Tag Archives: Christian Bale

Christian Bale is a Western cavalryman in first ‘Hostiles’ trailer

Christian Bale and writer-director Scott Cooper have reteamed, after Out of the Furnace, for the upcoming Western Hostiles, which follows Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Bale) as he reluctantly escorts a Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) and a grieving woman (Rosamund Pike) through hostile territory. The film premiered this weekend at Telluride Film Festival to incredible acclaim, with The Hollywood Reporter and Variety saying that Bale could be a very strong Oscar contender for his performance. Riding that buzz, Hostiles has dropped its first trailer, released through Deadline Hollywood.

Hostiles finds itself in a very unique position this fall, currently without a distributor, which may be why the trailer landed with Deadline instead of being released through a film company online. The film accompanied a tribute to Christian Bale’s career at Telluride, which started the buzz of who might acquire the title — with companies such as Annapurna (new to distribution), Sony Pictures Classics and Netflix rumored as in the mix. But Variety says that Telluride isn’t particularly a festival where titles get picked up and suggests that there won’t be any official news until, at the earliest, Toronto International Film Festival, where the film is set to screen next on September 11.

With a trailer dropping, it seems as though the film is eyeing a 2017 release, considering that, with the Oscar buzz, it would be a strange move to release a trailer now and then wait over a year to release it next fall. A distributor would have to act fast to put together a marketing campaign that can get enough people in the theater to then realize that awards potential. And it also seems, with the subject matter, that 2017 is the prime window for a release, as the film deals with themes of hatred, racism and reconciliation, and can compare to today’s times, as talked about by Scott Cooper in Variety’s film podcast Playback.

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

25 Most Anticipated Films of Fall/Winter 2017

2017 has proven to be one of the best years for film in recent memory, and the hits are bound to keep coming in the fall and winter. It Comes At Night may have led us down a dark and unsettling path earlier this summer, but we will likely remain wholly unprepared for the brilliant discomfort of Yorgos Lanthimos’ upcoming film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer. (This film has been described as more agonizing than Lanthimos’ previous work, The Lobster, which came this close to showing a man blind himself with a steak knife. Let that sink in.) Regarding films that don’t require an immediate, consolatory hug upon viewing, Baby Driver was a fun joyride — a perfect forbear for the frenetic energy of Kingsman: The Golden Circle. And then there’s a little indie coming in December called Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a family drama about space people who should never have become parents.  

The following list represents the films that make us at MovieMinis spontaneously squee. But since the list only includes 25 films, it doesn’t truly represent the amount of squeeing we do. The cutting room floor is littered with heavy hitters such as Steven Spielberg’s The Post, as well as The Current War, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison and Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse. There are also Cannes darlings that didn’t make the cut (but which you should see anyway) such as Michael Haneke’s Happy End and Palme d’Or winner The Square. We feel a great pang of guilt for excluding Justice League (squee!).

Regardless, here are our 25 most hotly anticipated films from the remainder of the year.

25. mother!

Paramount/Courtesy

The illustrated posters of mother! were merely beautiful yet unnerving glimpses into the horror of Darren Aronofsky’s next film. Bring in the trailer and it seems as though the director is returning to the brilliance of the genre that he dabbled in with Black Swan. And if this film really will follow in that one’s footsteps, then audiences should expect committed and haunting performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, as well as a story with some of the most affecting scares since, well, Black Swan. Let’s just hope it appropriately contextualizes the relationship between a 27 year old and a 48 year old because, if it doesn’t, that might be more frightening.

— Kyle Kizu

24. Thor: Ragnarok

Marvel/Courtesy

Taika Waititi is easily one of the funniest filmmakers working today — just see here and here. His films bring loads of heart and even more laughs, something direly needed for Thor, a franchise whose second entry literally self-proclaims doom and gloom. Throw in Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, the magic of Jeff Goldblum, a colorful Jack Kirby aesthetic and elements of Planet Hulk, and Thor: Ragnarok could be one of the best MCU entries to date. Oh, and in the last shot of the most recent trailer, Hulk goes toe-to-toe with Surtur the fire demon. In the immortal words of Ricky Baker, “Shit. Just. Got. REAL!”

— Harrison Tunggal

23. Suburbicon

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Suburbicon pulses with star power. The film is written by the minds of the Coen brothers, George Clooney (doing double duty as director) and his frequent collaborator Grant Heslov. If that isn’t enough, it stars Matt Damon, who invokes his Jason Bourne days by taking a fire iron to some poor thug’s face. The film also includes Julianne Moore (her third film on this list, she’s in Kingsman: The Golden Circle and Wonderstruck) and Oscar Isaac, whose mustache here deserves it’s own billing. Here’s to hoping that said mustache stays intact over the course of this darkly comic crime caper.

— HT

22. It

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Stranger Things, but a million times scarier. If that seems like an oversimplification of the upcoming Stephen King adaptation, it isn’t anything less than the utmost excitement condensed into seven words. Despite an initial rocky start (writer-director Cary Fukunaga left the project in 2015), It appears to deliver well-acted, visually stunning horror fare — such that will strike an existential fear of killer demon clowns into the hearts of a whole new generation.

— HT

21. The Meyerowitz Stories

Netflix/Courtesy

Welcome back, Adam Sandler. No, seriously. After a string of critically lashed Netflix comedies, here comes Noah Baumbach to remind us all, that when Sandler wants to, he can be one of the most emotionally affecting actors on the screen. Throw in Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson and the full support of Netflix, and The Meyerowitz Stories appears to be the first Netflix Oscar-contender that will gain traction among voters, audiences and critics when it releases in mid-October.

— Levi Hill

20. Coco

Pixar/Courtesy

Coco is a Pixar film. Need we say more? Well, we can. The film follows a young kid who dreams of becoming a musician and, through a spiritual connection with an ancestor, he enters the Land of the Dead. The trailer shows that the film will be a visual wonder, but the subject matter offers a look at Latino culture, one that mainstream cinema largely ignores. And with longtime Pixar veteran Adrian Molina stepping into the director’s chair alongside Pixar legend Lee Unkrich, Coco looks to be informed and genuine in its endeavors as well.

— KK

19. Mute

Netflix/Courtesy

Many may only think of Warcraft when they hear the name Duncan Jones, which is a shame because this is the director behind Moon and Source Code, two phenomenal sci-fi films. With Mute, Jones returns to the universe of Moon, but this time he takes us to the futuristic, seemingly Blade Runner-esque Earth within it. That tiny detail may be the biggest sign that this film could be special. Moon crafted such a thorough sense of society down on Earth, one that Jones has explored for years in planning for Mute, so the storytelling should be refined and invigorated.

— KK

18. Wonderstruck

Amazon/Courtesy

Todd Haynes’ upcoming Wonderstruck is based on the Brian Selznick novel of the same name, and the last time Selznick’s work was adapted for the big screen, the result was the Martin Scorsese stunner Hugo. With Selznick himself penning the screenplay, Wonderstruck seems poised to deliver a timeline-hopping, visual treat that will remind us of that which fills us with childlike wonder — film, museums and, if the trailer is to be believed, cool David Bowie covers.

— HT

17. Battle of the Sexes

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

Sometimes talent alone can put a film on this list. Recent Academy Award winner Emma Stone, comedic (and now dramatic?) powerhouse Steve Carell, the co-directors of Little Miss Sunshine and the writer of Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours will bring us Battle of the Sexes. But that title, and the story behind it, makes this film about more than just talent — or maybe precisely about talent, that which is underserved. The story of tennis star Billie Jean King facing off against Bobby Riggs is an uplifting and landmark tale, with a whole lot of lively fun throughout, that could make for a wonderful and necessary statement in today’s landscape.

— KK

16. The Death of Stalin

IFC Films/Courtesy

Armando Iannucci may be the king of political satire, his time as Veep showrunner offering us some of the most gut-busting commentary on the current state of D.C. Pair him with the juicy material of the Soviet regime in the immediate aftermath of Stalin’s death — utilizing a bluntly British angle (they’re not even attempting Russian accents) — and you’ve got a comedy to die for.

— KK

15. Roman J. Israel, Esq

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy

Nightcrawler is aging like fine wine, with many critics and movie fans looking back at it as not only an absolutely brilliant movie, but also a significant independent film and a vehicle for one of the best performances of the 21st century from Jake Gyllenhaal. So any movie that writer-director Dan Gilroy does next is on a must-see list. Cue Roman J. Israel, Esq, a film where Denzel Washington has an afro and plays a snazzily dressed defense attorney.

— KK

14. Last Flag Flying

Amazon/Courtesy

Honestly, if there is one film on this list that just can’t go wrong (outside of the movies that have already premiered), it is Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying. Starring the dream-team worthy trio of Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne, the film is a years-after sequel to the Oscar-nominated, Jack Nicholson-led and Hal Ashby-directed The Last Detail. With that set-up, Last Flag Flying could potentially end up being the de facto critics favorite with Linklater’s humanist style mixed with the socially angry, if touching tale of three Navy vets coming to terms with the world they live in that Ashby knocked out of the park back in 1973.

— LH

13. Lady Bird

A24/Courtesy

Casual fans of indie cinema know Greta Gerwig as the magnetic star of films like Frances Ha, Mistress America and 20th Century Women, but those of us obsessed with the genre know that it’s behind the camera where she makes even more of an impact. After writing a number of successful indies, Gerwig will make her solo directorial debut this fall with Lady Bird. While not much is known about the plot, the film follows a high school girl (Saoirse Ronan) as she spends a year in Northern California. Joining Ronan is a heavy hitting cast of indie favorites that includes Timothée Chalamet, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts and Lucas Hedges.

— Kate Halliwell

12. Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Fox/Courtesy

Matthew Vaughn established himself as an action director extraordinaire with the first Kingsman — the film’s church scene now infamous as one of the most exhilarating fight sequences in recent memory. With that style, Vaughn’s dry British wit, the brilliant cast and brand new American territory to explore, The Golden Circle is set to be one of the most fun films of the fall — and sometimes, fun is all we need.

— KK

11. Molly’s Game

STX Entertainment/Courtesy

Aaron Sorkin is widely known as one of the great writers — of most mediums — of our time. The fact that Molly’s Game is written by him is enough reason to be excited, but the film is also his directorial debut, which elevates our hype tenfold. Even if the film isn’t good, it will be fascinating to see his visual style directly translated to the big screen. But it seems like there are too many pieces in place for this to be a dud — Jessica Chastain munching on Sorkin’s words is the dream performance we need.

— KK

10. Downsizing

Paramount/Courtesy

When every single one of your films (except your first) received Oscar nominations and endless critical heap, audiences will take notice when your next film comes out. And thus is the case with Alexander Payne, who, to this day, seems incapable of making a bad scene, let alone a bad movie. However, the science-fiction satire Downsizing, starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, promises to be a marked difference from the traditionally very naturalistic stories Payne has told in the past. Yet, that’s what it makes it this writer-director’s most intriguing project yet.

— LH

9. Hostiles

Lorey Sebastian, Le Grisbi Productions/Waypoint Entertainment/Courtesy

Hostiles may not release this year as it currently doesn’t have a distributor, but it’s set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in a bid for an acquisition. Made by Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper, the film stars Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Ben Foster and Timothée Chalamet, so it’s got a great chance of being picked up for an end-of-year release. And that team of talent is precisely why this movie is so salivating. Christian Bale is never anything less than entirely transformed, Rosamund Pike needs more roles after her Oscar-nominated, frightening turn in Gone Girl, Ben Foster is one of the most underrated actors working today and Timothée Chalamet is on the verge of breaking out with Call Me by Your Name later this year.

— KK

8. The Shape of Water

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

The great Guillermo Del Toro returns to the big screen with The Shape of Water, which stars Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg. The film’s stellar trailer teased a sweet romance with sci-fi elements, but also raised the possibility that The Shape of Water is a secret Hellboy prequel centering on Abe Sapien. Even though Del Toro has since debunked those rumors, we’re still thrilled to see him combine the things we love about his filmography — fairy tales with a touch of the macabre and of course, amphibian men.

— HT

7. The Disaster Artist

A24/Courtesy

James Franco can never be faulted for producing/starring/writing/directing in a seemingly impossible amount of projects in one year. What he could have been faulted for in the past, though, is that each project he stood behind the camera on felt like an interesting misfire. Not anymore. With stunning, Oscar-potential raves out of SXSW, Franco seems to have found the perfect source material for his stylings: the best worst movie of all-time, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. With Franco directing and, more excitingly, playing Tommy Wiseau on the set of The Room, The Disaster Artist promises a hilarious, if pointedly tragic real-life story of a failed artist. But really, we can’t wait to hear “YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, LISA!” again.

— LH

6. The Florida Project

A24/Courtesy

Sean Baker turned heads and took home awards with his 2015 film Tangerine, notably shot entirely on iPhones. He returns this year with The Florida Project, which follows a six-year old girl (Brooklynn Prince, this year’s Jacob Tremblay) and her adventures living in a run-down motel near Disney’s Magic Kingdoms. With Willem Dafoe and a host of talented newcomers rounding out the cast, this one is not to be missed.

— KH

5. Blade Runner 2049

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Getting another Denis Villeneuve film immediately after last year’s Arrival is already worth celebrating, but the fact that his upcoming project is a Blade Runner sequel (shot by Roger Deakins, no less) makes the occasion seem like Christmas — of the neon, steampunk, existentialist variety, of course. With Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford teaming up, the hype couldn’t be bigger for this film, which will hopefully answer the greatest question of our time — what happened to the other 2,047 Blade Runner sequels?

— HT

4. Call Me by Your Name

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

The trailer alone launched one thousand Armie Hammer crushes and caused us all to stop and consider spontaneous trips to Italy; the film itself might cause actual meltdowns (in the best way). Timothée Chalamet and Hammer star in Luca Guadagnino’s book-to-screen adaptation as two bisexual Jewish men who fall in love over the course of a sun-drenched summer. The film has drawn rave reviews from early festival screenings and has film buffs all over the world hungry for its November release. Peaches, anyone?

— KH

3. The Killing of a Sacred Deer

A24/Courtesy

Following the surprise Oscar nomination for the dark (twisted) comedy/science fiction fantasy film The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos and Colin Farrell return with an even more twisted, full-on psychological horror film. The early reviews for Sacred Deer, out of the in-competition bow at Cannes, promise that it will blend the calculated coldness of craft found in a Stanley Kubrick movie mixed with the cynical social commentary found in the best genre films. Add in the rising star Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk) as what appears to be the villain (but nothing is that simple in a Lanthimos tale) and the where-is-she-not Nicole Kidman as Farrell’s estranged wife experiencing horrific acts she has no fault in causing, and Sacred Deer promises to be the feel-bad movie of the Fall movie season.

— LH

2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

You don’t hire director Rian Johnson to make a cookie-cutter Star Wars movie. The man behind Looper, Brick and two of Breaking Bad’s most daring episodes seems poised to deliver — dare we say — the best Star Wars entry of all time. Forget getting answers to questions we’ve had since 2015 (Is Rey a Kenobi? Is Snoke actually Sy Snootles? Will Luke get a haircut?). We just want another Rian Johnson movie.

— HT

1. Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Fashion Film

Jürgen Fauth/Courtesy

Quite simply put, There Will Be Blood is one of the best films of the 21st century and Daniel Day Lewis’ performance in it is one of the best of all time. So, with Paul Thomas Anderson pairing up with DDL yet again for what is, apparently, DDL’s last performance ever, this film — rumored to be titled either Phantom Thread or Woodcock — will be a special one in the history of cinema, even if it’s not as breathtakingly affecting and engaging as TWBB (and, of course, it easily could be). Add in the rumors that the film is Fifty Shades of Grey if directed by Mike Leigh and we are more in than we’ve ever been for anything, honestly.

— KK

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Top ten films premiered at Telluride Film Festival since 2010

Amid the swaths of festivals, Telluride, taking place between September 1-4, stands out as an unpretentious yet incredibly prestigious venue for some of the most honest films of the year. Like the town in which it takes place, Telluride is small and intimate. It evokes the best of what a film community can be, in genuine artistry, but also in just being fans of movies and of movie-makers; it was a key moment in the great friendship between the La La Land and Moonlight creative teams, which maintained despite the audience split that sprouted during the awards season. And while many of the Oscar hopefuls look to the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival for their starts, the quieter premieres at Telluride often have the grander impact. Since 2010, the best of the best from Telluride Film Festival are breathtaking. From Oscar winners to profound independents to landmark documentaries, the top ten Telluride films of the last seven years show the best of what cinema can be.

10. Wild

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

While many may point to Dallas Buyers Club and Big Little Lies when thinking of Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée, it would be a shame to ignore the gem that is Wild. First and foremost, any film that features the sublime, timeless, astounding Laura Dern in even just a slightly weighty role is one to adore. But Wild crafts not only its character, Reese Witherspoon’s Cheryl, so instinctively, but it also crafts the journey of Cheryl so tenderly and affectingly. Cheryl confronts the wild in her long walk from the top of the U.S. to the bottom, and the film follows suit, embracing a sort of vulnerable physicality in its color palette, in its subtle sound and intimate cinematography. Wild may not be the most jaw-dropping or impressive film, but it’s one that finds its way underneath one’s skin and into one’s bones because it is so human.

— Kyle Kizu

9. Frances Ha

IFC Films/Courtesy

Frances Ha is director Noah Baumbach’s ebullient tribute to the cinema of the French New Wave. We follow the titular Frances (the incredible Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach) as she meets friends, moves from apartment to apartment and tries to reconcile her dreams of dancing with the possibility that they’ll remain dreams and nothing more. Though the film is in black and white, the spread of emotions that Frances endures is hardly so — the film pinwheels from her trademark levity to crushing lows, before rising to a strained melancholy and finally settling on a relieved contentedness. That such dichotomies coexist in the film isn’t jarring, but rather endearing. We’ve all had nights that started out perfectly, but then take a hard left into awfulness that only seems to get worse, and that’s a sentiment that the film understands and addresses with humor and sensitivity. Befittingly, the film isn’t reliant on plot, but that’s okay — we’re happy to have known Frances, if but for an hour and a half.

— Harrison Tunggal

8. The Descendants

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

Against all odds, Alexander Payne’s 2011 film The Descendants pairs adultery, comatose spouses and Hawaiian real estate in a simultaneously heartwrenching and hilarious examination of what family really means. The film follows Matt King (George Clooney) as his wife is injured in a jetskiing accident and he is forced to decide whether or not to leave his now comatose wife on life support — a decision made more difficult by the realization that she had been having an affair. Clooney and Shailene Woodley, in arguably both their finest work to date, carry the film on their transparently expressive faces, captured lovingly in close-up by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. True to the book on which it is based, The Descendants almost veers too far into cruel, biting satire at times, but no one is better suited to walk the balance between bleak humanity and the humor found in everyday life than Alexander Payne. While certain scenes stand out as all-timers (Clooney’s famous hospital monologue, Woodley’s character revealing her mother’s affair), The Descendants in its entirety is a hard look at dealing with the past, managing the present and confronting the future.

— Kate Halliwell

7. Steve Jobs

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Steve Jobs had such a dramatic journey to the big screen — an intensely buzzed-about Aaron Sorkin script originally connected to David Fincher and with Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale rumored to star. But the creative team it ended up with was a perfect match. Danny Boyle’s high-energy direction scores Jobs with an electric edge and Michael Fassbender transforms subtly yet entirely, embodying the icon with a domineering physicality, especially in vocal tone, while deconstructing his problematic persona and humanizing his core — not necessarily sacrificing one for the other. The film has massive ambitions, with a story structure similar to a play and carrying a character in light of Citizen Kane. It might not reach all of its goals, but it finds a place in contemporary cinema that so many films have tried for but failed.

— KK

6. Under the Skin

A24/Courtesy

On very simple terms, Under the Skin is an astonishing vehicle for the auric, subtle physicality that Scarlett Johansson can take hold of in a performance, as well as for the viscerally invasive work of composer Mica Levi — many critics still cite her score as one of the best of the 21st century. But, quite obviously, Under the Skin is anything but simple. Delving deep into the avant garde, as well as other more visually focused traditions, Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi picture, about an alluring woman, is oftentimes terrifying without us even realizing how intensely so until afterward, or until the pop of a body contorted by forces beyond its control. As viewers, we oftentimes feel like a victim trapped beneath — a purposeful effect that produces a pure sense of the image, oftentimes simple in color and composition but wildly unnerving in context, that only cinema could. Of course, this leaves little easy explanation and few paths for traditional absorption, making Under the Skin difficult to encounter. But if we surrender ourselves to visual language, the film will prove deeply human, without much of the sentimentality, and gendered in its experience, deconstructivist in its angle and, honestly, just fucking weird — in a good way.

— KK

5. Prisoners

Warner Bros./Courtesy

The sense of mounting dread that director Denis Villeneuve builds in Prisoners is staggering to behold. Drenched in darkness and shadow by the master himself, Roger Deakins, this film transports the viewer into a world of ubiquitous horror, one where corpses fill basements, families descend into violence and even moments of reprieve contort into the realization that we’re all shackled to those we love, for better or worse. This is a film where your heart keep sinking to depths you didn’t know existed, right to its final shot. Prisoners also sports a stellar cast firing on all cylinders — Hugh Jackman’s intensity makes his performance in this film one of his finest, Jake Gyllenhaal showcases the cold determination he would later dial to eleven in Nightcrawler and Paul Dano ratchets up the tension by keeping the audience on its toes. Additionally, Viola Davis brings her eminent gravitas while Terrence Howard matches Jackman’s fear and desperation as they search for their missing daughters. Prisoners is arguably Denis Villeneuve’s best film, and we can’t wait to see how his sensibilities translate to Blade Runner 2049 and other future projects.

— HT

4. Anomalisa

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

This stop-motion picture is difficult to confront, venturing into the abstract in many areas. But, as one should expect with Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa, a film without actual humans, is filled with a humanity unlike most other films. It is, in large part, because of the voice work. David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh provide an affectingly raw basis within this world, conveying vulnerability and the weight of the human condition through tiny inflections. And Tom Noonan, literally voicing every other figure, is shockingly hilarious and horrifyingly scary at the same time. Yet, the voices become that profound because of the imagery within which they inhabit. Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson frame each shot with a deep understanding of theme, that everything so blandly and terrifyingly blends together, that the world is unrewarding and depressing, that finding someone within the void is miraculous and losing them to the blend is a nightmare. The amalgamation brings about an intimacy that only a masterful film could build.

— KK

3. Room

A24/Courtesy

Book-to-movie adaptations, as a rule, are difficult to pull off, and that challenge increases exponentially when the source material in question is narrated in entirety by a five year old boy with a limited understanding of the world. It gets even harder when that world consists of a tiny one-room shed, and the boy’s mother — the room’s only other occupant — chooses to raise him as if that one room really is the entire universe. So begins Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Room, starring Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson as a mother and son held in captivity until their eventual escape. Room is effectively split in two halves, which places the duo’s plotting and escape at odds with their tentative transition back into the outside world. The film would go on to win Larson her first Oscar and cement Tremblay’s place as Hollywood’s cutest kid, but it served as far more than a vehicle for its stars-to-be. Bleak, hard-to-watch moments combine with an enduring sense of childlike curiosity in what is already deservedly considered to be one of the best book adaptations of all time.

— KH

2. The Act of Killing

Final Cut for Real/Courtesy

The Act of Killing is a difficult film to watch, and if you’re at all connected to the killings that took place in Indonesia from 1965-1966, then Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary is downright excruciating. The film’s two main subjects, Anwar Congo and Herman Koto, belonged to a government death squad that extorted from and killed more than one million communists and Chinese Indonesians. They gloat about the lives they took and how they took them, going to obscene lengths to reenact their methods. It’s a sick parody of cinephilia — Congo and Koto claim to be inspired by the violence in the films they idolized, and some of the reenactments are draped in the trappings of their favorite genres. And these are just barely the reasons why The Act of Killing is a disturbing watch — ultimately, we’re left wondering if there’s redemption in remorse. After seeing the utter impunity of the murderers, such a question becomes disturbingly difficult, if not impossible, to answer. Unpleasant as it may be, The Act of Killing is truly an essential film, reminding us that the soul is at stake when blind nationalism supersedes morality.

— HT

1. Moonlight

David Bornfriend/A24/Courtesy

With a rare 99 on Metacritic, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is cinematic perfection. For anyone who’s seen the film, such a statement stands on its own, though additional validation comes from its historic Best Picture win at the 89th Academy Awards. But forget the craziness surrounding the moment of its victory — such things are much too loud for a film like Moonlight. It is a film predicated on an intimate viewing experience, one in which quiet subtleties in the performances of its all black cast and precise details in the filmmaking precipitate an immense significance. From the close-ups of Trevante Rhodes and Andre Holland as their characters reunite, we see heartbreak and hope at the same time, and years of toxic, performative masculinity erode with just one look. From the final embrace of these two men, we see a moment of LGBTQ+ representation that is executed with the utmost sensitivity and tenderness. Then there’s James Laxton’s cinematography, where a shallow depth of field puts us with the characters, exacting a sense of empathy that lends the film its total hold over our emotions. It is impossible to overstate the significance of Moonlight, especially when empathy and sensitivity are becoming ever rarer, but with Barry Jenkins behind the camera, there’s hope that such qualities will persevere, at least on the big screen.

— HT

Featured image (modified) via Ken Lund.

Ranking Christopher Nolan’s 10 films

Pretty quickly, one realizes that Christopher Nolan has never made a “bad” movie. Some have been a bit more divisive than others, but even then, none have failed financially or critically, or in the eyes of the public. His lowest rated film on RottenTomatoes, at 71%, is Interstellar, a film many, including myself, consider their favorite of all time. So then, a list of this type comes down to being about the good and the great, which makes it all the more exciting, but all the more difficult to truly nail down rankings. Some films have impacted culture unlike most movies in general, while others are some of the most impressively crafted pieces of art of our time, even if they lack similar cultural impact. But after long deliberation — and I must make note that these are what I think are his best, not my favorite, as that is a whole other list — I’ve come to a ranking I feel comfortable with:

10. Following

Following

Zeitgeist/Syncopy/Courtesy

Following is a fantastic film, and it’s still #10. The main reason for that is that it seems like here, Nolan was out to prove himself, which rendered the film as more of a showcase for what was to come than a full film in and of itself. And yet, Following is built on such an intriguing structure that really does show that Nolan is a singular storyteller. With impressive performances and sharp technical composition on a microscopic $6,000 budget, the neo-noir is a debut that one can return to and still discover more in every time.

9. Insomnia

Al Pacino Insomnia

Summit/Warner Bros/Courtesy

Insomnia has sparked a lot of discussion from Nolan fans about whether or not it really is a “Nolan” film. It’s the only one he doesn’t have a writing credit on, although Nolan was involved in later drafts of the script. But, perhaps in result of the scripting situation, it’s the only film of his that doesn’t seem to have as sharp of a story as others.

Yet, when one really looks at Nolan’s career, it becomes quite simple to place Insomnia as a vital step within it. The film falls in line with his investigations into the validity of truth and what that means for his protagonists. And, even though its executed in a different way, Insomnia also creates a fascinating exploration of time — not only through Detective Dormer’s haze of insomnia, but also through his aging career. There may not be enough “pop” for some people’s liking, but with great performances from Al Pacino and Robin Williams as well as a crime intrigue that would explode over the rest of his career, Insomnia is an astonishingly good film to be at #9.

8. Batman Begins

Batman Begins

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Batman Begins revolutionized not only the superhero genre, but the blockbuster genre as well. To this day, many still reference the movie as inspiration for their gritty, realist take on whatever film they’re making.

And it is just that spectacular. The way Nolan slips through periods of time to craft the growth and development of Bruce Wayne from his youth through to his decision to build the identity of the Batman is structurally ingenious and some of the best “origin” work there is. Batman Begins truly does take the Caped Crusader and put him in a light that he was always meant to be under.

But there are two reasons that it stands lower. The film struggles in its third act, reverting to a bombastic (in a not so good way) mess of a climactic battle that seems so out of place for Nolan. It also feels as though, here, Nolan is still searching for the true feel of the world. The color palette changes rather jarringly between this installment and the next, and some of the more fantastical elements seem fit in a Burton film, not a Nolan one.

7. The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

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The Dark Knight Rises seems to get the most flack out of all of Nolan’s films, and it’s not for no reason. The final installment of his Batman trilogy does crumble, in ways, under its massive ambitions. Plot holes are a bit more prevalent than they’ve been with Nolan, and some deus ex machinas pop up here and there.

But it’s difficult to not be impressed by his grand vision. While some films present a grand ideology as a mask and never expand upon it, The Dark Knight Rises carries its societal complexities through its 165 minutes with full force — seemingly because the film is in the vein of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

The ideology is muddled for some, but the scope is undeniable. With inspiration from the Dickens novel, and in simply keeping with Batman tradition, the city of Gotham is a living and breathing character unlike it ever has been before.

And as a third and final installment, The Dark Knight Rises also closes Bruce Wayne’s arc in such a resonant and fulfilling manner. Even with its imperfections, the film ends his journey in an equally epic and intimate manner, a feat most trilogies struggle accomplish.

6. Memento 

Guy Pearce Memento

Summit/Newmarket/Courtesy

Memento, the film that truly placed Nolan on the map, will forever remain a stunningly iconic piece of cinema — it’s already being referenced and utilized in film schools as a representation of structure, editing and the evolvement of the noir genre.

And all praise is wholly earned. While some may call Nolan’s structures “gimmicks,” it’s near impossible to do so with this picture. Running backwards and forwards at the same time, the film expertly crafts both its neo-noir mystery and grittiness as well as what many experts call a perfect representation of the experience of someone with anterograde amnesia — pulled off with razor sharp editing and a visual grasp that really is the immediate maturation of Nolan as a masterful storyteller (thanks to his first collaboration with Wally Pfister).

But the elements would only add up to so much were it not for the film’s ending, which is such an unnerving and affecting idea of the self and of the self’s reality. In that sense, Memento is the first of Nolan’s films where there’s not a single wasted moment, not a single wasted frame.

5. Inception

Inception

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Inception is a cultural phenomenon, which is such a bizarre statement when one really thinks about it. This is an original, scifi blockbuster with nearly an hour and a half consisting solely of expositional dialogue, and the other hour being a time-bending, crosscutting maze.

Nolan, however, as a storyteller, captured the zeitgeist precisely because of those elements. The exposition functions as the most thorough and fascinating world-building of Nolan’s career, while never slowing down the film’s pacing because it’s interwoven with stunning visual innovation and illusion that play right back into that world-building.

As for that last hour, it’s simply a masterclass in filmmaking, specifically in editing, but also in terms of evoking theme. It functions as a Bond-esque heist thriller, which is badass in and of itself, but it also leaves a mark on viewers that they can’t shake — their realities turned upside down and questioned.

And all of that comes without mention of Leonardo DiCaprio in yet another fully committed role, and composer Hans Zimmer also at his most culturally iconic. On a good day, Inception could break the top 3, but what ends up placing it at #5 is that, upon return viewings and close inspection, such a slick film contains some rough edges. Nevertheless, Inception will last a lifetime.

4. Interstellar

screen-shot-2017-07-30-at-9-37-17-pm

Paramount/Warner Bros/Courtesy

To be clear, Interstellar is my favorite of his. But it’s difficult not to find the objective weaknesses in the movie. A few expositional scenes are not entirely necessary. Some of the thematic ambition is tonally off mark, or simply too gigantic for its own means.

But Interstellar lives with an earnestness that some sadly ignore. In Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper, there’s such an intense drive of hope and for progress, delivered with such vividness and verve and evoking a sense of humanity’s innate nature for exploration — something the film needed to not completely collapse in on itself.

And the film is, quite obviously, Nolan’s most emotional work to date as well. While some complain about the aspect of love, they seem to unjustly wash over the absolutely remarkable aspects of it. Cooper saying goodbye to Murph is a scene of tragic poetics, written with a beautiful tenderness, filmed with a raw intimacy and acted so genuinely. And Cooper watching his kids grow up through 21 years of video messages is a scene that truly cannot be described. In that moment, story transcends the dimensions of film and taps into something purely human — we’re all tragic victims of time.

(And how science and love function together in that ending, after repeat viewings, of which I’ve had many, makes complete sense in respect to the dimensions that some just may not understand.)

Accenting such work, Hans Zimmer taps into a humanity he had never reached before either, resulting in his most affecting score to date. And both Zimmer and Nolan combine to craft gripping, jaw-dropping action sequences that mark Interstellar as a representation of what cinema should strive for visually.

Sure, it’s not his most well-told or well-executed story. But there’s something to be said about what Interstellar means as a piece of art, as a statement on humanity and humankind. Most will write that aspect off, but when art reaches for that, reaches that high, it becomes more important for it, and Interstellar is Nolan’s most important film thus far.

3. The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

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If it’s not for Inception, Christopher Nolan will be remembered for The Dark KnightBatman Begins may have revolutionized superhero films, but Nolan’s second Batman installment re-revolutionized it, while revolutionizing cinema in general.

First and foremost, The Dark Knight features one of the most terrifying and haunting performances of all time in Heath Ledger’s Joker. The best performances happen when an actor embodies a character, when an actor lives in a character’s bones and blood so thoroughly that they cease to exist as themselves in those moments. And Ledger strikes on that singularity of acting. The Joker is perhaps the most iconic villain in cinematic history, but credit must also be given to Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan.

With The Dark Knight, the Nolans fully realize the potential of Batman, Gotham city and the world they occupy, and ingeniously inject ideas of contemporary, post-9/11 society into the film to do so. The Joker’s mantras are fear and nihilism, manifested through terror threats. Gotham City, vulnerable, aching and scared because of its history, are the terrified. But the Nolans execute these scenes with perfection. The terror isn’t in the terrifying event itself, but in its anticipation. That’s where the epicness of The Dark Knight lies, within its thorough and unsettling sense of fear on a city-wide scale.

And those elements are completely dependent on how The Dark Knight functions as a crime drama, specifically on a human level. Some complain that Bruce Wayne is really the third most prevalent character of the film, and I wouldn’t disagree, but I would retort that that’s because, while Batman Begins is Bruce Wayne’s story, The Dark Knight is Batman’s story. The tragic fall of man necessary to crime dramas are found within Batman, Jim Gordon and, most obviously, Harvey Dent. All three are tested in ways that question their moral center and break their moral codes. The trio’s chemistry is dynamic and lively, grand and intimate. In that sense, The Dark Knight really does earn its comparisons as the contemporary version of The Godfather.

If the film had the efficiency and pacing of Batman Begins and a more overt necessity of Bruce Wayne, not as his own character, but as a necessary duality of Batman like The Dark Knight Rises, then The Dark Knight nears complete perfection. It stands slightly away from that, but there’s something to be said about how it handles the top of Bruce Wayne’s character arc. It is undoubtedly another cultural phenomenon, and a step forward for film altogether, and that matters for so much.

2. The Prestige

Christian Bale The Prestige

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For a long time, The Prestige went under-appreciated by most. But the film has aged unbelievably well, with many critics ranking it as Nolan’s best prior to Dunkirk‘s release. The Prestige will never match the cultural recognition of almost all of Nolan’s films. But it was, for a long time, his most perfectly crafted. Think the perfection, on all levels, of Memento, and intensify it.

The structure is informed, an illusion itself that defines the DNA of the film. There is no other way of telling this story. The shifts in time not only set up the deception, but thoroughly color and accent the rivalry — one of the best in contemporary film.

And that’s where The Prestige steps above Memento and, in turn, above most others: how its characters inhabit such its perfectly crafted world. The chemistry between Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, in regard to their hatred and despise of one another, is electric. Jackman is at his career best, owning his character’s desperation and obsession with an aura of truth that he only comes close to again in Logan. Bale’s performance is less overt, but just as impressive, with him having to convey a subtle truth about his character that builds just as much depth.

As said before, it all comes back down to the pitch perfect execution of their machinations. But it’s as the film wraps up, as the film pulls off its own “prestige,” that we begin to recognize how each frame that came before knew of its place, of its meaning — not one frame wasted. Some have strangely chided the film’s ending, but what’s built to in those final moments is really what the entire story was setting up thematically.

Oh, and did I mention that David Bowie (RIP) plays Nikola Tesla and is so good?

The Prestige has been the best of Nolan as a storyteller and a filmmaker for so long. But there’s just one aspect that’s let it sink, just one factor that keeps it away, and rightfully so, from the #1 spot.

1. Dunkirk 

Dunkirk 1

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It feels quite wrong for Nolan’s “best film” to not be a blockbuster, to not be a grand spectacle, and, truly, that’s what places Dunkirk above the rest. Its The Prestige-level of storytelling but in the massive scope that Nolan has always aimed for. Following was a showcase for his talents, and 19 years later, they’ve been fully realized.

Parring down dialogue and plot, not in response to critics, but in line with what the story calls for, Dunkirk features a method more refined than in any of Nolan’s other work. The film starts with a simple goal, of immersion, and branches out its impact from there.

The immersion starts with a capitalization of the IMAX 70mm format unlike any of his previous outings. Sound, cinematography, editing, setting, scale and the pure massive image on a true IMAX screen all coalesce and augment one another in ways that cinema should aim for visually. Cinema is about the image and, especially with this method, Dunkirk ends up being Nolan’s most cinematic endeavor.

But through immersion, he builds tension. His time-bending structure avoids gimmickry, evoking ideas of perspective and truth, but also serving as a literal experiential manipulation to manufacture the most intense action of his entire career. There’s such a viscerally invasive sense of suspense that grasps your spine and doesn’t let go for 106 minutes, only made more affecting by an entirely in-tune Hans Zimmer and his anxiety-inducing, rising, unforgiving score that makes use of the exact same manipulation to generate tension.

And, through the perfection of craft on all levels, through a singularity of filmmaking in all aspects, the film succeeds thematically as well. Each technical and more methodical choice seems to enrich theme, and that’s the way it should be.

Dunkirk is about the nameless, the faceless. It’s about the terror of war and the perspective of all of those involved in the action of this massive of event, while also digging down on a distinctly, intimately human level too. It’s about the disjointedness and senselessness of war and how that affects the humans involved, fair or not. But, finally, it’s about togetherness. Even with the disparate truths of experience between the soldiers in the air, the soldiers on the beaches and the civilians on the sea, Nolan builds a togetherness. He builds character, story and meaning through action, some moments more subtle than others, but all evoking what’s so special about the event and its aftermath: the “Dunkirk spirit.”

Dunkirk will never reach the cultural impact or significance of most of Nolan’s films. It couldn’t. But in its efforts of purely cinematic storytelling, on the big screen, and, on quite a new level for Nolan, what it means in regard to history and how it builds its truth, Dunkirk is something we haven’t gotten before, even with Nolan, and something we could only get with him in the future.

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