Live By Night, Paint by Numbers

Fun fact: as part of his deal with Warner Brothers to sign on for a multi-picture deal as the new Batman, Ben Affleck asked in return that they green light his next project. That project, which Affleck directs and stars in, is an adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel Live By Night, which won an Edgar Award in 2013 for Novel of the Year. Less fun fact: the making of this film is far more interesting then the finished project, a boring combination of cliches and tedium, likely explaining what made it this years first big bomb.

Regardless of your familiarity with the source material, you likely know how this story goes. A mobster with a heart of gold loses the love of his life, and after a brief period in jail, looks to regain his fortune and exact revenge on the people who took his life away from him. Simple enough, that is were it not that this plot was in conflict with another plot going on simultaneously. While the film opens with promises of Mob warfare and Boston shootouts, it quickly invites distracting subplots in Florida about the KKK, religious extremists, the end of prohibition, attempts to open a casino, and a barely focused on romance between Affleck and Zoe Saldana. The films structure crumbles due to a lack of any narrative threads to connect the two stories; the mob story gets the first thirty minutes, then the hour afterwards focuses on all of the Florida plot lines, then brings back the original Mob storyline for the last thirty minutes despite having gone unmentioned for the past hour. Making matters worse is the borderline monotone narration by Affleck that occurs throughout the films runtime, more likely to put audiences to sleep then pull them further into the film.

The opening minutes of the film do show promise, with a car chase that feels authentic to its time period, and manages to remain thrilling while not feeling like a hollywood production. Likewise, theres beautiful cinematography that makes even boring scenes of dialogue pleasant to look at. Supporting Affleck is also a cast of goof side characters, with Chris Cooper in particular providing a lot of range for his small role in the film. These are small parts to enjoy when compared to the films many problems, but this (as well as the original source material) show how a good film could easily have been made.

Live By Night‘s biggest problem is Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Joe Coughlin, and the efforts he takes to keep his character likable. Coughlin is a gangster, but keeps trying to put up this pretense of being closer to Robin Hood, stealing from other gangsters and only killing when necessary. But once the films plot gets moving, Affleck begins killing people left and right, while still trying to keep this pretense of being a great guy, and not like those other gangsters who do the exact same things. The film tries to distract us by showing how much he loves his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana), but she serves no purpose other then to strengthen him as a character. When the film ends, you don’t feel sorry for Coughlin’s plights and troubles, because you know earned those through his actions. No number of witty one-liners and smirks can excuse the fact that our main character is an unlikable murderer and criminal, who’s made even less likable through his holier-then-thou attitude.

Speaking of unlikable, this films’ villains are every shade of racist awfulness, to the point of being almost cartoonish. In case you didn’t already know who the bad guy in a scene is, just wait for any number of sexist remarks, racial slurs or plain vulgarities to come out of someones mouth, before promptly being killed by Affleck, to make him look like even more of a hero. It’s an arbitrary and absurd way to try and endear Coughlin to the audience, as if to say “our protaganist may be a law breaking murderer, but at least he isn’t a racist!” This is nothing to say of the great-white-hope stereotype that Affleck’s character represents, as only he and his band of good white mobsters can protect the Cuban mob down in Florida (who were doing fine before he showed up, and we know can defend themselves) against the bad white mobsters who all throw racial vulgarities like its going out of style. Some films may paint with broad strokes, but Live By Night sets itself apart by throwing the goddamn bucket of paint at a wall, looking back at audiences and expecting to be applauded for it.

Lastly, I would be remiss if we didn’t discuss Elle Fanning’s subplot and its impact on the film, or complete lack thereof. In the middle of one scene, halfway through the film, we are introduced to Loretta Figgis (Fanning), a girl who we are told is going to Hollywood to become an actress, and is completely forgotten. Later, her character comes back as major religious figure, blocking Coughlin’s plan to build a casino, implying that she will become the film’s new main antagonist  (at this point, the third the film has had within its first hour). After this plot line reaches its conclusion, however, the film unceremoniously kills the character off-screen, mentions it briefly in a single passing line of dialogue, and goes about its way, as if nothing happened and we didn’t just spend an hour of the films running time on a plot that made no difference in the end. What is already a boring and unneeded story within the plot serves to further display how even the best directors need people to sometimes tell them no. Likely, the only reason this depressing, boring and ultimately pointless subplot was allowed in was due to Affleck’s complete control over the project, as other creative teams would have likely excluded it, instead putting more work into the other lacking stories going on in the film.

Ben Affleck has made bad films before, and it’s likely that Live By Night will quickly become forgotten overtime. This is no excuse, however, for a film that is teeming with cliche’s and predictability, while sorely lacking in any merit or effort. At the time of this reviews release, the movie is estimated to lose Warner Brothers over 50 million dollars. Much like the hardships Affleck goes through in the film, I cant help but feel this is entirely deserved.
Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 4 Superior Boston Crime Films out of 10

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The Founder: A Quality Imitation of Better Films

Being a winner, arguably, is one of the biggest lessons our society emphasizes.  In the wake of the 2016 election, being right was shown to be less important then being more popular, but this was hardly the first example. The Founder,  for instancelooks to explore the real history of the McDonalds corporations rise to infamy, and the shady business deals that ended up screwing over the men responsible for everything. But while it’s by no means a poorly made film, it lacks the artistry and detail to elevate the picture above workmanlike quality.

Much like other films detailing the early days of now famous inventions, The Founder gets a lot of mileage from viewing a pre-fast food era, with much of the films first act showing how slow and aggravating the idea of eating out was. Once we are finally introduced to McDonalds, the film does slow down to deliver a kind of history lesson on the McDonalds brothers’ first location, taking time to show the process by which they thought up the now famous speedy delivery method. You gain an appreciation for what made McDonalds so revolutionary, as the film examines the cultural wave that the fast food industry made at the time. And unlike other films that glamorize their subjects, The Founder smartly details the events that showed why the quality of the food went down so dramatically, directly pointing fingers at Ray Croc and providing a protaganist that we can both identify with and despise.

Speaking of Ray Croc, The Founder is undoubtedly Michael Keaton’s film, as most of the films strengths come off of his strong leading performance. His portrayal of Ray Croc provides a driven man that works hard to achieve his dreams, while simultaneously showing his lack of empathy towards others, and the emphasis Croc placed on succeeding above all else. It’s hard to not look at Croc’s actions and feel inspired to work harder yourself, even as the film leaves you questioning what you would do in his shoes. Even with a script in desperate need of punching up, Keaton delivers lines that can be both inspiring and utterly despicable, delivering a character that will leave audiences questioning what they would have done were they in Ray’s shoes.

But while Keaton’s performance helps keep the film interesting, theres very little else to praise. The film is just so utterly average, never aspiring to be better, but not so bad that it can’t be recommended. As previously mentioned, the script lacks any memorable lines, leaving characters stuck saying predictable lines, and failing to keep the audience guessing as to what will happen next. The pacing is all over the place, with a second act that moves at a snails pace, but sadly rushes through the most interesting part at the end, namely the legal battle between Croc and the McDonald brothers. The film never tries to do anything interesting with the cinematography, and the score is likewise unmemorable. For a film with so much going on, its a shame that theres so little to say outside of how good Keaton is, serving only to show how inferior the rest of the film is.

The other actors don’t offer much else to the film either, say for the stock roles in which the script requires of them. The brothers are well acted by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, but gives them so little screen time that they eventually become absentee factors in the films drama, serving to undercut their importance in the film, and hurting the betrayal they undergo towards the end of the film. With so little involvement in the film or with Ray Croc, the audience never gets the sense that they did everything they could to control Ray, and ultimately had the loss of their company coming. Worse off are the female leads in the film, With Laura Dern’s role as Ray’s wife doing nothing more then looking sad and sitting in their house, in a thankless role that makes her character come off as nothing more then another hurdle for Croc to overcome. Likewise, Linda Cardellini’s Joan Smith is given a bit more to do (showing how she was responsible for McDonald’s powdered milkshakes that helped earn millions), but is emphasized more as a prize for Ray to get at the end, and an upgrade for him to take once he’s discarded his current wife. For all the time Keaton and Cardellini’s characters spend on screen, that he divorces his wife as an afterthought and we only see Joan Smith once more as a callback undercuts their characters, as well as their importance in Ray’s life.

The Founder is at it’s best when focusing on the founder himself, and the steps he took to owning the McDonalds corporation. While some of those steps may take too long, and there aren’t good enough supporting characters to act alongside, most of the film gets by through Michael Keaton’s electric performance. This is the best example recently of a film propelled through its lead star, becoming as much a film showcasing Keaton’s acting talents as it is about the McDonalds scandal. but much like the fast food it focuses on, there’s not enough here to recommend going out to see, and is better viewed at home once its a bit cheaper. Just be sure to not super size your expectations.

 

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 7 Burgers I’m Now Craving out of 10

Andy’s Worst Films of 2016

Although 2016 had a number of exceptional releases, it was hard to find them under the mountains of bad remakes and sequels. This past year brought out the worst in films, presenting often xenophobic, racist and sexist ideas on top of already terrible products. It’s a wonder that many of these made it it past their initial pitches, let alone were made at all to punish moviegoers. So let’s take one last look at the worst 2016 had to offer, and promise to try and do better in the New Years

 

Honorable Mention: Finding Dory

Before the comments come, hear me out. Pixar has been the driving force behind animated movies for over a decade, and last years Inside Out  was a great example of how what many consider children’s films can be used to teach important lessons, many of which touched adults and children alike. So it was doubly disappointing that their next project was a shallow cash grab, using the success of Finding Nemo and well as the nostalgia behind it. The jokes often fell flat, the characters repeated character arcs from the previous film, and the whole thing had a direct-to-dvd feel that undercut the importance of events. The film also tried to have its cake and eat it too in regards to Dory’s disability, sometimes using it for humor and other times as for dramatic effect to get audiences to empathize with them, switching between the two far too often. It’s good that Pixar tried to show what mental issues such as Short Term Memory Los feels like, but it’s hard to feel sorry when the film also wants you to simultaneously laugh at Dory for it. While not among the worst of the year,  Finding Dory was made for financial purposes alone, showing how even innovators like Pixar can make something soulless.

 

Number 10: The Mechanic: Resurrection

Stop me if this sounds familiar: Jason Statham stars as a badass that mumbles all his lines, fighting a gang of dudes who steal his girl, using only martial arts and henchmen that can’t aim to save the day within a 90 minute running time. If that sounds like something you’ve seen before, it’s because you have, but this time with any effort removed. Offensive in how boring it is, every character’s a tired stereotype, every line riddled with cliches, and each punch makes you care less and less thanks to uninventive choreography. The film is a relic of a bygone time, much like Statham himself, trying to excuse bland filmmaking with punching and kicking, all while doing even that poorly.

Click here to read my original review

Number 9: Assassins Creed

The video game movie curse strikes again, this time dragging down great actors like Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard with its terrible script. Shoddily edited action scenes that hint at the effort behind the film aren’t enough to excuse a script that has as little idea of what’s going on as the audience, with characters often asking “what the fuck is going on” without any good answers being given. Many of the characters lack anything to do, everyone’s alignment between good and evil switches constantly, and the film is littered with terrible CGI. To the uninitiated, Assassins Creed is confusing, boring and dumb; this is doubly true for fans of the franchise, making even the most devout players wonder why they liked something so convoluted and dumb in the first place.

Click here to read my original review

Number 8: Gods of Egypt

Much like last years’ Jupiter Ascending, Gods of Egypt is the rare bad film that goes all in with its ideas, despite them being completely insane. Whitewashing an Egypt made up entirely of white Europeans, good actors like Geoffrey Rush, Chadwick Boseman and Game of Thrones  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are stuck wandering around badly hidden green screens, in an awful sword and sandals flick that also manages to be a terrible sci-fi film at the same time. Ambition often outweighs budgets, with epic creatures and gods presented in dated, 90s-quality CGI, beginning laughable before quickly becoming tiresome. Add to this a borderline sexist treatment of its female characters, and Gods of Egypt can’t even be recommended in a so-bad-It’s good-way.

 

Number 7: The Forest

Trying to sneak its way past audiences in early January, The forest is more xenophobic then scary. Using the controversial suicide forests in Japan for the setting of a D-grade horror flick is insulting enough, but that half of the film  isn’t even in the forest and  gets its jump scares from scary looking Asian people is frankly offensive. So much of the film is seen from the white-privileged perspective of lead star Natalie Dormer, often looking down on Japanese culture, and presents even beloved cultural staples like sushi in a disturbing light, making the film feel out of touch when it isn’t outright offensive towards Japan. That the second half relies so much on bad twists and jump scares makes the film that much more insufferable. In a year full of unique horror offerings like Don’t Breathe and Green Room, it’s hard to tell who this shallow, racially insensitive flick was for.

 

Number 6: Zoolander 2

Among the many sequels no one asked for in 2016 comes Zoolander 2, a film that seems equally confused as to why the first film was a success. Unfunny, stupid and often oblivious to how little interest the filmgoing public has in Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, with several jokes about them being now old and lame ringing more ironically then what was probably intended. The film just repeats and references the past film constantly, with another set of cameos from popular actors, more jokes about the fashion world that few people get, and more scenes of Stiller and Wilson acting out of touch with the modern day (again, an ironic allegory for the film itself). Were it a different set of actors, we could at least say we could have expected better, but this is about what’s to be expected from Hollywoods’ “why is this guy famous again?”

 

Number 5: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Yes, we got another good Batman in Ben Affleck, and the warehouse fight was okay; this doesn’t excuse the other 2 hours and 25 minutes of nothing, ranging from an hour of dream sequences and future film teasing that ends up meaning nothing. A versus movie means nothing when the film picks a side for the audience, favoring Batman so clearly as to never let Superman even defend himself, which is especially egregious in a film where everyone gives their opinion on Superman. The last fight against Doomsday is a pastiche of bullshit, combining bad cgi, loud and overly-dramatic music and epilepsy-enduring flashing lights into an incomprehensible mess. I respect D.C. for wanting to make their films feel different from the Marvel offerings, but overly-serious and under-good are a bad way of standing out.

Click here to read my original review

Number 4: The Brothers Grimsby

Sascha Baron Cohen was revolutionary when he introduced us to the comedy stylings of Borat back in 2006, combining social satire with an uncomfortable look at how real Americans act. Almost 10 years later, he delivers a tasteless, unfunny mess that tests its audiences patience towards vulgarity. Each scenes formula is to place unlikable characters in situations for them to act horrible to one another, say something disgusting, or go for the most desperate of laughs through bathroom humor. The jokes linger for far longer then they should, turning already unfunny premises unbearable by the end. In case you weren’t already convinced not to see the film, the five minute scene of Cohen and co-star Mark Strong trying to jerk off an elephant penis while inside an elephants vagina is more then enough to point to as how far the film chooses to for a laugh, despite never ceasing to be more then insufferable.

 

Number 3: Dirty Grandpa

Robert De Niro used to be an acclaimed actor, and it’s made that much worse seeing him stoop to such a low as Dirty Grandpa. A sexist, racist and unfunny film is already bad enough, dragging down talented young actors like Zac Efron and Aubrey Plaza to perform the lamest of sex jokes. But someone like Robert De Niro should know better then to degrade himself in a film like this, with a twelve-year-olds idea of comedy in the form of crude language delivered in a way no one talks, race jokes no one finds funny, and old jokes that Robert De Niro is too good of an actor to endure. It’s the kind of film made for frat guys, treating women as objects to be attained and used, and thinking that acting like a child is still funny or charming. Dirty Grandpa is the kind of offensive to women film that works great as a double feature with Trump’s video where he talks about grabbing women by pussy, if that’s any indication of how much I unabashedly despised it.

 

Number 2: London Has Fallen

Another in an unfortunate list of xenophobic films released in 2016, none were quite as irresponsible and offensive as London Has Fallen. Where the first film could be excused as typical action movie fare, this 2016 sequel focuses so much of its energy on how scary and untrustworthy brown people are, taking time to single out arabic looking men and women in crowds, in an attempt to raise suspicion and fear of them. The film disturbingly takes joy in murdering scores of brown people, with Gerard Butler delivering one-liners that come off more racially offensive then endearing to the audience (the most notable of which has Butler exclaiming “Go back to Fuckheadistan”). On top of this, the film looks bad, lacks any semblance of a script, and presents people who drone strike a wedding of innocent people as the heroes of the picture (spoiler alert, they bomb innocent people in the end as an extra fuck you to the villains). London has Fallen is cinematic bile, representing the worst that Hollywood has to offer, and playing on people’s irrational fears to try and seem relevant. It’s a film perfectly made for your racist relatives, and much like said relatives, should be ignored and left alone.

 

Number 1: Suicide Squad

Years from now, once the allure of seeing fan-favorite characters on screen for the first time has died down, Suicide Squad may finally be seen by fans as the poster child for how not to make a film. College classes could be made dissecting the insane editing, contradictory script and numerous bad decisions the film makes. A movie that somehow explains too much and too little, it’s the rare superhero film that explains why the films heroes serve no purpose, and actually make each problem worse with their involvement, inviting speculation from the audience as to why they should even care. Not a single character is likable, wasting talented actors like Viola Davis and Will Smith on a script lacking in any subtly our nuance. Suicide Squad‘s ugliness ranges from its downright misogynistic treatment of women to outdated racial stereotypes, with violence towards women occurring to an inexcusable degree.  Never has seeing people get shot seemed so lifeless, as a team of characters we don’t enjoy following face off against waves of faceless drone that don’t matter, to stop a badly acted villain whose powers are never defined, trying to destroy the world with another stupid blue beam in the sky death machine. You’ve seen this movie before, you’ve seen it done better, and theres absolutely no reason to waste 2 hours enduring this childish, insultingly stupid drivel. For the third time in a row, DC’s joke is on the viewers.

Click here to read my original review

Andy’s Top 10 Films of 2016

Much like everything else in 2016, this was certainly an off year for the film industry, spitting out more unneeded Sequels, remakes and reboots then in previous years. But for everything 2016 was lacking, it made up for with a lot more variety in terms of what we are used to, focusing on thematic elements and stories we don’t see enough of on screen. It’s to these films that we look at why 2016, while not a great year for most, featured titles worth remembering.

 

Honorable Mention: The Jungle Book

Remakes, I believe, can serve a particular purpose if done right, either improving upon a poorly executed idea or showing something well known from a fresh perspective. Jon Faverau’s remake of The Jungle Book served as the latter, taking a beloved if flawed Disney classic and adding the plot and character development the original was severely lacking. An impressive cast of voice actors helped make even the smallest of supporting characters memorable, with the gorgeous special effects bringing the most out of the performances. It’s simply a great remake, that doesn’t so much reinvent the wheel, as much as it shows why the house that Mickey built has earned the pedigree their name implies.

Click here to read my original review

 

Number 10: Weiner

Love him or Hate him, both being equally understandable, the troubled story of Anthony Weiner’s fall-rise-fall again was a documentary made more engrossing having already known the outcome. The opening act smartly skips past the first scandal, presenting what almost looks like a redemption story, and showing Weiner’s passion for politics and serving the people of New York. Once the second scandal drops, however, the film opens up to all perspectives on Weiner, from a tragic figure, serial cheater, and even just a politician trying to not let his personal failings affect his political career. It’s the rare documentary that lets the audience decide the kind of man Weiner was, and how much of the public’s disdain he ultimately deserved, making for the years most involving documentary.

 

Number 9: Don’t Breathe

Evil Dead’s Fede Alvarez returns with an original premise that delivers on its potential for scares, where in a group of robbers are stalked in the house of the blind man they attempted to rob. Through a combination of great cinematography and staging, the film creates tension through the audiences knowledge of prior events, as well as what we can imediately see/here, rather than the tired cliche of jump scares and loud noises. The film also doesn’t shy away from the knowledge that our protagonists are in fact bad people, not letting you forget the reasons the bandits are there, and making whether the punishment fits the crime a question left for the viewers to ponder. While a major left-turn in the film’s final act is likely to turn off some viewers, Don’t Breathe is the rare horror film that understands that lasting scares come from strong characters in a tense situation, rather then loud noises and imagery alone.

Click here to read my original review

 

Number 8: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Announced only a few months before its release, 10 Cloverfield Lane offered a slower, more claustrophobic film in comparison to its predecessor. Much of the film’s weight is placed on the weight of its leads, and they are more then up to task. Mary Elizabeth Winstead feels like a believable every-man, while simultaneously owning her role as the film’s heroine; meanwhile, John Goodman is allowed to stretch his acting chops in an uncharacteristicaly menacing role, owning whole scenes on his intimidating demeanor alone. Much like Don’t Breathe, the film does take a left-turn into some questionable territory, which is also likely to divide some audiences. Despite this, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an almost Hitchcock-Ian effort, remeniscent more of The Twilight Zone then it is of its prior film, and stands as a fascinating start to the series’ new anthology-based direction.

Click here to read my original review

 

Number 7: Deadpool

As one of the biggest critics of Fox’s X-Men franchise as of late, Deadpool is the breath of fresh air the comic- book genre needed to stay relevant. The rated R antics of comics’ favorite Merc With a Mouth feels as genuine as Dream projects come, with the collaboration of director Tim Miller and lead Ryan Reynolds bringing a fresh take on comic books, action tropes, and even self-aware comedy. One-liners pay off as often as the action continues to be engaging, with both serving symbiotically to add depth to what could have been one-note, childish characters. Among the films many surprises is Deadpool’s surprisingly affecting love story, as Morena Baccarin and Reynold’s natural chemistry makes even an excessive relationship like Wade and Vanessas’ seem believable. It was a reminder of the narrative potential the genre is capable of in the right hands, and proof that better doesn’t always have to mean bigger.

Click here to read my original review

 

Number 6: Doctor Strange

Marvel’s second outing this year, Doctor Strange was an interesting combination of   traditional narrative elements with strong characterization and imaginative effects pulled straight from the Steve Ditko comics of the 70’s. While it’s easy to compare to the original Iron Man, Strange manages to stay fresh thanks in part to screenwriter C. Robert Cargill, managing to make familiar idea such as magic and alternate realities seem simultaneously foreign, yet understandable. Cumberbatch is magnetic as Stephen Strange, and is surrounded by strong supporting characters, with special mention going to Chiwetel Ejiofor, who performs even the silliest of material with gravitas and emotional weight. Even without these strengths, Doctor Strange is simply a gorgeous film to look at, wildly imaginative and disturbing in its imagery, bolstered by well-handled 3D. While it may seem familiar on the outside to some, what’s here stands alongside Guardians of the Galaxy as a prime example of how Marvel can take even the most non-sensical material and make something extraordinary for anyone to watch.

Click here to read my original review

 

Number 5: Moonlight

While many go to the theaters for simple entertainment, films can also be a glimpse into lives, perspectives and situations we may not always think about. Moonlight is one such example, exploring how factors like masculinity, strength, vulnerability and sexuality exist in the harsh environment of the ghetto. The film’s viewpoint of three viewpoints in Chiron at different ages in his life shows how our interactions with others weave into the creation of our own identity, at times delivering poignant and beautiful scenes, often clashing against the harsh realities of the films setting. It’s a combination of several topics, from growing up in the hood, gang lifestyle, bullying, and just being gay, and theres enough subtext within each element that many people will see the film in different ways. Moonlight is a movie 2016 needed, a film reflecting an often ignored demographic, and making their struggles and triumphs real in a way that leaves an impact on viewers.

 

Number 4: Captain America: Civil War

The culmination of the past 8 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Civil War is an example of the kinds of detail-rich narratives that can come from an ongoing film franchise. For newcomers, the story is simple enough to invest in, with the summers best action sequence in the 2nd acts’ airport battle, as well as great performances from the expansive cast. But theres a real impact that comes from having watched the prior films up until this point, where knowing the relationships between our heroes makes Civil War‘s fallout that much more heartbreaking. It’s the rare action film that is more concerned over the breaking of bonds as it is of bones, with the highlights often coming from when the characters sit down and discuss their differences on the issue of government registration. And unlike a certain other superhero versus film this year (check the worst of list coming soon), the script manages to give both Cap and Iron Man shared screen time, so you understand where both sides stand in this debate, and establish the tragedy that neither one is wrong in what they believe. The impact Civil War will have on the continuing MCU is sure to be felt for many films to come, and was a welcome reminder of why its important larger-then-life characters to be relatable on a personal level.

Click here to read my original review 

 

Number 3: Star Wars: Rogue One

When people said they wanted something new from Star Wars last year, this is what they were talking about. A decidedly darker look at the events before Episode IV, the story of the mission to steal the death star plans made for an engaging and fresh story, while remaining steeped in the look and aesthetic of the original trilogy. A cast of interesting, yet realistically flawed, heroes helped audiences to care about events that we already knew the outcome of, thanks in part to the tragically brutal ways our protaganist’s meet their fate. Its a sequel that naturally mixes in new elements, while also bringing back elements of previous films with respect and care, and comes off more like a necessary inclusion, rather than a shameless cash-grab. As the final act begins, action set pieces and tearjerking moments come in equal measure, in one of the few Star Wars that really seemed to emphasize the “war” part of its title. Good luck, Episode 8; you now have even higher expectations to live up to.

Click here to read my original review

 

Number 2: Arrival 

This may come off as a hyperbole, but i’m being completely honest when I say that I didn’t know how to review Arrival after my first viewing. It stands alongside Children of Men as a film that uses hard science fiction ideas to deliver important messages about the human condition, and does so with a subtly and earnestness that is impossible to ignore. Each performance is engaging, every action feels realistic, and each reveal unveils another layer of the film that you wont see coming. likewise, its a science fiction film about using actual science, namely linguistics, to solve the worlds problems, and never compromises this focus in favor of cheap emotional beats or forced spiritual interpretations. A film best gone into blind, Arrival is one of the smartest films this year, and comes highly recommended.

 

Number 1: La La Land

Having just seen this on New Years Eve, I didn’t have enough time to review this before my Top 10 best films list, but theres already so much to say. While I’m typically not the biggest fan of musicals, La La Land is simultaneously a gorgeous musical, a beautifully shot film, and just a well told story of love, dreams, aspirations and choices. Gosling and Stone are in top form, delivering a believable and heartwarming romance, building a relationship throughout that makes their hardships later on in the film feel more important to viewers, in comparison to lesser romantic dramas. The music is wonderful, a combination of old-time musical beats and jazz, in a track list where each song feels equally beautiful to listen to as the others. The choreography and timing of each dance is equal parts charming and impressive to behold, with the opening highway number and moonlit dance numbers being particularly enjoyable. We just don’t get films like this anymore, delivering real stories through extravagant means, all while not compromising the melancholy ending that will have you fighting back tears by the time the credits begin to roll. La La Land is impossible not to love, and is as beautiful and enjoyable as it can be poignant and heartbreaking. In a way that few films this year have done, I felt touched and inspired by La La Land.