Part Two of my four part series is now here for you and this time, I will commemorate the films that were just this close to finding a spot in the Top Ten, therefore the name "Number 11." As always, if you wish to locate the full review, I have listed precisely where you can find them.
It was "the snap" heard 'round the world and it left us all in ashes.
Anthony & Joe Russo's "Avengers: Infinity War," the 19th film in the on-going Marvel Comics saga was the game changer to upend everything we have seen over the past 10 years and this feat was superbly achieved with a storytelling heft, zest, verve. flair, imagination and most importantly, a fearless level of creative risk that left viewers in stoned silence by the film's conclusion...and undeniably salivating for the next installment which will arrive in April 2019.
And in fact, it should not have even have worked at all. To build an epic film with every Marvel character we have seen over 10 years into one narrative could have been a disaster. Yet, with clean clear storytelling and a fierce commitment to these characters (and the source material from which they sprang), "Avengers: Infinity War," while easily being the darkest and most doom laden entry yet, is a veritable triumph, making it the second best Marvel Studios release so far as well as being the very type of superhero film that propelled me back in time to the days when I read these books religiously.
(Originally reviewed April 2018)
Ethan Hawke was robbed!!!! Yup, I said it. Ethan Hawke was robbed as he was not nominated in the Best Actor category for this year's Academy wards. So shameful as what he delivered in Paul Schrader's mesmerizing, quietly wrenching drama was the best performance of his entire career.
Hawke stars as Reverend Ernst Toller, a a pastor at a tiny, upstate New York parish and is undergoing a severe spiritual crisis. A solitary figure, mourning the failure of his marriage, the death of his son as a soldier in Iraq, the struggles of maintaining his church in the looming shadow of the nearby mega-church, he has now fallen deeper into alcoholism and has taken to chronicling his thoughts, and fears into a journal for the time span of one year. and soon, from his dwindling congregation, he meets the pregnant Mary (Amanda Seyfried) and her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger), a radical environmentalist.
What ensues is a subdued, somber, meditative, decidedly adult sermon of a film in which the philosophical, religious allegory, and even the surreal all congeal into a disturbing experience designed to inspire debate, to get angry with and to even be confused by. "First Reformed" is a film that imperatively speaks to the turbulent pulse of modern society.
(Originally reviewed June 2018)
The more I think about this film, the more impressed I am with it.
Peter Farrelly's "Green Book" stars Viggo Mortensen as Tony "Tony Lip" Vallelonga, a New York City Italian-American nightclub bouncer who becomes the driver for the affluent, eccentric and highly educated concert pianist Dr. Don Shirley (an excellent Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour through the deep South utilizing The Negro Motorist's Green Book, a guidebook for Black motorists displaying the motels and restaurants that will provide services.
What could have been a horrific version of "Driving Miss Daisy" in reverse merged with "The Help," Farrelly refreshingly made a wise, nuanced exploration of race relations within the entertaining constructs of a crowd pleasing road movie. I appreciated how Farrelly was not afraid of h is subject matter, showcasing the sting of racism while also providing the heartfelt message of how much we could gain, and even advance as a society, if we only spent some time in a car listening to and learning about each other, instead of building walls keeping us apart.
(Originally reviewed February 2019)
It really hurt to leave this one off of the Top Ten list as this criminally ignored film was an absolute jewel.
Nick Offerman stars as Frank Fisher, the proprietor of a record store for 17 years yet due to dwindling sales, he has decided to close its doors for good. Additionally, he is barely preparing for the departure of his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) for college where she plans to begin her studies to become a doctor, her life's passion. One evening Frank persuades Sam to partake in one of their legendary "jam sessions," where the two will play their respective instruments, compose and record a song together, which Frank soon (and unbeknownst to Sam) uploads to Spotify and eventually becomes a hit internet single.
In addition to caring for his mentally ill Mother (Blythe Danner) and for Sam facing a farewell with her girlfriend, "Hearts Beat Loud" is a richly aching Father/daughter story about the two participants struggling with growing up without causing the other any additional hurt. It is rightfully autumnal , melancholic and speaks directly to the time of life when forced changes reveal a world of emotions, including feelings of regret for lost chances, past failures, possibilities not taken and a fear of the unknown future.
Again, a so-called "small" film with an enormous reach and a heart as wide as the skies, "Hearts Beat Loud" is a film of rare tenderness and palpable bittersweetness yet fiercely honest and carries not one prefabricated moment.
(Originally reviewed July 2018)
The year's best action film by a mile and once again, it has achieved the..ahem...impossible as this series, now in its sixth installment, only keeps getting better, making this episode the finest to date.
Ferociously paced and filled end to end with all manner of jaw dropping set pieces yet completely anchored by strong storytelling, characters and performances from the entire cast, "Mission: Impossible-Fallout," while certainly being a product of 21st century cinema, feels more like a throwback to the films we all lined up for during the 1980's. Event films that more than went out of their way to provide you with a sense of wonder, shock, awe and "How did they do that???" moments that are blisteringly real and not reliant upon CGI bombast.
So much credit goes to McQuarrie and the tireless, relentless Tom Cruise for giving 1000% in creating a series that has long eclipsed James Bond and Jason Bourne and for my tastes, has now reached the upper echelon of films like Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" (2008).
Yes indeed, this is superlative entertainment executed spectacularly well. It truly makes you believe the unbelievable even when it is happening right in front of your eyes.
(Originally reviewed July 2018)
The year's best thriller by a mile and one made the more horrific due to the plot and subject matter being planted so firmly in our current 21st century landscape and relationships with technology and social media. It takes the mundane and turns it all into a harrowing societal warning.
John Cho stars as David Kim who frantically searches for his daughter Margot (Michelle La) after she does not return home from a study group session at a friend's house. "Searching" is an insidious film that employs the brilliant technique of having every image appear solely through the lens of social media, text messages, laptop and surveillance cameras, television broadcasts and the like, meaning that not one image whatsoever appears in the real world, so to speak. This quality enhances the story while again taking what is now so commonplace and making it terrifying to the point where logging on afterwards may feel utterly different and even creepier.
While there is no graphic violence on display, the tone of the film is more realistic than escapist and once it was all said and done, the overall effect rattled me down to my bones.
(Originally reviewed December 2018)
There was a great disturbance in The Force regarding this film.
For me, an O.G. "Star Wars" fan from DAY ONE baby, this was the "Star Wars" stand-alone film of which I was most skeptical and in fact, I was least anxious to see as I feared it only existed to continuously mine the original trilogy for lucrative measures. Then, there was the firing of the film's original directors--never a good sign. But then, like a Jedi Master, Ron Howard appeared and directed the film to absolute glory.
With a white lightning pace and clean, clear, direct storytelling, "Solo," is the origin story of Han Solo (now played by Alden Ehrenreich with rock star swagger), and how he ended up in the criminal underworld of the galaxy far, far away a long time ago. In doing so, Ron Howard has given us a "Star Wars" film that works as a heist movie/gangster saga as well as one that has nothing to do with Jedi Knights, lightsabers, the mysticism of The Force or the over-arching Skywalker family drama at all, making it a lighter, even faster affair with all manner of beautifully executed set pieces and cliffhangers for Han and his compatriots (including a priceless Donald Glover absolutely perfect as the younger Lando Calrissian) to get in and out of.
Shockingly with a nearly $400 million worldwide box office take, "Solo" was considered to be a box office failure, certainly ruining any chances for further prequel installments. Such a shame, as Ron Howard more than delivered the goods and made a spectacular new addition into our on-going science fiction/fantasy universe that George Lucas built.
(Originally reviewed May 2018)
STAY TUNED FOR PART THREE: THE BAD, THE WORSE, THE ABSOLUTELY AWFUL!