Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nightcrawler

If things ended differently for Travis Bickle and his unrequited love, Betsy, their son would’ve turned out like Lou Bloom. Lou would’ve grown up knowing that in life, no one gives you anything. If you want something, you have to work for it. If you work hard enough, and still nothing happens, then you take what is rightfully yours.

That’s the Lou Bloom we meet in Dan Gilroy’s devilishly entertaining new film, Nightcrawler. Lou, as inhabited by a ferocious and fearless Jake Gyllenhaal, is a smart, wildly articulate, slender beast of a man who spends his nights roaming the bloodstained streets of Los Angeles. After failing to find purpose (which we assume is something he’s failed to find for a long time), Lou discovers a freelance profession of filming crime scenes and selling the footage to the highest network bidder. Nightcrawlers, as these people are known, cruise L.A. all night, stalking police scanners in hopes of being the first one on the scene with cameras rolling.

The common maxim of news media dictates that if it bleeds, it leads. But Nightcrawler exposes the true horror of this statement, which is that if a white person bleeds (particularly at the hands of a minority), then the story really leads. And if the crime is committed in an affluent neighborhood, the story leads even stronger. That’s a terrifying reality of modern news culture. One that a struggling local news manager named Nina Romina (Rene Russo) impresses upon Lou. If Lou is the first to capture the goriest aspects of, say, a lethal carjacking in Beverly Hills or a gruesome home invasion in Bel Air, then Nina will reward him handsomely.
That’s the only incentive Lou needs, as his every waking moment is spent trying to enhance his capitalistic endeavors. He learns how to effectively capture and edit footage, he masters police lingo – he becomes an expert nightcrawler, searching the streets with precision. Problem is, the market is too saturated, and Lou is rarely the first of his kind to arrive on the scene. Much of the excitement (and sheer horror) of the movie is watching how far Lou will go to get the story. Rarely are human immorality and callous manipulation explored as unapologetically as they are in this film.

Nightcrawler was written and directed by Dan Gilroy, an accomplished screenwriter of varied films like Freejack, Two for the Money, The Fall, and The Bourne Legacy. With Nightcrawler, Gilroy makes his directing debut, which is an astonishing feat in and of itself. The film looks, feels and behaves like it was created by a seasoned pro. Its visual aesthetic, for one, is utterly astounding. Lensed by the great Robert Elswit, all of Nightcrawler’s night scenes were shot digitally, thereby letting the gorgeous colors of the Los Angeles night pour into every frame. The day scenes, by contrast, were shot on 35mm film, giving the entirety of Nightcrawler a revolving juxtaposition of rich beauty.
But as crisp and exciting as Elswit’s cinematography is, Nightcrawler is a film rooted in performance. Lou Bloom marks Jake Gyllenhaal’s fourth masterful turn in the past year, following his confident yet fidgety Detective Loki in Prisoners and his expert dual roles in the mindfuck thriller, Enemy. It’s too soon to say if Lou Bloom is the best of these characters, but he’s certainly the most entertaining. Gyllenhaal shed nearly 25 pounds to play Lou, all in an effort, the actor has said, to make Lou feel like a coyote who carefully preys upon Los Angeles. That’s a fitting description, as Lou Bloom is a man starving for capital gain and notoriety. He’s also completely unlikeable and hasn’t a single redeemable quality. The fact that Gyllenhaal was able to make the character so insanely amusing really is an accomplishment.

Nina Romina is a crowning achievement of Rene Russo’s career. Watching this performance, in all her fiery zeal, one is immediately reminded of Faye Dunaway’s cutthroat turn in Network. Despite the age difference (or perhaps, because of it), the chemistry between Russo and Gyllenhaal is palpable for every second they share on screen. Genuinely, the woman is on fire in this film. Rounding out the trio of solid performances is Riz Ahmed, who plays Lou’s hard working but painfully naïve intern, Rick. There’s an innocence to Rick that makes him instantly likable, which, in turn, forces the audience to fear for him. I hadn’t seen Ahmed in a film before, but his restrained performance proves to be a perfect counter for Gyllenhaal’s radical work.
There is another character in Nightcrawler that deserves specific praise, and that is the city of Los Angeles itself. Nightcrawler captures a different side of L.A. than we’re used to seeing. There is no glitz and glamour in this film; no Hollywood bullshit. (There’s also, thankfully, a complete lack of “South Central” stereotype locations. You know, the ones where characters go one block in the wrong direction and the “scary people” come out of the alleys.) Nightcrawler is the working man’s L.A., the 24-hour strip mall L.A., the loading dock L.A. Gilroy’s instance on shooting the city in this manner is one of the many things that help Nightcrawler standout. And that’s precisely what this film is, a standout thriller that’s as fun as it is dangerous. There’s a scene in the film that begins outside of a Chinese restaurant, and ends with heads rolling in the streets, that could very well be the scene of the year. I could go on, but it’s best for you to discover this film for yourself. Nightcrawler is pulp fiction cinema at its finest. Marvel at its gorgeous depravity. A-

Note: I wanted to quickly mention that two of the actresses from my upcoming feature, Wait, are in Nightcrawler. Leah Fredkin plays a news anchor (she appears on TV as Lou is flipping channels) and Carolyn Gilroy plays an employee at Nina’s news station (she makes a comment about a baby in a crib). It’s so cool that they got to be involved in one of the best films of the year. I really could not be happier for them.

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56 comments:

  1. I'm so excited to see this one! Pulling double duty and gonna try and do this and Birdman tomorrow night (hopefully!). So happy to hear that this one doesn't disappoint either. Seems like Gilroy pulled off something really fun and thrilling (I hear it's quite funny as well - any truth in that?). I really hope this one gets Gyllenhaal nominated because he was unfairly left out last year for his amazing performance in Prisoners (and because we all know that no matter how amazing he was in Enemy that film doesn't have a shot in hell at being nominated at one of these "big" award shows). Also great to hear that Russo's got a great role here, been a while since I've seen her in anything beyond passable.

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    1. Birdman and Nightcrawler in the same day will be a goddamn awesome time. Both will make you think, which is great. Yes, Nightcrawler has a very pitch black sense of humor, which is what makes it so entertaining and fun. I loved it.

      As for nominations... I dunno, I could see the Academy thinking Nightcrawler is almost too pulpy, if that makes sense. It all depends if the studio is willing to foot the bill or not. Honestly, it's strongest categories would be for Elswit's cinematography (though nothing will top Chivo's Birdman work) and Russo for Supporting Actress. Gyllenhaal may be a touch too "out there" for the Academy's liking. And Best Actor is insanely tight this year. But hey, who knows.

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  2. I might actually see this film this coming weekend (w/ Birdman) as I heard good things about this. I'm stoked that two of your actresses appear in the film. That is awesome.

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    1. Can't wait to hear what you think of both films. And thanks for the kind words about Leah and Carolyn. I'm really proud of them.

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  3. I'm going to see this on Monday and I cannot wait. Excellent review!

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    1. Thanks! Can't wait to hear your thoughts. I think you'll really dig it.

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    1. You don't want me to review that movie. Trust me.

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    2. I want to you to review because everybody tells me how good it is and I watched and I didn't get it, I feel like is a bad film but I don't know why.

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    3. Oh really? Well maybe I should review it then, because I felt the exact same way. I didn't like it at all.

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    4. So, from a scale of A+ to F, Fury is ...

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    5. I'd go with a D+. Some of the performances were solid, but the timeline of the narrative was absurd, the cinematography was nonsensical, and that kitchen scene was all sorts of awful.

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    6. But Edge of Tomorrow, what grade it gets?

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    7. You know, I actually dug that movie. I think I'd go with a solid B.

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  5. And by now : which are the best films of the year (so far)?

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    1. In order, starting with my favorite:

      Boyhood
      Birdman
      Enemy
      Gone Girl
      Nightcrawler
      The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
      Under the Skin
      Blue Ruin
      Maps of the Stars (don't know if this will be a 2014 release)
      Starred Up

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    2. I just love the fact that you put "Enemy" so high. It's such a work of art I couldn't even praise it enough. That's to me by far the greatest film of the year and definitely one of the best of the decade. "Under the skin" would be my second.

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    3. I really need to see Under the Skin again. I meant to see it again in the theater, but it escaped me. It's been a really solid year so far, and there are still two great months left. Very exciting!

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    4. And Interstellar where would be?

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    5. Tough call right now. It's up there though. Definitely in the top 5. (Or 3. Or 2...)

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  6. Glad you enjoyed Nightcrawler as well. Agree Gyllenhaal is on top form here. He is unlikeable and yet I couldn't take my eyes off him :)
    Besides the amorality of newsgathering and making money from people’s tragedy, the director is quoted as saying another aim of the film was to show how the media preys on people’s fears. The news report is usually strung together with some other incident “to give you a sense that there’s some nefarious pattern”. Gilroy said that such reports support the queues of Americans wanting to buy guns because they’re “terrified of some nebulous threat out there”.
    I've also read the film is a satire on our current culture of over documentation, where everything is immediately available for public consumption, even if it shouldn’t be.

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    1. I've read similar things from Gilroy, and I couldn't agree with him more. I definitely got a satirical vibe from the film, which I think speaks to the strength of its execution. I mean... this flick was pretty fuckin' wild at times, yet it was never unhinged. Ah, I just loved it. What a searing and strong debut film. Thanks for the comment!

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  7. Great review. I can't wait to watch this film and share my thoughts with you on it. Jake Gyllenhaal is such a phenomenal actor. I just feel like it's hard even for himself to top what he did this year with his two completely different roles in "Enemy". That dude is a fuckin' amazing talent.

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    1. I really think you're going to like this one, my friend. It's so damn nuts but great. And Gyllenhaal... the guy can do no wrong right now. He's killing it.

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  8. Love this review. Louis Bloom is a truly terrifying character and Gyllenhaal knocked it out of the park with his performance. Thinking about it now, I can pick up a Diana Christensen vibe from Russo's character too.

    One character moment I dig the hell out of is when Louis is sitting alone in his apartment and sees something funny on the TV. He turns his head to see if anyone sees him and turns back and laughs. It's like he is hoping no one catches him in a human moment.

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    1. DUDE! I had forgotten about that moment in front of the TV, but you're so right, that's exactly what it is. I absolutely loved that. I mean, God forbid Lou Bloom shows actual emotion. Thanks for the comment, Luke!

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  9. The first line of this post is priceless! My husband went to see this movie this weekend, and he was not thrilled. He seemed to be in the mood for an action movie, and he described this as a "dark character study." Which makes it sound *perfect* for me. I'll definitely see it when I get the chance.

    BTW, I just looked at your list of best movies of the year, in the comments. I've only seen and reviewed 2 so far (Gone Girl and Blue Ruin).

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    1. Haha thanks! That was the one thought that wouldn't escape my mind while watching this movie - "This is Travis circa 2014."

      I see where your husband is coming from. The main trailer for this film sells it as an action flick, which it's not. Definitely more of a dark character study with some moments of intense action. I think you'll dig it.

      Hopefully you'll be able to see more of those films by year's end! Boyhood is so, so good.

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  10. Hey man, this article has me three shades of hype. I've been anticipating Nightcrawler since it's first trailer, I wanted to get the money and I want to buy the ticket. Sadly, I'm saving right now so the ticket's going to have to wait but I will see this as soon as possible. Gyllenhaal is really eating it up, guy is on fire. From his work in Prisoners and Enemy alone you can tell the dude is hungry. Here's hoping Maggie takes some cues from her bro.

    Glad to hear that Lou is the slimy protagonist we so sorely need in 2014, like Travis and Betsy had a kid and he moved to LA to strike it out as a professional lunatic.

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    1. I really hope you like this one. And yeah, Jake is totally killing it right now. And Lou Bloom is arguably the most repulsively entertaining character of the year. I absolutely loved to loathe him.

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  11. Alex,

    Once again, your posts and articles are fascinating and I completely respect your perspective and views on film. With that being said, in my opinion, the comparison between Lou Bloom and Travis Bickle couldn't be more wrong. The only thing that connects these two characters is that they are both highly individualistic and abide by their own set of rules. But their rules are very, very different. Lou Bloom is a sociopathic piece of shit. Lou rearranges crime scenes, and even withholds vital information from the Police just to make more money. While it is debatable if Travis Bickle is a good person, he definitely has a moral code. From an ordinary man's perspective Travis is not a very good person. He views people as "scum," he goes to adult movies. But he also deeply cares for people such as the young prostitute Iris. When I first watched Taxi Driver I had a big connection with Travis Bickle. He's an outcast, and misunderstood. I felt like I could relate to that character. When I watched Nightcrawler, I never felt connected to Lou Bloom. It's a very interesting story and wanted to like the character, but when its all said and done I think that Lou Bloom was a very evil, manipulative person. What are your thoughts on my opinion?

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    1. I think your opinion is a valid one. But the whole time I watched Nightcrawler, I couldn't help but create an elaborate backstory that connected those two characters. I didn't mean to imply that Lou and Travis were exactly alike, as few very sons are exactly like their fathers. But yes, in some Taxi Driver/Nightcrawler sub universe, I could totally see Travis Bickle raising a kid, teaching him this strict moral code, while also never fully hiding his damaged psyche. The kid might rebel, move across the country, but subconsciously adopt the worst traits of his father. (Betsy, for what's it worth, removed herself from the picture long ago. At least in my fictional story.)

      Now, obviously, this is all completely fabricated, not to mention subjective. I don't often create fictional universes for film characters, but I couldn't help myself here. Travis Bickle is my favorite film character of all time, and I can easily see Lou Bloom being his son. But that's just me.

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    2. Okay, I understand a little more where you're coming from. I think because of the fact that I felt so connected to Travis Bickle that I feel strongly about the differences between him and Lou Bloom. What do you think about the comparison between Travis Bickle and the Driver from Drive?

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    3. Admittedly, I didn't harp on my Bickle/Bloom connection in my review as much as I could've, for space reasons.

      I actually see no connection between Bickle and The Driver. Other than they, you know, drive around at night a lot. I think The Driver is 100% perfectly sane, and equipped with a very strong moral compass. Which are not things I could say for Travis at all.

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  12. I really want to see that - the trailer was a bit frantic and underwhelming plus it used two lines I swear are mentioned in almost every single review of this I read - the bleed lead thing and 'the woman with her cut throat running away' but the story and the cast look so good that I'm actually gonna see it instead of Interstellar this month.

    Also - wow that's so cool that Dan and Tony's niece is in your movie!

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    1. I went to journalism school, so I heard "if it bleeds it leads" roughly 7 times a day in relation to writing copy. But I promise that I've never seen a movie that exposes what that quote really means as truthfully as Nightcrawler. Fucking terrible, actually.

      Carolyn is a very talented and very cool young actress. Unfortunately, her role in Wait is brief, but we're already talking about working together again. Thanks so much for the comment and kind words!

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  13. Great review, Alex. I was intrigued upon seeing the first trailer. Jake Gyllenhaal looks sick in this film and I bet it worked wonderfully for the role and for him to become that character. Nice to see Rene Russo back in top form, she's so wasted in the Thor movie, this sounds like something meatier she can really sinks her teeth into. If you're curious about Riz Ahmed, check him out in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, that's the first time I saw him and he really impressed me.

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    1. Thanks Ruth! The Reluctant Fundamentalist is one I meant to see but never got around to. I did notice Ahmed was in that though. Definitely going to check it out now. And Russo, KILLS it here. Genuinely, this is just a very well acted film. Hope you have a chance to see it soon!

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  14. Probably wouldn't have checked this one out without scanning through your review. So, thank you for the inspiration. I loved it! And, now that I've read your entire review, I loved the review too! ha

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    1. Awesome man, I love hearing that. If I can motivate just one person to see a film that I like, then that makes writing the review worth it. So happy to hear that you liked the film. Thanks so much for the comment!

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  15. I've read nothing but great reviews for this film, so I will make a point to see it soon! Nice review, Alex.

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  16. Wonderful review! It's great that those actresses from Wait are in the film. I dug this one too. Gyllenhaal is aces, and the look of the film couldn't be better.

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    1. Thanks buddy. I'm so excited for them. It was so cool to see them on the BIG screen. Really glad you liked this flick as well.

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  17. I saw this last night. I loved it. I might even call it my third favorite of the year (behind Under the Skin at #1 and Boyhood at #2 and right above Birdman at #4). You're right, I did feel a hint of Travis Bickle in Lou Bloom, although I feel that Bickle was more sickened by the world's (and his own) misdoings, while Bloom revelled in it. And boy, did Gyllenhaal nail that role. He sure did creep me out. I also loved how unapologetic and dark the humor of it was. Really good stuff there.

    I didn't know that about the cinematography, but I thought I felt a juxtaposition there. What an interesting fun fact.

    And that's awesome that those two actresses are also in Wait. That means in some sort of Six Degrees of Separation game, I can connect you with Jake Gyllenhaal.

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    1. Ha, you're final paragraph is awesome! I guess that's true!

      I really loved Nightcrawler as well; haven't been able to get it out of my head since I first saw it. I too LOVED how unapologetic the film was. I mean, just overall, this movie didn't apologize for shit.

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    2. By the way, I saw your top films of the year list in one of the above comments. Of the ones on there I've seen, I totally agree. And the ones I haven't, I can only say that really freaking need to see Enemy, Blue Ruin, and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. Also, Maps to the Stars will be released in February of 2015.

      However, that list also makes me wonder, what are your most anticipated films of the year? Mine are Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, A Most Violent Year, Big Eyes, Winter Sleep, and American Sniper.

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    3. I thought they might do that with Maps to the Stars. Kind of a bummer that people have to wait so long, but it's in no way an "Oscar" film, so I understand. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is so damn good. I'd probably rank it higher now.

      I really want to see all the ones you mentioned as well. Except Big Eyes. I think Adams will be solid, but the movie will let her down. We shall see.

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  18. Just watched this about a half hour ago, what a thrill ride. This beast is by far my favorite film this year (I haven't seen Birdman or Boyhood, can't wait on either of those too), this thing soars by. Did you watch it at night? Because I did (or at least it's quite dark out), driving home, I almost couldn't stop myself from speeding because of Lou Bloom. My heart was also racing because of those last couple minutes in the film. I'm really hoping Jake Gyllenhaal gets a nomination, I just can't see it happening though, oh well.

    I couldn't help but notice your favorites of the year list above, and I thought Enemy was a 2013 film. I know I saw it this year but I thought it was released last year. I could be mistaken though. Happy it's making it on your list this year regardless, one of my favorite things I've watched this year. Not kidding, one of, if not the scariest movie ending I've ever seen, this shot, was so unexpected.

    http://www.creativindie.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/spider.jpg

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    1. Awesome! Dude, not only did I see this at night, but my drive home included driving by many of the locations in the movie itself (including the TV studio). One of the reasons I love living in LA... it's such a surreal place in that regard.

      Haha jesus, that fuckin' spider. Enemy hit the festival circuit in 2013, but it didn't receive a US theatrical release until March 2014. So, even though it won't be nominated for anything, it technically would be eligible this year. Loved that damn movie.

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  19. Lovely review! Solid film although I think my expectations were a little too high. That shot of gyllenhaal when that guy was being carried into the ambulance was horrifying! Can you imagine what he was like as a child? I was really interested how he stirred the conversation away from where he grew up during that dinner scene.

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    1. Thanks man! I too loved that we didn't know much of anything about where Lou Bloom came from. The film was like Shame in that way, always deflecting those getting-to-know-you questions. Loved that shit.

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  20. I just saw the film. IT'S FANTASTICLY BRILLIANT. I like Jake Gyllenhaal performance in it, I think is his best (although I didn't saw Enemy, yet). The cinematography by Robert Elswit was genial (night scenes were shot digitally and day scenes were shot on 35mm film, insane). Lou Bloom is one of (if not) the best villians of the year. Rene Russo is great. L.A. looks like hell. This is definitely one of my favorite of the year.

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    1. Awesome man, so glad you liked it. Everything about this one works. Hell on Earth, indeed. It will definitely be one of my favorites of the year as well.

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  21. This year were a few good directorial debuts: Bad Words, Cheap Thrills, Obvious Child, Hide Your Smiling Faces, Palo Alto, Coherence, The Book of Life, Rose Water and Nightcrawler.
    Note: A friend of Robert Budai, Robert is also Paul Budai.
    Question: What are your top 10 favorite movies of the year? and When will you post on your blog the list?

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    1. I have a few more films to see before I post that list. Will hopefully have it up very shortly into the new year.

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