CineSnob’s Top 10 Films of 2018

January 3, 2019 by  
Filed under CineBlog

It’s been a long year and a lot of movies. Here’s a look at what CineSnob.net critics Jerrod Kingery, Kiko Martinez and Cody Villafana put on their list of the best movies this year.

JERROD KINGERY – Contributing film critic

10. Bumblebee – As fan of “Transformers” for as long as I can remember, the treatment the franchise has gotten at the hands of Michael Bay for the last decade has been brutal to endure. Enter Travis Knight’s “Bumblebee,” a soft reboot featuring discernable G1 robot designs, likeable human characters, a coherent plot, and—thankfully—no racist comedy or mindless tits and ass. Finally, I can look forward to a “Transformers” movie without a sense of dread.

9. A Star is Born – The moment Lady Gaga’s Ally takes the stage to perform “Shallow,” a shoe-in for best song of the year at the Oscars, “A Star is Born” takes off. Guided by the steady hand of director and star Bradley Cooper, the film is emotionally resonant enough to forgive its missteps, including an inciting event in the third act that may have flown in the days of Hollywood past, but not in the modern entertainment landscape.

8. Deadpool 2 – I didn’t laugh harder at any movie in 2018 than I did at this over-the-top, self-aware sequel. Coming just weeks after the release of “Avengers: Infinity War,” Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool takes the piss out of what is likely the resolution to the former’s climax that left half the movie dusted—even if the filmmakers had no possible idea that’s what they were doing.

7. Mary Poppins Returns – I was completely charmed by this unashamedly old-school Disney sequel, from its amazing 2D animation (complete with jagged edges) and the way it just sort of meandered through musical numbers. It doesn’t have much in the way of plot, and strangely, that’s just fine.

6. Black Panther – Leave it to director Ryan Coogler and his muse Michael B. Jordan to turn the factory-produced Marvel Cinematic Universe origin story into something brimming with depth and spectacle. Wakanda is a beauty to behold and Jordan’s Killmonger is a villain with a clear purpose, and a damn solid claim to back it up. Just look at Killmonger’s vision wherein he talks to his late father (a scene with two of today’s finest actors, Jordan and Sterling K. Brown) and you can easily understand the struggle.

5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse – Yes, it’s the 7th Spider-Man movie in the last 16 years, but it might be the most essential. “Spider-verse” boils down years of spider-lore, both in comics, movies and the culture at large, and serves it up with a sharp sense of humor, an inclusive cast, and an unmatched visual style. Also, the end credits stinger is one of the funniest ever, and further proves that the filmmakers understand what makes Spider-Man special in pop culture.

4. The Favourite – Pitch-black and hilarious, “The Favourite” features razor sharp performances from its three leading ladies in Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone and Olivia Colman. But don’t sleep on Nicholas Hoult, who gets to sling some of the darkest arrows in the whole film.

3. First Man – Criminally underappreciated, “First Man” reteams “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle with his star Ryan Gosling for a gripping, focused look at Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon. My colleagues here at CineSnob dismissed Gosling’s Armstrong as bland and unknowable—but that’s what makes the portrayal pitch perfect. In the years to come, people are going to wonder why this masterpiece was greeted with a shrug.

2. Vice – Speaking of critical missteps, the takes on “Vice” are mind-boggling to me. Like Armstrong, Dick Cheney’s inner workings are unknown to the common man. But where Armstrong was the hero who did what he had to do to get the mission done, Cheney is his polar opposite: a driven man content to play the villain. Written and directed by Adam McKay with a top-notch performance from Christian Bale, “Vice” is an indictment of early-2000s Americans’ political complacency when the issue of safety was on the line—something that is all too familiar today, because we never learn I guess.

1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – It isn’t often that a film can change my world view, especially now that I’ve hit 40. But Morgan Neville’s biographical documentary about TV’s Fred Rogers did exactly that. The late host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” is the epitome of kindness and empathy, unafraid of the stillness that most children’s television strives to avoid. By the end of the screening I had shed tears and made a silent promise to myself to try and be a better human being. I don’t know if I’ve gotten there yet, but I’ll forever be in debt to Mr. Rogers and this film for making me give it a shot.

Bottom 3:  1. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom; 2. Venom; 3. The Cloverfield Paradox

KIKO MARTINEZ – Editor-in-Chief

After watching 235 movies this year, here are my 10 picks (and a few honorable mentions) for the best Hollywood had to offer.

10. You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay)

Besides praising three-time Academy Award-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix’s striking turn as Joe, a disturbed veteran who works for a private investigator to track down missing girls, filmmaker Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) has created an unnerving and aggressive cinematic experience in You Were Never Really Here. There is a thin layer of grime that coats the narrative that is extremely hard to shake. There are scenes in the film where it almost feels like it could fade to black at any moment. As the dissonant and offbeat electronic score of Oscar-nominated composer Jonny Greenwood (Phantom Thread) pushes Joe to the brink, audiences may wonder if he will make things easier by simply removing himself from the equation. His self-hatred will make it tough for viewers to connect to the character on any meaningful level, but with YWNRH, it’s probably a good idea to keep a safe distance.

9. First Reformed (dir. Paul Schrader)

It’s never ideal when a film has an agenda and then proceeds to beat viewers over the head with it. So, it’s quite unexpected when a film as preachy as First Reformed comes along and finds a way to be an exception to the rule. It’s a haunting, strange and lyrical narrative on one man’s spiritual and political resurrection from the darkest corners of his consciousness. First Reformed brims with insights on anger, guilt, faith and personal autonomy. Written and directed by Paul Schrader, the film revisits some of the more philosophical, character-driven elements of his early screenplay work, including Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ. Schrader taps into another tormented soul, and actor Ethan Hawke delivers a career-best performance. First Reformed is built to carry the burden of Schrader’s ambitious and inspired script, which includes a visceral final scene that will linger for weeks.

8. The Rider (dir. Chloé Zhao)

Chinese-American writer-director Chloé Zhao (Songs My Brothers Taught Me) has taken a tender narrative and transformed it into a breathtakingly beautiful drama that shoots straight to the heart. Yes, the performances from some of the novice actors in supporting roles are unpolished, but the spirit that emanates from the setting, characters, relationships and direction is brilliant. In The Rider, Zhao taps former bronc rider-turned-actor Brady Jandreau to play the cinematic version of himself, Brady Blackburn, a young, Native American cowboy from South Dakota reflecting on his life after suffering a severe head injury. The Rider is Jandreau’s film, and he delivers a complexity and cowboy flair to the role that is unmatchable. Watching him train colts on the rugged Dakota landscape, confronting the idea of what it means to be a man and simply appreciating being alive is what makes the film so emotionally fulfilling.

7. At Eternity’s Gate (dir. Julian Schnabel)

In At Eternity’s Gate, a biopic on Vincent van Gogh, Oscar-nominated director Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) doesn’t take an antiquated concept and define mental illness as one specific thing or behavior. Everyone knows van Gogh suffered from some form of psychological disorder, so why play it up like other van Gogh films of the past? It’s one of the reasons Schnabel’s film is such an enlightening and unique experience. With At Eternity’s Gate, Schnabel, who is a famous painter himself, confronts van Gogh’s mental instability with inventive style and philosophical reflection. In doing so, he has given audiences one of the most creative and visually striking cinematic compositions about an artist in recent memory. Through handheld camerawork, distorted scenes and other stimulating experimental film elements, he allows viewers to see the world from van Gogh’s transcendent perspective.

6. The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

The Favourite is unlike any costume drama you’ve ever seen. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if you know the eccentric and invigorating work of Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos in films like Dogtooth and The Lobster. Although Lanthimos hands off script duties this time around, his fingerprints are all over it. The Favourite is an acerbic and abrasively funny period piece featuring three of the best female performances of the year. Set in the early 18th century, it is loosely based on the reign of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), the sickly crowned head who ruled Great Britain and Ireland until her death in 1714. Don’t expect a history lesson here, however. Lanthimos is more interested in the darker and comically absurd relationships Anne develops with her close advisor Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), and Sarah’s cousin, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone). Hostility and deceitfulness have never been this wickedly entertaining.

5. Private Life (dir. Tamara Jenkins)

Dark comedy is a tough subgenre to get right, especially when working off a script featuring uncomfortable subject matter that isn’t what most would consider knee-slapping material. For example, 2014’s Obvious Child and 2015’s Grandma are both well-written dark comedies about abortion. Director and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Tamara Jenkins (The Savages) seems to hit the same kind of tone with Private Life, a dark dramedy that tells the story of Richard (Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn), a middle-aged married couple who are experiencing infertility and trying to have a baby through in vitro. Unsure about using a stranger as an egg donor, they turn to their 25-year-old step-niece Sadie (Kayli Carter) to see if she might be willing to help them conceive. Jenkins has crafted a genuinely touching and humorous human narrative about a husband and wife desperate for a family. It’s a poignant piece of filmmaking and Giamatti and Hahn have never been better.

4. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (dir. Marielle Heller)

It’s a welcomed career move to see actress Melissa McCarthy change things up in the film Can You Ever Forgive Me?, her most dramatic role to date — and her most remarkable. Her character, late New York Times bestselling author Lee Israel, is well-matched to McCarthy’s self-deprecating wit and ability to make the flaws and vulnerabilities she brings to the role seem sympathetic and spirited. In Forgive Me?, Israel attempts to resolve her money problems by forging and selling fake, personal letters by deceased writers and actors. Directed by Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) and co-written by Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said), Forgive Me? uses a cynical and clever combination of dark comedy and drama that builds on the narrative’s stranger-than-fiction premise with a pitch-perfect tone. The film is the type of work McCarthy will hopefully search out more as she expands her range.

3. Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik)

There’s something very intriguing about watching an individual taking on Mother Nature with little at their disposal. These stories work best when there is an intimate narrative attached to those characters hoping to survive a situation they either have no control over (Castaway) or one they have undertaken on their own to test themselves (Wild). The latter is the case for military veteran and single father Will (Ben Foster) and his 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) in the compelling drama Leave No Trace. Living off the grid in a nature preserve outside Portland, Will and Tom learn to master their solitary lifestyle until their attempt to hide from the outside world ends abruptly. Directed and co-written by Oscar nominee Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone), Leave No Trace is thought provoking and emotionally complex. Granik has captured an authentic dynamic between two characters who find themselves at an impasse with one another.

2. Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuarón)

There’s no denying the beauty and timelessness at the heart of Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón’s deeply personal drama Roma. It’s as close to cinematic poetry as you can get, and Cuarón, with an expert-level attention to detail, places us at the center of his story — watching, listening, waiting and cherishing every delicate moment. As with all his past films, there is an intimacy in Cuarón’s work that is unlike any working director today. It’s never been more apparent just how meditative his voice has become than with Roma, an autobiographical film based on his childhood in Mexico City during the 1970s and told from the perspective of the woman who helped raise him — his nanny (Yalitza Aparicio). Appreciate what Cuarón has constructed with Roma. Like other recent image-heavy films such as Tree of Life, Dunkirk and The Revenant, what Roma lacks in standard narrative substance, it makes up for in Cuarón’s skill as a visual storyteller.

1. Vice (dir. Adam McKay)

Vice, Oscar-winning filmmaker Adam McKay’s biopic on former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney (Christian Bale in an Oscar-worthy performance), is the most polarizing Oscar-contending film among critics since 2004’s Best Picture winner Crash. In Cheney’s world, McKay shows audiences just how much influence the VP had in the administration and does so with a sharp and scathingly witty script. Cheney’s wraithlike rise in the ranks saw him turn the “nothing job” of VP into one of incredible depth and power — like a cosmic comic-book villain who devours planets. Politics is a whole different game than McKay tackled in his last film, 2015’s The Big Short, on the imploding housing bubble, and he came ready to play. And like most politicians, McKay jabs low and hard and sometimes unfairly, but always promises an entertaining fight. His foray into political theater is captivating, outrageous, satirical gold.

And 10 Honorable Mentions: Capernaum, The Death of Stalin, Eighth Grade, Hereditary, I Am Not a Witch, Isle of Dogs, Lean on Pete, Searching, The Sisters Brothers, Three Identical Strangers

CODY VILLAFANA – Contributing film critic

1. Vice
2. Leave No Trace
3. Blindspotting
4. Boy Erased
5. Roma
6. The Rider
7. First Reformed
8. American Animals
9. Eighth Grade
10. Minding the Gap

CINESNOB.NET’S CONSENSUS TOP 10 FILMS OF 2018

  1. Vice
  2. Leave No Trace
  3. Roma
  4. The Favourite
  5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor
  6. The Rider
  7. First Man
  8. Blindspotting
  9. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  10. Boy Erased

 

Top Ten Films of 2013

January 3, 2014 by  
Filed under CineBlog

KIKO MARTINEZ, EDITOR/FILM CRITIC

Before anybody asks, yes, I saw “Gravity” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Those films, along with the other 193 new movies I was able to check out over the last year, made for a busy and very interesting time at the theater. From the 1960s folk music scene in Lower Manhattan to an unusual romance between a lonely man and his computer (a new way to consider cybersex, perhaps?), here’s a look at my 10 best films (and a few honorable mentions) of 2013:

10. Nebraska
Minimal in its delivery but brimming with heart and bittersweet moments, director Alexander Payne’s film about a father and son’s road trip to claim a bogus million-dollar sweepstakes prize makes for a tender dynamic between well-written characters pulled straight out of the American Midwest.

9. Fruitvale Station
A stunning and sympathetically rich film that paints a compelling picture of a 22-year-old man who loses his life in 2009 after being shot by a public transportation officer. First-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler has created a three-dimensional character in Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) that is both flawed and easily relatable.

8. Wadjda
As Saudi Arabia’s first-ever submission for Academy Awards consideration (and the first to be directed by a Saudi woman, Haifaa Al Mansour), this groundbreaking film takes an insightful look into the country’s societal ideologies through the eyes of a little girl trying to raise enough money to buy a bicycle. There’s a sense of hope that resonates with a character as confident as Wadjda that can’t be ignored.

7. Captain Phillips
Director Paul Greengrass keeps the blood boiling at high levels in this true story of a merchant mariner who was kidnapped by Somali pirates in April 2009. With Greengrass at the helm and two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks on board steering the ship, it’s the year’s most well-crafted dramatic thriller on both a technical and emotional level.

6. Inside Llewyn Davis
If 1960s-era folk music isn’t playing in your iPod right now, leave it to filmmakers like Joel and Ethan Coen to make you fall in love with the genre in an instant. Set in 1961 Greenwich Village, everything comes together beautifully in this plotless dark comedy by way of its expressive soundtrack and a noteworthy lead performance by Oscar Isaac.

5. Frances Ha
A carefree character piece by filmmaker Noah Baumbach, actress Greta Gerwig drives the comedy into a place where very clever and high-spirited dialogue prevails. In an industry that has forgotten how to write full-fledged female characters, Baumbach’s B&W film might be an easy target for hipster detractors, but Gerwig is the type of actress who can charm the skinny jeans off anyone with her adorable smile and talent.

4. Philomena
Heartbreaking, sensitive and at times very funny, this British drama about a woman searching for her son who was taken away from her when she was a teenager takes us on an incredible, full-circle journey and does it without one ounce of melodrama or false sentiment. Oscar-winning actress Judi Dench is miraculous, giving the title character extraordinary depth and resonance.

3. 12 Years a Slave
From its significant subject matter to Steve McQueen’s fine direction to a script that pits man’s brutal nature against the persevering human spirit, this harrowing drama set in the Antebellum South has all the elements for a Best Picture win at the Oscars this year. Capturing the harsh realities of the era, the film is extremely powerful and should be considered essential viewing for everyone.

2. Her
Coming from the exceptional mind of writer-director Spike Jonze, this touching romantic dramedy set in the near future about a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his technologically advanced operating system (think Siri with a conscience) is the most unique script produced in the last five years. Remember it next time you choose a screen (computer, TV or otherwise) over real human interaction.

1. Short Term 12
If all films were as affecting and authentic as this indie masterpiece by director/writer Destin Cretton about a group of teens and caretakers at a short-term group home, the moviemaking industry would be a better place. Deeply moving and featuring extraordinary performances by both first-time and established actors, this feel-everything drama is one of those honest and intimate scripts that come out of nowhere to say something incredibly meaningful and memorable.

Honorable Mention: “The Act of Killing,” “After Tiller,” “Blue is the Warmest Color,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Enough Said,” “God Loves Uganda,” “The Hunt,” “Mud,” “Narco Cultura,” “The Past,” “Prisoners,” “Upstream Color”

JERROD KINGERY, FILM CRITIC

10. The World’s End/The Wolverine (tie)
These are two movies I loved until they faltered at the goal line—“The Wolverine” much more so than “The World’s End”—that also represent two different sides of my life at age 35. “The World’s End” openly mocks Simon Pegg’s Gary and his insistence on living in the past, treasuring things like old cassette tapes and crappy cars from high school instead of growing up and moving on with his life…some of which hit so close to home with this developmentally arrested packrat that it stung a little. On the other hand, “The Wolverine” featured the best big-screen version so far of Hugh Jackman’s near-immortal mutant badass, one that felt truer than ever to a character I’ve loved since my days in middle school and made me unashamed to want to dig back into the long boxes of comics I keep in my roomful of collectible toys.

9. Frozen
For whatever reason, I’ve re-embraced the Disney mystique in the last few years (a trip to Disneyland may have been the catalyst), fondly revisiting classics from my youth like “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.” While it’s no secret Disney animation lost its way for a decade or so, “Frozen” is proof that the magic is back. The tried-and-true formula—big musical with princesses and wacky sidekicks—felt fresh for the first time in a generation. Parents, get ready to see the characters from “Frozen” every winter of your kids’ childhood from now on.

8. Gravity
Director Alfonso Cuaron is a technical genius who sometimes falls just short in the storytelling department. “Gravity” is the most amazing film you could have seen in 2013, and it’s a real shame that the bare-bones plot doesn’t live up to the truly stunning visuals. That’s not to say the film is a disappointment; it’s beautiful and absolutely worth seeing on the largest screen possible.

7. American Hustle
Director David O. Russell channels Martin Scorsese and brings “Silver Linings Playbook” stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence along to scheme with and against Christian Bale and Amy Adams. While Lawrence may be too young for her role and Cooper too pretty for his, the performances of all the leads will keep you invested in this twisty, true-ish story based on the FBI’s Abscam sting of the late-‘70s.

6. The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese channels Martin Scorsese of “Goodfellas” and “Casino” for one of the most surprisingly funny, invigorating tales of a true American criminal asshole, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort. Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter cook up an epic tale of greed, sex, drugs, and corruption that leaves you feeling kind of dirty when you realize people are still getting away with crap like this.

5. Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen brothers deliver another of their patented mostly-plotless comedies about a put-upon man struggling through a difficult world of his own making, only this time with a relentlessly catchy folk music soundtrack. I dare you to see this movie and not seek out on iTunes, at the very least, the cover of “Fare the Well (Dink’s Song)” that plays over the montage of Llewyn’s (Oscar Issac) travels across New York City with a wayward housecat.

4. Nebraska
This lo-fi, black and white father-son road trip tale from director Alexander Payne shows us the fate we all might face: confronting the fact that our parents are deteriorating and it may be up to us to make sure their lives wrap up in a dignified way, fending off their old rivals and your dirtbag cousins when they get a whiff that there might be money to divvy up.

3. 12 Years a Slave
A harrowing yet approachable tale of the unspeakable horrors a free black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) from the north faces when he’s kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south. Outstanding performances from Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender as the cruel slave owner anchor this drama other critics are calling essential—for good reason.

2. Her
Writer/director Spike Jonze could have easily made “Her” into an unsubtle indictment of the isolated way we live our lives today: noses buried in our smartphones, constantly communicating via Facebook and other social networks in lieu of real personal contact. Instead Jonze veers the other way, giving us a world wherein a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) can fall in love with an artificially intelligent operating system and have it seen as the natural evolution of human relationships, not the laughable misadventures of a sad sack.

1. Short Term 12
A small, deeply affecting drama centered on the difficult plight of children placed in group homes and foster care, often for reasons that can shake your very faith in humanity. The film is profoundly personal to me, as my family was a foster family growing up and I have siblings that were once in the system. That said, “Short Term 12” is no lecture or pity party. The movie stands on its own merits, with performances and an uplifting script that show there’s a way out of hell for some of these kids, and that they can, one day, find family that transcends blood.

CODY VILLAFANA, FILM CRITIC

As I finish up the last of the 165 films I watched in 2013 and construct my top 10 list, I cannot help but feel like this was an exceptionally weak year. So weak in fact, that this is by far the toughest time I’ve ever had constructing a top 10 list. It wasn’t merely a problem that nothing this year was an unequivocal favorite, but so many of the films melded together in terms of quality and it was hard to make the order. If there were a theme to this years cinema, it would be the year of the overrated film. Nonetheless, there were some very good films this year and you’ll find the
list below. As always, (and moreso this year given the circumstances) this list is subject to tinkering.

Special Honorable Mention: Our Children
Even though this Belgian drama didn’t hit theaters in the US until August, it was a Best Foreign Language Oscar submission last year which disqualifies it from our 2013 top ten lists. It’s a shame because this powerful and harrowing film about a true story of a woman who murdered her five children would have came in somewhere around 4-7 on my list this year. Not only is it an incredible psychological character study, but it also features one of the most devastating and depressing endings I’ve seen in a movie in years. If you can stomach downer movies, be sure to check this one out.

10. Blackfish
As far as publicity goes, no documentary this year got more attention than “Blackfish,” the documentary about killer whale captivity in Sea World theme parks. Though it perhaps isn’t as thorough as it could be, “Blackfish” is a brilliantly packaged, informative and extremely damning look at the practices of Sea World and whale captivity in general. San Antonians, take note. It might not deter you from making your summer visits, but this still feels like required viewing for park goers. This film is currently available for streaming on Netflix instant.

9. What Maisie Knew
In the 9th spot is the little seen or heard of indie “What Maisie Knew.” Adapted from a 100+ year old novel, the film tells the story of a bitter separation and nasty custody battle through the eyes of a 6-year-old girl. While the ensemble cast is great, the film is carried by the performances and the chemistry between Alexander Skarsgard and newcomer Onata Aprile. As sweet as it is heartbreaking, the looks at parental arguments and separations as well as the constructions of extended families make “What Maisie Knew” one of the timelier films of 2013. This film is currently available for streaming on Netflix instant.

8. The Kings of Summer
As a fan of his 2010 short film “Successful Alcoholics,” I was really looking forward to seeing what director Jordan Vogt-Roberts would deliver in his first feature film. What he brought was a subversive, odd, unique and completely hilarious film that was easily the best comedy of 2013. The premise is simple. A few kids who become fed up with their lives at home decide to build a house in the woods to live in. What makes “The Kings of Summer” so great is its fantastic cast (Nick Robinson and Nick Offerman especially) and its immensely quotable script. Its sense of humor might be a little too idiosyncratic for some, but this sweet and funny film is one of 2013’s hidden gems. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is a name to watch down the line and while all the talk regarding coming-of-age films this year might be about “The Spectacular Now” and “The Way, Way Back,” I’ll take “The Kings of Summer” any day.

7. Short Term 12
While this film didn’t impact me as much as my fellow CineSnobs, the talent present in all facets of “Short Term 12” is unquestionable. This film about life in a foster care center completes the trifecta of strong writing, direction and acting. While much is being made about the performance of Brie Larsen (who is very good), for me it was the performances of Kaitlyn Dever and especially John Gallagher Jr. that really hold the film together. There is a certain rawness to “Short Term 12,” both in its low budget and its approach to serious subjects. At the same time, there is an underlying level of love, affection, and connection that makes this film one to seek out.

6. The Crash Reel
For the second year in a row, I walked into a film I knew nothing about at SXSW that has ended up on my top 10. This time around, “The Crash Reel,” a documentary about professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce who had a devastating crash while training for the Olympics and his subsequent traumatic brain injury, absolutely floored me. The amount of different narrative sections of this film is staggering. There’s the rivalry between Pearce and fellow snowboarder Shaun White, there’s the heartbreak of his crash and his road to recovery, there’s the dynamics of a family trying so hard to protect someone they love, and in one of the films better storylines, there is a parallel with Kevin’s injury and his charismatic brother David, who has Down syndrome. This film packs a serious emotional punch and I can safely say that no film in 2013 made me *feel* more than “The Crash Reel.” It made the shortlist of potential Best Documentary Feature Oscar nominees. Though unlikely, I can’t help but hope that the Academy recognizes the best documentary of the year with a nomination. This film is currently available for viewing on HBO On Demand and streaming on HBOGo.

5. Nebraska
Following up my personal favorite film of his in 2011’s “The Descendants,” director Alexander Payne returned this year with a slight, simple but solid and funny film. “Nebrska” is about a man who while clearly being scammed, is convinced that he has won a millionaire dollar prize sweepstakes. As his son who humors him and drives him across state lines to “claim his prize,” Macgruber himself Will Forte is a piece of inspired casting and more than holds his own against Oscar hopeful Bruce Dern, who is very good in his role. I was struck with just how funny “Nebraska” was, and much of that can be accredited to actress June Squibb who completely steals every scene she is in. Shot in black and white (a fine choice, in my opinion) and featuring many non-actors, Payne captures the spirit of the Midwest and delivers a film of well-executed simplicity.

4. Inside Llewyn Davis
With “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the consistent directing duo of the Coen Brothers brought us a glimpse of the 1960’s Greenwich Village folk music scene. Light on plot but heavy on character study, Llewyn Davis (loosely based on folk musician Dave Van Ronk) is a prototypical Coen Brothers character with sarcasm, cynicism and the feeling that everything is coming down on him. Carrying the lead role, actor Oscar Isaac is nothing short of a revelation. Not only is his acting performance pitch perfect and one of the finest of the year, but his talent as a musician is simply astonishing. Performing all of the music live (mostly old folk songs), Isaac’s voice and guitar skills are on the level of someone from that era and that of a professional, seasoned musician. The Coens make use of long form performances of full songs and in my opinion, “Inside Llewyn Davis” features the best usage of music in a film since 2007’s “Once.” The opening scene in which he performs “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” is my pick for the best scene of the year. The film features an odd 15 minute passage featuring John Goodman and Garrett Hedlund that feels completely out of place and briefly derails the film. However, the film regains its momentum and finishes as one of the finest of the year. Good luck trying to get the soundtrack out of your head.

3. Mud
Somehow, in the span of two years, Matthew McConaughey became one of the best actors working today. In one of his three great roles this year, McConaughey is fantastic as the title character in “Mud,” a film about two boys who help aid a man who is on the run from the police. One of the things that I like most about “Mud,” other than the deft writing and direction from Jeff Nichols is the Southern feel to it. Everything from the lifestyles of the characters to the accents helps immerse the audience in the world on a river in Arkansas. McConaughey is obviously the best member of the cast, but recognition should be given to teen actor Tye Sheridan who stands toe to toe with McConaughey in every scene they share. It’s a shame that this film came out earlier in the year, because I believe it is being lost in the awards shuffle.

2. Philomena
Based on the true story of a woman who had her child sold to adoption by nuns, told no one and attempted to reconnect with him 50 years later, British film “Philomena” was one of the years most pleasant surprises. The film is anchored by Judi Dench, who is brilliant in the role and gives my favorite female acting performance of the year. Perhaps most surprising is that Steve Coogan, who is known primarily for his work in comedy, is right with Dench every step in the way, providing for a certain “odd couple” that carries the film. Coogan’s comedic sensibilities obviously came in to play in writing the films script, which is filled with witty humor and one of the better screenplays of the year. Funny, sad, and sweet, “Philomena” is well made, strongly performed and one of the best films of the year.

1. Dallas Buyers Club
What a year for Matthew McConaughey. Along with the previously mentioned “Mud” and his scene stealing performance in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” McConaughey saved his best work for “Dallas Buyers Club.” Losing a tremendous amount of weight to play a man with AIDS, McConaughey disappears into his role as a homophobic cowboy who is coming to terms with his illness and impending death. Unflinching in its nature towards people’s bigotry, discomfort and perception of AIDS, (especially in the South) makes “Dallas Buyers Club” a powerful experience. McConaughey’s career best and award worthy performance, his characters journey, and the storytelling of the prominence, fear, and confusion surrounding AIDS in the 1980’s make “Dallas Buyers Club” feel like the most complete package and the best film of 2013.

CINESNOB.NET FILM CRITICS’ COMPOSITE LIST:

10. The Wolf of Wall Street & The Crash Reel (tie)
9. Frances Ha
8. Mud
7. Dallas Buyers Club
6. Nebraska
5. Philomena
4. 12 Years a Slave
3. Her
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
1. Short Term 12

Conflix Resolution – The Intouchables

October 10, 2013 by  
Filed under CineBlog, Conflix Resolution

Conflix Resolution is our updated blog of selections of what to watch on Netflix Instant Streaming.

For this week’s edition of Conflix Resolution, I’m selecting a foreign film. Foreign films seem to be a tough sell for a lot of people, most of which who don’t seem to want to be bothered with subtitles. It’s unfortunate, because foreign films are such an essential part of modern cinema. You’ll be seeing a fair amount popping up on this blog. Last year was a particularly good year for French films. So good, that two French films ended up making my year-end Top 10 list. At No. 5 was Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone” and at No. 8 was this weeks selection, “The Intouchables.”

When I first saw the trailer for “The Intouchables,” I thought that it looked awful. It looked like your typical emotionally manipulative, feel-goody, melodramatic Oscar-bait. But as it happens, the trailers steered me in the wrong direction, and I was completely wrong. The premise is pretty simple. It’s about a wealthy quadriplegic named Philippe (Francois Cluzet) who ends up hiring a ex-con named Driss (Omar Sy) as his caretaker. What was most surprising about the film is that rather than being forced and unnatural, “The Intouchables” was one of the more earnest movies I saw last year. It’s touching without being overly saccharine and to my surprise, a little more adult and R-rated than one might expect.

I think the best quality the film has to be the combination of Cluzet and Sy. Naturally, the biggest source of entertainment of the film comes from the mismatch of personalities. What makes the film excel is that Cluzet and Sy are absolutely perfect together. Throughout the film, their relationship is the source of both tension and hilarity. One of the best things about “The Intouchables” is how legitimately funny it is. As the film progresses and Philippe and Driss start to bond, the joking between them escalates into relentless ball busting and quips. Some scenes that stick out include those in which Philippe completely cracks up at Driss’ deriding of “cultured” activities. The film is also able to wring a lot of good-natured physical comedy out of Philippe’s condition. In addition, it has its share of more down-to-earth, emotional moments, all of which are absolutely nailed by its two leads. The film as a whole is well written, well acted, and hits virtually every beat (be it serious or comedic) it strives for.

The film is tailor-made for wide audiences and awards, which is why it was no surprise France selected the film over the darker toned and overall strong “Rust and Bone.” What was a surprise, however, was that “The Intouchables” didn’t even make the Academy’s short list of potential nominees. “The Intouchables” is already slated for an American remake, and I have no doubt that it will be a major crowd pleaser. With the Weinstein Company behind the remake, it may  chase awards that eluded them last year. American remakes aren’t always a bad thing, but I find it hard to imagine two actors finding the same amazing chemistry as Sy and Cluzet. Watching these characters and actors bond is something truly special, so don’t wait for the remake. See the original now.

Conflix Resolution – Undefeated

September 30, 2013 by  
Filed under CineBlog, Conflix Resolution

Conflix Resolution is our updated blog of selections of what to watch on Netflix Instant Streaming.

Welcome everyone to Conflix Resolution. This will be the only time I give any type of extended greeting, since I know all you’re waiting for is to get down to the actual recommendation. As a critic, people (naturally) constantly ask me about my opinion for certain movies. But what I’ve noticed more and more of these days is people coming to me asking what they should watch on Netflix. Netflix has become so omnipresent and is an absolutely amazing tool for finding new films. Back in the day, the selection on Netflix streaming was quite primitive and hardly anything was available. But times have changed, and Netflix is now home to a number of amazing movies, both old and new, that can provide you with a brilliant at-home movie experience. The idea behind this blog is to give you something handpicked by us at CineSnob.net every week. Some of them will be broad and enjoyable by just about anyone. But some will be decidedly independent, dark, and may even have those dreaded subtitles. All we ask if that you give it a shot. Though we love our fair share of Hollywood films, there is so much more out there and this blog is designed to give you a peek at some films you might not of heard of (and of course, some classics that always deserve some revisiting). So let’s get started!

For my first entry into this blog, I wanted to choose something that had a somewhat broad appeal. Something that a vast majority could relate to. Something human, emotional, and real. Then the perfect film hit me. For the first entry of Conflix Resolution, my suggestion for this week is 2011’s “Undefeated.” For those of you who don’t know, “Undefeated” is a documentary about a high school football team in Memphis, Tennessee. Beyond that, it’s about head coach Bill Courtney, a volunteer coach who spends all of his free time devoted to a ragtag group of high school kids in an inner city, teaching them not only about football but how to be men. On a more surface level, it is about a teams struggle for excellence; to be good enough to do what no other team in the school’s history has done; to win a playoff game. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s fair. It wasn’t highly publicized and it only played in San Antonio for a few weeks. It did, however, win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly makes “Undefeated” such a successful, brilliant and effective piece of film. There’s the underdog story that everyone loves; a group of high schoolers who are the perennial joke of the community, constantly being walked all over by intrastate opponents just trying to win one playoff game. There are the struggles of being a product of a rough neighborhood and using football as the only way out of a rough upbringing and spending potentially years in the same place. But above all, this film is about Coach Courtney’s unwavering commitment and deep, soulful connection with these players and kids. He spares time away from his family. His players constantly disappoint him and let him down and he is still there, every practice, giving them everything he has…FOR FREE! nonetheless. In return, the players adore, respect, and admire him. Not without their challenges, of course.

Without giving too much away, make sure to keep a box of tissues near, as the most down to earth moments of this incredibly moving documentary pack a punch. The best way I can think to relate it is to call it a real-life version of the television show “Friday Night Lights.” There’s humor, defeat, despair, triumph. But above all there is hope, and there is pure love oozing from the personable Coach Courtney. Spend a few minutes with him and you’ll quickly develop an admiration for him and realize why his players adore and look up to him. He is a truly astonishing role model.

Make no mistake; the name of the film can potentially be misleading. This isn’t a film about a privileged team looking to go unscathed through a season. It’s a film about a team that is exclusively scathed, looking to not let their failures or shortcomings define them. It is about being defined by their effort and their character. It’s about more than winning or losing football games. It’s about revealing character in those who it might not be abundantly clear. It’s about becoming good-hearted, respectable men. And it’s damn good.

Recommended for fans of: Sports Films, Documentaries, Friday Night Lights, Real Life Dramas, Underdog Stories.

Original CineSnob grade: B+

They Nominated What?! – 2013 Edition

January 11, 2013 by  
Filed under CineBlog

BEST PICTURE

  • Amour
  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Misérables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty

CODY: We got 9 out of a possible 10 nominees this year. I had a little bit more faith in THE MASTER than you, and it turns out that the Academy was overall, pretty sour on the film as PT Anderson is absent in both the screenplay and director category. I’m a little surprised that MOONRISE KINGDOM didn’t sneak in as the 10th, but not upset about it. This went pretty much as expected.

KIKO: If they had picked 10 nominees instead of nine, we would’ve seen either MOONRISE KINGDOM or THE MASTER possibly make the cut. There are really no surprises here. I’m just sad my favorite film of the year (THE MASTER) didn’t make the cut. I don’t think LES MISERABLES is deserving of the nomination, but at least it’s not as bad of a nomination as last year’s for EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE. Last week I would’ve said ZERO DARK THIRTY was the frontrunner in this race, but without a director nod for Katheryn Bigelow, I have to go with LINCOLN now, which leads all films with 12 nominations. The last time a film won the Academy Award for Best Picture without having a nomination for its director was in 1989 when DRIVING MISS DAISY did it. I would count out SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK though, because it’s such a damn crowd pleaser.

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Amour, Michael Haneke, Amour
  • Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  •  Ang Lee, Life of Pi
  • Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

CODY: Whoa. What the hell happened here? I was 2/5 here, and beyond that, this went way against the DGA nominees, which are typically the strongest predictor of Oscar nominees there is.  I’m happy to see Tom Hooper for LES MISERABLES not show up, and it’s nice to see Ang Lee included for LIFE OF PI, the best visual film of the year and David O. Russell rewarded for the great SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. But um, where is Katheryn Bigelow? She absolutely deserves to here ahead of anyone else who made it. Poor Ben Affleck (ARGO) still needs to play his dues to get that Best Director nomination. The Michael Haneke nomination signals a huge day for AMOUR. It’s a virtual lock for Best Foreign Language film. One thing is perfectly clear with these nominees: Spielberg is a lock to at least win this award, and puts LINCOLN in a prime position for Best Picture.

KIKO: Yeah, I totally agree with you. The exclusion of Katherine Bigelow for ZERO DARK THIRTY was shocking. I wasn’t as shocked to see Affleck get passed over, but the buzz on him was pretty strong up until yesterday. I’m really glad Hooper missed out. LES MISERABLES is getting way too much undeserved love. First –time director BEHN ZEITLIN making the cut for BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is a wonderful surprise for me because I liked the film so much. Bottomline for me is that Bigelow should’ve gotten the nod over Russell and Spielberg is poised to take it all. I do, however, think Ang Lee for LIFE OF PI probably should win it.

BEST ACTOR

  • Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook
  • Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln
  • Hugh Jackman in Les Misérables
  • Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
  • Denzel Washington in Flight

CODY: Let’s not mince words here: Denzel Washington does not belong. FLIGHT was a flat out bad movie, and Washington’s performance was just fine. THE SESSIONS lost a lot of steam in the last few months, and ultimately John Hawkes was the odd man out. I’m not broken up about that or anything, but I would have preferred almost anyone but Denzel. Good to see that Joaquin Phoenix trashing the Oscars didn’t end up biting him in the ass. One last thing: welcome to the big-boy table Bradley Cooper, you earned it. I wish he had a chance, but this one is going to Daniel Day Lewis.

KIKO: Where is Matthew McConaughey for KILLER JOE?! Just kidding. Thank you! We are both in the minority when we say Washington does not belong in the final five. I would’ve loved to have seen anyone else get a much deserved nomination like the aforementioned McConaughey or even Jack Black for BERNIE. This is Day-Lewis’s Oscar to lose, but I think it deserves to go to Phoenix. The role is crushing and easily the best of his career. The latter, however, can be said about Jackman and Cooper’s roles, too. Also, just on a side note: the Hawkes snub proves you don’t get an automatic Oscar nomination for playing someone with a physical disability. See the Best Actress nominees list for more proof.

BEST ACTRESS

  • Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty
  • Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook
  • Emmanuelle Riva in Amour
  • Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Naomi Watts in The Impossible

CODY: BOOM! I went 5/5 in my predictions for this category. My gut said Emanuelle Riva over Marion Cotillard and it didn’t steer me wrong. Riva becomes the oldest Best Actress nominee at age 85 and Quavenzhane Wallis becomes the youngest Best Actress nominee at age 9. As I said in my predictions, the Academy loves them some youngins and old people. This is essentially a two-woman race between Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain. Going into the nominations, I thought that Chastain was in the lead. However, a strong showing for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK has me wondering if maybe this is Lawrence’s to lose.

KIKO: But Marion Cotillard didn’t have legs! How do you not get an automatic Oscar nom for playing someone without legs! Ok, I jest. She was amazing in the film, but I have to give you credit for holding her off your predictions. Riva was my favorite performance by an actress of the year, so I’m happy to she her included. There are going to be a lot of photo opps. with her and Wallis Oscar night, which is going to be great! Speaking of Feb. 24 (Oscar day), it’s also Riva’s 86th birthday! Remember, this is the 85th Annual Academy Awards. What a great gift that would be if she won.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Alan Arkin in Argo
  • Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master
  • Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln
  • Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained

CODY: So they went with Christoph Waltz instead of Leonardo DiCaprio, which is fine by me. Waltz is a blast to watch in anything. This award should, in all likelihood, go to Tommy Lee Jones. I kind of wish it would go to Robert DeNiro, if for any other reason, to encourage him to continue making good movies.

KIKO: Oh, Cody, you know you like DeNiro in LITTLE FOCKERS. Stop lying! Just kidding. Anyway, yeah, it was an interesting call with Waltz over DiCaprio, but a well deserved one. Everyone here is deserving. I would, however, say Arkin is a comic-relief blip more than a fleshed out character. But at the end, they’re all heavy hitters. They’ve all won the big prize before! I’m pulling for Hoffman. Alongside Phoenix, his performance could only be defined as meaty and powerful.

BEST SUPORTING ACTRESS

  • Amy Adams in The Master
  • Sally Field in Lincoln
  • Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables
  • Helen Hunt in The Sessions
  • Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook

CODY: Interesting field here. And by interesting I mean woefully unimpressive. Amy Adams gets in for being the least impressive element THE MASTER. Jacki Weaver was fine in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, but definitely not Oscar worthy. I previously thought that this award would be the easiest to predict with Anne Hathaway taking home the Oscar with no contest, but if the Oscars prove to be the LINCOLN show (and it’s starting to look that way) Sally Field could easily take home the award.

KIKO: If by interesting, you mean boring, then, yes…very interesting. Where is Ann Dowd for COMPLIANCE. I know you hated that movie (I didn’t love it either), but Dowd was great. The big surprise is Weaver making the cut over veteran Maggie Smith for THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL. And, ugh, Hunt does not deserve this nomination! I’m in the minority here, but I thought her performance was laughable. I wasn’t a fan of the film, but Hathaway delivered big during her “I Dreamed a Dream” scene. If Jennifer Hudson can win an Oscar for singing in DREAMGIRLS, Hathaway probably should, too.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Argo, screenplay by Chris Terrio
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild, screenplay by Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin
  • Life of Pi, screenplay by David Magee
  • Lincoln, screenplay by Tony Kushner
  • Silver Linings Playbook, screenplay by David O. Russell

CODY: No surprises here. What a big day for BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD though. Either Fox Searchlight is amazing at picking the indies to get behind, or they are amazing at Oscar campaigning. Pencil in another one for LINCOLN here though. Yawn.

KIKO: Yeah, no surprises. Well, some people are surprised Zeitlin/Alibar got a nod over Stephen Chobosky for THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, but I’m not especially since I thought the film was just average. Everyone is deserving, although I have to say the first half of SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is much stronger than the second half. I think Magee should win for adapting what some considered an unadaptable novel, but it’ll probably go to Kushner.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Amour, written by Michael Haneke
  • Django Unchained, written by Quentin Tarantino
  • Flight, written by John Gatins
  • Moonrise Kingdom, written by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
  • Zero Dark Thirty, written by Mark Boal

CODY: Ugh. FLIGHT? Really? I can’t say that this necessarily surprises me, but it’s ridiculous nonetheless. Wes Anderson gets rewarded in at least one category, for the beloved MOONRISE KINGDOM and Quentin Tarantino gets in as well. This also shows that it’s a pretty big day for AMOUR, with the nominations continuing to roll in. I don’t know about you, but I think that this will be one of the harder categories to pick the winner of.

KIKO: Yes, our shared hatred for FLIGHT continues. The scene in the hospital stairwell is reason enough to scoff at this nomination. Big PT Anderson snub for THE MASTER. Boal is probably the frontrunner, but if the Academy wants wit, then look no further than Tarantino or Wes Anderson/Coppola.

FINAL THOUGHTS

CODY: Huge days for LINCOLN, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD and AMOUR. Bad news for ARGO, LES MISERABLES and ZERO DARK THIRTY. In a year of really sub-par films, the Academy very clearly had to think outside the box, especially given the showing from one tiny indie, one smaller movie with some heavy hitting actors and a foreign language film. I’m frankly stunned by the Best Director nominees, but besides the absence of Bigelow, I don’t feel like there were any huge snubs this year. Personally speaking, I loved SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, so I’m very happy to see it get a boatload of nominations, including being the only film nominated in every acting category. At the end of the day, there’s no question that LINCOLN could take home damn near everything it’s nominated for. Can’t say that I’m too excited about that.

KIKO: Yes, we all know how much you thought LINCOLN was a bore. I happened to like it a lot more than you, so I’ll be happy to see it win a ton of awards Oscar night. I think this year the Academy let PT Anderson and other filmmakers out there know that if you want an Academy Award, you shouldn’t be so weird and alienating. I don’t agree with the sentiment one bit, but whatever. With the exception of AMOUR and BEASTS (last year it was TREE OF LIFE and THE ARTIST), I think all the other Best Picture nominees are easy pills to swallow. It’s not a bad thing at all, but I tend to gravitate to things that are a bit more metaphorical in a sense. Anyway, hope the Oscars is a memorable one with Seth MacFarlane taking hosting duties. And I hope I redeem myself from last year with a good showing in final winner predictions, which will come from myself, Cody, and Jerrod Kingery in the next few weeks.

For a complete list of all Oscar nominations, visit www.oscars.com. The 85th Annual Academy Awards airs Feb. 24 on ABC.