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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2018 — Part Three!

I hope you’re enjoying my journey through my Favorite Movies of 2018!  Click here for part one of my list, and click here for part two.

10. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs This latest film from the Coen Brothers consists of six short-stories, all set in the Old West.  I thought the film was marvelous — it’s weird and funny and heartbreaking… and did I say weird?  The film’s heart beats with the Coen Brothers’ uniquely off-kilter sensibility.  I can see how it might strain the patience of someone looking for a more standard, traditionally structured narrative film.  But I loved pretty much every minute of it.  Each one of the six stories surprised me, and I loved how easily the film shifted gear from whimsy to melancholy and back again.  The cast was amazing:  Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, David Krumholtz, Clancy Brown, Stephen Root, Harry Melling, Jefferson Mays, Tyne DalyBrendan GleesonSaul Rubenik, Chelcie Ross, and Jojo O’Neill each did fantastic work in their (mostly small) roles.  I love what a unique film this is.  I am thrilled that Netflix supported the Coen Brothers in following their vision to create it.  (Click here for my full review.)

9. Green BookGreen Book is a warm fable the likes of which is a little out of style these days, but I was captivated by this sweet, funny story of the unlikely friendship formed between two very different men of different races and different social strata: Mahershala Ali as the musician Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as his driver, Tony Vallelonga.  The film is anchored by the tremendous performances of its two leading men.  Mr. Ali embodies Don Shirley’s incredible core of strength and dignity as he struggles daily against vicious prejudice and pushes back against those ignorant attitudes.  Meanwhile, Mr. Mortensen bowled me over, yet again, with his incredible ability to transform his voice and his entire physicality to inhabit the role of the dim but well-meaning Tony.  There has been backlash against this film recently for misrepresenting who Don Shirley was and not involving the Shirley family in the making of the film.  I’d probably have ranked this film higher on my list if I felt it was more accurate to the true story.  These accusations, if true, are troubling, but even when I thought this film was based more strongly on a true story, it was clear to me when watching it that I was watching a Hollywood fairy-tale rather than historical fact.  I am OK with that.  The story depicted in the film remains moving and powerful, and with an … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Green Book

Set in 1962, the film Green Book tells the story of the eight weeks that African-American jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Italian-American Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) spent on the road together.  The out-of-work Tony was hired as Don Shirley’s driver, as Shirley’s jazz trio embarked on a tour of the Deep South.  Tony’s assignment, from Don’s record label, was to make sure that Don made it to each of his pre-booked dates, and to take care of any trouble that might arise along the way.  The men at first seem like oil and water, but as their weeks on the road progress, they eventually strike up an unlikely friendship.

The film is based on a true story, and the screenplay was written by Tony’s son Nick Vallelonga, along with Peter Farrelly and Brian Hayes Currie.  The film’s title refers to the Negro Motorist Green Book, a handbook used by African-American travelers in that era

Green Book is a warm fable the likes of which is a little out of style these days, and I suppose one could find fault with the film for the way it follows very familiar beats.  You know from minute one that the very different Tony and Don will overcome their initial mutual dislike, and very different ethnic and class backgrounds, to become friends by the time the end-credits role.  Trust me, I’m not spoiling anything by revealing that here in the opening paragraphs of my review.

But while it’s story-beats might feel a little familiar, I found Green Book to be a delight, primarily because of the exceptional work of the two lead actors.

I have been a fan of Mahershala Ali’s since his days as the best part of The 4400 (a sci-fi show that was never quite as good as I’d hoped it would be).  Mr. Ali has been doing consistently great work for years, but he’s really shot into the spotlight recently with his amazing work in Moonlight and a fun recurring role on the first season of Netflix’s Luke Cage.  He’s terrific here as Don Shirley.  What I love about this film, and Mr. Ali’s performance, is that they have avoided the stereotype of the perfect, angelic African-American character.  Don Shirley is not Hoke (from Driving Miss Daisy).  No, Don Shirley is… well, an uptight prick.  He’s an extraordinarily talented, genius-level musician, but he’s also stuck-up, curt, isolated and lonely.  This is not an easy-to-like character.  Mr. Ali’s work (and the strong script), however, allow us to understand him and empathize with him as we gradually learn more about who Don Shirley is and why he is that way.  We see his daily struggles against vicious prejudice and … [continued]