Posts Tagged ‘Avengers’

It’s Christmas Eve. The shopping is finished, the stockings are hung, and not a creature is stirring, so you know what that means: time to get to work on my year-end best movies list.

I don’t know exactly what years constitute “the old ways,” but they’re definitely dead in 2018. All the good movies come out in November and December? Nope. “Summer” movies have to be stupid? Nope.

Netflix can’t make a good movie? Nope.

We’ll get to all of that over the next couple weeks. But for now, here’s some of the movies I loved watching this year that didn’t quite make the final cut of the Top 10.

Best swan song: The Old Man and the Gun

Who better than Robert Redford to play a criminal of a certain age who robs banks using little more than effortless charm? No one, that’s who.

In what will be (allegedly) his final onscreen performance, Redford plays real-life heist man Forrest Tucker in director David Lowry’s (A Ghost Story, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) delightful film that is part whodunit, part biopic and part golden-years romantic comedy.

It’s a great sendoff for the veteran actor who, like Tucker, has always made it look easy.

Best Box-office Flop: Bad Times at the El Royale

“El Royale,” made $31.5 million worldwide on a budget of $32 — so safe to say there won’t be a “Worse Times at the El Royale” any time soon. (<— Not that I’m actually advocating for a sequel, as that would be a horrible idea).

It’s a darned shame too. As El Royale is one of the best ensemble pieces of the year, with the likes of Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Bridges and 2018 M.V.P. contender Cynthia Erivo (also in “Widows” this year) in a twisty Summer-of-love-era period thriller from writer-director Drew Goddard, whose “Cabin in the Woods” similarly goofed around with convention and failed to find the audience it deserved.

Best Superhero(es): Avengers: Infinity War

I absolutely understand why some are fatigued with superhero movies. I was getting close, but then “Infinity War” happened and pulled me back in.

Set aside, for a moment, the deluge of comic-book adaptations and consider what Marvel Studios was able to achieve with IW. The first Avengers, successfully merging three franchises (plus the Hulk), was itself a minor miracle. But Infinity War is on an entirely different and unprecedented scale, seamlessly weaving together narrative threads that spread out over 18 distinct films released over a period of 10 years.

It’s a feat of storytelling, put into corporeal form through a cinematic investment that spared no expense, all culminating in a surprising, genuinely affecting film that left anxious for the next chapter.

Best documentary: Three Identical Strangers

The initial set-up of “Three Identical Strangers” is, by itself, the kind of story that sounds stranger than fiction. A young man enrolls in college and finds himself an instant big man on campus courtesy of the identical twin he never knew existed who went to the same school one year earlier.

The already-bizarre tale gets its first twist early, as it turns out the twins are triplets. But that’s only the tip of an iceberg that is carefully and meticulously revealed regarding the brother’s separation at birth.

Best Horror: Suspiria

A close contender for the final award on this list, and one for which the “horror” label doesn’t fit quite right (the *actual* best horror movie of the year is part of the 2018 Top 10. Hint, hint) Luca Guadagnino’s remake of “Suspiria” is frequently unsettling, occasionally disturbing, and endlessly fascinating.

Centered around a dance schools/coven of witches in divided Berlin, “Suspiria” is a moody, atmospheric film that jumps from beautiful to grotesque and back again with a dark humor and unforgiving sense of dread. Bookended by two truly bonkers dance sequences (the first of which is back-dropped against a “how did they do that?” onscreen death) “Suspiria” is a movie that wonderfully defies description.

Best popcorn: Mission Impossible: Fallout

Until 2018, each of the five installments in the Mission Impossible franchise had been helmed by a new director and connected only by a loose mythology, a core cast of characters and the charge that Ethan Hunt, an agent within the Impossible Mission Force, save the world and nearly die in the process.

In Fallout, we have the first direct sequel, with director Christopher McQuarrie returning and continuing the story he launched in “Rogue Nation.” And it’s easy to see why the people behind all these impossible missions decided to break their own rules and ask McQuarrie on a second date.

Fallout is, simply, superb, the sort of extravanganza for which people say “this is why we go to the movies.” It’s nonstop plot barrels forward like a freight train, upping the ante with each new scene until a hold-your-breath climactic sequence that sees Tom Cruise in a helicopter chase/cliffside brawl while his team works to locate and dismantle a pair of nuclear weapons against a ticking clock.

For those nights when you need something big and loud and awesome, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Best indie: The Death of Stalin

Fans of HBO’s “Veep” know Armando Iannucci’s talent for mining government dysfunction for comedy. Now imagine “Veep” set in Soviet Russia and you have “The Death of Stalin,” a pitch-black comedy about the chaos and scheming that followed Stalin’s death as the members of his party jockeyed for position.

Steve Buscemi is the MVP as Nikita Khrushchev, but every member of the superb, expansive cast (including the always-interesting Jason Isaacs and a spectacularly dry performance by Andrea Riseborough ) gets plenty of moments to shine.

The 2018 Wood’s Stock Balls-to-the-Wall award: Sorry to Bother You

“Surreal” doesn’t even begin to describe “Sorry to Bother You,” writer-director Boots Riley’s film about a black telemarketer whose talent for sounding white on the phone catapults him to success selling what amounts to voluntary slave labor.

And that’s just the literal plot of “Sorry to Bother You,” an increasingly gonzo story that at one point takes a turn to [potential spoiler alert] include human-horse hybrid monsters. Riley’s meta commentary on race, class, art, popular culture and consumerism goes full-tilt for its central metaphor to increasingly bizarre and shocking results. It’s a movie with a lot on its mind, but at each point where there’s a risk of falling off the rails, Riley and his protagonist (the phenomenal Lakeith Stanfield) keep things just steady enough to keep the narrative going.

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2012 has been an amazing year for movies.

Slowly but surely I’m whittling my Top 10 list down to the final titles and in a movie year this stacked I’ve been forced to painfully leave a lot of great cinema on the cutting room floor. My first pass at a Top 10 yielded 30 titles, which I’ve since narrowed down to 12, so without further ado, here’s a few of the movies that didn’t quite make the cut, but deserve recognition of their own.

Best film about college: Liberal Arts

When he’s not playing the central character in CBS’s highly-successful sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Joss Radnor likes to fill his time writing, directing and starring in quiet independent films. His first was Happy Thank You More Please, which he then followed up with Liberal Arts about a mid-30s university admissions employee taking a trip back to his alma mater and falling hopelessly in puppy love with a young co-ed (played by the disarmingly beautiful indie “it” girl Elizabeth Olsen).

I caught LA at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was tickled pink when it got it’s theatrical run. The movie manages to deliver a quiet, emotionally honest film that could have easily ran off the rails into contrived shenanigans but instead stays the course, tapping into the shared nostalgia of the millennial generation and daring you to not fall in love with Olsen right alongside Radnor’s character.

For my full Wood’s Stock review, click here.

Best Documentary: Bully

When Harvey Weinstein (of The Weinstein Company) started kicking up dust about Bully’s R rating, it was obvious that he was making a grab at free publicity for Bully, the little documentary that could. But upon viewing, it turns out it was worth the fuss.

Bully tells the story of a handful of school-age misfits and their struggles to get by in the public school system. It paints a dark picture, mostly by the way it holds a mirror up to adult society and the way we tend to shrug off incident of abuse and violence with a simple “Boys Will Be Boys” and, at most, a slap on the wrist. It ain’t pretty, but it’s something that must be shown if anything is ever going to change.

For my full review, click here.

Best Superhero(es): The Avengers

After years of mind-numbing Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, you couldn’t help but wonder if we had collectively reached the tipping point of diminishing returns on big popcorn summer spectacle. Then a funny thing happened, one after another Marvel started releasing a string of sugar-sweet superhero flicks, all while dangling the carrot of an Avengers team-up project in front of us.

“Madness!” we said. “It can’t be done.”

Well, it can and was and in their most brilliant move yet Marvel hired super-geek and uber-nerd Joss Whedon to craft arguably the most ambitious action film ever created. The varying franchises came together with seamless harmony, Hulk finally got the treatment he deserved and under the careful tutelage of Whedon we laughed, cried and perched at the edges of our seats. Bravo!

For full review, click here.

Best January surprise (tie): Chronicle and Haywire

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In the world of Hollywood, the January-Febrary period is typically reserved as a wasteland to burn off whatever phoned-in piece of nonsense the studios have collecting dust on the shelf. But, every so often, a shrewd filmmaker will strategically place a lesser known but creatively ambitious property into the wasteland, with the hope that the less competitive slate will help the movie find a greater audience.

We’re lucky to get one of these, but this year we got two in the form of Chronicle, a found-footage spin on the otherwise tired genre of superhero origin stories with a cast of unknowns, and Haywire, a heavily-pedigreed ensemble action piece centered around a female Bourne-esque hired gun played by professional fighter Gina Carano.

In both cases, you get something familiar and yet not quite like anything you’ve ever seen. Chronicle uses CGI sparingly and in the process pulls off some very impressive visual treats while still preserving the vibe of three high school punks who stumble into superhuman abilities. In Haywire, A-List director Steven Soderbergh pulls back the camera, showing every kick and punch of his hyper-realistic actions scenes. It’s like watching a Bruce Lee kung fu movie, except one with a female hero, a plot and respected actors (Michael Fassbender, Ewen McGregor, Kurt Douglass and Antonio Banderas, to name a few).

Best Indie: Safety Not Guaranteed

In Safety Not Guaranteed, a (possibly) crazy Mark Duplass places an advertisement in the newspaper for a co-pilot to join him in an adventure back in time. The ad catches the eye of a magazine writer, who sets off with two interns to get the scope and meet up with an ex-girlfriend on the way.

That’s essentially it, but the minds behind SNG manage to turn a 50-word classified ad into one of the quirkiest, most charming pics of the year as Aubrey Plaza and Duplass train for their voyage through time and New Girl’s Jake Johnson deals with the questions of what could be and what could’ve been. The underlying question of whether or not Duplass’ character is completely out of his mind is craftily toyed with for the film’s entirety, until everything comes together in a simple yet perfectly satisfying conclusion.

The Wood’s Stock Balls-To-The-Wall Award: The Cabin In The Woods

A jock, a hot blond, a nerd, a stoner, and a “good” girl go away for a weekend in the woods. Oh, you’ve heard this story before?

No. You haven’t.

Joss Whedon (him again?) and Drew Goddard know every horror trope in the book, and gleefully play with each and every one of them in Cabin In The Woods, where five friends head out on seemingly the most cliched movie premise in history only to encounter…well I can’t tell you, because it would spoil it.

The first trailer for CITW set the film up for some sort of genre-bending, trippy time, but you can practically hear the filmmakers giggling as they twist and turn the plot before going all-out redonk-a-donk crazy in act III. In lesser hands, CITW would’ve been simply Halloween part 8 (or whatever number we’re on). Even in mediocre hands CITW would’ve been a failed attempt at meta horror-comedy. But in Whedon and Goddard’s hands, CITW is the kind of crazy party I want to go to again and again.

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