Tag Archives: Interstellar

March Madness of Movies: Introducing the Brackets

Now that it’s March and the NCAA will be hosting its annual March Madness tournament soon, we at MovieMinis thought to have our own tournaments, but, of course, with movies.

In the bracket style of March Madness, we will run through four different topics in what we’re calling the March Madness of Movies.

But rather than stick to general topics, such as Best Superhero Movie or Best Animated Movie, we wanted to get specific, to vote on aspects of film that could potentially make for a much more fascinating tournament.

The four topics we ended up on are:

  • Best A24 Films
  • Best Superhero Villain of the 21st Century
  • Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century (cutoff at a $75 million production budget)
  • Best Cinematography Since 2010

In this write-up, we’re introducing the brackets, and in subsequent weeks, we will release the results of each round.

For each bracket, we laid out tons of potential contenders, and after a week of painful voting, we seeded each bracket. We must note that, in working through the seeding process, we were reminded of a terrible reality in the film industry.

In the potential contenders for Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century, with a cutoff at a $75 million production budget, there were only nine films directed by women, many of them with male co-directors. Only one ended up making our bracket, certainly not as a representation of talent, but as a magnification and emphasis of the problem. For perspective, there were literally hundreds directed by men, and the men were mostly white. This is a rampant problem in Hollywood. Women and people of color — and above all, women of color — are not only not given many chances, but when they are, failure, in any way, results in horribly unfair consequences; in essence, they’re less likely to get another chance than a white man is. This problem applies to cinematography too. In the potential contenders for that bracket, there was a proportionally similar compilation. While female cinematographers received votes, none made our bracket — again, not as a representation of talent, but as a magnification and emphasis of the problem. Hollywood must change, and part of that change comes from not ignoring the problem anymore. We need more big budget films directed by women and people of color, and we need more films, in general, lensed by women and people of color. We need women and people of color involved in every level of pre-production, production and post-production. For more statistics on female directors of big budget films, read Terry Huang’s piece on The Black List blog.

With that in mind, let’s move into how the brackets shaped up:

Best A24 Films

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Moonlight and Lady Bird earned #1 seeds. Joining them were The Florida Project and A Ghost Story. Those four films will face off against #8 seeds Green RoomMorris From AmericaDe Palma and Menashe.

The next set of top films, the #2 seeds, were Swiss Army Man20th Century WomenThe Lobster and Ex Machina, which will face off against #7 seeds The LoversWhile We’re YoungKrisha and Spring Breakers.

The #3 seeds were a mix of widely awarded films and incredibly acclaimed genre/indie pictures: LockeRoomThe Witch and Good Time. The #6 seeds that they’ll compete against leaned more toward the indie darling: The Spectacular NowThe Bling RingUnder the Skin and Enemy.

Finally, in the middle of the pack were #4 seeds American Honey, Obvious ChildA Most Violent Year and It Comes At Night, as well as #5 seeds AmyThe End of the TourThe Disaster Artist and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

Best Superhero Villain of the 21st Century

This bracket is made up of four subcategories — MCU villains, DC villains, X-Men villains and villains from other properties — and we pulled eight contenders from each subcategory to compete. Instead of leaving them in their own sections, however, we then mixed them up and seeded from there. And we kept it to just eight per subcategory because it seemed more interesting than a likely lopsided MCU bunch had we not had that limit.

And this bracket is not just about performances. It’s about the villain, the character. That involves the writing and the directing of that character too.

With that said, the first three #1 seeds were rather simple to come to: Heath Ledger’s The Joker from The Dark Knight, Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger from Black Panther and Ian McKellen’s Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto from X-MenX2 and X-Men: The Last Stand

Perhaps surprisingly to some who dislike the character, our staff showed strong support for Tom Hardy’s Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, who took that final #1 seed.

Those four will take on #8 seeds Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw from X-Men: First Class, Ed Skrein’s Francis/Ajax from Deadpool, Mark Strong’s Frank D’Amico from Kickass and Kurt Russell’s Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

The #2 seeds went to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki from various MCU films, Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2, the other Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (played by Michael Fassbender) from the most recent X-Men trilogy and the second The Dark Knight inclusion, Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent/Two Face.

The #7 seeds who will battle these four are Zach Galifianakis’ The Joker from The LEGO Batman Movie, Hugh Jackman’s X-24 from Logan, James Franco’s Harry Osborn/New Goblin from Spider-Man 3 and Michael Shannon’s General Zod from Man of Steel.

Two of the #3 seeds went to the last two Captain America films; Daniel Brühl’s Helmut Zemo from Civil War and Sebastian Stan’s The Winter Soldier (not Bucky Barnes) from The Winter Soldier. Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul from Batman Begins and Jason Lee’s Buddy Pine/Syndrome from The Incredibles earned the other two #3 seeds. 

Competing against them are #6 seeds James Cromwell’s Professor Robert Callaghan from Big Hero 6, Dane DeHaan’s Andrew Detmer from Chronicle, Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask from X-Men: Days of Future Past and the Sentinels that Trask unleashed onto the X-Men, also from X-Men: Days of Future Past.

In the middle of the pack, earning #4 seeds, were Cillian Murphy’s Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow from the entire The Dark Knight trilogy, Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn/Green Goblin from Spider-Man, Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass from Unbreakable and Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue from Avengers: Age of Ultron and Black Panther. They’ll match up against #5 seeds Hugo Weaving’s Johann Schmidt/Red Skull from Captain America: The First Avenger, Brian Cox’s Col. William Stryker from X2, Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes/Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century

This bracket was split up into four different subcategories. Those were “Superhero Directing” (in the upper left), “Franchise Directing” (in the lower left), “Prestige/Original/Non-Studio Franchise Directing” (in the upper right) and “Animated Directing” (in the lower right). We took some liberties with this. Mad Max: Fury Road is a part of a franchise, but we concluded that it felt more in line with its current group than it would’ve among the franchise contenders.

In Superhero Directing:

Christopher Nolan easily earned a #1 seed; many even believe that he should’ve gotten an Oscar nomination for his efforts on The Dark Knight. He’ll face off against #8 seed Tim Miller for the subversive Deadpool.

Coming in behind Nolan in the #2 seed was Ryan Coogler for Black Panther, a cultural phenomenon that many believe could become the first superhero film nominated for Best Picture.

The #3 seed went to Joe Russo and Anthony Russo for Captain America: Civil War; the Russo brothers also placed in the #7 seed for Captain America: Civil War. James Gunn will take on the Civil War Russos with #6 seed Guardians of the Galaxy.

The middle match-up comes from 2017 films: the #4 seed James Mangold for Logan and the #5 seed Patty Jenkins for Wonder Woman.

In Franchise Directing:

Peter Jackson quite easily snagged the #1 seed for his directing job on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. He’s the only Best Director winner out of five nominated efforts in this bracket. Facing of against him is #8 seed Martin Campbell for the first Daniel Craig James Bond film Casino Royale.

Sam Mendes, director of another Craig Bond film, Skyfall, made the bracket as the #6 seed. He’ll compete with #3 seed Matt Reeves for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Like Bond, Matt Reeves made his subcategory twice, earning the #2 seed for War for the Planet of the Apes. He’ll take on our perhaps surprising Star Wars inclusion, #7 seed Gareth Edwards for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Finally, with some of the most acclaimed films of the subcategory, #4 seed Alfonso Cuarón for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban will battle #5 seed Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049.

In Prestige/Original/Non-Franchise Studio Directing

David Fincher’s Zodiac has become regarded as on the best films, in general, of the 21st century, so he glided into a #1 seed pretty smoothly. But his contender is a tough one: #8 seed Alfonso Cuarón for landmark sci-fi film Children of Men.

George Miller earned the #2 seed for his masterful work on Mad Max: Fury Road, and will face of against legendary director and #7 seed Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street.

Scorsese made this subcategory twice, taking the #3 seed for his directing job on The Aviator. His opponent is #6 seed Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, who also made this subcategory twice, placing as the #4 seed for Inception. He’ll take on #5 seed Peter Jackson for King Kong.

In Animated Directing:

Quite predictably, Pixar dominated this bracket, with #1 seeds Pete Docter and Bob Peterson for Up, #2 seed Brad Bird for The Incredibles, #3 seed Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3, #4 seed Andrew Stanton for WALL-E, #6 seeds Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen for Inside Out and #8 seeds Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina for Coco.

But other animation directors made it through with their beloved films. Rounding out the eight were #5 seeds Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders for How to Train Your Dragon, and #7 seeds Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall and Chris Williams for Disney’s Moana.

Best Cinematography Since 2010

Even with setting the parameter of cinematography since 2010, there were still an overwhelming number of potential contenders and our votes were widely varied, resulting in a bracket that truly represents a mix of our opinions.

The #1 seeds did stand out, however: Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s lensing of The Master, Andrew Droz Palermo’s work on A Ghost Story, Roger Deakins Oscar-winning efforts on Blade Runner 2049 and Hoyte van Hoytema’s unforgettable photography on Her.

In fact, both Deakins and van Hoytema made this bracket three times. Deakins also earned a #3 seed for Skyfall and a #6 seed for Sicario. van Hoytema’s other two were Christopher Nolan films, a #2 seed for Dunkirk and a #6 seed for Interstellar.

Bradford Young also made this bracket three times, taking a #2 seed for Arrival, a #7 seed for A Most Violent Year and a #8 seed for Mother of George.

But, of course, 3-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki placed more than everyone with four spots: a #2 seed for The Tree of Life, a #3 seed for Gravity, a #5 seed for The Revenant and a #7 seed for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

The rest of the bracket is filled with stunning photography. Oscar winner Linus Sandgren earned a #2 seed for his work on La La Land. Other cinematographers of 2016 took spots as well, with James Laxton earning a #4 seed for Moonlight and Rodrigo Prieto earning a #4 seed for Silence.

Work from 2015 films rounded out the #3 seeds: Dick Pope for Mr. Turner and John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road. The other #4 seeds were Luca Bigazzi for The Great Beauty and Bruno Delbonnel for Inside Llewyn Davis.

While Hoyte van Hoytema may have two Nolan films on this bracket, Nolan’s former cinematographer, Wally Pfister, earned a #5 for his Oscar-winning work on Inception. Rather recent photography also seeded #5: Rob Hardy for Annihilation and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom for Call Me by Your Name.

In fact, a couple of Roberts placed here. Robert D. Yeoman placed in the #6 seed for The Grand Budapest Hotel and the #7 seed for Moonrise Kingdom. Robert Richardson also seeded #6 for Django Unchained, while Robert Elswit was another Paul Thomas Anderson cinematographer to place, earning a #8 seed for Inherent Vice..

Finally, the last few contenders are #7 seed Masanobu Takayanagi for Hostiles, #8 seed Darius Khondji for The Lost City of Z and #8 seed Seamus McGarvey for Godzilla.

 

Follow along throughout March as we vote on these brackets and determine the best of each topic!

 

Featured image via Marvel Studios/Warner Bros./A24.

25 most anticipated films of 2018

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

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

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

25. Bios

Dick Thomas Johnson/Courtesy

Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik

Written by: Craig Luck, Ivor Powell

Starring: Tom Hanks

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

24. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

Directed by: Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman

Written by: Phil Lord

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

Release date: December 14, 2018

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

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

23. A Wrinkle in Time

Disney/Courtesy

Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Written by: Jennifer Lee

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

Release date: March 9, 2018

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

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

22. At Eternity’s Gate

Josh Jensen/Courtesy

Directed by: Julian Schnabel

Written by: Jean-Claude Carrière, Julian Schnabel

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Oscar Isaac

Release date: Expected in 2018, currently filming

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

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

21. Creed II

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Directed by: Steven Caple Jr.

Written by: Cheo Hodari Coker, Sylvester Stallone

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

Release date: November 21, 2018

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

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

20. Proxima

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: Alice Winocour

Written by: Alice Winocour

Starring: Eva Green, Lars Eidinger

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

19. Newsflash

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: David Gordon Green

Written by: Ben Jacoby

Starring: Seth Rogen

Release date: November 22, 2018

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

18. Mission: Impossible 6

Christopher McQuarrie/Paramount/Courtesy

Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie

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

Release date: July 27, 2018

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

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

17. On the Basis of Sex

Dick Thomas Johnson/Courtesy

Directed by: Mimi Leder

Written by: Daniel Stiepleman

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

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

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

— Kyle Kizu

16. If Beale Street Could Talk

Allan Warren/Courtesy

Directed by: Barry Jenkins

Written by: Barry Jenkins

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

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

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

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

15. Suspiria

Elena Ringo/Courtesy

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino

Written by: David Kajganich

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

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

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

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

— Levi Hill

14. High Life

Nicolas Genin/Courtesy

Directed by: Claire Denis

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

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Mia Goth, Juliette Binoche

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

13. Roma

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón

Written by: Alfonso Cuarón

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

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

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

— Levi Hill

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

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: Adam McKay

Written by: Adam McKay

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

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

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

— Kyle Kizu

11. Wildlife

Eva Rinaldi/Courtesy

Directed by: Paul Dano

Written by: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould

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

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

— Levi Hill

10. Ad Astra

Maximilian Bühn/Courtesy

Directed by: James Gray

Written by: James Gray, Ethan Gross

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

9. Widows

Chris Cheung/Courtesy

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Written by: Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen

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

Release date: November 16, 2018

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

— Levi Hill

8. Solo: A Star Wars Story

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

— Kyle Kizu

7. Annihilation

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

Directed by: Alex Garland

Written by: Alex Garland

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

Release date: February 23, 2018

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

— Kyle Kizu

6. The Irishman

The Peabody Awards/Courtesy

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Written by: Steve Zaillian

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

Release date: 2018, currently filming

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

— Levi Hill

5. First Man

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Written by: Josh Singer, Nicole Perlman

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

Release date: October 12, 2018

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

— Kyle Kizu

4. Incredibles 2

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Directed by: Brad Bird

Written by: Brad Bird

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

Release date: June 15, 2018

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

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

3. Black Panther

Marvel/Courtesy

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Written by: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole

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

Release date: February 16, 2018

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

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

2. Isle of Dogs

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Directed by: Wes Anderson

Written by: Wes Anderson

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

Release date: March 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

— Levi Hill

1. Avengers: Infinity War

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Directed by: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo

Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

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

Release date: May 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

 

Honorable mentions:

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

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

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

 

Beautiful Boy

Soldado

You Were Never Really Here

Ready Player One

Under the Silver Lake

Radegund

Apostle

Fahrenheit 451

Halloween

Venom

Black Klansman

Maya

The Beach Bum

Mary, Queen of Scots

Old Man and the Gun

Bad Times at the El Royale

Mary Poppins Returns

The Nightingale (Michelle MacLaren)

The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent)

The Favourite

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Jungle Book

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Destroyer

Outlaw King

 

Featured image via Marvel/Disney/Paramount/Universal.

4 brilliant performances from actors under 15 years old

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

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

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

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

Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox/Courtesy

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

— Harrison Tunggal

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

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

— Levi Hill

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

Warner Bros./Paramount/Courtesy

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

Jacob Tremblay, Room (2015) — 8 years old

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

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

 

Featured image via A24.

Top 10 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

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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

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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.

Box Office Report: ‘It’ eats new releases ‘American Assassin’ and ‘mother!’ to remain on top in second weekend

Monster hit It once again took home the top spot at the box office, drawing in an estimated $60 million this past weekend, bringing the domestic total of the Stephen King adaptation to $218.71 million. With many weekends still left to devour, It already stands as the eighth largest domestic grossing film of the year and will jump past The Fate of the FuriousLogan and Despicable Me 3 to the fifth spot by the end of next weekend. By the end of its run, the film could challenge Spider-Man: Homecoming, which brought in $1.875 million this weekend to hit $330.26 million domestically, and even, if it has as strong of legs as it seems rearing up to, the $389.8 million of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

New releases took the second and third spots of the weekend. The Michael Keaton-starring action film American Assassin racked up an estimated $14.8 million domestically. On a $33 million production budget, the film looks like it might just make its money back, needing to reach about $70 million worldwide to turn a profit.

Darren Aronofsky’s art house horror film mother! struggled at the box office, only making an estimated $7.5 million, likely due to an incredibly unmarketable story (and thus, poor trailers), a shifted release date and divisive reception from both critics and fans. With word of the intense reactions to the film spreading, it would be hard to imagine it fairing any better relatively next weekend. On a $30 million production budget, Aronofsky’s latest is shaping up to lose money. It’ll need strong international showing to prove otherwise.

The Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy Home Again took home an estimated $5.33 million in its second weekend, bringing its domestic total to $17.13 million. The film will turn a profit on its $12 million production budget, likely ensuring that many more cookie cutter studio rom-coms will continue to be made.

Wind River is turning out to be one of the more successful independent films of the year, catching an estimated $2.55 million in its fourth weekend wide, during which it has stayed between the 7th and 3rd spot — the middle of the pack.

Finally, Dunkirk incredibly maintains a top ten spot for the ninth weekend in a row — the entirety of its release — pulling in an estimated $1.3 million to shoot its domestic total up to $185.14 million. It seems like Christopher Nolan’s war film will pretty much, by the end of its run, match the domestic take of Interstellar, which made $188 million in US and Canada markets. Worldwide, Dunkirk is pushing $510 million, currently sitting at $508.34.

All films will have trouble doing similar relative business next weekend due to the releases of Kingsman: The Golden CircleBattle of the Sexes and Stronger. Hopefully, the order will be more interesting then.

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the US and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Box Office Report: ‘It’ feeds on box office, floats to largest horror opening record with $117+ million

Box office tracking once again severely underestimated a film’s potential, with It blowing away initial $50 million predictions to make an estimated $117.15 million this weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. Other estimates have pushed as far as $125 million.

Not only is this a massive win for the film, but it puts It among the top of the entire year and, in certain categories, of all time. With $117.15 million, It‘s opening weekend will outgross that of Spider-Man: HomecomingWonder WomanThe Fate of the Furious and Logan (not combined). At the moment, the Stephen King adaptation, directed by Andy Muschietti and starring Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, only stands behind Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Beauty and the Beast, and should stay in the top 10 openings of 2017 once the year is over.

That number also marks the largest September opening ever by nearly $70 million (and possibly more so if the actuals turn out to be $125+ million) and the largest opening for a horror film ever. It falls just short of the largest R-rated opening, which belongs to Deadpool at $132.4 million.

On merely a $35 million production budget and with upwards of $60 million taken internationally, It has already made it’s money back, and then some. A sequel is in the works, but New Line Cinema (a label of Warner Bros.) will be very comfortable financing the next chapter, and perhaps offering it a larger production budget.

The weekend’s #2 is a sharp fall off from It, as Home Again, the Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy, grossed an estimated $9 million. That marks almost a $110 million difference between first and second place.

After three weekends at the number 1 spot, The Hitman’s Bodyguard falls to #3, taking an estimated $4.85 million. Despite less than favorable critical ratings, the film, made for $30 million, is massively successful.

Wind River continues a very solid run after expanding wide, with its domestic total exceeding $25 million, assuredly making its money back.

Finally, after releasing in every market, Dunkirk will soon wrap up its theatrical run. It stayed in the top 10 this weekend, landing #8 with an estimated $1.95 million. Its $183 million domestic total nears Interstellar‘s $188 million, and has a chance at passing it. The film should also reach $500 million worldwide, currently standing at $492 million, which already distinguishes it as the largest grossing World War II film of all time (not adjusted for inflation).

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the U.S. and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Ranking Christopher Nolan’s 10 films

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

10. Following

Following

Zeitgeist/Syncopy/Courtesy

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

9. Insomnia

Al Pacino Insomnia

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

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

8. Batman Begins

Batman Begins

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

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

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

7. The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

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

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

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

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

6. Memento 

Guy Pearce Memento

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

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

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

5. Inception

Inception

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

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

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

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

4. Interstellar

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Prestige

Christian Bale The Prestige

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Dunkirk 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Dunkirk’ Review: Christopher Nolan’s moving war epic is an unparalleled directorial feat

Dunkirk is, in a measured 106 minutes, one of the most impressively crafted films of recent memory, and Christopher Nolan’s greatest achievement, so far, as a filmmaker — something that holds immeasurable weight considering that this is the director of The Dark Knight TrilogyInception and Interstellar.

The three threads of the story — land, sea and air — occur on different timelines. But the concept is executed on an ingenious level. There’s never a sense of narrative momentum slowing down with these jumps, and that’s because they never actually slow down. Each thread, even if touching on story beats we’ve already met, is running forward with unstoppable force. The narratives are always progressing.

As the film unfolds, we get a sense that the slippage of time, of one thread onto another, is just the beginning of a process. The threads start to get closer and closer. The characters colliding. Hans Zimmer’s score building. Their space narrowing down to a single place in time. And as they coalesce — after hours of viscerally immersive cinematography and practical effects, in the cockpits of real Spitfires, on the actual sand of the Dunkirk beaches, on the cramped decks of a civilian boat actually out in the waters, all toned by a bone-shakingly haunting soundscape — the tension overwhelms one into a transfixed terror.

While Dunkirk doesn’t actually bleed, except for a brief moment, the film’s veins do bleed with senselessness. There is no mercy in war. No simple path. No logic. There is only terror. And Nolan’s film does that as well as war films with blood.

And yet, all would be for only so much were the film not laced with every ounce of humanity Nolan could bring to it. The emotions that Nolan concerns himself with are the heroics of war within the faceless, within the nameless. Men whom history won’t remember as anything other than nameless and faceless. As the film rises from the terror, and as composer Benjamin Wallfisch’s Variation 15, a version of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod, plays, Dunkirk proves its unbearably moving heart, a hear that renders survival as victory.

Grade: A+

Our full review of Dunkirk

 

Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ is a structural masterpiece of tension, crafting emotion out of immersion — Full Review

*Warning* Spoilers ahead. Stop reading if you haven’t seen the film.

As Dunkirk required three timelines to tell its story, I required three viewings before reviewing. One to plunge into the filth. A second to discover what I missed. The time inbetween to read up on more background and intricacies. And a third to absorb as close to an entirety as I can.

And yet, an ‘entirety’ is entirely out of reach. Even on the 5,000+ square feet of an IMAX 70mm screen, details are so ingrained within each frame that it becomes impossible. That’s the nature of movies, however. And specifically, that’s the nature of Dunkirk.

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We were never meant to receive each piece of experiential information. We must simply be aware of their presence because the film is as massive as it is intimate. As we run on, sail across and fly through the vastness of land, sea and air with these characters, we’re constantly stuck in suffocating spaces — the countless bodies lined up on the mole, the tight cabins of the Moonstone, the seemingly inescapable naval destroyer interiors and the rattling cockpit of a Spitfire.

That’s the contradiction that director Christopher Nolan must overcome. On their surface, land, sea and air are the most wide open of visual scapes. In Dunkirk, they’re the cell with no escape.

One of the most stunning shots of the entire film shows precisely how Nolan does it. As enemy planes dive bomb the beaches, the film cuts to a wide shot of the scrambling men in the sand, framed by two (prison) bars.

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These may be wide open plains, but there’s nowhere to hide. As 400,000 Allied forces find themselves surrounded by enemy troops on the beaches of France, one sense arises: we’re trapped. And only one sense comes next: we must survive.

As Christopher Nolan has said time and time again, Dunkirk is a suspense film before it’s a war film. Its main question is not of the politics of how the Allied troops got to where they were. It’s simply a response to the situation, a matter of the soldiers’ perspective: will they survive? The soldiers didn’t know the exact position of the enemy, the reason why the RAF weren’t showing up or anything another film may show. So, neither will we. We’re simply planted alongside the soldiers, improvising and panicking as one of them.

With such a goal, Dunkirk becomes, in a measured 106 minutes, one of the most impressively crafted films of recent memory, and Nolan’s greatest achievement, so far, as a filmmaker — something that holds immeasurable weight considering that this is the director of The Dark Knight TrilogyInception and Interstellar.

There’s a method here more polished than in any of Nolan’s previous work. Taking the film’s goals, the genre and Nolan’s affinity for practical effects and large format offers immersion on an unmatched level.

Most of Dunkirk’s aerial sequences were filmed in just that: the air. Retrofitting old planes and inventing rigs for IMAX cameras, as well as sending the actors up into the sky make for images that tap into unidentifiable aspects of our viewing minds, aspects that allow us to process when real physics — of planes executing meticulous turns in the sky’s true air — are at work. It’s a difference that just can’t be understated and it’s a difference that Nolan doesn’t waste, precisely because of how those fights are orchestrated.

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While X Wings are quick to down their targets, Spitfires, flown by Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden), are slow and methodical. It takes minutes for our pilots to line up their guns and, nine times out of ten, those bullets will miss. It takes fierce, dedicated evation to stay alive, and careful communication to execute the perfect shot. Dunkirk’s aerial battles are more so eerie and unnerving, yet gracefully beautiful dances, which makes for better battles.

But the fact of the matter is that these sequences, and the rest of the masterclass action, of which it feels egregious to simply brush over, are in service of a larger technical endeavor. This is a suspense film, built on tension. And thus, Nolan and composer Hans Zimmer design their respective work to build tension. With a score that feels more like an augmentation of an already vicious and grueling soundscape, Zimmer utilizes the musical illusion of the Shepard Tone.

In simple terms, the Shepard Tone is an illusion consisting of three layers of sound, all an octave apart. The top layer moves from loud to soft. The middle layer stays the same. And the bottom layer moves from soft to loud. The effect is a constant feeling of rising tension. So while there may be a constant ticking, one that is undoubtedly central to the idea of time running out and to a sense of tension, the true core of this score lies in its ghostly, unforgiving, oceanic orchestra.

But Nolan makes use of the same trick in his own work. His intention with his three part structure was to adapt the Shepard Tone, an initially musical phenomenon, to writing and, in turn, to a film.

How can that work though? The three threads occur on different timelines. When they cross, we jump backwards and forwards. There’s a disjointedness to its structure.

We’ll get to that last part. But the concept is executed on an ingenious level. There’s never a sense of narrative momentum slowing down with these jumps, and that’s because they never actually slow down. Each thread, even if touching on story beats we’ve already met, is running forward with unstoppable force. The narratives are always progressing. If we’re jumping back to a moment we’ve seen before, it works because it’s a new moment in the thread we occupy.

For Dunkirk, one of the most massive and important events of the 20th century, such crafting of tension is the only way to approach this story.

And it works. As the film unfolds, we get a sense that the slippage of time, of one thread onto another, is just the beginning of a process. The threads start to get closer and closer. The characters colliding. The score building. Their space narrowing down to a single place in time.

And as we reach it, and as The Oil, one of Zimmer’s most truly affecting pieces ever composed, begins to play, the built up pressure, the gravest of circumstances, the grimmest of violence and the senselessness of survival all coalesce into a feeling of cinematic immersion singular to itself.

A ship is bombed, oil spills and soldiers swim helplessly in the water as the Moonstone braves waves to save as many as it can. And by virtue of editor Lee Smith’s absolutely refined work in bringing the filmic version of the Shepard Tone to fruition, the tension overwhelms one into a transfixed terror.

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There is truly no appropriate description for such a feat of cinema, of filmmaking, of storytelling, all with a purpose, a purpose that fits.

And yet, all would be for only so much were the film not laced with every ounce of humanity Nolan could bring to it. It may seem cold to some at first. But upon reflection and return, Dunkirk’s idea of namelessness, near facelessness, all without much background, if any at all, is informed. And it comes in two shapes. Terror and togetherness, both crafted through perspective.

The terror of the situation is evident from the start. A surface swim into history will provide enough context to scare. But it’s in how Nolan crafts the scenario.

Bullets pierce without origin, without cinematic warning and with only an intention to kill. As hundreds of thousands of soldiers slowly rise after dive bombers sweep the beaches, hundreds, if not thousands remain motionless on the sand, built into the mise-en-scene as the cinematography lingers for long enough, but briefly enough to truly haunt.

The entire opening, filled with biting violin strikes as Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) carry a man on a stretcher for what seems like miles across the beach and the mole to a hospital ship about to leave, simply results in the downing of that very ship, with tens of wounded men on board, via enemy bombing.

With only seconds to decide, Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) yells at the top of his lungs that the ship must be pushed away from the mole as it sinks — if not, then the mole would be completely blocked as an escape route. These are the sacrifices that must be made, captured as the camera slowly tracks away from Bolton’s frozen fear as all he can do is watch men flail overboard.

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As the ship collides into the mole for a moment, and Alex (Harry Styles) is pulled away in the knick of time, a voice can be heard screaming as its body is crushed. The camera, of course, lingers.

While Dunkirk doesn’t actually bleed, except for a brief moment on the Moonstone, the film’s veins do bleed with senselessness. There is no mercy in war. No simple path. No logic. There is only terror. And Nolan’s film does that as well as war films with blood.

In fact, this idea of terror, and its causes on the individual, can be traced back through Nolan’s career, most significantly to The Dark Knight — what many call a response to post-9/11 US society. In that seminal film, the terror truly manifests not when the events happens, but as those they could happen to anticipate them.

The same can be said with Dunkirk. Some call Harry Styles’ Alex a villain, but what he actually represents is one of the more obvious victims of terror.

In his anticipation of terror, Alex turns on Gibson, a man who saved Alex’s life when he opened the door for drowning soldiers within the destroyer sinking after a torpedo strike, and accuses him of being a “German spy” with “an accent thicker than sauerkraut sauce.”

The scene is the one that proves Styles as more than a serviceable actor — because, as Nolan has said, the scene contains a subtle truth dependent on him to deliver. These lines of dialogue hold one of the very few direct mentions of the Germans. Outside of this scene, they’ve simply been called “the enemy,” and are never shown — their villainy more an idea than a people. But as a man anticipates the worst of terror, his potential death, it is he, one of our heroes, who throws the name of the enemy at one of his own.

War evokes tribalism, primalism even. There is one goal: survival. And even in his most vulnerable and terrified state, Alex states a truth of the matter: “survival isn’t fair.”

The idea calls to mind George (Barry Keoghan), the 17 year old boy sailing with Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s father Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), who is knocked down the stairs to below deck on the Moonstone by the Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy), bashing his head, incurring brain trauma and dying off screen.

His death is senseless. His death isn’t fair. The Shivering Soldier, a man consumed by his own fear, by his own anticipation of terror, causes George’s death. The burden of such an accident on someone who never intended harm isn’t fair.

But the deck of the Moonstone — where the Shivering Soldier, perhaps the most irredeemable character of Dunkirk, stands — is where we find that other aspect of humanity: togetherness.

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The Moonstone ‘little ship’ in Dunkirk — Warner Bros/Courtesy

As the climax of the filmic Shepard Tone reaches, the film slows down momentarily. At this point, George has fallen and revealed that he can’t see. Peter has attempted to comfort him as much as possible, but can’t do much more.

The Moonstone sails into the climactic battle, rescuing soldiers, Alex among them. Alex ventures below deck and discovers George. Peter frantically says, “Be careful with him.” But Alex replies, “He’s dead, mate.”

Peter pauses to process, and then says, “Well be bloody careful with him.”

Peter looks at his father at the ship’s wheel. The Shivering Soldier, having checked on the boy’s well-being before — to which Peter initially chided him — asks again if the boy will be okay. Peter stares at him. Then, despite just learning of George’s death, he nods.

The moment is among many. A togetherness marks the film with such powerful, purposeful quietude.

Near the beginning of the film, Gibson hands over a container of water, an implied scarcity, to thirsty stranger Tommy. Later on, as the naval destroyer is torpedoed and begins to sink, Gibson nearly jumps over board. But, after hearing the faceless screams of those trapped inside, risks his life to open the door to the interior, saving them. As Gibson gains a spot on a tiny departing boat, while Tommy and Alex are denied access, Gibson slips off a rope so that they may hold on as they row back to shore.

Farrier, low on fuel and turning around to head back to mainland, sees an enemy bomber in his rear mirror as it targets boats below. He’s right there. And no one else is. He turns around.

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Despite accusing Gibson of being a spy and nearly forcing him to walk into slaughter, Alex, as their temporary hideaway ship sinks, makes sure to make Gibson aware that they’re escaping. In tragic senselessness, the man who has saved the most lives drowns. But it’s the man who nearly had him killed who tries to help him in the end.

Perhaps the film’s most touching moment can only be recognized in hindsight. Throughout Dunkirk, Mark Rylance’s Mr. Dawson and his son marvel at the sight of the RAF’s Spitfires.

At one point, Collins’ plane gets shot and he must make an emergency crash into the ocean. Mr. Dawson tracks the crash, steering intently at its site. As the plane downs, Peter tells his dad that there’s no use, that the engine cut and a parachute wasn’t pulled. Mr. Dawson ignores. Peter repeats. Mr. Dawson ignores again. Peter insists. And Rylance superbly delivers his following lines with a sense of desperate helplessness, touched by aching sadness. “I hear you Peter, I hear you,” he yells. He begins to trail off. “Maybe he’s alive.” Even more so. “Maybe we can help him.”

Mark Rylance Dunkirk

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It’s not until the end of the film that we learn that Mr. Dawson’s oldest son, Peter’s brother, was an RAF pilot, but died three weeks into the war. And finally, the moment clicks. As Collins goes down, all Mr. Dawson can see is his oldest son. He wasn’t able to save his son. But maybe he can save Collins. Maybe that can mean something.

There are many more. They may be missed at first, but that’s simply because of the event within which they take place and the fact that they’re not forced.

But both togetherness and senselessness merge and unify. They both come back to the moment with Peter and the Shivering Soldier after George’s death, and the return to England when Peter gets George in the paper as a hero at Dunkirk. In this sense, as he has done so many times before, Nolan tackles the notion of truth, the value of truth. But while he may be questioning it in previous films, stating that, sometimes, truth isn’t for the best, it almost seems like, with Dunkirk, he’s positing that this grand idea of truth is simply impossible.

The film’s multiple perspectives and disjointed structure may never be fully figured out. It’s difficult to tell exactly where everything stands and when — its jaggedness purposeful in disorientation. But that sense evokes this idea that each perspective holds its own truth, its own reality. And like Inception, that may be valid in itself. For the men on the beaches, the RAF left them in the dust. For a pilot like Collins, he fought his own near deadly war. We empathize with the soldier who asks Collins, “Where were you?” But we also empathize with Collins through Mr. Dawson’s lines. Pointing to the Moonstone, he says, “They know where you were.”

The Shivering Soldier has suffered enough. He may be the cause, but he is not to blame for George’s death. His truth is not in George’s death, but rather in his overcoming of his self in the aftermath. And, with it being after his change, his sight of George’s body at the end will only help him come to terms with war.

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Cillian Murphy as the Shivering Soldier in Dunkirk — Warner Bros/Courtesy

For George, he took one step that changed his life. While he may not have made it to Dunkirk, while he may not have been directly involved in saving anyone, that step is a bravery to be rewarded, especially with his death as a result of senselessness and the privilege of the living left behind. His name belongs in the paper because, in that moment, the truth doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is an idea of truth.

And it is the idea of truth that elevates the reading of Winston Churchill’s famous address by young Tommy.

The heroics of war are everywhere. In the leaders, sure. But history will be kind to accomplished leaders, to singular individuals easy to point out.

What Nolan concerns himself with is the heroics of war within the faceless, within the nameless. Men whom history won’t remember as anything other than nameless and faceless. Men who’ve gone through hell and come back. Men who blame themselves, feel ashamed of themselves as Alex does when he first boards the train. Tommy — who represents that merge of togetherness and terror, as he rejects tribalism, but shakes with deep panic beneath the water as bullets fly above — is the face of the faceless. It is all of these men who are deserving of the words of Churchill. It is for them for which they were spoken. So it is one of these men who must read them.

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Fionn Whitehead as Tommy in Dunkirk — Warner Bros/Courtesy

What I’m always interested in with a film is the truth that the filmmaker brings to it. And the details of the truths that Christopher Nolan brings to Dunkirk are profound.

Nolan’s grandfather was a navigator on a Lancaster, a British plane from the Second World War. He didn’t make it out of the war, which calls to mind Tom Hardy’s Farrier. A pilot who, after indescribable, unquantifiable heroics, is captured as his plane crackles ablaze, defiant.

That nature and fate made Nolan’s father obsessively interested in planes and aviation. Nolan’s father passed away a few years ago. At his funeral played a variation of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod, the musical piece which composer Benjamin Wallfisch scores his own variation of for the film’s final minutes.

While watching the film a third time, after I’d learned of Nolan’s father, the stunningly gorgeous shots of Farrier’s Spitfire gliding gracefully above the thousands of cheering soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk hold an unbearably moving truth, a truth that renders capture triumphant, a truth that turns survival into victory, a truth that crafts a heart at the center of Dunkirk and shapes the rest of its humanity throughout.

Grade: A+