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We’ve reached the end of my list of my Top Twenty Movies of 2016Click here for numbers twenty through sixteen, click here for numbers fifteen through eleven, and click here for numbers ten through six.

And now, my top five favorite movies of 2016!

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5. Hail, Caesar! I can’t believe how ignored this terrific Coen Brothers movie has been!  Set in Hollywood in the 1950′s, the film stars Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, a studio exec and “fixer” who is trying to locate his kidnapped star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), before news of the star’s disappearance can make it into the papers.  Baird’s kidnapping, by a group of disgruntled Communist screenwriters, is only one of the many fires that Mannix has to try to put out as he tries to keep his studio afloat and all of his in-production pictures running smoothly.  Hail, Caesar! is a very silly film, which is a difficult tone to hit, but the Coen Brothers make it look effortless.   The film mines a lot of humor gently skewering the art of making movies and the pomposity of Hollywood egos.  The fall-on-the-floor hysterical scene in which director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) — whose very name is a subtle gag running throughout the film — tries and fails to give a line reading to the dim-bulb cowboy actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) could be the funniest single scene in any movie this year.  Josh Brolin is terrific as the serious man (see what I did there?) trying his best to wrangle all the Hollywood crazies surrounding him.  Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Alison Pill, Wayne Knight, Jonah Hill, David Krumholtz, Fisher Stevens, Fred Melamed, Patrick Fischler, Robert Picardo, and even Christopher Lambert (the original Highlander himself!) are all so great in their appearances in the film.  While Hail, Caesar! might not be one of the greatest Coen Brothers films ever (of a caliber with The Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, or A Serious Man), it is still easily one of the best movies of 2016.  (Click here for my full review.)

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4. Arrival —  When twelve extraterrestrial spaceships appear in different locations around the globe, linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is tasked with finding a way to communicate with the alien life-forms (huge creatures that the human scientists refer to as “heptapods”).  Arrival is a magnificent film, a gorgeous, original, cerebral sci-fi story.  The film has the visual splendor of a big-budget movie, but this is not an action-adventure film, rather this is an intelligent drama that is a fascinating exploration of language and communication.  I was enormously impressed by the way the film … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Hail, Caesar!

The Coen Brothers have made some dark, violent films, and they have made some light, funny films, and they have made some films that seem to fall somewhere in between.  Their latest, Hail, Caesar!, is for most of it’s run-time one of the Coen Brothers’ lighter, more farcical films, though periodically the movie reminds us that it has something more on its mind than simple silliness.  Hail, Caesar! might, upon some reflection, be considered one of the Coen Brothers’ more minor works, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that this film doesn’t have a lot of fun to offer.

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Set in Hollywood in the 1950’s, the film stars Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, a studio exec and “fixer” who is trying to locate his kidnapped star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), before news of the star’s disappearance can make it into the papers.  Baird’s kidnapping, by a group of disgruntled Communist screenwriters, is only one of the many fires that Mannix has to try to put out as he tries to keep his studio afloat and all of his in-production pictures running smoothly.  The dim-witted Baird, meanwhile, finds himself somewhat taken in by his Communist kidnappers.

Hail, Caesar! is a very silly film.  “Silly” is a tone that is surprisingly difficult for many filmmakers to pull off, but the Coen Brothers have mastered the art of comedic goofiness.  They make it look so easy.  There are a lot of wonderfully funny moments in the film as the Coens gently skewer the art of making movies and the pomposity of Hollywood egos.  And say whatever you want about the film as a whole, but the fall-on-the-floor hysterical scene of effete director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) — whose very name is a subtle gag running throughout the film — trying to give a line reading to the dim-bulb cowboy actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is one of the greatest scenes they have ever created in any of their films.  I am not exaggerating.

One of my favorite aspects of Hail, Caesar is the way the film occasionally morphs into one of the popular styles of Hollywood films from the fifties, from Biblical epic to elaborate musical to peppy dance number.  Each one of these sequences is lovingly realized (Channing Tatum’s Gene Kelly-esque sailor song-and-dance number is particularly terrific) and they bring the film a great spark of energy each time they shift the movie into a different tone.  (Though I will say that while I loved Michael Gambon’s pompous narration at the start of the film, I could have done with a little less of it as the film progressed.)

Hail, Caesar!’s main film-within-a-film, the Roman epic in which Baird … [continued]

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The Top 15 Movies of 2013 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013!  Click here for part one.

AP Film Review Iron Man 3

10. Iron Man Three Like Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man Three was a fun film that not only served as an effective sequel to its particular series, but also as a follow-up to The Avengers and a further expansion of the over-all Marvel movie universe.  More importantly even than that, Iron Man Three told an exciting action/adventure story that was deeply rooted in the stories of the characters, and that (after the somewhat disappointing Iron Man 2) successfully returned to the light, funny-but-still-telling-a-serious-story tone that the first Iron Man film nailed so dramatically.  As a fanatical fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, I was thrilled to see the reunion of Robert Downey Jr. with Shane Black, who directed and co-wrote this film.  There seems to be a wonderful magic that occurs when those two men work together.  Also, Ben Kingsley’s work as The Mandarin could be one of the best supporting performances in a Marvel Studios movie so far.  So great.  And the post-credits scene?  Perfection.  (Click here for my original review.)

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9. This is The End Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared made me fall in love with the work of Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, and with many of the tremendously talented young performers who have appeared over and over again in Mr. Apatow’s work, and also over the years in many other projects of their own.  These guys have been in a lot of great films, and also, occasionally, in some lesser films in which they have coasted a bit on the audience’s fondness for their characters.  This is The End takes perfect advantage of that fondness, resulting in an absolutely hilarious, madcap story of this group of friends (Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson, all playing themselves) attempting to survive the end of the world.  There’s a lot of energy at the start of the film from all of the famous cameos (including but not limited to: Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Aziz Ansari, David Krumholtz, Mindy Kaling, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Martin Starr), and of course from the fun of watching all of those famous people die horribly.  But the film gets even better once we wind up with just this group of boys, trapped together in the ruins of James Franco’s house.  These guys have a lot of fun at one another’s expense, and the film continually surprised me with its crazy comedic digressions, from the Be Kind, Rewind-style home-made Pineapple Express 2 trailer to The Exorcism of Jonah Hill.  Other than … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis is another home run from the Coen Brothers.  I found the film to be emotionally wrenching, an unflinching look at the pain, heartbreak, and rejection that so often accompanies the men and women who try to create art (be that music, paintings, film, etc.).  It’s a film that is deeply depressing, and yet I was absolutely entranced by the story that was unfolding before me.

Set in 1961, the film chronicles a tumultuous week in the life of Llewyn Davis, a young folk-singer.  Llewyn is able to scrape together gigs here and there playing his music, but he doesn’t have the money to have a home or even many worldly possessions other than his guitar.  He crashes on the couches of various friends and acquaintances, staying with each host for just a day or two here and there, as long as he can get away with before he gets on their nerves.  Llewyn is a screw-up.  He seems to have bungled most of his personal relationships (and we see him do a significant amount of additional bungling in the week chronicled in the film), and he hasn’t found the musical success he strives for.  I found Llewyn to be a sympathetic figure, even though the Coens seem to relish letting us see just what a self-centered nincompoop he can be.  Writing the other day about American Hustle, I commented that a film can be enjoyable even when anchored by an unlikable character, and I think that Inside Llewyn Davis is a strong example of that particular sub-genre.

I don’t think I’ve ever before seen Oscar Isaac in a film, but I’ll be paying attention from here on out.  Mr. Isaac is phenomenal as the titular Llewyn Davis.  His heavy-lidded eyes seem to reflect back at us uncounted moments of sorrow and disappointment in Llewyn’s life.  Llewyn comments, late in the film, that he’s just so tired, and it’s not simply a lack of a good night’s sleep in a real bed that he is lamenting.  Llewyn is a man who has been beaten down, and Mr. Isaac smartly underplays the role, finding a million quiet ways to show us the heartache that practically pours out of this man at every moment.  This film wouldn’t work if Mr. Isaac didn’t sell his performance, and man does he do a flawless job.  It’s terrific work.

Though this film rests squarely on Oscar Isaac’s shoulders, the corners of Llewyn’s world are brought to life by a wonderful array of supporting performers.  Carrie Mulligan and Justin Timberlake play Jean and Jim, a folk-singing duo who are friendly with Llewyn.  Well, Jim is friendly.  When the film opens, Jean is tremendously … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Click here for a wonderful look at the films of the Coen Brothers.  This fellow re-watched all of the Coen Brothers’ films (which sounds like a wonderfully fun project, by the way), and writes about his impressions of their body of work.  It’s an impressive article, and I love his assessment of the Coens’ wonderful characters, who “verge on caricature yet have a vivid particularity that makes them hard to forget and easy to return to.”  That’s a good a description as I have ever seen!

I love this look at Six Comedians We Wish Would Return to Stand-Up!  I wholeheartedly agree.  (There are some wonderful video clips embedded in that article.)

Motivational posters inspired by The Wire?  Awesome.  (This piece on badassdigest.com selects some of the best.)

This fascinating oral history of the very short-lived Dana Carvey Show makes me want to track down those episodes and watch them immediately.

I am a big, big fan of Dave Sim’s sprawling comic book epic Cerebus, the unprecedented “300 issue limited series.”  It gets pretty crazy (and, at times, pretty unreadable) near the end (I am a subscriber to the theory that Dave Sim went insane while working on his magnum opus), but the vast swaths of the story that are good are REALLY REALLY GOOD, some of the finest comic books ever created.  It’s fun to see some writers giving Cerebus some much-deserved attention these days.  Click here for a lengthy excerpt from the Comics Journal’s recent look back at the series, and I also am really enjoying the series of pieces running at comicbookresources.com, written by a writer who is reading through the complete epic for the first time.  Click here for part one, and here for the even stronger part two.  Although I personally choose to believe that the Cerebus story ends on the final page of Rick’s Story, I appreciate this author’s debunking the commonly-held notion that the last hundred issues of Cerebus are entirely without merit.  He writes, and I agree, that it’s only in the series’ final stretch of issues — Dave Sim’s bizarre exegesis of the Torah — when the comic really becomes unreadable.

This is a great piece by A. O. Scott of the New York Times about three summer 2011 movies worth debating.  I’m sad to say I haven’t seem any of them yet, but this wonderful article reinforces the desire I already felt to try to track all three films down as soon as possible.  (The fact that I haven’t seen Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life but I have seen Cowboys and Aliens makes me feel a little sad inside.)

Can [continued]

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The Worst Movie Endings of All Time

A few days ago, Devin Faraci wrote a great piece over on Badassdigest.com (a really phenomenal site that I can’t recommend highly enough) about the terrible ending of the classic Bill Murray film, Stripes.

Mr. Faraci is right on the nose — the last 30 or so minutes of Stripes are really quite terrible.  Now, I must admit that I’m not a huge fan of the first two-thirds of Stripes, either.  I think I saw the film way too late in life to really connect with it the way other children of the eighties did.  Despite my long-held love for Bill Murray’s movies of the 1980’s (epitomized by my near fanatical worship of Ghostbusters), somehow I missed Stripes throughout my childhood — I only finally saw it when I was in college, and by then I just didn’t find it all that funny.

But Mr. Faraci’s article got me thinking about other good films undone by their endings… and wondering if there any films, as Mr. Faraci asks, whose first two-thirds are so good that I forgive their weak ending?

(Let me state that, obviously, SPOILERS LIE AHEAD for the films under discussion!!)

Let’s begin with some films that start off strong but are, in my opinion, completely ruined by their terrible endings:

No Country for Old Men — I was totally engrossed in this tense, beautiful film for much of its run-time, but the ending totally sunk my enjoyment.  After following the character of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) throughout the film, and totally investing in him, I couldn’t believe how that character was completely abandoned and ignored in the final few minutes of the movie.  The film’s title — No Country for Old Men — and the way the end of the film focuses on Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) indicates to me that the Coen Brothers intended the film to be the Sheriff’s story, not Llewelyn’s.  But the movie never earns that.  It never shows us the message given by its title, and Tommy Lee Jones’ monologue in the last scene.  What was it about the death of Llewelyn Moss that so affected Sheriff Bell?  For a man who had clearly been involved in other cases that involved murder and death, what was it about this particular event that shook the Sheriff so deeply?  We’re never told, and ultimately, as a viewer, I didn’t care too much about Sheriff Bell — I was invested in Llewelyn!  And having the end of his story be cut off by the finale really disappointed me.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence — Not that the first two-thirds of this film were so perfect to begin with, but had the movie ended … [continued]

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The Top 10 Movies of 2010 — Part One!

2010 was not a great year for new movies, in my opinion.  For the first ten months of the year, I saw far fewer movies in the theatre than I had in years past.  Part of that was due to how busy my life has gotten these days, but it was also because there just weren’t that many movies that came out that really interested me!  Things started to turn for the better towards the end of the year.  A number of very interesting films were released in the end-of-the-year Oscar crunch, and as those of you who’ve been following along with my “Catching Up On 2010” series of articles know, I also made an enormous effort in December & January to track down on DVD many of the smaller films that I hadn’t been able to see in theatres earlier in the year (films like Cyrus, The Kids Are All Right, Winter’s Bone, etc.)

So in the last two months I’ve added quite a few films to the list of “good 2010 films” that I keep in my notebook.  But what’s fascinating to me, as I looked through that list in preparation for creating this Top 10 list, is that while there did wind up being quite a few 2010 films that I found to be really GOOD, there weren’t so many that I felt were truly GREAT.  Looking back at my Top 10 Movies from 2009 list, I think that every single one of the ten films I chose is really spectacular.  I own all 10 films on DVD or blu-ray.  But as I considered all of the new movies I saw in 2010, there aren’t that many that I can see myself buying on disc.  (And since I buy a LOT of movies on disc, this is a telling statement about my feelings regarding the overall quality of the films I saw this year.)

But enough negativity.  Though it was a harder list to assemble than it was last year, assemble it I have.  The following ten films are the ones that I found to be truly superlative from 2010.  It’s an eclectic mix, but I stand by my choices.  If there are films on this list that you never saw, I strongly encourage you to check them out!

Before we begin, I like to make note of the 2010 films that I WANTED to see but didn’t.  I think I see a lot more movies than your average Joe, but despite that, there are always films that I missed for whatever reason.  This year these include: Tiny Furniture, Animal Kingdom, I Love You Phillip Morris, The Company Men, The Tempest, The Myth of the American [continued]

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Catching Up on 2010: Josh Reviews True Grit

This week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly features a brief interveiw with the Coen Brothers, in which the writer congratulates Joel & Ethan Coen on True Grit, a “four-quadrant” movie (meaning a flick that appeals to men and women, young and old), and the biggest box-office success of their careers.

It’s delightful to see the public embracing True Grit to the degree that it has, because while this film might be more easily categorizable than the last several Coen Brothers films (A Serious Man, Burn After Reading, No Country for Old Men), it’s still a Western that has been filtered through their unique and sometimes bizarre sensibilities.  And I love it all the more for that!

Hailee Steinfeld plays fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross.  Her father has recently been murdered by an outlaw named Tom Chaney, but despite her efforts, it doesn’t seem like any lawman seems much interested in pursuing him.  So Mattie hires herself a bounty hunter: the aging, cranky, one-eyed Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges).  She also encounters a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf, who has been pursuing Chaney, under a different name, for another murder that he committed.  At first she takes a strong disliking to the pompous Ranger, but as the chase commences and she & Cogburn continue encountering LaBoeuf, Mattie begins to wonder if she hasn’t hitched her wagon to the wrong horse.

I found True Grit to be great fun from start to finish.  There’s a strong emotional throughline — Mattie’s increasingly desperate efforts to find someone who will help her achieve vengeance for her father’s death — and the film is very well-paced.  I thought it was intriguing and engaging throughout.  As always, the Coens know how to stage an action scene, and there are several sequences that are true nail-biters (including the shoot-out outside of the cabin about half-way through the film, and of course the climactic encounter with Tom Chaney and Lucky Ned Pepper’s gang).  The film is intense and violent at times, but it’s never gory.  True Grit is rated PG-13 (in that EW interview, Joel Coen comments: “It seemed obvious to us that because it’s a movie where the main character is a 13-year-old girl, 13- and 14-year-old girls should be able to see the movie”), but it never feels dumbed down or softened the way I often feel PG-13 movies are.

But the real joys of True Grit are the tremendous performances.  Jeff Bridges proves once again that he is unbeatable when directed by the Coen Brothers.  His protrayal of Rooster Cogburn is one of those iconic performances that I suspect we’ll be seeing clips from in highlight reels for years to come.  Rooster is tough and cunning, but … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Lots of great Lost analysis out there.  Click here for EW‘s Jeff Jensen’s in-depth write-up of the season 6 premiere.  I’m a big fan of “Doc” Jensen’s weekly Lost write-ups — they’re always insightful and ridiculously detailed.  Click here for Mr. Jensen’s interview with Lost masterminds Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindeloff, and click here for collider.com‘s interview with Mr. Lindeloff.  Both contain some tasty morsels of hints about what awaits us in season 6.  (And here’s a great interview with Mr. Jensen himself in which he discusses Lost‘s final season.)  On a less serious note, check out this very funny (and also super-detailed) review of the season 6 premiere from bestweekever.tv.  (The graphic of Jacob’s note to the Temple-Others is phenomenal.)  Lastly, this review of the premiere from chud.com is worth your time.  This dude has a Lost re-watch blog that I often checked out while conducting my own Lost re-watch project.  I hope you all enjoyed my extraordinarily lengthy list of the burning questions left hanging after Lost‘s first five seasons.  Can’t wait for tonight’s episode!

Click here for a terrific interview with comedian Patton Oswalt.  Click here for the Onion A.V. Club‘s interview with Aziz Ansari.  Both are great conversations with two very smart and funny individuals.

Speaking of interviews, for anyone out there who loved A Serious Man as much as I did (read my review here), you MUST read this phenomenal interview with Fred Melamed.  Mr. Melamed is the actor who portrayed Sy Ableman, one of the my favorite new characters that I saw created on screen in 2009.  The interview is a hoot, particularly when Mr. Melamed declares his effort to “bring the pompous, Jewish, overweight, rabbinic figure back to the center of American sexuality.”

Bill Waterson, the amazingly talented creator of Calvin & Hobbes, is well-known for having pretty much disappeared from planet Earth following the end of his beloved comic strip.  He hasn’t granted interviews, he hasn’t appeared at conventions or other gatherings of comic strip artists, and he hasn’t allowed any licensing of his characters.  So die-hard Calvin & Hobbes fans like myself took notice when he agreed to an e-mail conversation with a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  Click here for the question-and-answer exchange!

This is very disturbing. Back to the Future Part III is officially ruined for me forever.

That’s all for today!… [continued]

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Josh Reviews A Serious Man

This, my friends, is how you follow up a Best Picture Oscar win.

After No Country For Old Men, the Coen Brothers released the wonderfully bizarre Burn After Reading (read my review here). Less than a year later, they have bestowed upon us the even more wonderful (and even more bizarre) new film, A Serious Man.

Michael Stuhlbarg plays Larry Gopnik, a mild-mannered Jewish physics professor living in Minnesota. Despite (or perhaps because of?) his seemingly gentle, meek nature, trouble upon trouble piles atop poor Larry’s head, as if he were an American suburban reincarnation of the prophet Job. Larry’s son is constantly getting into trouble in Hebrew school, and seems less interested in preparing for his Bar Mitzvah than he is in watching TV and listening to records. His daughter rushes out of the house whenever she can. His wife has informed him that she is having an affair with Sy Abelman (Fred Melamed, creating one of the most stand-out characters I’ve seen on the big screen recently in just a few scenes). Larry’s brother, Arthur (Richard Kind, a familiar face from Spin City and Curb Your Enthusiasm), who might be a genius or who might be completely mad but who definitely has problems, has moved into the house with them. Meanwhile, Larry is up for consideration for tenure, but the head of the university board has informed him that someone has started writing them letters that are enormously critical of his teaching abilities. Also, a Korean student failing his class has attempted to bribe him for a passing grade and becomes belligerent when Larry tries to turn down the offer of money.

The Coens (ably assisted by terrific performances across the board from their cast) do a masterful job in creating a slow-burning feeling of powerful dread. It seems clear from the opening frames that things are not going to go well for this Jewish suburban family.  Although this is a very funny film, it is also one that does not shy away from examining the small miseries that can accumulate in a modern life. In addition to the Coens and their actors, credit must also go to the haunting score by Carter Burwell. (There’s a short theme of several notes on a piano that recurs throughout the film that I found to be at once poignant and also evocative of coming doom.)

The narrative is strengthened by the Coens’ care in ensuring that the troubles that beset Larry aren’t over-wrought typical “movie” problems, but more mundane (though no less crushing) sorts.  I particularly appreciated the fact that (small spoiler ahead) a scene that shows us that Larry has engaged in a fling with … [continued]

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Three Films by the Coen Brothers

February 27th, 2009
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I often get obsessed with watching movies linked by a certain theme — sometimes I like to track down different films featuring a particular actor, or different films by a certain director.  A few months ago, for example, I wrote about my exploration of the films of David Mamet.  Over the past few months I’ve written about several films by the Coen Brothers, Burn After Reading, The Hudsucker Proxy, and, more recently, The Big Lebowski.  No surprise, my great enjoyment of those two flicks prompted me to seek out several other Coen Brothers films.

Blood Simple (1985) — I had never seen this film before, and I was bowled over — it is phenomenal!  Despite being the Coen Brothers’ first film, it is now, without question, one of my favorites of their work.  A Texan bartender named Ray (John Getz) launches into an affair with Abby (Frances McDormand, terrific in her first role).  Unfortunately, her jealous husband Marty (Dan Hedaya), who is also Ray’s boss, finds out and hires a hit-man (M. Emmet Walsh) to get rid of them both.  What transpires is a tale of spreading ripples of crime and chaos.  As in most films by the Coen Brothers, the twisty tale of mistakes and double-crosses is engaging, but also subordinate to the fun with all of the unique, colorful characters filling out the film.  Dan Hedaya (Cheers, The Usual Suspects) hasn’t appeared in many movies lately, but his angry, scenery-chewing turn here reminds me of why I love watching him so much.  And the great M. Emmet Walsh (Serpico, The Jerk, Blade Runner, and so many other great films) simply dominates every scene he’s in.  This film is a blast.

Miller’s Crossing (1990) — This might be the first Coen Brothers film that I ever saw, and as such, I’ve always had fond memories of it.  (I love gangster movies, so that helps, too).  It had been a while since I’d last seen it, and I wasn’t sure how well the film would hold up.  I am pleased to report that it holds up mighty well, indeed!  The film follows Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), the right-hand man of Leo (Albert Finney), the Irish gangster who is top dog in his town.  But when Tom and Leo fall for the same woman (Marcia Gay Harden) who may or may not be manipulating them both in order to protect her brother (John Turturro); and Italian underboss Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) begins challenging Leo’s control of his territory, Tom has to rely on his wits and his quick-talking skills to stay alive and, hopefully, in control of the spiraling-out-of-control events surrounding him.  Miller’s Crossing is

[continued]

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Top 10 Movies of 2008! — Part One!

In case you haven’t figured this out already, I LOVE movies.

And in 2009, as usual, I saw a LOT of movies.  Today and tomorrow I’d like to celebrate what I feel were the best of the best of the new films released between January 1st and December 31st, 2008.

Before we dive in, though, I want to acknowledge that, even though I saw an enormous number of new films during 2008, there were also quite a few that, despite my interest, I never got around to see.  These include: Synechdoche, New York; Waltz With Bashir; Doubt; The Wrestler; Che; Rachel Getting Married; Choke; American Teen; Hamlet 2; Changeling; Rocknrolla; and Son of Rambow.  So if you loved one or more of those films and want to know why on earth they didn’t make my list, now you know.

As with my TV lists, let’s start with some Honorable Mentions:

Honorable Mention #1 — The Foot Fist Way.  If you, like most of America, discovered Danny McBride this past summer in Tropic Thunder (as pyromaniac Cody) and Pineapple Express (as the indestructible Red), then you owe it to yourself to check out this film.  The Foot Fist Way was filmed back in 2006, but only saw a release (and a very small one, at that) in 2008.  It is written and directed by McBride, who also has the starring role as a small town Tae Kwon Do instructor who is, shall we say, a little big for his britches.  This is a dark, dark comedy — not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of McBride’s it is a spectacular showcase for his abilities, and well worth your time.

Honorable Mention #2 — Cloverfield.  For months now I’ve been meaning to watch this film a second time, to find out if it holds up on a repeat viewing.  I don’t know if it does, but I will say that the experience of seeing Cloverfield theatrically was one of  the best times I had in a movie theatre all year.  You either buy the conceit (that one of the kids is able to film their whole adventure) or you don’t.  I did, and had no problem getting swallowed up in this intense thrill ride.  Incredible visuals, great storytelling — this was a ton of fun, and a clever twist on the giant-monster-attacks-New-York sub-genre of movies.

OK, and now here’s the top 10:

10.  Burn After Reading — A disc containing the memoirs of ex-CIA agent Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) are stolen, and they wind up in the hands of a pair of not-that-bright gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) who, mistaking them for government secrets, try to ransom … [continued]

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Burn After Reading

There are a few writer/directors whose new films, which we seem to get on a pleasingly regular basis, are always a must-see for me.  I’m thinking about talents like Woody Allen, David Mamet, and the Coen Brothers.  With artists like that, I know that a new film will always be interesting.  Sometimes I might love what I see, sometimes I might be disappointed, sometimes I might be indifferent —  but I always know that what I’m watching will be a unique, personal vision.

I’ve been a bit of a late-comer to the films of the Coen Brothers.  Their first film I saw was Fargo, soon after it came out in 1996, but I didn’t quite “get it” back then.  I think it wasn’t until a few years later when I first saw The Hudsucker Proxy on tape in college that I really started to take notice of these filmmakers.  (I just re-watched Hudsucker last week, and it remains one of my absolute favorite films.  More on this below.)

It always seems for me that the Coen Brothers films that everyone likes, I don’t — and the ones that get passed over are the ones I really dig.  Everyone went crazy about O Brother Where Art Thou?, but I found it to be a dull, rather obvious take on the storylines of The Odyssey.  Conversely, I think I’m one of the few people on Earth who really dug the screwball comedy and rat-tat-tat dialogue of George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Intolerable Cruelty.  And as for No Country for Old Men, which got such acclaim last year… I was thoroughly engrossed in the film for most of its run-time, but ultimately I felt it just didn’t earn the message given by its title, and Tommy Lee Jones’ monologue in the last scene.  What was it about the death of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) that so affected Sheriff Bell (Tommy lee Jones)?  For a man who had clearly been involved in other cases that involved murder and death, what was it about this particular event that shook the Sheriff so deeply?  The film’s title — No Country for Old Men — and the way the end of the film focuses on Tommy Lee Jones, while we never get to see Llewelyn’s tragic end, indicates that the film was really the Sheriff’s story, not Llewelyn’s.  But I, as a viewer, was invested in Llewelyn!  And having the end of his story cut off by the finale (we never see Llewelyn’s final confrontation with Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh) really pulled me out of my enjoyment of the film.

Which brings me to Burn After Reading, the newest film written … [continued]