Raj’s 2018 Oscar Predictions



Best Picture:

“Call Me by Your Name”
“Darkest Hour”
“Get Out” (potential spoiler)
“Lady Bird”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name” (potential spoiler)
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour” 
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water” (potential spoiler)
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”



Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project” (potential spoiler)
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird” (potential spoiler)
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”


“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan (potential spoiler)
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

Animated Feature:

“The Boss Baby,” Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
“The Breadwinner,” Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo (potential spoiler)
“Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
“Ferdinand,” Carlos Saldanha
“Loving Vincent,” Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman

Animated Short:

“Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
“Garden Party,” Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
“Lou,” Dave Mullins, Dana Murray (potential spoiler)
“Negative Space,” Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
“Revolting Rhymes,” Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer



Adapted Screenplay:

“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory
“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees (potential spoiler)

Original Screenplay:

“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani (potential spoiler)
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh


“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins 
“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema (potential spoiler)
“Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen

Best Documentary Feature:

“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman
“Faces Places,” JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda
“Icarus,” Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan
“Last Men in Aleppo,” Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Soren Steen Jepersen (potential spoiler)
“Strong Island,” Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes

Best Documentary Short Subject:

“Edith+Eddie,” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Frank Stiefel
“Heroin(e),” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon
“Knife Skills,” Thomas Lennon
“Traffic Stop,” Kate Davis, David Heilbroner



Best Live Action Short Film:

“DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk
“The Eleven O’Clock,” Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
“My Nephew Emmett,” Kevin Wilson, Jr.
“The Silent Child,” Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
“Watu Wote/All of Us,” Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen

Best Foreign Language Film:

“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“The Insult” (Lebanon)
“Loveless” (Russia) (potential spoiler)
“On Body and Soul (Hungary)
“The Square” (Sweden)

Film Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith
“I, Tonya,” Tatiana S. Riegel (potential spoiler)
“The Shape of Water,” Sidney Wolinsky
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jon Gregory

Sound Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Julian Slater
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mark Mangini, Theo Green (potential spoiler)
“Dunkirk,” Alex Gibson, Richard King
“The Shape of Water,” Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood



Sound Mixing:

“Baby Driver,” Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin (potential spoiler)
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
“Dunkirk,” Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo
“The Shape of Water,” Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

Production Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer
“Blade Runner 2049,” Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola (potential spoiler)
“Darkest Hour,” Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
“Dunkirk,” Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
“The Shape of Water,” Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

Original Score:

“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer
“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood (potential spoiler)
“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” John Williams
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Carter Burwell

Original Song:

“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez (potential spoiler)
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Makeup and Hair:

“Darkest Hour,” Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
“Victoria and Abdul,” Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
“Wonder,” Arjen Tuiten




Costume Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Jacqueline Durran
“Darkest Hour,” Jacqueline Durran
“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges
“The Shape of Water,” Luis Sequeira (potential spoiler)
“Victoria and Abdul,” Consolata Boyle

Visual Effects:

“Blade Runner 2049,” John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer (potential spoiler)
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick
“Kong: Skull Island,” Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,”  Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan
“War for the Planet of the Apes,” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist




“Isn’t self-destruction coded into us? Imprinted into each cell.”

A line of dialogue which is not only the crux of Alex Garland’s latest, Annihilation, but a disturbing truth which drives this terrifying, cerebral masterpiece.

With his directorial debut Ex-Machina, Garland proved that he could steer a dark and twisted narrative with expert skill, and in his follow-up effort he seems to have solidified that vision, because Annihilation is a haunting piece of cinema that will stick with me for a long, long time.

Biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) has been mourning the loss of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), who seemingly disappeared on a military expedition a year before we meet Lena. But when Kane returns home in a strange, unnatural state, Lena finds herself embarking on a dangerous mission to discover what happened to her now fatally ill husband.



Annihilation works on so many levels, in that it is a gripping slow burn sci-fi which poses many mysterious and interesting questions, but what allows it to achieve true brilliance is the way it expertly seeps its way into every crevice of your brain, introducing and exploring themes of loss, grief, and emotion in a frighteningly relatable way. It latches onto you early on, thanks in part to Portman’s incredibly nuanced performance, and it takes you on a roller coaster ride filled with fear and brutally honest drama. It whips you around without a moment of levity, leaving you unstable, shaken in a piercing way.

Garland understands how to tell a story (both as a writer and a director in this case), and while some casual viewers may complain that Annihilation is “too slow,” it is quite the opposite.  It is deliberate, and it is challenging, but Garland paces his punches with extreme precision. He knows how to get under your skin, and with each unsettling reveal, he is able to further rope you into his web of terror.

He subtly lays his themes beneath this chilling story, giving texture to this tonal beauty which cuts far deeper than what one may initially expect. And these themes are so potent that it gives Annihilation that kick needed to resonate once you begin to grasp some of the unpleasant metaphors that Garland is painting. He displays these ideas of sorrow and instability in a brutally effective way.



And as this harsh and disturbing reality driving our each of our protagonists begins to surface, Garland rewards our patience with equally disturbing payoff, giving each character their time to shine as the underlying madness of Annihilation engulfs its characters and audiences alike. Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson, who play two of the five in the expedition group (the other two portrayed by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tuva Novotny), are given particularly effective scenes, both of which are engrained in my mind because of the ominous atmosphere that Garland builds and excellent performances that both actresses deliver.

All of this coalesces in a final act where Garland unleashes a nightmare of disturbing truth, which is driven by the collective force of the themes and ideas that he has planted throughout the film. My jaw was literally dropped, as the narrative kicks into high gear and we see the driving theme personified in full force. Accentuated by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow’s fantastic score, it was a truly mesmerizing experience which perfectly paired science fiction, horror, and drama in the most satisfying way.

I urge you to let your guard down and be vulnerable when you experience Annihilation, because it is a visceral experience that you won’t soon forget. Alex Garland has upped the ante with this thrilling tale, filled with high concept sci-fi and emotion which seamlessly blend into perfect chaos.




Not since Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival has a film affected me personally in such a raw and untampered way. This is a movie that I have not been able to get out of my head since watching it. I constantly find myself thinking about it, re-contextualizing my interpretation of it, it sticks with you in dark ways, and that is why it succeeds. Annihilation digs into you, it settles and sits for a bit, and then it engulfs you with its terrifying truth.

It truly is a masterpiece.

Insidious: The Last Key-Review



In 2010, James Wan and Leigh Whannell made a statement with Insidious, a PG-13 horror flick which sparked an upswing in the genre.  It is amongst the best modern pure horror movies, and Wan’s visionary style made for a wildly enjoyable watch with a handful of intelligently crafted scares. That said, the two sequels fell far short of the high bar set by the original, and their desire to explore some of the more uninteresting avenues of the first Insidious to greater lengths made them difficult and boring watches.

That is a shame too, because these sequels aimed to expand on Lin Shaye’s Elise character (who clearly has an interesting past) and her connection with the layered world that Wan and Whennell set up. Additionally, Lin Shaye is extremely talented and when put in these thinly established sequels, she was not given the material to take advantage of her acting skills.

Now, with Insidious: The Last Key, Whannell pens another script for newly attached director Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan), taking us back in time to see Elise come into the character that we know her as in the previous movies. And with Robitel’s fresh voice handling this competently written prequel, Insidious: The Last Key gives this franchise the spark it needed, being the best installment in the series since the original.

The Last Key kicks off with a bang, beginning with a flashback to Elise’s past, depicting her as a child who is unsure of how to use her powers in a household where she is not necessarily accepted by certain members of her family.  Whannell paints an interesting picture in giving us this insight into who Elise was at this pivotal time in her life, and Robitel directs a tense and truly upsetting sequence that establishes a dark and unsettling tone, especially for something with a PG-13 rating.  And while none of the subsequent sequences in the movie quite rise to the level of this opening, it does give The Last Key a leg up on its predecessors, showing us the dark places it will go while Robitel flexes his directorial potential with great success.

That backstory set up for Elise puts her on an interesting path, where she is called to return to the haunted childhood house that she grew up in, of which she still has a bad taste in her mouth.  This idea makes way for Whannell and Robitel to explore some very interesting lore in this world, successfully weaving Elise directly into the DNA of “The Further.” It is the best way that “The Further” has been utilized in this franchise, as it is used sparingly and with greater weight, making its sequences far more effective than they have been in the past.

Another trap of the Insidious franchise which derailed the previous sequels was that it was overly reliant on jump scares, taking away from the effective horror that could have been established if it were better constructed. The story established provides a greater emotional anchor, allowing us to be more invested in Elise’s journey. Robitel also returns to the tension filled directorial style that Wan introduced in the first movie (which he abandoned to an extent in Insidious 2), giving greater reward to the jump scares which have more significance than just trying to startle the audience.  They are well crafted, and are not empty like many horror movie jumps scares are nowadays.

The Last Key is also conscious to introduce some interesting themes and messages to further the complexity of the story.  It gives Whannell a good amount to work with, and he is able to tell a story which doesn’t get lost in unnecessary world building, and rather becomes more of a character piece for Elise. It feels much smaller in scope than some of the other stories in this franchise, and Whannell is able to take some grounded and unexpected turns which are effective in shocking while also propelling the narrative to new, interesting places.

Whannell, at some point in his writing, may have gotten too caught up in the writing however, as he does introduce a lot of elements, which does hinder The Last Key.  The movie itself is quite short, and Whannell poses many interesting ideas, most of which are not given the time and effort to be fleshed out.  It does feel overstuffed, and while there is an enjoyable progression to the story, and a sense of relief that this installment goes places that its predecessors did not, the overabundance of arcs does result in some frustrating storytelling problems.  Whether it be trimming particular story beats, or giving the movie a little more time to breathe (and for Robitel to show off his strong horror sensibilities), The Last Key could have been tightened into an even more effective piece.

Another major issue here are the characters Specs and Tucker, who are portrayed by the writer Whannell and Angus Sampson respectively.  These characters are Elise’s quirky sidekicks, and the actors are not the issue in any way, but the characters are supposed to serve as comic relief, and the attempted humor is terrible.  I did not find myself laughing or even chuckling at any of the jokes, and each pass at humor by these characters falls flat. That becomes an even bigger problem when 90 percent of their dialogue is intended to funny.  It is very bad, and if these characters were handled in a different way, that could have significantly changed the final product.

As a whole, however, Insidious: The Last Key is an effective and fun watch which should scratch that horror itch.  While it doesn’t do anything to necessarily revolutionize the genre, falling on tropes to get by, they are well handled by the writer/director team, and it succeeds in that regard, especially when you consider that this is an early January release, where most of the garbage is typically put in theaters. The Last Key is not that, as it is the second best installment in this franchise, and an especially enjoyable watch for this time of year.  It furthers the background of Elise, an interesting character, in a respectable way, and behind Shaye’s great performance, it successfully hits the notes it intends to hit.  Set aside excruciatingly terrible humor and some rough storytelling, The Last Key is a worthwhile watch if you are looking for something to enjoy in the typical January lull.

SCORE: 6/10

Raj’s Top 10 Movies of 2017

Screen Shot 2018-01-02 at 3.40.51 PM

Now that I’ve sorted out my favorite movies of the year, and was able to construct a list of my honorable mentions, it comes time to publish my personal Top 10 movies of 2017.  This past year was particularly strong, and while the movies at the top may not have blown me away the same way something like Arrival did last year, I found this particular Top 10 to be one of the hardest to create in a long time.  Not only was it hard to leave many movies off (which ultimately earned recognition in my honorable mentions list), but finding the order of basically movies 4-10 on my list was particularly difficult.

Nonetheless, I have put together the best order to these movies that I could in the days leading up to actually writing this piece.  To be honest, most of these movies could switch places on this list by tomorrow, but in this moment, this ordering feels right.  And I know I have made this point before, but it always feels necessary to emphasize that these are MY FAVORITES of the year. This is not definitive, and it is not objective. It is my personal list, and one that I am very proud of in its diversity and quality.

I hope that this list will urge many of you to seek out some of the movies that you may have missed this year, and I hope it provides some insight into why the following flicks impacted me in such a way.  Enjoy!

  1. Get Out: I’ll be honest, when I first saw Get Out, while I admittedly loved it, it felt predictable, and once I saw more movies, it eventually fell off of my Top 10 list. Since then however, I have revisited it twice and taken a look at the screenplay, and it is truly brilliant. Jordan Peele not only directs his first feature with expert skill, but his writing is truly excellent. He drops clues and leaves hints which are rewarded by multiple viewings, and you begin to see Get Out in an even more flattering light.  A great film becomes an amazing film the longer you sit on this one and the more viewings you give it.  Additionally, it is so socially relevant at ths point in time that it hits in a far more profound way.  When Get Out was nominated for a Golden Globe in the comedy section, Peele tweeted out that it was actually a documentary, and in many ways he’s not wrong.  Get Out is smart and meticulously laid out.  It blends a social drama into a horror/thriller, and Peele makes a major splash with his directorial debut that has me so excited for what he has coming next.


  1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi: This movie that has gone from my number two of the year, to my number seven of the year, to my number 12r, to my number one, and ultimately lands at the nine spot on my list. I truly love The Last Jedi, and amidst some of the backlash, I have begun to appreciate the movie more and more. Another one that benefits from repeated viewings, The Last Jedi leaves you shocked, sad, but hopeful for where this franchise could go now. Rian Johnson takes risks we have never seen in a movie this size, and they pay off as he establishes themes and messages which resonate through each and every storyline in the movie.  It is gorgeously constructed and incredibly acted, and it gives us a satisfying next chapter that we could never have predicted.  While I will acknowledge that there are some points where Johnson stumbles, particularly in the movies first half, when Johnson finally finds his stride, The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars has EVER been.  The Last Jedi is bold, inventive, and thrilling, and while some fans may not be satisfied in the direction it goes, I wholeheartedly believe Rian Johnson has crafted the Star Wars movie we needed, and I love it.


  1. Lady Bird: When I saw the praise that Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird was receiving, I was excited to check it out. Not only was it written and directed by one of my favorite indie actresses, but it also stars one of my favorite young stars in Saoirse Ronan. That said, while I expected to enjoy it, I did not expect it to be as emotionally impactful as it was. Lady Bird is one of the most moving, heartfelt movies that I have seen in recent years.  Gerwig’s incredibly written script shines, as it emulates the quirky humor that one would expect from her scripts, but it also has a beautifully big heart which is exposed in the movie’s wonderfully realized relationships.  Ronan tops her role in Brooklyn and gives a career-best performance as this conflicted teenager who is coming of age in a time where she doesn’t quite understand who she is.  Her mother is played spectacularly by the great Laurie Metcalf, a deserved frontrunner in the supporting actress Oscar race.  The two bounce off one another so well, and their tumultuous relationship at the center of the movie is stirring.  Gerwig finds an all too real relatability in this movie, as she crafts a story which most anybody can find themselves in.  It is amazing, and the touching Lady Bird is one of those smaller movies that I will be telling everyone to check out for years to come.


  1. The Post: Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks. Need I say anymore? In this relevant, necessary retelling of The Washington Post’s race to release the classified information in the Pentagon Papers, Spielberg constructs a riveting tale of journalism and determination that will have audiences rightfully cheering. Not only does The Post serve its role as a powerful statement piece against some of today’s leaders, but it does so by carefully studying its lead character’s rise as a power player, serving as a social message on multiple important levels. I will admit that the movie is not without flaws, and in comparison to other journalism movies like Spotlight or The Post’s companion piece, All the President’s Men, this particular movie is not quite as effective, but it is still so exciting and empowering, that it left me floored in the large statements it makes. Streep proves that she is greatest actress that we have ever seen, as her character, Katherine Graham, develops from the timid publisher of a local paper to the powerful leader of one of the most important newspapers in the world.  Hanks is equally great as Ben Bradlee, in this enjoyably unique turn.  Bob Odenkirk is a standout in a stacked supporting cast, most of whom get their moment to shine.  Liz Hannah’s script is great, and Spielberg’s direction takes us through this real life story with invigorating pace.  The Post is a winner in every regard.


  1. Dunkirk: As an unashamed Christopher Nolan fan boy, I will admit without hesitation that his movies are often more effective for me than most others. That said, through an untampered lens, I truly believe Dunkirk is a war movie masterpiece. In this masterclass of filmmaking, Nolan utilizes visual storytelling to stunning success, as he once again explores the idea of nonlinear storytelling to possibly his most successful degree, weaving an intense and exhilarating tale of determination and survival. This is not your typical war movie, you don’t get the time to sit with your characters and learn about their lives and what awaits them at home.  Instead, Nolan immediately throws you into the heat of battle, and sends you on an hour and 45 thrill ride that doesn’t let up for a single second.  The use of practical effects only puts you farther into the action, as Nolan does as skilled of a job as possible (without VR) to give you the perception that you were there, on that beach with the soldiers, trapped and unsure of what was to come.  Nolan doesn’t need to give you backstory to emotionally invest yourself in this story, as his ability to give insight into this situation from three different perspectives (land, sea, and air), provides a balance which paints the circumstances in a wildly effective way, giving you a complete understanding and emotional investment in the severity of the situation.  It is beautifully shot and told with such intense pace, it will undoubtedly rank amongst Nolan’s best work.


  1. Coco: Most people that know me are aware that my all time favorite movie is Toy Story. I have an affinity for Pixar, as their movies have nostalgic and emotional importance to me. That said, I will be the first to admit that outside of Inside Out, some of their more recent works have not hit that level of class that the earlier Pixar fare did. Coco is a return to form. Coco is amongst Pixar’s best. Shining a light on the culturally rich livres of a Mexican family, Coco gives us a peek into a beautiful range of traditions that few movies explore the way Pixar has.  The dazzling animation, and the depiction of The Land of the Dead is worth the price of admission alone. Then, Coco is backed by an emotionally layered gut punch of a story about family and identity, and it is one of the most beautifully realized narratives that Pixar has put together.  It takes unexpected twists and turns, and it lines up with A+ Pixar, in that it isn’t afraid to explore the deeper and more complex themes which give the movie a more lasting impression.  The final 15 minutes of Coco are more emotional than the opening minutes of Up, and it earns its tears because the journey that it sends you on is so rewarding, that you can’t help but tear up at just how magnificent this movie is.  As an added point, the music is spectacular, and Remember Me could very well be my favorite song from a movie this year. Coco is an emotional knockout, and at a level that I consider upper echelon Pixar.


  1. Stronger: It feels as if Stronger is one of those brilliant movies which doesn’t receive the recognition that it deserves because it never quite finds an audience to push it into the more acclaimed movies of the year. Stronger is an incredibly moving character piece, and it is one of 2017’s best offerings. Directed by David Gordon Green, Stronger tells the emotional story of Jeff Bauman, a man who lost his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. This insight into Bauman and his recovery is so intimate and motivational that you latch onto his journey and understand his conflict. Stronger breaks you down as Bauman falls, and builds you back up with Bauman as he hits his upswing. Jake Gyllenhaal is as good as he has ever been, and that is saying something. In fact, I may put his work here atop Nightcrawler as my favorite performance of his.  Tatiana Maslaney is being criminally bypassed in the supporting actress race, as she goes toe to toe with Gyllenhaal in some of the most powerful scenes of the year. The emotional resonance of Stronger, a movie largely about fear and determination, is palpable, and in its strongest moments, Stronger presents the most expertly assembled drama sequences of 2017. It baffles me that more people are not seeking out this movie, because it is an affecting, poignant piece of cinema that must be recognized for its greatness.


  1. The Big Sick: When romantic comedy is done right, few genres are more enjoyable. Look at When Harry Met Sally, and now look at The Big Sick, which could very well be the new gold standard for movies of its kind. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon wrote the script for The Big Sick, detailing their real-life experiences as a couple, and their original screenplay is the best of the year. The comedy is constant and it never falls flat, keeping you engaged and laughing hysterically throughout.  And when the movie takes dramatic turns, it is unafraid to explore darker tones which give the movie exceptionally realized layers. What gives The Big Sick that extra leg up, however, is Nanjiani’s and Gordon’s personal experience in these unique circumstances, providing The Big Sick a relatable and massive heart which is painted with an attentive and genuine brush that is hard to find in cinema. Nanjiani delviers an exceptional performance, marking his place as a legitimate leading man who can not only handle comedy, but who makes an impact in the movie’s most dramatic moments.  Emily is played by Zoe Kazan, who is also amazing (as she always is), and her chemistry with Nanjiani feels so real, largely in part to Kazan’s ability to handle how Gordon portrayed herself in this personal script. That said, the true scene stealers in The Big Sick are Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, who play Emily’s parents in the movie.  Both are exceptionally hilarious, and their dynamic with Nanjiani gives The Big Sick yet another dynamic to work with.  The Big Sick is one of the most authentically real and wonderfully heartfelt movies I have seen in a long time, and its ability to blend raunchy, brash humor with sincere drama makes it an endlessly enjoyable movie.


  1. Logan: There is no question about it, Logan is spectacular. In fact, until less than a month ago, this movie had withstood its March release date, and held strong as my favorite movie of the year. And even now, I still go back and forth on if it should be in that top spot.  Logan transcends what comic book movies are, and it tells a human story of acceptance and love, with the back drop of its superhero origins.  In a movie that is largely inspired by Shane and Unforgiven, Logan presents us with characters that we are familiar with, but it places them in more grounded universe, giving the movie weight and emotions we have never before seen in a comic book adaptation.  Hugh Jackman is exceptional in his sendoff as this character who he has been playing for 17 years, delivering the performance of his career.  He is a broken down version of the man he once was, and he is presented with circumstances which he would rather not involve himself with. But when things take a turn and he finds himself in the thick of one of the most impactful situations he has ever been involved with, Logan comes into his own in a way that affects you so profoundly, you never would have expected to feel such emotions in a movie like this, and Jackman’s performance is a large reason for that. Patrick Stewart also gives a defining performance in his supposed sendoff as Professor Xavier. He too is a deteriorated version of who we know Professor X to be, and Stewart gives the role a range of heart wrenching emotions in a beautifully constructed and heartbreaking arch. Newcomer Dafne Keen plays the mysterious child Laura (X-23), a young mutant who has found her way to Logan and Xavier with information that will shake up their world, and this young actress is a superstar in the making. At such a young age, Keen is able to embody this character with such ability, as she balances ferocity, innocence, and emotion in an incredibly skilled way. It is absolutely baffling how talented this young star is. James Mangold directs Logan with a unique lens, transforming Logan’s final story into a sci-fi western with heart and human emotions that will have you in tears by its finish. It is brutally violent, profoundly heartbreaking, and unexpectedly raw, Logan is a truly brilliant feature.


  1. The Shape of Water: Guillermo del Toro’s visionary style is so rich when realized to the fullest. When considering the best of his works like Pan’s Labyrinth, you get visual feast which is layered with mature and intentionally complex themes and tones, and it is hard not to fall in love with his work. Now, with The Shape of Water, I would argue that del Toro has crafted his greatest feature yet, beautifully blending fantasy and romanticism in the most exuberant and satisfying way. On paper, a romantic fairy tale telling the story of a mute woman and a fish man who fall in love may sound crazy. But del Toro’s honest heart and passionate ability to construct this unique tale shines as he crafts this story of understanding, acceptance, and identity with such sincerity, you can’t help but root for this wondrous romance. Del Toro co-wrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor, and it builds up this love story by painting wonderfully deep characters who are driven to their actions by relatable and well-defined motivations. You understand Elisa, a mute janitor, and her attachment to this amphibian man, someone who loves her for her and is uninterested in the ways she may be “incomplete.” It is beautifully conveyed, and del Toro’s intense enthusiasm for that message is so powerfully emphasized.  Sally Hawkins is phenomenal in the movie’s leading role, as she cannot speak, and must use nothing more than expression and body language to convey to you how she feels, and at no point do you lose sight of Elisa’s goal, because Hawkins is so magnetic, it is, in my opinion, the most outstanding performance of the year.  Elisa is surrounded by supporting characters who are essential in shaping her journey, including Richard Jenkins and her gay neighbor with whom she finds comfort, Octavia Spencer as her talkative and eccentric coworker, and Michael Shannon as the wicked and villainous man who stands between her and her love. Doug Jones, longtime collaborator of del Toro, plays the amphibian man, and he brings to life this mythical creature in such a real way, and the always great Jones deserves the utmost praise for his exceptional work here.  On top of the superb storytelling, del Toro’s movies are always stunning to look at, and The Shape of Water may be his most gorgeous yet. Drenched in green and captured by Dan Lausten’s precise eye, The Shape of Water’s stunning glow oozes off the screen, and that paired with its incredible production design puts you right into this fantastical 1960s Baltimore. Alexandre Desplat’s haunting score, along with each of the elements listed above, plants The Shape of Water as my favorite movie of the year. It expertly produces an emotional connection to a love story driven by wonderful characterization, and del Toro stops at nothing to bring to life this wild and extravagant vision with the utmost class and skill.  The Shape of Water is a sublime film, and it earns the top spot on my list of favorite movies from 2017.

Honorable Mentions-2017

Screen Shot 2017-12-30 at 11.50.30 PM

It is customary for movie lovers to create top 10 lists every year, rounding up their favorite movies from the slew of releases which impacted them the most.  I, of course, am no different and will soon be releasing my list of favorites from the year, but I always find myself wanting to recognize many movies which don’t quite crack my personal list of 10 favorites. So this year, I’ve decided to post this honorable mentions list before my top 10 list, outlining the movies that fell in the 11-25 spots on my year favorites list.  Each of these movies, I feel, still deserves recognition, and in a year where we got a lot of quality content, it only seems right to give these special movies a shout out. I will use a couple of sentences to outline why the movies below impacted me, describing why I feel everyone reading this should seek them out.

Before I get into it, there are a few honorable mentions to my honorable mentions list (I don’t care how excessive that may sound), including War for the Planet of the Apes, I, Tonya, Spiderman Homecoming, and Wonder Woman, all movies which I respect immensely but did not have room for on this list.

Now for the main event…

  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Martin McDonagh is a knockout writer/director, and his sensibilities bleed into this newest project of his, as he blends humor and drama in a riveting way to tell a twisted, yet engrossing, tale. Frances McDomand is a force to be reckoned with, and Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson go toe to toe with her in this unique flick.


  1. The Florida Project: A beautiful look at the lives of a particular subset of people, told through director Sean Baker’s unobtrusive eye in a wholly real, wonderfully untampered way. Brooklyn Prince and Bria Vinaite are breakout stars, and Willem Defoe delivers an incredible performance in this role which has him as a frontrunner in the Oscar race (and deservedly so).


  1. Thor Ragnarok: Taika Waititi is a master, and in this move to a big budget studio production, he instills enough of his own particular directorial style to make Thor Ragnarok amongst the most entertaining Marvel Cinematic Universe entries. Providing a nice change of pace for the Thor series of movies, Waititi’s dry and hilarious humor perfectly fits the characters, and Chris Hemsworth handles Waititi’s style brilliantly. Also, Tessa Thompson is the best.


  1. Baby Driver: In one of the most entertaining watches of 2017, Edgar Wright brings his unique sensibilities to adapt a style of story we’ve seen before to his own particular vision, resulting in a fantastic action/comedy. The dialogue is excellent, and Wright directs the chase scenes with such an exciting flare. Baby Driver is one of the most easily accessible and enjoyable movies of the year.


  1. John Wick 2: John Wick was one of the biggest surprises the year that it was released, and John Wick 2 employs the similar, incredible action choreography while lengthening the lore of this world of assassins to make it, in my opinion, a sequel which improves on its predecessor. Each subsequent action sequence improves on the previous, and Keanu Reeves is a perfect fit for this role. It is unflinching, brutal, and spectacular.


  1. Wind River: Taylor Sheridan’s dark, twisted cap on his “American Frontier Trilogy” lives up to the hype of Sicatio and Hell or High Water. In his directorial debut, Sheridan crafts a powerful, vicious, and cold story which finds moving messages in its upsetting tones, culminating in a successfully riveting mystery/drama/thriller. Jeremy Rennder and Elizbeth Olsen are as great as they have ever been.


  1. Good Time: Robert Pattinson delivers a career best performance in this team up with The Safdie Brothers. Good Time is one of the most intense movies of the year, and it it will keep you on the edge of your seat from start until finish, as The Safdie Brothers weave this gut wrenching crime thriller.


  1. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected): Noah Baumbach’s quirky style is always beautifully presented in his works, and with The Meyerowitz Stories, he crafts a particularly strange family who have a relatable, real relationship at their core. Adam Sandler and Dustin Hoffman are incredible, and the chemistry amongst the rest of the supporting cast makes The Meyerowitz Stories amongst the most entertaining and interesting watches of 2017.


  1. Blade Runner 2049: Denis Villeneauve’s sci-fi masterpiece not only continues to explore the complex and thought-provoking themes of Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner, but he furthers the lore and improves on the source material in this gorgeously intelligent sequel. With master turns from Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, and a star making performance by Sylvia Hoeks, paired with Roger Deakins’s expert cinematography, Blade Runner 2049 elevates to one of the best science fiction flicks of recent memory.


  1. IT: In a year of great Stephen King adaptations, IT may very well be the best. Its ability to explore the deeper portions of King’s book makes for a troubling and disturbing premise when further analyzed. Additionally, the young cast perfectly embody their roles, and they play off each other with genuine chemistry.  Andres Muschietti precisely directs with a beautiful balance of tension, drama, and humor in this all-time great horror movie.


  1. Molly’s Game: Aaron Sorkin makes a huge splash with his directorial debut, in large part because of his incredibly written script, which crackles with the faced paced, high intensity dialogue that has become a trademark in his writing. Jessica Chastain gives one of her best performances to date in this transformation to a professional skier turned underground poker game host. Idris Elba gives a strong supporting performance to level Chastain, but it truly is her show and she makes a lasting impression in this exciting drama.


  1. The Disaster Artist: James Franco continues to stun and surprise in the most unexpected ways. In this directorial effort, Franco hits a home run, as he also stars as Tommy Wiseau, the crazy, motivated filmmaker who created The Room. It is hilarious and heartfelt throughout, and Franco’s performance hits the perfect mark of honesty, giving it an emotional core which sets it apart from a simple impression. The combination of this performance and Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber’s script results in this brilliantly retelling of the making of “the best worst movie ever made.”


  1. Call Me by Your Name: Raw, sincere, and heartbreaking, Call Me by Your Name is one of the most impactful movies released this year. Timothee Chalamet is stunning, as he emotionally exposes himself in one of the most grounded, moving performances that I have seen in many years. Armie Hammer gives a career-best performance, and Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a lasting monologue in one of the most potent scenes of the year. James Ivory’s script is so touching, and Luca Guadagnino directs the movie with wonderfully relatable grace. Call Me by Your Name cuts deep, and is deserving of the praise that it has earned since its premier at Sundance.


  1. A Ghost Story: David Lowery returns to his indie roots with this thought provoking, haunting look at time, loss, and the large world which surrounds us. Rooney Mara quietly carries this movie with her stunning portrayal of grief and internal conflict. A Ghost Story poses incredibly large questions, but portrays them through a particularly intimate lens. This movie will sit with you for days after watching it, as it is one of the most layered and interesting watches I have ever seen.


  1. Columbus: Kogonada’s directorial debut is subtle, intricate, and reliant on a nearly 1 hour and 40 minute conversation between two individuals. And it is absolutely incredible. In what feels as close to as we have ever gotten to Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, where the film centers on a two way conversation between two individuals who understand each other in a particularly deep way, Columbus delivers such satisfying grace as John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson utilize an expertly written script to discuss the complexities of life and beauties of Columbus, Indiana. It is quiet, and it allows its performers to shine, as both Cho and Richardson (in my opinion) should be in the Oscar conversation for their incredibly detailed work here.

Review Roundup (Oct-Dec): Oscar Contenders Galore


All images from IMDb

I see a lot of movies through the year. This write up covers the movies that I did not review earlier in the year.  This contains a mix of shorthand thoughts on movies that I watched and never got around to writing about, as well as movies that I am catching up on at this late point in the year.  This particular piece is part two of two, and spans from October through the end of the year.  Those movies that are available for easy and instant streaming have been marked with the particular source where they can be found. Enjoy!

The Florida Project-October 6

Sean Baker’s Tangerine was amongst the most acclaimed indie works of 2015, and the director who made the critical darling on and iPhone was pegged for great things as his career progressed. With his next project, The Florida Project, Baker one ups himself and proves his abilities as a director through these intimate, authentic stories of people who are not often given a voice in cinema.  The Florida Project follows a group of young children, and one girl in particular, who grow up in low income situations just on the outskirts of Disney World in Orlando. Baker’s cinema veritle like style allows him to capture raw, real moments between his actors, as he is able to act as if he is a fly on the wall, which makes The Florida Project much more potent.  Newcomers Brooklyn Prince and Bria Vinaite are stars in the making, and Willem Dafoe is deservedly the frontrunner for the best supporting actor Oscar.

Goodbye Christopher Robin-October 13

There is a great film lost somewhere in Goodbye Christopher Robin, which tells the story of how author A.A. Milne was inspired by his son to create the iconic Winnie the Pooh, but an out of control second half undoes this movie’s beautifully inspiring first half.  Goodbye Christopher Robin hits all the right emotional notes in its first half, especially for huge fans of Winnie the Pooh, providing an intimate look at Milne and his relationship with his wife and son, and how those relationship inspired the famed author to escape to the Hundred Acre Woods following his return home from the war.  There is nostalgia, heart, and so much going for this movie, especially its wonderful lead performances from the father-son duo of Domnhall Gleeson and newcomer Will Tilston.  Unfortunately, what starts as a love letter to Winnie the Pooh becomes a derailed story of fame and loss of identity, and Goodbye Christopher Robin really loses touch with what made it successful, ultimately resulting in a subpar final product.

The Meyerwitz Stories-October 13

Noah Baumbach’s unique style is quirky, honest, and hilarious, and with his newest project, The Meyerwitz Stories, he brings together an exceptional cast to tell his wonderfully relatable family drama.  I say relatable somewhat loosely, as the story and characters are relatively particular, but Baumbach instills themes in his writing which emulate a universal message.  The Meyerwitz Stories is so enjoyable, and it balances drama and humor so perfectly, it is one of my favorites of the year.  Adam Sandler puts forth his best performance since Punch Drunk Love, portraying a layered and complex father, and Sandler hits each emotional beat with precision.  Dustin Hoffman is also excellent as the core family’s father figure, and his eccentric style and strange personality gives Hoffman a great deal to work with.  Elizabeth Marvel, Ben Stiller, and Emma Thompson are also essential in rounding out this cast, as each actor has fantastic chemistry with one another, and they perfectly embody this dysfunctional family at the center of Baumbach’s movie.

Murder on the Orient Express-November 10

Kenneth Branagh’s dynamic talent bleeds off the screen in nearly every project he does. Whether he is acting or directing, his grasp on his role is firm and it shows as he always shines.  In his adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, where he directs and stars in the lead role as Hercule Poirot, Branagh assembles a stellar cast which gives the movie enough steam to be enjoyable, but beyond its beautiful production design and strong performances, it offers little to warrant its necessity.  Branagh tells this smaller story in a large way, as the sets and costumes are beautiful, giving the movie enough visually to be worth seeking out.  Additionally, the all-star cast, which includes like likes of Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Willem Defoe, Judie Dench, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Lucy Boynton are all great when given their moment to shine in the movie.  Where this incarnation of the acclaimed Christie murder mystery stumbles in its storytelling, as it progresses with uninteresting pacing, culminating in an unsatisfying way as the mystery begins to unravel.  All in all, it has all the makings of something good, but it cannot all come together.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri-November 10

Martin McDonagh is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today. His distinct voice always shines, and his ability to weave comedy and drama in a seamless way makes each of his projects exciting.  Three Billboards is no different, in that it takes a massively upsetting concept and adds the needed weight to be a full fledged drama, while also spinning comedic undertones to the dialogue to give it a unique dynamic that few filmmakers outside McDonagh could handle.  The movie centers on a mother who targets the local police with three large, defamatory billboards outside of town as they have yet to solve the mystery of her daughter’s murder. Three Billboards is anchored by Frances McDormand’s powerhouse performance, which balances snark and trauma perfectly. Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are equally excellent in their supporting roles, rounding out the aggressive character that McDormand plays in a necessary way. This combination of performances and McDonagh’s subtle script is putting Three Billboards atop many individuals’ top 10 lists, and it comes as no surprise as this movie packs a serious punch.

Mudbound-November 17 (NETFLIX)

Dee Rees’s historical drama, telling a story of family, racism, and tension in Mississippi after World War II, is powerful, grand, and an acting masterclass.  Rees is well respected for her indie works, and with Mudbound, she takes the next step as a formidable up and coming director, telling a harsh yet necessary story of the difficulty of living in this time period.  Additional props to Rachel Morrison, who shot Mudbound, and made it one of the best looking movies of the year. Mudbound is compelling in its material, but its exceptionally rounded cast is what gives it that extra boost to be the awards contender that it is.  The standouts of which are Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, and Garrett Hedlund.  Additionally potent are Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Rob Morgan, and Jonathan Banks.  While it is a difficult watch, which admittedly does drag in its first half, Mudbound is a necessary tale that everyone can easily access on Netlfix.

Coco-November 22

Time and time again, Pixar puts out something that transcends animation and filmmaking, exploring themes that are far deeper than what most other cinema has to offer. They did so just a couple years ago with Inside Out, and they have done so again with Coco, crafting one of the studio’s best movies to date.  While it is visually stunning, one of the most demanding facets of animation. Coco offers far more which allows it to be as good as it is.  First and foremost, it shines a light on a culture that we don’t often see in cinema, and it does so with such care and precision, illuminating the most beautiful aspects of the day of the dead.  What makes Coco even greater is the journey that it takes you one.  One of discovery and identity, Coco continually picks up momentum as it progresses, coalescing with a final act that is as emotional and as much of a tear jerker as the opening minutes of Up.  Coco is truly Pixar at their best, and it is one of the most spectacular cinematic achievements of 2017.

Darkest Hour-November 22

Gary Oldman could finally win his (long deserved) Oscar with this one.  In this solid biopic, Oldman transforms into Winston Churchill, delivering a whirlwind performance, perfectly emulating the eccentricities and confidence of the English Prime Minister.  While the film itself is just good, Oldman’s performance makes Darkest Hour worth the watch.  And while there are many other outstanding supporting performances from Ben Mendelsoh, Lily James, and Kristin Scott Thomas, this is truly Oldman’s show. Additionally, Darkest Hour plays great as a quieter companion to Dunkirk, showing the “behind the scenes” of the war.

Call Me by Your Name-November 24

In a movie as sensitive as they come, Call Me by Your Name fully earns its place as one of the best movies of 2017.  Telling the story of a summer romance between two young men, Call Me by Your Name packs an emotional wallop as it explores the discovery of one’s sexuality and identity in a raw, piercing way.  Timothee Chalamet is an absolute scene stealer in this breakout role, emotionally exposing himself in one of the most moving performances ever by a young actor.  Armie Hammer finally comes into his own as well here, playing opposite Chalamet as a worthy counterpart to balance their beautiful relationship.  The two have incredible chemistry, and their romance is believable and potent. Michael Stuhlbarg caps the movie with a forceful monologue, putting himself in the running with Willem Defoe as Oscar frontrunners in the supporting actor category.  Luca Guadagnino directs James Ivory’s incredible screenplay with intense relatability, giving the movie an emotional core that will stick with viewers for many years to come.

The Disaster Artist-December 1

Oh, hai best comedy of 2017.  The Disaster Artist gives an inside look at the making of The Room, a movie many consider to be the “best worst movie of all time.”  Based on the book by Greg Sestero (one of the stars of The Room), Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have adapted my personal favorite script of 2017.  It is hilarious, and the comedy is major driving force in the movie, but it also has a lot of heart, and it gives the friendship at the center of the story the main stage, beautifully balancing comedy and drama. Each of the supporting actors is great, but the real star of The Disaster Artist is James Franco (who also directed the flick), starring as the mysterious Tommy Wiseau, who starred in, wrote, directed, and produced The Room.  Franco is fabulously funny, and he gives Wiseau a relatiable drive and passion that makes his performance much more impactful than a simple impression.  The Disaster Artist is excellent, and it puts an interesting backstory to the “disaster” that is The Room.

I, Tonya-December 8

Craig Gillespie brings one of the most iconic moments in sports history to the big screen with I, Tonya, a movie exploring the rise and fall of figure skater Tonya Harding.  In this rapid fire, fourth wall breaking biopic, Steven Rogers brash, riveting, and humorous script shines bright.  Where I, Tonya gathers most of its momentum, however, is from its performances. Margot Robbie transforms into Harding, and she cements herself as a top tier actress.  She gives Harding a sensitivity, but is perfectly fierce when Harding lashes out.  Robbie is exceptional in the movie’s third act, where she is as dynamic as she has ever been, turning in a multi-faceted performance of an elite class. Allison Janney is equally excellent as Lavona Harding, Tonya’s mother.  Janney is foul mouthed and unrelenting, and she is absolutely brilliant in the role.  Sebastian Stan and Paul Walter Hauser are also brilliant as Jeff Gillooly and Shawn Eckhardt.

The Greatest Showman-December 20

Hugh Jackman’s P.T. Barnum biopic/musical is odd to say the least.  There is wild inconsistencies in its tone, it sends particularly odd messages to its audiences, and it glorifies a con man whose actions were questionable, but with kick ass music and a genuinely fun spirit, it is a great turn off your brain and enjoy kind of watch.  Each of the performances, including Jackman, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Michelle Williams, and breakout star Keala Settle are great in their respective roles.  That said, the script is especially weak, and first time director Michael Gracey shows his inexperience in handling the script (although his ability to handle this large, beautiful production does show that he has potential).  That is not to say that The Greatest Showman is not bold in its approach, as it swings for the fences, and based on that passion it is a recommendable watch.  And while it may feel like a series of music videos stitched together, the music is so great that you can look past the flaws in the movie and have a good time with what it gives you.

All the Money in the World-December 25

Ridley Scott is the bravest director in Hollywood.  When the allegations against Kevin Spacey surfaced just months ago, Scott decided to replace the actor, who was originally cast as J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World, with seasoned vet Christopher Plummer. Scott stuck to his guns, and within months, he completely reshot all of Spacey’s scenes with Plummer and released a finished film before the end of the year.  Not only does Scott deserve credit for such a bold move, but he must also be praised for creating a good movie amidst this storm.  In this story about the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, Scott delivers an interesting and intense story that succeeds in most regards.  Plummer is seamlessly woven into the movie, and is excellent as the frugal Getty.  The true star of the movie, however, is Michelle Williams, who further cements herself as my personal favorite working actress, as she is ferociously in the role of Abigail Getty.  While there are some missteps, particularly with pacing and the script, Scott overcomes many hurdles to craft this impressive (in more ways than one) drama.

The Post-December 22

It is one thing to be socially and politically relevant, which The Post is in successfully telling the story of The Washington Post’s race to publish the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s while being an effective character piece, studying the rise of Katherine Graham as the respected publisher of The Post. But The Post is much more than that, it is a beautiful cinematic achievement where Stephen Spielberg showcases his abilities as a filmmaker with the help of a stellar screenplay and powerhouse cast.  Spielberg continually amazes, as he shifts from family film to sci fi epic to historical drama, and once again, he expertly crafts an elegant, carefully told story of underdogs rising to the occasion. Meryl Streep is a force as Graham, as her character progresses to a place where Streep is given the material to prove why she is the most respected actress of all time.  Tom Hanks embodies Ben Bradlee, and he delivers his best work in over a decade as The Post’s executive editor.  Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s script is worthy of recognition, as it gives Spielberg brilliant material to work with and adapt.  The movie is timely and necessary today, as it should rouse audiences with its powerful messages and relevant themes.  It is one of 2017’s bests.

Molly’s Game-December 25

Aaron Sorkin is one of the most exciting writers working today. His scripts have riveting pace and his dialogue never settles, resulting in tension and excitement built almost solely from dialogue.  Now, with Molly’s Game, he makes his directorial debut with this latest script, and while some lack of directorial experience may show, his potential does as well as he brings to life another incredible script to tell the story of Molly Bloom, a professional skier who took her drive to running exclusive poker games before getting herself into trouble that would not easy to dig out of.  Sorkin’s scripts rarely fall flat, but his writing in Molly’s Game, which is sometimes unconventional yet constantly riveting, joins his ever-growing list of GREAT screenplays.  Jessica Chastain is a force to be reckoned with in the movie’s titular role, perfectly embodying this motivated and powerful woman who uses her intellect and drive to get what she desires.  And while Molly’s Game does stumble with pacing and a couple of moments of contrived setup, it is one of this year’s most exciting and interesting watches.

Review Roundup (Jan-Sept): A Ghost Story, Good Time, Stronger, and more


All images from IMDb

I see a lot of movies through the year. This write up covers the movies that I did not review earlier in the year.  This contains a mix of shorthand thoughts on movies that I watched and never got around to writing about, as well as movies that I am catching up on at this late point in the year.  This particular piece is part one of two, and spans from the beginning of the year through September.  Those movies that are available for easy and instant streaming have been marked with the particular source where they can be found. Enjoy!

I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore-February 24 (NETFLIX)

This Netflix dark comedy marks the directorial debut of talented actor Macon Blair (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and stars Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey as unexpected friends who aim to track down the people who burglarized Lynskey’s house.  This movie went on to win the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and deservedly so as it is a wildly entertaining ride that proves great potential for Blair’s directing career.  Wood and Lynskey have incredible chemistry, and the balance of drama and humor works spectacularly to give I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore a uniquely brilliant tone.

Free Fire-April 21 (AMAZON PRIME)

Ben Wheatley’s newest project feels like an homage to Reservoir Dogs, centering around an exchange between gangs gone wrong when tension sparks a massive shootout in the enclosed warehouse where the entire movie is set.  Free Fire is a lot of fun, in that Wheatley and Amy Jump’s script finds a particular flare in its dialogue which gives the shootout a comedic dynamic, setting it apart from the typical shootout fare.  Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Jack Reynor, Cillian Murphy, and a handful of other talented actors play off each other brilliantly, making Free Fire all the more entertaining.  While there isn’t a great deal of substance to the movie, Free Fire is a perfectly enjoyable watch when you are simply looking for a good time.

Cars 3-June 16

The Cars movies have always been amongst the lesser liked of Pixar’s works, and while I am a huge advocate for the first Cars, I will admit that the second is a massive stumble. Unfortunately, Cars 3 continues that trend of misfires in this franchise.  While it has a good heart and a very commendable message, the execution is lackluster, as Cars 3 feels more like a series of stitched together events with little flow.  It may appeal to kids with its humor and glossy exterior, but this sadly falls into the small lot of Pixar missteps.

A Ghost Story-July 7

Wonderfully intimate and beautifully layered, A Ghost Story is one of the best movies of 2017. Carried almost entirely by Rooney Mara, A Ghost Story follows Mara’s character after the death of her husband, played by Casey Affleck.  While it provides a close look at Mara’s coping with the loss of a loved one, A Ghost Story becomes a complex exploration of time in parallel with its character study roots. There is so much to unpack in this tiny David Lowery’s project, but he directs it with such class and makes it feel much bigger than it is.  He even makes a five-minute sequence of Mara eating pie interesting (due in part to her spectacular performance of course).  I urge everyone to seek out A Ghost Story, as this contemplative work is truly brilliant.

Columbus-August 4 (HULU)

Kogonada’s directorial debut, Columbus, is more or less an hour and forty minutes of two people talking to one another, and it is captivating.  Starring John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson, Columbus explores the development of a friendship between a girl in Columbus, Indiana and a Korean man who has come to the town to look after his ill father. Cho and Richardson make simple dialogue pop, as their chemistry is strong enough to drive this movie which lives and dies by their on screen rapport. What may come off as disposable conversation actually has great depth to it, and Cho and Richardson give the movie beautiful narrative flow based on how they play off one another.  Columbus is one of those very small movies that only a handful of people will see, which is a shame because it will be cracking my top 10 of the year. (HULU)

Wind River-August 4

While Taylor Sheridan has proven his talent as a writer with Sicario and Hell or High Water, he shows that his filmmaking skills are much greater than we expected, as his directorial debut, Wind River, is another knockout.  This movie is so cold and dark, but Sheridan weaves this mystery with such craft and intrigue that you can’t help but be enthralled by this disturbing tale.  Further aided by the career best work of Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, Wind River is extremely tense, and will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.  Sheridan is one of the most exciting up and coming filmmakers in Hollywood, and with Wind River, this writer/director has already secured my money for what he has coming next.

Good Time-August 11

Few people expected Robert Pattinson to break out of the stigma that was attached to him following his involvement in the Twilight movies, but with The Safdie Brother’s Good Time, he enters an elite class of talent, as he delivers an awards worthy performance in this excellent crime drama.  After his handicapped brother is arrested, Pattinson’s character is sent on a wild chase to bring his brother home while avoiding the cops, who are trying to take him in as well.  The Safdie’s incredibly use New York as a character in this movie, as they craft an exciting, gut wrenching story around Pattinson’s character, where it feels as if a clock is constantly ticking as he narrowly escapes a series of tension inducing situations. The pairing of The Safdie Brothers and Pattinson feels like a match made in heaven, and Good Time is amongst the best movies of this year.

Logan Lucky-August 18

Stephen Soderbergh is back in the director’s chair, returning to the heist genre in this comedy crime film that feels like he readapted his Oceans movies to a southern setting.   And while the high points of Logan Lucky emulate that flare that made movies like Oceans 11 successful, it doesn’t work quite as well as some of Soderbergh’s better work.  That is not to say that Logan Lucky isn’t good, as it could serve as a fitting weekend watch to effectively escape for a couple of hours, it simply does not reach that high bar that Soderbergh has set for himself.  The cast in Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Riley Keough are excellent as hillbilly siblings attempting to pull off a massive heist of NASCAR, and Daniel Craig is absolutely brilliant in this comedic change of pace for him.  Logan Lucky has sequences that are vintage Soderbergh, making the movie worth the price of admission. It unfortunately has lulls that drag down the movie as a whole.

mother!-September 15

To say mother! was divisive would be an understatement. In fact, until The Last Jedi came out, most would have agreed that it was the most polarizing movie of the year.  While I can appreciate the craft that it was created with, as Darren Aronofsky directs the hell out of the movie and each and every performance is outstanding (Jennifer Lawrence’s career best work), I fell on the side of the spectrum that was not particularly thrilled with the final result of mother! It felt as if Aronofsky was hitting you over the head with his intended allegory, resulting in a chaotic second half that really derailed the final product in my opinion.  That said, this is one that I have been itching to revisit, in hopes that giving it a second chance my bring me back around on this beautifully produced, carefully crafted metaphor.

Stronger-September 22

The most overlooked movie of this year. Stronger is one of my favorite movies of the year. It is so powerful and emotionally resonant, the fact that it is not receiving more awards love is absolutely baffling to me.  David Gordon Green comes to play as a legitimate force as a dramatic director, making incredible decisions to tell Jeff Bauman’s story in an authentic, heartfelt way. Jake Gyllenhaal is a powerhouse, perfectly encapsulating this emotionally distraught person who is in an extremely unstable position by this shocking revelation that has impacted his life forever. Tatiana Maslany is equally compelling as Bauman’s girlfriend, going toe to toe with Gyllenhaal in some of the most devastating cinematic moments of 2017.  Please seek out Stronger and support this movie, as it is truly amongst the most emotional, gripping movies of the year.

Battle of the Sexes-September 22

A traditional biopic through and through, Battle of the Sexes tells the real life tale of the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.  Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), there were undoubtedly capable hands helming this relevant and necessary story, and Battle of the Sexes succeeds in that regard.  While it is not spectacular, it is a moving watch, feeling more like the stronger of HBO’s biopics than a larger production.  That said, Emma Stone and Steve Carell are great as King and Riggs.  Andrea Riseborough may steal the show, however, with her stellar performance as King’s hairdresser and secret love interest.  Battle of the Sexes is definitely worth seeking out as a dependable, entertaining flick.

American Made-September 29

Tom Cruise reteaming with Doug Liman (part of the team behind Edge of Tomorrow) to tell the real life story of Barry Seal, a pilot who went undercover to explore the South American drug trade sounds like a recipe for success on paper.  Unfortunately, the bland flavor and lack of charisma in American Made makes it a difficult roller coaster ride. I say that because there are moments of excitement peppered through the movie, unfortunately it never coalesces into something interesting or worth investing in.  When you add the fact that the movie has a supporting cast with the likes of Domhnall Gleeson, Jesse Plemons, and Caleb Landry Jones, you realize that American Made was just that much more disappointing.

Gerald’s Game-September 29 (NETFLIX)

It was a good year for Stephen King adaptations. With movies like IT and quality television like Mr. Mercedes, the majority of King features (except The Dark Tower) were beloved by critics and fans alike.  One of those successful adaptations was Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game.  When a husband and wife attempt to bring a spark back to their marriage, the wife finds herself in a dire situation when she is chained to the bed and her husband, the only person who could help her out, dies.  Carla Gugino is tasked with carrying the majority of Gerald’s Game, and she is absolutely spectacular.  The horror/thriller is packed with tension and disturbing, unexpected themes which make it a more troubling and wholly affecting watch.  Flanagan patiently unravels demons from Gugino’s character’s past, and these unexpected twists and turns make Gerald’s Game an upsetting, yet rewarding watch.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi-Review


IMDb-The Last Jedi

“Bold.” “Innovative.” “Epic.” All words used to describe the original Star Wars movies, which not only changed the landscape of cinema, but also impacted the lives of millions of people around the world. The series was cherished by fans and cinephiles alike, and was eventually branded as cinematic royalty.

That status was blemished however, when the franchise’s creator, George Lucas, went back to the galaxy far, far away to create a prequel trilogy that, while appreciated by some, is often mocked and parodied by those same fans that love the original three movies. Needless to say, while the original Star Wars movies remained respected, the franchise became a bit of a joke.

Then, Disney and Lucasfilm shook the movie world when The Mouse purchased the company from Lucas, with the intention of developing new stories that would continue the saga that took the world by storm nearly 40 years prior. With Disney on board and a new story slate in hand, the release of Episode VII, The Force Awakens, and the first Star Wars anthology entry, Rogue One, put the franchise back in the positive conscious of its consumers.

That said, many called both projects “safe” and “too reliant on nostalgia” to spur success. In fact, many pinned The Force Awakens as a complete rehash of the original Star Wars (now subtitled A New Hope). While they were juggernauts at the box office, the overall perception of safe projects left the world wanting just a bit more from this storied franchise.

Now, Lucasfilm has brought on Rian Johnson (Looper, Breaking Bad) to helm Episode VIII of the Skywalker Saga, and while he has never handled something as big as this, his directorial style had fans believing The Last Jedi could be amongst the best Star Wars movies ever made.

A true visionary that has handled drama and science fiction to astounding success, Johnson has proven time and time again that he knows how to deliver. Equally exciting in Johnson’s courting is his desire to subvert tropes, as he often takes risks and routes that leave audiences in awe. And while it may have some shortcomings, The Last Jedi is a special entry into this series that not only proves that the hype surrounding Johnson’s hiring was warranted, but also revolutionizes this familiar franchise in an astounding way.

Johnson establishes early on in The Last Jedi that Luke Skywalker’s famous line from the trailers, “This is not going to go the way you think,” sets the framework for this installment.  There are many unexpected decisions made by Johnson, and it pays off massively as he is able to craft a wildly original and wholly unexpected Star Wars movie that will give audiences emotional whiplash in the best way possible. The Last Jedi takes twists and turns that we have never seen in a Star Wars movie, and its audacious ability to subvert all expectations in a satisfying way establishes an inspiring new vision for this saga, which also builds exciting potential for Star Wars as J.J. Abrams returns for Episode IX.

Additionally crucial in erecting Johnson’s vision are the powerful themes that he explores, which are woven through each storyline in an interesting way.  The idea of identity and the decisions we make are pivotal driving forces in The Last Jedi, and they add dimensions to the characters and this story that were only briefly explored in The Force Awakens. Our characters are flawed, and they make tragic decisions that complicate their states, but that is the only way this story could have taken this franchise in a new direction, and Johnson capitalizes on those decisions with valuable progression. These concepts not only drive the narrative down interesting paths, but also establish a newfound investment in these characters by deepening the conflict they face, ultimately resulting in greater stakes and more profound payoff as the movie progresses.

The Last Jedi teaches us that expectations and speculation are dangerous territories, because they often can be met by unexpected results. But where Johnson succeeds in his storytelling decisions is where he upends those expectations, because they play beautifully towards those resonating themes in a rewarding way.

This sets the stage for massive twists in The Last Jedi, which propel this saga into unexplored territory.  The script is brilliantly layered, and Johnson’s direction takes us through this story without a guiding comfort, and that trickery makes each step in The Last Jedi all the more satisfying and shocking.

Johnson has been known to pull powerful performances from his actors, and he does so here as nearly every actor contributes career best work, only furthering the intrigue of the story.  Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver come to play in an incredible way, as their characters (who are the central duo of this new trilogy) are faced with monumental decisions, and both Rey and Kylo Ren make discoveries of epic proportions which Ridley and Driver play with especially skilled craft.  In Mark Hamill’s return to Luke Skywalker, arguably the most popular hero in cinematic history, Hamill not only acts as if he didn’t miss a beat in his time off, but he gives a defining performance which re-contextualizes Luke.  He is as conflicted as our other lead characters, and Hamill gives his greatest performances as this storied hero.

We would be remised if we didn’t mention the late Carrie Fisher, who saved her best work as Leia for last.  Leia is given very worthy moments in The Last Jedi, and Fisher leaves us with that hope that drives Leia as a ferocious yet understanding leader, as her final performance here seems like the most fitting sendoff for our Princess.

Equally important in helping Rian Johnson create this epic vision are the more subtle production elements which help to build that scale and magnitude that was sought out here.  The gorgeous production design, which was captured by Steve Yedlin, is absolutely stunning, and will likely give other projects a run in the below the line awards races. And as always, the brilliant John Williams ups the stakes, as his score harkens to the dark tone that Johnson establishes, and I would go as far as to say that, while this score does not exist without its predecessors, what Williams does with the music in The Last Jedi is the most satisfying way that he has upgraded these familiar tunes.

I did mention that The Last Jedi stumbles at a certain point, as there is a certain sequence in the movie involving John Boyega’s Finn (who is still great in the role), and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose (who is a great new addition), which does not do service to these great characters.  They are sent on a side mission similar to Han and Leia in the original trilogy, unfortunately this story grinds The Last Jedi to a halt for about a 15 minute stretch.  While I can appreciate its place in the movie, as it gives greater context to those aforementioned themes that Johnson aims to explore, the execution is underwhelming and it feels unnecessary in the larger arch of the movie.

Needless to say, it is difficult to discuss The Last Jedi in a spoiler free zone, but what I can say about the movie is that I love it, and while Johnson makes some extremely bold decisions that may not sit right for some hard core Star Wars fanatics, I can confidently say that the risks Johnson takes paid off greatly for this hard core fan. The Last Jedi is a beautifully crafted, densely told story of choices and identity, and Johnson’s willingness to make unexpected (yet still satisfying) decisions hits home in a gratifying way.  This story is far more layered and much deeper than any of its predecessors, and behind Johnson’s brilliant direction and the outstanding performances that handled this jam packed script, The Last Jedi joins the upper echelon of Star Wars stories, along with A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back.  This is a unique vision that has a lot going on, and is further unpacked by additional viewings (at 3 viewings now, I can confidently say this). That is not to say that it won’t be divisive in those decisions it makes, but for someone who looks to the direction that Johnson wanted to take this story, I can say that I feel that he hit a home run.  The Last Jedi is not safe, and it does not want to appeal to the fan service seeking viewers.  It aims to tell a singular story.  One of complexity, and one of great boldness.  Rian Johnson should be proud of what he has created, because it is an intense, intelligent, and incredible addition to the Skywalker Saga, and it finds a deserving place amongst the best Star Wars movies ever made.

SCORE: 9/10

The Shape of Water: Review


The New York Times

Guillermo del Toro’s visionary directorial style is one of distinct beauty, and his ability to weave touching fantasy with captivating visuals makes for an awe-inspiring experience every time he gives us something new.  Whether it be a critical darling like Pan’s Labyrinth or his more commercial works like Pacific Rim, del Toro understands how to tailor a balanced and enjoyable watch.  Now, with his most recent endeavor, The Shape of Water, del Toro has quite possibly attempted his most audacious film yet, and while it takes huge risks that may on their surface seem questionable, del Toro has crafted best work yet with this beautifully told fairy tale romance.

Set in 1960’s Baltimore, The Shape of Water centers on Elisa Esposito, a mute janitor who works at a highly secure research laboratory.  While her daily life at home may seem routine, Elisa’s world is shaken when a mysterious sea creature/man arrives at the facility.  Curious about the strange “asset,” Elisa chooses to further explore what the scientists at the lab are trying to hide, only to discover a unique connection between herself and the amphibian that is far greater than friendship.

Daring in nearly every regard, whether it be the silent lead character or the romantic relationship between a woman and a fish man, del Toro manages to establish a natural flow early on in the film, and rather than question the peculiar circumstances that are being presented, you wholly buy into this touching tale of acceptance and understanding.

That is largely due to del Toro’s direction.  As proven in his previous films, del Toro has the ability to present a particular type of protagonist who is in an uncommon situation, and make them relatable and sympathetic in unexpected ways.  He does so here with Elisa, who is played perfectly by Sally Hawkins, and while her experiences are quite singular, you connect with this woman who, while joyful as presented, is clearly battling against this perception of incompleteness that she has about herself.  Del Toro’s ability to show, without directly saying, these things early on makes for a spectacularly emotional journey that you are able to take with this character.

That portrayal would be incomplete, however, if it were not for Hawkins and her career best performance as the mute romantic. As an actor, one would assume that you would jump at the opportunity to take on such a challenging role, which involves the presentation and characterization of someone without speaking a word.  Hawkins is absolutely stellar in doing so, using facial expressions and body language to exquisitely shade in the complexities and emotions of Elisa.  She is absolutely captivating and carries The Shape of Water in an incredibly professional way, it is astounding to watch.

Equally important in building this fantasy is the impeccable screenplay, which del Toro along with Vanessa Taylor have written with such precision and care, it is amongst this year’s best written screenplays.  There is a subtlety to the writing which allows The Shape of Water to seamlessly transition between drama, romance, and humor, each of which lends to its brilliance.  Del Toro and Taylor build up this world with rich surroundings and even richer characters, each of whom surrounds the central Elisa with a dynamic that makes for an entirely engaging, entertaining, and stirring experience.

Speaking of such supporting characters, each actor that is tasked with rounding out the cast provides a note perfect balance to Hawkins and her portrayal of Elisa. The standout of these additional characters is Richard Jenkins who plays Giles, Elisa’s gay neighbor. Both of these characters are in a place where they don’t feel like they belong, and they fall on each other as friends to fill those relationship gaps. Giles and Elisa harmonize gracefully, and Jenkins gives a delightful depth to the character which only deepens the already great way that he was written.  Also worth mentioning in this supporting cast are the always great Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, and Michael Stuhlbarg, who each have a necessary role in this film and play their roles in bouncing off of Elisa wonderfully.

An actor who does not receive enough credit for their work is Doug Jones, a character actor who has made his mark playing mythical beings that, while resembling humans in some way, are also paired with a fantastical element. In his many collaborations with del Toro as the Fauno in Pan’s Labyrinth, Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies, and now this “merman” like creature in The Shape of Water, Jones has always been stellar in these special roles. He is equally great here as he has been in previous films, and I simply wanted to credit him, because while his face is often obscured by makeup, he always does an impeccable job of bringing these creatures to life.

In addition to the already forceful tale being told in The Shape of Water, the film is equally impressive in its craft. Del Toro’s recreation of 1960’s Baltimore is stunning, and the attention to detail given to the production design lends to this being one of the most gorgeous movies of 2017. It only helps to have Crimson Peak and John Wick: Chapter 2 Cinematographer Dan Laustsen capturing the beauty. Underscored by Alexandre Desplat’s enticing score, The Shape of Water becomes an engrossing watch that blends story, structure, and craft to perfection.

The Shape of Water is undoubtedly one of this year’s best films. Director Guillermo del Toro has brought to life this passion project in an alluring way, and he deserves the utmost praise for his brilliance. Anchored by an enchanting performance by Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water finds effectiveness in its sincerity and imaginative storytelling.  Remarkably cast and strikingly crafted, del Toro’s most recent work strengthens its already great story with poise at every turn. The Shape of Water dazzles and entertains in the best ways, and shows us how the unique channel of filmmaking can make even the most specific and unusual stories relatable and heartfelt.

SCORE: 10/10