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The Best in Film of Spring 2018

By the end of the year, it’s rather easy to fall into the overwhelming consensus/narrative of what films and performances deserve Oscars. It’s often mostly made up of films that come out in the last four months of the year, with a few from the first eight months — but those had to be more than exceptional.

As that trend continues, it becomes more and more necessary to take the time to really explore the great work across crafts below and above the line from the beginning of the year. And so far, between the months of January and April, film has offered brilliance in so many regards, within both tiny independents and massive blockbusters.

Here is our breakdown of the best in film of Spring 2018:

Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Paul Bettany — Journey’s End

Nick Wall/Good Deed Entertainment/Courtesy

Journey’s End becomes so unnerving so quickly because of the specific tension that it evokes: of composed, orderly men slowly crumbling from the inside at the doom of war approaching. And while Sam Claflin offers the film’s most expressive, explicit performance, Paul Bettany nails that tension with subtle grace. His character’s initial calm and almost fatherly presence is impossible not to latch onto, making it all the more tragic to watch as even he starts to break down — a destabilization of his eyes and rockiness in his slowly suffocated breath. Bettany clearly controls every minute with a clear sense of the story’s path, anchoring the film as the events spiral out of control.

Runner-up: Hugh Grant — Paddington 2
3. Michael B. Jordan — Black Panther
4. Chris Hemsworth — Avengers: Infinity War
5. Jesse Plemons — Game Night

The Next 5
6. Ed Helms — Chappaquiddick
7. Alessandro Nivola — Disobedience
8. Shia LaBeouf —Borg vs. McEnroe
9. Anton Yelchin — Thoroughbreds
10. Simon Russell Beale — The Death of Stalin

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Winner: Camille Friend, Joel Harlow — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

Some may argue that Avengers: Infinity War is above Black Panther in this regard, simply because of the number of characters in makeup and the different styles of makeup. But this distinction shouldn’t be for the most work. In fact, Infinity War, even in aspects beyond makeup, bases a lot of itself in what’s come before.

Where Black Panther clearly stands out is in both its innovation and the world-building that the makeup and hair work accomplishes. The makeup is prevalent, but not overt. The prosthetics are integrated into the world-building. The hair is distinct and varied, wound into other design elements perfectly.

Runner-up: Deborah Rutherford, Brian Sipe, Janine Rath — Avengers: Infinity War
3. Kimberly Kimble, Allan A. Apone, Anita Brabec, Geno Freeman — A Wrinkle in Time

The Next 3
4. Tristan Versluis, Sian Grigg — Annihilation
5. AnnaCarin Lock — Borg vs. McEnroe
6. Lesley Noble, Conal Palmer, Roseann Samuel — Journey’s End

Best Costume Design

Winner: Ruth E. Carter — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

From a design standpoint, Black Panther is one of the most deeply felt films in the past number of years. Crafts are brilliant across the board, but it’s Ruth E. Carter’s costume design that pops the loudest and brightest.

The film not only features a wide variety of styles of a new world — from armor, to daily wear, to royal dress — and a wide variety of material distinctly from that world, but also informs each costume as a clear, storied product of Wakanda. That the costumes are also incredibly beautiful is a testament to the mastery of Carter.

Runner-up: Paco Delgado — A Wrinkle in Time
3. Suzie Harmen — The Death of Stalin
4. Judianna Makovsky — Avengers: Infinity War
5. Anushia Nieradzik — Journey’s End

The Next 5
6. Lindy Hemming — Paddington 2
7. Alex Bovaird — Thoroughbreds
8. Caroline Errington — Chappaquiddick
9. Kicki Ilander — Borg vs. McEnroe
10. Odile Dicks-Mireaux — Disobedience

Best Sound Editing

Winner: Daniel Laurie, Shannon Mills — Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

Avengers: Infinity War has the seemingly requisite barrage of guns and explosions. And these sounds are executed rather effectively and with blunt force.

But where Infinity War‘s sound editing shines is in the supernatural elements, such as those surrounding the infinity stones. The ear-ringing electricity present whenever Thanos gains a stone renders them magical, majestic and worthy of the power they end up displaying. And the sounds of the stones used in battle fully inform the mind-boggling visual effect they have. The film is truly galactic, and the sound editing follows suit.

Runner-up: Richard Hymns, Gary Rydstrom — Ready Player One
3. Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker — Black Panther
4. Glenn Freemantle, Niv Adiri — Annihilation
5. Stephen Griffiths, Andy Shelley — Journey’s End

The Next 5
6. Erik Aadahl, Brandon Jones, Ethan Van der Ryn — A Quiet Place
7. Wayne Lemmer, Christopher Scarabosio — Isle of Dogs
8. Malte Bieler, Emma Present — Pacific Rim: Uprising
9. Dominic Gibbs, Luke Gentry — Tomb Raider
10. Al Nelson, Andre Fenley — A Wrinkle in Time

Best Sound Mixing

Winner: Michael Barosky, Brandon Proctor — A Quiet Place

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

A Quiet Place is a film that tells its story primarily through sound. Within that distinction, the sound’s force is primarily in its mixing.

The calculation of not only when to drop, for example, a creak in the wood, but also of how loud to make the creak is supremely effective throughout. And the overall composition of the mix, beginning steeped in eerie quietude and then slowly introducing brutal, jarring sounds, is some of the best craft work of any type this year. But the mixes most impressive accomplishment is how it informs the physical human situation in the film. With the mix, we feel the horrifying physical strain of the characters throughout, and invest in their story because of that.

Runner-up: Juan Peralta, Tom Johnson, John Pritchett — Avengers: Infinity War
3. Niv Adiri, Michael Clayton, John Skehill, Ian Tapp — Annihilation
4. Dan Johnson, Bryn Thomas — Journey’s End
5. Steve Boeddeker, Peter J. Devlin, Brandon Proctor — Black Panther

The Next 5
6. Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson — Ready Player One
7. Wayne Lemmer, Christopher Scarabosio — Isle of Dogs
8. Hans Møller, Henric Andersson — Borg vs. McEnroe
9. Andrew Stirk, Johnathan Rush, Drew Kunin — You Were Never Really Here
10. Christopher Boyes, Willie D. Burton, Lora Hirschberg — A Wrinkle in Time

Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Jennifer Garner — Love, Simon

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

During the first two acts of Love, Simon, Jennifer Garner’s presence is notably felt, her warmth and charisma delightful.

What elevates Garner so high, though, is a scene rather similar to Michael Stuhlbarg’s shining moment in Call Me by Your Name — yet Garner distinguishes this as her own. We strain at Simon’s conflict throughout the film, and are devastated when it turns south. What makes his situation worse is that he seems so alone. So, when Garner’s character offers him some words of comfort, not only is Simon allowed to breathe, but we are too. But it took Garner’s full emotional investment in the scene, as she emanates a distinctly motherly wisdom. Garner delivers the monologue carefully, necessarily so, but offers a raw vulnerability at the same time; much of the final third’s stability is based in this moment and the work it does.

Runner-up: Gina Rodriguez — Annihilation
3. Letitia Wright — Black Panther
4. Rachel McAdams — Game Night
5. Geraldine Viswanathan — Blockers

The Next 5
6. Andrea Riseborough — The Death of Stalin
7. Millicent Simmonds — A Quiet Place
8. Zoe Saldana — Avengers: Infinity War
9. Tessa Thompson — Annihilation
10. Sally Hawkins — Paddington 2

Best Production Design

Winner: Hannah Beachler, Jay Hart — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

Some franchises get sequels, and even after a second film, their worlds still feel flat, uninspired and without life.

Black Panther is the exact opposite. Within the first act, the world of Wakanda lives vibrantly, and a huge reason for that is the production design. Like the costumes, the variety of designs, how informed each feel and how each build a specific aspect of Wakanda is a testament to the production design’s accomplishment. The throne room has the hallmark of superhero royal design, and yet, it is distinctly of Wakanda. And Shuri’s lab is as badass and visually exciting as any set throughout the MCU.

To make it plain and simple, look at how the sets of Wakanda are realized at the end of Captain America: Civil War and throughout Avengers: Infinity War. The difference is day and night.

Runner-up: Gary Williamson, Cathy Cosgrove — Paddington 2
3. Mark Digby, Michelle Day — Annihilation
4. Adam Stockhausen, Paul Harrod — Isle of Dogs
5. Jeffrey Beecroft, Heather Loeffler — A Quiet Place

The Next 5
6. Kristian Milsted, Libby Uppington — Journey’s End
7. Charles Wood, Lesley Pope — Avengers: Infinity War
8. Cristina Casali, Charlotte Dirickx — The Death of Stalin
9. Gary Freeman, Raffaella Giovannetti — Tomb Raider
10. Naomi Shohan, Elizabeth Keenan — A Wrinkle in Time

Best Visual Effects

Winner: Dan DeLeeuw, Jeff Capogreco, Varun Hadkar, Doug Spilatro — Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

The visual effects of Avengers: Infinity War are simultaneously a synthesis of the MCU and a grand expansion of it. We get our (brief) moment of Hulk. We get Iron Man in full action. We get Dr. Strange and Wong channeling their magic. We get Spider-Man slinging through New York. We get the Guardians going galactic.

But we also get each hero visualized in new situations, using new weapons/suits/powers in new settings. The scope is pushed to the max as Iron Man’s suit evolves in its capabilities, as Dr. Strange is pitted against powers he hasn’t faced, as Spider-Man is taken into space, as Thor gets an axe to replace his hammer. The scope is pushed to the max as the new worlds we see — Titan, Nidavellir, Vormir — begin to paint a brilliant universe that’s been devastated by an approaching apocalypse.

Certain moments are visual effects wonders, many of them on Titan. Thanos bringing down the moon on Iron Man is indescribably transfixing, and the Avengers taking on Thanos to try to remove his gauntlet is a masterful orchestration.

And this all comes without mention of the performance capture work. Where Andy Serkis and crew innovated with the Planet of the Apes trilogy, the team on Infinity War extends that. The children of Thanos are interesting visual pieces, Ebony Maw perhaps the most. But Thanos is clearly the visual effects star. Thanos’ stature, his palpable physicality, which turns into palpable dread for our heroes, is key to the film’s success, and his rendering is brilliant.

Runner-up: Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer — Ready Player One
3. Andrew Whitehurst — Annihilation
4. Nikos Kalaitzidis, Richard McBride — A Wrinkle In Time
5. Geoffrey Baumann, Stuart Lashley, Doug Spilatro — Black Panther

The Next 5
6. Jim Berney, Peter Chiang, Caleb Choo — Pacific Rim: Uprising
7. Scott Farrar — A Quiet Place
8. Rupert Davies, Andy Kind, Peter McDonald, Carlos Monzon, Glen Pratt — Paddington 2
9. Matt Sloan, R. Christopher White — Maze Runner: The Death Cure
10. Thrain Shadbolt, Colin Strause, Erik Winquist — Rampage

Best Film Editing

Winner: Jonathan Amos, Mark Everson — Paddington 2

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Paddington 2 gets nearly everything right. Its characterization is pitch perfect, its tone enchanting. Some of its sequences are simply magical.

And one of the most significant contributing factors to those aspects working as well as they do is the film’s editing. Montage sequences are put together with grace and energy akin to Wes Anderson films, some of them evoking the spy genre in both a genuine and lightly satirical way. The pacing never falters, the film running along briskly throughout. And cuts are leveraged so affectingly, perhaps most powerfully toward the film’s end. The overall piece of Paddington is as delectably crafted as a marmalade sandwich.

Runner-up: Barney Pilling — Annihilation
3. Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Christopher Tellefsen — A Quiet Place
5. Alex O’Flinn — The Rider

The Next 5
6. Joe Bini — You Were Never Really Here
7. Tania Reddin — Journey’s End
8. Debbie Berman, Michael P. Shawver — Black Panther
9. David Egan, Jamie Gross, Gregory Plotkin — Game Night
10. Jonathan Alberts — Lean on Pete

Best Cinematography

Winner: Bradford Young — Where Is Kyra?

Paladin/Courtesy

Before Bradford Young exposed the deep shadows of a galaxy far, far away, he utilized shadows to dig deep into the psychology of those in poverty. Where Is Kyra? is incredibly and literally dark throughout, and gets darker as the film goes. And Young’s detail in those shadows evokes so much about the despair of poverty. But Young also utilizes the close-up to profound effect. Many of the shots of Michelle Pfeiffer’s face are jarring, but necessarily so, in that they allow a raw, quiet look at her state of mind. And when things get desperate, the uncomfortable angles of close-ups, like in the image above, only further transport us emotionally.

Runner-up: Laurie Rose — Journey’s End
3. Trent Opaloch — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Joshua James Richard — The Rider
5. Rob Hardy — Annihilation

The Next 5
6. Rachel Morrison — Black Panther
7. Barry Peterson — Game Night
8. Charlotte Bruus Christensen — A Quiet Place
9. Triston Oliver — Isle of Dogs
10. Tom Townend — You Were Never Really Here

Best Original Score

Winner: Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury — Annihilation

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

The music of Annihilation stood out even before the film released, with that signature sound sticking in people’s minds and sites even writing articles pinpointing when it popped up.

But the fact that the score stands out is not what makes it so good. The shimmer is as equally horrifying as it is beautiful, and Barrow and Salisbury’s score replicates that, even instills that in the film. The electronic buzz is both paralyzing and dazzling, especially in the final act, as the piece “The Alien” renders the sequence on of the most stunning of recent memory.

And yet, the score also utilizes acoustic guitar in stark contrast, crafting an atmosphere of melancholy that perfectly delivers on the film’s rumination on mental pain.

Runner-up: Ludwig Göransson — Black Panther
3. Jonny Greenwood — You Were Never Really Here
4. Alexandre Desplat — Isle of Dogs
5. Marco Beltrami — A Quiet Place

The Next 5
6. Hildur Guðnadóttir, Natalie Holt — Journey’s End
7. Cliff Martinez — Game Night
8. Carlo Virzì — The Leisure Seeker
9. Dario Marianelli — Paddington 2
10. Alan Silvestri — Avengers: Infinity War

Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Chloé Zhao — The Rider

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

The Rider may feature plenty of dialogue that presents its themes up front. But that seems purposeful, as the film is really about the performative of that explicitness as well as the simple, but profound structure/progression of events.

Zhao’s script is gentle, but that allows the story to become rather forceful in its entirety. By its end, those simple, explicit lines of dialogue mean much more than they did at the film’s start.

Runner-up: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski — A Quiet Place
3. Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe — Blockers
4. Mark Perez — Game Night
5. Cory Finley — Thoroughbreds

The Next 5
6. Taylor Allen, Andrew Logan — Chappaquiddick
7. Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura — Isle of Dogs
8. Ronnie Sandahl — Borg vs. McEnroe
9. Andrew Dosunmu, Darci Picoult — Where Is Kyra?
10. Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer — Unsane

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

While Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Erik Killmonger is good, most of the powerful impact of the character comes from how he’s written — the dialogue of the character, his arc and the themes that his character touches on.

Writers Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole compose the character of Killmonger with staggering real world weight, but they also envision an entire new world of Wakanda stunningly. The idea of Wakanda as a thriving African nation because it has not been colonized is a fantastic start. Then, evoking isolationism as the country’s guiding theory and taking that into conflict with the responsibility such a nation might have to the ancestors of slaves/those colonized is so indescribably fascinating.

And despite what some others might suggest, this kind of thematic investigation could’ve only come through a superhero film. That Coogler and Cole’s script reaches that potential is the sign of its brilliance.

Runner-up: Paul King, Simon Farnaby — Paddington 2
3. Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Alex Garland — Annihilation
5. Lynne Ramsay — You Were Never Really Here

The Next 5
6. Andrew Haigh — Lean on Pete
7. Simon Reade — Journey’s End
8. Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin — The Death of Stalin
9. Sebastián Lelio, Rebecca Lenkiewicz — Disobedience
10. Elizabeth Berger, Isaac Aptaker — Love, Simon

Best Director

Winner: Paul King — Paddington 2

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Paddington 2 hits all the right notes. It is simultaneously a magical children’s film and a thought provoking film for adults, nailing a balance of charming storytelling and thematic heft. It is a play on spy films while also indulging in the genre. It is a wonder of costume design, visual effects, production design, music and multiple other crafts. And it’s acted to perfection.

Sometimes, a film that succeeds in so many areas doesn’t necessary coalesce into a successful whole. But Paddington 2 does. While Paul King may not be directly responsible for certain aspects of brilliance in the film, he is responsible for the compilation of those aspects into a single piece of art — the resulting film. And for that reason, King’s directing job deserves endless praise.

Runner-up: Alex Garland — Annihilation
3. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Ryan Coogler — Black Panther
5. Chloé Zhao — The Rider

The Next 5
6. John Krasinski — A Quiet Place
7. Lynne Ramsay — You Were Never Really Here
8. Saul Dibb — Journey’s End
9. Andrew Haigh — Lean on Pete
10. Kay Cannon — Blockers

Best Ensemble

Winner: The Cast of Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

The simple presence of so many lovable characters, characters we’ve come to care about over a decade, did not necessarily mean that the ensemble of Avengers: Infinity War would work. An ensemble needs on screen chemistry in the situations of its specific film, and they need to, as a whole, contribute to the themes of the films. Thankfully, the dozens of significant characters in Infinity War come together to continue the MCU’s run of infectious ensembles. The back and forth, especially between characters meeting for the first time, is spectacular, both in comedic moments such as those between Thor and the Guardians, as well as in dramatic moments such as those between Tony Stark and Doctor Strange. Finally, the interactions between the Avengers and Thanos are dreadful moments worthy of the six year anticipation of the villain’s arrival.

Runner-up: The Cast of Black Panther
3. The Cast of The Death of Stalin
4. The Cast of Game Night
5. The Cast of Paddington 2

The Next 5
6. The Cast of Blockers
7. The Cast of Annihilation
8. The Cast of Journey’s End
9. The Cast of Love, Simon
10. The Cast of Chappaquiddick

Best Lead Actor

Winner: Charlie Plummer — Lean on Pete

A24/Courtesy

Charlie Plummer’s performance in Lean on Pete is, in terms of how the character is evoked, rather similar to Timothée Chalamet’s in Call Me by Your Name — understated, and more powerful because of it.

In Lean on Pete, Plummer’s character Charley is guarded. His mom is gone. His dad is a drunk. He’s on his own — until he meets aging racing horse Lean on Pete. Plummer plays on that shell that Charley creates so well, utilizing his eyes as the main windows into who he really is, as the rest is mostly protection. There’s a gentleness and tranquility in Charley, but as he’s tested, Plummer evokes the risk of that gentleness turning sour in the transitions of reserved physicality to sudden panic. Plummer says everything through how little he does, rendering the most emotional moments where he doesn’t necessarily do anything so powerful because of his acting prior to those moments.

Runner-up: Joaquin Phoenix — You Were Never Really Here
3. Sam Claflin — Journey’s End
4. Jason Clarke — Chappaquiddick
5. Josh Brolin — Avengers: Infinity War

The Next 5
6. Brady Jandreau — The Rider
7. Nick Robinson — Love, Simon
8. Chadwick Boseman — Black Panther
9. John Krasinski — A Quiet Place
10. Sverrir Gudnason — Borg vs. McEnroe

Best Lead Actress

Winner: Michelle Pfeiffer — Where Is Kyra?

Paladin/Courtesy

Where Is Kyra? is a bracing film about poverty, but it needed an actress that could bear it all for the investigation. And Michelle Pfeiffer goes above and beyond. Her full emotions are underneath the surface, but her desperation is clear to see. Much of the plot traps her character into more and more difficult situations, and Pfeiffer embodies that trapped feeling, injecting into the physicality of her performance, specifically the muscles in her face. She delivers small outbursts so powerfully, but, just when we think we’ll finally see a full outburst of emotion, Pfeiffer contains it all into a simple, devastating look. Pfeiffer’s work is the epitome of harrowing, and it’s a performance we won’t soon forget.

Runner-up: Emily Blunt — A Quiet Place
3. Claire Foy — Unsane
4. Natalie Portman — Annihilation
5. Rachel McAdams — Disobedience

The Next 5
6. Anya Taylor-Joy — Thoroughbreds
7. Rachel Weisz — Disobedience
8. Olivia Cooke — Thoroughbreds
9. Alicia Vikander — Tomb Raider
10. Helen Mirren — The Leisure Seeker

Best Picture

Winner: Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

A “Best Picture” is a film that transcends the medium as powerfully as possible. That doesn’t mean it’s the “best” film and that doesn’t mean it has to be everyone’s favorite. A “Best Picture” has a sort of intangible quality to it that everyone, no matter if they think it’s the “best” or if it’s their favorite, can feel anyway.

So far in 2018, that film is indisputably Black Panther. Superhero films don’t get much celebration. Oftentimes, it makes sense. But in some cases, it’s incredibly sad, as superhero films can evoke ideas, emotions, themes, representation and much more in ways that other films can’t. Black Panther is a pinnacle of that in many regards. Its themes are precisely transcendent, in that they leverage the genre to make profound statements through a hypothetical, extremely imaginative, but always truthful lens.

The fact that there is legitimate argument that Black Panther is also the “best” film only solidifies its place. Ryan Coogler’s storytelling is bravely raw, but also expertly composed. And the design elements of the film and how they contribute to the film’s story represent the best of what film can do.

Hopefully, by the end of the year, no one forgets Black Panther‘s achievement.

Runner-up: Paddington 2
3. Annihilation
4. Avengers: Infinity War
5. The Rider
6. A Quiet Place
7. Journey’s End
8. You Were Never Really Here
9. Lean on Pete
10. Blockers

The Next 5
11. Game Night
12. Chappaquiddick
13. Disobedience
14. The Death of Stalin
15. Thoroughbreds

 

Voting contributions from Hooman Yazdanian.

Featured image via Marvel/Disney/Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros./Good Deed Entertainment.

‘La La Land’ and the love that fades

Mia and Seb don’t end up together.

For all of its swoon-inducing musical numbers and fantastical visions of romance, La La Land is a tale about how love doesn’t always work out. The film is a tender warning, but it’s not pessimistic. It’s empathetic, not just for love faded, but for people with passion. In fact, the first two minutes of La La Land, during the enchanting number “Another Day of Sun,” are about a break up, and a young woman’s drive to make it as an actress.

The entertainment industry is ruthless, and writer-director Damien Chazelle introduces us to this conflict immediately, as Mia gives everything to an audition — a monologue that hints at its own heartbreak — only to be interrupted in the middle of it.

Sebastian’s introduction is of the same note. His sister chastises him for his countless unpacked boxes, joking that it seems like he’s just gone through a breakup before trying to set him up with someone. But Seb stays stubborn. He’s waiting to unpack his boxes in his club and doesn’t think he’ll like her if she doesn’t like jazz. He defends his untidy space by saying that he had a serious plan, but was “shanghaied.” His sister retorts that he was just ripped off by some shady guy, suggesting that “shanghaied” is too romantic.

“Why do you say romantic like it’s a dirty word?”

At first, the line oozes with the cliche of a typical romantic, searching for love. But this mention of the word is not in regard to some past relationship or some goal for the perfect someone. It’s in relation to an idea of oneself as an artist doing everything they can to make it. Seb embraces a romance with music, unashamed.

And Mia wants to be an actress. Those are the goals that La La Land starts with. Those are the lives that it envisions from the start.

Yet, those are the lives that can so easily fall into one another, the people that can so easily fall in love with each other. Mia and Seb officially meet at a party, as she networks and he plays a crap gig. The meeting seems almost too full of fate, too romantic, but people with passion tend to fringe familiar space.

And immediately, within three minutes of their introduction, Damien Chazelle indulges in the magical with “A Lovely Night.”

Chazelle truly understands how otherworldly love can be, even when it’s simply the awkward, playful first sparks. Mia and Seb’s first song-and-dance is almost entirely about their initial rejection of the sparks. But Chazelle, composer Justin Hurwitz, choreographer Mandy Moore, and cinematographer Linus Sandgren inject the scene with a levity that makes it feel as though the two could float into the sky at any minute. A simple Los Angeles hillside is rendered as dazzling as a dream.

They start to embrace those sparks through support of each other’s passions. Artists know an artist’s inner fire better than anyone else ever could, so when one lifts up another in their pursuit of dreams, it means something.

Those sparks almost die out, but Mia finally makes the decision to light them. The two meet up again at a movie theater, and as the film stock of the movie they watch bubbles and burns out, it becomes abundantly clear what Chazelle is doing.

He’s not only suggesting that Mia and Seb’s love has become its own movie in that world, the film stock burning out just as they’re just about to kiss for the first time and their drive to Griffith Observatory replicating that from Rebel Without a Cause, but he’s utilizing the tools of cinema to accomplish this himself with his movie. He’s using his own passion to pay tribute to, to do true justice to love between passionate people. And when Mia and Seb run off to Griffith Observatory, there, finally, they both float into the sky

But no matter the feeling of love, or the feeling that cinema leaves us with, there is a reality underneath. And that’s the reality of two people with passion trying to pursue their goals as they pursue their love.

It’s difficult. There’s an incredibly thin line of balance where both people are able to make both parts of their lives work. Rather simply, Mia and Seb could not find that balance. They both compromised too much for them not to crack. As we saw at the beginning, Seb is a stubborn guy. He was prone to say something he’d regret with the stress of excessive compromise, like at the heartbreaking dinner scene. And in the whiplash of that realization, Seb responds by not compromising enough, missing Mia’s play and solidifying the crack.

In the fallout, the most crucial moment of delivering on the film’s themes, Damien Chazelle remains empathetic. While there may be a crack in the romantic love that had formed, the two hold onto love for each other as people, which includes a support for each other’s passions. Through that, Mia is finally able to break through. And with that comes the film’s most emotionally raw number, “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” — a song about love for art and love for artists.

La La Land comes to a close, the film’s final musical number perhaps its most transfixing, precisely because it’s the embodiment of the film’s empathy for people with a passion and for love faded. The fairytale that is “Epilogue” is simultaneously a magical cinematic commemoration to a love that was true and a what if for a love that could have been.

There was a chance for the film to end tragically, with Mia simply walking out of Seb’s. But a simple smile acknowledges and becomes everything that “Epilogue” represents.

Mia and Seb don’t end up together. But love sometimes doesn’t work out. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And that doesn’t mean it has to be reflected on as something sad.

Mia and Seb don’t end up together. And that’s okay.

 

Featured image via Lionsgate.

10 Most Anticipated Films of the Summer

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

10. Hotel Artemis

Global Road/Courtesy

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

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

9. Leave No Trace

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

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

8. Eighth Grade

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

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

7. Incredibles 2

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

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

6. BlacKkKlansman

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

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

5. Sorry to Bother You

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

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

4. Under the Silver Lake

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

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

3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

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

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

2. Hereditary

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

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

1. Solo: A Star Wars Story

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

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

 

Featured image via Annapurna/Pixar/A24/Lucasfilm.

‘Blockers’ Review: A comedy as raunchy as it is heartfelt

The primary narrative strand in Blockers follows Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) as they try to stop their daughters — Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) — from losing their virginity on prom night. Immediately, it sounds like a comedy we’ve seen before.

What makes Blockers so refreshing and delightful, though, is that this point-of-view is not the location of our heroes, who are the daughters, but it’s also an entirely necessary point-of-view to pull off what the film sets out to.

Blockers is littered with its share of awfully raunchy, unambiguously absurdist moments of comedy, and director Kay Cannon injects an infectious energy into each one, primarily through razor sharp pacing. But Cannon also utilizes nearly every single one of these moments to develop character. Comedies can run themselves into the ground when the humor exists for the sake of itself, but Blockers dedicates itself to its story and never falters.

Most of these moments, in fact, challenge the parents and their perceptions of their children. Is it right for these parents to try to “save” their daughters? Would they do the same if it were about their sons? The trio are framed as anti-heroes, but are still allowed sympathy, leaving the door open for redemption.

As these parents learn to accept their daughters, the daughters are learning to accept themselves, but not necessarily from a starting point of negative. Cannon brings a tone of sensitivity to these women’s explorations of their sexuality, affirming them rather than shaming them, while still offering them their own hilarious bits.

It truly is an outstanding balancing act from Cannon, who is aided by an equally outstanding ensemble. Mann, in the leading role, is as steady as she ever has been. Barinholtz both plays into type as the over-the-top idiot, while also playing against type as a surprisingly progressive father. Cena capitalizes on the tough guy persona, rendering his sensitive moments hysterical in juxtaposition. Newton is certainly serviceable, but Adlon shines with her vulnerability and Viswanathan nearly steals the whole show.

And when Blockers brings the families together toward the end, that dedication to the story the film set out to tell from the beginning pays off, leaving us with some genuinely powerful quiet moments.

Grade: B

 

Featured image via Universal Pictures.

‘Chappaquiddick’ Review: An unsettling portrait of political gaslighting

Political scandals are nothing new, or quite surprising, in today’s world. And as possible, even likely, as it is that Chappaquiddick was made without the specifics of today’s world in mind, its release at this moment in time colors the film in a deeply unsettling way.

The film picks up with Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke), brother to the assassinated John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, at a turning point in his life. After a party and some drinks, he takes a drive with Mary Jo Kopechne — a drive that ends with the car flipped off of a bridge into the water off Chappaquiddick island, and Mary Jo dead by drowning.

But Chappaquiddick doesn’t choose to focus on the event itself for too long. A majority of the story revolves around the aftermath, around Ted Kennedy’s attempts to turn himself from a possible criminal into another victim of the event. And that is where the film reaches into the filth of politics.

Rather early on, the film takes a side. Ted, on his way back to mainland, is advised by his cousin Joseph Gargan (Ed Helms) to immediately notify the police the night of the accident, and director John Curran chooses to crosscut between Ted ignoring Gargan’s advice and Mary Jo screaming for help, clinging onto the sliver of air left in the car as it sinks. The sequence is incredibly uncomfortable and infuriating to watch, but that’s purposeful and effective to the story the film tells.

Much of the visual look of Chappaquiddick, in regard to the costume design and production design, is rather standard, and risks rendering the film dull. But Curran’s composition of the film continues to work to reveal political filth. As Ted and the powerhouse publicity/legal team put together by his father plan their “version of the truth,” Curran chooses to literally manifest and show the type of story that they plan to feed to the American people, granting the film an almost dry-yet-unnerving humor in the immorality of it all. At a point, the film’s use of visual juxtaposition becomes almost cruel in its effectiveness, such as when the edit reveals that the manipulation is working on, of all people, Mary Jo’s parents.

Chappaquiddick does present us with some sense of identification in the form of Gargan. While the film makes clear in its editing that Gargan is, at the end of the day, complicit, the character creates constant tension at nearly every development. Ed Helms is particularly magnificent, the role playing into the typical good-guy tone that Helms is so good at, while also offering some quiet (and loud) dramatic moments that we don’t see much of from him.

But the film undoubtedly rests on the shoulders of Jason Clarke, and Clarke turns in one of his finest performances. He takes a character so clearly positioned as an anti-hero and doesn’t necessarily make him sympathetic, but makes him intriguing, accentuating the despicable faults of Ted Kennedy with force. Clarke hits on the pressure that the character feels with that last name and, in turn, evokes the whiplash infantilism, masked in the facade of the mysticism of “Kennedy,” that that pressure has resulted in.

And that is precisely why the film succeeds. It doesn’t deny the mysticism of the Kennedy family. It just simply understands that that mysticism can turn very, very ugly.

Grade: B

 

Featured image via Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures.