Category Archives: Lists

10 Most Anticipated Films of the Summer

The summer season is notorious for its blockbusters, both the good and the bad (often the bad). But smaller films that release between May and August should not be overlooked. As the best of Sundance start to trickle out and the best of Cannes sneak in later, summer often shapes up to be fun of all sizes. Here are our 10 most anticipated films of summer 2018:

10. Hotel Artemis

Global Road/Courtesy

Directed by: Drew Pearce
Written by: Drew Pearce
Starring: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Dave Bautista
Release Date: June 8, 2018

On concept alone, Hotel Artemis sounds like a blast: Jodie Foster plays a nurse who runs a secret hospital for criminals. It’s the kind of genre fare we need more of, and the film is stacked with brilliant actors to play these exaggerated parts. But the man behind the screenplay and behind the camera, Drew Pearce, has subtly built a strong resume, with writing credits on Iron Man 3 and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation — two fantastic genre films. If Pearce brings that level of wit and suspense to this film, we could be in for a hell of a time.

9. Leave No Trace

Bleecker Street/Courtesy

Directed by: Debra Granik
Written by: Debra Granik
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Ben Foster
Release Date: June 29, 2018

Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone was the quiet film that snuck up on people. Not only was it a gripping showcase for the soon-to-be-star Jennifer Lawrence, but it displayed Granik’s immense writing and directing talents. Her next film, which already premiered at Sundance to rave reviews, is said to offer two outstanding performances from Ben Foster and primed-to-breakout Thomasin McKenzie, as well as more of Granik’s quiet power.

8. Eighth Grade

A24/Courtesy

Directed by: Bo Burnham
Written by: Bo Burnham
Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson
Release Date: July 13, 2018

Bo Burnham is a comedian unlike any other. His wit is quick and awkward, and sometimes bracingly real. His directorial debut, Eighth Grade, which also premiered at Sundance, is a synthesis of those qualities, except through the eyes of an eighth grade girl. Few coming of age stories truly embrace the awkwardness of youth, and even fewer take on social media and the digital well, but reviews say that Burnham has something special that accomplishes both.

7. Incredibles 2

Pixar/Courtesy

Directed by: Brad Bird
Written by: Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener
Release Date: June 15, 2018

Even Pixar’s weaker efforts are mostly fun animated adventures, so any movie from the animation giant would make this list. But this is not just any movie, nor is it any Pixar movie. This is a movie 14 years in the making, a sequel to one of the most beloved animated films of all time and, truly, one of the best superhero movies of all time. And with Brad Bird back writing and directing, this family follow-up will surely hold onto the heart that made the first one so memorable.

6. BlacKkKlansman

David Lee/Focus Features/Courtesy

Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier, Corey Hawkins
Release Date: August 10, 2018

The basic story of BlacKkKlansman is harrowing: a young black police officer infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. And there’s certainly no doubt that co-writer and director Spike Lee will not only hit hard on how sickening things were back then, but how sickening things still are now. The first footage, however, suggests that the film will actually be a buddy comedy of sorts. And after thinking about it for a moment, it makes complete sense. Lee’s comedy could easily convey the level of atrocious stupidity of the KKK while maintaining the seriousness of the impact of them. It’ll be a tight balancing act, but if Lee pulls it off — and we’ll see rather soon, as it premieres at Cannes — it’ll be a film to rally around.

5. Sorry to Bother You

Annapurna/Courtesy

Directed by: Boots Riley
Written by: Boots Riley
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Terry Crews, Steven Yeun
Release Date: July 6, 2018

Bay Area activist-artist Boots Riley puts on the writer-director cap for the first time for Sorry to Bother You. The kind of perspective that Riley has offered in other forms of art is desperately needed in the film world, and it seems as though his directorial debut is making quite an impact even prior to its release. Sorry to Bother You already has fantastic reviews, having premiered at Sundance, and its trailer showcases a visual flare and energy that’re not quite like anything else out there. And with a brilliant cast, fronted by Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson, the film will not be one we forget any time soon.

4. Under the Silver Lake

A24/Courtesy

Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Written by: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Jimmi Simpson, Topher Grace
Release Date: June 22, 2018

David Robert Mitchell broke through with It Follows, a horror film already considered among the best of the 21st century in its genre. So, anything Mitchell did next would be something to seek out. What he’s cooked up, however, looks utterly enchanting. Under the Silver Lake, distributed by the powerhouse that is A24 and premiering soon at Cannes, seems to be a surrealist stoner noir, a subgenre that offers endless possibilities for a wild visual trip, led by a shaggy and paranoid performance from Andrew Garfield.

3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames
Release Date: July 27, 2018

Ghost Protocol reinvigorated the franchise, but it was Rogue Nation that truly showed how high the series could climb. And, thanks to an absolute banger of a trailer, it seems that Rogue Nation writer-director Christopher McQuarrie has taken the franchise, and Tom Cruise, even higher with Mission: Impossible – Fallout. From the physical beast of Henry Cavill to the return of Rogue Nation standout Rebecca Ferguson to the mind boggling practical stunts of Tom Cruise (he’s actually flying that helicopter?!), Fallout is primed to be a spy thriller on par with the best of Bond and Bourne. And, if for nothing else, Fallout will also give us a glimpse at the infamous Cavill mustache we’ve all heard too much about.

2. Hereditary

A24/Courtesy

Directed by: Ari Aster
Written by: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro
Release Date: June 8, 2018

When reviews call Hereditary “a new generation’s The Exorcist” (Time Out) and describe it as “emotional terrorism” (The A.V. Club), it’s difficult not to start anticipating it. With Hereditary distributed by A24 and said to host a revelatory performance from Toni Collette, it’s impossible not to feel a paradoxical sense of need to see the film immediately, even if people who’ve seen it out of Sundance and South by Southwest say that it scarred them. This is the sick game that spectacular horror films can play, but we’re here for it.

1. Solo: A Star Wars Story

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, Jon Kasdan
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton
Release Date: May 25, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story may have gone through hell during production, enduring a director firing that has understandably left many rather nervous. But this is still Star Wars, folks. Movies are meant to take us to galaxies far, far away, and we don’t get that, on this scale, too often elsewhere. While the film was reshot under Ron Howard to a point where Lord and Miller didn’t even try for director credits, the trailers have been surprisingly exciting. Ehrenreich absolutely nails his comedic lines and at least looks the part in regard to the drama and action; anyone who’s seen Hail, Caesar! knows that this guy can act just fine. This backstory may not be entirely necessary, but it’s hard not to feel giddy seeing Han Solo and Lando Calrissian meet and fly the Falcon together, and it’s hard not to feel intrigued at the gritty underbelly that this film looks to explore. In fact, it’s that exact aspect that may be the most enticing part of the film. Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young (A Most Violent Year, Selma, Arrival) brings his trademark darkness to the film’s interiors and injects a stark beauty into each landscape. So, Solo: A Star Wars Story might be familiar company, but it’s unexplored territory.

 

Featured image via Annapurna/Pixar/A24/Lucasfilm.

Kyle Kizu’s Top 25 Films of 2017

While 2016 limped through the Spring and Summer seasons before finishing strong, 2017 proved to be a brilliant year for film since the first few months.

Spring films such as Get Out and Logan evoked profound conversation about genre pictures, their potential and their impact. Summer studio films reinvigorated the term “blockbuster” with some actual weight. And the Fall/Winter awards contenders might be, as a whole, even more plentiful than last year.

Essentially, I had a blast at the movies in 2017. The cinematic experience is special and there were so many different times when I felt a sense of immersion, engagement and/or excitement that I hadn’t ever felt before. Thus, I couldn’t simply list a top 10 when I had upwards of 50 films I thoroughly enjoyed. So, I tasked myself to come down to 25.

To be very clear, this is a list of my personal favorites of the year. I am not suggesting that these are the best films of the year. Those are two rather different conversations. These 25 films are ranked based on how I personally responded to them, and I do recognize that some not in my top 10 favorites are among the top 10 best of the year.

Without further ado, here are my top 25 films of 2017, with some honorable mentions since narrowing down was too difficult:

Honorable mention: Columbus

Superlative Films/Courtesy

Video essayist Kogonada’s feature directorial debut, Columbus, which he also wrote and edited, is visually fascinating, beautiful and tranquil. While the story is about architecture, the film, itself, almost becomes a piece of architecture in its exquisite shot construction that reflects character interiority unlike any other film.

Honorable mention: Their Finest

Nicola Dove/STX Entertainment/Courtesy

Their Finest is one of the more refreshing stories of the year. Gemma Arterton leads the film with verve, complimented by Bill Nighy’s hilarious wit and Sam Claflin’s dashing charm. By the film’s end, after traversing the frightening setting of WWII Britain and the inspiring efforts of the British film division in inspiring its country, we come away with a lovely ode to the immense importance of the female perspective in storytelling.

Honorable mention: The Big Sick

Amazon/Courtesy

The Big Sick is almost more about family, perspective and culture, until the central romance gets its time to shine again and tugs at our hearts. That’s what makes the film so special, that it has so many different sides to it. There’s the budding relationship between Kumail and Emily, but also the conflict between Kumail and Emily’s parents, the conflict between Emily’s parents, the calls of friends in search of a career and the struggle of cultures clashing. The screenplay integrates ever aspect into a wonderful whole, and the actors all turn in such deeply felt performances.

Honorable mention: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

PBS/Courtesy

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail follows the small bank Abacus, founded by a Chinese family in a U.S. Chinese community, as it is sued by the U.S. government in relation to the wide scale fraud that caused the 2008 financial crash. In fact, Abacus is the only U.S. bank to face charges. The immediate sense of injustice that that simple description evokes drives the entire emotional undercurrent of the documentary. But the doc goes even further, diving deeply into the cultural significance that Abacus played and still plays in its community as well as the cultural work ethic of the Chinese family behind it. The continuous conversation between the intimate small scale and the epic large scale makes this easy to both invest in and be fascinated by.

Honorable mention: Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Allow me to explain. I do fully understand that Get Out is among the ten best films of the year and, while I disagree, I believe in the validity of arguments that call it the best. The leveraging of genre allows writer-director Jordan Peele to tell not only one of the most biting and invasive horror stories, but simply one of the most astonishingly polished narratives of any kind. But that brings me to why it can’t quite break my top 25. It’s tightly constructed. In my personal viewing experience, it was almost too tight to allow the film to take me over in ways that the 25 below did, even though I was mesmerized by the filmmaking on display.

 

25. Okja

Netflix/Courtesy

Okja is such a sublime film, one glowing with a sense of care for its originality and not just originality for its own sake. The titular super pig is an adorable blend of a pig, dog and hippo, rendered stunningly by the visual effects team, and the relationship Okja has with Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) is one of the most authentic animal-human relationships in film of recent memory. Throw in inspiration from French and screwball comedy cinema, such tightly controlled storytelling from Bong Joon-ho and wacky delightful performances across the board, and Okja is nothing short of a joy to watch.

24. The Post

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

For obvious reasons, The Post is gripping and engaging. It reflects the unsettling world we’re encountering today. But the film is also rather uplifting. Director Steven Spielberg injects a purely journalistic energy into the camera and the pacing, and frames an emotionally moving feminist story around Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, whom Meryl Streep plays with the utmost nuance.

23. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Marvel/Sony/Courtesy

When Marvel acquired rights to include Spider-Man in the MCU, one couldn’t help but fear that the web-slinger would fall into the studio’s generic formula. But, surprisingly, Spider-Man: Homecoming turned into one of the universe’s most enjoyable films precisely because of how it treated Peter Parker as a singular character with his own journey. And that journey is one filled with thoroughly realized conflict of youth/adolescence. In reality, Homecoming is a coming-of-age film, and one of the better ones. Parker is imagined brilliantly and his character’s arc is intertwined with the plot in ways that do the character so much justice.

22. Logan

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A film about coming to terms with death and finding our true hearts, Logan is as much a modern Western as it is an X-Men flick. Like everything else in the picture, Hugh Jackman turns in a raw, weathered performance that truly situates Logan as depressed and suicidal. But it’s the very character work of the screenplay, the first superhero film Oscar nominated in writing, and the extremely tight direction of James Mangold that makes that journey an endlessly satisfying and emotional one.

21. Our Souls at Night

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Our Souls at Night could be described as a “dawning-of-age” film. It’s quiet and soulful, told from a perspective that holds the past close to heart without ever necessarily being explicit about it. And every part of the film takes on that idea, from the pacing to the dialogue to the actors. Leads Jane Fonda and Robert Redford turn in performances that are both wholly lived in and, thus, sneakily profound. The film does not necessarily state its existence like most of the art form does, and that’s exactly why it’s so good.

20. The Shape of Water

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

It’s hard not to get wrapped up in Guillermo del Toro’s fantastical, magical vision. The world-building production design, almost balletic cinematography and the empathetic, truthful performances of Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins grab us by our hearts and just don’t let go. And it’s exactly that empathy that makes this film so special. The story is a touching reflection on the Other, on those that feel out of place and as though they don’t belong. Even though Sally Hawkins’ Elisa doesn’t speak, the emotional strains in her face as she expresses herself shows us that she is, in a way, the most human of us all.

19. Lucky

Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy

Oh Harry Dean Stanton, you legend. In Lucky, the late actor delivers a performance that is equally as hilarious as it is profound. He owns the screen, especially when on it alone, and imagines both the physicality and mentality of the titular Lucky so deeply. And while the film is, essentially, a vehicle for his performance, that focus allows its story to evoke some weighty ideas about life and when it’s coming to an end. Through some totally bizarre yet awesome moments, the film reminds us that both making connections and living freely is what will make the most of our lives.

18. The Breadwinner

Gkids/Courtesy

The Breadwinner may be one of the most carefully executed stories of the year. The film deals with such heavy subject matter, painting the image of women in a culture that so often suppresses them. But it also contextualizes the brilliant strength that these women build out of it, and the beautiful family bonds that so many form. There are moments, visually arresting ones, that do justice to the harsh truths at the film’s core, but the filmmakers also opt to make use of elements of innocence and wonder, specifically in its children, to complement. The result is a majestic, culturally-infused fable of bravery and love, delivered with such power by the voice performances, the score, the animation work and director Nora Twomey guiding it all so wonderfully.

17. Molly’s Game

Michael Gibson/STX Entertainment/Courtesy

Most of the time, an Aaron Sorkin film demands and earns a level of entertained engagement that few other films do. His writing is so utterly electric, and Molly’s Game is more of such, but also a platform on which he shows that his directing work can also accomplish the same. Structurally brilliant, ebbing and flowing with immense energy and building to unexpected levels of emotion, Molly’s Game is also a reminder that Jessica Chastain is one of the best in the business, period. She chews on Sorkin’s words so smoothly and effectively, producing a spark in her character that few other films of the year have.

16. The Florida Project

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What might perfectly describe Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is empathy. The film is, quite obviously, so much more than just that, but it does seem like every feature also adds to the film’s wholesome, beautiful sense of empathy. Every part of the filmmaking works to situate the viewer with Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), whether that be the oft low angle, vibrant cinematography, the free flowing narrative structure or the endlessly playful character moments. And as the situation surrounding Moonee gets tougher and tougher, we stick with her, not necessarily confronting everything, but growing an attachment to her and a need to see her come out of it all okay.

While every bit of that is such brilliant, perspective-based filmmaking, the full execution of it all rested on Prince’s shoulders, and the seven-year-old actress is a jaw-dropping force of nature. The spirit in her character emanates off of the screen at every minute, and she pulls off a scene at the end that is just unexplainably masterful.

15. Phantom Thread

Focus Features/Courtesy

Phantom Thread is like a lovely dream. It’s so odd, yet it feels undeniably real in the moment. It floats and fades before pronouncing itself again. And as we leave it behind, as we leave the theater, it’s tough not to long for it.

That’s the power that Paul Thomas Anderson has as a storyteller. With his most recent, he draws us into this delirious and delightful world, making us swoon and then shocking us, making us scratch our heads and then drawing us in so intensely. There’s a clear sense that, although the film might not seem easy to process at points, because it all ties in so efficiently at the end, Anderson had such purposed drive in every choice, in every line of dialogue.

And with that, as with every other PTA film, comes magnetic performances. Day-Lewis is wickedly delicious, but so is Lesley Manville, and Vicky Krieps takes control of every frame with eyes as fierce as any.

14. Kedi

Oscilloscope/Courtesy

A documentary about cats was, quite clearly, too simple of an expectation. It should’ve been more evident that the film would be something so much more layered.

Kedi is, for the lack of a better word, beautiful. For cat lovers, it’s irresistible. The simple image of them throughout the film yanks out more smiles than most movie experiences ever will. But the cats are placed into context. They’re not simply cute animals; they’re a part of the Turkish culture and, thus, a part of the Turkish people’s lives.

For some, these cats are close friends. For others, these cats are family. And for a few, these cats are the difference between life and death. What’s most surprising about Kedi is its mental health aspect, lovingly depicting stories of people whose faith was confirmed or whose depression was helped by them.

And its through this image that the film becomes a profound statement on life. One line toward the end of the film says it better than any analysis can: “A cat meowing at your feet, looking up at you is life smiling at you. Those are moments when we’re lucky. They remind us that we’re alive.”

13. The Lost City of Z

Amazon Studios/Courtesy

The Lost City of Z, at least today, is a type of film that we rarely get. It’s an exploration epic that truly earns the epic through exactly how it explores.

Writer-director James Gray takes his time. The film is slowly paced, at first searching. But with fully immersive and mesmerizing sound design, production design and cinematography, we become invested in the world. Thus, when a journey is taken up by Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), we’re committed alongside him.

It’s brilliant character alignment that a polished, efficient storyteller like Gray thrives on. But what he does with the journey itself is truly special, placing us in the obsessive head of Fawcett so that we also end up overcome by the wondrous possibilities of the jungle. By foregrounding the personal to evoke the mythical, The Lost City of Z can accomplish both an emotional story and a fascinating one. It’s an experience that we likely won’t get from anyone else.

12Icarus 

Netflix/Courtesy

With Icarus, director Bryan Fogel accidentally struck gold, and what starts as a documentary about the potential for cycling drug tests to be undermined turns into a geopolitical thriller about how Russia has had a vast history of doping in sports and how wildly powerful people, like Putin himself, worked to cover it up.

The fascination levels are off the charts, perhaps exceeding that of any film of the year. And while the situation may have been accidental, Fogel tracks, orchestrates and constructs it all so that the fascination we viewers have is no accident. We are guided to fall into the circumstance with jarring force, but also with such perfectly precise pacing, which carries on throughout the rest of the film as the layers expand and expand.

And, in the filmmaking’s regard, Icarus also functions as a gripping character piece. Grigory Rodchenkov is, at first, simply the quirky doctor who guides Fogel through his doping regimen. But Rodchenkov is at the center of the scandal as it all kicks off. As we follow along, his story becomes filled with a profound history, toned by the current personal pain and fear for his life that the weight of an entire government rejecting his claims and putting him down causes. Yet, Fogel also makes sure to capture the fact that, through it all, Rodchenkov retains his delightful sense of humor.

Icarus truly is a wonder of storytelling that could only come through the documentary medium.

11. Jane

Abramorama/Courtesy

Jane is a sneaky documentary. It starts with plenty of intrigue — over 100 hours of footage of Jane Goodall’s first journeys has resurfaced. And the first half of the film is appropriately fascinating, operating almost as a silent film with the lack of words from Goodall in the footage, but elevated greatly by both the sound from the footage and the sound design added to it.

Yet, the whole time, due to director Brett Morgen’s calculated construction of footage, narration from an interview with Goodall and other aspects such as that sound design or Philip Glass’ outstanding score, the film genuinely captures the life lived by Goodall.

And once the final half hour starts, we become consumed by the fact that we’ve just seen an expansive, singular, epic life on screen. The film evokes journey, but it also evokes nostalgic reflection, without regrets and filled with appreciation. It’s rare to feel the intangible weight of a person’s life. Cinema, the place where that can be accomplished, doesn’t always pull it off. But Jane does.

10. Lady Bird

A24/Courtesy

The phrase “lived in” may apply here and there, but Lady Bird is, arguably, the epitome of what it truly means. There’s so much specificity not only in every scene, but in every frame. And while such intense specificity may seem as though it would be alienating, it actually casts a net of details so wide that the film becomes more universal than it would be were it not so specific.

With these details that writer-director Greta Gerwig puts into her film comes the truths behind them, and with so many truths, every single viewer has the potential to find their own truth reflected back at them. We may not have had a mother like Laurie Metcalf’s character, but we had a best friend like Beanie Feldstein’s character. We may not have struggled with depression like Tracy Letts’ character does, but we struggled with depression like Stephen McKinley Henderson’s character does. We may not have fallen for a guy like Timothée Chalamet’s character, but we feared the future like Saoirse Ronan’s Lady Bird does. And even if we didn’t experience certain aspects, Gerwig renders everything with such empathy that it’s hard to, ourselves, not feel deeply for every single character.

9. Loving Vincent

BreakThru Films/Trademark Films/Courtesy

It’s a bit unfair, as the film is the first to ever be made entirely of paintings, but Loving Vincent is, by far, the most visually stunning film of the year. The material quality that the paint lends to the image creates, in the transition between frames, such transfixing, majestic, enchanting visual movement that is singularly cinematic.

For a good portion of the film, the visual element is most of what there is to latch onto. And that’s because the true storytelling work that Loving Vincent is doing is not fully realized until the final act, in which the film establishes itself as a story about mental health.

The story follows Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) as he comes across people who knew Vincent van Gogh before he killed himself. Each has a different story to tell. van Gogh was either a cold, distant and rude man or a soft, gentle-hearted and shy one. He was either a humble painter or visionary genius.

Yet, no one really knew van Gogh, or why exactly he took his own life — except for the other artist he lived with before he died. van Gogh was struggling with depression. No one else understood, and so, everyone else made judgments. It’s a film about impressionism, until it suggests that impressions are flawed.

And the film clearly differentiates the perspectives of these perceivers and the perspective of truth, pushing the idea that van Gogh lived his life for no one other than those he loved and for nothing other than his mode of expression — his paintings. In that sense, Loving Vincent is one of the more distinctly human films of the year.

8. Mudbound

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Mudbound is rich in every sense of the word. It is both literary and cinematic, combining beautiful visuals with profound symbolism to heighten its emotional impact. Director and co-writer Dee Rees tackles race relations in the South during and after WWII with such wholesome yet restrained storytelling. But she also investigates the many different sides of these characters and their stories at the same time, such as a mother fearing for her son at war, soldiers struggling with PTSD, a woman at the will of a husband in the mid-20th century and more.

Mudbound‘s cinematography is breathtaking, as is its sound, production and costume design, and its score. These elements add to the rich narrative intangibly, but also directly locate the film in the South and as a Southern family epic. And each performance is firm, controlled and empathetic — specifically those from Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige — coalescing into the true ensemble of the year.

Mudbound is all-encompassing and tragic for that very reason. Rees subtly makes the forces of society at the time so sneakily overbearing, before showing them as fully and truly horrifying as they were.

Yet, the film leaves us on an uplifting note, crafting one of the most powerful endings of the year.

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Where Star Wars: The Last Jedi diverts is exactly where it becomes so enthralling. As much as it worked for the original trilogy, that idea of a hero, fated to save the galaxy, was never going to work again for these new films. And so, writer-director Rian Johnson envisioned a new type of hero while deconstructing that old one.

Luke was always going to be at the center of such deconstruction. But the approach, rather than undermine the character, actually expands upon him. In The Last Jedi, Luke confronts the flaws of what he once considered his fate. He confronts old age and the traumatic scars that a perfect past ruined by the more immediate past leave, and Mark Hamill embraces these vulnerabilities entirely.

On the other end, Rey confronts the fact that her need for destiny could never be fulfilled, that she was convincing herself of the presence of one to hide from the fear that comes with confronting the world alone, and Daisy Ridley realizes this conflict thoroughly.

Rian Johnson empathizes with that fear, and the story that he crafts, in leading from fear to bravery, powerfully announces the purpose of this new trilogy. Where The Force Awakens is familiar, The Last Jedi is jarringly, but effectively different. And as Johnson also envisions visual elements that we’ve never seen before in one of these movies, as well as visual perfection of what we have seen, The Last Jedi marks itself as a the new era of Star Wars.

6. Hostiles

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Hostiles starts with Joseph Blocker, an army captain filled with hatred for the Native Americans who’ve killed his friends. And writer-director Scott Cooper unforgivingly foregrounds the brutality that pushes Blocker to feel that way.

But slowly, Cooper guides us along the methodical, quiet, bruised journey Blocker takes in escorting a terminally ill Native American chief, who’d killed his friends in their past encounters, back home to die on his lands — a journey that asks Blocker to give up hatred.

Not many films take hatred head on like this one does, especially because one misstep in characterization or arc could result in something troubling. But Cooper handles his narrative with perfect construction. As he foregrounds the brutality that drives the white man’s hatred, he continually reminds us of the background of a Native American genocide that has been taking place. While Blocker experiences such explicit violence in the moment, these Native Americans have been subject to less visible, more long term violence.

In that way, Cooper does not set out to redeem Blocker, but to display the process of an understanding that both Blocker and the Native American chief come to. And Cooper succeeds in doing so through not only his perfectly paced out, heartbeat-like moments of development, but through the slow shift in emotional energy from aggression to spiritual contemplation.

With Christian Bale bringing Blocker to life so viscerally and intensely through his captivating use of his eyes, delivering his best performance yet, Hostiles is an unforgettable and haunting Western that becomes even more so in retrospect.

5. War for the Planet of the Apes

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After Rise and DawnWar for the Planet of the Apes had the opportunity to turn Caesar into a truly biblical figure in future ape history. And the film accomplishes that enormous task.

Director and co-writer Matt Reeves pulls this off through an intimate focus on character within war rather than war around character, and not only narratively, but visually too. Close-ups in this movie are just as beautiful in the visual work they do as they are in the character work they do.

Reeves’ approach to Caesar is not to idealize him, but to morally challenge him. The oppression of the apes becomes so intense that it literally manifests in Holocaust-esque imagery. Thus, its difficult not to understand the hatred that builds in Caesar, who, again, is rendered absolutely masterfully by Andy Serkis.  And since it’s difficult not to sympathize, it becomes all the more profound when Caesar steps painfully in the right direction, capped in utter perfection with one of the most powerful character climaxes of the year. Yet, Reeves also understands that good villains are reasonable, and makes the fall of this film’s antagonist more so tragic than triumphant.

War for the Planet of the Apes stands out among the blockbuster field for these very reasons. It understands, more than even most that also do, that such a massive canvas can be so effective if based in character.

4. Blade Runner 2049

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Blade Runner 2049 had no business working as well as it does. But all it took was a simple shift in perspective, from human to android. And with that shift, director Denis Villeneuve composes a tale that exceeds the profundity of even the original.

The film is a visual masterpiece, full of absolutely arresting cinematography from Roger Deakins and jaw-dropping production design, both of which leverage light in stunning fashion. And these technical elements add to the story, which builds and focuses on a world void of natural life, of natural light and of natural color. Essentially, everything is digitally constructed. So how can humanity still exist and move forward?

Through challenging the notions of humanity that humans have adopted for their entire existence. Through ruminating on exactly what it means to have a soul. Villeneuve deftly paces out this journey that Ryan Gosling’s K takes, allowing for long stretches of quiet, hypnotic development. And through that approach, Blade Runner 2049 establishes that humanity does not come from birth nor from purpose bestowed upon someone. Rather, it comes from the purpose one creates for himself, from establishing a sense of self precisely through a sense of others. Villeneuve’s film is prescient, especially in today’s world and considering the society we’re building to. It’s tragic, yet the necessary humanist touch that large canvases need more of.

3. Call Me by Your Name

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

Call Me by Your Name is about bodies, and how bodies fall into and embody love. That’s why the many shots of stretched arms, toes touching, mouths meeting and more are so powerful in this film. Each is so sensually evocative because they represent how the feelings created in our minds are made real, tangible and accessible to another.

The atmosphere within which this all occurs is just as drunkenly alluring as the bodies themselves. The dream-like quality of a summer full of freedom is masterfully achieved by director Luca Guadagnino, and realized with painterly beauty by cinematographer Swayambhu Mukdeeprom. Moments aren’t necessarily connected, but still flow into one another with an unparalleled fluidity. 

The film risked indulging in the dream-like. But actors Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg all breathe their characters to life. Chalamet, particularly, lends Elio Perlman a physicality that perfectly represents the conflict between the summer’s freedom and the frightening feelings that his body aches to express. And as that conflict releases into love, and that love is then cut off, Elio encounters another bodily conflict, that of pain in no longer being able to express through his body. This gives Chalamet the scene of the year, as he stares into a fire in a long, single take, traversing a slew of unbearable emotions hauntingly.

Call Me by Your Name, in its entirety, is the love story of the year.

2. A Ghost Story

A24/Courtesy

A photograph. A song. A poem. A film. Each one of these mediums of art feels like an appropriate description of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, and that might be because the film makes use of qualities of each. In long, uncut, still shots, the film stresses framing and the importance of sitting with a moment in time. Narratively and thematically, the film suggests that music is the art through which we express and through which hold onto expression. In its rumination on time, navigating this world on entirely spiritual terms, the film seems to almost speak, and speak rhythmically. And the composition of this all is specifically cinematic.

A Ghost Story is one of the few films of the year, and truly of any year, to so bravely confront time. How Lowery constructs it within the film is fascinating, and helps us to be able to inhabit the ghost, even if just for a moment. As said before, the film contemplates the importance of the still moment, played out in its entirety. Five minutes uninterrupted seem like an eternity. And yet, years can also flick by in an instant. Why is that so?

Time, especially for those who have passed, challenges our existence. Do we still exist after we die? Do we still need to? And Lowery pulls off a miracle in directing this arc of the ghost, an almost comically looking figure with no mode of expression, with such emotional perfection.

A Ghost Story is simple and minimal, and yet, it feels galactic. It’s often lacking the sight of a human being, and yet, it so profoundly ponders humanity. It’s hard for the film not to feel personal, for it not to feel invasive in how vulnerable it asks us to be.

1. Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

It may be because I’ve written nearly five thousand words for this list up to this point, and I’m tired. It may be because, for anyone who knows me or has read my work, this comes as no surprise. It may be because I’ve already written at length about Dunkirk elsewhere, like in my full review of the film. It may be because I’m unsure of whether or not I can do the film justice considering how strongly I feel about it. It may be because I’m finally realizing the extent to which a “favorite film” is personal.

Dunkirk is my favorite film of 2017. In a slightly egocentric and naive point of view, I feel that staying guarded of a personal favorite allows me to still feel as though it’s mine.

In reality, though, it’s mostly because I’m tired. But I won’t be writing anything about Dunkirk here.

Thanks for reading.

 

Featured image via Amazon Studios/Netflix.

 

*Writer’s note: Of course, I am aware of the previous allegations made against Casey Affleck, who appears in A Ghost Story, and it’s my responsibility to explicitly address them. In no way do I condone, make excuse for or ignore Affleck. My support is and will always be with not only the women affected by Affleck, but the entire #MeToo and #TimesUp movements — the silence breakers — that have so bravely led this cultural shift we so desperately need. I would like to consider myself a part of those movements, and I will continue to fight for them.

I include A Ghost Story in this list because it is a personal list and it would be a lie to say that it’s not my second favorite film of the year. I responded to it so strongly and on such a personal level. But I know that there’s also a difference between having it as a personal favorite and writing about it as a personal favorite. I don’t feel as though I could write this list, which I feel I have a right to write, without it, so I wanted to hit a middle ground: write about it, but address Affleck. I hope that I’ve handled this with respect.

Shoulda Been A Contenda: Films that deserved awards recognition

Every year, there are a set of films and artists that miss out on award nominations that deserved to at least compete for them. They might have not had enough resources to put together as strong (or as loud) of a campaign as others. They might have been flooded out by the more popular films. They might have never been given the time of day in the first place. It could be due to a variety of reasons.

Some of those would qualify as “snubs” — in that, based on majority opinion, they are of better quality than one or more of those nominated. But that’s such a difficult circumstance to determine, meaning that a lot of those are just unfortunate misses.

The following list will detail films and artists that were hardly a part of the larger conversation. So, while Jessica Chastain’s miss in Best Lead Actress for Molly’s Game is painful, she was considered a potential nominee up until the nominations were announced and, thus, will not be a part of this list.

Here are ten films/artists that deserved to be a part of awards season, but, for the most part, weren’t:

*To be transparent, I’ve borrowed the use of this phrase in regard to the Oscars from The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg.*

Kedi (Best Documentary)

Oscilloscope/Courtesy

Kedi gets points for being absolutely adorable, and that shouldn’t be a trivial statement, as it takes great filmmaking to sell that aspect.

But who knew that a documentary about cats could be a profound statement about the beauty of life? The film accomplishes that through its wholesome approach to the cats it follows. Kedi isn’t just about the cats. It’s about the history that brought them to Turkey, the culture that they’ve become a massive part of, the human beings that they live with and depend on and the human beings that they help.

One of the most touching parts of the documentary is how it frames the cats as aids of mental health. The human subjects often come from tough places, backgrounds or situations, and the cats are what led them out of the struggle.

The line that, perhaps, sums up the movie perfectly is: “A cat meowing at your feet, looking up at you is life smiling at you. Those are moments when we’re lucky. They remind us that we’re alive.”

Darius Khondji — The Lost City of Z (Best Cinematography)

Amazon Studios/Courtesy

To be quite honest, The Lost City of Z should’ve been a contender in nearly every craft category. Its sound design is deeply layered, and its costume and production design contribute so much to the world-building. We believe in the world of explorers and discovery that writer-director James Gray crafts, which is also a testament to its (adapted) screenplay.

However, the most glaring omission from far too much of awards season — he did show up for a few critics groups — was Darius Khondji for his stunning cinematography. Khondji’s job was, on both an emotional level and a technical level, absurdly complex.

The film was shot on 35mm in actual jungles, lending Khondji opportunities that he took to their full potential. The wide shots of landscapes are breathtaking, and the slowly creeping camera, almost playing the role of another explorer among the crew, is fully immersive.

But the lighting, specifically, is always breathtaking, both deeply earthy below the jungle trees yet somehow simultaneously ethereal and mythical. And that’s precisely what the visuals of the film had to accomplish to sell its story — evoke the reality of the setting while hinting at the possibilities that Percy Fawcett so desperately searches for.

Philip Glass — Jane (Best Original Score)

Abramorama/Courtesy

It’s not common for a score for a documentary to be among awards chatter, but if any were to deserve it, it would be Philip Glass’ compositions for the Jane Goodall doc, Jane.

The most beautiful part of the experience of watching Jane is how it sneaks up on us and grabs our minds and hearts before we even notice. By its end, we walk out with a beautifully wholesome and loving portrait of a strong and brilliant woman, and true grasp of just how epic her life has been.

And one of, if not the most essential part of that is Glass’ score. That lovingness and that epicness is based in the music, as if Goodall’s will is the driving force behind each note. The slow build of Glass’ layering, on pieces such as “In the Shadow of Man” and “Perfect Life,” truly evokes a sense of journey, but also a simultaneous sense of nostalgic reminiscence. The score so often ebbs and flows with highs and lows that perfectly dig into the highs and lows of Goodall’s life, and there’s such an immense explorative quality in the progression of the music that does as much work painting Goodall as the rest of the film does.

Dafne Keen — Logan (Best Supporting Actress)

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

Hugh Jackman, the titular Logan, seemed to be almost unparalleled in his ferocity for 17 years. And then, a young 11 year old actress came along. What Dafne Keen accomplishes in Logan is not to be understated. She truly inhabits the character of Laura in every manner. We believe in her fierceness, her ruthless aggression. We believe in her desperation to get to her friends. We believe in the relationship that she and Logan builds.

With nearly no dialogue for a huge portion of the film, Keen grabs our attention and hangs onto it with metal claws. And at the end, when the entire ending rests on her shoulders, she brings us to tears with a powerfully delivered monologue taken from Shane. It’s fully devoted acting that is just as crucial to the emotional story as almost anything else.

Jason Mitchell — Mudbound (Best Supporting Actor)

Netflix/Courtesy

Mudbound got four Oscar nominations, and was still deeply underappreciated. That’s just how good it really is.

One of its greatest assets is its ensemble, and we are elated that Mary J. Blige is being recognized. There is, however, a performance just a rich and just as nuanced as Blige’s — that of Jason Mitchell

Mitchell plays Ronsel, a Black man in the South struggling with not only PTSD after World War II, but the oppressive society he returns to and the family role he’s expected to fulfill. He’s often in conversation with Garrett Hedlund’s Jamie, and Jamie’s more explicit PTSD fills a lot of space. But Mitchell’s quieter evocation of Ronsel’s interiority is even more gripping.

Black people of the time, evidently, weren’t granted the same rights and didn’t have the privilege of expression that a Jamie would have, and Mitchell brings this conflict out in Ronsel with force, burying the anger so truthfully that it becomes visible to the viewer. Ronsel may simply be sitting, looking down at the floor as he talks about how the war changed him, but we see so much of who he is and wants to be, and why he can’t be that, through Mitchell’s precise, minute expressions and almost poetic vocal pacing. And it’s Ronsel who we’re with at the end, hearts breaking before being lifted from ash by a narrated monologue that Mitchell performs with stunning empathy.

Vicky Krieps — Phantom Thread (Best Lead Actress)

Focus Features/Courtesy

It’s rare that someone stands tall next to Daniel Day-Lewis, let alone takes over scenes that he appears in. In Phantom Thread, however, that’s not only the necessity of the character of Alma, but also the unbelievable strength that relative newcomer Vicky Krieps shows in her performance.

In a way, it’s rather meta that Krieps hasn’t been given her fair share of celebration. Day-Lewis’ Reynolds Woodcock has such a massive personality that eats up the screen.

But how Krieps subtly elevates Alma to a point where we believe the power dynamics that develop is exactly why she might be more deserving of praise than the legendary actor, as she, essentially, does more with less.

Alma is often silently staring, whether that be in longing, sensuality or even intense anger, and Krieps sells each one so magnetically. It might be that anger, though, that is the most delicious and plentiful, her eyes nearly materializing daggers.

Christian Bale — Hostiles (Best Lead Actor)

Entertainment Studios/Courtesy

Bale is a three-time Oscar nominee, winning once for The Fighter. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise, and as a bit humorous, that the actor’s arguably best performance in Hostiles was essentially left out everywhere.

In Scott Cooper’s brutal, bruised Western, Bale plays a man filled with anger, nearly broken by it. Precisely how the actor conveys it is where the performance elevates to the extraordinary.

Bale doesn’t have expressive monologues nor does he engage explosively with the other actors. Instead, he pushes all of the emotional work into his eyes. Whether they’re straining, holding a stare or looking on with deep care, Bale’s eyes are absolutely absorbing, and underscore his character with an intensity that renders a softly spoken word into a harrowingly touching moment, or a brief and firm line into the most intimidating, dominating action in the entire film.

So while Bale may be known for his rather outward transformations, it’s in this subdued, careful performance that he shows exactly how much he can do.

Matt Reeves — War for the Planet of the Apes (Best Director)

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

On nearly every level, Matt Reeves’ Planet of the Apes films have been under-awarded. And with War, which somehow tops Dawn, Reeves directs something truly special, a classically inspired epic that tells its story with grace and care in ways that few other stories of any kind are told.

It may be easy to look to the film’s visual effects, the actors, the set pieces and more, but we should take a step back and look at the person who orchestrates it all. Reeves’ hand is as firm as any other director’s this year, guiding us through a grand character arc that nails every turn, building the feel of a world imagined far beyond the edges of the frames we see, constructing cinematic language so rhythmically and sonically dynamic.

It’s hard to imagine few other directors delivering War the way in which it was delivered. It’s a blockbuster that doesn’t exploit its big budget, nor its visual spectacle, instead capitalizing spectacle in service of emotion and story. It’s a directorial wonder.

Blade Runner 2049 (Best Picture)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

A long-after sequel to an absolute classic. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, and it often is. Even with the recently Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve behind the project, it was hard to be anything but skeptical.

The director, however, arguably delivered the masterpiece of his career, topping even Arrival, with a visually arresting, thematically profound rumination on how we define our humanity. In a world that is quickly becoming digitized and uploaded, it’s strange that more weren’t overcome by 2049, a film that suggests that, even in the absence of natural life and vivid color, humanity can still live through our relationships and through our choices.

Every feature of 2049 is stunning. Roger Deakins’ photography is transfixing and haunting. The actors all work wonders, none over-the-top, all players committed to the subtleties of the many aspects that make us human, especially the stoic, lingering and vulnerable Gosling. Villeneuve directs with force, a true atmospheric genius. And the story builds to something truly tragic, yet invigorating and uplifting. Blade Runner 2049 is the rare film that takes its massive canvas and grounds each frame in the human soul.

 

Featured image via Lorey Sebastian, Le Grisbi Productions/Waypoint Entertainment/Courtesy.

Top 10 underappreciated performances of 2017

Each year sees hundreds of new films, many of them filled with great performances. But as the year wraps up, the conversation around performances often becomes too focused on those that end up competing for awards, and those that many feel should be competing for awards.

With those hundreds of films, however, there are, genuinely, hundreds of performances that are worthy of praise, and it is the job of us film writers to make sure that they are given their fair share.

Here are our top 10 underappreciated performances of 2017:

10. Kirsten Dunst — The Beguiled

Focus Features/Courtesy

The explicit emotions in The Beguiled come from Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman. And Elle Fanning is rather good too in defining another, more youthful space, complimented by the other young actresses around her. But Kirsten Dunst adds a layer that no other player does.

Throughout, in quiet moments where Dunst’s eyes do much of the work in how softly expressive they are, we get a sense that the character is depressed and emotionally weathered due to the situation of being stuck during the war. The material allows Dunst to be both explorative and harrowingly frozen, and her performance evokes that grander scope of the war, specifically from the perspective of women.

— Kyle Kizu

9. Cillian Murphy — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Melinda Sue Gordon/Courtesy

To many, Dunkirk is not necessarily a character-driven film, propelled more so by the visual experience. But we’d like to push back on that notion. Mark Rylance is usually the stand-out in conversations, his character being, truly, the emotional center and guide of the film.

Yet, perhaps the more haunting performance comes from Cillian Murphy as The Shivering Soldier. Murphy’s job is deceptively physical. Rylance’s Mr. Dawson describes him as shell-shocked, which is easily taken for granted. However, under close observation, Murphy is doing so much to sell that role. There are so many small moments that would’ve taken away so many layers from the film were they not there, such as toward the end when Murphy’s character cowers in fear at one last incoming German plane and has to be escorted inside the ship by Mr. Dawson.

And then, quite clearly, there’s his outburst toward the middle, which is one of the most tragic displays of the terrors of war in the entire film. While the editing does fascinating work, cutting from his character days prior, the immense panic is so palpable because of, again, Murphy’s physicality and precisely how that physicality pushes the panicked words out of his character.

— Kyle Kizu

8. Colin Farrell — The Killing of a Sacred Deer

A24/Courtesy

Writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos and actor Colin Farrell followed up the wonderfully unique The Lobster with The Killing of a Sacred Deer and, once again, have a darkly comedic — mostly dark — movie on their hands. It’s hard not to think of Funny Games when watching it.

Farrell, who’s making a career of starring in small-scale films, is excellent in this one as Steven, a father and doctor faced with a harrowing decision: kill one of his children or his wife, or they all die. Farrell plays the obvious horror of the situation convincingly. As an audience, it’s hard not to side with him at first — after all, this seems random, sadistic even. But as the plot unveils, so too does Steven’s brashness and, beyond that, his cowardice.

Perhaps helped by his experience with Lanthimos’ scripts, Farrell delivers the lines perfectly, without his tongue too firmly planted in his cheek. There’s certainly humor in his deadpan performance, but there’s realism too. There’s shock, pain and denial. Beyond all, Steven has a seeming desire to end conversations as quickly as possible, before we learn too much about him.

— Hooman Yazdanian

7. Woody Harrelson — The Glass Castle

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It’s funny because we’d argue that Woody Harrelson had a better performance than the one that got him an Oscar nomination. In plenty of his roles, it’s often simply just ‘Woody being Woody,’ which is, by no means, a bad thing. He’s one of the most enjoyable actors in the business when he’s simply just Woody.

Yet, in The Glass Castle, Harrelson is magnetic and truly crafts a character that extends beyond the man behind it. There’s much of the trademark Woody here, his gigantic personality fitting right into the character of Rex. But there’s an added layer of the character’s self-loathing, his eccentric beliefs and his great love for his family that Harrelson works into every scene. And when they come to the surface, such as when Rex tells his daughter Jeannette, a child, that her burn scar is not ugly or when he voices his regrets in life to her, now an adult, Harrelson heartbreakingly channels and brings out the emotional truth of such a complexly flawed, yet deeply feeling man.

— Kyle Kizu

6. Ryan Gosling — Blade Runner 2049

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Ryan Gosling’s performance in Blade Runner 2049 was perhaps too spot on. He seamlessly disappears into the role as Agent K, a replicant Blade Runner whose mental and emotional stability is slowly challenged throughout the entirety of the film’s 164 minutes. Granted, there’s plenty of character work being done in the music and editing, but Gosling absolutely nails the expressionless faces and soft line delivery that hint at so much more going on underneath. In that regard, two scenes stand out in particular: K approaching the furnace in which he hid his toy horse, suggesting that his memories may be real, and K meeting Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) for the first time where she does confirm that the memories are real. In both, Gosling says next to nothing, but optimizes his eyes, body and facial muscles to render those character moments utterly haunting. And as the film wraps up, and it’s revealed (spoilers) that K was not Deckard’s child, but simply had the memories of Deckard’s real kid, we see a change in K’s eyes that evokes such profound tragedy.

Gosling’s performance is subtle. And his casting may have been too perfect for his turn to be appreciated to its fullest; the man is simply too good looking and his behavior too charmingly composed that it wouldn’t be a stretch if he was revealed, in real life, to be an android.

But he is truly doing so much work in every frame, every close-up, and the film rests entirely on him pulling it all off.

— Kyle Kizu

5. Dafne Keen — Logan

Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox/Courtesy

There’s often an age bias when judging child performances in relation to those of adults, which becomes all the more frustrating when one deserves to stand tall next to the actors that eventually receive awards. And this year, Dafne Keen fits right into that unfortunate circumstance in regard to her nearly unbelievable turn in Logan.

Next to one of Hugh Jackman’s greatest performance, Keen holds her own in every regard. Her ferocity is untamed, but distinctly human. Her chemistry with Jackman is fluid and dynamic, as she even takes hold of scenes with him, such as the one in the car when she lists the names of her friends that are in danger. For much of her screentime, Keen has no dialogue, but she lends a searching quality to Laura that perfectly underscores the growing relationship between her and Logan.

Too many take for granted that the ending relies so heavily on her nailing the monologue from Shane. But Keen is emotionally raw and brave in the moment, both paving beautiful space for her character moving forward and allowing such perfect, profound reflection on the life of Logan, which was a monumental task considering that Jackman’s character had been present for seventeen years before Keen showed up.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Beanie Feldstein — Lady Bird

A24/Courtesy

Most of the hype surrounding the performances in the much-beloved Lady Bird has been around the leading daughter-mother combo of Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) and Marion (Laurie Metcalf). But Beanie Feldstein ensures Julie, Lady Bird’s best friend, still stands out.

Feldstein strikes an emotional nerve, stealing scenes and believably delivering what may be the film’s most powerful line: “Some people aren’t built happy, you know?” She balances this moment with savvy comedic timing and a take on love and jealousy in friendships that resonates deeply. As Lady Bird is clearly about to get in trouble at the assembly, Julie’s face contorts with concern and she clutches the bleacher seats, all in the midst of a fight with her best friend. Lady Bird and Julie’s conversation about where they’ll be after high school are believable and familiar, like peering through a window at every friend group’s conversations in the waning months of high school — it’s no surprise that Feldstein and Ronan apparently became close friends in real life.

In a year of worthy additions to the pantheon of cinematic best friends (here’s looking at you, Lil Rel Howery), Feldstein’s Julie may be the very best.

— Hooman Yazdanian

3. Harry Dean Stanton — Lucky

Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy

Harry Dean Stanton, who sadly passed a few weeks before Lucky released, is just an absolute delight in the film. And it’s quite touching to see where the film goes thematically in regard to Stanton’s character. The titular Lucky is coming toward the end of his life and he must deal with the passage of time. Through that material, Stanton is riotously hilarious and equally as moving. Lucky is often alone, going through his daily routine, but Stanton eats up the physical space around him whether that be through his quirky physicality or his sarcastic, sassy comments. But even when the character is saying nothing and everything is quiet, Stanton conveys a rumination on life that pushes the film’s scope beyond what many might expect. It’s characterization that only comes from a masterful actor, and it’ll be difficult to forget his weird, hilarious, tragic, captivating final moments as he comments on the universe: “Blackness… the void!”

— Kyle Kizu

2. Robert Redford — Our Souls at Night

Netflix/Courtesy

The quiet Our Souls at Night was ignored on, essentially, every level. But the film is outstanding, precisely because of how quiet it is. That’s where it finds its emotional drive, in the soft and tender moments.

So many of those moments come from Robert Redford as Louis Waters. The film picks up with him late in his life, and it’s slowly revealed that he’s had quite a long and often sad journey. We’re never offered flashbacks, but Redford still shoulders the weight of that past beautifully. We hear about things that happened to Louis and, through Redford’s small glances and brief words, we can see how all of that has informed who he is now, how all of that has crafted this quiet life we get to observe. In the most emotional scenes, all Redford needs to do is break his composure for a split second, and our hearts nearly shatter. It’s unbelievable work from the legendary actor, much of it being quite difficult to capture in words.

— Kyle Kizu

1. Betty Gabriel — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Betty Gabriel, who plays Georgina in Jordan Peele’s standout directorial debut Get Out, was a revelation. Gabriel’s Georgina, the Armitages’ housekeeper, is often at the crux of the film’s drama and tension, her face revealing more than words ever could, hinting at the central twist and the societal influence behind it.

Gabriel displays the textbook example of how to portray a “conflict within.” Her mannerisms stand out from the moment we see her on screen. Clearly, something is off. Is she evil? Has she been hypnotized? Is she trying to provide a warning? All these contradicting motivations are played perfectly and, somehow, simultaneously by Gabriel.

It’s impossible to keep our eyes off of her for the rest of the movie, whether when she brushes her hair or jump scares Chris (Daniel Kaluuya). Her most famous scene, where she cries, smiles, laughs and exudes terror — again, all at once — is masterful.

Gabriel seemingly came out of nowhere in Get Out (her previous biggest role was in another social thriller, The Purge: Election Year) but she ended up stealing scenes and producing a true standout performance in one of 2017’s very best films. Yet, no one — at least on the awards circuit — seems to have noticed.

— Hooman Yazdanian

 

Sophie-Marie Prime participated in voting for this list.

Featured image via 20th Century Fox/Warner Bros./Magnolia Pictures/A24.

25 most anticipated films of 2018

As each year ends, it’s customary to look back on our favorite films, to spend hours on lists of the best that we saw. But it’s also a hell of a time to look forward at the films releasing in the coming year and start to build anticipation. The ones that immediately pop into mind are the blockbusters, the landmark events of the year like Solo: A Star Wars Story and the early Black Panther. They’re beyond exciting, not only for us, but for millions of people. The real fun for us film writers, though, comes with the research, with digging deep to find which prestige, Oscar-nominated or, simply, personal favorite storytellers (actors, directors or writers) have movies coming out that are currently under-the-radar to most people — and then going even deeper to find the films that even us film writers would miss on a first go around of digging.

What immediately became apparent after finishing our research and sitting down to pick our top 25 is that 2018 is going to be a spectacular year for film — hence our honorable mentions list being so long.

We thought 2017 was a never-ending ride of greatness, from Get Out back in February all the way to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread today. 2018 should be just the same. Whether it be the aforementioned blockbusters, or the return of both Barry Jenkins and Damien Chazelle, or Martin Scorsese pairing up with Netflix, or French female filmmakers taking on science fiction, 2018 films need to get going already.

25. Bios

Dick Thomas Johnson/Courtesy

Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik

Written by: Craig Luck, Ivor Powell

Starring: Tom Hanks

Release date: Possibly 2018, currently in pre-production, expected start shooting early 2018

This film might’ve been ranked higher on the list were it further along in production and guaranteed for 2018. With production meant to start in early 2018, there’s a definite possibility, considering the star power of Tom Hanks, that we could see it toward the end of the year, especially as an awards contender, which is why we’re including it. But there’s also a definite possibility that it won’t, as we never really know in regard to a film like this until the cameras start rolling.

Regardless, the team behind BIOS, a sci-fi story that follows a robot “built to protect the life of his dying creator’s beloved dog” on a post-apocalyptic Earth, is a heavyweight one. There’s the obvious, consistent, dependable brilliance of Tom Hanks. Then, there’s a Black List (a list of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood) script from writers Craig Luck and Ivor Powell. And finally, there’s director Miguel Sapochnik, best known for the final two episodes, Battle of the Bastards and The Winds of Winter, of season 6 of Game of Thrones. He also directed the season 5 action heavy episode Hardhome. All three are all timers for the series, but Battle of the Bastards is a special piece of visual storytelling, as it features what is arguably the best directed, most viscerally brilliant war sequences in all of TV or film. The episode is truly a landmark piece of direction, one that rightfully won Sapochnik the Emmy and Directors Guild Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Drama Series. It was only a matter of time before he got the opportunity to direct a massive, visual-heavy film, and BIOS sounds like a film that could prove Sapochnik as an equally brilliant film director.

— Kyle Kizu

24. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

Directed by: Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman

Written by: Phil Lord

Starring: Shameik Moore, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Liev Schreiber

Release date: December 14, 2018

Finally, Miles Morales is coming to a theater near you. Sony Pictures hasn’t always done right by the webhead (2.5/5 ain’t bad), but bringing on the tonally unique duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller to oversee an animated theatrical Spider-Man release that introduces general audiences to Miles f$@#ing Morales as well as the breadth of alternate-earth Spider-Men is, well, amends enough. Although the first teaser only dropped recently, a photorealistic NYC in the background juxtaposed with the imaginative and malleable hand-drawn imagery of the protagonist himself makes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse an aesthetic and, hopefully, narrative treat for comic book fan and casual moviegoer alike.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

23. A Wrinkle in Time

Disney/Courtesy

Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Written by: Jennifer Lee

Starring: Storm Reid, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey, Zach Galifianakis, Andrè Holland

Release date: March 9, 2018

If there’s one incontrovertible truth about Ava DuVernay’s career thus far, it’s that all of her films are imbued with an unbridled sense of passion from a creative standpoint, and A Wrinkle in Time appears to continue that trend. Ever since its first trailer set to the tune of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), DuVernay’s take on Madeleine L’Engle’s iconic fantasy novel has seemed visually distinct, naturalistically cast and rousingly written and executed. The past few years have provided us with some fairly poor YA novel adaptations, but from what we’ve seen thus far, A Wrinkle in Time is set to break the mold.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

22. At Eternity’s Gate

Josh Jensen/Courtesy

Directed by: Julian Schnabel

Written by: Jean-Claude Carrière, Julian Schnabel

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Oscar Isaac

Release date: Expected in 2018, currently filming

What’s poised to be a incisive look at renowned painter Vincent van Gogh’s life while he lived in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France, benefits greatly from its principal starrers, Willem Dafoe and Oscar Isaac as van Gogh and fellow famous painter Paul Gauguin, respectively. Combine Dafoe’s range with Isaac’s intensity and both with director and co-writer Julian Schnabel’s unabashed reverential directorial stylings à la The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and an eternity is just how far away this film’s release feels.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

21. Creed II

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Directed by: Steven Caple Jr.

Written by: Cheo Hodari Coker, Sylvester Stallone

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren

Release date: November 21, 2018

Though admittedly hesitant to re-enter the ring after its predecessor’s knockout performance and conclusion (puns intended and necessary), we’d be fools to not want to see Adonis Creed again on the big screen for another fight of his life in Creed II. Now with Dolph Lundgren in the mix, hopefully Ivan Drago finally gets what’s coming to him.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

20. Proxima

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: Alice Winocour

Written by: Alice Winocour

Starring: Eva Green, Lars Eidinger

Release date: Expected in 2018, currently in pre-production

Alice Winocour, co-writer of the Oscar-nominated Mustang, for which she also won Best Original Screenplay at the Cèsar Awards (essentially, the French Oscars), will dive into science fiction with her upcoming film Proxima. However, the film sounds as though it’s heavily based in reality. Proxima will follow a mother just before her departure on a year-long mission at the International Space Station, as she physically trains for space and prepares to say goodbye to her young daughter. The story seems incredibly emotional, and has basis, as she says, in Winocour’s own feelings of separation from her daughter when she shoots a movie — ringing a similar bell to the inspiration behind Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Such a basis should bring such genuine weight to the story, one that will explore a side of an astronaut’s life that not many films get into, and offer Eva Green material for a powerhouse performance. And to see a female astronaut who is also a mother as the lead character is necessary and empowering visibility. Oh, and the film will be in French.

— Kyle Kizu

19. Newsflash

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: David Gordon Green

Written by: Ben Jacoby

Starring: Seth Rogen

Release date: November 22, 2018

David Gordon Green has had a rather interesting career, breaking out with the incredibly small independent film George Washington, flourishing in the comedy genre with Pineapple Express, giving Nicolas Cage a platform to actually excel in Joe and devastating us with the powerful, human Stronger. Just a month before Newsflash, Gordon Green will release Halloween, another film in the Halloween franchise, and showcase yet another side of his directorial skill set with horror.

He can really do everything, which intensifies our anticipation of the recently announced Newsflash, a film about Walter Cronkite, who, on November 22, 1963, reported on live TV about the assassination of JFK.

The obvious thematic relevance of the film — the power of journalism (this time broadcast) — is enough to grip onto. But the specifics of the story offer it utterly dynamic potential; it could end up as much a story about the power of journalism as it is a study of that terrible moment in American history as well as a character study of Cronkite himself. The choice of Seth Rogen to lead the film is, initially, a bit jarring — but not in a bad way, as it very quickly turns into excitement at the thought of Rogen expanding his dramatic chops, after a very serviceable performance as Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs, and showcasing the charisma we all know he has. Newsflash could very well play a similar role in 2018 that The Post is playing in 2017.

— Kyle Kizu

18. Mission: Impossible 6

Christopher McQuarrie/Paramount/Courtesy

Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Angela Bassett

Release date: July 27, 2018

We appreciated the first. We drank to forget the second. We reluctantly saw the third. We cheered for the fourth. And we were in awe of the fifth. If Mission Impossible has proven anything up to this point, it’s that, much like lead actor Tom Cruise, this franchise has got legs. Mission: Impossible 6 has Christopher McQuarrie back at the helm (a series first) along with much of its predecessor’s cast in what is to be, hopefully, another enthralling action-adventure defined by its practically-performed death-defying stunts. Most of the film’s plot is still under wraps, but one thing is certain: Henry Cavill will be sporting a mustache that — if digitally removed — gives him uncanny valley face.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

17. On the Basis of Sex

Dick Thomas Johnson/Courtesy

Directed by: Mimi Leder

Written by: Daniel Stiepleman

Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

The story of On the Basis of Sex, following Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fight for equality and journey to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, is fascinating and deeply needed in this moment in time, as well as reason enough, alone, for this film to make this list. But the pieces around the story are absolutely brilliant. Felicity Jones is one of the more emotionally powerful actresses working today; just look at her raw, moving performance in The Theory of Everything. Armie Hammer is resurfacing — to our delight — as a true acting talent, also channeling raw emotion in this year’s Call Me by Your Name. And the director behind it all, Mimi Leder — who has been sorely and unjustly underappreciated in Hollywood, but has become one of TV’s greatest directors, especially after her work on The Leftovers — will show everyone what they’ve been missing when she nails this film.

— Kyle Kizu

16. If Beale Street Could Talk

Allan Warren/Courtesy

Directed by: Barry Jenkins

Written by: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Regina King, Pedro Pascal, Dave Franco, Ed Skrein, Emily Rios, Aunjanue Ellis, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry, Finn Wittrock, Michael Beach, Colman Domingo, Stephan James

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

Moonlight’s ethereally cathartic narrative and characters earned it the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2017, so it should come as no surprise that we’re eagerly awaiting writer-director Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning follow-up, If Beale Street Could Talk. If Jenkins can invoke the same emotionally complex yet superficially subtle and restrained atmosphere when adapting James Baldwin’s novel of the same name for the silver screen, then the filmmaker could be looking at another critical darling in his filmography in the not-too-distant future.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

15. Suspiria

Elena Ringo/Courtesy

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino

Written by: David Kajganich

Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Jessica Harper

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

A remake of legend Dario Argento’s supernatural Italian classic gallo film from one of the most talented directors working today, who just blew us away with Call Me by Your Name and has built some kind of career with films like I Am Love and A Bigger Splash? With a cast of Chloë Grace Moretz, Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton and Mia Goth? With the first original score from Thom Yorke, the frontman of Radiohead? With an appearance from the original film’s star, Jessica Harper?

There’s no way that this film won’t be a gorgeous, gory descent into madness.

— Levi Hill

14. High Life

Nicolas Genin/Courtesy

Directed by: Claire Denis

Written by: Claire Denis, Jean Pol-Fargeau, Nick Laird, Zadie Smith

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Mia Goth, Juliette Binoche

Release date: Expected in 2018, currently in post-production

Another French filmmaker is leaping into science fiction. Claire Denis, director of Beau Travail, White Material and 35 Shots of Rum, will simultaneously make her English language debut with High Life, a sci-fi story that Denis has been developing for nearly two years now. The concept, alone, is the stuff of sci-fi dreams: Monte, a criminal who chose to participate in a government project rather than serve jail time, is sent out into space with other convicts to find alternative energy as well as to participate in human reproduction experiments. Now headed toward a black hole, Monte must connect with his daughter Willow, who was born out of one of the experiments.

That Denis is experimenting, herself, with science fiction after a career of careful character studies is riveting — and likely means that this film will also end up being a complex character study in the setting of space. But that she’s doing it with such an original story and a lead actor like Robert Pattinson, who just turned everyone’s head with his performance in Good Time, makes High Life one of the most compelling projects of the upcoming year.

— Kyle Kizu

13. Roma

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón

Written by: Alfonso Cuarón

Starring: Marina de Tavira, Daniela Demesa, Marco Graf, Yalitza Aparicio

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

Not much is known about Roma, except that it’s Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón’s first film set in Mexico since his breakout masterpiece Y Tu Mamá También and his direct follow up to Gravity, the film for which he won that Oscar. With a cast of, to American audiences, unknowns and Cuarón’s distinct ability with setting, showcased in Children of Men, Roma will have an authenticity unlike many other films. We’re beyond excited to see whatever this incredible filmmaker can concoct.

— Levi Hill

12. Untitled Adam McKay directed, Christian Bale starring Dick Cheney biopic

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: Adam McKay

Written by: Adam McKay

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Bill Pullman

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

Who knew that Adam McKay, the man behind Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Step Brothers, is a magnificent drama director. Perhaps it should’ve been more obvious that McKay could make a film like The Big Short, a searing and sharp film dissecting a complex moment in recent history; his success in comedy shows that he’s a deeply intelligent storyteller as comedy is the hardest genre to pull off and pull off well. That McKay is continuing in this direction, this time dissecting ex-vice president Dick Cheney, is exciting on multiple levels. But that he’s also teaming up with Christian Bale, who is, arguably, the greatest method actor of our time outside of Daniel Day-Lewis and whose transformation for this role has been mind-boggling, and Amy Adams, one of the most underappreciated actresses in the game and someone who should have Oscar gold on her mantle already, is a near dream. Throw in Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush and what will surely be a script that does not hold back at critiquing that administration’s failures, and this film, rumored to be titled Backseat, will certainly be a knockout.

— Kyle Kizu

11. Wildlife

Eva Rinaldi/Courtesy

Directed by: Paul Dano

Written by: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould

Release date: Premiering at Sundance Film Festival in January 2018, will see a 2018 release date if, as expected, it is picked up by a distributor

Time will tell how Paul Dano’s directorial debut shapes up, because it’s premiering at Sundance within a few weeks. But Dano, as an actor who always chooses interesting projects, getting behind the camera is an intriguing proposition. Throw in the excellent starring duo of Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal, and Wildlife, based on a true story adapted by Dano and his talented actress-writer-wife Zoe Kazan, might be the Sundance breakout of 2018 — at least on paper.

— Levi Hill

10. Ad Astra

Maximilian Bühn/Courtesy

Directed by: James Gray

Written by: James Gray, Ethan Gross

Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland

Release date: January 11, 2019, with an expected limited release in late 2018

After Two Lovers, The Immigrant and The Lost City of Z, James Gray has proven himself as a respectable filmmaker, a traditionalist with such refined filmmaking talent. The move, alone, into heavy sci-fi is fascinating; Ad Astra will follow an “Army Corps engineer (Brad Pitt) [searching] across the galaxy for his father (Tommy Lee Jones), who had disappeared on a mission to find alien life 20 years prior.” The concept sounds harrowing, like the perfect opportunity for more gripping traditional storytelling in such a visually wondrous setting. Shot by Hoyte van Hoytema (Her, Interstellar, Dunkirk) and produced by Plan B Entertainment team Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner (12 Years a Slave, Selma, The Big Short, Moonlight), Ad Astra is shaping up to be an absolute heavyweight production, and one that will surely have a limited release in December 2018 to compete for awards or change its official release date to late 2018.

— Kyle Kizu

9. Widows

Chris Cheung/Courtesy

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Written by: Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen

Starring: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Carrie Coon, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya

Release date: November 16, 2018

Seriously, though, look at this cast — including the now Oscar-winning Viola Davis, she’s-everywhere Carrie Coon, the very underrated Michelle Rodriguez, the reforming-back-into-drama Liam Neeson, the breakout Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya, and the multi-faceted and always interesting Colin Farrell — and tell us you’re not excited. Throw in Steve McQueen, the director of the Best Picture-winning 12 Years a Slave — who, to us, in only three films, has proved to be one of the most exciting directors today — and Gillian Flynn, the author and adapting screenwriter of Gone Girl, and Widows might just be the most prestigious film coming in 2018.

— Levi Hill

8. Solo: A Star Wars Story

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Even with all of the production troubles that Solo: A Star Wars Story has gone through, this film is still an entry in the Star Wars franchise, which is, perhaps unfairly, enough to anticipate it anyway. To be fair to the film, Alden Ehrenreich is a wonderful choice to play a young Han Solo — his performance in Hail, Caesar! a testament to his talent — and the rest of the cast is filled with major players, Donald Glover being a badass choice for young Lando Calrissian. Co-writer Lawrence Kasdan deserves a lifetime of trust after writing The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark and, while a seemingly safe choice, Ron Howard is by no means a bad director. We’ll be there opening night.

— Kyle Kizu

7. Annihilation

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

Directed by: Alex Garland

Written by: Alex Garland

Starring: Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez

Release date: February 23, 2018

Alex Garland stunned with his feature debut Ex Machina, which is already being hailed by most as one of the best sci-fi films of the 21st century. The film was not only written with careful, complex intelligence, but it was also directed with visuals that matched the story’s intrigue. To see Garland venture into sci-fi yet again, especially into what seems to be horror-sci-fi, considering that he’s also written 28 Days Later and Sunshine, is salivating. Based on a beloved novel and with a star-studded cast, Annihilation is, despite its shift to a February release date, a film that we cannot wait for, and one that we know, at least, will be a visual treat.

— Kyle Kizu

6. The Irishman

The Peabody Awards/Courtesy

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Written by: Steve Zaillian

Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Jesse Plemons, Anna Paquin, Ray Romano

Release date: 2018, currently filming

While Bright might have been Netflix’s first foray into big budget filmmaking, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman looks to be the first unqualified success into big budget filmmaking. Starring Scorsese regulars from his ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s heyday, like Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel, and featuring the gangster narrative trappings Scorsese has made classic after classic in, The Irishman seems to be Scorsese doing everything he loves, and Netflix’s willingness to allow Scorsese an unchecked or unquestioned vision might just convince more filmmakers to follow in his footsteps.

— Levi Hill

5. First Man

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Written by: Josh Singer, Nicole Perlman

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jon Bernthal, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler

Release date: October 12, 2018

With La La Land, Damien Chazelle ventured to the stars metaphorically and musically. So, it was only appropriate that he make a movie that actually visits the stars. Re-teaming with Ryan Gosling, Chazelle will direct the story of Neil Armstrong. The character work should be fantastic, not only on an acting and directing side, but also based in great writing as Chazelle is directing a script from Guardians of the Galaxy co-writer Nicole Perlman and Spotlight and The Post co-writer Josh Singer. But no matter the story, after two spectacular films in a row, anything Chazelle does is something to look forward to.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Incredibles 2

Pixar/Courtesy

Directed by: Brad Bird

Written by: Brad Bird

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk

Release date: June 15, 2018

14 years in the making (and not a moment too late), Incredibles 2 is the latest in Pixar’s fairly recent string of sequels to its critically-acclaimed films. As we catch up with the Parrs immediately after the conclusion of The Incredibles, hopefully we’re treated to answers of some of the first film’s long gestating questions such as: “What are the limits of Jack-Jack’s powers?” or “Will Edna Mode ever officially get back into the super heroic fashion business?” but most importantly, “Where WAS his super-suit?”

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

3. Black Panther

Marvel/Courtesy

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Written by: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Sterling K. Brown

Release date: February 16, 2018

Housing a sterling directorial record comprised of 2013’s harrowing Fruitvale Station and 2015’s uplifting and invigorating Creed under his belt, Ryan Coogler enters the ever-expanding comic book genre with the newest, and arguably most exhilarating, solo film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Black Panther. While Captain America: Civil War solidly introduced T’Challa into an eclectic world beset by self-aware robots, mirror dimensions and wall-crawlers, Coogler’s Black Panther has distinguished itself so far by its fixation on the racial and cultural foundations at the core of the character. With trailers scored to the beat of RTJ and Vince Staples, a cast primarily made up of people of color and ideas like afro-futurism, monarchic injustice and the relationship between heritage/identity in play, it’s not physically possible to articulate how hotly we’re anticipating this cinematic landmark.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

2. Isle of Dogs

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Directed by: Wes Anderson

Written by: Wes Anderson

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray

Release date: March 23, 2018

Wes Anderson has become one of the most idiosyncratic working directors, but, also, one of the most successful. His last film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, was his biggest box-office success, as well being his first film to gather not only an Oscar nomination for Best Picture,  but win multiple craft awards.

Adding new faces like Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Courtney B. Vance and Scarlett Johansson next to Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum and Frances McDormand, Isle of Dogs takes Anderson back to stop-motion animation, where he’s scored an Oscar nomination for Fantastic Mr. Fox. Yet unlike Fox, Dogs looks to be a darker, if still charming tale.

Set in a near apocalyptic, dystopian future, Isle of Dogs premise is fascinating: all dogs of Japan are cast away to a deserted island due to a “canine flu” that has wiped away a good portion of the population. The young son of the Japanese president wants to get his dog back, though, so against all of his family’s wishes, he makes an epic journey to the island to get his trusted companion back. Along the way, the young boy is aided by fellow dogs.

With Anderson’s typical blend of whimsy, and potential heartache, Dogs looks to be a story that will surely make us all weep over the animals that give their lives to us.

— Levi Hill

1. Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Courtesy

Directed by: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo

Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Hiddleston

Release date: May 4, 2018

It’s all been building up to this, the arrival of Thanos to Earth. Ever since 2012, we’ve been waiting for that big purple guy in the post credits scene of Marvel’s The Avengers to show up. We saw glimpses of him in Guardians of the Galaxy and during the mid-credits scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron. And now, he’s here.

But he’s also arriving to a vastly different landscape than what was there in 2012. Both Iron Man and Captain America have seen fascinating character development throughout their trilogy of films, culminating in last year’s Captain America: Civil War. The Guardians of the Galaxy crew will finally join our heroes in the fight, crossing paths with our other galactic and now, apparently, hilarious hero Thor. Spider-Man and Black Panther are welcome additions to the team, with the former being a wonderfully interpreted younger version of Peter Parker and the latter being a badass, refreshing, layered hero from a different background that we will see more of in our #3 on this list, prior to Infinity War’s release. And while more female-led films need to come, Infinity War will bring together the many powerful women of Marvel: Black Widow, Gamora, Mantis, Nebula, Scarlet Witch, Okoye and, hopefully, Valkyrie.

As the trailer for Infinity War showed, this film has been 10 years in the making and it’s hard not to be swept up in the epic culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a phenomenon in modern cinema. Each film, alone, has been anywhere from modestly enjoyable to the pinnacle of blockbuster filmmaking, and Infinity War is the climax of everything. While there are other event films coming out in 2018, this is the event film, the film everyone will be talking about.

And we’re hopeful for it. There may be upwards of 30 — yes, 30 — characters in this film. But jumping over from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War are directors Joe and Anthony Russo, as well as screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and if anyone can handle this massive undertaking, it’s them.

Some major characters will surely die, which is devastating, but also ups the stakes massively and takes Marvel to a darker place that they’ve been far too afraid to explore.

Our heroes’ fight will be a valiant one to the end, the epitome of epic and an absolute treasure on the big screen.

— Kyle Kizu

 

Honorable mentions:

As said above, there are too many intriguing films coming out in 2018 to just list our top 25. We struggled to cross films off, so we felt that we had to mention many of the hardest ones to cut, compiling a list that, itself, would be a great top 25.

After delivering the best male lead performance of 2017, Timothèe Chalamet will be back, garnering an equally heavy role as a recovering meth addict with Steve Carell playing his father in Beautiful Boy. Denis Villeneuve’s brilliant Sicario will, strangely, receive a sequel with Soldado, which sees the return of Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro and writer Taylor Sheridan. Lynne Ramsay’s Cannes-premiering You Were Never Really Here, which already has outstanding reviews and won Joaquin Phoenix the Best Actor award at the French film festival, will finally screen in Spring 2018. Steven Spielberg will take on the “holy grail of pop culture” with Ready Player One. David Robert Mitchell, writer-director of It Follows, will team up with A24 for an underbelly Los Angeles-set neo-noir starring Andrew Garfield. Terrence Malick will return to the setting of war in his, apparently, more traditional film Radegund — that is, if he finishes his edit when expected, which is never expected. Gareth Evans, director of The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 — deemed two of the best action films of the 21st century — will shift over to English language film with the religious cult drama Apostle, starring Dan Stevens and Michael Sheen.

We could go on and on throughout the whole list because each one genuinely is something we’ll be first in line to see. From David Lowery following up A Ghost Story with Old Man and the Gun, to Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie facing off in Mary, Queen of Scots, to Drew Goddard directing for the first time since The Cabin in the Woods with Bad Times at the El Royale, to two extraordinarily talented female directors in Jennifer Kent and Michelle MacLaren both making films titled The Nightingale, to Marielle Heller following up The Diary of a Teenage Girl with Can You Ever Forgive Me?, to performance capture master Andy Serkis stepping behind and in front of the camera for Jungle Book, to Terry Gilliam’s decades-in-the-making The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, these honorable mentions should still be on everyone’s radar.

 

Beautiful Boy

Soldado

You Were Never Really Here

Ready Player One

Under the Silver Lake

Radegund

Apostle

Fahrenheit 451

Halloween

Venom

Black Klansman

Maya

The Beach Bum

Mary, Queen of Scots

Old Man and the Gun

Bad Times at the El Royale

Mary Poppins Returns

The Nightingale (Michelle MacLaren)

The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent)

The Favourite

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Jungle Book

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Destroyer

Outlaw King

 

Featured image via Marvel/Disney/Paramount/Universal.

Ranking the Star Wars films

Star Wars films hold the top two spots for the biggest opening weekends at the box office, and are two of only four films to have crossed $200 million in their debuts. While it doesn’t hold the record for the largest worldwide gross, Star Wars: The Force Awakens easily stands with the largest domestic gross, nearing $1 billion, where Avatar is nearly $200 million less and only three other films have ever hit $600 million. And Star Wars: The Last Jedi will very easily join this group, perhaps even beating Avatar’s domestic gross, in due time.

The financial success of Star Wars today is a testament to the power it’s built since 1977. Star Wars films define an entire generation, and have worked their way into not only everyday popular culture, but culture in general in ways that few other pieces of art, in general, ever have. The original trilogy pushed so many of those ‘70s children to become the next great filmmakers, or storytellers of any kind, even defining much of the non-Star Wars art we see today.

To say that Star Wars is special is an incredible understatement. George Lucas’ little $11 million film channeled something in people across the world for decades and certainly many decades to come, something that we may not ever fully understand.

What’s intriguing, though, is that, in our opinion, out of the nine films of the Star Wars universe, only three are truly great films. Then, there are four varying types of good, and two we don’t like to talk about. There’s no doubting these films’ significance in culture — yes, even the bad ones — but taking an analytical deep dive into how they work as movies and how they compare to one another is absolutely fascinating, and will likely be entirely controversial. But here we are, ranking the Star Wars films from worst to best:

9. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Well… what can we say about the worst Star Wars film and, honestly, one of the worst written (at least from a dialogue standpoint) big budget films? This is an actual line of dialogue in the film, played with utmost seriousness by Hayden Christensen’s Anakin to Natalie Portman’s Padme: “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.”

While Christensen gets a bad rapt for his performances in the last two prequel films, he’s not the main problem with Attack of the Clones. The issues really come from Lucas’ insistence to stay committed to (not great) CGI — instead of the practical effects that made the originals so memorable — and from his poor dialogue (not even the standout Ewan McGregor can make the dialogue sound believable) and overall plotting. While the film features some (necessary to stay awake) thrilling action sequences, Attack of the Clones is the closest thing to a total misfire within the Star Wars series.

— Levi Hill

8. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

The prequels, as concepts, are brilliant, but Lucas’ elaboration on the concepts and his particular direction of the them are terrible. And Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, while not as terrible of a film as Attack of the Clones, represents the stink perhaps more potently.

The strange, boring political machinations embarrassingly bog down the plot. The performances of nearly every member are laughable, and even Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, who, based on acting alone, do a decent job, cannot make up for the horrific dialogue. Much of the Star Wars mythology is damaged by concepts such as midichlorians as well as the over-indulgence in the idea of fate, something that was handled so well in the original trilogy. The style of the worlds and the action is so over-the-top and negatively diverting to a point where features such as lightsaber battles feel like some kind of sick joke. The CGI, while revolutionary at the time for what it could accomplish, is overwhelming and poorly used. And the film is genuinely racist in the many characters who are clear and offensive stereotypes.

As said before, the basic story concept of the prequels is fantastic. But the execution is so botched, so damaging to the universe, so terrible on a technical level that it’s no use to even make the case for the concept.

— Kyle Kizu

7. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

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Say what you will about the prequels, but Revenge of the Sith is genuinely a good (not great) movie that gives some needed gravitas and weight to the prior two (near disastrous) additions to the Star Wars saga. Christensen is, thankfully, given his first chance to actually show off some depth as one of the most fascinating characters in Star Wars — Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader and the father of Luke.

And dare I say, Ewan McGregor actually gives an awards worthy performance as the willing-to-do-good Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is also conflicted about is young padawan’s brewing dark side. The ending of Revenge of the Sith may be predictable — I mean, the first three films (or IV through VI) are where we’re headed — but that doesn’t mean the film is any less powerful when we see the final transformation of young Anakin Skywalker into Lord Vader.

— Levi Hill

6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first standalone film, perhaps had to take the same approach as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, grounding us in the familiar — the mission of the Rebels that kicks of the events of A New Hope — before taking us where we’ve never been.

And the film kicks off with a fascinating question of morality and cost that this type of story requires, as we’re introduced to Cassian (Diego Luna) murdering a fellow Rebel for the sake of the mission. In fact, all of the characters add dimensions to who the people of this universe can be. Jyn (Felicity Jones) is our first reluctant hero, hiding due to the pain of her childhood. Chirrut (Donnie Yen) takes the Force-as-religion concept to a whole new level. Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) offers another take on the defector narrative. And K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) continues to expand on why droids are the most hilarious characters in Star Wars.

Director Gareth Edwards does an admirable job in setting up these morally ambiguous characters; it truly does feel like fresh ground. And Edwards also directs the hell out of action sequences, imbuing them with a wartime grit due, in part, to Greig Fraser’s stunning cinematography

But the film ultimately only goes so far, and that’s not enough. Jyn’s character arc is handled very sloppily as the film flips between careful development of a reluctant hero and sudden moments of heroism. While plenty of the battle on Scarif is outstanding, much of the specific retrieval of the Death Star plans, in the interior tower, feels lazily conceived and lazily executed. Finally, the film is too often hampered by fan service. Fan service doesn’t necessarily mean bad, but it ends up being so when it takes away from the efficiency and effectiveness of the film, such as much of the Darth Vader work and plenty of references.

— Kyle Kizu

5. Return of the Jedi

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There’s a darker, more thematically committed version of Return of the Jedi beneath the one we ended up getting. The confrontation between Luke, Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine is fittingly epic and a gripping payoff to the buildup that the first two installments set forth. The clash of these characters in one room, battling it out both physically and mentally, indulging deeply in the classically simple light vs. dark conflict, is pulled off with grace (in the original version, not the special edition re-release) and gravitas.

The characters of Han and Leia are also given new ground to explore, some of the action sequences are the epitome of Star Wars entertainment and Endor is rendered a visually dynamic new world.

But Endor is also where Return of the Jedi falls. It’s been said a thousand times, but Ewoks had no place in this film, or at least how they’re depicted serves little purpose. Essentially, director Richard Marquand offers the most kid-friendly version of Star Wars, and the most silly version. It’s a happy, joyous ending to our characters’ journeys, which is a nice note in retrospect. But there’s no reason that that note could not have been reached by taking the opportunity to conclude this story a bit more seriously.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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That Star Wars: The Force Awakens successfully revived such a monumental franchise buried in such monumental crap is an achievement in its own right, and genuinely a framework by which to judge the film. While the tone and story beats may feel familiar, they fluidly situate us into a galaxy decades removed with new types of characters. On closer inspection, JJ Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt take an assured storytelling approach that, in its specifics, is rather different than the original Star Wars.

And those characters are exactly where The Force Awakens shines so brightly. Luke had stories of his parents that turned out to be lies. Rey has nothing, but Daisy Ridley gives her a lively vigor that so many can identify with and adore. Her performance is explorative and searching, and while her pain may be under the surface, we can detect it in her yearning for journey and purpose.

The defector origins of Finn (John Boyega) are an immensely fascinating starting point that immediately allow us to latch onto him, and Poe (Oscar Isaac) is truly the closest a Star Wars character has ever gotten to being as badass as Han Solo. Then there’s Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is, essentially, a successful version of the young, manipulable, emotional, light-dark conflicted character that failed so spectacularly with Anakin Skywalker. And the context of his parentage and mentor renders him one of the better villains in recent blockbusters.

Throw in an actually committed Harrison Ford, a quieter, more subtle, but equally as brilliant score by John Williams and some traditional, refined filmmaking, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, despite its familiarities, is a welcome and entertaining entry that does work outside of itself that most of the other films didn’t have to.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Star Wars

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There would be no Star Wars without the original, which is, arguably, the most purely entertaining film and the most memorable from start to finish. From Alec Guinness’ Oscar-nominated turn as the wise and monologue-heavy Obi-Wan Kenobi, to the star-making turn from Harrison Ford, to the sheer imagination on display (seriously, holy shit), Star Wars (now called A New Hope) is a landmark moment in cinema. Not only did it help create the blockbuster era we are still experiencing (remaining the largest and most successful film franchise in the world), but it proved to be a real turning moment in film, where the rules felt like they could once again be broken down and built up again. George Lucas created a storytelling (and marketing) titan, and we are all indebted to the first film in the series. In fact, it wasn’t until The Last Jedi that a film was as willing to match this original’s unbridled ambition.

— Levi Hill

2. The Empire Strikes Back

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“No, I am your father!” declares Darth Vader in one of the most iconic of all cinematic moments, setting Empire Strikes Back as the standard bearer for the largest franchise in the world, but even more so as the de facto comparison that any sequel has to live up to. And not many do.

Both expanding on the Star Wars mythology and increasing the amount of spectacle, The Empire Strikes Back finds its true power in its intense focus on further developing the characters. We see Luke Skywalker struggle to find his place and temper his ambition. We see Han Solo become more than just a wisecracking sidekick and smuggler; we see him become a person who’s trying to do well for those he cares about. Then, Leia is given the required depth through her passion for the rebellion, her will to do well, even if challenging norms, all the while balancing her (odd, in hindsight) love triangle between Luke and Han.

While critically mixed during its day, The Empire Strikes Back stands rightfully at the top of most Star Wars rankings.

— Levi Hill

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Yes, it may be a tad premature to rank The Last Jedi, which just opened this past weekend, as the best Star Wars film yet. And, according to some fans, we may be crazy for even suggesting that this film is canonical. But here we are, with Star Wars: The Last Jedi easily topping our list.

What makes Episode VIII our pick as the best, though, is actually due to many of the reasons that other fans have written it off: that it breaks the rules, rewrites what “a Star Wars film” entails, puts an emphasis on humor and heartbreak and, ultimately, paints a political portrait that fits next to the anti-Vietnam/Nixon-era politics that George Lucas has said influenced the first film.

Because the film is still fresh in people’s minds and not-yet-seen for others, we’re going to keep plot details to a minimum. But essentially, much of the buildup from The Force Awakens veers into drastically different territory than what many expected. Yet, all decisions are in favor of the populist, “we the people” message Rian Johnson so thrillingly achieves with The Last Jedi. Even outside of just the message, though, The Last Jedi features some of the most engaging action sequences on the big screen, the most dynamic use of lightsabers and, for what it’s worth, the most badass final 45 minutes in a Star Wars film. For further elaboration on the film’s specific brilliance, read our full review.

Call us crazy, but yes, The Last Jedi is already the best Star Wars film.

— Levi Hill

 

Featured image via Lucasfilm.

Top 10 coming-of-age films since 2010

The coming-of-age genre has always been an exciting framework through which some of the more fruitful and engaging stories of any given year are told. But those stories also shed some light and visibility upon a section of people that too many films often get wrong or simply don’t care for: the young. Youth is a complex time in one’s life and deserves complex deconstruction that embraces the humor, awkwardness and explicitness that comes with it. And in the past few years, the genre has exploded with landmark tale after landmark tale. From a fantastical take such as Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom to the literal interpretation of the genre with Boyhood, coming-of-age has been a playground, both literally and figuratively, of the utmost profundity.

10. Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Spider-Man: Homecoming truly does wear its John Hughes inspiration on its sleeve, but in a way that feels so right and so natural to the character of Peter Parker. More than most superhero films, Homecoming focuses on youth and what a young teenager might look like as he deals with the responsibilities both of high school as well as of being a hero. The journey is truly about Parker realizing that he has to pass his classes and that he should be having fun with friends, a mindset through which he may realize that, as a hero, he can’t do everything, especially everything that an older hero like Tony Stark can. The film never sacrifices that notion, ending on the perfect note. Director Jon Watts also not only embraces those subjects, but injects the verve of adolescence into the energy of the film itself — the pacing is dynamic and the tone is always genuine, sweet, hilarious and fun. Spider-Man: Homecoming is inarguably a coming-of-age film and a superhero film.

— Kyle Kizu

9. 20th Century Women

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What’s so striking about Mike Mill’s 20th Century Women is that it not only crafts a coming-of age-story specific to the 1970s, but that it also deftly handles multiple characters’ journeys. Focusing on a post-Vietnam age, with the hippie movement almost in full force in California, the film places topics of gender, sexuality and individuality at the forefront, which, with a plethora of youthful characters, means some tensions on those fronts. Yet, the film is never exploitive nor indulgent, instead bringing an authenticity and agency to the young women, Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig’s characters, and intertwining all of their journeys to lead to a particularly poignant and tranquil end.

— Kyle Kizu

8. American Honey

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Directed by Andrea Arnold, American Honey finds a balance between a road movie and a coming-of-age tale, both of which show a part of America rarely seen on the big screen. Detailing the poverty that strikes much of the midwest and southern parts of the United States, American Honey is not a traditional coming-of-age story where someone finds themselves at the end. Instead, the film is about people, especially young people, who are lost in the world. Through Sasha Lane’s star-making turn as the lost Star, the audience embarks on a journey of forgotten and disrespected millennials, guided by a traveling sales crew leader Jake (Shia LaBeouf’s best performance yet). What the millennials are selling to unsuspecting buyers might be fake, but the honest portrait of teenagers unsure of who they are in this world couldn’t be more real.  

— Levi Hill

7. Moonrise Kingdom

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While it can be argued that every Wes Anderson movie is a coming-of-age story (even for the middle age sort), Moonrise Kingdom takes its spot next to Rushmore as one of the most idiosyncratic, but beautifully crafted coming-of-age films. The film, in a way that only Anderson can, takes the feelings of first-love and creates a relatable, if unrealistic tale about a community chasing after two young eloping lovers (Kaya Hayward and Jared Gilman). Throw in a starry cast including Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton, a wonderful score from Alexandre Desplat, the typically gorgeous production design found in an Anderson film and a story about how love comes in many shapes and age groups, and Moonrise Kingdom is a whimsical and delightful coming-of-age story.

— Levi Hill

6. Dope

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Dope is refreshing in many ways, not the least that it gives its coming-of-age trappings an unique point of view. Relying on a star-making turn from Shameik Moore, Dope’s main success comes from its ability to subvert stereotypes. Unlike most Hollywood produced coming-of-age stories, Dope is strictly about an intelligent, young African American high school student as he juggles college applications, the SAT and academic interviews — all in the hopes of getting into Harvard. Even when it turns into a fast-paced caper film of Malcolm (Moore) being in the wrong place at the wrong time — explicitly opening dialogue around urban Black stereotypes and such — writer-director Rick Famuyiwa refreshingly plays against expectations. Malcolm is a brilliant, quick-witted, handsome young man and he’s not going to let society tell him differently. Because of this, Dope stands apart from 95% of modern-day youth stories.

— Levi Hill

5. The Edge of Seventeen

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Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut, The Edge of Seventeen, is vibrant, hilarious, truthful and different. The film overcomes its potential genre pitfalls by embracing the bluntness of its main character Nadine (an outstanding Hailee Steinfeld). While Nadine may be shy among strangers, the film itself, with pitch perfect editing, writing and performances from its ensemble, tackles high school life with a similar head-on strength that she shows when among friends. Whether it be through typical high school hijinx, through the oddly specific situation of Nadine’s best friend dating her brother and through the grief in all of Nadine’s family after her father’s death, The Edge of Seventeen takes youth seriously both in its fun and its struggles, realizing that every side of youth is intertwined.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Moonlight

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Moonlight is a singular coming-of-age tale. While it may explore sexuality and individuality as many other films do, the way in which those aspects are understood and the particulars of those aspects, that this is a story about a gay Black man, stand apart. Structured almost like a play in three literal acts (it was based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue), Moonlight crafts a story that’s both quiet and pulsating, as it’s in the silence, in the soft glances and pained reactions, where the film says most. It allows us to absorb, through its cinematography, its breezy sound design, its unbelievable performances and more, the complex pains of a young boy/young man, Chiron, constantly having to reconcile himself with his city, his family, his community and himself when all seem to actively work to suppress. The film is simultaneously about Chiron understanding his sexuality and about him understanding his masculinity. We see him hide behind masks throughout, but we also see him yearn to be himself, which renders his quiet vocalization of truth at the end, to the one man he loved, so utterly powerful.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Lady Bird

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More so than maybe any film on this list, there’s a universal specificity to what Lady Bird accomplishes. All coming-of-age stories are deeply personal, as they chart (typically) an individual’s realization of their own personhood — who they are going to be in this world. But Lady Bird doubles down on this, acting as a photo album of a year (a senior year in high school) for Christine “Lady Bird” Mcpherson (Saoirse Ronan) in the sleepy town of Sacramento, California. Within this year, she dates some boys, meets new friends, joins theater, leaves theater, loses her virginity, learns of her dad’s depression, gets accepted to a college 3000 miles away and argues with her domineering, but ultimately caring mother (the Oscar-worthy Laurie Metcalf). While some of this may sound sad, or almost too specific, writer-director Greta Gerwig makes sure that this personal story is filled with grace and warmth. Whether in a small scene of her father giving Lady Bird a cupcake on her birthday morning, or when she crushes on a boy at a garage show, or when she argues with her mother about if she should just go to the nearby UC Davis rather than a school in New York, Lady Bird captures that very important year in all of our lives with more authenticity than nearly any other film.

— Levi Hill

2. Boyhood

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Boyhood is a landmark film for a multitude of reasons. While the 12-years-in-the-making component is one of the first — if not the first — for a fictional feature, it’s how the story reconciles these 12 passing years. Using the same actors, with most of the same locations, writer-director Richard Linklater wisely focuses on how time, and thus age, affects us all. In a literal sense of coming-of-age, we see Mason (Ellar Coltrane) go from childhood to the fringe of adulthood. Linklater never magnifies the scale more than exactly what time gives us. Instead, for nearly three hours, the audience is asked to quietly ruminate on life experiences. To split time between divorced parents. To watch your mom go in a different career. To move from one city to the next. To make new friends. To have your first feelings of love. To smoking weed for the first time. To going off to college. In Boyhood, 12 years of a lived life happen, which create the most epic, yet intimate film on this list.

— Levi Hill

1. Call Me by Your Name

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Call Me by Your Name is not just about the central relationship. Yes, it’s a stunningly tender portrait of two young men exploring their sexuality together, but it’s also a very raw look at two young men grappling with their individual insecurities and their inadequacy. And writer James Ivory and director Luca Guadagnino accomplish this through their focus on the quiet, minute, almost untraceably intimate moments that end up building to something so tangible and real.

The actors adopt this method, finding truth in every aspect of their performance. Timothée Chalamet, as Elio, is a revelation, evoking playfulness, but behind a guarded exterior. We see the struggle Elio traverses in realizing his attraction to Armie Hammer’s character, Oliver, and — through Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s erotic cinematography — we’re guided along as he slowly opens up to the idea. Next to that, Hammer’s character is purposefully elusive, rendering the moments of contemplation, particularly one in a hotel room, all the more emotional.

And at the end, Call Me by Your Name unveils its coming-of-age narrative. Through Michael Stuhlbarg’s character, as Stuhlbarg delivers the most profound monologue of the year, we understand that Elio and Oliver helped each other be themselves and feel good about themselves. Stuhlbarg’s monologue emphasizes the difficult notion that, too often, we hide from our feelings, especially those of pain — and as Elio grows and becomes an adult, he has to make sure to feel even if it hurts.

— Kyle Kizu

 

Featured image via IFC Films.

Top 10 DC films

Even though the superhero genre, with its cinematic universes and CGI moustache removal, feels like a modern invention, it’s worth remembering that DC films have been around since 1978, with the release of Richard Donner’s Superman. Since then, DC has left numerous, indelible marks on comic book filmmaking — the Academy Award-winning Suicide Squad, multiple sets of Bat-nips and this scene from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, just to name a few. Oh, and The Dark Knight too. All jokes aside, DC’s filmography includes some of the best comic book adaptations of all time. Here are ten of them.

10. Superman

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Richard Donner’s Superman defined the superhero film and its sterling illustration of optimism, idealism and sacrifice on screen has yet to be recreated in a similar comic book property, and for good reason. The genuineness with which each actor portrays their character, the reverent aura beget by Donner’s steadfast direction and John Williams’ iconically melodious score all work in cohesion to portray the quintessential cinematic take on the Man of Steel. Make no mistake, Christopher Reeve is Superman, and from the moment he exits a revolving door clad in red, blue and yellow, no one can deny that the presence he exudes is inspiring beyond belief. While Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer might think that the character needs to be deconstructed and morally-conflicted to be interesting, Donner knows that Superman is captivating in how his selflessness is innate, ingrained in his very being and staunch at the expense of a normal life. Simply put, he’s Superman because he wants to be and not solely out of a sense of duty to his adopted homeworld. It may have been released in the ‘70s, but Superman is timeless. No matter when you watch it, “You’ll believe a man can fly.”

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

9. Superman II

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What presents more of a threat to the Superman than a villainous plot revolving around the California real estate market? Three revenge-driven Kryptonians, an escaped arch-enemy and an introspective dilemma between want and responsibility — that’s what. Despite the uphill battle it was fighting after the character’s first stellar outing, Superman ll differentiates itself from its predecessor by grounding the Last Son of Krypton while upping the narrative ante. Superman’s hard to empathize with, given the, y’know, God-like powers and such, but director Richard Lester (and Richard Donner with his, arguably, better cut of the film) captures the mortality of the character by stripping him of his abilities and reminding audiences what truly makes him so super. Combine such a personally conflicted performance by Christopher Reeve as a now de-powered Clark with the mad zealotry of Terence Stamp’s Zod, and the film beautifully depicts two sides of a moralistic spectrum. Returning favorites such as Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Perry White and Eve Teschmacher round out one of the few great examples of a sequel done right.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

8. Road to Perdition

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Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, a young Tyler Hoechlin, director Sam Mendes and legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall? Road to Perdition is, surely, the most starry DC production ever.

Thankfully, it’s also one of the best. The film wisely uses everyman Tom Hanks against type as a ruthless mob enforcer seeking vengeance for the murder of his whole family, except for his young son played by Tyler Hoechlin. Like A History of Violence, the film asks the viewer to confront how violence becomes embedded within our families and, ultimately, creates the downfall of many people’s lives. Featuring Oscar-winning, exquisitely framed, lit and shot cinematography by Hall — this ended up being his last film prior to passing away — Road to Perdition is the most beautifully designed film on this list.

— Levi Hill

7. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

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As this list makes evident, there are more great Batman films than there are canonical Robins. The Nolan films are genius interpretations of classic characters, and the Burton films helped define what a cinematic Batman could be, but only one film on this list definitively represents a truly comic-accurate version of Batman; only one film here makes a deep dive into the psychology of the Dark Knight. That film, of course, is Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the cinematic extension of the classic Batman: The Animated Series. The creative team from the television show, including Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, lend their iconic art style and mature storytelling to this film, which coalesce to dramatically redefine Batman’s origin story with heaping amounts of genuine pathos. Just as he’s making his first forays into vigilantism, Bruce Wayne finds true love in Andrea Beaumont (voiced by Dana Delany), and we see a Batman who is conflicted. “I didn’t count on being happy,” he says, as he crumbles in front of his parents’ graves. In this sense, the film pits past and present against each other, each vying to consume Batman. Thematically, this film is as rich as The Dark Knight, and arguably much more emotional — whereas most Batman films are content to let the Caped Crusader brood for the entire runtime, this film translates mere gloom to a nuanced, emotional sense of melancholy. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill voice Batman and the Joker, respectively, cementing their statuses as the definitive portrayals of both characters. Much has already been said about this film by more articulate fans than myself, so I’ll just link one of my favorite analyses here. Check it out, or better yet, just go watch this absolute gem of a movie.

— Harrison Tunggal

6. A History of Violence

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Who would have thought that David Cronenberg’s best (arguably) and most humanistic (not as arguable) film would be an adaption of a graphic novel about the nature of violence? Yes, most of Cronenberg’s films tend to explore society’s obsession with violence, but typically with surreal trappings. For example, think of Videodrome’s satirical takedown of TV’s reliance on sex and murder to get audience’s invested, or the sex-crazed car crash survivors in Crash.

A History of Violence strips away most of the pretense, and focuses on how one small-town man who lives an upright life with his family can be haunted by violence. After a group of gangsters come to the town, threatening to hurt him or others, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) acts without hesitation with a stunning amount of brutal violence, killing the gangsters before they harm any innocent bystanders. While heralded as a hero by the local community, what happens after, though, is the quick realization that Tom was a former gangster himself, with a deep past of horrific crimes that are going to catch up to him. Using the deeper ruminations of the source material, A History of Violence is likely the most mature DC-adaption yet.

— Levi Hill

5. The Dark Knight Rises

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Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film has received plenty of flack, but it’s hard, in retrospect, to feel as though the intense derision is fully warranted. We don’t view a film in a vacuum; The Dark Knight Rises followed not only arguably the greatest superhero movie of all time, but also one of the most influential films, period, of its era. The lens with which Rises has been viewed is different than most, the standards higher than most.

With that said, The Dark Knight Rises is an undoubtedly epic finale, expanding the scope and scale immensely while maintaining a firm grasp on the gritty realism that is thematically central to Nolan’s take. While The Dark Knight was more about Batman/the Bruce that’s behind the mask, this final installment places a raw Bruce front and center — and Christian Bale embraces the vulnerability and pain. This Bruce wants death; we can see the weight of his life on his tired face, and, when he finally can let go of the anger, it’s an immeasurably joyous feeling to see him at peace.

On top of all of that, The Dark Knight Rises deftly avoids the pitfall of bigger-but-emptier. The thematic idea behind Bane, a sort of re-emergence of the League of Shadows, but also a slight shift in its principles, is consistently engaging, and a layered look at the political manipulations that would allow for Bane to take over Gotham as he does. And while many complain about Tom Hardy’s voice, Bane is one of the better comic book villains of recent memory. Due mostly to Hardy, he’s physically intimidating unlike most antagonists we’ve seen, and his strange, almost Eastern European accent lends an aura of gravitas to the character too.

The detractors likely won’t sway too far from their positions, and that’s their right. But, no matter how flawed, The Dark Knight Rises still succeeds in capping the arc of the trilogy and of Bruce in a thematic and emotionally satisfying way, an absolutely massive and underappreciated accomplishment that few comic book trilogies, let alone trilogies in general, have accomplished.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Batman

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When it was first announced, 1989’s Batman received its fair share of skepticism from fans and general audiences alike. Can you blame them? The director of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and the lead of Mr. Mom (what a decade the ‘80’s was) aren’t the first duo to come to mind when bringing Batman to cinematic life. However, with a certain teaser trailer, Warner Bros. was able to bide time and assuage moviegoers that this was going to be a dark, epic take on the Caped Crusader: how right they were. From its visually resplendent gothic aesthetic to Danny Elfman’s classic, rousing yet somber score, Batman ‘89 established a filmic experience for the character like never before. Tim Burton’s sets a simultaneously adventurous and tragic environment, anchored with committed character work by Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, which infuses the film with a larger-than-life attitude that’s both entertaining and narratively fulfilling. Burton and company don’t shy away from their comic book roots, but, at the same time, don’t simply execute fan service scene after scene. This is a movie where the Joker realizes his appearance is both an extension of his own subconscious identity and a tool with which he can shift the status quo in Gotham City. This is also a movie where the Batwing flies in front of and recreates the Bat Signal against the moonlight. This is Batman ‘89.     

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

3. Batman Begins

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Christopher Nolan’s first Batman film quickly became the landmark superhero origin story, and for good reason. Grounding Bruce Wayne in our world and committing to an intertwined idea of story, character, setting and theme — all living and breathing as one — Batman Begins is a gripping drama about grief, fear and justice. Applying his trademark sense of nonlinear structure to the beginning of the film, Nolan thoroughly impresses upon us one of the most three-dimensional characters the genre has seen, and proceeds to surround Wayne with nearly as equally defined supporting characters in Fox, Gordon and Alfred.

Batman Begins has influenced countless films after it, with many directly citing the film and Nolan in their approach. But what so many fail to understand is that the brooding darkness and gritty realism alone are not what make this film so special. It’s that both of those aspects are informed for what the story holds intrinsically. Bruce Wayne is just a man with no real powers, so of course his equipment would come from the military. He’s just a man with no real powers, so of course he would get bruised and beaten quite easily and extensively.

We’ve yet to get another origin story like it and it might be a while before we do.

— Kyle Kizu

2. Wonder Woman

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Just as Wonder Woman saved Batman from becoming bat-toast in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, her first solo film saved the DCEU (for the time being, at least) when it needed it most. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman gives us a hero that kicks as much ass as Batman, and still embodies the sense of hope that defines Superman — a combination that made Wonder Woman the commercial and critical hit that the DCEU needed.

Essentially, Wonder Woman is a film about empowerment, and it’s downright inspirational, which, ironically, isn’t an adjective that’s often bandied about when speaking of superhero films. The immense impact of the film on younger viewers is already evident — you can click here to have your heart warmed, or just rewatch the film, or do both.

— Harrison Tunggal

1. The Dark Knight

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The Dark Knight is not only the best DC film of all time, but it’s also arguably the best superhero film of all time and one of the best films, in general, of all time.

On a craft level, the film is masterful. So often do all of the elements coalesce — the score, the editing, the sound design, the cinematography and more — to create astounding action sequences that leave us absolutely breathless, like the opening bank heist and the underground police chase.

But where The Dark Knight steps to the next level is in how its craft executes its story. The film has four main characters — Bruce Wayne/Batman, Harvey Dent, Commissioner Gordon and the Joker — and works them all into an immensely profound narrative of morality and sacrifice, especially in our post-9/11 society. We see our heroes manipulated by the Joker, and forced to bend their rules to stop him, but we also see that something is lost every time a rule is broken. The film has no hardline stance on morality, what’s just and what’s worth it, which ends up being for the better as it truly dimensionalizes these characters in ways that other films don’t. It also ends up making the Joker such an terrifying, effective and memorable villain.

Heath Ledger’s turn is one for the ages. It is the definition of transformation; every aspect of physical, verbal and mental performance is taken advantage of to leave us with a being that feels so abrasive, tangible and real — something made all the more stunning considering that the character is offered no backstory. Ledger’s Joker is the face of terror in the 21st century, and it’s one we won’t soon forget.

The Dark Knight is one of the great films of our time. It’s a film about a guy who dresses up as a bat, but it’s also a city crime drama as epic as The Godfather. It’s a superhero film that embraces the best of its genre, but also transcends it in every way imaginable.

— Kyle Kizu

 

Featured image via New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.

Three films that prove that ‘remakes’ aren’t always bad

“Remake” is a poisonous word in Hollywood, one of the ones used to blast studios for their infuriating laziness. To an extent, audiences are right. Rehashes are too often misfires.

But too few realize that the idea of a remake isn’t the villain — simply the current way in which it’s practiced is — as some of the greatest films of all time are remakes.

The Magnificent Seven? A Fistful of Dollars? Two defining Westerns, both remakes of Akira Kurosawa films. Scarface, a film whose line of dialogue — “Say hello to my little friend!” — has entered the cultural lexicon, is a remake of a 1932 film. The Maltese Falcon, perhaps the defining film in the noir tradition, is a remake of a film made 10 years prior. Even Heat is a remake of Michael Mann’s own TV movie.

The best directors, such as the Coen brothers, Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, John Carpenter, James Cameron and more, all delve into remakes. There is no shame in remaking something, as long as the filmmakers are informed and committed to telling a good story — like most of these examples show.

In line with the release of Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, a remake of a 1974 film, we decided to list some of our personal favorite remakes that also are a testament to the fact that the act of remaking something can be a brilliant idea in the right hands.

Ocean’s Eleven

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Ocean’s Eleven is truly a contemporary classic, one of the greatest heist films of all time and one of the most dynamically engaging films of the 21st century. It’s easy to write it off as simply entertainment, as director Steven Soderbergh just having a good time. But Soderbergh is at, perhaps, his most skillful here as a director. The pacing is electric and never offbeat. Despite having over 10 characters to follow, we find it easy to distinguish due to brilliant characterization. Mainly through editing, the composition of scenes occurring during the heist are, on a sensory level, as gripping as the best action scenes can be. Writer Ted Griffin’s dialogue is snappy and worthy of comparison to Sorkin. On all levels, Ocean’s Eleven is outstanding entertainment and filmmaking.

And that’s precisely what separates Soderbergh’s remake from the 1960 original. Sure, that one puts up a fight, and might honestly win, for the more steely cool cast; Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. are a tough trio to beat. But the original is only so entertaining — because its storytelling doesn’t allow it to be more than just that.

As the film continues to age, more will recognize the significance of Ocean’s Eleven beyond its own entertainment value. For now, though, we’ll gladly call it one of the most fun movies of recent memory.

— Kyle Kizu

Insomnia

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There are better remakes out there, like The Fly, The Thing and Heat, but out of principle, I feel some degree of obligation to bring up Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia (since this site, and the internet in general, is really lacking in discourse about him). All jokes aside though, Nolan’s Insomnia — a remake of the 1997 Norwegian original starring Stellan Skarsgård — really is a gem that gets overlooked too often.

Insomnia might be Nolan’s most conventional film — it’s not told out of order like Memento, it didn’t kickstart genre trends like The Dark Knight and it’s not an art-house epic like Dunkirk — but that’s no slight against it. First off, the film’s performances are just as good as any other in Nolan’s filmography. As an ethically-compromised, sleep-deprived detective, Al Pacino broods just as well as Christian Bale would in The Dark Knight Trilogy. But like the films of that trilogy, the villain in this film also steals the show. Robin Williams shines as a crime author who gives into his most depraved instincts, and we see a side of Williams previously unknown. He’d given strong dramatic performances prior to Insomnia, but in this film, we see how his comedic chops translate into darkness. As a director, Nolan prides himself on showing audiences something they’ve never seen before, and with Williams’ performance in this film, Nolan accomplishes just that.

If nothing else, Insomnia represents Nolan’s earning of Warner Bros’ trust, and in this sense, the film is somewhat responsible for giving us Nolan’s entire filmography. There would be no The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar or Dunkirk without Insomnia, and that fact alone makes the film unique in cinema’s history of remakes.

— Harrison Tunggal

The Departed

Warner Bros.

A majority of Martin Scorsese’s films draw upon historical figures and happenings, but the director ensures each of his works has merit as a piece of original cinema first, and that it’s not merely an adaptation. That’s what makes it so surprising to learn that one of Scorsese’s best, The Departed, is actually a remake of 2002’s Infernal Affairs, a Hong Kong-produced film whose plot essentially mirrors the renowned director’s own. Despite the enormous debt Scorsese owes to writers Alan Mak and Felix Chong for crafting such an intriguing premise on criminality, his film represents the best possible outcome in remaking a film — a voice and identity not entirely dependent on the source material but rather established by its own volition. Scorsese injects an American, and specifically Bostonian-Irish sensibility into The Departed which informs each set piece, line of dialogue and character in the film. This is a movie that feeds off its blue-collar setting and mentalities wherein characters as major as undercover cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and minor as ‘Man Glassed in Bar’ (Brian Smyj) are so indelibly real because of their American-Made attitudes and ethno-specific upbringings. What Scorsese so fantastically captures in The Departed is a moral dilemma and desperation that is autonomous and indicative of its setting’s cultures and peoples. This is not simply Infernal Affairs translated for American audiences, a whitewashed product that makes no attempt to cultivate its own social quandaries (*cough* Death Note *cough*); this is reverent of its source and an amazing piece cinema all its own.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Ranking the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to be a phenomenon that can’t quite properly be described — 10s of superheroes and 17 films all wrapped into the same overarching story that will soon culminate with the third and fourth Avengers movies. Film hasn’t seen anything like it.

Such a universe is ripe to produce some of the most purely entertaining and wonderful blockbusters of contemporary cinema. These are heroes that, with the biggest budgets, can be fully realized and, with talented filmmakers, delivered in movies that will stick with us just as many of the best blockbusters of the 70s and 80s did for the generation prior.

But that kind of system also needs careful planning and execution, meaning, unfortunately, that some of its films feel rather by the books and safe.

Truly, the quality of MCU films is a wide spectrum. So, it only seems right to determine how each one compares to the others. Here are our rankings of the MCU films:

17. Thor: The Dark World

Jay Maidment/Marvel/Courtesy

The worst film in the MCU is downright dreary. How dreary? The third act is set in London. Not dreary enough? The word “dark” is in the title, so I guess it must be just like “The Dark Knight,” or something like that. It’s not all bad though. We get introduced to an important Infinity Stone that nobody will remember after the credits roll, multiple characters say the word “Svartalfheim” and we get to dream about what a Patty Jenkins-directed “Thor” movie would’ve been like.

— Harrison Tunggal

16. Iron Man 2

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It’s almost as though the thematic concerns of Iron Man 3 should’ve been the central idea of Tony Stark’s second film, as it’s hard to really find the value of Iron Man 2. Is it meant to reassert that Stark is a rebel and will do what he wants? That’s not worthy of a film. Is it meant to realize the consequences of Iron Man’s existence? It doesn’t pull that off well at all. Is it meant to develop Stark’s character? It doesn’t seem too concerned with genuinely doing that. With all of those uncertainties, and the fact that the action feels like a video game played by an amatuer, Iron Man 2 is a shame. Thankfully, Robert Downey Jr.’s charisma and Black Widow’s introduction are enough to find something to latch onto, but there’s so much that could’ve been done that isn’t. Perhaps, though, the value of Iron Man 2 is that it let those interesting questions be answered by films that could actually do something with them.

— Kyle Kizu

15. The Incredible Hulk

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It’s hard to pull off a Hulk film. We need a character study of Bruce Banner, of the consequences of his alter ego and the effects it has on his psyche and his loved ones, but there’s only so much you can do there and for so long before audiences get agitated because they just want to see Hulk smash. The character’s predicaments are both the fault of the character as well as of how audiences are conditioned in this day and age. With that in mind, The Incredible Hulk deserves credit for what it does do. The film and Edward Norton’s performance do good by and more with the character than most other MCU films, and the fight between the Hulk and Abomination is popcorn entertainment manifested. But the film delves into the excessive, into the over-the-top without being aware of it and never quite finishes the arc that it lays out for Banner. It’s a movie you watch once, but just so you can be in the know for the rest of the MCU.

— Kyle Kizu

14. Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Avengers: Age of Ultron is bloated. It attempts to remain very Joss Whedon-esque, but it also tries to do too much with the thematic aspects of Ultron and Tony, the setup of events down the line and the introduction of too many new heroes. It’s concept and attempt at something singular, at something that continues to expand on this idea of the repercussions of superheroes are undeniably commendable. But the film is poorly paced, almost mischaracterizes and misuses its villain as more of a whiny kid of Tony’s than a true mirror image, problematically handles the character of Black Widow and ends with yet another over-the-top, excessive, incoherent final act. It’s not a bad film, but it is absolutely a glaringly missed opportunity.

— Kyle Kizu

13. Thor

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Thor is a ridiculous character, a literal God full of Shakespearean quips and with rather two-dimensional traits and motivations. His first movie tends to embrace those aspects, finding humor in his fish-out-of-water situation and being nearly self-aware of the camp nature of Thor. Chris Hemsworth is also rather good in the role, and placing the story in a small town is a refreshing starting point that humanizes this massive superhero personality. But that’s reaching for things in a film that is otherwise boring and unengaging, and doesn’t do that much with the character. It’s serviceable, but only just that.

— Kyle Kizu

12. Ant-Man

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It’s hard not think about what Edgar Wright would’ve given us had he remained the director of Ant-Man, which is really a testament to the fact that, no matter how fun and funny the final product is, it feels like it’s missing something. The villain seems like a ripoff of Iron Man’s and the family troubles of Scott Lang are genuinely never gripping or emotional. But, as said before, Ant-Man is some great superhero entertainment, and, sometimes, that’s all that’s needed. Scott Lang’s family may be one-dimensional, but Lang himself is rendered lovable by the perfect casting choice of Paul Rudd. The history of the Ant-Man and of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) lend a sense of depth that drives this story along, and Evangeline Lilly stands toe-to-toe with Rudd as a kickass supporting character. Thankfully, Ant-Man also takes advantage of the visual possibilities of the superhero. While logically frustrating at points, the many action scenes, epitomized by the final showdown on a toy train set, are hilarious, dynamic and informed. While Wright might have doubled down on sensibilities such as those, the final product is not wholly missing of them and, for that, Ant-Man is more than worth it.

— Kyle Kizu

11. Doctor Strange

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In Doctor Strange, Benedict Cumberbatch is pitch-perfect as the titular Sorcerer Supreme, and director Scott Derrickson really leans into the gonzo, acid-trip visuals of the source material. For once, it’s a film that deserves to be seen in 3-D. As a bonus, Doctor Strange stands out with its truly inventive, time-bending finale, whereas most Marvel films get flack for uninspired third act battles. Still, the film’s origin story is a bland one, taking a page (this literally happens within the first three minutes) from Iron Man.

— Harrison Tunggal

10. Thor: Ragnarok

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Thor: Ragnarok has a lot going for it — some of the best visuals in the MCU, the debut of the franchise’s greatest character (“Hey man, I’m Korg.”) and the Planet Hulk-inspired story that Marvel fans have been waiting for. Still, the film ultimately misses the opportunity to truly humanize Thor, suffering from a script that could have used just one more draft. Nevertheless, the film launched director Taika Waititi and his unique brand of humor into the mainstream, which is more than we could have ever asked for. Werewolves not swearwolves, y’all.

— Harrison Tunggal

9. Captain America: The First Avenger

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Captain America: The First Avenger lacks the thematic complexities that the second and third film have. But does that really matter? This film didn’t have to be complex. Rather, it simply had to nail the character of Steve Rogers and solidify his values, and in that, The First Avengers succeeds in spades. The two Guardians of the Galaxy films take the first two spots, but the first Cap film is right behind them as an MCU film with a whole lot of heart, finding that basis in a moving, heart-filled performance by Chris Evans. Juxtaposed next to Cap, we get one of the better villains in Red Skull, who is as simply evil as Cap is simply good. While, on visual and story levels, the film could’ve been more engaging, it’s a perfectly fine superhero picture, and we’ll take it.

— Kyle Kizu

8. Iron Man 3

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Iron Man 3 gets more flak than it deserves. It may have upended expectations and completely diverted from the comics, but are those really points of genuine criticism of the film itself? The film is not without faults — it’s villain doesn’t hold as much weight as it should, it’s handling of Piper is as questionable as it is commendable and it’s paced strangely. But it’s one of the more fascinating character studies of the MCU, questioning who Tony Stark really is without the suit. We see him dealing with PTSD and a loss of power, which is where a film in the trilogy had to go to make the most out of Tony. On that basis, and considering some of its distinguishable visual flare, Iron Man 3 is a worthy entry.

— Kyle Kizu

7. Marvel’s The Avengers

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It’s hard to deny that The Avengers is just a damn good movie. But the MCU has plenty of them, and Joss Whedon’s first team-up picture doesn’t age as well as one would think. The final battle feels less engaging than it should, Loki isn’t that interesting of a villain here and much of the narrative progression is a bit standard with the stakes between the heroes falling flatter as years pass. But there still remains the pure joy of seeing these characters on screen together for the first time, the unmatched world-building of a forming alliance and system of superheroes, the humanity within each character and the vibrant chemistry between them. It’s host to some of Marvel’s pitfalls, but it’s also representative of the best of Joss Whedon — with little of his worst — making it one of the more entertaining films of the MCU. And really, that’s all an Avengers film needs to be.

— Kyle Kizu

6. Captain America: Civil War

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The third Captain America film continues the brilliant thematic approach that started in the second. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo somehow make a film that is equal parts a story about Captain America, a story about Iron Man, a story about government repercussions to the simple existence of heroes and just one hell of an action flick. Where this film suffers is in the sense of stakes involved — as much of an unbelievably fun sequence the airport fight is, it was never going to end with anything drastic. But it makes up for it with some of the best filmmaking of the whole of the MCU, further solidification of both Captain America and Iron Man as two sides of the heart and soul of the Avengers and a sense of storytelling intelligence that the MCU could use more of.

— Kyle Kizu

5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may not be the best Marvel film, but it is easily the most emotional. As Starlord/Peter Quill meets his father (but not necessarily his daddy), Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), he must come to grips with who he really cares about, and must set aside his own pride in the process. As with the first installment, this film is all about family, but it ratchets up the emotional stakes to heights previously unseen in the MCU. Vol. 2 is an unabashed, two-eye-cry movie, one that requires as much Kleenex as it does popcorn.

— Harrison Tunggal

4. Iron Man

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The film that started it all, Iron Man remains one of the best executed outings of the MCU. Tony Stark is a difficult character to pull off, but Jon Favreau and crew follow an efficient, polished and engaging path to informing the origins of a billionaire dealing with the guilt of his corporate creations. The mirror between Obadiah and Tony is salient, and Robert Downey Jr.’s performance perfectly nails the spirit of the character. But simply seeing Iron Man in action for the first time will forever remain one of the most badass moments in the superhero genre.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Spider-Man: Homecoming

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There hasn’t been a Spider-Man film that’s gotten the character right since 2004’s Spider-Man 2 — that is, until Spider-Man: Homecoming. While Tobey Maguire was great, those films were never convincing as true examinations of a high school Peter Parker (Maguire was nearly 30). But with Tom Holland and a John Hughes-esque approach, Homecoming gives us that examination, and then some. As much as it is a film about Parker truly becoming Spider-Man and accepting superhero responsibilities as it is a film about him dealing with the pains and responsibilities adolescence and leaving youth behind, Marvel’s first solo Spidey film is a gem. Hilarious, sweet and as fun of a ride as any other, Homecoming proves that the webslinger is in good hands.

— Kyle Kizu

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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As Marvel developed, they realized that, to get the most out of these films, they ought to make use of sub-genres that fit best with the specific superhero at play. And with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel takes a page out of the political thriller, resulting in the most dynamic and engaging portrayal of a singular hero since, at the time of release, The Dark Knight. As informed by the character’s origins as it is expanding on those very themes, the second Captain America film asks the kind of questions, not just of Cap, but of the world that’s been created, that superhero films need to start asking to remain genuine — on a very human basis, but also on a post-9/11 level, what are the costs of these systems and is this all worth it? Not just that, but The Winter Soldier is also host to the MCU’s most visceral and exhilarating action sequences. It’s the epitome of blockbuster excellence.

— Kyle Kizu

1. Guardians of the Galaxy

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Marvel’s biggest risk wound up being its most wonderful, brilliant reward. As we approached the film’s release, nearly everyone was harping about how a movie with a talking raccoon, a giant tree, an angry buff dude, a green lady and a typical asshole could work. But, by embracing those very bizarre, weird and lovely personalities not just on an individual level, but in how they would mesh among a family, co-writer/director James Gunn struck gold, offering the most memorable characters in the universe. While its story may fall a bit bland like most of the MCU films, Guardians of the Galaxy proves that character, theme and humor — accompanied by visual flare that accentuates all of that — can do wonders in regard to storytelling, and that heart is, perhaps, the most important aspect of them all.

— Kyle Kizu

 

Featured image via Marvel/Sony.

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