Sunday, February 9, 2020

The 2nd Annual Fallacy Awards

Animated Feature Film
Frozen 2
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

Winner: I Lost My Body

The Lighthouse
Little Women
Long Day's Journey Into Night
Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Winner: Long Day's Journey Into Night

Costume Design
The Irishman
Little Women
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
The Souvenir

Winner: Little Women

Hu Bo, An Elephant Sitting Still
Lulu Wang, The Farewell
Joe Talbot, The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Greta Gerwig, Little Women
Bong Joon-ho, Parasite

Winner: Lulu Wang, The Farewell

Documentary Feature
Apollo 11
The Cave
One Child Nation

Winner: Apollo 11

Film Editing
The Farewell
Little Women
Marriage Story

Winner: Little Women

International Feature
An Elephant Sitting Still
Long Day's Journey Into Night
Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Winner: Parasite

Makeup and Hairstyling
Little Women
Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Winner: Little Women

Original Score
Apollo 11
The Farewell
Little Women
Marriage Story

Winner: Little Women

Original Song
"Beautiful Ghosts," Cats
"When I Am Older," Frozen 2
"Stand Up," Harriet
"Glasgow," Wild Rose

Winner: "Glasgow," Wild Rose

Production Design
Ad Astra
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Little Women
Long Day's Journey Into Night

Winner: Parasite

Sound Editing
Ad Astra
Ford v Ferrari
In Fabric
John Wick: Chapter 3 -- Parabellum
Long Day's Journey Into Night

Winner: Ford v Ferrari

Sound Mixing
Ad Astra
Ford v Ferrari
In Fabric
John Wick: Chapter 3 -- Parabellum
Long Day's Journey Into Night

Winner: Ad Astra

Visual Effects
Alita: Battle Angel
Ad Astra
The Irishman
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Winner: Ad Astra

Adapted Screenplay
Steven Zaillian, The Irishman
Greta Gerwig, Little Women
Christian Petzold, Transit

Winner: Greta Gerwig, Little Women

Original Screenplay
Lulu Wang, The Farewell
Joe Talbot & Rob Richert, The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Bong Joon-ho, Parasite
Jordan Peele, Us

Winner: Lulu Wang, The Farewell

Supporting Actress
Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Florence Pugh, Little Women
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Park So-dam, Parasite

Winner: Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell

Supporting Actor
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Jonathan Majors, The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Song Kang-ho, Parasite

Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse

Awkwafina, The Farewell
Elisabeth Moss, Her Smell
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Lupita Nyong'o, Us

Winner: Lupita Nyong'o, Us

Brad Pitt, Ad Astra
Robert Deniro, The Irishman
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems

Winner: Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Best Picture:
An Elephant Sitting Still
The Farewell
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Little Women
Long Day's Journey Into Night
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Winner: The Farewell

Sunday, January 5, 2020

2019 - A Year in Movies

I feel like I say it every year: "It's been a great year for movies." And 2019 was no exception--in fact, it was one of the best years for movies that I can remember. Each year I keep a running list of movies that would make a potential best-of list and for the first time that list reached triple digits. Certainly, a large number of those movies had no real shot of making a top 10 or 25 list of the year's best, but it goes to show how deep 2019's slate really was. Even with that, I still feel like I missed a handful of movies that may have been included had I been able to screen them in time.

As always, the final list is in order of how I felt at the moment I finalized it. Ask me in two weeks or two months, something between 15-25 could be in the top 10 or something in my list of honorable mentions (see below) would be in the video. What feels like fixtures, though, are the two titles at the top of the list. There are a several things going on in each of those films: the internal conflict between coming of age in the West, but having your heritage come from the East (The Farewell); the options (or lack thereof) one has in deciding the path they take in life as a woman (Little Women). But what struck me about each of those is that they depict how time and circumstance can slowly pull a family apart. That as we age, even the closest of family bonds need tending to lest they wither away. It's something I've thought about a lot in my life recently and while these two films are much richer than just this aspect, it's perhaps why they seemed to have resonated with me more deeply than others.

I've long praised the quality of the releases from the production/distribution company A24. They are to me what perhaps Focus Features was in the early 2000s, a company that wisely devotes its resources to idiosyncratic auteurs who make personal films that, with regularity, end up being among my favorites of the year. Six A24 releases make the top-25 video above and another two make the honorable mentions below. That also makes 3 out of the last 4 years in which they claimed the #1 spot (Moonlight, 2016; A Ghost Story, 2017).

It almost pains me to have left so many other wonderful films off the video. So in the hopes you'll search some of them out and in honor of 2020, here are 20 more movies I loved released over the past 12 months. Here's to another great movie year.

3 Faces (Jafar Panahi)
The Art of Self-Defense (Riley Stearns)
Asako I & II (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi)
Ash Is Purest White (Jia Zhangke)
The Beach Bum (Harmony Korine)
Climax (Gasper Noé)
The Dead Don't Die (Jim Jarmusch)
Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt)
Dragged Across Concrete (S. Craig Zahler)
First Love (Takashi Miike)
Ford v Ferrari (James Mangold)
I Lost My Body (Jérémy Clapin)
The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard)
The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers)
The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent)
Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas)
One Child Nation (Nanfu Wang, Zhang Jia-Ling)
Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar)
Starfish (A.T. White)
Waves (Trey Edward Shults)

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The 1st Annual Fallacy Awards

Welcome to the 1st Annual Fallacy Awards, your aptly-named alternative to the Oscars. Below are the nominees in each of the 24 categories and announced as each is presented on the telecast here and on twitter. Good luck to all the nominees...

Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Friday, January 11, 2019

2018 - A Year in Film

Typically in this space, you'd read my list for the year's best movies. But since you have the video above, I thought I'd just discuss some of things I've been thinking about over the past year in cinema.

The most heartbreaking news in the cinephile world was the closing down at the end of November of FilmStruck, the streaming service from Turner Classic Movies that also served as an online home for the Criterion Collection. In the blip of only two years, it was a beacon of light for the serious moviegoer, a reservoir of some of the world's greatest art amidst the glut of fast food options who are satisfied merely to have its users consume its content and chill. In the short amount of time it existed, I felt I was a smarter movie watcher and frankly I'm gutted that I and other like-minded (and would-be like-minded) folks no longer have this as a resource.

The sadness of FilmStruck's closing was somewhat alleviated by the announcement that Criterion would soon launch its own standalone streaming service in spring. And while that is most certainly a wonderful piece of news, to be honest, even though I purchased the add-on Criterion channel to FilmStruck, it wasn't the resource I used most. I always knew I could get a large selection of Criterion titles on DVD, either through Netflix or my local libraries. Not to mention titles are available through the library-only service, Kanopy.

But FilmStruck would introduce a wide variety of obscure or somewhat forgotten titles, ones that didn't necessarily have the sheen of the Criterion logo on it. More than anything, though, is that the service provided a level of curation little seen (and in most cases unseen) in some of the more popular streaming services. A Netflix algorithm, intricate and rigorous though it may be, can't--or, perhaps more accurately, wouldn't--decide to curate a retrospective of films directed by Nikita Mikhalkov or George Cukor, or decide to have a weekly series of films dedicated to women directors.

That was the real value a service like FilmStruck provided. They didn't just see themselves as a virtual warehouse for these types of films. It also saw itself as a steward for intelligent and thoughtful cinephilia. And that's the case both for the budding cinephile as it is for the veteran one. I can only imagine the kind of thrill someone just starting to explore the world outside mainstream, American cinema would feel having FilmStruck at their fingertips. I, myself, have been serious about film for about two decades and I always feel like I'm still learning and growing as a movie watcher. FilmStruck, during it's tragically brief run, was constantly allowing me to do so.


On the other side of the coin is MoviePass, the monthly subscription service that allowed you to watch a different theatrical release "every" "single" "day." The quotation marks are purposeful because, as any user of the service over the past year will know, what you were allowed to do with your card changed drastically almost daily.

Though MoviePass made the move to its popular $10/month subscription plan well into the second half of 2017, it wasn't until 2018 that we would see the larger implication of its drop in price. The results seem to have been fairly predictable. Multiple price changes and multiple changes to its basic services all pointed to the obvious conclusion that the business model wasn't sustainable. It was, presumably, sustainable back in 2012, when I initially joined at $35/month and even when I stayed after an increase the following year to $45/month. At that price, it caters to the serious moviegoer. The severely discounted price meant a fundamental change to its user base.

The shutting down of FilmStruck and the atrophying of MoviePass may seem like only tangentially related bits of news, but it raises the larger question of the subscription model as it relates to movie watching.

Subscription services seem the dominant mode for streaming at home. This isn't unlike the cable model we've grown used to for years, except of course that only one subscription basically got you everything plus some extra fees for premium channels. Now, the glut of streaming services stretches content out over a wider area. There are the broader services (Netflix, Hulu) and the ones becoming increasingly more niche. WarnerMedia, the company that shut down FilmStruck, also shut down Drama Fever, a site dedicated to Korean dramas. Both of which were done apparently with an eye towards creating a broad service of its own.

There's a lot to unpack here when it comes to on-demand streaming. But what happens when you transpose all of this to the theatrical model? Perhaps MoviePass, then, is cable TV: one subscription to watch basically anything that's out. But in the wake of its demise, AMC created its own service, A-List. And while AMC is the largest theater chain in the country and I'm happy to say does play its share of non-mainstream movies (depending on where you live), this starts to move into the direction of the streaming model. What happens if Regal offers its own subscription? And then your local art house? If you have Netflix, but not Hulu, then you watch Netflix, but not Hulu. If you subscribe to the multiplex, then maybe you don't take the time to bother going to the art house anymore. How it all plays out is anyone's guess. But there's a danger that the culture gets flattened. That the movies that have always been on the fringes get further marginalized. We're a worst-case scenario away from only getting Marvel movies. (Disney themselves will soon premiere its own service, Disney+ in late 2019, meaning those Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar movies on Netflix will eventually disappear, further complicating the landscape.)

But it's the movies we're here to discuss and, thankfully, we haven't reached the point where simply providing content isn't the means to its own end. I called last year a great year for movies, where I could've made the case for much of the titles on the list as being the year's best. While I don't think that's the case for the top spot here, the list as a whole is bursting at the seams. Deep as the list in the video above is, I was still heartbroken to leave so many others off and I look as forward to again watching those that missed the cut as those that made it.

At the very top of the list are two filmmakers who often appear at or near the top of this list in the past. I've long said Hirokazu Kore-eda is my favorite working international director and he's made a number of top 10 lists since I've been compiling them, including several other honorable mentions. Barry Jenkins has only directed three features and none of them have placed lower than #5 on this list, including now his second #1 in three years.

I'll also say that, though I somewhat trashed Netflix above, the company placed two movies in my top 10 and scattered several others throughout my list, so mine or anyone else's prediction of the demise of cinema because of streaming needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

And in lamenting the fact that I had to leave so many off of even a top-25 list, in honor of and in hoping for a great year in movies for 2019, here I am squeezing another 19 movies (listed alphabetically) that deserves some love. Happy New Year everyone!

Blockers (Kay Cannon)
Crazy Rich Asians (Jon M. Chu)
The Day After (Hong Sang-soo)
The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci)
Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher)
Mission: Impossible -- Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie)
Never Goin' Back (Augustine Frizzell)
Lean on Pete (Andrew Haigh)
Private Life (Tamara Jenkins)
A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)
Searching (Aneesh Chaganty)
Set It Up (Claire Scanlon)
Shirkers (Sandi Tan)
Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley)
Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley)
Unsane (Steven Soderbergh)
Widows (Steve McQueen)
Wildlife (Paul Dano)
Zama (Lucrecia Martel)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Oscars 2018, A Power Ranking

My personal rankings of the nominees in each category. Movies I haven't seen are listed, unranked, at the end of each list. My predictions are marked on the ballot at the bottom as well.

Best Picture
1. Lady Bird
2. Dunkirk
3. Get Out
4. Phantom Thread
5. The Post
6. Call Me By Your Name
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
T8. Darkest Hour
T8. The Shape of Water

1. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
2. Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
3. Jordan Peele, Get Out
4. Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
5. Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Actress in a Leading Role
1. Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
2. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
3. Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
4. Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
5. Meryl Streep, The Post

Actor in a Leading Role
1. Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
2. Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
3. Daniel-Day Lewis, Phantom Thread
4. Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
5. Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Actress in a Supporting Role
1. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
2. Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
3. Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
4. Allison Janney, I, Tonya
5. Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

Actor in a Supporting Role
1. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
2. Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3. Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
4. Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
5. Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Original Screenplay
1. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
2. Jordan Peele, Get Out
3. Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick
4. Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water
5. Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Adapted Screenplay
1. James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name
2. Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green, Logan
3Molly's Game, Aaron Sorkin
4. Virgil Williams and Dee Rees, Mudbound
5. Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, The Disaster Artist

Documentary Feature
1. Faces Places
2. Strong Island
3. Icarus
4. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
5. Last Men in Aleppo

Foreign-Language Film
1. A Fantastic Woman
2. The Square
3. On Body and Soul
4. The Insult

Original Score
1. Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread
2. Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water
3. Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk
4. John Williams, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
5. Carter Burwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Original Song
1."The Mystery of Love," Call Me By Your Name
2. "Remember Me," Coco
3. "This Is Me," The Greatest Showman
4. "Stand Up for Something," Marshall
5. "Mighty River," Mudbound

Sound Editing
1. Dunkirk
2. Baby Driver
3. The Shape of Water
4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
5. Blade Runner 2049

Sound Mixing
1. Dunkirk
2. Baby Driver
3. The Shape of Water
4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
5. Blade Runner 2049

Makeup and Hairstyling
1. Darkest Hour
 Victoria &Abdul

Costume Design
1. Phantom Thread
2. The Shape of Water
3. Darkest Hour
 Beauty and the Beast 
 Victoria & Abdul

1. Hoyte van Hoytema, Dunkirk
2. Roger A. Deakins, Blade Runner 2049
3. Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water
4. Rachel Morrison, Mudbound
5. Bruno Delbonnel, Darkest Hour

Production Design
1. Dunkirk
2. The Shape of Water
3. Blade Runner 2049
4. Darkest Hour
 Beauty and the Beast

Film Editing
1. Lee Smith, Dunkirk
2. Paul Machliss & Jonathan Amos, Baby Driver
3. Tatiana S. Riegel, I, Tonya
4. Sidney Wolinsky, The Shape of Water
5. Jon Gregory, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Visual Effects
1. War for the Planet of the Apes
2. Blade Runner 2049
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
4. Kong: Skull Island
5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I've not seen a single film in the following categories:

Animated Feature
Documentary Short Subject
Animated Short Subject
Live Action Short Film


And my predictions:

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Best of 2017

2017 was a fantastic year for movies. Narrowing and rearranging my favorite movies of the year was a nearly impossible task. I can honestly say that the top dozen (or more) could have legitimately contended for the top spot, though the one that ended up there was firmly entrenched from the first time I saw it. So, humbly, I offer the top 17 of '17.


17. It Comes at Night (Trey Edwards Shults)
If Krisha, the great debut from Trey Edward Shults (#7 on my 2016 list), was a horror movie couched in the veneer of a family drama, then his latest might have simply flipped that approach. It Comes at Night looks and feels like a typical horror movie, but it's more concerned with the dynamics within and between two families than it is with whatever actually comes at night.


16. Faces Places (Agnès Varda and J.R.)
It must certainly be the case that Agnès Varda--French New Wave pioneer and patron saint of all things good in the world--and photographer J.R. were 2017's cinematic odd couple. The story seems quaint: Varda and J.R. take larger-than-life sized photographs of villagers and plaster them on the sides of building walls. But as the travelogue continues, the cumulative effect reveals something deeper and it's not an accident that the film steers toward the retrospective, both melancholic (her failed reunion with fellow New Waver, Jean-Luc Godard) and exalted (her and J.R.'s recreation of that famous Louvre scene in JLG's Band of Outsiders).


15. Baby Driver (Edgar Wright)

There was sadness in some circles when Edgar Wright left the production of Ant Man due to creative differences. With few exceptions, though, I would rather see directors I like not tie up their time and creative energy working on franchise installments and instead work on projects that express their own visions. So while his Ant Man may have been a solid entry into the MCU, Baby Driver shows Wright in his element, editing and choreographing all his action to his soundtrack. Like his previous work, the movie is musical without necessarily being a musical. He should probably go ahead and just make a musical.


14. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Every year there is a movie that I feel would place higher had I more time to consider it. It was the movie I screened the latest among the entries here and I only got a chance to see it once. Most of PTA's work gets richer with multiple viewings and this is no exception. But what's there at first blush is a craft as meticulous as his Reynolds Woodcock, the fashion designer at the center of this story, whose world is sent akimbo after wooing a pretty young waitress. Daniel Day-Lewis is... well, Daniel Day-Lewis and a great (and perhaps last) performance is to be expected. But, like her character, Vicky Krieps matches him blow-for-blow, and the result is a delicious unraveling of her sparring partner. It's crazy and at times hilarious, thoroughly unbefitting the apparent stuffiness of its subject matter.


13. Get Out (Jordan Peele)
Independent of its place in everyone's year-end rankings or of the amount of gold and bronze statues it wins, Get Out might be the movie that ends up defining the year 2017 in movies. It has been at the forefront of the movie conversation since its release very early in the year. It's easy to see why, as it cleverly distills the larger anxiety about race in this country (particularly that of the past few years) into the specific story of a black man about to meet the family of his white girlfriend. Both funny and unnerving, it also may mark the presence of a new auteur, Jordan Peele, whose previous TV work, while brilliant in its own right, didn't necessarily foreshadow this sophisticated a work.


12. Good Time (Josh and Benny Safdie)
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Robert Pattinson continues to move further and further away from his teen idol image with one of the best performances of the year as Connie Nikas, who after a bank robbery gone awry, tries to save his mentally disabled brother after being caught by the police.With laser focus, Connie manages both to get closer and further away from his goals, smooth talking his way in and out of trouble, while simultaneously escalating each situation to the highest of stakes. We're at the point now where we live in a world where two-thirds of the Twilight triangle turned out to actually be great actors.


11. Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes)
Haynes has made a career out of recreating 20th century Americana. In this way, Wonderstruck may be the most Todd Haynes movie he's ever made, as it tells two parallel stories set in and eventually converging in old New York City, one in 1927 and the other in 1977. The period detail here is striking and it's as good as anything Haynes has done in evoking its historical setting. The stories converge through the connection of two children looking for absent or distant parents and as we move into the top 10, that kind of spectral presence seems to guide many of the movies: sometimes in merely a figurative sense, but also, as we'll eventually see, a more literal one.


10. Okja (Bong Joon-ho)

Part cautionary ecological tale, part prison break, part Spielbergian creature fable, few filmmakers can make a movie that varies wildly in tone as Okja does work, yet somehow Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho manages to do so. I can see this not working for a lot of people and, frankly, I could take or leave some of the broader performances. But at the center is the moving tale of a girl and her best friend, and the lengths she will go to keep them from being apart.


9. Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison)
In 1978, over 500 silent film reels were discovered underground in Dawson City, Canada, existing as part of the Yukon permafrost since their thoroughly unceremonious burial in 1929. The great found-footage documentarian Bill Morrison assembles these treasures to not only tell the story of Dawson City, but the history of early cinema as well. And like the city itself, which at once flourished during a gold rush, but has oftentimes seen time pass it by, these images show a resilience that resists its own inherently ephemeral quality.


8. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan)
I'll admit that after the first viewing, while admiring much of the visual execution, the complicated narrative structure--certainly a Nolan hallmark--left me a little cold. But it was not so after a rewatch, as its unbalanced triptych of gradually intersecting storylines ratchets up the tension of the rescue and evacuation. It is perhaps Nolan's most elegant integration of his narrative proclivities with the story he's telling.


7. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
The most thrilling sequence for me in all of 2017 is nothing more than a series of texts sent between Kristen Stewart and an unknown source during a train ride. Much of this ghost story has that same eerie elusiveness, as Assayas keeps moving things just out of arms reach, both from Maureen (Stewart, in her second brilliant collaboration with the director) and his audience.


6. The Florida Project (Sean Baker)

A movie about the dirt poor, semi-homeless population that lives in the shadow of Disney World seems like it should reek of poverty porn. But Baker, as he did with his previous Tangerine, manages to overflow his movie with life and color. He's aided and abetted by his two non-professional leads, Brooklynn Prince as the precocious Moonee, six-year old daughter to Bria Vinaite's Halley, a single mother who's barely keeping things together. And Willem Dafoe, in one of his most charming performances, is the manager of the candy-colored motel, The Magic Castle, where he has to be both the warm-hearted granddad and stern school principle. I live very close to Disney World, to the point that the second time I watched this movie was at the theater on Disney property where I watch most movies and often drive past many of the locations shown here. It's a sobering reminder of the things that surround us everyday yet we constantly ignore.


5. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)

Though Gerwig's solo directing debut isn't strictly autobiographical, it certainly plays as memoir. And while each moment endured by her heroine is tenderly observed, they are cut together with such pace as if they were a flood of memories, taking the length of time your senior year feels like only after having left it. One scene of heartbreak jumps immediately to a scene of triumph and back and forth. Remarkably, none of it feels like melodrama. Gerwig (and one of the best ensembles of the year) manages to make the feelings as raw and grounded as the performances she herself built throughout her acting career. To misquote a bit of dialogue, I just wanted this to be the best version of this movie it could be. And it was.


4. Columbus (Kogonada)
The feature debut from respected video essayist Kogonada proves that his eye for creating his own images is as strong as his eye is for curating those of the filmmakers he examines. His tale of two people torn between familial obligation and personal ambition has the pacing and tone of the best Ozu. Yet while his aesthetic owes a great deal to that titan of 20th century cinema, his thematic concerns are firmly of the present. That dichotomy is mirrored by its setting--Columbus, Indiana--a place so quiet and seemingly middle-of-nowhere that somehow also became a locus of modern architecture. Haley Lu Richardson graduates from the supporting roles she's mainly played in the past to play a young woman who can't decide if doing something greater is needed or even wanted. John Cho, in one of the rare leading roles for an Asian American man, is pulled in the opposite direction: forced to come "home," when all he's ever cared about is staying away.


3. A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)
"Live as a woman for a week... You will find it neither congenial nor trivial." The single best perfomance in 2017 was Cynthia Nixon's portrayal of Emily Dickinson. Though her life seemed to become more and more insular as she aged, neither the movie nor Nixon regards her reclusiveness with pity so much as curiosity, as her writing provides the solace that eludes her in life. In fact as the title suggests, her solitude does not necessarily mean detachment, and it belies a fiery wit that challenges all who come across her.


2. The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola)

Even though Coppola's latest has a more straightforward plot than anything she's done since probably her debut, The Beguiled possesses all the hallmarks of her work: the languid pace and mood, the muted pastels, the exploration of characters who have reached the crossroads on their privileged ennui. Other writers have discussed, both positively and negatively, about Coppola's elision of a black character in the original story set at the end of the Civil War and of her consistent focus on a white-only version of womanhood, so, for here anyway, I'll leave it to those better thinkers. But I will say that the movie doesn't fail to acknowledge the complicity these women and girls share in their predicament and the way that it leads them inexorably to their collective fates.


1. A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
In a year of great movies, the one that has refused to leave me is the story of a ghost that, ironically, refuses to leave the spot he once called home. That the hand of fate is cruel enough to keep him in that purgatory upon his death is painful enough, but gets worse once the living continue to live, making him but a (mostly) passive observer.

From the fragility of the images in Faces Places and Dawson City: Frozen Time to the aspirational permanence of the art created and admired in Phantom Thread and Columbus; from Kristen Stewart waiting to hear from her dead brother in Personal Shopper to the ghost of Casey Affleck waiting to be released from his cosmic prison in A Ghost Story, the best movies of 2017, no matter where or when they were set, seemed to feel the weight and urgency of the present, a collective plea to understand the blip of time we have as humans on this Earth and to figure out what the hell we want to do with it.


And just for fun, since it was such a great year, 17 honorable mentions:

18. Thelma (Joachim Trier)
19. Gook (Justin Chon)
Directed and starring another Twilight alum. Go figure.
20. Raw (Julia Ducournau)
The best of several 2017 cannibal movies. Go figure.
21. Your Name. (Makoto Shinkai)
22. The Post (Steven Spielberg)
23. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)
24. All These Sleepless Nights (Michal Marczak)
25. War for the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves)
26. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson)
Remember when I said I don't like my young auteurs being co-opted by franchises? This is the exception.
27. After the Storm (Hirokazu Koreeda)
28. Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman)
29. The Lost City of Z (James Gray)
30. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler)
31. The Unknown Girl (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
32. Princess Cyd (Stephen Cone)
33. The Ornithologist (João Pedro Rodrigues)
34. Pitch Perfect 3 (Trish Sie)
They say it's the last one, and I have many thoughts on how and why the series could keep going. But I'll spare you.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

An Academy of One

What if all the Academy Award nominations were chosen by one person? What if that one person were me? Well, here's your answer...

(none of the shorts programs are included, I ain't got time for that)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Best of 2016

On top of 2016 being a pretty shitty twelve months all around, it also seemed that way for movies for most of the year. But after having caught up with a slew of movies during the last few months including into the new year, it turns out 2016 had its own fair share of greatness. Here are a few.

Before the top 10, an additional countdown of the best 16 (+1) movies of 2016...


26. Kaili Blues (Gan Bi)
25. The Mermaid (Stephen Chow)
24. Tower (Keith Maitland)
23. Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight)
22. Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
21. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo)


20. Lemonade (Kahlil Joseph, Beyoncé Knowles)
19. The Nice Guys (Shane Black)
18. Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater)
17. Sing Street (John Carney)
16. Pete's Dragon (David Lowery)


15. The Witch (Robert Eggers)
14. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)
13. 10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg)
12. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
11. Silence (Martin Scorsese)


Honorable Mention:
Memories of a Penitent Heart (Cecilia Aldarondo)
I'll keep this one unranked because I'm close friends with one of the associate producers of the film, the story of how director Aldarondo tries to piece together the life and death of her uncle Miguel Deppa, a New York stage actor who passed from AIDS when she was a child. I'll just say that in the same way I'm not a huge fan of the personal essay, I'm also not often a fan of documentaries whose makers force themselves into their movies as subjects. But this is an example of the right way to do it, as Aldarondo gracefully weaves her own story of discovery with Miguel's story and how the issues of the past resonate, perhaps even more forcefully, still today.


10. Our Little Sister (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
If  Hirokazu Kore-eda isn't my favorite international director working today, he's certainly on the short list. His latest, about a trio of adult sisters living together who adopt the pre-teen half sister born of their estranged father who just passed away, continues his interest in exploring the dynamic within slightly broken families and the people within them who are just trying not to be broken themselves. Few directors are able to portray the fundamental goodness in people without sanctifying them as well as Kore-eda does in film after film. And few directors work with younger actors as well as him either.

9. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)
A simple collection of three stories (get used to that mini-theme in this list!) about women simply navigating their daily existences. All of Reichardt's movies in some way or another deal with people (mostly women, but not always) trying to find grace amidst the brutality of the world's indifference to their own lives. Sometimes the best movies get better with time. No movie on this list has grown so much in my esteem or stayed floating in my head since its initial viewing than this one. I've thought about it a lot since then. Ask me about it in a few years and I assure you it'll be higher on this list.

8. Sunset Song (Terence Davies)
"All things must pass," George Harrison once sang. This is something Chris, the heroine of Sunset Song, sure knows. Though embodied by the gamine former fashion model Agyness Deyn, Chris is of the land and earth, her waifishness belying toughness. She stands firm, her roots growing deeper and deeper, while the wind seems to blow away just about everything around her. Loss has become a too familiar escort through life, a fact she has accepted not with resignation, but resolve: "There are lovely things in this world, lovely that do not endure, and the lovelier for that."

7. Krisha (Trey Edward Shults)

As with John Magary's 2015 debut The Mend (my #9 that year), Trey Edward Shults's first feature is a bold announcement of an exciting new voice in American independent cinema. Taking place on Thanksgiving entirely in one house, Shults captures an explosive and chaotic family reunion as the title character (played the real-life aunt of Shults) physically and emotionally collides with everyone who comes within her orbit. Yet the young director, who also co-stars in the film as a family member with a particularly estranged relationship with Krisha, always seems in control of the proceedings, that the cacophony is always precisely choreographed, and the madness of it all always focused. A really stunning achievement.

6. American Honey (Andrea Arnold)
Leave it to a foreigner to make the most American "how we live now" movie of 2016, the story of a dirt poor girl who joins a group of traveling teens, going door-to-door across the middle of America selling magazine subscriptions out of a van. This sprawling and somewhat episodic film is immersed in the underprivileged class and its desperation without ever really wallowing in it. It's a road movie, with all the narrative asides--the stuff between all the pit stops--left in. You get to know very little about these characters individually, even Star, our protagonist, or Jake her pied piper into this world, but maybe that's the point. Their dreams and desires seem to bleed into one another. It's American Impressionism painted by the outside observer.

5. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
You know how everyone's dad tells a groan-inducing joke, but you kind of play along because whatever it's just your dad, let him have it? Imagine that stretched over a 162-minute comedy and you start to get at what some of what it's like to experience Toni Erdmann. It's within that extra long running time (for a comedy in particular) though that Ade is allowed to subtly comment on women's struggle in the workplace underneath the more broadly rendered escalation of hijinks created by your own father.

4. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
When your movie's two biggest events involve a dog ruining an everyday item and a faux hold up with a toy gun that shoots foam bullets, you're not exactly dealing with the ebbs and flows of high drama--which is to this movie's credit. Paterson, as played by Adam Driver in perhaps my favorite male lead performance of year, finds his greatest satisfaction as an amateur poet. His joys are modest and found in the most mundane of places: overhearing conversations on the public bus that he drives, the solitary beer he drinks every night at the local bar as he walks his dog, the endless rotation his of wife's dreams (both literal and aspirational). And that calm, almost metronomic passing of daily life is this film's poetry, quiet and contemplative.

3. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)

Park's sumptuous triptych, a melodrama full of crosses and double-crosses, explicit sex and implicit violence, belies any simple description. Maybe no other movie, even the few ranking higher on this list has more cinematic joie de vivre frame-for-frame. And yet, unlike those other titles, which sometimes seem to want to burst out of those frames (the opening frame of my #2 literally has to get wider before the movie can start), The Handmaiden is packed with such visual richness that it can simply luxuriate in its own beauty.

2. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
2016 was a musical year for me, having seen many Broadway and off-Broadway shows during three separate trips to New York. But the movie musical was a love of mine well before The Great White Way ever garnered my adoration. The movie musical has supposedly been dead for what seems like decades now but many successes over the past several years refute that notion easily. Many are misfires, specifically most of the screen adaptations of Broadway stalwarts. The few movies that attack the genre from its own slightly off-kilter angle are the real gems (such as the Magic Mike and Pitch Perfect series). But La La Land, the third movie from wunderkind Damien Chazelle, attacks the musical from every possible direction imaginable including directly head-on. Citing everything from the 30s RKO productions with Astaire & Rogers, to the classic MGM musicals of the 40s and 50s, to the Demy/Deneuve collaborations of the 60s and everything before, after, and in between, Chazelle synthesizes all these influences into something, yes derivative and pastiche, but wholly of a piece. From its genuinely thrilling opening number to the bravado of its finale, it is a celebration of the things about which we all fantasize while also slyly being about the realization of the compromises we make in pursuit of such aspirations.

1. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
Midway through the third and final section of Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins takes a step back to show one character in the kitchen of a diner cooking a special meal for another character. It's tangential to any of the actual plotting and a diversion in any sort of classical sense, but it beautifully weaves into context the history of these two characters and the possible direction it might take going forward. And it is indicative of the larger tone he's going for in these sequences. It's a pause, a deep breath, that many of the characters in the movie so desperately desire. To say that Moonlight has a dreamlike quality isn't entirely accurate. Maybe it's more like your memory (the large jumps in time between sections would suggest as much), where each moment progresses with such clarity and specificity but the moment stands still and the intensity of each situation is as saturated in your head as the cinematography by James Laxton is on the screen.

Jenkins is of course helped by the strongest ensemble of the year, buoyed by three performances that chart the life of one character. All of them do so much by saying so little, particularly Trevante Rhodes as the oldest version of Chiron, whose body language not only suggests the character's vulnerability, but his self-inflicted sublimation. Another character asks him "Who is you?" The tragedy is that he's spent his whole never having the chance to actually figure that out.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Casey's Top 40

(Not really Casey. It's me, Jason)

No preamble. Let's get down to business.

40. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams)

39. Spring (Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson)

38. Black Coal, Thin Ice (Yi'nan Diao)

37. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz & Shlomi Elkabetz)

36. What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi)