Best of 2018 – Supporting Actress

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As we look back on the year that was I always like to give time to the performances that shaped the year’s films. Over the next few days I’ll be highlighting my favorite work from the four major acting categories. This year was full of fine performances, many from unexpected places. So let’s get to it by starting with the Supporting Actress category.

#5 – Cynthia Erivo (“Bad Times at the El Royale”)

Cynthia Erivo.jpg

Amid all the good performances in this pulpy neo-noir crime-thriller Cynthia Erivo shined brightest. She is our most grounded connection to the story and easily pulls the most sympathy. Oh, and lets not forget she gives us some knockout musical numbers.

#4 – Linda Cardellini (“Green Book”)

linda cared

She nearly gets lost among the two wonderful central performances, but an argument could be made that Linda Cardellini is the heart of the film. It’s a small role but she never fails to bring a needed warmth to every scene she’s in. She’s just delightful.

#3 – Laura Smet (“The Guardians”)

laura smet

 It couldn’t have been easy tackling her role in Xavier Beauvois’ “The Guardians” yet you wouldn’t know it from Laura Smet’s extraordinary performance. She not only nails the physical demands but shows a brilliant knack for conveying so much emotion even within the film’s distinctly quiet framework.

#2 – Claire Foy (“First Man”)

Film Title: First Man

Watching Claire Foy maneuver through the range of emotions her character endures is one of many strengths of “First Man”. She brings things down to earth (bad pun intended) and is a reality check for both her lost and struggling husband and for us. It’s a moving and genuine portrait.

#1 – Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”)

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She’s winning all of the awards for this category and (in one of those rare instances) the awards circuit is getting it right. You can’t help but be smitten with Regina King. You buy into every moment of her performance portraying a loving and supportive mother who also has a firm foot in the real world. She’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

So what did I get right and where did I go wrong? Let me know in the comments section below. Next up – supporting actor.

First Glance: “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” Trailer

What a day! The new trailer for “John Wick: Chapter 3” landed today and let me say it has my attention. The first film of this neo-noir action franchise began in 2014 with a surprise hit. The 2017 sequel was well received by critics and moviegoers and opened up the series to a wealth of crazy possibilities.

Now we get our first glance at “John Wick 3” and it looks to be building on the wacky mythology we got a taste of in the previous movie. And check out what we get in the trailer – plenty of the series’ signature stylized action, several returning characters, Halle Berry, dogs, and John Wick on a horse. How can you not be excited?

“John Wick: Chapter 3” opens May 17th. Check out the trailer below and tell me what you think. Excited? Not interested?

First Glance: “Spider-Man: Far From Home” Trailer

Today Marvel Studio’s sure-fire box office behemoth “Spider-Man: Far From Home” dropped its first trailer and let’s just say things look promising. That comes from someone who wasn’t the biggest fan of 2017’s “Homecoming”. I can’t say whether “Far From Home” will solve the issues I had with its predecessor, but (aside from the cringy beginning and cringier ending) it’s looking pretty good so far.

Take a look and tell me what you think:

Top 10 Films of 2018

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It seems like I say this every time but another year has flown by. Now here we sit looking back at the movie year that was. 2018 was unique in that so many of my favorite films were never on my radar. A handful of blockbusters delivered while several small independent movies were huge surprises. Parsing this year’s batch of contenders was no easy task. Nonetheless we do these things so here we go:

As always I’ll begin by showing love to the fine movies that just missed my top 10. Here are my #11 – 20 picks:

  • #20 – “The Guilty”
  • #19 – “The 12th Man”
  • #18 – “Bad Times at the El Royale”
  • #17 – “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”
  • #16 – “Apostle”
  • #15 – “Custody”
  • #14 – “Eighth Grade”
  • #13 – “Paddington 2”
  • #12 – “You Were Never Really Here”
  • #11 – “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Here are my Top 10 films from 2018:

Quiet10

This innovative and surprisingly original horror film came from John Krasinski who not only starred but co-wrote and directed it. The movie’s central horror conceit is effective but at its core is the story of family shattered by grief and in a desperate struggle to pick up the pieces. Each family member is struggling under the weight of their own guilt and sense of loss. Each struggle to deal with it in their own ways. The craftiness in melding the horror and family elements can’t be praised enough.

Guardians10

This was easily one of the most beautiful films of 2018. It comes from French filmmaker Xavier Beauvois and tells a little known yet powerful World War I story. It’s not about the troops but the women left behind to keep their families, their farms, their livelihood together. The film’s slow observant rhythm rewards the patient viewer with a unique perspective on these characters and the uneasy drama that unfolds in the final third. Fine performances throughout and top-notch direction inspired by some of the great French filmmakers of the past.

Sicario210

Despite missing some key players from the first film, this worthy follow-up captured most of what made its predecessor so effective. It’s a tense, slow-boiling border thriller that tackles a highly contentious current issue and leaves neither side of it unscathed. Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin return to wreak havoc among the cartels stepping over any legal/illegal line set in front of them. Some saw the film as a pointless sequel. I saw it as opening up the series to a wealth of interesting possibilities.

Roma10

The awards curcuits have been buzzing over Alfonso Cuarón’s intimate and deeply personal “Roma” and for good reason. Inspired by a key figure from his childhood, Cuarón weaves together one gorgeously crafted visual composition after another. Every frame is crafted with painstaking detail and not an inch of the shot is wasted. It’s a film that hearkens back to the filmmaking of Fellini, Tati, and even a touch of Bresson. Still, it’s much more than gorgeous eye candy and it definitely feels fresh among the steady stream of modern filmmaking conventions.

Reformed10

Paul Schrader’s intense yet sensitive “First Reformed” is unlike anything else I saw in 2018. It’s a film rich in themes – faith,  guilt, obsession, self-destruction, and spiritual despair just to name a few. It’s a film wrestling with the idea of “a world without hope” and it does so with the most open and earnest of intentions. And then there is Ethan Hawke, a great actor giving a career best performance. As fascinating as the subject may be, it doesn’t get off the ground without Hawke who is nothing short of superb.

Firstman10

2018 saw Damien Chazelle follow up his award-winning “La La Land” with a biopic of the enigmatic Neil Armstrong. It was bogged down early by undeserved criticism and seemingly overlooked by many throughout its box office run. It’s a stirring portrayal that aims to be more personal than theatrical. It’s an approach I really appreciated. The movie is helped by a widely misunderstood performance from Ryan Gosling who is understated by design and hardly without an emotional underpinning. It makes for a wonderful study of an iconic American figure.

Trace10

Talk about a movie I wish more people would see. Director and co-writer Debra Granik’s subtly piercing father/daughter drama left an impression on me and I have felt its emotional tug since. Granik (who gave us “Winter’s Bone”) once again gets down on the most human of levels and does it through a segment of our population on the fringes. Ben Foster’s performance is powerful in its restraint, but it’s newcomer Thomasin McKenzie who shines brightest. She’s the emotional anchor and it’s impossible to not be moved by her story.

Wildlife10

I’ve long had reservations about Paul Dano the actor. I have no such reservations when it comes to Paul Dano the director. “Wildlife”, his directorial debut, sees him telling a piercing family story with the delicacy and precision of a seasoned filmmaker. A very good Ed Oxenbould is our eyes. Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic. But this is really Carey Mulligan’s show. She brilliantly cracks open her character and works a wide range of emotions to give form to her many complexities. It’s one of the year’s best performances from one of the year’s best movies.

Scruggs10

Whenever the Coen brothers make a movie it automatically has my attention. “Buster Scruggs” shows the siblings flexing their creative freedoms in ways we haven’t seen before. The movie is an anthology – six short stories with very different flavors but each connected with a familiar thematic throughline. While its structure is unconventional, even a bit wacky, it’s unquestionably a Coen brothers film. You’ll find their dense wordplay, beautiful visuals, and quirky sense of humor stamped all over this thing.

MI Fallout10

In a year where independent films shined the brightest for me, it’s a big budget blockbuster that was my easy choice for best of the 2018. “M:I – Fallout” tops my list for a very simple reason – it is easily the most fun I had at the theaters this year. It is exactly what I want from a blockbuster. While the action is exhilarating and the thrills non-stop, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie never shortchanges his story or his characters. For me it sets a high bar not just for the franchise itself but for what blockbusters can and should be.

There you have it. Please let me know what you think in the comments section below. What did I get right and where did I go wrong? I would love to hear you thoughts. Lets do it again next year!

Random Thoughts on the 2018 Golden Globes Nominations

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And just like that awards season is upon us and the first big announcement (and precursor to the Oscars) comes from the Hollywood Foreign Press. The Golden Globe nominees were announced this morning and to call it a headscratcher would be an understatement. These awards are whatever you make of them. Sure they are flattering but this year more than any shows why I take them with a grain of salt. Here are a few random thoughts…

  • First and foremost where the heck is Ethan Hawke? He gives what is probably his most acclaimed performance in “First Reformed”. It’s easily one of the year’s best performances and its glaring omission is just nuts.
  • Speaking of “First Reformed” apparently the entire movie failed to leave a mark on the HFPA. And considering some of the other nominations that’s pretty sad. But more on them later.
  • “Black Panther” gets a Best Picture nomination, something that was pretty much carved in stone back in February. I’m all for superhero movies getting a seat at the table. But as time has passed “Black Panther”, while still really good, hasn’t stuck with me like a Best Picture nominee should.
  • “A Star is Born” is one of the biggest non-surprises of the announcements. It grabbed big nominations in the drama categories – Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and of course Best Song. That’ll surely give the film’s strong fan base a movie to root for.
  • But arguably the best performance of “A Star is Born” came from Sam Elliott yet no nomination for him.
  • Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” is considered an Oscar front-runner but due to a rather dopey rule it is deemed inelligible for the Best Picture category. Still it managed to nab a Best Picture – Foreign Language, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. Can’t wait to see it on December 14th.
  • It looks like “Vice” led the way with six nominations. It kinda makes sense. David McKay’s hyper-political Dick Cheney biopic is sure to tickle the fancy of many of those casting the votes.
  • Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” had a big morning getting getting nominations in the Best Picture, Best Actor, Supporting Actor, and Director category. It’s a pretty good movie but I’m on the fence with it. Not sure if it’s awards worthy.
  • And while John David Washington is very good, beating out Hawke for a nomination leaves me scratching my head. But why put it on Washington who I really enjoyed? Instead, I would toss Hedges who was fine but nothing particularly mind-blowing.
  • While not a perfect movie “The Hate U Give” is a piercing drama with a more grounded perspective than Spike Lee’s joint. I felt it was an underseen movie and it could be that the Globes verifies that. It was left high and dry.
  • “The Hate U Give” also features a brilliant supporting turn from Russell Hornsby – a performance that certainly deserved a nomination.
  • Not much love for Damian Chazelle’s “First Man”. Claire Foy earned a Supporting Actress nomination but that’s about it. Such a shame.
  • Speaking of “First Man”, nothing for Ryan Gosling for his portrayal of Neil Armstrong. I still believe it to be one of the most misunderstood performances of the year. Quiet for sure, but hardly without an emotional drive.
  • There is actually a tough competition for Best Animated Feature. I’ll be rooting for Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” but it will have to fend off heavyweights “Incredibles 2” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet”.
  • The Timothee Chalamet love continues. This year he is nominated for “Beautiful Boy” which should surprise no one. Essentially he is the new Jennifer Lawrence from a few years back. Good young actor but maybe a little overhyped?
  • Aaaaand “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a movie that provoked a fairly mixed reaction yet it wakes up to a couple of big nominations. Best Picture and Best Actor? Really? It results in some pretty great performances and pretty great movies missing out.
  • Nothing for the Coen Brothers and their excellent “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”. It’s certainly not a mainstream movie but I still feel it’s one of the year’s best.
  • Great to see Elsie Fisher  get a nomination for “Eighth Grade”. It’s such a strong performance in a year full of rich performances from young newcomers. But Best Actress – Musical or Comedy? Sure, there are amusing moments but it’s hardly a straight-up comedy.
  • “The Quiet Place” seems to have lost some of its umph but I still adore that film. It’s a shame to see it all but forgotten here.
  • While there are a lot of compelling names in the actress categories I guess the big question is which one of them will be knocked out come Oscar time for Meryl Streep’s obligatory spot?
  • “Crazy Rich Asians” was a surprisingly fun little movie. But as with several other nominated films I hardly see it as an awards caliber movie. Is this the HFPA’s attempt at reaching out to a broader audience? Will the Academy follow in their footsteps?
  • And nothing for “You Were Never Really Here”, a fantastic movie from director Lynne Ramsay. She is one of several female filmmakers with strong 2018 movies who couldn’t penetrate the male-dominated Best Director category.

So that’s it from me. The Golden Globes air on Sunday, January 6th. Personally, this year I’m more amped for the Independent Spirit Awards.