Category Archives: Independent

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.

“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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Retrospective: The Best Films of 2017

Well, folks, another year, another season of new cinema has officially come to a wrap. While many people felt miserable from all the horrible news pouring out daily, (This critic included) filmmakers were busy giving us films that reminded us what it truly means to be human. The good, the bad, and the gray areas in between. Over the course of the last year, I have watched a personal record total of 124 feature-length pictures released in 2017. In fact, I dare say that this was the best year of the decade so far in terms of newly released movies. Horror cinema broke all sorts of box office records, independent films saw releases in multiplexes, and a number of original films (as well as a few sequels) subverted all expectations. It was such a good and massive year that I had to expand to a Top 20. Here are some honorable mentions before we get started.

Honorable Mentions:

Coco, Only the Brave, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Gerald’s Game, Good Time, Mother!, The Disaster Artist, Darkest Hour, The Girl With All the Gifts, I, Tonya, Icarus, Columbus, Stronger, The Meyerowitz Stories, Spiderman: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, The Big Sick, It Comes at Night, Okja, The Survivalist

Without further ado, let’s count down my Top 20 Movies of 2017.

#20: “Brawl in Cell Block 99″

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Let’s kick things off with an especially brutal and violent movie that very few people actually saw. In a year chock full of cinematic surprises, S. Craig Zahler’s prison Grindhouse action thriller Brawl in Cell Block 99 is one of the biggest. Having been a fan of his debut Bone Tomahawk, I was curious to see what the burgeoning filmmaker could come up with. A powerful, unapologetic ride of crushed bones and purple punches, absolutely nothing is held back. From the understated style to the simplicity of the story, virtually everything worked. And most of all, we get to see the best work of Vince Vaughn’s entire career on display as he unleashes fury on everyone in his way.

*Read my full review here.

#19: “Wonder Woman”

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The best film out of the DC Extended Universe by at least two country miles, and a charming affirmation of the better sex’s power, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman gave us something we were all waiting for so long. The most recognizable female superhero on Earth was done incredible justice, due in no small part to Gal Gadot’s charismatic lead performance. But she’s not simply pandering to teenagers or making a politically correct statement. The two them, together with some of the best men and women working in the business, wanted the world to know that humanity is not too far gone. For all the horrible things we see happen every day, it’s this kind of cinematic optimism that we need.

*Read my full review here.

#18: “IT”

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One of the many things that 2017 will be remembered for was the Year of the Stephen King Adaptation. And while Gerald’s Game was a pretty great movie on Netflix, It edges out simply because of fun factor and sheer shock at its success. A movie about a demon clown becoming the highest-grossing horror movie of all time? Speaking of clowns, Bill Skarsgård was a perfect choice to play the terrifying iconic villain, while the kids all give a wonderful personality to the story. Rarely has a horror film made me feel so emotionally involved in its narrative; to feel the terror and sadness that the characters do. By all rights, this shouldn’t have worked. But director Andy Muschietti somehow made me excited for a sequel.

*Read my full review here.

#17: “First They Killed My Father”

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By far the most criminally overlooked film on this list, Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father is a haunting portrait of a period rarely shown in media. The semi-autobiographical story of a young Cambodian girl desperately making her way through the Killing Fields would have already been crushing. But Jolie wisely chooses to show us this truly evil conflict through the innocent eyes of a child, which makes for a path of empathy uncommon in tragedies. The fact that the film was shot on location, has an entire cast made of Cambodians, and the primary language is Khmer is particularly impressive for an American filmmaker. She unflinchingly captures the aftermath of Communist takeover following the Vietnam War. Speaking of which…

*Read my full review here.

#16: “The Post”

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I get the idea that putting up an Oscar Bait-y movie like The Post on my Best Films of the Year list makes my tastes look cheap and predictable. I understand that. I also don’t care. Steven Spielberg continues his hot streak into his early 70s with this relevant historical drama concerning newspapers that tried to uncover government deception in the 1970’s. Anchored by incredible performances from Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and an enormous supporting cast, the movie looks and feels like a master at his craft working to tell an immediate story with actors who know exactly what they’re doing. Regardless of how forced the message may seem, there’s no denying the importance of the freedom of the press which Spielberg and his collaborators saw when they first read Liz Hannah’s script 9 months ago.

*Read my full review here.

#15: “The Lost City of Z”

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I bet a lot of people forgot about this movie back when it was released in April. I didn’t, though. James Gray’s musty, jungle-obsessed historical drama is a hallucinogenic throwback to the grand epics of filmmakers like David Lean. A sweeping story about one of the most mysterious treks in British history in the unknown Amazon, someone could easily be fooled into thinking that this was a 35 mm print only discovered recently. While the character of Percy Fawcett is softened up a bit, Charlie Hunnam does excellent work as the complex explorer who became obsessed with a small idea of civilization by the Natives. It’s definitely a slower movie than most audiences are probably used to, which probably explains why it bombed at the box office. But it’s still just brilliant and glorious in scale.

*Read my full review here.

#14: “Lady Bird” 

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The little festival indie that absolutely could, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is not the last directorial debut you’ll find on this list. While the story of a young woman wanting to escape her confined small-town life may sound familiar, every single frame of the movie is fleshed out into a three-dimensional object or person. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf do magnificent work as a daughter and mother whose relationship is increasingly strained as the day comes when the titular girl has to leave for college. But Gerwig fills in many moments with great levity and humor that solidify its honesty, keeping it from being a stressful affair. We all reach our time to fly sooner or later.

*Read my full review here.

#13: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

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Aside from having a highly unconventional title and a bevy of veteran actors at his disposal, writer-director Martin McDonagh also chooses to navigate taboo territory. By focusing on a mother who takes a militant stand against the authorities for failing to solve her daughter’s 8-month-old murder, he manages to walk on thin ice with grace. It also helps that Frances McDormand gives one of the best and most vulgar performances I’ve seen all year long while Sam Rockwell is total dynamite as the virulent racist of a cop. And while the film could have easily been drenched in misery and depression, McDonagh bombards the audience with unexpected doses of bleak humor that you really shouldn’t be laughing at. Excellent writing and acting come together perfectly.

*Read my full review here.

#12: “John Wick Chapter 2”

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John Wick Chapter 2 was awesome! It combined slick, stylistic filmmaking techniques with beautifully choreographed action sequences. Even something that simple is hard to come by these days. But still, Chapter 2 builds upon the original film’s worldbuilding by giving us an even bigger peek into the world of assassins. How are they organized? What involvement do the governments have? And whenever something like that isn’t happening, all of the actors are delivering the unsubtle dialogue with complete Shakespearean authority. What more could you want from an action movie?

*Read my full review here.

#11: “Raw”

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Easily my favorite foreign language film of the year, and one that feels absolutely foreign in many different ways, Raw is really a movie that lives up to its title. It’s quite often that horror movies tend to revolve around scenarios or circumstances that could never happen in reality. The horrifying beauty of Julie Docournau’s Cannes debut is how believable every instance of gore and lust is presented, which arguably makes it even more uncomfortable to watch. A lurid coming-of-age tale of budding sexuality with no easy emotions or cop-outs, those with a weak stomach are sure to have a panic attack during Raw. (Just research its screening at TIFF) But it’s a prime example of modern directors still finding little wrinkles of fresh air and forming their own distinctive voices.

*Read my full review here.

#10: “Wind River”

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Top 10 territory now! Wind River was one of the most realistic films I saw in 2017 of any genre. Taylor Sheridan proves that he’s just as capable in the director’s chair as he is a gifted scribe, proved in Sicario and last year’s Hell or High Water. A murder mystery set on a Native American reservation in Wyoming, Sheridan balances sober commentary on an undervalued issue with a big heart at the center. Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham give some of their finest performances as two fathers searching for closure on the deaths of their daughters while highlighting the cold, unforgiving frontier of the titular reservation. One of the most intense films of the year as well as one of the most satisfying, it’s movies like this that major studios should come around to making more often. These voices need to be heard.

*Read my full review here.

#9: “Mudbound”

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Don’t let the Netflix logo at the beginning of this movie deter you; Mudbound is as artful a film as anything released in theaters. Dee Rees’ stunning, complex epic is a 2-hour and 15-minute Southern ballet of family drama and suppressed hatred. It speaks to the relevant, deeply rooted problem of racism that ceaselessly dogs America with subtle storytelling and highly mature writing. An able-bodied cast of either color give shades to what could have easily been archetypes in a feel-good historical fantasy. But both they and Rees refuse to let the audience have any easy answers to the issue, leaving us immersed in the dirty farmlands of rural Mississippi. An essential piece of literary cinema, Mudbound may take place in the time of Jim Crow but it still holds truths for today.

*Read my full review here.

#8: “War for the Planet of the Apes”

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A stunning piece of visual storytelling and one of the few concluding chapters that is actually satisfying, the franchise with increasingly long titles reaches a bleak end. War didn’t just offer more proof that Andy Serkis deserves Oscar recognition as the ever-so conflicted ape leader Caesar. This ninth installment also showed us dark themes rarely seen in a summer blockbuster, including an indictment of the audience’s capacity for enjoying brutal violence portrayed on-screen. A barrage of intense emotions and hard choices hit the viewer with beautiful imagery that will haunt me for weeks. And considering that only one scene of verbal exposition was included here, that’s especially impressive. Also, Steve Zahn as Bad Ape provided some good levity for an otherwise completely dark and harsh story.

*Read my full review here.

#7: “Baby Driver”

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Having wrapped up his Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy 4 years ago and after walking away angrily form Ant-Man, it’s safe to say that most film lovers were curious about what Edgar Wright could come up with next. But none of us could have predicted him bringing such an exhilarating and stylish film quite like Baby Driver. A clear homage to old gangster heist movies from the 1930’s and 1970’s, Ansel Elgort stars as a getaway driver who’s coerced into one final job by his criminal bosses before falling in love with an innocent waitress. Filled with Wright’s trademark kinetic editing and gorgeously precise camera work, the killer soundtrack never misses a beat. Presenting us with a colorful variety of characters, including the deaf J.D. or the profane murderer Bats, this was just a blast.

*Read my full review here.

#6: “The Shape of Water”

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Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is this year’s only worthwhile movie about the romance between a mute woman and a humanoid amphibian creature. Joking aside, this was a genuinely great and enthralling picture built as a passionate loveletter to classical cinema. (Wipe transition included) Sally Hawkins does phenomenal work in a role dominated by silence and sign language while Doug Jones proves his worth as a brilliant chameleon of an actor. But the real star is del Toro, who weaves together a beautiful love story which, despite the Cold War backdrop, still feels relevant today. Some may feel a little cold, but there’s no denying the brilliance behind the camera, not the least of which is Alexandre Desplat’s whimsical score. It truly is a “Fairytale for Troubled Times.”

*Read my full review here.

#5: “Logan”

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No matter how long I’m a film critic and no matter how many superhero movies I watch down the road- and there are a LOT coming down the pipe -I will never forget Logan. By stripping down a comic book icon like Wolverine to his bare essence, without any superhero spectacle or save-the-world stakes, director Jame Mangold gives us a gritty Western character drama. Not since The Dark Knight has a superhero movie felt so different from both a thematic and technical standpoint. Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart sink deep into their iconic roles, finding new corners not yet explored with two men- or in this case, mutants -tired of the violent world around them. A rollercoaster of R-rated action and capped off by an emotionally gut-wrenching finale, it’s films like Logan that give me true hope for the future of the genre.

*Read my full review here.

#4: “Get Out”

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Who on Earth could have possibly predicted the pop culture phenomenon that Get Out would become when it was released? Jordan Peele’s stunning directorial debut made waves back in February and the buzz just never let up from there. A searing satire of how white people respond to accusations of racism, Peele drops subtle hints left and right only to reveal the frightening horror behind it all. Daniel Kaluuya proves that his one-episode stint on Black Mirror wasn’t a hoax by playing Chris, an African-American stuck in one of the most bizarre situations imaginable. Few films moved the national conversation of race quite like this, spreading like a wildfire in multiplexes. Upon rewatches, you’ll find new details that feed further into the subtextual richness of Get Out. Unpredictable, hilarious, and wholly original, if I told you there was a single movie from 2017 that I had more fun watching in a packed theater than Get Out, I would be lying to you.

*Read my full review here.

#3: “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”

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In the four years that I’ve run my blog here on WordPress, I don’t think any year was as cinematically divisive as 2017. Few films illustrated that more widely or intensely than the latest entry in the Star Wars franchise. Unlike a lot of fans, I do understand some of the hate this movie has received, but at the same time, I love it all the more for it. You’d be hardpressed to find a modern blockbuster that is as bold or risk-taking as Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, which sees much of the iconic mythology questioned by our beloved heroes. While the action sequences, especially a beautiful lightsaber duel involving Rey, Kylo Ren, and the Praetorian Guard, are truly extravagant, it’s the storytelling and development of Luke’s character arc that really grabbed me. Some rewatches are probably mandatory, but I’m still in awe of what Disney let Johnson do.

*Read my full review here.

#2: “Dunkirk”

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When I first said this in my review, it felt like a great hyperbole. But it’s been about 6 months since I first watched the film and I still feel quite confident: Dunkirk is the most patriotic British film ever made. Having had little knowledge of the actual history of the titular event, involving 400,000 troops stuck on a beach in 1940 France, I went into this movie expecting a straightforward war movie. But instead, Christopher Nolan immersed me and the auditorium in a 70 mm simulation of what it was like to live that moment; from the land, the air, and the sea. Because of this, many have complained about the severe lack of character development or emotional involvement. I get that criticism, but the attachment shouldn’t come from a monologue about a girl back home. Personally, I didn’t think that was necessary to feel the immense fear, anxiety, and relief of the soldiers in each story. I swore to God it was going to be my best film of the year. Until I saw…

*Read my full review here.

#1: “Blade Runner 2049”

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I get the hate for Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, and even Star Wars. However, I genuinely don’t understand how anyone could hate Blade Runner 2049. For the second year in a row, Denis Villeneuve has directed my favorite film of the year and rightly so. Maybe it was the IMAX syndrome. Maybe it was the jaw-dropping, immaculate cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins. But I wholeheartedly believe that this sequel is better than Ridley Scott’s 1982 original, with a sprawling story bolstered by impeccable visuals and a solid beating heart at the center. In fact, this could be the movie that convinces some people to switch over to 4K. Ryan Gosling proves his worth as one of the finest actors around as Officer K, but it’s Harrison Ford that steals the show. No real easy explanations are dolled out, just strong storytelling driving the mystery of Rick Deckard forward. Blade Runner 2049 is a complete technical masterpiece and one that will hopefully come to inspire a new crop of aspiring filmmakers.

*Read my full review here.

So there’s my list! Do you agree with my picks? What was your favorite movie from 2017? Leave a comment below, and if you’re interested to see more content like this, be sure to Like and Follow my Blog. Bring on 2018!


“Lady Bird” Movie Review

We’ve all been here in this position before. Whether we want to admit it or not. And A24 has come in to show us that with proof in spades. This indie coming-of-age comedy-drama premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on September 4th, 2017. Following a standing ovation at a subsequent screening at TIFF, it was released in theaters on November 17th, 2017 before expanding in the following weeks. Grossing nearly 4 times its $10 million budget, the film also garnered universal praise from critics, at one point becoming the highest-rated movie of all time on Rotten Tomatoes. (Until one critic decided to become a troll) The directorial debut of writer and actress Greta Gerwig, Christine McPherson is an angst-ridden senior student in high school who prefers to go by the name “Lady Bird.” Fed up with her confined life in Sacramento, California, she begins applying to colleges out of state, specifically anywhere on the East Coast. As she navigates the 2002-03 school year, everything she thought she knew comes into question as her relationship with her parents are strained and friendships are lost and born. I’m not very familiar with Greta Gerwig’s work, and the few films I’ve seen with her involved can range from being side-splittingly hilarious to boring for me. But one thing I’ve never doubted is that she was able to craft stories about strong women in the modern era; for Millenials by a Millenial. And so I wasn’t really sure what to expect from her directorial debut. Though the extremely positive reaction out of its festival run was encouraging, I was largely scared that it wouldn’t really live up to all of its massive hype. Spoiler Alert: It absolutely does. Which is odd because from the synopsis I just gave you, it might just seem like any other coming-of-age story that Hollywood has put out. You’d be forgiven for thinking so because while the narrative is rather simplistic, Gerwig uses this simplicity to flesh out each individual into a tangible human being. The Math teacher is not just simply a Math teacher, and Christine’s best friend is much more than a lovable sidekick. The director even goes as far as making several scenes grounded in reality, with the characters never afraid to share their true feelings. If family members and friends duking it out with words legitimately stresses you out, then maybe Lady Bird is not for you. But for those looking for a break from the more ditsy, idealistic coming-of-age movies, this one is definitely worth checking out. When I saw Saoirse Ronan’s break-out performance in 2015’s Brooklyn, I immediately knew that she was a new talent worth looking out for. And with her role as the titular character, she has further proven my point; she’s a challenging young woman who REALLY hates Sacramento yet still finds a channel of empathy from the audience. The supporting cast is filled out by great performances by Tracy Letts, Timothee Chalamet, Jordan Rodrigues, Lucas Hedges, Lois Smith, and Stephen McKinley Henderson, who all contribute a unique aspect to the film. But the one woman who can stand up to Ronan is Laurie Metcalf as her mother, Marion. The scenes where the two of them fight back and forth bordered on difficult-to-watch, as she is trying to let her daughter know the realities of our world. She didn’t even seem like she was acting; she was just being. And from a filmmaking standpoint, Greta Gerwig proves she also has great prowess behind the camera. Sam Levy warps the color corrected cinematography to look and feel like a teenage memory. Nothing really flashy, just a realistic style that captures the crazy zeitgeist of the early 2000’s. Christine’s dyed red hair is particularly highlighted as it is indicative of a phase every high school girl goes through; they think they’re being rebellious when they’re really just acting like everyone else around them. The feeling of memory permeates to the editing by Nick Huoy. Some sequences are cut up in little fractures, relying on the audience to build through context. As many moments in our lives are only remembered in bits and pieces, this worked immensely well. Composer Jon Brion puts his multi-instrumental talents to the test with the surprisingly warm-hearted film score. In a word, the soundtrack is just “delightful” as the main title track consists of buoyant strumming guitars, drum set, and low brass. Brion refuses to become saccharine and instead highlights the colorful personality of the titular character while remaining friendly and relatable. And the smaller piano melodies hit right to the emotional truth of each hard moment without ever feeling the need for manipulation. In other words, it’s the perfect film score for Lady Bird. But the truest thing that this movie has to offer is its hilarious yet real depiction of leaving home. Most coming-of-age stories focusing on the female perspective that I’ve seen tend to revolve around a young girl’s relationship with a boy or first love. There are boyfriends for Christine, but they’re more like road stops. Rather, this film showcases the relationship between a mother and her daughter who really doesn’t know what she wants in life. We’ve all struggled with filling out college applications or fought about what we can or can’t afford for the future. And sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your future is just not going to align with even your closest friends. That makes this arguably the perfect film for Millennials and Z-Gen kids to watch. Lady Bird presents a brutally honest story on the last days of innocence. It may not necessarily be the most original movie in the coming-of-age drama, but it’s probably the most humane. With a stellar cast, fantastic dialogue, and great timing from all, this movie reveals Greta Gerwig as a real filmmaking talent. With enough time, she might just become a master.

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“I, Tonya” Movie Review

After many instances of falling on my butt, I gave up trying to be an ice skater. And now after watching this movie, I’m glad that I made that decision. This biographical black comedy premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September before releasing theatrically on December 8th, 2017. Expanding in the ensuing weeks, the film has already made back more than half of its $11 million budget at the box office. Directed by Craig Gillespie of Lars and the Real Girl fame, the movie was reportedly going to originally be a Netflix Original. But after a strong showing at TIFF, the newly-formed Neon won out the acquisition, likely as a potential last-minute awards-season wrench. Based on the insane, unbelievable, wildly contradictory true story, Margot Robbie produces and stars as Tonya Harding. Despite being beaten and shoved by her family and growing up in a poor environment, she is determined to become the best figure skater in the world. In 1994, she gets a chance to compete in the Winter Olympics against Nancy Kerrigan, a rival skater with a much more “esteemed” background. On the off-chance that you don’t know how this story ends, I won’t go any further into it. But I will say that reviewing this movie objectively is extremely difficult because virtually every living American has an opinion of Tonya Harding. Some people love her, others loathe her. I, myself, am split down the middle because although I do feel more informed about the situation, the whole picture is still not that clear. But if I’m being honest, in the end, we’ll probably never know. I can say, however, that on its own, the movie I, Tonya is unabashedly entertaining and surprisingly resonant. And a lot of that success comes from the crackling screenplay by Steven Rogers. The events of the film are told in a nonlinear fashion, where the excerpts of the story from the past are inter-cut with interviews taken recently.  These interviews are filled out by the actors playing the parts, and sometimes a hardcut between a harsh scene involving Tonya and a deadpan comment made me laugh uncontrollably. It’s actually a lot like the Coen Brothers’ Fargo; a bunch of idoits come up with an insanely stupid plan that they have no business pulling off. But Rogers isn’t undermining anyone; he knows that this story is tragic regardless of what perspective is being told. In fact, all of the characters being interviewed have very different recollections of events, which is wise for the audience to decide for themselves. They even break the fourth wall at times, which allows for some great bits of levity.  Does Margot Robbie deserve Best Actress consideration as Tonya Harding? Absolutely. Her take-no-BS attitude and wicked tongue make her relatable to the audience, especially when we observe her harsh upbringing. Sebastian Stan plays her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, who brings a nuanced and thick haze on the figure. One minute he’s softly flirting with his wife, the next he’s engaged in a shouting match of emotionally harmful words. But really, West Wing‘s C.J. Cregg A.K.A. Allison Janney makes this her own show as LaVona Golden, Tonya Harding’s mother. The 4-time Emmy winner smokes like a factory and says a number of things that are politically incorrect yet hilarious. Despite her emotional, physical, and verbal abuse, I definitely feel like she’s qualified for Best Supporting Actress. And whenever these actors aren’t lighting up the screen, the technical aspects of I, Tonya keep the viewer entranced. Nicolas Karakatsanis’ cinematography often presents the story in a handheld, cinema vérité style. This allows everything to look lived in and sweated in, giving some realism to a tale otherwise filled with utter lunacy. During moments of actual figure skating, Karakatsanis and Gillespie opt to use long uninterrupted takes to showcase the true talent of Tonya and Nancy. We see the actors’ facial expressions go from sheer terror to relieved happiness in no time. Each of the interviews, meanwhile, is cropped at the sides while the actors have all advanced nearly 20 years of age thanks to the excellently subtle work in the makeup department. And the editing knows just how long to stay on one scene before going back into the present, which keeps everything flowing nicely. But the most impressive part of the movie, by far, is how Craig Gillespie refuses to take sides in telling this story. As I said, for better or for worse, virtually every American walking abroad today has an opinion of Tonya Harding and the things that she’s done. Some hate seems justified, some not so much. And that opinion may hinder or heighten your experience with this film, but Gillespie and Rogers choose not to ask the audience for a letter of forgiveness to Tonya Harding. They present each truth as they are told, leaving it for us. We see how Tonya’s poor upbringing hurt her chances of being respected in the ice skating culture. We see the effects of her extremely toxic marriage to Jeff Gillooly on her emotional state of being as an adult. We witness (and sometimes feel) her jealousy towards Nancy Kerrigan and what that ultimately leads to. At one point, near the end of the movie, Tonya issues an impassioned statement, “I’ve never had a real education. Skating is all I know. That’s all I know.”  Though it can occasionally feel like a tonal juggling act, I, Tonya is a painfully funny and contradictory account of a controversial American figure. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney both turn in some of their best performances to date, while the writing is consistently sharp and edgy. This is quite possibly the most inventive biopic of the year and a nice breath of fresh air from stuffy glorification showcases. This is a real story with multiple angles to work from, and that’s my truth.

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“Brawl in Cell Block 99” Movie Review

Another S. Craig Zahler film has come our way. Another instance of me wincing at the horrific violence on-screen. And yet another time when I can’t look away from it and actually have fun with it. This director knows just how to mess with me. This gritty action drama thriller first premiered at the Venice International Film Festival on September 2nd, 2017. After subsequent screenings at both TIFF and Fantastic Fest, it was released in select theaters on October 6th, 2017. While actual box office numbers are uncertain, because it premiered on VOD platforms a week later, it’s believed to have sold quite well. Having previously won success with his Western horror Bone Tomahawk, writer-director Zahler apparently knew exactly the type of movie he wanted to make next. After a series of unfortunate circumstances, drug courier Bradley Thomas, played by Vince Vaughn, is sent to prison where he immediately becomes undesirable. Soon, he’s informed that he is forced to kill a fellow inmate in Cell Block 99 in order to save his pregnant wife. Just as with his debut feature Bone Tomahawk, this plot can be easily summarized in two sentences, which I love. S. Craig Zahler proves to be the rare writer-director in this day and age who truly understands the power of simplicity. And because this story is simple, he’s able to find a way to punch through and get to the entertainment value with ease. Sure, it takes a while to get to that point, but the wait is well worth it. The biggest audience that he’s going to rouse up are fans of the Grindhouse Era. For those who want to know, “Grindhouse” refers to a specific type of action movie, typically coming from the 1970’s. They were all dealing with dark, brutal subject matter in badass yet playful ways. And yet most of them were made in poor quality and covered up that fact by showing multiple releases back-to-back. In some cases, it bordered on exploitation. Zahler seems to have an affinity for these so-called “cult classics,” as Brawl in Cell Block 99 dons the coat of an intense prison drama yet revels in all the genre violence fans could want. There’s a guy whose face is de-gloved when being pushed against the concrete floor. If that sounds like too much for you, don’t bother with this one. For anyone else, you’re going to fall in love. Vince Vaughn has proven himself in both comedies and dramas, but this is easily the best work of his career. No one else could have played this stone-cold man who hides his emotions very well, but still shows us how tortured he is in moments of quiet. When asked by a counselor whether or not doing time would do him any good, he sarcastically remarks, “Prison will give me plenty of time to look at guys I don’t like.” Former Dexter star Jennifer Carpenter is also quite good as his pregnant wife Lauren. She manages to break out of the simple archetype and never loses her wits, even when the bad guys have taken her. Meanwhile, the two villains are portrayed by Udo Kier and former Miami Vice star Don Johnson, who do malevolently excellent work. Both are comfortable veterans of this genre, and just as with the Troglodytes in Bone Tomahawk, you really grow to hate them both. And for a movie homaging trash cinema from the 1970’s, there’s a surprising strength in the technical aspects. The production design lends itself well to the brutal environment of prison, which becomes more decadent as the story moves along. This along with the simplistic costumes add a lived-in feeling to the world. Cinematographer Benji Bakshi frames all of the scenes with beautiful, elongated wides capturing everything on-screen. A scene where Bradley tears his car apart with his bare hands in just a few different takes is as riveting as it is terrifying. The sound design is equally effective. Depending on what speaker you have, you’ll be able to hear every bone crunch and every punch land on the flesh. Stylistically, it’s fairly similar to John Wick. But whereas that neo-noir actioner had a lot of precise choreography, this one is really about a big dude pummeling his way through anyone standing in his way. What enhances the intensity even more is the fact that during these sequences, there is no music playing. No original score, nothing sentimental. But in other instances, the soundtrack will play off of some funky big band tune from the 70’s or 80’s. In a way, this choice further reinforced its simplistic, understated style. They were fun to listen to at the moment, but I’d be lying if I said I remember the names of the artists. As with Bone Tomahawk, the biggest issue facing this film is the pacing. It spent a surprising amount of time in the first half setting up its characters and story. That was all fine and dandy for making me care about Bradley Thomas, but with all the long takes, I feel like it went on a little too long. Some fat could have been trimmed in the editing. And there is one shot of what is clearly a mannequin standing in for a human being near the end. You could argue that it was to further homage the cheap nature of the Grindhouse Era. But to me, it just became rather glaring. Despite some uneven pacing, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is still a gritty, badass slice of pulp entertainment anchored by an incredible lead performance. 100% unapologetic for its brutality and finding veils of light beneath the dark subject matter, it’s not for the faint of heart. But for those wanting something outside the box of the industry, you’re going to have a total blast with this movie. S. Craig Zahler was already a talent to watch, but now he has my attention for any of his future projects.

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