Author Archives: cadepb

“Rain Man” Movie Review

Welcome back, one and all, to my New Year’s Resolution! It’s been a great way for me to finally watch films I’ve always wanted to and look back on old favorites. The rules are the same as the have been for the past two years, and it’s time for me to start by scratch a major film off my watchlist.

This road-trip dramedy was originally released in theaters worldwide by MGM on December 16th, 1988. Made for the middling budget of $25 million, it went on to gross over $354.8 million at the box office. This made it the highest-grossing U.S. film of that year, despite competition from the likes of Die Hard and Twins. Critically acclaimed, it went on to win and be nominated for several year-end accolades, including top honors at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival. It also managed to win 4 Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Picture, out of 8 total nominations.

Directed by Barry Levinson, the Oscar-winning screenplay was originally written by Barry Marrow before being polished by Ronald Bass. The characters and story were inspired by Kim Peek and Bill Sackter, two real-life savants who Marrow met by chance. The final draft was delivered a few hours before the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike started, preventing any further rewrites during filming. There was also a controversy when 15 major airlines omitted a pivotal scene from the film, except for the Australian based Qantas whose safety records become more well-known afterwards.

Tom Cruise stars as Charlie Babbitt, a selfish young wheeler-dealer who tries importing cars against the EPA’s rules. When his estranged father dies, he travels to Cincinnati to hear the will reading and presumably inherit his vast amount of money and assets. However, he learns that his father’s entire fortune has been bequeathed to his older brother Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman, who’s lived much of his life in a group home due to his autism and savant syndrome. Together, they embark on a cross-country roadtrip to change the legal status of their inheritance and form an unusual bond along the way.

Full disclosure for everyone reading this: I am an adult male diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. I have been on the spectrum for as long as I can remember and it has been a major defining part of my life and personality. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve truly become interested in researching the topic and I’d even go as far as to say that it has helped shape my passion for movies and storytelling. It’s something I’ve become comfortable with, and I’m proud of the resilience it has given me over time.

Despite this, with a few exceptions, I have rarely seen a portrayal of the condition in mainstream media. Shows and films such as Atypical, The Accountant, and Barfi have attempted to normalize it for neurotypical people in recent years, but I had never seen the one that had put it on the map for more people. As a serious depiction of autism, I have a couple of issues with it. But as a film on its own, Rain Man is still a pretty engaging and entertaining road movie to watch after 32 years.

The way they handle Raymond’s condition was much more sensitive than I had anticipated and it definitely gets a lot of things right. Many of his on-screen mannerisms, such as talking to himself and frequent panic attacks or outbursts, are remarkably accurate to the general symptoms of autism. It also gets points for showing how Charlie, a cold and selfish person, initially tries to manipulate Raymond for his own purposes before gradually changing his mind; that really hit close to home for me.

Where Rain Man falters here, aside from just being a typical roadtrip movie, is that it almost implies that all people on the spectrum are savants who are cut off from normal human emotions. This makes Raymond seem almost robotic during his time on-screen, and it feels way too simplified to have a full impact. But at the same time, I have to give Levinson and Co. some credit for at least trying to do something realistic with it, especially for the time it was made in.

In one of the earlier roles of his storied career, Tom Cruise delivers the goods here as Charlie Babbitt. At the beginning of the film, he’s a callous and narcissistic older brother who wants no responsibility that doesn’t result in his own personal gain. And while he tries to use Raymond’s incredible mathematic skills for his benefits, he soon comes to realize that having a relationship with his brother is far more important.

Valeria Golino is also worth mentioning as Susanna, Charlie’s level-headed girlfriend and business partner. She constantly tries to put Charlie on the right path and often tries to shoot down some of his schemes when they clearly only benefit him. As the film goes along, she starts to see his softer side as the influence of Raymond begins to show on the both of them.

And then, we have Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, the role that won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. It’s easy to see why his performance was so acclaimed at the time of release and why it’s so controversial now. As mentioned earlier, Hoffman plays the role rather robotically, only showing real emotion during big outbursts. A huge part of me really wishes that had actually cast someone on the spectrum for the role rather than a neurotypical actor, but then again, the film might not have gotten made.

That being said, Hoffman does a pretty good job at showing his character’s insecurity when things don’t go according to his routine. It may seem a little childish at first, but it soon becomes clear that this is the only way that Raymond can cope with the real world, which he has never lived in as an adult. Seeing the way average people dismiss him because of his behavior is heartbreaking, especially since he can’t really express himself or his feelings in a “normal” way.

And from a technical perspective, Rain Man fits right into the pack of late 80s movies. John Seale’s cinematography tries to capture the sense of a sprawling road trip, with sweeping shots across the countryside. Being shot on location helps make it feel like an authentic look through a part of Americana. There are also a number of medium close-ups to help get intimate with the characters in small moments.

This works decently with the editing job by Stu Linder. It’s a very straightforward and unpretentious method he uses to cut the film together. There are only cuts whenever there need to be for the story or for when the emotions start running high, instead opting mostly for longer takes. The lack of flare allows for the characters to take center stage here.

In one of his earliest works in Hollywood, Hans Zimmer provides the instrumental film score. It essentially serves as a guideline for all his scores to come because it is a genuinely good, if not quite memorable one. You can hear his signature style of blending electronic sounds with that of a more traditional orchestral sound. The main theme is an interesting theme that doesn’t really feel sentimental but still feels appropriate for what Charlie and Raymond go through. The trademark 80s synthesizer and percussion is ever present throughout as it sets the tone for the adventure to come.

A clear product of its time, Rain Man is a somewhat problematic mishmash of genuinely good intentions. Barrys Levinson and Marrow do work within the confines of a traditional road trip movie but still put forth a lot of effort to take its subject matter seriously. It’s also a great showcase for a pre-action Tom Cruise and a performance from Dustin Hoffman that, for better or worse, has made its way into film history.

As someone on the spectrum, I’m still trying to work out my exact feelings on how it treats autism. I can definitely respect the attempts the filmmakers made at painting a more accurate picture of the condition, but there’s still a long way to go.

The Top 20 Most Underrated and Overlooked Films of the Decade

The 2010s are officially (And finally) over. There was an enormous range of cinema that came and went throughout the years. Some became major box office juggernauts, others made huge waves during their respective awards seasons. And then there were many that were just forgotten to time by everyone. And I’m here to try and rectify that.

The following list is compiled of the 20 films from this past decade I thought were overlooked or underrated. To be clear, this means theatrically released (Or limited/VOD) features that were largely ignored or forgotten by the greater populace not long after release. But they still deserve recognition and love. Of course, there were many that couldn’t make the cut so let’s give a quick shoutout to some other gems.

Honorable Mentions:

Cold in July, Bad Times at the El Royale, The Accountant, Swiss Army Man, Edge of Tomorrow, Silence, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, The Art of Self Defense, Edge of Tomorrow, The Endless, Never Let Me Go, Mother!, Lincoln

Now let’s get this show on the road.

#20: “Beasts of No Nation” (2015)

I feel like its appropriate to start this list with a film that completely changed how films were distributed and marketed. As the first film ever backed and released by Netflix, it really ushered in a brand new age of filmmaking that forced people to reconsider what we like to think of as “cinema.” By this point, the streamer had already put some great original T.V. shows, but Cary Joji Fukunaga’s heartbreaking anti-war drama Beasts of No Nation centered on an unwitting child soldier really showed that they wanted to be taken seriously as an entertainment distributor. Abraham Attah is a breakout talent here and Idris Elba gives an incredible turn as a psychopathic warlord with no line he won’t cross. It’s hard to recommend but essential for things to come with the streaming platform.

#19: “Chef” (2014)

I’ll admit that I have a bit of a personal connection with this film because it was partly filmed in my hometown of Austin, Texas. But thankfully, that’s not all Chef has going for it. Stepping away from big blockbusters, Jon Favreau channels his own personal troubles into a delightful, feel-good movie. The cast is earnest, the locations are authentic, and the script is so hilarious and insightful into something specific like food culture. It’s the type of movie that, after you’re finished watching, leaves you feeling hungry- both for the delicious food on-screen and for more movies like it.

#18: “The Lost City of Z” (2017)

There’s something really classical yet brand new about the way that James Gray makes movies. Whether it’s a slow sci-fi epic like Ad Astra or a gritty cop drama in We Own the Night, he really likes to toy with different genre conventions. With The Lost City of Z, he takes a swing at old Hollywood epics in the vein of David Lean and William Wyler, and what a swing it is. More psychadelic and contemplative than sweeping and grand, Gray, assisted by Charlie Hunnam’s best performance to date, examines the somber and alienating side of exploration and colonialism. It can occasionally feel stuffy and drawn out, but there’s a lot to think about by the time the credits role.

#17: “Rust and Bone” (2012)

Although I’ve only seen a handful of his work, it’s clear that director Jacques Audiard doesn’t really make movies that are easy for audiences. Rust and Bone is no exception, as it deals with two broken people who try to help each other find some sort of redemption or second chance. It’s a very emotionally heavy film and at times feels almost difficult to watch, but never falls into manipulation. The performances by Maria Cotillard and Matthias Schoenarts are gripping and completely believable as they try and navigate a world that’s practically indifferent to their personal suffering. It’s a “talky” film to be sure, but Rust and Bone always puts the humanity of the characters first and presents a different yet refreshing kind of love story.

#16: “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” (2011)

David Fincher is a master of cinematic darkness. Not just because of the sleek color palette for the majority of them, but because he’s not afraid to dig deep into the parts of humanity that are, quite frankly, ugly and disgusting. Perhaps none of his films emulate that more than The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the second live-action adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel. It’s just as sleek and slick as the rest of his filmography but feels a bit more “commercial” with an intriguing mystery that twists and turns in smart ways. Which makes its relative obscurity all the more puzzling for me.

#15: “Upstream Color” (2013)

If you’ve ever wondered what the love child of David Lynch and Terrence Malick would look like, this is a really close answer. The best thing I can say about Upstream Color is that it made me watch it all over again immediately after the first viewing. That rarely- if ever -happens with me, but Shane Carruth’s sophomore feature isn’t just any film. I remember someone describing it as a feature-length, metaphysical love poem and I couldn’t agree more. There’s an unmistakable sci-fi element to this story, but Carruth and Amy Seimetz’s tragic-yet-beautiful romance is what really sells it here. Unlike his debut Primer, this film is more based on emotional logic rather than complicated storytelling and pushes its ambitions beyond the constraints of its ultra-low budget. It’s a wholly original film that’s completely different from everything else out there in so many ways, and that alone is enough to land itself on this list.

#14: “The Breadwinner” (2017)

All of the attention was centered on Coco when the Academy Awards came around, and justifiably so. But The Breadwinner still deserves recognition because it might just be the most underappreciated animated film of the entire decade, and it was great time for the genre. Even though it’s only the third movie under their belt, Cartoon Saloon catapults themselves into the same leagues as Pixar, Dreamworks, and Laika with one master stroke. Telling the story of a young girl forced to provide for her family in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan, the film gracefully avoids any and all potential stereotypes to instead weave a tale of love and empathy. Parvana is quite possibly one of the best protagonists in any films from the last decade, live-action or animated.

#13: “Hunt For the Wilderpeople” (2016)

Filmmaker Taika Waititi has been making such huge strides in Hollywood recently with movies like Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit that it can admittedly be easy to forget his unapologetically Kiwi roots. I was tempted to include What We Do in the Shadows on here, but I decided to give the slight edge to 2016’s Hunt For the Wilderpeople. It has all of the eccentric, quirky humor you’ve come to expect from Taika’s films while also being remarkably big-hearted in emotion. The adventure at the center of the movie is mature yet kid-like in nature and makes an utter breakout star out of Julian Dennison.

#12: “The Guest” (2014)

Think old-school John Carpenter horror crossed with Nicolas Wending Refn’s Drive and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what kind of movie you’re watching here. And thankfully, that combination is just as amazing as it sounds because Adam Wingard’s The Guest is a total blast from start to finish. The stakes are appropriately lowkey, but still feel immediate and makes my palms sweat while watching it. It has a very unique feel because even though it’s set in the modern era, there’s something unmistakably old-school about it. The atmosphere, the score, the Steadicam of it all. It’s all oh so delicious, and while it may feel like style over substance at times, it’s hard not to be seduced by Dan Stevens’ excellent lead performance.

#11: “Midnight Special” (2016)

Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special almost feels like a gift from the past, the type of film that studios just don’t make anymore. Telling a singular, original sci-fi story with a big budget is no small ask these days, but the film is able to balance genre spectacle with palpable human emotion. It feels both like a callback to the old Amblin adventures of Spielberg’s heyday and also like a genuinely engaging modern thriller. And a lot of that has to do with the powerful father-son dynamic between Jaeden Martell and Nichol’s regular collaborator Michael Shannon at the center of the film. Even without the sci-fi element, their chemistry and core storyline is still compelling enough to keep people invested.

#10: “Dangal” (2016)

Really any Bollywood movie from the decade could’ve taken this spot on the list, including Queen and Barfi. But I’d argue that of the ones that I did get a chance to watch, Dangal was the most enjoyable and accessible. The story, which is apparently based on true events, finds the inimitable movie star Aamir Khan as a man trying to raise his daughters to become the best wrestlers in India and the world at large. While it follows the same sort of feel-good structure as most films of the genre, it’s still incredibly fun and interesting to watch as the dysfunctional family finds themselves more and more immersed in the world of professional wrestling. It’s also a testament to the movie’s quality that it manages to fly by even with a whopping 2 hour and 41 minute-long runtime.

#9: “Snowpiercer” (2013)

Bong Joon-ho is hardly the first foreign filmmaker this decade to make the transition to Hollywood-esque filmmaking, but there’s something truly unique about Snowpiercer. It’s vision of the future, in which the remnants of humanity are piled into a never-ending train that glides around a frozen Earth, is bleak yet compelling. It’s style and visual aesthetic help to set it apart from other films in the genre and comes complete with a devastating final act that showcases Chris Evans beyond the constraints of Captain America. If for nothing else, Snowpiercer is a perfect segue into Joon-ho’s other work and how he makes movies; entertaining yet biting. It was also one of the very first reviews I ever posted on this blog, which I don’t particularly feel proud of, but helped inspire me to share my opinions publicly.

#8: “The Master” (2012)

In general, I’ve run hot and cold on Paul Thomas Anderson’s filmography, but when he gets it right he hits it out of the park. And while some may point to Phantom Thread, I believe that this film is his most overlooked by far. The Master has many of his regular themes and ideas and puts them into the mindset of a perpetually drunk man who’s desperate to find belonging and meaning. With an authentic backdrop of post-World War II America and some of the best cinematography you’ll see this decade, there’s something that feels both old-fashioned yet totally modern about this historical drama. Oh, and Joaquin Phoenix is an absolute beast here. That scene of him and the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman in the jail cell was one of the most intense and gripping I had watched in quite a while.

#7: “Sorry to Bother You” (2018)

It’s hard for me to think of another feature debut from the last decade that swung for the fence as hard and as ballsy as Sorry to Bother You did. Boots Riley has a lot to say about the current state of white corporatism, but he’s able to channel it into a highly entertaining sci-fi comedy. It takes an absurdist approach to its subject matter- a black man in telemarketing using a “white voice” to become successful -and uses it to look at how capitalism and race intertwine in devastating ways. And the end results of it are equally hilarious and unnervingly real as Lakeith Stanfield (In his best role to date) navigates the highs and lows of privilege.

#6: “Raw” (2017)

This is one of the most gruesome coming-of-age stories I’ve seen recently that also happens to be a bit of body horror madness. I had heard tales of how gruesome it was, but all the blood and guts comes secondary to Julie Ducournau’s killer direction of the story. (Side note: This is also Ducournau’s feature debut) It’s a fascinating tale as we watch a young woman gradually lose her grip on reality as things in her life begin to spiral out of control. What makes Raw so compelling is that it teeters on the edge between being an all-out horror romp and a parable about a young woman’s awakening. Yes, there is plenty of gore shown throughout, but it never feels excessive and even thematically helps the story of the film. It might just be one of the best films t come out of France in a long while.

#5: “You Were Never Really Here” (2018)

Lynne Ramsay should be allowed to make more movies because if You Were Never Really Here is any indication, she’s one of the true cinematic geniuses of our time. Calling it a modern-day Taxi Driver is a bit of a reduction to its quality. While it isn’t quite as political as that Scorsese classic, it has so much bite and razor sharp ideas on trauma, stability, and the comfort of a corrupt system. The film foregoes showcasing brutal action and violence on-screen and instead is way more interested in looking at the effects it has on people after the fact. And it’s all hammered home by arguably the best work of Joaquin Phoenix’s career and a haunting score from Johnny Greenwood.

#4: “The Nice Guys” (2016)

Whatever happened to the buddy-cop crime genre? Movies like The Nice Guys make me wonder this frequently, as it proves the genre still has plenty of creative life left in it. It features one of the best screenplays of the entire decade from Shane Black with some crackling dialogue and a great mystery that twists and turns gleefully. It feels like a throwback to a time when studios were eager to let their filmmakers try something different and fun. It also features some of the best work from Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, and easily their funniest to date. Their chemistry is an enormous reason why this film holds up and deserves a whole franchise of its own.

#3: “Prisoners” (2013)

For me, Denis Villeneuve is THE breakout director of the decade, but for some reason, people continue to miss or ignore his English-language debut. That’s a damn shame because Prisoners is an honest to God masterclass of modern filmmaking. Despite its relatively simple premise, it proves that simplicity is still a thing of beauty as it’s told in such an engrossing and original way. You’re pulled in not just by the amazing performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, but also by the palpable emotional stakes of two young girls kidnapped in a small Pennsylvania town. The complexity of the situation, from how the desperate parents handle it to the frustration of the police over a lack of leads, bears down on you like an anvil. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the inimitable Roger Deakins provides some truly incredible cinematography for such a small story.

#2: “Hugo” (2011)

Family-friendly movies have always been a tough nut to crack and this decade saw several ups and downs in the genre. It kind of baffles me that Hugo, one of the best in many years, was not only a commercial disappointment but has largely been forgotten by time. I would not only count it among the most overlooked films of the decade but also as one Martin Scorsese’s best works in years. Being set in early 20th-century France creates an ambience of nostalgia that thankfully doesn’t crush the rest of the film. It has a warmhearted innocence that’s been missing from the genre in recent times and a genuinely touching tribute to the world of cinema as a whole. Scorsese’s background as a film historian really lends itself well to the story and he gets really great performances out of Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz.

#1: “Cloud Atlas” (2012)

Cloud Atlas is the type of film that comes along every once in a while that makes you wonder, “Why aren’t more people talking about this?” Everything about this David Mitchell adaptation feels like the type of ambitious, sweeping epic Hollywood used to love making eons ago. But now with modern technology and broadened storytelling horizons, the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer are able to create a film that floods with intriguing stories across many centuries. From the core cast members who play different roles over various timelines to the beautiful score that ties many of the themes together, it’s almost impossible to avoid getting wrapped up in what the directing trio set out to do. Saying that all life is interconnected somehow may sound cheap, but Cloud Atlas earns the emotional payoff as all the threads come together. I only hope that other cinephiles and casual viewers down the road will share the same enthusiasm for it.

Do you agree with my picks? What do you think was the most underrated or overlooked film of the past decade? Leave a comment below on your thoughts, and if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Follow my blog for more movie-related content.

Final 2020 Oscar Predictions

It’s that time of year again, folks. The 92nd Academy Awards are nigh upon us, and much sooner than usually expected. Unlike last year, the lead up to the ceremony itself has been relatively quiet, save for the occasionally befuddling snub or surprise. And just like the last two years, I have managed to watch the majority of the big nominees and contenders and have decided to put down my own predictions for who I think will or should win. In addition, I’ll be including films or artists who I felt should have been recognized but were ultimately left out of the bunch.

And no matter what you think of the nominees or the ones that were snubbed, we’ll all find out the results when the ceremony airs on ABC this Sunday, February 9th.

Best Picture

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: Parasite

Should Win: Parasite

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lighthouse

 

Best Director

Will Win: Sam Mendes for 1917

Could Win: Bong Joon-ho for Parasite

Should Win: Bong Joon-ho for Parasite

Should Have Been Nominated: Greta Gerwig for Little Women

 

Best Actor

Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

Could Win: Adam Driver in Marriage Story

Should Win: Adam Driver in Marriage Story

Should Have Been Nominated: Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse

 

Best Actress

Will Win: Renée Zellweger in Judy

Could Win: Scarlett Johannsson in Marriage Story

Should Win: Scarlett Johannsson in Marriage Story

Should Have Been Nominated: Awkwafina from The Farewell, Lupita Nyong’o from Us

 

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Could Win: Joe Pesci in The Irishman

Should Win: Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Have Been Nominated: Song Kang-ho in Parasite

 

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Laura Dern in Marriage Story

Could Win: Florence Pugh in Little Women

Should Win: Laura Dern in Marriage Story

Should Have Been Nominated: Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers

 

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Parasite

Could Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: Knives Out

Should Have Been Nominated: Booksmart

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: Little Women

Could Win: Jojo Rabbit

Should Win: Little Women

Should Have Been Nominated: Just Mercy

 

Best Animated Film

Will Win: Toy Story 4

Could Win: Klaus

Should Win: I Lost My Body

Should Have Been Nominated: Weathering With You

 

Best International Feature Film

Will Win: Parasite (South Korea)

Could Win: Pain and Glory (Spain)

Should Win: Parasite (South Korea)

Should Have Been Nominated: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (France)

 

Best Documentary- Feature

Will Win: American Factory

Could Win: For Sama

Should Win: For Sama

Should Have Been Nominated: Apollo 11

 

Best Documentary- Short Subject

Will Win: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)

Could Win: Life Overtakes Me

Should Win: In the Absence

Should Have Been Nominated: Birders

 

Best Live-Action Short

Will Win: Brotherhood

Could Win: The Neighbor’s Window

Should Win: Brotherhood

Should Have Been Nominated: Anima

 

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Hair Love

Could Win: Kitbull

Should Win: Hair Love

Should Have Been Nominated: Best Friend

 

Best Original Score

Will Win: Joker by Hildur Guðnadóttir

Could Win: 1917 by Thomas Newman

Should Win: Joker by Hildur Guðnadóttir

Should Have Been Nominated: Us by Michael Abels

 

Best Original Song

Will Win: “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II

Could Win: “Stand Up” from Harriet

Should Win: “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II

Should Have Been Nominated: “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” from Wild Rose

 

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: The Irishman

Could Win: 1917

Should Win: The Irishman

Should Have Been Nominated: Ad Astra

 

Best Cinematography

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: 1917

Should Have Been Nominated: A Hidden Life

 

Best Costume Design

Will Win: Little Women

Could Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: Little Women

Should Have Been Nominated: Dolemite Is My Name

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyle

Will Win: Bombshell

Could Win: Judy

Should Win: Joker

Should Have Been Nominated: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

 

Best Production Design

Will Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Could Win: 1917

Should Win: Parasite

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lighthouse

 

Best Film Editing

Will Win: The Irishman

Could Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Win: Parasite

Should Have Been Nominated: Rocketman

 

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Have Been Nominated: Alita: Battle Angel

 

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Win: 1917

Should Have Been Nominated: Alita: Battle Angel

 

Do you have any thoughts or predictions of your own? Which films do you think will, could, or should take home the prize in each category? What are some that you felt were snubbed by the Oscars? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a Comment below, and if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Follow my blog for more movie-heavy stuff.

Retrospective: The 20 Best Films of 2019

Another list, another year of cinema has come to a wrap. I know that this has come later than usual, but I just wanted to make sure that I got to see everything I wanted to before officially compiling this list.

2019 had a lot of diverse offerings at the movies, with some disappointments and some huge surprises. I managed to watch 114 feature-length releases from this last year, both on the big screen at in the comfort of my living room. A lot has changed in the time since last January, not the least of which being that the 2010s decade finally ended. But before going any further, there were a lot of other films that didn’t quite make the cut, so I left them in the honorable mentions section here.

Honorable Mentions:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Apollo 11, The Biggest Little Farm, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, The Art of Self-Defense, Klaus, I Lost My Body, Just Mercy, Joker, Rocketman, Always Be My Maybe, A Hidden Life

Now it’s on with the show.

#20: “Jojo Rabbit”

Nothing like a little bit of controversy to get things started up in here, am I right? Taika Waititi continues to be on a roll by making a highly unconventional yet relevant tragicomedy about the absurdity of Nazism. But the real genius of Jojo Rabbit is that it doesn’t just laugh at the actions or behavior of fascists, often showing the upsetting realities they create, especially for the children growing up around them. By honing in on a child’s perspective, one who has the most bizarre imaginary friend possible, we’re able to see the unique ironies abound in a world like this. In a world full of apathetic world leaders and tyranny on the rise, this anti-hate, pro-love satire is an immensely gratifying antidote.

*Read my full review here

#19: “Uncut Gems”

Pardon the terrible puns here, but Adam Sandler is a genuine jewel, an underused treasure of America. Yes, he’s devoted a lot of time in recent years to making some truly awful “comedies,” but when he gets the right material with the right crew behind it, he can be an absolute force. Movies like Uncut Gems prove that, and the Safdie Brothers get the best out of the actor as he plays one of the most self-destructive protagonists you’re likely to see in a film. Just as unflinching and chaotic as their other films, there’s barely a moment to breathe as we watch some of cinema’s dirtiest characters recently make their way through an unglamorous Manhattan.

*Read my full review here

#18: “Dolemite is My Name”

Call me clichéd, but I’m a big fat sucker for movies about filmmaking, and Dolemite is My Name is no exception. Void of any cynicism that comes with Hollywood, it’s a wonderful tale about how even the weirdest and most over-the-top movies can mean a lot to the people involved in it. Sure that may seem a little simplistic, but the real heart of the movie is just watching a lot of people try to make a project that they’re passionate on, and that same energy radiates for this film itself. It’s profane, raunchy, hilarious, and actually quite touching in may parts. It also helps that it has Eddie Murphy’s single best performance in years, who ensures that Rudy Ray Moore is an icon of underground cinema that shouldn’t be forgotten.

*Read my full review here

#17: “John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum”

The year of 2019 belonged to Keanu Reeves, and it wasn’t even close. And if it weren’t for his all-timer of a cameo in the sweet Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe, this would have been his most defining moment. Regardless, his third outing as John Wick is perhaps his best one yet, as the fascinating world his character inhabits was deepened and expanded in really exciting ways. It gives so much character and personality to what otherwise is a pretty straightforward story. And of course, we have some of the best action scenes of the whole decade here as Chad Stahelski and Reeves push themselves even further. Parabellum makes the crucial deal-breaker of Keanu Reeves singlehandedly taking on a group of deadly ninjas, and that alone is incredible enough to rank among some of the best action flicks of the decade.

*Read my full review here

#16: “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”

The How to Train Your Dragon franchise has an unfortunate habit of wowing everyone during its theatrical run and then kind of being forgotten later on. And that’s a damn shame because this trilogy just reached an absolutely perfect conclusion that cements its place in the annals of animation history. I loved the first two movies, but The Hidden World is perhaps my favorite of the three because it earns the emotional moments as the whole franchise story is brought to a head. I think it’s safe to say that Dreamworks Animation has a comfortable new home at Universal for the foreseeable future.

*Read my full review here

#15: “Knives Out”

Following his enormous success in a galaxy far, far away, Rian Johnson avoids the immediate temptation to do another huge blockbuster and instead throws his clout behind an original whodunnit. Armed with one of the sharpest screenplays I’ve seen all year, Knives Out hits the ground running from the very beginning and keeps audiences on their toes the whole time. Putting a modern twist on Agatha Christie classics, the film always trusts its audience by constantly subverting expectations but never getting wrapped up in too many plot twists. With an extremely capable ensemble cast who look like they’re just having the time of their lives, it’s hard not to get caught up in the intriguing murder mystery at the center. The more movies where Daniel Craig gets to do a Foghorn Leghorn impression while talking about donut hole analogies, the better we’re all off for it.

*Read my full review here

#14: “Toy Story 4”

Pixar has a *very* uneven track record when it comes to their sequels, but the Toy Story franchise continues to surprise. And here, 9 years after the franchise had already wrapped up perfectly, Toy Story 4 manages to create an even more gratifying and emotional conclusion. Almost acting like an epilogue to the gang’s adventures with Andy, it manages to trade off moments of hilarity to ones of heart-wrenching sadness in beautiful harmony. And that’s not even touching on the fact that this movie looks jaw-droppingly gorgeous in every single frame. Seeing the animation in this film and comparing it to that of the first Toy Story really shows how far the studio has come after all these years.

*Read my full review here

#13: “Ford v Ferrari”

Sometimes, it’s just nice to sit down and watch an old-school movie that fits perfectly into your pocket. And Ford v Ferrari may not break many rules of filmmaking, but it’s one hell of a fun ride to take as it tells a pretty incredible true story. Contrary to what its title may suggest, it’s not a showdown between the two major motor companies, but more of a look at really creative people under immense pressure from their corporate overlords. Obviously, the racing sequences are immensely satisfying and intense, but what James Mangold does so well is keep the focal point on the engineers behind the cars. Take it from someone who doesn’t have much interest in cars or racing that I was absolutely captivated by the scenes of them putting together the fastest car on the planet.

*Read my full review here

#12: “Marriage Story”

Who would have predicted that one of the year’s most engaging and realistic love stories would be a film about divorce? Apparently Noah Baumbach did, as he mines from his own tumultuous divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh to create a piece of film that feels and rings true. There’s rarely a moment in Marriage Story where you don’t believe the emotional conflict unfolding on-screen, thanks in no small part to the painfully realistic dialogue. Plus, we’re given a smorgasbord of incredible performances across the board from Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, and Laura Dern. Often times, it doesn’t even feel or look like they’re acting and feels like we’re actually intruding on a real-life divorce process that can be hard to watch but always compelling.

*Read my full review here

#11: “Ad Astra”

Big-budget, original sci-fi films are an increasing rarity these days and that’s exactly why more people need to see Ad Astra. James Gray manages to split the difference between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Apocalypse Now and craft something truly unique. It foregoes the elaborate set pieces common in modern blockbusters and uses the vastness of space to explore the mind of a man in desperate need of human connection. We’re with the protagonist every step of his journey as he gradually discovers that the father he grew up idolizing is not a perfect role model at all. And the cool thing about all of it is that it manages to balance out the scenes of Brad Pitt (In one of his best performances to date) contemplating the futility of man with a thriller chase sequence involving pirates on the Moon. Ad Astra has an emotional throughline not common in most sci-fi films, and one that could resonate with more audiences who are willing to be patient.

*Read my full review here

#10: “The Farewell”

Every year, there’s at least one film for me that comes completely out of nowhere and blows me away. This year, that film is Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, an achingly tender and heartfelt look at the weight of keeping a secret from the ones we love. It offers a window into a cultural custom wholly foreign to Western audiences but refuses to become judgmental. The quiet way it examines conflicting identities is fantastic, but still slows a joke or two in to keep things interesting. It’s genuinely earnest and touching without ever getting overly sentimental and shows Wang has a true auteur’s flare. And on top of all of that, it got an utterly stunning dramatic performance out of Awkwafina, who seemingly pulls from her own experiences and feelings to bring a realistic woman to life.

*Read my full review here

#9: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

I really, really hope that the rumors of Quentin Tarantino retiring after he makes 10 movies turns out not to be true. If Once Upon a Time in Hollywood proves anything, he still has plenty to give to the world of cinema. Removed from the typical ego of his work, this is a highly detailed and almost fantastical tribute to a film industry that has changed significantly over the years. Could he have made this without involving the Manson Family or Sharon Tate? It’s hard to tell, but her mere presence is reminiscent of a more innocent time, and Tarantino seems to want to revive some of that innocence. It also makes the case for the importance of the movie star in an age where IP is king, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt give some of their very best work as two best friends trying to make it through a changing industry. And that’s not even taking a look at the rest of its sprawling cast or the authentic look of 1969 Los Angeles. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is probably the closest Tarantino will get to making a fairytale.

*Read my full review here

#8: “Little Women”

I couldn’t tell you how she did it, but Greta Gerwig took Louisa May Alcott’s heavily adapted and popular novel and turned it into a refreshingly wonderful and lively film. The rare period film that feels modern without any regressive anachronisms, Little Women succeeds first and foremost at making all four of the March sisters likable and interesting. It’s just an utter delight to spend about two hours or so with these characters and their own little world, but avoids the pitfalls of typical “slice-of-life” features by giving everyone and everything a purpose. Whether it’s any of the Marches or the people that come and go in their lives, every single frame of this film feels lived in, like you can actually walk and breathe in this time period. It also is aided by some truly wonderful costumes and an amazing soundtrack that captures the joy and tribulations of being a woman in 1860s Massachusetts. Gerwig knows exactly what’s she doing and the world should just let her do it.

*Read my full review here

#7: “The Irishman”

I’m not even going to try and take sides on the whole “Marvel isn’t cinema” argument because one of their films is still higher up on this list. But that whole debate absolutely should not deter you from watching The Irishman, which proves that Martin Scorsese’s still got it like he did when he was young. It may be an “old man” movie, but it’s with that level of experience and maturity that he and a phenomenal trio of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci are able to look at the damage their men have wrought. The cost of “shut up and keep your hand down” loyalty and constant violence speaks volumes to the self-serving world these men lived in. Oh, and that much-talked about digital de-aging technology? Revolutionary in every sense of the word.

*Read my full review here

#6: “Booksmart”

After years as one of the industry’s most underrated actresses, Olivia Wilde swings out of the gate with one of the finest directorial debuts I’ve seen in a while. Booksmart immediately announces itself, the cast, and crew as something very different and unique but never stops to revel in its own glory. I can’t remember the last time a film called up old memories, good and bad, from me and still made it feel like something brand new. A lot of that has to do with Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, who might just be the finest best friend duo of any film from the past decade. You instantly believe their chemistry and while their actions and those of their graduating classmates are undoubtedly hilarious, it’s also empathetic and free of cynicism. Hopefully, Wilde and Booksmart will do for coming-of-age films of this generation, what John Hughes and The Breakfast Club did for the previous ones.

*Read my full review here

#5: “Avengers: Endgame”

Avengers: Endgame really feels like the culmination of everything we’ve come to see in the last 11 years from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It simultaneously feels like the end of an era, and the start of something new. I’ve been following this franchise ever since the first Iron Man, and the landscape since then has change drastically. The Russo Brothers understand that and are able to find a way to honor the Infinity Saga without completely going into fan service overdrive. Seeing nearly all of the characters, storylines, and themes, we’ve been dealing with brought together is an extremely emotional event for longtime fans like myself. And the culmination of it all comes in the now-iconic Portals Scene, which was hands down the best theatrical experience I had all year. The Marvel mountain will probably never reach this high ever again and if it does, it will have an immense standard to live up to.

*Read my full review here

#4: “Us”

How do you even attempt to follow up on one of the greatest horror movies of the past decade? Which also happens to be your directorial debut? The simple answer, for Jordan Peele anyway, is by staring into the black pit of our souls and giving a mirror to look at our own worst enemy. That may sound convoluted, but that’s the honest feeling you get after watching Us, which is further proof of Peele’s growing importance to the genre. With a great sense of originality that pays tribute to the influential titans of horror, he moves away from the satirical social commentary of Get Out for a more straightforward horror flick that still delivers the goods. And those goods include a fantastic score, great cinematography, and arguably a career-best Lupita Nyong’o in a dual role that got forgotten by awards seasons. But it’ll be a very long time before we the audience ever forget her stunning work or Peele’s incredibly smart screenplay.

*Read my full review here

#3: “1917”

It’s very rare that a latecomer ends up sweeping up the major attention during awards season, let alone gets many people talking. But 1917 not only has managed to remain relevant in said conversations, but has stuck with me ever since walking out of the theater. The one-shot trick is no joke, as it plunges viewers right into the carnage of World War I and rarely lets up during its entire runtime. Whether it’s Roger Deakins’ immaculately genius cinematography or Thomas Newman’s epic and riveting score, nearly everything about this film works. The fact that a scene like the one depicted in the image above is able to exist is an absolute blessing in the current studio climate. Sam Mendes has given us yet another reason for why the theatrical experience is not only still relevant in 2019 but can be preferable to watching a film at home.

*Read my full review here

#2: “Parasite”

2019 was a year chockfull of big-screen stories that indicted the increasingly large gap between the wealthy and the poor. No other film from last year captured that social and economic stratum with as much bite and specificity as Parasite, which might just be Bong Joon-ho’s crowning jewel. The story of a poor Korean family slowly integrating themselves among a wealthy family that lives just up the hill effortlessly goes from absurdist dark comedy to deeply unsettling drama on the flip of a hat. And not only that, it has managed to completely break the boundaries of subtitles to get people from all walks of cinematic preferences talking, and made history as the first Korean film to get recognized at the Academy Awards. When people start looking back on the decade, hopefully this will be a great time capsule for the economic strife of the common population. I can only hope that people won’t dismiss Parasite because one inch of text.

*Read my full review here

#1: “The Lighthouse”

There was no film from 2019 that gave me a pure cinematic experience quite like The Lighthouse. Yes, it’s Goddamn weird and bizarre from start to finish. Yes, it’s a bit hard to understand the characters at first. But if you just soak it all in and keep an open mind for what Robert Eggers is going for here, it can turn into a deeply rewarding viewing. Arguably the closest any filmmaker will come to marrying Edgar Allen Poe with H.P. Lovecraft in a single story, there is so much to love here. Whether it’s the glorious black-and-white 35mm photography, the claustrophobic aspect ratio, or the intensely period accurate production and costume design, there wasn’t a thing in this film that didn’t grab my attention. But most of all, we got to see career-best work from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, who devolve into such madmen that you can never shake their words. For me, The Lighthouse is a masterpiece of horror cinema and general filmmaking as well, one that is impossible to look away from or shake afterwards.

*Read my full review here

And there it is, ladies and gentlemen. I really wish I could have published this sooner, but I’m glad I finally get to share this with the rest of the world. Do you agree with my picks at all? What was your favorite movie from 2019? Be sure to let me know in the Comments and why, and for more awesome movie stuff like this, be sure to Like this post and Follow my Blog.

Retrospective: 2019 Superlatives

And that’s a wrap on 2019, folks. I know it took longer than usual, but it’s better late than never, in my opinion. I watched a whole lot of movies this year, both in the comfort of my home and in the theaters. In fact, for the 4th year running, I watched so many over the course of 2019 that I couldn’t limit it to just one list.

There’s no specific ranking here, but I felt like these 10 movies deserved to be talked about in some form or another. Some of them were in contention for my Top 20 list, and others were not. In any case, I just felt the need to bring them back into the end-of-year conversation that everyone else is having.

Most Original: “Velvet Buzzsaw”

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A horror movie where paintings and exhibits come to life to kill everyone in the modern art world that wants to profit off of them. That’s the honest-to-God premise of Dan Gilroy’s latest film and thankfully, it understands how ridiculous that inherently is. Velvet Buzzsaw has a bit of Robert Altman feel to it, never taking itself too seriously but still has just enough venom for its satire to land hard. The big ensemble moves from character to character with ease as each person finds a different way to try and look at the ones and zeroes that could be slapped onto a painting or exhibit. It being a slasher flick, the wide range of what qualifies as “modern art” allows for some really creative deaths for some truly pathetic humans.

*Read my full review here

Most Surprising: “Ready or Not”

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I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to make of Ready or Not when I first heard about it. It just seemed like another scream-queen slasher flick that will get dropped into the $5 barrel at Walmart after a small theatrical run. But boy oh boy, this movie had the goods and delivered them. A nice satire on the absurd lengths a wealthy family will go to in order to maintain their status and usher new members in, it’s fast, gory, and darkly funny at every turn. And it benefits from having one of the year’s biggest breakout turns from Samara Weaving, who totally subverts the scream queen trope to give a genuinely likable protagonist worth rooting for. A promising calling card for Radio Silence, this is a  great party movie, to be sure.

*Read my full review here

Most Overrated: “Yesterday”

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Look, almost everyone on Earth knows that a world where The Beatles never existed would be very different and bizarre. But the most frustrating aspect of Yesterday is that it never fully explores that potential, instead becoming a full Richard Curtis love story. That’s all fine and good, but Danny Boyle is never quite sure how to balance that out and the result is kind of frustrating. Part of me thinks it’s just the fact that 17 of The Beatles’ songs are performed on-screen is why it became so popular over the summer, especially considering how protective they are of the licenses. If for nothing else, Yesterday gave the world Himesh Patel and for that, I’m grateful. The rest of the movie is just mediocre, unremarkable, and disappointing.

*Read my full review here

Most Underrated: “Alita: Battle Angel”

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Although I don’t quite feel confident in saying that it’s a forgotten masterpiece like some other people, Alita: Battle Angel is definitely an underrated film for sure. Whatever qualms about the story you may have, it’s hard to deny the spectacle that Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron put on together. From what I can tell, it actually does justice to the manga it’s based on and it has many thrilling sequences worth watching again and agin, such as the riveting Motorball tournament. It’s pretty much everything to expect from an old-school slice of entertainment Hollywood doesn’t make too often anymore. This film also unintentionally marked the end of an era, as it was the last film to be released by Fox before Disney took them over. Here’s hoping that a sequel isn’t completely out of the picture now.

*Read my full review here

Most Overlooked: “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”

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Over the years, Guillermo del Toro has gradually become a master of the horror genre. While he didn’t direct this underseen flick, his fingerprints are unmistakably on nearly every frame of the film. I’ll admit that I have only a passing familiarity with the original anthology books, but Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is the rare horror film that works because of its broad appeal. It’s nice to have a scary movie that both adults and young children can enjoy, and can even serve as an entry point for aspiring genre fans. While it can be heavy on jumpscares, it’s hard not be in awe of its devotion to practical effects and makeup over CGI, which makes it feel almost like a twisted throwback to Amblin movies of the 80’s. The Jangly Man and The Pale Lady still give me the creeps and prove that throwbacks aren’t necessarily the worst thing in the world.

*Read my full review here

Most Disappointing: “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker”

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This was a year chock full of big stories reaching big conclusions on the silver and small screen alike. While some were definitely worse than others, the third and final installment of the new Star Wars trilogy was a big letdown in many ways. It’s far from being a big dumpster fire but The Rise of Skywalker reeks of pulled punches and missed opportunities as J.J. Abrams and Co. look to the past to find out how to bring the story to an end. But by reveling in that nostalgia, it’s unable to push itself forward and even undoes several choices from The Last Jedi that were wonderful. You’ve got some great work from the actors and John Williams giving it his all for his final Star Wars score, but the rest is just pretty underwhelming.

*Read my full review here

Best Scene: “Crocodile Rock” from “Rocketman”

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The movies of 2019 had many cinematic moments that have already earned their way into the history books. Endgame‘s epic army entrances through portals, 1917‘s midnight run through a ruined village, the restaurant scene in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and the gloriously cathartic pool scene from Booksmart were all in contention here as well. But of the films I saw, nothing felt as purely cinematic as this moment from Dexter Fletcher’s musical fantasy, when Elton John performs in the U.S. for the first time. As he’s playing “Crocodile Rock” to an ecstatic crowd, it uses a historic photo of the singer to make everyone look and feel like they’re floating in the air. It’s one of many moments in Rocketman that beautifully captures the spirit of Elton’s career, but for me, it’s easily the best and most euphoric.

*Read my full review here

Scariest: “Joker”

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Yes, I know Midsommar was also frightening and unsettling to say the least, but there’s something about Joker that’s just deeply disturbing to me. Whether you loved it or hated it, it’s hard to deny that Todd Phillips’ film is one of the most singular offerings of the comic book movie genre. Watching Arthur Fleck spiral downwards into the personification of The Joker is genuinely terrifying in several ways, thanks in no small part to Joaquin Phoenix’s amazing performance and Hildur Guðnadóttir’s hauntingly beautiful score. Without glorifying or idealizing the Clown Prince of Crime’s actions, it shows the horrific state of underfunded healthcare and indifferent social service systems that are still a major problem of modern America. And that makes it scarier than a lot of current horror films.

*Read my full review here

Funniest: “Long Shot”

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In these dark and trying times, every now and then it’s refreshing to have a movie that’s just nice and easy to recommend. This year, that movie for me was the hilarious Long Shot, which makes the most unlikely romantic duo imaginable actually work. Seth Rogen is his usual raunchy and self-deprecating everyman, but Charlize Theron is the true comedic champ here as a woman who might just get elected as President of the United States. Their chemistry works like gangbusters, and the world they live in feels just lived-in enough to avoid becoming a full fantasy. But watching Theron’s character resolve a hostage crisis over the phone while heavily intoxicated might be one of the biggest laughs I’ve had at the movies this year.

*Read my full review here

Worst: “Hellboy”

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Look, comic books and graphic novels are the most lucrative IPs in the industry these days, but Hellboy deserved way better. Guillermo del Toro’s first two movies were just fine as they were, and if there was going to be a third film it should have been under his vision. Instead, we get probably the most egregious example of studio interference in recent years with bad CGI, piss-poor action scenes, and buckets of gore with no real purpose or personality. David Harbour is good in the title role, and it definitely proves that Hellboy can work under an R-rating. But he’s pretty much the only redeeming factor to be found in the rubble. The rest of this film is just one big, bloody turd.

*Read my full review here

What are your own thoughts? What did you think was the worst, scariest, or funniest movie of the year was? What about the most overrated?

“1917” Movie Review

Imagine crawling through No Man’s Land with just one companion by your side. No living person in this era could ever even comprehend having to do so, let alone see it up close. But now, as VR blurs the lines between reality and fiction ever so gradually, this film has come along to put us face first in the filth of it all. Now, this is what a call a “cinematic experience.”

This period war thriller was given a limited, awards-qualifying theatrical release by Universal Pictures on Christmas Day, 2019. It was then released to a much wider audience two weeks later on January 10th, 2020. After doing exceptionally well in specialty theaters originally, it has since gone on to gross over $147.5 million at the worldwide box office. Against a production budget of around $90 million, this could put it in position as one of the highest grossing films of its genre if it continues its streak. It also helps that it has been given some of the best critical reviews of the year and numerous accolades and nominations, including for 10 Academy Awards.

Directed by Sam Mendes, the film marks his feature screenwriting debut alongside co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns. The duo had previously attempted to get two other projects off the ground before Amblin Partners and Steven Spielberg gave the script the greenlight. The story was inspired in part by memories told to him by his grandfather, Lance Corporal Alfred P. Mendes. During filming, conservationists expressed concern for the trenches and sets being built, a warning signs had to be posted to hikers that any bodies they saw were just mannequins.

Set on April 5th of its titular year, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman star as William Schofield and Thomas Blake, two British Lance Corporals in France during World War I. The Germans have just made a tactical withdrawal from the Western Front and are planning to ambush an impending British attack the next morning. Blake and Schofield are assigned by the General to carry a message beyond the Hindenburg Line that would stop the attack and save the lives of over 1,600 men, including Blake’s older brother. With time running out, the two soldiers hasten to deliver the message and stop their forces from sustaining heavy casualties.

Overall, I like Sam Mendes as a director. He has a great style that’s really slick, realistic, and in-control of everything that’s happening on-screen. He directed Skyfall, which is my personal favorite James Bond movie, and I also was impressed by his smaller-scale drama Revolutionary Road. Hearing news that he would be returning behind the camera for a huge film like this felt almost like an event.

The fact that he would be covering a movie about World War I was already enough to gain my attention, as there are relatively few films about the conflict. Seeing all of the incredible hype and buzz it was getting left and right in the industry, not to mention crashing the Oscar race last-minute, made me even more excited. But that still didn’t prepare me because 1917 exceeded my expectations and is easily one of the best war films of the last decade.

Contrary to what some people may tell you, the main stylistic choice of this film- presenting the whole story as if it were a single continuous shot -isn’t just a showy gimmick. Yes, it’s very stylish and attention–grabbing, but it only serves a way to drive the story forward, spend time with the two main protagonists. We’re with Blake and Schofield every step of the way as the traverse the mud and blood left behind by men they’re hesitant to even call the enemy.

It’s also a big testament to the film that 1917 never once even thinks about glorifying the conflict that they’re in. World War I was an utterly pointless conflict where millions of people died over petty aristocratic squabbles, and the film shows the immense cost that comes with. The characters are witnesses and party to many horrendous things in the trenches, but as long as the army advances forward the higher ups see it as an absolute victory. By keep the focus on just two small soldiers, the real perspective hammers home; there’s not much time for big heroics but even minor acts of courage count.

George MacKay has been building his repertoir over the last few years and he finally gets a real breakout here. As Schofield, he’s fairly quiet and unassuming, prefering to keep his head down than answer directly the big call. Going on this huge trek forces him to confront anxieties he’s been running away from, including long-repressed feelings about potentially going home and being given a medal for something he says as arbitrary.

Opposite him for almost the entire journey, Dean-Charles Chapman is excellent as Blake, the defacto leader of the duo. He’s much more chatty than Schofield, often reminiscing on stories from home or camp to lighten the mood. The enormity of the mission at hand is never lost on him, desperate to see his older brother again but not foolhardy enough to dive headlong into a worthless firefight with the Germans.

These two men have wonderful chemistry together and are the primary reason why the film works. Refusing to cast world-famous stars in the lead roles is a stroke of genius so that the audience can find more relatability in their struggle. We learn just enough about their personal backgrounds over the course of the film to become invested and believe the reliability they have on each other, even if they’re not best friends.

They’re both flanked by respected thespians in small roles and cameos throughout. These include Colin Firth as the General who gives their mission in the first place, Andrew Scott as a drunken and cynical Lieutenant providing their equipment, Benedict Cumberbatch as the stubborn Colonel wishing to push forward no matter what, and Claire Duburq as a lonely French woman hiding out in the ruins of a village. None of these actors stay on-screen for very long, but they each provide a different perspective on the war and its purpose- or lack thereof.

And just looking at the technical aspects, 1917 is an absolutely stunning landmark in big-budget filmmaking. The inimitable Roger Deakins provides the cinematography and it’s some of his best work yet. The aforementioned single-shot look is breathtaking to say the least and always has a fluid motion throughout the whole movie. The realistic colors and gorgeous natural lighting help to create a strong atmosphere of a country that has been torn asunder many times over. It roves over many impressive sets, never once losing focus and makes us feel like observers.

This works perfectly in sync with the editing job by Lee Smith, who helps to make the whole thing seamless. With one very brief exception about halfway through the film, every take looks perfectly stitched together from the first frame to the last. The occasional CGI structure or enterting of interiors is the closest I can tell to when the takes end and start. How Smith managed to make a transition from a window into a fiery village during the nighttime look seamless is beyond me.

With a long career trailing him, Thomas Newman reunites with Mendes to provide perhaps his finest score ever put to film. Much like Hans Zimmer’s work on Dunkirk, it avoids the sweeping orchestral notes of typical war films and instead builds many tracks as a never-ending crescendo. The soundtrack mixes traditional instruments with some light electronics to create a unique sound that’s hard to shake.

One track, in particular, is more mystifying than the rest, as it uses light strings and glockenspiel to illustrate a mysterious environment. Another one near the end is a 6-minute epic as the tension builds towards a massive payoff on-screen. Although they both sound vastly different, they each encapsulate exactly the film is about. The immediacy of the score somehow matches that of what’s happening in the film, and that alone is enough.

With brilliant performances, unforgettable set pieces, and a stylistic choice that actually serves the story, 1917 is an astonishing and fully immersive achievement of modern cinema. Sam Mendes completely tops himself by delivering easily one of the best films about World War I ever made. With the help of Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Roger Deakins, and a willing ensemble of capable actors, he manages to craft a thrilling piece of film that celebrates the small acts of courage while condemning the machinations of war.

Whether or not you agree with its presentation, it’s almost impossible to shake this one off after the credits roll. It’s the rare kind of event film that just demands to be seen on the big screen rather than at home, which further catapults its impact.

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“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” Movie Review

For the time being, I want to do nothing but find the casting director for this movie and shake their hand. Avy Kaufman, if you’re somehow reading this review right now, thank you for this pitch perfect casting choice. I hope that you have a long and storied career ahead of you.

This touching biographical drama premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. It was later released in theaters worldwide by Sony and TriStar Pictures on November 22nd, 2019. Made for the budget of around $25 million, it has thus far grossed over $61.2 million at the worldwide box office. This means it will most likely break even for the studio, but doesn’t really meet their expectations. Despite this, it has garnered incredible reviews from critics and huge adoration from audiences the world over.

Directed by Marielle Heller, the film had originally been developed by screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster under the original title You Are My Friend. The script had originally appeared on the 2013 Black List, which compiles the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. One of the main stars had long thought to be untouchable, until a happenstance connection between him and the director allowed it to happen. During production, sound mixer James Emswiller sadly suffered a heart attack on set and died shortly afterwards.

Set in 1998, Matthew Rhys stars as Lloyd Vogel, an extremely cynical journalist working for Esquire Magazine. Tired of his abrasive behavior towards co-workers and subjects, his boss assigns him a new piece to write about “heroes.” Much to his chagrin, the primary subject of the story turns out to be popular children’s T.V. host Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks. Although it seems like a straightforward interview at first, these two men come to change each other’s lives in ways they could have never expected.

Last year, we got the sorely needed and underseen documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? from Morgan Neville. Even though I hadn’t really grown up watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood as a child, watching that documentary deepened my respect for the man and made me see why he’s still relevant today. Why the Academy completely overlooked it in consideration that year is beyond my comprehension.

When I read that Tom Hanks would be playing the man in a biographical movie, my heart almost melted at the near-perfect casting. I had also been really impressed with Marielle Heller’s work in Can You Ever Forgive Me? last year and was eager to see the two collaborate together on this project. And as it turns out, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is just as whimsical and emotional as you might expect it to be.

Contrary to what the marketing may have told you, this is not an actual straightforward biopic of Mister Fred Rogers. Rather, it wisely makes Lloyd Vogel the main protagonist so that it becomes more like a parable on a time when adults and children alike the world over have become so cynical about life. It utilizes Mister Rogers as a way for Lloyd to reckon with the mistakes he’s made in the past, including disowning his absentee father, and for audiences to learn his lessons in an organic way.

Thankfully, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood stops just short of putting the beloved man on a pedestal as a true saint. He also has his own worries and frustrations, but he always tries to find a way to channel that negativity into something genuinely helpful to other people around him. This allows the film to be rather mature and flexible in the scope of its themes and makes it standout much more than your typical historical film.

After a healthy run on The Americans, Matthew Rhys gets to shine as the lead actor to excellent results. As Lloyd Vogel, he is deeply jaded with life and puts his own personal bitterness and dissatisfaction onto everyone around him, including his loved ones. He gradually becomes more sympathetic as the film goes along as he starts seriously considering the advice he’s been given.

Although he’s relegated to a supporting role, Tom Hanks is absolutely perfect as Mister Fred Rogers. Soft-spoken, jovial, and filled with enormous energy, he fits right into the comfy shoes of the iconic star without missing a beat. He wants to spread love and positivity wherever he goes, including the public subway or a small restaurant, and always thinks about the needs of those he cares about.

Chris Cooper is also extremely impressive as Jerry, Lloyd’s estranged father who wants to make amends. Although he’s very brash and abrasive initially, it soon becomes clear that he deeply regrets abandoning his children and cheating on his wife years prior. He spends a large portion of the film begging Lloyd for forgiveness, even though he believes he doesn’t deserve it, and tries to cherish the limited time he has left with his newborn grandson.

Susan Kelchi Watson, Maryann Plunkett, Enrico Colantoni, Tammy Blanchard, and Christine Lahti round out the stellar supporting cast here. All of them are connected to Lloyd and Fred’s struggles in some way or another and try to find a way to change themselves for the better. None of them act showy in any scene, which helps bring an even bigger sense of emotional realism to the film.

And from a technical point of view, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood shows Heller sidestepping artistic flourishes for something straightforward. Shot by Jody Lee Pipes, the cinematography is largely unpretentious as it keeps things focused on all of the subjects throughout the story. The contrast in color and exposure is also worth mentioning, as the WQED studio for Mister Roger’s Neighborhood is full of vibrant colors while the outside world is largely cold in its palette.

It works well with Anne McCabe’s editing, which is also largely devoid of pretension. The whole film is framed by Hanks as Rogers making an episode of his show explaining Lloyd’s struggles to the viewer, and then it transitions into the proper moment of the story. There’s even a dream sequence when many of Lloyd’s loved ones take on persona’s of different characters on the show. It’s a brilliant way of acquainting us with the world without fully getting invested in nostalgia. The film also knows when to keep the frame still and leave out sound when necessary.

The most noteworthy example of this is in the third act, when Fred takes Lloyd out f to a restaurant and asks him to take a minute “to think of all the people who loved us into being.” The camera only remains on the two men while all other sound and the rest of the world drown out. It’s a truly great moment of cinema, and one where it almost feels like Mister Rogers is asking the audience to do the same. And if the silent, sniffling reaction from the people in my theater is any indication, it worked.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a wise, deeply felt movie about having empathy in a harsh world. With humble direction and maturity, Marielle Heller brings to life one of the kindest humans to ever grace the Earth without exploiting his legacy in the slightest. Bolstered by some of the best casting choices in the last few years, this film is sure to bring even the most hardened of viewers to being misty-eyed.

Although I still prefer the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, it’s hard denying that we need to listen to the man’s words and lessons today. To quote Mister Rogers himself, “Sometimes, we have to ask for help, and that’s okay.”