Top 15 Best Movies of 2018

2018 has, yet again, released a myriad of amazing movies; several of which made history. My list comes to showcase how miraculous and powerful these movies on my list are. Keep in mind, I haven’t seen every great movie that has come out. So–don’t get upset when movies such as Cold War, If Beale Street Could Talk, and The Favourite are absent from the list. Let’s not waste any more time and dive right into my list of the top fifteen best movies of 2018. First things first…

Honorable Mentions: Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, First Man, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Hereditary, Isle of Dogs, Lean on Pete, Searching, Thoroughbreds, Three Identical Strangers, Tully, Widows

15-MI-Fallout-newyorker

(Source: The New Yorker)

15. Mission: Impossible – Fallout – The popular action-film franchise has been getting better with each entry. Starting off as a remake of the television show from the 1960s, the series has gotten a different director for each sequel to give them their own distinct style. I still think Ghost Protocol is my favorite in the franchise, but Fallout has so much going on it feels like I’ve been on a massive roller-coaster ride. Filled with twists and turns, death-defying stunts, and almost wall-to-wall action. Kudos to Tom Cruise, for risking his entire life taking on roles like IMF agent Ethan Hunt. Another kudos to director Christopher McQuarrie for making the most exhilarating thrill-ride of the summer. I bet you can feel every bone breaking during the brutal bathroom fight.

14-quietplace-forbes

(Source: Forbes)

14. A Quiet Place – This will surprise anyone I prefer this movie over another great horror movie such as Hereditary. No offense, but A Quiet Place is a much more superior horror movie that could work as an old silent film. Starring and directed by John Krasinski, this movie contains no spoken dialogue (save for one scene), but the suspense is at an all-time high. While the concept concerning a world where monsters are blind yet extremely sensitive to sound might be similar to Signs and Tremors, A Quiet Place has never come out at a perfect time than in 2018.

13-boy-erased-variety

(Source: Variety)

13. Boy Erased – Lucas Hedges is joining the likes of Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet as one of the best actors of the new generation. After receiving praise in Manchester by the Sea and Lady Bird, he gives another phenomenal performance in Joel Edgerton’s excellent sophomore feature as Jared Eamons, a teenager who is forced by his parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman, also astounding) to attend a gay conversion therapy program. The audience is with Jared every step of the way as he tries to convince his parents to accept for who he truly is. Through subtle yet unflinching flashbacks, Jared’s struggle of coming out truly shines.

12-black-panther-imdb

(Source: IMDb)

12. Black Panther – The MCU has become the highest-grossing franchise of all-time. Things have changed since the release of Iron Man in 2008. New characters have been introduced and the stakes have gone higher than before. Black Panther has broken records left to right; becoming the highest-grossing film not only in the franchise, but also directed by a black director and starring a mostly black cast. And for good reason!

Ryan Coogler is a great director to look out for. He envisions a world unlike any other; with its distinct culture norms, environment, and politics. Chadwick Boseman leads an excellent cast portraying one of the coolest superheroes I’ve seen on the silver screen. The movie is not without its sense of humor, dazzling visuals, and thrilling action set-pieces. Wakanda Forever!

11-green-book-nytimes

(Source: The New York Times)

11. Green Book – This movie surprised the hell out of me! This time, Peter Farrelly goes solo as the director for this true story about a friendship between white bouncer Tony Lip and black pianist Don Shirley–played to perfection by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. It does sound like a reversed version of Driving Miss Daisy, but this is an entertaining history lesson and road trip movie that is hard not to smile all the way through. Containing some laugh-out-loud moments, hard-hitting realism of the Civil Rights Movement, wonderful music, and dazzling cinematography by Sean Porter. A future Christmas tradition, for sure!

10-the_ballad_of_buster_scruggs

(Source: Phoenix New Times)

10. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – No one can simply go wrong with Joel and Ethan Coen. From Fargo to The Big Lebowski to O Brother, Where Art Thou to No Country for Old Men, they have created some of the best movies ever made through their dark, deadpan humor, memorable characters, and stunning visuals. In their Western anthology film by Netflix, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is another marvelous achievement from the brother duo. Being their first film shot digitally, they bring forth six short stories that range from laugh-out-loud hilarious to straight-up tragic. It features a massive cast including Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, and Tom Waits, and visuals so beautiful each image is a work of art (I think this is the first of their movies to ever contain CGI). Here’s how I would rank each of the stories:

  1. All Gold Canyon
  2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  3. The Gal Who Got Rattled
  4. Meal Ticket
  5. The Mortal Remains
  6. Near Algodones

9-first-reformed-vox

(Source: Vox)

9. First Reformed – Known for writing the screenplays for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, Paul Schrader directs this miraculous film about questioning one’s faith in a world where climate change is the norm. Starring Ethan Hawke, in one of the best performances of his entire career, as Reverend Ernst Toller of a small church in upstate New York, who helps a young woman (Amanda Seyfried, surprisingly superb) with an environmentalist husband. I have never seen a movie so grounded and so thought-provoking. I have a feeling this movie would be viewed in film criticism classes in high schools and colleges throughout America. The final ten minutes of First Reformed are some of the most intense I’ve seen this year; more so than a lot of action thrillers I’ve ever seen.

7-eight-grade-parade

(Source: Parade)

8. Eighth Grade – Yes, this movie might be rated R for its language and scenes involving and referencing oral sex. Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, however, should be required viewing for eighth-graders making the transition to high school. Elsie Fisher is straight-up fantastic as Kayla, a socially inept teenager who spends more on her iPhone and making inspirational videos on YouTube that receive little to no attention at all. She tries to get through her last week of middle school by becoming more open. It’s hard not to relate to this movie and look back at your time at middle school. Let’s hope Burnham directs and writes screenplays for more funny and poignant movies like Eighth Grade in the near future.

8-rider-atlantic

(Source: The Atlantic)

7. The Rider – Two movies featuring horses came out this year–Lean on Pete and this one. While the first was great and went into directions I haven’t expected, this one is easily the superior one. Being her second film, Beijing native Chloe Zhao has a great future as a filmmaker. The Rider is a stunning outlook on life, with The Wrestler being a big influence. Featuring a wonderful cast of non-professionals, their performances–particularly Brady Jandreau and his family–feel like real people. This is a special movie-going experience.

6-old-man-and-the-gun-atlantic

(Source: The Atlantic)

6. The Old Man and the Gun – 2018 contained two movies featuring two legendary actors playing criminals with a distinct charm. The more recent being The Mule, starring Clint Eastwood as a 90-year-old Korean War veteran unknowingly smuggling 200 pounds of cocaine for a Mexican drug cartel.

While there is plenty to like about Eastwood’s return to directing himself for the first time since Gran Torino, I prefer David Lowery’s magnum opus The Old Man and the Gun, starring Robert Redford in his (supposedly) last acting role. Based on the too-good-to-be-true story, it’s hard not to smile at our protagonist Forrest Tucker getting away with his bank robberies using his polite manners. Although John Hunt (Casey Affleck, delivering another marvelous performance) is on his tail, Forrest will be ready for his next escape after getting caught. It might not move at a fast pace, but this movie contains an offbeat sense of humor, terrific music, an excellent cast, and a vintage feel that gives subtle nods to Redford’s early work like The Sting. Great stuff!

5-leave-no-trace-sfexaminer

(Source: San Francisco Examiner)

5. Leave No Trace – Debra Granik returns eight years from directing the Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone to write and direct another movie that is devastating and delightful. Leave No Trace showcases the slice of life in rural America. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie (who is going to star in Taika Waititi’s upcoming WWII satire Jojo Rabbit, coming out some time next year) are the heart and soul of the movie as Will and Tom, the father and daughter who are succumbed to come to terms with society after living off the grid for some time. I’ve seen this movie twice in theaters, and I’m surprised it earned a PG-rating (i.e. pay attention to Ben Foster’s tattoos early on). No matter what the rating is, it’s a subtle and powerful film that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

4-blackkklansman-nytimes

(Source: The New York Times)

4. BlacKkKlansman – Who knew Spike Lee would make his grand return with this too-good-to-be-true story about Colorado Springs police detective Ron Stallworth infiltrating the local Ku Klux Klan? And who knew it would become a future American classic?

Like with his 1989 film Do the Right Thing, Spike shifts the tone for BlacKkKlansman almost seamlessly. You laugh so hard one minute and you get chills down your spine the next. John David Washington leads the cast with his badassery and humbleness as Stallworth. His scenes with Adam Driver’s Flip are electrifying. This movie is a wake-up call to where America is today with its race relations. The ending will leave you speechless.

3-wont_you_be_my_neighbor_dallasobserver

(Source: The Dallas Observer)

3. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – The documentary everybody needs right now! Fred Rogers was easily the most down-to-earth human-being who ever lived. He had a way with children and taught them how to love and be loved. It makes sense how his Christian beliefs of “Love thy neighbor; love thyself” work perfectly to the show. Director Morgan Neville dives deep into the life of Fred Rogers and the effect he and his show had on everyone. No matter the age, everyone should watch at least one episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to forget about the harsh reality of the outside world. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? came out at a great time!

2-star-is-born-vox

(Source: Vox)

2. A Star is Born – The fourth version of A Star is Born has been in production hell since 2010. With Clint Eastwood once attached to the project, Bradley Cooper eventually took over to direct himself in this marvelous film about the hardships of making it big in the music industry while facing one’s personal demons. This is what happens when musician Jackson Maine (Cooper) develops a relationship with aspiring singer Ally (Lady Gaga).

I had a bad feeling this movie would become a manipulative mess. What Cooper does here is anything but. Through his impressive direction and excellent performance as Jackson Maine, he gets the tone for every scene down to a T. From the music to the amazing performances (particularly from Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, and Sam Elliott), everything in A Star is Born works. It might not be easy-viewing, due to its depiction of alcohol and drug abuse, but it’s hard to look away. There might be another version of A Star is Born in the future, but this version will be hard to top. I get chills every time I listen to the soundtrack.

1-roma-playlist

(Source: Playlist)

1. Roma – Alfonso Cuarón’s latest is, by miles, the best movie of the year. Being his first film since Gravity, he takes a more personal approach in this Netflix original through his astounding direction, screenplay, and camerawork. Bringing 1970s Mexico City to pure life through the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography (after his collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki was unavailable), the story focuses on Cleo, a maid taking care a middle-class family during a rough time in history. With terrific performances from non-professionals, a straightforward narrative, outstanding attention to detail, there will never be another movie like Roma. There is so much that affected me on an emotional level. Definitely one to look out for during awards season.

There you have it! Don’t get upset that I didn’t include a movie you considered one of the best of the year on my list. Keep in mind, this is my list, not yours. I have my entire life to catch up on the movies I’ve missed.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my picks for the best and worst movies of the year. Please feel free to leave a comment on what you think are the best movies of 2018. I look forward to seeing more great movies in the coming year. Keep an eye out for changes coming to this blog in the new year. Have a Happy New Year!

Advertisements

Top 10 Worst Movies of 2018

The most wonderful time of the year is upon us! It’s time to take a look back at 2018 in film!

This year has been another powerhouse year for cinema! There have been numerous surprises (either good or bad), movies making history (Black Panther becoming the highest-grossing film in the MCU and one of the all-time highest-grossing films–featuring a mostly black cast and directed by a black director), and Netflix becoming the future of cinema by releasing its popular original movies in select theaters.

However–there have been plenty of stinkers a lot of people had to endure. Without further ado, let’s dive right into my list of the top ten worst movies of 2018. But first…

Dishonorable Mentions: Insidious: The Last Key, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, The Leisure Seeker, Mandy, On Chesil Beach, The Seagull, Unsane, Winchester

10-the-nun-inverse

(Source: Inverse)

10. The NunThe Conjuring universe is releasing spin-offs featuring its scary entities that the two movies introduced–from Annabelle (as witnessed in the terrible film from 2014 and its solid sequel, Annabelle: Creation, from last year) to The Crooked Man (in which we have yet to see a spin-off of the monster shown briefly in The Conjuring 2). The second film featured a spirit deemed the most sinister of all. The Nun is another big disappointment in the ongoing horror franchise; suffering from cheap scares, forced humor, and not enough atmosphere to carry through its shaky final act. Taissa Farmiga gives a decent performance as Irene, the rookie nun with a gift from the supernatural, but it ticks me off how she has yet to receive her vows before going to Romania. Other than that, I would rather wait for The Conjuring 3 than having to sit through The Nun again.

9-death-wish-variety

(Source: Variety)

9. Death Wish – Remember when Bruce Willis was at the top of the world starring in the Die Hard movies? While he is no stranger for starring in big critical and financial flops, Death Wish continues that particular realm. Directed by Eli Roth, the master of torture porn, Willis stars as a surgeon-turned-vigilante after he witnesses his wife and daughter attacked in his Chicago home. His performance is not the worst in his career, but he is trying a little too hard in this nasty, derivative, incoherent mess of a movie that takes itself way too seriously, and focuses less on the narrative and more on the violence.

8-1517-to-paris-nytimes

(Source: The New York Times)

8. The 15:17 to Paris – Clint Eastwood is one of the best filmmakers of all-time. At 88, he is still going. The 15:17 to Paris is easily a big down-grade in his directing career. He is no stranger casting non-professional actors. Here, he casts the three people–Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone–who were involved in the potential terrorist attack on the train from Amsterdam to Paris as themselves. The particular sequence is as tense as one might expect from a movie like this, but leading up to it is pure agony. Containing wooden performances from a talent cast, poor pacing, and shallow dialogue. Thank God for Eastwood doing The Mule.

7-how-to-talk-girls-at-parties-atlantic

(Source: The Atlantic)

7. How to Talk to Girls at Parties – This is a prime example of what happens when you adapt a short story by Neil Gaiman into a feature-length film. Its tone shifts so constantly that it’s excruciating. Set in London during the punk era of the 1970s, Enn (Alex Sharp) and his friends decide to go to dance parties and try to lose their virginity. When he falls for a pretty girl named Zan (Elle Fanning), he soon realizes she is part of an alien race.

I don’t mind bizarre and quirky, if done well. It does have some moments that are really funny (i.e. the scene where Enn’s mother talks about her experiences in Hollywood) and charming. Unfortunately, How to Talk to Girls at Parties loses completely its focus of what it wants to be–Romance? Science-fiction? There are times in which it feels like a overlong 90-minute music video.

6-venom-tvandmovienews

(Source: TV and Movie News)

6. Venom – Oh boy–what was Tom Hardy thinking when he signed on to do a project like Venom? One of Hollywood’s toughest actors is trapped in a superhero origin story that would have been alright, if it came out during the time of Sam Raimi’s 2002 version of Spider-Man. When Hardy’s Brock becomes infected with the symbiotes, he keeps hearing voices in his head, resembling Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (Now that I think about it, Hardy would make a much more badass Jekyll and Hyde than Russell Crowe in The Mummy.)

When there is a scene where Venom calls Brock a “pussy” (I kid you not, I almost walked out of the theater from laughing so hard at that), it’s clear on where the movie is going to go from there. The pacing goes all over the place, the humor feels forced, the action is completely contrived, and the actors feel like their sleepwalking throughout the whole film. The chase through San Francisco is watchable at best, it goes downhill from there, even the climactic fight between Venom and Carnage is generic and predictable. With the movie ending on a cliffhanger, like with every superhero movie nowadays, I have a feeling we might see more from the antihero. And I am not looking forward to it.

ENT_LD_011216_05434.NEF

(Source: TIME)

5. 7 Days in Entebbe – I enjoy movies that are based on true events; from Schindler’s List to The Social Network to Captain Phillips. I try to steer clear from ones that are unintentionally funny, dull, and devoid of any tension. 7 Days in Entebbe fits right into those categories. This is a preachy, sluggish interpretation of the terrible event. Daniel Bruhl and Rosamund Pike are two gifted, understated actors who are entirely wasted as two people hijacking a plane and putting all of the passengers hostage in Entebbe. There is a dance number that feels adjacent to the rest of the movie. If you want to watch a solid thriller starring Rosamund Pike, Beirut is more worth your time than this pile of garbage.

4-sorry_to_bother_you-vox

(Source: Vox)

4. Sorry to Bother You – The fact that this movie has received a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7/10 rating on IMDb is pretty freaking amazing! Boots Riley’s directorial debut, Sorry to Bother You, feels more like propaganda disguised as a feature film. Centering on the down-on-his-luck Cassius, who finds a job as a telemarketer selling consumer products from the phone. He learns about a CEO named Steve Lift (a wasted Armie Hammer), who has plans to improve labor.

Despite some unique editing techniques, the political satire is forced, the characters looking like they are being controlled like joysticks, the second act feels more like a horror movie, and there’s nothing to laugh at. Easily the year’s most overrated movie.

3-hurricane-heist

(Source: Variety)

3. The Hurricane Heist – Coming from the previews, this movie definitely had the feeling of being incredibly stupid beyond repair. However, I watched it expecting some fun out of its silly premise of two brothers from Alabama pulling off a heist of $600 million during a hurricane. From Rob Cohen, who also directed The Fast and the Furious, not only is The Hurricane Heist absolutely ridiculous, it takes itself way too seriously. If you can get through the actors talking in those silly Southern accents, beware of some terrible special effects and choppy action. What a waste.

2-flower-yahoo

(Source: Yahoo)

2. Flower – Zoey Deutch is one of the most charming actresses of her generation. After her surprising turns in Before I Fall and Everybody Wants Some, Flower is a downfall in her career. Max Winkler–yes, the son of Henry Winkler–directs this disgusting ranchfest of an indie comedy about Erica, a sexually adventurous teenager who develops a bond with her new stepbrother Luke, and is on the road for vengeance after Luke tells her the truth about a schoolteacher. Things soon take a turn for the worse. And boy–they sure do! Nothing about Flower is funny, charming, or pleasant. Such a wasted opportunity from a gifted cast including Kathryn Hahn and Adam Scott.

1-tod

(Source: IMDb)

1. Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare – Continuing the trend of terrible horror movies is Truth or Dare, produced by Jason Blum (who was also responsible for producing The Purge, Sinister, and The Visit). There has never been a horror movie I’ve seen this is unintentionally hilarious as well as incredibly boring. Lucy Hale (of Pretty Little Liars fame) stars in this wretched mess as a college student going with her friends to Mexico for spring break. One night, their innocent game of “truth or dare” turns into something supernatural.

With an uninspired screenplay (written by four people, no less!), the characters have no personality, the deaths are stupid, the image of the people doing their worst expression of Jack Nicholson’s Joker will make me laugh for as long as I live, and the mystery behind the curse is not interesting. If anyone can get through Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare without falling asleep, they deserve a medal.

I hope you enjoyed reading what I thought on some of the worst movies of the year as much as I did tearing them into shreds. Please feel free to leave a comment on what you thought of these movies, and I am beyond curious on why you hated or liked any of the movies on my list. And I’m also curious to know what terrible movies you’ve seen from this year. Now–it’s about time to think about the good stuff that came out. Expect my list of the best movies of the year to come out very soon. Stay tuned!

Movie Review: The Mule

The MuleClint Eastwood

Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) makes some important life decisions in The Mule. (Source: Entertainment Weekly)

It has been ten years since Clint Eastwood directed himself in a movie. Being a filmmaker for half of a century, winning two Oscars for directing Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby (both of which won Best Picture), starring in more than half of the movies he directed, it’s hard not to be impressed by what he has done for Hollywood. Gran Torino is a prime example of his talents as an actor and filmmaker; blending deadpan humor and hard-hitting drama set outside an all-American city–Detroit–and containing a diverse cast.

After directing big hits, such as American Sniper and Sully, he is back as the director after giving us the disastrous biopic The 15:17 to Paris. Not only that, he is also the main star in The Mule. Based on a true story of Leo Sharp, a WWII veteran smuggling hundreds of pounds of cocaine from a Mexican drug cartel through Michigan, Eastwood and screenwriter Nick Schenk make several changes to the true-life story to stand on its own.

For starters, Eastwood stars as Earl Stone, a 90-year-old Korean War veteran, who is facing foreclosure on his house and his horticultural business. Years of being neglected from his family, he is in desperate need of cash. One day, at a wedding party for his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga), he is offered a job driving trucks. Earl doesn’t find that a problem since he had experience with trucks. However, he doesn’t know what he’s in for while driving all the way down to El Paso.

Since he has no criminal history, Earl isn’t worried to earn a little extra cash to cover Ginny’s wedding and college education. He eventually finds out he’s working as a drug mule for a Mexican drug cartel. This gets the attention of DEA agents Bates (Bradley Cooper) and Trevino (Michael Peña). Meanwhile, Earl thinks about his life decisions, especially when his ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) falls ill.

This isn’t the first time this year where a legendary actor played a criminal. We already saw Robert Redford using his polite manners while robbing banks in David Lowery’s magnum opus The Old Man and the Gun. As Earl Stone, however, Eastwood gives another nuanced performance; providing the dry sense of humor and the charisma he is known for in all of his movies. Earl might be stubborn and ignorant, especially with the modern technology being taken over, but he tries to be there for his family after neglecting them for years. Although the two DEA agents might be on his tail, he continues to live his life especially sitting back in the driver’s seat of his truck singing along to old songs.

The movie is not without its flaws. It’s a slow-burning film that might throw off a lot of people expecting something along the lines of Sicario. Yes, the pace does drag here and there, and I would have done without the scene where Earl is invited to a pool party at an estate, run by drug lord Laton (Andy Garcia), where there lots of young women everywhere. Nevertheless, there is a great moral in The Mule about the importance of family and putting one’s own life is put at risk for something dangerous. At 88, Eastwood is still going strong. Nothing can stop him now!

3/4

Movie Review: Green Book

Green-Book-vanityfair

Tony Vallelogna (Viggo Mortensen) takes Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) through the Deep South in Peter Farrelly’s exceptional Green Book. (Source: Vanity Fair)

A movie like Green Book sounds like another version of Driving Miss Daisy. This time, the roles are flipped; where the white person is driving the black person. Two people from completely different backgrounds. They learn about their prejudices and eventually becoming best friends. Peter Farrelly, known for directing such funny comedies with his brother Bobby as Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, and The Three Stooges, offers so much more than that in his first solo feat that couldn’t have come out at a much better time.

The year is 1962. The Civil Rights Movement is in full swing. Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a black pianist, is about to go on a two-month tour through the Deep South. Tony Vallelogna a.k.a Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a white bouncer from New York City with a lovely wife in Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and two kids, is in need of a job while the Copacabana bar is temporarily closed for reconstructions. He reluctantly accepts to be Don’s chauffeur throughout the tour after receiving The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide for black tourists containing segregated places throughout the South.

Despite their snobbish attitudes, they eventually begin to learn about the reality of the South and hard imagining not having each other’s back.

As Don and Tony, Ali and Mortensen (who gained 45 pounds for the movie) are pitch-perfect playing off each other. Don is a Cuban immigrant, polite and well-educated, while Tony is Italian-American, ignorant and thinks violence would get away with anything. Tony begins to follow Don’s rules and talk to about where they come from, and in need of Don’s help to write more expressively in his letters to Dolores. On their first night in Pittsburgh, Tony is impressed by Don’s piano abilities, he goes far as saying he “plays like Liberace but better.”

There are a handful of laugh-out-loud moments. Throughout the trip, Tony introduces Don to the popular music that consists of black artists including Little Richard and Aretha Franklin. However, Don has no idea who they are. Later, Tony offers Don a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken, in which Don reluctantly accepts. It comes to show that because his race enjoys those foods, doesn’t mean he has to. There are small moments that make the movie shine. I don’t see why these two great actors won’t earn Oscar nominations.

To quote Christy Lemire, “Green Book is the kind of old-fashioned filmmaking big studios just don’t offer anymore. It’s glossy and zippy, gliding along the surface of deeply emotional, complex issues while dipping down into them just enough to give us a taste of some actual substance.”

I couldn’t say it better myself. This is a buddy road trip film and a history lesson that works on both of those levels, kudos to Farrelly (who served as a co-writer) for bringing the 1960s to life through his confident direction. There’s a great message about no matter what color your skin is, the only way to view them is as one. This perfect film for the Christmas season is another contender for one of the best films of the year.

4/4

Movie Review: Roma

ROMA

A middle-class family living in Mexico City during political turmoil in Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece Roma. (Source: Variety)

Alfonso Cuarón is one of the most gifted filmmakers in the world. He is known for directing family feats, such as the 1995 fairy tale The Little Princess and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, arguably the best in the franchise. He also did blockbusters aimed for the older audience, such as the 2006 dystopian film Children of Men and the 2013 space thriller Gravity, in which he won an Oscar for directing. His latest, Roma, is the first Spanish-speaking film since 2001’s Y Tu Mamá También. This is the first time where he served as his own DP when Emmanuel Lubezki, his frequent collaborator, was unavailable.

There is no other movie released this year that affected me more–on an emotional level–than what Cuarón brings to life, through his marvelous screenplay and camerawork.

Set in the early 1970s, this Netflix original centers around a middle-class family living in Mexico City. The primary focus is Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid who works for Sofia (Marina de Tavira), a mother of four whose physician husband Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) is in Canada on business. The audience sees her do her chores while watching the children–from cleaning dishes to cleaning the courtyard after their dog does his business.

Cleo is optimistic about her future, despite the harsh reality she lives in. With a selfish boyfriend in Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), who is a martial-arts aficionado, she is in for one helluva young-adult life.

Giving away too much of the plot would ruin the surprise for everyone. And rightfully so. Everything about Roma works. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white, Cuarón knows what he wants to shoot and direct. With its long tracking shots, the grays really pop out that it looks like an Ansel Adams photograph in motion (e.g. the forest fire during a family’s Hacienda). The attention to detail is so vivid, it would make Roger Deakins blush. Cuarón recreates the Corpus Christi Massacre of 1971, where a group of student protestors are killed by the police. People in a furniture store watch outside as the riots occur. It’s an unflinching yet beautifully-choreographed sequence that sends chills down my spine (even as I’m typing this review).

In order to make the movie feel as authentic as possible, Cuarón decided to cast non-professional actors. Aparicio is such a natural presence as Cleo. Even though she might have fallen for the wrong person, it’s hard to resist her free spirit. In one scene, early on, Fermín shows her his impressive martial arts skills by being completely nude while using a shower pole. He talks about how his obsession helped him escape his rough childhood. “Everything came into…focus,” he says. “Just like when you look at me.” I’ll never forget her facial expression and the eventual acts of bravery she endures. I sense Aparicio will have a good future in acting.

A lot of people will probably end up watching Roma on television, which I understand. My suggestion is to watch it with surround sound. It might not be the same as seeing it in theaters, but it’s close enough. If you prefer seeing it in theaters, that’s great! Even director Edgar Wright demands everyone to see it on the biggest screen possible to get the full experience. No matter where you see it, Roma is an unforgettable film about class and the importance of family. Easily the best film of the year! No other movie will come close!

4/4

Movie Review: Widows

widows-indiewire

Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) decides to finish what her husband (Liam Neeson) started in Steve McQueen’s heist-drama Widows. (Source: IndieWire)

British director Steve McQueen received fame with 2008’s Hunger, about the 1981 hunger strike in a Northern Ireland prison, and the 2011 erotic thriller Shame, which earned a rare NC-17 rating. He would eventually go back in time for the Oscar-winning 2013 film 12 Years a Slave, following Solomon Northup’s fight for freedom in the South during the 1800s. His latest film, Widows, is his first time heading into the mainstream. Co-written by Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl), this is a film of female empowerment and betrayal in contemporary America. It’s a revenge thriller, political and human drama wrapped into one exhilarating picture.

Set, like in every great movie, in modern-day Chicago, Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) leads a group of criminals to pull off a heist that goes tragically wrong when their van explodes in a safe house. Four widows–Veronica (Viola Davis), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), and Amanda (Carrie Coon)–are all affected by the accident.

One day, crime boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who’s running as the alderman for the 18th ward on South Side against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) whose father (Robert Duvall) was once an alderman, enters Veronica’s apartment to tell her about her husband’s next heist that was worth $5 million. He wants her to get part of the money for him to use in his political campaign. With Amanda not present, Veronica stops at nothing when she assigns Alice and Linda to pull off the heist.

I have never seen a movie this year that contained plenty of thrills, authenticity, and sheer poignancy all at the same time. Kudos to the excellent screenplay by Flynn and McQueen (easily one of the year’s best) and Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography, there is not a single wasted moment. Davis leads a terrific cast and gives another miraculous performance as Veronica, a member of the Teachers Union who decides to finish what her husband started. The movie opens up how the four families live their lives prior to the heist–either as an owner of a dress store, a stay-at-home mother with a four-month-old child, or a wife with an abusive mother (Jacki Weaver). Everyone–particularly Duvall, Farrell, Neeson, Debicki (also terrific), Daniel Kaluuya, and Rodriguez–has their big moment.

The audience learns where these three-dimensional characters are coming from as the film progresses. Every bit is just as gripping as it is truly devastating. With Chicago as the backdrop, the movie brilliantly explores the prejudices and the corruption taking place in one of the biggest cities in the world. Containing enough twists and turns, Widows is one of the most unforgettable heist films to come out this century.

4/4

Movie Review: Creed II

creed2-wp

Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) steps up to fight the tough heavyweight champion of the world in Creed II. (Source: Washington Post)

In 2015, the beloved Rocky franchise was brought back into light. It introduced new characters, as well as some others from the previous entries. Ryan Coogler, director of Fruitvale Station, did a marvelous job continuing the story of Rocky Balboa. This time, the heavyweight champion of the world reluctantly agrees to train the son of his biggest rival, Apollo Creed. Featuring wonderful performances by Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone (who lost Best Supporting Actor to Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies), Creed is a powerful drama about the importance of fighting for your legacy. Adonis and Rocky come back to fight a bigger enemy in Creed II, the sequel that definitely had to happen!

Three years after the events of Creed, Adonis (Jordan) is unsure about moving to Los Angeles with his singer-songwriter girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson). He doesn’t know what his future will hold if he left Philadelphia. Meanwhile, in Kiev, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) trains his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) to reclaim his family honor after being defeated by Rocky (Stallone, who also co-wrote the screenplay) in 1985. After accepting the offer, Adonis begins to train again for the fight of his life inside–and outside–the ring.

With the popularity of Rocky, boxing and wrestling–in the movies–has become a metaphor for life. Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby, Southpaw among others showcase it beautifully into film. However, they hardly stand a chance on what makes the Rocky movies (especially Creed) so special. With Steven Caple Jr. taking Coogler’s place as director for the sequel, he does pack plenty of gritty punches to balance the effective human drama.

As Adonis and Rocky, Jordan and Stallone continue to have fabulous chemistry with enough wit and gratitude. Rocky is like a second father to Adonis, who never had a father in his life. Although their life might be in the way, they will always have each other’s back. As Drago convinces his son to be the toughest heavyweight boxer in the world (“Break him,” he says to Viktor during his first brutal showdown against Adonis), Rocky trains Adonis like he never had before in the California desert. Once the boxers fight in the ring, things get nasty.

Despite the forgettable soundtrack and the pace dragging a little, Creed II is a worthy yet predictable sequel making me excited for future installments.

3.5/4