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The Top Twenty Movies of 2016 — Part Two!

On Wednesday I began my list of my Top Twenty Movies of 2016! Let’s continue:

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15. Weiner It’s remarkable that this film exists.  For some reason, disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner allowed a documentary crew full access to himself, his family, and his political team during his campaign for the Democratic nomination to be the Mayor of New York City in 2013.  Weiner’s attempt at political resuscitation came crashing down around his ears in spectacular fashion when, a few weeks into the campaign, new sexting scandals came to light.  The film is a you-can’t-look-away story of personal and professional catastrophe, and there’s something mesmerizing about it.  It’s a fascinating how-the-sausage-is-made look behind the scenes of a modern political campaign, and a devastating story of a very flawed man destroying himself.  It’s exhilarating and terrifying, funny and deeply sad.  Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg have crafted a remarkable film that has so much to say about the political and human realities of our current age.

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14. 10 Cloverfield Lane Somehow J.J. Abrams’ production company, Bad Robot, was able to create this film almost entirely in secret, only announcing it’s existence a few months before its release.  That’s an incredible magic trick all its own in today’s internet spoiler era, but even putting all of that aside and judging the film strictly on it’s own two feet, this is a great movie that really hit me in my movie-going sweet spot.  For much of the film’s run-time, it’s a gripping character piece and exercise in escalating tension.  Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs the World) wakes up after a car accident to find herself locked in an underground bunker with Howard (John Goodman) and a young man, Emmett (John Gallagher).  Howard is a survivalist who tells Michelle that a deadly virus or nerve agent has been released by a foreign attack and that, if she leaves the bunker, she will die.  Is he telling the truth or is he lying?  Is Howard Michelle’s savior or a terrible villain?  Dan Trachtenberg’s film (written by the great Drew Goddard) keeps turning the screws on Michelle and the audience, and it’s a magnificent thing to watch.  All three main actors are fantastic, 100% invested in this story and these roles.  Then there are the film’s final twenty minutes, which are absolutely bonkers and yet absolutely perfect.  I love the idea that Bad Robot will be periodically releasing Cloverfield films, creating a movie anthology series of weird and suspenseful tales.  I loved 2008’s Cloverfield, and this new film — which totally stands on its own and yet also feels 100% “of a piece” with the first Cloverfield[continued]

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Josh Reviews Netflix’s Season Three of Black Mirror!

I adored the original six episodes made of the British TV show Black Mirror.  Series creator Charlie Brooker had made a riveting modern/day Twilight Zone, with each episode a completely stand-alone installment presenting a look at the ways that technology has the potential to be terribly destructive to our lives. Those first six episodes, made between 2011-13, are brilliant, and if you haven’t yet seen them I implore you to drop everything and go check them out — they are available to stream on Netflix.

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I was very excited when I read that Netflix would be resurrecting the show, allowing Mr. Brooker to create six new episodes. I took my time watching the new episodes, both because I didn’t want them to be over too quickly and also because these episodes are very intense and I couldn’t handle too many too quickly! But now I have completed the new season and am eager to share my thoughts.

While there is nothing here in season three that equals the best of the original six episodes, I enjoyed most of these new episodes very much. Mr. Brooker has brought in some talented people to help create this new season, and it’s interesting to see the resulting slightly-different spins on the show.  (Though, rest assured, these new episodes all thoroughly feel like Black Mirror.) None of these new episodes reach the genius level that so many of the original six episodes did, and a few are weakened by some flaws I’d have preferred to have seen corrected along the way. But all six episodes are interesting and have a lot to enjoy. While this third season might just be “very good” rather than “genius,” that is still something for us to be thankful for. I am very glad that six more episodes of Black Mirror now exist! (With the possibility of more on the way!)

Here is my episode-by-episode rundown. I’ll avoid major SPOILERS but, still, I highly advise stopping here if you haven’t yet seen these episodes.

Nosedive — the new season gets off to a somewhat shaky start with this first installment.  “Nosedive” has a brilliant, terrifying-in-its-possibility premise, but it suffers somewhat in execution. In the not-too-distant future, everyone can use their cell-phones to rate their interactions with every person they meet, and those scores accumulate into a person’s average score that is constantly visible (because of special contact lenses that everyone wears) whenever you see anyone else.  Bryce Dallas Howard is spectacular as a young woman, Lacie, trying to nudge up her personal score. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that these scores classify each individual into a certain social class. (The story is instigated because Lacie wants … [continued]

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Josh Reviews 10 Cloverfield Lane

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I feel like 2008’s Cloverfield has been somewhat forgotten and/or dismissed in recent years, but I loved that film when it came out.  Back in 2008 I wasn’t yet fed up with J.J. Abrams’ “mystery box” schtick and it was fun going into seeing that movie without really having any idea what the heck it was about.  That was cool, and the movie didn’t disappoint.  It was a tremendous big-screen experience, with the “found footage” device used to great effect to put the viewer right into the thick of the action.  Subsequent viewings at home can’t live up to that original big-screen presentation, but I’ve watched Cloverfield a few times over the years, including just last month, and I think the film holds up well.  The skill of screenwriter Drew Goddard (who also helped create Netflix’s Daredevil and wrote & directed the great The Cabin in the Woods) and director Matt Reeves (who directed the spectacular Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) created in Cloverfield a fun, thrilling, and gorgeous-to-look-at monster movie.

Cloverfield felt like a completely one-off thing, and so like everyone else I was stunned when news broke a few months ago that J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production company was releasing a new film called 10 Cloverfield Lane.  First of all, my cap is off to Mr. Abrams and co. for somehow managing to produce this movie entirely in secret.  They only announced the film’s existence a few months before its release!  I don’t know how they did that, in this day and age.  And, of course, they once again decided to keep almost everything about the movie very secret.  Trailers for 10 Cloverfield Lane didn’t tell much about the film’s story, nor did they reveal whether the film had any connection, other than the title, to 2008’s Cloverfield.  Was this a sequel?  A prequel?  A totally new story?

Here is an example of Mr. Abrams’ secrecy-heavy approach to movie-making really worked for me.  I was intrigued by the mystery around 10 Cloverfield Lane just as I had been with the original Cloverfield.  I had felt burned by Mr. Abrams’ “mystery box” technique in the past, most especially by Star Trek Into Darkness, not only because of everyone involved with the film’s flat-out lying to audiences for months (claiming that Khan was not the villain), but that the film’s story was stupidly structured to keep the identity of Khan a secret until the final 30 minutes, thus defeating the whole idea of bringing back one of Star Trek’s greatest villains.  (Why use Khan if for most of the movie you’re going to have him be pretending to be some other guy??)  But … [continued]