On free speech

Using the Freedom of speech defense has long been a go-to for conservatives. Often, it’s used to weaponize their bigoted rhetoric under the guise of patriotism.

For instance, just this week, Trump cited freedom of speech to defend the Confederate flag.

However, there’s been quite a debate about free speech lately that’s cirulating throughout liberal circles following the publication of an open letter in Harper’s Bazaar signed by prominent scholars and writers accusing insitutions of discouraging open debate through a vicious “cancel culture.”

This is a tough one. In an era when we’re finally uniting to reckon with systematic racism and discrimination, it can be deflating that there’s more divide than we think among what we’d normally consider open-minded people.

As usual, I fall somewhere in the middle. People who spread hate should be called out and face the consequences for their words. And yet, sharing a thoughtful yet unpopular opinion shouldn’t cost people their livelihood.

This dilemma was recently highlighted in a fiasco that occurred in the board of the National Book Critics Circle— a forward-thinking institution. A written statement denouncing racism turned into a controversy that resulted in more than half the board resigning.

Overall, I agree with the letter writers. And what does it say about our culture when a letter promoting free speech and open debate becomes controversial?

It’s undoubtedly a good thing that we’re drawing a fence around acceptable and unacceptable concepts and ideas in today’s world. But who decides what’s in-bounds and what’s out out-of-bounds? Who’s the gatekeeper? This is what needs to be focused on.

Cancel culture does indeed stymie open and thoughtful debate. It also endorses an attack on the person rather than an idea. When JK Rowling explains her rationale behind her unpopular view on transgender identity, the reaction was to cancel JK Rowling rather than trying to dispute her reasoning.

Healthy debate is how you truly change minds. Cancelling some one does not.

Conservatives have been illiberal for years. Let’s not make it easy for them to deflect by going down that same path. After all, there’s no equivalency between racism and overzealous political correctness.

Freedom of speech will always be the most American of ideas. But it does not give you permission to say whatever you want without consequences.

Let’s call out hatred, bigotry, racism and discrimination for what it is, but let’s also remember who the real enemy is. And as mad and disappointed as some people are, the enemy is not JK Rowling.

Still not convinced? Well, if cancel culture was as mainstream in 2010 as it is now, I may have never started this blog. And if that was the case then … literally nothing in this world would be different.

Words can’t describe my contempt for states like Arizona, Florida and Texas

As someone who lives in New York City, once considered the epiccenter of Covid-19 in the United States, I can attest that mid-March through late April was one of the eeriest times in my life.

What was most terrifying was the uncertainty. With deaths racking up in China, Italy and Iran, and the scientific community scrambling to learn a virus totally new to medical literature, the only thing we could do was hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Restaurants and most shops shut down. Everyone was (and most still are) working from their homes. More and more of the brave folks who ventured outside were wearing masks until they became ubiquituous following the governor’s order.

At certain points, it became hard to fathom being on the other side of the curve.

But there were inspiring moments, too. Stories of people recovering after weeks in the hospital thanks to the tireless efforts of medical workers. Daily applause from residents at 7pm in salute of our healthcare professionals and all other essential workers who still were fulfilling their duties in the midst of a pandemic.

And here we are on July 10th. After recording 12,274 new cases statewide on April 4th (mind you, it was certainly much, much higher because testing wasn’t widely available then), we recorded 588 yesterday. Most shops are opened. People are less afraid to be out and about. We earned this.

We flattened our curve. How did we do it? Through solidarity.

We sufficiently quarantined. We wore masks, if not out of concern for our own health, out of respect for others. We socially distanced. We were led by a governor who was making decisions based on science and facts.

We made sacrifices for the benefit of the greater good. It wasn’t about us, it was about our parents, our grandparents, our neighbors. And here we are. Though the worst has passed in New York, nearly everyone in New York City is still wearing masks, even as the streets and sidewalks return to normal and more people are engaging in outdoor dining.

We all lived through this. We know people who have gotten sick, even died. We don’t want to be back where we are again.

And yet, if we do get there — it may not even be our own faults.

That same day, on April 4th, Texas had 793 new cases. They had 10,909 new cases yesterday.

Florida had 1,277 cases. Their new caseload hit 8,935 yesterday.

And Arizona. Oh Arizona. You may be coming around politically, but you’re conservative tendencies run deep. After logging 250 new cases on April 4th, they hit 4,073 new cases yesterday. Arizona currently has more new cases per million residents than any other country in the world. 

In fact, if every U.S. state was a country, then 15 of the 25 countries with the worst current caseloads would be from America. Thirty-seven states currently have rising cases.

What do those states have in common? Their leaders were indifferent on enforcing simple, proven protective methods like masks and social distancing, and were all open for business by early May.

This is absolutely maddening. Not only did these states have the example set by Europe to learn from, but they also had the Northeastern states in their own country to learn from. New York. Connecticut. New Jersey. New Hampshire. Massachusetts. States that took this virus seriously since day one.

If this isn’t a perfect storm of stupidity, ignorance and failure in leadership to the highest degree, I don’t know what is. Every resident in those states who now must fear for their elderly family members and their children should be pissed off. Heck, everyone should be pissed off. Because America can’t flatten their curve until all states flatten their curves.

New Zealand has eradicated Covid-19. Germany and Denmark reoopened schools without experiencing major setbacks and the rest of Europe is basically back up and running.

The United States, meanwhile, is failing. Indeed, the only countries that are still failing are either impoverished and underresourced, or led by wanna be autocrats. What terrific company we find ourselves in. Ya know, being the greatest country in the world, and all.

It’s not too late for these states to turn it around. But they have to realize that, to this point, they were wrong. They were wrong to reopoen to quickly. They were wrong to assume the economy is more important than people’s lives. They were wrong to think Covid-19 wouldn’t impact them.

Hubris can’t play a role, now. There’s too much at stake. Admit you were wrong, and do what’s right.

My local neighborhood bar finally opened with outdoor seating two weeks ago. It’s been the highlight of my summer so far. I it has to close again, I’m directly blaming you, Florida, Texas, Arizona, and all you other states who thought you were too cool to lock down.

Because when you dick around with a man’s neighborhood dive bar, that’s when it becomes personal.

 

 

Comparing the removal of statues to book burning is something I thought I’d never have to address

To make sure I don’t always exist inside of my own bubble 24/7, I do try to tune into 50+-year-old white people news, erm, I mean … conservative media … at least once a day. Ninenty-nine out of 100 times I glance through the headlines, perhaps start reading an article, and then finally ‘X’ it out with my blood boiling.

Mostly, it’s not even to balance my views. I’m an independent thinker and I don’t need to manufacture balance. If anyone has something interesting to say, I’ll consider it, and store it away somewhere in my brain for future use. Rather, I visit conservative media so I’m prepared if I ever find myself in a debate with someone and they catch me off guard by bringing up whatever the latest conspiracy theory that’s floating around.

But conservative media is rarely interesting. Instead, they’re more intent on criticizing the “radical left” and amplifying cultural wars because they know that’s what their readers want to hear. For white people who wish to maintain the status quo, reading coded racism as opposed to having to say it out loud and explicity being racist is their version of watching porn.

In all seriousness, if I do want an articulate conservative viewpoint on an issue, I usally read Wall Street Journal Op-Eds. I rarely agree with them, but they always at least make their arguments substantive.

Anyway, a talking point I’m hearing more and more on the conservative side is comparing protestors tearing down statues to Nazi book burning.

First of all, book burning in the ’30s and ’40s was an effective means of erasing history because there were fewer options at the time to educate oneself.

Now, we have the Internet. So if someone truly was engaging in 21st century “book burning,” they’d not only have to burn books, but would have to delete every educational website in the world. Information is ubiquitous. Not even the most narcissistic person thinks they have the ability to rewrite history.

Wikipedia literally eradicated book burning.

Also, introduce me to a single person who actuaally relies on statues for information? Even I’m a history buff and I get bored within seconds of reading a plaque. If you’re not someone who goes to a historical site with good intentions, only to become bored within five minutes, make an Instagram post to show the world how cultured you are, and then start looking up the nearest neighborhood dive bar on Google Maps, then we probably won’t be friends.

Secondly, removing statues isn’t like killing Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes. Killing them all doesn’t erase the originator. Removing a statue of George Washington does not suddenly mean George Washington wasn’t our first president and that he never existed.

However if that was true, it’s a horrifying thought that Harry Potter probably couldn’t even accomplish that if he tried. Who would’ve thought that hordes of angry white conservatives oversealously expressing their second amendment rights would be more daunting than the dark-arts-wielding Death Eaters?

As I wrote last week, there’s a stark difference between rewriting and reframing history. Of the hundreds of George Washington statues that exist in this country, who can argue that replacing a bunch of them with underrepresented figures in our history is a bad thing?

If the goal is to expand people’s horizons so they can gain new perspectives on our history, isn’t that the total opposite of book burning?

Also, let’s stop pretending that conservatives read. I’m sure they all own the Bible, but the idea that they’ve kicked off their shoes on a lazy afternoon and took on Dickens, Tolstoy or heck, even Dan Brown, is quite laughable.

That being said, I’m sure Dan Brown would be quite OK if we burned all the books he’s written post Angels and Demons and Da Vinci Code.

 

 

If health officials can’t convince people on Covid, what chance do we have against climate change?

Science has always been tricky.

We live in a world where people want to receive immediate answers. Where all of life’s problems can be summed up in a tweet.

That directly contradicts science, where facts are ascertained through weeks, months and sometimes years of observation.

So when it comes to a virus like Covid-19, which continues to flummox the world’s leading epidemiologists, there’s understandably been a public relations problem.

However, there’s arguably never been a time where the directive from scientists to the average person has never been more simple. They’re not asking people to understand the nuances between indoor or outdoor transmission, nor to comprehend how many aerosols are transmitted through speaking versus coughing. That’s for the scientists to figure out.

All we’re being told to do is wear a god damn mask.

By wearing a mask properly, it strongly decreases the likelihood of transmitting particles. It’s that simple. Aerosols leave your mouth and remain in your mask. Tah-dah.

And yet, people still refuse to believe it. Even worse, people simply choose to ignore it.

If Covid-19 has taught me anything, it’s that the concept of “individual liberty” has taken on a whole new meaning in 21st century America.

With Covid running rampant in states like Florida and Texas, states that never seemed to have taken this virus seriously from the beginning, one would think their residents and state officials would learn.

Apparently not.

So not only are we dealing with stupidity, not only are we dealing with ignorance, but we are also dealing with stubbornness.

It’s not enough to convince people of the science behind Covid-19. Once you do that, you also have to convince them why they need to sacrifice their individual liberty for the greater good.

And when we’ve gotten to that point, you wonder if there’s even a point.

If we can’t convice people to heed advice that’s so fundamentally simple, how in the world are we ever going to convince them that their actions need to be severely altered to keep our planet inhabitable for future generations?

People don’t want to take minuscule steps that will help them right now. Whereas I once has some small hope of our ability to combat climate change, the idea of all Americans suddenly investing in natural energy, fuel-efficient cars and embracing environmental regulations now seems laughable.

Greta Thunberg, I will follow you anywhere you lead me (and hopefully that’s towards a new nation inhabited only by climate change believers), but I’m afraid you’re preaching to a brick wall.

A brick wall painted red, white and blue with a dose of Confederacy.

How do we fix it? How do we suddenly get people to believe public health officials, especially when their guidance is being reported by the mainstream media, who our very own president has urged his own followers to regard as fake?

These are the consequences of living in a post-truth era. I still believe that activists will continue to push our country towards progress, but when it comes to climate change, will it be too late?

The battle may be more uphill than ever imagined.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying.

Because that’s what hope is, right? Believing in the greater good of something even when the odds are stacked against it?

Hope is doing what’s right to benefit everybody, even those who are actively fighting to stop you.

If only #45 and his supporters could ever see that.

On statues

Firstly, if you’re going to read anybody’s thoughts on the debate regarding the removal of Confederate statues, then leave this blog right now and read Caroline Randall Williams’s essay in the New York Times. It is the definitive piece on this issue.

Anyway, if you’re still here for some reason, I’ll continue.

In the past, I may have looked at this issue and responded, “Who cares? They’re just statues and they cost tens of millions of dollars annually to maintain. Just take them all down.”

But now, the newly-woke-but-still-groggy me knows that’s the “not racist” view of someone who is unaffected by this issue and thus chooses to ignore it.

Statues are more than just stone, concrete and medal. They’re emblems of how we wish to portray ourselves. We all choose our image carefully. How we present ourselves — be it the clothes we wear, the bumper stickers we put on our cars, tattoos, posters, Instagram photos — are all carefully orchestrated in large part to reflect how we wish to be perceived by others.

Statues are no exception.

Protestors are taking it upon themselves to do what lawmakers and the powers-that-be have failed to do: removing statues that recall a dark part of our history. And it’s not just here. A statue of a slave trader in England was recently discarded into a river, and in Belgium, a statue of King Leopold, whose legacy includes seizing and brutalizing the Congo, was removed by Belgian officials after it was vandalized.

There’s more than 1,000 Confederate statues remaining in the U.S. — glorifications of an era defined by violent oppression and bondage. And the plaques on these statues don’t talk about slavery. They usually even acknowledge the Civil War as the “War for State’s Rights.” Basically, they glorify these men as saints.

This is how we choose to be remembered?

A Facebook friend of mine — whom I was never actually friendly with in real life and whom I haven’t spoken to in more than 15 years — wrote recently that while he agreed with protestors rising up against police brutality, that he didn’t feel the need to protest until reports surfaced about people tearing down statues.

In other words, he values statues over people’s lives. (I would have de-friended him, but I simply unfollowed him because I can’t wait to see his reaction on Nov. 4 when Trump has lost the election.)

Removing a statue is not rewriting history. It’s reframing history. This country was built on the backs of the oppressed. If we want to truly tell our nation’s story, we need to know who those people were and hear their stories. If a state so badly wants to keep some of their less-problematic Confederate monuments, than adjust the plaque to let us know how he treated ALL people.

As for George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, yeah, they were our amongst our Founding Fathers, great. But they also owned slaves. I certainly never learned that in school. If somebody owned and oppressed other human beings, that’s usually one of the first things you learn about them.

If someone moved into the house next door and happened to own a person that they kept confined in their backyard, then I wouldn’t see my friends and tell them about my new neighbor by saying, “Yeah, he seems like a nice guy. He has a nice care, maintains his front yard nicely, likes to jog … oh, and he owns a human.” That’s detail number one.

We consider the Holocaust to be possibly the most evil act in human history, and everyone involved with it to be complicit, from Adolf Hitler, to the Gestapo, to the judges and administrators, to ordinary citizens who were members of the Nazi party and turned a blind eye to the whole thing.

Slavery, which lasted much, much longer, is not reflected upon in the same way. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “All men are created equal” knowing full well that those words would not apply to members of his own family. That’s cold.

And while it’s easy to retort that it’s unfair to judge the past through the moral lens of today, don’t forget that there were plenty of people living at that time who thought slavery was reprehensible.

Staues of presidents 1 and 3 should remain, but we certainly don’t need as many as there are now, and they should absolutely depict their full stories. And if people want to desecrate them, I’ll hand them the eggs.

And in place of these Confederate statues being removed, let’s idolize those who tell the better parts of our nation’s story: the abolitionists, those who fought for suffrage, those who dedicated their lives to helping others. Also, less white men. More women. More people of color. More Indegenous.

It’s not rewriting history.

For the first time, it’s telling our whole history.

Becoming not just “not racist,” but “anti-racist” — A reckoning with myself

There’s been fewer sustained periods of time where I’ve been prouder to be an American than this past month, in the wake of large-scale, universal prostests across this country demanding equality for black lives, the LGBTQ+ community and the indigenous, among others in our society who have been marginalized too long.

Essentially they’re calling for an end to the systematic racism this country was built on and continues to prey on.

And in that sense, this past month has arose an awakening in myself that, far too many times, I have been complicit.

I’ve always thought of myself as a tolerant person. I pride myself in reading books written by diverse voices. I’ve always questioned why it’s taken so long just to achieve universal equality in this country.

But I really wasn’t doing anything about it. On top of that, I’ve been benefitting from it. I almost certianly wouldn’t have the life I do today if my skin wasn’t white.

I grew up in a segregated suburban enclave in Merrick, Long Island with very little diversity. There’s no shortage of times when I’ve told people that I grew up in a “good neighborgood, not like those ones in Freeport or Roosevelt.”

I now know that’s coded racism.

I also now know that my sense of humor needs to be strongly rectified. I’ve always been someone who uses comedy as a mechanism. I prefer to be funny rather than serious. I enjoy being the one who provides levity to a situation and makes people laugh.

But because I considered myself tolerant, I always felt I was allowed to make joked that veered into the taboo, with the understanding that everyone around me knew that since I don’t really believe those things, then it’s OK.

No. Because when you’re somebody who has long benefitted from the marginalization of people whom you’re using as the butt of your joke, than it’s no longer a joke. It’s testimony of my privelege.

For the first time in years, I dug back into the Weinblog archives yesterday to see if there’s anything in this blog that might be problematic. I wasn’t so much worried about what I said, but how I said it.

Sure enough, I stumbled across a post in 2015 where I declared “All Lives Matter,” long before it was known in the mainstream to be an insensitive and racist response to Black Lives Matter.

While in the post I acknowledged racism in policing, it was simply my cynical and naive way to try to be a uniting voice amid troubling times. Of course in hindsight, it was my own stubornness to not realize the urgency of the matter, that black people in Ferguson were protetsing because lives were literally on the line, and that all lives can’t matter until black lives matter. I will never say all lives matter again.

I deleted the post. Not because I am trying to rewrite my own history, but because I refuse to let anyone stumble upon it and use it as a corroboration for their own racist beliefs.

Though I deleted it from the Internet, I’ll always remember it as a moment when I refused to acknowledge reality, and will use it as a motivation to better myself.

And I think that’s where we are now. Revolutions don’t occur until the people who aren’t affected join those who are. And now, for the first time in my lifetime, we’re seeing white people join people of color en masse to protest. And we’re seeing immediate results — albeit with a long way to go.

For the first time since I’ve been alive, I feel like the government is being run by the people, and not the other way around. And I hope, more than anything, that that sentiment is what prevails in the general election come November.

Like most people, I’ve learned it’s not enough to be not racist. We need to be actively anti-racist.

Here’s what I’ve done to try to better myself over the past month.

  • I’ve joined multiple Black Lives Matter protests in Brooklyn to show where I stand.
  • I’ve sought out black owned businessed so I can support them. Not once, but continously.
  • I’ve emailed all my federal representatives to ask them what they are doing to fight for racial equality.
  • I’ve read more than a dozen articles, by authors including Ta-Nehisi Coates and Nikole-Hannah Jones, to fill in gaps in my knowledge and perpective.
  • I’m listening to more podcasts that share the black experience.
  • I’m reading books, including The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein and How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, to continue to learn, with more on the horizon.
  • I’ve watching films and documentaries by black filmmakers, including Ava Duvernay’s “13th” and Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing,” and at the same time am fully realizing how underrepresented these voices are in Hollywood.
  • I’m being more vocal on social media without worrying about “taking a political stance,” because equality is not political.
  • And I’m having conversations with people I associate with — mostly white — to learn how we can all do better colelctively.

This list is by no means to toot my own horn, but to try and determine what more I can do.

More than many people, I have a way of processing my growth over time, thanks to this blog. Looking back yesterday, I was mostly proud of the things I wrote over the last 10 years, though it also came with plenty of cringeworthy moments.

And that’s what’s pulling me back now. Don’t expect me to return regularly, but I think it’s important to document who I am and who I’ve become, so I do plan to check in intermittently.

Until then, let’s all keep fighting the good fight. We’ve got work to do.

 

Weingrad rates the movies of 2019

Well friends, it’s been a full year since you last heard from me. Hopefully not a full year until the next time. Sadly, I probably have already lost the three to five followers who actually cared what I wrote. But I digress.

For now, humor me by allowing me to share my annual Top 12 films of the year. Thank you.

First, the archives:

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

12. The Last Black Man in San Francisco:

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An allegory for gentrification in San Francisco, the Last Black Man in San Francisco is a beautifully shot film that relies on poignant, well-timed dialogue driven home by a powerful score. Though the narrative may drift at times, the central theme of a man possessing a deep attachment for a particular home despite not being able to afford it, in the backdrop of today’s climate where economic inequality and racial bias are inherently intertwined, draws heavily on the heartstrings. The film isn’t so much in your face trying to spoon feed us a message as it is yearning for an answer to today’s problems through artistic means. I think 100 viewers can watch it and feel 100 different emotions, which is what true art is supposed to do. Though it received little fanfare on the mainstream circuits, the movie was among the darlings of the independent film scene, and will likely propel the future careers of all involved.

11. Ad Astra:

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More an intimate slow burn than a deep space thriller, Ad Astra takes the maddening question of “What’s Out There”? and turns it around. Maybe, despite all of our most creative science fiction, our philosophizing, our conspiracy theories, our hopes – there’s nothing. Ad Astra may draw viewers to expect a space exploration thriller, but what they’ll get is even better: a personal story of a man trying to discover both his father and his purpose, and traveling further than any one else ever has to find it. Though Brad Pitt will likely win the Oscar for another film on Sunday, he probably deserved more recognition for this one.

10. Knives Out:

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Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned whodunit? Knives Out stood little chance of not being good, between an an All-Star cast and being written and directed by Rian Johnson, who is incapable of making bad movies. The back-and-forth mystery is intriguing enough to keep you engaged throughout, and well-delivered by an extremely likeable cast. There’s something about the normally slick Brit Daniel Craig playing an eccentric Southerner that is oddly endearing. The film also launches the career of Ana de Armas, who will reappear soon with Craig in the next James Bond movie this summer. Knives Out is too much of a pleasurable experience to be excluded.

9. The Farewell:

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Every now and then you see a movie like The Farewell and think, “Why can’t every movie be this simple?” That’s not to downplay the film by any means, but a testament to its singular focus around an intrinsically relatable theme: Family. Sadly, everyone will experience the loss of a loved one throughout the course of their life. Director Lulu Wang (why didn’t she receive Oscar consideration, again?!) tells her true-to-life story about her relationship with her grandmother using two of life’s most dominant emotions: with sadness and humor. We laugh because we’d rather do that than cry, even in the most bizarre of situations. It helps to cast someone who’s naturally funny like Awkwafina, who excels as the lead in her first dramatic role. No lie, the last moment of the film made me feel a little bit manipulated by the story arch, but I digress. The sum of this movie’s parts, including the fact that it provides cultural insights from a Chinese-American standpoint, add up to a real cinematic gem.

8: The Two Popes:

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Never before have I finished a movie and thought, “This would have been even more perfect if it included more talking between two old men.” The Two Popes tells the story of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis and their near unprecedented transition of power. While the behind the curtain view of the papal process plus a young Pope Francis’s early life story are all fascinating, the strength of the film is the dialogue between the popes, brilliantly delivered by veteran actors Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce. The two men showcase their expertise by consuming the characters they are playing, amplified by an excellent script by Anthony McCarten. Debates may ensue about the accuracy of the conversations, but by all accounts, the spirit of their discussions and the relationship conveyed between them in the True Popes are representative of real life. From a scholarly perspective, it was just so engrossing – and refreshing — to watch two intellectuals with two completely different ideologies attempt to meet in the middle in a congenial way. I found this a real treat to watch.

7. Jojo Rabbit:

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A comedy taking place in Nazi Germany may sound paradoxical, but JoJo Rabbit somehow makes it work through terrific casting and just the right balance of satire and poignancy. While the film, set in the last days of the Third Reich, starts out by not taking itself too seriously, with goofball Nazi commanders (played excellently by Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen) and a fervent Hitler youth (rising star Roman Griffin Davis) whose imaginary friend is a cartoonlike version of Hitler, it quickly becomes grounded by the arrival of a young Jewish girl ( a terrific Thomasin McKenzie) and the motherly touch of Scarlett Johansson, the latter of whom is clearly the anchor of the film. Based on a book, this adaptation is certainly one of the most affecting and creative films of the year.

6. Little Women:

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At times, watching Little Women felt like I was receiving feel-good endorphines straight to my brain. I’ll be honest, in the first hour, I was having a little trouble keeping up with who’s who, with the constant to-and-fro between time frames. But at the same time, I appreciated that creative storytelling was necessary to adapt a complex, beloved classic novel into a modern day film. And Greta Gerwig succeeded in spades. Though lacking one linear central story line, I found that it didn’t matter. Just being a voyeur into the lives of this family and the ancillary characters was a joy, and the scenery and score only added to the film’s wonder. Kudos to all involved, including Gerwig and the talented cast of Saoirse Ronan, Frances Pugh, Emma Watson, Timothee Chalamee, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep and Eliza Scanlen.

5. The Irishman:

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Martin Scorsese goes back to his roots in this nearly four-hour epic crime drama with a legendary cast of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel and others. That may or may not be a good thing, according to your tastes. In the second act of his career, Scorsese has appeared to choose passion projects that rely a little bit more on the strength of their story. His earlier classics, mostly featuring De Niro, focus on organized crime and, in many respects, the pointlessness of it. The Irishman once again explores that but with much less violence than early Scorsese fare. As characters appear, the first thing we learn about them is their date of death. Most died young and mercilessly. This is a movie about mortality. At the end of the day, we’re all moving to our deaths – some faster than others. Along the way, we witness a possible explanation to the mystery of Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance, with some humor and expectedly strong acting. If you like Scorsese, you’ll greatly enjoy the Irishman.   

4. Marriage Story:

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Noah Baumbach has made a living telling near-autobiographical stories that are so relatable it almost detracts from the entire point of seeing a movie. You want to escape reality, not absorb deeper into it. But Baumbach is so good at it that it’s excusable. He already has told us a story of living through a divorce from the child’s perspective (The Squid and the Whale) and now he does it from the parents’ perspective. In addition to writing a brilliant script, his greatest achievement was casting two extremely talented and likeable actors: Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, both of whom were nominated for an Academy Award. The movie has such a real feel to it that Driver and Johansson feel like proxies for any once-in-love-now-despise-each-other couple who go on with their lives following the split. When it ends, you don’t feel like the story ends. In many ways it’s the beginning of a new chapter for both of them. A happy ending doesn’t always need to involve a perfect resolution, it’s about accepting and being happy with what you have.

3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood:

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Quentin Tarantino loves to rewrite history to give it a much more satisfying conclusion (See: “Inglourious Basterds”). He follows the same formula here with the Sharon Tate murders more than 50 years ago during the Golden age of Hollywood, basing his story around a fictional washed-up actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his equally hunky hitman (Brad Pitt). The movie is a fun hangout film and buddy flcik. It’s easy to absorb yourself in the world Tarantino has created and enjoy watching two of our greatest modern actors do their thing. Though not Pitt’s greatest work ever (even this year alone, see above), his inevitable Oscar win may as well be a lifetime achievement award for his many great past roles. No one else quite comes up with such interesting stories as QT, and this is yet another to add to his lore.

2. 1917:

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I truly struggled with what to put as #1 and #2. I adored 1917’s cinematic achievements, and while it’s truly a spectacular film, I think it won’t be the most remembered film of this year by virtue of it’s simple plot. And that’s not a critique by any measure. In fact, it’s what was needed to make this film work. Serving as a mind-numbing recreation of the brutal trench warfare of World War I, 1917 looks like it’s shot in a single take. It’s a rare “real-time” movie about two young British soldiers (Dean-Charles Chapman and George McKay) who are given the impossible task of crisscrossing a battlefield forewarn an entire battalion to call off a planned attack and avoid a bloodbath. The journey of the two men, simply getting from point A to point B, in one of the most deadly and unforgiving environments, is all that’s needed to result in movie magic. Congratulations to Sam Mendes in advance for your directing Oscar. Well done.

1. Parasite:

Parasite_(2019_film)

Parasite: Even when I was watching Parasite, I really wasn’t entirely sure what to think. I knew I was watching something great; it’s a beautifully shot film, but with a story so outlandish you’re not exactly sure what to make of it. But in its entirety, it becomes clear that Parasite carries the same themes as one of director Bong Joon-ho’s previous film, “Snowpiercer”: it’s a commentary on the evils of class structure, and a story that can be told in any country. With income inequality becoming more endemic, the lower class are becoming more and more equal to parasites in terms of what our society thinks of them. Parasite is the most ambitious film of the year, and will be a movie that I believe sticks in your memory, forces you to think, and will long be remembered in the annals of time. That, to me, makes it worthy of the top spot.

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:

Vice_(2018_film_poster)

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:

First_Man_(film)

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:

If_Beale_Street_Could_Talk_film

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:

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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:

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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.