Tag Archives: Beasts of No Nation

Top 10 war films since 2010

Cinema thrives when it comes to war films. These are events that many regular civilians would never understand on any level other than statistics and classroom lessons. So, that’s where cinema’s job comes in — to transport us, to help us understand. And recently, war films have gone beyond that. But we don’t like to confine the genre to just those of generals, political machinations and battlefields involving some form of Western force. Those are outstanding, but war is more than that. War drags children into conflict in countries that can’t defend them. War is the deeply human and deeply empathetic look at those not necessarily fighting, but suffering — either those subject to enemies and without the ability to fight back, like Holocaust victims, or those struggling in the aftermath of what they’ve had to do, like PTSD victims. Even genre films, superhero or otherwise, have utilized war and wartime settings to comment, in immensely effective ways, on violence. So, let’s extend the perceived boundaries of the war film. Releasing this Friday, Oct. 27, Thank You For Your Service looks to do just that, mostly leaving the battlefield to extend Jason Hall’s investigation into PTSD that started with American Sniper. Who’s to say that that’s not as much of a war film as any? Here are our top ten war films, both traditional and subversive, since 2010:

10. First They Killed My Father (2017)

Netflix/Courtesy

While Beasts of No Nation and First They Killed My Father confront the topic of the child soldiers whose lives are consumed by the wars surrounding them, Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father is unique in how it paints a portrait of a country’s history, and how it derives such a portrait from following its young lead (Sareum Srey Moch). Beyond being an affecting historicization of Cambodian history, it is a deeply beautiful film despite the horrors that it depicts — some of the dream sequences and the film’s multiple overhead shots transcend the vileness of war, suggesting that Cambodia’s own beauty as a country triumphs against the Khmer Rouge regime.

— Harrison Tunggal

9. ‘71 (2015)

Roadside Attractions/Courtesy

Yann Demange’s directorial debut is a breathtakingly intense look at more of a guerrilla war than a typical war, following the “Troubles,” a conflict which centered around Northern Ireland’s status as either a part of the UK or part of a united Ireland. And that’s what’s so special about this film — that you can feel that distinction from the opening scene. Demange’s construction of tone through editing and cinematography that build tension in the streets of Ireland is masterful. Similar to Dunkirk, ‘71 is almost a silent film, a chase film filled with frightening stakes. It’s one of the better war films of recent times because it succeeds in spades in portraying a region under duress, not from enemies outside, but from fellow people within.

— Kyle Kizu

8. Lincoln (2012)

Touchstone Pictures/Courtesy

With a little bit of make-up, a sizeable amount of screentime and a lot of method acting, is there really any role Sir Daniel Day-Lewis can’t play? In Lincoln, the prolific actor practically becomes Abraham Lincoln as the renowned and revered president navigates a unique time period within the context of the American Civil War — its final few months and the repercussions of its aftermath on American slavery. Helmed by Steven Spielberg in, arguably, one of his best films in the past decade, Lincoln takes an incisive look at the intricacies behind not only Lincoln himself, but the president’s impact on shaping the United States’ perception of race-based politics into the modern era. Not only does Spielberg’s direction manage to entertain through a sheer cinematographic fixation on the enigmatic and truly revolutionary mind of Abraham Lincoln, but the film’s incredibly talented supporting cast, including a possibly show-stealing performance by Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, ensures that the film goes down as one of the most compelling and meticulously recreated historical war dramas to ever appear on screen. There’s a sense of artistic passion that oozes from Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the strong-willed yet holistically perceptive Lincoln, one that envelops every scene he’s in (spoiler: with a name like Lincoln, it’s a lot of ‘em) but that never grows stagnant. Leave it to Day-Lewis and Spielberg to make a high school reading requirement into war cinema royalty.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

7. Wonder Woman (2017)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Sure, on an instinctual level, Wonder Woman is a superhero film, but it uses its wartime setting as effectively as any other film on this list. The film posits that war is a product of man’s own destructive ways, and that it’s up to a woman to bring the compassion (and kickassery) that precipitates peace. If nothing else, the film’s argument makes it a unique entry in this list of war films, but the level of craft that director Patty Jenkins brings to Wonder Woman lends the film an edge that its peers lack — Jenkins does Zack Snyder action better than Zack Snyder, the production design alone is worth the price of admission and the “No Man’s Land” scene will go down in cinema history as one of the most inspiring moments ever filmed. Truly, where most war films claim to depict heroism, Wonder Woman defines the standard to which such heroism should be held. As Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot channels Christopher Reeves’ Superman to give audiences a figure of hope they can aspire to — she is the hero the world needs and the one it deserves. But in Wonder Woman’s words, “It’s not about deserve; it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”

Harrison Tunggal

6. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

There may be less physical conflict shown in War for the Planet of the Apes than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but the third Apes film is the first to truly be about war. Not every moment in war is physical conflict. Exemplified by Game of Thrones, war is often about the aura in the air and the disposition of every single person across vast regions, which, in War’s case, genuinely feels to be the entire planet. There is often silence in barren and broken landscapes that are strangely beautiful, and moments of harrowing communal strength in stake out locations. There are factions with warring ideologies, embodied by their leaders, and, most importantly, there’s a sense of history of what’s gotten us to this point. War for the Planet of the Apes holds all of that, and more, and is it arguable the most stunningly crafted of the trilogy. When it does come to physical conflict, it features some of the more viscerally abrasive battles of recent memory, especially the film’s opening. And it’s also host to some searing, haunting imagery akin to the Holocaust, as well as to any other conflict that involves mass imprisonment, such as the Japanese internment camps. War is one of the few war films, in general, to truly understand what “war” means, the implications of it, the often ignored visual and emotional impacts on both the small and wide scale, the ideological divide, the characters that perpetrate it and the characters that uphold the best of humanity — which, in this case, are the apes.

— Kyle Kizu

5. American Sniper (2014)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

American Sniper is a rorschach test of sorts. Some people see this film as a jingoistic piece of propaganda. Others see it as a sobering investigation into post traumatic stress disorder. It lands so high on our list as we mainly fall into the latter. While the film may not have a typical progression of narrative, we follow Chris Kyle, portrayed with unbelievable vulnerability by Bradley Cooper, through this growing sensory and emotional overload. Rather than use a typically inspirational score like Lone Survivor, American Sniper makes use of horrifying sound design that enhances the sounds of bullets and explosions. The film crafts this entrapment, most directly on his tours as gunfire rains down from all over and even hiding places are not so safe, but also in brief moments back in the U.S. as Kyle becomes entrapped in his own head. The brevity of his raw emotional moments shows just how much pressure and silence these soldiers dealing with PTSD feel like they have to put on themselves, making them all the more powerful — exemplified by the bar scene when Kyle arrives back to the U.S. without telling his wife and, when she calls, he breaks down and can only say “I guess I just needed a minute.” American Sniper is a war film that digs into you without you really noticing, so when you get to those points, you still feel all of what Kyle feels. It’s a necessary look at what war does to human beings.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Son of Saul (2015)

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

The Holocaust is a subject that is often focused on in World War II films. There have been a multitude of movies exploring the horrors and atrocities committed during this moment of history, with notable examples being the eight-hour documentary Shoah or the Best Picture winning Schindler’s List. The topic has been explored by filmmakers like George Stevens, Otto Preminger, Stanley Kramer, Vittorio de Sica, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Verhoeven. With all of these major filmmakers being vital and their films classics, it may be hard for anyone to feel that cinema needs to retouch one of the worst crimes against humanity ever committed. Yet, László Nemes’ directing debut Son of Saul might just be the most stunning from both a filmmaking and pathos standpoint. The film follows Saul (Géza Röhrig), who is a Jewish Sonderkommando, as he goes by his day-to-day activities, which includes the truly demoralizing jobs of being both the person who leads fellow Jewish people into the gas chambers, and then being the one who disposes their bodies afterward. One day, Saul sees a child — after the fact — that resembles what his son would have looked like. From here, the film plunges into the wearied psyche of Saul as he tries to find answers to where his son is, and if that boy was his son. Filming in mostly tight close-ups, Nemes and cinematographer Matyas Erdely create an extremely subjective view on the Holocaust, forcing the audience to rarely see the violence, but instead to hear it, to be surrounded by it, to be as closely immersed in this devastatingly tragic time as any film before it. It may be a grim film, but it’s about as important and courageous as film can get — showing that sometimes in the most dire of circumstances, we can regain our own humanity.

— Levi Hill

3. Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Netflix/Courtesy

Beasts of No Nation represents not just one country, but the many that suffer from the type of atrocities and conflict of war present in this film. And this is where writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga pulls off a stunning feat of storytelling — we understand that this is the tragedy of many, but we get to know our characters so deeply and so vividly. We become so connected to this idea of a larger devastation because we get such intimacy with the singular devastation we see. Much of that comes from violence. The trauma that Agu (Abraham Attah) encounters is overwhelming in every way, something that we immediately recognize as far too much for a young child. And as Agu falls into his own head, we see the potential for what he can become in the film’s juxtaposition of him next to the Commandant (Idris Elba) — a broken man forced into fighting, addicted to fighting, but only for any semblance of individuality and not for the war’s cause. That’s what makes Beasts of No Nation such a vital war film. Not only is it gorgeously rendered with some arresting cinematography and some viscerally intense filmmaking, and not only is it a film that shows conflict outside of the Western world, but it’s so invested in its humanity, in the brutality that gets us to a point like that and in the psychology of the most psychologically vulnerable during wartime: children.

— Kyle Kizu

2. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy

Director Kathryn Bigelow has never been one to shy away from war in cinema. Whether it be her first foray into the genre with 2002’s K-19: The Widowmaker or 2009’s Oscar darling, The Hurt Locker, (which reminded Hollywood, yet again, directing isn’t just a boys’ club) Bigelow has proven time and time again that she is the female authority on war on the silver screen. Combine her directorial prowess in capturing the governmental manipulation behind contemporary conflict along with the moral ambiguity of modern politics and a tour de force performance from Jessica Chastain, and you have Zero Dark Thirty. How does one portray the relentless hunt for the leader of the militant organization that orchestrated the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor? With an unwavering realism that produces a profound sense of patriotism that is simultaneously overpowered by a sense of conscientious repugnancy, Zero Dark Thirty earns its spot on this list not solely for the gripping fashion in which it fashions an intimate look at the minds integral behind the assassination of Osama bin Laden, but the staunch stance it takes in revealing how war affects those that aren’t on the front line, and what they, and we as a nation, are willing to sacrifice to win.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

1. Dunkirk (2017)

Warner Bros/Courtesy

Statistically speaking, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is, hands down, the film MovieMinis has written most about, by a margin wider than the English channel itself. And for good reason — beyond simply being a great war film, easily one of the best of all time, it is still the best film of 2017 (the ball is in your court, Guillermo del Toro).

You can read all about Dunkirk’s merits as a film here, but as a war film specifically, Dunkirk’s brilliance comes from its comprehensive, thorough subversion of every war movie trope ever put on screen. No character in this film pulls out a photo of his girlfriend back home, we hardly ever see enemy soldiers firing away at our heroes and, quite remarkably, the film maintains its thrills without spilling a drop of blood. In terms of war films, Dunkirk is the anti-Hacksaw Ridge — a film about evacuation rather battle, the empirical engineering of tension over mere spectacle. In this sense, where most war films are happy to indulge in hyper-masculine violence or cliched patriotism, Dunkirk intends to achieve none of it, preferring to blaze a new trail for what a war movie could be. Unlike any other film in the genre, Dunkirk is a purely experiential film, aiming to put viewers on Dunkirk’s beaches, in the skies above it and in the waters of the English Channel. The film’s IMAX format, expert editing, earth-shattering sound design and reliance on practical effects remind us how the language of cinema is a mimetic one. Speaking of Dunkirk, one feels the compulsion to pontificate about how audio and visual immersion is a quality unique to cinema, but let’s face it, such immersion is unique to Dunkirk.

— Harrison Tunggal

 

Featured image via Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros.

Revising Oscar nominations from 2010-2016

Whenever Andrew Garfield appears in a film — Garfield’s most recent, Breathe, released this past weekend, and he’s getting Oscar buzz for his performance — it’s hard not to think about how he should’ve been nominated for his supporting role in The Social Network.

And once that ball gets rolling, it’s hard not to think about the other painful snubs across the past few years, of which there are plenty.

The Academy Awards will never, ever get it completely right, but sometimes they get it so wrong that, even years later, we’re still talking about it. Here are a few per year since 2010:

2010

Best Director
Insert: Christopher Nolan, Inception
Remove: David O. Russell, The Fighter

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Inception is one of the best and most significant blockbusters of the 21st century, an unparalleled vision composed with such perfect precision by director Christopher Nolan. The fact that this film works not only on a conceptual level, but also on a story level, is a feat that’s still under-appreciated today. But the technical craftsmanship is too obvious for Nolan’s omission to be understandable at all. While The Fighter is a good film, a really good one even, it’s no match for the achievement of Inception.

Best Supporting Actor
Insert: Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
Remove: Jeremy Renner, The Town

Columbia/Courtesy

Jeremy Renner is just fine in The Town. Is he Oscar worthy? Not entirely. How the Academy overlooked Andrew Garfield’s amazingly committed turn as Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network is shocking. Garfield is the heart of that film, embodying the source of its fascination and the weight of its humanity — a far more impressive accomplishment than even the film’s lead, Jesse Eisenberg, who was nominated. When we think of the powerhouse scenes, we think of Garfield’s high intensity back-and-forths with the rest of the actors portraying Facebook founders, an intensity that is almost wholly missing without him. Garfield should’ve even competed for the win, and could’ve taken it had Christian Bale been correctly nominated in the lead category for The Fighter.

2011

Best Director
Insert: Bennett Miller, Moneyball
Remove: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Columbia/Courtesy

Bennett Miller was nominated for Best Director for Foxcatcher. While that was deserved, his best directing job came with Moneyball. Similar to Adam McKay with The Big Short, Miller takes a niche and incredibly complex topic — baseball statistics and their implementation by the front office — and renders it palatable and human. The control of tone, the fluidity of pace and the composition of scenes — the trading for Ricardo Rincon comes to mind — are all signs of a director at his most refined. And while Brad Pitt did deserve a Best Lead Actor nomination, it’s Bennett Miller who makes the character of Billy Beane so utterly affecting. The juxtaposition of flashbacks, the editing and more all define the character of Beane in ways that other directors should study. Woody Allen may have deserved a spot on an objective, merit-based level, but Hollywood has to realize that the Oscars aren’t just based on merit. The Oscars celebrate figures, artists, and Allen is not one who should be celebrated.

Best Original Screenplay
Insert: Will Reiser, 50/50
Remove: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Summit Entertainment/Courtesy

The reasons to remove Allen are the same. Will Reiser, writer of the Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen comedy-drama about cancer, would be next in line, and arguably deserved a spot anyway. The year offered a nomination to Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo for the comedy Bridesmaids, and rightfully so, but 50/50 is just as brilliant of a script. The comedy is sharp, the plotting is incredibly spirited and the character work is powerfully vulnerable. It’s a comedy that realizes that horrible situations need humor, that they often spark humor, and that that humor comes from a very human place.

2012

Best Picture
Insert: The Master
Remove: Les Misérables

Annapurna/Courtesy

It was difficult to see how Paul Thomas Anderson could follow up There Will Be Blood, easily one of the greatest films of the 21st century and possibly ever. At first, many felt that he whiffed with The Master. But looking back, one can quickly realize that, somehow, The Master comes close to TWBB. A seering, haunting, strange and mesmerizing look at (allegedly) scientology, the film is a masterpiece on every front, a distinctly American tale that melds the best of prestige, arthouse and flare while remaining unpretentious. The screenplay is one of the most intelligently crafted of recent memory, with scientology’s ideology deeply rooted in every single detail, and the duo of Joaquin Phoenix and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman is genuinely unmatched, with Phoenix’s performance seriously rivaling Daniel Day-Lewis’ in PTA’s previous film. Evidently, it didn’t need recognition for us to come to this current conclusion of its greatness, but it’s a bit silly to suggest that Les Misérables is in the same league.

Best Director
Insert: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Remove: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Columbia/Courtesy

Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director for The Hurt Locker. She deserved it. And then she followed that up with as viscerally affecting of a film in Zero Dark Thirty. She didn’t even get nominated. David O. Russell did just fine with Silver Linings Playbook, but no where in that film is there anything special about its direction. With Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow traverses years, complex political machinations, an unbelievable character arc and one of the most tense military operations of our time, and pulls each aspect off in such expert fashion. It’s a film that showcases the best of her directorial chops, not for their own sake, but for the sake of the film itself.

2013

Best Picture
Insert: Fruitvale Station
Remove: Philomena

Forest Whitaker’s Significant Productions/OG Project/Courtesy

Oscar bait is a problematic term that shouldn’t be used. It’s difficult to find the right phrase to replace it. Whatever it is, though, Philomena is a film that represents it. It’s a fine movie, an enjoyable one, a harmless one, one that tells an emotional true story. But there’s nothing about the film that makes it one of the 10 best of its year, and it’s infuriating how the Academy, time and time again, goes for this kind of safe, standard and, quite honestly, boring type of picture. The best films of the year — granted, a problematic term itself — shouldn’t necessarily go to the most well-polished, but rather to the films that transcend the art. And Fruitvale Station is, undoubtedly, one of those films. Recounting the day leading up to the tragic killing of Oscar Grant by police, Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut breathes with life. It clearly has a message, but it injects that message into the veins of the film, bases and builds it organically, crafting empathy, joy and intimacy with such pressing reality. We’re not told an idea up front or too explicitly, but when we encounter that harrowing, soul-crushing final act, we understand it, without needing to say anything. The life built into the film vanishes, purposefully, and we’re moved in intangible ways. Coming a year after the killing of Trayvon Martin, Fruitvale Station is a necessary film that should be remembered, and the type of film the Oscars need to start recognizing if they actually want to honor the art of film.

Best Lead Actor
Insert: Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Remove: Christian Bale, American Hustle

CBS Films/Courtesy

It’s hard to remove Christian Bale, one of the best and most dedicated actors of our time. And in most other years, we couldn’t remove him. Yet, there are quite a few performances in 2013 that deserved that final spot more than he did. Tom Hardy in Locke is one of them. But Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis is one that not only should’ve been nominated, but one that should’ve made a serious run for the win. His character, Llewyn Davis, is a grumpy, tired asshole, which makes it so shocking that he ends up being one of the most soulful and human we’ve seen this decade. That’s all Oscar Isaac. Isaac brings a tired physicality, one that can be tangibly understood and seen in his body and his face, in the tonal quality of his voice. And not just that — Isaac performs his own songs, not only bringing immense musical talent but thoroughly adapting the character of Davis musically. Like The MasterInside Llewyn Davis is a distinctly American film, and like Joaquin Phoenix’s work, Isaac’s performance elevates that quality immeasurably, defining a face of the American psyche.

2014

Best Lead Actor
Insert: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Remove: Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Open Road Films/Courtesy

Benedict Cumberbatch is great in The Imitation Game, and offers a performance that makes it hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Removing him here doesn’t deny any of that. It simply recognizes that Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformation for Nightcrawler is one of the best of the 21st century. Other than hairstyling, Gyllenhaal looks like himself in the movie. And yet, as Lou Bloom, we see nothing of the actor, and that’s because the transformation is of every facet of acting. Gyllenhaal’s tonal level isn’t changed, but his vocal pacing is entirely intrinsic to the character. His bulging eyes, quick movements and physical rapport with other actors are not only invasively terrifying, crafting awe-strikingly gripping scenes, but they’re informative of who the character is — such detailed work only the most masterful actors pull off. Nightcrawler is both a character study and a film about the terrible culture of video news, but those two aspects compliment and augment each other, and because of Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance, every bit of its collective impact is enhanced.

Best Director
Insert: Ava DuVernay, Selma
Remove: Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Paramount/Courtesy

While we don’t have to deny how good Cumberbatch is in his film, we must refute any association of Morten Tyldum with the Best Director category. The Imitation Game is a fine film. It’s a crowd-pleaser. But it’s unfortunately reserved, and otherwise standard, suppressing a lot of the humanity that is actually there in this story. A film that is not reserved nor standard, and elevates its humanity, through the work of its director, is Ava DuVernay’s Selma. The technical craftswomanship here is stunning, with bone-shakingly rousing scenes of both action and conversation. There’s a liveliness, a humanity that’s extended to each facet of filmmaking — a testament to her guiding hand. On the intangible side, though, DuVernay’s grasp of the spirit at the story’s core can be felt in every scene, doing such profound justice to such an important story.

Best Animated Feature
It should’ve won: The LEGO Movie

Warner Bros./Courtesy

The audible gasps at the announcement ceremony when The LEGO Movie was not nominated for Best Animated Feature will haunt us indefinitely. If it was rules that caused its omission, as the film did feature a few live-action scenes, screw the rules. However, we don’t even want to think of what the reason might be, though, if not rules. Thankfully, everyone already knew that the film was the best animated picture of 2014, even before nominations. So there’s no case that needs to be made other than to point it out, and keep pointing it out.

2015

Best Supporting Actress
Insert: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Remove: Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

A24/Courtesy

Rachel McAdams may be impressively committed in Spotlight. And if Alicia Vikander’s Oscar-winning performance in The Danish Girl was rightfully nominated in the Best Lead Actress category, removing McAdams would be unnecessary. That’s all semantics, however, as, regardless, Alicia Vikander’s other performance of 2015, as the AI Ava in Ex Machina, deserved a nomination. It may have gone unrecognized due to the artifice of the character hiding the true merit of the performance, but her turn is so utterly controlled and precise, nuanced and minutely accentuated in service of that artifice. Similar to Domhnall Gleeson’s character in reaction to Ava, we don’t immediately recognize the immense complexities of Vikander’s performance, and that’s purposeful. Ideally, Vikander would’ve won the lead category for The Danish Girl and the supporting category for Ex Machina. But ignoring a nomination for the latter altogether is frustratingly puzzling.

Best Supporting Actor
Insert: Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Remove: Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Netflix/Courtesy

How does an actor win the SAG, but not even get nominated at the Oscars? Well, sadly for Idris Elba, forces outside of the film and his performance resulted in that. At the time, Netflix was rather new to film production/distribution, with Beasts of No Nation being its first fictional narrative endeavor, and many hated the idea of what the streaming company might do to the film industry. While it’s technically speculative, those factors likely pushed Elba out. In a just world, though, Elba is inarguably nominated. His command of the screen is transfixing, his definition of character quite tragic. As much as we find heart, the humanity impacted by these wars, in lead actor Abraham Attah, we find the other end of that heart in Elba, a quality formed by his unforgiving take. It’s a performance we must encounter uncomfortably, but one we understand as necessary by the end of the film.

Best Adapted Screenplay
It should’ve won: Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs

Universal/Courtesy

Some contend with the portrayal of its central figure, but it’s ridiculous to ignore the brilliance of Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs screenplay. The dialogue is arguably Sorkin’s best, rapidly sharp and biting, reminiscent of The Social Network, yet wholly organic to the subject matter. The control of character and the composition of the many face-offs with the likes of Steve Wozniak and John Sculley are dynamic, electric and spellbinding. The script truly shows how there’s no one quite like Sorkin, and it does everything that The Big Short screenplay does, yet even more polished. How it was not even nominated will forever be a mystery.

2016

Best Lead Actress
Insert: Amy Adams, Arrival
Remove: Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Paramount/Courtesy

Florence Foster Jenkins is a problematic film, wholly unaware of the white privilege at its core and played for sympathy in rather off-putting ways. And Meryl Streep isn’t even good in it! It’s hard to call the performance impressive and impossible to point to any of her scenes as particularly engaging. It’s so bad that it makes the snub of Amy Adams even more difficult to stomach. In Arrival, Adams is tender and unknowing, lively and explorative. We sense something so real about her character’s bravery, and feel such raw, overwhelming heartbreak at her monologue in the final act. Adams doesn’t have a powerhouse scene of direct, overt emotion, but she delivers so many subtle scenes that are just as moving precisely because we can feel so much weight in what’s withheld and beneath the surface. Arrival is an incredibly important film about the need for communication, empathy and love, but it wouldn’t be that in its entirety without Amy Adams embodying each aspect.

Best Supporting Actress
Insert: Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women
Remove: Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

A24/Courtesy

Greta Gerwig’s performance in 20th Century Women can be defined by many of the same qualities of Amy Adams’ performance — tender, unknowing, lively, explorative. Her character’s power comes from this willingness to embrace life in ways others don’t, toned simultaneously by a courage to take hold of life’s potential and by an honest vulnerability when some of that potential is taken away from her — all coming, distinctly and lovingly, from the eyes of an American woman in the 70s. Gerwig delivers a full picture of her character and is quite mesmerizing throughout. Octavia Spencer isn’t bad in Hidden Figures — she’s never not brilliant in anything — but, in terms of acting, there’s just not enough there to genuinely warrant the nomination over Gerwig. In a career full of wonderful performances, Gerwig’s turn in 20th Century Women might just be her best.

 

Featured image via Columbia Pictures.

4 brilliant performances from actors under 15 years old

Unfortunately, young actors often stick out in films. It’s hard to blame anyone in those situations; these actors are usually out of their comfort zone in such a highly demanding atmosphere, and it’s difficult for directors to truly direct someone so young.

But children are so integral to stories, adding layers that are wholly missing in stories all about adults. So, it’s a wondrous delight when a film features a great performance from a young actor. They’re few and far between, and take extreme talent from both the actor and the storytellers.

In honor of the acclaim that 7-year-old actress Brooklynn Prince is receiving for her turn in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, which is currently in theaters, the MovieMinis staff is taking a look at some of its favorite young actor performances of recent times, from actors under 15 years old.

Dafne Keen, Logan (2017) — 10/11 years old

Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox/Courtesy

Logan might be billed as Hugh Jackman’s movie, but Dafne Keen steals the show as a young clone of Logan, X-23. She matches Jackman’s trademark intensity in every way, snarling and stabbing just like Wolvie in his prime, maybe even better (she does have those rad foot claws after all). Don’t believe it? Just check out her screen test with Jackman. More than that though, Keen is able to showcase impressive dramatic chops throughout Logan. The film’s ending, though emotional already, is predicated on Keen’s command of the scene. The way she responds to Jackman on an emotional level is stunning to behold — we really do believe that a young girl is losing the father she just recently connected with, and Keen ensures that not a dry eye is left in the theater. Her quoting of the final lines from Shane as she stands over Logan’s grave is easily the most poignant moment in the X-Men franchise. Between Dafne Keen, Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things and Ahn Seo-hyun from Okja, would it be too much to ask for an Avengers-style team-up of pint-sized, kickass actresses? Hell, set it in the X-Men universe. 20th Century Fox, the ball is in your court.

— Harrison Tunggal

Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation (2015) — 12/13 years old

Netflix/Courtesy

Beasts of No Nation is an intense film that presents a harrowing picture of war-torn Africa and the many child soldiers thrust into performing horrific acts. It’s a heart-breaking portrait of the violence committed and the dehumanization these children experience, but the film wisely puts the film’s quietly building emotional wallop on the shoulders of newcomer Abraham Attah. Attah, as a young boy who saw his family die at the hands of an invading war within his hometown, portrays the full character arc of innocence gone awry, to hate-filled violent monster, all the way back to a boy reconciling the loss he has experienced in a short time. It’s a tricky arc for any actor, let alone one who had never acted before. Yet Attah is perfect, and while was shunned by the Oscars, rightfully won the Best Actor award at the Independent Spirit Awards.

— Levi Hill

Mackenzie Foy, Interstellar (2014) — 13/14 years old

Warner Bros./Paramount/Courtesy

Without an amazing performance from Mackenzie Foy, Interstellar potentially collapses in on itself like a forming blackhole. Murph is the heart and soul of the film, the source of both its human vulnerability and its human strength. Her spark, vibrancy in a time of dust storms and food shortages is invigorating. Foy embodies all of that, from the upbeat tempo of her line delivery, to the subtle lift of her eyebrows when adventure calls. Yet, so much of that comes out of the character’s love of her father. As much as she is capable and willing to be independent, her father is her role model and her rock during such difficult times. Thus, his leaving is the greatest of betrayals.

And in that goodbye, a scene of immense tragic poetics, Foy is stunning. She has to traverse so many emotions, from quiet vulnerability to raw desperation to subtle hope to heartbreaking anger. In response to “I’m coming back,” her delivery of the line “when” shatters us. And as she runs out of the house, calling out for her father as he drives away, her tears shatter us.

It’s difficult to truly see how important Foy’s performance is at first. But she genuinely is the basis off of which Jessica Chastain works, granting each of Chastain’s most emotional moments even more weight because of how much we became invested in Murph as a child. And all of the immensely moving moments of Cooper’s guilt are just that much more moving because we found such a strong connection between him and Murph at the beginning of the film. Interstellar is about a father and a daughter, a relationship that defines the veins of the film, a beating heart that doesn’t beat without the brilliance of Mackenzie Foy.

— Kyle Kizu

Jacob Tremblay, Room (2015) — 8 years old

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In a film that focuses on psychosexual abuse, familial ostracization and guilt-induced suicidal tendencies, it’s hard, if not impossible, to perceive even a glimmer of hope in the wake of such trauma. Yet somehow, Jacob Tremblay gives an inconceivably optimistic performance in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. As Jack, Tremblay represents the only tether to humanity for the perpetually-victimized Ma (Brie Larson) — the crux of the film’s emotional weight rests on the duo’s shoulders. Tremblay masterfully combines elements of precociousness, curiosity and an indelible level of courage to convey an uneasiness of the unknown, of a world outside the eponymous room, while remaining a pillar of strength for his overwhelmed mother. Larson’s performance relies a great deal on her onscreen son’s presence, and Tremblay somehow intimately commands each scene he’s in not through long-winded dialogue or overt acting, but, rather, restrained emotion. The level of his abuse, of his victimization is just beneath the surface of his wonder with the outside world, and Tremblay hints to it but never reveals it until the moment’s right. It would’ve been easy for a child’s performance to disrupt the rhythm of a such delicately-written melancholic narrative, but when said performance actually acts as the emotional core, you can’t help but be minutely unnerved and immensely impressed.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

 

Featured image via A24.

Top 10 Netflix Original Films

Over the past two years, Netflix has been building itself in the image of a legitimate film studio. They got started with documentary films and have held a consistent and impactful presence in that space — we were and still are stunned by the likes of Virunga and 13th — but it wasn’t until the release of Beasts of No Nation when the potential to carve a space in narrative filmmaking really presented itself. And as with any company trying out new things, Netflix stumbled. For every The Fundamentals of Caring, there were five to six dramatic duds. Adam Sandler comedies drowned out the Win It Alls of the bunch. But recently, the conversation and controversy around Netflix has ramped up, and that’s because they’ve been making seriously good movies. Almost all complaints about the streaming company’s release model are valid, but it’s difficult to deny the pure quality and singularity of films such as Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father. 2017 is shaping up to be the best year for Netflix and truly just the start of what they likely intend to do down the line. And with The Meyerowitz Stories, which genuinely makes up for the Adam Sandler atrocities with a wonderful Sandler performance, the best of the best for Netflix throughout its film production/distribution endeavors is quite a formidable group. Here is our list for the top 10 Netflix original films:

10. The Ivory Game

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Following in the footsteps of Virunga, The Ivory Game presents itself as an international (Kenya, Tanzania, Hong Kong) thriller working to uncover the dark truths of elephant poaching. Unlike Virunga though, The Ivory Game is less tepid to show the true mutilations and horrors of the violence being committed against these beautiful, sacred animals. As with most advocacy docs, it is heavy-handed and straightforward in its approach, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful.

— Levi Hill

9. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Netflix/Courtesy

Macon Blair’s directorial debut also happens to be the 2017 winner of Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize for the U.S. Dramatic competition, and for good reason. Its one-two punch of humor and violence makes for a quirky crime-comedy, one that simply asks for people to do right by each other. If anything, the film is worth checking out for Melanie Lynskey’s performance as a windpipe-breaking, novice vigilante, and Elijah Wood as a shuriken-chucking eccentric.

Harrison Tunggal

8. First They Killed My Father

Netflix/Courtesy

Angelina Jolie’s latest directorial effort also happens to be her best and most important. First They Killed My Father functions as a memoir of author Loung Ung’s childhood during the Khmer Rouge’s regime, but it also acts as the therapeutic recollections of an entire country. This film belongs to Cambodia, a testament to the country’s collective trauma, a filmic monument. Jolie crafts such a monument with precision, delivering some of the year’s most haunting visuals, making First They Killed My Father a singularly important film in Netflix’s library.

Harrison Tunggal

7. Our Souls at Night

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Our Souls at Night is a quiet piece, a film that, like those at the age of the main characters, takes its time and doesn’t take things too seriously, but, when real emotions are at stake, can engage and devote care unlike any other. And in that way, we don’t really realize how emotionally invested we are as viewers until the end of the film. The pacing is so methodical, the dialogue so calculated to construct a genuine naturalism that we become enveloped in a seriously refreshing type of cinematic experience. But the majority of work done to craft empathy is through Jane Fonda and, especially, Robert Redford. Redford is incredibly vulnerable, shouldering the weight of his character’s backstory in such immensely affecting ways, whether that be through the breathy delivery of a single line of dialogue at the end of the film or through a short glance during the various emotional moments. It’s a performance that is reserved yet entirely wholesome, and one of the best of 2017.

— Kyle Kizu

6. Gerald’s Game

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While It is undoubtedly the bigger crowd-pleaser and entertainer, Netflix’s Stephen King adaptation Gerald’s Game may honestly be the better film. Navigating one location and one character’s mind for a majority of its runtime, Gerald’s Game is a surprisingly visual and intensely engaging story. The editing, cinematography, lighting and, especially, the vigorous and committed performances from Bruce Greenwood and Carla Gugino all work harmoniously to construct a world of hallucinatory, overwhelming terror, and the story and main character are granted a sense of empathy and care, even if a bit too on the nose, that too many horror pieces are devoid of. If not for anything else, though, seek out Gerald’s Game for one of the most physically affecting gore sequences of recent memory. It’s truly sickening. In a sickeningly good cinematic way.

— Kyle Kizu

5. Virunga

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In due time, people will begin to see that, in 2014, Citizenfour wasn’t the most important documentary of that year, but rather, Virunga had the most to say regarding humanity, animal rights, conservation measures and how capitalism and war affect everyone and everything. Merging an investigative reporting style about bribery and greed for French oil companies depleting the natural beauty and resources of the Virunga National Park, with a tender look at the selfless gorilla caregivers in the park, the film presents a breathtakingly beautiful, but horrifically heartbreaking look at the complex political issues in the region.

— Levi Hill

4. The Meyerowitz Stories

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The Meyerowitz Stories features the best performance Adam Sandler has ever given. He nails this quiet complexity, where he is outwardly loud and has random moments of (comic) swearing, but, for the most part, keeps his pain under the surface. The film is pretty low-key and likely won’t gain much awards traction, but Sandler deserves notes throughout the season for his turn. The whole cast, though, is excellent throughout, with Hoffman being particularly affecting as a cranky, retired intellectual, and the film itself is truly wonderful, a very distinctive but realistic New York state-of-mind story that only Noah Baumbach could concoct.

— Levi Hill

3. Okja

Netflix/Courtesy

Even though Netflix tends to get flack for burying its projects deep in its library of titles, and for not properly promoting any of them, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja is such a delightfully unconventional film that one has to commend Netflix for letting it see the light of day, especially when the release of Bong’s previous film, Snowpiercer, was fumbled by the true winner of Mirando’s super pig contest, Harvey Weinstein. Functioning as a 21st century, sci-fi reupholstering of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Okja has plenty to say about the meat industry, capitalism and Jake Gyllenhaal’s facial hair (it’s Oscar worthy). The film does it with a blend of humor, warmth and violence, and while such a combination would feel out of place in any other director’s hands, Bong maneuvers a wide spectrum of tones with ease. As a Cannes competitor, Okja is one of the year’s best films, and it’s a film that truly elevates Netflix’s stable of original projects.

Harrison Tunggal

2. 13th

Netflix/Courtesy

With 13th, Selma director Ava DuVernay returns to the topic of race relations in the United States, making an equally as powerful, yet strikingly different artistic statement as she did with the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic. Tracking the changes in racism and how it takes form from the abolition of slavery until now, DuVernay truly defines what “necessary cinema” means — but not simply with content, but also with how she directs and composes said content. Strangely for a documentary film, the interview cinematography is intimate and blunt. The score guides the viewer through the overwhelming amount of information to consume, and the editing renders the progression of over 100 years smooth and fluid. But DuVernay never allows it to be easy to forget the true weight of this all. Words slam onto the screen, highlighted by every aspect of the film to force us to confront the horrific facts that have been produced by a system built on slavery. The cliche is true: 13th should be in classrooms across the country. Or maybe Netflix has become that classroom, giving this brilliant film a massive platform.

— Kyle Kizu

1. Beasts of No Nation

Netflix/Courtesy

What can be said about the film that put Netflix on the theatrical map, a great movie that went nearly unnoticed in traditional distribution and at the Oscars, is that people began to question if Netflix would be the right company to release these vital films. Regardless of how people feel about Netflix’s distribution model though, there’s no doubting that Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation is not only his best movie, but the best movie Netflix has ever released. Featuring a heartbreaking debut performance from Abraham Attah, and what should have been an Oscar-winning turn from Idris Elba (he won the SAG and the BAFTA, only to be snubbed of even a nomination by the Oscars), Beasts of No Nation is one of the most politically important war movies ever made. Acting as a Heart of Darkness-esque descent into the violence that plagues young children who are torn away from their homes and forced to fight in militias, Beasts of No Nation never shies away from showing the atrocities of these wars created by adults and fought by kids. If you haven’t seen the film yet, then please do, as the fact that the film will always exist for streaming on Netflix is one of the many great elements of this new model of film distribution.

— Levi Hill

 

Featured image via Netflix.

‘It’ praised as ‘scary and faithful’ Stephen King adaptation in first reactions

It, an adaptation of the first half of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, has screened for some of the press. After the social media embargo lifted last night, critics tweeted out their first reactions, and they have been overwhelmingly positive.

Everyone has unanimously agreed that It delivers on its scares. But critics have also said that the film is “surprisingly funny” and “adorably romantic.” Praise has also been handed out to Bill Skarsgård, the actor who plays Pennywise, with one critic deeming the character the “Freddy Krueger of a new generation.”

Another Stephen King adaptation, The Dark Tower, released earlier this year on August 4 to lukewarm reception. That film currently holds a 16% on RottenTomatoes after 194 reviews and a score of 34 from 46 reviews on Metacritic. Currently, the film has made only $74 million on a $60 million production budget. Factoring in theater take and marketing costs, The Dark Tower will almost certainly end up losing money.

So the initial positive reception of It will likely be a relief to Stephen King fans, and fans of the horror genre as well. And the box office also looks to fair much better. Last week, Variety reported that It is poised for a $50 million domestic debut — more than The Dark Tower has made domestically after one month — according to early tracking numbers. According to ForbesIt has a production budget in the range of $35-$40 million.

Look below for critics’ Twitter reactions to It:

It is set to release on September 8 and comes from Mama director Andrés Muschietti. It stars the aforementioned Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher (St. VincentMidnight Special), Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things), Sophia Lillis and Nicholas Hamilton (Captain FantasticThe Dark Tower) among many other young actors, all of whom the critics are very excited about.

The film was originally attached to Cary Joji Fukunaga (season one of True DetectiveBeasts of No Nation), who also originally wrote the film with Chase Palmer. Fukunaga left the project in 2015 due to creative differences, but the two still have writing credits on the film.