Tag Archive for 'Best'

Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List (8/21/15) TMC (1993 ****) Directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the book by Thomas Keneally, starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley and Embeth Davidtz. A German industrialist and profiteer rubs elbows with the director of a concentration camp and manages to save more than a thousand Jews from Hitler’s “final solution.” It’s hard to believe more than twenty years have passed since this film was released, a film that would go on to win Best Picture and Best Director awards. It truly is an amazing film and one that is worthy of the awards it won. At the time, it was seen as somewhat of a departure for Spielberg, one that couldn’t be any more different from the other film he directed that was released in 1993, Jurassic Park. Still, it has many moments that feel absolutely Spielbergian. And yes, even in the most dire circumstances, there were moments of humor. Highly recommended.

Whiplash

Whiplash (7/30/15) Starz (2014 ****) Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons and Melissa Benoist. An insecure young man attempts to become a great jazz drummer under the tutelage of an abusive teacher guilty of caring just a little too much. This film was nominated for Best Picture of 2014 and deservedly so. Quite frankly it is the best film I’ve seen in a long time. I was engrossed from beginning to end and can attest to J.K. Simmons being very deserving of his award for Best Supporting Actor. The conflict between the two main characters was palpable, and each were richly drawn. The story would have suffered considerably had Simmons’ Fletcher character been a pure sadist teacher with a drill sergeant mentality and no motivations or redeeming qualities. Likewise, Miles Teller’s Andrew was a driven but flawed protagonist, one who made decisions I didn’t always agree with, yet I still continued to root for him in spite of myself. Highly recommended.

Inside Out

Inside Out (6/25/15) Burbank AMC 16 (2015 ****) Directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen, starring the voices of Kaitlyn Dias (Riley), Amy Poehler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness) and Richard Kind (Bing Bong). When a pre-pubescent girl’s family moves to San Francisco, her emotions get all mixed up. I really have to hand it to Pixar: When it comes to creating unabashedly emotionally-manipulative movies that are wonderfully crafted… well, they’re pretty damned hard to beat. And more power to ’em. Is there really anything more to add? Not really, other than, “Well done.”

Boyhood

Boyhood (6/24/15) TMC (2014 ****) Directed by Richard Linklater, starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater. A young Texas daydreamer named Mason grows to manhood before our eyes. I’d previously watched and reviewed this film on 2/9/15, a bit prior to it losing the Best Picture award to Birdman (2014). Not surprisingly, Boyhood remains my choice for best picture. Watching it for this second time, I was further impressed by the loving touch that went into this film. Given the variety of projects he undertakes, I don’t know if Richard Linklater is ever going to be able to top this accomplishment or not, but I sure as hell wouldn’t bet against him, and I hope to see him someday holding a Best Director and/or Best Picture Oscar in his hands. In my previous review I wrote that I would likely watch it again. Guess what? I’m going to repeat that same prediction this time around. Let’s see how long it takes before I do. (Favorite)

JFK

JFK (6/21/15) MAX (1991 ****) Directed by Oliver Stone, based on the books On the Trail of the Assassins by Jim Garrison and Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy by Jim Marrs, starring Kevin Costner, Sissy Spacek, Ed Asner, Jack Lemmon and Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald. New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison decides to expand his purview to include the assassination of the 35th President of the United States. I had not watched JFK for more than a decade. I saw it when it was first released and its visual style blew me away, immediately becoming my favorite of Oliver Stone’s films. It’s still hard for me to believe that JFK is nearly 25 years old. Of course, because of its subject matter, the film was controversial when it was released, but it seems like that aspect of it has softened somewhat over the years. The question of whether there was or was not a conspiracy to assassinate John Kennedy doesn’t seem to be as poignant in a post-9/11 world. (Favorite)

Finding Vivian Maier

Finding Vivian Maier (6/1/15) TMC (2013 ****) Written and directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, featuring interviews with and/or footage of Vivian Maier, John Maloof, Phil Donahue and others. A winning auction for a box of old negatives leads one man to discovering one of the most talented street photographers in the history of the medium. I learned of Maloof’s discovery sometime within a year after he posted a selection of Maier’s images online. Her photos were quite striking and I was immediately engrossed by the story behind them. Finding Vivian Maier was executed with a deft touch and was structured in such a way that the viewer felt the layers of secrecy of the documentary’s subject being peeled back incrementally throughout. Maier herself proved to be a fascinating character who was driven by obvious talents, but also obsessive demons, and there was definitely a dark side to her personality. As one of her former charges testified, her behavior passed well beyond the limits of eccentricity. In addition to the material about Maier herself, there was a second theme introduced involving the reluctance by the art establishment to recognize Vivian Maier as a legitimate artist. I can understand that point of view, but would have appreciated hearing more about the rationale. I was very touched by this film: At the end, I felt both a kinship with Maier as a compulsively-driven creative soul, and also a deep sense of sadness over a life lived in both obscurity and apparently without much love.

The Avengers

The Avengers (5/3/15) FX (2012 ****) Co-written and directed by Joss Whedon, starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner and Tom Hiddleston. The Earth’s Mightiest Heroes assemble to save the planet from an Asgardian demigod and his alien pals. After watching the somewhat disappointing Age of Ultron (2015), I wanted to test whether my memory of the first Avengers film was faulty. Well, as it turns out, even watching it with commercial interruptions, the 2012 film was every bit as good as I’d remembered: The story, characterizations, character relationships, villain and humor were all 100% rock solid. (Favorite)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (4/26/15) Starz (2014 ****) Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, starring Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie and Robert Redford. When a super-powered patriot goes up against a cybernetically-enhanced assassin named The Winter Soldier, he discovers that S.H.I.E.L.D. may not be all it says it is. At least one of my friends points to this movie as their favorite in the superhero genre. After watching it for the second time, I’m tempted to agree with him, though I honestly enjoyed The Avengers (2012) more.. It really is a hell of a well-made movie, and I can see why Anthony and Joe Russo have been handed the reins for future Avengers films. Just the presence of Robert Redford adds such gravitas to the whole proceedings. I also want to note that I’m really a fan of Chris Evans as Captain America, and I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone who might play it better. He brings a wholesome earnestness to the role that is crucial, especially in a film where the “big question” is: “What does it mean to be a patriot?”

Godspell

Godspell (4/5/15) TCM (1973 ****) Directed by David Greene, based on the musical by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak, starring Victor Garber, David Haskell, Katie Hanley, Merrell Jackson and others. The Gospel According to St. Matthew is brought to musical life by a bunch of face-painting hippies in the vacant streets of New York City. It’s not exactly a tradition, but I often think of watching this film each Easter, and it was on an Easter morning that I did. I’ve loved this film since I was a child and I’m embarrassed to admit I basically cried continuously all the way through. While I’m very familiar with Godspell, I seem to see something new with each viewing. This time around I recognized, possibly for the first time, just how well-directed it was. Looking at its director David Greene’s filmography, his greatest awards success was in television, including an Emmy in 1977 for Roots. Another thing I think I’ve probably noticed previously but don’t remember if I’ve ever written it down: One of the film’s most famous images (and used on the cover of the soundtrack album) is the cast dancing atop one of the Twin Towers while it was still under construction. Watching Godspell with post-9/11 eyes, the film’s opening imagery with the World Trade Center coupled with the sound of a jet airplane is especially spooky. On a personal note: This was the first time I’ve watched Godspell since my mother passed away, and I’ll always be grateful to her for taking me to see this film and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) when they were originally released. (Favorite)

The Walking Dead, Season 5

The Walking Dead, Season 5 (3/29/15) AMC (2014-15 ****) Series created by Frank Darabont, based on the comics written by Robert Kirkman, starring Andrew Lincoln, Steven Yeun, Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride. 16 episodes, originally aired 10/12/14 – 3/29/15. Rick Grimes and his intrepid band of zombie-slaying survivors journey from the frying pan to an apparent safe haven that may not be safe at all. Season 4 ended famously with the group locked in a railroad car and Rick saying: “They’ve fucked with the wrong people.” It was a recognition of the fact that in the course of surviving the zombie apocalypse, they had to become something different than what they were, for better or worse. That feeling of individuals “going past the point of no return” was this season’s major theme, with some individuals dealing with it very differently than others. By the end of the season, Rick, Michonne, Daryl and the others found themselves in a walled-off gated community populated with a well-meaning group that hadn’t experienced life “out there.” To them, Rick’s hardscrabble survivors may as well have been wild animals.