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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2017 — Part Four!

And so we reach the end of my look back at my favorite movies of 2017!  Click here for part one of my list, click here for part two, and click here for part three!  And now, here are my five favorite movies of 2017:

5. The Big Sick The Big Sick, written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon and directed by Michael Showalter, is based on the true story of Kumail and Emily’s relationship.  The first half of the film feels like a romantic comedy, and then things take a dramatic shift when Emily falls into a coma.  This film is deeply emotional and also very, very funny.  It feels like the heir to the great comedic-dramatic films of James L. Brooks (such as Broadcast News, one of my favorites).  Mr. Nanjiani and Ms. Gordon’s script is sharp and deep, able to bring the funny in a big way while also diving deeply into these characters and, particularly, Kumail’s struggles to balance the expectations of his Muslim family with his personal life choices.  It’s a delight to see Mr. Nanjiani step so effortlessly into this leading-man role, while Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are spectacular as Emily’s parents.  The film is as much about them as it is about Kumail and Emily, which is a bold choice and a key ingredient of this film’s greatness.  I love this film dearly.  (Click here for my full review.)

4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi It’s hard to imagine a Star Wars film being underrated, and yet, I have found the on-line anger directed towards Star Wars: The Last Jedi to be quite perplexing.  The film is not perfect.  The mid-movie digression to Canto Bight doesn’t work and feels like a colossal waste of time, and the slow starship chase that forms the spine of the film’s narrative is ridiculous (why the First Order ships couldn’t use light speed to zip in front of the fleeing rebel spaceship is a mystery to me), which weakens the entire film.  And yet, there is so much to love in this film.  First of all, I love the film for constantly defying expectations.  Every time I thought I knew where the film was going, it surprised me.  Sometimes those choices worked and sometimes they didn’t, but while many seem to be frustrated that this is not the Star Wars film they’d expected it to be, I love The Last Jedi for that.  (If you want to watch The Empire Strikes Back, they already made that movie!  So go and watch it!)  I love that The Last Jedi attempts to expand our understanding of the Force.  I love Mark Hamill’s work … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Blade Runner: 2049

October 16th, 2017
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Let me get right to it: Blade Runner: 2049 is a masterpiece, a worthy sequel to Ridley Scott’s iconic original film.  I would not have imagined it possible, but here it is.  Blade Runner: 2049 is as mysterious and thoughtful and enigmatic as the original, asking deep questions about the nature of humanity and about our relationship with technology.  The film is visually stunning and richly emotional.  I saw it in glorious IMAX and it absolutely blew me away.

The original Blade Runner took place in the apocalyptic far future: the year 2019.  (It’s funny how that is now right around the corner!!)  This sequel takes place 30 years later, and introduces us to a new Blade Runner, “K” (Ryan Gosling).  Just like Harrison Ford’s Deckard was, K is a cop tasked with hunting down “replicants” (synthetic people) hiding within society.  His mission to track down and kill a replicant named Sapper (Dave Bautista) at first seems routine, but then he discovers a box buried next to a dead tree outside Sapper’s home.  Hidden in that box is something that blows K’s life out of its precise orbit, a secret that threatens to unravel all human society, and that sends K on a search for Rick Deckard, who has been missing for thirty years…

For many years I’d been reading rumors and talk of a sequel to Blade Runner, and I always thought it was a bad idea.  On the one hand, the ending of Ridley Scott’s original film is so enigmatic that a sequel seems like a natural thing, as there still seemed to be so much story yet to be told.  And yet, that original film is such a unique and mysterious concoction that trying to recapture its magic felt to me like a fool’s errand, and I was not in any rush to have a sequel give definitive answers to the many wonderful and thought-provoking questions raised by that first film.  Nor did I want to see the cerebral and intelligent Blade Runner turned into a dumb action-adventure movie, which seemed to me the likely path a sequel would take.  Making a successful sequel three decades after the original movie seemed doomed to failure.  (True, Harrison Ford just recently starred into another thirty-years-later sequel, a small movie you might have heard of called Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and that was a success, but Star Wars actually feels to me like an easier film to sequalize.  Mr. Ford’s previous return to an iconic character many years later, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, was horrendous.)

The only reason I was excited about Blade Runner: 2049, was that it was being directed by … [continued]

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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 Arrival

As the film Arrival opens, we are introduced to Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist living a quiet, solitary life following the death of her daughter.  That life is shaken when Earth is visited by extra-terrestrial life, with twelve enormous round objects appearing in different locations around the globe.  Dr. Banks is visited by US Army Colonel GT Weber (Forest Whitaker), who tasks her to join a team working to find a way to communicate with the alien life-forms (huge creatures that the human scientists refer to as “heptapods”) within one of the objects/ships.  Dr. Banks is paired up with a physicist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and together they work to find some way to translate the mysterious, circular shape-based written language of the alien heptapods so that they can discover why the aliens have come to us.

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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 was able to take these difficult-to visualize concepts and bring them to glorious visual life.

While the film has a very quiet, elegiac tone throughout most of its run time, don’t mistake my calling the film cerebral to mean that it doesn’t have a heartbeat.  I was very surprised by how emotionally affecting I found Arrival to be, as the film is as much about the emotional internal life of Dr. Banks (Amy Adams’ character) as it is about the scientific story of language and communication.  The developments in the final twenty minutes or so of the film are devastating — heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure, an extremely difficult balance to achieve — and I find that I have been continually thinking about this film ever since seeing it.

There are some wonderfully mind-bending aspects to the film’s third act, and this is a film I am eager to see again so I can see how it plays knowing where the story winds up.  At first viewing, I was enormously impressed by the careful way in which the story was constructed, with all the different pieces fitting together beautifully in the end.  The film was directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer, adapting the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.  Together, this team has crafted an intricate puzzle of a film that was assembled with great skill and craft.

Amy Adams is magnificent in the lead role.  She develops the character of Louise Banks through a lot of small gestures and quiet moments, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Sicario

As Sicario opens, FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and her partner Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) raid a house in Arizona looking for kidnapping victims, only to discover that hidden inside the walls of the house are the gruesome remains of dozens of dead victims of the drug cartels.  Kate agrees to be reassigned to a team of men hunting the cartels, despite the shadowy nature of some of the men involved, including Matt (Josh Brolin), who Kate suspects is a CIA agent, and Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) a man who seems to have inside knowledge of the cartels.  Kate is taken off-guard that the team’s first mission takes them outside the U.S. and to Juarez, Mexico to extradite a prisoner.  On the way out, they find themselves in a violent shootout with cartel men in the middle of a crowded bridge.  Kate has found herself suddenly surrounded in a world of terrible violence and increasingly murky morality, as the actions of Matt and Alejandro and their team seem to be of questionable legality at best.  To what end will she allow herself to go in pursuit of the cartel head-honchos?  Just what sorts of means will justify their ends?

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Sicario is a tense thrilled that had me quite on the edge of my seat for much of its run-time.  I like the way the film throws the audience into the story, not giving us (or Kate, our main character) much chance to catch our breath or to get our bearings.  I enjoyed the murky moral questions that the film, written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Denis Villeneuve, raises.

But I didn’t quite love the film the way so many other reviewers seemed to.  Throughout the film I found myself repeatedly scratching my head as to why Matt (Josh Brolin) behaves like such a dick to Kate, and why she tolerates that behavior.  Sicario is a film whose story only really works if you accept the notion that Matt will withhold key information from Kate until late in the third act, and that Kate will continue to go along with what’s happening without insisting on someone giving her a straight answer.  Part of my brain can accept this, thinking that people go along with all sorts of things when they want to fit in and look like a good, agreeable person to their bosses in an effort to get ahead.  I can see this being even more of an issue in Kate’s case, a woman who, despite the film showing us her smarts and competence, is nonetheless the lone woman among all these alpha dog males.  On the other hand, the other part of my brain recognizes the withholding … [continued]