Friday, February 23, 2018

Love & Breadth: “This is That Night” is a Short and Sweet Rom-Com

So it turns out “This is That Night” is that movie Woody Allen would have made early in his career. Most Hollywood films can’t establish well-drawn characters in 2 hours let alone thirteen but writer and star Jonathan Marballi is certainly up to the task in his cute rom-com short that is seeing a digital platform release after a successful film festival run.

The simple film observes a man (Marballi playing Jon) and woman (Kris Wiener playing Kris) as they embark on the fourth date of their relationship. Things are going well as the couple appear to be hitting it off, joke around, and chit chat in Kris’ city apartment. Shots of empty plates, wine glasses, and candles burning signify the passing evening as the couple eventually realize that this is the date where they stay up all night talking; and then they hit a rough patch. At that point I’m pretty sure I would of just turned on the TV in a desperate attempt to cut through the awkwardness but the couple is determined to overcome their abrupt conversation block.

Shot in contrasty black and white and filled with old timey music on the soundtrack, this funny and observant short is artistically realized by director Matt Braunsdorf. He directs his actors well; they give perfectly naturalistic performances. It’s obvious Braunsdorf and his actors come from a background in improv (Upright Citizens Brigade to be specific); you feel like you’re just hanging out with friends who enjoy talking in silly voices and having awkward conversations about Christopher Columbus, abortion, and Chinese food. The humorous, dialogue driven film feels inspired by the relationship comedies Woody Allen has wowed film nerds with for decades.

The film captures the clumsiness of new relationships in a way many feature length films barely attempt to do. For what is essentially a short film about two people talking in an apartment “This is That Night” really gets human behavior right. It helps that the performers have a natural chemistry and even if the funny film isn't any sort of visual masterpiece Braunsdorf knows how to make a single location feel like its own character. I really wanted to know where these people ended up. I’m anxiously awaiting “This is That Morning." GRADE: B+

 
This is That Night (trailer) from Jonny Marbles Films on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Out of Africa: The Thrilling “Black Panther” is Just the Movie We Need Right Now


I tend to be a bit hesitant when it comes to some of the lesser known Marvel characters. But in reality these lower tiered folks turn out to be just what audiences deserve. A slight break from the routine. And “Black Panther” is just that film. A blockbuster in every sense of the word, this fantastical action adventure pushes the boundary of big budget movie making in really fun and creative ways. And the fact a film that pushes for diversity and representation is coming out now shows that even if Hollywood is sometimes behind on the times its good to know they’re at least taking the right steps. “Black Panther” shows Marvel at the full height of creative prowess by giving us a diverse cast of fascinating characters with real motivations and superior production quality from a director in full creative command. A fun conglomerate of various genres from Shakespeare melodrama to spy thriller to fantasy, the film works on multiple levels and hardly requires any previous knowledge of the seventeen (!) other Marvel films that have come before it. In other words, even after ten years of Marvel Studios films, these people still know how to make a darned good piece of popular entertainment.

Ryan Coogler. How does a filmmaker go from such small, indie roots as “Fruitvale Station” which first got both him and breakout star Michael B. Jordan noticed, to the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It’s because the studio is willing to take a chance. But don’t forget that Coogler proved he could play with a bigger budget with the tremendously well-received “Rocky” spin-off “Creed.” His impressive cinematic eye was impossible to ignore. The director brings a much-needed fresh perspective to the MCU as the big budget comic book films are dying for a little bit of diversity. And diversity is just what audiences crave. Just look at last year’s fantastic female-driven “Wonder Woman.” It’s step in the right direction that is sure to attract new talent and a new audience as well. Sure “Black Panther” is diverse, with a predominately Black cast of well-known and little-known actors. And they are all glorious.

We were first introduced to T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) in “Captain America: Civil War” where we see his father fall victim to a terror attack. T’Challa becomes the king of the fictional African country Wakanda. Wakanda is a special place; it posses as a third world country but is actually the home to powerful, advanced technology in form of “vibranium.” T’Challa is not only king but possessed the power of the “Black Panther;” a guardian for Wakanda. Of course it isn’t so simple. Enter some complicated family dynamics and you’ve got yourself a fantastical African-set Shakespearean drama that is truly absorbing. Meanwhile there are car chases, fight scenes, and flying ships that will likely make “Star Wars” fans salivate on cue.

What’s so particularly special about “Black Panther” is how well the film balances a handful of different genres and how smoothly it transitions from comedy to serious drama. And it works as an all-too familiar reflection of our troubled times. T’Challa insists on protecting the people of Wakanda from outside forces but in so doing he’s leaving other decedents of the African continent to live in poverty stricken communities. Coogler’s protege Jordan plays N’Jadaka a former US soldier who seeks to use vibranium in a malicious way and is intent on overthrowing T’Challa and make Wakanda his kingdom. Notes of “The Lion King” don’t exactly go unnoticed, but let’s not forget that that animated classic is really just a retelling of “Hamlet.” The dynamic between T’Challa and N’Jadaka are not unlike historic real life civil rights activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X who each had radically different ideologies for essentially same cause. Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole’s script is well aware of the time and place this film is existing in. The fact that Cole also wrote for Emmy-winning miniseries “The People vs. OJ Simpson” is not coincidental.

Sure it’s a super hero film with a message. But it’s also wildly engaging and supremely entertaining. T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright in a scene-stealing performance) is essentially the Q of Wakanda with all her fascinating vibranium-forged gadgets. The film features an awesome car chase that rivals anything seen in a James Bond film. The costume design and set design is exquisite and colorful. And the music score from Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson is simply beautiful with its African-inspired cues. The performances are truly great from an impressive ensemble cast (with Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya, 12 Years a Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o, The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira, Andy Serkis, and Martin Freeman all in memorable roles), the direction is suburb, and it truly feels like none of the other 17 MCU movies that have come before it. “Black Panther” is ground-breaking art disguised as popcorn entertainment and it is certain to push the boundaries of the comic book genre forward in exciting new ways.  GRADE: A


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Frock & Awe: The Inert “Phantom Thread” is Only Sew-Sew

Once known for his quirky and sprawling, ensemble based Robert Altman-influenced dramas, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has gone over to the dark side of pretentious, arthouse films that dare to challenge audiences. And that’s fine. It shows an artist maturing as he grows into himself, but I can no longer really count myself as a fan. His latest work “Phantom Thread” is expertly crafted; nothing in the frame seems to be out of place as it’s impeccably staged, but it’s emotionally hollow and offers very little in the way of a rewarding experience. Even Jonny Greenwood’s score feels like an artist going beyond what made him so enjoyable in the first place. “Phantom Thread” is a bizarre love-hate story about annoying people and how they learn to deal with each other. I’m not sure how we’re supposed to care about them, but even if the film is a little slow and stodgy it at least offers bright bursts of humor to help us stay awake.

Set in lavish 1950s London, Daniel Day-Lewis, allegedly in his last film role before he calls it quits in the film industry, “Phantom Thread” follows renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) who has a very lavish and rigid life. He lives with his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville) who keeps his life orderly and consistent. She's easily the most interesting character in the film. He woos a sweet waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) who eventually moves into his flat with him. Cyril immediately considers this a terrible idea since Reynolds has never had successful relationships because of his controlling personality. What comes next is a sort of battle of wits between the pair as Cyril looks on. Alma butters her toast too loudly and it pretty much ruins Reynolds day. He’s THAT sort of person.

So basically what you have here is one of the most ridiculously lavish romantic comedies every put to screen. And you’ll either love it or find it dreadfully pretentious. I sort of fall into the latter category. I find much to appreciate in the films’ artistry. The performances are fine, but the characters are hart nuts to crack. I found myself rooting for Cyril who is really just the awkward third party. While Anderson has been influenced by Robert Altman in the past, he seems now to be influenced by the melodramas of the 1950s and 60s. The film has a sort of Hitchcockian feel to it. Shots of eyes through peepholes and themes of obsession were not lost on me. In the end the film leaves you feeling hollow. Though that was probably the intent.

“Phantom Thread” works as an art house piece. You sense an artist at work. But not every piece of art is for everyone. I prefer Anderson’s more digestible earlier work. Even when he’s being bizarre just to be bizarre (ie Punch-Drunk Love) there’s an energy that undeniable. That energy has been replaced by sluggish, stuffy character drama. Unfortunately, the film’s artistry fails to capture much of my intention leaving me the worst question an audience member could ask. What’s the point? GRADE: C+

Saturday, January 20, 2018

2018 Oscar Nomination Predictions

2018 Oscar Nomination Predictions
It's that time of year again. On Tuesday January 23th the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce their nominees for the 90th Annual Academy Awards. Since this is my version of football season, I sort of take this stuff seriously, so without further ado I present my 91% fearless Oscar nomination predictions. On with the show...






Best Picture
Remember how last year people thought “Deadpool” could make it into the Best Picture lineup? Now it's “Wonder Woman's” turn at Oscar hype. But it ain't happening. Maybe in a weaker year, but this is an extremely strong year potential nominees so it'll have to settle for its PGA nomination. The biggest question is always how many nominees. Last year there were 9 and there will definitely be 8 or 9, maybe even 10, this year which would be the first time 10 films have been nominated since the Academy changed to a range of 5-10 nominees in 2011 (I know, it's confusing). The first five listed below are what I think would be nominated if there were only five nominees like in the old days. I'd say the first seven films listed are pretty much sure things at this point, down the list things get fuzzy. Look for "The Shape of Water" to likely rack up the most nominations. I'm really curious, as most people are, how well "Get Out" will do. It's a great genre film that would be an odd choice for the Academy, especially since it came out nearly a year ago, but then again "The Silence of the Lambs" came out in February and we know how that went.

Here are 10 projected nominees in likelihood of being nominated:

“Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”
“Lady Bird”
“The Shape of Water”
“Get Out”
“Dunkirk”
“The Post”
“Call Me by Your Name”
“The Florida Project”
“Darkest Hour”
“The Big Sick”
alternates - “I, Tonya,” “Mudbound”

Best Director
I feel pretty confident in this list. These five reflect the DGA nominations and it's really rare for them to line up perfectly with Oscar. The last time that happened was in 2009 but it's not unheard of. Having said that, sometimes the Academy likes to go for the smaller, intimate films. That's how surprises happen like “Room” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Those two films are key actually because they both featured small children in lead rolls and that's exactly how something like “The Florida Project” could surprise us all. The problem is, if Sean Baker does get in, who does he replace? Whoever it is, it would certainly be a shocking snub. Let's not think about that. Speaking of which, let's talk Christopher Nolan. He was shockingly left out in this category for “Inception” AND “The Dark Knight.” Is there any way he gets left out again? Unfortunately I feel like it's POSSIBLE but anything can happen in this category.

Projected nominees:
Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Martin McDonagh, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”
Jordan Peele, “Get Out”
AlternatesSean Baker, “The Florida Project;” Steven Spielberg, “The Post;” Luca Guadagnino, “Call Me by Your Name”

Best Actor
Another year, another likely snub for Jake Gyllenhaal. What does this guy have to do to get another freaking nomination? And this is generally somewhat of a rare weak year for lead actors. I feel pretty confident with these five, especially considering how much the Academy has snubbed Tom Hanks in the past few years. At this point I'd say if any of these guys miss here it would be a surprise.

Projected nominees:
Timothee Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”)
Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread')
James Franco (“The Disaster Artist”)
Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”)
Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”)
AlternatesTom Hanks (“The Post”); Denzel Washington (“Roman J. Israel Esq.”)

Best Actress
Last year was a particularly strong year for lead actresses and this year may even be more so. (Though I'm still reeling from that Amy Adams snub). In any other year these five ladies could WIN an Oscar for their respective roles. Oddly enough, Ms. Streep feels like the most vulnerable only because “The Post” doesn't seem to be doing as well in the precursor awards as many though it would. She was snubbed by SAG and BAFTA but we all know how much the Actors' Branch loves Meryl. Speaking of which, fun fact: if Meryl is nominated and if The Post is nominated for Best Picture it would be the first time since Out of Africa (over 30 years ago) that Meryl was nominated in a Best Picture contender. Meryl is usually a lone cube nominee but perhaps not this year.

Projected nominees:
Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”)
Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”)
Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”)
Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”)
Meryl Streep (“The Post”)
alternate – Jessica Chastain, (“Molly's Game”)

Best Supporting Actor
The supporting categories this year are much more difficult to predice with both categories easily having 7 or 8 potential nominees (and some films having several candidates). This category hasn't had double nominees since 1991's “Bugsy.” Call Me by Your Name could have 2 nominees, but more likely, Three Billboards could have two. Armie Hammer had seemed like a sure thing for quite some time but it seems like his film Call Me by Your Name has cooled off a tad in the awards leading up to the Oscars. He didn't get a SAG nod nor a BAFTA nod. I think part of that could be the fact that he's really the co-lead of the film and category confusion is hurting him, which is why I'm going with his co-star Michael Stuhlbarg who's powerful monolgoue towards the film's ending who's the real definition of a supporting actor. Three Billboards is more likely two carry 2 nominees in frontrunner Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson who is the vulnerable one. Because Harrelson is such a powerful and enjoyable presence in the film and his absence in the later part of the film is strongly felt like Mahershala Ali was in last year's “Moonlight.” The real guarantee here is Willem Dafoe who's frontrunner status is being disrupted by the charming Sam Rockwell. And I still don't buy the Christopher Plummer thing.

Projected nominees:
Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”)
Woody Harrelson (“Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”)
Richard Jenkins (“The Shape of Water”)
Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”)
Michael Stuhlbarg (“Call Me by Your Name”)
alternate - Armie Hammer (“Call Me by Your Name”)

Best Supporting Actress
Octavia Spencer has been on a roll in this category since winning her first Oscar for “The Help” in 2012. I'm sure she'll show up again here for “The Shape of Water.” Though I'd say there are only two real locks here, TV veterans Laurie Metcalf and Allison Janney in a battle of the mothers. Then things get sort of foggy. I'd say Holly Hunter is another likely nominee for her heartfelt turn in “The Big Sick” (Seriously what's with all the moms in this freaking category?). The final slot seems to be a battle between musician Mary J. Blige for the Netflix film “Mudbound” but I'm gonna go with the supposed scene stealer of “Downsizing” Hong Chau because the Academy has given a luke warm reception to Netflix films. Idris Elba couldn't get a nomination for “Beasts of No Nation” even though he won SAG and the was nominated for Best Cast.

Projected nominees:
Hong Chau (“Downsizing”)
Holly Hunter (“The Big Sick”)
Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”)
Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”)
Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”)
alternate – Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”)

Best Adapted Screenplay
This is a pretty weak year for Adapted Screenplays and it's mostly because most of the Best Picture candidates from from original material. Therefore “Call Me by Your Name” seems to be the real lock (and potential frontrunner) as is “The Disaster Artist,” and everything else will just be happy to be nominated.

“The Beguiled”
“Call Me by Your Name”
“The Disaster Artist”
“Molly's Game”
“Mudbound”
alternate - “Wonder”

Best Original Screenplay
Now this is a real race. But unfortunately there will be some shocking snubs since this category is packed with Best Picture hopefuls. In any other year The Big Sick, I Tonya, and The Post would be locks for a nomination. But there's no way Get Out, Three Billboards, and Lady Bird are not getting nominated here. The Shape of Water isn't quite as much of a lock, as the film isn't necessarily considered to be a great feat of writing, but as a potential Best Picture WINNER it's very likely to make it in. “The Big Sick” seems the most vulnerable since it feels the most “lighthearted” of the possible nominees. I have my eye on this category.

Projected nominees:
“The Big Sick”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”
alternates: “I, Tonya;” “The Post”

Best Cinematography
It should be noted that if “Mudbound” got nominated here it would be the first nomination EVER in this category for a woman. I'm going out on a limb for Ed Lachman's lensing of Todd Haynes' little-seen child fable “Wonderstruck” which plays with various film stocks; this branch can't get enough of that.

Projected nominees:
“Blade Runner 2040”
“Darkest Hour”
“Dunkirk”
“The Shape of Water”
“Wonderstruck”
alternates- “Call Me by Your Name;” “Mudbound”

Best Costume Design
“Beauty & the Beast”
“Darkest Hour”
“The Greatest Showman”
“Murder on the Orient Express”
“Phantom Thread”
alternates - “Victoria & Abdul;” “The Shape of Water

Best Film Editing
“Baby Driver”
“Dunkirk”
“Get Out”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards outisde Ebbing, Missouri”
alternate - “Blade Runner 2049

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
“Darkest Hour”
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
“I, Tonya”
alternate - “Wonder

Best Original Score
As I say every year, this is one of my favorite categories and somewhat tough to predict (as is Best Song). Newcomers rarely show up here which is why your Thomas Newmans and John Williamses show up constantly. If your music has a foreign sounding flair to it certainly helps, which bodes well for “Victoria & Abdulwhich is why I'm going out on a limb for Thomas Newman who was a surprise nominee last year for the critically-maligned “Passengers.” Newcomer Jonny Greenwood is the likely new nominee in a category that will probably be rounded out by veteran composers and former winners.

Projected nominees:
“Dunkirk”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Victoria & Abdul”
alternate - “Darkest Hour

Best Original Song
The Best Song category is notoriously difficult to predict. There are always a couple locks and then start throwing darts after that. It must be noted that since the Music Branch changed the way they nominee the songs (by viewing clips of the films in which the songs appear) it's pretty rare for songs that only appear in the end credits to show up here the way they used to in the past. Therefore I'm going with both Sufjan Steven songs from “Call Me by Your Name.” “This is Me” and “Remember Me” seem like solid Academy friendly choices. Other than those who really knows?

Projected nominees:
“Evermore” (Beauty & the Beast)
“The Mystery of Love” (Call Me by Your Name)
“Remember Me” (Coco)
“This is Me” (The Greatest Showman)
“Visions of Gideon” (Call Me by Your Name)
alternate - “Stand Up for Something” (Marshall), “Mighty River” (Mudbound)


Best Production Design
“Beauty & the Beast”
“Darkest Hour”
“Dunkirk”
“Blade Runner 2049”
“The Shape of Water”
alternate - “The Greatest Showman;” “Phantom Thread”

Best Sound Editing
“Baby Driver”
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Dunkirk”
“Star Wars The Last Jedi”
“War for the Planet of the Apes”
alternate - “The Shape of Water


Best Sound Mixing
“Baby Driver”
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Dunkirk”
“The Shape of Water”
“Star Wars The Last Jedi”
alternate - “War for the Planet of the Apes

Best Visual Effects
The the potential nominees in this category have already been narrowed down to a shortlist of ten films which technically makes this one of the easiest categories to predict. But not so fast. Sometimes the Visual Effects branch likes to throw some curve balls. Nominees are determined after clips from the short-listed films are screened for Academy members followed by Q&As. There's a lot at play here based on what order they films screen in and how entertaining the presentations are. Since Netflix film “Okja” played rather well to the crowd I’m going with it over “Dunkirk” which featured more practical effects (a good thing) but reported received a mild reception after the presentation. Oh, and they also presented first.

“Blade Runner 2049”
“Okja”
“The Shape of Water”
“Star Wars The Last Jedi”
“War for the Planet of the Apes”
alternate: “Dunkirk”

Best Animated Feature Film
I predict there will be a few headscratchers in this category as the Animation Branch is notorious for their snubbing of more popular fare. They prefer hand-drawn animation to computer animation, etc. If “The LEGO Movie” couldn't get in there's no reason to think “The LEGO Batman Movie,” a film that's just as entertaining, but much fluffier, would be any different.

Projected nominees:
“The Breadwinner”
“Coco”
“Ferdinand”
“Loving Vincent”
“Mary and the Witches Flower”
alternate - “The LEGO Batman Movie”

Best Documentary Feature
“City of Ghosts”
“Faces Places”
“Icarus”
“Jane”
Last Men in Aleppo”

Best Foreign Language Film
“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“Foxtrot” (Israel)
“In the Fade” (Germany)
“Loveless” (Russia)
“The Square” (Sweden)

Best Animated Short
“Cradle”
“Dear Basketball”
“In a Heartbeat”
“Lou”
“Negative Space”

Best Documentary Short
“116 Cameras”
“Alone”
“Edith+Eddie”
“Heroin(e)”
“Ten Meter Tower”

Best Live Action Short
“DeKalb Elementary”
“The Eleven O'Clock”
“My Nephew Emmett”
“The Silent Child”
“Watu Wote/All of Us”

Clowns, Billboards, and Tommy Wiseau, Oh My! The Best Movies of 2017

Geez are there really five comic book movies on here? I lied. It's six if you count “The LEGO Batman Movie.” Ok yeah it's getting ridiculous, but you know what? They're really good movies! But don't fear, if that ain't your back there are 20 other films that really stood out in a year filled with great movies. It was too hard to narrow my list to just ten films so I made a list of 20. In any other year these films could have easily been in my Top Ten. And what a great range of films, yeah there's your genre fare (three horror films made the top ten this year making up for last year's surprise drought) but there were some really great dramas and even some fun guilty pleasures. Overall, I can't really complain about 2017.


1) The Big Sick (dir. Michael Showalter)
In a year filled with outstanding comic book films there were still plenty of non-genre fair worth seeking out. Everyone should see “The Big Sick.” So they say comedy is harder than drama. But what about both? “The Big Sick” is the ultimate comedy-drama. It's hilarious in all the right places and hits all the right emotional buttons. And it's intensely relateable and the characters are so likable. The film tells the true story of Pakistan-born comedian Kumail and his relationship with a Caucasian girl named Emily. They fall in love and then she gets sick and gets put into a coma. And then Kumail falls in love all over again, with Emily's parents. Directed by Wet Hot American Summer alum Michael Showalter, the film is a truly rewarding experience that is genuine and funny, with extremely well-drawn characters. It's easily one of the most rewarding movie-going experiences of the year. And well worth every movie fan's time. In fact, it's the best of the year.

2) Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)
Coming in a close second place is the year's most original, wacky, and downright enjoyable films. And it's a horror film of all things. Of course, it's also blisteringly funny. Functioning like “Rosemary's Baby” and “The Stepford Wives” meets “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,” the very timely “Get Out” takes a scathing look at modern race relations. A simple visit to his white girlfriend's parent's suburban home turns into a nightmare for an African American man when he discovers some sinister things going on. Though it's not quite what you expect. A blistering directorial debut for funnyman Jordan Peele, “Get Out” is fresh, funny, and scary and is easily one of the best films in the horror genre in quite some time. It's destined to be not only a horror classic but a classic film in general.

3) It (dir. Muschietti)
Speaking of horror classics. Stephen King's novel “It” is a staple in the literary world and the notoriously lengthy novel finally gets the big screen treatment and it's simply glorious. A fun mix of horror and childhood wonder abound in this nostalgia-dripping story of a group of young pre-adolescent boys dealing with their fear of a shared evil entity that keeps terrorizing the kids of their small New England town. As many know, it mostly takes the form of creepy Pennywise the Dancing Clown and he's played with perfect perverted verve by Bill Skarsgård. The film is as funny as it is scary and all the kid actors are perfectly charming. Easily one of the all-time best King big screen adaptions.


The year's weirdest title is easily one of the best films of the year. A fantastic ensemble cast is featured in this fascinating story of a mother out for justice. Frances McDormand is in top form as a mother who is sick and tired of the local cops not being able to solve her daughter's murder. She rents three billboards that are directed at the sheriff of the small Midwestern town which sparks a series of events that are compelling to watch. This original piece of work from writer/director Martin “In Bruge” McDonagh is a politically charged drama for our times but it's also blisteringly funny. This is powerful, entertaining filmmaking of the highest order.



5) The Disaster Artist (dir. James Franco)
How could such a fascinatingly crappy movie be the basis for one of the best films of 2017? At the hands of (500) Days of Summer writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and director James Franco “The Disaster Artist” is a compelling look at one of Hollywood's most bizarre characters. Tommy Wiseau is a man of mystery who just wanted to make it in Hollywood and he did it by making one of the most notoriously bad films in all of cinema, “The Room.” This fascinating docudrama follows Wiseau (James Franco at his best) as he and his best friend Greg set off to conquer Hollywood by making their own film. What follows is an intriguing tale of friendship and the American dream with a bizarre cast of characters hell bend on turning the worst move ever made into one of the most fascinating films of the year.

6) Baby Driver (dir. Edgar Wright)
Edger Wright has crafted arguably one of his most successful films with “Baby Driver,” a high octane action extravaganza of epic proportions. The film basically functions as a crime thriller musical complete with a rocking soundtrack, mind-blowing action sequences involving awesome car chases and a compelling central story about a nice, hip young guy who gets caught up with the bad guys. The film is a feast for the eyes and ears and is a complete delight from beginning to end. Ansel Elgort is as charming as ever and the film is unlike anything you've ever really seen before.




7) I,Tonya (dir. Craig Gillespie)
A totally wacky docudrama with an exquisite sense of humor “I Tonya” takes a mockumentary approach to the infamous Olympic skater Tonya Harding. Played with perfection by Aussie standout Margot Robbie, the film features bizarre characters that you can't believe are actually based on real people. Fantastic character actress Allison Janney plays Tonya's sadistic stage mom who constantly has either a cigarette or drink in her hand or a pet bird on her shoulder. A creatively directed black comedy from Craig Gillespie who thrives in the worlds of bizarre characters (see his 2007 breakout “Lars and the Real Girl”), the film's witty script tells a familiar story in an unfamiliar way and makes us remember why these zany true crime stories are so freaking fascinating.

8) Coco (dir. Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina)
It's been awhile since Pixar has made a film worth mentioning for end of the year status. Not since “Inside Out” have crafted such a fun and original piece of work. “Coco” follows a Mexican boy as his family is celebrating Dia de los Muertos. The fantastical story gets going when the young aspiring musician accidentally gets stuck in the Land of the Dead and must get help from his dead relatives in order to get back to the real world. The film is simply stunning to watch and so creatively imagined. The music is fantastic and like all the great Pixar films is as heart-tugging as it is humorous. This truly heart-warming tale is one of their best efforts and can easily be enjoyed by people young or old.


9) Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)
Director Christopher Nolan, ever a fan of playing with time, has crafted a World War II masterpiece with “Dunkirk.” Told from three different points of view, “the land,” “the sea,” and “the air” the film follows various soldiers and civilians as they fend off the enemy on or near the beaches of Dunkirk, France as the enemy closes in on them. Told in a fragmented narrative structure with little dialogue and hardly any exposition, this big budget experimental film is simply stunning to watch. Featuring stunning cinematography captured with IMAX cameras made this an unforgettable theatrical experience. Hans Zimmer's suspenseful, bombastic score is the heart beat for this quickly paced thriller that is a cerebral but rewarding cinematic experience unlike any other war film you're likely to see anytime soon.

10) Happy Death Day (dir. Christopher Landon)
Need proof that charm and creativity can go a long way in a worn-out genre? Look no further than “Happy Death Day.” This somewhat silly slasher film takes a cue from “Groundhog Day” and finds its final girl (a star-making turn from Jessica Rothe) getting murdered at the end of her birthday and constantly waking up to experience it all again until she can solve her own murder. It’s certainly not the scariest film in the genre but you really get the sense that everyone is putting their best efforts forward and the writing is light, crisp, and witty. This genre-bending delight is campy and fun in equal measures.




11) Star Wars The Last Jedi (dir. Rian Johnson)
What should have been the most liked movie of the year had some fanboys crying afoul for some unbeknownst reason as part 8 in this new Star Wars saga is simply outstanding from beginning to end. Directed with vitality from franchise newcomer Rian Johnston “The Last Jedi” continues the story of Rey a defiant young woman ready to train as a Jedi with Luke and all the other lovable characters first introduced to us two years ago. Finn and Poe are back as is General Leia (and the last screen performance of the late-great Carrie Fisher). The film totally plays against your expectations in the best way possible which makes for a compelling and entertaining film that completely satisfies and whets your appetite for the final chapter in this thrilling new trilogy.

12) Lady Bird (dir. Gretta Gerwig)
Such a simple tale but so fascinating to watch unfold. A fantastic slice of angsty teen life that doesn't break the mold but remembers why teen films work so well. Actress Greta Gerwig makes her solo big screen directorial debut with this cute film that follows a teenager (Saoirse Ronan) during her senior year of high school. Sure much of the typical teen stuff happens but the film is as much about her relationship with her mother played wonderfully by veteran TV actress Laurie Metcalf. The film is funny and dramatic in all the right parts. It's hard not to fall for “Lady Bird.”

13) mother! (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
Surprisingly, the most divisive film of the year isn't “The Last Jedi.” The second film this year influenced by “Rosemary's Baby,” how exactly does one explain “mother!”? Seeing this film in the theater was one of those movie-going experiences you just won't forget. Me thinking “what the hell is going on?” factored into it a lot. And yet I was possessed by what I was seeing. Once you actually start reading about what the hell writer/director Darren Aronofsky was trying to say, things begin to make some sense. A truly gonzo and off-the-wall take on bible stories and humanity's mistreatment of environment, the film is a flashy parable for the entire human experience. The film begins normally enough but then takes so many left turns you simply won't believe your eyes. It's certainly a love it or hate it experience but you can't deny the creativity that went into producing one of the most arcane studio films to get a wide release in quite some time. A truly mind-boggling but extraordinary experience you have to see at least once.

14) Spider-Man: Homecoming (dir. Jon Watts)
How have there been three different Spider-Man series with a fifteen year span? I've been a fan of all of them to be honest though I was weary about entering the angsty teenage world of Peter Parker yet again. Luckily in the hands of Marvel Studios there is truly nothing to complain about with “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Tom Holland makes a perfect Peter Parker/Spider-Man and is a welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This wonderfully entertaining film is a prime example of how you can take something so familiar and turn it into something fun and fresh.

15) Wonder Woman (dir. Patty Jenkins)
There was no better time than 2017 to finally unleash a “Wonder Woman” movie on the comic book loving world. A true bright spot in Warner Brothers' eternal dismal cinematic universe thanks to director Patty Jenkins, this is a truly rewarding adventure that feels like a fresh take on a well-worn genre. Gal Gadot has become instantly famous for her heroic portrayal of Diana Prince the Amazonian warrior who becomes a hero during Word War I. The film is a fun war epic not dissimilar from the first “Captain America” film and features so really fun action set pieces that are every bit at entertaining as their Marvel counterparts.

16) War for the Planet of the Apes (dir. Matt Reeves)
A brilliant conclusion to the story of Cesar, “War for the Planet of the Apes” takes a brilliant dive into the prisoner of war genre with outstanding results. The stakes have never been higher and each film has progressed this terrific story in ways that have been truly unexpected. The jaw dropping visual effects are a wonder behold and are truly deserving of that elusive Oscar this series has yet to conquer.




17) The Shape of Water (dir. Guillermo del Toro)
Guillermo del Toro is a master of monsters and fairy tales and he combines the two wonderfully in this beautiful take of a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) who falls in love with a male sea creature. Set in the 50s the film has a lot to say about unconventional romance and what it means to be human. Featuring a talented ensemble cast of award winning actors “The Shape of Water” is a really sweet movie that isn't afraid to show the dark side of humanity. A true fairy tale for adults.


18) Thor: Ragnarok (dir. Taika Waititi)
Yet another fun comic book film, but who would of thought that third time's the charm with the “Thor” films? This nostalgic dripping color-coated adventure is brimming with smart humor and wild action. The filmmakers finally figured out that going full camp is a great way to make a successful Thor film. The movie has a great synth-heavy score and a gloriously bad turn by the brilliant and game Cate Blanchett. A really fun experience for those who want something a little different with their superhero films.


19) Call Me by Your Name (dir. Luca Guadagnino)
A really sweet love story set in the rolling country hills of Northern Italy, “Call Me by Your Name” feels old-fashioned but is completely forward thinking. If you thought Thor Ragnarok was dripping with 80s nostalgia wait until you see this. Featuring an eclectic soundtrack of classical pieces and 80s pop tunes (including a couple of catchy new tunes from Sufjan Stevens) the film is brilliant shot and acted. The film features a star-making turn for the young Timothée Chalamet who plays a confused introverted teen who falls for his father's hunky grad school assistant played with surprising verve by Armie Hammer. The drama isn't a tragedy as so many gay stories are but it's heartbreaking nonetheless. The film is almost too quiet and serene for its own good but the actors are charming and make it work. The film is almost worth seeing just for a brilliant and moving monologue by Michael Stuhlbarg who almost quietly steals the movie away from his young co-star.

20) Kong: Skull Island (dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts)
This new take on cinematic monster legend King Kong is a really fun, trippy 70s fetish-fest from start to finish. What is essentially a visually stunning Vietnam War film, the story follows soldiers as they make their way to the forbidden, ancient Skull Island sort of unaware of the terrors that will befall them. We're talking big bugs, spiders taller than trees, not to mention the king of the jungle Kong. The film doesn't quite hit the emotional buttons of Peter Jackson's superior 2005 take, but as a fun adventure “Kong Skull Island” hits all the right buttons and has some really great visual effects and a delicious look and feel.

In any other year these Honorable Mentions would easily be in my top 15 or 20 but it was a great year for good movies they're relegated to HM status:

Logan
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
The LEGO Batman Movie
Life
Stronger

And now a few superlatives…

Best Soundtrack
Call Me By Your Name

Best Prop
Elio’s Peach – Call Me By Your Name

Best Opening Titles
Baby Driver

Best Closing Credits
Call Me By Your Name

Best Kick to the Crotch
Francis McDormand – Three Billboards…

Best Poster
mother!

Best Score
Dunkirk

Best Cameo
Kristin Wiig, mother!