Weingrad rates the movies of 2018

Continuing America’s oldest tradition, one day before the 91st Academy Awards!

For posterity:

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

Les’go!

12. First Reformed:

First reformed

First Reformed is not only the best performance of Ethan Hawke’s career, but represents a fine look at the modern cross-section between religion and science in today’s world. A pastor of the small-town congregation is asked to intervene in the marital troubles of a young couple (Amanda Seyfried and Philip Ettinger) who happen to be environmental activists. But it’s the husband who has increasingly radicalizization and paranoia as a result of the advocacy that is the source of their problems. While he’s the one in need of spiritual guidance from Rev. Ernst Toller (Hawke) the enlightenment ends up being the other way around. As he bonds with Seyfried along the way, we witness Toller begin to feel the pressures mounting on him from his superiors and from his declining health, as he comes to grips of what is an increasingly complex world. It’s a stellar drama, though not a movie Mike Pence would enjoy.

11. The Favourite:

Favourite

When Yorgos Lanthimos is involved, you know things are going to get weird. That being said,Tthe Favourite might be his most mainstream movie yet. And, paradoxically, people who are used to only seeing mainstream movies will be the ones most likely to find the Favourite to be weird. Anyway, the 18th century dark comedy period piece takes some historical liberties as it depicts the bizarre relationship between Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) and her two handmaidens (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone), which involves sexual liaisons, politicking and betrayal. The film really relies on the strength of its main female leads. Coleman took home the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a comedy, and while she’s worthy of winning the Oscar, I think it’s Glenn Close’s prize to lose for her excellent work in The Wife.

10. A Quiet Place:

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When you see a movie early in the year and it sticks without several months later, you know it’s a good one. A Quiet Place doesn’t trouble us by explaining why the world it takes place in is post-apocalyptic, but instead enthralls us with something different entirely: silence. The twist that the aliens who’ve taken over have ultra-sensitive hearing, meaning those who survive are the ones who can stay the quietest. This detail puts more pressure are the film’s actors, who must communicate and emote simply through their body language in order to entertain the viewers. John Krasinski, who also directed the film, and Emily Blunt are more than up for the task. The film is captivating and gut-wrenching. Blunt surprisingly won Best Supporting Actress at the Globes, but failed to receive an Oscar nomination. It doesn’t detract from her great work here.

9. Vice:

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Director Adam McKay made no secret of his lack of empathy for Wall Street bankers in 2015’s The Big Short, a film that better helping us to understand the underpinnings of the economic recession of 2011. This time around, he gives us his probably mostly true yet revisionist history of why former vice president Dick Cheney is the root of all our contemporary problems. The movie pulls no punches, portraying Cheney as a conniving, cold, half-hearted political conspirator whose inner circle of cronies hijack the Bush administration to influence policy. Basically, he portrays Cheney as the exact person we all assumed him to be. The film will certainly be polarizing, but Christian Bale showcases every bit of his ability to transform himself and become a character. He’ll be Rami malek’s main competition to win Best Actor.

8. First Man:

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First Man is an intimate story about an international milestone that gained so much attention that everyone who lived through it could tell you exactly where they were when it happened. But if you just awoke from a 50-year coma and were just learning about the moon landing through this film, you’d have never known that an entire world was contemporaneously waiting on bated breath. The biopic never loses its focus as we see the events completely through Neil Armstrong’s perspective, and how tragedy throughout his life motivated him to achieve international renown. When he accomplishes it, there’s no shots of a NASA control booth celebrating, no shots of families sitting on the edge of their seats in their living rooms; it’s just Neil, in space, taking in an emotional moment that was years in the making. Excellent cinematography and direction by Damien Chazelle and a fine performance by Ryan Gosling help make First Man one of the most underrated films of 2018.

7. Bohemian Rhapsody:

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Bohemian Rhapsody and a Star is Born will be compared until the end of time, simply because they came out in the same year and both involve music. But while A Star is Born is about fictional musicians, Bohemian rhapsody is a musical biopic of the legendary Freddy Mercury and his band Queen. The film follows your standard biopic formula, blasting through Queen’s greatest hits along the way, but it does it immaculately. Rami Malek delivers a show-stopping performance as the dynamic frontman and will be fully deserving of an Oscar if he does indeed win it. Since Queen is a band that’s pretty universally liked, it’s no mystery why this movie was so popular.

6. The Rider:

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The Rider received tremendous praise across the board when it was released in early 2018, and then people just kind of forgot about it. I wondered if it may get a little buzz come award season, but apparently the Academy’s desire to reward films of all styles and all budgets has not stretched to rural South Dakota — at least not yet. The Rider centers around life in one of the nation’s most desolate frontiers, where there isn’t much to do but honest manual labor, drink a few beers, and enjoy some bull riding. For our main character, Brady Jandreau (the excellent Brady Blackburn), bull riding is all he knows. But a major injury forces him to give it up, and without it his life lacks meaning. What makes this movie so special is that it comprises first-time actors who are actual bull-riding South Dakotans. And yet, the acting is phenomenal. It’s also a rare, cinematic glimpse into a lifestyle that most city dwellers and suburbanites (like me) can’t even fathom. Films like the Rider are the reasons why cinema exists.

5. If Beale Street Could Talk:

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Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight didn’t receive quite as much fanfare, but it’s still damn good. It’s every bit artistic and moving as the 2016 Best Picture winner, and every bit as depictive of black life in America. It might even be too artsy for some people’s tastes. Centered around a young couple (Kiki Lane and Stephan James) in love in New York whose lives are torn apart by a wrongful conviction, If Beale Street Could Talk enchants with its acting, dialogue, score and direction. The film got little love from the Oscars, but it’ll make up for it when it awards Regina King a trophy for Best Supporting Actress.

4. A Star is Born:

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The ending of a Star is Born hits you with such a punch to the gut that my immediate reaction while the credits were rolling was: “I need a strong drink right now.” Which is the goal of any movie, right? To make you feel something. Anyway, my view of this film has evolved by the day. When it was 75% done as I was watching it in theaters, I thought it was dragging and longed for it to end. Then the ending happened, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Weeks later, I wondered if I was overrating the movie because of the likeable chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, the allure of its hit song “Shallow,” and the emotional conclusion. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that A Star Is Born is worthy of all the praise, and will be remembered as a classic with a long-lasting impact. My biggest takeaway, though, is that when the actors aren’t singing or performing, the movie is almost dead silent. It lays all the dialogue and acting completely bare, and it succeeds because of it. It’s probably the most mainstream movie of the year, and awards for “Shallow” the past few months officially puts Bradley Cooper on EGOT alert. Lady Gaga, too.

3. BlacKKKlansman:

BlacKkKlansman

When Spike Lee hits, he hits. Sadly, it’s just been a while. But Spike is in his element when he’s delivering a searing critique on contemporary issues. He burst on the scene with Do the Right Thing and he opened “Malcolm X” with footage from the Rodney King beating not long after it happened, long before we knew it would become a revolutionary moment in our country’s modern racial reckoning. Heck, he even did a movie in 2000 about blackface. It’s criminal it took this long for him to receive a directing Oscar nomination. In BlacKKKlansman, Spike Lee takes a little-known piece of history involving the Klu Klux Klan and turns it into an entertaining and surprisingly funny film, involving two police agents, one of them black (John David Washington the latter, and Adam Driver). It’s certainly a satisfying watch, if at times frustrating, especially when it ends with footage from a well-known press conference in 2018 from the most ignorant man to ever be elected president.

2. Green Book:

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The feel-good movie of the year we all didn’t know we needed. Sure, Green Book may present a “white view” of race relations in the U.S., and to some critics, may conflate ignorance with tolerance, but, let’s just relax. It’s a movie and it’s trying to send a positive message. It’s a road trip film of blue collar Italian immigrant Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) escorting black pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) across the south during the pre civil rights era. A good number of white people – myself included – probably had zero idea that a “green book” even existed, and our privilege prevented us from thinking about why it was even necessary. Green Book reminds us and educates, even if it’s just a movie. And Ali and Mortensen are phenomenal, the former of which is the probably the front-runner for another best supporting actor win.

1. Roma:

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“Blah blah blah, of course he chose Roma as #1! It’s a foreign film, it’s black-and white, and it’s getting a ton of buzz. What a cop out!” No. Just no. Roma is a very deliberate film, particularly in its first half, but that’s because it’s developing a setting and a story. We are getting to know our main characters and see the day-to-day workings of their lives and the those of the ones who take care of them for a living. But even if you’re not completely enthralled, it’s almost impossible not to admire the filming techniques Alfonso Cuaron utilizes: long-take wide angle shots, where the camera slowly pans around a room where we see seven or eight people at work. For minutes at a time, the camera is rarely focused on one single character. The scene where the characters view the street rebellion from a shop window is a masterpiece that should be studied in film schools. The Acdamy did a nice job recognizing actresses Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira , and I’d bet my next paycheck that you’ll see Roma take home best picture and Cuaron win for directing.

Oh look. Russia is doing bad things. Again.

I’ve said on more than one occasion that we are not only embarking on another Cold War, but that we are in one. Right now.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the conclusion of the Cold War, there was a brief glimmer of hope that Russia under Boris Yeltsin would turn into a true democratic state.

Those illusions turned murky, at best, when former KGB agent Vladimir Putin rose to power, and nearly two decades later, Russia and the Soviet Union are only different by name.

Russia is meddling in elections, they’re starting and exacerbating proxy conflicts to expand their regional and international influence, and, in yet another instance of their malice, they’re continuing to inflict harm on their citizens who present a threat to the current regime.

Numerous cases have arose where Russians who have opposed Putin have wound up sick or dead. The most famous case was Alexander Litvenenko, a former Russian agent critical of Putin who was poisoned with a rare radioactive metal. An investigation later concluded that it was probably ordered by Putin.

Now, in a another case that has rattled Britain, a former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned on British soil last week using a nerve agent. Moscow is suspected to be behind it — duh — and Britain’s reaction is expected to be severe and stern.

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With each passing day, it becomes increasingly inconceivable why it needs to be explained to people why Russian behavior matters. As an explosive and unprecedented special counsel investigation intensifies stateside, the domestic conversation still revolves around whether the inquiry is politically motivated, rather than what we are going to do about Russia.

And that’s truly hard to fathom.

If the Soviet Union made a power grab to assert its geopolitical dominance at any point between 1950 and 1990, no American would question whether they deserve to be punished and held accountable.

In the 21st century, however, it appears that nearly half of America is wholly indifferent towards Russia’s actions.

Watch how Britain responds to what happened. Let’s see if their politics becomes embroiled in partisan squabbling. And this is the U.K. we’re talking about — the country that impulsively decided to leave the European Union. That we’re looking to them to set an example in international policing says a lot.

Russia is bad. That much needs to be established.

Robert Mueller has already indicted 13 Russian nationals, with very specific detail, about how they tried to influence the 2016 election. This isn’t partisan anymore.

And if people still need reminding, let’s sit down in a movie theater, use a device to prevent their eye lids from blinking a la Malcolm McDowell in Clockwork orange, and make them watch Rocky IV on repeat until they get the message.

Remember, friends don’t let friends poision former spies.

Bad, Russia. Bad.

Weingrad rates the movies of 2017

You didn’t think I would forget to do this, would you? Enjoy the Oscars!

For reference:

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

12. Coco:

Coco_(2017_film)_poster

It’s always an internal struggle to decide the final movie to crack the prestigious Top 12, and ultimately my decision came down to what film will stay with me the longest. And Coco is just so damn heartwarming that watching it to its conclusion is like receiving an injection of feel-good chemicals to the brain. It’s a fantasy film taking place in Mexico on the Day of the Dead – very similar to the 2016 film The Book of Life, which its fans certainly noticed – where a young musician, Miguel, accidentally crosses into the Afterlife and can only return by receiving a reprieve from an ancestor. Plot twists ensue in which Miguel meets family members who he can and cannot trust. There’s good music, beautiful animation and a plenty of sentiment, adding Coco to the pantheon of Pixar films that can be enjoyed by both adults and children, and in my case, 30-year-olds who watch alone in their bedroom on their laptop. It’s a shoo-in for Best Animated Picture.

11. Mudbound:

Mudbound_(film)

At times slow-paced and plodding, but ultimately highly moving and poignant, Mudbound tells the stories of two families in the antebellum South in the immediate post-WWII era, each of which contain a young man (Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell) who have just returned from combat. Mudbound pulls no punches in showing the severe racial disparities of the era, with each of the men experiencing vastly different treatment from their neighbors. However, the two men meet and find kindred spirits in one another, forming an unlikely friendship and creating the impetus that sets the film’s plot in motion. Mary J. Blige in a supporting role was the lone acting Oscar representative in this vastly underrated and important film, and director Dee Rees deserves more attention not only for this film, but her previous work. Something tells me her best is yet to come.

10. Wind River:

Wind_River_(2017_film)

Another criminally underrated film from 2017. Wind River centers around a federal wildlife worker (Jeremy Renner) who gets recruited into a homicide investigation on a Wyoming Indian preservation. Braving fierce environmental conditions alongside a neophyte, fish-out-of-water FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen), the pair untangle a series of clues that eventually lead them toward the perpetrator(s). The story never relents in its suspense and intrigue, showcasing the desolate landscape the and proud lives of Native Americans who live on it, culminating in a breathtaking climax. Most importantly, the movie delivers a powerful message about the indomitable spirit of humankind. A must-see.

9. Lady Bird:

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I’ll admit, I was waiting for the movie to “hook me” while I was initially watching it … and then it ended. There is no doubt that the film comprises some fantastic performances from its leads, Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf and Lucas Hedges, as well as some highly enjoyable dialogue, penned by Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut. As the film centers on a mother-daughter relationship, it’s likely the film will resonate more with female viewers. But I still view the film in extremely high regard because I think it will age well over and time and be worth watching again.

8. The Big Sick:

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Who didn’t love this movie? The Big Sick is based on the true life romance of Pakistani comedian and immigrant Kumail Nanijani and his white girlfriend Emily (Zoe Kazan), a relationship that his orthodox parents strongly disapprove of. Their budding romance has its typical ups and downs, but then takes a significant turn when Kate contracts a mysterious illness and lapses into a coma. The movie, while heavy at times, has the perfect amount of comedic brevity while also treading carefully around racial tension so prevalent in America. It’s definitely a film that even the most ignorant of people can find empathy in. If they choose to watch it, that is. (#MAGA?) It also features great performances by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents.

7. Phantom Thread:

Phantom_Thread

Sometimes a movie just pulls the viewer so far into a world that you forget that what you’re watching isn’t real life. The scenery, setting and overall attention-to-detail created by Paul Thomas Anderson in this period piece is entirely engrossing. Daniel Day Lewis brilliantly portrays an immensely accomplished and talented, yet fiercely stubborn dressmaker who is unnerved by even the slightest alteration to his routine lifestyle. But he meets his match when he meets and falls in love with Alma (Vicky Krieps). It’s worth watching for Daniel Day Lewis’s performance alone.

6. The Shape of Water:

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It’s always a welcome sign to the movie industry when Guillermo Del Toro is on top form. Pan’s Labyrinth remains, to this day, among the best films of the 21st century. The Shape of Water does not reach that level, but it bares many similarities and is right in Del Toro’s wheelhouse – Cold War era, nonhuman creatures, and a vulnerable protagonist that’s easy to root for. In a way, the Shape of Water deals with many of the issues that are brewing in today’s America – empathy for “The Other.” Phenomenal acting across the board by Oscar-nominated Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer, as well as Michael Shannon as the bad guy, and a compelling story make this a supernatural thriller that many will enjoy.

5. Get Out:

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It takes a special type of movie to be released in late February, a time period typically shelved by studios for non-award contenders, and carry enough popularity and acclaim into the following year to land Best Picture, Best Director and Best Leading Actor nominations at the Academy Awards. And Get Out was that special type of movie. Anyone who watched Key & Peele on Comedy Central knew it was not just another sketch show. This was a creation of two brilliant comics who’d become masters of their craft, and who were astute observers of cinema. The production quality of their skits was top notch. And if only we knew that their show was a breeding ground for what’s to come. Get Out is a masterpiece in several regards: in acting, score, plot, theme, all the while playing with the subtleties of racial tension that exist in today’s America. Everything about it is brilliant. Daniel Kaluuya won’t win, but scoring an acting nomination is a huge accomplishment and should help boost what promises to be a successful career. Get Out isn’t just one of the biggest surprises of the year – it’s one of the biggest surprises ever.

4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri:

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The front-runner for Best Picture at Saturday’s Academy Awards. What I personally enjoyed most about the film was that not only is it a compelling story, but that it involves several well-developed characters. Rather than following the simple formula of introducing a protagonist and having every other character revolve around him or her, Three Billboards gives you a handful of well-rounded characters who actually earn our emotional attention and response. And while many people will be dissatisfied by the ending, I had no problem with it. To me, the real message of the movie is that though we may each have our own problems, but regardless of how valid they may be, everyone else has problems too. Look for Frances McNormand and Sam Rockwell to bring home some bling tonight.

3. Call Me by Your Name:

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Just a beautiful, beautiful film. Beautiful landscapes. Beautiful acting by breakout star Timothee Chamalet, as well as Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg. It’s a gay love story in 1980s Italy between a professor’s (Stuhlbarg) visiting graduate student (Hammer), and the professor’s son (Chalamet). What makes the film so wonderful is the authenticity and the raw emotion that is prevalent throughout. It’s also easy for the viewer to fall in love with the film’s setting, the northern Italian countryside in summertime. But the heartbreaking romance between the two men is what will stay with you. What did Lin Manuel Miranda say? Love is love is love is … you get it.

2. The Post:

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As a former journalist, I’m a sucker for movies about the newspaper industry that are done right. I picked Spotlight as my #1 film in 2015, and now The Post received the penultimate rank three years later. It’s a highly fascinating story in history that not enough people are aware of, involving the Vietnam War and the most prominent act of whistle-blowing in American history, all on the eve of the Watergate Scandal. At the center of the story is the Washington Post, a paper struggling to regain its national stature when it receives highly classified government material that sets it on a collision course with President Nixon and his administration. It’s up to the Post’s first female publisher (Meryl Streep) to decide if they publish it. It’s taking place in the early ’70s, but it might as well have happened today, with relevant issues such as freedom of the press, an overreaching president, and a women’s struggle in the male-dominated workplace taking center stage. Steven Spielberg takes us right into the bustling newsroom as these decisions are made in real time, and we’re treated to wonderful performances by Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk and Streep. A dark horse for Best Picture.

1. Dunkirk:

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When the backdrop is World War II, it’s easy for a filmmaker to try to do too much. But in this case Christopher Nolan keeps it simple. We’re on the beaches of Dunkirk, in that history-changing pocket of time when the French and British armies were surrounded by German troops, and on the verge of surrender. But Nolan takes us right onto the shore, immersing us with the urgency and tension of the situation, with German bomber planes constantly raining fire on the suffocated troops. But we hardly see any Germans, aside from a brief opening scene and a few airborne shots. Instead, we are one of these hopeless soldiers, awaiting a miraculous rescue that would change the course of history. You already know the outcome, but the film is so thrilling that you will think that you’re experiencing it in real time and unsure how it will end. A long shot for Best Picture, but not an impossibility. An outstanding cinematic achievement, this film will age very well over time, with its #1 ranking indelibly marked at the Weinblog.

On the outside looking in:

I, Tonya: Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding is a slam dunk across the board. Just in time for the Winter Olympics, I, Tonya reminded America of one of one of the craziest and scandalous pop culture stories ever. Tonya Harding’s “hit” on Nancy Kerrigan was one of the most talked about events of the ‘90s, and I, Tonya delivered the story in a unique and self-deprecating way that most viewers will find entertaining. Alison Janney will likely reap the rewards from the fim’s success with a Best Supporting Actress win, but a dressed down Margot Robbie is who steals the show.

mother!: This movie may confuse a lot of people at first, since its events become increasingly outlandish and unrealistic, but further thought will help you realize that film is one giant religious allegory. I personally was captivated from start to finish, and while Javier Bardem and a supporting cast of Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris and Domhnall Gleeson are good, the movie is carried by the phenomenon that is Jennifer Lawrence. Even though what’s happening may seem crazy, her human reactions to what’s unfolding actually makes it all believable.

The Darkest Hour: The Darkest hour had the unfortunate timing of being released in the shadow of another WWII drama, Dunkirk. But it still holds its own, thanks almost entirely to the outstanding performance of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. We watch as English leadership struggles to navigate its way through an increasingly bleak war. In steps Churchill to save the day. History buffs will be very satisfied.

The Disaster Artist: On the surface, a story about one of the worst films in modern history doesn’t sound too appealing, but James Franco and his pals managed to make it both highly intriguing and hysterically entertaining. Franco, who became engulfed in controversy amid the #MeToo movement, is spot on as the mysterious, cult icon Tommy Wiseau, managing to capture the man’s severe eccentricities, and at the same time, his unwavering determination.

Split: Just when you thought M. Night Shyamalan was completely washed up, he comes back with a vengeance and gives us Split. Sure, it may set back the public perception of people with split personality disorders for years, but nobody can deny that this movie is genuinely thrilling and entertaining, thanks in large part to a tour de force performance by James McAvoy. The film probably doesn’t succeed without him. That being said, it also wouldn’t have been quite as good without breakout star Anya Taylor Joy, who plays one of the girls who is kidnapped by McAvoy’s eerie character.

Other 2017 films worth watching:

The Florida Project: From the writer/director of 2015’s Tangerine, The Florida Project gives us a version of America from a much maligned group: the destitute. But we see it mostly through the eyes of young kids, experiencing briefly what it’s like to live to of a grimy motel. For the adults, it’s paycheck-to-paycheck uncertainty and misery. For children, it’s a playground. It’s really an astonishing film that a lot of people probably won’t want to see. Williem DaFoe gives arguably his best performance ever, and it’s a shame he’ll lose Best Supporting Actor to Sam Rockwell.

Goodbye Christopher Robin: This film should have gotten a lot more love. It’s somewhat of a coming of age story under quite unique circumstances, with Domhnall Gleeson portraying A.A. Milne, as we see the inspiration for beloved children’s story Winnie the Pooh. While one may anticipate this being a happy movie, we learn that the events actually ruined the life and childhood of his son, who was the inspiration for Christopher Robin. It’s an excellent story full of wonder, but the somberness may have been the reason this film never caught on.

The Greatest Showman: This is just a fun and entertaining movie from start to finish. Hush Jackman plays P.T. Barnum, and the musical tells the story how he came to create and popularize the P.T. Barnum circus, which sadly shut down for good a year ago. The Original music — by the acclaimed songwriters behind La La Land’s and Dear Evan Hansen’s respective scores — is the reason to see this movie. It’s all super catchy and performed well by its musicians. Look for the performance of “This is Me” by Keala Settle to steal the show at the Oscars tonight.

Molly’s Game: Written by Aaron Sorkin and starring Jessica Chastain? How can this not  be good? Molly’s Game is full of highly entertaining and fast paced dialogue, a Sorkin specialty, but also provides us with just a very interesting story: a high end New York City poker game whose hostess gets up in federal racketeering charges. I enjoyed it.

Brigsby Bear: Easily one of the best indie films of the year. Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney plays, well… basically himself. Brigsby Bear is about a 30-something manchild who gets rescued after he spent his entire life in the custody of kidnappers, who, while they didn’t necessarily mistreat him, awkwardly raised him by showing him a made-up TV show called Brigsby Bear. Now rescued, our heroic manchild sets out to create his own Brigsby movie with the help of a dissatisfied police officer, his sister and her friends. it’s out there … but worth seeing.

Baby Driver: Definitely the flashiest movie of the year. A high powered cast of Ansel Elgort, John Hamm, Jamie Foxx, the now-disgraced Kevin Spacey and Lily James deliver us a fun film involving good-looking people, car chases and plenty of action. Look for it to win some technical Oscars tonight.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer: For any students of non-mainstream films, anything by Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos is mandatory viewing. This compelling, borderline disturbing film involves an accomplished surgeon (a good Colin Ferrell) whose family becomes ensnared in a puzzling, supernatural hex derived by a young man of questionable sanity, who is outstandingly played by Barry Keoghan. Challenge yourself one day and give it a whirl.

The Lost City of Z: Based on the excellent book by investigative reporter and author David Grann, The Lost City of Z almost takes an ethereal, mystical look at the life of explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the early 20th century trying to discover a lost civilization — “Z” — in the Amazon Jungle.

Stronger: Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, the well-known survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing who lost both of his legs in the explosion. The film is far from perfect, but Gyllenhaal is really good in this movie that provides an uplifting look at someone whose life took a major turn for the worst.

Detroit: The movie that zero conservatives will see. The film focuses on the notorious 1967 Detroit riots at the peak of racial tensions amid the Civil Rights movement. The story centers on a highly controversial occurrence that took place in a motel regarding a group of young people — mostly black — who were allegedly terrorized by police. I say allegedly because the true events are still unclear, and director Kathryn Bigelow uses creative liberties in telling it. Still, it’s a highly suspenseful, captivating and important film, and a highly relevant one, at that.

A Ghost Story: Casey Affleck, who wears a white bed sheet over his body for 90 percent of the film, gives his best performance to date. Just kidding. But not really. A Ghost Story goes heavy on the themes of death, time and space, and may leave some viewers frustrated and scratching their head. But it tries to be artistic, and I think it deserves the benefit of the doubt. it’ll certainly spark some type of emotion, at the very least. And after all, isn’t that the true purpose of art?

Beach Rats: An absolute breakout performance by English actor Harris Dickinson drives this film, which is about a teenager growing up in Brooklyn while dealing with his own sexuality. The whole film is very well done, but Dickinson is the draw here. His New York accent sounds so authentic that I never would have guessed he’s not from this country. If you skip this film because you’re uncomfortable watching gay scenes, then you’re not only ignorant but depriving yourself of a great film.

Last Flag Flying: I added a bonus film because Last Flag Flying, while ultimately forgettable, is a nice watch that carries a lot of emotion. It’s about three old Vietnam war buddies, well played by Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne, after one of their sons is killed in action. They take a road trip together to bury him.

And now you’re caught up. Enjoy the show! And maybe I’ll blog again sometime this year.

Meanwhile, in Peru…

Peruvians have taken to the streets in recent days to voice their opposition to a pardon issued by president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to former President Alberto Fujimori, the 79-year-old disgraced former leader who was 10 years into a 25-year-prison sentence for human rights abuses committed while in office.

Among other things, military death squads believed to be mandated by Fujimori during his ten-rear reign from 1990 to 2000 are responsible for at least two dozen killings, including the slaying of nine college students in Lima in 1992 in an incident now known as the La Cantuta massacre.

Kuczynski categorically ruled out pardoning Fujimori when he ran for the presidency in 2016, a race he narrowly won, defeating Fujimori’s daughter Keiko Fujimori.

Though Kuczynski said he pardoned Fujimori for medical reasons – the former leader suffers from arrhythmia and tongue cancer – many, however, view it as a favor by Kuczynski towards Fujimori’s son, Kenji, another political leader who urged his party to abstain from a vote to impeach the current president one week ago over a graft scandal. The vote ultimately fell short of the supermajority needed, thanks in large part to those who abstained because of Kenji’s urgings.

Hence, Peruvians view the pardon as a backroom deal, motivating them to protest.

In a dramatic video posted to his Facebook page on Tuesday, Fujimori asked for forgiveness, acknowledging that he disappointed many of his countrymen.

Sympathy aside, human rights experts have rebuked the pardon, citing it as one of the few instances where a Latin American strongman was held accountable in a judicial proceeding for his grave actions.

And we think things are pretty screwed up here in America.

I always find it fascinating to read about the chaos that often envelops non-world powers, especially ones with nascent democracies, because it shows us how difficult it is to create a stable balance of power akin to the United States. It also underscored the importance of maintaining longstanding institutions to prevent a democratic backslide.

 It may be overdramatic to say that something like this would never happen in the United States (though many will argue that similar things are happening before our very eyes), but it is still extremely insightful to study them so that we can read the warning signs in case it ever happens in our own backyard.

And this concludes our discussion of Peruvian politics.

How the tax bill affects an already struggling Puerto Rico

By now I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of polarizing analysis about who the winners and losers of the partisan tax bill will be among the American people.

You’ve heard words like “corporations,” “middle class,” “healthcare,” and “CHIP.”

One side is declaring it the biggest tax cut in generations, while the other is hailing it as the worst bill in congressional history.

Welcome to politics in 2017.

The fact of the matter is that the bill is deeply unpopular. But the other truth is that the long-term impact of the bill is merely speculation at this point. Republican-favored “trickle down economics” rely on the notion that tax cuts to big businesses – coupled with a smaller and more hands-off federal government – will ultimately lead to more jobs, greater wages for workers, and thus more money circulating for everybody.

Keynesian principles favored by Democrats say that greater government spending funded by taxing the rich will better stimulate the economy.

So we’ll see what happens. It will be debated for a while and economists will argue for years to come.

But one thing that’s been overlooked in the bill is the impact it will have on Puerto Rico. Prior to this bill, businesses on the island were able to qualify for both foreign and domestic status in terms of manufacturing and tax rules.

Those stipulations resulted in pharmaceutical manufacturers to incorporate there to gain foreign subsidiaries but still promote their product as made in the U.S.A.

The new tax plan makes it so businesses in Puerto Rico will be treated the same as those operating outside the U.S. Meaning we are basically just treating Puerto Rico like it’s a foreign country.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, Puerto Rico produces more pharmaceutical drugs for the U.S. than any state or foreign country. The FDA estimates that pharmaceutical and medical-device manufacturing accounts for approximately 30 percent of the island’s GDP.

In other words, crippling this industry will devastate Puerto Rico’s economy, which is already in shambles. Basically, we’re kicking the island while it’s down.

As a result, Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello is now attempting to mobilize Puerto Ricans across the mainland U.S. to vote Republicans out of office in the 2018 election.

As person of half-Puerto Rican descent, I approve of this message.

Again, this is just one aspect of the tax bill that people probably will not hear about. So while we may not know the full ramifications of how this bill will affect the American economy in the long run, we can safely say it will deeply damage our friends across the pond.

Which, in turn, may bode poorly for Republicans in 2018.

Stay tuned.

For like … 11 months.

Why politics is the worst arena to adjudicate sexual harassers

There’s an odd paradox going on in America right now regarding the handing of sexual misconduct accusations. On one hand, dozens of notable celebrities, television personalities and executives are losing their jobs.

Correspondingly, the #MeToo movement has not lost an ounce of steam. By virtue of this, it certainly gives the impression that all those who have exhibited a pervasive pattern of sexual misbehavior are being held accountable.

Except … when they run for elected office.

Yes, we have seen some prominent elected representatives pledge to resign in recent days: civil rights icon John Conyers and once 2020 presidential contender Al Franken, both Democrats, as well as Republican Trent Franks, who apparently asked a colleague if he could carry his and his wife’s child.

(There’s sexual harassment, and then there’s that)

But then you have Roy Moore.

All eyes are on the Alabama special election tonight, as Moore, the Republican candidate who has faced more than a dozen accusations of sexual misconduct – some of which involved minors – may very well win tonight. Polling leading up to the race showed a dead heat.

Moore was a highly unfit candidate well before the accusations. He has been suspended from the federal judiciary twice, and he’s showed deep bigotry for homosexuals.

His Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, appears qualified, with lengthy experience as a federal prosecutor.

The only problem is he’s running in a deep red state.

If Roy Moore wins, which is extremely possible, what does that say about us? If he’s popularly elected, does it mean that we, as a society, don’t seriously care about sexual misconduct? That this movement is a fleeting one that will one day be lost in the annals of history?

How can we honestly say that this is a meaningful issue, and then go ahead and elect a man who has a history of sexual predation?

Even if Roy Moore loses, he’s still going to receive hundreds of thousands of votes, no?

So how do we rationalize this?

Personally, I think it exposes the problems with the two-party system. A minority of the electorate in this country are down-the-line, issue-by-issue Democrats or Republicans. We’re all independent in our own way, but happen to lean left or right in certain respects.

But with parties becoming extremely polarized, we are seeing candidates run on platforms that are edging closer and closer to the farthest ends of the spectrum.

And with Democrats and Republicans being the only candidates that matter in political races, it gives us no choice but to support one or the other. And then it makes us rationalize. We tell ourselves, “OK, I don’t care for this candidate’s view on X and Y, but he or she supports so and so. So I’ll vote for them.”

And this is why, in the Alabama senate race, concerns about sexual misconduct became entangled with every other political issue. So, as outsiders, we simply can’t look at this vote as a referendum on Roy Moore’s character. It’s still politics, at the end of the day.

but that begs the next question: how far will we take it? How much are we willing to overlook to support a single issue that’s super important to us?

One specific race last November gave us one indication. In a post-Harvey Weinstein era, however, we’re about to get an even bigger indication.

If Roy Moore wins, it certainly doesn’t end the #MeToo movement that has sent waves across America. But it certainly won’t help it.

Have times truly changed? Or, like everything else, are we still experiencing a slow, steady march towards progress that will not happen overnight?

Alabama, the ball is in your court.

In a post-Weinstein era, where do we go from here?

It was said almost immediately in early October, when dual articles in the New York Times and the New Yorker exposed an alarming pattern of inappropriate and abusive sexual behavior by film mogul Harvey Weinstein, that this was a watershed moment.

But it’s hard to tell if something truly is a watershed moment while it is happening. It’s the events and reactions that occur after that determine that.

Three months later, there’s no doubt it was a watershed moment, indeed.

Women have been racking their memories of all the times they have inappropriately harassed and kept their silence, the victims of an existing punitive culture that deterred women from speaking out against powerful men.

Men, conversely, have reflected on all the times that their behavior towards women may have crossed the line and if they, too, are guilty of sexual impropriety.

What’s different now is we’ve finally entered a new age where we, as a society at large, are ready to listen to women and accept their stories.

And my how the floodgates have opened. Kevin Spacey. Louis CK. Charlie Rose. Matt Lauer. The list goes on of men who have been publicly accused and subsequently lost their jobs, or faced punishment and public shaming.

My worry is that people will get lost in this cloud of constant accusations. I worry that the discussions will devolve to “Who’s next?” followed by, “Will he lose their job?”

Because if that is the case, then we lose the question that truly matters: Where do we go from here?

Moving forward, will we now live and work in an environment where men, knowing that they will be held accountable for their actions, will think twice before they act? Will we begin educating youths of the improper nature of sexual misconduct, even before they know what sex is – like we do with drugs?

What’s happening now will not matter if we don’t learn anything moving forward, and that is where conversations need to be directed.

Exposing people for their past behavior is a good start, but more important is making sure that this behavior doesn’t persist.

As far as how to deal with the accused, well, that’s another discussion. What we’ve obviously learned is that this issue is not black and white. When hearing about alleged misconduct, we need to decipher if the accused has exhibited a lifelong pattern of pervasive sexual misconduct, or if they made a mistake.

Will they vehemently deny the allegations and demean their accusers, or will they accept responsibility and strive to become a better person? Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves, and judge accordingly.

There’s a lot of ugliness being reported now. I’m sure there will be more accusations coming. But often, the brightest times emerge after the darkest storms.

Let’s hope there is brightness ahead.