Tag Archives: Woody Allen

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.


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



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



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



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”



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”