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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

Democracy comes to life, in the form of an Internet live stream

In the early days of America, the White House was meant to be a place of accessibility. Fresh off British rule, our founding fathers wanted the people of our nation to be involved in government to the highest degree – a right they were not afforded under the reign of a monarch.

Indeed, during the days of Washington, Adams and Jefferson, people were literally allowed to stroll up to the White House and walk in. The president would even come and greet them.

What greater way is to participate in government than that?

After all, the entire premise of a republic relies on the participation of its electorate. We are expected to vote, to be vocal, and to immerse ourselves in the democratic process as much as possible. Our government, remember, is “of the people, by the people, for the people,” and our elected leaders are supposed to answer to us and nobody else.

white-house

Flash forward 200 years later. Nobody cares about government. No one writes to their congressional representatives. More than half of the country doesn’t vote. And because of it, our representatives don’t give a shit what we have to say.

Essentially, our own inertia weakens our influence.

Years of relative peace and the ubiquity of the Internet has resulted in a greater disengagement than ever in this country between the government and its people.

The mere idea of sitting down and penning a note for your U.S. Senator is archaic.

Attending a Town Hall meeting to discuss important issues? Lol-worthy.

Turning on CSPAN to watch a Senate hearing? Ludicrous.

Until now.

If there is one unquestionable truth we can all agree on with the Trump administration, it’s that this contemporary conventional wisdom of government participation has been turned on its head.

People are absolutely flooding their congressional representatives with calls, letters and emails. People are donating to charitable causes that will fight on their behalf. People are taking to the streets to protest actions and policies they believe to be antithetical to American values.

Still not convinced?

The audio for Tuesday’s federal appeals court hearing for Trump’s proposed travel ban was streamed on the Internet, and more than 136,000 people tuned in. Tens of thousands more listened on TV.

That’s astounding.

live-stream-travel-ban

Sure, 135,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the 324 million people living in this country, but, it’s still an interest level in government that would have been unheard of even a year ago.

And that is a very good thing. It’s sad that it took an event of this magnitude to get us there, but, the fact that people are vigilant and paying attention, while actively participating in day-to-day governmental affairs is extremely important, and fulfills the fundamental basis of our democratic process.

The hearing, meanwhile, continues, with early indications that the three-panel appeals court won’t overturn the initial ruling by a Seattle judge against the travel ban. Either way, it’s expected to wind up in Supreme Court, so we will not know the end result for quite some time.

And throughout the process, Trump continues to disparage our independent judiciary.

People keep worrying if there will be a sense of fatigue from those who are critical of this current administration.

But when 135,000 people listen to an audio stream of a court hearing in the middle of a Wednesday … I think we’re OK.

On that note, I’m walking up to the White House front doors right now.

We’ll see how this goes.

Fake news and ‘alternative facts’ are threatening our democracy

Being a journalist is an extremely difficult and unforgiving job. I understand this firsthand because it was my profession for more than five years.

It’s called the ‘third estate’ for a reason. You serve as the objective storyteller. You hear both sides of the story, and then you report the facts and how both sides interpret it.

A journalist is not supposed to make friends. Indeed, if you’re doing your job correctly, you’re more likely to form enemies.

But what is expected between a journalist and the main entities it reports on is a mutual sense of respect and cooperation. An understanding that you’re doing your job and I’m doing my job. Sometimes our interests will align, and sometimes they will not. Nonetheless, we can maintain a professional relationship and treat each other cordially.

Journalism also carries a significant burden of responsibility. As the storyteller and purveyor of facts, you’re expected to present your information truthfully and objectively.

With your pen, you have the ability to shape public opinion. Thus, it is essential to get it right.

alternative-facts

It is fair to be skeptical of the media. One should always be vigilant of the truth and conduct their own research to verify facts, while double-checking sources that are listed in any given article or report.

But what you can not do is dismiss the press entirely. Because without it, democracy cannot prevail.

And right now, that very ingredient for democratic success — a free and open press — is under siege by the Trump administration.

On the stump, Trump pledged to “open up the libel laws,” a clear breach of First Amendment rights. While he’s toned down on that specific threat, the first few days of his administration have shown a clear agenda to undermine and discredit the press.

Two terms we’ve seen thrown around lately are things I’d never thought I’d hear associated with 21st century American politics: ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts.’

Fake news refers to deliberate attempts to publish stories to influence public opinion even though the writer knows the content to be false. The New York Times has done extensive reporting on this subject, actually interviewing people who have personally engaged in this nefarious enterprise.

Alternative facts is a term coined this past weekend by White House spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway to explain the conflicting data (proven to be false) used by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer during his cantankerous first press briefing last weekend.

spotlight

Conservatives, emboldened by Trump, have begun using the “fake news” label incorrectly to slam stories that they don’t like, for instance, CNN’s reporting of the explosive yet unverified dossier compiled by a former British Spy regarding illicit personal and professional information Russia is harboring on Donald Trump.

Buzzfeed made the controversial decision to publish the dossier – which was brought to the attention of the FBI last summer, which, in turn, briefed Presidents Obama and Trump on it — in full, a decision that Buzzfeed’s editor-in-chief defended a few days later.

As a result, Donald Trump called these two news organizations “fake news” and a “failing pile of garbage,” respectively.

Under this administration, the once stable line between fact and fiction has become blurred, and I don’t think people appreciate how dangerous this is.

It is a fundamental need for the electorate to be educated. In a republic, we are the ones who choose who represents us. And we need an observant and watchful press to get us the information we need.

Undermining and mocking the press is what dictators do. Spreading lies to hoodwink the public is what authoritarian regimes do.

This is not OK.

Now, more than ever, the press needs to be protected, not denigrated and antagonized.

You can follow Trump’s lead and trash journalists all you want. They’re still going do to their job and tell you what you need to know.

I advise you to listen.

Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve meltdown

New Year’s Eve is the time when we get to relive our youth. As all humans will learn, when you approach 30 years old, you will lose your desire to stay out very late.

Suddenly, the idea of hopping on a westbound train to New York City at 10 p.m. sounds unconscionable.

In fact, at that time, you’re already fantasizing about being in bed within the hour so you can get a good night’s rest and an early start tomorrow.

It’s lame. But it’s reality.

On New Year’s, however, all bets are off. No matter how old you are, you will plan to party, and not worry about what time you hit the sack.

Even better, there’s really no limit to how much you can drink. If you get sloppy drunk on New Year’s Eve, absolutely no one is going to judge you. It’s essentially a free pass.

So I hope a lot of you made it a night to remember. And if you did get a bit sloppy, then who cares? In fact, you can take solace in one single fact.

You did not have a worse night than Mariah Carey.

New Year's Eve 2017 In Times Square

Her meltdown was so hard on New Year’s Eve, that it occurred to me that I was wrong when I said there would be no more celebrity casualties in 2016.

Because minutes before 2017, Mariah Carey’s career died.

And I know that the year has already started off on a somber note. A terrorist attack in Istanbul killing more than three dozen people; partisan squabbling on Capitol Hill on the first day of the congressional session; a Long Island Rail Road derailment injuring more than 100 in Brooklyn.

But the fact that more people were inclined to discuss Mariah Carey instead of those things is indicative of our appetite for the mundane. No one wants to talk about death or political turmoil if they can avoid it. We want entertainment gossip, dammit.

And preferably, we want it at somebody’s expense. Am I right, Steve Harvey?

You all saw Mariah’s meltdown. And I understand that it probably wasn’t even her fault – there were technical difficulties and she decided to improvise rather than deliver a subpar vocal performance, given the circumstances.

Nonetheless, Mariah Carey is the clear loser in the public eye, and on top of her disastrous performance at the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting two years ago, she’s redefining herself as an aging pop diva who can no longer cut it. Her New Year’s Eve fiasco may very well end up in the same breath as Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction (side note: how did Justin Timberlake get off so easy on that?) and Ashlee Simpson’s Saturday Night Live jig.

I’m sorry, Mariah. I know you’ve had an illustrious career and your vocal cords have clearly taken a toll from decades of performing. It’s only natural. But right now, after the 2016 we went through, we need somebody who we can universally gang up on.

Talking about how bad you sounded is not controversial. It doesn’t involve divulging one’s political affiliation.

Democrats and Trump supporters agree: you sucked.

And in no time, we will long for the time when the most hotly discussed topic was Mariah Carey.

So thank you, Mariah, for this distraction.

Let’s hope the rest of 2017 is equally as boring.

(It won’t be.)

The 2016 word of the year: ‘lit’

Each year, the preeminent English dictionaries release their word of the year — the word that was searched the most by users who were seeking its definition.

And in 2016, those words were clearly shaped by the year’s turbulent political discourse.

Dictionary.com went with ‘xenophobia,’ a term used to describe a fear of the other, and was widely used to decry populist movements in several countries that preached anti-immigrant sentiments.

Merriam-Webster, meanwhile, nearly ended up with ‘fascism,’ a type of far-right radical nationalism popularized by Hitler’s Nazi party, but a late surge allowed them to go with a much safer choice in ‘surreal.’

And Oxford’s word of the year was ‘post-truth,’ which essentially refers to a circumstance where beliefs and emotions are more likely to shape public opinion than objective facts.

Xenophobia, surreal and post-truth. Those words might as well have been stamped on a Trump podium during one of his rallies.

But anyway, the Weinblog rejects those words. Yes, I understand why they piqued people’slit curiosity enough to look them up, but, anyone who has followed popular culture this year knows that there’s another word that infected our collective vocabularies more than any other.

Lit.

There once was a time when that three-letter word would instantly make me think of some classic ’90s songs like “My Own Worst Enemy” or “Ziplock.” But in 2016, it took on a whole new meaning.

If you have a Facebook, or know at least one person under 25, then you have heard this word. And probably pretty recently.

Urban Dictionary defines it as “when something is turned up or popping.” In other words, it’s a slang term to describe something that is highly enjoyable, and to emphasize the intensity of that enjoyment — like a party, or your sobriety level.

You drunk bro?

Hell yeah. I’m mad lit.

Before you judge, just remember that’s it’s a marked improvement over “YOLO” and “I can’t even.”

How familiar you are with this term is definitely predicated on your age. If you’re in your late 20s, like me, it’s probably something you heard once or twice early in the year, lit-apitsignored, and now began hearing it with more regularity. And now you’re just in the puzzlement stage.

And I’ll admit that as an English major and former journalist, it does bother me that each successive generation somehow ends up inventing new words. We have so many freaking words at our disposal that we can use. There are literally dozens of words to describe every single feeling, action or thing. But most people don’t make the effort to learn them.

Indeed, they’re so adverse to doing so that they simply make ones up. And when one of those words is playful and fun enough, it catches on.

Soon enough, Merriam-Webster will incorporate lit as an accepted word.

We always wonder why people from England sound so smart. It’s not just the accent. It’s because they use the correct word to describe things.

In America, we either make ones up or change the meaning of other words.

Next time we wonder why our youth is falling behind on an international level, maybe we should realize that it’s our own fault.

Because, after all … we are our own worst enemies.

Oh well. if you can’t beat them, join them. I hope all your Christmases are lit.