My Top Ten Films of 2016

Posted on December 29, 2016 at 3:16 pm

In my opinion, the best film of 2016 is “Fences,” with a screenplay by August Wilson, based on his Tony and Pulitzer-winning play, directed by and starring Denzel Washington, with Viola Davis.

Copyright 2016 Paramount

As usual, the rest of my list is all tied for second place:

“13th”
“Everybody Wants Some!!”
“Hell or High Water”
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“La La Land”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Moonlight”
“Sing Street”
“Zootopia”

Runners up: “Eye in the Sky,” “Don’t Think Twice,” “Southside With You,” “Finding Dory,” “Moana,” “Love & Friendship,” “Arrival,” “Loving,” “Eight Days a Week,” “Keanu,” “Edge of Seventeen,” “The Meddler,” “Hello My Name is Doris,” “Weiner,” “Zero Days,” “Command and Control,” “I, Daniel Blake,” “Little Men,” “A Monster Calls”

My friends at Rogerebert.com have compiled a great list of other critics’ top ten lists. Thanks for including mine!

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2014 in Film: Best, Worst, and More

Posted on December 29, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Copyright 2014 Paramount Pictures
Copyright 2014 Paramount Pictures

Ten is an arbitrary number, a year is an arbitrary span of time, and it makes no sense at all to try to rank movies that are so different in concept, genre, and aspiration. Nevertheless, as I always say when the topic of ten best lists comes up, they are, to quote Jan Struther, “indefensible but irresistible.” So, here I am, and here is my list. As usual, I have one at the top and then every other title on the list is tied for second place.

The best film of the year is “Selma,” brilliant in every category — as history, as drama, as biography, as advocacy. And it could not be more timely.

Runners-up:

Boyhood
Birdman
Guardians of the Galaxy
Life Itself
Belle
Dear White People
The Boxtrolls
The Book of Life
The Theory of Everything

Honorable Mention: Pride, Top Five, Rosewater, The Imitation Game, A Most Violent Year, Tracks, The LEGO Movie, Beyond the Lights, Begin Again, Snowpiercer, Wild, Whiplash, Only Lovers Left Alive, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Love is Strange, Gone Girl, Coherence, The One I Love, Believe Me, Under the Skin

Deserved a larger audience: Beyond the Lights, Edge of Tomorrow

Outstanding Documentaries: Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, Finding Vivian Maier, Particle Fever, CitizenFour, 1971, The Unknown Known

A good year for grown-up romance: Words and Pictures, Begin Again, Beyond the Lights, Only Lovers Left Alive, Love is Strange

A great year for movies about food: Luscious meals were the real stars of the delicious Chef, Le Chef, 1000 Foot Journey, The Trip to Italy, and The Lunchbox

belle-posterBreakthrough performers: Chris Pratt, Rosamund Pike, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ben Schnetzer (two films each), also Nelsan Ellis, Jack O’Connell, Jillian Bell

A great year for heroes who were smart: Big Hero 6, Theory of Everything, Interstellar, Imitation Game

A great year for animation: The LEGO Movie, The Boxtrolls, The Book of Life, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Penguins of Madagascar

Great live-action family films: Dolphin Tale 2, Muppets Most Wanted, and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

And the Hall of Shame, the year’s most excruciatingly, painfully bad films:

Blended, Left Behind, Irreplaceable, A Million Ways to Die in the West, The Other Woman, Transcendence, Sabotage, Tammy, Labor Day, Dumb and Dumber To, The Identical, Neighbors, The Nut Job, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, Third Person

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What Were The Best Films of the 60’s?

Posted on June 8, 2014 at 8:00 am

Many thanks to Sam Fragoso and his colleagues at Movie Mezzanine for including me in their round-up of the best films of the 1960’s.  I really enjoyed reading through all the different selections.  Check it out and add your own favorites to the list.

Oh, and while you’re at it, be sure to check out CNN’s excellent series on the 60’s, from Tom Hanks’ Play-Tone production company.  You can hear a snippet of my dad’s famous “vast wasteland” speech in the introduction to the first episode, about television in the 60’s.

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Top 10 List for 2011

Posted on December 28, 2011 at 6:02 pm

There were more sequels and remakes released in 2011 than ever before, but that wasn’t the only reason for feeling a sense of deja vu over the past 12 months.  This year we had two films with almost identical plots about a couple who decide to to have a relationship that is just sex, no emotion.  Spoiler alert: in both “Friends with Benefits” and “No Strings Attached” they end up falling in love.  We had two films about sad little boys who lost their fathers trying to solve a mystery involving a key.  Both were based on acclaimed novels and both were excellent: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “Hugo.”  We had two films about the parents of teenage boys who shot and killed students in their high schools.  I preferred “Beautiful Boy” with Michael Sheen and Maria Bello but most of the critics liked “We Need to Talk About Kevin” with John C. Reilly and Tilda Swinton.  And we had six films featuring superb and very different performances from an actress who was unknown in 2010, Jessica Chastain.  Michael Fassbender, who made an impression as a British officer in Inglourious Basterds, had a stunning array of roles this year in “Jane Eyre,” “X-Men: First Class,” “Shame,” and “A Dangerous Method.”

But, as there are every year, there are movies so fresh and surprising that they seem to re-invent the very idea of movies.  I begin each year looking forward to what’s ahead but most of all looking forward to knowing that 365 days later there will be people and images and dialog and ideas so vital and engaging I can hardly remember what it was like before I knew them.  I would not have expected Woody Allen’s new movie to be surprisingly good or Pixar’s and Michel Gondry’s would be disappointing.  It was good to know that Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese can still be relied on.  I had high hopes that were met or exceeded for films like “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” and “Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.”  For the first time, four master film-makers worked in 3D.  Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, and Wim Wenders showed us that a gifted filmmaker can make 3D into more than a stunt — they used it as another way to enhance the story.  And if you had told me that my top 10 list this year would be led by movie that was not only black and white but silent, I would have looked around for a time machine.

Here’s my tribute to the best of 2011, all close to being tied for first place.  And I’m already looking forward to being surprised by the movies in 2012.

 

1. “The Artist”  While Hollywood was abandoning a century of film to move to digital filmmaking, French writer/director Michel Hazanavicius took us back to another time of technological change.  It recalled themes in classic films “Singin’ in the Rain” and “A Star is Born” with such affection, charm, and heart that it left us asking why we ever thought sound and color were anything but superfluous.

2. “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” A boy who loses his father in 9/11 looks for answers in this touching story based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer.  Viola Davis and Max von Sydow are heartbreaking as two of the people he meets on his search.

3. “Hugo” Another fatherless boy and other search involving a key — Martin Scorsese’s first 3D movie and first movie for families is an immersive, rapturous valentine to the movies.

4. “Beginners” Christopher Plummer plays a man who comes out at age 72 and Ewan McGregor plays his son in this wry, wise story based on writer/director Mike Mills’ own life.

5. “Win Win” Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”) wrote and directed this story of a struggling lawyer who takes advantage of a client with dementia and ends up taking care of the client’s grandson, a gifted wrestler.

6. “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” The Chauvet cave has paintings of astonishing skill and beauty made by humans 30,000 years ago, but so fragile that the only way for us to see them now is in this 3D documentary from Werner Herzog.

7. “Super 8” Writer/director J.J. Abrams pays tribute to his mentor, producer Steven Spielberg, with the third film on my list that is a love letter to the movies.  In the 1970’s, a group of middle schoolers make a zombie movie on Super 8 film and accidentally get footage of a mysterious train crash.  While they wait for the film to be developed, they investigate.

8. “Margin Call” It all takes place on one tense night when an enormous Wall Street firm learns that it has massively underestimated its risk and then schemes to transfer that risk to their clients.  An all-star cast led by Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons and a script by first-time director J.C. Chandor keeps this specific enough to be real and timely but the dynamics are universal.

9. “Moneyball” Brad Pitt is brilliant as Billy Beane, who turned around the Oakland A’s and transformed baseball by using the team’s scarce resources to buy wins, not players.

10.  “The Adjustment Bureau”/”Source Code” We were lucky to have two smart and very romantic thrillers this year, with Matt Damon as a politician drawn to a dancer despite the best efforts of mysterious men in hats who “adjust” circumstances and Jake Gyllenhaal as a military officer sent back in time to catch a bomber.  

Runners-up: “Tree of Life,” “The Descendants,” “The Help,” “50/50,” “The Muppets,” “The Other F Word,” “Into the Abyss,” “Rango,” “Drive,” “Cedar Rapids,” “Hanna,” “We Bought a Zoo,” “Jane Eyre,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Bridesmaids,” “Another Earth”

Coming soon….the top 10 family films of the year and my Hall of Shame.  Stay tuned.

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