Screening Room: Best Movies of 2019

‘Parasite’ (NEON)

Now that the holidays are upon us, it is time to do the truly important things, such as catching up on all the movies of the last year. No, it is not crucial to run out and see the latest Star Wars (you can already figure out pretty much everything that’s going to happen). And yes, it is worth braving the snow and the crowds to go see a movie with other people rather than streaming Game of Thrones again. There’s a lot of great things out there.

My year-end wrap-up of the 15 best movies of 2019 was published at Eyes Wide Open. It’s a diverse mix, with everything from Hitchcockian Korean horror-comedy to wartime drama, teen comedy, and a shockingly great Adam Sandler movie. Plus: Adam Driver sings Sondheim. Like I said, there’s a lot to see.

Screening Room: Best Movies of 2018

‘The Death of Stalin’ (IFC Films)

Now that we’re almost to January, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was, movie-wise. My accounting of the best movies to hit screens, big and small, in 2018, was published at Eyes Wide Open:

The more things changed at the movies in 2018, the more they stayed the same. The year’s biggest box office hit was Marvel’s Black Panther, which finally smashed the old rule that white actors were required to head up superhero stories. Crazy Rich Asians proved that perfectly mediocre romantic comedies (which should not be taken as a criticism, it’s been a moribund genre for a while) didn’t require white casts for relatability; glossy shopping montages and feisty showdowns between a bride-to-be and her fearsome future mother-in-law translate across all cultures…

Reader’s Corner: National Book Critics Circle Awards

The fine group of folks known as the National Book Critics Circle—who graciously suffer my inclusion among their ranks—have just announced their 2017 winners. Minnesota press Graywolf snagged awards in two categories, an impressive feat. See here:

Poetry — Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (Graywolf)

Criticism — Carina Chocano, You Play The Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Trainwrecks, & Other Mixed Messages (HMH/Mariner)

Autobiography — Xiaolu Guo, Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China (Grove)

Biography — Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Metropolitan Books)

Nonfiction — Frances FitzGerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (Simon & Schuster)

Fiction — Joan Silber, Improvement (Counterpoint)

The John Leonard Prize — Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf)

The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing — Charles Finch

The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award — John McPhee

Dept. of Awards: ‘The Florida Project’ and ‘Mudbound’ Tie for Best Picture

A curious thing happened today at the awards meeting of New York Film Critics Online: We couldn’t agree on a best picture of the year. So we went with a tie (and they’re both great movies, so it’s really no issue): The Florida Project and Mudbound. Here’s the full list of awards:

Picture 
The Florida Project (A24) and Mudbound (Netflix) (tie)

Director 
Dee Rees, Mudbound

Actor 
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Actress 
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Supporting Actor 
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Supporting Actress 
Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Screenplay 
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Breakthrough Performer 
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

Debut Director 
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Ensemble Cast 
Mudbound (Netflix)

Documentary
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Zeitgeist)

Foreign Language
In the Fade (Magnolia)

Animated
Coco (Disney/Pixar)

Cinematography
Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water

Use of Music
Steven Price (music by) and Kristen Lane (music supervisor), Baby Driver

Top 10 Films
Call Me by Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
Dunkirk (Warner Bros.)
The Florida Project (A24)
Get Out (Universal)
I, Tonya (Neon)
Lady Bird (A24)
Mudbound (Netflix)
Phantom Thread (Focus)
The Post (Fox)
The Shape of Water (Fox Searchlight)

Eyes Wide Open 2016: The Best

americanhoney1
‘American Honey,’ #3 on the list of year’s best (A24)

So now that it’s January, time to get working on all those films you meant to see over the holidays but never quite got around to. Not sure what to see first? Check out this list of the 25 best films of 2016, published over at Eyes Wide Open.

It’s broken down into three parts: here, here, and here.

oj1There’s something there for pretty much everybody, from great dramas like Manchester by the Sea and Denzel Washington’s Fences to screwball comedies (Maggie’s Plan), boundary-pushing indies (The Childhood of a Leader, American Honey) and gripping documentaries on race and history (Command and Control, 13th, I Am Not Your Negro).

What was the best film of the year? There’s no way to be that reductive about it, of course. But for historical sweep, attention to detail, and drama, the sprawling epic OJ: Made in America is hard to beat, making that number one. But the other 24 are no slouches, either.

And for the gluttons for punishment among, there’s always the worst of the year here. Yes, that list includes Deadpool.

Online Film Critics Society: Best Picture of 2015 is ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Tom Hardy and a one-armed Charlize Theron in 'Mad Max: Fury Road'
Tom Hardy and a one-armed Charlize Theron in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’
Challenging the critical consensus that’s been gathering around The RevenantSpotlight, and Carol for best film of the year, Online Film Critics Society—which includes yours truly among its members—voted yesterday that the year’s best film was in fact … Mad Max: Fury Road. One could theoretically argue that George Miller’s action film had just as much to say about the human condition (folly, greed, short-sightedness, environmental collapse) as those other films, only with the added bonus of explosions and many, many crashing cars. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Herewith the full list of awards:

  • PICTURE: Mad Max: Fury Road
  • ANIMATED FEATURE: Inside Out
  • FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: The Assassin
  • DOCUMENTARY: The Look of Silence
  • DIRECTOR: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
  • ACTOR: Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
  • ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett (Carol)
  • SUPPORTING ACTOR: Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina)
  • SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Rooney Mara (Carol)
  • ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Spotlight (Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy)
  • ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Carol (Phyllis Nagy)
  • EDITING: Mad Max: Fury Road (Margaret Sixel)
  • CINEMATOGRAPHY: Mad Max: Fury Road (John Seale)

Department of Awards: ‘Whiplash’ Gets Bloody

Miles Teller drums and J.K. Simmons berates in 'Whiplash' (Sony Pictures Classics"
Miles Teller drums and J.K. Simmons berates in ‘Whiplash’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

A brutal and (literally) bloody musician’s tale that’s about many, many other things besides music (surprise), Whiplash was the little awards film that could. While never quite making a splash along the lines of a Boyhood or The Imitation Game, it plugged along for months on little more than sheer word of mouth. Just like movies used to do.

Whiplash, which was ultimately nominated for five Oscars, will be available next week on DVD and Blu-ray. My review is at Film Racket:

In Damien Chazelle’s steam-heated pressure cooker, socially maladroit student Andrew (Miles Teller) is determined to be a brilliant jazz drummer. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the demon-teacher at a New York music conservatory who Andrew thinks guards the entrance to greatness, sees potential in this student but won’t let him past without a serious flaying. From the second Andrew steps into Fletcher’s studio band, the insults and cutting remarks fly from Fletcher’s lips. The only question seems to be how long Andrew can tough it out. But since he and Fletcher have a surprising amount in common, the story then becomes more about who will outlast the other…

You can see the trailer here:

New on DVD: ‘Life Itself’

The writer at rest: 'Life Itself' (Magnolia Pictures)
The writer at rest: ‘Life Itself’ (Magnolia Pictures)

One of the better documentaries that ever-so-briefly graced screens in 2014 was Life Itself. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and based in part on Roger Ebert’s memoir, the film is a fascinating and curiously life-affirming story about ambition, creativity, and getting on with things.

lifeitself-posterLife Itself is available on DVD today; my review is at Film Racket:

James takes Ebert’s 2011 memoir as his source document. From there we get Ebert’s memories of growing up as a precociously verbal only child in downstate Illinois. (“My mother supported me like I was the local sports team.”) He describes himself as not just a born writer but a born journalist. This was not a kid who wanted to just write for high-brow publications. He wanted to be read and heard by as many people as possible. Thus the career that arced from working-class daily paper to syndicated TV show and appearances on Carson and Letterman. When called upon he could pen a learned piece for Film Comment (as he did in response to a Richard Corliss piece that called him out as an egregious “thumbs up/thumbs down” simplifier and bottom-racer). But as much as he admired the Pauline Kaels and Andrew Sarrises of the world, that was never going to be him…

Here’s the trailer:

Department of Shameless Self-Promotion: ‘Eyes Wide Open: 2014’

Eyes Wide Open coverFor the third year running, I’ve published an annual guide (sort of) to the year that was, cinematically speaking.

The 2014 Eyes Wide Open is collected like the last couple of editions, in that it starts off with pieces covering each of my 25 favorite movies of the year, then laying into the year’s 5 worst films, rounding it all off with some shorter honorable mention pieces, DVD reviews, and other ephemera.

It’s available as a paperback here and an ebook here.

New in Theaters: The Oscar Nominated Short Films

Ireland's Oscar-nominated short film 'Boogaloo and Graham' (ShortsHD)
Ireland’s Oscar-nominated short film ‘Boogaloo and Graham’ (ShortsHD)

Every year at the Oscars, the same four or five feature films are mentioned over and over again. Then they come to the shorts category and everybody looks confused since there was never anywhere to see the things. That’s changed in recent years with the increasing popularity (in arthouses, at least) of the Oscar nominated short film programs.

Oscar shorts-posterAll three programs (Live-Action, Documentary, and Animation) open in limited release this Friday. My reviews of the first two ran this week in Film Journal International.

You can read the review of Live-Action here:

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences votes each year for their favorite live-action short films, it can often seem as if they’re aiming for a smorgasbord appeal: something serious, something off-the-wall, a couple of snippet comedies, and at least something in black-and-white. The 2015 program, now a reliably audience-pleasing fixture on the art-house circuit, chucks that template in favor of more thought-out offerings that for once downplay the quirk…

The Oscar-nominated short 'White Earth' (ShortsHD)
The Oscar-nominated documentary short ‘White Earth’ (ShortsHD)

And Documentary here:

There are some years when the nonfiction shorts nominated for the Academy Awards can be realistically seen as a menu of the world’s problems: short dispatches of despair and terror, war and its consequences, from far-flung countries and ignored communities. This year’s program has some of that quality to it as well; there is, after all, something about the form that seems to necessitate the choice of uncomfortable topics. But more than most years, this time the problems at hand are more personal than geopolitical…

You can see the trailer here.

Screening Room: ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Deserves to Win It All

Ralph Fiennes lives it up while he can in 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' (Fox Searchlight)
Ralph Fiennes lives it up while he can in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (Fox Searchlight)

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was nominated for nine (count ’em) Academy Awards. There’s no guessing exactly how it will fare up against the competition from Birdman and Boyhood, but it’s easy to say that whatever awards those films don’t get, should be sent Budapest‘s way.

grand_budapest_hotel-posterMy article about the film is at Short Ends & Leader:

Wes Anderson isn’t our greatest living filmmaker; his style is too narrowly defined for such a grand title. We tend to think of our greatest directors as both having a signature style but also being flexible enough to tackle many styles: Howard Hawks could move from urbane comedies to Westerns and epics, Martin Scorsese from urban grit to musicals and children’s’ fantasias, and so on. By contrast Anderson has one style, and each of his films simply refine it. All those twee little trinkets and fussy outfits could drive you mad, were one to watch too many in a row. But as perfectly Andersonian a spectacle as The Grand Budapest Hotel is, it also expands his reach in surprising ways. Being one of the year’s most unique spectacles, it’s also the first Anderson film made up of tragedy as much as it is comedy…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: Tom Hardy in ‘Locke’

Tom Hardy in 'Locke' (A24)
Tom Hardy in ‘Locke’ (A24)

In the summer of 2014, a little film named Locke came and went from a few cinemas in an eyeblink. It’s not hard on the surface to see why: The secretive trailer promises only a one-man show: Tom Hardy in a car for about an hour-and-a-half, grousing and pleading on the phone. Just as audiences failed to find it, the Golden Globes also ignored the film, as most likely the Oscars will too.

Do yourself a favor and check out Locke, which is available on DVD and VOD now. My review is at Short Ends and Leader:

The prospect of spending an hour and a half with an actor in a car while they sweet-talk and argue with people on the phone would normally be straight tedium … But when the actor is Tom Hardy, it’s a different story. In Steven Knight’s spellbinding Locke, Hardy darts through the tense screenplay with such graceful ease that his work feels more like something lived than performed. By the time this downbeat nail-biter is done, it feels justified to finally go ahead and say that Hardy is easily one of the greatest actors of his generation…

Here’s the trailer:

Quote of the Day: Golden Globes edition

Recreating the march in 'Selma' (Paramount Pictures)
Recreating the march in ‘Selma’ (Paramount Pictures)

In Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s monologue at the start of last night’s more anti-climactic than usual Golden Globe Awards, they referenced the film Selma (which, again, tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s leading the dramatic civil rights march through what was essentially enemy territory in Alabama in 1965).

It starts with a mediocre gag and follows up with one of the most pointed lines of any recent awards show:

… in the 1960s, thousands of black people from all over America came together with one common goal: To form Sly and the Family Stone [some laughter] … But the movie Selma is about the American civil rights movement that totally worked and now everything’s fine.

New in Theaters: ‘Two Days, One Night’

(IFC Films)
‘Two Days, One Night’ (IFC Films)

twodaysonenight-posterIn the latest film from the Dardennes brothers, Marion Cotillard deglams to play a factory worker who has to fight for her job in a particularly grueling way.  Hopefully, it’ll be the odds-on favorite for the Oscars next year.

Two Days, One Night opens on Christmas Eve in limited release and should expand around the country in the new year. My review is at Film Racket:

In the nervy pressure cooker Two Days, One Night, a hollow-eyed Belgian factory worker tries to convince her co-workers to keep her on at the company instead of getting a raise. The narrative is similar to those gladiator entertainments — see who wins and who goes home — but it’s structured around a different impulse. Here the protagonist is trying to succeed by convincing the other characters to listen to their altruistic instincts. It’s not the sort of thing people normally bet on…

The trailer is here:

Department of Awards: ‘Boyhood’ the Best Film of 2014

Dreaming of greatness, or just dreaming, in 'Boyhood' (IFC Films)
Dreaming of greatness, or just dreaming, in ‘Boyhood’ (IFC Films)

Earlier today, New York Film Critics Online—a group that quite generously includes yours truly in its membership—met to hash out the most notable films, filmmakers, and performers in various categories during 2014.

In short, Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood won for best picture and in two other categories, with Alejandro Inarritu’s meta-fictional satire Birdman tied at three wins. Other films like The Imitation Game and particularly The Grand Budapest Hotel received many votes in particular categories but ultimately couldn’t pull out a win. (Note that last year, NYFCO chose 12 Years a Slave as best film, and it went on to win the Oscar … just saying.)

The Hollywood Reporter noted the proceedings, as did award news mavens GoldDerby and The Wrap.

Here’s the full reckoning of what we as a group liked best from 2014, broken down first by category and then our annual Top 10 list; note that several of them (Unbroken, A Most Violent Year, Selma, and Two Days, One Night) won’t get released until Christmas or later this year:

  • Best Picture — Boyhood
  • Best Director — Richard Linklater, Boyhood
  • Best Actor — Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
  • Best Actress — Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
  • Best Supporting Actor — J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
  • Best Supporting Actress — Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  • Best Screenplay — Birdman
  • Best Cinematography — Birdman
  • Best Breakthrough Performance — Jack O’Connell, Starred Up and Unbroken
  • Best Use of Music — Get On Up
  • Best Debut Director — Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
  • Best Ensemble Cast — Birdman
  • Best Foreign Language Film — Two Days, One Night
  • Best Documentary — Life Itself
  • Best Animated Film — The Lego Movie

The Top 10 Films of 2014

  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Imitation Game
  • A Most Violent Year
  • Mr. Turner
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Under the Skin
  • Whiplash