into one of the most profitable and globally recognized property of the twentieth century. The supporting cast is also excellently rounded out by Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, and Patrick Wilson.

The Bad

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Independence Day 2: Resurgence

This sequel tries so very hard to outdo it’s much loved predecessor, and fails in alomst every regard in that attempt. It’s worth a watch just for Jeff Goldblum’s antics, but make no mistake, much of this film was a mistake. The biggest issue, it seems to me, is that the film tries to balance two very different tones that don’t mesh well. While attempting to recreate that 1990’s big budget take on Sci-Fi and Aliens in all it’s explosive glory, the film wanders near that attitude, but then veers into our post “Dark Knight” world where dark and brooding close-ups reign in measured and overly serious bits. I say, if you’re going to do weird, go full weird. Don’t wander between tones like that, it shows indecision based on fear and profit margins, not the inherent joy of fighting off an alien invasion that we should be getting from this movie. Honestly, with “Collateral Beauty” and “Suicide Squad” now on Will Smith’s filmography, he’s shown a willingness to take on terrible films. He could have done something this film- and it would have benefited greatly from his presence just as “Suicide Squad” did.

 

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Sausage Party

The idea here is somewhat brilliant, take an animated Disney style 3D animation focused on food products-but show them swearing constantly and point out all the sexual innuendos possible. There are enough puns here to sink a ship, and some of that is acceptable and pretty funny at times, however the problem with this flick is that it’s overly excessive with this idea. A swearing hot-dog can only induce so many giggles after all. That and there is some heavy handed themes against the ideas of the most popular religions, which I get-but again, it was a bit excessive.

 

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Alice Through the Looking Glass

Through the studio inspired paradigm of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, “Alice through the Looking Glass” is jam packed with colorful candy cane vomit. Decent visual effects can’t cover up a general lack of comittment to the characters and plot because it seems they have forgotten how to focus on telling a good and whimsical tale. From the opening Alice is now a swashbuckling adventuress that returns to feminist-viewpoint-squashing victorian era London to shove aside a former admirer before jumping through a mirror to land back in Wonderland. There’s something wrong with the Mad Hatter (who seems to have overgrown his original place in Carroll’s stories to appease fans of Depp’s first outing as the character.) and Alice strives to help him sort it all out. While the pace seems to want to rush along a breakneck pace to keep you from noticing the near underserving of the well known characters, you can’t help but become aware of this as the runtime wanes on. Even a time travel sequence can’t hide the workman like response to try and recreate Tim Burton’s first take on the world, and his missing presence can be felt.

 

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Passengers

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in this futuristic sci-fi romance as two passengers on an intergalactic voyage that are awakened 90 years too early. There are aspects about this flick to be admired, it’s not downright bad, it’s just lackluster. There is a twist that is revealed way too early in the film that could have been played for far more benefit if certain elements had simply been told in a different order. Other than that both Pratt and Lawrence are fine in their roles but they were clearly not challenged by the director to dig deeper or find the center of these characters because both seem to act exactly how you would expect either celebrity to act, they played into their own archetypes and the romance never feels fully developed, there is a false charm to it. Personally, I believe this is one of the few movies that I would have preferred as a book where the author could have the time to develop the characters better.

 

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*Gods of Egypt

While this whitewashed take on Egyptian mythology is saturated in bad CGI and immense overacting-It can be a good time in the right setting. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) as Horus, Gerard Butler as Set, & Brenton Thwaites as ‘mere mortal’ Bek play as the lead characters in which Set usurps Horus’ rise to power among the Gods. Horus then unites with Bek to undo Set’s ravenous power grab. Although, admittedly the story doesn’t really matter here as this movie doubles down on the ridiculous aspects as much as possible. For example, the Gods are physically much larger than mortals, but not to a gigantic amount, reaching roughly around ten feet tall making pairings of the mismatched characters outright silly from the beginning. Geoffrey Rush, Chadwick Boseman, & Elodie Yung also all star in this film. This is unequivocally the best “so bad it’s good” movie of the year.

 

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*Ghostbusters

It’s a credit to this film’s creative team that this wasn’t down in the “Ugly” section of films that came out this year, it wasn’t horrible, it just wasn’t all that great. Pitched as a female led revival of the Ghostbusters franchise, this straight up recycle of the first Ghostbusters was largely just “okay”. The worst I heard about the film was just that it wasn’t really quite as good as the first and that some of the jokes fell flat. Now, just because something isn’t as good as we would have liked doesn’t mean it deserves the hate it got. Personally, I say if Paul Feig wants to make a sequel, let him-he might be able improve upon the franchise now that they’ve wandered knee deep into the material and know what works and what doesn’t. They should probably ditch the “Answer the call” tagline though, doesn’t seem to make much sense.

 

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*Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows

While the sequel quelled some of the problems with the initial outing, these corrections and changes were not enough to make the “Michael Bay-ification” of the turtles worthwhile. The additions of Bebop and Rocksteady alone will assuage nostalgia for some older fans of the material though it cannot cover the sugar coated glean of issues plaguing most of the film. Movies like this can be fun and intelligently made, just look at any Marvel Studios movie, this one just lacks enough wit and charm to merit any further iterations, although we’ll probably get one anyway.

 

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*The BFG

An adaption of Roald Dahl’s literary children’s classic “The BFG” sits on the bad list not because it is necessarily terrible, it’s here because Steven Spielberg made it-and it’s somewhat lackluster. The story is about a small girl and a giant (Mark Rylance) who set out to stop evil man eating giants that have begun to invade the human world. The visual effects are efficient, and there is some merit to the film, but when Steven Spielberg steps up to the camera we’ve all come to expect the cinematic “magic” that is so often associated with his work, and there isn’t much to feel here.

 

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*X-men: Apocalypse

Sequel/prequel/threequel “Xmen: Apocalypse” unfortunately fell from the heights that “Days of Future Past” set it up for. The film is overloaded with an over reliance on special effects, to the point that it’s trying to cover for a weak and baseless villain who unfortunately falls prey to cliche. However the film isn’t straight up awful, there is fun to be had here at times, but the shortcomings outweigh the few strengths available to them. Which is a shame, because the cast is great, they were simply under-served by the film around them. Magneto’s (Michael Fassbender) story is really the only one that has good motivation, everyone else’s is either sub-par or passable. However the biggest failure is most definitely the wasted opportunity of Oscar Issac as En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse. He is resurrected and begins his world domination with a fairly poor plan and almost no characterization. Besides the multitude of characters (which can be done intelligently ie Civil War), weak excuses for destruction, and lack of reasoning as to why killing off humanity would make the world a better place-the film has entertaining moments, but they’re simply not enough. To quote Jean Grey (Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones) after viewing “Return of the Jedi” in the movie, “The third ones always suck”.

 

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*Jason Bourne

What do you do with a character whose former motivation was regaining his memory, now that he remembers everything? Well, you end up with “Jason Bourne”. This is a film that has a magnetic lead in Matt Damon, and an effective director in Paul Greengrass, but it cannot shake the fact that they are working with seriously thin material. More of the same and yet nothing new. This latest Bourne flick has him chasing down the mystery behind his father’s association with the Black Ops Treadstone program. The typical character archetypes of past Bourne iterations are present; the shifty middle-aged intelligence chief, the female CIA agent who eventually believes Bourne’s actually a good guy, and a fierce opposing assassin. The shaky cam fight sequences are back too, which isn’t a good thing in my opinion, especially while shot in the dark. There might be a good fight scene happening, but the audience is just listening to two guys trying to kill each other in the dark. This is passable summer diversion, just don’t reflect too long on the films that came before this one, lest you realize this lesser Bourne for what it is.

 

 

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*Legend of Tarzan

Another year and another reboot of an ages old property. Granted this Tarzan adaption attempts to be weightier than most of its predecessors, it doesn’t do much else to warrant this revival. With a capable cast and hints of Tarantino glory, this is a reteaming of Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson after all, the film begins with Tarzan returning to the Congo after having lived in London for some time as John Clayton III aka Lord Greystroke. His reason for returning to the jungles of the Congo? He’s told of a Belgian plot, led by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), to conquer the land and subjugate it’s people. This news comes to him by way of American diplomat George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), and it isn’t long before they travel, along with Tarzan’s Wife (Margot Robbie), to the African continent together to foil it. David Yates attempts to distance this film from some of the more unsavory aspects of the character’s past, ie being a white savior to the African countries and peoples along with the way Jane is typically presented, and he succeeds on some parts. Particularly when Jane is captive and spits in Rom’s face upon him mocking her and attempting to stir a scream, when she responds fiercely “Like a Damsel?”. There are fun aspects to the film, however it’s hard to get past the past when it comes to transforming Tarzan into an eighteenth century superhero of the jungle.

 

The Ugly

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Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Two of the most iconic superheroes of all time come together in a fury of fisticuffs. Sounds like fun right? Wrong. Long, muddled, and a flawed understanding of the characters leads this film straight to the dump. At least the ultimate edition straightened out that Lois Lane scene at the beginning of the film. #Martha

 

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Suicide Squad

With a tagline like “Worst. Hereos. Ever.” you’d think this film would have a fun edge with a sassy commentary on the tropes and themes of modern superhero flicks. Wrong again. 1 & 1/2 acts of introducing characters set to outrageously overplayed hits, the only saving grace here is that Will Smith and Margot Robbie make the film worth a watch, but not much more.

 

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Assassin’s Creed

There was a hope among many that “Assassin’s Creed” could break the video game to film adaption curse. It most definitely did not. This film is overly loud and so frantic you can barely tell what’s going on at times. The hyper fast editing style also didn’t help, there may be good choreography in this film but you wouldn’t know it as the camera cuts away from the action so many times to get sweeping location shots that add nothing but more confusion. Michael Fassbender is an extraordinary actor but maybe he should choose his projects more carefully after this because his “I’m Crazy” sequence alone was so over the top and out of place I literally mouthed “What the hell is going on?” in the theater. The story only takes a barebones structure of narrative from the games and dashes the rest of the rich stories available to them. Particularly curious was the choice to make Fassbender’s ancestor a near mute, with “devoted to the cause” being his only character trait and motivation. Ezio Auditore had charisma, layers, and purpose. No one in this film came close. Oh Ubisoft, maybe next time?

 

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*Ben Hur

A remake of one of Hollywood’s golden age classics is already enough to boil some viewer’s minds just at the thought. A couple of visually interesting scenes cannot save this trainwreck from the graveyard. Morgan Freeman’s dreadlocks and an overly butterflys-and-cake-frosting ending send this movie into the abyss of unwatchables.

 

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*Zoolander 2

Not only did this sequel not need to happen (Nor was anyone clamoring for it), it retroactively makes the first movie worse. The comedy sensibilities of the first film do not work 16 years later, and it shows. The first movie worked for its time, but it’s a different world now. Cringeworthy at best, Ben Stiller- what happened?

 

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*Max Steel

A half baked and eye rollingly bad cash grab for an action figure with no notable name recognition (At least for me, and I grew up in the 1990’s!), “Max Steel” isn’t even “laughably bad”-good, it’s just bad.

 

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*Nine Lives

Who knew Kevin Spacey needed money this bad? At least, that’s the theory I have for why this movie even exists. Kevin Spacey stars as a daredevil businessman who rushes to get a cat (which he hates) for his daughter for her birthday, and is thus somehow turned into that very cat. This is an entirely forgettable, debasing, poorly written, with hamfisted acting abound, slog of a movie. Please, for your own good, do not waste your time on this one.

 

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*The Fifth Wave

Generic and middling in plot with forgettable tropes that are overly familiar to this sub-genre of films, “The Fifth Wave” is another bad effects and teenage-love-triangle-riddled bland movie. Maybe this film will be the end of the Young Adult (YA) dystopian films. We can only hope for so much.

 

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*Collateral Beauty

While some of the performances here are fine, Will Smith in particular, this film resides on the ugly list for how it was marketed versus what the story actually is. I won’t ruin it for you, but just know that the story is morally deficient and that there’s a reason it was buried under the latest Star Wars film.

 

*For one reason or another I did not get to see this film (yet), or simply wasn’t all that interested but thought it was worth mentioning. I have collected a general sense of the film through the marketing, reviews in video or written form, and the general consensus from word-of-mouth experiences through secondhand accounts. Some of these may receive individual reviews if I find them interesting enough to write about after an initial viewing.

 

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Twelve Days of Christmas movies

This year has been unnaturally awful, particularly in America, but the world over as well it seems. From Brexit to Harambe and from politics to the losses of some of our most beloved entertainers like David Bowie and Alan Rickman, it seems pretty clear across the board: 2016 has just been the worst. I say, let’s end it all… with Christmas cheer! What follows is not all an “All Time” or “Top Ten” Christmas movie list, but rather what I will be watching in the twelve days preceding the 25th in order to wipe the last 11 & 1/2 months from my mind. Some are age old classics, others are purely what I enjoy. Maybe you’ll find something old to cherish, or something new to love. Or maybe not, either way; chill out, and lets just watch movies.

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1 Scrooged

Set in 1980’s New York Bill Murray stars as Frank Cross in this modern retelling of Charles Dicken’s literary classic, “A Christmas Carol”. Cross is a massively successful television executive whose particularly curmudgeonly behavior drove away his one time love Claire Phillips (Karen Allen). The story follows as you might expect this being one of many “Carol” modernizations and remakes over the years. Cross fires an employee (Bobcat Goldthwait) on Christmas Eve and is then met by an old ghostly friend warning him of his wrongdoings, and subsequently met by three Christmas Ghosts. Bill Murray is great as always, the excess of the eighties is ever present, and there’s plenty of dark humor to go around.

2 How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Live Action + Animated)

One of my personal favorites, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” is one of Dr. Suess’ most infamous creations. Here I am counting both versions as one as they are both classic and entertaining in their own right. With rhymes and whimsy abound in every which way, this tale is about a Grinch who decided he had something to say, he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming, “I MUST find some way to stop Christmas from coming!” From then on songs and antics abide by the festive nature until the Grinch has a change of heart when learning that the whos, thus having their christmas stuff swiped from them, stood together in song and celebration. Proving a timeless classic to remind us that the flair and advertising associated with Christmas can be fine, but it isn’t the point, the meaning of Christmas is more than just the gifts found under the tree, as the Grinch came to realize, “It came with out ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!” Don’t get caught up in the hype just let it be, and if you can, go forth and enjoy some who-pudding and rare who-roast beast!

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3 Elf

Will Ferrell embodies the pure Joy that children experience around Christmas in “Elf”. When Buddy (Ferrell) is accidentally transported to the north pole as a baby he is raised by the elves of Santa’s workshop. As Buddy grows to be a man he increasingly finds himself ostracized by the other elves and feelings of not fitting in begin to flourish. Eventually he is told the truth and he sets out to New York City to find his real father. Walter Hobbs (James Caan), is a cynical New York businessman that ends up harboring his chaotic new son after confirmation via blood test. “Elf” quickly became a christmas classic from the early 2000’s as it earned its place among the numerous Christmas movies by leaning on Ferrell’s bombastic performance, but also from having a solid director in the form of Jon Favreau with a stellar cast on the sidelines. Ed Asner plays Santa, Zooey Deschanel plays Jovie (Buddy’s love interest), There’s also Peter Dinklage, Amy Sedaris, Andy Richter, Kyle Gass, Artie Lange, and Ray Harryhausen in a voiceover role. Unless you’re a complete Scrooge or a total Grinch you’ll likely find something to love here.

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4 Jingle All The Way

Perfectly mimicking the real life toy craze of the “tickle-me-Elmo” toy at the time “Jingle All The Way” follows Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad playing two desperate fathers racing around town attempting to buy their sons the last of the popular Turbo Man toy. This slapstick favorite mirrors a popular christmas tale theme of materialism and to what length we will go to find that perfect gifts for our families. If you wanted Christmas, Comedy, and Arnold Schwarzenegger along with Sinbad.. well actually that’s a pretty specific “want”, and I’m pretty sure this is the only film to include all of that. Anyways, it’s a fun, mindless, Christmas comedy, enjoy!

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5 The Night Before

This treat of a Holiday comedy came out last year and is an excellent mixture of modern comedy and the Christmas season. Starring an unexpected triad of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie, and Seth Rogen “The Night Before” focuses on the three lifelong friends as they set out to find the Nutcracka ball, a Holy Grail among Christmas parties. As the three find that they’re entering adulthood, their longstanding tradition is coming to an end thus making this a last ditch effort to make the night as memorable as possible. Plenty of laughs and a good hearted spirit to it all, this is Rogen’s best appearance in a film over the last few years. If you found “The Interview” or “This is The End” to be somewhat lacking I suggest this flick, it should raise your barometer for modern comedies.

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6 Die Hard

Not just one of the greatest Action movies of all time, “Die Hard” also happens to take place on Christmas. I know, a bit of a cheat, but it’s something I’ll be watching. Plus it’s good to remember a time when Bruce Willis actually wanted to be in movies instead of begrudgingly waiting for his check to clear. It’s also especially nostalgia filled nowadays with our recent loss of the endlessly talented Alan Rickman. “Die Hard” is one of the best films to come out of the 1980’s and it still holds up to this day. As an added bonus you get to introduce younger family members to the wellspring of 1980’s action at its best. Merry Christmas indeed.

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7 Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Okay, okay, so it’s two cheats in a row. Shane Black has a tendency to set his films during the wintry holiday, but I promise you- this one is worth the watch. It’s a wonderful treat to see Robert Downey Jr. pre-Iron Man, as thief-mistaken-as-an-actor Harry Lockhart. The story follows Lockhart as he winds up embroiled in a complicated murder mystery with Val Kilmer as private-eye Gay Perry and Michelle Monaghan as struggling actress Harmony Faith Lane. It’s a wonderfully entertaining flick and one of Shane Black’s best works.

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8 Tree Man

This documentary follows Francois, the infamous “Tree Man” from Quebec that travels down to New York City each November to stay for a month and sell many New York natives their Christmas trees. This was a relative break from the rest of the films on this list as it examines how the season of joy effects those in the business of making their livelihood from it. The Doc begins and ends with Francois but once he arrives in New York the film meets and follows many of the other tree sellers in the community. As it goes on you begin to see the ripple effect of how the arrival of the tree man brings the anticipation of tradition and the warmth of community, even on the corner of Broadway and 102nd street in Manhattan.

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9 The Ref

Are you one of those people that may enjoy the holiday, but hate having to spend it with your relatives? Then “The Ref” might just be the Christmas movie for you. The film stars Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey as Caroline and Lloyd, a particularly argumentative married couple with Denis Leary as Gus, a thief on the run from the cops. We start the film with Gus in the middle of an affluent suburban heist when his getaway driver leaves him stranded when the cops show up. Gus manages to escape and bumps into Caroline and Lloyd in a convenience store on their way home from marriage counseling. From there the film takes the hostage situation to a comedic gold mine as Caroline and Lloyd happen to be expecting guests for their Christmas dinner. Full of neverending bickering from every family member the film eventually descends into dragging every character’s flaws, excuses, and past mistakes out into the open as Gus pretends to be their marriage counselor while crafting an escape plan. It’s a dark but hilarious jab at familial controversy (for the early 1990’s anyway) and the facade people create for their families- but especially the in-laws.

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10 A Muppet Christmas Carol

Honestly this is a fairly straight up rendition of “A Christmas Carol”, but with the Muppets! This is my favorite version of the Carol story, not simply because of the practical effects of the puppetry (Although I do appreciate it), nor the warm and wintry feelings associated with this tale, but rather the whimsical nature of the late Jim Henson’s creations. There is a certain goodness among the characters that permeates their productions. Henson worked hard to avoid the easy route of cynicism and anger, and it shows even in the works his crew and family took on after his passing. This is the time of year when that attitude is needed most, to get through whatever bombardment life throws at you. Take time to thank those who have helped you, meditate on your place in the world, make an effort to be more humble, and take the spite out of your mouth. The world has enough of that as it is. That’s why I included a muppet entry, not simply because I enjoy it, but because I mightily respect the creators of these appropriately childish affairs.

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11 It’s a Wonderful Life

Possibly the most replayed Christmas movie of all time, besides “A Christmas Story”, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of my all time favorite Christmas movies. Growing up I never saw this film, somehow unknowingly avoiding this decades old classic, but a few years ago I wandered upon it late at night on Christmas eve. As someone that lives in a small town and frequently dreams of moving away and traveling the world (Some of this I had already done before this viewing), I could relate to George Bailey’s plight. As someone always willing to help, George’s circumstances in life always ended up preventing him from seeing those dreams come to fruition. He sacrificed his own education for his brother’s, kept the family savings and loan afloat, protected the town from the avarice of the greedy banker Mr. Potter, and married his childhood sweetheart. However when things turn fiscally dark for George Bailey he contemplates suicide as an option to give his family something to live off of. Just then, an Angel appears, not in traditional heavenly garb though, and intervenes to show George Bailey what life would have become for the residents of Bedford Falls if he had never lived. It’s a timeless classic and I highly recommend giving it a watch if you, like me, had never stumbled upon it until recently.

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12 A Very Murray Christmas

Might as well end the marathon the way we started it, with Bill Murray. Harkoning back to the variety shows of old Murray, in a traditionally meta wink to audiences, is throwing a christmas special but is down on his luck when he realizes that a heavy snowstorm will prevent his guests from arriving in time. His in-show special falls to pieces and he ends up heading to the bar where more showtunes with celebrities and bands continue to appear as the night progresses. The special includes the likes of George Clooney, Paul Shaffer, Amy Poehler, Julie White, Dimitri Dimitrov, Michael Cera, Chris Rock, David Johansen, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, Jenny Lewis, Rashida Jones, Miley Cyrus, and the band Phoenix. As a plus, the special is directed by Sofia Coppola-look her up if you don’t know who she is.

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Is 2016 the worst summer movie season yet? + year in review (so far)

This has been a weird year for movies. Lest we not forget the political vomiting that’s taking place and poor ole Harambe, but when it concerns the cinema, whew, it’s been one for the books, and its still only September! I can only speak for the films I’ve seen, but for the ones I have not I can only go by general consensus or word of mouth. For example, I saw Batman V Superman, so I know the extent to which I was dissapointed, but I could have easily relied on the explosion of conversation surrounding the film as well. Rotten tomatoes score or not that movie earned (some) bank but built an uneasy foundation going into the summer for DC comics based movies.

After compiling the lineup below I realized I haven’t seen anywhere near the amount of movies I wanted to see this year, but eventually I’ll get around to most if not all on this list. It’s hard to keep up with the abundance of visual art that’s made each year, and I personally try not to berate any one production, because it’s a difficult thing making a movie. I know, just from small instances of my own personal efforts, that simply scheduling around people’s lives can be a headache in itself and that’s not considering budgets, daylight, special effects, line memorization, lighting, hell even lunch being delivered on time can make or break a day’s efforts sometimes. So, sometimes even simply finishing a film can be a feat. I get that. However it’s also important to hold Hollywood to quality storytelling as they have the infrastructure that independent filmmakers only dream of and consequentially the indie people have made better films, than the big studios, as far as 2016 is considered.

Some are calling this the worst summer movie season ever. I don’t know about that. While it was certainly a letdown at times (here’s looking at you Independence Day) this year did have its merits, in fact I would say there were far more quality films over the more discussed dissapointments. You just had to know where to look for them. Anyways, here’s a quick reminder of this years highs and lows at the theater (so far).

The Good

Deadpool: A

Who knew the merc with a mouth could be more bankable (in North America), and have a better story, than Batman and Superman combined? #Driveby

Captain America Civil War: A+

Just another AAA 10/10 notch under Marvel’s belt, everything about this film knocks it out of the park in a way that keeps reinventing the superhero genre while inserting powerfully emotional story threads.

Swiss Army Man: A

This is a beautiful film about a suicidal man teaching a dead man that life is worth living. Filled with slick editing and special effects this film combines profound questions about life, saddness, love, and farts. Just trust me, it works.

Hunt for the wilderpeople: A+

A joyous and at times somber film that keeps you laughing while doling out life lessons for the leads both young and old. This is a truly unique flick and definitely one of my new favorites! Plus Any film that utilizes New Zealand’s beautiful landscape is always a nice touch.

Star Trek Beyond: B+

Slowed down to a more true ‘Trek’ vibe and pace this third outing in the series is another welcomed adventure with great character work. I may personally disagree with the creative choice of incorporating shaky cam sequences, but it’s not too much to distract from the overall quality.

The Shallows: B

The second best shark attack film ever made. At a tight hour and twenty seven minutes this popcorn shark flick hits all the intense and unnerving moments that you’d expect, and want, out of the ‘Blake Lively versus a giant shark’ pitch.

Jungle Book: B

Visually impressive beyond a doubt this modern rendition of Mogli’s animal adventure is a pleasure to watch and worthwhile solely on the basis of Bill Murray as Baloo and Christopher Walken as King Louie.

Kubo and The Two Strings: B

A clever and impressive stop motion adventure full of heart and danger, this is Laika studios’ best effort yet! Plus Matthew McConaughey steals the show as Beetle #AlrightAlrightAlright

Kung Fu Panda 3: B

A fitting and entertaining sequel following Jack Black’s Po and friends on more Kung Fu adventures while learning life lessons along the way. The soundtrack also took a noticeable uptick from previous outings.

The Bad

Independence Day Resurgence: C-

While I personally enjoyed this popcorn disaster flick, it is by no means “good”. Bigger Aliens, more destruction, but a confused tone throughout make a mess of a good alien invasion series. Jeff Goldblum makes the watch worth it, but not much else.

Sausage Party: C+

This isn’t necessarily a “bad” movie, but for what I expected (and this may be an issue of expectation vs reality of the film) it just didn’t really hold up for me. However there are clever bits hidden throughout about the nature of humanity, religion, and reality. If Hotdogs saying “Fuck” a whole lot is your thing then you’ll love it.

The Ugly

Batman VS Superman Dawn of Justice: D-

A complete misstep in the basic understanding of the two main characters here. While there are some fun visual things throughout the movie, like Batman in the warehouse, there are simply far too many failings (Martha/kryptonite spear/Jesse Eisenberg/Murderface Batman/No Smiles Superman) to merit this a success in the least.

Suicide Squad: D

1 & 1/2 acts and a thousand flashbacks mashed into one seriously confusing and muddled mess set to pop hits with the worst villain in ages, Suicide Squad is more entertaining than Batman V Superman at times, but not even Will Smith can save the DCEU, although he was the best part.

The Unwatched (For Now)

The Lobster: Want to see

I’ve heard great things about this one plus I love the concept of forced love under the threat of animal transformation.

Sing Street: Want to see

Consistently heard that this is one of the best, if not the very best, films of the year. Plus the trailers really sell those kids rocking the hits!

Green Room: Want to see

As one of Anton Yelchin’s last films I want to check it out since he was a great actor, but Patrick Stewart in a villainous role is also incredibly enticing!

10 Cloverfield Lane: Want to see

I personally love John Goodman in almost everything he’s done, plus the word of mouth about this film is excellence bar none so I’m pretty excited to check out how creepy Goodman can become when in a bomb shelter as friend or foe.

Hail, Caesar!: Want to see

I love the coen brothers’ films but I especially love when they work with George Clooney. The trailers sold me on the idea of a Golden Age hollywood kidnapping that becomes Josh Brolin’s problem. I’m in!

Warcraft: Want to see

Not everyone loved this film, and I’m not a World of Warcraft player but it looked fun and visually stunning, that and I admittedly have a fantasy genre weakness. More Magic and swords please!

The Witch: Want to see

I’m not the biggest horror fan around, but when a film in the genre seems to be universally loved I kinda want to know what all the buzz is about.

Zootopia: Want to see

The consensus is that this animated flick is clever as hell and highly watchable. That’s good enough for me!

The Nice Guys: Want to see

Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe paired together in a buddy crime flick set in 1970’s Los Angeles and its directed by Shane Black? I have no excuses, I should have seen this one.

Hell or High Water: Want to see

I like the actors involved here and it seems like an excellent robbery film scenario. It’s just nice to see Chris Pine in something besides outer space, although he’s a great Kirk nonetheless.

Finding Dory: Want to see

Finding Nemo was Pixar’s Lion King, and it seems they did one better than Disney by creating a follow-up that wasn’t direct to video material, kudos, I need to see this animated feat.

The BFG: Moderately interested

The actual story and trailers didn’t truly sell me on the film, but it IS Steven Speilberg we’re talking about here, i will see this one eventually.

X-Men Apocalpyse: Not interested

While Days of Future past was an excellent X-men Movie I’m just not all that interested in the first class crew out on their own, I didn’t love their first outing and it seems like they wasted both Apocalypse AND Oscar Isaac here. I’ll check it out eventually because of Michael Fassbender’s Magneto though, however I’m still not convinced when it comes to James McAvoy’s Professor X .

Jason Bourne: Not interested

I might be in the minority here but I just wasn’t a fan of the earlier Bourne movies, to each their own, but if this one is supposedly the worst of them all then why should I bother?

TMNT Out of The Shadows: Not interested

The first (new) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was abysmal (in my opinion) and this one did look to be a shade better, but they’re just not my turtles, sorry guys.

Ben-Hur: Actively avoiding

This seemed like a pointless remake to begin with and the reception has only grounded that belief further. I’m also not incredibly inclined towards Jesus flicks, I’m still miffed about the passion of the Christ if I’m being honest here (it’s not a movie).

Everybody wants some: Want to see

Richard Linklater is a unique voice in film today and I’ve enjoyed his other flicks so why not check this one out? It seems to be well received too!

The Neon Demon: Want to see

Besides Drive I’m not a gigantic Nicolas Winding Refn fan but this has been highly recomended to me by fellow film fans for the cinematography and use of color, so at some point curiosity will get the better of me and I’ll check this one out.

Zoolander 2: Actively avoiding

The first Zoolander is enertaining enough but I’ve heard that even people that loved the first one were dissapointed by this outing, so why spend the time if I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first one anyways?

Neighbors 2 Sorority Rising: Moderately interested

I have not seen the first neighbors so I should probably check that one out as well but I’ve heard nothing but good from both of these comedies and I’m always heartened when a solid comedy does well.

Now you see me 2: Not interested

I also missed the first Now you see me, so maybe I could give it a shot, I enjoy all of the talent involved, but I really have no interest in checking this out after all the “meh” this film received. Maybe on a rainy day.

The Legend of Tarzan: Not interested

This is one of those “Told a million times” stories that I honestly have no real interest in seeing. Christoph Waltz is always a delight onscreen but I fear this film has nothing else to offer.

Keanu: Want to see

Key and Peele are a fun comedic treat whenever they produce something it usually turns out great, plus the trailers sold me on the idea of this kitty caper, I just haven’t gotten around to it quite yet.

The Light between Oceans: Moderately interested

I recently saw a bit of an interview with the director Derek Cianfrance where he explains his filmaking process with this film and it honestly intrigued me enough to see how it ends up, plus Michael Fassbender is always good. Always.

Don’t Breathe: Moderately interested

Again, not a huge Horror fan, but the idea of a home invasion that is flipped on the intruders when the blind homeowner becomes the villain is delightfully creepy, plus Stephen Lang is excellent and its always nice to see him get more work.

Money Monster: Moderately interested

Directed by Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney in a timely thriller about the 1% and their greed seems like it could be an entertaining piece.

Nine Lives: Actively avoiding

Ha! This looked awful from the beginning, but if you really want a good opinion on why you should never see this check out Chris Stuckmann’s review of it on youtube, it’s glorious.

Pete’s Dragon: Not interested

To be fair I was never a fan of the original because I never saw it as a child so there’s no inherent nostalgia for me here, plus nothing in the trailers really sold me on it.

Gods of Egypt: Moderately interested

This is a train wreck I want to see. I know it’s bad. Terribly bad. But it looks entertainingly horrible, like laughing nonstop bad. It could be worth it if viewed as a comedy.

So that wraps it up for movies I have seen and those I have missed. If you have any thoughts or opinions please feel free to comment below. Let’s hope the fall has more promising films on the way. The ones I’m looking forward to are: Rogue One, Doctor Strange, Jack Reacher 2 Never go back, Godzilla Resurgence, In a valley of violence, Passengers, La la Land, & Rules don’t apply. Here’s to better films and brighter futures!

film

Long Time Coming

Hey there. It’s been awhile. No no, it’s not you, it’s me. Lately I’ve been wrapped up in screaming into pillows and tweets to express my feelings on the political process. I know what you’re thinking, “this isn’t about movies, what are you doing? I didn’t come here to hear about Bernie, Hillary, or Trump!” and you won’t, fear not intrepid blog readers with  hearts of celloid, for that topic is too sweeping and utterly failing to discuss here. This is a place beyond the edge of reality where we analyze adventure and discuss imagination. Lately life has kept me out of the movie theater, as it does from time to time, and I figure its about time to dive back in. This summer doesn’t have as many big offerings as years past, but this weekend alone has several options that have caught my attention.

The Nice Guys

I have no earthly idea how this film has still passed by me. Roundly considered to be a great time at the theater due to the performaces of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, “The Nice Guys” is a private eye buddy cop movie set in the dirty and dark Los Angeles of the 1970’s.  With Gosling playing the alcoholic private eye with a heart of gold and Crowe selling the muscle, what’s not to love? The film indulges in its strengths with a slick script and brutal clarity with a dash of slapstick tossed in, this one looks to be a gem.

Warcraft

Now officially the highest grossing video-game film adaption yet this one is a curiosity pick for me. I’m not familiar with the games, at least I’ve never played them, although I know plenty that did back in the days of dorm rooms and ramen noodles. I am, however, a fan of fantasy and this movie looks to supplement my lack of swords and monsters inbetween episodes of Game of Thrones. It’s also very pretty, and I can turn my mind off for like-minded films within this genre, so I’ll probably check it out.

The Shallows

Even though only one out of every four “Jaws” films is great, I still love the idea of a harrowing Shark Attack flick. Admittedly the first trailer for this film had me doubtful of the concept, Blake Lively on a rock with a shark circling nearby. The second trailer however showed us that Blake Lively had character reasons to be on this island, and that she’s a resourceful character striving against nature. That’s the primal reason the first Jaws is so great, characters that are human and believable. Hopefully that aspect comes across in her battle with the beast.

Independence Day 2: Resurgence

Everybody and their mother loved the first “Independence Day” and while the film doesn’t necessarily age well, I rewatched it last summer, I can respect its love for small scale model destruction. This time the aliens return, and we have their fallen comrades technology to fight back.. again. This one is a bit of a shrug, but admittedly I have a weakness for big summer blockbusters. There’s nothing better than sitting in a cold theater on a hot summer day watching landmarks explode with splendor, it’s our very own fireworks show, so hell, lets just kick back and enjoy it. Plus, Jeff Goldblum!

Swiss Army Man

After two “mindless fun” entries lets bookend this with another film looking to do something great. “Swiss Army Man” feels surreal in its very nature. Even the combination of Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe feels odd, yet with an uncanny perfection about it. Truly unique in story and scope I hope the film does well against the other entries arriving or staying this weekend, we need more original ideas like this. How else will we get films that feature a man using another dead man to escape an island in the ocean, while probably losing his mind? Seriously, check out the trailer if you haven’t heard of this one.