Archive | December, 2019

Top 20 Films of the 2010s–#15

12 Dec

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my countdown of my top 20 favorite films of the decade, here’s a recap: 20) Mad Max: Fury Road, 19) Fruitvale Station, 18) Hugo, 17) Parasite, 16) Spotlight

15) SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)

Avengers: Endgame was originally going to make this list. The Marvel Cinematic Universe came so far this decade, and with “Endgame,” they gave us one hell of a wild ride that worked as an emotional (as well as thrilling) climax for the whole franchise (as least for this phase, anyway). It was also my favorite film of 2019…and then “Parasite” came along and blew me away by how original and new and brilliant and wonderful it was.

So, I had to remove one title off the list–“Endgame” or “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” One Marvel-hero cinematic property or another. I chose “Spider-Verse” simply because…I like it a little better.

By the way, I categorize these choices–with the exception of #1 (my favorite film of the decade), each selection on this list is chosen for being the best of a certain theme or genre or even formula. (Though, there are exceptions–for example, I can’t think of another film like “Parasite.”) I think a part of me found enough of a gap in between “Endgame” and “Spider-Verse” to differentiate them and attempt to place them both on the list.

(And that’s also the reason I couldn’t make room for other 2010s films I hold dear to my heart–like The End of the Tour, Inside Llewyn Davis, Black Panther, Lady Bird, The World’s End, Mud, The Artist, Boy Erased, The Hate U Give, The Way, Way Back, Short Term 12, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Hush, 127 Hours, Arrival, True Grit, The Big Sick, Sing Street, Logan, It, The Disaster Artist, Three Identical Strangers, and 50/50. There you have it–an Honorable Mentions list.)

OK, enough stalling–let’s talk about how awesome “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is!

In the 2000s, we had Sony’s “Spider-Man” film franchise of three movies involving the Marvel web-slinging superhero. In the early 2010s, Sony decided to reboot the franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man, which went in a gritty direction that worked well…until the disastrous “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Then came the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which brought Peter Parker/Spider-Man into the same mix with Iron Man, Captain America, and so on, in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Avengers: Infinity War (with two more movies to come). And it was very satisfying to see a new, flat-out entertaining rendition of one of my favorite superheroes…but even I thought there could be something more.

Enter “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” a weird, zany, ultra-creative, beautiful, inventively animated, great big ball of entertainment that was like nothing I expected to see in a cinematic “Spider-Man” movie and became the “Spider-Man” movie I didn’t know I was waiting for.

I’ve already lost count as to how many times I’ve seen it!

The story–Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is a Brooklyn teenager who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly gains (of course) spider-like abilities not unlike Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Chris Pine), the costumed hero of New York. Spider-Man tells Miles he can help him get used to these powers, but soon after, he is killed by Kingpin (Liev Schrieber), which Miles witnesses. Miles decides to be the new Spider-Man in respect to his fallen hero, but he doesn’t know where to start. That changes when he encounters ANOTHER Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) from another dimension–only this one is cynical, heartbroken, not Spider-Man anymore, heavier and out of shape, and more or less selfish. Miles has the key to sending Peter home, and so Peter decides to coach Miles into being Spider-Man in exchange for his help.

Oh, but there’s more–they also gain a team of allies, each one from their own alternate dimension. There’s Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) aka Spider-Woman; Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage–YES!!), a shadowy Spider-Man from the ’30s; Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), anime heroine with a spider-like robot companion; and even Peter Porker aka Spider-Ham (John Mulaney)…a pig with spider-like abilities. I want a movie about each and every one of these characters!

The visual style of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is stunning! It’s rich with vibrant colors, filled with very clever inside jokes and comic-book traits, and very active with energy. (You want watching a movie to equal the experience of reading a comic book–here it is!) The blend of 2D and 3D animation works wonderfully too–when I first saw it, it took a little while to get used to the character movements, but when it really got going, I was invested.

Miles is a great lead to follow. Voiced by Shameik Moore, who was great in 2015’s “Dope,” he’s a very likable kid with a lot of charm and also plenty of vulnerability to make us care about him and root for him when he ultimately becomes Spider-Man.

And I also buy into the plight of the cynical, heartbroken Peter, voiced by the often-reliable Jake Johnson. You can tell this guy has seen it all and lost a lot and already given up on life. And it’s Miles that gives him purpose: as a teacher. When he knows he needs to do better, it’s hard not to root for him as well.

With the exception of Gwen, who becomes Miles’ friend upon meeting her at school, the other Spider-heroes aren’t given plenty of time to develop. But they make a great team that provide support and their own individual kick-ass (sometimes hilariously so) action moves. (Speaking of which, the action is both thrilling when it needs to be and also lots of fun for all the right reasons.)

With so many alternate Spideys and a complicated plan to send them all back home (lest they disintegrate from existence in this dimension), you’d think this would all be hard to keep track. But that’s another reason this Oscar-winning (for Best Animated Feature) “Spider-Man” flick is as celebrated as it is: the screenplay is fantastic. The storytelling is “marvelous” (pun intended), it’s great for both comic-book fans and general movie audiences, the characterization is wonderfully told, it’s sweet when it needs to be, it’s often hilarious with great comedic (and comic) writing, and like I said before, it’s just one great big ball of entertainment that I can’t help but come back to again and again.

It’s been a year since I first saw “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” and I’m sure it will continue to be my friendly neighborhood Spider-Man classic.

And I can’t wait to see the sequel.

Top 20 Films of the 2010s–#16

3 Dec

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my countdown of my top 20 favorite films of the decade, here’s a recap: 20) Mad Max: Fury Road, 19) Fruitvale Station, 18) Hugo, 17) Parasite

16) SPOTLIGHT (2015)

I could begin this post four different ways–I could mention how strange it was that writer-director Tom McCarthy’s Oscar-winning “Spotlight” was released within the same year as his turkey “The Cobbler” or that “Spotlight” didn’t make my best-of list for that year (2015) and yet it’s on my best-of list for the decade or that it means something when a film has a bigger impact on you after subsequent viewings…or that it’s the only Best Picture Oscar winner on my list (with all due respect to other winners like “The King’s Speech,” “The Artist,” “Argo,” and “Moonlight,” all of which I really like and admire).

When I first saw “Spotlight” in a theater, I was already in kind of a surly mood with much on my mind. So while I could recognize its first-rate dialogue-driven screenplay, brilliant understated acting, and equally understated directing, its dramatic impact didn’t quite hit me. But because of all of those reasons I could recommend the film, I listed it as an Honorable Mention in my 2015 Review because I did recognize its potential even though there were 10 films I felt I liked better.

It wasn’t until I watched the film again on DVD, alone in my room, and with an open mind that I realized just how excellent “Spotlight” was and that it deserved a high ranking on my best-films-of-2015 list.

Based on actual events, “Spotlight” involves the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team—editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) and reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). They’re a small group of journalists who write in-depth investigative articles after spending months conducting an abundant amount of research. In 2001, their new story comes after the Globe’s new editor-in-chief, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), learns of a lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), who represented numerous families alleging their children were sexually abused by Catholic priests. Baron wants the Spotlight team to investigate. Rezendes meets with Garabedian, who reluctantly tells him that there’s much more going on here than meets the eye. The Spotlight team interviews victims and lawyers, and it becomes clear that this isn’t just a 4-13 case number. It’s a widespread conspiracy, with at least 90 cases of scandal and cover-up. The team realizes how risky it is to go after such a powerful institution as the Catholic Church, but they go ahead with the story anyway, spending months to get the full scoop and expose the truth.

So what is it about “Spotlight,” a film about the process of investigative reporting, that moves me deeply? Why is it on my decade-end list? What is there to this film that is mostly directed with a down-to-earth low-key tone, extended amounts of dialogue exchanges, and very little characterization?

Ambition. Drive. Drama. Nerve. Credibility. Passion. To name a few.

It’s one of the best movies about what it means to be a reporter. You see all the hard work that’s put into investigating a story–all the research, all the interviewing, all the pushing of people who will give a reporter the time to talk to them, all the doors being slammed in their faces, all the detective work put into the struggles, all the hours spent into it all, and determination to see it through no matter how long it takes. And it’s a story that’s worth following–these people learn how deep this conspiracy goes, that so many horrible people have used the cloth to manipulate and molest children…and so many other people did nothing about it. It’s also just not enough that a few priests and lawyers are exposed for their wrongdoings (there are already some survivor’s groups that are formed and not enough people are even interested about that). They need to get the full scoop and every possible resource that will prove all guilt. It’s great that these hard-working journalists see it through.

The film is based on a true story. There is a Spotlight team for the Boston Globe and they did print a story that exposed a lot of hidden crime within communities, which caused more victims/survivors to speak out. Tom McCarthy and his crew were able to enlist the assistance of the actual Spotlight team members that are dramatized for this film. In fact, Mark Ruffalo even asked his character’s real-life counterpart (Michael Rezendes) to say his lines for him so he could capture his speech patterns, body language, and other mannerisms. (And in a baseball game scene, you can even see the real Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Walter Robinson in the background)

In “Spotlight,” we don’t see much of the characters outside of work, and so we don’t know them very well either. But while on the job, we still feel their passions for digging for truth, getting the word out, and helping people. With Steven Spielberg’s 2017 critically-praised journalism drama “The Post,” an obvious comparison, the elements are reversed. There is more characterization at work with “The Post,” but what I don’t feel in that film that I do with “Spotlight” is the drive and ethics behind investigative journalism, which made it more fascinating and worth caring about.

The film is carried by McCarthy’s low-key direction, the effectively convincing acting from everyone on-screen, and McCarthy & co-writer Josh Singer’s gripping dialogue structure, and as a result, “Spotlight” feels real and powerful but not in the ways I would expect. It’s easy to make a film like this and insert a lot of melodramatic elements, like a lot of angry screaming matches or even (God forbid) some type of throwaway assassin hired by the community to prevent the Spotlight team from seeing this thing through. But instead, “Spotlight” is powerful because it simply tells the story that needed to be told as it was. Whenever the team interviews victims, their stories are hard to listen to, and even though their words speak to these reporters, all they can do is sit and listen–and you know in their minds they’re thinking about how serious this all is, and they’re probably sweating from their pits that very moment. That’s what I mean–it’s very quiet that way. The only time one of the Spotlight crew truly breaks and loses his temper is late in the film, when Rezendes is convinced that they have all the pieces together and need to print the story right away, but Robinson isn’t going to rush it. “IT’S TIME!” Rezendes snaps. “THEY KNEW! AND THEY LET IT HAPPEN! TO KIDS!!” This scene was criticized for feeling out of place (probably to earn Ruffalo his Oscar nomination), but it doesn’t bother me at all. It feels like that anger was building up inside throughout the whole film and so it seemed inevitable that it would explode in an isolated incident. If Rezendes didn’t say anything, someone else probably would have.

“Spotlight” is a wonderful film, and I wish I had recognized it as such when I first saw it. But now, I can’t deny that it’s one of the best films I’ve seen this decade. The acting, the directing, the writing, the editing, even the subtly solemn music score (by Howard Shore)–everything about it is top-notch. And I applaud it for being a film that reminds us that whenever something is horribly wrong in the world, there’s always going to be a group of people to do something about it.

Top 20 Films of the 2010s–#17

2 Dec

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my countdown of my favorite films of the past decade, here’s a recap: 20) Mad Max: Fury Road, 19) Fruitvale Station, 18) Hugo

17) PARASITE (2019)

This is a tricky one for me. I saw Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” only once a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve had the rough draft of this decade-end top-20 list for several months…am I *positive* I want to include it so soon? Isn’t there another 2019 film I’ve seen more than once that I hold in high regard? (“Avengers: Endgame,” perhaps?)

I had to think long and hard about this choice before I realized…I’m fairly certain there won’t be a better film for the rest of this year than this.

Having seen some of Bong’s other works, such as “Snowpiercer” and “Okja,” what I admire about this director is his ability to layer each key character and scenario with brilliant effectiveness. I think back to Roger Ebert’s quote, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” I can’t walk into a Bong Joon Ho film and expect anything predictable. (Even the trailer for “Parasite” was thankfully vague.) To say he thinks outside the box would be an understatement–that’s how creative he is as a filmmaker and as a storyteller.

I love everything about “Parasite.” The commentary. The satire. The filmmaking. The acting. The characterization. The story. The buildups. The resolutions. The script!! This is some of the most brilliant writing of the decade!

Is it a horror? A drama? A thriller? All of the above? Yes.

And seeing as how “Parasite” is still in theaters as of the writing of this post, I still can’t bring myself to even give away the slightest spoilers. So…I’m going to stop here. I know it’s lazy, and I’m sincerely sorry. But I still need to be fair.

Besides, I think I earned myself a break after my angry words in my #19 post.

Top 20 Films of the 2010s–#18

1 Dec

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my countdown of my favorite films of the past decade, here’s a recap: 20) Mad Max: Fury Road, 19) Fruitvale Station

18) HUGO (2011)

Well, I couldn’t find room for a 2010s Steven Spielberg film on this list (as solid as “Bridge of Spies” was), but at least I still found a lovely treasure from another filmmaking master still going strong about 50 years later: Martin Scorsese.

Not “Shutter Island” (solid, gripping thriller). Not “The Wolf of Wall Street” (as ambitious as that was, it didn’t do much for me). Not “Silence” (which I haven’t seen…yet). Not even the recently released “The Irishman” (which WILL end up on another list soon).

Nope…it’s “Hugo”–the one you wouldn’t think was made by Scorsese.

Next, you’ll be telling me Francis Ford Coppola made “Jack”!

Martin Scorsese’s films were best known for being dark, violent, gritty, lively, very profane, and commenting on both corruption and guilt. That’s why it’s surprising to see something like “Hugo” come from Scorsese.

“Hugo” is a film made for the whole family, in that both children and adults will gain something from this–insight, emotion, whimsy, magical realism, and a fun, pleasant experience that wouldn’t leave their minds easily. And it certainly made an impression on me, hence the placement on this list. This is a beautiful movie.

“Hugo” is based on the Brian Selznick novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” which itself is an unusual book, in that it’s more of a combination of historical fiction, a graphic novel, and pictures. Scorsese bought the rights to the novel soon after its publication and made it into a film, with his unique vision and using 3D technology to the way he saw fit. He found 3D to be interesting because of the way actors could be more forward with their emotions, and so, he shot “Hugo” in 3D to present those emotions.

The story for “Hugo” is set in the early 1930s in Paris, mostly in the Monparnasse train station, where our hero, a young orphan named Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), lives/hides within the walls in hidden passages. Since the death of his father (Jude Law), he works the clocks around the station and keeps them working all the time to keep from being discovered by authorities, mostly the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who menacingly (along with his equally menacing dog) patrols the station and will send Hugo to an orphanage if he ever catches him. Hugo’s main goal is to mend a broken automaton bought from his father at a museum long ago. To accomplish this, he steals material from a station shopkeeper (Ben Kingsley) and gains assistance from the shopkeeper’s goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). It turns out she holds the key (both figuratively and literally) to solving the mystery of the mechanical man.

Where that leads and what happens after (essentially, the second half of the film) is where the film gets even better. It was already engaging me with its whimsy and Dickensian charm, as well as its gorgeous cinematography and art direction (I mean, WOW, does Paris look its most bedazzling here!). But what it all amounts to is a reminder of cinematic magic.

I mentioned that 3D was used by Scorsese to bring the actors’ emotions upfront, but what also helps is that the City of Lights feels so magical and wondrous seeing these already likable characters walk through such a mystical place makes for a remarkable theatrical experience. I’ve seen 3D done wonderfully (with “Avatar” in particular)–this is one of its greatest examples.

Ultimately, “Hugo” is Scorsese’s homage to legendary filmmaker Georges Melies, one of the pioneers of early filmmaking methods and an early king of special effects–his 1902 masterwork, “A Trip to the Moon,” plays a big role in this story. But it doesn’t stop there. We see the wonders and joy of early film techniques. We learn what film meant to Melies before he hit hard times. We see what it means to everyone who goes into a movie theater and wishes to see their dreams come to life. It’s Melies’ story told through Hugo’s eyes, and it’s very effective that way.

It’s easy to see that “Hugo” is Scorsese’s love letter to the art of the film, and it turns out to be one of his finest works in a career filled with fine works. Simply put, “Hugo” is magical.