Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Craig’

Finally, FINALLY!, I’ve seen all the films I needed to see to put together the Top 10 list for *last* year. Living in a flyover state is such a burden for the recreational cinephile (#FirstWorldProblems).

I’ll keep the intro brief, but wanted to comment on the year that was. I already noted in my post for the Number 11 film about how great movies were spread out through the calendar year instead of being clustered only in the November-December holiday season. But what also stands out to me about 2017 was the level of humor in the best films of the year; not necessarily as outright comedies but as film’s that didn’t feel forced to cram themselves strictly into the typical binary of serious vs. silly.

It made for richer movie-going experiences, IMHO. And besides, in 2017 I think we could all use a few extra laughs.

Without further ado, here’s the 10 best movies that came out 2017. It was an agonizing process to select them, as always, and I’ll add a few extra shout-outs to good movies that didn’t quite make the cut at the end.

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10. Phantom Thread

Say it ain’t so DDL!!!!  Daniel Day-Lewis, currently the greatest living male actor (come at me!) claims that his latest collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson is his last film — as in, ever. As tragic as the thought is, it’s at least comforting to know that he’s going out on a great note.

Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned dressmaker and unyielding perfectionist who finds his latest muse in Alma (Vicky Krieps). Their relationship is toxic and one-sided, by Woodcock’s design, except that Alma isn’t content to wither and fade as the dressmaker’s former lovers did.

The movie takes a bit too long getting to its deeper machinations, which in the hands of a lesser filmmaker and cast would doom the film. But the combination of DDL’s customarily immersive performance and PTA’s ethereal direction make every minute on a hypnotic delight, even if their combined weight causes the film to drag slightly.

Watch it on: Currently in theaters

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9. Nobody Speak: Trials of a Free Press

Whoulda thunk one of the most troubling and potentially detrimental challenges to the First Amendment would involve a Hulk Hogan sex tape, but here we are. Terry Bollea (the man behind the do-rag) quite literally sued the pants off of Gawker after the site posted excerpts of Bollea’s sex tape, arguing that while *Hogan* was a public figure and subject to additional scrutiny by the press, the man behind the character, Bollea, was a wholly separate individual who deserved his privacy.

Much like the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case, there’s a lot more going on here than one might immediately suppose, and director Brian Knappenberger does a superb job at peeling back the layers of this particularly rotten onion. In a time when the media is under concerted attack by public figures (“FAKE NEWS!”) and reality TV stars and tabloid provocateurs have their hands on the highest levers of governmental power (again, “FAKE NEWS!”) the ability of someone like Bollea, backed by the personal fortune of a vendetta-driven billionaire (in this case, Peter Thiel), to sue a media outlet into oblivion over objections to its content is, quite simply, terrifying. (Yowza, how’s *that* for a run-on sentence?).

Watch it on: Netflix

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8. The Disaster Artist

There have been many movies about making movies, and even a few movies about making bad movies (See: Ed Wood). But there’s never been anything quite like The Disaster Artist, which dramatizes the true and truly bizarre story of the making of The Room.

Part biopic for the notoriously terrible film’s director/writer/star Tommy Wisaue, part love-letter to film itself and part tribute to the fruits of indefatigable optimist. Centered around the all-in performance by James Franco, himself an occasionally out there multi-hyphenate, The Disaster Artist is the funniest film I saw this year. Between the abundant laughs, it’s also succeeds, somewhat unexpectedly, at making a sympathetic character out of its wackadoodle protagonist, who managed to achieve his goal of being an all-American Hollywood star (and maybe vampire?) through the most unlikeliest of routes.  (Bonus: Make sure to see “The Room” if you haven’t, but not necessarily *before* you watch The Disaster Artist. It works in either order).

Watch it on: Currently in theaters

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7. The Big Sick

Directed by Michael Showalter and written by the real-life couple whose story is dramatized on screen, The Big Sick is the charming millennial love story none of us knew we were waiting for. Kumail Nanjiani (playing a version of himself) and Zoe Kazan (as Emily) are dynamite as the central couple. And when Kazan is sidelined by the titular physical ailment of her character, the movie pops to a whole new level with the arrival of Emily’s parents, played on-the-money by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.

On its face it’s a love story, but the smart and unfussy script folds in themes of religion and family ties for a rom-dramedy that truly shouldn’t be missed.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime video

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6. Logan Lucky

After the 2013 movie “Side Effects,” Steven Soderbergh claimed he was done directing movies. He focused on television, churning out some great work in projects like The Knick and Behind the Candelabra, but maintained that he was retired from the big screen.

*Lucky* for us (see what I did there?) he changed his mind.

Going back to the heist format that launched him into the upper-Hollywood stratosphere with Ocean’s Eleven, Soderbergh bottles lightning with “Logan Lucky” a madcap, freewheeling story about misfit toys who come together to rip off a NASCAR event. It’s anchored by the oddly soulful performances of Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, the latter sporting a comically rudimentary prosthetic arm, and bolstered by an A-plus ensemble cast that includes the indescribably joyous casting of Daniel Craig as the redneck bomb-maker “Joe Bang.”

If there’s one weak point, it’s Seth McFarland as an obnoxious NASCAR driver, but it’s a minor complaint in an otherwise inventive and refreshingly clever smash-and-grab job.

Watch it on: Available for rent or purchase on streaming services

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5. The Post

Not only is Steven Spielberg’s latest very good, it’s also very necessary, arriving at a moment when the free press and First Amendment are under more scrutiny and pressure than they’ve been since…well…since the Nixon Administration depicted in the film’s plot.

The cast is stellar and the plotting is taught, diving into the emotions at play as the leadership of the Washington Post (then a second-tier paper behind the behemoths like the New York Times) wrestles with whether and how to publish the Pentagon Papers. At the center of it all is Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, waxing journalistic as the Post’s publisher and editor respectively. For newsy folk like myself, it’s the cinema equivalent of catnip, but for those outside the industry it’s a reverential and informative peak behind the curtain of one of our nations most essential democratic institutions.

Watch it on: Currently in theaters

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4. A Ghost Story

No film that I saw this year stuck with me the way A Ghost Story did. If you’ll pardon the pun, I was haunted by it.

There’s nothing conventional about this movie: it’s a bold and enigmatic story of a couple separated by mortality in which the protagonists spends the bulk of the running time obscured by a sheet like a child’s simplistic Halloween costume. You literally could not do less to show a ghost on screen, but the effect works wonders as the character (unnamed and played by Casey Affleck) looms outside the perception of his grieving wife (Rooney Mara) before becoming lost in time through a series of ponderous vignettes, all paired to precision with the single best soundtrack of any film this year.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime video

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3. Lady Bird

Few films feel as effortlessly alive as “Lady Bird,” the impressive directorial debut of indie darling Greta Gerwig. Starring Saoirse Ronan (it rhymes with “inertia”) in her funniest role to date, Lady Bird is a coming-of-age-tell that shrugs off expectations to tell a story that is at times universal (awkward first loves, parental embarrassment, dreams of adulthood in the big city) and at times wholly individual (to whit, the incredible mother-daughter pairing with a never-been-better Laurie Metcalf).

Watch it on: Available for rent or purchase on streaming services

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2. Get Out

Speaking of directorial debuts, from the mind of Jodan Peele comes the biggest talker of the 2017 year in film. Released in February, “Get Out” landed with a bang so loud the ground was still shaking by December. Not quite a horror movie, not quite a comedy and not quite sane, the movie leaned hard into America’s racial tensions, taking a textbook “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” setup and spinning it around until the wheels fall off.

Most impressive, the film doesn’t fall apart without the element of surprise. By the time most people saw it (myself included), word-of-mouth and buzzy reactions had made even the most diligently spoiler-averse audience member aware that strange things were afoot at the Circle K. You may not know exactly what is in store, but you know going in (or very shortly afterward) that things are going to be a little odd.

No matter, because Peele’s twisty concept and in-your-face constructions are simply that good. In a way, “Get Out” is spoiler proof, because what it has to say is louder than plot.

Watch it on: HBO Go/Now

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1. Dunkirk

I had a hard time choosing the image for this entry, since every option seemed so small compared to the experience of actually watching Christopher Nolan’s epic film in the theater (if you missed the large-screen format, you should still watch Dunkirk but know that you’re missing out on it’s most impressive effect: size.)

Dunkirk is a film at odds with itself. Everything about its imagery is big, from the wide-angle aerial shots to the endless horizon of a sea boiling with hulking warships toppled under billowing clouds of smoke and fire. But it’s individual moments are small, and largely wordless, as we follow various groups of soldiers, pilots and civilians engaged in the most straightforward of tasks made daunting by circumstance: getting from one side of the English channel to the other.

The contradictions in tone are made all the better by the film’s format, which weaves together three narratives that take place in different windows of time (one week on land, one day at seat and one hour in flight). It is at first disorienting, until you embrace the disorientation and look past chronology. Every scene is its own story of survival, so it doesn’t quite matter which order they occur in.

The Battle of Dunkirk has been depicted on film before, most notably in the excellent film Atonement. But while those stories made pit stops at the beach, Nolan’s story is lazer-focused on the plight of the English and French forces trapped between the German invaders on one side and the treacherous waters on the other. A straightforward telling would have made for a straightforward movie, something Nolan has shown he has little interest in, and one that may have been fine but wouldn’t stick with you the way “Dunkirk” does.

Watch it on: Available for rent or purchase on streaming services

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And a few more:

As always, there’s more than 10 movies that deserve recognition. I mentioned a few already with my Honorable Mentions, but most of those weren’t ever under consideration for my end-of-year Top 10.

Because movies come late to Utah, I end up making a Top 10 and then bumping titles off as late releases outrank them, which is heartbreaking. This was particularly the case with I, Tonya, with which I went back and forth for a few days deciding between it and Phantom Thread for the final spot.

Similarly, it killed me to not include Blade Runner 2049. I’m a huge fan of director Denis Villeneuve and really enjoyed his gorgeous sequel to the Ridley Scott classic. But I can also see where its detractors are coming from, and while I recommend it wholeheartedly there are few little nit-picky things that kept me from ranking it.

Battle of the Sexes, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell is very good, and Stone *in it* is particularly excellent. I was going to mention it as Best Indie but I just couldn’t get over It Comes at Night. Similarly Wonder Woman deserves every inch of its success and I look forward to what Patti Jenkins does with the franchise (still the only corner of DC’s cinematic universe worth paying attention to.)

I was surprised by how much I liked Murder on the Orient Express. I knew nothing about the story which probably added to my enjoyment (your mileage may vary if you already know the big reveal) and I’m pleased that a sequel is reportedly in development, especially since this time it *won’t* include Johnny Depp.

Also Wind River is another worthwhile directorial debut, this time by Taylor Sheridan who has written some of the best crime-related films in recent years (Hell or High Water, Sicario). His skills in the director’s chair aren’t quite to the level of his writing ability, but it’s a strong first film that suggests even better things on the horizon (Sicario, you may recall, was directed by Denis Villeneuve, which ties this list together in an interesting way. And its sequel “Soldado” comes out this summer. I am, to put it mildly, excited.).

Last but not least, The Greatest Showman is a darn good musical. Sure, I would have liked a less sanitized version of P.T. Barnum — a complicated man, to say the least — but the music is great, the choreography pops, and its quite successful at what it sets out to do.

**Addendum*** This morning’s Oscar Nominations reminded me that I forgot to include The Shape Of Water in my post-list shoutouts. GDT is a visionary director, and his latest has the feel of a moving painting. Great performances by the cast (most notably Sally Hawkins is a near-silent role) and a great fantasy creation. It was a contender for the Top 10 but got bumped in the final weeks.

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If you believe the reports, Daniel Craig is definitely done playing James Bond. Unless you believe the other reports that he definitely intends to return for the final film in his contract.

That type of behind-the-scenes uncertainly wouldn’t normally be an issue, especially for a franchise where perpetual casting changes are built into the machine, but for the fact that in Spectre, Craig et al deliver a film that very much feels like the final chapter in a Bond quadrilogy.

There’s a gravitational pull with most franchises to deliver the movie that Ties It All Together™, and more often than not its an impulse best avoided. Such is the case with Spectre, which attempts to retcon all of Craig’s villains – Le Chifre, Mr. White, Dominic Greene and Silva — into a shadowy organization headed by Hannes Oberhauser (Chistoph Waltz), a figure with a mysterious tie to Bond’s past.

But before you can say “Wait…how?” the film skips off to Tangier in an attempt to distract you with beautiful women, beautiful locales and beautiful fights on a train so that you’re too occupied to question how Oberhauser could have possibly orchestrated the events of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. For one thing, QUANTUM already gave us one shadowy organization, which now was a subsidiary? Is this a Bond movie or a quarterly earnings report?

It’s par for the course of Spectre, in which THINGS HAPPEN out of necessity, with little time spent on the “why?” of it all. There are plots and subplots, villains and sub-villains, but they’re parceled out like a paint-by-numbers book as the film follows the establish Bond formula established decades ago (the introduction of Andrew Scott as a drone- and surveillance-minded head of British security intent on shutting down MI6 is the definition of an afterthought).

And that’s a shame, because the Daniel Craig era has been marked by an overall sense of freshness and experimentation. Beginning with Casino Royale (still the strongest entry of Craig’s time in the tux, IMHO) the four films have enjoyed a sense of unpredictability, even while calling back to the tried-and-true aspects of the cherished (by many, myself included) franchise. Spectre, on the other hand, is quite predictable, from the car chase in Act I, to the love interest in Act II and the Big Twist Reveal in Act III.

None of this is to say that Spectre is a bad film, it is not. The visuals are delightful (the film opens with a beautiful tracking shot meandering through Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico) and the introduction of classic bond elements like Moneypenny and Q that began with Skyfall continue to pay dividends as the new era of the Bond Team develops. The female characters in Spectre (you know, the Bond Girls) are also more developed than their predecessors, with Lea Seydoux in particular offering more than just a pretty face.

Spectre’s greatest challenge is its own success, coming off the heels of Skyfall and hearkening back to Casino Royale. It falls short of those elevated expectations, but continues the trend of overall quality that has defined the recent exploits of 007.

Grade: B

*Spectre opens nationwide on Friday, November 6

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For the readers who may not remember from last year,  as part of the annual Wood’s Stock Top 10 (coming soon), we like to award a special 11th-Best Film of the Year Award.

Number 11 is more than just “what would have been number 10 if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids.” It is a loving tribute to populist, popcorn cinema; a slot specially reserved for a film that was produced for broad, mass market appeal but still managed to keep things classy, smart, and show us something new.

So without further ado, the 11th Best Film of 2011 was:

Skyfall

There have been many Bonds and even more Bond movies. In the 50 years since the dapper British womanizing spy first took names and saved the world, the tone of the films shifted from fun, to silly, to outlandish and back again before landing on the bruised face of Casino Royale’s Daniel Craig. Royale was sensational and (in my humble opinion) a superior film to Skyfall, but despite its strengths, the legions of Bond fans disappointed with the Union-Jack-Jason-Bourne-style had reason to gripe.

In their haste to adopt the “realism” that had infused the action drama post-Bourne, Royale’s makers had all but thrown every essential Bond element out with the bathwater. Gone were the dry one-line quips, gone was Q and his gadgets, gone was Miss Moneypenny and her innuendo-loaded sparring with 007 and long gone was the tuxedo-wearing Lothario who somehow beat villains to a pulp with his bare hands and escaped again and again from the sure clutches of grim death without so much as a drop of sweat on his French-cuffed shirts.

Again, many of those decisions made Royale a superior film but to many fans, it just didn’t seem like a Bond film anymore. Then came Skyfall.

In what is seemingly the perfect marriage of new and old, Skyfall reintroduces long-lost elements to the franchise while still preserving the mortal and bleeding Bond that won over new fans in Royale. Also, Director Sam Mendes added a sort of dramatic heft to the plot, which was tied together in a pretty red bow by the off-kilter brilliance of Javier Bardem as the villain Silva.

Bardem, as the silver-haired tech terrorist, somehow oozed a disquieting presence out of his poured and slipped sociopathy and madness into every syllable he spoke. Every great action film has a great villain, and Bardem turned in the goods.

Because of Skyfall, Bond seems to have an extra spring in his step for a 50-year-old, and what was becoming a shaky and inconsistent franchise suddenly has a breath of new life.

 

 

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A lot of praise has been heaped upon ‘Skyfall’. Many respectable, wise critics have dubbed it “The best Bond ever,” lauding it for its ability to both incorporate long lost elements of Bonds-gone-by while still preserving the moody, gritty realism of the Daniel Craig ever.

While I fall short of deeming Skyfall the best of all the 23 Bonds — or even the best of Craig’s 3 outings as the titular provocateur — I could not agree more that what Sam Mendes has produced is a near flawless fusion of old and new and one of the most thrilling adventures in 007’s 50-year career.

Skyfall — as with all bonds since Thunderball — begins with a pre-credit sequence that is both breathtaking in scope and pulse-pounding with adrenaline. It hearkens back to movies of yesteryear as bond goes from a foot chase to a car chase to a motorcycle chase along rooftops to a backhoe chase on a moving train, all while pausing to straighten tie and cufflinks (as seen in the trailer). It’s a piece of exquisite Bond-action joy that sets up the films resurrection theme as bond is injured and struggles to return back to 100% health and active duty.

From there, we jump skip to a series of attacks on Mi6 that are seemingly directed vendetta-style at Judi Dench’s ‘M’, who has played the role since Pierce Brosnan’s Goldeneye (another “best”). On the job is Bond, back from some much-needed R&R, who pursues a somewhat-confusing trail of breadcrumbs first to Shanghai (where apparently everything glows, which looks awesome) then to Macau (where everything is dimly lit and floating on water, which looks awesome) and finally to a remote island where we meet our villain Silva, a snake-tongued cyber criminal with an axe to grind played by Javier Bardem.

Once again Bardem shows that he is adept at playing off-kilter evil, trading his bowl cut and cattle gun from No Country For Old Men for flowing blond locks, a laptop computer and just a pinch of homo-eroticism. He is eerie, off-putting and fascinating to watch but his motivations and actions struck me as slightly incomplete.

Back at home in London there are a number of side elements, such as the re-introduction of gadget-master Q and a political threat to M in the form of Ralph Fiennes, which all come to tie together nicely in the film’s third act, which I won’t describe suffice to say that it was an interestingly low-key way to stage the final showdown, whichbrought back memories of the Man With the Golden Gun era.

Casino Royale remains my favorite of the Craigs, but I admit that some of the criticism of being Bourne-ified is justified. Skyfall looks, feels, smells, and loves like the Bond we all grew up with; a suave Brit cracking wise, seducing women and taking names around the world. For the diehards, Skyfall is peppered with throwback nods and canonical additions that you may not have realized you missed but are nonetheless grin-inducing when they appear. For the uninitiated, it’s just one heckuva good ride. A-

 

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