Sunday, December 17, 2017

2017 Oscar Predictions- Best Director

Best Director is a much more interesting category than usual this year.  With no set Best Picture frontrunner there is a lot that could go on here.  The most interesting trends this year is that two of the major contenders are overdue genre favorites and two first-time directors that are best known as performers.

For the genre filmmakers you have two of the most beloved modern masters: Guillermo del Toro and Christopher Nolan.  Neither have been acknowledged by the Academy as directors before, but are definitely considered due for Oscar recognition.  Nolan, who was left out for Dark Knight, Inception and Interstellar, plays the Oscar game for the first time.  Meanwhile del Toro is a widely respected filmmaker who hasn’t had a film that matched up with Oscar tastes until now.  With Cuaron and Inarritu winning this award three years in a row, del Toro is the remaining major Mexican filmmaker to win for a Hollywood film.

It is notable Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele have directed two this year’s biggest Oscar contenders.  These are two debut films from artists that are best known as performers.  This is something that AMPAS have not acknowledged in quite a while.  While Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, etc. could win for transitioning from acting to directing, this has not been the case in recent years.  Notably Affleck was left out for directing Argo.  The last actor turned director to be acknowledged was Mel Gibson last year, who already won twenty years prior.  With this track record it is expected for AMPAS to only nominate one of the two.  Especially with their constant lack of diversity.  Expect Gerwig, having nominate one of the frontrunners, to earn a nomination while Peele will have to wait.

Expect the other two nominations to go to Luca Guadagnino, whose film has been consistently mentioned in many categories.  The Oscars will often go for a new director in this category if their film plays the Oscar game well.  Also Martin McDonagh, who directed what I am currently expecting to be a frontrunner.  He will pull a Kenneth Lonergan, as a playright who succeeded in directing.   Although it won’t be a clean enough win to earn him a win.  But with his previous respected films, McDonagh will make it thorough.

Other than Peele, the directors left out include Steven Spielberg for The Post which won’t catch the fire that was expected.  Sean Baker, Dee Rees and Paul Thomas Anderson all have extreme outside chances.  But don’t bet on it.

Predicted Nominess
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Christopher Nolan,  Dunkirk
Luca Guadagnino, Call Me by Your Name
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

2017 Oscar Predictions- Best Picture

This is year has much stronger batch of Oscar contenders than we've had in recent years.  There are six films that are absolute locks, although none have reached frontrunner status yet.  Which bodes well for the wins being spread out among the categories.

As of right now I am predicting Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to win, although it is far from a sure thing.  This is a very topical movie that is difficult and memorable, but clever and funny enough to go down easy.  It will be well represented in screenplay and multiple acting categories.  This has a consistent presence in the precursors and currently has a slight edge on the others.

Next up is the universally praised Lady Bird.  Many are predicting this to win, but Gerwig's directing nomination makes it a little less certain.  It seems too light for an Oscar win, comedies don't win at the Oscars.  But it still could surprise.  Call Me by Your Name has been consistently represented in the precursors throughout several categories and has an edge as being a traditional drama in a year with a lot of comedies and genre films.

Speaking of genre films Get Out has astonishingly maintained its place in the Oscar conversation despite its early release and horror background.  Like Gerwig, Peele could easily be left out as a director and it would be a very surprising win.  The Shape of Water on the other hand is guaranteed to get its director noticed as well as acting and screenplay nominations.

Dunkirk has been overshadowed by newer releases, but it is still in the race.  Just no longer has its chance to win.   The Post is not as much of a sure thing as it had once seemed, but respect for Spielberg, Streep and Hanks should help this more standard Oscar fare.

Beyond these seven, the Oscars will nominate between one to two more films (they haven't nominated ten since the voting process changed).  The Florida Project has been making a good show in the precursors, but it could still be just about Dafoe at the end of the day.  The Big Sick has also stayed in the race.  Being shut out of the Globes hurts, but that SAG nomination does more for it.

Other potential nominees include Mudbound, which has been getting notices but it is not strong enough the Oscars to get past their streaming bias.  The Disaster Artist seems to just be about Franco and the screenplay.  Darkest Hour was not the major player it was expected to be, but it could be traditional enough to appeal to voters.  Paul Thomas Anderson always has vocal supporters, but it is doubtful they will line up for Phantom Thread.  I, Tonya has its supporters but it buzz seems to be just about the performers and it has a new distributor that is inexperienced in the Oscar game.

Coco is not a strong enough Pixar film to get nominated for Best Picture (something they only pulled off twice, seven years ago).  As for the blockbusters they were either too divisive (Star Wars, Guardians) or had too little impact (Planet of the Apes, Blade Runner).  Leaving Wonder Woman and Logan, but they would have had a major precursor notice if they were going to have a chance at crossing the finish line.  Get Out, The Shape of Water, and a Christopher Nolan movie will be enough of a departure for voters.

Predicted Nominees
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Lady Bird
Call Me by Your Name
Get Out
The Shape of Water
The Post
The Florida Project
The Big Sick

Friday, March 24, 2017

Who Should Play Cable in Deadpool 2

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Every other day I see some internet rumors about who will play Cable in Deadpool 2.  Current consensus seems to be around Michael Shannon, which I would totally be for (watch The Night Before, he's hilarious).  See rumors about David Harbour, Brad Pitt turning it down.  Deadpool even jokingly name dropped the likes of Dolph Lundgren and Keira Knightely for the part.

As much as I wasn't over the moon for the Deadpool movie (I liked it, but it is one that hyped quenched my enthusiasm for.  Like seriously, that was a phenomenon?).  But I am totally on board for a sequel, the main reason is that I can see all the potential that the addition of Cable offers the film.  This is the ultimate straight man character whose main role is to be sick of a partner that won't shut up.  Deadpool acts like a cartoon character, but Cable takes his action hero caricature 100% seriously.  I am excited for that dynamic, so here are my choices for the role of Cable.
Image result for kevin costner 2016Image result for jay leno 2016
Alternates: Kevin Costner & Jay Leno
Costner came to mind and as much as I like him, there are better choices (although he's been in Ryan Reynolds' head before, or whatever the plot of Criminal was).  Another actor that came to mind was honestly Jay Leno.  He already looks like a comic book cariacture and I think his old school comedic timing would work in the role.  Plus I think the movie could play with how much people claim they hate Jay.  But he's not an actor.

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10. Mel Gibson
 Out of the names said in the after credits scene Mel Gibson is the one I could see in the part.  Mainly because his messed up sense of humor would fit the tone of the film.  I could see this part letting Mel be playful.  But he is up for Suicide Squad 2 (which is a horrifying idea) and there are better options.
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9. William Shatner
 Deadpool should play homage to its lineage by casting a classic campy genre actor.  Adam West is an option, but I think that nerds would absolutely flip for Shatner as Deadpool.  Don't have him play it ironically, play it completely seriously but you still get the weirdness of Shatner playing Deadpool.

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8. James Marsden
Cable is really Nathan Summers, the son of Scott Summers (to put it as simply as I can).  Why not get Marsden to play his own, aged son from the future?  Marsden is a really gifted comedic actor and it would give the film an opportunity for some fun lampshading.  Besides, Marsden never really got to play Cyclops, why give him Deadpool?
In the Ultimate Universe, Cable is the future version of Wolverine so you could cast Hugh Jackman.  Which Jackman in a Deadpool movie is something Clickbait will not shut up about, so they would cover that casting to death.  Could also cast Cable with a different X-Men actor in each scene: Patrick Stewart, Kelsey Grammer, Brian Cox, Oscar Isaac in Apocalypse makeup, Famke Janssen (who is hilarious if you've ever scene The Ten).  You know I was joking with that multiple casting idea, but I kind of love it now...
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7. Danny De Vito
 De Vito is in the right age range for the character but completely wrong physically.  So what you do is dress him up exactly like Cable.  Give him a muscle suit and have everyone take it seriously and never acknowledge that.  This casting has a lot of opportunities, get real weird with it.
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6. Mark Hamill
 When I saw the Kingsman I realized how much Hollywood has wasted Mark Hamill as a character actor.  He is a funny, comic book fan that has loads of genre cred.  Especially after reprising Luke Skywalker, Hamill deserves a comeback.  He would find a great take on Cable.
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5. Leslie Jones
 Leslie Jones tweets a lot about Deadpool and has expressed her desire to play Deadpool's sidekick.  They should totally consider her for Cable.  She has an imposing stature and can totally play up intimidating and tired of other people's shit.  Let Leslie write her own jokes, she is a great comedy writer.  And totally acknowledge how much the internet will bitch about her casting and don't pull any punches.

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4. Sylvester Stallone
Sly has been my dream casting in this role for years (see number 16 on this list).   Right age, right physique and the side of his face with paralysis could be the side with the technovirus.  With his role in Guardians vol. 2 this seems unlikely, but I still think this would fit.  Sly can work in parody and would fit this role to a T.
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3. Ernie Hudson
 So I had a dream where I was at a casting call for Cable with a bunch of actors that have been linked to the part.  Ernie Hudson was one of the actors I remember clearly from the dream and I think I was on to something.  Hudson can play an action star, a straight man and is good with comedy.  There is an entire career of Ernie's that we never got to see and Cable is one of those later in life discoveries the veteran really deserves.

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2. Rob Riggle
 I am not a big Rob Riggle fan, I think he tries to hard to get laughs and don't care for his casual bro attitude.  But a role where he is forced to be the straight man and play everything seriously?  You know, I can get behind that.  I think that is the right way to use Riggle and we haven't seen that.  Riggle has plenty of experience as a comedian, plus the best physique on this list for the part.

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1. Kyle Chandler
When I do fantasy castings I try to stay away from actors rumored for the role or requested by the internet.  I think that fan castings deserve more imagination and should be used to make a point of the fan doing the casting (like I rolled my eyes the five years after Returns that someone wrote how Brandon Routh should play Superman, or any time the internet says Nathan Fillion should play anything).
But Kyle Chandler, that was an actor I never would have imagined, but the more I think about it the more I can see it.  Chandler as a straight man in a comedy is a way he hasn't been used that is really perfect.  He can play no-nonsense and I think really would give Reynolds a lot to play off of.  Chandler isn't without a sense of humor, but he isn't going to try to force any jokes either.  I really want to see him as Cable and seeing his casting being one of the things that drove Tim Miller from the sequel makes me sad that we won't see it.  I think Fox had the opportunity to do something completely unexpected that would have worked great.

Fox Kids After 1996: How it Should Have Been Scheduled

There is a promo for Fox Kids from 1995 that I really love.  I was too young to be watching Fox Kids at that time, but I know all of those shows very well (except for Masked Rider).  Just a dream line-up of kids entertainment with plenty of hits to spare.  However a year later Fox Kids started to decline.  Part of that had to do with the inability to use shows from Warner Bros. Animation anymore but Fox Kids just didn't have their finger on the zeitgeist anymore.  So I started thinking, what could they have done to keep the good times rolling on Fox?  After that I went into a weeks-long rabbit hole of researching cartoon and schedules to create my own fantasy retcon schedule (did something similar about Fox Kids' successor).

The following is how I would have scheduled Fox Kids (I know they rotated shows a lot more, but just sharing a skeleton of the schedule for simplicity's sake).  I tried to be realistic in this.  Like I didn't just put SpongeBob SquarePants on the schedule, these are all shows that Fox could have made happen.

So I hope you enjoy my alternate history TV schedules (a project I am fully aware has limited appeal).
1996-1997 Season
Fox Kids still had plenty of hits, but they were running their course.  Power Rangers Zeo wasn't as popular as Mighty Morphin Power RangersCarmen Sandiego, Eek!, Batman and The Tick all entered their final seasons.  With only Beetleborgs and Casper as any new shows resembling some success.  For new shows I would have continued the relationship with Saban and launched Incredible Hulk and Samurai Pizza Cats on Fox.  The network had plenty of success with its other Marvel shows that were still running and Samurai Pizza Cats would fit the network's irreverent humor.

The big show I would add I went back and forth on, but I decided to build the schedule around it: Dragon Ball Z.  Sure it would have been edited more but Jeff Harris already argued for this alternate history years ago.  DBZ was a show that Saban had that Fox Kids should have taken a chance on.  An edgy, unique show with loads of episodes that could run for years.  Sharing a cultural origin with Power Rangers should have convinced Fox to give it a chance.

           Mondays-Thursdays                                 Fridays
6:00    Bobby's World                                          Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?
6:30    Life with Louie                                         Eek! Stravaganza

2:00     Mighty Morphin Power Rangers             Power Rangers Zeo
2:30     Big Bad Beetleborgs                               Goosebumps
3:00     Batman and Robin                                   Batman and Robin
3:30     Dragon Ball Z                                          Dragon Ball Z

7:00     Casper
7:30     Power Rangers Zeo (Turbo midseason)
8:00     Spider-Man
8:30     Incredible Hulk
9:00     X-Men
9:30     The Tick
10:00   Samurai Pizza Cats
10:30   Dragon Ball Z

1997-1998 Season
 The three new additions from last season would still be going strong.  On Saturdays I would add Extreme Ghostbusters (Fox would later air a lot of shows from Sony, Fox Family would later air Real Ghostbusters).  X-Men would continue airing favorite episodes until Silver Surfer took over in midseason (tying in with the galactic themed Power Rangers in Space).  Would strengthen the weekday lineup by repackaging Bart themed episodes of The Simpsons into a new program called The Bart Chronicles.  The Simpsons had been around for close to a decade at this point and had become an institution so it wouldn't be too controversial.  This move would keep Bart as a kid's icon and be a segue into Fox primetime for younger audiences.  The Bart Chronicles would complement the older skewing Dragon Ball Z in the afternoons.  The Bart Chronicles would in turn be complemented by reruns of Garfield and Friends, which had just finished its run on the Turner networks (Fox Kids Video released some Garfield cartoons, Fox later made the live-action movies).  The combination of Power Rangers, Garfield, Bart Simpson and DBZ would keep weekday afternoons a popular destination for action and comedy for kids and adults.

             Mondays-Thursdays                                  Fridays
6:00     Bobby's World                                            Casper
6:30     Life with Louie                                           Samurai Pizza Cats

2:00     Power Rangers Turbo                                 Power Rangers Zeo (in Space midseason)
2:30     Garfield and Friends                                Beetleborgs Metallix
3:00     The Bart Chronicles                                 The Bart Chronicles
3:30     Dragon Ball Z                                             Dragon Ball Z

7:00      Casper (Goosebumps midseason)
7:30      Power Rangers Turbo (in Space midseason)
8:00      Spider-Man
8:30      The Incredible Hulk
9:00      X-Men (Silver Surfer midseason)
9:30      Extreme Ghostbusters
10:00    Samurai Pizza Cats
10:30    Dragon Ball Z

1998-1999 Season
This would be the final season for Life with Louie and Bobby's World reruns, would keep Magic School Bus as the e/i friendly show but also pick up the recently ended CBS show Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat for Friday mornings.  With the shows airing on Fox Extreme Ghostbusters and Incredible Hulk could have survived for additional seasons (the latter show airing in a green monster power hour with Godzilla).  Would give Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog a chance but the other shows I've been omitting would go to Fox Family which premiered this season (and is honestly where Fox Kids really went wrong).

            Mondays-Thursdays                                     Fridays
6:00     Magic School Bus                                       Bobby's World
6:30     Life with Louie                                            Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat

2:00     Power Rangers in Space                              Power Rangers Turbo (Lost Galaxy midseason)
2:30     Garfield and Friends                                     Spider-Man
3:00     The Bart Chronicles                                     The Bart Chronicles
3:30     Dragon Ball Z                                               Dragon Ball Z

7:00     Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog
7:30     Power Rangers in Space (Lost Galaxy midseason)
8:00     Godzilla
8:30     Incredible Hulk
9:00     Ultimate Goosebumps
9:30     Extreme Ghostbusters
10:00   Samurai Pizza Cats
10:30   Dragon Ball Z

1999-2000 Season
This would still be a big transition season for Fox Kids with Digimon making its premiere.   With Fox's relationship with Sony, Dragon Tales would premiere on mornings as a big, merchandisable hit.  With the success of DBZ on Fox, Dragon Ball would air a season earlier than it did on Toonami.  The three new D-shows would have bolstered the other new shows and would have put Fox on top of Kids' WB's Poke-Ratings.

            Mondays-Thursdays                                     Fridays
6:00     Magic School Bus                                         Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat
6:30     Dragon Tales                                                Dragon Tales

2:00     Power Rangers Lost Galaxy                         PR in Space (Lightspeed midseason)
2:30     Garfield and Friends (Digimon midseason)  Digimon Adventure
3:00     The Bart Chronicles                                      The Bart Chronicles
3:30     Dragon Ball Z                                                Dragon Ball Z

7:00     NASCAR Racers
7:30     Power Rangers in Lost Galaxy (Lightspeed Rescue midseason)
8:00     Godzilla
8:30     Spider-Man Unlimited (Avengers: United They Stand midseason)
9:00     Digimon Adventure
9:30     Big Guy and Rusty
10:00   Beast Machines: Transformers
10:30   Dragon Ball

Fox Kids would continue its great previous season with the premiere of X-Men: Evolution (with Fox distributing the movie this year and the entire network owing its success to X-Men: The Animated Series, how did they not have their finger on this one?).  In addition to the other new shows I would also pick up the Canadian Hoze Houndz because the network needed a better comedy than Woody Woodpecker.  Would have shared Muppet Babies with The Odyssey Network (run by former Fox Kids head, Margaret Loesch) after its run on Nickelodeon to give mornings an extra jolt.  Surprised that Fox Kids never did anything with The Muppets franchise before Disney bought them.

            Mondays-Thursdays                                     Fridays
6:00     Magic School Bus                                        Muppet Babies
6:30     Dragon Tales                                                Muppet Babies

2:00     PR Lightspeed Rescue                                  PR Lost Galaxy (Time Force midseason)
2:30     Digimon Adventure                                      Digimon Adventure 02
3:00     Bart Chronicles (Dragon Ball midseason)    Dragon Ball
3:30     Dragon Ball Z                                               Dragon Ball Z

7:00     Hoze Houndz
7:30     Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue (Time Force midseason)
8:00     Monster Rancher
8:30     X-Men: Evolution
9:00     Digimon Adventure 02
9:30     Big Guy and Rusty (Flint the Time Detective midseason)
10:00   Beast Machines: Transformers (NASCAR Racers midseason)
10:30   Dragon Ball

Totally Spies would have premiered here instead of Fox Family with Rescue Heroes running alongside Dragon Tales on mornings.

            Mondays-Thursdays                                     Fridays
6:00     Rescue Heroes                                             Hoze Houndz
6:30     Dragon Tales                                                Digimon Adventure

2:00     Power Rangers Time Force                          PR Lightspeed Rescue (Wild Force midseason)
2:30     Digimon Adventure 02                                 X-Men: Evolution
3:00     Dragon Ball                                                  Medabots
3:30     Dragon Ball Z                                               Dragon Ball Z

7:00     Totally Spies
7:30     Power Rangers Time Force (Wild Force midseason)
8:00     Los Luchadores (Galidor midseason)
8:30     X-Men: Evolution
9:00     Digimon Tamers
9:30     Flint the Time Detective (Mon Colle Knights midseason)
10:00   Medabots
10:30   Transformers: Robots in Disguise

This would be the last hurrah for mornings with affiliates ending any morning cartoons, but afternoon would continue to be strong with old favorites and 4Kids' Kirby, Right Back at Ya! and Ultimate Muscle airing as Friday exclusives.  Saturdays would stand against the competition with premieres of Beyblade, Transformers Armada and Dragon Ball GT (the first two were shows Fox would have had if it continued).  Midseason would be powered by ninjitsu with the premieres of Power Rangers Ninja Storm and the much anticipated relaunch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

            Mondays-Thursdays                                     Fridays
6:00     Rescue Heroes                                             Rescue Heroes
6:30     Dragon Tales                                                Dragon Tales

2:00     Power Rangers Wild Force                           PR Time Force (Ninja Storm midseason)
2:30     Galidor                                                          Kirby, Right Back at Ya!
3:00     Digimon Tamers                                           Ultimate Muscle
3:30     Dragon Ball Z                                               Dragon Ball Z (Medabots midseason)

7:00     Totally Spies
7:30     Power Rangers Wild Force (Ninja Storm midseason)
8:00     Beyblade
8:30     X-Men: Evolution
9:00     Digimon Frontier
9:30     Dragon Ball GT
10:00   Medabots (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles midseason)
10:30  Transformers Armada

The final season I am going to do for this post, but in all honesty Fox Kids really could have lasted until at least 2009 with better decisions.  The network would have done well to create their own original content or adapt popular kids properties (Captain Underpants, Mario, continued pushing the Marvel craze that cinemas were craving).  This season would premiere Sonic X and Daigunder but Fox had enough hits with X-Men: Evolution, Digimon, Dragon Ball and Medabots dying down and Ninja Turtles, Totally Spies and Beyblade hitting up to keep going for a long time.

            Mondays-Thursdays                                     Fridays
2:00     Power Rangers Ninja Storm                         PR Wild Force (DinoThunder midseason)
2:30     X-Men: Evolution                                         Kirby, Right Back at Ya!
3:00     Digimon Frontier                                          Ultimate Muscle (Totally Spies midseason)
3:30     Dragon Ball GT                                             Medabots

7:00     Totally Spies
7:30     Power Rangers Ninja Storm (DinoThunder midseason)
8:00     Beyblade VForce
8:30     X-Men: Evolution
9:00     Sonic X
9:30     Daigunder
10:00   Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
10:30  Trasnformers Armada (Ultimate Muscle midseason)

So what do you think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Please share.  I had a lot fun doing this and I know that if this was a true alternate history about saving Fox Kids I would also have to do an alternate history of Fox Family... 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Top 25 Films of 2016 (5-1)

5. Captain America: Civil War (d. Joe and Anthony Russo, Disney)
The Marvel Cineamtic Universe has gotten to the point where it is all forward momentum.  This universe has been so well established that it just keeps growing in natural, fascinating ways.  Marvel can do what nobody else can: build upon years of character growth and focus on their consequences.  The juggling of almost every character in the MCU, along with the introductions to a few new ones, is an incredible feat of writing, direction and acting.  There is not a false beat in this movie, everything is absolutely earned.  Civil War is really a character driven drama that comes down to understandable ideologies that have been bubbling for several films.  On top of those emotional punches, the film is one of Marvel's greatest achievements in action filmmaking.  The airport fight in particular feels like an impossible accomplishment as it give screen time and equal competency to a dozen fighting heroes.  Civil War is thrilling, emotional and the reason you build a shared universe.

4. La La Land (d. Damien Chazelle, Lions Gate)
Creative and complex while feeling familiar and simple.  La La Land is movie that earns its strong sentimental response from audiences.  It has the sincerity of an classic musical, but it plays everything personal.  The lovely songs and performances are not about being grand, it is about emoting feeling and intention.  This is definitely the best performance of Emma Stone's career and Ryan Gosling continues to prove that he isn't afraid of the sentimentality many of his more serious peers would look down upon.  La La Land is relatable for anyone who has been in a relationship and had a dream while making a strong case for everyone to continue to love and dream.

3. Don't Think Twice (d. Mike Birbiglia, Film Arcade)
The movie I recognized the most this year was Birbiglia's ensemble film about improv.  I have been doing improv for a decade and this film gets it.  It pulls no punches in showing the real struggles of improvisers, with the competition, lack of career certainty and general anxiety.  But it is also loving and enthusiastic in presenting long-form improv in a way it has not been represented in movies before.  The entire ensemble is solid as a real-life team should be.  This one hit me hard, but it plays really well for audiences of any background.

2. Fences (d. Denzel Washington, Paramount)
This film brought together most of the cast of the recent Broadway revival and their familiarity shows.  Fences is the best ensemble and best all around acted film of the year.  You feel this family, all of the dynamics and all of their struggles.  You come to know them at such a deep level, which is in part because of August Wilson's brilliant script but also because of how Washington made the play cinematic.  Fences takes advantage of shooting on location which gives a better sense of the characters' world.  It is also smart in showing reaction shots, showing close-ups of a character's reaction, working the subtleties of the performances into the film's pacing.  As much as this is an ensemble film there is a reason that Washington and Viola Davis are getting the attention.  Davis plays a subtle supporting character until events push her into finally standing up in one of her best performances.  Washington has never been this good or this complex on screen.  Normally when actors direct themselves it is as heroes or martyrs.  Washington plays and presents himself as a very real man that is difficult to understand or like.  Fences will stay with you and it is a perfect preservation of one of America's greatest plays that will hopefully find a greater audience through this.

1. Moana (d. Ron Clements & John Musker, Disney)
No film made me happier than Moana.  I love Disney animation more than anything, and their best film of their revival period.  Moana is visually thrilling with its creative use of traditional animation, characterization of the sea and impeccably staged action sequences.  A lot of modern animated features focus on awkward humor or gags with little movement, Moana gets that animation should be about movement and it never feels like it stops moving.  Moana is also a welcome change from most studio animated features that overload their cast with forgettable characters to justify a large celebrity voice cast list.  Moana focuses on a few characters and how they relate to their environment.  Expressive character animation and creatively designed worlds continue to be Disney's strong suit that distinguishes their work from the competition.  The lush visuals are bolstered by the grand score and memorable songs.

The theme of a restless youth struggling to fit in while living the life that they want has been in every Ron Clements and John Musker film since The Little Mermaid.  That theme may be expressed the best in this film.  Moana, one of Disney's best leading characters, is a character anyone can relate to or look up to.  She is adventurous, but full of frustration and self-doubt.  The animation on the character is one of the best performances of the year.

There is so much to gush about with this film.  It is fun, but means a lot too.  Worth noting is that while Disney struggled with diversity before they finally get it right.  Casting voices and hiring key crew members of the represented culture really makes all of the difference.  Moana never pats itself on the back for its diversity or acts comments about its positive female lead, it just presents these things as the status quo and it works.

This film features traditional animation from Eric Goldberg (best part of the film), it was going to be near the top of my list no matter what.  But this is a perfect Disney movie and I hope you all see it.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Top 25 Films of 2016 (15-6)

15. Pete's Dragon (d. David Lowry, Disney)
Far and away the best film to come out of Disney's recent live-action fairy tale brand.  David Lowry took a known title but made it all his own.  Finding the beauty in the story of a boy and his invisible caretaker, the film becomes one of the most touching and pleasant films of the year.  All of the emotional beats are absolutely earned, not a false note present.  Keeping this movie personal and intimate is a welcome change from the dramatic revisionism of Disney's other recent live-action films.  The animation of Elliot is lifelike enough, but it never loses the fantasy of the character.  Also the movie has a good message about not turning to vengeance if you are scared and embarrassed, which is sadly very topical.

14. Hell or High Water (d. David Makenzie, Lions Gate)
Also very topical is this little sleeper that could that is a good look at the hardships of Trump's America.  This is gorgeously shot and performed in a way that shows an authenticity for the setting and lifestyle.  This is one of the films where the actors rise above their written characters.  This is Pine's best leading role and Ben Foster should really be getting more attention.  The best part of the film though is its clever plotting and surprising execution of the bank robberies.  This is the best heist films in a long time and a very solid modern Western.

13. Arrival (d. Denis Villeneuve, Paramount)
Arrival has a clever script that doesn't call out its own cleverness, it has the confidence to let the audience catch on at their own pace.  Things are not explicitly stated, there is a sense of discovery with this movie which is the best way to dramatize its theme of communication.  This is a smart movie that doesn't play down or look down on audiences, which is why I think it received such a strong response.  In addition to the writing the directing, editing and non-flashy special effects are all among the best of the year.  But this film would not have been anything without Amy Adams in the lead.  Her character doesn't have a traditional character arc, which is refreshing to see work so well.  Adams has to play emotions without giving away the entire movie, there are things always present with her that you need to notice but not pay too much attention to.  The timeline of her emotions is not linear, but she makes it work so effectively.  This is the best performance of Adams' career and the movie hinges entirely on her.

12. Hello, My Name is Doris (d. Michael Showalter, Roadside) 
The tone feels old fashioned, but the commentary is very sharp and relevant.  Sally Field proves why she is a screen legend in this return to form.  Field as the spunky but complex Doris is an absolute star performance.  Max Greenfield stretches from his New Girl persona quite ably in this and Tyne Daly gets some of the biggest laughs in any movie this year.  The script and direction from comedian Showalter brings a strong take and attitude that his strong ensemble completely runs with.  The comedy set-ups and emotional pay-offs leave an impact.  This is the type of movie we really should see more of.

11. The Lobster (d. Yorgos Lanthimos, A24)
Among the strangest films this year, The Lobster explores every possible implication of its unique premise.  The film spends quite a bit of time slowly exploring the set-up until it completely changes settings.  This dramatic shift fits the tone of the movie and works to escalate the beginning weirdness.  This works as a slow-paced science fiction film because it has such an interesting take on love and relationships.  Once again Colin Farrell proves his strength as a character actor.  This is a complicated, uncomfortable, pathetic role and he could not be any better.  The straight forward dialogue and the stilted delivery from the cast helps the weirdness to make sense.  The Lobster is beautiful to look at, but difficult to watch and times and confusing afterwards.  A one of a kind experience that leads to some fantastic discussions.

10. The Nice Guys (d. Shane Black, WB)
Once again Shane Black's unique personality, talent for memorable characters and creativity with action makes for one of the most entertaining movies of the year.  Few movies made me laugh more or enjoy myself more than this dysfunctional buddy comedy.  Pairing the intense Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in a fairly broad comedy could have been a disaster, but Black clearly knew what he wanted from each character.  This is the most exciting Russell Crowe has felt on screen in a long-time and Gosling shows some amazing slapstick chops without losing the dramatic aspects of his character.  Special mention also to young Angourie Rice who out acts most young performers in her age group.  The Nice Guys should have been a big summer hit, this would have played amazing in large audiences.  But there is still a chance to discover and enjoy it.

9. Doctor Strange (d. Scott Derrickson, Disney)
Marvel's second wave of character introductions have a solid set-up: add a different flavor and play with the set up of a traditional Marvel film.  Guardians had the flavor of pop space adventure, Ant-Man had the flavor of comedy sci-fi assisted heist, Doctor Strange has the flavor of trippy mysticism.  Strange himself is a great character that the film beautiful sets up as an almost irredeemable jerk.  His jokes don't play like Tony Stark's and his tragedy is directly tied to his unlikable qualities.  Strange himself is one of Marvel's better leads and he helped by a fun, memorable supporting cast.  The visual style feels right out of a Steve Ditko comic.  This movie is full of set-pieces that change up Marvel's traditional action scenes.  The use of astral plane, levitation cloaks, sling rings and more changes the look, choreography and pacing.  Doctor Strange is just a blast and is yet another Marvel film that adds something special to their growing cinematic universe.

8. Zootopia (d. Byron Howard & Chris Williams, Disney)
Presenting personal prejudice and institutional obstructions in a way that anybody can recognize without resorting to heavy handedness or getting caught up in too many real world comparisons.  It is amazing to think about how Zootopia accomplished what people wanted Crash to accomplish in so much more effectively.  We get to see how prejudices work, not just in bad guys but in heroes.  The comedy and excellent chase scenes helps to keep the message from feeling overwhelming.  This is a movie you enjoy, which makes the serious scenes stand out more.  Disney is in their revival period and they keep knocking them out of the park as they continue to experiment with genre and tone.  Judy Hopps is one of Disney's best all-time lead characters and Zootopia features the level of expressive character animation and complete world building you can't find from other animation studios.

7. Moonlight (d. Barry Jenkins, A24)
Moonlight is one of the most affecting love stories in any film.  Splitting the story into three distinct parts with three different actors for the main character was a brave, genius decision.  It allows the audience to get to know Chiron on such a deep level.  Not just who he is, but where he came.  Seeing the events of a child and teenager unfold into an adult is sure to elicit an emotional response from anybody.  Moonlight will make you feel betrayed, frustrated and confused.  But it is the love story that is waiting to break out that leaves an impact.  Despite all of the difficult things that happened, there are these two men that are experiencing a connection in a slow, meaningful way.  Mahershala Ali and Naomi Harris give their best work in this film, but the ensemble is uniformly excellent with Janelle Monae and the young performers.  The ones that leave the most impact is Trevante Rhodes and Andre Holland with their incredibly moving diner scene in the final segment.  Can't wait to see where writer-director Barry Jenkins goes from here.

6. Kubo and the Two Strings (d. Travis Knight, Focus)
After four films I understand what Laika is about.  They make fantastic morality tales about children that are inspired by creative adults to challenge the cynicism and injustice of their world.  That theme is very much present in Kubo, one of the year's most creative films and biggest visual treats.  Laika will make you believe that stop-motion can do anything, as Kubo shows you a world of adventure.  The designs and cinematography is among the best of any film, stop-motion or otherwise.  The story about Kubo choosing the beauty of the Earth over the cruelness of immortality is a great one for an adventure.  And the two strings from the title really mean something as you will come to care about Kubo and his companions.  Special mention to Matthew McConaughey whose persona completely disappears in this thrilling film.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Top 25 Films of 2016 (25-16)

I have seen 43 films that were released theatrically in 2016.  I know there are a lot more and there are a lot more movies that I would like to see.  But while I go to a lot of movies, I don't have the urgency to keep up with everything anymore.  There is just too much content and if I don't see something, then it is always going to be there.  So if you see a film not represented on the list it is probably just because there are a lot of movies and these are the ones I saw.

For the most part I liked almost everything I saw.  Or at least I found some value in almost every film.  So instead of just doing a top 10 I decided to do a top 25.  These are my 25-16th favorite films that I saw from last year.

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25. Office Christmas Party (d. Josh Gordon & Will Speck, Paramount)
A very well written comedy that excels in setting up memorable gags and turns.  Simple premise that escalates in pleasing bits, just an enjoyable time.  The main reason this film is worth mentioning is its strong ensemble of comedy mainstays.  Karan Soni, Sam Richardson and Vanessa Bayer excel in their first major film roles.  T.J. Miller shows some real sincerity, Courtney B. Vance is fun against type and Jillian Bell continues her run as a breakout supporting player.  Jennifer Aniston is a great bad guy, she really does better in these harsher roles (Wanderlust, Horrible Bosses, We're the Millers) than the America's Sweetheart attempts.  The MVP is unsurprisingly Kate McKinnon as the tightly wound HR Director.  This one got overlooked, but it is a good time.

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24. Kung Fu Panda 3 (d. Jennifer Yuh Nelson & Alessandro Carloni, Fox)
The Kung Fu Panda series has been consistently good and this might be its best one.  Po continues to grow as a character into a teacher rather than a fish out of water.  But, he still has that relatable self-doubt that makes him Po.  The addition of Po's birth father and the tension with his adopted father is a strong, surprising emotional subplot that blended families should appreciate.  The world of the Kung Fu masters and villains continues to be inventive and creative in its exciting action scenes.  A solid end to a good trilogy.

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23. Central Intelligence (d. Rawson Thurber Marshall, WB)
 One of the most topical movies of the year is the little talked about Central Intelligence.  This is a buddy comedy about a former jock and a kid who was bullied in high school.  Central Intelligence is very much about the affects of bullying and celebrates overcoming it.  This is a positive message from a comedy and it absolutely works and is never forced.  This is mainly because Dwayne Johnson delivers the performance of the year.  He plays affable and a natural action star perfect as always, but this is clearly a character who carries his past with him.  You understand why people aren't comfortable with this guy and you see how it always stays with Johnson.  He has amazing chemistry with Kevin Hart, who holds his own against The Rock.  This is a fun comedy with some depth and holds up well in multiple viewings.

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22. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (d. Nicholas Stoeller, Univeral)
Comedy sequels are rarely good, but Neighbors 2 justifies its existence easily.  It grows the characters in natural new ways.  Rogen, Efron, Byrne and Franco all feel like natural progressions from the memorable first film.  The returning players are welcome with Gallo, Buress, Kudrow, Carmichael, Mintz-Plasse and especially Barinholtz delivering laughs.  The new addition of Chloe Grace Moretz is really what keeps the film from being a complete retread.  Focusing on a girl shows the set-up of the first film in a new light and is honest about the sketchy reality of frat culture in regards to women.  Moretz has her own character arc, advances the other players and is just a great comedic talent who continues to grow.

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21. Star Trek Beyond (d. Justin Lin, Paramount)
The best Star Trek film yet in the reboot series.  This is a perfect ensemble adventure.  Focusing on pairs of characters really showcased the team perfectly.  Urban remains an MVP as Bones, but Pegg gets better material as Scotty and Quinto finds fun new things for Spock.  The new additions of Sofia Boutella and Idris Elba work great, these are physical performances that can express under the excellent makeup.  The storyline for the villain is great and surprising.  The finale is exciting and the film has a lot more energy than the usual blockbuster.  Could easily see one of these a year if they could keep it up.

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20. Finding Dory (d. Andrew Stanton, Disney)
So I am a huge animation fan, but I have never understood the adoration for Finding Nemo.  It isn't bad, but it never grabbed me as much more than a bunch of overused catchphrases.  Finding Dory on the other hand won me over.  Part of it is understanding families who have children with different abilities.  Dory is really effective at showing the concern many parents have for their children.  The addition of Hank helps a lot as he is an endlessly fun character.  Pixar continues to make some of the best escape sequences in film and the clear geography for the aquatic center is astounding.

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19. 10 Cloverfield Lane (d. Dan Trachtenberg, Paramount)
 Don't get caught up in the Cloverfield brand name, enjoy it for what it is: an incredibly-paced, creative thriller.  Dan Trachtenberg makes a strong debut as he masters tension and directs strong performances.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a great final girl, but John Goodman gives a career best performance.  This is not an easy character to figure out or watch, but Goodman leaves a strong impact.

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18. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (d. Gareth Edwards, Disney)
Last year The Force Awakens was my favorite movie of the year, this one Rogue One is not.  And that is absolutely fine, because that means we aren't getting the same Star Wars movie every year.  This film had so many humps to get past and I am excited for the future of these anthology films.  Looking just at this film it is a blast.  Get a lot of new fun characters (Donnie Yen and Ben Mendelsohn, ftw) and settings.  The final battle, which is comparable to the lengthy finale to The Avengers, is the real reason to see the movie.  Gareth Edwards is so strong in staging action scenes and the non-stop battle makes this the first real "war" movie.  Incredible action and editing.  It is also great to see Darth Vader being terrifying again, he was used perfectly.

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17. Passengers (d. Morten Tyldum, Sony)
 The most misunderstood movie of the year was definitely Passengers.  I understand the controversy, but I dislike that it is keeping us from having a real conversation about the movie.  The film has some real complex dilemmas, but they don't endorse them or write them off.  Passengers deals with them and there are consequences.  It is a shame because this film brings up a lot of important issues with our social media age.  This is big idea, high-concept, original sci-fi.  Chris Pratt gives his deepest performance, it is a shame he is being overlooked.  Jennifer Lawrence also does great work that is more subtle.  The production design is gorgeous, special effects are creative and the world is an awe to see on the big screen.  Which is where you should see it if you still can.

16. Swiss Army Man (d. Daniel Scheinert & Daniel Kwan, A24)
This is the weirdest premise for a film, but it is also one of the sweetest films this year.  A man stranded on an island befriends a corpse with odd abilities.  This movie is about accepting things that are unusual and the freedom to love what you love.  Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe are effective with their somewhat static, understated characters.  The fact that they can show growth is a major accomplishment, especially with Radcliffe's commitment to his seemingly inexpressive physicality.  The film is funny and has some real creative staging.  It also features a memorable score.  This is almost like a lullaby, it has a simple message and tells it in a comfortable, intentional way.