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: