Thursday, October 31, 2013

Top 27 Things I Love About Scream (that no one talks about)

As we wrap up another Halloween, I thought it’d be fun to take a few moments and share why I so love the exquisite horror film, Scream. This was my favorite movie as a kid, and I adore going back to it every year around this time. Please be warned: major spoilers do follow. If you haven’t yet seen this Wes Craven masterwork, then certainly do so before checking out this post. Enjoy!

Top 10 Stephen King Film Adaptations

Well, I set out to make a horror list in celebration of All Hallows’ Eve, but instead I’ve made a list that’s half horror, half exceptional drama. Stephen King is one of the most film-adapted authors ever, and though many of those films don’t fit the genre King is best known for, they remain iconic all the same.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Top 10 Baseball Movies

With the World Series coming to an end either today or tomorrow, I thought it’d be fun to draft a list of my favorite baseball films. Baseball as a sport isn’t really my thing (although my Red Sox-obsessed girlfriend is doing her best to change that), but that’s what makes these films so great. Whether or not you like the sport, these movies prove to be entertaining tales of America’s favorite pastime.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

In Character: the Cast of 12 Years a Slave

Part of what makes Steve McQueen’s new film, 12 Years a Slave, so great is its eclectic cast. Throughout the film, familiar faces pop in and out of scenes for brief periods of time, proving that it isn’t the amount of screentime that matters to an actor, but rather, what they do with the time they’re given. From superstars to virtual unknowns, here’s a breakdown of the talented people who help make 12 Years a Slave one of the very best films of the year.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Counselor

A few days ago, as I marveled at the needlessly difficult new film, The Counselor, I knew at least three things to be true. One, this is the most infuriating film I’m going to see all year. Two, I kind of love it. Three, many people will not. By the film’s end, I sat and listened in amusement as my fellow attendees scoffed and grumbled their way out of the theater. I smiled and wondered, has Ridley Scott just made the most divisive film of his career?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

the Directors: Ridley Scott

When I think of the name Ridley Scott, I think of a master of grandiose, important films. A filmmaker of iconic status who has cemented himself as a premiere storyteller of very large, very expensive stories.

But there’s more.

In fact, when you measure Scott’s entire career, you see that he’s dedicated his craft to tell all kinds of stories. Big and small, war-torn and love-ravaged. There’s simply no topic Ridley Scott is shy of tackling. Over the years, Scott’s dedication for reinvention has made way for a number of substandard films. When making such large genre leaps from picture to picture, missteps are bound to occur. But thankfully, Scott will always be remembered for his achievements. Those genre-bending masterpieces that continue to change the game.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

12 Years a Slave

An incessant clanking blares from within the musical score. An extremely tight shot of a ship’s propeller slowly pans up to reveal the rippled water the ship is leaving behind. We cut to below the ship, where slaves are chained and bound. There’s talk of overtaking the white crew. There’s remorseful chatter of freedom lost and innocence stolen. More clanking. Another shot of the water. Back down below, a white man comes to rape a female slave, his motions calm and routine. A male slave attempts to stop it, and as a result, will not live to see the next morning. More clanking. Another shot of the water.

This isn’t the first scene of 12 Years a Slave, but it’s the one where I knew for certain that I was in the midst of a masterful film. The scene occurs shortly into the picture, moments after freed and famed musician Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is kidnapped and sold into slavery. During his hellacious boat journey to the south, Solomon angrily describes his confusion while Hans Zimmer’s thundering music underscores the horror, and Joe Walker’s repetitive editing make it clear that there is no escape.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

All Is Lost

Critics often argue that it is difficult to appreciate a film without fully knowing who the characters are. I read it all the time in reviews: “There wasn’t enough backstory for the character, so I couldn’t empathize with him,” “I couldn’t care about the character, because I knew nothing about him,” and the like. I’ve always felt that particular criticism was misguided. Can a movie falter because it doesn’t flesh out its characters well enough? Yes, of course. In fact, many films fail for that exact reason. But my point is, you don’t have to know the background of a character in order to appreciate them.

That’s the notion beautifully realized in J.C. Chandor’s harrowing tale All Is Lost. The film stars Robert Redford, and only Robert Redford. We never learn a thing about him as a man, including his name. We have no idea why he is 1,700 nautical miles away from shore, on a sailboat, alone. We haven’t a clue of his marital status, number of children, or professional occupation. All we know is that he is a man lost, fighting to survive.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Top 10 Director Cameos in Their Own Films

There’s something so pleasing about a director showing up briefly in his or her own work. Some of the cameos below are subtle, self-reflexive nods to the filmmakers themselves, while others are deeply unsettling highlights from the films in general. Hope you enjoy my picks, and be sure to tell me your favorites!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Top 30 Things I Love About Se7en (that no one else talks about)

Is David Fincher’s Se7en the most disturbing, yet endlessly rewatchable film ever made? That was my main thought while watching the film recently. Here are a handful of other things that popped into my mind – moments rarely discussed that help make Se7en one of cinema’s most effective thrillers.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Top 10 HBO Shows

It’s not TV. It’s HBO. While that slogan is debatable, it is certainly inarguable that HBO has delivered some of the best television shows of all time throughout its run.

Shows currently on the air were not considered here. Why? True Blood, that’s why. If I made this list soon after True Blood finished its third season, it would be near the top. But as it stands now, True Blood wouldn’t crack the Top 30. A show isn’t over ‘til it’s over.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In Character: Nicky Katt

From the mid-‘90s to early 2000s, Nicky Katt was seemingly unstoppable. He was everywhere, stealing scenes on hit TV shows, while popping up on a handful of the best indie films of the time. Known for his wicked sharp sense of humor and penchant for playing incredible jerks, Katt really could do no wrong. And although he doesn’t take as many roles now as he did then, he always manages to leave his mark with the roles he’s given. If nothing else, this guy is always good for a hilariously politically incorrect laugh.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Top 10 Movies that Make Me Cry

When it comes to crying because of movies, I go through phases. For some months (or years), I’ll cry at the simplest of emotions during a film. But then without warning, I’ll hit a dry spell and not cry during anything for years.

So far, 2013 has fared pleasantly in the middle. Moments from Short Term 12 and Upstream Color caused me to get a little emotional, while Fruitvale Station and Captain Phillips had me bawling. Below are 10 films that get tears out of me everytime I watch them. For a nice change of pace, I’ve split the tears into two categories: films that make me cry because of their sadness, and others because of the happiness they evoke.

Please be forewarned that this post contains many spoilers. I hope you enjoy the list, and please do feel free to share the films that get you watery eyed.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Top 5 Tom Hanks Performances

With the release of Captain Phillips tomorrow, the world will be privy to one of the finest performances Tom Hanks has ever given. When I first saw the film, I thought his work in it was so good that it would crack my Top 5 favorite Hanks performances, should I make such a list. Indeed it has, along with four other flawless performances that help make Hanks one of the best actors there is.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Captain Phillips

Paul Greengrass is a director who is chiefly concerned with putting us right there. With his gritty, seemingly unpolished style of filmmaking, Greengrass has developed a mood to his work that is distinctly personal. The thing is, Greengrass doesn’t make personal films. At least not on a sentimental level. His masterpiece, United 93, is still the only truly astonishing film made about 9/11, which can be credited to the film’s nonjudgmental approach. One never judges while watching a Greengrass film. We simply sit back, drop our jaws, and do our best to catch our breath.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In Character: John Turturro

There’s a fine class of actors that Spike Lee keeps in his pocket. People he can rely on to deliver, no matter the size of the part. Likewise the Coen brothers, who write with a specific actor in mind, all but knowing that they will accept the part because it’s a… Coen brothers movie. But few people have the rare distinction of being in the pocket of both the Coens and Spike Lee. That’s the effect of a John Turturro performance. Whether he’s the wiseass or the moron, the crook or the cop, the ill fated or the hero, you know that when John Turturro appears in the role call, you’re in for something worthy and oddly enjoyable.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

the Directors: Alfonso Cuarón

If there was ever a career in which quality trumps quantity, then Alfonso Cuarón’s is surely it. Seven films in 15 years make up his oeuvre, yet they’re all completely different and important.

The beauty of Cuarón’s films is that although they vary drastically in subject matter, there’s no denying that an Alfonso Cuarón film is indeed just that. Much of this is thanks to Cuarón’s longtime friend and collaborator, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who has shot all but one of Cuarón’s films. Their work together, matched with Cuarón’s audacious storytelling, have made for some of the finest films of recent years.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Top 10 Emmanuel Lubezki Films

For the past two decades, the great and wonderful Emmanuel Lubezki, or “Chivo,” as he’s known to his friends, has stunned cinema audiences with his sensational camera work. Whether he’s capturing a sunset staged by Terrence Malick, or tracking an extended shot set-up by Alfonso Cuarón, there is no technique foreign to Emmanuel Lubezki. No challenge unmet, no frame he cannot beautify. This is one of the most talented men to ever step behind a camera. Period.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


To describe Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity as a mere film would be to commit a great injustice. Gravity isn’t just a film, it’s an experience. A damn impressive one at that. The plot is simple: Sandra Bullock gets lost in space. But the execution is otherworldly. Shot digitally on a paltry budget of $80 million, Gravity is one of the best-looking films of this or any time. The plot, in all its simplicity, is destined to encourage detractors. But the grace in which this experience is handled will undoubtedly inspire praise.

The very extended opening shot of the film sets up the entire story. High in the limitless depths of space, astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on a space walk mission to fix a portion of a shuttle. Stone’s commander, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is right there with her, cracking jokes about days past. Soon into their mission, satellite debris destroys their ship and kills the rest of the crew, leaving Stone (who is on her first ever space mission) and Kowalski (who is on his last), to fight for themselves.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

In Character: Catherine Keener

“She’s so adept at portraying someone not entirely in control of their faculties.” – Steven Soderbergh

Leave it to Steven Soderbergh to describe the abilities of a great actress so succinctly and accurately. Catherine Keener is the queen of portraying neurotic confidence. Her characters rarely have it all together, yet they put up this great façade of false assurance. But there’s more. In fact, Keener has proved to be just as effective in gentler roles, standing in the background, lending a kind word when necessary. Forceful or quiet, manipulative or kind, Kenner can simply play it all.

Enough Said

What I admire most about Nicole Holofcener is that she makes movies that no one else makes. Movies about women of a certain age, at a certain time. These women are usually on the cusp of middle age, are somewhat wealthy through obscure ventures, a little bored, a little tired and a little pissed. They’re also looking for love, even if they don’t know it.

Enough Said is Holofcener’s fifth feature film, following the accurate desperation of Please Give and the on-the-surface hopelessness of Friends with Money. Those adjectives don’t describe the films, per se, but rather the mentality of the characters living within them. Words I’d use to describe Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the lead of Enough Said, are blindly content and unknowingly eager. Eva is a private massage therapist living in L.A. who’s dreading the final weeks before her only daughter goes to college. Eva is a lot like the other women in Holofcener’s films, which means she’s happy where she’s at in life, if no other reason than she’s used to it.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Top 10 M83 Songs

M83 at the Hollywood Bowl - Sept. '13
One year ago, I posted a list of my favorite songs by my favorite band, M83. It was the first (and only) time I posted about music on this blog, and I was amazed by what happened. My Top 12 M83 Songs list lived on. A year later, it still attracts a fair amount of new readers and commenters who all share in my love for the electronic wonderment that is M83.

The only reason I wrote that post was to convey how important M83’s songs have been to my own filmmaking. Their tracks have been a lush well of inspiration. I’m continually impressed by their sound, and so very thankful for their ability to cultivate my creativity.