Tag Archives: Denis Villeneuve

‘Blade Runner 2049’ Review: Sci-fi sequel is a masterpiece that questions the constitution of humanity

What does it mean to be human? Is it the capacity to feel emotions? To feel sadness? Happiness? Fear? Is it the ability to live with a purpose? To die? To remember your past?

If so, then can replicants be the next evolution of mankind?

These are all questions the landmark 1982 Blade Runner wisely posed, but refused to answer in simple measures. This year’s follow up, Denis Villeneuve’s visual masterpiece Blade Runner 2049, brings all of these questions back to the forefront, only to magnify the stakes, in an event that multiple characters either say will “break the world,” or be a “miracle.”

Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is tasked with getting to the bottom of this event, slowly uncovering the hidden truths from the world. Gosling, in full Drive-mode, stoic and commanding for the entire run time, carries this complex, intellectual film with ease. With a performance that starts as closed-off from portraying emotions (a battle-hardened blade runner), he, over the course the film, sells his character’s quiet, but moving arc about a man placed in a burgeoning war between man and its closest competitor: the replicants.

In fact, all of the actors bring their A-game, with Ana de Armas (War Dogs) and Carla Juri (Wetlands) making the most of their relatively small screen-time. However, outside of Gosling, it really is Harrison Ford — reprising his role of Deckard — who steals the show. Where Ford’s performance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was pure fan service, his role in BR2049 is much more demanding, much more emotional. In every scene Ford inhabits, the camera and the other actors are as glued to him as the audience is, watching this withering, soul-crushed character coping with memories lost in time. Whether it’ll gain awards traction or not is a different debate, but seeing Ford this committed to bearing his heart and mind is stunning.

What else is stunning is the incredible craft work on display. The production design, the score, the sound and the editing, despite its nearly three hour run time, are consistently spectacular. Yet, it is Roger Deakins and his mastery of light and composition that dominate the film. It’s arguably his most showy cinematography ever, yet it’s all in service of the film’s controlled atmospherics. With straight line designs, piercing rays of light through the darkest of locations, or an extended take involving a crashing vehicle, BR2049 is inarguably the showcase for all of Deakins’ exquisite powers behind the camera. After 13 Oscar nominations and no wins, it appears it’s finally his time.

Regardless of awards though, Blade Runner 2049’s insistence on posing the biggest of big existential questions, and powerfully refusing to offer simple answers, makes this a modern science fiction masterpiece. Denis Villeneuve, much like Christopher Nolan, takes his spot alongside the pantheon of great cinematic artists who push big budget filmmaking to another level — finally making blockbusters “more human than human.”

Grade: 9.6/10

 

Featured image via Warner Bros./Columbia/Sony.

Top 10 science fiction films since 2010

With the release of the decades-in-the-making Blade Runner 2049 nearly upon us, the MovieMinis staff compiled a list of what we believe to be the best science fiction movies of the last several years. The genre has seen a bit of a resurgence in the past decade. Both big-budget and independent filmmakers have leaned on sci-fi as a means of approaching Hollywood from a new, daring angle. And while for every Interstellar there’s bound to be an unfortunate Battleship, there’s no denying that the good outweighs the bad (or, in Battleship’s case, the very, very bad). Without further ado, here are the MovieMinis picks for Top 10 Sci-Fi Films of the 2010s:

10. (Tie) Upstream Color

erbp/Courtesy

Shane Carruth will likely never get the mainstream credit he deserves, but, then again, even the cinephiles enraptured by his work have yet to agree on the meaning of either of his two sci-fi masterpieces: Primer and Upstream Color. Whether Upstream Color is more of an experimental exploration of a deteriorating relationship or, rather, an unsettling science fiction narrative about mind control and the unforeseen power of the natural world may still be up for debate. Yet, what is not up for debate is the technical brilliance and narrative abstraction working seamlessly together to create an uncommonly intelligent experience that expects the audience not only to be engaged, but to actively want to work for any semblance of an answer. If that isn’t a hallmark of the best sci-fi works across all mediums, then I don’t know what is.

— Levi Hill

10. (Tie) Snowpiercer

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Prior to the well-known Netflix film Okja, Bong Joon-ho started working with American actors on Snowpiercer, the adaptation of the French graphic novel La Transperceneige — and what he gave us is a science fiction film that the US film industry is not worthy of. While obvious in its commentary on the class system, the film is far more layered in that commentary, and that commentary is far more wide-reaching in scope, than it may let on. Not only deconstructing the upper class’ oppression of the lower class, Snowpiercer thoroughly dissects the idea of how flawed a rebellion can be and how malleable a the middle class truly is. And while that rebellion happens, always pushing forward, shot in stunning tracking profiles, the film focuses in on the two Asian characters who are always concerned with what’s outside of the train. In that, Joon-ho breaks down the barriers of the system, quite literally at points, to show that that’s not all there is.

All of that is simply the allegorical underpinnings of the story, which also features brilliant performances from Chris Evans, at perhaps his finest, and Tilda Swinton, in one of her most transformed roles. The action is breathtaking and the production design is integral, and feels organic, to the world that Joon-ho builds. Snowpiercer is inventive science fiction, in ways that both make the most of the storytelling style of the American system — a machine of forced, strict linearity — while also showing that perhaps the best kind of storytelling is that which can look outside of the system.

— Kyle Kizu

9. War for the Planet of the Apes

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

There’s arguably more “war” in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes than in War for the Planet of the Apes, but therein lies the success of this trilogy-closer — War is a methodical, elemental and profound examination of conflict, rather than an outright staging of conflict. As a result, we see Caesar (Andy Serkis, giving the performance of his career) fall to depths previously unimaginable, so, when he rises, it becomes a triumphant moment for the character, the franchise and the entire genre. Speaking of genre, this film returns sci-fi to its allegorical roots — before mother! unveiled its own take on the Bible, War turned Caesar into a Mosaic hero leading the film’s spin on the Book of Exodus. Forget The Batman, Matt Reeves already has a perfect trilogy on his hands.

— Harrison Tunggal

8. Looper

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That Looper is Rian Johnson’s only jump into science fiction filmmaking, prior to his small gig of directing the upcoming 8th episode of the biggest franchise in the world, is bizarre when considering the good amount of the craft, skill and storytelling that he proved within the genre. Starring a nearly unrecognizable Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a wholly committed Bruce Willis — which is sadly rare these days — Looper takes a time-traveling high concept, that would work on its own storytelling premise, and wisely adds in a considerable amount of heart about the cycle of violence. The filmmaking ambition that Johnson illustrates with a third of the budget of most sci-fi blockbusters is exactly why there is an intense amount of hope behind the impending greatness of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

— Levi Hill

7. ex_machina

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Part psychological-thriller, part romantic drama and all science fiction, Alex Garland’s 2014 indie sleeper hit not only put actress Alicia Vikander on the map, but it also redefined the extent to which humanity can play an integral role in a cyborgian sci-fi film. By crafting a narrative centered around identity, autonomy and sentience on such a small scale, Garland elicits a much more personal chemistry between his three leads (Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac) that leads to more electric and shocking interactions over the course of the story. For a film to so fully resemble a character study that the existential debate it poses over technological consciousness becomes the least intriguing aspect onscreen (relatively speaking, of course) is not an easy feat, yet ex_machina accomplishes this in spades.  

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

6. Interstellar

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Interstellar may not be Christopher Nolan’s best work — that honor could be argued for Inception, The Dark Knight or even Dunkirk — but it is, after retrospection and consideration of the value of film as art, undoubtedly his most important. There are few films in recent memory, if any at all, that try to tackle our purpose, our mission, our existence as living beings on a massive scope, while still basing that investigation in the deeply personal quite like Interstellar does. Immediately throwing away the egocentric idea that the Earth is “ours,” Interstellar forces us to consider our place in the universe and asks what continued survival really means. Is the decimation of those on Earth worth the prolonged existence of humans as a species? Or is it our very connections, our very love that we create with one another that is the key to our survival, and thus cannot be thrown away? In proposing those questions, Interstellar utilizes perhaps the strongest, most imprisoning and debilitating antagonist not only in film, but in life: time. We’re all bound by time, intrinsic to our existence as three dimensional beings, and cannot stop the ever moving train of life that will lead us to inevitable death. With that, epitomized by Cooper leaving his family behind to go on his mission, the film asks: how do we reconcile ourselves with the fact of existence of billions of others, and how do we honor that reconciliation without truly abandoning those we love?

While it may not be the most well-made of Nolan’s films, it has various aspects that epitomize his greatest strengths as a storyteller. Nolan’s collaborations with Hans Zimmer reach their pinnacle with Interstellar, as Zimmer composes his most vulnerable and affecting score yet. Nolan’s work with actors is notably less involved than some other directors, as Nolan leaves a lot of the responsibility up to the actor to understand the character within the story first and foremost. With Interstellar, that understanding finds a symphonic unity with Matthew McConaughey, who turns in his most committed performance. And while Nolan may not be a subtle writer, his screenplays are always haunting in at least some regard. The goodbye scene between Cooper and Murph is an example of tragic poetics, as is the video message scene, both written with an intimacy, love and sense of human existence within the many questions he presents that all coalesce stunningly. And the potential of Nolan’s practical chops as a director are fulfilled in the action sequence — the docking scene should go down as one of the most triumphant, and brilliant composed, in science fiction history.

Interstellar, already with so many singular qualities, even further distinguishes itself in the genre of science fiction by not only basing itself in accurate science and legitimate theoretical astrophysics, but organically utilizing those elements within its narrative. The visuals of the wormhole and the black hole were created from genuine equations written by executive producer and notable astrophysicist Kip Thorne, which lends a sort of tangible credence to them (and even helped Thorne write two papers on scientific discoveries from the visual effects). And, in regard to the narrative, time is inherently connected to astrophysics, and Nolan’s use of time as a narrative device to score the tragedy of humankind, and specifically the tragedy of a father and a daughter, is overwhelmingly heartbreaking.

Interstellar presents the type of big questions, and ways of tackling them, that we should demand from science fiction films that venture out into space because few other films genuinely try to answer them, let alone propose them in the first place. Interstellar does both, and is not afraid to embrace the intimacy of our humanity either.

— Kyle Kizu

5. Arrival

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In Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, alien spacecrafts descend upon the earth, hoping to end the cycle of violence that has always withheld humanity from achieving its full potential as a species. The aliens arrived when the people of earth needed them most. Eerily, Arrival did the same for us, releasing in the US three days after the 2016 presidential election. To the millions of people to whom Donald Trump poses an existential threat, the film was a reminder to not lose hope — an affirmation that our baser human instincts don’t hold a candle to empathy and communication. To the rest of the country, the film was a warning that vitriol is never the basis for progress. It’s hard to think of a film more urgent than Arrival, harder still to think of one more beautiful and profound.

— Harrison Tunggal

4. Her

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Though less overtly “sci-fi” than most other films on this list, Spike Jonze’s Her is one of the most thoroughly, organically defined. The film is set in a near future where artificial intelligence exists and people have distanced themselves from each other even further, and the design of each and every single frame, which acts to set forth those notions, is breathtaking. From the wandering souls walking through a much larger Los Angeles (shot partially in China) to the stunning skyscraper-high apartments, Her is arguably as well built of a world as Mad Max: Fury Road, yet on the other end of the spectrum. But Jonze doesn’t simply present a new kind of world; he crafts characters that feel like genuine parts of that world. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant as Theodore Twombly, and the simultaneous intense disconnect and vulnerable sincerity have remnants in today’s world, just brought to their extreme here. And the love story told — between a man and an artificially intelligent device — is one of the most tragically beautiful and heartbreaking ever put to film. Her is a true gem, one that only the mind of Spike Jonze could conjure up.

— Kyle Kizu

3. World of Tomorrow

Bitter Films/Courtesy

Watching the 16 minutes that comprise animator Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, one feels as though every frame of it could inspire multiple film adaptations, novels aplenty and one or two television shows. The short film tackles capitalism, time travel, cloning, the evolution of the internet, mortality, the limitations of art, slavery, artificial intelligence, love (the love of sparkly rocks, aliens named Simon and clones named David, specifically), economic recessions and depressed poetry. But this isn’t to say that the film is incoherent — it is a delight to discover, and its endless invention is a joy to experience as it washes over the perplexed, awed viewer. As an older version of Emily explains the titular future world to her younger self, one begins to grasp the futility of explaining the foibles and idiosyncrasies of our own times to the more innocent people we were as toddlers. Futile as such an attempt might be, one can’t help but feel excited for the sequel Hertzfeldt has planned.

— Harrison Tunggal

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

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George Miller’s return to the franchise that he started way back in 1979 was the most welcome of returns. Who knew a four-quel that features endlessly bombastic sound and rapid-fire editing could be not only one of the best science fiction films this decade, but truly ever. Using the Mad Max mythology of Earth becoming a completely desolate wasteland and humanity becoming even more desolate in their compassion, Miller retools the story and setting to not only create a powerful environmental message against misunderstanding sustainability, but also a tale about the tyranny men preside over others, women in particular. Acting as a not-so-subtle allegory for triumphant women and the resistance against their male oppressors — which grows more relevant by the day under the current presidential regime — Mad Max: Fury Road is just a hell of a movie. In fact, in an era of blockbusters mostly devoid of risk and danger or even vision, Fury Road was the adrenaline needle, straight to the heart, that we needed — just to remind us that there’s no art form quite as emotionally exhilarating as cinema.

— Levi Hill

1. Inception

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Following the release of The Dark Knight, there must have been those who thought director Christopher Nolan had undoubtedly crafted his magnum opus with the comic book crime epic. That was, until Inception hit theaters. Conceptually daring in its coupling of the time-tested caper film with the more abstract and imaginative idea of transitory dreamscapes, Inception represents a paragon of contemporary science fiction cinema. From the kaleidoscopic manipulation of Wally Pfister’s beautiful cinematography to Hans Zimmer’s now iconic score (complete with brass fanfare), Nolan and his crew created a motion picture that has made a lasting impact on the cultural zeitgeist. When “your mind is the scene of the crime,” there’s a lot of room for interpretation on the inner workings of the human psyche, and Nolan’s idea to not only enter that arena but to incorporate his signature style of paradoxical large-scale intimacy lets players like Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard and Tom Hardy to fully realize their character’s roles within a larger, engaging and cohesive script.  The methods through which Nolan tests the limits of his audience’s suspension of disbelief, and of reality itself, are grounded by a through line of realism so that whether it be the instantaneous degradation of a building or a slow-motion free fall off a bridge, the audience is kept captivated through and through. Inception will somehow make you feel simultaneously astounded, satisfied, confused and frustrated as you find yourself asking – was it all just a dream?

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

Honorable mentions: Guardians of the Galaxy, The Martian, Source Code, Gravity

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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