Let’s Do It: My Favorite Movies #80-71

I’ve been busy as of late with various academic developments in my life. But now, while I still have the opportunity, I felt it was time to continue on with going through my Top 100 favorite movies of all time, starting with the next group of ten.

#80: “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (2015)

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It’s funny because while I actually do agree with most of the criticisms for The Force Awakens, I also really don’t care. I can still remember a time when we Star Wars fans all just accepted the fact that a new trilogy was never going to happen. And I also remember hearing for the first time years ago that Disney would continue making Star Wars films and J.J. Abrams would be spearheading the first of those pictures. For three years, I was hyped and that excitement transferred over to the theatrical experience. Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren all proved themselves to be complex characters worth caring for and seeing their arcs continue to grow is a thing of fascination.

#79: “The Prestige” (2006)

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Telling a nonlinear story is by no means a new or groundbreaking technique in cinema, but it takes a real storytelling genius to keep audiences invested from beginning to end. (Or end to beginning?) Few contemporary directors have achieved this as consistently as Christopher Nolan. You will most certainly find some of his other films later on this top 100, but The Prestige is perhaps his most underrated picture. All of his hijinks are on display here, and it’s utterly compelling. Nowhere else in movies will you get to watch a rivalry between two artists as abstract as magicians become so deadly and volatile.

#78: “The Shape of Water” (2017)

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A mute cleaning lady in the 1960’s falling for an ancient God-like Mer-Man? This has Guillermo del Toro fingerprints written all over it, and I mean that in the best sense possible. The Mexican auteur has always dabbled in the fantasy genre in various ways, but The Shape of Water was his first time telling a straight-up fairytale for grown-ups. And it was gorgeous to witness. It also helps that it has one of my favorite original scores of the last 10 years, thanks to Alexandre Desplat.

#77: “Gravity” (2013)

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Some will call Gravity for its numerous scientific inaccuracies. Others will dismiss it for being too “simplistic” of a movie. But on its own merits, as a low-sci-fi thriller about the need to carry on and survive in even the direst of circumstances, Alfonso Cuaron’s film is breathtakingly beautiful and unexpectedly moving. You’d be hard-pressed to find another film set in space that actually looks, feels, and sounds like the real thing.

#76: “Avatar” (2009)

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I’m not usually one to play the role of contrarian. Most of the time, I tend to fall under the same critical consensus as everyone else when it comes to opinions on popular films and I even agree with the Academy a lot of the time. Although I can’t quite explain it, there’s just something about Avatar, James Cameron’s much-maligned space epic, that just clicks with me. Sure, its storyline is extremely derivative and its overall messages may be too on the nose for some viewers. But in terms of visual storytelling and worldbuilding, the Na’vi stand almost peerless to this day. If for nothing else, it’s a perfect movie to get a Blu-Ray copy of and test your new T.V. I just happen to stay for the journey.

#75: “Being John Malkovich” (1999)

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By my estimation, Charlie Kaufman is the type of screenwriter who you either consider to be one of the most brilliant minds of the 21st century or a self-indulgent, pessimistic hack. And I believe that you would have a right to have either opinion on the matter. Admittedly, I’ve yet to watch some of his other films, but Being John Malkovich is honestly an underrated masterwork of creativity. Rarely will you ever watch a film so bizarre and original, especially one in this day and age. The whole concept of wanting to step into another person’s shoes, if only for 15 minutes, is actually quite sad but rings very true.

#74: “Metropolis” (1927)

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It truly astonishes me that this movie is 91 years old because it still feels so, so, SO pertinent in the modern era. Fritz Lang’s dystopian epic was decades ahead of its time and still holds up remarkably well to this day. Everything, from the otherworldly design of the iconic Maschinemensch to the palm-sweating finale, this stands proof that silent films can still be just as captivating as any “talkies that have come in since. There are only a handful of films that I’ve ever seen that I am willing to call “perfect” without any reservation. Metropolis is one of them.

#73: “Apollo 13” (1995)

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I was just raving about Gravity a few films up, but it probably wouldn’t have happened without Apollo 13. Ron Howard has a penchant for telling stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and it’s no different with this historical drama. If you have no idea what Apollo 13 was or who was involved, go into this movie with that lack of knowledge. It’s arguably the best way to experience it, coupled with the realistic visuals and believable performances. Smart people doing smart things to get themselves out of a stupid problem. This is definitely my kind of movie.

#72: “Moonlight” (2016)

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The weirdest thing is that despite Moonlight‘s current place among my favorite movies, I initially had no interest in watching it. However, it was only after it started getting all of its well-deserved awards buzz that I began paying attention. Setting aside one of the most unprecedented Best Picture debacles in Oscars history, what Barry Jenkins accomplished here is a rarity of empathy for a kid growing up in a neighborhood that doesn’t quite understand him. It all comes from a deeply personal place, putting the audience in the middle of the world. Mark my words, its relevance will never go away.

#71: “No Country For Old Men” (2007)

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Joel Coen and Ethan Coen are both geniuses and No Country For Old Men is a stone-cold masterpiece. There’s just no way working around that sentiment for me, not when a scene like the one depicted in the image above exists for me to watch. Granted, a story by author Cormac McCarthy is certainly not going to appeal to everyone. But when you have Javier Bardem in your movie to play one of the most terrifying villains in movies ever, well, you’ve already won me over. What’s so scary about him is that he has so few words, but his presence is still felt. And I just love the ending simply because it wants to inspire discourse among film lovers.


“Mute” Movie Review

Chasing your dream project for years on end can typically be a respectable endeavor. But when they result in something like this, maybe it wasn’t the best idea. This poorly conceived cyberpunk dystopian sci-fi drama was released by Netflix on February 23rd, 2018. Although its actual budget remains unknown at the moment, the film received a wave of negative reviews from critics. Written and directed by Duncan Jones, the same man behind Moon, Source Code, and (Unfortunately) Warcraft, the film is purported to be a passion project of his, with the earliest draft being written back in the 2000’s. Jones himself has described it as a spiritual sequel to Moon, and there’s even a scene with Sam Rockwell cameoing in his previous role. Set in a futuristic version of the city of Berlin, Alexander Skarsgård stars as a mute Amish bartender named Leo who struggles to stay in touch with the technological world around him. After a fateful night, his girlfriend Naadirah, who works at the same club as him, vanishes without a trace. As she is the only person who truly communicates with him, Leo follows a series of clues in Berlin that ropes him into a world of prostitutes, black market dealers, and two American army surgeons who seem to be the center of it all. To be upfront here, unlike many other critics that have reviewed this film, I have not seen any of Jones’ previous works. I do plan on watching Moon and Source Code soon, but Warcraft is one I’ve been hesitant on. Seeing all the bad press that that video game adaptation received, one would hope that he would be able to bounce back from it. And for a long while, this Netflix Original was one of my most anticipated movies of 2018. Even after reading some of the negative reviews, I figured this movie couldn’t possibly so terrible and unwatchable, right? Well… it’s pretty bad, guys. It’s also a damn tragedy for me to say this because Duncan Jones tried to get it off the ground for several years. The son of the late David Bowie (Who’s given a heartfelt tribute in the end credits) promoted it heavily on social media, sharing set photos and concept art almost daily. And that’s all great and dandy. Anyone who wants to make a lifelong passion project and share it with the world has already got my vote. Moreso than that, I always support anyone who wants to make an original science-fiction movie on a big studio budget. Netflix marketed this as their next big blockbuster, much like last year’s Bright. Also, like Bright, Mute fails at being either compelling or intriguing. Skarsgård has impressed me in past films with his performances, but something with Leo just felt off. I know it’s incredibly hard to act without any words, and he does a good job in some scenes, but most of the time he feels annoying and stupid. And that entire thread of him being an Amish man just feels tacked on. His girlfriend, Seyneb Saleh, isn’t any better and spends her spare moments whining and begging for a man. Ant-Man himself Paul Rudd is by far the best performer in the entire film as Cactus Bill, one of the American surgeons. Though his demeanor is uneven and acts like a conceded jerk, he clearly looks like he’s having the time of his life and is (mostly) able to power through the clunky dialogue. His best friend, played by Justin Theroux… is a pedophile. That’s not an exaggeration; Theroux’s character has a sexual attraction to young children in this movie. Admittedly, he does a fine job at being creepy and uncomfortable but the fact that it is played off like some sort of joke is wrong and honestly gross. As far as the technical aspects go, Mute doesn’t have too much going on that separates it from the cyberpunk noir genre. From the neon-soaked streets of night-time Berlin to the filthy interior buildings, the production designers try really hard to be like Blade Runner, a movie that will, unfortunately, get many comparisons to. The cinematography by Gary Shaw often opts for long wide shots, especially for some of the action sequences. Though it does provide a sense of character for the setting, showing as much of the world as possible without being too disorienting. Surprisingly, there’s a sparse amount of CGI used to create this futuristic setting, mostly relying on practical sets and oddball costumes to bring it to life. It definitely adds up to a grimy, lived-in feeling that it’s unfortunately unable to rise out of. Clint Mansell, one of the most versatile composers in the industry, gives us the musical score for this film. Taken as a whole, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a picture like this. The vast majority of the tracks consist heavily of synthesized beats and melodies, some of which seemingly go on indefinitely. On occasion, a new bit of percussion or strings were come in and reach for sentimentality in the story. Although that aspect failed, the soundtrack itself is actually pretty good to listen to and helps establish the somber tone of this world. But the film overall is wildly uneven in both pacing and tone. The first half is a slog to get through and even though it admittedly goes out on a high note, it would be perfectly reasonable if you turned it off by then. And the film seems unsure of whether it wants to be an all-in sci-fi extravaganza or a contemplative noir drama. Mute is a visually appealing busfire devoid of charm or pleasant characters. I could see why some people actually like Warcraft, but I have a hard time seeing anyone enjoying this Netflix Original. It makes me temper my expectations for all of their future content. And the saddest part of all is that, at the end of the day, Duncan Jones has nobody but himself to blame for this.

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My Final Oscar Predictions

The 90th Academy Awards ceremony is nigh upon us and now every cinephile around the Internet are putting in their last predictions for the winners and losers. This is the first year that I’ve done this, as previous years have had me bogged down by busy work and unavailability for some of the nominees. However, I’ve seen more of the Oscar hopefuls this year than I thought, possibly because the race has been seriously unpredictable. After last year’s unprecedented Best Picture debacle, there’s no clear frontrunner for the biggest prize. That being said I would like to throw in some of my own predictions about what will, could, and should win in each major category. I also wanted to include some films or players whom I feel were snubbed and deserved some recognition. No matter what, we’ll all have the same answers on Sunday, March 4th.

Best Picture

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Will Win: The Shape of Water

Could Win: Get Out

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Mudbound


Best Director

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Will Win: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water

Could Win: Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Should Win: Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049


Best Actor

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Will Win: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Could Win: Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name

Should Win: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Should Have Been Nominated: Hugh Jackman in Logan


Best Actress

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Will Win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could Win: Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water

Should Win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Have Been Nominated: Carla Gugino in Gerald’s Game


Best Supporting Actor

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Will Win: Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could Win: Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project

Should Win: Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Have Been Nominated: Gil Birmingham in Wind River


Best Supporting Actress

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Will Win: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Could Win: Allison Janney in I, Tonya

Should Win: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Should Have Been Nominated: Holly Hunter in The Big Sick


Best Original Screenplay

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Will Win: Get Out

Could Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: Get Out

Should Have Been Nominated: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)


Best Adapted Screenplay

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Will Win: Call Me By Your Name

Could Win: Mudbound

Should Win: Logan

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lost City of Z


Best Animated Feature Film

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Will Win: Coco

Could Win: Coco

Should Win: ONLY Coco

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lego Batman Movie


Best Foreign Language Film

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Will Win: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

Could Win: Loveless (Russia)

Should Win: The Square (Sweden)

Should Have Been Nominated: First They Killed My Father (Cambodia)


Best Documentary- Feature

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Will Win: Last Man in Aleppo

Could Win: Strong Island

Should Win: Icarus

Should Have Been Nominated: Jane or City of Ghosts


Best Documentary- Short Subject

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Will Win: Edith & Eddie

Could Win: Traffic Stop

Should Win: Heroin(e)

Should Have Been Nominated: Long Shot


Best Live-Action Short Film

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Will Win: DeKalb Elementary 

Could Win: My Nephew Emmett

Should Win: DeKalb Elementary

Should Have Been Nominated: Auditorium 6


Best Animated Short Film

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Will Win: Lou

Could Win: Negative Space

Should Win: Revolting Rhymes

Should Have Been Nominated: In a Heartbeat


Best Original Score

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Will Win: The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat

Could Win: Dunkirk by Hans Zimmer

Should Win: The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat

Should Have Been Nominated: Good Time by Daniel Lopatin


Best Original Song

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Will Win: “Remember Me” from Coco

Could Win: “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name

Should Win: “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name

Should Have Been Nominated: “To Be Human” from Wonder Woman


Best Visual Effects

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Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Could Win: War for the Planet of the Apes

Should Win: War for the Planet of the Apes

Should Have Been Nominated: Okja


Best Cinematography

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Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Could Win: Dunkirk

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lost City of Z


Best Costume Design

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Will Win: Phantom Thread

Could Win: Beauty and the Beast

Should Win: Phantom Thread

Should Have Been Nominated: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi


Best Makeup and Hairstyle

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Will Win: Darkest Hour

Could Win: Wonder

Should Win: Darkest Hour

Should Have Been Nominated: The Shape of Water


Best Production Design

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Will Win: The Shape of Water

Could Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: The Post


Best Film Editing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Get Out


Best Sound Mixing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: John Wick Chapter 2


Best Sound Editing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: John Wick Chapter 2


How say you? What film do you believe should, could, or will win the top prize? Be sure to leave you thoughts in the Comments, and as always if you want to see more interesting content like the one on this list, be sure to like and Follow my blog.


“Phantom Thread” Movie Review

A feature-length advertisement for joining (Or not joining, depending on your interpretation) the fashion industry. That’s what this is essentially. The latest historical romantic drama from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson saw a sneaky limited release in the United States on Christmas Day of 2017. It has received largely positive critical response, but has yet to recoup its $35 million budget at the box office, a common problem for Anderson’s films. Though many assumed that it was coming in too late to qualify for awards season, the film surprised the industry when it gained nominations for 6 Academy Awards. According to the director, the idea for the story came to him while he was incredibly sick in bed and became convinced his wife was trying to poison him. It’s also gained even more press in the last few months because Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting and this would be his last performance. Set in post-World War II London circa the 1950’s, the story follows Reynolds Woodcock, played by Day-Lewis, an obsessive fashion designer for members of high society. Along with his sister Cyril, played by Lesley Manville, he spends all his time crafting beautiful haute couture dresses while managing his controlling personality. Then, he meets a young waitress named Alma, played by Vicky Krieps, whom he instantly falls in love with. Over the course of the next few months, their toxic relationship oscillates between hatred, forgiveness, distance, and passion. Okay, let’s make this clear from the get-go: Phantom Thread is an arthouse film through and through. That niche genre already has its own built-in audience that love challenging, “serious” cinema. They will be called “pretentious” by fans of more mainstream fare, who in turn will be accused of just wanting mindless consumption. Like it or not, that’s the situation and we have to deal with it. As a fan of some of Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous works, especially There Will Be Blood, I tried to approach his newest picture objectively. And while I’m pretty sure that I didn’t “get” it all, there’s still some elements of the movie that I do appreciate. Among the strongest elements is the surprising dose of dark humor present. One of the prevailing problems in some of PTA’s past films is that he spends so much time building an intricate, introspective plot that the rest of the movie suffocates in its emotion. Make no mistake, this film doesn’t have much room too breathe (Although it is noticeably shorter than PTA’s previous epics) and could leave a lot of audiences feeling cold. But this is the first time I think I’ve ever laughed out loud during one of his films, with the main trio dolling out wry wit in several instances. Sometimes, it was caused by a random outburst by the artist himself, others it was someone delivering a line of dialogue in an understated manner. Daniel Day-Lewis has given us many transcendent performances over his career and while his turn as Reynolds Woodcock isn’t his best, it’s clear to see why he chose it as his last. He plays an artist who takes his work extremely seriously, and his obsession with it fractures his relationship with everyone else around him. He’s a man who likes to have certain things in his life in exact spots like a chess board and loses it when something gets out of line. Vicky Krieps, meanwhile, does fine work as Alma. A lot of people will probably take issue with the fact that she stays with Reynolds even though he constantly either ignores or verbally abuses her. But I (At least try to) see her as a strong woman who is tired of being invisible to everyone in the world. The best performer, though, is Lesley Manville as the Woodcock sister Cyril. Aside from Alma, she is the only one to be able to get through to Reynolds and actually holds the power in all of her relationships. She is a force to be reckoned with, but she is still very fond of Alma and even sympathizes with her. From a pure filmmaking perspective, Paul Thomas Anderson sings his own voice with this film. Without his regular collaborator Robert Elswitt, he essentially served as his own cinematographer but denies credit for it. Shot on actual celluloid, the film expertly captures 1950’s London with a grainy precision. Many scenes consist of lingering still shots that rarely move around, somehow creating the feeling of a classic film production. There’s even cross-dissolves for various scenes. The grainy effect brings out saturation in the beautiful costumes by Mark Bridges. Each dress and outfit, whether worn by the characters or put in just for show, looked as though a tailor as obsessive as Reynolds himself made them in real life. Former Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood returns to score his 4th film with PTA, which drives home the classical feeling. The soundtrack largely consists of seemingly neverending piano melodies, adding a near-seductive quality to the film. In some instances, Greenwood stretches his muscles as a multi-instrumentalist for ambient percussion and harsh strings. While this would normally be a relaxing composition, it actually gives a dark and surreal feeling to what is otherwise a mundane story. Most of the time, though, the score is relegated to the background in order for this to be more of a “performance-driven” film. How you react to the film as a whole and interpret its themes depends almost entirely on your capacity for patience. It has a deliberately slow pace and virtually none of the characters have any arc changes or even redeeming qualities. Phantom Thread is a showy exercise in art and acting. Overall, I didn’t particularly care for this movie and certainly isn’t one I will be clamoring to watch again immediately. But I do appreciate some of the things that Paul Thomas Anderson was trying to say here. Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the most brilliant actors ever to grace us, and seeing him retire is an end to an era.


“Annihilation” Movie Review

I almost don’t know what to say. I just… I… Words are escaping me now. Well, I guess structural integrity is the way to go. Here goes nothing. This trippy science-fiction horror marks the second directorial effort of Alex Garland, following his massively acclaimed debut Ex Machina in 2015. Produced on a budget of around $40 million, the film has thus far earned back over $11 million following its stateside release on February 23rd, 2018. I suspect that a large portion of its profit will come from the United States, as international audiences won’t get to see it in a conventional manner. That’s something that I’ll explain more on in a little bit. Though it’s adapted from the first part in a literary trilogy, Alex Garland has said that he approached the source material as its own story, which he took from and morphed freely. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a cellular biologist hired by a mysterious program called the Southern Reach. Following her thought-to-be deceased husband Kane’s sudden reappearance, she learns of a quarantined zone called The Shimmer that has been cut off from the rest of civilization. She then agrees to go out into the Shimmer with four other female experts and hopes to find new evidence of what happened to Kane and just what the heck is going on here. I loved Ex Machina, Garland’s debut feature. In an age where we’re practically surrounded by rip-offs and reboots and sequels that decades late, the screenwriter behind 28 Days Later and Sunshine created an original breath of fresh sci-fi that leaned more on speculative ideas than spectacle. And in anticipation for his new release, I read the VanderMeer novel, and can tell you two things. First, it’s one of the weirdest and boldest stories in recent fiction. Second, the film adaptation took massive liberties with the source material yet found ways to make its ideas still profound and complex. Hands down, either Annihilation will be the best movie I’ll see this year or 2018 is going to be an incredible year for cinema. It’s sad, however, that not everyone in the world will get to experience it in a traditional sense. Apparently, an executive from Paramount Pictures demanded that changes be made both to the ending and the main character, sighting it as “too intellectual” or “too complicated” for a wide audience. In response, producer Scott Rudin, who retains rights to the final cut, took Garland’s side and refused any notes or changes. As a result, while folks in the U.S. and China will get to see it in theaters, international audiences will have a chance to watch it 17 days later… premiering on Netflix. While I’m not necessarily opposed to Netflix picking up distribution rights for a film, this decision makes me really upset. No matter how large you 4K television is and even if you can watch it on the go, nothing will compare to sitting down in a dark theater and soaking it all in. The lengthy discourse I had with a handful of strangers after it finished is proof enough. Over the last few years, Natalie Portman has consistently proven to be one of my favorite actresses working today. Her performance here is a truly versatile one, bouncing between traumatized and tough-as-nails with ease. A damaged soul, some may find her character to be unlikable, but it’s honestly refreshing to watch a sci-fi movie where the female lead isn’t just a damsel in distress or a love interest. And she’s surrounded by Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny as her teammates. You get a glimpse of each of their individual personalities and every decision they made in the Shimmer was intelligent and reasonable. Oscar Isaac also does great work as Kane, subverting the traditional idea of a traumatized soldier. He initially gives a very wooden performance, but the reasons for it become clear later on. Meanwhile, on a technical scale, this film is nothing short of astounding. The visual effects inside of The Shimmer are something to behold, rarely have on-screen visuals been so simultaneously beautiful yet also terrifying. I won’t actually describe any of them for you so that you can be as surprised as I was watching it. But Garland managed to pull off a number of creature designs from the book I thought would have been impossible to visualize. The lush green landscapes and unique animals can be noticeably CGI, but the fantastic production design and ethereal lighting make it all the more pleasant to look at. Meanwhile, the cinematography by Rob Hardy feels like something straight out of a John Carpenter film. Wonderful, steady wideshots of both the Southern Reach outpost and the landscapes inside The Shimmer feel lucid and almost dreamlike. The widescreen format and excellent lighting allows for an intense, immersive atmosphere that feels so lacking in other horror films. Composers Ban Salisbury and Geoff Barrow both provide the musical score, which perfectly fits the surreal tone of the film. In some of the more mundane scenes, it just consists of an acoustic guitar getting plucked with some accompanying percussion. But during some of the more fantastical moments, it shifts into an ambient mix of synthesizers and suppressed strings. Interestingly, this dichotomy works perfectly to explore the duality of the characters’ situation and bring out a genuine reaction from the audience. The last 15 minutes of the movie are almost dialogue-free, save for that powerful music. As a result, my jaw just dropped. However, I can appreciate that this movie is not for everyone. Like the novel, this movie is like a modern-day H.P. Lovecraft story. For those unfamiliar, H.P. Lovecraft was one of the fathers of horror fiction, creating the myth of Cthulu. In all of his stories, as well as ones that imitated them, the main theme involved ordinary characters trying (And failing) to make sense of the impossible. If you’re unable to accept that from the beginning, then you’ll just be left behind. For those with the fortitude to wait it out and really soak it all in, Annihilation is a stunning, psychedelic piece of science-fiction cinema. Whether you love it or hate it, this is a movie that is going to stick with you long after the credits start rolling. Luckily for people like me, that’s a feeling that I cherish these days with the current studio system.


Let’s Do It: My Favorite Movies #90-81

Alright. I’ve got some unusual spare time on my hands and have found a love of organizing “Favorite” lists. As with the previous ten, this is a subjective list and I can understand why some people may hate these movies. (For the most part) Now let’s get down to it with the next batch.

#90: “Henry V” (1989)

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William Shakespeare has had a long and inconsistent history of his work being adapted for the big screen. In my opinion, not only is Henry V my favorite story of his, but Kenneth Branagh had a better understanding of him than most other filmmakers. Sure, there’s a lot of theatricality thrown in there, but it still works because of his and his cast’s utter reverence for the source material, delivering the dialogue and monologues with total authority. And the historical Battle of Agincourt centerpiece is a thing to behold.

#89: “Whiplash” (2014)

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As a former member of my middle school’s jazz band, some parts of this movie seemed unrealistic or unnatural. As a feature film, however, Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is one of the most intense and anxiety-inducing movies I’ve had the pleasure of watching. The theme of an artist trying to prove his passion to people who don’t understand or respect him hits deep in my personal experience. It all culminates in one of the best and most emotionally powerful ending I’ve ever seen for a movie. Plus, J.K. Simmons is nothing short of a revelation in the foul-mouthed role of the teacher. If only my own band directors were that committed or passionate.

#88: “Deadpool” (2016)

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I knew the first time I saw Deadpool, just from the opening credits sequence, that I was in for a different kind of superhero movie. What I didn’t expect was how much and how hard the film made me laugh in the theater. A nonstop barrage of meta-humor and perfect timing from the cast- especially a career-best Ryan Reynolds -makes things enjoyable, but definitely not family-friendly. Then again, it was never meant to be.

#87: “La La Land” (2016)

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Yet another Damien Chazelle picture to make this list, this movie proved to be the perfect antidote we all really needed. I recently saw it again at a live concert where an orchestra played the beautiful music by Justin Horowitz as La La Land was playing. Plus, the film featured a realistic love story between both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, a refresher in the midst of its wonderful tribute to a seemingly bygone era of cinema. A fantastic blueprint for a new generation of musicals, everyone involved here has done both Gene Kelly and Jacques Demy proud.

#86: “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)

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This movie is just so much fun. Way more fun than it had to be, actually. I remember my friends and I were all concerned that maybe Marvel Studios had finally flunked it with this picture. Instead, Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be one of the biggest cinematic surprises I’ve ever had at a movie theater. It does noticeably suffer from a very weak villain and a few rushed scenarios, but Groot and Rocket Raccoon make up for that in spades.

#85: “Good Will Hunting” (1997)

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This is one of those movies that could have been a complete and utter misfire if it were put in the wrong hands. Make no mistake, director Gus Van Sant does have a heavy hand in most of his films, but he practically takes backseat to let Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s brilliant screenplay breath. That scene on the park bench is iconic and uplifting, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. Good Will Hunting almost makes me want to become a math major over in Boston. Almost.

#84: “Nightcrawler” (2014)

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It’s really a shame that this film failed to strike up much buzz on the awards circuit and seems to be in danger of being forgotten. We shouldn’t let that happen. What writer-director Dan Gilroy crafted here is a scathing indictment of the lengths that the media, particularly late-night news, go to get their ratings. Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of the best male lead performances of the last few years as a determined sociopath, completely disappearing behind his fast words and hair gel.

#83: “Braveheart” (1995)

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Let me get this out of the way really quick: I’m well aware of how historically inaccurate this movie is and am still uncomfortable over Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic comments. Setting those two (admittedly glaring) issues aside, the man gave us Braveheart, a gloriously epic tale about one of the most inspirational heroes in the world. For what it’s worth, the movie does a fine job at portraying his motivations and consequences of his action. But it’s the breathtaking battle sequences that truly sell it all. Real armies, tons of chopped limbs, rousing speeches. They may take my life, but they’ll ever take my love for this movie. At least, for now.

#82: “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962)

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This is going to sound a little nuts but Lawrence of Arabia is the film that sparked my serious interest in filmmaking. I still vividly remember sitting down in an old, musty theater and watching this masterpiece being projected on 70 mm film. So why does it rank relatively low on this top 100, you may ask? Well, to be honest, it has been a very long time since I’ve seen it and I’m not sure how well it would hold up on repeat viewings. Nevertheless, David Lean’s definitively epic historical drama is a true classic worthy of all the recognition it has gotten and will get. It’s one of the only times where I can truly say, “They don’t make them like this anymore.”

#81: “The Revenant” (2015)

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The Revenant left me feeling cold the first time I watched it, and I don’t mean that in a figurative sense. Like seriously, as the film went on and the plot kept progressing, I really felt like I was trapped in the wintry wilderness of the Dakotas. That’s the level of power and immersion Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu pulled off with this harrowing story of Hugh Glass. Yes, Leonardo DiCaprio gives an incredible lead performance that deservedly won him his long-overdue Oscar. But the real star is Emmanuel Lubezki with his awe-inspiring cinematography, even more astounding when you consider it was all captured in natural light. I still have no idea how they pulled off the bear attack scene, one of the most grueling brawls in movies ever.



“The Hurt Locker” Movie Review

One of the most common adages of modern writing or storytelling is that “War is Hell.” This movie takes that concept and inverts it into something completely different and unexpected. This independently produced contemporary war thriller premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2008. However, it wasn’t distributed in American theaters until the following July. It went on to win 6 Academy Awards, including the coveted Best Picture prize. And yet, it’s the lowest grossing film ever to win the award, with a worldwide intake of $49.2 million against a $15 million budget. Directed by Katherine Bigelow, the first (And thus far, only) woman to ever win the Oscar for Best Director, the film is believed to be loosely based on screenwriter Mark Boal’s personal experiences. A former war journalist, he was embedded with several military task forces during the early stages of what seems to be a contrived, drawn-out war. Set primarily around 2003 and 2004, the film focuses on an Iraq War bomb disposal team, initially composed of Sergeant J.T. Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge. Following a freak accident, a new member, Staff Sergeant William James, joins their operations in places like Baghdad and brings an incredibly reckless yet dedicated behavior to the team. The film traces the squad’s actions during their tour throughout various parts of Iraq and Afghanistan, some able to deal with the stress of combat better than others. It seems impossible these days to make a contemporary war film, let along talk about one, without the possibility of controversy. Some get accused of glorifying the United States’ wartime actions, others are called out for demonizing enemy nations, and the rest are criticized for so-called cowardice in addressing the subject matter. Films like American Sniper, Zero Dark Thirty, Thank You For Your Service, 13 Hours, 12 Strong, and just recently The 15:17 to Paris have all fallen under this controversy and some of it is justified. Now, is Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker the early 21st-century masterpiece everyone is touting it as? Probably not. However, I won’t deny that it is a great film worth watching. Interestingly enough, this movie did receive some controversy, but not the kind you would expect. Some of the most pointed critiques come from veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and other embedded journalists. Many of them claim that the film is not a realistic or accurate depiction of wartime conditions. Having read them, a number of them are just technical absurdities that only they would be able to notice- such as wrong uniforms or unbelievable weapon range. But they do have a point in criticizing the team’s misbehavior as being very irrational and reckless; to the best of my knowledge, no soldier would ever make decisions like the ones in this movie. At times, it can be as frustrating as watching dumb characters in a horror movie. But I’ll admit that it didn’t detract from the sheer relentlessness of certain scenes, especially when a bomb may potentially be involved. I’ve been a fan of Jeremy Renner for a while now, but this Oscar-nominated role may be his best performance to date. As James, he’s incredibly off the hook yet brilliant when the moment calls for it, perhaps the only one who truly knows how war works. Future Avengers co-star Anthony Mackie also does great work as his level-headed superior Sgt. Sanborn. His headbutting with James is essentially the story’s backbone, with his by-the-numbers input is nearly thrown out the window on numerous occasions in favor of improvisation. Meanwhile, Brian Geraghty is arguably the most “natural” is his role as Eldridge, an insecure but well-meaning teammate. Other actors, like Ralph Fiennes as the profane leader of a British PMC group and Guy Pearce as another bomb disposal guy, do excellent work and leave nothing to complain about. On the technical side of things, it becomes clear why this one was an awards season favorite. The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd opts for a handheld style that almost imitates a documentary, similar to his work on United 93. In fact, the way it constantly moves and zooms in makes it feel incredibly immersive in a raw setting like the Middle East. Several scenes were filmed with multiple cameras at the same time, which allows for new perspectives to be found in each moment. But the editing job by Chris Innis and Bob Murawski is what truly sets the picture apart. Putting together hours of footage from Super 16 mm film is no easy task, but add the asymmetrical structure of the script and things seem almost impossible. During an early bomb sequence, the film breaks out into slow-motion and cuts constantly between the explosion itself and the impact it has on various surrounding surfaces. The musical score here is composed and conducted by both Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. While not one of the 21st century’s best, it’s still a pretty memorable soundtrack. The tracks are largely made up of electric guitars on constant riffs and melodies. Instrumental in building all of the tension and anxiety in the film, it often sounded like a neverending crescendo. It also features some choir-like voices which help to provide a great background for the cacophony of war. But both Bigelow and Boal’s greatest accomplishment with this film is its examination of how these soldiers react differently to the Iraq War. While most war films spend their time showing us that “War is Hell,” the team behind The Hurt Locker find it to be something else: an addiction. A potent drug, even. The main character is essentially an adrenaline junky, always searching for the next bomb to defuse. That was by far the most interesting thing this film had to offer. Whenever it goes off into something else, it just feels like nothing is happening. The Hurt Locker is a marvel of technical realism and character frustration. A tense and unpredictable war thriller, I appreciated the unique approach it took to the perspective of war while being annoyed by some other decisions. Nevertheless, it’s a truly great film, if not a particularly rewatchable one.

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