Monthly Archives: February 2016

Lyle’s Totally Subjective TopTen Films of 2015


More so these days, I’m not on the same page as the Oscar nomination process; money doesn’t always equate to standard.  Nonetheless, it was a good year for film and many on my list were frequently mentioned throughout the awards season.  One exception is the German film, “Phoenix,” a gripping story of a woman, a disfigured concentration camp survivor, recovering from physical wounds and dealing with a new appearance, love and



betrayal, and my choice as best film of 2015.

#1:  Phoenix (Christian Petzold)

Nelly Lenz, a former Jewish singer, is coping with deep physical and emotional scars as a concentration camp survivor, ones that require complete changes to her facial structure and appearance.  Longing for her lost husband, she is told that he is still alive but betrayed her to the Nazi’s to gain his freedom and, assuming she is dead, is trying to gain access to her sizable inheritance. Still in love and in denial of her husbands intentions, she seeks him out working in a small bar, “Phoenix” and is quickly drawn into his plot. Nelly, artfully played by actress Nina Hoss, seems to be on an emotional roller coaster until, in my opinion, the most compelling final scene of any film I watched in 2015.

#2:  “Room” (Lenny Abrahamson)



One of this year’s most moving films, “Room” tells the story of a young woman dealing with raising a son while imprisoned, first in a 10” X 10” shed and then by the post rescue emotional scars that changed her life forever.  The success of the film required excellent performances by Brie Larson and 9-year old Jacob Tremblay and they both delivered.  Larson’s character was courageous, devoted, creative and resilient, moving a difficult theme into a compelling film. Joan Allen delivered a very real performance as a mother dealing with loss and the painful side of discovery. Although it seems very dark, it is a very inspirational film that leaves you feeling good.

#3:  “Spotlight” (Tom McCarthy)

A timely subject and a great ensemble cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber, “Spotlight” tells the gripping true story of a small group of investigative reporters from the Boston



Globe who broke the story of sexual abuse within the Catholic church.  The style of the film is reminiscent of “All The President’s Men” as we see, up close, the personal edge of a story that first rocked a community, then the world. McAdams, following a successful role in the TV mini-series, “True Detective,” delivers a stand-out performance that should get some consideration for an Academy Award. 

#4:  “Youth” (Paolo Sorrentino)

Paolo Sorrentino’s delightfully abstract film, “Youth,” one that may require several



viewings, is nuanced with age and reflection as well as a reminder that new, good, important things are not always wasted on the youth.  An astonishing ensemble of actors, including Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachael Weisz, Jane Fonda and Paul Dano, along with alluringly creative cinematography made this an engaging, yet fun film of 2015.  Ask me about it after I’ve seen it again…and again.

#5:  “The Revenant” (Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu)

One of the true stars of “The Revenant” is Glenn Ennis, who played the infamous bear.  Dressed in “blue screen blue,” Ennis studied the aggressive moves of the bear and his

"The Revenant"

“The Revernant”

wrestling match with Leonardo DiCaprio became the memorable scene of the film.  Of course the bear head and fur where digitally added later. Director Alejando Inarritu is on fire, DiCaprio and Tom Hardy add excellent performances as we journey into the dark, cruel realism of the American frontier, a study of one that returns.

#6: “Mustang” (Denize Gamze Erguven)

On the last day of school, some innocent play with boys at the beach leads to unnecessary



scandal and the lives of four sisters are forever changed.  “Mustang,” from Turkish-French director, Denize Gamze Erguven, is a film about oppression of young women, so common in parts of the world, told through the story of four sisters, living in northern Turkey.  Gossip and ignorance create fear of the potential family disgrace in not being able to present the girl as a virgin while arranging her marriage, something that is verified by a doctor before the contract is complete.  Much of the story is seen through the youngest daughter who observes new bars on windows, school replaced with traditional homemaking skills and her older sisters married off, some to strangers.  The film explores oppression and freedom and should be seen by as many people as possible.

#7: “The Danish Girl” (Tom Hopper)

Although Eddie Redmayne mastered another complex role and Alicia Vikander brings one of the years best

performances as artist Gerda Wegener, the true majesty of “The Danish Girl” is the stunning cinematography,

"The Danish Girl"

“The Danish Girl”

transporting the viewer into an art piece.  What began as an evening’s game leads to Einar permanently assuming a female persona named Lili, an onerous journey in the 1920s.  Vikander’s character displays the full gamet of emotion, from anguish to denial to support and unconditional love. Her performance carries the beautiful film and is worthy of Oscar consideration.

#8: “Ex Machina” (Alex Gordon)

Imagine you are a coder for the world’s largest internet company and chosen to spend a

"Ex Machina"

“Ex Machina”

week with the company’s recluse CEO at an extremely remote (very cool) location where you interact with an AI robot, played by the stunning Alicia Vikander.  “Ex Machina” is filled with intelligent dialogue and certainly has one of the most intriguing plots of the year.  Alicia Vikander has such a strong presence on-screen that you understand she is a robot,but can still be mesmerized. This film is best defined by the tagline:  “There is nothing more human than the will to survive.”

#9: “Irrational Man” (Woody Allen)

Woody’s latest foray into the primal instincts of man leads to a bizarre epiphany for a disillusioned and hopelessly depressed college professor seamlessly played by disillusioned and hopelessly depressed Joaquin

"Irrational Man"

“Irrational Man”

Phoenix. His actions and the chaos that follows ironically serves as “Prozac” for the professor who re-discovers his “inner mojo” and begins to turn his life around.  Everything is great except for one or maybe two little things that must be taken care of.  Emma Stone seems to be comfortable with Woody’s style and shines on-screen, while Parker Posey’s performance as a sex-starved chemistry professor,  metaphorically, plays a major role in Phoenix’s ups and downs.

#10: “Bridge of Spies” (Steven Spielberg)

As a 12-year old, I remember when the news reported that the Russians had shot down an American U2 spy plane

"Bridges of Spies"

“Bridges of Spies”

and captured pilot, Francis Gary Powers.  However, the details were more recently revealed in the latest Spielberg/Hanks collaborative docudrama about a successful insurance attorney who was recruited to represent arrested Russian spy, Rudolf Abel, superbly played by Oscar nominee, Mark Rylance, who has been arrested for espionage.  After the Power’s capture, Hank’s role evolves from legal representation to negotiating a delicate prisoner exchange.  No explosions or gun fights, just a well told visual story.


Wine and the Millennials


Jug wine, including those that come in a box, is officially on the endangered list, thanks, in no small part, to young adults, surrounding thirty, affectionately known as “Millennials,” the offspring of maturing Baby Boomers.

pic_vyd_pisoni2A recent study by Rob McMillan, from Silicon Valley Bank wine division, predicts the unthinkable, the first decline in wine consumption per capita in 20 years, attributed, in part, to a steady decline in sales of high-volume, budget table wine.  Correspondingly, the industry has enjoyed an increase of sales in the $10-25 market and they recognize the trend toward high-end, boutique wines as they prepare to ride the wave of the Millennials, 80 million strong, for the next 30 years.

On a weekly basis I am reading of acquisitions of smaller, high-end wineries by larger corporations.  Beringer Wine Estate recently purchased the esteemed Gary Farrell Winery, a fine pinot noir producer in the Russian River Valley, E&J Gallo, our nation’s largest producer, now owns multiple boutique wineries in the Healdsburg



area, a trend expanding throughout California.

Likewise, Heineken International is now a 50% partner with the Petaluma-based Laguinitas Brewing Co., among the fastest growing boutique breweries, valued a $1 billion.

The larger corporations are not interested in inquiring new vineyards, they are investing in the high-end future, one that will be dictated by the “Millennials” discerning palates and thirst for nice things.  Technology is also connecting this new generation to European wines, with apps providing unprecedented access to research on new vintages.

So, for those “Millennials” or anyone from twenty-one to ninety, let me offer some recommendations for quality wines of character, $20 or less, that could be fine additions to any cellar. Although I list some wines by their current vintage, they are consistently good, year to year.  Prices do vary and the one listed is the lowest that I could find.

2014 Bonny Doon “Clos de Gilroy” Grenache ($20)

As a long-standing member of Bonny Doon’s Distinguished Esoteric Wine Network, I am familiar with and often recommend this wine as a great value.  It has been described by winemaker/founder Randall Grahm as “The wine

Bonny Doon "Clos de Gilroy" Grenache

Bonny Doon “Clos de Gilroy” Grenache

formerly know as Clos De Gilroy” because it now sources grapes from Monterey County and the Sacramento Delta, adding some syrah and mourvedre for extra flavor and structure.  It expresses “jammy” fruit flavors of raspberry and cherry combined with white pepper and herbs. Prepare yourself for a screw top bottle, a change that Grahm made for all his wines years ago, claiming more reliability in maintaining freshness.

Those preferring white wines will also enjoy the 2014 Bonny Doon “The Heart Has Its Rieslings” ($13), both sweet and tart with a nicely balanced acidity and a

Bonny Doon "The Heart Has Its Riesling"

Bonny Doon “The Heart Has Its Riesling”

very fun label.

2014 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel ($20)

There are some good choices among value-priced zinfandel, none better than Seghesio’s Sonoma County Zinfandel.  Most of their releases fall into the $35-50 price range, but this wine, from vineyards in Sonoma’a warmest regions, is no stranger to critical acclaim. Be prepared for a food-friendly “fruit bomb” with rich, blueberry flavors, 14.8% alcohol and a nice hint of black pepper.

I recently enjoyed a glass of the 2013 vintage with grilled salmon and found the soft, perfumed bouquet with

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel

young, but luscious flavors a suitable pair. Fairly accessible, I have seen other vintages of this wine at local outlets, wine wholesalers and online.

Yalumba Y Series Shiraz-Viognier ($13)

Yalumba Y Series Viognier ($13)

Yalumba, south Australia’s oldest family winery, produces a plethora of red and white wines that are all good values, none better than the Y Series Shiraz-Viognier with very interesting aromas, ripe, velvety cherries and the signature Aussie touch of adding a bit of viognier for taste.  The Y Series Viognier has significant citrus on the nose and palate with a soft, rich texture from

2014 Yalumba Y Series Shiraz-Viognier

2014 Yalumba Y Series Shiraz-Viognier

aging “sur lie.”

Once familiar with the Yalumba label, I have seen it in local wine outlets and high end markets.

2013 Columbia Crest “H3” Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($12-15)

Washington State’s Columbia Crest has been producing high quality, mid-priced wines for decades and their “H3” Series highlights the vineyards within the Horse Heaven Hills appellation in eastern Washington.  I have not tried this wine as yet, but it has been rated as a “Best Buy” with ratings in the 90s by Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines. With full malolactic fermentation, the reviews speak of rich, layered flavors with a bit of cocoa on the finish

Columbia Crest "H3" Cabernet Sauvignon

Columbia Crest “H3” Cabernet Sauvignon

Columbia Crest wines are readily accessible at many local wine outlets, markets and membership stores.  However, their “H3” Series wines, especially one with these reviews, may require some research online.

2013 Hahn Estates Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($20-25)

The Santa Lucia Highlands appellation in Monterey County has become the source of much of the state’e finest pinot noir in this decade. Producers of fine pinot noir from Sonoma to Santa Barbara County are securing grapes from the “Highlands” for their consistent quality and reputation.  Hahn Winery has had a presence in the California wine industry for several years and their 2013 Hahn Estates Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir has received high accolades from all the major

Hahn Estates SLH Pinot Noir

Hahn Estates SLH Pinot Noir

reviewers, describing its floral nose, highly dense, layered flavors and a strong finish, all qualities of a nice pinot noir.

The “perfect storm” of this quality/price ratio has rendered this wine a bit rare, but I did find stock at K&L wines.

2014 Ponzi “Tavola” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Ponzi Winery is a staple among Oregon’s Willamette Valley, focusing primarily on

2012 Ponzi "Tavola" Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

2012 Ponzi “Tavola” Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

pinot noir and chardonnay.  Their premium pinot noir, vintage to vintage, earns high praises and commands  a lofty price tag.  However, the 2014 Ponzi “Tavola”  Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($20), their introduction to the “heartbreak” varietal, has the attention of many wine critics, named by many periodicals as one of the best values-priced pinots with grapes sourced from 11 different sustainable vineyards.  For a young wine, it is very aromatic and expresses pleasantly rich flavors.

I have seen this wine online at multiple prices.  The best price was at K&L Wines, that also has outlets in Hollywood and San Francisco.

Barrel 27 “Right Hand Man” Syrah ($20-25)

Barrel 27 “High On The Hog” White Rhone Blend ($14-18)

For good wines within the $20 or less level, I always recommend a range of varietals from Barrel 27 Winery in Paso Robles.  A highly rated vintage of their “High On The Hog” classic Rhone blend of grenache, viognier,

Barrel 27 "Right Hand Man" Central Coast Syrah

Barrel 27 “Right Hand Man” Central Coast Syrah

roussanne and marsanne first led me to Barrel 27.  Vintage to vintage, this wine has always delivered rich, creamy texture and flavors with a nice minerality on the finish.

All of Barrel 27 red wines are good values, but the “Right Hand Man” Syrah, sourced from vineyards in Paso Robles, the Arroyo Grande Valley and Santa Ynez Valley, is typically balanced with significant aromas and accessible soft, rich flavors.  These wines are both available in wine outlets and online, but the best place to acquire  them is their Paso Robles tasting room.

A very deserving quick mention Lincourt Winery in Santa Ynez Valley and Buehler Winery in Sonoma/Napa Counties as resources for consistently good value releases and the readily available Greg Norman Cabernet-Merlot ($15) is always a good option.

So all current, parents or grandparents of Millennials, start building your cellar of “good value” wines that maintain the high standards we all deserve.  Be aware, this may lead to bigger and better things.