My Top Ten Films of 2017

2017 was an odd year. Politics and social turmoil notwithstanding, the film industry—Hollywood in particular—experienced supreme highs and extreme lows, both critically and at the box office. In the United States, the year saw the release of films that were met with praise from both critics and audiences alike (Wonder Woman; Thor: Ragnarok; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; Coco; Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), the wide release of films that debuted earlier on international markets (like the criminally undermentioned gem Raw, which would be in my top ten had it not gotten a French release in 2016), as well as a whole mess of stinkers (Jigsaw, the disappointing Suburbicon, Justice League, and Transformers: The Last Knight, to name a few). Still, I felt that 2017 was an improvement, quality wise, from the previous years, and filling out the rest of my top ten list was more difficult—in a good way! Check out my top ten list below, as I reflect on a genuinely fun year at the movies.

  1. Spider-Man: Homecoming

The closer I got to the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming the more nervous I became—the film has six credited screenwriters, a still relatively-unproven director at the helm, that poster is absolutely terrible, and there are enough supporting characters in this one film to fill any franchise. Still, all my fears were eased the second Tom Holland walked on-screen with his intense charisma and charm literally dominating every frame he’s in. More so than just about any film this year, Spider-Man: Homecoming is immensely fun and reminds me why I enjoy going to the movies so much. Holland and the rest of the cast are hilarious and adorably awkward, nailing the high school dynamic perfectly, but Michael Keaton nearly steals the entire show with a complex and restrained performance as Adrian Toomes/Vulture, rivaling Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock as the best on-screen Spider-Man villain. I eagerly await for the 2019 sequel which hopefully retains all the moving parts that makes this film so good.

  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand is an absolute powerhouse, and she proves it in Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. McDormand as Mildred Hayes—a mother who is done putting up with your shit—hits notes of grief, strength, fear, and most importantly humor in a film that demands all of those characteristics and more. Three Billboards deals with some heavy themes, but McDonagh’s script weaves them all together masterfully, never coming across as preachy or otherwise (although that is not the agreed upon opinion about the film’s messages). The real gem about this film, though, is the supporting cast who all hold their own against a career-best McDormand; Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are getting well deserved attention with their dual SAG nominations and Rockwell’s Globes win, but Peter Dinklage and John Hawkes are also phenomenal in every scene they’re in. And what a year for Lucas Hedges and Caleb Landry Jones, both of whom will appear in multiple other films on this list.

  1. Get Out

There wasn’t another film released in 2017 that had the same sort of societal reverberations that Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out had. Grossing 254 million dollars against a mere 4 and a half million dollar budget, Peele’s scary-as-hell horror film (sure, there are funny moments but it isn’t necessarily a comedy as the Golden Globes claim) had perfect timing being released in the doldrums of the February box office and remains important almost a year later. Skewing the white-liberal frame of mind better than any comedy bit since the 2016 election, Get Out is bolstered exponentially by Peele’s outstanding script, and a terrifically wide-eyed star-making performance from English actor Daniel Kaluuya. In a cinematic world dominated by horror sequels and reboots—we had a fourth Insidious movie released this month!!—Get Out reigns supreme, thanks in large part to the political implications involved.

  1. Logan

It’s been quite a while since I first checked out Logan—almost a full calendar year now—but the film has stuck with me, and I’ve revisited it on home media to remind myself of just how great it is. In a world where superhero fatigue is quite real—I mean just how many superhero films does one country need a year??—Logan and the previously mentioned reboot of Spider-Man do their own sort of service without the unnecessary restraints of cinematic universe-building. James Mangold’s Logan does this even better than Homecoming by placing his titular character so far outside of the X-Men timeline, and allowing his film to function on numerous levels: a Western (with a healthy amount of allusions to Shane), a family-or-something-like-it drama, and, perhaps most importantly, a superhero film that redefines what the genre can be and aims a gleeful middle finger at it, too. If these really are the last performances of Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart as Wolverine and Professor X respectively, then they certainly go out with style.

  1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I wanted this film to be my number one film of the year—in fact, I actively hoped for this as soon as I entered my opening Thursday-night screening—but it’ll have to settle for a respectable number six. Don’t let the fanboys and the nay-sayers dissuade you—Star Wars: The Last Jedi is damn good and a ridiculous amount of fun. That Rian Johnson can continue to blaze new trails with a franchise on its eighth installment is remarkable in its own right, but Johnson has also proved himself to be a filmmaker independent of a major studio and capable of putting his own stamp on a property. The Last Jedi is beautiful to look at, instrumentally impactful to the fate of the franchise, and a wonderful tribute to the late Carrie Fisher, and it also gives stars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, and Mark Hamill the chance to really shine. There is indeed hope in the galaxy, and, also, Porgs are the greatest.

  1. Lady Bird

It’s a testament to director and writer Greta Gerwig for making a 17 year-old girl from Northern California in the early 2000s so relatable across all spectrums of life. What struck me so much about Lady Bird was just how effective it was; every decision from Gerwig behind the camera feels so vital to the story, and absolutely nothing in this film gets the short straw. Give additional credit to Gerwig and her editor Nick Houy for their beautiful editing that skillfully draws parallels between Lady Bird and her mother Christine (whose relationship forms the genuine beating heart of this film), as well as the ensemble cast who all hold their own: Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe (who are dynamite when they share the screen), Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Timothée Chalamet, and Lucas Hedges. Gerwig created something special with this film, and Lady Bird is truly one of the more affecting and hilarious coming-of-age films since Superbad in 2007.

  1. Detroit

Released in an absurd window at the tail end of the summer movie season, it’s a real shame that Detroit has been routinely ignored by the guilds and the Academy precursors. The story of the Detroit Riots of 1967 is the story of our time, and perhaps some of the reason that Detroit hasn’t been given the attention it deserves is because it’s just so damn relevant to today’s society. Just about everything in this film is perfect—Kathryn Bigelow’s skilled and remarkably personal direction, Mark Boal’s tight and emotionally powerful script, and so many performances. John Boyega, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, and especially Will Poulter as the terrifying and racist police officer Philip Krauss should be in consideration for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but none of them will be, which is a shame. Here’s to hoping Detroit will gain some kind of second life on home video.

  1. The Disaster Artist

I’ve always been a big fan of the Apatow brand of comedy and, although The Disaster Artist doesn’t exactly qualify, I have to admit that the presence of Seth Rogen and James Franco in another film together made me excited for this one since it was first announced in 2014. There’s no beating around the bush here: James Franco as The Room writer-director-star Tommy Wiseau is the best performance of the year. Franco attempts so many difficult nuances here—confident yet insecure, cruel yet tender, hilarious yet sad—and nails every one of them. His performance as Tommy carries the entire film (which is wonderful even disregarding the performance at its heart), and Franco should be the frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Actor, especially after his victory in the Best Actor – Comedy or Musical category at the Golden Globes. He’s a real triumph here, and I relished every minute of it.

  1. Coco

Despite my affinity for 2016’s Finding Dory, Pixar seems to make the most waves for me when they put their effort behind an original film. Inside Out, Up, and WALL-E remain remarkably crafted pieces of art, perhaps even more so because they stand alone so well. Coco, directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, is no exception to this rule, and is further solidifies that Pixar is a force to be reckoned with when giving it their all. Not only is Coco quite probably the most beautiful animated film—or any film, really—that I’ve ever seen, it’s also full of the rich humor, heart, and positivity that Pixar has made their bread and butter. The talented voice cast, led by 13-year old Anthony Gonzalez voicing Miguel, and Michael Giacchino’s Mexican-influenced score further beautify this already beautiful film.

  1. The Florida Project

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is not only far and away the best film of 2017, it has to be in contention for the best film of the past decade. Featuring star-making turns from Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinatie and the best performance of Willem Dafoe’s career, The Florida Project highlights an underrepresented portion of the American population—those living in extreme poverty—but never attempts to make any sort of judgment about the characters it presents, or the circumstances in which they live. Alexis Zabe’s simple yet stunning cinematography, coupled with Baker’s subtly fly-on-the-wall direction, create such an utterly realistic setting that it could only make sense for it to be true—and it is. Filmed and set in the Mickey Mouse-shaped shadow of Disney World in Orlando, Florida, the film benefits exponentially from its documentary like filmmaking, and, although it sounds cliché, audiences often have to remind themselves they’re watching a movie and not a stylishly edited piece of someone’s life. Baker is known to yield strong performances from his first time actors, like Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in 2015’s Tangerine, but the strength of Prince and Vinatie cannot be understated, they are just that good. Both command the screen with every frame they appear in, and mesh into their characters of Moonee and Halley respectively with ease, grace, and immense skill. The Florida Project demands to be rewatched for many reasons, least of which is the final scene of Moonee and her friend Jancey as they sprint through towards Cinderella’s Castle filmed in gloriously distinctive iPhone quality. Dafoe should win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but hopefully this is not merely a consolation prize—The Florida Project deserves all the attention it gets, and more.

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Marvel Promises More “Guardians,” More James Gunn

In a move which surprised utterly no one, James Gunn announced today that he is returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to direct and write the third installment of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, the second of which opens in theaters the first weekend of May. Unlike a usual announcement, which would come from the higher-ups at Marvel, Gunn announced the news himself on his Facebook page, revealing the news to millions of fans who, like myself, were unsurprised at this news.

Marvel (and by proxy, Disney) has proven time and time again that they don’t when to quit, so at this point I have the expectation that they will not quit, regardless of where their storylines go. Gunn mentions in his post that the Marvel Universe has been leading up to Infinity War, in which the Guardians of the Galaxy will appear. Speculation about the nature of their appearance has run rampant both before and after Marvel confirmed they would be in the film, yet these preemptive announcements take a little bit out of the excitement of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, at least for me. I will, of course, go into Vol. 2 with the assumption that no real threat will befall our heroes and that they will survive  for the events of Infinity War, but I have no idea what to expect from the latter film. Although Marvel hasn’t been known for killing their main characters, or even changing them significantly from one film to another, their persistence that Infinity War is some kind of end-of-the-road film where all bets are off creates a new kind of hype surrounding that film. Anything could seemingly happen in that two-parter, the first part hitting theaters next summer, but now, with this confirmation of Guardians 3, we can safely assume that those characters will make it through the world-defining Infinity War struggle unscathed.

Herein lies my biggest problem with Disney/Marvel. Although superhero fatigue has set in–many of their films have failed to reach the levels of their predecessors–Marvel continues to announce an onslaught of further and further productions. Last week, news popped up that Disney also does not have an end for the Star Wars franchise in sight, although the ninth episode and conclusion of The Force Awakens trilogy will bow in 2019.  The money will continue to roll into the pockets of Disney executives and the studio will pump out further and further adaptations and sequels.

Still, James Gunn expresses desire in his Facebook post that the this iteration of the Guardians will end with the third installment. On one hand, I have absolute faith that Gunn will handle these unique characters with ease and end their story appropriately. On the other hand, I fully expect Disney to announce a new iteration of the series soon after. This is the company which has given the world three Spider-Man series in 15 years, after all.

The Ever-Changing Rules of the Academy

Apparently unable to keep a homeostasis for very long, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has yet again changed its rules of eligibility, effective for the 90th Academy Awards next February.

Numerous categories were affected as the changes were announced on Friday, yet most notably changed was the Best Documentary Feature category. Despite O.J.: Made in America winning Best Documentary in February as a film and also serving as a TV documentary mini-series, the Academy has now ruled that documentary series are now longer eligible for the award. Although O.J. was not mentioned in the press release announcing the rule change, this alteration feels, to me, like a direct response to a film which met Academy qualifications last year by premiering in theaters before it aired on television. This rule seems to make it unnecessarily difficult for worthy films to be nominated for Oscars, and the Academy seems to be limiting their own goal of finding the year’s best films (O.J. topped my best-of film list for 2016, as well as numerous critics). Traditional, theatrically released docs are not the only way to make an exceptional film, although the Academy seems to be preserving some sense of superiority by limited the category in such a way. ESPN’s latest documentary We the Fans, which premieres on April 11th as the first part of an eight-part series is now no longer eligible for the Academy Awards, yet may be eligible for the Primetime Emmy Awards comes September.

Of course the Academy is not shy about changing its rules in one way, sometimes directly after changing them in another way. The best example of this in my lifetime is the recent rule changes for the Best Picture category. In 2009, before the 82nd Awards, the Best Picture category was expanded from five nominated films to ten, although it only stayed that way for two years. A response to populous films like The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008) not being nominated, many now think the rule change was a failure mainly due to films such as The Blind Side (Hancock, 2009) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Daldry, 2010) receiving nominations. The category now hovers between five and ten, and very few films with mass appeal, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015) make the cut despite original intentions from the Academy.

I’m on the fence about the rules myself. I thoroughly believe the Oscars should do their best to honor the best films possible, yet their near-constant dismissal of films that received critical and commercial acclaim is baffling to me. Yes, some films that meet both qualifications have received nominations–Toy Story 3 (Unkrich, 2010), Inception (Nolan, 2010), Django Unchained (Tarantino, 2012), and others. Still, the middle ground is irritating. There are far more than ten films released every year that deserve Best Picture nominations, and I see no harm in giving the Academy a minimum/maximum of ten to nominate. I do see the dilemma when films like The Blind Side and Extremely Loud get nominated, though. For the record I enjoy those films, yet calling them Best Picture-worthy feels odd to me. Perhaps the Academy is better being exclusive, live it was for decades upon decades, and only nominated five, often incredibly-worthy, films.

In Which Brent Recommends Three Things

The last week of March brought with it a plethora of pop culture, of which I devoured three things–this shouldn’t come as a surprise, right? I mean, I’ve spent the better part of the year reviewing HBO’s Big Little Lies, after all. While much of my week has also been spent re-watching the second season of Better Call Saul, which arrived on Netflix last Monday, I also managed to spend ample time in a movie theater to see two films currently in limited release, Raw (Ducournau, 2016) and Dark Night (Sutton, 2016).

On Wednesday March 29, my girlfriend and I made the drive to Nashville to see Raw at the lovely Belcourt Theatre near the campus of Vanderbilt University. She and I have both been looking forward to Raw since we saw the initial trailer late last year, and it did not disappoint either of us. The feature-length directorial debut for French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, Raw is about a young woman who enrolls in veterinary college, just as her entire family has done before her, including her older sister who is still a student. The student, Justine (the wonderful Garance Marillier in her film debut) is a vegetarian, also like her entire family, yet is quickly exposed to carnivore-ism as a result of the hazing rituals that the veterinary school employs. From there, the film quickly devolves into that of nightmares, and is full of both realistic and disturbing gore, as well as a fair amount of sexual activity. Saying a lot about this film is difficult without revealing too much, and the film actually works better if you go into knowing as little as possible. Still, the film is an impressively shot piece of art, bolstered mostly by Marillier’s performance, as well as Ducournau’s mature script and direction. A coming-of-age film at its most pure, Raw is a tough watch at times, although it is not nearly as graphically horrific as many reviews have claimed it to be. The film concludes as a metaphor for how far we, as humans, will go to be accepted by our peers, and is unflinching in its gaze, which both punishes and glorifies uniqueness and individuality. Raw is a film that will likely get better with every viewing, and I highly recommend it for fans of both horror, and of teen dramas. Check out showtimes and trailers for Raw on its website.

Last night I was lucky enough to catch another independent film in limited release, this time at the brand new Speed Cinema at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. The film I saw, Dark Night, was introduced quite cautiously by a member of the museum and is, as the title suggests, a reflection of the 2012 Aurora shooting at the screen of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Although not a direct interpretation of the attack–indeed, there is a brief mention of the Aurora shooting, which strongly suggests that the attack in this film is a copycat attack of sorts–Dark Night uses the Aurora massacre as a sort of jumping off point to draw its own conclusions and to make its own powerful reflections on American society. The easiest comparison for this film is Elephant (Van Sant, 2003), but even that feels too easy a comparison. Dark Night is, above all else, a film about American desensitization and the physical and emotional distances that we put up to hide ourselves away. Many of the shots in this film are through mirrors, and almost every character expresses some sort of barricade: our ex-Marine is having a difficult time reintegrating into everyday life and is obsessed with guns, our young woman is a selfie queen, yet is hiding much more conflicting feelings about herself, and Jumper, this films eventual antagonist, hates the world and everything around him, only finding control and a place in this world in the film’s understated conclusion. Dark Night is a gorgeous film, and French cinematographer Hélène Louvart manages to find beauty in a dark world, one which she and director Tim Sutton strive to showcase in true colors. In a perfect world, Louvart would be nominated for an Academy Award come 2018.

My last recommendation is one that I won’t spend as much time on because it has already been written about extensively in the past week: the new podcast S-Town from the teams behind Serial and This American LifeS-Town, hosted by Brian Reed, is a glorious and hauntingly lovely podcast that, most notably, centers around the relationship between Reed and his muse, Alabama horologist John B. McLemore. S-Town is often compared to a novel, and that is the most accurate description I can give as well–bingeing through the seven episodes of the series, which were released all at once, is akin to feverishly reading a novel that you can’t get enough of. There are some wonderful articles about S-Town published in The New Yorker here and Vox here.

Spider-Man Thoughts

Spider-Man is easily my favorite superhero and I am an unashamed defender of nearly all of his feature films so far, save for one example: I absolutely loved The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but I did not enjoy Spider-Man 3, and the latter gets worse with each viewing. After the new trailer for the latest iteration Spider-Man: Homecoming dropped yesterday I had to reevaluate my overall thoughts about the franchise–after watching the trailer multiple times, of course.

First and foremost I do think this movie has some potential, and I’ll absolutely be waiting in line to see it on opening night. I was a huge fan of Tom Holland’s portrayal of the character in Captain America: Civil War, and I think the addition of actors such as Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, Tony Revelori, Bookem Woodbine, and, particularly, Michael Keaton, give this movie a fresh, diverse group of talent. Although I am weary that the film has six credited screenwriters, I am quite excited for this film, apart from its awful title. Still, I don’t think this film needs to exist.

From a financial standpoint I do understand why this film has been made. Sony was desperate to move on from the lukewarm reception of Amazing Spider-Man 2 and their 2014 hack, while Marvel was itching to bring one of Marvel’s most popular heroes into their Cinematic Universe. Mutually, they agreed to co-produce the film pleasing fans almost universally, save maybe for people like me who loved Andrew Garfield’s take on the character. Despite this film’s good intentions, though, it feels like a cash grab to me. As Civil War shot to the top of the box office and the juggernaut of Star Wars continues to be the highest grossing film of the year even when it’s a mostly unrelated spinoff film like Rogue One, Disney and Marvel have proven that they are in it for the money, and we continue to give them ours.

I don’t want to sound cynical. I am monstrously excited for not only Homecoming but for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and I’ll buy my tickets for Star Wars: The Last Jedi months in advance, yet I wish we, America, gave a bit more attention to smaller independent films as well. (On a related note, I’ve bought tickets to see both Raw (Ducournau, 2016) and Dark Night (Sutton, 2016) this week so expect to see a mini-review of both of them in the coming days.)

You can check out the (very good) second trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming here.

Rebecca Hall on “Christine” and Gender Dynamics in Commercial Hollywood

Rebecca Hall, the British actress and star of the criminally under-appreciated 2016 film Christine, did not shy away from some revealing discussion about gender in an interview published late last on year on The Business podcast with Kim Masters, touching on both the struggles that the real-life Christine went through, as well as her role that was essentially left on the cutting room floor in 2013’s Iron Man 3.

Based on the real life Florida television reporter Christine Chubbuck, who took her own life on air in 1974 at the age of 29, Christine drew Hall in because of this story, one which she recalls was quite difficult to uncover. Notorious only because of the supreme and public act of violence which took her life, Chubbuck was, in Hall’s mind, at the risk of falling into the “annals of history” as a footnote and nothing more. “I did this film to know the person behind it,” Hall states and, although the film crew and Hall herself were unable to talk to many people who knew Chubbuck personally, Hall was drawn to the social-historical context of the film as well. The role, which Hall describes as “scary” on the podcast, is indeed a crucial and necessary one and one in which the supremely talented Hall rises to the occasion by delivering a deeply complex, thought-provoking, and absolutely Oscar-worthy performance.

The film, too, is an important one. On the podcast, Hall describes the complexity of the film as Taxi Driver-esque which feels aptly appropriate for a film that examines mental illness is such a genuine and non-judgmental lens. Important as well is that fact that the film features a strong (and fragile) female lead, another factor attributing to Hall’s passion about the project. Ever rare in any case, yet alone a case as delicate as this, Hall is no stranger to the unique position (to say the least) of women in Hollywood.

During the production of Iron Man 3, directed by Shane Black, whom I have mentioned previously here, Hall was reportedly told that she’d be playing the principal villain of the film. However, halfway through production, Hall found her role to have been greatly reduced prompting her to claim “I signed up to do something very different to what I ended up doing.” Even after the film was released and the news broke that the studio had changed Hall’s role because they preferred a male villain, nothing much came of the change and, although she was vocal in her willingness to talk about it, very few people ever asked her. Hall, a veteran of the industry, is well aware of the situation she found herself in–“I don’t get to be the lead in a tiny independent film unless I bring in the money to make it,” she said.

Hall, an incredibly talented and intelligent filmmaker, has effectively established herself, very quietly, as one of the very best in the industry even if she has yet to break into the Hollywood mainstream. If Hall continues to churn out reliably excellent performances–look at not only Christine, but also The Gift (Edgerton, 2015)–then it is not unreasonable to think that she will stick around in both independent and big-budget features for quite some time.

The Semi-Rarity of a 100% Rotten Tomatoes Rating

On February 24th, Jordan Peele released his directorial debut Get Out in theaters which, at the time of this writing on February 25th, holds a perfect 100% rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. This is not to say that every critic reviewing the film has given the film perfect scores, though, with the average rating of the film being an 8.3 out of 10. Still, this is a monumental achievement, especially for a director making his debut and working within the confines of two genres not known for their critical acclaim–comedy and horror. Get Out is a great example of how to do both genres well, and manages to be a great film in its own right, too, yet seems like a left-field choice for a film receiving unanimous critical acclaim. After doing some research, though, the distinction of a 100% rating is not as rare as one might think, and some truly odd films have achieved this feat.

Certainly some films in the historical canon of greatest/most important films of all time appear on the list: The Birth of a Nation (1915), The Kid (1921), Nanook of the North (1922), Modern Times (1936), The Grapes of WrathRebecca, The Philadelphia Story (all 1940), Citizen Kane (1941) and the first two Toy Story films (1995, 1999) all appear along with many other examples of classic films. Still, many other films with a 100% rating are more obscure and appear on the list thanks to positive reviews from just a handful of reviews–a 1993 Queer/exploitation film titled Totally Fucked Up holds a 100% thanks to six reviews. The amount of “perfect” films hasn’t decreased in recent years, yet it has most often occurred for documentary films including Netflix’s The Square (2013), Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me (2014), and 2016’s O.J.: Made in America (for my review of that film, see here.)

In the modern age, though, it is rare for a film to be so widely seen and to still hold the perfect Rotten Tomatoes rating. Only three films have been reviewed by over 100 critics and still hold the unanimous approval rating: Toy Story 2, which has 163 reviews, Man on Wire (2008) with 154 reviews, and Get Out with 132 reviews and counting. This unanimous approval seems to be counter-intuitive to the nature of film criticism sometimes. Even films hailed as Oscar contenders in recent years–like Selma and Boyhood (both 2014)–received a handful of negative reviews even on route to numerous Oscar nominations. While many predicted that, because of the intense acclaim these films received, one of them would win Best Picture, it came as a surprise when both of these films went home with one award a piece on Oscar night and both losing Best Picture to Birdman, a film with a still very highly-resepectable score of 91%.

Immense critical acclaim does not often lead to being the big winner come Oscar night. Toy Story 2 lost its only nomination back in 2000 (for Randy Newman and Best Original Song), and Man on Wire won only the Best Documentary Feature Oscar with no other nominations. Will Get Out stick around long enough in the mind of Oscar voters to garner a few nominations next year? My vote is no, based specifically off of its genre which Oscar voters almost always ignore. However, the lack of award attention that the film may unfortunately fall victim to does not take away from the praise that it so deserves. As a consolation prize? Get Out is currently the best reviewed horror film and the best reviewed comedy of all time.

“Variety” and the Los Angeles Lakers

I was looking on Variety’s website yesterday and I was surprised to find that they had published an article about the recent shakeup in the front office of the Los Angeles Lakers. Though ordinarily a film publication, Variety seems to be comfortable with writing about anything and everything L.A., even when a topic such as the NBA wouldn’t seem to make many waves in the film industry. In the sports industry, though, this is huge news. The Lakers, the second most-winningest NBA franchise in terms of wins and championships, have struggled immensely recently and have now turned to Earvin “Magic” Johnson, their former star point guard, to lead the team as the president of basketball operations.

So, why does Variety decide to post about this one specific nugget of sports news? Why the Lakers, when they have a literal plethora of teams to choose from in the area–the Clippers, the Rams, the Chargers, the Angels, the Dodgers, et. al.? Like many things in the city of Los Angeles, the decision seems to be a superficial one: Magic Johnson is a superstar in every sense of the word and, historically, the Lakers have been a team of superstars as well.

The Lakers have struggled mightily in the past few seasons–in back to back years they have eclipsed their own marks for the worst seasons in franchise history–yet their past history is on their side. The Lakers have existed in Los Angeles longer than any other team besides the Dodgers, and have won a resounding sixteen championships in the city. As film production expanded in the late 1960s and early 1970s so too did the Lakers, acquiring future Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from the Milwaukee Bucks in 1975 and drafting Johnson with the first overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft. The 1980s was the famed “Showtime Era” for the Lakers earned them five titles and, after the team gained Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in the mid-1990s, there was little lull in the team’s success.

The success of the Lakers is easily paralleled with the success of Los Angeles as whole–intense highs and very little lows–yet their lows have gotten quite extreme over the past years. It’s in the best interest of the city to have a team they can stand behind and revel in the pride of (sure the Clippers are good, but who like the Clippers?) Magic Johnson is a star in his own right, a valuable media presence and television personality, so it should be no surprise that Variety would publish an article about his doings and the going ons of Los Angeles’s favorite team. As long as Jack Nicholson is still kickin’ and sitting courtside at every Laker game, there will always be a clear connection to the team and the movie industry that dominates the town.

Michael Shannon Is Just Like The Rest Of Us

In a November interview with Marc Maron for his WTF with Marc Maron podcast, actor Michael Shannon laid everything out about his personal and professional life and, although it can be cliche to say this, Mr. Shannon is very much just like the rest of us.

A personal favorite actor of mine Shannon gives off the persona of elusiveness, yet does not come across as such in any interview I have heard with him. Warm and friendly, Shannon spoke to Maron, and to most interviewers of him, with kindness and humility as though he was speaking to a friend and not another famous person. His polite and humble nature likely comes from his quasi-Southern upbringing: born in Lexington, Kentucky, Shannon spent equal time there and in Chicago, where he attended high school and joined theatre troupes. Shannon is aware of the odd dichotomy of his two homes–in the interview with Maron he claimed that he didn’t “fit in” in either place too well, yet found solace in the local theatre. His smooth and slightly Southern accent notwithstanding, Shannon’s quiet confident nature would feel very much at home in Kentucky and throughout the American South; perhaps this is why he has occasionally been typecast in Southern roles.

Another reason for this humility is probably because Shannon believes that he owes much of his success to other people. A fiercely loyal collaborator, Shannon is perhaps best known to the average cinephile as the only person to appear in all of Jeff Nichols’ films, including Midnight Special and Loving, which Shannon appeared on the podcast to promote. A popular character actor in the plays of Tracy Letts as well, Shannon levied high praise on both Letts and Nichols in the interview, saying that he wouldn’t be where he was today without their influence.

Shannon also appeared on the podcast to promote the then-recently released Nocturnal Animals, directed by Tom Ford. One of my favorite films of the year, Nocturnal Animals is boosted by a terrific Oscar-nominated turn from Shannon as, you might’ve guessed it, a Southern (Texas) police officer. The beacon of semi-morality in an otherwise lawless film, Shannon’s Detective Andes is a typical character for him, someone with a strong sense of power and authority in a role that’s just enough flash and prestige without distracting the audience from the rest of the film.

Although he’s a strong family man Michael Shannon manages to stay prolific–he has five films coming out within the next 12 months alone, and, as he’s approaching the thirty year mark of his career, Shannon has also managed to gain widespread acclaim for just about every film he appears in. If he continues to work with acclaimed writers and directors, and if he has it his way, Shannon will continue to stick around and impress us with his performances for years to come.

Review: “O. J.: Made in America”

Very likely my favorite film of 2016, O. J.: Made in America is the rare kind of film that manages to add a little of everything to the mix. What is this film, an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, really about? Race? Class? Gender and masculinity? The murder of a young woman and a young man? The fall from grace of an American icon? If you ask anyone who has sat through the almost eight-hour long epic (which took me a week to complete), and they will rightly tell you that the film delicately balances all those things, and more.

One of the greatest things about this film is how well director Ezra Edelman treats his audience by assuming that they know nothing about O. J. Simpson. You’d be hard pressed to find someone in 2017 who doesn’t know at least something about O. J. Simpson–I was only four months old at the time of his acquittal for murder, yet I feel as though I know the case better than some people who can remember it. Still, Edelman treats the film as though he is revealing the man of O. J. Simpson for the first time, a wondrous achievement. Beginning with Simpson as a young man, the film chronicles his early successes playing high school, college, and professional football, and his quick ascension to celebrity status, all with the backdrop of race, which Simpson was also an expert in. Edelman shows that, because of his maneuvering between the white and black races, Simpson was able to take hold of the white American psyche in a way that few, if any, African-American figures had done before, all the while still being adored by the African-American community as well. By adding in the complex topic of race early on in the film, the audience is given a clear indication that this will come into play later in the documentary, which it does in full force, especially during the parts of the film which depict the murder trial of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

The film is far too long, and far too far-reaching, for me to accurately sum it up in a single blog post, let alone a full-length essay, yet the whole film really comes down to the man it depicts–Orenthal James Simpson. A deeply enigmatic, deeply flawed, and deeply troubled icon of American pop culture, Made in America makes a valid attempt to understand the man himself, and it very richly succeeds. Simpson is a man dominated by the desire–the need, the addiction–to be liked, and to be famous. This is eerily present in the documentary which makes great usage of Simpson’s past interviews and archive footage. A charming guy with a great smile, a strong voice, and a passionate way about him, Simpson nevertheless emerges as a tragic individual. When someone is so dominated by the impulse to be loved by everyone, they will inevitably step on a few toes to get to the top of that proverbial mountain. Currently imprisoned since 2008 for a Las Vegas armed robbery, Simpson is carefully painted in both negative and positive lights for the film. While Edelman seems to make the conclusion that, yes, despite what the twelve jurors decided in 1995, Simpson is a murderer, there is a tragic way about how Simpson is presented in the documentary’s present tense. Simpson flew too close to the sun and got burned–if you ask Marcia Clark and Fred Goldman, as Edelman did, they’d say that karma came back and bit O. J. Simpson.

As a culture we are obsessed with fame and this film makes that abundantly clear. Allegedly, on the night of Simpson’s armed robbery in a Vegas casino, his god-daughter Kim Kardashian announced her new television series Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which, again allegedly, Simpson said would last no longer than two weeks. When the Kardashian patriarch, Robert, was such an influential figure in Simpson’s murder trial, did you really not expect one of his daughters to appear in a documentary about Simpson? We as Americans are so pre-occupied with fame that we, at times, forget to live our own lives, and we forget that fame is a tangible thing. I myself am a victim, as I’ve spent the vast majority of the past week researching, listening to, and watching any thing I could about a crime that happened before I was even born, all because a celebrity was at the center of it. But hey, whenever something as groundbreaking and astonishing as O. J.: Made in America is on, can you blame me?

For more information about, and another review extolling, O. J.: Made in America, read this New York Times piece by resident critic A. O. Scott.