Wednesday, February 28, 2018

My 50 Favorite Films of 2017 - #30 through #21

My list continues, now into the top 30 films of 2017. The more I look at my list, both what I have already posted and what is to come, it occurs to me just how strong 2017 was in film despite the fact that it was the year I awarded the least amount of perfect scores in recent memory. Maybe I am just getting tougher on things or maybe I just found minor flaws in a lot of different work, but the key word there is minor. So many great movies here, some that fly very far under the radar and deserve to be seen.

30. City of Ghosts

The first of three documentaries among this group of ten films, and none of them are particularly easy to watch, but you kinda expect that from a lot of documentary filmmaking that goes behind the scenes to show parts of our world we don't see and luckily for many of us cannot fully understand. City of Ghosts, directed by Matthew Heineman whom previously made the doc Cartel Land, tells the extremely behind the scenes story of a group of journalists/activists known as "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently", men living under ISIS rule that are willing to tell the world what is really happening with the terrorist group, hoping to become a louder voice than the ISIS propaganda they distribute to recruit. A great doc filled with vital stakes and honest danger, as if any of these men are caught they will certainly be killed.

City of Ghosts is available on Amazon Prime now.

29. John Wick: Chapter 2

I fucking love John Wick, both the original film and the character, so I will follow him through the trilogy with great interest. The second chapter doesn't disappoint, the same high quality, brutally violent action, great supporting characters and terrific sets and locations, and an ending that sets up a very interesting final film coming next year.

28. The Meyerowitz Stories

Outside of a few blips on the radar throughout his now very long career, the idea of putting a film starring Adam Sandler on a best of the year list seems improbable. Now what if I tell you that he is the best actor in a film that comes in my top 30 of the year? Yep, Sandler is terrific in The Meyerowitz Stories, a Noah Baumbach comedy/drama that you should watch, especially if you are like me and have very little interest in Sandler so you can marvel over his talent when he actually gives real work a go.

The Meyerowitz Stories is available on Netflix now.

27. Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis

Early last year HBO debuted their original documentary about the horrific shooting that took place at a concert in Paris on November 13th, 2015 titled Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis, and I turned it on because I am drawn to documentary filmmaking that covers challenging subjects. What I didn't realize in that moment is that I would be watching one of the better overall films of 2017 and one of the 3 best docs of the year. Directed by Colin Hanks, this is a tremendously heartbreaking, gut wrenching, but in the end inspiring and uplifting story.

26. It Comes At Night

I know a common theme is emerging among horror films that come from A24, and that is the reaction of audiences after they see the film and feel they were mislead by the trailers and marketing in general. It happened with The Witch (which is a stone cold masterpiece) and it happened again here with It Comes At Night. My response to this? Whatever. I hold they keep putting out great work whether it meets the demands of the masses or not. Writer/director Trey Edward Shults sophomore effort after his really promising debut Krisha is another winner.

It Comes At Night is available on Amazon Prime now.

25. Landline

Speaking of really impressive sophomore films, writer/director Gillian Robespierre really created something special here with Landline, a step forward after her already very good debut Obvious Child. Clearly she likes working with Jenny Slate and who can blame her? They suit each other beautifully, and this story of relationships, family, and the damage that infidelity can do to everyone around you is touching, funny and always feels real.

Landline is available on Amazon Prime now.

24. Strong Island

Yet another documentary, this one being the second best that I saw from 2017. Strong Island comes from director Yance Ford, and as if the topic of investigating the 1992 murder of an unarmed 24 year old black man wasn't enough to engage an audience, factor in that the victim was Ford's brother. A powerful, deeply personal journey through information and pain and coping with loss.

Strong Island is available on Netflix now.

23. Molly's Game

The directorial debut from the brilliant acclaimed writer Aaron Sorkin, starring Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba? I was never going to miss this film. I'm glad I didn't. Molly's Game is, as expected, tightly written and beautifully performed, telling the true story of Molly Bloom, a woman who ran an exclusive high stakes poker game for years until she was arrested by the FBI.

22. The Beguiled

I am going to be upfront about this because I know this will be deemed sacrilegious by many film fans, but I have always been lukewarm at best regarding the work of Sofia Coppola. I often find the pacing of her films to be languid, leaving me unable to connect to what she is trying to achieve. The Beguiled, however, is a different story, a film that does move at a methodical pace but it feels right for this story, and at only 90 minutes the tension and unsettling vibes inside the all-female boarding school during the Civil War ramp up before you know it. This is a film that stuck with me for days after seeing it.

21. Princess Cyd

This is one that came out of nowhere for me, as I wasn't even aware it existed a month ago AFTER 2017 was already over. I saw a post on Twitter about one of the best films of the year being available to stream so I looked more into it, and sure enough Princess Cyd was an outstanding recommendation to get. The story of a 16 year old girl named Cyd who spends the summer with her Aunt in Chicago, she explores her sexuality with a girl she meets there named Katie and it results in a very natural, honest piece of cinema. 

Princess Cyd is available on Netflix now.

My 50 Favorite Films of 2017 - #40 through #31

Alright, on to the next 10 films of my 50 favorites from 2017, this time those ranked between 40 and 31.

40. Long Shot

A Netflix original documentary that is only 40 minutes long, so you have no excuse not to watch it, and trust me, after you learn about this compelling, unbelievable true story you absolutely will appreciate that you spent the 40 minutes on it. I will say no more. Just watch it.

Long Shot is available now on Netflix.

39. I, Tonya

Terrific performances and the story of the insane reality of Tonya Harding, I, Tonya was definitely a memorable film experience from 2017, and while it may not have stuck the landing (sorry, had to) enough to be among the very best of the year, it's still a highly entertaining movie.

38. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

It was always going to be damn near impossible for writer/director James Gunn to duplicate the magic that was the first Guardians of the Galaxy, and sure enough it didn't happen, but this film is still an absolute blast and extremely well done.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is available now on Netflix.

37. Last Flag Flying

I have a soft spot in my heart for Richard Linklater so perhaps I am merely looking past some of the flaws of this film, but I can't help but consider Last Flag Flying one of the most overlooked and surely missed pictures of 2017. Great cast delivering some nuanced performances utilizing a touching screenplay, I was moved and completely enjoyed this film.

36. Alien: Covenant

I'm one of those crazy people who absolutely loved (check that, loves, still love it) Prometheus, so my excitement for Alien: Covenant was through the roof, and while perhaps this didn't quite delivery the same atmosphere and sense of dread that I got from the previous film, it still did more than enough to be a really satisfying entry into the franchise.

35. Atomic Blonde

A fun, thrilling, dizzying action showcase directed by David Leitch and lead by the great Charlize Theron, in a world of John Wick I had my doubts that a totally different film would be able to deliver a similar style and such brutal action but this delivers. Also, the single take staircase sequence was one of the best cinematic treasures of 2017.

34. War for the Planet of the Apes

A terrific conclusion to a really impressive trilogy of films, War for the Planet of the Apes has heart, drama, action, outstanding (and likely Oscar winning) visual effects and the usual top notch performances, especially from the motion-capture genius Andy Serkis. 

33. Okja

As soon as I heard Netflix had acquired a Bong Joon-ho film and I would be able to stream it immediately from the comfort of my couch, I knew I had to see it ASAP. That film is Okja and it did not disappoint, the story of a young girl named Mija and her super pig. Carried by a great story, huge amounts of heart and a social commentary that packs a punch, check out this one on Netflix if you haven't already.

32. Good Time

It's a challenge, being original with cinema these days considering it feels like everything has been done before in some way. Good Time, a crime film by brothers Benny and Joshua Safdie, is one hell of an original, exciting treat about a bank robbery gone wrong and a man desperately trying to figure out a way to get his brother out of jail. Lead by an outstanding lead performance by Robert Pattinson, give Good Time the chance it deserves.

Good Time is available now on Amazon Prime.

31. The Breadwinner

Unfortunately my 2017 list will not feature any more animation as I saw far less of it last year. The fact that my daughter is now 10 and is far more excited by Marvel then she is animation probably isn't a coincidence. That isn't to say animated movies are strictly kids movies, that is absolutely untrue, but finding the time to go see them all just wasn't in the cards anymore with a child that is growing up. There is one excellent film that you can watch right now at home that is nominated for the Best Animated Oscar, The Breadwinner, a picture about a young girl and her family living under the rule of the Taliban.

The Breadwinner is available now on Netflix.

Friday, February 23, 2018

My 50 Favorite Films of 2017 - #50 through #41

It's about damn time I publish this list. I had been holding off waiting for the opportunity to see a few of the films I never got a chance to, including some Oscar favorites, but damn it it's time to move on. Luckily, it isn't as if I didn't watch enough films from 2017 for this list to be comprehensive, with 177 releases from the year logged and 50 worthy of being declared my favorites.

So let's get on with it, these are my 50 favorite films of 2017, 10 at a time:

50. Berlin Syndrome

My list will clearly demonstrate that I appreciate a wide range of different genres and tones when it comes to film, and Berlin Syndrome will not be the only disturbing, difficult watch of the bunch. The film tells the story of a young tourist from Australian finding herself caught up in a romance while in Berlin, only to discover that she entered the man's apartment but isn't allowed to leave. Teresa Palmer is fantastic. 

Berlin Syndrome is available on Netflix.

49. Stronger

Stronger is based on the true story of Jeff Bauman, a man who lost both of his legs while attending the Boston Marathon when it was bombed back in 2013, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany give strong performances in this heartfelt, painful and ultimately inspiring picture. 

48. Casting JonBenet

A documentary about the murder of JonBenet Ramsey and the way it impacted the people around the family and area they lived. What makes this documentary unique and fascinating is that it documents the casting of a fictional film about the JonBenet story, and through testing actors that live in the area they get different perspectives of what they think happened and how the tragedy hurt each of them in different ways.

Casting JonBenet is available on Netflix. 

47. Columbus

Columbus is such a beautiful film. I mean that in more ways than just on a narrative level. It has this quiet, calming, tone soaked in realism, utilizing camera angles to show us both the human characters and the architecture they observe all around Columbus, Indiana, with the buildings almost feeling like characters themselves. The story revolves around a man born in Korea, raised in the United States, stuck in this town while his father is there in a coma. He encounters a young woman who is choosing to stay there to help take care of her addict mother rather then follow her own dreams. 

Columbus is available on Hulu.

46. Wonder

Wonder sure did feel like a film that would be way too syrupy based on the story and the trailers and all that, and sure, it has its share of sap to it, but director Stephen Chbosky found a way to manage the material in a truly heartfelt, moving manner. 

45. Brawl in Cell Block 99

I had a feeling this one would be a pretty vicious picture. I was right. Directed by S. Craig Zahler, who previously unleashed the brutal western Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99 has a disturbing concept and it delivers on it. It isn't loaded with violence or action, but when it hits, it hits really fucking hard. Vince Vaughn is outstanding here, which is not a thing I have said very often over the years.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is available on Amazon Prime.

44. After the Storm

Having seen and absolutely loved his previous film Like Father, Like Son, I knew what to expect stylistically from the new Hirokazu Kore-eda film After the Storm and I get everything I had hoped for. He presents such insightful observations about relationships and forgiveness through a careful, perfect balance of funny, honest, and real dialogue. 

43. Mudbound

A historical drama set during World War II, Mudbound is so well assembled and acted that nothing at all feels manipulative about the way racism is captured during this period of time. Telling the story of two families living side by side yet they feel worlds apart in the way they live and are treated by society, director Dee Rees manages to deliver something significant from material that on paper sounds as if it would be a familiar cinematic story. 

Mudbound is available on Netflix.

42. Pearl Jam: Let's Play Two

If you combine one of my favorite bands of all time and them playing at my single favorite venue in the world, Wrigley Field, and you make a really well done documentary about the experience, I am probably going to fall in love with it. That's what happened here, a combination of the music and the ballpark and the appreciation of the history of the Chicago Cubs all culminates in a joyous picture to watch. Also, just a week ago my wife surprised me by buying tickets to Pearl Jam's return to Wrigley this August, so a rewatch is definitely in order.

Pearl Jam: Let's Play Two is available on Amazon Prime.

41. Spider-Man: Homecoming

I had limited expectations for Spider-Man: Homecoming, if I am being honest. Just a whole lot of Spider-Man films over the years, with now three different actors depicting the character, so it was hard to get my juices flowing with excitement over another take, but my best case scenario turned out to come true in that I simply hoped for a really fun, well written and entertaining film, and that's what we got. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

My 20 Favorite TV Shows of 2017 - #10 through #1

Time to finish up my list of my twenty favorite television series of 2017. With the exception of Planet Earth II, every show on my list thus far came from either Netflix, Amazon or HBO. You will see more of those platforms here, but there are a few other networks that pop up, including the one and only show that earned my admiration from one of the big broadcast networks.

10. Legion

Welcome to the party, FX! They are a terrific television network and to be honest, I think the only reason they weren't further represented here was because I didn't really watch a lot of their stuff in 2017. There's just too much to watch, but I know I am missing out on some incredible content like their Fargo series. Speaking of that, the writer/creator of Fargo, Noah Hawley, also jumped into the superhero sub-genre in 2017, although his take on a comic book character is far more odd than the norm. Legion is such a wonderfully weird, perfectly assembled show. 

9. This is Us

I remember when all of the "Must See TV" came from broadcast networks like NBC. Now it feels like a rare treat to fall in love with a show on any of them. There are some good ones, don't get me wrong. ABC has Black-ish which just barely missed making my top 20 list. CBS has...I'm sure some good stuff, although I will be honest, I can't think of a single show I watch on their network right now. NBC has the best one though, and that is This is Us, a show I entered into with a very excited to watch it wife and some of my own pessimism, but now I look forward to every new episode. Spectacular characters, great performances, terrific writing. I care about every damn person in this show.

8. Twin Peaks: The Return

I can't claim to be some lifelong fan of the original Twin Peaks that jumped through my roof when it was announced the great David Lynch was bringing it back. When that news came, I had not ever seen a single episode of the show, but it inspired me to binge watch it quickly and that's when I fell in love. The new set of episodes, brought this time to Showtime, were extremely different than what ran all those years ago, yet they were totally what I expected given the brilliant, bold and bananas mind of David Lynch. 

7. Curb Your Enthusiasm

Now this is a show that I have been a fan of since the beginning and went through the roof when a new season was announced, so imagine my joy as I watched the new run of Curb Your Enthusiasm and realized this was some of the best stuff Larry David had ever accomplished. Truly a set of ten inspired episodes, absolutely brilliant comedic work. 

6. The Keepers

I am a sucker for a great true crime docu-series and holy shit the Netflix original The Keepers is spectacular. I don't want to get too descriptive here because if you haven't seen it, you should do so as soon as possible while doing as little research ahead of time as you can. Go in blind and watch the mystery unfold, but fair warning, as you can imagine with true crime material, some of this stuff gets pretty disturbing.

5. The Leftovers

In 2017 we were greeted with a lot of terrific new shows, but we also had to say goodbye to one of the best around. The Leftovers third and final season was terrific, insightful, moving, bizarre, and tragic, full of everything that made the show great. 

4. The Crown

When the first season of The Crown hit Netflix at the end of 2016, I skipped it, determining that I probably would find it "boring". What silly shit that turned out to be. I caught up on the first season shortly before season two hit the streaming service and I was instantly addicted. Such a truly great show from top to bottom, never hitting a wrong note. 

3. Master of None

I was a pretty big fan of season one of Master of None but what Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang achieved in season two is extraordinary, featuring a number of masterful episodes, the best of which being "Thanksgiving". I have no idea if we will ever get a season three, maybe someday. If not, the short lived series was an absolute home run.

2. Mr. Robot

I suppose if I really wanted to be critical I could point out that Mr. Robot dropped on my list this year, since in 2016 it was my number 1 favorite show. The good news is, it wasn't so much what Mr. Robot didn't do that made it fall all the way to number 2, but it is how much I absolutely fucking loved the show that ended up in the top spot. Mr. Robot continued to be at the top of its game this year, a remarkable show that featured a truly breathtaking fifth episode that used trickery to appear to never have a single camera cut, thus it was broadcast by USA commercial free. 

1. Mindhunter

My god did I love the first season of Mindhunter. It was a series made for someone like me, a guy who is absolutely fascinated by the deranged minds of serial killers. Once I heard about the true stories the show was based on and the fact that it was being brought to Netflix by one of my all time favorite directors David Fincher (who has entered the serial killer world masterfully twice previously with Se7en and Zodiac), I knew I would love it, but I LOVED it. Some shows I can wait patiently for. I need the second season of Mindhunter now.

My 20 Favorite TV Shows of 2017 - #20 through #11

Looking back on 2017, one thing is very clear: I watched a shit ton of films and shows. Probably too many. I am more inclined to watch a film with poor reviews because the time investment feels minimal, 90 or so minutes of my life compared to the hours dedicated to sticking with a season of a series. Usually, if I watch an entire season of a show, it means I at least liked it. I liked a lot of shows in 2017, but the 20 listed here are the best of them all.

These are my favorite shows of 2017:

20. Ozark
I'll be honest, I really didn't pay much attention to any of the outside noise (if there was any) when it came to the Netflix original series Ozark, but what I do know is that it was not universally loved. The show really worked for me though, carried by excellent performances from Jason Bateman and the amazing Laura Linney. 

19. Catastrophe

Unlike Ozark, the entire reason I caught up on Catastrophe in 2017 was because of the incredibly positive reviews for the series, and it didn't disappoint. I am generally pessimistic about half hour comedic television programs focusing on romance and the foils of marriage only because it feels like it has been done to death, but Catastrophe manages to feel completely fresh at all times. You can catch up on Catastrophe yourself on Amazon Prime. 

18. Sneaky Pete

Back to back Amazon original shows on the list, Sneaky Pete caught me off guard, another show I decided to give a chance due to positive reviews and then also the involvement of Bryan Cranston and showrunner Graham Yost who among other things previously created the show Justified which was one of my favorites. Sneaky Pete is compelling stuff, a tight balance of comedy, style and drama, resulting in a lot of fun. Very much looking forward to season 2 which hits Prime on March 9th.

17. Godless

The streaming services continue to dominate my list, now back on Netflix with their original western limited series Godless from Scott Frank and Executive Producer Steven Soderbergh. The show doesn't always move at a rapid pace, taking a more methodical seven episode approach to telling its story, but I actually appreciated this aspect to it. Something about a western taking its time to breath and develop character and allowing us to appreciate the setting and the moodiness of the landscapes just works, and it all leads to a final episode that is absolutely top notch.

16. Game of Thrones

Finally a show that appears on a good ole fashioned premium cable channel rather than a streaming giant, Game of Thrones checks in at number 16 on the list. Previous seasons would have appeared much, much higher, and while season 7 was still highly entertaining and showcased its usual impressive craft in many ways, this was without a doubt the most flawed set of episodes of the series yet, abandoning pacing that flowed with realism in favor of impossibly speeding things up to progress the plot in a hurry and thus creating some pretty laughable plot holes. Regardless, Game of Thrones is impressive television that is so much damn fun to watch.

15. Big Little Lies

Back to back HBO, this time with what was once considered a limited series because it was planned as a one season adaptation of Liane Moriarty's bestselling novel with the same name. Oddly it has been given a second season and Meryl Streep has been added to the cast, so what the hell, let's see what happens. The first season was terrific television that, since I didn't read the book, kept me guessing from start to finish. Great cast, great writing, and great direction all add up to a great show.

14. Planet Earth II

What an impressive television event the original Planet Earth series was, and ten years later with improved technology the second go around might have been even better. A stunning documentary achievement.

13. Dear White People

Back again to Netflix, this time with the first season of the excellent Dear White People based on the film of the same name. This is a funny, important and excellently written series with a lot to say and people should really listen.

12. The Young Pope

I'll admit, when I first saw a preview of The Young Pope, the premise was instantly something I made fun of (and a large portion of Twitter did so as well). What made me still set a recording on HBO and give it a shot was the fact that it was created by Paolo Sorrentino, director of, among other things, the truly gorgeous film The Great Beauty. The show turned out to transcend any of my assumptions going in, a spectacularly crafted, batshit crazy series that was mesmerizing to witness unfold.

11. Stranger Things

I will get the negative stuff out of the way quickly since this is a list designed to praise: the second season of Stranger Things was a step or two behind the fantastic debut season, but really that was to be expected. It's hard to not only do something that good again but the real challenge is delivering the same fresh wave of nostalgia that hit audiences like a bolt of lightning a year earlier. Still, season two was a wonderful watch and just missed my top ten shows of 2017.