Thursday, February 28, 2019

Movie Review - "How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" (2019)

I've always felt that the biggest appeal of the "How To Train Your Dragon" franchise has been its breathtaking animation and visuals, perfectly capturing the awe of flying on the back of a dragon in all of its amazing and horrifying splendor. The quieter moments where those rides through the clouds are some of the best animation Dreamworks has ever done. Beyond that, the story is your basic "a boy and his dog" tale with fantasy elements. But the newest entry in the franchise, "The Hidden World" pulls a reversal of all this and makes the story interesting and the visuals take a backseat.

In the final installment of this trilogy, the Viking land of Berk has become a safe haven for all dragons. But the chief, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), fears that Berk may not be safe from the outside world for much longer, as a infamous dragon bounty hunter (F. Murray Abraham) sets his sights on Hiccup's dragon, Toothless, since he was sure that he had killed all of his kind and plans to wipe out every Nightfury. Hiccup is second-guessed by nearly everyone in the tribe when he says that they need to find a new home, except by Astrid (America Ferrera), while they all push for the two to get married.

While the characters were never that strong or relatable in the previous movies, they finally start to grow on me in this movie, as they start to develop their own personalities outside of their Viking heritage. The side characters especially feel like fleshed-out individuals, with one trying and failing to always be the tough guy, another is obsessed with the study of all dragons, and the twins finally feel distinct aside from their constant bickering. Each of them gets an opportunity to shine and show that they're no longer children.

In fact, that's the biggest strength of "The Hidden World," that we finally see these characters grow up and accept new roles in society, as well as the difficulties and challenges that come with that. Hiccup's journey is more of learning his self-worth and how that's very necessary for a chief and his people. Even Toothless has to learn to grow up and be self-reliant, which is all accomplished without him saying a word.

I also credit "The Hidden World" with the best villain in the franchise, mostly because of F. Murray Abraham's calm and calculated voice making Grimmel the most intimidating and personal villain so far. He takes offense to everything Hiccup stands for and treats all of this like a chase, laughing the whole time at Hiccup's wide-eyed innocence. He is a ton of fun to watch, especially the way he interacts with our heroes.

However, the visuals are less the stellar this time around. There are a few standout moments when Toothless chases around his girlfriend and when the Hidden World is finally discovered, but beyond this it is very basic by this point. There are very few quiet moments where the visuals alone tell the story, but I guess that'll happen when you focus so much on making these children into adults.

This makes "The Hidden World" feel less epic than its predecessors and more personal and small. That doesn't necessarily make it worse, just quite different from what you'd expect. If you like the characters in this series, then you'll love what Dreamworks does with them. But if you're here for the visuals, you might be a bit disappointed. Overall, "How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" is a good movie, certainly worth your time.

Final Grade: B

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Top 5 David Fincher Movies

Number 5 - "Fight Club" (1999)

"Fight Club" has grown on me in recent years, starting out as a film that put me to sleep into one that I admire from both a narrative and visual perspective. But the best thing about this is that both of these are all its own. I can't think of another film that moves and looks like "Fight Club," and even though others may try, none can quite replicate its confused punk rock aesthetic.

Number 4 - "The Social Network" (2010)

Another film that has an unbelievable narrative. This film came out when I was studying film in college, and I glanced over it, thinking that it was just another bland-looking biography of a man whose story isn't finished yet. But like "Fight Club," that time has allowed me to truly appreciate the turmoil and struggle for power that these characters embody. It certainly helps that the screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin, whose dialogue is just as crisp and still hits as hard as freight train as ever, but the directing and cinematography are all Fincher, and that elevates this film to even greater heights.

Number 3 - "Zodiac" (2007)

Like the previous two entires, "Zodiac" didn't leave a big impression on me after my initial viewing. It isn't until I thought about some of the quieter moments and what every character was thinking about that I realized "Zodiac" was one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. It is unnerving in its mystery, heartbreaking in its struggle for the truth, and stunning in its unpredictability, leading to some of the most horrific scenes about a serial killer. The film puts you in the middle of this crazy time where facts, suspicions and myths are wound up over years of development, only made even scarier that all of this actually happened.

Link to original "Zodiac" review:

Number 2 - "Gone Girl" (2014)

Typically, when I think of David Fincher, "Gone Girl" is the first film that come to mind. A mindbender of a thriller that has you not just second guessing the characters, but also yourself. Fincher's use of unreliable narrators is put to full use in "Gone Girl" and it has never been better, each scene building off of the last like a roller coaster that can't slow down as we watch a marriage get murdered. This is one of the most exciting, intense and thought-provoking thrillers since Hitchcock and one of Fincher's best.

Link to original "Gone Girl" review:


Number 1 - "Seven" (1995)

As much as I wanted to give this spot to "Gone Girl," I just can't think of another film where Fincher outdid his first original production, one of the best police thrillers of all time. Strangely enough, out of all his film, "Seven" is both his darkest and brightest movie, giving us a serial killer that simply holds up a mirror to the audience, while offering a fascinating struggle between that darkness and the our own morality. Even though many of Fincher's films have stunning acting, Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey are at their best here, making this whole disturbing thiller worthwhile.

Link to original "Seven" review:

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Movie Review - "Isn't It Romantic" (2019)

What? Can't a guy be a softy and go see a Valentine's Day romantic comedy? Especially one that preaches self love above all else?

To be honest, I find the concept of "Isn't It Romantic" to be interesting - a cynic and hater of romantic comedies is forced to live in an a cheesy 1980s or 1990s rom-com with no idea of how to get out other than to play the whole thing out. Maybe it's because of the lack of romantic comedies in the last few years, but I'm usually down for any film that pokes fun of a genre's stereotypes.

However, while there are many great moments, jokes and characters, I can't help but feel that the presentation of "Isn't It Romantic" falls a bit short due to not being specific enough. While the aim of the film was to deconstruct the romantic comedy, it never gives the audience exact details of which films it wants to point a finger at. While they show a young Rebel Wilson watching "Pretty Woman" in the beginning, that's about all we get. Tropes and clichés are addressed, but where these same tropes came from is never mentioned. Rather than picking a standout scene from a classic rom-com like "Love Actually" or "When Harry Met Sally...", the film just glances over things that frustrate Rebel Wilson with how unrealistic and contrived they are.

It almost feels like the screenwriters didn't actually watch any romantic comedies to write this film, and instead got all of their information off of Wikipedia.

However, the film never takes itself quite so seriously. Many of the jokes about trying to be R-rated in a PG-13 movie hit the nail on the head, and Liam Hemsworth is hilarious in nearly every scene. And for a film that wants to ridicule cliché rom-coms from the 1990s, the film does have a very relevant message that I applaud it for. In many ways, it has a message that so many rom-coms from the 2000s emphasized, but in a much more overt and honest way, which brings it all full circle and makes "Isn't It Romantic" a tribute to those films as much as it is a parody. And in an age with a lack of romantic comedies, that's probably the best thing the genre needs right now.

Final Grade: C+

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Movie Review - "Bird Box" (2018)

I can't remember a movie phenomenon quite like "Bird Box." When I first saw the previews and premise, I thought it was just "A Quiet Place" but instead of focusing on the lack of sound, it was a lack of sight, which sounded like a terrible idea for a visual medium. I can't think of many other films that clearly rip off another successful product, and yet is more successful than what they're ripping off. I put off watching the film for a while, especially since it came out in the middle of Oscar season and was so low on my radar. And after finally watching the movie, I can see why it would be talked about, but not understand why it's a good movie. "Bird Box" is a rip off of many other things than just "A Quiet Place," but especially zombie movies like "Night of the Living Dead." The difference between "Bird Box" and those films is that you actually get to see the monsters in those films, but we never get a hint here. The beauty of what these monsters do is talked up like it's a big deal, but we don't get to see any of it. It goes against the "show, don't tell" rule of cinema. The film very rarely takes advantage of the fact that these characters can't see, only covering basic elements that someone with no imagination would think about. Still, the image of Sandra Bullock stumbling through the woods blindfolded is iconic enough to warrant discovering just what "Bird Box" is about, but I feel like most people have already learned that.

Final Grade: C-

Friday, February 15, 2019

Movie Review - "Cold Pursuit" (2019)

I don't think the audience I saw "Cold Pursuit" got the movie. During most of the strange, over the top moments that only a Norwegian filmmaker could bring to the screen, this audience was dead silent, like I was attending a funeral. And yet, "Cold Pursuit" is utterly absurd, with acting that would make William Shatner and Tim Curry do a double take, and a ludicrious plot that has a dozen things going on at once. But the film embraces that absurdity, making for a black comedy unlike anything I've ever seen. I think most of the audience expected another Liam Nesson revenge action flick, like the "Taken" franchise, and that's not what "Cold Pursuit" is really about at its core. Sure, Nesson avenging his son is one of the driving forces, but there are so many moving parts and characters that it's just a cog in the machine of never ending violence. Tom Bateman's character, a filthy rich drug lord that lives his life to the fullest, while Bateman takes every opportunity to chew up the scenary, plays a bigger part in the movie than Nesson, to the point that it feels like his story. I can see why this would throw many people off, and why some wouldn't "get" this movie. But for those that rolled with it got a unique black comedy with an even more unique setting and sense of humor.

Final Grade: B-

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Movie Review - "Ninotchka" (1939)

It's difficult to put my finger on what makes an Ernst Lubitsch film so endearing, charming and memorable than most other films from their era, but if I had to guess it would probably be their overwhelming sense of freedom in the face of tyranny. Films like "To Be or Not to Be" and "The Shop Around the Corner" best exemplify this, but Lubtisch's "Ninotchka" is a good example as well. The film is filled with witty dialogue, exaggerated characters and a grand view of the world that is both heartwarming and thought-provoking. This is certainly best shown through the titular character, played by Greta Garbo, as a Russian sergeant focused soley on efficiency for the sake of her country, while she slowly but surely falls in love with Paris. Given her strict, no nonsense demeanor, I thought this would be an unlikable character, but the way she bounces off the other characters and Garbo's authentic performance, she is the best part of the movie. As far as Lubitsch films go, this isn't his best, but it still has that same charm that only he could supply.

Final Grade: B-

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Movie Review - "Velvet Buzzsaw" (2019)

"Velvet Buzzsaw" has a lot to say about the art world and the constant battle between making something people want to see and making a profit. Sometimes the film can be a little muddled and inconsistent, but it is always thrilling and surprisingly engaging considering how unlikable most of the characters are. Like Dan Gilroy's other film, "Nightcrawler," it is about despicable people doing despicable things for the right reasons, which makes for a great cautionary tale about the modern day poisons that we inflict upon ourselves. In this case, Gilroy leans more towards horror with a supernatural twist, making this whole film feel like a feature-length episode of "The Twilight Zone," and a very good one at that. If you don't care for the art world, then this probably won't engage you. But if you know a little bit about the world of art or have been an artist, then "Velvet Buzzsaw" will speak to you on some level.

Final Grade: A-

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Movie Review - "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part" (2019)

I don't think anyone was as surprised about how amazing "The Lego Movie" was more than me, especially by its plot, animation, imagination and its twist that makes the film timeless. And while its sequel "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part," picks up right where it left off, something about it didn't feel quite right that I couldn't put my finger on. The film is certainly just as bright and colorful as its predecessor, still taking full advantage of everything being made of those tiny bricks, and it's even more self-aware than the first film, especially when it comes to Batman and Chris Pratt's career. The plot is more of what you'd expect, trying to emmulate the creativity that the first film started, while the expected twist does add another family friendly layer that seems a bit biased against the narrator. But I think what was missing is the "wow" factor that the first film had in abundance. No one expected a movie trying to sell legos would be any good, let alone one of the best animated movies in the last ten years, but "The Lego Movie" had a scale and scope that no would could have expected, all while remaining humble and self-aware. Now that there have been three other lego movies, the punch and flavor are still there but has worn out. This is far from a bad movie, but it's just what you'd expect from a sequel - more of the same.

Final Grade: B

Monday, February 11, 2019

Movie Review - "My Favorite Wife" (1940)

Some comedies never sink their teeth into the vast well of creativity, while others dip their toes in it and do what they feel is safe with their premise. But every once in a while, a comedy will dive into it like an olympic gold medalist, not only trying everything it can with its unique premise but excelling at it every step of the way. "My Favorite Wife" is one of these screwball comedies, made by the same team that brought us "The Awful Truth," only this time it's even more ludicrious and even more hilarious. Irene Dunne plays someone who has been shipwrecked on a deserted island for seven years and just so happens to come back to society on the same day her husband (Cary Grant) is getting remarried. The film takes full advantage of this idea for both comedic and dramatic effect, as Grant bounces back and forth between his two wives and trying to break the news to his bride that his wife is actually alive, while Dunne tries to tell her children that she's their long-lost mother (while also keeping her own secrets from Grant). The result is a masterful comedy that only gets better as everything reaches its tipping point and a classic in the screwball comedy genre.

Final Grade: A-

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Movie Review - "Wuthering Heights" (1939)

"Wuthering Heights" is like that one baseball player that just rubs you the wrong way coming up to bat, hoping and praying that he'll strikeout and look like a fool, only for him to get a hit and surprise everyone. I went in to this movie not expecting anything, similar to films like "Jezebel" or "The Pirate" - just a period piece that people still like to talk about today. But I was pleasantly surprised by the passionate acting of Laurence Olivierand Merle Oberon and their devotion for one another, to the point that they'll ruin the others life if they can't be with each other, all while remaining authentic and powerful. It didn't it hit out of the park or do anything spectacularly, especially when Oberon's character changes her mind more frequently than her dresses and for the dumbest of reasons, but this was still an impressive picture. If you love period pieces or tales of lovers that cannot be, then I highly recommend "Wuthering Heights."

Final Grade: B

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Movie Review - "Shoplifters" (2018)

"Shoplifters" is far more fascinating to me since it came out the same year as "Roma" since both so alike and yet so different in many ways. While both films are essentially about children and raising them under less than ideal circumstances, while being raised by adults that must fight their own adversities, they take drastically different paths, resulting in contrasting atmospheres and messages. While "Roma" is one of uncertainty and the fear that comes with that, "Shoplifters" embraces its adversities, almost laughing in the face of these character's problems. They act like they don't have a care in the world, despite scrounging around just to make ends meet, and yet they make the most out of what they have. The bond between this hard-working, strange family is mesmerizing and unbelievably charming, watching them pull each other together like watching a broken teapot magically put itself back together again. This not only makes "Shoplifters" the most uplifting, heartfelt film of the year, but a testament to how great foreign cinema has been this year.

Final Grade: A

Movie Review - "They Shall Not Grow Old" (2018)

While there is some impressive technical feats in "They Shall Not Grow Old," that's really the only thing this documentary has going for it. It is stunning to see footage from the 1910s in HD and color, but there's a certain Hollywood quality to it, namely the addition of new sound effects and dialogue to fill in the silence, as the filmmakers make their best guesses as to what these soliders were talking about. After a while, this starts to grow tiresome and makes even the redone footage repetitive and boring, making it seem more like a gimmick instead of an advancement. I was honestly starting to doze off halfway through the movie, mostly because this film has no story, it's just a collection of interviews with World War I veterans recounting their war stories with some matching images. The film is about as exciting as watching a introduction film to a world war museum...only that introductory film goes on for two hours.

Final Grade: C

Friday, February 8, 2019

Movie Review - "Westworld" (1973)

Most people probably aren't aware that there was a "Westworld" movie directed by Michael Crichton, long before the recent HBO series. The movie has the same concepts as the show, an amusement park that simulates the old west and is filled with androids that are simply there for the guests amusement and something goes horribly wrong in the park. And while the show went into more detail about the park's creation and the psychology of the androids, as well as whether or not they're alive, the movie goes for a simple, bare-bones approach, told mostly through a visitor's perspective (Richard Benjamin) as things start to get worse. Why the androids break down is barely touched on, how the park was created is never mentioned, and the idea that the visitors might be harming sentient creatures is ignored. And while there is so much more that the movie doesn't touch on, for a tale about a vacation to the old west gone horribly wrong, the acting and atmosphere really sell the whole experience. I'd certainly recommend the show over the movie, but this is still servicable.

Final Grade: C+

Movie Review - "Watchmen" (2009)

While some while deem "Watchmen" as an important superhero film, mostly due to its alternate take on American history and being the dark, neo-noir answer to Marvel movies, I see it as the catalyst that began Zack Snyder down his path of bloated, unnecessarily dark superhero movies that is still effecting the DC movies to this day. Based off of the legendary graphic novel, some even saying it is the "Citizen Kane" of comic books, "Watchmen" was seen as unfilmable for nearly 30 years until Snyder brought it to life, but put his fingerprints all over it in the process. Snyder's product is a moody, bleak picture that practically hates superheroes and goes into graphic detail about the violence they cause. "Watchmen" pulls this off much better than Snyder's later films, due to this brutal take on alternate America, but that doesn't stop this film from coming across as arrogant and brutish. While this isn't for the typical movie-goer, it should be praised for its "Forrest Gump"-like soundtrack, capturing the essence of America with its perfect music.

Final Grade: B-

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Movie Review - "Glass" (2019)

I went in to "Glass" expecting it to be a return to bland, bizarre form for M. Night Shyamalan. The reviews certainly seemed to indicate that. But instead, I was treated to a tense, atmospheric thrill that never dulled or became so bloated by Shyamalan's ego...up to a certain point. The film builds off of what made "Unbreakable" and "Split" so great, these larger-than-life characters, all performed wonderfully by Bruce Willis, James McAvoy and Samuel L. Jackson. It emulates the best of the Marvel movies by giving audience these personalities that beg for our attention, flaunting their egos and superiority at us. Any time these three are working off each other is well, especially between McAvoy and Jackson. However, people probably knew what to expect coming in to a Shyamalan movie, and what we get in the end is disappointing and rushed. But beyond this element that has been satirized to death, "Glass" is still a worthwhile movie for its wonderful performances and pitch-perfect atmosphere.

Final Grade: B-

Movie Review - "The Player" (1992)

I think it's safe to say that most films that attempt to deconstruct Hollywood and show its dark side to audiences owe everything to Robert Altman's "The Player," a film about a failing Hollywood studio executive (Tim Robbins) who keeps receiving death threats from someone he wronged a long time ago. While this film boasts one of the largest cast of celebrities ever assemeled, all because every one of these stars wanted to work with Altman, the true star here is the gripping screenplay. What could have been a lackluster thriller turned comedy set in Hollywood instead becomes an examination of Hollywood's own ego and the many moving pieces in that machine and we get to see how each of those pieces tick. From the marvelous opening tracking shot, showcasing a day in the life of this frustrated, bored executive, to the ending that brings everything together, there isn't a single dull moment from this Altman masterpiece.

Final Grade: A

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Movie Review - "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1942)

Imagine if the Grinch was a drama critic. Now imagine that same critic broke his hip in your home and he blames you for it, so hedecides to subject you to his company until he is fully healed. This is the tragic comedy of "The Man Who Came to Dinner" - tragic for the family that has to live with this acerbic, angry critic Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley), but a comedy for the audience as he takes every opportunity to throw a thesaurus' worth of insults at the family. This almost feels like a Shakesparian comedy at times, especially through Woolley's performance, practically bathing in the suffering of the family without ever coming across as maniacal. But when you throw in Bette Davis' role as his secreatary with a bite of her own, then you get a masterfully crafted film filled with wit, charm and even suspense.

Final Grade: A-

Movie Review - "MASH" (1970)

While the television show is more widely known these days, the movie it is based on, "MASH," should never be overlooked. While the plot is the same as the show and retains that dark comedy edge in the face of certain death, the film is stacked with big name actors, such as Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerritt, Elliott Gould, Robert Duvall, just to name a few. This should come as no surprise from a Robert Altman film, especially since the story is so loose and flows from one skit into the next, much like a television show. While this set up the blue print for the show, the atmosphere of "MASH" delivers by being bold, timeless and above all else, important. One of Robert Altman's best movies and possibly the best war comedy of all time.

Final Grade: A-

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Movie Review - "Mean Streets" (1973)

I like to think of "Mean Streets" as Martin Scorsese's dress rehearsal for "Goodfellas" - a tale of a young Italian-American in New York that dreams of making a name for himself in the mafia. Like so many of Scorsese's movies, the best part is the vibrant, lively city landscape, where every character feels like they have a life outside of the screen, and "Mean Streets" has all of that in spades. But the best part of this film is Robert De Niro's impressive ability to turn seemingly nothing into the most mesmerizing story you'll hear all day, blowing practically everything out of proportion but doing so with charm and grace that you can't help but hang on every word. A good example of early Scorsese filmmaking, especially for what was to come.

Final Grade: B-

Movie Review - "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" (1947)

"The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" is both comforting and uncomfortable at the same time. The plot revolves around an artist (Cary Grant) that has this whole town wrapped around his finger until the local judge (Myrna Loy) sentences him to be the boyfriend of her 17-year old sister (Shirley Temple). While the film never crosses any lines, there's just something about Shirley Temple infatuated with Cary Grant that rubs me the wrong way, especially when Temple and Loy are supposed to be sisters. The film is at its best when Myrna Loy's strict, no-nonsense judge starts falling for the free-loving bachelor and the hilarity that ensues. While the ending feels a bit rushed and forced, this is ultimately a harmless screwball comedy.

Final Grade: B

Monday, February 4, 2019

Movie Review - "Jeremiah Johnson" (1972)

Outside of documentaries, no other film has covered man overcoming the ferocity of nature quite as well as "Jeremiah Johnson." While the pace is deliberately slow, it takes this time to show the majesty and awe of these treacherous mountains and how one man (Robert Redford) conquers them with little more than his wits and determination. As simple as all that sounds, Redford's quiet and powerful performance makes this western surprisingly captivating. From the cinematography and soundtrack alone, you can understand why this loner would want go make a name for himself out in this wilderness. I'd recommend this to anyone who is a fan of nature or westerns, especially offbeat ones.

Final Grade: B+

Movie Review - "Gunga Din" (1939)

"Gunga Din" is like one of those films that claims to fit into every genre, but doesn't do any of them very well. A jack of all trades, but a master of none. It's a historical piece set in 1880s India, but does very little to capture the look and feel of the era. It has Cary Grant in a leading comedic role, but he often feels awkward and doesn't get good reactions from the rest of the cast. It has large battle scenes, but they feel unimpressive even for its time. It has a romance with Joan Fontaine as practically the only female in the movie, and it often feels like an after thought to the filmmakers. Together, this makes for an epic that is at serviceable and best and boring at worst. Not one I'd put on again, but not terrible either.

Final Grade: C-

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Top Ten Films of 2018

The quality of movies in 2018 came as a surprise to me. While I shouldn't be shocked that filmmakers are creating better works of art with each passing year, I didn't think too highly of the films released this year for a long time. Sure, there were many solid movies, including "Ant-Man and the Wasp" and "Incredibles 2" but very few films that stood out for me.

But as the year came to an end and I took the time to reflect on the best films of the year, I started to realize just how many standout movies came out in 2018. There were so many that I guess I lost track of some. Most years, I only do a top five list of the best films, but this is the first year where I need to do a top ten to cover everything I loved.

So, with all of that being said, let's start with the same question I ask at the end of every year - Was 2018 a good year for movies?

I will remember 2018 for a few things, but the main thing will be Hollywood, not only accepting diversity, but embracing it. It no longer feels like we live in a world where every major movie has to have a straight white male in the lead role in order to succeed, but just having people in the leads and making them far more relatable than I can ever remember movie characters being in the past. It's not just about tellling those often overlooked stories, but making them so rich, vibrant and entertaining that everyone needs to see it to believe it. For this reason alone, I'd say 2018 is an important year for film.

But beyond this, my typical criteria is that there needs to be three standout movies released over the course of the year. Ones that will be remembered long after its time in the theater is done and yet people are still talking about it, and watch it not just for the nostalgia, but because it's just as entertainment value either hasn't diminished or has increased. To me, three standouts make it a good year, less than that means it was a bad year, and five or more means it was a great year. 2017, for example, now has over six movies that I love now just as much as I did when I first saw them, making it a great yaer.

And in this regard, 2018 is a great year for films, possibly even better than 2017. There are so many films that I can't recommend enough to everyone reading this. And while I don't think there was a film that I loved nearly as much as 2017's "The Shape of Water," that does not diminish the personal touch of 2018, a year filled with smart, authentic and imaginative movies that should never be overlooked.

So yes, I do think 2018 was a great year for film. And to prove that, here are just some of the best films this last year had to offer and ones that I won't be forgetting any time soon.

10. "Mission: Impossible - Fallout"

While the quality of the "Mission: Impossible" movies should never be questioned at this point, "Fallout" manages to out-do, not only the other films in the franchise, but any other big blockbuster in terms of thrilling stunts and effects. This is a nail-biting, thrill ride that never lets up, highlighted by some of the best acting in the series and stunts that somehow one-up each other in each scene. Some of the most fun I had in the theaters in 2018.

9. "Eighth Grade"

On the opposite end of the spectrum from "Fallout," we have "Eighth Grade," a comedy that excels at capturing that awkward moment we've all had. A time we'd all like to forget, but one that probably defined who we are. It is the most honest movie the year, with perfect casting and a sense of humor that is as unique as it is awkward.

8. "Free Solo"

2018 was a stunning year for documentaries. On top of films like "Won't You Be My Neighbor," "Three Identical Strangers" and "They Will Never Grow Old," we also had the most thrilling, thoughtful and meta documentary with "Free Solo." Not only is this the most stunning and beautiful documentary I've ever seen, making us feel like we're rock climbing along with these people, but the tale of the documentary crew is just as entertaining as the main story, asking themselves questions about what they're doing and if it's ethical to film someone in such a dangerous profession that relies so heavily on their finesse. In a year filled with amazing documentaries, "Free Solo" is the one I keep coming back to.

7. "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"

Speaking of films I keep coming back to "Into the Spider-Verse" continues to fascinate me with its breathtaking artstyle, unique cinematography and animation, its love of Spider-Man's history and lore, and its mutl-layered story about redemption and overcoming tragedy. It is not only the best animated film of the year, but possibly the best animated film since "The Lego Movie." It is everything that is great about animation and so much more.

6. "BlacKkKlansmen"

"BlacKkKlansmen" is the most sobering, bold and stylish movie of the year. It is overflowing with unbridled energy, showcasing the hate in the hate in the world and how it is still very much alive and needs to be addressed, all while giving us that brilliant Spike Lee style that we've come to know and love. On top of that, it is a brilliant thriller that teeters between mystery, suspense and comedy, making this just as timeless as Spike Lee's other classics.

5. "Roma"

Continuing the theme that films like "BlacKkKlansmen" and "Sorry to Bother You" started, "Roma" is a daring, deeply personal told through a perspective that is often overlooked. The film often feels we're looking back at Alfonso Cuaron's memories and nostalgia for his childhood, but told with the clarity and percise details of a master storyteller. And even though this has the best cinematography of the year, the true highlight is the emotional performances throughout this hauntingly beautiful movie.

4. "Halloween"

I'm surprised that I'm not seeing this film on more "Best of 2018" lists, because "Halloween" is the best slasher movie since the original "Halloween." It elevates the genre far beyond the blood and gore, giving us a gripping, intense film about coping with trauma, survivor's guilt and the psychology of a psychopath. Add in a complex yet emotionally gripping performance from Jamie Lee Curtis that brings in another level of menace and reflection and you get one of the best horror movies in years.

3. "The Favourite"

I was blown away by the elaborate detail in "The Favourite" but was just as easily impressed by the way the story balances comedy, intrigue, romance and thrills, all while coming across as so Victorian and so modern at the same time. In a strange way, it is timeless in its style and that goes a long way. The three stellar performances of its leads elevates this above nearly every other period piece I can think of, taking a genre that is known mostly for its production design and giving it some much needed life in the story and acting department.

2. "Searching"

Another film I'm surprised isn't getting more attention right now is "Searching," the most unique and thrilling movie of the year. Like Hitchcock so masterfully delved into our socital fears, "Searching" delves into the fears of social media and questionable choices we make in the age of Twitter and regret. It's visual style compliments this perfectly while presenting a "Gone Girl"-like thriller that always had me on the edge of my seat, always blurring the line between the digital world we want to inhabit and the real world that we should be in. This is the movie I'll always remember from 2018, for being unlike anything else I saw this year.

1. "If Beale Street Could Talk"

I had a very difficult time deciding what deserves to be on this top ten list, but there was no doubt in my mind that Barry Jenkin's "If Beale Street Could Talk" deserved to be the number one. This is the most important movie of the year, a film that transcends boundaries to tell a timeless tale of love in all of its wonderful forms. In a year filled with personal films about flawed, broken people, this is the one that feels the most authentic, the most heartfelt and the most uplfiting. If you haven't seen "If Beale Street Could Talk" yet, do yourself a favor and go see the best film of 2018.

Honorable Mentions -

-Game Night

-Avengers: Infinity War

-Green Book

-The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

-Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Movies I Watched in 2018

While 2018 may not have been the most productive year on this blog for me, it was one of the more productive years of my life outside of this blog. I've allowed myself more time to pursue some of my other passions while still sharing my thoughts and opinions on each of the movies I watched. And even though my reviews are getting shorter, I also like to think that's allowed me to come to a more thorough and precise point in my reviews.

I learned a lot about film reviewing in 2018, probably the most I've learned since I started this blog, about making my points as clear and memorable as I can. I will carry these lessons forward with me as I do my best to continue providing quality reviews that others enjoy reading.

So with all that said, as always, I like to take a look back at all the movies I watched this last year as a quick reminder for everyone, including myself. This also gives me a chance to go back and change the grades on films that I might like more now or like even less than I did the first time. There will also be a few movies on this list that I didn't review for one reason or another. So let's take a look back at what 2018 brought me and what I'd grade each of those films.

1. "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972) - B+

2. "It's A Gift" (1934) - B+

3. "Lady Bird" (2017) - A

4. "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" (2017) - A

5. "The Post" (2017) - B

6. "Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters" (2017) - D

7. "Apollo 13" (1995) - A-

8. "The Sheik" (1921) - C

9. "Son of the Sheik" (1926) - C-

10. "Darkest Hour" (2017) - C+

11. "Phantom Thread" (2017) - B+

12. "Call Me By Your Name" (2017) - B

13. "The Shape of Water" (2017) - A+

14. "Lord of the Flies" (1963) - C+

15. "All the King's Men" (1949) - C

16. "Rififi" (1955) - B+

17. "Flight of the Phoenix" (1965) - B+

18. "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" (2017) - C+

19. "Black Narcissus" (1947) - B+

20. "In Cold Blood" (1967) - B+

21. "Dersu Uzala" (1975) - B+

22. "The Pianist" (2002) - C+

23. "Black Panther" (2018) - B+

24. "The Best Man" (1964) - C+

25. "Annihilation" (2018) - C+

26. "Game Night" (2018) - A-

27. "Field of Dreams" (1989) - B

28. "The Ox-Bow Incident" (1943) - A

29. "Born Yesterday" (1950) - B+

30. "Pacific Rim: Uprising" (2018) - D-

31. "Jailhouse Rock" (1957) - C

32. "Lust for Life" (1956) - C-

33. "Ready Player One" (2018) - B

34. "All the President's Men" (1976) - A-

35. "A Night to Remember" (1958) - A

36. "The Philadelphia Story" (1940) - A+

37. "Wings" (1927) - A-

38. "Fanny and Alexander" (1982) - D+

39. "Dark Victory" (1939) - C

40. "A Man Escaped" (1956) - B

41. "Captain Blood" (1935) - B+

42. "Blockers" (2018) - B

43. "A Quiet Place" (2018) - A-

44. "Isle of Dogs" (2018) - A-

45. "Ocean's Eleven" (1960) - C

46. "Avengers: Infinity War" (2018) - A-

47. "Deadpool 2" (2018) - B

48. "Gamera: The Brave" (2006) - F

49. "My Fair Lady" (1964) - B+

50. "Solo: A Star Wars Story" (2018) - B-

51. "Mildred Pierce" (1945) - A

52. "No Time for Sergeants" (1958) - B

53. "Jezebel" (1939) - C

54. "Hereditary" (2018) - A-

55. "Upgrade" (2018) - B

56. "Ocean's Eight" (2018) - C-

57. "Island of Lost Souls" (1932) - C+

58. "Incredibles 2" (2018) - B-

59. "Tag" (2018) - D+

60. "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1960) - B+

61. "Won't You Be My Neighbor" (2018) - A

62. "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" (2018) - D

63. "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (1963) - A-

64. "Cheyenne Autumn" (1964) - D+

65. "Ant-Man and the Wasp" (2018) - B+

66. "The Blob" (1958) - C+

67. "Sorry to Bother You" (2018) - A-

68. "Fail Safe" (1964) - A-

69. "Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle" (2018) - F+

70. "Unfriended: Dark Web" (2018) - D+

71. "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" (2018) - A-

72. "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (1947) - A

73. "Eighth Grade" (2018) - A-

74. "The Spy Who Dumped Me" (2018) - D+

75. "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946) - A-

76. "From Here to Eternity" (1953) - A

77. "BlacKkKlansmen" (2018) - A

78. "The Pirate" (1948) - C-

79. "Pillow Talk" (1959) - B+

80. "Searching" (2018) - A

81. "Midnight Lace" (1960) - C+

82. "Johnny Belinda" (1948) - C

83. "The Predator" (2018) - D+

84. "Crazy Rich Asians" (2018) - B-

85. "A Simple Favor" (2018) - B+

86. "Christopher Robin" (2018) - C+

87. "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" (2018) - B-

88. "Pride of the Yankees" (1942) - B-

89. "Funny Girl" (1968) - C-

90. "8 1/2" (1963) - A-

91. "Mandy" (2018) - B+

92. "Murder On the Orient Express" (1974) - A-

93. "A Star Is Born" (2018) - B-

94. "Venom" (2018) - D+

95. "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936) - C

96. "Bad Times at the El Royale" (2018) - B+

97. "The Sisters Brothers" (2018) - C+

98. "The Old Man and the Gun" (2018) - B+

99. "First Man" (2018) - B+

100. "Halloween" (2018) - A

101. "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969) - B+

102. "The Hate U Give" (2018) - B-

103. "Free Solo" (2018) - B

104. "Mid90s" (2018) - C-

105. "Bohemian Rhapsody" (2018) - C

106. "The Last Man on Earth" (1964) - B-

107. "Overlord" (2018) - B+

108. "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" (2018) - D+

109. "Widows" (2018) - C+

110. "Boy Erased" (2018) - B-

111. "Green Book" (2018) - B+

112. "Creed II" (2018) - B+

113. "Ralph Breaks the Internet" (2018) - B

114. "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" (2018) - A-

115. "The Mule" (2018) - C+

116. "The Favourite" (2018) - A-

117. "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" (2018) - A-

118. "Roma" (2018) - A

119. "Mary Poppins Returns" (2018) - F+

120. "Holiday Inn" (1942) - C-

121. "Bumblebee" (2018) - B-

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Movie Review - "Stan & Ollie" (2018)

"Stan & Ollie" tells the bittersweet tale of the last time legendary comedic duo Laurel and Hardy performed together. The film looks back on these days with an attentive nostalgia, going into just as much detail about the impact these two had on the world as it does with their tattered relationship. And while the comedy takes a backseat to their legacy, the film still excels due to Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly's performances as Laurel and Hardy respectively, each of them disappearing behind the personalties and makeup. Their banter and genuine friendship is a delight, even during the heavier moments in the film. Overall, "Stan & Ollie" is a laid-back, pleasant look at one of the greatest comedy teams ever, giving something to even those who know nothing about Laurel and Hardy.

Final Grade: B

Movie Review - "Dragon Ball Super: Broly" (2018)

While I've never been the biggest fan of Akira Toriyama's "Dragon Ball" series, there's no denying its universal appeal of explosive, high-energy, pulse pounding fight scenes that only anime can capture so well. Imagine fight scenes happening faster than supersonic jets yet being able to keep up with it. "Dragon Ball Super: Broly" takes all this to another level by giving us big budget fight scenes with vibrant colors and a gorgeous new art style that practically makes every character fly off the screen and every punch feel like it could destroy a mountain. If you don't like the anime style, this newest film won't win you over. But if you ever liked Dragon Ball even a little bit and want to see some glorious fight scenes, you will not be disappointed by "Dragon Ball Super: Broly."

Final Grade: B

Friday, February 1, 2019

Movie Review - "If Beale Street Could Talk" (2018)

Barry Jenkins outdid himself with "If Beale Street Could Talk" by making the most important movie of 2018. Jenkins takes his universal constant of love in the face of hate or the unknown and makes it so rich and real that it is impossible not to be invested in every one of these wonderfully fleshed out characters. This film only gets better as it goes on though, building up from a simple, almost naive story about love into a complex symphony of emotion, examining the true beauty of being human, being vulnerable and being in love, turning that naivety into a great examination that only Barry Jenkins has been able to capture so perfectly. So if there's any movie worth seeing this season, it just might be "If Beale Street Could Talk."

Final Grade: A

Movie Review - "Godzilla: Planet Eater" (2018)

And so the sad, disappointing and remarkably underwhelming animated kaiju trilogy comes to a close, not with a bang, but with a whimper. "Godzilla: Planet Eater" is more of the same we've come to expect from this series of poorly animated movies - a lot of posturing, angst from unlikable characters and treating Godzilla more like a mountain than an actual character or threat. The only difference with this one is that the filmmakers have stopped caring, much like the audience. Everything feels so rushed and thrown together haphazardly that feels like a big mess. I would say that's the perfect way to summarize this entire trilogy, but that would be speaking far too highly of it.

As a fan of animation, this whole series is an eye sore. Nothing in these films looks good and it never truly captures the scope and majesty of a monster that commands the entire planet. As a fan of Godzilla, this trilogy is as big of an insult as any of the worst films in the series, focusing more on emo punk characters and alien religions more than the reason audiences come to see these movies. As a whole, this is a trilogy I'd never recommend to anyone. Even if you like daikaiju films, stick with the worst of the Heisei and Millennium series before watching these.

Final Grade: D-