Category Archives: Drama

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

2001 Best Movie Bracket

When you mention the year 2001, one event comes to most Americans’ minds. The events of September 11, 2001 changed the course of history and things have never been the same. It was also the year that I graduated from high school and left for college. When 9/11 happened, I was in my first semester of college and was over 200 miles from the only home I had ever known.

Little did we know that our little college campus would be rocked with a tragedy less than two week afterwards that felt more significant than towers falling. There was a van accident which killed three of my peers as they were returning from a ministry event. It was a very sad time, but it drew me closer to the beautiful woman that would become my wife. We grieved together and drew strength from each other’s faith.

Film was one of the last thing on my mind during that time, but it seemed that just a few months after this tragedy many Americans were finding refuge from the pain of reality through the imagination of a handful of master storytellers. Two film franchises were born during this year and they would persist for many years following. I’m speaking of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

While both of these were good films and left a lasting impression on film, they are merely footnotes or honorable mentions in this competition for the best film of the year. Before I get to my top 3 films of the year, you should know that the Academy Award for Best Picture went to my 4th best movie of the year, A Beautiful Mind. Other honorable mentions are: AmelieThe Others, Donnie Darko, Training DayThe Royal Tenenbaums, and Ocean’s Eleven. All of my Top 3 are at least a bit surreal and dive into and out of the deepest and most intimate place in all of us, our memory. That is appropriate since I have such deep memories of this year.

#1 – Spirited Away

The first time you watch Spirited Away you are blown away by the visuals. Hayao Mizayaki’s decadent hand drawn animation is always moving and is totally beautiful. You are left thinking about the meaning and the symbolism that is deep under the surface of this story of a young girl who gets lost in a spirit world and has to find her way back. Every time after that, you will be sucked deeper into the symbolism until you realize that this is a commentary on growing up in a Capitalist culture but not losing the innocent wonder of childhood.

Chihiro means “thousand questions.” It means that she is inquisitive and takes nothing for granted. We see this wide eyed girl lose her parents to greed and consumerism. She gets a job at a bath house and trades away part of her name. The name is a symbol of a person’s character and she becomes Sen which means “thousand.” Literally, the questions have been removed. She is warned not to forget her name because that is the secret for her escape. I won’t go any deeper than that in case you haven’t seen it, but I just might do a full spoiler laden breakdown at some point.

#2 – Memento

Technically, Memento was released in 2000 but it wasn’t seen on US soil until 2001, so I had to put it in this year. Long before Christoper Nolan started diving into the brains of his characters and viewers in Inception, he was beginning at the end with Memento. Simply put, it is the non-simple, non-linear story of Leonard who suffers from a Dory-like version of short-term memory loss. He retains memories from before his accident but cannot create any new memories. Instead, he litters his jacket pockets with Polaroid pictures and scraps of note paper, and covers the canvas of his body with tattoos to remind him of his overall purpose.

We learn through 22 vignettes that Leonard is hunting a man called John G. who is behind the rape and murder of his wife. I don’t want to spoil too much because it is such a fun puzzle to put together, but let me just say that you will be engaged and guessing with the story until the very end. This is one of the films that made Christopher Nolan the brand name that he is today.

#3 – Mulholland Drive

Have you ever had a dream that freaked you out and left you gasping for breath as you rushed back to consciousness? When your loved ones come in the room to check if you are okay all you can say is I had a bad dream. Invariably, they will ask what it was about, but we can’t say because the dream is quickly retreating into our sub conscience, and because no matter how well you explain what happened in the dream you sound psychotic. Mulholland Dr. is that creepy dream.

More people have become familiar with David Lynch since the new Twin Peaks was released. I would recommend this movie as a good starting place, but I would encourage you not to analyze too much. To truly enjoy it, you must surrender yourself to it. As Roger Ebert said, “If you require logic, see something else.” David Lynch loves to make films which defy logic, but Mulholland Dr. follows no conventional plot structure, it simply ebbs and flows like a dream.

Did I get something wrong? What would you change? Have you seen any of these three? Let me know in the comments or on social media.

Fall 2017 Movie Preview: Drama Part 2

Sorry for the delay in getting the last part of this Fall Movie Preview finished and published. I live in Florida and things are a little bit crazy with Hurricane Irma preparations. There were just too many dramatic films coming out over the next few months to capture them all in one post.

You can read the first part here. Or read the other sections of the preview : Action/Adventure, Horror/Thriller, or Family/Comedy. I hope you’ll let me know which of these sound interesting to you and which you’ll wait to stream on Netflix.

November

LBJ – 11/10

The story of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson from his young days in West Texas to the White House.

This was originally scheduled to come out in 2016. I don’t know the actual reason it was delayed, but I can only think that it had something to do with something else going on in the world of politics that was slightly more entertaining than history. There was also another film focusing on this period of time, Jackie. I for one would have never imagined Woody Harrelson as LBJ, and it’s directed by Rob Reiner (Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, and When Harry Met Sally).

Murder on the Orient Express – 11/10

A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

The second film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s most famous story of legendary detective Hercule Poirot. The 1974 film directed by Sidney Lumet is already legendary for its stunning cast and claustrophobic feel. This version looks like it is trying to capture that essence. I’m really excited to see what they do with it, and with a cast featuring the likes of Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penélope Cruz, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, and Josh Gad it’s going to have to try really hard not to be at least good.

Lady Bird – 11/10

The adventures of a young woman living in Northern California for a year.

Well, that’s not much of a description to go off. It should say something like, “Jackie from Roseanne (Laurie Metcalf) is raising a teenage daughter of her own played by Saoirse (it’s pronounced “seer-sha”) Ronan. She doesn’t feel like she belongs in the little Northern California town. She feels as though the walls are closing in. She longs to be on the east coast in a city where writers live out in the woods.” That’s a movie I want to watch. It looks funny and sad and warm and rich. Saoirse Ronan is a fantastic actress and is going to bring so much heart to the titular character of Lady Bird. The whole thing is written and directed by Greta Gerwig as something of an autobiography. Man, I love this time of year!

The Darkest Hour – 11/22

Within days of becoming Prime Minister, Winston Churchill must face his most turbulent and defining trial: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation.

A Winston Churchill biopic starring Gary Oldman. Need I say anything else? I mean, just look at that picture. He’s is a master of sinking into a role whether it is Dracula, Sid Vicious, Pontius Pilate, Sirius Black, or Commissioner James Gordon. Watch the trailer and see if you don’t get chills.

Molly’s Game – 11/22

The true story of an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target. Her players included movie stars, business titans and unbeknownst to her, the Russian mob.

Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain are great, but I’m excited about this one because Aaron Sorkin is attached to direct. He adapted the book by the real Molly Bloom. Normally he is happy to write and have someone else direct, but this marks his directorial debut. What a cool story. It should be lots of fun and full of amazing lightning fast dialogue.

Call Me by Your Name – 11/22

It’s the summer of 1983 in the north of Italy, and Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17- year-old American-Italian boy, spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, who favor him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows with natural delights. While Elio’s sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart. One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.

I’ve got this here because it is sure to get a lot of love from the LGBT community. It will be called groundbreaking and monumental. However, when it is boiled down it sounds like the story of a man taking advantage of a kid who is still figuring out who he is for his own pleasure. I just can’t get behind that. I’ll probably see it at some point because it will most likely be nominated for an Oscar but I’m not expecting much.

December

The Current War – 12/8

The Current War is the epic story of the cutthroat competition between the greatest inventors of the industrial age over whose electrical system would power the new century. Backed by J.P. Morgan, Edison dazzles the world by lighting Manhattan. But Westinghouse, aided by Nikola Tesla, has seen fatal flaws in Edison’s direct current design. Igniting a war of currents, Westinghouse and Tesla bet everything on risky and dangerous alternating current.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, and Nicholas Hoult as Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla. The battle between alternating current and direct current. The trailer looks great with amazing cinematography playing with the light. If there isn’t at least one song by AC/DC in the film, it will be a missed opportunity.

The Shape of Water – 12/8

An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.

This looks like it could be the best most innovative thing that Guillermo del Toro has done since Pan’s Labyrinth. I’m afraid that the creature (played by Doug Jones, look him up his work is amazing) is going to be too grotesque for mainstream audiences to get behind the love story aspect. It is kinda far out there and I just don’t now if we’re ready for it. Either way, I’m looking forward to it because it’s an original story that we’ve never seen coming from a visionary director with a star-studded cast. What do you think?

The Greatest Showman – 12/25

Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Apparently this musical based on the life of P.T. Barnum was supposed to come out last year around November or December, but they decided to wait to unleash Hugh Jackman’s vocal stylings on the world in part because of competition with a little movie called La La Land. I don’t think this will do quite as well, but it should be a feel good story with singing and dancing to end our 2017 on a positive note.

Phantom Thread – 12/25

Set in the couture world of 1950s London, the story illuminates the life behind the curtain of an uncompromising dressmaker commissioned by royalty and high society.

This is shrouded in mystery. We don’t have much to go off, but it is believed that Daniel Day Lewis will be playing Charles James. He will be teaming up with Director P.T. Anderson. The last time these two joined forces they created one of the best movies of all time in my opinion, There Will Be Blood. To add anticipation, Daniel Day Lewis has stated that this will be his last film. If that is the case, I sincerely hope he goes out with a bang and wins his 4th Best Actor Oscar.

Others to Watch:

My Friend Dahmer coming on November 3rd. Before Jeffrey Dahmer became a notorious serial killer, he was a shy, alcoholic teen who never quite fit in. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Derf Backderf, this is the true, haunting story of Jeffrey Dahmer in high school. This could be the start of a whole cinematic universe of teenage serial killers. Seriously, Ross Lynch looks disturbed as the young Dahmer. It could be a surprise success.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. coming on November 3rd. Denzel Washington stars as Roman Israel, a driven, idealistic defense attorney who, through a tumultuous series of events, finds himself in a crisis that leads to extreme action. Written and directed by the mind behind Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy. This will be another heavily character driven role, like Fences, that Denzel can sink his teeth into.

Last Flag Flying coming on November 3rd. Thirty years after they served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd re-unites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon and Reverend Richard Mueller, to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne in a road trip movie directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused and Boyhood). It’s hard not to get a little excited for this.

The Man Who Invented Christmas coming on November 22nd. The journey that led to the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and other classic characters from “A Christmas Carol.” The film shows how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) conjured up a timeless tale. Looks like it could be a good family film retelling the often told Christmas story through the eyes of the man who created it.

There will be other films that come onto the radar in the final months of the year and some of these will inevitably be pushed to 2018 but I think this is a very good list to work off as you prepare for the season and decide which films are the most enticing. Please let me know which ones sound great and which you will pass on. Now that I’m done with this, I may decide to make a calendar will all of the films I’ve featured listed by their release date. The obvious problem with that is many of these films will be limited releases and so they will likely not be playing outside of major markets for a week or two after their actual premier unless they are tracking very will and the studios believe they can risk a wider opening.

Fall 2017 Movie Preview: Drama Part 1

This is going to be a great season. The awards are going to be very crowded. We’ve already seen several powerful films that could be in awards consideration. I’m specifically thinking of Detroit, Dunkirk, Baby Driver, and even Logan and Wonder Woman. However, they are going to have to compete with a slew of biopics and powerful narrative dramas and character studies. These movies are like candy for me so excuse me if I tend to go on and on, but part of the joy of cinema is its ability to move us, and that is exactly what these aim to do.

Please let me know which of these you would see if you could only choose one or two. This is only half of the Dramatic movies coming out this season. I’ll be following up to this post with the dramatic movies from November and December soon. Also, make sure you take a look at the others to watch section because there are far too many to talk about all of them at length.

September

Rebel in the Rye – 9/15

The life of celebrated but reclusive author, J.D. Salinger, who gained worldwide fame with the publication of his novel, The Catcher in the Rye.

How many of you have actually read Catcher in the Rye? I think it is one of those books that people buy to look smart but never actually read. If you want to watch an interesting retelling of the Holden Caulfield story, you can watch Perks of Being a Wallflower. Honestly, It is a great work of literature and it will be interesting to see the story behind what inspired the author. It will be starring Nicholas Hoult as J.D. Salinger and will feature Kevin Spacey as a teacher and source of inspiration. Also, I hope you like biopics because this is the first of about a dozen by my count.

Battle of the Sexes – 9/22

The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

I love both of these actors. I heard that after La La Land, now Emma Stone is the hottest thing since sliced bread and is making oodles of money. That’s good for her. She has a fantastic comedic sense and is able to sink her teeth into more meaty dramatic roles so this biopic should be great for her. Steve Carell has been one of my favorite comedic actors since his turn as Brick in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. It will be fantastic to watch these two play off of each other in a story of liberation, misogyny, and tennis.

Loving Vincent – 9/22

A feature film about the life and mysterious death of Vincent Van Gogh.

Just watching the trailer for this I am surprised that so much time and care has gone into the preparation of the film. If you haven’t heard anything about it, watch the trailer and be floored by the visuals as you realize that every single frame in this film about the life and death of Vincent Van Gogh was hand painted in oils meant to mimic his style. It looks stunning and innovative. I love to see films that do something that no one else has ever done and this will certainly do just that. Not only have I never heard the story of Van Gogh’s tortured creative process but I have certainly never seen a movie that is put together in this way. It should be very rewarding to watch.

Lucky – 9/29

The spiritual journey of a ninety-year-old atheist.

I really hope that Harry Dean Stanton gets an Oscar nomination for this. The film looks quirky and funny and contemplative and it is all centered around the tremendous skill of an actor that generally stays out of the limelight. You might probably best know Harry Dean Stanton as the janitor in The Green Mile that the guards use to practice for the execution. That is one of hundreds of roles he has had in his storied career. This also serves as the Directorial debut for that guy that everyone thinks is the Zodiac killer in Zodiac (John Carroll Lynch). I can imagine that I will probably be quoting lines from this for months after watching.

October

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – 10/13

After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Academy Award winner Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated.

I’ve been ready for this one since I saw the trailer in front of something back in June or July. It is a combination of a number of things that I love. Frances McDormond is an amazing actress that doesn’t get nearly the number of roles she deserves. Much of that is probably because she only takes roles that are good. Sam Rockwell takes everything he is in up a couple of notches. And Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) is one of my favorite screenwriter/directors in the business today.

Marshall – 10/13

About a young Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, as he battles through one of his career-defining cases.

I’m a bit embarrassed that I know next to nothing about Thurgood Marshall except for the fact that he served on the Supreme court from 1967-1991 (I even had to look those dates up). Chadwick Boseman has been Mr. Biopic as of late. Before landing his role as Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (including his own stand-alone movie coming in 2018) he starred in 42 as Jackie Robinson and most recently in Get on Up as James Brown. So, he is no stranger to taking on another’s mannerisms and portraying their lives. This is clearly a story of Thurgood Marshall’s young life before he became part of the US Supreme court. Is this a film that interests you?

Same Kind of Different as Me – 10/20

International art dealer Ron Hall must befriend a dangerous homeless man in order to save his struggling marriage to his wife, a woman whose dreams will lead all three of them on the journey of their lives.

It looks like Hollywood might finally be figuring out that Christians want to see movies with Christian themes of love and mercy and generosity and equality portrayed in a artful manner by talented actors. I for one will be one of the first people lined up to see this film and I will be encouraging our Church to buy out showings to encourage more film like it to be made. With a cast of actors as eclectic and talented as this group there is no reason it shouldn’t be good. I just hope it’s not too schmaltzy or preachy. If they can walk that fine line and maintain realism while telling the story then it should be good.

Suburbicon – 10/27

Suburbicon is a peaceful, idyllic suburban community with affordable homes and manicured lawns…the perfect place to raise a family, and in the summer of 1959, the Lodge family is doing just that. But the tranquil surface masks a disturbing reality, as husband and father Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) must navigate the town’s dark underbelly of betrayal, deceit, and violence. This is a tale of very flawed people making very bad choices. This is Suburbicon.

I was torn whether to put this one in the Horror or Comedy category or here. It definitely will not be your average thriller. But I can’t just discount it as a comedy like Hot Fuzz. Instead, it seems to be blending Drama, Comedy, and Thriller tropes together to create something. It should be very interesting because The Coen Brothers usually direct the stories that they write, but this one they have handed off to their good friend, George Clooney, who has great abilities as a Director, but we haven’t seen his best work as of late.

Others to Watch:

Stronger coming on September 22nd. Stronger is the inspiring real life story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become a symbol of hope following the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. This is getting some praise from actual Boston natives about it realism and authenticity. Jake Gyllenhaal is super talented so it should be great to see him get lost in this role.

Breathe coming on October 13th. The inspiring true love story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease. Their heartwarming celebration of human possibility marks the directorial debut of Andy Serkis. Yes, Gollum is directing a film with Claire Foy and Andrew Garfield. That’s intriguing if nothing else.

Only the Brave coming on October 20th. A drama based on the elite crew of firemen from Prescott, Arizona who battled a wildfire in Yarnell, AZ in June 2013 that claimed the lives of 19 of their members. Firemen are good people and they risk their lives to protect people. This might not be the greatest movie, but it should be a powerful reminder of their service with a great cast featuring: Jennifer Connelly, Taylor Kitsch, Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, and Andie MacDowell.

Wonderstruck coming on October 20th. The story of a young boy in the Midwest is told simultaneously with a tale about a young girl in New York from fifty years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection. Directed by Todd Haynes (Carol, I’m Not There) and based on the Novel by Brian Selznick (Hugo).

The Mountain Between Us coming on October 20th. Stranded after a tragic plane crash, two strangers (Idris Elba and Kate Winslet) must forge a connection to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow covered mountain. When they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across the wilderness. This sounds stressful and I won’t be taking my wife to see it or I will never get her on a plane.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women coming on October 27th. The true story of William Moulton Marston, the polyamorous relationship between his wife and mistress, the creation of his beloved comic book character “Wonder Woman”, and the controversy the comic generated in its earlier years. Playing off the success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman earlier this year, we get a biopic about the guy who created the Amazonian princess. Could be interesting.

Wow. That’s already quite a list and we still have two more months of the year to look at. Which are you most enthused about? Are there any that you aren’t sure about or that you think might not live up to their expectations? Let me know in the comments below or on Social media. Also, don’t forget to check out the other installments of this Fall Movie Guide: Action/Adventure, Horror/Thriller, and Comedy/Family.

Brokeback Mountain – Review

As I look ahead to my Best Movie Bracket for 2005, I had to acknowledge a blind spot that I have missed over the years. Back when Brokeback Mountain was released in 2005, I was just beginning my stint as a youth minister after finishing my Bachelors of Theology. I was definitely into movies, but I was not watching them with the same eyes or frequency that I see them today. I would have likely been in the camp of Christians who followed their conscience and decided to completely abstain from the film and sadly to avoid even the discussion of its themes, happy to be cloistered away with other likeminded people.

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I am a different person than I was then. Life as a pastor, manager, father and husband for over a decade has changed my perspective. I won’t say that it has changed for the better because I can certainly see where my conservative Christian brethren are coming from. However, I believe that I have the responsibility as a Christian to see the film and to offer my opinion on it from a biblical perspective. I’m afraid that most of the reviews that I read in those days were in two camps. Either reviewers loved the film and sang the praises of the cinematography, bucolic setting, and powerful performances, or they condemned the film as immoral or dirty with little explanation as to the reason behind their emotional response except for “the Bible says it’s wrong.”

As a Christian and a movie critic I have a set of lenses that I view every film through. But let’s not act like this is a unique scenario. Everyone who shares their opinion of a film sees it through the lenses of their life. Those lenses could be republican, democrat, liberal, conservative, racist, sexist, feminist, black, white, rich, poor, urban, or rural. The list is as long as the human experience. We don’t generally see movie critics come out sharing their particular lenses. Instead, we have to reverse engineer the way they see the world through the reviews they give. My point is that no one comes to a film as completely objective. We all have preconceptions, experiences, and beliefs that shape our opinions and color our world. How boring would things be if we were all cookie cutter copies of each other with the same passions, interests, and desires?

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However, we must also understand that many (if not all) dramatic filmmakers are trying to say something with their film, not just providing 2 hours of celluloid to entertain the audience. As a theology student and later as a pastor, I spent years studying the Bible for meaning and interpreting its words to teach believers how they should implement the words and lessons that they encountered. I approach films in much the same way. There is a lesson to be found. If I walk out of a film the same as I walked in, I feel cheated. It’s as if I dove into a pool only to find that there is no water.

However, film works almost imperceptibly at times. Because of the medium, the message comes through almost so well that it hits us directly at an unconscious level. This is unlike the Bible that is often shrouded in mystery because of thousands of years of changes in culture, location, and language. The Bible often takes time and study to uncover meaning. We have to pull the meaning out of the text. That is the same with film. However, in that case, we are pulling the meaning out of ourselves to see things through the eyes of the writer, the characters, and the filmmaker.

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As a Christian, there are behaviors which I believe are sinful. However, if I limited my movie viewing only to this without portrayals of sin, I would never enter the theater or turn on the television. Because every person besides Jesus that enters the frame is a sinner in some form or fashion. So I have no trouble looking at this film and calling out the sinful behaviors that I see. However, the presence of these behaviors does not make the film any worse or any better. Whether it is the dishonest way that Aguirre is having them tend his sheep, the premarital sex that we see between Jack and Lureen, or the consistent lying that surrounds their illicit relationship, there is plenty of sin to go around. This film could have just as easily left out the homosexual relationship and had the two men destroy their relationships by being inattentive and selfish (which they are). But that would miss the message that Director Ang Lee is trying to communicate.

The basic premise is that two cowboys, Jack and Ennis, take a job tending to sheep in the Brokeback Mountains of Wyoming. The two grow close on the trip and on a particularly cold night they share a tent and things get physical. After this summer job they go their separate ways to their own lives. Ennis gets married to Alma as he planned before the summer and she has two girls rather quickly. Soon, four years have passed and Jack finds Ennis and they have a sordid reunion. Ennis insists that they cannot be together and Jack settles down with Lureen, a fellow rodeo professional, and they soon have a son. Jack and Ennis however keep up their relationship under that pretense of hunting and fishing trips. However, they retreat to the place where their relationship began and argue about whether or not they can leave all that they have tied themselves to in order to be together.

Brokeback Mountain is trying to say, if these two men were allowed by society and their own consciences to love (and consequently have sex with) whomever they chose, then they would have been happy and their wives would not have had to suffer through loveless marriages. But I have heard some who make it sound like the solution is to have them forget all about their one-time fling and go home to their marriages and focus on their wives and families. However, I would disagree with this as well. Sure it would be great for these men to treat their wives with love and respect and to care for their children, but doing these things would not be any more redemptive than their “fishing trips” which don’t feature any fishing. In fact, the natural setting of their very unnatural relationship is probably the most insidious and disturbing part of the film. The wives do not push their husbands away, yet home is seen as a trap while their “forbidden love” is shown as peaceful and natural.

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Before I say anything else, I should say that I believe this film deserved the praise that it received. It was a difficult film to make, though Ang Lee never felt that until after it was released and started to gain traction. The performances specifically from Michelle Williams and Heath Ledger are spectacular.  Ledger is so stoic in his portrayal that when he does peel back the layers to reveal emotion it is very effective. Williams crushes it with one scene in which she discovers that her husband’s fishing buddy is more than a friend. Her eyes show all the betrayal that she dare not utter. She knows it to be true but keeps it locked away hoping that maybe she was just seeing things. I think the biggest flaw of the film is that we don’t get to see enough of the families. We are so wrapped up in the affair of the two men that we are left guessing about what is going on at home. I would love to see the exact same story told through Alma and Lureen’s eyes. I believe that it would be an even more engaging and heartbreaking tale. From a technical standpoint I would give this film high marks but the story seems to be lacking.

In an interview, when Ang Lee was asked if he practices any particular religion, he said,

No, my mother is a baptized Christian, so she made me go to church every Sunday, and I prayed four times a day until I was 14. And at lunchtime kids at school would giggle at my praying…I stopped praying. And two weeks later, nothing happened to me, so I didn’t pick it up again.

I am not particularly religious. But I think we do face the question of where God is, why we are created and where does life go, why we exist. That sort of thing. And it is very hard to talk about it these days, because it cannot be proven. It is hard to discuss it rationally.

Given his experience with organized religion, I’m surprised we don’t see it play more of a role in the film. We are given 3-4 hints of the religious culture of the late 60s and 70s that they are living in. On their first summer together Jack and Ennis discuss their upbringings. Jack speaks of the Pentecost as if it is the day of judgement, and Ennis is just as ignorant saying that his parents were Methodist. Alma and Ennis are married in a religious wedding and we hear of church events that Alma and the girls want to attend. Ennis calls them “that fire and brimstone crowd.” This tells us a lot about both Ennis and the religious people who surrounded him. He characterizes the church people as a judgmental group, but we have no way of knowing if this is because they truly are or because they don’t make him feel good about himself because of his behavior.

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I will be wide open in saying that I believe homosexuality is a sin, but I also believe adultery and premarital sex are sins. However, none of these sins are unforgivable. That is the beauty of Christianity. It is not all about guilt and judgement, but grace and redemption. I believe that Brokeback Mountain is a harsh and stark image of sin in a fallen world. In Ang Lee’s world where God is an absentee landlord who makes threats but doesn’t really have the power to carry them out, this life is as good as it gets. If that is the truth then I would say that Jack and Ennis should run off together and live with passion and do everything they want because one day they will die and that will be the end.

That is where I believe Jack is coming from. That is why we see him going so hard after Ennis and holding onto dreams longer than he really should. But I think Ennis at least has some sense that this life isn’t all there is. He is fighting with the physical urges that he has. It seems that Ang Lee is trying to push us towards a societal solution, but that solution only solves a physical problem. If Ennis did not struggle with the fears and doubts and societal norms then he would have been the same as Jack and they would have probably both ended up dead. But if society were more tolerant towards their beliefs then perhaps they would have started their ranch together and lived there the remainder of their days. But the question that the Christian asks is but what happens after that?

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If they are resolute in their belief that God does not exist or that their god is okay with their relationship then I am fine with them doing whatever their heart desires. Alma and Lureen would have been better off in the meantime. As a Christian, I don’t care about disrupting what is going on in their bedroom. I care about God disrupting what is going on in their hearts and souls. I want to see a realistic portrayal of that kind of faith in a film. I would have loved to see Alma broken by her husband’s sin. I wanted to see her confront him and tell him that she still loves him. I wanted her to share her faith with him. The realistic response would have been for him to curse at her and storm out and then we could see the divorce happen just as it did, but instead we get the bigotry and disgust without any of the real love that Jesus commands. The closest we get is Jack’s mother loving Ennis in their shared grief and asking to see him again. I want to think the best of her, maybe she thought better of sharing her beliefs about Jack and Ennis’ lifestyle at this time but planned to do so soon after fostering a relationship.

Lee is right that we live in a very complicated world where talking about religion is difficult to do rationally. But that is just what we are called to do. Jesus wanted us to be salt and light. Salt, as in the stuff that we put on meat to preserve it. We are called to come into contact with the dirty and corrupt things of the world in order to bring the preservation of life. And where does a light shine? Do you use a flashlight in the middle of the day? No, the light’s purpose is to reveal what is hidden in the darkness. But that means that we must first be in the darkness in order for our light to be seen. Is this easy? Is this safe? Is this the kind of life that fits a stereotype? No, but we are not promised a good and comfortable life with all that we could ask for here. We are pilgrims passing through. This world is not our home.

In the end, Brokeback Mountain is a painful reminder that this world is broken and that sin is rampant. I wish we could have seen our protagonists have an opportunity for redemption, but in our nearly post-christian society perhaps the absence of a coherent voice of faith was the most realistic aspect of the film. It features some beautiful cinematography, and most likely some of the best acting of the year. However, I doubt that you will see it on my Best Movie Bracket for 2005. I hope that you can see that it isn’t because I’m a religious wing-nut or because I think God hates gays, but because I feel like there is so much missed potential in the film.

Good Night, and Good Luck – 2005 – ★★★★

“Good Night, and Good Luck” feels almost like a documentary of real events from the 1950s. How stunning it must have been to watch TV journalist Edward Murrow and his confrontation with Senator Joseph McCarthy. It is a political film, but it doesn’t feel preachy. It is a spectacular movie about television and the role of media in the communication of the news. It should stand side by side with other classics like “All the President’s Men”, and “Network”.

Murrow, played chillingly by David Strathairn, was there at the dawn of television journalism and he cast a mold that all serious news reporters have tried to fill ever since. This film was nominated for Best Picture in 2006, and received five other nominations but criminally went home with nothing. George Clooney was Oscar nominated for his co-writing and direction, his portrayal of the CBS studio is made even more realistic by the film being entirely in black and white.

I am a skeptic by nature and I agree with the film’s premise that we must learn to question things. Television can be a tool in this cultural skepticism when real journalism is taking place, but everything from advertising to our own shrinking attention spans has turned television into just another entertainment device. As Murrow says at the end of the film, “There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful. The instrument can teach, it can illuminate. Yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely lights and wires in a box.” The same could be said of the silver screen and the films that are produced by Hollywood. I’m glad that movies like “Good Night and Good Luck” still exist to do more than entertain but educate and enlighten.

Vía Letterboxd – mauldin8302

The Little Prince – Review

I was excited a few months back when I saw the preview of The Little Prince. Netflix is bringing great art to the world of entertainment and I thought that it was a Netflix original feature, perhaps one of their next big ideas. Imagine being able to watch the latest that Hollywood (and independent filmmakers everywhere) have to offer in the comfort of your living room (or home cinema) on the same day as their release in the theaters. Actually, Sean Parker of Napster fame is working on this right now with a project called Screening Room.

I honestly think that if they could figure out a way to partner with distributors to bring new films to the small screen that they could charge any amount they wished for a subscription and people would pay it, and they would have their own distribution platform for their own productions. I know they would have me hooked. I would even consider it if the movies didn’t hit Netflix until a week after they hit theaters. Unfortunately, that was not what happened with The Little Prince.

Apparently, back in March around a week before the film’s US theatrical release Paramount decided not to release the film after all. The film originally appeared premiered out of competition at Cannes in 2015 and it has been released in theaters around the globe and has made almost $100 million. It was even awarded France’s Cesar Award for best animated film. The Director Mark Osborne (Kung Fu Panda) seemed melancholy yet hopeful when he tweeted about Paramount’s decision back in March.

Many thanks to everyone for the outpouring of love and support in these strange times. …  As it turns out, the much anticipated U.S. release of this special and unique film will have to be anticipated just a little bit more. … All I can say is #thelittleprince will in fact be released by another distributor later this year. … Until then, head to Canada! The film opens there in wide release this weekend!

Then, about a week later, it was announced that Netflix had bought the rights to the film Pictures’ domestic rights to The Little Prince. This book of the same title, upon which the movie draws its inspiration, was published in 1943 by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. There have been several attempts to adapt it to the screen, but its brevity, childish whimsy, and intangible qualities have proven difficult for adaptation even for the likes of Orson Welles and Gene Wilder.

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I believe that Mark Osborne was successful here because he didn’t try to adapt the book alone. He has given us a story surrounding the creation of and inspiration for this nearly mythical text. Something so dear to millions of people is unable to be adapted without controversy, so he kept the images and text from the original as close as he could and framed the story to emphasize the same messages that have been treasured for these past 73 years and gave it a form that will allow it to be emblazoned on the mind of countless generations to come.

I’m sure that no changes were made to the final release of the film, but going back and watching the original theatrical trailer from last year and the new one released by Netflix a few months ago (above) you can see the difference in tone. The first felt like a more traditional animated film with its frenetic pace and quick cuts. But the new trailer takes its time and lingers quietly on iconic images and phrases from the book. In the end, I’m just happy that this film has found an American audience. It is mesmerizingly beautiful and so emotionally poignant yet funny. It really is brilliant and the voice cast is amazing.

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Think of the movie What Dreams May Come or The Fountain with their beautiful imagery and breathtaking visuals. The Little Prince has more in common with these films than your common animated fare like Secret Life of Pets or the latest Ice Age sequel. Animated films are generally associated with the comedy genre, especially when the main character is a child. However, even though this film has comedic elements, it is not a comedy. It is an amazingly deep and moving drama appropriate for all ages. Kids should see the importance of their childhood and hopefully some adults can remember what it is like to be a kid again.

Since I had next to no knowledge of the original story going into this film besides knowing that it is a beloved french children’s book, I have watched the movie again to soak it in and I have plans to read the book. However, I don’t think I will be able to read the book without hearing Jeff Bridges voice in my head. He functions here as the perfect narrator. I’m not sure how the 106 minute runtime can speed by as quickly as it seems to, because the film is not in a rush at all, even during the more action oriented 3rd act, it is still playfully artistic. It reminds me of a Roald Dahl or Dr. Seuss story.

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Like one of those tales, the story happens on what might be called an exaggerated Earth where we walk a tightrope between reality and fantasy. In this world, our protagonist and by extension all children are forced by their parents to focus all of their attention on studying to be essential functional members of society. This leads to an almost mechanical life where children don’t play or make up their own fictional worlds with their toys. Essentially, everyone is grown-up. That is everyone except the Aviator who teaches us that, “Growing up is not the problem. Forgetting is.’

We see the original novel play out in deliciously beautiful stop-motion visuals. We aren’t given everything at once, instead we are told the story with our protagonist a little bit at a time. This framing device is animated in CG and hand drawing. Here we meet a young girl who is on a strict schedule in her studies, preparing for her first day at the prestigious and very seriously grown-up Werth Academy. This leaves her no room for free-time. However, after moving to a new house with her single business minded mother, she takes notice of her eccentric elderly neighbour who we learn to be the Aviator of the original novel. The two become secret friends as her mother insists that she won’t have time for friends until next summer. As they spend time together and she is freed to be a kid, the Aviator tells her the story and she begins to learn the timeless lessons of which we all need to be reminded.

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For a film that will not even touch your cineplex’s screen, this film is packed with superior talent. Mackenzie Foy and Jeff Bridges have the largest parts, but Rachel McAdams, James Franco, Paul Rudd, Paul Giamatti, Marion Cotillard, Benicio del Toro, Albert Brooks, Bud Cort and Ricky Gervais fill out the supporting cast. Even though some of them are only given a handful of lines, they are all superb, and bring a sense that this film was a passion project for a lot of people, the director included. In fact, it is his son Riley Osborne that voices the titular Little Prince.

The Little Prince is currently sitting in very rare company on top of my best of the year list so far. I am recommending it to everyone I can. I mentioned it to someone who told me that they did not have Netflix and I responded by saying, “It is worth the cost of a year’s subscription to Netflix to see this film.” Please don’t ignore it because you have read the book or bypass it because you haven’t. It is a totally different story which uses the enchantment of the source material to tell a new story infused with the same vigor and determination to dream, love, live, and explore.

2007 Best Movie Bracket

As I mentioned in the last post, 2008 was the beginning of the Comic book adaptation explosion. This march through the years to determine the Best Movie of all time really shows that themes come out in particular years. 2007 was loaded with amazing movies that almost no one saw. They were so good that I may have my first year with multiple winners. I say that no one saw them because the top 3 highest grossing films of 2007 were Transformers, Shrek the Third, and Spider-Man 3. All were panned by critics and had lackluster performance at the box office. This was a year for those Superbad movies and others like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Wild Hogs, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Bee Movie, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and Norbit.

That being said, the ugly performance of popular films in 2007 really made the gems shine. We had an artsy Bob Dylan biopic with I’m Not There, and one of the coolest, nerdiest documentaries ever in King of Kong. There was a great entry from one of my favorite directors Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network) who gave us Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. We saw a minor resurgence of good westerns with a 3:10 to Yuma remake and my pick for best long title movie, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. On the musical front, there were several solid entries from Sweeney Todd, Across the Universe, August Rush, and the hauntingly beautiful Once. There were also two emotionally shattering foreign films in Diving Bell and the Butterfly and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.

Other must watch films from the year include: Hot Fuzz, Ratatouille, Juno, Into The Wild, I Am Legend, Sunshine, Atonement, Gone Baby Gone, Lars and the Real Girl, American Gangster, Persepolis, and Michael Clayton. Charlie Bartlett is the film that sticks in my mind for the late Anton Yelchin, It is not a perfect film, but it is very entertaining with a great cast. However, all of these good films should wait if you haven’t seen any of my top three. I consider two of them modern classics that are almost perfect films.

3rd – Zodiac

Zodiac is a woefully underrated film from David Fincher, the same director that gave us Se7en and Fight Club. Roger Ebert said in his four-star review, “Zodiac is the All the President’s Men of serial killer movies, with Woodward and Bernstein played by a cop and a cartoonist…. What makes Zodiac authentic is the way it avoids chases, shootouts, grandstanding and false climaxes, and just follows the methodical progress of police work.” The cast (Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Robert Downey Jr.) as well as the tone and script are all so tight and precise. It’s a delightful movie and immensely frustrating and entertaining. Now, onto the two films which I will be including in the Best Movie Bracket Competition.

Continue reading 2007 Best Movie Bracket

2009 Best Movie Bracket

What was the best movie of 2009? I could have easily listed a top 3 with nothing but animated features. We saw traditional live action directors like Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox) and Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are) make a leap into animation and childhood adaptations with great success. The Secret of Kells came out of Ireland and is available on Netflix. It is well worth your time. Also, Pixar gave us one of the most painfully beautiful wordless montage that I have ever seen. I cannot watch it to this day without tearing up. If Up ended after the first hour it would probably be my favorite of the year, but I think it falls apart a bit in the 3rd act.

We had solid releases from directors like James Cameron (Avatar) and Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds). And real surprises from newcomers like Duncan Jones (Moon), Neil Blomkamp (District 9) and Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth). All of these are great pictures and could qualify as the best of the year in their own rights. But let’s see my top 3 movies of the year.

Continue reading 2009 Best Movie Bracket

The Lobster (2016) Sarcastic Review

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster is one of the best romantic comedies of all time. Seriously, I think you should make it a date night with the one you love. Watch as the sexy Colin Farrell woos the nearsighted woman of his dreams (Rachel Weisz) by bringing her dead rabbits. In the days of Tinder, it is nice to see a movie that gets down to the things that really matter in a relationship, like sharing the same physical malady.

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But you might ask, is this another one of those movies where single people get turned into animals if they don’t find love in 45 days. Yes, it is another one of those movies and I do agree that is a worn out plot device, but The Lobster is so much more than just another formulaic animal transformation romance. For instance, in this film single people (or loners) can be killed to extend your stay at the luxury hotel and masturbation is not allowed or you will have your hands disfigured. It is so romantic.

Continue reading The Lobster (2016) Sarcastic Review