Category Archives: Film

Lyle’s Totally Subjective Top Ten Films of 2016

 

At first glance, the best films of 2016 seem to share a depressingly sad theme.  My top four movies included horrific family tragedies , separation, life effects of drugs and violence and, although expressed through a comedy, unrequited love. However, true stories like Hidden Figures and Lion provided enough inspiration to go around.  For me, great writing, casting and acting is what set these films apart from the others.  Some are easy and some are difficult to watch, but, I continued to think about them long after leaving the theater.

#1: Manchester By The Sea (Kenneth Lonegan)

If you can overcome the sadness, this is another great screenplay for Kenneth Lonegan (You Can Count On Me), who unexpectedly became the director of the film. The story and

Manchester By The Sea

#1 Manchester By The Sea

beautiful cinematography stand out as one of the year’s best. Casey Affleck’s performance as Lee Chandler is deserving of an Oscar and Michelle Williams brief, but compelling appearance enhances the story of a family coping with a tragic loss that has consumed their lives.

#2: Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar)

Writer-director,Pedro Almodóvar, who’s film resume includes The Skin I Live In, Talk To Her and Volver, continues his female themes with the more traditional story of Julieta with Spanish actress Emma Suárez, in the title role. A widow, Julieta is

Julieta

#2 Julieta

preparing to move on with her life and move to Portugal with her boyfriend before a chance meeting with an old friend of her estranged daughter changes everything.  We begin to understand Julieta as the film unveils her compelling story.

#3:  The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi)

Having become a fan of Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi after watching his last three films, I had to see The Salesman before compiling my list.  Another great, compelling story.  Emad and Rana are forced to leave their apartment because the building is collapsing and must find a new place immediately.  Their new landlord

#3: The Salesman

#3: The Salesman

failed to disclose that the previous tenant was a prostitute, working from home.  After his wife is horrifically attacked at the apartment, Emad becomes obsessed with finding the perpetrator.  It ends, focusing on the moral dilemma between revenge and forgiveness.  As they are dealing with the extended physical and emotional pain that jeopardized their relationship, Emad and Rana are performing opposite each other in a local production of Arthur Miller’s, Death of a Salesman.  A must see for film buffs and, for those affected by visual violence, it is only referenced in this film.

#4:  Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

Moonlight follows the life of a young black man, growing up gay in a drug infested Miami neighborhood, the son of an addicted mother, portrayed courageously by Naomie Harris. It is not

Moonlight

#4 Moonlight

always an enjoyable film to watch, but reveals a human side to the drugs, violence and poverty that ultimately shape his life, but don’t change who he is.  This film has been branded with many notable supporting performances, all driven by Barry Jenkins’ screenplay and direction.

#5:  Cafe Society (Woody Allen)

I am always cautious of my “confirmation bias” with Woody Allen films, eager to enjoy because I expect to.  However, Cafe Society

Cafe Society

#5 Cafe Society

is a twisted love story set in New York and Hollywood, superbly cast with notably magnificent lighting throughout.  Kirsten Stewart seems to flourish under Woody’s style, turning me into a fan.  A period piece set in the 1930s, the design and lighting create an , “American craftsman” image.  Jesse Eisenberg nails Woody’s neurosis, on full display during his failed meet up with a novice hooker.  Note the lighting in that scene.

#6:  Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)

Described as a minimalistic depiction, I found Paterson to be uplifting and refreshing.  There is no antagonist in this film.  Poet-bus driver Paterson drives a route in Paterson, New Jersey. Director Jarmusch takes pains to reveal the lives of both Paterson the

Paterson

#6 Paterson

man and Paterson the town, as routine.  Paterson’s delightfully spontaneous girlfriend, Karen, her English bulldog Marvin and, of course poetry represent the trifecta of his world. His calm reaction to the only (somewhat)tragic event sends a message to us all. Trivia:  After Karen’s dream of having twins, Jarmusch includes various twins in future scenes, adding a mystical quality. On second thought, Marvin may be the antagonist.

#7:  20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig are the two reasons that 20th

#6 20th Century Women

#7 20th Century Women

Century Women made my list.  The story of three women exploring new freedoms in the 1970s, much of it revealed through the behavior of the cynical matriarch Dorthea’s young son, Jamie.  Gerwig is a rising star and Bening deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance in this overlooked film. 

#8:  Hell Or High Water (David MacKenzie)

Two brothers, desperate to save their family’s land from bank foreclosure, set out on a series of small robberies of the foreclosing bank branches to come up with the money. Toby, played by

#8 Hell Or High Water

#8 Hell Or High Water

Chris Pine, is motivated to leave something to his son and estranged wife and ex-con Tanner seems to be in it for the fun. Soon, crusty small-town sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is in pursuit and things get out of hand in a dramatic ending. I would like to see Jeff Bridges win an Oscar for his performance.

#9:  Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi)

Why did it take over fifty years to learn about the significant contributions of these African-American women mathematicians to one of our nations most famous and heroic space flights?  Better late than never, they have been documented, through this film, in an insightful, yet charming way.  It reveals much about life for educated African

#9 Hidden Figures

#9 Hidden Figures

American women in 1964 Houston, Texas, including separate restrooms and lunch facilities.  I enjoyed the characters portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner as well as the closing footage of the real women. A story that is both inspiring and fun to watch, Hidden Figures is a deserving nominee.

#10:  Lion

Based on a true story,  Lion is the most inspirational film of 2016.  The story of young Saroo, a five year-old boy, artfully played by Sunny Pawar, who gets lost and miraculously survives, alone in Calcutta.  He is eventually adopted by a loving couple and has a normal childhood in Australia.  Decades later, a familiar smell

#10: Lion

#10: Lion

from his homeland has him yearning for contact with his birth mother and family in India  He sets out on a journey to find them and his story ends on a heartfelt and bittersweet note.

Others:  Toni Erdman, Captain Fantastic, LaLa Land, Zootopia, Nice Guys, Queen of Katwe, Elle


Mr. Jones Revisited

Mentors are like artists or writers, sometimes their impact is not fully appreciated for decades.  Then, at times, it is passed on and lives for generations.  This could be the story of Mr. Ron Jones, a very normal looking young high school English teacher in 1965, with a fresh credential, trying to enlighten a class of 4th-year English Seniors, some looking for inspiration and others waiting for it all to end.  Though I found him an interesting teacher, it took years to fully understand the profound effect our time together had in developing some of my lifelong passions and, in many ways, guiding the way I look at things.

Mr. Jones had a typical mid-1960s high school teacher image, short hair, gray slacks with cuffs, a button-down dress shirt and tie and tweed jacket.  His look was preppy, but intellectual, one that would drastically change for teachers in the next few years. Jones had chosen, as one of his extracurricular requirements, to help with the football team and I would often see him at practice.  He was athletic and knowledgeable about the game, but his classroom persona revealed much more than just a jock teaching English.  The fall of 1965 was at the cusp of massive cultural and social changes in this country and, I believe, as a young man, he sensed and embraced them early.

During a week-long segment on poetry, Mr. Jones veered from the classics to discuss some new contemporary poets.  “Ya’know, he said, “many of the writers and poets today are singers and songwriters.”  Then, poetically, he recited lyrics by Buffy Saint Marie and Leonard Cohen, prose of a new day.  Half the class continued to be bored with both the new and the old, but Mr.Jones had my full attention.  In this moment, a teacher was about to inspire a student.  Months earlier, with no expectations, I had gone with a friend to a Bob Dylan concert.  The profound effect of his music had led me to other songwriters of the emerging folk rock movement and Mr. Jones just legitimized them all.

For the next few weeks, students were allowed to bring in music on Fridays.  We listened seriously to songwriters, discussing and interpreting their poetry the best we could.  Some students never understood or cared about it at all, foreshadowing future oblivion or a difficult adjustment through the next decade. At times, I thought Mr. Jones and I were having a conversation and others in the class were just listening. A typical classroom discussion was best summed up by one of my Friday submittals, Bob Dylan’s song, “Ballad Of A Thin Man” from his new album, “Highway 61 Revisited”:

You raise up your head

And you ask, “Is this where it is?”

And somebody points to you and says

“It’s his”

And you say, “What’s mine?”

And somebody else says, “Where what is?”

And you say, “Oh my God

Am I here all alone.”

But something is happening here

And you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mister Jones?

Passion for music of all kinds has continuously enveloped my adult life, always leaving time to explore the lyrics of great contemporary song writers like Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn and others who have chronicled our time so eloquently.  Amid many musical influences, Mr. Jones steered me in their direction and gave me permission to be open and accepting of something new.

Weeks later, this engaging teacher offered an intriguing extra-credit opportunity, one that got the attention of my friend Steve and I.  “There is a film playing at the Towne Theater, it’s called, ‘The Pawnbroker,’” Mr. Jones announced, “it’s not required but if any students are able to watch it and write a brief description of your impressions, I’ll give you fifty extra credit points toward your grade.”  With SAT scores lower than expected, we were both focused on our GPA’s and justifying a week-night movie as the road to an A was appealing.  “If you wanna do it, I can pick you up at 6:30,” Steve said as I nodded affirmatively.  Steve’s dad had recently given him a brand new, burgundy-colored 1966 Pontiac GTO as an early graduation present, vastly increasing my transportation opportunities.  The car was a beast that delivered less than eight miles to the gallon and even with fuel priced at twenty-nine cents per gallon, lack of gas money often restricted our travel.  Luckily, tonight was about extra credit and Steve’s mom pitched in a few dollars.

I loved the movies, especially when Paul Newman overcame adversity and prevailed over the latest antagonist or Jerry Lewis would portray a character among his breadth of idiots.  I loved movies, but had no concept of film as an art form until that rainy January night, my first time inside the Towne Theater, at the time San Jose’s only art and foreign film venue. The featured film was director Sidney Lumet’s “The Pawnbroker,” a dark portrait of a soulless man, the survivor of the Nazi concentration camp where his wife and children were killed.  The main character, Sol Nazerman, played by young actor Rod Steiger, operated a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem that also fronted for a pimp.  His experiences had left him totally detached from others or the world around him. I was expecting a more dramatic Hollywood ending where we watch significant changes to Sol’s life unfold into happily ever after. In this film, real change came slowly or not at all, with a small glimmer of hope left to the interpretation of the viewer. The “Pawnbroker” was stark reality, but, at seventeen, the most poignant film I had ever seen, a film that heightened my understanding and awareness of the Holocaust.

Eager to write a brief review of the film to secure the extra credit, I described the use of visual flashbacks to horrifically reveal Nazerman’s past, they helped me to better understand his behavior.  Unlike today, information and reviews were not available to the masses.  Viewers had to rely on their own perceptions. In a later discussion, Mr. Jones, admittedly a fan of Sidney Lumet, described how the director used various techniques to create a more powerful message.  It was the first time I understood the role or appreciated the contribution of the film director.

Remaining somewhat interested over the ensuing years, my curiosity re-emerged after I met my wife, Karen, an undergraduate student who also had an interest in film.  Hers was influenced by her parents, who would go to the Towne Theater to watch art films and mine from Mr. Jones.  Karen and I have remained avid film buffs for 47 years, beginning in 1969 with watching art films on campus or at the old Saratoga Theater, a metal quonset hut nestled against the Santa Cruz Mountains, in the village of the same name.

I never communicated with Mr. Jones after graduation but like to remember thanking him and telling him how much I enjoyed his class. Moving on with my life, I remained unaware that he had touched and opened a side of me that could have remained dormant forever.  Questions will always remain of what became of Mr. Jones.  Did he continue teaching in the public school system or drop out and live in a commune for the next ten years?  He may have written the screenplay of a film that I enjoyed, not that credits for someone named Ron Jones would raise a red flag.

Whatever became of him, Mr. Jones will always be remembered as a wonderfully effective teacher, one that opened a young mind to appreciate artistic expression of all kinds.


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

"Phoenix"

“Phoenix”

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)

"Room"

“Room”

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

"Spotlight"

“Spotlight”

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

"Youth"

“Youth”

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

"Mustang"

“Mustang”

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.

 


Lyle’s Totally Subjective Top Ten Films Of 2014

 

This past year in film was filled with high expectations.  There were some disappointments, a few good biographical films from England, exceptional ensemble casts, and a film twelve years in the making. The word, “subjective” is proudly displayed in the title because, by nature, I am a very impressionable person, guided by who I am with, what I had to eat or drink and whatever mood that results.  Sitting in a dark theater watching credits, trying to embrace what I just watched, Karen’s interpretation of the film, Calvary confirmed what I was feeling.  Released in August, no other stood up to the power of this film.

#1 – Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)

Maybe it was the modern, intimate Volant Theater in Austin, Texas, maybe the spring rolls and beer that I carried into the

"Calvary"

“Calvary”

small house, but the little heralded Irish film, Calvary moved me like no other film in 2014.  From the startling opening line to the last scene, this is a bold film delivered by Brendan Gleeson’s brilliant portrayal of a priest in remote northern Ireland,  A creatively aberrant screenplay and a topical issue of these times, the plot is unveiled in the opening scene with a threat that is consuming throughout as the story reveals a wave of eccentric characters that could all be the ultimate antagonist.  The priest’s connection with his confused daughter reveals much depth and integrity to Gleeson’s innocent character as he confronts peril connected to the issue of child abuse within the Catholic church.  It may not be for the timid, but Calvary delivers realism through good writing, exceptional film-making and deserves to be called one of the best films of 2014.

#2 – Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (Alejandro Inarritu)

My expectations for Birdman were high.  A dark comedy and Michael Keaton always seems to be a good marriage.  The

"Birdman"

“Birdman”

cast, with names like Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Zack Galifianakis begs the question, “Why did so many fine actors choose this film?”  because it clearly could not be for the money.  Lastly, director Alejandro Inarritu usually rides the fence between mysticism and reality.  In a biographical twist, Keaton portrays yesterday’s celebrity superhero who puts his heart, soul and legend into producing his own play, based on an obscure novel.  The future of his career, his relationships, his self-worth is on the line while he fights off the pressures of a scattered past.  Norton delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the obnoxious, narcissistic co-star and Emma Stone’s character balances compassion and confusion.  So, just throw caution in the wind and enjoy the film that would get my vote.

#3-A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn)

From a John Carre’ novel on international espionage, A Most Wanted Man features Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his

"A Most Wanted Man"

“A Most Wanted Man”

last role, as a crusty, veteran German spy obsessed with the capture of an illegal with ties to a terrorist organization.  A reluctant collaboration with an American CIA agent, played by Robin Wright leads to much intrigue and suspense with an unexpected twist at the end.  Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance was so seamless that I fully foresaw an Oscar nomination.  Unfortunately, an early release date may have resulted in the film and performance being overlooked.

#4-Boyhood (Richard Linklater) 

There has never been another film like Boyhood.  Taking 12 years to make a film with two

"Boyhood"

“Boyhood”

important child characters is always a risk.  However, I was most intrigued with the physical, emotional and maturational changes in the adult characters, namely Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, both deserving of their nominations.  Overall, this is a story of survival and, in my two-hour snapshot, I felt like a 12-year friend of the family.  Director Richard Linklater created the groundbreaking experiment and it worked.  It would be unfortunate to make him wait another 12 years for an Oscar.

#5-The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

What’s not to like about Wes Anderson films, quirky stories developed around quirky characters that seem to attract the best actors in the world.  Although The Grand Budapest Hotel boasts a

brilliant screenplay and great performances, led by Ralph Fiennes, what sets it apart, for me, was the extraordinary

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

cinematography.  This was a beautiful film to watch and, not since the French film, Amelie, have colors played such a significant role in the enjoyment of a movie. Let’s all root for cinematographer Robert Yeoman to win Oscar.

#6 – The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum)

c1b0f1b5-e79e-3356-b613-d9f422a10379

“The Theory of Everything”

The idea of a mathematician developing a machine that breaks the German “enigma” code, literally ending WWII, later to be persecuted by the same government he served for being homosexual would make a compelling screenplay.  Actually, it is a true story that needed to be told.   Benedict Cumberbatch does indeed deliver a gifted performance as Alan Turing, the man who actually did break the code and was later prosecuted for his sexuality.  Kiera Knightly’s character as a young female mathematician living with the glass ceiling for woman in the 40’s, added good chemistry.

#7 – The Theory of Everything (James Marsh)

The second big British biopic featured Eddie Redmayne’s staggering portrayal of acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking during his famous research and struggles with the onset of ALS disease.  While

"The Theory of Everything"

“The Theory of Everything”

Redmayne’s performance makes him an Oscar frontrunner, I found Felicity Jone’s role of Jane Wilde Hawking to be a major force in the film and she deserves her nomination.  The Theory of Everything had everything from beautiful cinematography to compelling drama.

#8 – American Sniper (Clint Eastwood)

The focus of this film was the man, the human being that was Chris Kyle and what led to his role

"American Sniper"

“American Sniper”

and legend as a famous sniper.  That being said, Bradley Cooper does an admiral job delineating the man who saw himself as a protector.  The film contains realism that is, at times, hard to watch, but any judgements on the controversial subject were left to the viewer, as it should be. Clint Eastwood’s low-key, efficient style makes this film work.

#9 – Gone Girl (David Fincher)

I liked Gone Girl, I even liked the ending.  Having not read the book, I found it to be a classic thriller, unique in its own way, with a rememberable performance by Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne, the lovely young wife who becomes something else.  Who would have thought.

"Gone Girl"

“Gone Girl”

#10 – Rosewater (John Stewart)

I give the nod to Rosewater, John Stewart’s first venture into film, due to the timely topic and Gael Garcia Bernal’s riveting performance as Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who

"Rosewater"

“Rosewater”

was detained for over 100 days in an Iranian prison because of a satirical  interview on Stewart’s, “The Daily Show.”  The film has some flaws, but the interchange between the Bahari character and the interrogator was worth the price of admission.

If you can find them, “Me And My Moulton” and “Boogaloo and Graham” are highly recommended in the Animated Short and Live Short categories.  Enjoy the movies!

 


Film 2014, Vol. I

Without substantial information nor serious  logic, my sense, and nothing more, tells me to pay close attention t0 2014 as it may be  one of the best years for film in an decade.  For the remainder of the season, as the summer action blockbusters begin to fade,  a multitude of movies with great writing and memorable performances seem poised to emerge…at least that’s what the tarot cards tell me.  So, if your tired of fighting apes or aliens, start your Fall with three films that may foreshadow a great year.

Although not one of his best, Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight”  is, hell, it’s Woody Allen… or Colin Firth as Woody Allen.   A typically

"Magic in the Moonlight"

“Magic in the Moonlight”

creative  screenplay and tremendous performances carry the film, set in 1920’s Provence as Allen transitions from a New York film maker to a foreign film maker.  Firth and Emma Stone are cast perfectly as we explore personal vulnerabilities set among arguments regarding the existence of “psychics”.

 

From the startling confession in the opening line of the film to its dramatic conclusion, “Calvary” will truly be one of my top 2014 films .  Brendan Gleeson’s Oscar-worthy performance as a hardened priest in a remote area in Ireland is enhanced by a hauntingly complex script and cast of eclectically eccentric characters.   Suspense lands a hard first-round punch and doesn’t let up

"Calvary"

“Calvary”

until it’s over.   It should be one of this year’s most critically acclaimed films.

Previewed as a film that was twelve years in the making, allowing the characters, especially the children to age naturally  throughout, I found that the concept of “Boyhood”  gave the viewer a new and unique viewpoint into the struggles, changes, mistakes and happy times in a family.  The main character is seven years old as the film begins and 19, off the college when it finally concludes.  Significant changes, obvious to the kids, are equally evident with the adults, and in our two-plus hours together, I felt I knew their story.  It’s called survival.  I recommend this film as a must see, especially if you are a parent.

These are three good ones and the race has only started.  So, spring for the $5.00 Diet Coke and the smelly movie house and select

"Boyhood"

“Boyhood”

some films that fit your fancy.   Who knows, before it’s finally over, we may see Michael Keaton take home an Oscar.

 


Lyle’s Totally Subjective Top Ten Films of 2013

 

Indicative of the 2013 movie year, I found myself struggling to get to yes on a final list that reluctantly omitted several superb films.   While very good writing is the heart of very good films, the actors were up to the task in 2013.  For Academy members to choose between Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench and Amy Adams for Best Actress is ludicrous given that each delivered truly memorable performances.  Selecting a Best Actor among the nominees will be equally difficult.

My top film of 2013 has it all, a heart wrenching true story, a terrific script by Steve Coogan and an unforgettable performance by Judi Dench in the title role of “Philomena”.

1.  “Philomena “– The back-story of Philomena Lee, a real Irish woman who’s 3-year old child from a 1950’s teenage pregnancy was taken, against her will and sold for adoption by a Catholic convent to an American family, was revealed through an association, years later,  with a

Philomena

Philomena

BBC journalist who is helping to locate her now adult son in the U.S.  It has plenty of drama, epiphanies for both characters and an unexpected closure.  I just enjoy watching Judi Dench act and Steve Coogan was a good match with his script as well as on-screen.

2.  “The Great Beauty” – Admittedly, it will take a few more viewings for me to understand this film enough to semi-intelligently discuss it.  However, like a fine wine, I know it is going to be extraordinary once that happens.  Meanwhile, Paolo Sorrentino’s film reveals a man, near his 65th birthday, that is dealing with the

The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty

recent understanding that his effort to lead a narcissistic, uncomplicated life, void of close relationships, may have been a mistake.  Jep, played by Toni Servillo, takes us on his inner journey, with many surrealistic, metaphorically wrought images all set within a wonderful postcard called Rome.  I can’t wait to watch it again.

 3. “Nebraska”  –  Alexander Payne has become one of today’s most reliable writer/directors, with films like “The Descendents” and “Sideways,” creating real characters that, from time to time, have crossed our paths.  We meet Woody (Bruce Dern) and Kate (June Squibb) Grant and their odd family and friends as Woody and his youngest son journey from Montana to Nebraska to collect a bogus fortune.  Shot in black and white, this is a story of a man growing old with regrets, moving through a torturous past toward some simple legacy.

 4.  “American Hustle” – David O. Kelley continues as one of the best directors of this time with an enjoyably convoluted story that is centered on the

American Hustle

American Hustle

reluctant partnership of a con man and the FBI in taking down members of the New Jersey mafia.  Aside from an intense script, the superb ensemble cast including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner made the film exceptional.

 5.  “Dallas Buyers Club” – Matthew MCConaughey’s portrayal of real life character Ron Woodruff who, seeking experimental Mexican drugs for his own AIDS virus, began smuggling them into Texas and distributing to local patients under the name, Dallas Buyers Club, is worthy of an Academy Award.  In addition to his drastic weight loss, the character fit McConaughhey’s style of sarcasm and wit perfectly.  This film wasn’t always fun to watch, but the performances, including that of Jared Leto were compelling throughout. This is the year that Matthew needs to get Oscar tickets for his parents.

6.  “Blue Jasmine” – Although the Bernie Madoff theme is over used, once again Woody Allen creates another modern script, attracts fine veteran actors and allows them to develop their character.  Cate Blanchett is brilliant in the title role as a woman

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine

having difficulty separating fantasy from reality as well as her complicity in a  “riches to rags” situation.  Sally Hawkins earned her Oscar nomination while Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Caravale were outstanding in another clean drama/comedic effort from one of the best filmmakers of any time.

7.  “In A World” – Inspired from the age of Don LaFountaine and other men in Hollywood who made careers from their voices, recording radio film promotions, the creatively odd comedy, “In A World”, is about a woman rising in a male dominated craft, fueled by the fact that one of its threatened patriarchs is her father, played by

In A World

In A World

veteran actor, Fred Melamed.  Lake Bell wrote, directed and delightfully starred in this small indie film that takes you out of your comfort zone and unveils a narrative set within a diminishing Hollywood community.

8.  “Her “– My first impression of “Her” was that it was new and different.  It focuses on a man who develops a relationship with an intelligent computer operating system (IOS) in a film written perfectly for the talent of Joaquin Phoenix.   Uncomfortable with normal human attachments, Theodore begins to fall in love with his IOS at a time when he is deciding whether to sign his divorce papers.  Of course, if “IOS”

Her

Her

relationships take off, there will certainly be high demand for the Scarlett Johansson app.  I also appreciated the subtle detail in depicting a futuristic Los Angeles.

9.  “The Wolf Of Wall Street” – I heard comments like “over the top” and Leonardo joked when the Golden Globe classified the film, not inaccurately, as a comedy. As he ages, Martin Scorese just wants to have fun.  Here, he takes a true story of gross corruption and indulgence and magnifies it beyond comprehension.  For

The Wolf Of Wall Street

The Wolf Of Wall Street

Dicaprio and Jona Hill, this film had to be a total blast to make. The “delayed qualude country club” scene will instantly become classic and this film achieved the goal of any comedy; it made me laugh out loud.

10. “Captain Phillips/The Past” – Coping to a cop-out, my reluctance to exclude either of these thoroughly converse films from my list led to them sharing this spot.  Most audiences knew the story of Captain Phillips before

Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips

the film started, but director Paul Greengrass takes us into the middle of the struggle and allows the audience to feel fear, rage and compassion, mostly in the confines of a very small, crowded vessel.  The story of Barkhad Abdi, a Minneapolis cab driver cast in the role of a Somailian pirate who now has a reserved seat at the Oscars is as intriguing as the one that omits Tom Hanks from the list of nominees.  If I ever need to be rescued from danger, my preference would be the Navy Seals.

Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi follows up his superb, “A Separation”, with a complex film of how past

The Past

The Past

relationships can reveal new issues as a husband (Tahar Rahim) returns from Iran to Paris to finalize a divorce with his soon to be ex-wife (Berenice Bejo).  The plot is pealed away, layer by layer as we begin to understand the characters and the core of their behavior.  Like a good novel, I await Farhadi’s next film.

 

Honorable Mention:  Fruitvale Station,  Starbuck,  12 Years A Slave,  Blackfish,  Saving Mr. Banks, Populaire,  The Hunt

Best Short Film/Live Action:  “Aquel No Era Yo” (That Wasn’t Me)

Best Short Film/Animated:  “Mr. Hublot”

 


Lyle’s Totally Subjective Top Ten Films of 2012

 

Many of the distinguished films in 2012 were difficult to watch.  Writer/director Michael Haneke’s “Amour”, a frontrunner in the best foreign film category, boasting a brilliant performance by Emmanuelle Rivas, slaps us in the face with the harsh reality of the struggle to die with dignity.  Joaquin Phoenix delivered a Brando-esque performance with his self-destructive character in “The Master” another difficult view.  John Hawkes’ character in “The Sessions”, confined mostly to an iron lung, was somewhat claustrophobic, but the sex therapy created a nice balance.  The following films were my standouts in 2012, each compelling in their own way, a few actually easy to watch.

10. Beasts of the Southern Wild

The entire “Beasts” scenario is noteworthy, 30-year -old Benh Zeitlin writes and directs his first film, conceived from memories of a childhood vacation to New

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Orleans.  Amidst devastation and squalor in a poor bayou community after hurricane Katrina lays the story of a dying man, helping his young daughter to endure the immediate danger while preparing her with the strength to survive being orphaned.  It is the struggle with endings and the joy of life to seek new beginnings in one package.   Zeitlin found the perfect “Hushpuppy” personality in a young local girl with no previous acting experience.  Quvenzhane Wallis now has an Oscar nomination.

9. Django Unchained

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Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino’s revenge films have always stood out from the others, each with in-depth scripts and great characters whose appeal comes from the fact that they don’t seem to belong in the existing environment.  Such is true with Dr. King Schultz, a German gentleman bounty hunter played by Chistoph Waltz, who offers slave Django  (Jamie Fox) freedom, revenge and money to help him identify several individuals “wanted dead or alive”.  Samuel Jackson as the dominating head servant, Don Johnson and Leonardo Di Caprio, as plantation owners each deliver outstanding performances.  Waltz deserves an Oscar in a competitive category.

 

8. Moonrise Kingdom

From Wes Anderson, the director that bought us “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Rushmore”, comes the quirky story of two young twelve year

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

old children who, certain that they have fallen in love, decide to run away prompting chaos in the small island community.  The terrific ensemble cast of Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton are comfortable delivering Anderson’s weird and wonderful script.

7. Bernie

Jack Black’s performance as Bernie Tiede in the peculiar film “Bernie” is one of this year’s best.  Black’s eccentric character becomes a perfect match for his new job as

Bernie

Bernie

assistant director of a funeral home in a small, odd community in east Texas.   He soon has the entire town charmed, including Marjorie Nugent (Shirley McLaine), the disliked local wealthy widower.   The plot thickens and certain strange circumstances have the burg engulfed in a storm with Bernie sitting in the middle.  Matthew McConaughy delivers a noteworthy performance as Sheriff Buck.

6. Rust and Bone

Despite lofty expectations and disappointing accolades, I found “Rust and Bone” to be a wonderfully written story, involving a complex

Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone

plot of  “boys wants girl-girl doesn’t want boy-girl needs boy-boy needs girl”.  The evolution of the relationship between Stephanie and Alain is, to say the least, extraordinary and the characters are portrayed brilliantly by  actors Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts.  Ms. Cotillard

deserved an Oscar nomination.

5. Silver Linings Playbook

Had it been written and released in the 40’s, I visualize a young Tracy and Hepburn in the lead roles.  This is the consummate anomalous

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

love story, one that can only work with great acting from Cooper and Lawrence who generated “Spence and Kate-like” chemistry.    Robert DeNiro and Jacky Weaver aptly enhanced the dysfunctional milieu and director David O. Russell proved that he is very good, following his earlier release, “The Fighter”.  Definitely the feel good film of the year with dazzling performances.

4. Argo

The premise of this true story is bizarre, another potentially volatile situation, unfolding during the 1978 hostage crisis with Iran, involving

six Embassy staffers who escaped and hid at the Canadian Embassy.   The story of the uncanny rescue was kept secret for 17 years and is now

Argo

Argo

exposed to the public under the direction of Ben Affleck and producer George Clooney. Despite knowing the out come, the threat of discovery

keeps you on the edge of your seat. The brilliant cast featuring Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and Bryan Cranston inject some “Hollywood” into this out of the ordinary authentic tale.

3. The Intouchables

The Intouchables

The Intouchables

Those complaining that French films are too cerebral and boring should see “The Intouchables”, France’s entry in the foreign film category.  When a grieving, wealthy quadriplegic needs a caretaker, he takes a risk on a street-smart, black Muslim ex-con who is only interviewing as a stipulation of his unemployment.  This is the story of two very different people coming together at a time when each can help one another.   In a very entertaining way, this film reminds us that, although we live in varying circumstances, we all really are the same.

 

2. Lincoln

Steven Spielberg’s meticulous authenticity and Daniel Day-Lewis’ virtuoso performance as our 16th  President is, alone, worth the price of admission.  The story focuses on the end of Lincoln’s life when he was obsessed with uniting the country and abolishing slavery before the end of the Civil War.  Exceptional cinematography reveals the story by placing the viewer in a beautifully illustrated virtual book.  Adapted from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals” this film is already an American classic.

Lincoln

1. Zero Dark Thirty

A film chronicling the discovery and execution of Osama Bin Laden could have gone wrong in so many ways.  The balance of authenticity

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

and a film that would captivate an audience recently absorbed in the real drama would be a difficult task.  Director Katherine Bigelow created a fictional account, encased in reality that mesmerized me and, most importantly, left many judgments with the viewer.   Visual realism, striking cinematography, Mark Boal’s story and the fact that Jessica Chastain pulled off one of the year’s most challenging roles makes Zero Dark Thirty, in my subjective opinion, a great project and the best film of 2012.