Category Archives: Best of Lists

Five Underrated Movies of 2016

For all the attention Moonlight, La La Land and Manchester By the Sea are getting as the year’s best films, there’s a ton more cinematic gems in 2016 that are simply overlooked and aren’t getting the love that I believe they deserve. I’m focusing on five narrative features that not only are overlooked but are award-worthy and deserve attention, thus considering them the Most Underrated Films of 2016. Like any year-end list my choices are all up for contention. There’s American Honey, The Handmaiden, High Rise, Swiss Army Man, Green Room, Neon Demon, Little Men, Other People, Midnight Special and a whole slew of others. Deadpool did get Golden Globes love so I’ll let that one slide.

These five films could rival some of the current nominees in various categories, from their solid screenplays to the amazing performances in each film. Yet, they’ve received no love this award season when I feel they should have.

5. Hello, My Name is Doris (Roadside Attractions)

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Anchored by a nuanced, layered performance from Sally Field as a lonely office worker who develops a deep infatuation for a younger co-worker (Max Greenfield), this sweet little film could have been a bigger hit if it was released in the early 2000’s when these kinds of films were making heavier plays during awards season. I’ve seen it four times and loved it more per viewing. It’s hilarious, touching, and achingly bittersweet. Sally Field should have at least gotten a nomination for her mesmerizing performance.

4. Sing Street (Weinstein Company)

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The recent entry in John Carney’s unofficial music trifecta trilogy (Once and Begin Again as the first two) is set in 1980’s Ireland about a rag-tag group of teenage schoolboys forming a rock band. What I love about Carney’s musical films is he captures the process of music-making so accurately on film, and Sing Street is his most personal. With an irresistible soundtrack and a fresh, talented cast this film needed more love. Instead, it got lost in the mix with an untimely summer release. Thank God Netflix picked it up. Any of the original songs should have been nominated especially the Hall & Oates inspired uptempo tuner “Drive It Like You Stole It” which was robbed of an Original Song Oscar nomination this year.

3. Hologram For a King (Lionsgate)

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This choice will anger a few but after seeing the film last summer it surprisingly left a lasting impression all year. It can be frustrating to enjoy a film about, well, frustration and when the premise is basically Waiting For Godot in Saudi Arabia, it can test the patience of even the keenest of moviegoers. Once you peel the veneers though there’s much to explore; from perceptions of culture to discovering love when one is out of their element, both physically and figuratively. The film is framed by a solid performance from the ever dependable Tom Hanks playing a tech salesman who’s been asked to pitch a business proposal to an elusive king. One of the film’s many gifts is the scene-stealing performance of Alexander Black as Yousef, an American educated Saudi cab driver who proves he can hold his own against Hanks. From its stark cinematography to its subtle commentary on international relations, this is a film that I urge people to (re)consider.

2. The Nice Guys (Warner Bros.)

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I grew up on a steady diet of Shane Black films (Lethal Weapon, anyone?) and for a majority of last summer, I couldn’t stop raving about this film. A studio picture that’s original(!), kooky, off-the-wall and oozing with just the right amount of sleaze, violence and genuine slapstick. The pitch-perfect chemistry of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe harkens back to those great buddy comedies of yesteryear, a genre Shane Black perfected in the 80’s. Not to mentioned the perfectly curated disco soundtrack, the colorful, unforgettable cast of characters, the spot-on production and costume designs and a byzantine L.A. noir potboiler of a screenplay that’s paced beautifully and seamlessly. This is how good studio pictures used to be and The Nice Guys could have easily been a hit back in the 80’s or 90’s. In my opinion, this is the kind of film studios should be making more of again.

1. A Monster Calls (Focus Features)

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This dark, gorgeous and enchanting children’s story about loss and grief is my pick for the most underrated movie of 2016 because it actually had an award campaign going for it. What happened? There’s way too many goodies in this movie that deserve some kind of nod. Patrick Ness, adapting his own novel to the screen, proves he understands the cinematic form. But the true highlight here is the heartbreaking performance of newcomer Lewis MacDougall who wins you from the get-go with his charm and vulnerability. I found his performance far more effective and stronger than Lucas Hedges in Manchester By the Sea. On the surface, the film can easily be mistaken as heavy visual effects fodder for kids but that would be unfair. The VFX is stunning, sure, yet it’s the overall visual cohesiveness at play that’s far more impressive, directed with such assurance by J.A. Bayona (the helmer of the next Jurassic Park installment). Also, MacDougall is surrounded by captivating performances from his adult castmates; Liam Neeson voicing the monster, Felicity Jones as his ailing mother, Sigourney Weaver as his strict grandmother and Toby Kebbell as his estranged father. This is beautiful, unforgettable and heart-wrenching cinema that can be enjoyed by the whole family. That’s rare and A Monster Calls is definitely a film that hopefully grows the following it so deserves.

The 5 Best Shots of 2016

Sometimes it’s the way it was shot.

The best cinematography elevates a film creating indelible, unforgettable images. It’s a pity because the way movies are being enjoyed nowadays can seem to neglect the power of a filmed image. I’m still a firm believer that a single frame of film seen on the big screen doesn’t have the same effect as seeing it on your smartphone. But a great shot can transcend that.

Again to reiterate: great cinematography always creates unforgettable images.

Here are my choices for the five best shots of 2016.

5. Moonlight (Director of Photographer, James Laxton)

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Moonlight obviously takes many directorial styles from Wong Kar-Wai and director Barry Jenkins states in interviews that Chungking Express was a huge inspiration. It’s fascinating that the most devastating scene in the film in my opinion is shot with such clarity and vibrance. Paired with Naomi Harris’ amazing performance and the painful slow-motion as she screams (in silence) to Chiron (Alex Hibbert) just escalates the hurt.

4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Director of Photographer, Greig Fraser)

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The last thing you expect from a Star Wars movie (or any well-established franchise for that matter) is the ability to surprise, especially in its cinematic techniques. What makes Rogue One a great addition to the franchise is its ability to ground the Star Wars lore in a gritty world that feels authentic. Fraser films this sci-fi epic like a well-worn war movie, and when the looming Death Star rises above Scarif, it reminds us of its power. Also, wasn’t it great to see Stroomtroopers on a beach?

3. Hell or High Water (Director of Photographer, Giles Nuttgens)

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There are many shots in Hell or High Water that have the Howard Brothers (Chris Pine and an underrated Ben Foster) shot in far mid-shots amidst the dry landscape of modern-day Texas. It’s in those shots that ironically take us deeper into the brothers and their relationship. There’s desperation and abandonment in the world our characters live in. It’s timely and it’s utterly cinematic.

2. La La Land (Director of Photographer, Linus Sandgren)

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Shot in glorious Cinemascope and unabashedly borrowing color schemes and musical motifs (and ahem, character flaws) from Jacques Demy, La La Land isn’t ashamed whatsoever of what kind of film it is. It’s the first time in a long time that Los Angeles looked this good. It’s smart for them to open on this vast freeway opening number, edited to look like one single shot. From here on in, we’re hooked.

1. Arrival (Director of Photographer, Bradford Young)

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Perhaps the best cinematography of 2016 goes to Bradford Young’s restraint work in Arrival. Surprisingly, the only visual effects in this shot is the spacecraft but that rolling fog is real and captured on film. Inspired by the great cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and Gordon Willis (The Godfather films), Bradford Young isn’t afraid to light naturally and capture film as rich and textured. He isn’t afraid to underexpose and juxtaposing the beauty of light and dark in his shots and Arrival is triumphant work from a young cinematographer who is just getting started.

RUNNER UPS:

Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)
Hail, Caesar! (Roger Deakins)
Jackie (Stéphane Fontaine)
A Monster Calls (Oscar Faura)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Philippe Rousselot)

The Best Original Film Songs in 2016

2016 proved that film and music are inseparable. Songs both original and classic played such a huge part to some of the year’s most memorable cinematic moments. You can’t deny the joy of seeing a gridlocked LA freeway turned into a massive musical theatre opening number in La La Land‘s ‘Another Day of Sun’ or the beautiful rendition of ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ as a proper eulogy in Captain Fantastic. We’re reminded of how Barbara Lewis’ classic ‘Hello Stranger’ in Moonlight will forever be achingly beautiful and Lesley Gore’s hit ‘You Don’t Own Me’ in Suicide Squad always had a sinister streak underneath its angelic verses. Songs will always be cinematic if you pair it with the right elements of filmic storytelling.

Here are my choices for the best original songs written for the screen in 2016, in no particular order.

LA LA LAND (Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment) – “City of Stars”
Music by Justin Hurwitz, Lyrics by Benjamin Pasek & Justin Paul

 

MOANA (Walt Disney Pictures) – “How Far I’ll Go”
Music & Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

 

SING STREET (Weinstein Company) – “Drive It Like You Stole It”
Written by Gary Clark, John Carney and Relish

 

HIDDEN FIGURES (20th Century Fox) – “Runnin'”
Music & Lyrics by Pharrell Williams

 

MISS SHARON JONES (Starz Entertainment) – “I’m Still Here”
Written by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

 

RUNNER UPS:
‘Can’t Stop the Feeling!’ – Trolls
‘Audition’ – La La Land
‘We Know the Way’ – Moana
‘Rules Don’t Apply’ – Rules Don’t Apply
‘Just Like Fire’ – Alice Through the Looking Glass
‘Dance, Rascal, Dance’ – Hello, My Name Is Doris
‘Heathens’ – Suicide Squad
‘The Great Beyond’ – Sausage Party
‘Another Day of Sun’ – La La Land
‘Faith’ – Sing

2011: A Year In Film

Every year, I find myself immersing myself in entertainment, more so than the previous year and 2011 had some standouts–from movies, music, television to literature. So as usual, this is my yearly recap of what I loved, loathed and learned from the world of movies in 2011.

My 5 Favorite Movies of 2011

1. The Descendants

2. 50/50

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

4. Moneyball

5. The Ides of March 

Honorable Mentions: Horrible Bosses, We Bought a Zoo, X-Men: First Class, The Adventures of Tintin, The Artist, Hugo, Super 8, The Muppets, My Week With Marilyn, Drive, Crazy Stupid Love, Bridesmaids, Midnight in Paris, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Attack the Block

My Best Picks for 2011 (Not Award Predictions)

Best Director – Martin Scorcese, Hugo

Best Actor – George Clooney, The Descendants

Best Actress – Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Best Supporting Actor – Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Best Supporting Actress – Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay – Will Reiser and Seth Rogan, 50/50

Best Adapted Screenplay – Alexander Payne, Nat Faxton and Jim Rash, The Descendants 

Best Animated FeatureThe Adventures of Tintin 

Best Original Score – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 

Best Original Song – “Life’s A Happy Song” from The Muppets

Best Visual Effects Rise of the Planet of the Apes 

Best Art DirectionHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Best CinematographyWar Horse

Best Costume DesignHugo 

Best EditingThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 

The 5 Worst Movies I Actually Wasted Hours of My Life in 2011

1. Abduction

2. What’s Your Number?

3. Transformers: Dark of the Moon

4. The Hangover Part II

5. Disney’s Prom

Movies: The Best of 2007

It’s been a tumultous day for Hollywood, what with the Oscar noms announced, the ongoing writer’s strike and the sudden passing of talented actor, Heath Ledger. Still, 2008 so far hasn’t been that promising (was Cloverfield really that good? Same time last year, we already had Zodiac and Breach.) 2007 was actually a strong year for movies, and despite the recent ups and downs in Tinseltown, at least they have 2007 to look back to as quite a strong year. So here are my choices. You can always read my reviews on moviepatron.com

The 10 Best Movies of 2007

Michael ClaytonDefinitely a Best Picture dark horse, Clayton’s my favorite movie of 2007. It’s All the President’s Men for our generation harkening back to the good ol’ 70’s American cinema resurgence. Tony Gilroy is quickly becoming my new hero and Clooney is the definitive leading man of our time. Read my MoviePatron.com review.

Paris J’TaimeA gorgeous mosaic of short films that focuses on love in the City of Lights. Some of the short films aren’t that impressive but thankfully there are more hits than misses. My favorite is Alexander Payne’s entry. And the Coen Brothers.

Sweeney ToddIt’s perfect synergy. Take Sondheim’s masterpiece and give it to the right director with the right leading man. What you get is a movie musical that you’ll never forget. Read my MoviePatron.com review.

Charlie Wilson’s WarIt’s Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams headlining the cast. It’s Mike Nichols at the helm, directing Aaron Sorkin’s gorgeous prose. What’s not to like? Okay, so the subject matter is a bit disturbing, but never has it been dealt with with such panache.

Knocked UpJuno may have gotten all the praise but I’m still affectionate towards this movie’s low-key sensibilities. Judd Apatow makes smart movies about regular people. Ten times better than Superbad.

OnceSupposedly Steven Spielberg’s favorite movie of 2007 and rightfully so. The movie takes the musical genre and spins it on its head. Great songs. Even greater performances. And it’s shot on digital video! Hopefully this will inspire Spielberg to adapt Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods.”

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford It was this or 3:10 to Yuma but I was won over by Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck’s performance. Roger Deakin’s cinematography is gorgeous and the whole Western, though somber, strikes a surprisingly resonant chord. A great year for Westerns—the best since Unforgiven.

No Country for Old MenThe Coen Brother’s need love, really. It’s about time. The movie is reminiscent of Miller’s Crossing and Fargo, which admittedly are better fares from the siblings. No Country gets props for bringing them back to that realm again.

The Bourne UltimatumUpping the ante for spy movies to come, (hear that, Mr. Bond?) the Bourne series ends on a high note. The best of this year’s threequels, Matt Damon proves that he’s a bona fide action star. And what a supporting cast, led by Oscar nominees David Strathairn and Joan Allen.

Ocean’s ThirteenA sentimental favorite but thankfully the film did deliver the goods. I love movies with old-fashioned sensibilities and the whole “shaking Sinatra’s hand” thing is something younger generations should take heed to. The movie is a great reminder of bringing back the lost art of being a gentleman. Props to Clooney and Co. (review)

Honorable Mentions
3:10 to Yuma, 300, Across the Universe, American Gangster, Atonement, Away From Her, Breach, Enchanted (review), Gone Baby Gone, Hairspray (review), I’m Not There, Live Free or Die Hard (review), Lust, Caution, The Lives of Others, Ratatouille, The Savages, Stardust, Surf’s Up, There Will Be Blood, Waitress, Zodiac

The 5 Worst Movies of 2007

Rush Hour 3
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Smokin’ Aces
Norbit
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

Best DVD Releases of 2007

Overall – Blade Runner: 5-Disc Definitive Edition (Blu-Ray)

Best Standard DVD Release – Transformers: 2-Disc Special Edition

 Best Blu-Ray Release (tie) – Hairspray: 2-Disc Shake & Shimmy Edition | Disney/Pixar’s Cars: Special Edition

Best Box Set (tie) – Stanley Kubrick Collection (Standard DVD) | Harry Potter 1-5 Collection (Blu-Ray)

 Best Catalog Re-Release – Taxi Driver: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition (Standard DVD)

Best TV on DVD Release – Planet Earth (Blu-Ray)

Best Specialty DVD Release (tie) – Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 1 (Blu-Ray) | Battleship Potemkin: Kino 2-DVD Set (Standard DVD)

2006: The Year in Movies

Ah yes, it’s that time of the year again. My obligatory year-end lists of movies, music, and more. Looking back at 2006, it was actually a year of hype, some well-deserved, most of it unmatched. The PS3 is a huge flop, Pirates 2 wasn’t all that, and the format war between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray isn’t going anywhere because no one’s buying them.

In any case, it was a funny year for the arts and media. In my opinion, there was a lot of hoopla but very little to show for it. So most of the stuff on my list aren’t all perfect, they’ve got their share of flaws. Yet in a year full of flaws, beggars can’t be choosers. So first off are the movies of 2006. The best, the worst, and everything in between.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 2006
1. The Departed – Scorcese’s best since Goodfellas. Perhaps the best film of the year. Amazing cast. Amazing performances. It was tense, taut and supremely effective. Loved it.

2. Dreamgirls – I predicted this a year ago and I was right. A movie that lives up to the hype, with all its gloss and glamour. You take the best elements of Ray and Chicago and you get this electricity. The movie looks and sounds amazing. Beautifully designed, with high production values. A killer soundtrack. Jennifer Hudson as Effie steals the show but this is really Eddie Murphy’s movie. His best performance. Ever.

3. Cars – By their high standards, Pixar isn’t working on all cylinders here but the movie is still a real treat. In a year bloated with animation, this one stands out in my opinion (even though Happy Feet might get all the accolades). To make animation live and breathe is one thing, but to make objects feel is another. Pixar can do no wrong.

4. The Inside Man – Spike Lee rocks. Heist movies rock. Sure, there are gaping plot holes here and there but the idea of Spike doing a heist film just tickles any fan of Spike’s or of the genre, or both.

5. The Devil Wears Prada – A chick flick with bite. Humorous and sardonic. Dark yet fluffy. Perhaps the most quotable movie of the year along side Borat. Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci do no wrong. That’s all.

6. United 93 – Heartwrenching. Moving. Painful. A movie that proves movies can be this powerful and this healing without having to resort to schmaltz (see World Trade Center).

7. Flags of Our Fathers – I’m hoping to catch the companion piece Letters to Iwo Jima soon but Flags is a definite stand-out. Iwo Jima will definitely be a knock-out just based on preliminary peeks. Because of the sheer magnitude of both films, it truly does feel like one big epic. Flags still feels incomplete and I know Iwo Jima will make it all come together.

8. The Break-Up – A romantic dramedy that actually feels real and truthful. Jennifer Aniston is underrated. She’s actually a really good actress in my opinion and finally a film comes along to truly showcase her talents.

9. The Good German – Soderbergh’s “either-you-love-it-or-hate-it” experiments fair well by me, even though this year Soderbergh’s really gone off on self-gratification. First Bubble (which was fascinating if uneven) and now this. I love the actors involved and I love the films its trying to emulate. Perhaps I’m too much of a film geek to appreciate it. It’s definitely one that many disagree with me (and have put on their worst lists, I know) but I loved it.

10. Babel – Great film even though it was all over the place. I loved the multiple storylines. Brad Pitt gives a pretty believable performance and it’s a much, much better film than Crash.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
Cache, Hollywoodland, The Pursuit of Happyness, Little Miss Sunshine, Thank You For Smoking, Borat, Stranger Than Fiction, Monster House, Charlotte’s Web, Happy Feet, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, An Inconvenient Truth

THE WORST (and I admit I’ve seen them)
Poseidon, X3: X-Men United, Lady in the Water, Little Man, Lucky Number Slevin

THE BEST DVD RELEASES OF 2006 (that I saved my pennies for)
1. James Bond Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 – 4  – Worth the price tag my father and I got it for (it went on sale at CostCo for dirt cheap considering the asking price of other retailers). The best part about it is that it has all the bells and whistles of the original MGM DVD release but the sound and picture have been cleaned-up and restored. Glorious DTS sound and clear picture.

2. Miami Vice: Unrated – Michael Mann’s big-screen adaptation of his small-screen hit actually works better on the small screen. Perhaps it’s the new opening sequence that actually harkens back to the TV show. After seeing it on DVD you actually question why Mann cut out what he cut out in the first place. The unrated version made the film a wee better.

3. Cinema Paradiso: Collector’s Edition – How can a movie lover complain about the newly restored Italian classic? Not only does it have both versions of the movie (original and 2002 director’s cut) but it has Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable soundtrack on CD! And if that weren’t enough, they threw in Italian recipes inspired by the film. How fun is that?

4. Warner Bros. Controversial Classics Collection: Dog Day Afternoon/Network/All the President’s Men – Finally! Three of the best movies of the 70’s American cinema resurgence finally get the all-star DVD treatment. Love it.

5. Superman: Ultimate Collector’s Box – Warner did make a boo-boo on the technical side by releasing defective DVDs but they quickly fixed that problem. Finally, the Superman series gets a makeover on DVD and never looked and sounded this great. The best part though is the free movie poster collection offer of all the Superman films. What a combo!

6. The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition – A Disney Classic gets the platinum treatment making me miss the hand-drawn animation. Really well-deserved. The cool bonus feature is an inside look at the Little Mermaid Disneyland ride that never came to be.

7. Seven Samurai: Criterion Collection – Ah yes, a double-dip from the best DVD producers in the world. But it’s worth it. Finally the audio on the film has been cleaned-up (a gripe of mine) and it’s off the hook. Goes well with last year’s re-release of Magnificent Seven.

8. Grand Prix – This was a dream come true. Finally released on DVD. I remember watching this film during editing class and I’ve always wanted my own copy as a reference.

9. NBC’s The Office: Season 2 – Funnier and uncut. Loaded with extras (and a Quizno’s coupon for a free sandwich combo). I noticed that good TV shows find their voice on the second season.

10. Forbidden Planet: Collector’s Edition – There’s a box set version with a replica of Robby the Robot but the real feature is the movie itself, gloriously restored.

Well there you have it! I hope you all have a wonderful New Year!

The Movies That Continue to Inspire

  As a film major, you learn to keep a list of movies that you can always go back to in reference. That’s why DVDs aren’t a waste of money for us cinema students, because we genuinely treat them as textbooks, constantly going back to those films that help shape our own styles and visions.

As I prepare an essay for a film class I’m taking this semester, I figured I’d share my findings on here as well. There are tons of movies I always refer back to but it seems these 25 films are the most constant. They continue to inspire me as a filmmaker, in all their creative aspects, from direction to design, to sound and screenwriting. In my humble point of view, these 25 films never fail to ignite the creative auteur in me.

25: GoodFellas
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In my opinion Scorcese’s best, better than Mean Streets and Raging Bull. The film is so visceral, literally knocking you down to the ground. I go back to this film just in terms of detail in direction and movement. It’s a long movie but it moves like a freight train and the impact of the scenes will continue to hit you after countless viewings.

24: A Hard Day’s Night
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Perhaps the movie that created MTV. I go back to this movie because of its sheer originality. Or maybe because it feels so fresh. You want to make movies that feel this alive and bursting in song, or at least, with some kind of musicality.

23: Jackie Brown
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Forget Pulp Fiction. Put aside Reservoir Dogs and the Kill Bill flicks. Jackie Brown is undeniably Tarantino at his finest. Tarantino has always been one helluva wordsmith but here it’s his complete realization of characters, and how he leisurely takes his time in revealing plot points and interesting character development.

22: Chinatown
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I’ve referenced Robert Towne’s killer screenplay numerous times on here. The acting is top notch. I’m not a huge fan of Polanski, but Chinatown is a towering achievement in screenwriting and performance especially if you have a copy of the script and you can see how the screenplay translates so vividly onto the screen. You want to be able to give direction that will service the script to the best of your directing skill.

21: Good Will Hunting
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Probably one of the best screenplay of recent years, and to think its written by this duo! Again, when a screenplay is that good, get a copy of it and see the DVD. Do a compare and contrast. Great screenplays translate well. This is another great example. Plus Robin Williams gives a tour-de-force performance as Damon’s shrink.

20: A Touch of Evil
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Everyone honors Citizen Kane, but I lean more towards this Orson Welle’s classic. It’s just how he paces the film. Clear direction and staging. The opening sequence is probably the best opening sequence in cinema history, one that has been copied, homaged and referenced to, most notably Robert Altman’s The Player.

19: Network
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Sometimes you want to make a film that will hit a nerve with your audience. The right elements just fell into play for this movie. Amazing ensemble. Unforgettable lines. (“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”) Underneath every filmmaker lies the desire to create a film that’s scathingly true. Network is the film that always comes to mind.

18: Cinema Paradiso
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If you love movies, you can’t deny the magic of this movie. Great storytelling. Epic in the most intimate sense. Avoid the 2002 Director’s Cut and stick with the original version. The director’s cut gives away too much in my opinion. What makes this movie a great reference for filmmakers is to understand what is essential in storytelling and editing. What parts do you leave out for the audience’s imagination? Not only is this a central theme in the movie but its also the strength of the movie itself. How much do you give, and how much do you leave up to the audience.

17: Heat
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Michael Mann is the epitome of style and Heat just oozes with it. The coffee shop conversation showdown between giants Pacino and DeNiro still keeps me riveted. It’s a clash of two titans but its the least violent scene in the film, yet it makes the most impact.

16: L.A. Confidential
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1997 was a great year for movies. L.A. Confidential is a marvelous film no doubt but the true strengths lie in its technicalities, particularly sound, editing, design and cinematography. One of the best lit scenes in recent history is when Kim Basinger enters the liquor store. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti lights everything beautifully; Basinger’s face soft and glowing, but that deep velvet black of her cape and coat is so rich and textured. Also, sound-wise, if you’ve got the home theater to muscle it out, check out the final duel in the motel. Great use of sound.

15: Singin’ In the Rain
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One of the best movies ever. But I always go back to this for music, sound, and staging.

14: Traffic
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Stephen Soderbergh’s my favorite director and this is his best so far. It’s just the no nonsense way the film is made. I usually refer to this film in post-production when I’m editing my films. It’s just how he puts all these fragments into a beautiful collage of a movie.

13: Jaws 
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Spielberg at his most clever. The film is a clear example of Syd Field’s 3-Act Structure but really it’s all in the direction of the film. Spielberg practically reinvented the whole tension/release pacing in modern cinema. Here, he shows his patterns clearly: the slow reveal of the beast, a character who resembles the hunted, etc. Spielberg has created new conventions here, and it’s always neat to go back to this film and see the techniques of a cinematic genius.

12: Rear Window
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One of my favorite Hitchcock film’s. With Hitchcock, where do I begin? All his films should be textbooks for any filmmaker! One of James Stewart’s best performances. You can see where Pierce Brosnan gets all his tricks.

11: The Sting 
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The definition of genre filmmaking, and my favorite: the caper film! This film and Magnificent Seven are films of such great bravado and camaraderie. Every filmmaker who would ever want to make heist/caper movies really should study this film in and out.

10: Band of Outsiders
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My love affair with the French New Wave. This is probably one of the best films to come out of that era.

9: All the President’s Men 
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This film has always been the prime example of less is more. If you want to just tell the story, no frills, no special effects, and still keep it interesting, this is the film you have to see. One of my favorites.

8: Do the Right Thing
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Probably referred to as the Citizen Kane of modern cinema because of its innovation in storytelling. There’s just so much to refer to. The editing. The writing. The direction. Not only is the film a masterpiece, it’s also probably one of the most important films ever made.

7: E.T.
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“You’re movie’s got to have heart,” a professor once told me. He then reminded me of this little movie.

6: 400 Blows
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Along with Band of Outsiders, this is probably the best example of the French New Wave. It’s the first film I ever saw in film school. (I saw this and Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story in one sitting! Can you imagine? I went home and started writing!) I like how unconventional French New Wave is, and this film is a constant reminder of straying away from formula. Pedro Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is also one of my first movies in film school (and one of my favorite movies). Just prime examples of other cinematic routes outside of Hollywood conventions.

5: The Conversation
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Best use of sound in a movie. Period. I always thought Coppola’s Godfather films were his best. I’ll admit I’m partial to this film moreso than most of Coppola’s offerings. Much better than Apocalypse Now.

4: Ocean’s Eleven (1960)
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The epitome of style in a movie. Okay so the movie is kinda blah (the remake is much better), but the style! No wonder this final scene has been ripped off by Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs, Scorcese in GoodFellas, and in numerous cool guy movies! Stylish, cool. The remakes and the sequels it spawned reinvented and updated it, but if it weren’t for this movie, all those other cool guy movies it gave birth wouldn’t be as cool.

3: Raiders of the Lost Ark
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The movie that made me want to be a film director when I was a kid. To this day, when I see this movie, it just reminds me of the magic and adventure of film, and the limitless possibilities. More of an inspiration than a reference.

2: North by Northwest
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Hitchcock. Again.Where do I begin? My personal fave of his. I’m a huge Cary Grant fan. I did a whole spiel on this movie a little over a year ago.

1: Casablanca
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No other movie moves me the way this film does. I can see it over and over again and I’ll never get tired of it. Seen it on the big screen, seen it on laserdisc (my introduction to the movie, thanks to my Dad) and now seen it numerous times on DVD. Just everything about this film is ideal filmmaking. There is always something new to find and it encompasses the best of every aspect; music, editing, lighting, direction, performance, etc. You can have Citizen Kane (no doubt a masterpiece in its own right) but Casablanca, in my opinion, is the greatest American film of all time. They don’t make movies like that anymore.

2005: The Year in Movies

In terms of movies, the way 2005 went down should have been a dismal one; lackluster performance at the box office, too many remakes and sequels and the growing DVD market that’s starting to eclipse first-run theatricals.

 

Yet in my opinion, 2005 offered up a lot of amazing movies that I can’t squeeze them all in a list of 10. It was, by far, a difficult list to conjure. Yet here I am, blogged and ready to share with what I think were the best of 2005 in movies.

 

So without further ado, here is my look at the year that was in the glorious world of cinema.

 

THE BEST

 

 

1. Good Night and Good Luck – Hands down the best movie of the year. Sexy and smart. Gloriously shot and aptly directed by George “Danny Ocean” Clooney, this film about preeminent journalist Edward R. Murrow (the amazing David Strathairn) and his fight to bring down Senator McCarthy and his movement in the 1950’s is a testament to how the art of film, history, and social relevance can conjure up one hell of an experience. The film is all together powerful and gorgeous due to the well-balanced mix of all those elements, plus the Jazz doesn’t hurt. This is the film of 2005, because it exceeds in all levels, aesthetically as well as relevance.

 

2. Syriana – Again, Clooney’s got his fingerprints all over another fine film. A film that, much like my first choice rings true to the times. Yes, many found the subject too meaty to digest but Stephen Gaghan (writer of Traffic) opens up the mystery that is the oil industry, and the trickle-down effect it has on people, politics and agendas. Obviously inspired by Traffic, Syriana is another reason why 2005 offered some socially relevant and exceptionally entertaining films. This is why we go to the cinema; to partake in an art form that can move us and open our minds more so than we can fathom.

 

3. Walk The Line – Forget that I’m a Johnny Cash fan. Biopics about musicians are a hot ticket, especially about great musicians. Like last year’s biopic Ray, what carries the film are the exceptional performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. The film finally sheds some light on the Man in Black. Thanks to the film, now I know why a lot of Cash’s songs hurt so damn much.

 

 

4. Mr. & Mrs. Smith – Summer movies are suppose to be fun! Thankfully, Doug Liman brought it back. After such a dark and dismal summer of dark knights (jedi or bat) and planets at war, what can be more enjoyable than taking “domestic dispute” and twisting it to another level? Sure at times is raunchy and disturbing but the tongue is planted firmly in its cheek. It’s a sexy movie that underneath the pomp and action, it surprisingly has a lot to say about marriage. After watching this film I realized there is such a thing as chemistry overload and Bradgelina definitely have way too much of it. I felt the screen was about to explode. Fun. Loved it. Best summer movie of 2005.

 

5. King Kong – The word Epic and Peter Jackson go hand in hand. Yes it’s probably 40 minutes too long but my, what a cinematic experience. Everything you want King Kong to do, he’ll do. What makes the film even better is that it’s not too far from the 1933 original which I absolutely adore. It feels like the 1933 original, much like a new and improved version of a classic car. Plus, Naomi Watts is the new Fay Wray. Best casting of the year, by far. James Newton Howard’s score is also one of the year’s best, in my opinion.

 

 

6. March of the Penguins – There were a lot of great documentaries in 2005, from Murderball to Mad Hot Ballroom but Penguins made my list because the film hits a primal nerve. It is, in essence, a film about family and love and throughout the movie you watch these beautiful (yet silly) creatures and you wonder; if they can do it, why can’t we? A testament to the beauty of life, the creatures than inhabit the earth, and our built-in primordial condition to love those we care about. Imagine, a movie about penguins can do just that!

 

 

7. A History of Violence – The title says it alone. David Cronenberg’s mindblower is such a slap in the face that it makes you feel good, and feel bad all at the same time. It’s a two-edged sword type of a movie, much better handled then the uneven Paul Haggis film,  Crash. It’s realistic and disturbing. Then again, what do you expect when you decide to take on violence as your first response? A must-see.

 

 

8. Munich – frustrating and dismal, yet I loved every minute of it. For all the Spielberg haters who think the man has lost his touch, he has proven time and time again why he’s become a household name. The man can tell a story and he leaves you with indelible images that stick to your mind long after the movie has been released on DVD. This is his most disturbing and darkest year. First the pretty impressive War of the Worlds remake now this. Munich may piss off many, but artistically, Spielberg proves why he still is one of the best. He tells a story with unforgettable images, and if I recall, that’s how you do cinema.

 

9. Hitch – Ah yes, the obligatory Valentine’s Day romantic comedy. Yet the great thing about this film is it is a comedy of manners in a sense—in a New Yorker’s sense and the film truly captures that. Sure it’s predictable, but the situations are probable. There is something infectious about the film’s take on dating and love life and the movie bounces along quite well. Very rare do romcom’s stick out but Hitch definitely took the genre to another level. Kudos to that.

 

 

10. Bride & Prejudice – Bollywood movies are the jumbalayas of movies; it’s got everything in the pot. It’s a musical! No it’s a romantic comedy! No it’s action! No it’s drama! In this updated version of the popular Jane Austen novel, Gurinder Chadha, director of Bend It Like Beckham, transfers the story from England to India, with satisfying results. The film is pure joy and what I’m really impressed with is how well the novel translated to the setting.

 

 

THE REST – Just missed the list

 

Batman Begins, Chumscrubber, The Bee Season, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, War of the Worlds, Corpse Bride, Madagascar, The 40-Year Old Virgin, Layer Cake, Sin City

 

 

THE WORST – I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve actually seen

 

The Dukes of Hazzard, Guess Who, Be Cool, Elizabethtown . . . and that one Norwegian subway movie that I erased from my memory because I saw it instead of Layer Cake!

 

More to come!

2004: The Year in Movies

Happy New Year everybody! Well here are my choices for 2004. I do plan to write more substantial stuff in the next couple of days but it has been a surprisingly hectic start for 2005.

By the way, on a side note, I enjoyed those of you who actually have one-on-one, face-to-face conversations with me about the things I post on Xanga, with the exception of people who can’t, of course. I loved how my Soderbergh post started some great real life conversations in the past couple of days.

Anyway, as promised, here’s my list. These movies are in no particular order.

 

The Incredibles – Just might be my pick for film of the year (Surprised? Thought it was a little heist movie set in Europe, didn’t you?) Oh but this film was flat-out entertaining and wonderfully touching. I’m in love with this family.

The Bourne Supremacy – When I ask for non-stop action I want it served like this! Heart-pounding and intelligent. But those who know me know I’ve been raving about this film since its release not only because it’s pure unadulterated entertainment, it’s also great, crafty filmmaking. See director Paul Greenglass’ Bloody Sunday if you enjoyed this.

Maria Full of Grace – A film that really lives up to the belief that movies can move you in ways you didn’t know it can. Outstanding.

Ocean’s Twelve – The film is like a great cocktail party. Just loads of cheeky fun with all the people you want in a party. Plus, Soderbergh gets his Richard Lester freak on. This movie is more A Hard Day’s Night than Robin and the Seven Hoods.

Collateral – Michael Mann’s neo-Noir set piece. The surprise here is Cruise playing a character that’s not a variation of himself.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle – Finally, a stoner movie that doesn’t dull the senses. Hilarious as hell but also very, very refreshing. Sure it’s got toilet humor, but underneath all that is a movie that’s got something to say AND it’s a riot.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Turning fictional, magical characters seem like real, living breathing people is quite the task. Thanks to director Alfonso Cuaron and the superb cast.

Before Sunset – The movie doesn’t really soar, but it’s got a wonderfully infectious glow. Charming is the word for it.

Spider-Man 2 – See? Summer blockbusters can have a heart and a brain, too!

Bad Education – Anything director Pedro Almodovar touches is golden. He’s another director who never fails to inspire me.

Just Missed My List: Friday Night Lights, Mean Girls, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Sideways, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Ray, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Creepiest Performances: A tie between the NS5 robots in I, Robot and the blank expressions of everyone in The Polar Express.

Great Ideas with Less than Stellar Results: The Terminal and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy get my vote. These movies were based on great ideas that were a bit stretched out. They’re both enjoyable movies, though.

Movies I Can’t Believe I Still Haven’t Seen: The Dreamers, Dig!, Hotel Rwanda, Badassssss!! and Closer

Overrated/Overhyped: Shrek 2, Manchurian Candidate, Garden State, Million Dollar Baby, 13 Going On 30, Dogville, Meet the Fockers, House of Flying Daggers/Hero, Kinsey, Team America: World Police, Hellboy, Fahrenheit 9/11

Finally, my thoughts on some films that bothered me . . .

Van Helsing  – Terrible accents, crappy lines, lazy directing and unimaginative special effects. I couldn’t stop laughing. This movie literally made me cry of laughter. I couldn’t help it.

The Passion of the Christ – This film in my opinion oddly lacked a sense of spirituality and humanity. It was a very cold film to me. Granted everyone knows the main character. Unfortunately a movie still needs a strong characterization of the protagonist, no matter how familiar we are with the character. This could have been a more poignant film if it were more cinematically balanced. But if you like religious films check out The Gospel of John instead. But trust me, the Book is still better.

Alexander/Troy – Sword and sandal epics aren’t cool anymore. They’ve become so hokey.

The Village – I knew ten minutes into the film what the secret/big pay off was. The fact that I guessed it ten minutes into the film is a little disappointing.

Kill Bill Volume 2 – I liked this movie on the notion that it felt like a good old-fashioned Western. Watching it again recently though, I realized that all the characters just can’t shut up. It’s like speech after speech after speech after speech. It got tiresome. Quentin Tarantino likes the sound of his own voice. Yawn.

Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement – I can’t hate this movie because of Jerica (and I watch this with her from time to time) but I’m really bothered at the fact that the country of Genovia is pretty much the Magic Kingdom with people talking in hoity-toity American accents. Ah but the costumes are exquisite, even the suits Chris Pine wore are quite stylish.  I’m jealous.

Shark Tale – Any movie that has the song Car Wash in it is sure to get on my nerves.

The Aviator – I can’t get past the idea that DiCaprio is Howard Huges and Gwen Stefani is Greta Garbo. Give me a break! But Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn and Jude Law as Errol Flynn save the film. It was like watching a well-mounted production of a high school play.

Do realize that this is a pretty nutty Xanga post. Who am I to say all this about these movies?! Oh well. These are my opinions and I know you’re bound to disagree and agree here and there.

I don’t care.

It was a fun year for movies.