All posts by Engagingculture

I'm a normal guy who watches a lot of movies. I love to compare techniques, cinematography, and acting, but I'm really amazed at what makes movies successful. Why does one film make piles of money while another falls flat on its face? I hope to help other normal people enjoy more good movies and avoid the garbage.

Best of 2017: Outsiders 11-15

Let’s continue to look at those just outside of my top ten of 2017. You can also read my #16-20. I’ve seen most of these on other people’s top ten lists and I think that they could all be up there if I was in a different mood. You’ll notice that on most of these mini reviews, I’m not focusing on technical merit or acting unless it was hands down better than anything else I’ve seen this year. Instead, I’m choosing my top films by selecting the ones that resonated the most with me. I hope that you will read my thoughts on these five and give me your thoughts. Link me to your top 10s, Tell me why I’m wrong or what I got right. Continue reading Best of 2017: Outsiders 11-15

Best of 2017: Outsiders 16-20

My Qualifications

I know that this is a small site and you might think, “why would I care what this guy thinks is the best of 2017, he’s probably only watched 20 movies and so his top 10 will just be a joke.” However, I log all of the movies that I watch over at Letterboxd.com, and they tell me that during 2017 I watched 265 films, and 68 of them were released during 2017. In addition to those, I have played a bit of catch-up like most people and can now say that I have seen 88 of the movies released in 2017 including all best picture nominees, acting and directing nominations, except for Christopher Plummer’s role in All the Money in the World which was largely political as he replaced Kevin Spacey at the last minute after Spacey’s scandal.

Unfortunately, even with this amount of films, I am still missing a few that have come highly recommended. Loving Vincent, The Breadwinner, Personal Shopper, Columbus, Faces Places, Wonderstruck, Lady MacBeth, and Hostiles. One or two of those might work their way onto this list eventually but for now, let’s jump in to see my top 20 films of 2017.
Continue reading Best of 2017: Outsiders 16-20

Planet of the Apes (1968) – 50th Anniversary

Fifty years ago today, Planet of the Apes was released in theaters. Filmgoers were presented with an alternate future where humans were no longer the dominant species. No longer the strongest. It took audiences by storm and produced four sequels, two television series, numerous graphic novel adaptations, and a remake. Not to mention the recently popular film saga. What is it about this simple sci-fi story that has resonated with our culture for 50 years?

I had never seen the original film until this year in preparation for this article. I have seen all of the new films and have enjoyed most of them but I was honestly surprised how relevant the original still is 50 years later. I believe it worked so well because it held up a mirror to our culture and allowed us to reflect on our actions and behaviors in the light of what really matters to us as a species.

The original 1968 movie mixes political and religious satire, suspense, and action and leads us to a finale with one of the best twists in all of film history. If you don’t know what that twist is then please stop right here and let me express to you that you have an amazing gift right now. Please don’t read any further. Go find a copy of the film (but beware of some of the DVD covers that can even spoil the ending!). There is a new 50th anniversary Blu-ray edition being released this week and you can get it for $8 over at Best Buy. It has the film plus a digital copy and all of the special features that you could want. Enjoy the camp and get swept away to a time when political powers were unstable, the future was uncertain, and the threat of nuclear war was on the public’s mind daily. Even sarcastically you can see how this film still speaks its humanist message loud and clear.

Continue reading Planet of the Apes (1968) – 50th Anniversary

2016 Best Movie Bracket

Not going to do a full post for this. I just needed to catch up since I started the Best Movie Bracket in 2016 and never got around to posting my bracket for the year. I posted my top 20 over at Letterboxd and it still holds up. I think it’s a pretty solid mix of populist and more obscure films.

Aronofsky’s God on Display in mother!

There is a lot going on in Darren Aronofsky’s new film mother! Some have called it the worst movie of the year, some even claim the century. Yet others have called it truly breathtaking and a creative masterpiece. It is a very polarizing film. Upon first viewing in theaters, I was sold. I couldn’t stop talking about it and thinking about it. Since then it has earned the worst audience score of an F, and been nominated for several Razzies. So why am I “wasting my time” looking at this film that statistically speaking most people will not watch?

There are so many religious messages that I can’t pass it up. It is available on Blu-Ray and streaming now, but I will warn you that this is a film made for one time purposeful viewing. It will stick with you and may haunt you. Beware that there is violent and disturbing imagery and foul language. I believe it is all meant to serve a purpose and it points to a creation, fall, redemption, restoration process that we see in scripture. This is through the eyes of an agnostic at best so it is not at all a perfect or complete picture, but we can clearly see what Aronofsky thinks of this God and his followers through his creation.

I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this film. It is a very difficult watch. But to serve any purpose I must dive deeper in discussion of the story that the film presents. To look at it from the surface it is just torture porn wrapped in religiosity, but if we will take time to go deeper, we can glean some tremendous insights. This is my last warning. Massive spoilers ahead! If you are up to it, let’s dive in.

Continue reading Aronofsky’s God on Display in mother!

1999 Best Movie Bracket

In 1999, I was a sophomore in high school, I got my drivers’ license, and I gave my life over to Christ and decided to go into full-time ministry. Clearly, it was a big year for me, but what about in Hollywood?

On a recent episode of the Filmspotting podcast, longtime hosts Josh Larsen and Adam Kempenaar listed their top 5 years of film. This is one that was on both of their lists. So it shouldn’t surprise you that in this highly favored year that I am going to have more than 1 number 1. Unlike 2007, this one isn’t so much a tie as it is the consideration of this exercise as a death match. If only the winners from each year are left for eternity to represent that year, then I need both of these films because they speak to the larger shift in cinema.

In my mind, the films of a year speak to the cultural landscape of the time, and prior to 9/11 in 2001, one of the biggest cultural shifts (at least in my life) was the school shooting at Columbine school in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999. Today, it seems like school shootings happen everyday and they don’t have time to linger on our consciousness the way they did because of the constant barrage of the news cycle. At the time, I don’t think that Columbine played a role in that decision, but it definitely shaped my life from that point forward.

The films of 1999, whether I saw them at that time or years later, have solidified my love and passion for cinema. I was a film lover years before I became a Christian, but my entire worldview shifted in a moment and these films form a cultural microcosm for me and speak deeply. Continue reading 1999 Best Movie Bracket

Weekend Outlook – Battle of the Sexes, Kingsman, Lego, and more

Man, there are a lot of movies coming out this weekend! I’m hoping to do this Weekend Outlook on a weekly basis to highlight the films that are hitting theaters each week. Alternatively, I’m thinking about posting about movies coming out on DVD so you can see what will be hitting stores, your Video on Demand service, or Redbox. I know that not everyone watches movies in theaters like I do.

These are all nationwide releases that should be coming to a theater near you. I’m most excited about Battle of the Sexes, but none of the others look awful, It should be a good week.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES 

Poster for the movie "Battle of the Sexes"
© 2017 Fox Searchlight Pictures − All right reserved.

Starring: Steve Carell, Emma Stone, and Sarah Silverman

Rated PG-13

The electrifying 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was billed as the Battle of the Sexes and became the most watched televised sports event of all time. The match sparked a global conversation on gender equality, spurring on the feminist movement. Trapped in the media glare, King and Riggs were on opposites sides of a binary argument, but off-court each was fighting more personal and complex battles. With a supportive husband urging her to fight the Establishment for equal pay, the fiercely private King was also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality, while Riggs gambled his legacy and reputation in a bid to relive the glories of his past. Together, Billie and Bobby served up a cultural spectacle that resonated far beyond the tennis courts and animated the discussions between men and women in bedrooms and boardrooms around the world.

Continue reading Weekend Outlook – Battle of the Sexes, Kingsman, Lego, and more

2000 Best Movie Bracket

We’re beginning to get into years that I haven’t seen as many movies. I was a minor in 2000 so I couldn’t go see R rated movies without my parents and I lived in a pretty conservative home. However, I’ve seen many films since that time and tried to fill in the gaps. This list has always been a subjective one, but I like to be fair in my judgments so I will try to take the advice of other critics and moviegoers into consideration as we move forward in this process.

I’m also going to try and move quickly through these, because I think the real fun is going to be when we have the head -to-head match-ups of the bracket. With that in mind, I’m just going to list my top 3 and then any honorable mentions will be in the read more section. Here we go.

#1 – Requiem for a Dream

I’m glad this is the Best Movie Bracket and not the most re-watchable or most entertaining movie bracket. Requiem for a Dream will stay with you and make you feel like you might never be happy again. It is like a film Dementor. We follow four people involved with drugs as their lives spin more and more out of control; the devoted mother (Ellen Burstyn), her junkie son (Jared Leto),his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly), and their friend (Damon Wayans). Everything is spinning out of control, because when it comes to drugs, once you are hooked, you are hooked.

Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Fountain, and Pi) brings the camera so close to the characters that you can almost feel their sweat dripping on you. As they stumble confused through their addictions and the consequences of them, Aronofsky makes us feel every emotion until we feel like throwing up in unison with these poor souls. The last half hour of the movie is a crescendo of these stories and it is the most effective part. He cuts between all four stories as they go deep down the rabbit hole each in their own way. Ellen Burstyn was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Sara, the lonely mother who puts up with everything just to get a visit from her son.

#2 – Almost Famous

Set in 1973, it chronicles the funny and often poignant coming of age of 15-year-old William, an unabashed music fan who is inspired by the seminal bands of the time. When his love of music lands him an assignment from Rolling Stone magazine to interview the up-and-coming band Stillwater — fronted by lead guitar Russell Hammond and lead singer Jeff Bebe William embarks on an eye-opening journey with the band’s tour, despite the objections of his protective mother.

Cameron Crowe (Writer of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Director of Say Anything and Jerry McGuire) directs this nostalgic story as if it was his own childhood. I am personally not a big fan of 70s music, but it is used very well in this film, most of my favorite scenes are made all the more memorable by the music, which includes Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Black Sabbath, and The Beach Boys. Most of the actors and actresses in this film give the performance of their lives, Frances McDormand being especially comical as William’s mother, and many of the best moments are all hers. William himself has an endearing quality about him to the audience, and I’m surprised I haven’t seen Patrick Fugit in any other films since this one.

#3 – Gladiator

Ridley Scott (Alien and Blade Runner) created this shields and sandals epic. It is considered by many to be the best movie of 2000. It was nominated for 12 Oscars and won Best Picture, Actor, Costume, Sound, and Effects. The acting in the movie more than lives up to expectations.

Russell Crowe is brilliant in his role as Maximus, the “general who became a slave, who became a gladiator, who defied an emperor.” Crowe’s intense style is perfect his character’s relentless determination and confidence. Joaquin Phoenix is equally wonderful in his role as the corrupt emperor. He plays a great villain because he is able to give Commodus depth by showing certain vulnerable or fragile sides, while at the same time instantly transforming to let the ruthless nature of his volatile character shine.

Honorable mentions: Continue reading 2000 Best Movie Bracket