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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!


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.)


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 The Nice Guys

Shane Black has been partially responsible for quite a few movies that I have loved (boy, twenty years ago I thought Lethal Weapon was one of the greatest movies ever made), but it was 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which Mr. Black wrote and directed) that made me a forever fan of his work.  (And also of Robert Downey Jr.  And Michelle Monaghan.  It’s a pretty amazing movie and if you’ve never seen it you really need to go watch it immediately.)  I loved seeing Mr. Black working in big-budget-blockbuster land with the terrific Iron Man Three, but when I learned that he was working on another buddy-cop mystery/action flick, I was very excited.  The Nice Guys does not disappoint.  In fact, it is a triumph, a spectacular work of adult filmmaking that is thrilling and ferociously funny.


In LA in 1977, a mostly drunk private eye named Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is asking around for a girl named Amelia, who has hired a thug named Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to beat up Holland to get him off her trail.  And thus is a beautiful friendship formed.  March and Healy eventually wind up working together in an attempt to locate the now-truly-missing Amelia, while unraveling a bizarre multiple-murder case involving porn and politics and the automobile industry.

The Nice Guys is a delight from start to finish.  Mr. Black has long since proven himself as the master of the buddy comedy film, and in Holland and March he has delivered a wonderful new set of characters.  Both Mr. Gosling and Mr. Crowe are phenomenal, each perfectly cast and each moving out of their usual serious-dramatic personas to deliver some killer comedy.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen either actor play a character quite like these two, and they are each so deliciously great.  The Nice Guys works because it is joyous fun watching these two bounce off one another.  Ryan Gosling is a riot as the nervous, cowardly, hard-drinking March, a man content to drift through life while making the least possible bit of effort towards anything.  And yet, March is a brilliant detective when he wants to be, and we can see that his love for his young daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) is real.  Mr. Gosling is given some incredibly juicy comedy bits throughout the film, and he nails each one perfectly.  He also — ably abetted by Mr. Black’s sharp script — paints a picture of the tragedy that broke Holland without ever overplaying that note.  Mr. Crowe, meanwhile, is equally perfect as Healy, a man used to using his fists rather than his brains, but who for some reason finds himself driven to protect the young … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Noah — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my review/analysis of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah.  Let’s dive back in!

At the end of part 1, I was talking about how I enjoyed that Darren Aronofsky didn’t shy away from depicting the presence of God and miracles in his film.  In talking about miraculous things in the movie, I have to talk again about the Watchers.  I love the Watchers so much.  They’re hugely unexpected, easily the most fantastical aspect of a movie that is filled with miraculous goings-on.  The Watchers represent a hugely creative, original way to depict these divine beings.  The combination of the story-telling with the great visual effects meant that I truly believed in these creatures, and I loved the way Mr. Aronofsky created distinct, different personalities for several of the Watchers.  These creatures felt real, and I cared about them.  I felt sympathy for them when the story is told of their harsh punishment by God (one of several times in which the film impressively does not shy away from allowing us to question God’s harsh judgments), and I was quite invested in their final fates.  I also thought the creatures had a wonderful visual “look” that really impressed me.

In the film, as in all of Torah, there are no easy answers, and this elevates Noah far beyond most ordinary Biblical films and other historical/fantasy epics.  That’s another reason, by the way, that I often have no patience for the re-telling of Biblical stories in movies or on TV, because I find people shy away from the complexities and instead present a simple, one-dimensional understanding of the story.  The world was evil and so god destroyed it, end of story, there’s no question that was the right thing to do.  But if you believe these events happened (and even if you don’t, but still think of the Bible as a central religious text), you MUST wrestle more deeply with this story.  Was the death of all life on the planet truly necessary?  Were there no innocents whatsoever outside of Noah’s family?  Did all the children really have to die?  What about all of the animals other than the two-of-each species that were saved on board the ark?  Why did they all deserve to die?

These are deep, troubling questions, and ethical, thinking people must wrestle with these questions.  Even if all of the Bible was total fantasy, I would argue that these stories would STILL have value, as stories that must be wrestled with in order for each of us to find our own moral values, and our opinions of right and wrong (whether our conclusions be an understanding of the actions God is depicted as taking, or a … [continued]

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Josh Kneels Before Man of Steel

I love Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie from 1978, and for much of my life I thought Superman II was even better.  (My preference has swung back slightly, in recent years, towards the original film.)  Those two movies were a huge part of my childhood, and more than any Superman comic book I have ever read (and I have read a lot), they shaped in my mind the quintessential depiction of Superman.  I stand by my love of Bryan Singer’s homage to the Donner films, 2006’s Superman Returns (has it been that long since Superman Returns came out???  Crazy!!), and I remain bitterly disappointed that we never saw a sequel to that film.

I was excited, though, by the news that Zack Snyder would be directing a new Superman film, working with the Batman Begins team of Christopher Nolan (serving as producer) and writer David S. Goyer.  I love both 300 and Watchmen (particularly the super-long Ultimate Cut of Watchmen) — I think they’re both terrific adaptations of very difficult-to-adapt comic books — and so I was eager to see what Mr. Snyder could do when playing in the bigger sandbox of the Superman mythos.  I suspected he could bring a new energy to  the depiction of Superman on film, and his involvement certainly promised an increase in the action quotient (something that even I admit was sorely lacking in Superman Returns).  

My enthusiasm for the Superman reboot dipped when I heard that they were planning on re-telling Superman’s origin.  That seemed silly to me, as Superman has probably the most famous origin of any comic book character ever.  Why waste time re-telling, yet again, an origin story that everyone on the planet already knows?  Just cut to the chase and tell a great Superman story!  My enthusiasm grew again when the first trailers for Man of Steel began to surface.  I was dazzled by the visual spectacle, and really started to get excited for what seemed to be a very different depiction of Superman on film.

I just left an IMAX screening of Man of Steel, and I am delighted to report that Mr. Snyder and his team have delivered on that promise.  They have threaded the difficult needle of delivering a dramatic reinterpretation of the character and his origin, while at the same time presenting us with a depiction that is, without question, iconically Superman.

The film opens with Jor-El on Krypton, and we spend a lot more time on Krypton than I would have expected.  I loved every second, and almost wish we had a whole film set on Krypton, chronicling the breaking of the friendship between Jor-El and Zod.  (The idea that Jor-El and Zod … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews the Director’s Cut of American Gangster

Sometimes I get DVDs and I watch them immediately, devouring the movie and the special features within 24 hours.  Sometimes I’ll get a DVD and, for one reason or another, it will sit on my shelf for months and months.  Such was the case with the Director’s Cut of Ridley Scott’s 2007 film, American Gangster.

I enjoyed American Gangster when I first saw it in theatres.  I didn’t love it the way I love some of Scott’s other films (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and the vastly underrated Kingdom of Heaven), but I quite liked it, and when I saw that an extended version of the film was available on DVD in early 2008, I snapped it up.  I’ve really enjoyed the extended versions of several others of Ridley Scott’s films, most particularly the extended version of the afore-mentioned Kingdom of Heaven, which is a revelation in contrast to the theatrical release, so I was excited to see this new version of American Gangster.  But, for whatever reason, I just never got around to watching the DVD until recently.

American Gangster tells two parallel stories.  One half of the film is about Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington.  The movie opens with the death of Frank’s mentor, the powerful Harlem drug-dealer Bumpy Johnson.  Frank marshals his keen intellect and all that he learned from Bumpy in order to take control of the Harlem drug scene.  His boldest move was to travel to Southeast Asia in order to purchase heroin straight from the source, enabling him to bypass all the other crime-figure “middle managers” and sell a more powerful product at cheaper prices than his competition.  That coup, combined with his patience and his near-fanatical focus on avoiding the spotlight, enabled him to amass an extraordinary amount of power and money all while operating under the noses of what local law enforcement officials weren’t on the take.

Russell Crowe plays Richie Roberts, a New Jersey cop with a fierce sense of honesty.  In an infamous story depicted early in the film, he finds a million dollars in cash but turns it over to his superiors in the department rather than keeping it for himself.  In contrast to those qualities, his personal life is a disaster, and when the film opens his wife (the wonderful Carla Gugino) has decided to divorce him.  Richie eventually gets himself involved with (and becomes a key figure in leading) the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, where his investigative skills and a decent amount of luck puts him on the trail of Frank Lucas.

American Gangster is a film dancing on the edge of greatness.  Washington and Crowe both turn in powerhouse performances, and … [continued]