My Favorite Hal Ashby Films (New)

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* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   The Landlord (1970) (No relation to the Will Ferrell comedy)

2.   Shampoo (1975)

3.   The Last Detail (1973)

4.   Let’s Spend the Night Together (1983)
(Concert Film)

* * * 1/2 (Out of * * * *)

1.   Bound for Glory (1976)

Kong: Skull Island: A Review by Guest Reviewer Yaseen Fawzi

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NOTE: This review was not written by me, it was written by my good friend Yaseen Fawzi, whose reviews I regularly post on here because regardless of whether or not I agree with him on the film, I do love what he says nonetheless. Even though I would personally rate Kong: Skull Island * * * 1/2 (out of * * * *), I still love what Yaseen has to say about the film. Anyway, here is Yaseen’s review and I hope you enjoy it

Kong: Skull Island

Review by
Yaseen Fawzi

March 11, 2017

Kong: Skull Island is the latest attempt to revive King Kong for a new generation of moviegoers. In the wake of peace negotiations being made between the United States and Vietnam, agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) begins planning a special expedition to find the mysterious Skull Island. The crew primarily consists of tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), and biologist San Lin (Jing Tian), along with the helicopter squadron known as the Sky Devils. Upon discovering the island, however, they are attacked by the large gorilla Kong and wind up separated. The groups then begin their search for a resupply team in the hopes of escaping the island. Along the way, they encounter various treacherous obstacles and meet Lt. Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a hardened World War II who has been stranded for 28 years.  

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Skull Island establishes a new continuity for the Kong character, and as a result, it does not follow the traditional structure of the previous incarnations. Despite the presence of Kong, it is less like a monster movie and could be considered more of a survival film, as the crew struggle to figure out how to get off the island. There are obvious parallels to the political turmoil and trigger-happy machinery of the Vietnam War prominent within the film’s anti-war sentiments, considering its time period. Kong, in this version, is presented as a more aggressive, bruised, and battle-ready gorilla, which is a much-needed update for an already iconic character. Unlike their previous incarnations, the island natives are presented in a more sympathetic light, subverting their stereotypical image within seconds of their first appearance. They are also revealed to have helped Marlow after he was stranded and worship Kong as a god.    

In terms of technical achievements, Kong easily excels. It features some fantastically staged action set pieces, including Kong’s first attack on the invading helicopters and a battle with native pterodactyls. Many of the deaths in the film are depicted in a darkly humorous manner, much like those in Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi classics. On the other hand, the pacing of Kong is generally on point for the first half, but turns unbalanced towards the end. The visual effects are outstanding, especially when created by artists at the legendary Industrial Light and Magic. The motion capture actor portraying Kong, Terry Notary, makes great efforts to not simply turn it into an imitation of either Andy Serkis or Rick Baker’s performances. The seamlessness of the CGI also applies to the creatures the crew encounter, including mossy yaks, spiders with bamboo legs, and a log mantis. By far, the most intricate creatures in the film are the ferocious Skull Crawlers, the primary antagonists, with their skeletal heads and lizard-like bodies. The music by Henry Jackman features the pulsating drumbeats and ostinatos typically found in Hans Zimmer’s action scores, although there are attempts to replicate the orchestral grandeur of Max Steiner’s score to the 1933 King Kong. Don’t forget to stick around after the credits, because there is a special surprise just around the corner.    

Performance-wise, the leads in Kong are very uneven, with Tom Hiddleston’s character being given a badass introduction before receiving little to no proper development in his transition into action hero. Samuel L. Jackson is, well, Samuel L. Jackson, delivering his typical “don’t mess with me” schtick as Packard. However, his character’s tonal shift halfway through the film proves very abrupt, despite a few clever instances of dialogue throughout, including a Jurassic Park homage. While John Goodman does give a good performance as Randa, his character is largely ignored after the first half of the movie and a lot of his potential is wasted. Brie Larson has a largely thankless role as the main female character Weaver (despite efforts to make her more active at the end of the film), standing around and taking pictures yet seemingly overacting at the same time. It is John C. Reilly, however, who gives the best performance and has the best character arc as Marlow, who has spent long enough to know Skull Island inside and out.

Kong: Skull Island is far from perfect, but it works on both a technical level and as a solid enough blockbuster.

* * * (out of * * * * “Ya-stars”)

My Favorite Ben Wheatley Films (New)

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* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   High-Rise (2015)

2.   A Field in England (2013)

3.   Kill List (2011)

4.   Sightseers (2012)

5.   The ABC’s of Death (2012) (Segment: U is for Unearthed)

6.   Down Terrace (2009)

The 2017 Academy Award Nominees Vs. My Nominees

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-Introduction-

I will not lie, I have not seen a lot of the choices for this year’s Oscar show and I do not plan on watching it because it is really little more than a popularity contest. Nevertheless, I did see plenty films of last year that I did love and therefore, I plan on giving a list of my alternative picks for the Oscars vs. what was chosen. Nevertheless, I did see some of the nominees as the reader can gather from some of the choices under the “My Personal Choice” category. My alternate list of nominees is below each “My Personal Choice” section, so one will know what were the Oscar picks (2017 Academy Awards) vs. My Nominees. Under all of the “My Nominees” categories, you will see that I have chosen my pick already (i.e. The Winner). If some of my alternate choices sound radical then I advise the reader to first read my blog entry regarding my top 10 films of 2016 right here. Anyway, I hope you enjoy my blog entry regarding The 2017 Academy Award Nominees Vs. My Nominees. Without further ado, here they are below:

-Nominees for Best Picture (2017 Academy Awards)-
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

My Prediction: La La Land, Manchester by the Sea or Moonlight
My Personal Choice: Hacksaw Ridge
The Winner: Moonlight

-My Nominees for Best Picture-
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Hacksaw Ridge
High-Rise
Love & Friendship
Miles Ahead
The President
Suicide Squad
Sully
Sunset Song
Wiener-Dog

The Winner: High-Rise

-Nominees for Best Actor (2017 Academy Awards)-
Manchester by the Sea: Casey Affleck
Hacksaw Ridge: Andrew Garfield
La La Land: Ryan Gosling
Captain Fantastic: Viggo Mortensen
Fences: Denzel Washington

My Prediction: Manchester by the Sea: Casey Affleck or La La Land: Ryan Gosling
My Personal Choice: Hacksaw Ridge: Andrew Garfield
The Winner: Manchester by the Sea: Casey Affleck

-My Nominees for Best Actor-
Miles Ahead: Don Cheadle
Valley of Love: Gerard Depardieu
Hacksaw Ridge: Andrew Garfield
Blood Father: Mel Gibson
The President:
Misha Gomiashvilli
A Hologram for the King and Sully: Tom Hanks
High-Rise: Tom Hiddleston
The Measure of a Man: Vincent Lindon
Standing Tall: Rod Paradot
Deadpool: Ryan Reynolds
Spa Night: Joe Seo

The Winner: Miles Ahead: Don Cheadle

-Nominees for Best Actress (2017 Academy Awards)-
Elle: Isabelle Huppert
Loving: Ruth Negga
Jackie: Natalie Portman
La La Land: Emma Stone
Florence Foster Jenkins: Meryl Streep

My Prediction: Jackie: Natalie Portman, La La Land: Emma Stone or Florence Foster Jenkins: Meryl Streep
My Personal Choice: N/A
The Winner: La La Land: Emma Stone

-My Nominees for Best Actress-
Arrival: Amy Adams
Love & Friendship: Kate Beckinsale
Standing Tall: Catherine Deneuve
Sunset Song: Agyness Deyn
Things to Come and Valley of Love: Isabelle Huppert
Suicide Squad: Margot Robbie
The Dressmaker: Kate Winslet

The Winner: Sunset Song: Agyness Deyn

-Nominees for Best Supporting Actor (2017 Academy Awards)-
Moonlight: Mahershala Ali
Hell or High Water: Jeff Bridges
Manchester by the Sea: Lucas Hedges
Lion: Dev Patel
Nocturnal Animals: Michael Shannon

My Prediction: Any of the five nominees
My Personal Choice: Hell or High Water: Jeff Bridges
The Winner: Moonlight: Mahershala Ali

-My Nominees for Best Supporting Actor-
Love & Friendship: Tom Bennett
Hell or High Water: Jeff Bridges
Wiener-Dog: Danny DeVito
High-Rise: Luke Evans
Hell or High Water:
Ben Foster
Sunset Song: Kevin Guthrie
High-Rise: Jeremy Irons
Standing Tall: Benoit Magimel
Sunset Song: Peter Mullan
The Dressmaker: Hugo Weaving

The Winner: Hell or High Water: Jeff Bridges

-Nominees for Best Supporting Actress (2017 Academy Awards)-
Fences: Viola Davis
Moonlight: Naomie Harris
Lion: Nicole Kidman
Hidden Figures: Octavia Spencer
Manchester by the Sea: Michelle Williams

My Prediction: Any of the five nominees
My Personal Choice: Hidden Figures: Octavia Spencer
The Winner: Fences: Viola Davis

-My Nominees for Best Supporting Actress-
Wiener-Dog: Ellen Burstyn
The Dressmaker: Judy Davis
Certain Women: Lily Gladstone
High-Rise: Sienna Miller
High-Rise: Elizabeth Moss
Hidden Figures: Octavia Spencer

The Winner: Certain Women: Lily Gladstone

-Nominees for Best Director (2017 Academy Awards)-
Arrival: Denis Villeneuve
Hacksaw Ridge: Mel Gibson
La La Land: Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea: Kenneth Lonergan
Moonlight: Barry Jenkins

My Prediction: La La Land: Damien Chazelle, Manchester by the Sea: Kenneth Lonergan or Moonlight: Barry Jenkins
My Personal Choice: Hacksaw Ridge: Mel Gibson
The Winner: La La Land: Damien Chazelle

-My Nominees for Best Director-
Suicide Squad: David Ayer
Miles Ahead: Don Cheadle
The Mermaid: Stephen Chow
Sunset Song: Terence Davies
Sully: Clint Eastwood
Hacksaw Ridge: Mel Gibson
Eisenstein in Guanajuato:
Peter Greenaway
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: Ang Lee
The President: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Zack Snyder
Wiener-Dog: Todd Solondz
High-Rise: Ben Wheatley

The Winner: High-Rise: Ben Wheatley

-Nominees for Best Original Screenplay (2017 Academy Awards)-
Hell or High Water: Taylor Sheridan
La La Land: Damien Chazelle
The Lobster: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Fillippou
Manchester by the Sea: Kenneth Lonergan
20th Century Women: Mike Mills

My Prediction: Hell or High Water: Taylor Sheridan, La La Land: Damien Chazelle or Manchester by the Sea: Kenneth Lonergan
My Personal Choice: Hell or High Water: Taylor Sheridan
The Winner: Manchester by the Sea: Kenneth Lonergan

-My Nominees for Best Original Screenplay-
Beautiful Something: Joseph Graham
Certain Women: Kelly Reichardt
Hacksaw Ridge: Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan
Hell or High Water: Taylor Sheridan
Miles Ahead: Steven Baigelman, Don Cheadle, Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson
The President: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
and Marziyeh Meshkiny
Spa Night:
Andrew Ahn
Standing Tall: Emmanuelle Bercot and Marcia Romano
Wiener-Dog: Todd Solondz

The Winner: Wiener-Dog: Todd Solondz

-Nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay (2017 Academy Awards)-
Arrival: Eric Heisserer
Fences: August Wilson
Hidden Figures: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
Lion: Luke Davies
Moonlight: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney

My Prediction: Hidden Figures: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi or Moonlight: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney
My Personal Choice: Hidden Figures: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
The Winner: Moonlight: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney

-My Nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay-
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: Jean-Christophe Castelli
Blood Father: Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff
The Dressmaker: Jocelyn Moorhouse and P.J. Hogan
High-Rise: Amy Jump
A Hologram for the King: Tom Tykwer
Love & Friendship: Whit Stillman
Suicide Squad: David Ayer
Sully: Todd Komarnicki
Sunset Song: Terence Davies

The Winner: High-Rise: Amy Jump

-Nominees for Best Cinematography (2017 Academy Awards)-
Arrival: Bradford Young
La La Land: Linus Sandgren
Lion: Grieg Fraser
Moonlight: James Laxton
Silence: Rodrigo Prieto

My Prediction: Any of the five nominees
My Personal Choice: Arrival: Bradford Young
The Winner: La La Land: Linus Sandgren

-My Nominees for Best Cinematography-
Arrival: Bradford Young
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: John Toll
The Dressmaker: Donald McAlpine
The Finest Hours: Javier Aguirresarobe
Hacksaw Ridge: Simon Duggan
Hell or High Water: Giles Nuttgens

High-Rise: Laurie Rose
Knight of Cups: Emmanuel Lubezki
Sunset Song: Michael McDonough

The Winner: Sunset Song: Michael McDonough

-Nominees for Best Costume Design (2017 Academy Awards)-
Allied
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

My Prediction: Any of the five nominees
My Personal Choice: N/A
The Winner: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

-My Nominees for Best Costume Design-
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
The Dressmaker
High-Rise

Love & Friendship
Suicide Squad

The Winner: The Dressmaker

-Nominees for Best Sound Mixing (2017 Academy Awards)-
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One
13 Hours (Nomination revoked)

My Prediction: Any of the five nominees
My Personal Choice: Hacksaw Ridge
The Winner: Hacksaw Ridge

-My Nominees for Best Sound Mixing-
Arrival
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
The Finest Hours

Hacksaw Ridge
High-Rise

Suicide Squad

The Winner: Hacksaw Ridge

-Nominees for Best Film Editing (2017 Academy Awards)-
Arrival: Joe Walker
Hacksaw Ridge: John Gilbert
Hell or High Water: Jake Roberts
La La Land: Tom Cross
Moonlight: Joe McMillon and Nat Sanders

My Prediction: Any of the five nominees
My Personal Choice: Hacksaw Ridge: John Gilbert
The Winner: Hacksaw Ridge: John Gilbert

-My Nominees for Best Film Editing-
Arrival: Joe Walker
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: David Brenner
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: Tim Squyres
Eisenstein in Guanajuato:
Elmer Leupen
The Finest Hours: Tatiana S. Riegel
Hacksaw Ridge: John Gilbert
Hell or High Water: Jake Roberts
High-Rise: Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley
Suicide Squad: John Gilroy
Sully: Blu Murray

The Winner: Hacksaw Ridge: John Gilbert

-Nominees for Best Sound Editing (2017 Academy Awards)-
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

My Prediction: Any of the five nominees
My Personal Choice: Hacksaw Ridge
The Winner: Arrival

-My Nominees for Best Sound Editing-
Arrival
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
The Finest Hours

Hacksaw Ridge
High-Rise
Suicide Squad

Sully

The Winner: Hacksaw Ridge

-Nominees for Best Visual Effects (2017 Academy Awards)-
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One

My Prediction: Any of the five nominees
My Personal Choice: Kubo and the Two Strings
The Winner: The Jungle Book

-My Nominees for Best Visual Effects-
Arrival
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
The Finest Hours
Kubo and the Two Strings
Suicide Squad
Sully

The Winner: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

-Nominees for Best Makeup (2017 Academy Awards)-
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

My Prediction: Any of the three nominees
My Personal Choice: Suicide Squad
The Winner: Suicide Squad

-My Nominees for Best Makeup-
Deadpool
Suicide Squad

The Winner: Suicide Squad

-Nominees for Best Original Song (2017 Academy Awards)-
Jim: The James Foley Story: Song: The Empty Chair
La La Land: Songs: Audition (The Fools Who Dream) and City of Stars
Moana: Song: How Far I’ll Go
Trolls: Song: Can’t Stop the Feeling

My Prediction: La La Land: Either of the two songs
My Personal Choice: N/A
The Winner: La La Land: Song: City of Stars

-My Nominees for Best Original Song-
Suicide Squad: Songs: Heathens and Sucker for Pain
Wiener-Dog: Song: The Ballad of Wiener-Dog

The Winner: Wiener-Dog: Song: The Ballad of Wiener-Dog

-Nominees for Best Original Score (2017 Academy Awards)-
Jackie: Mica Levi
La La Land: Justin Hurwitz
Lion: Dustin O’Halloran and Volker Bertelmann
Moonlight: Nicholas Britell
Passengers: Thomas Newman

My Prediction: La La Land: Justin Hurwitz or Moonlight: Nicholas Britell
My Personal Choice: N/A
The Winner: La La Land: Justin Hurwitz

-My Nominees for Best Original Score-
Arrival: Johann Johannsson and Max Richter
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL
The Dressmaker: David Hirschfelder
The Finest Hours: Carter Burwell
Hacksaw Ridge: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Hell or High Water:
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
High-Rise: Clint Mansell

The Winner: High-Rise: Clint Mansell

-Nominees for Best Animated Short (2017 Academy Awards)-
Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cidar and Cigarettes
Pearl
Piper

My Prediction: Any of the five nominees
My Personal Choice: N/A
The Winner: Piper

My Nominees for Best Animated Short: N/A

-Nominees for Best Live Action Short (2017 Academy Awards)-
Ennemis within
The Railroad Lady

Silent Nights
Sing
Timecode

My Prediction: Any of the five nominees
My Personal Choice: N/A
The Winner: Sing

My Nominees for Best Live Action Short: N/A

-Nominees for Best Documentary Short (2017 Academy Awards)-
Extremis
4.1 Miles
Joe’s Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

My Prediction: Any of the five nominees
My Personal Choice: N/A
The Winner: The White Helmets

My Nominees for Best Documentary Short: N/A

-Nominees for Best Documentary (2017 Academy Awards)-
Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
O.J.: Made in America
13th

My Prediction: Any of the five nominees
My Personal Choice: N/A
The Winner: O.J.: Made in America

-My Nominees for Best Documentary-
Lo and Behold

The Winner: Lo and Behold

-Nominees for Best Foreign Language Film (2017 Academy Awards)-
Land of Mine (Denmark)
A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
The Salesman (Iran)
Tanna (Australia)
Toni Erdmann (Germany)

My Prediction: Any of the five nominees
My Personal Choice: N/A
The Winner: The Salesman (Iran)

-My Nominees for Best Foreign Language Film-
Aferim! (Romania)
The Measure of a Man (France)

The Mermaid (China/Hong Kong)
The President (Georgia/France/UK/Germany)
Standing Tall (France)
Valley of Love (France)

The Winner: The President (Georgia/France/UK/Germany)

-Nominees for Best Animated Film (2017 Academy Awards)-
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

My Prediction: Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana or Zootopia
My Personal Choice: Kubo and the Two Strings
The Winner: Zootopia

-My Nominees for Best Animated Film-
Kubo and the Two Strings
The Little Prince

The Winner: Kubo and the Two Strings

-Nominees for Best Production Design (2017 Academy Awards)-
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land
Passengers

My Prediction: La La Land
My Personal Choice: Arrival
The Winner: La La Land

-My Nominees for Best Production Design-
Arrival
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
The Dressmaker
The Finest Hours
Hacksaw Ridge

High-Rise
Love & Friendship

The Winner: High-Rise

My Top 10 Best Films of 2016

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A Word Before Reading

I am quite aware that numbers 5, 7 and 9 were bashed by critics, but my loving for these films is sincere and I hope when readers read why I love them, they do not get the impression that I am goofy or something. 

Introduction

I am quite aware that I am a month too late in publishing my Best Films list of the year. I sincerely apologize for that, I have just been so busy lately. Either way, let us move on. While 2016 did not have the high quantity of great films that 2015 had, it was still a pretty solid year. 2016 has been quite a strange year in general and readers are bound to find some of my choices for my 10 best films of the year to be equally bizarre. Nevertheless, I have valid reasons for loving some of these films. While their are some foreign films in my Runner-Ups and Honorable Mentions section, I have only one in my top 10 list and that is a work by master Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. My number one favorite film of 2016 is a literary adaptation by a director you might not have heard of. I have seen some great works by veteran directors Terence Davies, Todd Solondz and Whit Stillman. Two of those are traditional literary adaptations. As far as comic book film adaptations go, two of them made my list, but it is bound to shock my readers in terms of the two choices I picked. As far as some of the other picks are concerned, I chose works by actor directors and one other was by a director I am not even a huge fan of (hint: it is number 9). What a lot of these films on my list have in common is that they all in one way or another touched upon our current political and social climate. Some did it explicitly and others in a more implicit manner. Anyway, without further ado, I present to you without hesitation my Top 10 Best Films of 2016 below. I hope you enjoy the list and I hope you are all having a Happy 2017 so far 🙂

Top 10 Best Films of 2016

1.) High-Rise
(Dir: Ben Wheatley)
(* * * * out of * * * *)
While it may inarguably (If understandably) rank as one of (If not) the most polarizing films of the year to be on my list, I still honestly and personally view High-Rise as the greatest film of 2016. This electrifying, exciting, masterfully acted and thought-provoking adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 dystopian novel of societal collapse could have easily been set in our present day 21st century and it would still feel timeless. Working with his biggest budget to date, idiosyncratic British director Ben Wheatley creates a visually stunning masterpiece that also happens to be his most expressive piece of storytelling so far in his already perfect career as a bold and daring filmmaker. This audacious work of art is atmospheric, crazy, dark, disturbing, edgy, energetic, exhilarating, funny, imaginative, mesmerizing, sexy, uncompromising and weird. To put it in other words, High-Rise stands out as more than just an unqualified success, it also serves as one of many perfect examples of what makes a film great.

2.) The President
(Dir: Mohsen Makhmalbaf)
(* * * * out of * * * *)
Even though it is technically a 2014 film (it was released here on DVD in 2016), I can not think of any other film that is more deserving of second place other than that of The President, which is a riveting drama from the great Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. This story of a former tyrant dealing with the people that his toppled government had oppressed offers fascinating drama, intelligent satire and even a bit of excitement. Out of all the political dramas that have been released this year, neither of them have been as powerful or has impressed me as much as The President.

3.) Sunset Song
(Dir: Terence Davies)
(* * * * out of * * * *)
As beautifully acted and photographed as it is masterfully directed and written, Sunset Song may just be the most emotionally powerful film of the year. British filmmaker Terence Davies adaptation of Louis Grassic Gibbon’s novel about a Scottish girl’s rite of passage during the early 20th century blends intimate drama, heartbreaking tragedy and gorgeous scenery all into one and the result plays out like a touching poem If it were told within a cinematic narrative. Exquisite and poignant in equal measures, Sunset Song can only be described as one of many perfect examples of how a work of art should be defined.

4.) Wiener-Dog
(Dir: Todd Solondz)
(* * * * out of * * * *)
Regardless as to whether or not mainstream viewers will dismiss it as the cinematic equivalent of an endurance test, I personally found Wiener-Dog to be the most meaningful film that independent American cinema offered to me during these past 12 months of 2016. In his use of the title character’s journey from owner to owner within suburbia in the present day 21st century, director/writer Todd Solondz (refreshingly) shocks and infuriates us viewers yet never without a dark sense of humor or a deep awareness of what could possibly drive the behavior of its admittedly messed up characters. Love it or hate it (and I love it), Wiener-Dog is the only film of the year that really hits close to home on every single level possible.

5.) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
(Dir: Zack Snyder)
(* * * * out of * * * *)
Despite all of the negative reviews that have been heaped on this by the critics, I still unapologetically look at Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as one of the two best comic book film adaptations of 2016. Unlike most films involving superheroes, director Zack Snyder takes full advantage of all of the technology that cinema has to offer and uses it as If he were bringing a comic book/graphic novel dazzlingly to visual life. The film’s central plot about the animosity our two title superheroes face towards each other amid their fight against evil explores themes that feel relevant in regards to our nation’s currently divided political climate and our longing for some sort of unity to prevail in an increasingly cynical era among its many timely issues. One may not notice it at first, but hopefully after two or three viewings, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will be seen as this year’s most daring superhero film.

6.) Hacksaw Ridge
(Dir: Mel Gibson)
(* * * * out of * * * *)
When it comes to this year’s crop of movies where the word “extraordinary” is either implied or said by both critics and audiences alike in describing the heroics of the lead character, Hacksaw Ridge is arguably the only one where the aforementioned term perfectly matches the philosophy and vision of its filmmaker. In telling the incredible true story of how a combat medic earned a Medal of Honor for saving the lives of 75 soldiers in Okinawa during WWII by never killing an enemy combatant let alone getting killed, director Mel Gibson deeply explores the Christian beliefs that shape our main character while also giving us graphically violent and spectacular battle sequences worthy of comparisons to Saving Private Ryan. Two of my 10 best films of 2016 deal with the theme of patriotism, but out of all of them, Hacksaw Ridge stands out as the most emotionally powerful in how it depicts both its drama and imagery.

7.) Suicide Squad
(Dir: David Ayer)
(* * * * out of * * * *)
Similar to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad stood out for me as one of the two greatest comic book film adaptations of the year that was sadly misunderstood by critics. Edited with ferocious energy and set to a soundtrack filled with popular songs to define the characters and the ever-changing mood of the film, director/writer David Ayer delivers a stylish and expressive action picture that has something meaningful to say about both bonding (an Ayer trademark) and as with Batman v Superman, our nation’s contemporary political culture. Even while examining the serious imperfections that shape our title anti-heroes and the questionable antics of their employer, Ayer goes to great lengths and succeeds in not only making us root for them every step of the way, but also in getting us to care for them as human beings as well. Aside from being the personal favorite of mine, Suicide Squad also ranks for this viewer as the most exciting and insightful in the batch of 2016’s highest-grossing Summer films.

8.) Sully
(Dir: Clint Eastwood)
(* * * * out of * * * *)
Out of all the films I have seen this year about heroism rooted in reality, Sully stands out as the one where the personas of both its director (Clint Eastwood) and lead actor (Tom Hanks) is compatible with the feelings of arguably a majority of people in how we define the characteristics of a hero in general. Even with a running time of 96 minutes, Eastwood still manages to deliver a tightly directed, paced and written drama that vividly depicts the heroic efforts of real life pilot Chesley Sullenberger, whose emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River (aka Miracle on the Hudson) ended up saving the lives of all the passengers on board on January 15th, 2009. Humble, likable and mild mannered (like Sullenberger himself), Hanks delivers an inspired performance of the aforementioned character, who even in the midst of hero worship by family, friends and the media, could occasionally become vulnerable to doubt. While their are probably countless other films of 2016 that capture humanity at its best in 21st century America, Sully is the only one I can think of that totally succeeds in its execution.

9.) Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
(Dir: Ang Lee)
(* * * * out of * * * *)
No matter If you watched it at 120 fps or 24 fps (this is how I watched it), Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk still comes off as this year’s most innovate example of cinematic storytelling. Director Ang Lee’s up close and personal approach to the format yields stunning results and it coincides perfectly with its timely drama that examines how our nation celebrates, commercializes and contradicts war as experienced through the eyes and mind of our title soldier. A majority of critics saw this as a misfire, but for me, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk remains a tour de force. Even If a majority of critics are forever going to dismiss Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk as a misfire, I for one will see it as the most unique experimental film of 2016.

10.) Love & Friendship
(Dir: Whit Stillman)
(* * * * out of * * * *)
If for nothing else, Love & Friendship arguably deserves to be seen as one of the few 2016 films on my list to satisfy not only the tastes of a majority of critics, but also that of the film’s director and screenwriter as well. In adapting Jane Austen’s posthumously published short novel entitled Lady Susan, director/writer Whit Stillman serves up a delicious comedy of manners that satirizes 18th century British upper class society with wickedly funny results. At the same time, Stillman is keenly interested in exploring the characters that make up this particular social class as a whole and as usual, he does it effortlessly. With or without all of the critical praise, Love & Friendship still goes down for me as one of the most delightful film adaptations of the year.

Runner Ups
(* * * * out of * * * *)
1.) The Mermaid (Dir: Stephen Chow)
2.) Miles Ahead (Dir: Don Cheadle)
3.) Beautiful Something (Dir: Joseph Graham)
4.) Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Dir: Peter Greenaway)
5.) Valley of Love (Dir: Guillaume Nicloux)
6.) Standing Tall (Dir: Emmanuelle Bercot)
7.) Certain Women (Dir: Kelly Reichardt)
8.) The Dressmaker (Dir: Jocelyn Moorhouse)
9.) Aferim! (Dir: Radu Jude)
10.) Spa Night (Dir: Andrew Ahn)
11.) The Measure of a Man (Dir: Stephen Brize)
12.) A Hologram for the King (Dir: Tom Tykwer)
13.) Hell or High Water (Dir: David Mackenzie)
14.) Blood Father (Dir: Jean-Francois Richet)

Honorable Mentions
(* * * 1/2 out of * * * *)
1.) Knight of Cups (Dir: Terrence Malick)
2.) Kubo and the Two Strings (Dir: Travis Knight) (Animated Film)
3.) Arrival (Dir: Denis Villeneuve)
4.) The Little Prince (Dir: Mark Osborne) (Animated Film)
5.) Lo and Behold (Dir: Werner Herzog) (Documentary)
6.) The Finest Hours (Dir: Craig Gillespie)
7.) Patriots Day (Dir: Peter Berg)
8.) Hidden Figures (Dir: Theodore Melfi)
9.) Things to Come (Dir: Mia Hansen-Love)
10.) Eddie the Eagle (Dir: Dexter Fletcher)
11.) Concussion (Dir: Peter Landesman)
12.) The Witch (Dir: Robert Eggers)
13.) Green Room (Dir: Jeremy Saulnier)
14.) The Invitation (Dir: Karyn Kusama)
15.) Deadpool (Dir: Tim Miller)
16.) The Conjuring 2 (Dir: James Wan)
17.) In a Valley of Violence (Dir: Ti West)
18.) Lights Out (Dir: David F. Sandberg)

NOTE: Patriots Day first opened in the Illinois area in January and that was the time that I was working on this list. I could have easily counted it as a 2017 film, but I worked on this when it had already opened. I may talk about the upcoming Oscars in a future post (i.e. my alternative list). Either way, I hope you enjoy what I have written and I hope your 2017 has been great so far.

La La Land: A Review by Guest Reviewer Yaseen Fawzi

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NOTE: This review was not written by me, it was written by my good friend Yaseen Fawzi, whose reviews I regularly post on here because regardless of whether or not I agree with him on the film, I do love what he says nonetheless. Even though I have not seen La La Land, it does not look very interesting to me, but that is beside the point. Anyway, here is Yaseen Fawzi’s review and I hope you enjoy it 🙂

La La Land

Review by
Yaseen Fawzi

December 25, 2016

As indicated by the title, La La Land is the first big-screen musical to arrive in quite some time. The story centers on the meeting of aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they both struggle to pursue their dreams of becoming big shots in Los Angeles and become romantically involved. Once they arrive there, however, they both face obstacles that hinder their individual pathways to success and put their delicate love affair at risk. As they reach their triumphs, Sebastian and Mia must choose what is more important in their lives: fame and success or romantic aspirations.

This picture written and directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) carries the traditional aspects of many of the classic movie musicals and puts a fresh spin on them, from the classic boy-meets-girl love story and elaborate choreography to the pastel-colored costumes and evocative lighting. At the same time, however, the film keeps itself up-to-date by reflecting on the realistic struggles Sebastian and Mia go through in their careers, with the former’s traditional jazz sensibilities clashing with the sounds of modernity and the latter attending audition after audition. Easily the standout sequences include a Griffith Observatory montage and the splendid finale, brimming with color and reminiscent of Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris. The songs and score, composed by Justin Hurwitz, evoke memories of Hollywood’s Golden Age and its memorable musical numbers by Rodgers & Hart and Comden & Green. The opening number, Another Day of Sun (preceded by the ‘50s CinemaScope logo), gives the audience a clear idea of what they’re in for by transporting them back to the days of Gene Kelly, when song-and-dance routines were routine, even in the middle of a traffic jam. All of these significant features and more add to the power of what great musical cinema can convey.      

Gosling and Stone have a natural chemistry on par with that of Fred and Ginger, especially during their dance numbers. They also have such beautiful singing voices, and this is most prominent in the recurring musical motif City of Stars. John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, and J.K. Simmons deliver effective supporting performances, but it is Stone and Gosling who are truly front-and-center. Even their dialogue feels succinctly believable and down-to-earth, despite their song-and-dance tendencies. Stone, in particular, has an especially distinguishable screen presence that puts her in the same league as Judy Garland, while Gosling seems like the modern-day reincarnation of many of our favorite song-and-dance men from the Golden Age.

In what has been a tumultuous year, La La Land serves as both a bright spot and a fantastic tribute to the movie musicals of days gone by.

* * * * (Out of * * * * “Ya-stars”)

My Favorite George Cukor Films (New)

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* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

2.   The Marrying Kind (1952)

3.   Little Women (1933)
(This is the one with Katharine Hepburn)

4.   It Should Happen to You (1954)

5.   Camille (1936)

6.   Born Yesterday (1950)
(Not the 1993 version)

* * * 1/2 (Out of * * * *)

1.   Holiday (1938)

2.   The Philadelphia Story (1940)

3.   The Women (1939)
(Not the 2008 version)

4.   Gaslight (1944)
(This is the version with Ingrid Bergman)

5.   Adam’s Rib (1949)

6.   A Star Is Born (1954)
(This is the version with Judy Garland)

7.   Dinner At Eight (1933)

8.   David Copperfield (1935)

Arrival: A Guest Review by Guest Reviewer Yaseen Fawzi

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This review was not written by me, it was written by my good friend Yaseen Fawzi. I wanted to share some of his reviews by posting them on my website. All credit goes to him, not me. He writes a lot of great reviews and this is yet another one. I am aware that Arrival came out in early November (this is now December). Nevertheless, he wrote a great review as always 🙂 Here is Yaseen’s review of Arrival below:

Arrival
A Review
by
Guest
Reviewer

Yaseen Fawzi
December 22, 2016

In Arrival mysterious spacecraft land on Earth and a team of investigators, led by linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), to look further into this situation. The arrival of these visitors, called heptapods, begins to raise questions about who or what they are. Banks and her team race against time to figure out how best to communicate with these unusual beings. As she unravels the mystery surrounding the spacecraft, Banks takes a life-threatening risk that could potentially make or break the whole of mankind.

Based on a short story entitled Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang and the latest directorial effort from Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario), the film is not a science fiction story in the traditional sense of the term. Instead, it can be regarded as an allegory for discovery of one’s self, and joins Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey as a film that raises scientific questions about humanity itself. Because the heptapods use symbols as their language when communicating with the human characters, this plays a key role in the film’s themes of interaction with different cultures, and the paranoia that can arise from misinterpretation. The visual motif depicting numerous international broadcasts of the heptapod spaceships further reveals how this is also a major international conundrum.    

Adams gives one of her best performances as Louise, who is trying to put herself back together after the loss of her daughter. She carries the weight of the film and never lets go as she struggles to make sense of what is going on around her whilst interacting with these heptapods. There is a great degree of subtlety and nuance in Adams’ performance that makes Louise all the more endearing and relatable. Some of her more memorable scenes are outside the pod with Renner portraying Ian, containing the best, most natural dialogue from Eric Herresier’s screenplay. Supporting players Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg also portray their roles as Col. Weber and Halpern with a greater degree of sympathy and complexity than the typical military operatives seen on film.    

The stone-shaped pods and squid-like heptapods are thoroughly designed, with their glass environment retaining the appearance of a waterless aquarium. Villeneuve creates graceful compositions of science-fiction scenery on par with Kubrick’s imagery in 2001, and the slow, melodic editing by Joe Walker and muted cinematography by Bradford Young add to its claustrophobic atmosphere. Adding to all of this is Jóhann Jóhannsson’s haunting music score, which is just as mysterious as the heptapods themselves.  

Arrival is a fascinating glimpse into human behavior and interaction with the unknown, making it a science fiction film open to various re-interpretations upon multiple viewings.

 * * * * (out of * * * *) “Ya-stars”  

203 Greatest Filmmakers of All-Time (In Alphabetical Order)

1. Robert Aldrich

2. Woody Allen

3. Pedro Almodovar

4. Robert Altman

5. Lindsay Anderson

6. Wes Anderson

7. Roy Andersson

8. Michelangelo Antonioni

9. Gregg Araki

10. Dario Argento

11. Jack Arnold

12. Hal Ashby

13. David Ayer

14. Clive Barker

15. Mario Bava

16. Jacques Becker

17. Marco Bellochio

18. Ingmar Bergman

19. Bernardo Bertolucci

20. Budd Boetticher

21. Peter Bogdanovich

22. John Boorman

23. Frank Borzage

24. Robert Bresson

25. Albert Brooks

26. Clarence Brown

27. Tod Browning

28. Luis Bunuel

29. Charles Burnett

30. Tim Burton

31. Frank Capra

32. Leos Carax

33. Marcel Carne

34. John Carpenter

35. John Cassavetes

36. William Castle

37. Claude Chabrol

38. Charlie Chaplin

39. Stephen Chow

40. Rene Clair

41. Henri-Georges Clouzot

42. Jean Cocteau

43. Joel and Ethan Coen

44. Larry Cohen

45. Francis Ford Coppola

46. Sergio Corbucci

47. Alex Cox

48. Charles Crichton

49. David Cronenberg

50. Michael Curtiz

51. Joe Dante

52. Jules Dassin

53. Terence Davies

54. Jonathan Demme

55. Jacques Demy

56. Brian De Palma

57. Vittorio De Sica

58. Stanley Donen

59. Carl Theodor Dreyer

60. Sergei Eisenstein

61. Bobby and Peter Farrelly

62. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

63. Federico Fellini

64. Abel Ferrara

65. Louis Feuillade

66. Terence Fisher

67. Robert J. Flaherty

68. John Ford

69. Bill Forsyth

70. William Friedkin

71. Samuel Fuller

72. Abel Gance

73. Costa-Gavras

74. Mel Gibson

75. Terry Gilliam

76. Jean-Luc Godard

77. Michel Gondry

78. Edmund Goulding

79. D.W. Griffith

80. Christopher Guest

81. Robert Hamer

82. Howard Hawks

83. Monte Hellman

84. Werner Herzog

85. Walter Hill

86. Alfred Hitchcock

87. P.J. Hogan

88. Tobe Hooper

89. John Huston

90. Shohei Imamura

91. Jean-Pierre Jeunet

92. Alejandro Jodorowsky

93. Terry Jones

94. Spike Jonze

95. Neil Jordan

96. Chen Kaige

97. Phil Karlson

98. Elia Kazan

99. Buster Keaton

100. Abbas Kiarostami

101. Stanley Kramer

102. Stanley Kubrick

103. Akira Kurosawa

104. John Landis

105. Fritz Lang

106. David Lean

107. Mike Leigh

108. Sergio Leone

109. Richard Lester

110. Jerry Lewis

111. Joseph H. Lewis

112. Joseph Losey

113. Ernst Lubitsch

114. David Lynch

115. Alexander Mackendrick

116. Guy Maddin

117. Mohsen Makhmalbaf

118. Terrence Malick

119. Louis Malle

120. Joseph L. Mankiewicz

121. Anthony Mann

122. Chris Marker

123. Elaine May

124. Leo McCarey

125. Olivier Megaton

126. Jean-Pierre Melville

127. George Miller

128. Vincente Minnelli

129. Hayao Miyazaki

130. Kenji Mizoguchi

131. F.W. Murnau

132. Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor

133. Neveldine/Taylor

134. Max Ophuls

135. Francois Ozon

136. Yasujiro Ozu

137. G.W. Pabst

138. Jafar Panahi

139. Pier Paolo Pasolini

140. Sam Peckinpah

141. Arthur Penn

142. Roman Polanski

143. Gillo Pontecorvo

144. Ted Post

145. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

146. Otto Preminger

147. Sam Raimi

148. Nicholas Ray

149. Satyajit Ray

150. Carol Reed

151. Jean Renoir

152. Alain Resnais

153. Martin Ritt

154. Mark Robson

155. Nicholas Roeg

156. Eric Rohmer

157. George A. Romero

158. Francesco Rosi

159. Roberto Rossellini

160. Robert Rossen

161. Alan Rudolph

162. Ken Russell

163. Fred Schepisi

164. John Schlesinger

165. Martin Scorsese

166. George Sidney

167. Don Siegel

168. Douglas Sirk

169. Zack Snyder

170. Todd Solondz

171. Steven Spielberg

172. George Stevens

173. Whit Stillman

174. Oliver Stone

175. Preston Sturges

176. Andrei Tarkovsky

177. Frank Tashlin

178. Jacques Tati

179. Andre Techine

180. Andre de Toth

181. Jacques Tourneur

182. Jan Troell

183. Francois Truffaut

184. Edgar G. Ulmer

185. Roger Vadim

186. Agnes Varda

187. Paul Verhoeven

188. Denis Villeneuve

189. Luchino Visconti

190. Josef von Sternberg

191. Erich von Stroheim

192. Raoul Walsh

193. John Waters

194. Orson Welles

195. Wim Wenders

196. James Whale

197. Robert Wise

198. Wong Kar-wai

199. Edgar Wright

200. William Wyler

201. Robert Zemeckis

202. Zhang Yimou

203. Fred Zinnemann

My Favorite Robert Zemeckis Films (New)

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* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   Back to the Future (1985)

2.   I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)

3.   Used Cars (1980)

4.   Back to the Future Part III (1990)

5.   Back to the Future Part II (1989)

* * * * (Out of * * * *) (Cable/Television)

1.   Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996) (Cable)
(He directed episodes and was one of the executive producers of the show)