Monday, June 26, 2017

Favorite/Best Films of the 21st Century So Far

After looking over the NY Times’s list of the 25 Best Films of the 21st Century to date, I starting think about what films would be on my list. It is tough. On one hand you have all your favorite movies, some are more objectively good and some are certainly not; and on the other hand, you have films that are great but not necessarily films you seek out to watch. I decided on a compromise. These are the films that I think are the best – but with my biases/loves built in, let run wild. I also included my favorite documentaries at the end. Ranking all these films is impossible (I narrowed it down to 103; 13 documentaries and 90 features). So, this list is organized by year for the features, followed by documentaries and finally my personal 25 favorites.


American Psycho, directed by Mary Harron


Amelie, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Black Hawk Down, directed by Ridley Scott
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, directed by Peter Jackson
No Man’s Land, directed by Danis Tanovic
The Royal Tenenbaums, directed by Wes Anderson


The Hours, directed by Stephen Daldry
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, directed by Peter Jackson
The Pianist, directed by Roman Polanski


The Barbarian Invasions, directed by Denys Arcand
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, directed by Peter Jackson
Lost in Translation, directed by Sofia Coppola
Open Range, directed by Kevin Costner


2046, directed by Kar Wai Wong
A Very Long Engagement, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Downfall, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Hotel Rwanda, directed by Terry George
House of Flying Daggers, directed by Yimou Zhang
The Life of Aquatic with Steve Zissou, directed by Wes Anderson
Million Dollar Baby, directed by Clint Eastwood
Sideways, directed by Alexander Payne
Spider-Man 2, directed by Sam Raimi
Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War, directed by Je-gyu Kang


Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan
The Beat that My Heart Skipped, directed by Jacques Audiard
Munich, directed by Steven Spielberg
Pride & Prejudice, directed by Joe Wright
Serenity, directed by Joss Whedon
The Squid and the Whale, directed by Noah Baumbach
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, directed by Marc Rothemund


Black Book, directed by Paul Verhoeven
Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Mission: Impossible III, directed by J.J. Abrams
Once, directed by John Carney
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, directed by Gore Verbinski
The Prestige, directed by Christopher Nolan
The Road to Guantanamo, directed by Michael Winterbottom


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, directed by Andrew Dominik
Atonement, directed by Joe Wright
The Darjeeling Limited, directed by Wes Anderson
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, directed by David Yates
No Country for Old Men, directed by the Coen Brothers
There Will Be Blood, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
The Visitor, directed by Tom McCarthy


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, directed by David Fincher
The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan
Forgetting Sarah Marshall, directed by Nicholas Stoller
Hunger, directed by Steve McQueen
Revolutionary Road, directed by Sam Mendes
Vicky Cristina Barcelona, directed by Woody Allen
WALL-E, directed by Andrew Stanton


Inglourious Basterds, directed by Quentin Tarantino
Up, directed by Pete Docter


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, directed by David Yates
Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan
Never Let Me Go, directed by Mark Romanek
The Social Network, directed by David Fincher
True Grit, directed by the Coen Brothers


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, directed by David Yates
Incendies, directed by Denis Villeneuve
Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Super 8, directed by J.J. Abrams


The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon
The Dark Knight Rises, directed by Christopher Nolan
Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee
The Master, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow


12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen
Her, directed by Spike Jonze
Short Term 12, directed by Destin Cretton
The Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorcese


The Babadook, directed by Jennifer Kent
Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher
The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson
The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum
Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan


Avengers: Age of Ultron, directed by Joss Whedon
Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg
Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley
Carol, directed by Todd Haynes
Inside Out, directed by Peter Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen
The Revenant, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Sicario, directed by Denis Villeneuve


Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve
Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson
Hunt for the Wilderpeople, directed by Taika Waititi
Manchester by the Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Silence, directed by Martin Scorsese


The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons front the Life of Robert S. McNamara, directed by Errol Morris
Super Size Me, directed by Morgan Spurlock
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, directed by Alex Gibney
Why We Fight, directed by Eugene Jarecki
Man on Wire, directed by James Marsh
Inside Job, directed by Charles Ferguson
Magic & BirdL A Courtship of Rivals, directed by Ezra Edelman
The House I Live In, directed by Eugene Jarecki
The Imposter, directed by Bart Layton
Citizenfour, directed by Laura Poitras
13th, directed by Ava DuVernay
O.J.: Made in America, directed by Ezra Edelman
Five Came Back, directed by Laurent Bouzereau

My Personal Favorite 25

The Dark Knight Trilogy
Lost in Translation
Inglourious Basterds
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the whole saga really)
Pride & Prejudice
Spider-Man 2
The Prestige
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
No Country for Old Men
The Lord of the Rings
Zero Dark Thirty
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Darjeeling Limited
The Royal Tenenbaums
There Will Be Blood
American Psycho
Gone Girl
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

My Personal Favorite 25 (Redux)
Within the NY Times rules of One Film per Director

The Dark Knight
Lost in Translation
Inglourious Basterds
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Pride & Prejudice
Spider-Man 2
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
No Country for Old Men
Zero Dark Thirty
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Darjeeling Limited
There Will Be Blood
American Psycho
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Life of Pi
The Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

LeapBackBlog 2016 Film Awards

2016 was a wonderful year for film, from fun blockbusters to innovative and engaging independent films. There were so many good films, performances and technical feats that many that I really liked did not make my top 25 in each category. I have put an “*” next to my personal favorite from each category.

Favorite 25 Films of 2016

Arrival, a sci-fi thriller directed by Denis Villeneuve
Captain America: Civil War, an action adventure directed by the Russo Brothers
Captain Fantastic, a comedy directed by Matt Ross
Certain Women, a character drama directed by Kelly Reichardt
The Conjuring 2, a period horror thriller directed by James Wan
Deadpool, an adventure comedy directed by Tim Miller
Everybody Wants Some!!, a comedy directed by Richard Linklater
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a fantasy adventure directed by David Yates
Green Room, a thriller directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Hacksaw Ridge, a war drama directed by Mel Gibson
Hell or High Water, a modern western directed by David Mackenzie
Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a comedy directed by Taika Waititi*
The Jungle Book, a family adventure directed by Jon Favreau
Lion, a character drama directed by Garth Davis
The Lobster, a dystopian romance dramedy directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Loving, a character drama/romance directed by Jeff Nichols
Manchester by the Sea, a character drama directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Moana, an animated family adventure directed by Ron Clements & John Musker
Moonlight, a character drama directed by Barry Jenkins
The Nice Guys, a mystery comedy directed by Shane Black
Pete’s Dragon, a family adventure directed by David Lowery
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a sci-fi action adventure directed by Gareth Edwards
Silence, a period character drama directed by Martin Scorsese
Sully, a character drama directed by Clint Eastwood
The Witch, a period horror thriller directed by Robert Eggers

Favorite 25 Performances of 2016

Amy Adams, leading performance in Arrival
Casey Affleck, leading performance in Manchester by the Sea
Mahershala Ali, supporting performance in Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, supporting performance in Hell or High Water
Laura Dern, leading performance in Certain Women
Colin Farrell, leading performance in The Lobster*
Andrew Garfield, leading performance in Hacksaw Ridge
Andrew Garfield, leading performance in Silence
Greta Gerwig, supporting performance in 20th Century Women
Ryan Gosling, leading performance in The Nice Guys
Tom Hanks, leading performance in Sully
Naomie Harris, supporting performance in Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, supporting performance in Lion
Ruth Negga, leading performance in Loving
Sam Neill, supporting performance in Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Dev Patel, leading performance in Lion
Natalie Portman, leading performance in Jackie*
Daniel Radcliffe, leading performance in Swiss Army Man
Margot Robbie, leading performance in Suicide Squad
Michael Shannon, supporting performance in Nocturnal Animals
Octavia Spencer, supporting performance in Hidden Figures
Hailee Steinfeld, leading performance in The Edge of Seventeen
Emma Stone, leading performance in La La Land
Anya Taylor-Joy, leading performance in The Witch
Michelle Williams, supporting performance in Manchester by the Sea

Favorite 25 Artistic, Technical & Aesthetic Achievements of 2016

Volker Bertelmann & Dustin O’Halloran, composers of Lion
Jarin Blaschke, cinematographer of The Witch
Nicholas Britell, composer of Moonlight
Doug Chiang & Neil Lamont, production designers of Rouge One: A Star Wars Story
Stuart Craig, production designer of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Robert Eggers, director of The Witch
Greig Fraser, cinematographer of Lion
Mel Gibson, director of Hacksaw Ridge
Christopher Glass & Abhijeet Mazumder, production designers of The Jungle Book
Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight
Johann Johannsson, composer of Arrival*
Mark Korven, composer of The Witch
James Laxton, cinematographer of Moonlight
Mica Levi, composer of Jackie
Mark Mancia, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Opetaia Foa’i, composers of Moana
Seamus McGarvey, cinematographer of Nocturnal Animals
Rodrigo Pieto, cinematographer of Silence
Jeremy Saulnier, director of Green Room
Martin Scorsese, director of Silence
Shane Valentino, production designer of Nocturnal Animals
Patrice Vernette, production designer of Arrival*
Denis Villeneuve, director of Arrival*
Taika Waititi, director of Hunt for the Wilderpeople
David Wasco, production designer of La La Land
Bradford Young, cinematographer of Arrival*

10 Great Under-the-Radar Indie films and Documentaries that are Must-Sees

Don’t Think Twice, a dramedy directed by Mike Birbiglia
The Edge of Seventeen, a comedy directed by Kelly Fremon Craig
Jackie, a period character drama directed by Pablo Larrain
Love & Friendship, a period comedy directed by Whit Stillman
Midnight Special, a sci-fi drama directed by Jeff Nichols
Nocturnal Animals, a character drama/mystery directed by Tom Ford
O.J.: Made in America, a documentary directed by Ezra Edelman
Sing Street, a musical comedy directed by John Carney
Swiss Army Man, a comedy directed by Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
13th, a documentary directed by Ava DuVernay

Good Films I Have Yet to See (that probably would have factored into the above lists)

Christine, a character drama directed by Antonio Campos
Elle, a character drama/thriller directed by Paul Verhoeven
Fences, a period character drama directed by Denzel Washington
The Handmaiden, a drama directed by Chan-wook Park
Paterson, a character drama directed by Jim Jarmusch

Monday, December 19, 2016

TV Spotlight – 10 Favorite TV Shows of 2016 – December 2016

The amount of Television I consume is not immense. I mostly only watch series available on HBO, Netflix and FXnow (but, thankfully that is generally where the best stuff can be found). I have indicated my personal favorite with an (*).

Ten Favorite Series of 2016:

Atlanta, season 1 – created by Donald Glover (FX)
BoJack Horseman, season 3 – created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg (Netflix)
The Crown, season 1 – created by Peter Morgan (Netflix)
Daredevil, season 2 – created by Drew Goddard (Netflix)
Game of Thrones, season 6 – created by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss (HBO)*
Girls, season 5 – created by Lena Dunham (HBO)
The Night Of – created by Richard Price & Steven Zaillian (HBO)
Stranger Things, season 1 – created by The Duffer Brothers (Netflix)
Vice Principals, season 1 – created by Jody Hill & Danny McBride (HBO)
Westworld, season 1 – created by Lisa Joy & Jonathan Nolan (HBO)

Ten Favorite TV Performances of 2016:

Will Arnett, leading performance in BoJack Horseman
Millie Bobby Brown, leading performance in Stranger Things
Claire Foy, leading performance in The Crown*
Kimberly Hebert Gregory, supporting performance in Vice Principals
Brian Tyree Henry, supporting performance in Atlanta
Anthony Hopkins, supporting performance in Westworld
Gillian Jacobs, leading performance in Love (Netflix)
Thandie Newton, supporting performance in Westworld
John Turturro, leading performance in The Night Of
Evan Rachel Wood, leading performance in Westworld

Ten Favorite TV Episodes of 2016:

Juneteenth, Atlanta – directed by Janicza Bravo
That’s Too Much Man, BoJack Horseman – directed by J.C. Gonzalez
Assassins, The Crown – directed by Benjamin Caron
Battle of the Bastards, Game of Thrones – directed by Miguel Sapochnik
The Winds of Winter, Game of Thrones – directed by Miguel Sapochnik*
People Persons, Orange Is the New Black – directed by Lev L. Spiro (Netflix)
Kissing Your Sister, VEEP – directed by David Mandel (HBO)
Gin, Vice Principals – directed by Jody Hill
No Way Out, The Walking Dead – directed by Greg Nicotero (AMC)
The Bicameral Mind, Westworld – directed by Jonathan Nolan

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Movies Spotlight – 2016 Movies, Part 2 – August 2016

Overall, 2016 has felt disappointing at the movies. Yes, we have a few great movies like Everybody Wants Some!!, Green Room and The Witch, but the year seems to have produced one disappointment after another (especially this Summer). Captain America: Civil War, The Jungle Book, Zootopia, Finding Dory, and Deadpool lived up to our expectations (and surpassed them), but Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, X-Men: Apocalypse, The BFG, The Legend of Tarzan, Jason Bourne, and now Suicide Squad have all come up short (seemingly pulling down our opinions of the whole year and our enthusiasm for what is to come). And yet, there are a number of films to still be excited for:

Pete’s Dragon
At face value, it is surprising that Disney would remake Pete’s Dragon, a back-catalog 1970s musical that I imagine anyone under 35 does not even know ever existed. But Disney has done something interesting with this remake, they have only taken the very basics from the original and let indie auteur David Lowery run with it, resulting in a family film that actually feels substantial. Lowery also has a great cast with Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford and Karl Urban. In theaters August 12th. Check out the trailer.

The Light Between Oceans
Derek Cianfrance makes brooding dramas, steeped in deep, dark emotions. This all makes him the perfect filmmaker to take on an adaptation of The Light Between Oceans, a drama about a man and wife who decide to raise a baby they find adrift only to discover years later that the child’s mother is still searching for it. The cast is among the year’s absolute best with Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz. This could be 2016’s first serious Oscar contender. In theaters September 2nd. Check out the trailer.

The Girl on the Train
Paula Hawkins’s novel was a huge success, making this adaptation one of the most anticipated films of the Fall. Emily Blunt leads a good cast and Tate Taylor has proven very adept in his ability to produce strong cinematic adaptations (like The Help). The mystery thriller is about Rachel Watson, a divorced woman who takes a train past her old house everyday on her way to work; only, one day something is different when she believes that she witnesses a murder, but that is not the whole story. In theaters October 7th. Check out the trailer.

The Birth of a Nation
Writer/director/star Nate Parker won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival with his slavery drama The Birth of a Nation. The film feels vital, given the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and our current sociopolitical climate. Parker also represents a much needed fresh cinematic voice. The film is about Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher who organizes a rebellion against the masters in the antebellum South. In theaters October 7th. Check out the trailer.

Doctor Strange
Marvel Studios can do no wrong with their Cinematic Universe (aka the MCU), or so it seems. Doctor Strange, however, represents an interesting challenge. Marvel bottled lightening with Guardians of the Galaxy, a gaggle of heroes unknown to general movie-going audiences, but can they do it again with Dr. Stephen Strange? They certainly have the goodwill of their fans, a promising (and different) concept and a phenomenal cast, headlined by Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Eijiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton. In theaters November 4th. Check out the trailer.

Indie auteur Jeff Nichols is one of America’s brightest independent filmmaking stars. His new drama tackles the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple struggling to live in 1958 Virginia. Like The Birth of a Nation, Loving feels tonally vital right now. The buzz out of the Cannes Film Festival, where it screened in May, was very strong with special notices for leads Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton. In theaters November 4th. Check out the trailer.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Filmmakers have had limited success tackling the Iraq War, as it seems to be difficult to really capture the tone of such a twisted and problematic conflict and portray the struggles faced by the men and women in the middle of it (my personal favorite is the HBO miniseries Generation Kill). That said, auteur Ang Lee is a good fit to take it on. Lee also has a good eclectic cast with Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, and Chris Tucker. The film adaptation is about Billy Lynn, a war hero who temporarily gets to come home. In theaters November 11th. Check out the trailer.

Auteur Denis Villeneuve made my favorite film of 2015 with Sicario; he is back in 2016 with the sci-fi drama Arrival. It is about an expert linguist who is recruited by the military to determine if an alien race that has landed crafts across the globe comes in peace or are a threat. Villeneuve again champions the need for more roles and better roles for female actors by casting Amy Adams in the lead (he famously gender switched the lead in Sicario, casting Emily Blunt). In theaters November 11th.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Cynically speaking, we all knew Warner Bros. would find a way to keep the Wizarding World of Harry Potter going; however, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has the pedigree to delight fans. J.K. Rowling is providing the script, David Yates (who directed films 5-8 of the Harry Potter series) is behind the camera, and Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne stars. The film is about the adventures of Newt Scamander, a specialist in magical creatures, in 1920s New York City. Even after eight films, I am excited to return to the Wizarding World. In theaters November 18th. Check out the trailer.

Manchester by the Sea

Auteur Kenneth Lonergan is finally back with a new film with Manchester by the Sea, a drama about an uncle who must take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father passes. The film has a ton of Oscar buzz coming out of its early festival screenings, many calling it the best film of 2016 so far. It boasts a solid cast, led by Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams. In theaters November 18th.

Disney’s latest ‘princess’ film aims to be something completely different. First, Moana, a young Hawaiian woman, is actually voiced by a young Hawaiian woman in Auli’I Cravalho and second Moana is her own hero without a love interest. This feels like a big step forward for Disney, who has made big recent strides forward in promoting its female characters. The film also features voice-work from Dwayne Johnson as Maui the demi-god. Ron Clements and John Musker lead the creative team (they have given us some of our most beloved Disney films like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin). In theaters November 23rd. Check out the trailer.


Each new Robert Zemeckis film feels like a big deal, as he is a filmmaker known for pushing the visual envelope forward while telling big stories. His new film, Allied, is a WWII action romance about two spies working for the Allies who marry each other and work together, but what if one of them was really a double-agent working for the Nazis? The film also happens to have two of Hollywood’s most dynamic leading actors in Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard playing its spies. I think this is a sleeper for film of the year. In theaters November 23rd.

La La Land
Bursting onto the scene with Whiplash, writer/director Damien Chazelle is back with a musical dramedy and he has J.K. Simmons with him again. We need more good musicals; this one looks magical and sublimely charming. It stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling (who has fantastic chemistry) and is about a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. In theaters December 16th. Check out the trailer.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Set right before the beginning of A New Hope, Rogue One is about the team of rebels who steal the plans for the Death Star. Director Gareth Edwards describes the film as a war movie, set in the Star Wars Universe. Writer Tony Gilroy is working with Edwards presently finishing up the final editing process, getting the tone just right. Everything we have seen so far is very promising. Plus, the cast, fronted by Felicity Jones, is very good. This is the film I am most looking forward to seeing. In theaters December 16th. Check out the trailer.


Sony’s most high profile film of 2016 is Passengers, a sci-fi adventure about a spacecraft shuttling thousands of people to a distant colony planet that experiences a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers awakening two passengers 60 years early. The story sounds intriguing alone and then you throw in the very charming leads Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt and Passengers suddenly jumps to the top of a lot of ‘Most Anticipated’ lists. If Lawrence and Pratt have chemistry, I cannot imagine this not being highly entertaining. Rising star Morten Tyldum is behind the camera. In theaters December 21st.

A few others to look out for: Queen of Katwe, American Honey and Lion. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Movies Spotlight – 2016 Movies – May 2016

So what have I seen so far in 2016? The answer is not much, really. Most of my movie-watching time has been spent on the endless catching up on the classics of the past (and revisiting my favorites). There is seemingly an infinite amount of films from the past I am curious to see. Also, my desire to go to the movies has waned a bit. Watching most things at home is just as pleasurable, basically because it is easy. (Here is a link to all my reviews for reference).

But what have I seen – well… twelve films. That is it. Let me just go through them quickly: Loved Captain America: Civil War. We do not get too many massive blockbusters that have characters and story arcs that resonate emotionally while also keeping the promise of fun and entertainment. The airport fight scene is wonderfully joyous. Suddenly, I am just as interested in the new Spider-Man and Black Panther films as I am Thor 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Marvel, once again, hit homeruns with their casting for these new characters. Deadpool is a riot. Ryan Reynolds does the best work of his career. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is disappointing (big surprise). Zack Snyder has so much visual talent; he just struggles with story and character. He really needs to bring on people to help him craft and structure his future DC films. I am, however, interested to see what Ben Affleck does with his solo Batman film.

The Jungle Book was far better than I would have ever imagined it could be. I even enjoyed its use of 3D. Disney’s other early release, Zootopia was also surprisingly good. I thought it was there “B” animiated project for 2016, with Moana being their “A”; but, Zootopia is funny, sweet and has a good message for children. It is a very good family film.

My favorite indie film so far this year is The Witch, Robert Eggers’s period horror film. It is a beautifully made and acted film that is scary and hits all the right aesthetic beats. I doubt there will be a better horror film this year. Anya Taylor-Joy is a star in the making. I also really enjoyed Hush on Netflix. It is a great horror/thriller from Mike Flanagan (who also made Oculus). 10 Cloverfield Lane was a fun thriller highlighted by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Making something work when in most takes place in one room is very tough. Midnight Special, from Jeff Nichols, is also a thematically interesting sci-fi drama. Very strong performances from his cast.

All the Way, which just debuted on HBO, is a good period drama about LBJ’s first year as President of the United States following President Kennedy’s assassination. Wonderful performances from Anthony Mackie and Bryan Cranston. Hail, Caesar! the new quirky comedy from the Coen Brothers is good, but probably one of their weaker efforts. It reminds me of A Serious Man (which I liked a lot more). And finally, Ricky Gervais’s new comedy on Netflix Special Correspondents is probably his worst project to date. Even his biggest fans can skip it.

There three films I missed in theaters earlier this year that I am very much looking forward to seeing at home. First, Sing Street, the new musical from John Carney about a young boy who forms a band to impress a girl in 1980s Ireland. I loved Once and also enjoyed Begin Again (more the second time I saw it). Second, Everybody Wants Some, the seemingly thematic follow-up to Dazed and Confused from Richard Linklater. The film looks like a fun, cool hangout which a bunch a guys playing college baseball. And third, Green Room, the new horror/thriller from Jeremy Saulnier (who also made the intense Blue Ruin). Saulnier, along with Mike Flanagan, Adam Wingard and Ti West, has really rejuvenated the American indie horror film.

Now, what am I most excited to see for the rest of 2016? Let me start with the blockbusters. Rogue One, the new Star Wars one-off from Gareth Edwards (who also made Monsters and Godzilla), looks fantastic. I really enjoyed The Force Awakens, but it is still somewhat bogged down in being an origin story for its new characters and paying so much fan service (I think Episode VIII is going to be much stronger). Rogue One may fall into the same trappings, having to introduce us to a bunch of new characters and hopefully it will not fall back on characters we do know (like Darth Vader, Han Solo and so on) too much (or at all), but it looks like a great action thriller. Ben Mendelsohn as the villain is going to be incredible; he very well might be our best character actor right now. I love the Harry Potter films; they are among my very favorite adventure genre films. That said, I was out on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for most of its preproduction. I just was not into the casting choices and I feel like it is generally a mistake to go back in time (because, ultimately we know what happens in the end, which reduces the stakes – I mean, how bad can the events of this new series be if we have never heard about them once during Harry Potter?). But the latest trailer has me all the way back in. It looks good. Doctor Strange has a phenomenal cast, but the teaser trailer did not grab me at all. In fact, the Inception-like elements of it felt like a big letdown, lazy. I hope it turns out well in the end. I imagine D23 will give us a new, and hopefully better, trailer. Suicide Squad has had a few great trailers and Margot Robbie looks brilliant as Harley Quinn. Will DC and Warner Bros. get this one right? Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass are both back for Jason Bourne the Bourne sequel that no one knew they wanted until they saw the teaser. I hope Alicia Vikander has more to do they talk at monitors though.

Disney has some great animated films upcoming too (and their remake of Pete’s Dragon, which is totally random. I grew up with that film on a VHS my mom made recording Marry Poppins and Pete’s Dragon off the TV, but I never thought anyone saw it as essential or a major Disney project. Disney is also remaking Mary Poppins incidentally). Their Walt Disney Animation Studio release is Hawaii-set Moana, from Ron Clements and John Musker (who also directed/wrote The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Hercules). The voice cast features Hawaii’s own Auli’I Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson. Their Pixar release is Finding Dory, which is both awesome and disappointing. Awesome because everyone like Finding Nemo and the same creative team is making this sequel. Disappointing because I think we all want Pixar to focus on original projects like last year’s fantastic Inside Out (although, their “B” film The Good Dinosaur was poor by Pixar standards).

Hollywood has a few very good looking films as well this Fall/Winter. Passengers sounds amazing on paper. A sci-fi film from Morten Tyldum (who also made Headhunters and The Imitation Game) starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt (who will hopefully have the best chemistry of all, as they are maybe our two most likable stars right now). It is about a man who prematurely wakes up from cryogenic sleep, years too early, during space travel. Instead of facing his life alone, he decides to wake up another passenger. I like everything about this film. I hope it is great. Robert Zemekis is back with a new film, which is generally a good thing, a very good thing. Allied stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard and is about spies during WWII (I am 100% in). The Girl on the Train looks like a potentially superb thriller (even if Tate Taylor is doing his best David Fincher impression). This also has a great cast, highlighted by Emily Blunt and Rebecca Ferguson. Out right now is Shane Black’s The Nice Guys. I am a big fan of Black’s films (as a writer: Lethal Weapon and The Last Boyscout; as writer/director: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3 and now The Nice Guys). He really just makes the same film over and over, but I am not tired of it yet. His LA detective stories, his plots that are really about something else, his great dialog, and his very funny humor.

The best films from 2016, however, seem to be the prestige indies coming this Fall/Winter. The Light Between Oceans, the new drama from Derek Cianfrance starring Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz, feels like the way-too-early frontrunner for best film of 2016. The trailer showcases the heartbreaking drama and incredible performances of the film. Ang Lee’s new drama, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, very much looks to take its place as a definitive narrative on the Iraq/Afghanistan War and the soldiers who come home from the horror faced over there. Sundance favorite The Birth of a Nation (I assume very specifically titled as a comment on the D.W. Griffith film) should make a big awards season impact. Nate Parker, who writes, directs and stars in the film, seems to have emerged as 2016’s brightest new talent. J.A. Bayona’s family film A Monster Calls also promises to be aesthetically and thematically just right (like a better version of Steven Spielberg’s summer release The BFG), feeling akin to Pan’s Labyrinth.

There are also a number of films that do not yet have trailer that sound potentially great. James Ponsoldt (director of Smashed, The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour) has a new sci-fi drama due out starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. Martin Scorsese has long been working on a period drama called Silence about priests in Japan. It stars Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson and Adam Driver. Terry George (director of Hotel Rwanda) is finally making a new film, the drama The Promise with Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac. Denis Villeneuve (director of Incendies, Prisoners and Sicario) has a new drama called Story of Your Life with Amy Adams. Damien Chazelle (director of Whiplash) returns with a musical called La La Land, starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and J.K. Simmons. Jeff Nichols (releasing another film this year) just won a ton of acclaim at Cannes for his new romance drama Loving. And, Kenneth Lonergan’s new drama Manchester by the Sea was also a darling of Sundance, many naming Casey Affleck’s performance as an awards season must.

Much like last year, the blockbuster season/summer releases feel a little disappointing and all the best stuff will come out in the Fall/Winter – even the best blockbusters still to come do not come out until November (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) and December (Rogue One).

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

LeapBackBlog 2015 Film Awards

2015 was a fantastic year for film. There were so many good films that many that I really liked could not make the top 25 (and even more wonderful performances did not make the top 25 performances). I have put an “*” next to my personal favorite from each category.

Favorite 25 Films of 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron, an action adventure drama directed by Joss WhedonTrailer
Beasts of No Nation, a coming of age/war drama directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga – Trailer
The Big Short, a character drama/financial drama/comedy directed by Adam McKay – Trailer
Blackhat, a thriller directed by Michael Mann – Trailer
Bridge of Spies, a spy drama directed by Steven Spielberg – Trailer
Brooklyn, a romance drama directed by John Crowely – Trailer
Carol, a romance drama directed by Todd Haynes – Trailer
Creed, a sports drama directed by Ryan Coogler – Trailer
The End of Tour, a character drama directed by James Ponsoldt – Trailer
Ex Machina, a sci-fi drama directed by Alex Garland – Trailer
The Hateful Eight, a western directed by Quentin Tarantino – Trailer
Inside Out, a coming of age comedy directed by Pete Docter – Trailer
Joy, a character drama/bio-pic directed by David O. Russell – Trailer
Macbeth, a period drama directed by Justin Kurzel – Trailer
Mad Max: Fury Road, an action adventure drama by George Miller – Trailer
The Martian, a sci-fi drama directed by Ridley ScottTrailer
The Revenant, a western thriller directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu – Trailer
Room, a character drama directed by Lenny Abrahamson – Trailer
Sicario, a crime drama directed by Denis Villeneuve – Trailer*
Spectre, a spy action adventure directed by Sam Mendes – Trailer
Spotlight, a drama directed by Tom McCarthy – Trailer
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a sci-fi fantasy adventure directed by J.J. Abrams – Trailer
Steve Jobs, a character drama directed by Danny BoyleTrailer
Tomorrowland, a sci-fi fantasy adventure drama directed by Brad Bird – Trailer
Trainwreck, a romantic comedy directed by Judd Apatow – Trailer

Favorite 25 Performances of 2015

Christian Bale, a leading performance in The Big Short
Cate Blanchett, a leading performance in Carol
Emily Blunt, a leading performance in Sicario
Marion Cotillard, a leading performance in Macbeth
Matt Damon, a leading performance in The Martian
Paul Dano, a leading performance in Love & Mercy
Leonardo DiCaprio, a leading performance in The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, a leading performance in Macbeth*
Michael Fassbender, a leading performance in Steve Jobs
Tom Hanks, a leading performance in Bride of Spies
Tom Hardy, a supporting performance in The Revenant
Samuel L. Jackson, a leading performance in The Hateful Eight
Brie Larson, a leading performance in Room
Jennifer Lawrence, a leading performance in Joy
Jennifer Jason Leigh, a supporting performance in The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, a leading performance in Carol*
Eddie Redmayne, a leading performance in The Danish Girl
Daisy Ridley, a leading performance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Saoirse Ronan, a leading performance in Brooklyn
Jason Segel, a leading performance in The End of the Tour
Sylvester Stallone, a supporting performance in Creed
Kristen Stewart, a supporting performance in Clouds of Sils Maria
Alicia Vikander, a leading performance in Ex Machina
Alicia Vikander, a leading performance in The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, a supporting performance in Steve Jobs

Favorite 25 Artistic, Technical & Aesthetic Achievements

Adam Arkapaw, cinematography for Macbeth
Carter Burwell, composer for Carol
Roger Deakins, cinematography for Sicario
Jack Fisk, production design for The Revenant
Cary Joji Fukunaga, cinematography for Beasts of No Nation
Dennis Gassner, production design for Spectre
Colin Gibson, production design for Mad Max: Fury Road*
Todd Haynes, directing for Carol
Hoyte Van Hoytema, cinematography for Spectre
Alejandro G. Inarritu, directing for The Revenant
Johan Johannsson, composer for Sicario*
Jed Kurzel, composer for Macbeth
Edward Lachman, cinematography for Carol
Emmanuel Lubezki, cinematography for The Revenant*
Arthur Max, production design for The Martian
George Miller, directing for Mad Max: Fury Road
Ennio Morricone, composer for The Hateful Eight
Thomas Newman, composer for Spectre
John Seale, cinematography for Mad Max: Fury Road
Francois Seguin, production design for Brooklyn
Steven Spielberg, directing for Bridge of Spies
Quentin Tarantino, directing for The Hateful Eight
Yohei Taneda, production design for The Hateful Eight
Denis Villeneuve, directing for Sicario*
John Williams, composer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens

A Few More Fun, Entertaining and Interesting Smaller Films You Might Have Missed from 2015

’71, a thriller directed by Yann Demange – Trailer
Clouds of Sils Maria, a character drama directed by Olivier Assayas – Trailer
The Danish Girl, a period character drama directed by Tom Hooper – Trailer
Dope, a comedy directed by Rick Famuyiwa – Trailer
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, a documentary directed by Alex Gibney – Trailer
It Follows, a horror thriller directed by David Robert Mitchell – Trailer
Love & Mercy, a character drama directed by Bill Pohlad – Trailer
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a dramedy directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – Trailer
Slow West, a western directed by John Maclean – Trailer
What We Do in the Shadows, a horror comedy directed by Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi – Trailer

Good Films I Have Yet to See (that probably would have factored into the above lists)

99 Homes, a drama directed by Ramin Bahrani
The Hunting Ground, a documentary directed by Kirby Dick
Son of Saul, a period war drama directed by Laszlo Nemes
Suffragette, a period drama directed by Sarah Gavron

Monday, December 7, 2015

TV Spotlight – 10 Best TV Shows of 2015 – December 2015

The amount of Television I consume is not immense. I mostly only watch series available on HBO and Netflix (but, thankfully that is generally where the best stuff can be found). Thus, this list is biased by the overall lack of things I have seen (for example, I love Hannibal but I am a year behind, waiting for the Blu-ray release).

My 10 Favorite Television Series of 2015:

BoJack Horseman, season 2 (Netflix)
This animated series from Netflix might be television’s best comedy, highlighted by the phenomenal voice performances from Will Arnet, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Aaron Paul, Paul F. Tomplins, and Olivia Wilde. The series is hilarious, but even more engaging as a look at celebrity.

Community, season 6 (Yahoo Screen)
The series’ final season, and maybe its final moments if a movie never materializes, gives its fans everything they want: very funny, great/weird/wonderful episodes and a fantastic farewell. This is one of my favorite TV comedies (ever) and it is sad to say goodbye (though, made a little easier by the stellar, utterly fulfilling finale).

Daredevil, season 1 (Netflix)
Marvel’s partnership with Netflix is producing superhero properties that are as good if not better than their movies. Daredevil is fresh and engaging; but more so, it features full and great characters. Losing Drew Goddard and Steven S. DeKnight on the creative team is going to be a huge obstacle to overcome for season 2, but I have faith.

Game of Thrones, season 5 (HBO)
This is my favorite series on television. It is massively ambitious and thoroughly entertaining. It has everything fantasy adventure fans could want and the fearlessness to not stubbornly cling to its characters to the disadvantage of narrative. No one is safe in Westeros.

Jessica Jones, season 1 (Netflix)
Melissa Rosenberg, Marvel and Netflix have given us one of 2015’s most important series. On the surface, it is just another superhero series, set up like a film-noir private detective narrative, but Jessica Jones is so much more. Chiefly, it gives us a full, flawed and modern female character (who also happens to be a heroine). This series is unabashedly feminist in all the best ways. Now that we have Jessica Jones, we can never go back.

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (HBO)
This documentary series is groundbreaking (much like the podcast series Serial), likely to spawn many imitations. It is unflinching and utterly compelling. I do not know if an investigation documentary has ever been must-see television (across 6 episodes, culminating in “What the Hell Did I Do?”).

The Leftovers, season 2 (HBO)
Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s series asks big questions, plays with massive ideas and themes and completely delivers. The cast is brilliant, the writing is intelligent and the narrative is essential. The series is ambitious and bonkers, yet it feels like it speaks deeply and skillfully to the human struggle that is our relationship with faith.

Mad Men, season 7 part 2 (AMC)
This was my favorite series on television during its peak (season 3-5). Season 7, split into two parts, is very good, but does feel ever so slightly below the series’ best seasons and episodes. The finale is difficult to digest as well (I liked it a lot, but it does not feel as essential as the best episodes from Mad Men), but I think that is because it is hard to say goodbye to the series and characters.

Master of None, season 1 (Netflix)
This is another groundbreaking series from Netflix in the way it deals with women and people of color on television. Created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, the series puts people of color at its forefront. But it is just not a series centered on a minority family or character, it engages in a dialog with its viewers about how culture treats and engages people of color and women. I have not seen everything on TV, but I would be surprised if there are better written characters for people of color. Also, the series is very funny and not cliché at all, which is a relief.

Narcos, season 1 (Netflix)
This series detailing the rise of Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar is magnetic and alluring thanks to Wagner Moura’s superb leading performance and the narrative structure of the series: talking directly to the audience, taking them through each major moment. I think this probably should have been a single season story and slightly fear a quality step down in season two as the story is stretched over ten more episodes. Regardless, season 1 is electric, especially in the early episodes, playing as well as the best crime dramas.

My 10 Favorite Television Episodes from 2015:

Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television, direct by Rob Schrab, from Community
Daredevil, directed by Steven S. DeKnight, from Daredevil
Hardhome, directed by Miguel Sapochnik, from Game of Thrones
AKA WWJD?, directed by Simon Cellan Jones, from Jessica Jones
I Live Here Now, directed by Mimi Leder, from The Leftovers
Time & Life, directed by Jared Harris, from Mad Men
Nashville, directed by Aziz Ansari, from Master of None
Descenso, directed by Jose Padilha, from Narcos
Trust No Bitch, directed by Phil Abraham, from Orange Is the New Black
Spend, directed by Jennifer Chambers Lynch, from The Walking Dead

My 10 Standout Performances:

Will Arnet as BoJack Horseman on BoJack Horseman
Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones on Jessica Jones
Kevin Carroll as John Murphy on The Leftovers
Regina King as Erika Murphy on The Leftovers
Justin Theroux as Kevin Garvey on The Leftovers
Noel Wells as Rachel on Master of None
Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar on Narcos
Rachel McAdams as Ani Bezzerides on True Detective
Tituss Burgess as Titus Andromedon on Unbreakbable Kimmy Schmidt
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer on Veep