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Click here for part one of my list of my Favorite Movies of 2020, and click here for part two.  And now, let’s dive into my top Five Favorite Movies of 2020!

5. News of the World I wrestled with which 2020 Tom Hanks film I preferred: News of the World or Greyhound.  Ultimately I gave News of the World the higher ranking, but I wonder if I’ll feel differently a year from now.  They’re both great films!  In News of the World, Mr. Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a veteran of the Civil War who now eeks out a living by traveling from town to town to read from newspapers for the townspeople’s entertainment and edification.  Captain Kidd winds up entangled with a young girl named Johanna, who was kidnapped from her family years ago and raised among a tribe of Native Americans; now she is alone and Captain Kidd sets out to reunite her with her surviving family members.  The film is adapted from the novel by Paulette Jiles and directed by Paul Greengrass.  I thought the film was a delightful departure for Mr. Greengrass — it’s far more slowly paced and elegiac than the intense dramas and action films for which Mr. Greengrass is best known.  But his skill is on display in every frame of their beautiful, melancholy film.  Tom Hanks gives yet another spectacular performance.  (There’s a scene, late in the film, in which Captain Kidd finally faces the grief he’s buried, and it’s an extraordinary few moments of film.)  This is classical movie-making of the best kind.  (My full review is coming soon.)

4. On the Rocks Sophia Coppola’s latest film stars Rashida Jones as Laura, a woman who begins to suspect that her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her.  So Laura enlists the aid of her wealthy, lecherous, “man about town” father, Felix (Bill Murray, reuniting at last with Ms. Coppola for the first time since Lost in Translation), to track Dean and get to the bottom of what’s going on.  On the Rocks is very funny at times — the pairing of Mr. Murray and Ms. Jones yields as much comedic fruit as I’d hoped — while also being a moving, sometimes sad story of the complicated relationship between Laura and her father.  I love how nuanced this film’s storytelling is.  No one is reduced to a simple character, a hero or a villain.  Everyone in this film is imperfect, and Ms. Coppola demonstrates an endearing amount of affection for these broken, flawed people.  I love that about the film.  (My full review is coming soon.)

3. The Vast of Night First-time filmmaker … [continued]

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The Trial of the Chicago 7, written & directed by Aaron Sorkin (mastermind behind Sports Night & The West Wing, writer of such terrific films as A Few Good Men, The Social Network, Steve Jobs, Moneyball, and Charlie Wilson’s War, and the writer/director of the underrated Molly’s Game) tells the story of the seven men (really eight, counting Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panthers) who were put on trial by the U.S. government following the violence between the Chicago Police and the anti-war and counter-culture protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  The film is a story about members of our government using their political power to try to destroy their enemies.  It’s about how our criminal justice system can be twisted by bad-faith actors to be used as a weapon against against our citizenry.  And it’s about men and women protesting what they see as the wrongs of our society and being met by anger and violence from the police.  In short, this is not only a critical history lesson that’s important for every American — it’s also a film that is very much about what is happening in the United States of America today in 2020.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is phenomenal.  It’s riveting.  It’s funny and it’s horrifying.  It’s a film that will make you angry — it’s designed to do so — but it’s not a depressing slog.  Mr. Sorkin’s skill with dialogue ensures that almost every single scene is so brilliantly written that you’ll be dazzled by the word-play.  His skill with structure ensures that he is able to dramatize a trial that went on for month after long month is presented in such a way that, when watching the film unfold, you’re carried along with the drama of the story.  The film that is jam-packed with characters and plot points, but Aaron Sorkin’s stills as a writer and director ensures that none of this ever becomes overwhelming or confusing or, worst of all, boring.  (The film’s opening sequence, which introduces us to a wealth of characters and backstory in a mile-a-minute series of walk-and-talk scenes that somehow manage to be clear, concise, and fun, is magnificent, and gave me confidence that I was in good hands with this film.)

The cast is absolutely extraordinary.  One of the film’s greatest strengths is how well we’re allowed to get to know all eight defendants in the trial, how they’re each well-developed as distinct and interesting characters.  (OK, six of the eight.  We don’t spend too much time with Lee Weiner, played by Noah Robbins (Zach on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) or John Froines, played by Daniel … [continued]

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The Top 15 Movies of 2013 — Part One!

Hello, everyone!  I have been working very hard over the past several weeks to prepare all of my annual Best of 2013 lists!  First up: my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013!

I saw a lot of movies in 2013, and in particular, over the past month-or-so I have been scrambling to see not only all of the big end-of-the-year releases, but also to try to catch up on as many 2013 movies that I had missed as possible.  Even so, there are still a number of 2013 films that I just wasn’t able to find the time to see, including but not limited to: Saving Mr. Banks, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Only God Forgives, Short Term 12, Stories We Tell, Prince Avalanche, Nebraska, Rush, Under The Skin, and more.  I also have yet to see Spike Jonze’s new film Her, which hasn’t been released here in the Boston area as of this writing.  (It opened in NYC and LA at the very end of December, but wasn’t released anywhere else until this week.  Though many people included Her on their end-of-the-year best-of lists, I sort of feel like, if I enjoy it, it should go on 2014’s list!  But we’ll see.)  So, anyways, if you loved one of those films and wish it was on my list, my apologies!

There were a lot of movies that I enjoyed in 2013 that didn’t make this list.  These include: Blue Jasmine, Captain Phillips, All is Lost, Man of Steel, The Heat, Elysium, Machete Kills, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Frances Ha, The Kings of Summer, 42, The Bling Ring, and others.  (That last bunch of films were among the many movies I watched in the last few weeks, as part of my “Catching Up on 2013” project.  I hope to post reviews of all those films, and more, on the site in the coming weeks.)

But for now, without any further delay, let’s dive into my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013!

Drew.TheManBehindThePoster.01

15. Drew: The Man Behind the Poster This is the very last film I saw, just last week, before making my final decisions about this list.  It’s a documentary about the extraordinarily-talented Drew Struzan, one of if not the very best movie poster illustrators who ever lived.  Mr. Struzan has illustrated so many iconic movie posters: for all of the Back to the Future films, for all of the Indiana Jones films, and for many of the Star Wars films (one of the posters for the original film, the iconic original Revenge of the Jedi poster, and all of the posters … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Don Jon

Don Jon is written, directed by, and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  It’s a great film and I love watching something that feels like a unique, singular voice (as opposed to the movie-by-committee sameness found in so much Hollywood product).  This has been a great season for debut films by actors who have taken it upon themselves to write and direct a film in which they would also star — just recently I was bowled over by Lake Bell’s film In a World… (click here for my review).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Jon, a buff, confident young Italian-American stud who is so successful with the ladies that his buddies have nicknamed him the Don.  Jon and his pals have a regular routine of looking for women out at nightclubs, and the Don has a streak of successfully scoring with girls the guys rate to be an 8 or higher.  One night, they spy a fabled “dime” — the gorgeous Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) — and while Jon is able to flirt successfully with her, to his surprise she doesn’t let him take her home.  Not one to give up, Jon asks around and is able to figure out her last name, contact her via facebook, and ask her out on a date.  She agrees and the date goes well, but even then, again to his surprise, she won’t let him sleep with her.  The two begin seeing one another regularly, and it looks like for the first time Jon has found a girl he loves, one he’s even willing to bring home to meet his parents (Tony Danza and Glenne Headly).  Everything seems to be going great until Barbara discovers Jon watching porn, and realizes that he watches porn constantly.

There’s a scene about halfway through the film in which Barbara angrily confronts Jon about his porn watching, when he retorts to her that the porn he loves is no different than the Hollywood romantic films that she loves.  Both give the viewer an unrealistic, and perhaps unfair, set of expectations as to what love and relationships should ideally be.  Now, I don’t happen to agree with Jon’s perspective that porn and romantic comedies are the same thing, but the film has an interesting time exploring the ways in which there are similarities between the fantasies that both create.  Prior to their big argument, we have heard Jon lament, in voice-over earlier in the film, that even though he has a lot of sex — and always with absolutely beautiful girls — the sex is never as perfect as what he sees in his videos.  We have also seen Barbara walk out of a movie, on a date with Jon, awestruck by … [continued]