Film Review: You Were Never Really Here

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You Were Never Really Here is the first truly great film I’ve seen this year, a tight, thrilling look into the mind of the type of person who would become a hit man. Directed by Lynne Ramsay and starring Joaquin Phoenix in his most compelling performance since The Master, this film is really something quite special. The minute I came out of my showing, I was prepared to turn right around and go right back in again, ready to look closer at every frame.

You Were Never Really Here tells the story of Joe, a veteran and former FBI agent who is now hired by people to rescue their children from traffickers or abusers. We first encounter him in the aftermath of his last mission and then see as he returns home to New York City and cares for his elderly mother. He suffers from flashbacks to his time both in the military and in the FBI. He copes with these by doing drugs and by suffocating himself with plastic bags. That day Joe receives his next job, rescuing the daughter of a New York State Senator. As Joe tries to save the Senators daughter the job goes south and the next few days prove to be a bloody, and tragic journey into Joe’s psyche.

Phoenix is absolutely brilliant in this film, turning in a quiet and subtle performance that you can’t help but watch closely. Phoenix is asked to convey so much emotion in just a simple look or facial expression and he pulls this off wonderfully. He reminds me a lot of Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea, yet another film about a restrained man pushed beyond his breaking point. However where that film chooses to look at the way grief and loss affects a person, You Were Never Really Here instead dwells on the way that one deals with trauma and violence.

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Ramsey chooses every cut and angle perfectly to compliment these themes. Perhaps most striking is that when Phoenix is committing violence he is almost always obscured, either out of frame or in shadow. Ramsay shoots him in much the same way one would shoot a monster in a horror movie. The combination of this and Phoenix’s performance reveal a deeply damaged man, one who sees himself a monster, and does incredible violence as almost a form of penance.

I’ve spoken at length at about the visual style that Ramsay brings to the film but I also want to shout out the score from Johnny Greenwood who continues to show why he is one of the best composers working today. Grimy, dark, and filled with pounding synths and haunting strings the score perfectly compliments the action and violence being shown.

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Yet, the film doesn’t only just work as a character study a la Taxi Driver, but also a terrifically effective action-thriller. While Ramsay tends to show only the aftermath of Joe’s violence, typically done with the business end of a ball-peen hammer, the moments where it is shown are rough, brutal, and shocking. I was consistently clenching my fists and gripping my chair due to how tense and on edge this movie made. There were even multiple moments when both I and the rest of the theater gasped at what unfolded on screen.

Never wasting a second of its hour and a half run time, You Were Never Really Here is a modern masterpiece by a director at the top of their game. While we’re still not even halfway through the year I find it hard to see too many films that will be able to top this one.

Score: 9.5/10

Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, John Doman , and Judith Roberts.

Rated: R

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The 25 Best Films of 2017, Kinda (Part 2)

Over a week ago, I counted through number 25-11 of my favorite films of last year. Now I’m going to talk about my top ten favorite movies. These run the gamut from sci-fi blockbusters to small intimate character studies. From first time directors making explosive debuts to seasoned veterans continuing to pad their resumes. Any way, enough intro stuff, lets get into it.

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10. Blade Runner 2049

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Making a sequel to one of the most influential science fiction films was always going to be tricky, making it a good sequel would be even more tricky. But with Denis Villeneuve, the director of Prisoners and Sicario, at the helm this film shines. At its core a film about what it means to be human, Blade Runner 2049 is as thought provoking as it is beautiful. While it could be easy to talk on and on about the many wonderful and powerful performances in this movie, I want to talk about one in particular, Ana de Armas as Joi. Joi, Ryan Gosling’s K’s hologram girlfriend, is the thematic center of the film, a character that truly asks us how we define our humanity. It would have been so easy for the character to have been shallow and functional, getting the job done of conveying plot points and informing Ryan Gosling’s character, Ana de Armas fills here with so much depth and empathy that we can’t help but almost forget she isn’t human. It is this depth and complexity that is brought to every little piece of this film that really makes it stand out. Combine that with an excellent Hans Zimmer score and academy award winning cinematography by Roger Deakins, and you have one of the most powerful science-fiction films in recent memory. It might not have demolished the box office but this is a film destined to last just as long as the original.

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9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Directed by Rian Johnson

Star Wars is my favorite film series, a group of movies that I don’t remember discovering, merely always existing in my consciousness. I’ve spent more days than I can remember simply thinking about and pretending to be in Star Wars, and yet I don’t know if there’s ever been a Star Wars movie that has ever touched me in a way The Last Jedi has. From it’s first moments until its stunning final image, every second of The Last Jedi feels new and exciting, and yet sits with me as though it has always been there. I believe that every person has their own Star Wars movie, and this is mine. In The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson jettisons the dynastic framework that has dominated the series since its very beginning, instead imbuing his film with a populist streak that really struck a chord with me. Who are Rey’s parents? It doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t matter who your parents are or where you come from, what matters is what you do. The heroes of this film are nobodies, from nowhere, doing all they can to merely protect the spark of hope they have. It serves as an indictment of the idea that you can simply abstain and stand by while evil is being done, and truly believes that the average person can make a difference, force powers or not. The Last Jedi also serves as perhaps the most visually stunning film in the series, a film cloaked in deep reds, golds, and greens. It features perhaps the most visually arresting moment in film this year, a moment destined to always be interrupted in theaters by the sound of someone going “whoa”. The Last Jedi may have been divisive among fans and movie-goers alike but I quiet honestly don’t care. This movie made me happy, and excited about my favorite series in a way I didn’t think I could be excited about Star Wars any more. It turned me into a child again, and for that I thank it.

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8. Phantom Thread

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Phantom Thread is a movie that seems to defy labels, part character study, part romantic comedy, part self satire, it feels like one of P.T Anderson’s most personal films. Anchored by the wonderful and brilliant performances by Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis, this exploration of the relationship between a dressmaker and a waitress in 1950’s London is utterly mesmerizing. Perhaps the years most quotable film, Anderson has created an engrossing, dramatic, hilarious film that I still think about now, months after having seen it. The score by Johnny Greenwood is magical and works so seamlessly with the visuals in a way I seldom see at movies. I wish I had more to say about it but what more can I say that hasn’t already been said about the film. It is truly a one of a kind movie that could have only come from Paul Thomas Anderson, and it is just excellent artist executing a singular vision in a way no one else could. A career highlight from careers already filled with highlights.

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7. Dunkirk

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk is one of Christopher Nolan’s best films, in my count it’s probably third after Memento and the Prestige. But even more than that it is by far his most refined film. Building on themes and techniques that have always fascinated the acclaimed director. Nolan’s mixed timeline works best here, and is edited to perfection, moments where his three nestled timelines come together are some of the most rewarding of the year. This is also Nolan’s most efficient film, clocking in at a very tight hour and forty six minutes, not a wasted line or camera move in the film. Telling a story that feels more akin to a disaster movie than a typical war film, it feels so much more interested in the way people feel fear, despair, and relief than they do so. Dunkirk deals with war in way unlike most war movies and in doing so is a true cinematic triumph. You can read more about my thoughts in my full review here.

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6. Get Out

Directed by Jordan Peele

With Get Out Jordan Peele has a debut for the ages. A tight, scathing satire of modern American racial politics, taking direct aim at the type of privileged white racism so prevalent in “liberal” parts of the country Get Out is the rare mainstream horror film to break out of the horror bubble. Not only a smart satire but also a profoundly engrossing and masterfully made film. While much has been written about Peele’s incredible script, that drops hints and themes like breadcrumbs only to pick them up at the end and wrap the film up in a way that rewards multiple viewings, I want to shout out the great camera work. Peele has knack for creating unease, and has a mastery of the close up. So many of the films iconic shots feature close up shots of characters faces, forcing us into invading their space, in the same way that they themselves have had their own bodies invaded. The sunken place is perhaps the most iconic image of the film, and is one that seems to linger most with the viewer. Finally I want to talk about Daniel Kaluuya, who turns in a mesmerizing performance that is both subtle and powerful. In the end this is a film that deserved every accolade it received and is probably destined to be the film we most talk about when we talk about this year in film. But I don’t think it will be the last time we talk about a Jordan Peele film as a masterpiece.

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5. Coco

Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina

I have had mixed feelings on recent Pixar films. At times they create true masterpieces, such as Inside Out, but at other times can create films that prove to be utterly forgettable, like The Good Dinosaur. So it was with hopeful optimism that I looked forward to Coco, and it did not disappoint. So many of Pixars best films deal explicitly with themes of family and what it means to be part of a family. In Coco these familiar themes are filtered through the vein of traditional Mexican beliefs in the Day of the Dead and traditional Mexican family dynamics. This works wonderfully, creating a work that is at once both specific to a single culture and yet feels as though it can be apply to anyone. Of course, as someone who is Mexican, I am a bit biased but I don’t really care. I enjoyed seeing things from my own upbringing that are so rarely shown in a mainstream American film. It was nice, it made me feel warm about my own past and history. I loved the lush and colorful production design, creating a colorful and warm after-world that feels so distinct from those that we traditionally see in Hollywood. This film also feature a tearjerker of an ending in the Pixar tradition but that also feels distinctly happy. Combine all of this with a beautiful soundtrack and some excellent voice work, and you have another stellar entry into the Pixar canon.

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4. Lady Bird

Directed by Great Gerwig

Get Out would have been the best debut film of the year were it not for Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. Anchored by one of the years best scripts, strong direction and editing, and perhaps the best performance in Saoirse Ronan’s already terrific career, Lady Bird paints a complex and sincere portrait of the moment where teenagers begin to see their parents as real people. Equal parts funny and touching Lady Bird is one of the best films about the teenage experience in years. What I came to appreciate about it was the films sincerity, its joy in portraying things that have not been seen as cool, especially the Dave Matthews Band, as something that one should embrace simply because you like them. The Sacramento that Gerwig creates in this film is obviously a work of love, feeling so lived in and a place we want to stay in even as the films protagonist yearns to escape it for New York. No discussion of Lady Bird can be complete without a talking about the incredible performance of Laurie Metcalf as the mother of Lady Bird. A complex and nuanced performance of a mother who is doing her best to raise her daughter in spite of a myriad of problems in a rapidly changing world, Metcalf is allowed to be something rare in Hollywood, a parent who is allowed to not always be the best parent but with out being a villain. While Ronan may be the star and main character, it is Metcalf who for me is the emotional core of the film. It is Metcalf who guides Lady Bird to the moment at which everyone become an adult, when they see their parents as a whole human being and not just as their parents. In Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig, Saoirse Ronan, and Laurie Metcalf have created one of the most human films about being a teen. Gerwig has already stated she wants to make even more films set in Sacramento, and I will be looking forward to every single on of them.

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3. Call Me By Your Name

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

The first thing one might notice about Call Me By Your Name is that the movie is overwhelmingly gorgeous. Every shot in this film makes you want to drop everything, and move to the north of Italy. What is most affecting about this film is that despite how overpowering the visuals can be at times, this is a film that found a way to have ostentatious pillow shots after all, is the way that so much of the story is so quiet. This is a love story that is told through glances, pauses in a sentence, and the brush of a hand on another hand, and yet the romance never feels rushed, it always feels real. This is of course down to the incredible acting performances by Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer who deliver stunning, intimate, and vulnerable performances in the main roles of Elio and Oliver. But they aren’t the only ones bringing it, Amira Casar and Esther Garrel deliver great performances as the Elio’s mother and sometime girlfriend respectively. But perhaps the best supporting performance is give by Michael Stuhlbarg as the father of Elio and Oliver’s professor. In Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino has crafted a film where the visuals so perfectly compliment the quiet story about perhaps the most grand thing there is, love.

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2. The Florida Project

Directed by Sean Baker

For almost the whole year after I saw it, this was going to be the film that I listed as the best of the year. Timely, and powerful The Florida Project is the movie that most encapsulates the state of America as profoundly messed up place filled with people who are just trying to get by, and yet there still remains a core of people who are trying to be good. The Florida Project is at its core an incredibly empathetic movie by perhaps our most empathetic filmmaker. Sean Baker as a director works best when he examines the forgotten underclass of America, in Tangerine these are transgender sex workers, and here the invisible homeless. Starring a cast of mostly unknowns, The Florida Project follows the lives of the tenants of the Magic Castle, a motel in the shadow of Walt Disney World. Seen predominantly through the eyes of Moonee, played by a revelatory Brooklynn Prince, a six year old girl who spends her days with her friends generally getting into trouble and hanging out. Through her we meet her mother played by Bria Vinaite, and Bobby the manager of the Magic Castle, played by Willem Dafoe in perhaps his best role ever. Much has been written about Willem Dafoe in this film, and the truth is, its all correct. Dafoe is brilliant in this movie, caring yet stern, and who obviously cares a great deal about the people who live in the motel he manages. For so much of the past year the country has searched for a narrative, for a way to give a voice to the people we have left behind, and in this film Sean Baker continues to be the filmmaker most interested in telling the stories of those actually forgotten, not merely those who act as though they have been. Finally, I’d like to speak obliquely about the ending, I won’t ruin it here but let me just say that the ending of this film is one that I simply can’t forget about. It is an ending that is both devastating and yet oddly hopeful in a surreal and emotional manner. Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal amounts The Florida Project is simply the kind of movie we should reward, that we should beg more filmmakers to make.

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1. Paddington 2

Directed by Paul King

First things first, yes this film didn’t come out until 2018 in America but it came out in 2017 in most of the world, and this is my list so I get to make the rules and categorize it as 2017 film. Beside this list is so late anyway that it might as well have counted as 2017 movie for America anyway. But enough about the details of my list making, why is this the best movie of the year?

In the late 1990’s television series Sports Night, there is an episode in which one of the main characters tries to get tickets to see the Broadway musical production of The Lion King. Initially dismissive of the show as frivolous entertainment, after she see it she says “ I didn’t know we could do that.”. That is how I feel about Paddington 2, I didn’t know we could do that. In a year marked by confusion, fear, and sadness this movie made me feel hopeful again. Not only hopeful but good, an emotion so rarely triggered by film. This movie made me feel good, not just about the world but about myself. Paddington 2 is an absolute joy to watch, a sweet and understated film about a bear from darkest Peru who just wants to get his mother a popup book of London. This gives director Paul King, who also directed the first film, a chance to stage some very touching and also very sequences, occasionally at the same time. But where this film really shines is when Paddington is sent to jail after being framed for theft by Hugh Grant who is doing one of the funniest performances of the year as a washed up actor. Once in prison, the gags get funnier, the film gets even warmer, and the movie truly wins you over. Incredibly well acted, incredibly well directed, and a film that moved me to tears of joy and left me feeling not just good and happy but optimistic about the future Paddington 2 is a true masterpiece. Paddington 2 made me feel a way that films so rarely do, it is a film I’m excited to revisit and one that I will think about a lot in the years to come. I didn’t know we could still do that.

The 25 Best Films of 2017, Kinda (Part 1)

The 25 Best Films of 2017 (kinda)

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for this site, part of that is just life getting in the way but most of it has just been not sitting down and trying to write things. Plus now that the Oscars are over and done with the film year is well and truly over. So now its a new year, and in that spirit I’m choosing to look forward by looking back. It has been a really truly great year for film, both when it came to the blockbusters and the smaller movies. While I may not have seen as much as I wish I had,what I did see blew me away. This year saw veterans performing at the top of their games, newcomers making big splashes, a lot of sequels that smashed the idea that sequels can’t be creative, and original ideas that continued to show why film is my favorite artistic medium. The list I’ve put together consists of the 25 movies that were released in 2017 that I enjoyed the most personally. Yes, its possible you won’t agree with me and I know it’s too focused on American movies, which I am going t try to remedy this year, but I hope it can at least serve as a jumping off point for your own thoughts and discussions on the year in movies. So anyway, without further ado, my picks for the 25 best films of the year. Part 1 covering numbers 25 through 11 comes out today with the top 10 coming in a few days.

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25. King Charles III

Directed by Rupert Goold

Based off the acclaimed play by Mike Bartlett, who also wrote the film for the BBC, King Charles III tells the story of a possible future in which Charles, Prince of Wales assumes the British throne. Written entirely in blank verse the story deals with the nature of power, political intrigue, and the freedom of the press. Anchored by a captivating performance by Tim Pigott-Smith in the titular role who’s every moment conveys the weight of a thousand years of history and the immense responsibility of the title he holds. Combine that with an excellent score by Jocelyn Pook and an engrossing story lead to a film well worth seeing, even if it was made for TV.

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24. Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2

Directed by James Gunn

The sequel to one of my favorite movies of 2014 and one of the best Marvel movies was always going to have its work cut out for it. It was always going to be hard to succeed at capturing the same sense of humor and fun that so defines the first Guardians film. While Volume 2 never quite reaches the same comedic heights of its predecessor what it sacrifices in comedy it makes up for in thematic heft. Writer-director James Gunn manages to craft perhaps this years most affecting exploration of fatherhood and family dynamics, well at least in the context of a film in which there is a talking raccoon. The visuals are spectacular and were it not for another movie on this list, they would be the best in the Marvel universe. Gunn’s writing and solid eye for visuals combined with a standout performance by Michael Rooker as Yondu create a movie that not only builds on the original but can stand on its own as movie well worth seeing.

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23. Logan Lucky

Directed by Steve Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh’s NASCAR heist-comedy film is one of those films that managed to sneak under the radar this year, and it’s really too bad. Soderbergh is one of the most interesting filmmakers working in Hollywood today and this movie really shows it. Featuring one of Channing Tatum’s best performances and Daniel Craig is perhaps his funniest role ever, Logan Lucky is at its core just a really fun film. It is entertaining, funny, and at one pivotal moment very emotional. The direction is tight and efficient, and is welcome change of location from the New York City and Los Angeles settings of so many of America’s films. The movie doesn’t quite stick the landing but the ride there is so much fun you probably wont mind.

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22. Baby Driver

Directed by Edgar Wright

That this is probably Edgar Wrights worst film as a director says something about how excellent his career has been. But even if it isn’t his best effort this movie is still a blast, it features some of the most creative editing of the year and demonstrates why Wright is one of the most talented visual stylists working in cinema today. The standout performance of the film is Jon Hamm in some of his best film work to date as the villain. Throw in some excellent car chases and the best soundtrack of the year, and you can’t really go wrong. For even more on my thoughts check out my review of it here.

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21. Molly’s Game

Directed by Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin had always said that he had no interest in directing so when he was announced as the director of Molly’s Game I was cautiously optimistic. It turns out Aaron Sorkin is a perfectly competent director, and while his direction doesn’t add much to the film it does the most important thing, it gets out of the way of the writing. This is one of Sorkin’s best scripts, and it is brought to life beautifully by the actors Sorkin has rounded up. Jessica Chastain is incredible in the lead role, bringing a tenacity and fierceness to the role that drives the movie. Idris Alba is also great as Chastain’s sparring partner in some of the best scenes. While it may not be as good as some of what Sorkin has previously penned it does show a lot of promise for what he may do in the future as a director, and hopefully he can build off this very strong debut.

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20. Wonder Woman

Directed by Patty Jenkins

The only good DC movie also happens to be the only woman lead film from this current superhero movie boom, who would have thought? Wonder Woman shows what happens when you allow differing viewpoints into the superhero genre, creating a hero that succeeds because of her femininity and warmth. Yes the third act could have used some work and it is unfortunate that the ending is yet another boring battle against a CGI enemy but even that isn’t enough to dull my love for this movie. It was so refreshing to see a superhero movie with a female protagonist in a genre that could do with more women. While Chris Pine turns in a strong performance as Steve Trevor this is really Gal Gadot’s film. She is perfect as Diana of Themyscira and turns in a performance so full of power, warmth, and nuance that creates the definitive on screen portrayal of an iconic character. Combined with some strong use of color and very strong direction from director Patty Jenkins this movie was the shot in the arm that the DC film universe needed . I look forward with bated breath for not only the sequel but to what else Jenkins and Gadot do in the future.

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19. All The Money In The World

Directed by Ridley Scott

At 80 years old Ridley Scott remains one of the hardest working people in Hollywood releasing 2 films in 2017, including one of his best films in a while. It’s a miracle All The Money In The World was released at all, with reshoots done just weeks before its release to replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer after it came out that Spacey was a sexual predator. While having to replace a main character in a movie might have caused the studio to shelve it indefinitely Scott replaced him with Christopher Plummer, who turns in an excellent performance as oil tycoon J.P Getty. However, the real star of the film is Michelle Williams who continues to show why she is one of the best actors in the game today, turning a performance that is at turns heartbreaking, gritty, and inspiring as the mother of the kidnapped John Paul Getty III. Combined with all of the great acting is some of Scott’s most deft directing, taking what could have been a rote based-on-a-true-story movie and turning it into a taut, tightly paced thriller.

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18. The Square

Directed by Ruben Östlund

Although this follow up to Force Majeur never quite reaches the same heights, The Square is at its best moments hilarious and insightful. The rare satire on the art world that manages to be funny and thoughtful with out becoming too overbearing and smug. The main reason for that, Claes Bang who stars as the curator of a Stockholm art museum, who’s performance is spectacularly funny as well as delightfully cringe worthy. It helps that he is given excellent sparring partners, especially Elisabeth Moss as a journalist who’s relationship with with Bang becomes more and more complicated as the film goes on. Östlund directs the film with style, executing several tremendous set pieces that flow together brilliantly and lead to some of the most cutting moments in the film. It’s not hard to see why this film won the Palm d’Or at Cannes.

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17. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Directed by Jon Watts

The best film made this year that has six credited screenwriters, the more I think about it the more I am shocked that this movie works. While the workman directing of Jon Watts never lets the movie down, it never really elevates it. No, what does make this movie truly work is the two performances at its core, Tom Holland as Spider-Man and Michael Keaton as the Vulture. Holland is perfect as a Peter Parker just getting his start and absolutely crushes it in one of the best turns as the main role in a Spider-Man movie. In Keaton the MCU gets one of its few great villains and his role contributes to the films rather small scope and tone, refreshing in a series which often seems like it can’t figure out how to raise the stakes. Even though the film chronically under uses Marisa Tomei, its endearing tone, smart comedy, and strong performances make this an auspicious debut to a new Spider-Man series. For a deeper dive into my thoughts, check out my review here.

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16. The Post

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Yes, it isn’t Spielberg’s best work, and yes it is a bit sentimental but at this time what is there more appropriate to be sentimental about than the First Amendment. I have always considered Spielberg to be one of the best working practitioners of a quintessentially American style of film, and his talent is on display here. It’s so rewarding to watch a movie where everything just works, where everything just fits together perfectly. Spielberg’s directing perfectly compliments the excellent acting from the always perfect Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. This is the rare Spielberg film that features a woman as the lead, and shows that maybe he should be doing it more. It’s not Spielberg’s most ambitious film but even considering that he knocks it out of the park.

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15. Thor: Ragnarok

Directed by Taika Waititi

While I enjoyed the first Thor movie, directed by Kenneth Branagh, the second film is widely regarded as a low point in the MCU, a view I agree with. It was with that in mind that I hoped that the third film, directed by New Zealand indie darling Taika Waititi, would mark a new direction for the character. In Ragnarok Taika Waititi embraces the weird and cosmic nature of the hero from the comics and injects psychedelic visuals and whip-smart humor to create a film worthy of the Norse god of thunder. Everyone brings their A-game to this movie, Chris Hemsworth finally gets a film that allows him to demonstrate why he was such a good choice to play Thor. However the best performance belongs to Cate Blanchett who absolutely devours every single scene she is in, so much so that you find yourself wishing that she had even more to do. Visually the film is stunning and any film that features two perfect “Immigrant Song” needle drops is fine by me. Here’s hoping that Waitit gets even more chances to stretch his creative muscles for Marvel in the future.

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14. The Shape of Water

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

The Shape of Water is not Guillermo del Toros best film, but it might be his most heartfelt. Building on the entirety of his career, it’s easy to see The Shape of Water as the culmination of all the work he has done before. The story of a mute woman, played brilliantly by Sally Hawkings, who falls in love with a mysterious humanoid amphibian held at a secret government facility during the Cold War is clearly a work of love by del Toro. The film is beautiful with striking sets and lush cinematography. While it is a simple film, a clear allegory told in a fairy tale manner, it is perhaps the best example this year that it’s not just what a film is about but how it is about it. Sally Hawkins is the true core of this film, doing so much acting with merely a look and giving the film its emotional core. She is buoyed by the tremendous supporting roles, with some incredible acting from Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Shannon. It’s not my favorite film of the year, but it is a worthy Best Picture winner, and indicative of the great place we are in for films that a strange, small, romantic fantasy film can win Best Picture. I can only hope that this Best Picture win allows del Toro to make even more beautiful, personal films like this.

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13. War For The Planet Of The Apes

Directed by Matt Reeves

For all the curve balls that the Planet of the Apes series has thrown at us, the final film throws perhaps the largest, turning the film into a smaller scale, more character driven examination of the effects of war. The Planet of the Apes films have quietly been one of the most consistently great summer blockbuster series and this movie serves the a more than fitting send off to the trilogy. Once again Andy Serkis delivers one of his best performances as Caesar, the leader of the community of apes we have followed throughout this series. The effects are at their best here, with the apes being almost indistinguishable from the real thing. But perhaps the most remarkable thing is the way that Matt Reeves captures the humanity and emotion from all of his characters, even the villains. At its core this is simply a great blockbuster film created by a group of artists all working at the top of their game.

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12. The Big Sick

Directed by Michael Showalter

The Big Sick is the rare film that is based on a true story, written by the people who lived that true story, and stars one of those same people that actually manages to be good. Based on Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s real life story of their relationship, including its untimely interruption by Emily falling into a coma. Heartfelt, romantic, funny, and immensely emotional, this a film that depends so much on its brilliant Oscar nominated screenplay from Gordon and Nanjiani. Michael Showalter does the right thing and gets out of the way of the actors and the screenplay, and it’s easy to see why because everyone does such a good job with the excellent material they are given. Between Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, and of course Kumail Nanjiani himself. This is one of the best romantic comedies in recent memory and the rare Judd Apatow film that doesn’t feel like it over stays its welcome. I genuinely believe this one of the romantic comedies that will stand the test of time, and join several other canonical films in the pantheon of great romantic comedies.

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11. Logan

Directed by James Mangold

Logan is a masterpiece, a film that represents some of the heights that are possible in not just comic book movies but also in the blockbuster franchise in general. Building on Hugh Jackman’s 17 year career portraying Wolverine, Logan brings the full force of that history to bear. Right alongside Jackman is Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier who also brings a deep sense of history to the film. Logan is at its core a heavy, dark, and grim film, and yet what helps set it apart from other grim and gritty comic book movies is it’s hope. Logan is a film that finds the hope and humanity in its two main characters amid their own despair and pain. The action is brutal and bloody, and this is contrasted with its small, quiet moments especially those between Wolverine and Dafne Keens’ X-23. It’s only fitting that the last movie to feature Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is probably the best X-men movie. I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to end his tenure as Wolverne. Logan is a genre defining film that will serve as touchstone for comic book films for years to come.

That’s it for now, it’s good to be back. Check back in a few days for part 2 of my top 25 favorite films of 2017.

The Room And What Makes A Movie Good Or Bad

n0HThe Room is a hard movie to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it. The plot seems simple to sum up; a mans fiance falls out of love with him and begins an affair with his best friend ultimately leading to tragedy. However, if you watch it you’ll realize that describing The Room with that sentence is like describing The Tree of Life as a movie about a family in Texas. The plot of The Room meanders and at times disappears completely, the acting varies from atrocious to merely bad, the dialogue is bad, the cinematography is uninspired, and there is some truly bad green screen. I’ve seen it with friends who have left in the middle to go do something else, and a few people have told me that they can’t understand why I would watch it. The Room is often described as the worst movie ever made or the best worst movie, and yet I find myself watching it over and over.

I’ve seen The Room more than any other movie, or at least more than I can remember seeing any other movie. I’ve seen it alone on a laptop, with friends on a TV, and in theaters on the screen. It’s a movie I find myself returning to constantly and thinking about at random moments. It’s because of that I find it hard to mark The Room down as simply a “bad movie”. It’s one of my favorite movies, and I watch it because I genuinely enjoy the experience, even removed from the social aspect of watching it with friends or in a theater where people yell out lines and jeer. I find something new to think about or analyze every time I see it. I have impassioned discussions with my other friends who enjoy the movie where we talk about The Room and I’ve had more than a couple of conversations with people about it at parties. Maybe all this means is that I have way too much affection towards what amounts to a poorly made movie and yet I can’t shake the feeling that there’s more too it than that. Maybe I don’t think that The Room is “so bad it’s good”, maybe I just think that it’s only good.

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It’s not hard to explain to people why I think The Room is a good movie,I essentially laid it out in the previous paragraph. I find new things to think about in every viewing, it’s memorable, it provokes discussion with people, and at it’s most basic level I just plain like it and enjoy watching it. No, for me the more interesting question isn’t why is The Room good, it’s why isn’t The Room bad?

It’s an interesting question because it forces me to think about what makes a movie, any movie, bad? Some people view bad as the absence of good, I disagree. I find that when a movie lacks anything good it is far more likely to be mediocre and forgettable rather than bad. It’s a fine line, and one that I think is quite blurry but for me a mediocre movie doesn’t make me feel anything while a bad one causes a visceral emotional reaction. I thought Thor: The Dark World was mediocre and I thought Suicide Squad was bad. I thought this about those movies because when I left the theater after Thor I couldn’t and still can’t remember what happened in it, and when I think about or talk about Suicide Squad I still strongly feel distaste towards it.

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So if a lack of good isn’t what makes a movie bad, than what is it? I don’t think that it’s the opposite of good either, there are plenty of movies that I think aren’t rewatchable, or enjoyable to watch that I wouldn’t call bad, and some I would even call good. I don’t think there is an objective way to categorize a movie as good or bad. Going by a critical consensus will inevitably cause you to come into conflict with the consensus, I didn’t like The Grand Budapest Hotel and think it’s Wes Anderson’s worst movie despite the consensus being the other way. People will point to plot holes and other nitpicking gotcha aspects in an attempt to prove a film is bad due to logic and reason. They’ll point to things like the 180 degree rule and say that if a movie breaks this rule it is bad. I disagree with this there are many films that break every rule of film making or screenwriting that are phenomenal. There are films that are abstract, movies that deal in dream logic or even no logic at all, some that have no interest in narrative or even in being a movie. Is it right to judge films that don’t aspire to conform to our definition of a movie the same way we judge a blockbuster movie?

There is no objective way to judge a film because there is no objective way to view a film. Each one of us has to navigate each film without a set of criteria to help guide us. All we have to go on are our experiences, our biases, our cultural background, the ideas, mores, and emotions that have shaped us as people working subconsciously to shape our view on a film. I think that’s why I feel so strongly about this because to me how I feel about a movies says as much about myself as it does the film, and I suspect the same is true for most people. So for me to say why a movie is bad is to say why I think that I think that a movie is bad, and I think I’ve figured it out.

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A bad movie makes me angry. Not at the story being told on-screen, but at the film itself. I’m not saying that means that if your remember your watching a movie its a bad movies, some of the best movies deliberately break your immersion and point out that what you’re watching is a film. No, what I mean is that the film provokes anger outside of the context that the film presents. If you get angry at a character making a wrong choice in a movie that is result of the narrative the film presents. However if you’re watching a movie and you begin to feel anger towards the film itself well you might just be watching a bad movie. Only a few movies have ever made me feel this way, a select group of movies that were incomprehensible, offensive, or took something that shaped me and made a mockery of it. The rest of the films I haven’t enjoyed fall into the aforementioned mediocre category or a category of films that can best be described as “not good”, that is to say movies that are memorable, and yet can’t be said to be either good or bad because they didn’t provoke a strong emotion.

This means fundamentally that for a film to be good it must cause us to feel something. Whether that be joy or sadness, a good movie makes you feel something within the context of the film. This is why I think The Room is a good movie because within the world that the film presents I feel joy, it makes me happy. It’s far too rare a movie that can do that, and even rarer the film that can do it over and over again. Maybe you don’t agree with me and you watch The Room and think it is a bad movie. Maybe you think that all I’ve written makes no sense and maybe that’s true. In the end this is only how I feel. Watch as many movies as you can, watch movies that have been critically panned and praised, movies that are abstract or arty, movies that are mainstream and experimental, and find what makes you like or dislike a movie. Maybe you’ll learn a little bit about yourself as well.

 

Why I Love Movies.

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Writing an essay about loving movies isn’t very original, I’m pretty sure there are hundreds of essays online with this exact same title. So consider this just one more leaf on the pile, one more essay talking about the joy and emotion that come out of the world of film. You can also look at this a sort of mission statement for this site, for how I look at movie and art in general. At it’s core reviewing art is trying to put into words the gut feeling we get when that art is consumed, its not a science. I know how I feel about art, even if that feeling is not knowing how I feel about it, reviewing is filling in the why. To understand my reviews and to see where I’m coming from when I write them, I think it’s important to know my connection to the medium. Specifically here I’m going to write about film, mostly because it’s the one I write the most about and because it’s my favorite.

I think everyone has a movie, usually that they saw at a young age, that was “the movie”. The one that made them stay up at night thinking about what they saw. The one where something clicked in their mind and made them want to see every movie they could. For me that movie was Garden State, Zach Braff’s 2004 ode to sad, quirky, awkward, white dudes everywhere. Perhaps in retrospect it isn’t that good but from the moment younger me saw the movie I was hooked. There was something about Garden State that made it the right movie at the right time, something about it that made me feel something that I don’t think I had felt before. I think it was longing, longing for a world that didn’t exist, that you could only reach through this film. So it stayed with me.

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I haven’t watched Garden State in years, I don’t know if I would even like it now, but I do remember the way it made me feel the first time I saw it. It isn’t my favorite movie anymore, as the years have gone by and I’ve seen more films I’ve replaced it with movies I think are better. Every single one of those films has made me feel something, not the same thing I felt with Garden State but each unique in the emotions and memories they elicit. But a movie doesn’t have to be my favorite to have and impact. Ultimately I think there are three reasons why I continue to love movies. First, movies are entertaining, they’re cool, they’re fun and they provide an escape from our lives. Second, movies widen the world, they expose us to new ideas, and they create new universes to explore. Finally, I believe that film is a unique medium that provides that is the best at making us feel.

I think the entertainment values of movies is something we all take for granted, but it isn’t one we talk enough about. Yes, movies are an art form, and many movies are made for the sole purpose of being artistic. It’s a noble goal, and one I support. But, at least in the United States, the majority of movies people will see were created with the purpose of entertaining people. This can take a variety of forms, from an action film such as Speed to a murder mystery movie like Murder On The Orient Express. There’s something fun and relaxing about leaving your current situation behind and melting into the symphony of action or the story of whatever your watching. Creating good entertainment, the kind people will want to revisit, isn’t easy, and it is something to be admired when that is created.

For me, perhaps the genre that best exemplifies this is action. Now of course action movies can tell us about the society we live in or makes think about new ideas, in fact the very best ones do but at their heart I believe that action movies are about giving us thrills. There’s a lot to admire about a movie like Die Hard, the way it’s expertly plotted, the acting, but what I like the most about it is just how much fun it is. Maybe that’s a weird thing to say about a movie about a terrorists taking over an office building but it really is fun to watch a movie about a hero taking on a group of bad guys. We want him to succeed, we root for him, we marvel at the explosions and stunts, and we’re happy when at the end the good guy wins. There’s something beautiful in the action of these films, something incredible about the way they take us into a fantasy where these things can happen.

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In their own way, every movie creates its own world. It’s sort of an intrinsic fact of creating a film, that by having a camera and showing things on it that it becomes a world of its own. In creating these new worlds movies bring us new things to think about, new ideas, and introduce to cultures that aren’t our own. I think that’s a beautiful thing about movies, that they can tell me a story about someone who’s life, upbringing, and culture are different from mine and that I am able to see it from their perspective.

In this thread are documentary films that allow people to be exposed to new ideas and to have realities revealed to them. There’s something about being shown real moments and real events that make documentary films such a rewarding experience. In this vein we also have films that push new ideas through fiction. In particular those that combine this with new worlds to create places that people may truly want to inhabit.

There’s something clichéd about wanting to live in a science fiction or fantasy world. I think it’s because it’s something everyone has dreamed about, few people imagine themselves living in the crime-ridden world of The Godfather, people may want to be the main character or observe their world from the safety of their home but not live in them. However, who hasn’t dreamed of living in the world of Star Trek, going to Hogwarts, or even the Hollywood high schools of the 80’s. Movies allow us to create new universes and in doing so allow us to dream of them.

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In the end I feel that the greatest strength of film is this, films are the best catalyst for allowing us to access and magnify those memories, moments, and emotions that live deep in the back of our mind. When the sound, images, editing, and acting that make up a movie come together in just the right way they help us to experience emotions we may not have thought about in a long time. I think every good movie does this, accesses some forgotten part of our brain and make us feel in a way that other mediums just don’t.

Let’s take something as simple as the first time you kiss someone. I’m sure most people could explain to someone the way they felt the first time they kissed someone, whether they were nervous or excited, confident or shy, and when they did it how it was. If you read a passage of a book about a first kiss maybe that might remind you of that moment. A song might play that brings back that memory, and yet for me all of those only bring back the memory, not the emotion.

But when I watch the “Kiss the Girl” sequence from The Little Mermaid there’s something about the combination of the song, the visuals, and the whole film making package that does more than just bring back the memory. It makes me feel like I did the first time I kissed someone. Of course that was years ago so I don’t really remember exactly the way I felt, only that it was some mixture of fear, excitement, nervousness, adrenaline, and joy. However watching that part of The Little Mermaid makes me feel the way I feel that I felt during my first kiss.

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The best movies make us feel this way, in a vague, hard to describe, they make us feel the way we imagine we do about things we imagine about. That is the real power of film, helping us to draw the emotions we store away and don’t think about. Movies can do so much, entertain, give us new worlds, but at end, at their core, movies are like all the best works of art. They work as lenses, lenses that focus the deeply human emotions we all feel and project them on a screen for us to marvel at.