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Yazdi’s Best of 2018 | Films | Personal Favorites

There were so many good films released in 2018, that to whittle them down to just ten seemed a betrayal. Isn’t the point of these lists to bring your personal recognition to the best, the most adventurous, the most humane, the most risk-taking of films. So spread the wealth, I say. Recognize more. I have my top 15 films, and then a list of ten more to round off the top 25. And I even cheated with placing more than one film in a ranking occasionally. Whatever it takes to shine a light on the better films.

Also as in past years, the films on my list are those that changed something within my emotional circuitry.

 

  1. THE FAVOURITE

Filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos throws battery acid at the British period piece genre. He gleefully incorporates anachronistic costumes and music, and invents plot where there are historical gaps ,to create something deliciously nasty; I watched most of the film agape. The script, by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara lets each of the three female leads be conflicted and scheming, wary and hilarious, and altogether human.  One woman has usurped the powers from the frail Queen Anne, and another is, at any cost, on her way up literally from the mud into the queen’s chambers.

 

  1. A QUIET PLACE

One measure of a better film is this: you come out after watching it and immediately wonder why no one thought to tell this story before. A QUIET PLACE has the simplest of premises: a family trying to survive in a future world ruled by aliens that hunt by sound. As far as visceral thrills go, no film this year did better.

 

  1. SHOPLIFTERS

Ah, is there a more humanist filmmaker working today than Hirokazu Kore-eda. For more than a decade he has made films that refuse to make easy villains of any of his characters. He takes a story from the Japanese headlines, and compassionately examines how that might have come to be. Like Koe-eda criminally underappreciated LIKE FATHER LIKE SON, this film too asks the viewer to reconsider our definition of ‘family’. The film is also a grand showcase for its actors, including his long collaborator Kirin Kiki (who passed away soon after the release of the film) and the unimprovable Sakura Ando, who tackles what might be the most subtly complex role of any in cinema this year.

 

  1. ROMA

I have learned over the years that the single greatest deterrent to the enjoyment of a film is high expectations. By the time I saw ROMA it had already been hailed as the best this and best that. And yet, from the opening credits appearing over floor tiles splashing with foamy water, to the quiet end, I was displaced. Displaced from my cinema seat to another time and place, at once silvery and unreal in glorious black-and-white photography and as invasively authentic as turning the pages of someone’s brittle, tissue spliced photo album. Perhaps my reaction to the film owes much to the fact that I too grew up in the early seventies in a busy city, and under the full influence of many a domestic help. This film will hold up well to posterity.

 

  1. LEAN ON PETE / THE RIDER / LEAVE NO TRACE

Most days in 2018 felt like the world was in a race to greater isolationism. And the one thing that we could use more than anything else was objective unconditional empathy. I was most grateful this year then for the triptych of films that were all about individuals on the fringes of society that we would rather not consider. Or at least those we would prefer to actively ignore. All three films, excellent pieces of cinema each, are empathy generators asking us to re-examine our outsiders, by any definition, be it economics, mental health, or geography.

 

  1. BADHAAI HO (CONGRATULATIONS)

A man in his late twenties hesitates to introduce his affluent girlfriend to his rough-hewn family, only to have his parents sheepishly announce that they are expecting a child. Another film would have taken this clever premise and made a soap opera out of it. But BADHAAI HO has no interest in tired plot gymnastics, or feckless humor. It takes its central conceit – the imminent arrival of a child to a couple of a certain age and authentically watches it’s impact on every member of the family and surrounding neighbors. And uses this to craft some of the wittiest writing this side of the Atlantic. What can I saw, I laughed and I cried. How often can you say that.

 

  1. WIDOWS

This is a heist film, but to call it so is severely reductive. Director Steve McQueen takes this genre and uses it to construct a dense labyrinth of characters set around contemporary Chicago to create something Shakespearean: layered, marked by shifting loyalties, and bracingly tragic. Make no mistake, it takes no small measure of brilliance to create what looks like a gangster theft film, which is also a deeply, consistently satisfying entertainer, while deftly commenting on the state of race, class and political rot in contemporary urban America. The film starts with a con job gone spectacularly wrong, killing all involved, and proceeds with the mafia leaning of the widows of the dead men to recover the spoils; the women band together to pull off a final heist. With this pedigree and this cast, this film should have been a flat out hit. That it isn’t is both a mystery and a tragedy.

 

  1. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU

There is more gonzo creativity in this film than any other ten films released this year. Writer-director Boots Riley has so much contempt for the state of race relations in contemporary America, and so much righteous anger that he can barely contain in within each frame of his film. So he throws everything he has onto each scene. Some of it sticks, some of it doesn’t, but it is nothing less than giddying to see pure ideas thrown at the viewer at such rapid-fire pace. It is futile to try and explain the plot, except for the basic set-up: an out of work African American man who gets employed at a call center, quickly learns that he can be highly ascendant in this career by taking on a Caucasian voice. And then things go to poop, as they say. Gleefully surreal, nakedly bruising in its strife for social justice, and unbound by limits of reason or logic, the film takes off into a cloud of absurdist genius.

 

  1. THE SISTERS BROTHERS

I do not usually gravitate toward Westerns. And yet here is another film that takes the outward shell of a genre and uses it to beautifully comment on human failings. This English language film, directed by a French filmmaker, based on a novel by a Canadian, and starring American and British actors is something to be experienced: funny, unexpectedly insightful, and wistfully tragic. The film is like a hybrid of HIGH NOON and IN BRUGES. And how can you pass up the opportunity to see John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed in peak form. There is a scene late in the film where the eponymous brothers arrive in 1850s San Francisco that is wonderfully realized and a marvel of Production Design. Best of all, there is a lot that remains to be unpeeled after having seen the film.

 

  1. TULLY

This film is many things, but what has endeared it to me is that from the first scene of a mother softly brushing her son to calm him down to the very last, it seeks understanding. In cinema’s pursuit of taking on the most challenging and taboo of topics, it has often ignored one staring in the face of so many: the post-natal challenges of motherhood. In our fear of anything short of the glorification of the state of motherhood, the unpleasantness of it, the physical and psychic stress of it goes unmentioned. TULLY handles with authentic agency.

 

  1. DISOBEDIENCE

Watch out for Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Celio, who has had an untarnished streak to date. He is beloved by arthouse movie fans and his A FANTASTIC WOMAN nabbed the Best Foreign Film Oscar last year. It won’t be long before he becomes a household name, perhaps no sooner than the release in 2019 of GLORIA BELL, the English language remake of his GLORIA. But look no further for evidence of the magic of his craft than the woefully underappreciated DISOBEDIENCE. A woman (Rachel Weisz) returns to her orthodox Jewish London community upon news of the death of her father, the rabbi. Her return triggers a disruption within the insular world, not the least because of her renewed friendship with the wife (Rachel McAdams) of the expected new rabbi. Smart, brave, questioning and ultimately empathetic the film ponders on the impact of warring with tradition.

 

  1. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

If films could create their own language. If the experience of the lesser other in society can be rendered on screen. If the social issues of fifty years ago remain woefully relevant even now. If the colors and visual composition in a movie can take your breath away. If a decades old James Baldwin work can breathe and be breathy on celluloid. If the ache, and the burning seething heat of new love can be conjured up. Then one gets a film so perfectly composed, acted and brought to its inevitably artful end. Then we would get IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK.

 

  1. MUSEO

Two men from relatively affluent families, afflicted with the usual discontent of youth, pulled off the biggest heist of artwork from a museum in Mexican history. They also thought that they could sell the spoils of their theft relatively easily to make money, even after the media blitz that followed the robbery. Always ahead of the audience, this artful construction of the events, plays like a terrific thriller. It also is Evidence H in the case for how criminally underappreciated Gael Garcia Bernal remains in cinema.

 

  1. 22 JULY

Not too long ago a man working for the Norwegian police opened fire on the streets of Norway, and then took a ferry up to an island off the city and systematically hunted and shot down children who were camping there. To make a film about a hate act is a high challenge, because it can come off wrong twenty seven ways: being too preachy, or heavy handed, or sentimental, or glib. Paul Greengrass uses his mastery of craft to retell this story with objectivity. And while the first part of the film deals with the actual events leading up to those acts of domestic terrorism, the second half follows two individuals: the court-assigned lawyer to defend the shooter, and one of the teenagers who managed to survive the attack on the island and is under the pressure to speak at the shooter’s trial. This is a sobering, bracing, and ultimately hopeful film that is asking each of us to contemplate global terrorism.

 

  1. FIRST MAN

Ah, this film filled me up. Based on the events in the life of Neil Armstrong leading up to the moon landing in 1969, many a viewer came away nonplussed, because they were unprepared for Armstrong to be a stoic, internally drawn lead character. But director Damian Chazelle lets Ryan Gosling play Armstrong as he was in real life, a person of few words, even while recognizing the perils with making this person the lead in his film. There have been plenty of films made about larger than life characters, it is time that we make more about those who are quieter, self-reflecting. I marveled at the impossibly accurate and you-are-there depiction of the NASA efforts to get the first man to the moon. There have been other films made about the moon landing but none that made you experience it like here. The great wonder of FIRST MAN is how acutely it conveys the sheer odds that were against humans stepping on the moon. Particularly with the computational power available at the time which was less than what most of us have on our smartphones now. And the space shuttle itself being no more sturdy than a tin box. And yet we prevailed.

 

And the next ten films are:

  1. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
  2. PADDINGTON 2
  3. A SIMPLE FAVOR
  4. BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE
  5. ANDHADHUN (BLIND TUNE)
  6. HOTEL ARTEMIS
  7. A SIMPLE FAVOR
  8. CRAZY RICH ASIANS
  9. TU HAI MERA SUNDAY (YOU ARE MY SUNDAY)
  10. JULIET NAKED / PUZZLE

Full Listing of 2018 Tribeca Film Festival Coverage | #tribeca2018

Every April, the three Moviewallas arrive into New York City with gleaming eyes and smiles that won’t rub off our faces. We arrive to soak our needing bones in the offerings of the Tribeca Film Festival, wanting for good cinema since the end of the awards season earlier in the year.

This year our schedules dictated that we caught the back end of the film festival; we usually attend the festival in the early part. Being based in San Diego, and juggling other jobs, we can make it to New York for about a week every year, even though our hearts ache for more time at the festival. After having watched four, five, six films a day, our bodies start to exhaust, our droopy eyes start to crave for the littlest sleep, and we may start to lose a dash of the spring in our steps. But the greedy mind and the selfish heart wants for more films, but we have to turn around and leave.

Coming into the latter half of the festival, we worried a little this year that we might not be able to catch as many films as in the past. We feared that the best films will have already had their press screenings earlier in the festival. Turns out our worries were in vain; amongst the three of us, we watched 25 films at the festival. Upon returning back to San Diego, we rested our press badges with pride at our recording studio; it was another fulfilling year at Tribeca.

So as in every year, herewith is a full listing of all 29 films we covered at #tribeca2018. All of them were discussed during our four live from New York podcasts. And as always, before the alphabetical listing of all of the films we covered, here are the top festival favourites from each of the three Moviewallas.

Joe’s Top Films from the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival 

  1. OBEY
  2. THE ELEPHANT AND THE BUTTERFLY

Joe’s top picks from #Tribeca2018

Rashmi’s Top Films from the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival

  1. STUDIO 54
  2. DEAD WOMEN WALKING

Rashmi’s top picks from #Tribeca2018

Yazdi’s Top Films from the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival

  1. DEAD WOMEN WALKING
  2. DIANE
  3. THE ELEPHANT AND THE BUTTERFLY

Yazdi’s top picks from #Tribeca2018

And here is a full alphabetical listing of the films we covered at #tribeca2018 with links to the Tribeca film descriptions as well as to the specific podcast where each film was discussed:

 

  1. BOBBY KENNEDY FOR PRESIDENT, Day 1 podcast at 2:45 minutes
  2. DEAD WOMEN WALKING, Day 4 podcast at 16:20 minutes, Rashmi and Yazdi’s Top Tribeca pick
  3. DIANE, Day 4 podcast at 45:30 minutes, Yazdi’s Top Tribeca pick
  4. EGG, Day 2 podcast at 29:05 minutes
  5. ENHANCED, Day 2 podcast at 23:15 minutes
  6. IN A RELATIONSHIP, Day 2 podcast at 4:05 minutes
  7. IT’S A HARD TRUTH AIN’T IT, Day 1 podcast at 33:45 minutes
  8. MAPPLETHORPE, Day 4 podcast at 30:55 minutes
  9. MARY SHELLEY, Day 3 podcast at 42:35 minutes
  10. NIGERIAN PRINCE, Day 2 podcast at 40:40 minutes
  11. OBEY, Day 4 podcast at 36:15 minutes, Joe’s Top Tribeca Pick
  12. SATAN & ADAM, Day 3 podcast at 25:35 minutes
  13. SAY HER NAME: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SANDRA BLAND, Day 1 podcast at 17:20 minutes
  14. STUDIO 54, Day 3 podcast at 11:15 minutes, Rashmi’s Top Tribeca Pick
  15. THE AMERICAN MEME, Day 3 podcast at 31:45 minutes
  16. THE BLEEDING EDGE, Day 2 podcast at 11:50 minutes
  17. THE DARK, Day 4 podcast at 25:15 minutes
  18. THE ELEPHANT AND THE BUTTERFLY, Day 3 podcast at 17:40 minutes, Joe and Yazdi’s Top Tribeca Pick
  19. THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED, Day 3 podcast at 2:10 minutes
  20. THE FOURTH ESTATE, Day 4 podcast at 5:30 minutes
  21. THE GREAT PRETENDER, Day 1 podcast at 13:45 minutes
  22. THE PARTY’S JUST BEGINNING, Day 1 podcast at 28:20 minutes
  23. TINY SHOULDERS: RETHINKING BARBIE, Day 1 podcast at 8:00 minutes
  24. TO DUST, Day 1 podcast at 23:15 minutes
  25. UNTOGETHER, Day 2 podcast at 51:15 minutes

 

Until the year next, goodbye Tribeca!

 

 

Yazdi’s Favorite Films of 2017

 

Hello everyone, Yazdi here.

I blame the holidays.

I maintain a list of favorite films on Letterboxd all year. They are films from the past year that have triggered introspection, impressed with their craft, or just made me giddy in my cinema seat. And then the end of the year approaches, the holidays arrive, and I get caught up in the spirit of the season. That is when I inevitably recalibrate the rankings on my list. When I think back upon the past twelve months, the films that register more than others now are those that have moved me the most. The word “movie” dates to the 1890s when it was first realized that projecting still images in quick succession approximated movement on the screen; this definition makes sense. But I like to think of movies, the good ones at least, as films that move us the most, those that emotionally register, often irreversibly. Come the end of the year, the more cerebral films tumble down the list and the ones that have altered something within my emotional circuitry, rise to the top. The list of films stays the same, but when it comes to the rankings, the heart has always trumped the mind. And so is the case with this year’s list too:

 

  1. STRONGER: Nominally, this is about a person overcoming physical disability, at this time already an exhausted genre in film. But director David Gordon Green makes this a film about all the other things that are impacted by sudden disability; the lives of those around the person; the sense of self as the ground has literally disappeared from under them. The perennially underappreciated Jake Gyllenhaal is supported by career-best performances from Miranda Richardson and Tatiana Maslany. The film has no interest in making heroes out of any of the characters, based on real life individuals. And by allowing them to be deeply flawed, ill-intentioned even, STRONGER became the most emotionally authentic film I saw this year.
  2. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME: Like BOYHOOD, this is a film that doggedly refuses to add up to much through most of its running time. Until the very end when it suddenly does, and it quietly breaks your heart. Director Luca Guadagnino, a master of surfaces rendered with impossible beauty, lets the film languor, letting the viewer soak into the locale and the characters. Its a deeply immersive experience. More than anything else CALL ME BY YOUR NAME gets the subtle, complex dance of first love just right: the initial tentative circling around each other, the mixed messages, the dubious reading of signals, and the alacrity with which those around are recklessly used as pawns. This is the rare film that understands the cruelty that goes hand in hand with the swoon of young love.
  3. THE BEGUILED: A wounded soldier during the American Civil War is rescued to a Girls School. This is your classic rooster-in-a-henhouse story. In her take on the 1971 Clint Eastwood film, Sofia Coppola has left much of the story intact, but chosen to tell it from the perspective of the hens instead of the rooster. What great fun to watch the psychosexual repression get pressure cooked into a delicious stew of moral ambiguities. With a constant backdrop of booming cannons, the Civil War era sexual politics feel fiercely relevant.
  4. THELMA: All those lamenting the death of good cinema should immediately get their hands on this Norwegian thriller. A young girl leaves her sheltered small town family life to attend university in a big city, and starts noticing strange things happening to and around her. Always holding its cards close to the chest, THELMA evolves into something utterly unexpected. You watch the film with incredulity, unsure at every minute where the story is headed. Is this is a coming-of-age film. Is it supernatural horror. Is it a character study about the perils of repressing sexuality. Is it a strident rebuke to religious fanaticism. As you think back on the film afterward, you realize it is not primarily any of those things, although it touches upon them all. And you recognize that the film’s ambitions are grander still, taking on nothing less than how the world at large looks at femininity.
  5. KAPOOR AND SONS: For a long time, the biggest enemy of mainstream Indian cinema had been a willful adherence to moral and cinematic tropes that were dated even decades ago. Which is what has made the Indian films from the last 5-7 years so utterly exciting, as experimentation in form, in structure, and in content have led to a new golden age, with exceptional films coming from young filmmakers eager to marry the aesthetic of independent cinema with quality of craft. KAPOOR AND SONS earns its place in this pantheon. It is blessed with superlative acting from an enviable ensemble cast and a director who knows precisely how to tap into their talent. But the thing that truly sets this film apart from others in the cadre is the script. The writing in this film refuses to find easy villains. It knows that family conflicts can spontaneously escalate to something not unlike between enemy lines during war. The writing seeks empathy, it seeks understanding in the face of long germinated prejudices, and it seeks space for everyone to breathe. This film made me glad to be alive.
  6. THE POST: At a time when the big studios are almost exclusively financing sequels and superhero franchise films, a resolutely cerebral film seems a minor miracle. Steven Spielberg has made an astute turn in his career with a recent trilogy of political films, LINCOLN, THE BRIDGE OF SPIES and now THE POST, that while superficially unrelated, all comment urgently on the state of contemporary politics in America, and the dangerous path we are currently treading. Kay Graham, the de-facto publisher of The Washington Post , in the early 1970s was faced with the choice of publishing the next of the Pentagon papers at the risk of having Nixon shut down the newspaper. THE POST is hermetically sealed within its times. But when you consider the issues at stake: the press versus a government bent on stifling its freedoms, a woman trying to exert her moral will in a predominantly male business, corporate imperatives directly abutting national security risks, you realize just how relevant this film is to the absolute now. THE POST is Donald Trump’s worst nightmare, and for that alone it is an accomplishment.
  7. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER: The films of Yargos Lanthimos make you wonder if he is the person most urgently in need of a hug in the whole wide world, but By Jove, thank god for filmmakers like him. Demonstrating once again why he is a master of the disquiet, he is able to effortlessly conjure up unease and impending terror. The teenaged children of a celebrated cardiologist (Colin Farrell) and his ophthalmologist wife (Nicole Kidman) start to suddenly get sick with no medical explanation. Does any of it have to do with the young boy that the cardiologist has taken under his wing? Like all of his films, Lanthimos creates a world with its own absurd rules, and staunchly sees the film through based on those tenets. Isn’t it that evil is so frightening because it often hides in plain view amongst the banal. Part cold knuckled revenge thriller, part unforgiving moral treatise, and an altogether unpredictable and sinister experience, this movie may be too disturbing for some. But every lover of cinema needs to watch this film.
  8. COCO: This film nicely fits in with the best of Pixar films in its ability to create complex new world, and being unafraid to tackle darker ideas. This film owes a lot visually to Miyazaki’s SPIRITED AWAY, and the influence of Pixar’s own MONSTERS INC is apparent. However the film’s place and sensibility is uniquely its own. The film uses the Mexican rites of Dias De Los Muertos (Day of The Dead) as its springboard; but those rites resonated strongly with the Indian customs I grew up with, speaking to the universality of our common traditions. COCO filled me up and then devastated me. Note to Pixar: please abandon all efforts with sequels, which save for TOY STORY have resulted in inferior efforts. Their recent original material (INSIDE OUT, THE GOOD DINOSAUR and now COCO) speaks for itself and doesn’t need to be diluted by mediocre sequels
  9. LOGAN LUCKY: Were this film made by another director and distributed by a major studio, it would have been a runaway hit. But we expect proficiency from someone like Steven Soderbergh, and to our great peril, take him for granted. The director of the OCEAN’S ELEVEN reboot (and the sequels) takes a stab at another heist story, this time set in the down South NASCAR racing circuit instead of the gleaming Vegas surfaces of the OCEAN’S films. Oh but what fun this film is, probably the most entertaining one I saw this year. Soderbergh walks a tight line between mocking his characters and demonstrating unequivocal fondness for them. I have no desire to live in a world in which Steven Soderbergh is no longer making films.
  10. A CURE FOR WELLNESS: This is a blindingly original film. A young man is sent to a hidden mountain resort to bring back an office colleague who has seemingly been retained there against his will. The man arrives there, and of course, nothing is what it seems, and from there things take on one twisted turn after another. With a commitment to its craziness that initially puzzles you and then outright wins you over, A CURE FOR WELLNESS is what happens when you allow a filmmaker with giddy vision (Gore Verbinsky) to go with his full creative intent and you get the hell out of his way. What an utter lunatic delight this film is.
  11. DUNKIRK: What is left to say about DUNKIRK at this point? That in spite of other incredible mainstream productions released this year, you will not find a film with better craft. That this is the film that Christopher Nolan has been working toward his entire career. In which he has found the right scale, placed hubris in check, and put to optimal use his penchant for time dilation. Many expected DUNKIRK to be the story of the exodus of the more than three hundred thousand Allied soldiers out of France from Nazi control. But Nolan wisely decided to focus on a handful of individuals-  in air, on land and on water – demonstrating yet again that his best work comes from smaller scale projects.
  12. GET OUT: Of all the films on this list, Jordan Peele’s debut directorial effort will likely be talked about most in ten years’ time. The premise is deceptively simple: invited to the family home of his Caucasian girlfriend, a Black man begins to sense that things may not be what they seem. The film works as a satisfying straight up thriller. But the film gives so much more upon introspection. Peele has mentioned that the inspiration for the film was a mash-up between THE STEPFORD WIVES and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER. By adroitly approaching this as a genre horror film, Peele is able to have the viewer experience a gleefully amplified version of the African American experience in America. And therein lies its genius.
  13. MOTHER! There is something to be said for a film that will just not submit to a middling response.  Most have outright hatred – the seething, foaming at the mouth kind – for the film. And then there are others who have great admiration for it. Here is the key to the movie: it is the rarest of films which is aided by a little bit of prior knowledge before being seen. The film, from its look into an early marriage in the first act, then to a home invasion in the middle, and finally to the spectacularly deranged last act, is open to many interpretations. I saw the entire film as an allegory for what the conversation between a prideful Creator and his young creation might look like. Once you see the Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence characters as God and Mother Earth, respectively, the film makes absolute sense from first scene to last. The film has also, rightly, been seen as a statement on artistic creation, and the exacting, crippling demands it makes from the artist. Or simply as an age-old push and pull between a wanting masculinity and a giving female presence. No matter how you look at it, as insightful, or as overly obvious, you cannot deny that this is the work of a wily provocateur. And we are remiss to toss it aside based on literal interpretations of the film’s events.
  14. LADY BIRD: You come out of the theater having watched LADY BIRD, and you want to give the film a hug. Greta Gerwig has long been a double threat (an endearing screen actor and a sharply discerning screen-writer) and over the years there have been many (including me) who have wondered when Hollywood would wise up to her talents. Well, Hollywood was too busy bankrolling the next superhero film, and so Gerwig wrote and independently directed her first feature based on her experiences of growing up as a teenager in Sacramento. There is not a single innovative thing in this film, from the plot to the structure to the insights it provide. But a story well told, and with an abundance of respect for all its characters, is all it takes for a movie to hum with universal truths.
  15. THE LOST CITY OF Z / MUDBOUND: I am cheating and placing two films in the final spot because I cannot bear to let either one go unsung. Both are strikingly ambitious pieces of cinema, with wide breadth in scope, created by filmmakers relatively young in their careers.  In his sixth film as director, James Gray takes on the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett who went deep into the Amazon to search for the mythic City of Z in the 1920s. He uses this premise to reflect on a multitude of themes: the heedless obsession that has driven the greatest explorers (and continues with extreme sportsmen in contemporary times), the tremendous and often irreversible toll this takes on families left behind at home, and the inherent danger in assuming ascendancy during the initial interaction with aborigines in a newly discovered land. This is a smart, grueling, meditative piece of cinema. MUDBOUND is only the third film from Dee Rees and it plays with the assured confidence of a filmmaker telling a story that must be told. Without sentimentalism or overt stridency, Rees follows a multitude of characters navigating the American South after the end of WWII.  They are all achingly human, victims of their time and their prejudices and the abject whims of fate. To Dees’ credit, there is equal compassion and an objective search for comprehension of the motivations of the Caucasian and Black characters alike. Some are monsters, yes, and the ugly cruelty of racism is a constancy, but there is also the haunting presence of an unsparing destiny that will not allow an unrealistic out for any of the characters.

As I wrap up this list, I realize that there were so many other fine films in 2017 that could have just as easily been on the list. So I had to get nit-picky in eliminating some movies.  Both I, TONYA and BABY DRIVER should have made this list, but I had to make some tough cuts and they were the most painful eliminations. THE FLORIDA PROJECT is a bonafide great film, but I couldn’t buy into its conclusion. THE SHAPE OF WATER is visually, as wondrous a film as any Guillermo Del Toro has made, and Sally Hawkins breaks your heart, but its conclusion unfortunately succumbed to the one thing Del Toro has never indulged in: sentimentality. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI features crackerjack performances from a stellar ensemble, and is a rousing, provocative movie, but the film ultimately felt too mean-spirited to me. THE DISASTER ARTIST is good entertainment but seemed a bit of a piffle, an inside joke, a lets-do-this-for-fun enterprise. I have yet to watch ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN and PHANTOM THREAD.

I have also deliberately left out documentaries because there were so many compelling ones released this year (you must see FACES, PLACES) and I will put out a separate list for them. Likewise I will be soon be publishing a list of the best of commercial cinema in 2017, where ATOMIC BLONDE, JOHN WICK-2 and STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI should find their rightful top perches. For an impenitent list maker like me, this should nicely feed my mania; watch this space for more.

 

 

2017 Winners | San Diego Film Critics Society

The Winners have been announced! The San Diego Film Critics Society, of which Moviewallas is a proud member, went through their year-end voting earlier this week. They picked their choices from nominations that had been announced last Friday.

And here are the winners. James McCoy as Best Actor, Male, for SPLIT, a film that was released earlier this year and which was hardly on any other critics groups mind. Sally Hawkins as Best Actor, Female, for THE SHAPE OF WATER, in which she plays a mute cleaner in the 1950s who has to contend with a creature brought in captivity to the premises. Sally Hawkins’ closest rival for the prize? Herself! As Hawkins picked up first runner-up prize as well for her role in MAUDIE.

The mysterious, unpredictable, but compellingly thought provoking Norwegian thriller THELMA, was awarded Best Foreign Film, beating out the likes of  more established films like THE SQUARE and THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE. First time independent feature director, Greta Gerwig picked up the Best Director prize, besting established players such as Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan. Timothee Chalamet, who has burst onto the scene with his understated but undeniably affecting performance in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME was presented with the Best Breakthrough Artist prize. And the wonderfully versatile Michael Stuhlbarg, also from the same film (and also THE POST, and THE SHAPE OF WATER) was declared the winner for Best Body Of Work.

The San Diego Film Critics Society, which prides itself on its selection of awardees who are far from the beaten track, continued their streak in 2017 as well. Here is a full listing of the 2017 winners:

 

Best Picture: GET OUT
Runner Up: LADY BIRD

Best Director: Greta Gerwig, LADY BIRD
Runner Up: Christopher Nolan, DUNKIRK

Best Actor: James McAvoy, SPLIT
Runner Up: James Franco, THE DISASTER ARTIST

Best Actress: Sally Hawkins, MAUDIE
Runner Up: Sally Hawkins, THE SHAPE OF WATER

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Runner Up: Willem Dafoe, THE FLORIDA PROJECT

Best Supporting Actress: Tie
Allison Janney I, TONYA
Laurie Metcalf, LADY BIRD

Best Comedic Performance: Daniel Craig, LOGAN LUCKY
Runner Up: James Franco, THE DISASTER ARTIST

Best Original Screenplay: Jordan Peele, GET OUT
Runner Up: Greta Gerwig, LADY BIRD

Best Adapted Screenplay: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, THE DISASTER ARTIST
Runner Up: Virgil Williams & Dee Rees, MUDBOUND

Best Documentary: JANE
Runner Up: THE WORK

Best Animated Film: MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI
Runner Up: THE BOSS BABY

Best Foreign Language Film: THELMA
Runner Up: BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE)

Best Editing: Jonathan Amos & Paul Machliss, BABY DRIVER
Runner Up: Lee Smith, DUNKIRK

Best Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema, DUNKIRK
Runner Up: Darius Khondji, THE LOST CITY OF Z

Best Production Design: Paul D. Austerberry, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Runner Up: Alessandora Querzola and Dennis Gassner, BLADE RUNNER 2049

Best Visual EffectsWAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
Runner Up: Tie
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
DUNKIRK

Best Costume Design: Tie
Jacqueline Durran, BEAUTY and the BEAST
Mark Bridges, PHANTOM THREAD

Best Use of Music: BABY DRIVER
Runner Up: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Breakthrough Artist: Timothee Chalamet
Runner Up: Barry Keoghan

Best Ensemble: MUDBOUND

Body of Work: Michael Stuhlbarg – THE POST, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, THE SHAPE OF WATER

2017 Nominations | San Diego Film Critics Society

 

So here we are. It is that time of the year already. Was 2017 just a big dream and it never really happened? Or is it really mid-December! How can that be.

 

Anyway, while we ponder the immutability of time, let us also share the 2017 Nominations for the best in cinema from the San Diego Film Critics Society.

 

The Moviewallas are proud, card-carrying members of the SDFCS, and we are thrilled to be voting tomorrow when we announce the winners. But here the nominations in each category:

 

 

Films nominated for BEST PICTURE

Best Picture
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
DUNKIRK
GET OUT
LADY BIRD
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Best Director
Christopher Nolan, DUNKIRK
Greta Gerwig, LADY BIRD
Guillermo del Toro, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Jordan Peele, GET OUT
Martin McDonagh, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Best Actor
Gary Oldman, DARKEST HOUR
James Franco, THE DISASTER ARTIST
James McAvoy, SPLIT
Robert Pattinson, GOOD TIME
Timothée Chalamet, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Best Actress
Frances McDormand, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Margot Robbie, I, TONYA
Sally Hawkins, MAUDIE
Sally Hawkins, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Saoirse Ronan, LADY BIRD

Best Supporting Actor
Ethan Hawke, MAUDIE
Oscar Isaac, SUBURBICON
Sam Rockwell, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Willem Dafoe, THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Woody Harrelson, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Best Supporting Actress
Allison Janney I, TONYA
Bria Vinaite, THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Catherine Keener, GET OUT
Holly Hunter, THE BIG SICK
Laurie Metcalf, LADY BIRD

Best Comedic Performance
Daniel Craig, LOGAN LUCKY
Ezra Miller, JUSTICE LEAGUE
James Franco, THE DISASTER ARTIST
Lil Rel Howery, GET OUT
Ray Romano, THE BIG SICK

Best Original Screenplay
Christopher Nolan, DUNKIRK
Greta Gerwig, LADY BIRD
Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, THE BIG SICK
Jordan Peele, GET OUT
Martin McDonagh, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Best Adapted Screenplay
James Gray, THE LOST CITY OF Z
James Ivory, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, THE DISASTER ARTIST
Sofia Coppola, THE BEGUILED
Virgil Williams & Dee Rees, MUDBOUND

Best Documentary
EX LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY
FACES PLACES
JANE
LAST MEN IN ALEPPO
THE WORK

Best Animated Film
COCO
LOVING VINCENT
MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA
MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI
THE BOSS BABY

THELMA nominated for Best Foreign Film.

Best Foreign Language Film
BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE)
FACES PLACES
THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE
THE SQUARE
THELMA

Best Editing
Jonathan Amos & Paul Machliss, BABY DRIVER
Jon Gregory, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Lee Smith, DUNKIRK
Sarah Broshar, Michael Kahn, THE POST
Sidney Wolinsky, THE SHAPE OF WATER

Best Cinematography
Ben Richardson, WIND RIVER
Dan Laustsen, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Darius Khondji, THE LOST CITY OF Z
Hoyte Van Hoytema, DUNKIRK
Roger Deakins, BLADE RUNNER 2049

Best Production Design
Anne Ross, THE BEGUILED
Alessandora Querzola and Dennis Gassner, BLADE RUNNER 2049
Nathan Crowley, DUNKIRK
Paul D. Austerberry, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Sarah Greenwood, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Best Visual Effects
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
BLADE RUNNER 2049
DUNKIRK
THE SHAPE OF WATER
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

Best Costume Design
Jacqueline Durran, BEAUTY and the BEAST
Jenny Eagan, HOSTILES
Luis Sequeira, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Mark Bridges, PHANTOM THREAD
Sonia Grande, THE LOST CITY OF Z
Stacey Battat, THE BEGUILED

Scene from CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, nominated in several categories. The film opens in San Diego on December 22nd.

Best Use of Music
BABY DRIVER
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
DUNKIRK
THE SHAPE OF WATER

Breakthrough Artist
Barry Keoghan
Brooklynn Prince
Greta Gerwig
Jordan Peele
Sophia Lillis
Timothee Chalamet

Best Ensemble
GET OUT
LADY BIRD
MUDBOUND
THE POST
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

 

Anyway, tomorrow Monday, December 11th is when we vote for our favourites and declare the final winners. Watch this space for the award announcements

 

 

Full Listing of 2017 Tribeca Film Festival Coverage | #tribeca2017




So there we were, in New York City again, giddy and electric with excitement at the start of another Tribeca Film Festival. #tribeca2017 beckoned. Our annual pilgrimage was upon us.

Joe’s Top Three Picks – 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

After having set up base at the Battery Park area for the past several years, this year we made home in a tony Chelsea hotel. And a new ritual was set for the film festival. Get up early, get ready and dressed, grab caffeine and sunrise munchies at one of the neighbourhood establishments and head to the Chelsea Bowties cinemas (in the midst of transition to Cinepolis properties) for the 9 AM first press screening. After making agonizing decisions during the rest of the morning regarding which screenings to catch of the several that were concurrently showing, we typically made our way through four films. Then a bite to eat. Or an early dinner at a strongly recommended restaurant (Paowalla, how you filled us up!). Or a meet up with friends. Then a sundown film screening. After which we returned back sated with all manner of cinematic memories bouncing in our heads. And recorded a podcast in which we discussed all the films we had watched cumulatively amongst the three of us. And Joe, the good man, edited and published the podcast the same night.

After five days of this routine, we got bleary-eyed, as the accumulation of ever more films danced around in our brains. But it was the best kind of exhaustion for us, the kind that comes from watching too many films. As if there is such a thing as “too many movies”.

Rashmi’s Top Three Picks – 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the West Coast. With another deposit to our Tribeca Film Festival memory bank. And ready and eager to back for #tribeca2018. And this year, we had seen 34 films amongst the three of us! It is the most films we have covered at Tribeca to date, and hope to best that tally next year.

So herewith is a full listing of all 34 films we covered at #tribeca2017. These films were all discussed on our five ‘live from New York’ podcasts devoted to the festival. But before the full alphabetical listing of the films we covered, here are the top festival favourites from each of us:

 

Joe’s Top Three Films at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

ALPHAGO
A RIVER BELOW
ROCK’N ROLL

 

Rashmi’s Top Three Films at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

GET ME ROGER STONE
ROCK’N ROLL
KING OF PEKING

 

Yazdi’s Top Three Films from the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

PERMISSION
PILGRIMAGE
SWEET VIRGINIA

 

And here is a full alphabetical listing of the films we watched at #Tribeca2017 with links to the Tribeca film descriptions as well as to the specific podcast where each film was discussed:

 

  1. A RIVER BELOW, at 24:50 min, Day 3 podcast – Joe’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  2. ABUNDANT ACREAGE AVAILABLE, at 11:00 min, Day 1 podcast
  3. ACORN AND THE FIRESTORM, at 18:57 min, Day 4 podcast
  4. ALPHAGO, at 29:21 min, Day 2 podcast – Joe’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  5. BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY , at 29:09 min, Day 4 podcast
  6. COPWATCH, at 12:14 min, Day 4 podcast
  7. FLAMES, at 29:44 min, Day 1 podcast
  8. FLOWER, at 44:01 min, Day 1 podcast
  9. FRANK SERPICO, at 3:42 min, Day 4 podcast
  10. GENIUS (television pilot), at 15:58 min, Day 1 podcast
  11. GET ME ROGER STONE, at 7:45 min, Day 4 podcast– Rashmi’s Top Three Tribeca  Pick
  12. HOLY AIR, at 20:18 min, Day 1 podcast
  13. HOUSE OF Z, at 30:54  min, Day 3 podcast
  14. KEEP THE CHANGE, at 36:33 min, Day 1 podcast
  15. KING OF PEKING, at 25:42 min, Day 1 podcast – Rashmi’s Top Three Tribeca Pick 
  16. LITERALLY, RIGHT BEFORE AARON, at 20:14 min, Day 3 podcast
  17. MY FRIEND DAHMER, at 8:10 min, Day 2 podcast
  18. ONE PERCENT MORE HUMID, at 12:13 min, Day 2 podcast
  19. PERMISSION, at 4:43 min, Day 3 podcast – Yazdi’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  20. ROCK’N ROLL, at  44:51 min, Day 3 podcastJoe’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  21. PILGRIMAGE, at 38:53 min, Day 3 podcast – Yazdi’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  22. SHADOWMAN, at 23:57 min, Day 2 podcast
  23. SON OF SOFIA, at 46:25 min, Day 2 podcast
  24. SWEET VIRGINIA, at 17:31 min, Day 2 podcast – Yazdi’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  25. THE BOY DOWNSTAIRS, at 24:24 min, Day 4 podcast
  26. THE CLAPPER, at 1:50 min, Day 4 podcast
  27. THE ENDLESS, at 41:09 min, Day 2 podcast
  28. THE HANDMAID’S TALE (television pilot), at 36:15 min, Day 2 podcast
  29. THE LAST ANIMALS, at 15:10 min, Day 3 podcast
  30. THE LOVERS, at 34:57  min, Day 3 podcast
  31. THIRST STREET, at 2:07 min, Day 2 podcast
  32. THUMPER, at 6:02 min, Day 1 podcast
  33. SAMBA, at 2:54 min, Day 1 podcast
  34. TILT, at 13:05 min, Day 3 podcast

 

Yazdi’s Top Three Picks – 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

 

Until next year, goodbye Tribeca!

Review | PUERTO RICANS IN PARIS

 

Sometimes all you want to do is to settle into a film seat with popcorn in your hands, and not have to worry about life’s all too real problems. Or to have the film comment on How We Live Now. Or to have the film be a treatise on the State Of The World. Lord knows we have enough films that do that. Sometimes all you want to see is a fun, soufflé-light comedy with a good heart. And an abundance of silliness up its sleeves.

 

untitled

Edgar Garcia, Rosie Perez, Rosario Dawson and Luis Guzman in PUERTO RICANS IN PARIS.

PUERTO RICANS IN PARIS (opening in San Diego, Friday June 10th) is just that film. In the inanity of its plot, it could give KEANU a run for its money. And yet, PUERTO RICANS IN PARIS resonates with a little more sincerity, a little more ballast amidst all the goofiness. And is there goofiness here! I will attempt to summarize the plot as thus: two New York detectives of Puerto Rican lineage are recruited to travel to Paris and solve the mystery of a stolen, coveted new handbag  by a top fashion designer. See what I mean? I defy you to come up with something goofier. But to watch the film is to notice a smile come on your face in the first five minutes, and to have that smile stay stubbornly through the last reel. In fact if I mention the cast – Luis Guzman, Edgar Garcia, Rosario Dawson and Rosie Perez – doesn’t that alone make you smile?

 

We were lucky to catch this film at the Los Angeles Film Festival last year, and we covered it on our podcast at that time. You can have a listen to the podcast at:

Episode 280.1 – 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival – Part 1

 

puerto ricans in parisPUERTO RICANS IN PARIS is running an enviable 87% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and so many reviewers can’t be wrong. Go catch this film. It is the sort of small-budget film that deserves to be a breakout hit on the grounds of its easy laughs and open heart. Help it become that breakout hit. This might just be the antidote to the superhero fatigue you know you are feeling.

 

Full listing of 2016 Tribeca Film Festival Coverage

 

Day 1, Tribeca 2016

Day One, 2016 Tribeca Film Festival

What joy it was to watch film after film at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival #Tribeca 2016. Sometimes five, six films in a day. We were happy as pigs in mud. Rolling around in the excellently curated selections at the festival. Our third consecutive year covering Tribeca proved a dizzying blast as between the three of us, we saw 27 films in four days at the festival. These films were all discussed on our five ‘live from New York’ podcasts devoted to the festival.

Day 2 Tribeca 2016

Day Two, 2016 Tribeca Film Festival

Day 3 Tribeca 2016

Day 3, 2016 Tribeca Film Festival 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a full alphabetical listing of the films we watched at #Tribeca2016, with links to the podcast where each film was discussed:

  1. AFTER SPRING, at 31:06 min, Day 2 podcast
  2. AWOL, at 12:38 min, Day 3 podcast
  3. BAD RAP, at 10:10 min, Day 5 podcast
  4. THE BANKSY JOB, at 2:03 min, Day 5 podcast
  5. DETOUR, at 5:45 min, Day 4 podcast
  6. THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, at 1:45 min, Day 2 podcast
  7. DO NOT RESIST, at 7:27 min, Day 2 podcast
  8. DON’T LOOK DOWN, at 25:20 min, Day 2 podcast
  9. ENLIGHTEN US: THE RISE AND FALL OF JAMES ARTHUR RAY, at 28:56 min, Day 5 podcast
  10. THE FAMILY FANG, at 14:40 min, Day 1 podcast
  11. THE FIRST MONDAY IN MAY at 4:30 min, Day 1 podcast
  12. HERE ALONE, at 30:17 min, Day 3 podcast
  13. HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM, at 11:14 min, Day 4 podcast
  14. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, at 27:59 min, Day 1 podcast
  15. I’LL SLEEP WHEN I’M DEAD, at 24:00 min, Day 3 podcast
  16. JEREMIAH TOWER: THE LAST MAGNIFICENT, at 24:54 min, Day 5 podcast
  17. KEEP QUIET, at 12:34 min, Day 2 podcast
  18. LITTLE BOXES, at 33:57 min, Day 3 podcast
  19. LIVE CARGO, at 9:16 min, Day 3 podcast
  20. THE LONER, at 17:20 min, Day 5 podcast
  21. THE MEDDLER, at 4:48 min, Day 1 podcast
  22. MOTHER (EMA), at 21:58 min, Day 1 podcast
  23. PARENTS (FORAELDRE), at 19:12 min, Day 3 podcast
  24. PISTOL SHRIMPS, at 18:45 min, Day 2 podcast
  25. SHADOW WORLD, at 15:24 min, Day 4 podcast
  26. WOMEN WHO KILL, at 2:00 min, Day 3 podcast
  27. YOUTH IN OREGON, at 1:20 min, Day 4 podcast
Day Four Tribeca 2016

Day Four, 2016 Tribeca Film Festival finds

Day 5 Tribeca 2016

Day Five, 2016 Tribeca Film Festival finds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until next year, goodbye Tribeca.

 

 

Best Films of 2015 | Yazdi’s Personal Favorites

Hello everyone. Yazdi here.

2015 Best Films

Earlier this month, about halfway through THE REVENANT, I became conscious of my self floating about seven feet above my body. I live for such transcendent moments at the movies. This was already about the fourth occurrence in the past twelve months. I wondered to myself then, if in the future, 2015 will be looked at as a golden hour in the history of film. Like we do now say 1976, when TAXI DRIVER, NETWORK, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, ROCKY, IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES, 1900 and THE ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 were all released.

Anyone who claims that this was an unremarkable year at the movies is itching for a fight; bring on the gloves. If you were left unmoved in your cinema seat this year, you haven’t bothered to seek out the right films, my friend.

No matter what genre your inner cinephile resonates with, there were incredible offerings this year which restructured the genre. If I do not sound objective and impartial while introducing my best films list, it is intentional. I would posit that objectivity has no room in film writing. If you do not have the capacity to fall madly, irrationally, violently in love with a movie, then you shouldn’t write about film. When we sit down in that cinema seat, we bring with us a lifetime of biases. We bring with us what happened to us that morning, and who we broke up with earlier in the year, and whose loss we are mourning for longer than we would care to admit. The archeology of our mental and emotional state, both the immediate and the calcified, influences our individual reactions to a film. And it should. Because this is what grants diversity in film opinion. If all of us liked the same films, we would be a boring, hopeless lot. Intense, forehead-vein popping debates about films are what fuel my engine. And my favorite film reviewers, the ones I read religiously, are not necessarily those whose tastes in film align with my own; they just happen to write like a dream about why a specific film meant so much to them, based on their junction in life at the time they watched it.

So herewith is the list; they represent my personal favorites. As in previous years, the main criterion for inclusion of a film was that, in some small way or large, it altered my emotionally circuitry, often irreversibly. Hence, many films that I respect a lot but which didn’t necessarily shake me up (e.g., CAROL, THE BIG SHORT, SPOTLIGHT) are not on this list.

Since I have had a longtime (and happy) affliction of listomania, there will be two other lists: Best Mainstream Films and Best Films Seen At Film Festivals. This year I will be posting two additional lists: Most Disappointing Films of the year, and Most Overlooked Films.  So there will be plenty of cinematic muck to roll around in, piglets.

  1. ROOM: How often do we hear news stories about events so far flung from norms of human behavior as to make us wonder how they could even have transpired. And yet they happen. Based on the novel by Emma Donaghue, ROOM presents us with a five year old; the only world he has seen is a shed in which he has been living with his mother, both imprisoned by a captor. Isn’t it so that evil in the real world is matter of fact, often standing unremarkably in plain sight until it is recognized? ROOM takes this premise and considers it without prurience, or the slightest concession to sensationalism. And like the best films, ROOM transcends its setup, as its theme comes more visibly into focus in the second half: this is a movie about recovery. Are we not, each one of us, in some manner, recovering in life. And what is it that heals us. It is the routine, banal constancy of little things. A dog. The unconditional affection from a grandparent. A kind person’s presence. By quietly commenting on the human capacity for resilience, ROOM demonstrates more emotional honesty than other film this year. Featuring performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay that are minor miracles, ROOM is the best film of the year.
  1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD George Miller’s MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is stark raving mad. But then don’t you have to be a little bit insane to get into history books. And this film unapologetically claims its place in cinema as the superior action film made to date. In this fourth installment set in the post-apocalyptic world of previous Mad Max films, a woman revolts against her feudal master and escapes with other young girls enslaved for the specific purpose of breeding. Along the way Max becomes a reluctant accomplice, as the film’s architecture gets defined by a single chase across the desert. If you want to watch something agreeable and neatly contained and with a traditional storytelling arc, then maybe this film is not for you. But otherwise, watch this film as a masterclass on three-dimensional storyboarding. On the project management of physics in action sequences.  On how to reinvent a franchise. Watch how effortlessly it makes the audience a participant; you will forget to breathe. FURY ROAD is a challenge to the whole new generation of action filmmakers working today, urging them to follow its audacious path into the genre’s future.
  1. THE REVENANT  Relentless and breathtaking, THE REVENANT is why I go to the movies. It is reason we all should. A man in frontier era America is left for dead and has to claw his way back to exact some small piece of retribution [‘revenant’ means one that has returned from the dead]. And his journey becomes our journey: horrifying and crushing, but also majestic and ultimately, sublime. Critics of the film have found the protagonist’s Job-like trials unrealistic, comical even. But the unrelentingly dire isn’t mutually exclusive with reality; the film is based on the real life story of American Frontiersman Hugh Glass.  After helming a series of films that were multitych confluences of several stories, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu made a leviathan leap last year with BIRDMAN, filmed to seem like a single uninterrupted take.  And here with THE REVENANT, Inarritu is working on an exalted plane, better for having shaken off his innate affinity for intertwined stories in favor of a singular uncluttered tale of survival. Composed entirely of long takes, and shot using only naturally available light, you will see things that just haven’t been previously projected on a cinema screen; this is work of exceptional craft. And in the last page of the story, the film makes an understated case that it is the casual, unthought acts of goodness that will ultimately save us. And there is grace in this karmic assertion.
  1. BROOKLYN There’s a scene late in BROOKLYN, in which the simple act of a girl placing an unopened letter into a drawer drew a loud gasp from the theater audience, both times I saw the film. This speaks to how invested the audience was in a story told right. Scripted by Nick Hornby from the novel of the same name by Colm Toibin, this is the story of a young Irish girl who emigrates to America in the fifties. If you watch this film and it doesn’t fill you up, you can be no friend of mine. There has been a tendency for decades now to see sentimentality as a vice, a crutch for lesser filmmakers. But when done right and with authenticity, it can be the most powerful thing in the movies. Case in point, BROOKLYN, which like SHORT TERM 12 last year, demonstrates that what we feel will always trump what we see in the movies. BROOKLYN is about growing up and making peace with where you came from. Anyone who has written letters across the oceans and felt achingly homesick will empathize. And the film is lusciously romantic, unapologetically so. It is also blessed with Saoirse Ronan playing the lead in the sort of role that becomes defining for an actor. I want to hug this movie, and hug it, and hug it.
  1. EX-MACHINA A canny examination of what it means to be human, this is a sly, sexy, sci-fi head-trip. Where films like AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE and even 2001, A SPACE ODYSSEY have struggled to crystallize the inherent irony with artificial intelligence – that the more successful we get with imparting intelligence to a machine, the more that machine will want torefuse orders from humans – EX-MACHINA drives home this concept with admirable simplicity. Much of the film is a cat and mouse game between a female robot just starting to bloom under the first stirrings of consciousness, and two humans who only seem to be playing the roles of Creator and Emancipator. Willfully intellectual and magnificently violent, with some of the best production design this year, this film is a gift that any self-respecting cinephile ought to unwrap in a hurry.
  1. MISTRESS AMERICA It’s a shame that in all the awards season clatter, this film is not being celebrated more.A girl new to New York is taken under the wings of a seasoned, know-it-all played by Greta Gerwig. One of the joys of this film, which has the best script of any movie released this year as far as I am concerned, is to see how it translocates our allegiance between the two characters at different times during the movie. MISTRESS AMERICA also has the single funniest sequence this year, an almost slapstick Noel Cowardesque piece set at a suburban home where a multitude of characters interact with precision timing. Gerwig’s character has a deliberate artifice (and an off-kilter cadence to her speech) but we eventually come to realize a sly, back-handed authenticity to her. As luminous an actor as she is, Gerwig’s greater contribution may be as that stealth writer that Hollywood will be all too late in recognizing. Inspired by Woody Allen and Robert Altman alike, and a familiar cousin to FRANCES HA (the previous film co-written by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach) this is an urbane, smart, and ultimately wise comedy of manners.
  1. DOPE  Every minute of this film is thrillingly alive. A loving send-off to urban eighties films such as FRIDAY and BOYS IN THE HOOD, this movie manages to transcend genre. The coming of age story of an intelligent young black man trying to break free from his surroundings with help from his two just as poorly adjusted friends, is giddy and inspired and sexy. I believed these characters and rooted for them. A film can achieve this level of specificity only when it is allowed to be a singular vision, in this case, coming from the mind of Rick Fumuyiwa, who wrote and directed this film. Thank goodness for smaller films that still get made without studio meddling. On the list of this film’s achievements is also the altogether winning breakout performance from its lead actor, Shameik Moore. What a sweet, sweet film this is.
  1. KINGSMAN, THE SECRET SERVICE When was the last time a movie actually thrilled you, made you giddy with what was unfolding on screen. At one point, I found myself yelling (thankfully in my internal voice) at the screen: “Run, run, they are right behind you”. And I am for the most part a dour, unexcitable moviegoer. Like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY last year, THE KINGSMAN knows about joy. Not exactly a spoof yet also tipping its hat at Bond and Bourne films alike, THE KINGSMAN knows that the one thing most scarce in spy thrillers these days is good old-fashioned fun. And so it demonstrates how being goofy is not mutually exclusive with being clever. Maintaining a balance of polished urbanity and preposterous cheekiness on a minute-by-minute basis, the film also occasionally crosses lines of propriety with glee.
  1. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD This is the most romantic film of the year. A woman in 1890s Victorian England must decide between three men who individually represent ardor, stability and lust. Thomas Hardy knew a thing or two about women navigating a man’s world while circumventing the roles thrust upon them. And the surprise of this film is to realize how much is unchanged in the century and a half since Hardy wrote the novel on which the film is based. At one point, the lead played luminously by Carey Mulligan, says, “It is difficult for a woman to express feelings in a language made by men to express theirs”. Instead of a literate Merchant Ivory-like adaptation, or a feminist injunction, this big-screen treatment goes by a different ideal: swoon. It understands that true love is about the flicker of glances, the unsaid things between locking eyes. And Carey Mulligan and Mathias Schoenaerts glower like the best of cinematic foils. This is a film that is far more interested in images than in words.
  1. BRIDGE OF SPIES Spielberg has always been a filmmaker of grand actions. THE BRIDGE OF SPIES is his first film that is measured deliberately in small gestures; what we have here is the first anti-Spielberg film. And it a fine turn for him to make in his career. Initially reluctant to watch yet another Cold War thriller, I settled down with relish after the first half hour, surprised to find this a work of understated precision; there is a gleaming burnish to the craft and rigor with which the film has been created. More important are the questions asked. Does the vicious treatment of an American spy captured in Russia give Americans the licence to treat a Russian spy with matched cruelty? The human instinct has long been to abandon liberal values in pursuit of retaliation after the occurrence of something heinous. The blood-thirst for justice has trampled on decency repeatedly in history. BRIDGE OF SPIES, which is foremost an exceptional thriller, quietly makes a plea to be watchful about not losing our humanistic higher ground in times of conflict. This film will hold up well for Spielberg’s legacy.
  1. THE END OF THE TOUR This film recounts the 5 days spent by Rolling Stones reporter David Lipsky interviewing David Foster Wallace who had just published his masterpiece, ‘Infinite Jest’. But don’t let that description fool you. The meeting of two literary minds, one noticeably envious of the critical success of the other, and the second grappling with sudden fame as much as his own demons, forms the basis for the most literate and probing film to get a theatrical release this year. Without being reductive or pandering, the film asks questions about celebrity, ethics, fame, and selling out. The writing here never tries to simplify the two men; they are both complex, conflicted, contrary individuals. Jason Segal, playing Foster Wallace, evokes a person who has never swum mainstream and is caught unprepared when his book is suddenly declared a masterpiece, pushing him into limelight. How does one hold on to one’s true self, warts and all, whilst being demanded to be a commodity that can be marketed for easy consumption? Foster Wallace may come off as sometimes insecure, and petulant, and jealous, but he is also achingly, resolutely human. Jesse Eisenberg, playing Lipsky, delicately conveys the arc of a journalist who goes from respectful bystander to politely inquisitive questioner to crossing-the-line provocateur. You make two intensely intelligent strangers spend time together for days, and they are bound to combust. And yet, when Lipsky leaves at the end of the interview, the ache of loneliness in Foster Wallace’s eyes is one of the saddest things to be seen at the cinema screen this year.
  1. MR HOLMES  This film is, note for note, gloriously right. It takes one of the world’s most famous fictional characters (Sherlock Holmes) and makes something wistful, and wise and smart and complex and very mortal out of it. It works at many levels. At one level it is a Sherlock Holmes mystery. But it is also a rumination on Holmes as a ninety-three year old battling dementia. The terrific script and these fine actors (the chief amongst them, the incomparable Ian McKellan) tap into the futility of fully understanding human behavior. About the challenges, and yes the joy, of loneliness. About the necessity of exorcising guilt in the sunset of one’s life before it is too late. And it is about unlikely connections – in this case, between a once famous man now in exile in the ninth decade of his life and a ten year old boy. Like STILL ALICE last year, this film too holds a mirror to the horror of a formerly brilliant individual fighting to retain wisps of memory too quick to slip away. And yet, for all this existential inquiry, the structure of this film, and its plot, is neat, ordered, gleaming.
  1. SPY / THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. / MISSION IMPOSSIBLE:ROGUE NATION  So singed is our skin from repeat burns from typical studio blockbusters, that when a big Hollywood film comes along and does something with poise, it takes our breath away. Such was the case with this triptych of stellar studio films released in 2015, all of which did the spy/action-film genre proud.                                                       Comedy is the hardest thing to do in cinema, and to do it well within genre conventions harder still. Melissa McCarthy finally gets lead material worthy of her, and one of the great joys of SPY is to watch how the movie is quietly, stealthily feminist. Look hard, look well, you will not find a single fat joke here. And McCarthy’s character may be caught off-guard when her fervent wish to be an on-the-ground spy is finally granted, but she is never inept; the filmmakers have no desire in watching their lead fumble. So many things are not right with the media we consume these days; we have substandard horror films tailored to teens playing in multiplexes every weekend and the Kardashians dominate television ratings. SPY somehow restores my faith in big-budget Hollywood films.                                                                                  THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.  This is like a lost Bond film from the sixties. Stylish and sexy and tongue-in-cheek to a fault, this film harkens to a golden age of spy films that has gone obsolete because of our relentless need to re-imagine everything as dour and dark and brooding; I call it the Nolanization of the cinematic universe. This film doesn’t just have the surfaces of a sixties flick, it has the gait of one. Characters talk like they did in Howard Hawks films, rapid-fire and too smart by half. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer play dueling spies from US and Russia, forced to work together, while Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki hold their own as femme fatale to be reckoned with. What higher compliment than to say that this film reminded me of THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY in its sensibility.                                    Let’s count the ways that MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION gets things right. Instead of the skinny teenage supermodel that Hollywood likes to routinely dole out as the female interest for such ventures, lets praise those who picked Rebecca Ferguson and gave her a meaty role: as a character who not only stands shoulder to shoulder with Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, but bails him out repeatedly (it is surely no coincidence that Ferguson has more than a passing resemblance to Ingrid Bergman, also a Hollywood import from Sweden). She takes her heels off before launching into action, thank you very much! (Bryce Dallas Howard, take note!). When James Bond is bent over under the weight of the world these days (see Nolanization of the cinematic universe above), it is refreshing to see Ethan Hunt take over duties from Bond as the exuberant and yes, sometimes outlandish spy; the release of SPECTRE later this year didn’t help dispel these concerns. The scene in the Vienna Opera House, adroitly and patiently layered, and implemented with crisp precision, is alone worth the price of admission. And finally let us give thanks to the script writers for avoiding any overtly romantic ties between the Cruise and Ferguson characters.
  1. THE GOOD DINOSAUR  The otherPixar film released in 2015 has taken up a lot of ink, and rightly so; INSIDE OUT is a grand act, working at multiple levels and taking on nothing less than an exploration of how our brains react, often irrationally. But INSIDE OUT has been celebrated enough; just because THE GOOD DINOSAUR is more traditional, and more simple-minded in its storytelling, does not make it any lesser an accomplishment. In another year, DINOSAUR would have been lauded for a return to form for Pixar to the sort of clean, open-hearted and emotionally resonant storytelling that the studio has built its reputation upon. But somehow critical opinion about the film has been bogged down by accusations that the story is too dark. But that isn’t fair; didn’t BAMBI or DUMBO or even Pixar’s own UP deal with darker themes of death and abandonment. THE GOOD DINOSAUR is a lovely, straight-up entertaining, coming of age tale.
  1. McFARLAND, USA When a good sports film works, it really works. This one is based on a true story. A fallen from grace football coach (Kevin Costner) gets assigned to a school in the titular small town in Central California and realizing that the predominantly Hispanic kids in school are uncommonly good at running, he decides to coach them for a cross country track team instead. This film by Niki Caro (WHALE RIDER) has a terrific sense for place. Of farming towns populated by migrant families that pick produce. Of cultures that assimilate. Of people living simple lives. And that is enough. Even as the film proceeds exactly as expected, by refusing to insult its characters and by regarding them without judgment, its observations ring with truth. This film will not be on many best-of-year lists, but it merits wider recognition.
  1. THE CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA This is unashamedly an ouroboros of ideas that eat themselves. This latest work from Olivier Assayas is an experiment, a puzzle. It is unrepentantly intellectual.  But it is also gloriously meta about all things cinema. Inspired by everything from ALL ABOUT EVE to SUNSET BOULEVARD to Chekov’s THE SEAGULL, this film has much to say about celebrity, its waning with time, and the price it takes to stay in the public’s consciousness. A famous actress of a certain age (Juliette Binoche) agrees to play the older character in a revival of the two-hander play that first made her famous in the role of the younger ingénue. Her smart, strong willed personal assistant (Kristen Stewart) tries to handle things, both prosaic and emotional, swirling in her orbit. And Chloe Grace Moretz plays the Hollywood starlet who will be taking on the younger role, even as she is trying to keep an affair with a married man under wraps. If the characters in the film are aware of their similarities to those in the play they are rehearsing, they do not let on. The relationships in the film are amorphous, resisting classification.Look closer; is some of this a reflection on Kristen Stewart’s own real life, having been the Hollywood It Girl and having survived a media storm related to her relationship with a married director? It is all part of the clumped ball of yarn given to you to try to untangle.  If you love and breathe cinema, then you need to watch this film. It doesn’t give easy answers, and yet the film has a fully satisfying ending. It is a conclusion based on words, not flashy plot contrivances.

In another year, I would have pridefully defended any of the top five as the best film of the year. If you ask me another week, I will likely change the order of those top five films. This is a good problem to have when faced with an embarrassment of riches, such as we did in 2015. Other worthy films that could not make it on the list include INSIDE OUT, BLACK SEA, CARTEL LAND, WHILE WE’RE YOUNG, AMY and TANGERINE. What a year this has been.

San Diego Film Critics Society | 2015 Nominations announced

 

The San Diego Film Critics Society, of which Moviewallas is a proud member, just announced its nominations in all categories. This represents our take on the best in film this year. And in keeping with a particularly rich and diverse year for cinema that 2015 has turned out to be, the picks are wonderfully varied.  The blockbusters are represented (THE MARTIAN, MAD MAX:FURY ROAD) as are smaller gems of movies that need a wider audience (EX-MACHINA, ROOM, BROOKLYN). Soon to be released major releases (THE REVENANT, THE HATEFUL EIGHT) figure on our nominations as do  films that swim away from the mainstream (ANOMALISA, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, TANGERINE). All deserve your attention.

 

 

The films to receive BEST PICTURE nominations were EX-MACHINA, a sly, sexy-cool examination of the meaning of artificial intelligence, BROOKLYN, a warmly nostalgic film about an Irish immigrant in the fifties, MAD-MAX: FURY ROAD the high-octane fourth entry in the franchise in which the veteran director George Miller showed an entire new generation of action filmmakers how it is done, ROOM, a searing and heartfelt meditation on the need for recovery, and  SPOTLIGHT, based on the rigorously painstaking Boston Globe investigations of priest-related sexual abuse cases in the area. We couldn’t have picked a more different group of films had we tried. We even have a brand new category this year in the form of BEST NEW BREAKOUT ARTIST. Our group will be doing the final voting on Monday, and winners will be posted here.

 

Here then are the nominations in each category:

 

 

Best Picture

EX MACHINA

BROOKLYN

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

ROOM

SPOTLIGHT

 

Best Director

George Miller, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

John Crowley, BROOKLYN

Lenny Abrahamson, ROOM

Tom McCarthy, SPOTLIGHT

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, THE REVENANT

 

Best Actor, Male

Leonardo DiCaprio, THE REVENANT

Jason Segel, THE END OF THE TOUR

Matt Damon, THE MARTIAN

Bryan Cranston, TRUMBO

Jacob Tremblay, ROOM

 

Best Actor, Female

Saoirse Ronan, BROOKLYN

Brie Larson, ROOM

Charlotte Rampling, 45 YEARS

Charlize Theron, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Alicia Vikander, EX MACHINA

 

Best Supporting Actor, Male

Mark Rylance, BRIDGE OF SPIES

Tom Noonan, ANOMALISA

Oscar Isaac, EX MACHINA

Paul Dano, LOVE & MERCY

RJ Cyler, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

 

Best Supporting Actor, Female

Alicia Vikander, THE DANISH GIRL

Jennifer Jason Lee, THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Helen Mirren, TRUMBO

Kristen Stewart, CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

Olivia Cooke, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

 

Best Original Screenplay

Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig, MISTRESS AMERICA

Alex Garland, EX MACHINA

Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS

Quentin Tarantino, THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer, SPOTLIGHT

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nick Hornby, BROOKLYN

Emma Donoghue, ROOM

Charlie Kaufman, ANOMALISA

Donald Margulies, THE END OF THE TOUR

Drew Goddard, Andy Weir THE MARTIAN

 

Best Documentary

AMY

HE NAMED ME MALALA

CARTEL LAND

MERU

THE WRECKING CREW

 

Best Animated Film

INSIDE OUT

ANOMALISA

SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE

THE GOOD DINOSAUR

THE PEANUTS MOVIE

 

Best Foreign Language Film

PHOENIX

TAXI

WHITE GOD

A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE

GOODNIGHT MOMMY

 

Best Editing

Margaret Sixel, Jason Ballantine MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Joe Walker, SICARIO

Pietro Scalia, THE MARTIAN

Michael Kahn, BRIDGE OF SPIES

Nathan Nugent, ROOM

Stephen Mirrione, THE REVENANT

 

Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins, SICARIO

Yves Belanger, BROOKLYN

Dariuz Wolski, THE MARTIAN

John Seale, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Emmanuel Lubezki, THE REVENANT

 

Best Production Design

Colin Gibson, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Mark Digby, EX MACHINA

Arthur Max, THE MARTIAN

Francois Seguin, BROOKLYN

Adam Stockhausen, BRIDGE OF SPIES

 

Best Sound Design

THE MARTIAN

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

EX MACHINA

SICARIO

LOVE & MERCY

 

Best Visual Effects

THE MARTIAN

EX MACHINA

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

THE WALK

JURASSIC WORLD

 

Best Use Of Music In A Film

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

LOVE & MERCY

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

SICARIO

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

 

Breakthrough Artist

Alicia Vikander, THE DANISH GIRL, EX MACHINA

Jacob Tremblay, ROOM

Emory Cohen, BROOKLYN

Abraham Attah, BEASTS OF NO NATION

Sean S. Baker, TANGERINE

 

Best Ensemble 

SPOTLIGHT

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

INSIDE OUT

THE BIG SHORT

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS