Tag Archives: Top 10

Top 10 Films Of 2019

“Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?”

– Arthur Fleck, Joker

It’s not just you, Arthur. By nearly every definition, 2019 sucked, and it looks like 2020 is only going to get worse. Not only has the usual political discourse ruined relationships and family reunions (with ongoing arguments intensifying relating to healthcare, taxes, civil rights, and whether an immigrant can be considered a person), but with the 2020 elections ramping up, more idiots from both sides of the aisle are shouting at each other louder than ever (especially the President himself). By nearly every metric, 2019 has been one long, pulsating, cancer-sized headache, and 2020 is only going to grow into an even bigger one.

Normally this is where the optimist in me would pipe in and say “But at least we have the movies!” Nope. Not this year. In a year full of crappy sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes nobody asked for, most of the legitimately great movies came out at the tail end of the year between late November and December. Of course, this is not a new trend in Hollywood: studios like to release high-profile releases late in the year so they can get more consideration closer to awards season. Still, this year seems particularly worse even by Hollywood’s already desperate standards. On Christmas week, eight high-profile releases (count them: EIGHT) were released all at once, including Richard Jewell, Bombshell, Uncut Gems, A Hidden Life, Little Women, 1917, Just Mercy, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Good lord, is that enough movies for one week? I’m lucky I caught even a handful of them before the year ended. To be honest, part of me just wanted to say to hell with it and just go with my original top 10 and forget the rest. But that wouldn’t be responsible film journalism, so I powered through and fit in as many screenings as I could before January 1 rolled around. Yay me.

As with any other year, these are my 10 favorite films that came out in 2019. A few disclaimers here. One: my list equals my opinion. There are going to be several films that many cinephiles will feel belongs on this list and will wonder why they aren’t on here. There are two possibilities: either I didn’t see the film in question, or it just wasn’t good enough to make my top 10. I know some of you probably loved Harriet and The Lighthouse, but I saw both of those movies on the same night and disliked both of them equally. Sorry to disappoint.

Also, as evident in my earlier rant, I have not seen every film released this year, despite how much I tried to do so. Probably the biggest releases that slipped past my radar this year includes 1917 and Rocketman, but what can I say? Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker came out, and I have priorities.

So without further adieu, let’s wrap up the year – and for that matter, the decade – with my top 10 favorite films of 2019, starting with…

10. Uncut Gems

SOURCE: A24

A tense, anxious, and heart-racing crime thriller that keeps building on the pressure and never lets up. Adam Sandler gives an unexpected breakout performance as Howard Ratner, a desperate Diamond District jeweler who’s neck-deep in debt to several dangerous loan sharks. Sandler does a brilliant job in completely immersing himself in this self-absorbed and egocentric character, a man consumed by his own greed and selfish desires. This is a man who starts the movie in a hole six feet deep, digs himself out of it a little bit, then digs himself like 15 feet deeper. Writers and directors Josh and Benny Safdie do a mesmerizing job showing this man’s life spiraling out of control. Just when you get a moment to breathe for even a second, the film escalates to even further stress and insanity. A little too quick-paced for some viewers, but Uncut Gems is a taut masterwork to behold. Sandler better get nominated for an Oscar next year. He’s earned it. Three and a half stars.

9. Shazam!

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

A dazzling and spectacular action movie that fulfills the inner child fantasy of being a superhero. When 12-year-old orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel) comes into contact with an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) that bestows him with supernatural abilities, Billy becomes a powerful superhero named Shazam (Zachary Levi) and is told to use his newfound powers for good – or at least, however much good a 12-year-old is capable of inside a 30-year-old’s body. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi do wonderful jobs in playing the different sides of Billy Batson, with Asher portraying the rebellious and mischievous little pre-teen and Zachary playing the grown-up man-child that just smiles and has fun with every new superpower he discovers. Director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) tells a unique, emotional, and hilarious coming of age story in this out-of-body superhero experience. Shazam! is a fresh, bold, and surprising lightning-in-a-bottle superhero epic that’s akin to the unexpected success behind the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Three and a half stars.

8. Parasite

SOURCE: CJ Entertainment

In many ways, Parasite is like a caterpillar: it starts off looking like one thing, but then it slowly evolves until it changes into something completely different. When an impoverished family begins to infiltrate a rich family’s life, they soon realize that this family isn’t everything they appear to be, and they discover hidden secrets that they would much rather have stayed buried. Writer-director Boon Jong-Ho (Snowpiercer, Okja) illustrates this unusual and elusive tale with mystery and deceit, constantly questioning each family’s motives and flipping between who you should feel sympathy towards and why. The cast is skilled and meticulous in their mannerisms and changes in behavior, with Song Kang-ho and Choi Woo-shik being the most memorable as the poor family’s father and son. Parasite is an unexpected, unpredictable master analysis on classism and economic structure, and it constantly keeps you guessing until the film delivers its jaw-dropping conclusion. Parasite makes you question who the real villains are by the time the end credits roll. Three and a half stars.

7. Ford v Ferrari

SOURCE: 20th Century FoxA David-and-Goliath-sized underdog tale that tells the rivalry of not two massive automobile tycoons, but rather creators versus corporations. When Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) decides he’s going to unseat Ferrari as the Le Mans Grand Prix champions, he recruits automotive designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and hot-headed racer Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to build the fastest racecar in existence. The cast is exceptional, with Christian Bale in particular outshining the rest of his talented cast with his hotshot attitude and constant need to go against the grain. Director James Mangold (3:10 To Yuma, Logan) tells this story like an industrial western, with the tension and anticipation building up like a lone cowboy stepping out of the saloon to duel with the outlaw. The racing scenes are among the most exciting ever put on film and places you in the driver’s seat as the rubber tires burn against the pavement. Ford v Ferrari is an excellent film: dramatic, moving, and dripping with enthusiasm, like oil gushing from an exhaust pipe. Four stars.

6. Marriage Story

SOURCE: NetflixA tender, heartfelt, and raw picture that shows the devastation that comes from divorce and the healing that comes after it. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver star as Nicole and Charlie Barber, a theater couple who slowly come to the realization that their marriage is falling apart. Sharing custody of their only child, Henry (Azhy Robertson), the duo must work to divorce respectfully so they can remain friends while continuing to raise their son. Writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid And The Whale, Frances Ha) illustrates an intimate and heartbreaking narrative that never feels melodramatic or out of step, but instead genuine and vulnerable in a way that only couples can truly empathize with. Scarlett Johannson and Adam Driver give vivid, grounded, and provocative performances that treats its subject matter seriously while not placing all the blame on either one parent or the other. Marriage Story is not a happy film by any means, but it is a real one and it shows that there is hope after people’s lives fall apart. Four stars.

5. Joker

SOURCE: Warner Bros. PicturesA captivating tragedy-turned-comedy that shows one of comic book’s greatest villains’ descent into madness. Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a clown, aspiring comedian, and son to a loving mother who falls from grace and becomes Gotham’s infamous clown prince of crime, the Joker. Director Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy) tells a haunting origin story that doesn’t play so much like a comic book flick as it does a psychological breakdown, not unlike Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, The King Of Comedy, or Shutter Island. Joaquin Phoenix plays both sides of Arthur Fleck and the Joker in a beautiful and mesmerizing fashion, playing a meek and cowardly fellow in one beat and then a deranged and psychotic killer clown in another. Joker is not so much a Batman prequel as it is a social observation on humanity’s flaws and how they whittle away at our moral integrity and sense of self. The fact that it just happens to feature a comic book character is just the icing on the cake. Four stars.

4. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

SOURCE: Sony PicturesA movie that feels equally as crazy and side-wined as Quentin Tarantino’s life has been, but in many ways, also serves as a personal and heartfelt homage to the movies. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play a big-time TV star and his stunt double in the dog-eat-dog world of 1960’s Hollywood as they look for work in this devilishly wacky and zany dark comedy. Tarantino’s trademark violence surprisingly takes a backseat to the rest of the film’s wit and charm, all while Tarantino packs twice as much satire and self-awareness as he possibly can in the pages of his screenplay. DiCaprio and Pitt are equally exemplary in this film, with DiCaprio being the ecstatic and self-absorbed Hollywood has-been and Pitt being the sly, slick, Cool Hand Luke-type of character. Oh, and Charles Manson and his murderous cult are involved in this movie as well. If movies, murder, and the Manson family tied into one storyline doesn’t describe a Quentin Tarantino movie, then nothing ever will. Four stars.

3. Us

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

A brilliant, haunting, and harrowing horror experience that says a lot about the current state of our political culture while at the same time not playing specifically to either side of the fence. When Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family go out to their Lake House in Santa Cruz for a fun family vacation, they suddenly find themselves haunted by their twisted doppelgangers later that night. Now on the run from their literal selves, Adelaide and her family need to survive and discover where their Tethered counterparts came from. Lupita and her on-screen family do a phenomenal job in portraying the duality of their mirrored families. Even her on-screen children, Shahadi Joseph and Evan Alex, are mesmerizing in portraying their fearful selves in one beat and their psychotic and violent alter-egos in another. This dizzying and creative premise comes from Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele, who uses this idea to tell a socially relevant story about political partisanship and socioeconomic divide. Us is a thought-provoking, contemplative cinematic experiment that makes you think for hours on end about what monsters you might have created without even realizing it. Four stars.

2. Avengers: Endgame

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

It’s hard to maintain excitement for a colossal 22-movie saga over the course of 11 years, not to mention build up to an emotional payoff that no franchise has aspired to before. Yet Avengers: Endgame knocks it out of the park in every way imaginable and more. After Thanos (Josh Brolin) wipes out half of all life in the universe in Avengers: Infinity War, the remaining Avengers have to team up to undo Thanos’ actions and save everything they hold dear. The beginning of Avengers: Endgame is very mournful and reflective as it stays on the Avengers’ failure and how much it has cost them: as somber as a funeral and twice as quiet. It isn’t until the third act where the movie explodes into the pure comic-book fun and madness that you’ve become accustomed to throughout the franchise, and it left me feeling fulfilled to every bone in my body and then some. To say Avengers: Endgame meets our gargantuan expectations is a severe understatement. It is nothing short of a cinematic epic not unlike Ben-Hur or The Lord of the Rings – one that we definitely won’t forget anytime soon. Four stars.

1. Knives Out

SOURCE: Lionsgate

I didn’t know a movie could be this creative, this captivating, this intelligent, clever, crafty, ingenious, deceptive, cunning, surprising, emotional, poignant, and socially relevant in 2019. Daniel Craig plays Benoit Blanc, a Kentuckian detective trying to solve the suspected murder of famed mystery writer William Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Writer-director Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) manages an all-star cast that is just as funny as they are infuriating, with Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana De Armas, and many more offering stellar and memorable performances. Johnson puts his characters through one puzzling scenario after another and giggles mischievously as he manipulates his audience’s unsuspecting emotions, like how a maestro conducts his orchestra or how a puppeteer commands their puppets. Knives Out is a movie that’s best seen knowing as little as possible about it, because it flips the script so many times that it becomes dizzying by the time you arrive at the film’s head-spinning conclusion. Enough praise could not be said about this film and Rian Johnson’s masterful handling of it. It is nothing short of a masterpiece and my pick for the best film of 2019. Four stars.

And finally, this year’s special prize. Every year, I recognize one limited release film that did not get as much attention as many wide releases did, yet achieved more emotionally despite its smaller viewership. This year’s special prize goes to a movie that is as controversial as it is conversational, as charming as it is challenging, and as irreverent as it is important. That film is…

Special Prize: Jojo Rabbit

SOURCE: Fox Searchlight Pictures

For the life of me, I cannot understand why Jojo Rabbit bombed so precariously at the box office. Sure, it tells a relatively uncomfortable story about fascism and Nazi Germany. Sure, the movie centers around a 10-year-old boy in a day and age where child actors aren’t really that reliable. And yes, the movie does feature a 44-year-old New Zealander playing a child’s fanciful version of history’s most hated human being, Adolf Hitler. Yet, there is so much more to this movie than its mere appearances. Writer-director Taika Waititi deconstructs humanity’s most hateful period in a tone that is equally as jeering as it is joyful, like when Mel Brooks hilariously mocked racism in 1974’s Blazing Saddles. He’s also surprisingly brilliant as Jojo’s imagining of Adolf Hitler, playing a fun, cartoonish parody of the tyrant in one moment, and the more egotistical and maniacal variation of him in another. But even more impressive is the 12-year-old Roman Griffin Davis as the titular Jojo, having to witness the horrors of the holocaust through the innocent eyes of a child. For many, Jojo Rabbit will be mistaken as making light of Nazism and the hateful legacy that it inspired. Those viewers will have misinterpreted Jojo Rabbit and its genius. It’s a story of humanity, it’s a story of hope, and it shows that there is the potential for good in every human being – including a 10-year-old Nazi named Jojo. Four stars.

And that’s all of got for 2019, folks! Really, for the decade. As always, thanks for sticking with me through thick and thin. Whether you’re a consistent follower or a more casual reader, I appreciate all of you for reading my reviews and tuning in to hear my opinions about ongoing film and pop culture topics. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

I’ll see you at the movies, in 2020, and beyond.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top 10 Films of 2017

2017, you suck. From the bottom of my barely-beating black heart, you suck.

You have done nothing this year to give anyone recompense for the misery you put them through the year before, nor have you restored anyone’s already-lack-of-faith in humanity. The hurricanes that ravaged Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. The wildfires burning California to a crisp. The mass shootings from Sutherland Springs all the way to the Las Vegas strip. North Korea’s Nuclear-powered temper tantrums with the United States. The rise of the white supremacist snowflakes. All of the sexual assault scandals ranging from Harvey Weinstein to Roy Moore. Not to mention the retweeter-in-chief sitting in the oval office right now.

I thought 2016 was bad. 2017 was so horribly deformed that Father Time looked down at it next to all of his yearly children, broke down weeping, and cried out “What have I done?!”. Thank God the movie theater was here to give us some relief from this year’s misery and nonsense.

A few housekeeping items before we get into this year’s top 10. First of all, as a general disclaimer, this list only includes movies that I have seen in 2017. I realize that movies such as The Shape of Water and Lady Bird may very well deserve to be on this list. However, I have not seen those movies, and I am not going to give unearned praise to movies that I have not reviewed on my own.

Second, this is a list of my personal favorite films from 2017. As this is the case, there are going to be absentees from this list that you’re going to be frustrated by. I know you thought Split and Dunkirk were the greatest films of the century and won’t survive unless you lick the film stock every two seconds, but I’m afraid to tell you that both of those movies sucked. A lot of films from the year have had a lot less to work with, yet have done a lot more with their material. They’re the ones that are going to be recognized on this list; not Mr. and Mrs. Oscar bait.

Speaking of having less to work with, let’s recognize this year’s special prize selection before we get into my top 10. Every year, I select one limited release film that did not get as much attention as many wide releases did, and yet achieved more thematically despite their smaller viewership. This year, my special prize goes to…

Special Prize: Your Name

SOURCE: Toho

A beautifully animated and emotionally poignant portrayal of love, joy, heartbreak, soul-searching, and the human connection that all of us share. Makoto Shinkai’s phenomenal animated film tells the story of Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi), two Japanese teenagers who switch bodies every week against their will. This exploration of perspective and identity is integral in learning these character’s relationships, and as their soul intertwine, we come to learn and care more about these characters and their plights. And the animation is colorful, vibrant, and gorgeous, transforming seemingly simplistic sights into breathtakingly extraordinary ones. There have been many incredible animated films released this year, including Coco and Loving Vincent. Yet none are as inventive and captivating as Your Name is.

Now enough with the formalities. Let’s get into the only 10 good things to come out of 2017, starting with:


10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The most recent film in the Star Wars saga, a film about our heroes letting us down, our expectations not being met, and our resolutions failing to be reached. When Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally comes face-to-face with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she seeks his guidance in training her to become a Jedi and help save her friends from the tyranny of the First Order. The visual effects and the action are nothing short of gorgeous, with the X-Wings, TIE Fighters, lightsabers, droids, and creatures across the galaxy reaching out to you and placing you vividly in the moment of any scene. Frontrunners Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill shine in the film’s key roles, with Hamill specifically reprising Luke in a grimmer, more mournful façade. A great addition to the Star Wars saga, but one that nonetheless challenges your identity as a fan of the series. The Last Jedi will definitely be a heavily-talked about conversation topic for Star Wars fans for years to come. Three and a half stars.

9. Baby Driver

SOURCE: TriStar PicturesA sleek, stylish, and electric action-drama booming with nostalgia, in-cheek humor, and a hot-blooded soundtrack to boot. When a getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) decides he wants to get out of the criminal life, he has to go through his boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) and assassins Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Bats (Jamie Foxx) to save his girlfriend Debora (Lily James) and hit the road running. Elgort is a powerhouse in the lead, portraying a conflicted young man guided by a moral compass in a place where it points nowhere. The action and comedy blend together perfectly, with writer-director Edgar Wright framing the film as a homage to classic 1980’s espionage films. And the soundtrack is infectious in its appeal, with featured artists such as The Beach Boys, Queen, and Simon and Garfunkel here to keep your feet tapping. The year’s biggest surprise hit. Three and a half stars.

8. Logan

SOURCE: 20th Century FoxHugh Jackman’s last outing in a role that he has served well for more than 17 years, a finale that is equal parts violent, action-packed, emotional, heartbreaking, and powerful. When Logan (Jackman) is approached by a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keene) asking for his help, he teams up one last time with his mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) to save Laura from the men that are after her. Refusing to shy away from the bloody, hard-R violence that made Deadpool a mainstay, Logan is the most emotional, the most vivid, and the most grounded story told in Wolverine’s saga. Instead of the action and the visual effects, writer-director James Mangold chooses to focus on something more practical to Wolverine: his humanity. Like The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2, Logan relates to us on a more human level as opposed to a fantastical one, and the characters deal with real struggles as human beings, not as superheroes. Jackman and Stewart also give the most defined performances of their careers, playing their characters in their most vulnerable, broken appearance to date. Time will remember Wolverine for the hero. I will remember Logan for the man. Three and a half stars.

7. Get Out

SOURCE: Universal PicturesA strange, surreal, and deeply unusual horror film, but also immediately relevant to its intended audience. When an interracial couple goes to visit the girlfriend’s parents for a weekend getaway, they discover that her parents aren’t all that they seem: and neither are their neighbors. “Key & Peele” co-creator Jordan Peele comes forward here in his directing debut as a masterful storyteller, deconstructing and elaborating on white privilege and the devastating effects it can have on individual lives. Daniel Kaluuya and Lil Rel Howery respectively delivers the films most climactic and comedic moments, with Kaluuya particularly impressive in portraying a character that is confused, scared, and victimized in a situation where no one is coming to help him. Get Out is one of the most creative, compelling, riveting, and darkly humorous films I’ve seen in years. It works across the board as horror, comedy, drama, or satire. Take your pick. Three and a half stars.

6. Thor: Ragnarok

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion PicturesMarvel’s standout of the year, a movie that has absolutely no business being this good or memorable. When Thor (Chris Hemsworth) starts getting visions of Ragnarok, the prophesied destruction of Asgard, he has to team up with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to stop Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) from destroying Asgard. Packing five different genres into one unorthodox mess of perfection, Thor: Ragnarok is a funny comedy, a thrilling action movie, an exciting adventure, a heartfelt drama, and a groundbreaking superhero epic all at once. The comedy hits exactly the right notes with the right lines. The drama, while at times a little too brisk, strikes with the emotional chord that it needs to. The action scenes are thrilling. The visual effects, mesmerizing. The music, synthesized and catchy. Even the Easter Eggs are infectious in their appeal. I haven’t had this much fun in a superhero movie since The Avengers in 2012. Yes, I’m comparing Thor: Ragnarok to The Avengers. Don’t knock it until you try it. Four stars.

5. It

SOURCE: Warner Bros. PicturesA terrifying and insightful personification of fear made possible by the brilliantly mad mind of Stephen King. When a group of kids discover an omniscient being disguised as a clown haunting their hometown, the children decide to team up and put an end to it’s villainy once and for all. The cast takes center-stage in a horror film fueled by complex emotions and ideas, with Bill Skarsgard perfectly embodying the madness and bloodlust that the iconic character Pennywise the dancing clown would possess. Director Andy Muschietti also smartly compares and juxtaposes human nature with that of a predator’s nature, asking us if these two concepts can exist in the same society. It is visually dynamic and haunting, with the makeup and costuming on Skarsgard being among the best work I’ve seen in years. A thoughtful, captivating, and intensifying look into the psychology of fear and how it affects our flawed perceptions of life. Four stars.

4. Detroit

SOURCE: Annapurna PicturesA cruel, horrifying, and maddening fact-based account of one of the most egregious cases of police brutality in American history. During the 12th Street Detroit riots of 1967, a team of rogue cops infiltrate their way through the Algier’s Motel and pin the inhabitants against the wall, demanding to know if they’re hiding any weapons inside the building. As the hours pass, the teenagers soon realize that this is not a run-of-the-mill police checkup, but instead a fight for survival between themselves and the men who are supposed to be upholding the law. Thoroughly researched and accurately dramatized from the Academy Award-winning team of screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, Detroit is one of the most riveting and essential pieces of cinema you can watch this decade. The details of this real-life account are haunting and tragic, and the cast equally commits to recreating this monstrous night with passionate urgency. Newcomer Algee Smith especially shines as a troubled R&B musician, a terrified kid caught in this confusion of racial prejudice and hatred that permanently damages him for the rest of his life. Don’t turn away from Detroit. Watch and be horrified by our nation’s history. Four stars.

3. Wonder Woman

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

A blessing to both cinema and gender equality, a film that propels its female protagonist as not only just as capable as the men around her, but in many scenes is better suited for more difficult tasks. Gal Gadot reprises her role as Diana Prince, an Amazonian born on the hidden island of Themyscira where her and her Amazonian sisters reside. When Ares the God of War makes his return to wreck havok on the planet, Diana suits up in Themyscira’s sacred armor, lasso, shield, and sword and sets out to defeat Ares and save the world. The action is fast-paced and enthralling, with Wonder Woman charging through German soldiers and toppling over buildings like the aftermath of a Superman battle. Yet, the softer moments leading up to the action is what captures us the most, with Diana finding her place in a constantly shifting world ruled by male conflict and ego. Gadot remains emotionally persistent throughout the picture, while director Patty Jenkins handles both visually spectacular scenes and emotionally grounded moments with a surprising amount of finesse. In a day and age filled with cold, bleak, heartless blockbusters, Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air we all desperately needed. Four stars.

2. The Big Sick

SOURCE:

One of the most pure, honest, and heartfelt experiences you can have at the cinema this decade. Telling the story of how comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his future wife Emily (Portrayed by Zoe Kazan), The Big Sick shows their love story starting off in a comedy club, to a hospital wait room, to New York as this magical film shows us how love transcends all cultural barriers. Nanjiani is an open book here as a writer and as an artist, telling a part of his life story with the sincerity and honesty needed to make it work. He spits out clever one-liners like they’re coming out of a comedy machine, yet he also embodies the emotional turmoil needed to make his story tragically believable, not just entertaining. Director Michael Showalter directs the entire cast impeccably here, making every scene feel genuine and down-to-Earth. If The Big Sick feels real, that’s because it is. Four stars.

1. War for the Planet of the Apes

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

An epic and emotional conclusion to this prequel trilogy that functions as a summer blockbuster, a war drama, and a somber tragedy all at once. When the apes’ forest home is raided and the apes are left broken and displaced, their leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) sets out on a journey for vengeance against the humans who took the lives of his primate brethren and end this insufferable war. Featuring a masterful performance by the motion-capture king Andy Serkis himself, War for the Planet of the Apes is an intimate, intense personal drama disguised as an action blockbuster, equal parts powerful, emotional, and morally conflicting. Writer-director Matt Reeves pulls inspiration from all of the greatest war classics in this inspired, original take on the Planet of the Apes franchise, throwing his characters through compelling, thought-provoking scenarios as opposed to mindlessly action-packed ones. The visual effects are also at their best in the series, not only accurately animating the apes’ physical characteristics and mannerisms, but also their facial expressions and emotional reactions. The best Planet of the Apes movie out of the series by far, and my pick for film of the year. Four stars.


That’s all for this list, folks. Thank you for spending part of the new year with me and my favorite films from 2017. Tune in next year for when I rate the top 10 nuclear missiles that Kim Jong-Un will inevitably fire at us.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Unite the League: 10 Greatest DC Comics Movies Of All Time

It’s funny how DC Comics is struggling to break into the cinematic universe gig despite their vast influence over comic book history. We give Marvel creator Stan Lee so much credit for all of the creative and dynamic characters he’s brought us over the years, both on the panels of the comic book and on the big screen. Yet has anyone ever stopped to think about the inspiration that came before him? Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in the pages of Action Comics in May 1938. Bob Kane created Batman in 1939. William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman in 1941. Even with all of his young promise, Stan Lee wouldn’t create the Fantastic Four until 1961, 20 years after Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were cemented as comic-book icons, influencing our culture several decades beyond their time. Stan Lee may have perfected the comic-book craft, but he did not start it. DC Comics did.

How ironic is it, then, that the DCEU is struggling both financially and critically five movies into their franchise, yet Marvel is skyrocketing with their 18th film due for release next spring? It’s a shame, really. DC has been a huge part of many childhoods over the years, mine included. The original Richard Donner Superman films starring Christopher Reeve. The Tim Burton Batman movies starring Michael Keaton. The “Batman” and “Justice League” animated cartoons. We’ve grown up with these characters for so long, hoping one day to see them all realized on the big screen. We got our wish, although it may not be what many were expecting.

For the record, I haven’t seen Justice League yet, and will not until later this week when I’ve recovered from my sinus infection. Regardless, I have had time to catch up on the nostalgia on some older DC movies, and boy are there many. Regardless of whether Justice League is any good or not, at least we’ll be able to look back fondly on these 10 DC Comics movies.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , ,

Top 10 Films Of 2016

I think I speak for everyone when I say this has been an exhausting year for us all. The politics. The presidential elections. Not to mention all of the celebrity deaths. I thought last year was bad. 2016 felt like it was having a competition with 2015 on how much more miserable it could make everyone feel. If I were judging, it wouldn’t even be a contest for me. 2016: you win.

During these difficult times, I try to find some positive from the year that everyone can take away to make the next year more positively impactful. Most years, they are the movies, because they usually reflect our mindset, where we’re at socially, and where we need to go from here together as a society. This year, however, my point of positive is not the movies (although that is a close second).

No, this year, its the people.

No matter what we’ve faced this year, there were always people there to help others with the horrible things they were going through. There were Christians that helped the homosexual community after the Orlando nightclub shooting in June. Legal citizens helping their fleeing refugee neighbors from war-torn countries. The Americans that banded together for the ethnic minorities that were targets of many hate crimes during the presidential elections. On and on.

My point being, no matter who is triumphing over whom, there will always be a group of people there to hold everyone accountable for their actions. Cries for justice may go unanswered, crimes may go unpunished. But we as a people, for the most part, know the difference between right and wrong. And you can’t ever escape morality, no matter what office you hold or what seat you sit in. These same unnamed heroes are the same people who made the year’s most important stories on the big screen. Perhaps that is why 2016 is one of my least favorite years, but one of my favorite years in film.

Before we get into my top 10 list for the year, it’s important for you to understand that I have not seen every movie made this year. I tried. Films that I wanted to see but didn’t get the chance to view included A Monster Calls, La La Land, Silence, Patriots Day, and Fences. What can I say? 2016 is a year filled with movies, but since the other 11 months aren’t close enough to awards season, those filmmakers decide to push those releases to the very end in December next to all the other Holiday releases. Since they’re more concerned about trophies than they are in reaching their audience, they will not be included on this list, even if their films deserve to be.

Also, this is my top 10 list. My favorite films. My opinion. You will notice that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not included on this list. That is because I saw 10 other films that I enjoyed more than I did Rogue One. That does not lessen or expand upon Rogue One’s success, or the success of many other films. It just means that I liked these movies more.

That being said, let’s hop into my favorites from this year:


10. Kubo and the Two Strings

A movie that is not only better than most of today’s animated films, but also better than most of its live-action ones as well. When Kubo (Art Parkinson) is being hunted by his evil grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), he enlists in the help of two new friends he’s met along his journey: Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey). Together, these three embark on an adventure to defeat the Moon King and free Kubo from his clutches forever. Filmed using stop-motion technology, Kubo and the Two Strings feels and breathes of Japanese mythology, its characters talking, fighting, flipping, and moving like the origami figures Kubo loves to craft. The action is also surprisingly exciting, with its fast-moving and acrobatic characters fighting in sequences that are more impressive than most of the year’s live-action films. There is one plot twist that doesn’t fit in with the overall plot, but beyond that, this is an excellent movie. Like Akira and Spirited Away, this is a movie that challenges animated movies and what they can accomplish. If Kubo is anything to go by, they can accomplish a lot. Three and a half stars.

9. Moana

A great deep sea adventure and memorable animated odyssey. When the powerful demi-God Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) loses an ancient artifact known as the Heart of Te Fiti, he sends the world spiraling into a pit of darkness that is polluting all of the Earth’s crops and lands. But when the ocean picks Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) as the one who will rescue Maui, find the heart of Te Fiti, and restore the planet, she embarks on an epic journey to find the stone, and along the way, herself. Disney outdoes themselves yet again with this one. The animation alone is visually colorful and dynamic, even the waves are so detailed and accurate in their movement that its hard to tell the difference between it and the real ocean. The voice talent is outstanding, with newcomer Auli’i Cravalho surprising us at every turn with her singing and projection. A great throwback to classic Disney adventures and a great tribute to female empowerment. Three and a half stars.

8. Miracles From Heaven

Part medical drama, part family drama, part spiritual drama, all human drama. Based on a true story, Miracles From Heaven follows a tight-knit Texas family when their middle daughter is diagnosed with intestinal pseudo-obstruction, a fatal disease that freezes the intestines and makes it nearly impossible to digest food. Now left wondering how something so terrible could happen to a girl so sweet, Christy Beam (Jennifer Garner) is determined to nurse her daughter back to health, no matter how many pills, tests, or doctor visits it takes. Jennifer Garner is a standout in this movie, expressing genuine joy and relief in some moments, while in others demonstrating genuine grief and depression, just like all of the ups and downs a mother would go through with her child. Despite this film being labeled a “Religious” film, it isn’t preaching to the choir, and is considerate and respectful to viewers of all faiths, especially those who don’t believe. Other movies should follow its template if they want to be as impactful and meaningful. Not just a good Christian film, but a great one. Three and a half stars.

7. Doctor Strange

A unique, compelling, visually spectacular entry into the superhero genre: one of the best. When Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets into a devastating car accident, he loses the nerves in his hands and his career as a neurosurgeon. When he is told that a monk called the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) can help him, he traverses to the deep mountains in Nepal to be cured, only to be introduced to a world full of magic and sorcery that he’s only beginning to understand. The visual effects are easily the standout element of this movie, with sorcerers kung-fu fighting each other on constantly shifting walls, windows, pillars, ledges, and anything else that can turn into a kaleidoscope of architecture. Not since Avatar or Inception have the visuals been so sensory that they felt more like an out-of-body experience rather than a cinematic one. Cumberbatch, just as well, plays his role with charisma and gravitas, making his character feel more tragically Shakespearean rather than larger-than-life. A great moviegoing experience that shows our titular character not as a superhero, but as a man, fatally egotistical, selfish, eccentric, ignorant, and most of all, flawed. Four stars.

6. Finding Dory

A surprisingly meaningful animated sequel that is every bit as good as its predecessor. Taking place years after the events of Finding Nemo, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) suddenly remembers her parents and her life before meeting Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Now determined to reunite with her parents, Dory, Marlin, and Nemo embark on yet another journey across the ocean to find Dory’s family. With Finding Nemo writer-director Andrew Stanton returning to once again helm this oceanic odyssey, Finding Dory displays a fine understanding of everyone’s favorite forgetful fish. So fine, in fact, that this movie truly stands on its own, needing almost no support from its previous entry. From its animation to its screenplay, Finding Dory is a smart homage to its origins, but also a funny, unique, and emotional roller coaster of a film that stands very well on its own two feet (well, fins). Four stars.

5. Don’t Breathe

An intense, immersive experience that makes the best use out of its limited premise. When a team of professional thieves decide to rob the home of a retired blind veteran, they think its an easy job. But when one thing happens after another, they realize this veteran is not all that he seems, and soon they’re the ones fearing for their lives. This cat-and-mouse invasion thriller is excellently paced and tightly edited, with director Fede Alvarez making the best use of his environments and with how characters react to shocking revelations. He also makes great use of sound space, with the most tense moments often being the most silent. The cast is convincing in their roles, and Stephen Lang demonstrates the full capacity of his skills as this spine-chilling, creepy, yet sympathetic veteran desperate for the things that he’s lost. A creative, captivating thriller that is as unconventional as it is unpredictable. Four stars.

4. Deepwater Horizon

A unique and riveting action film that seeks to honor its real-life subjects by showing us exactly what they went through. Mark Wahlberg stars in this adaptation of the 2010 BP oil spill directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor), and he handles this subject with delicate treatment of the events and for the real-life figures involved in the tragedy. Berg connects us to the crew members’ humanity before ominously foreshadowing to their dreary fates beyond the spewing oil, the collapsing metal frames, the wild fires, and the empty sea gallows looming beneath them. This is a movie that completely understands what the real-life crew members were up against, and they bring you every detail of that disaster with nerve-wrecking alertness and urgency. The PG-13 rating is deceiving. Definitely do not bring your children. Four stars.

3. Arrival

A science-fiction drama that starts out as one thing, only to slowly transform into another. When aliens land on multiple places at once on Earth, the U.S. army enlists in the help of Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who is notable for her translation of thousands of languages on the planet. As she investigates deeper into the reasons why the aliens are there, she makes a discovery that will change the course of the human species forever. Smartly crafted from the mind of director Denis Villenueve (Prisoners, Sicario), Arrival is an intelligent observation of the extraterrestrial, how humans react to the unknown and how they build and learn foreign communication. Adams is a powerhouse as the lead, a hero who is intelligent, vulnerable, yet persistent in doing what she has to do. Smart, emotional, and leaving you with plenty to think about long after you’ve left the movie theater, Arrival is a science-fiction experience that you simply must see. The twist near the end will guarantee have your jaw dropping. Four stars.

2. Captain America: Civil War

The best MCU movie to be made to date. When the United Nations decides that the Avengers are too dangerous to be left unchecked, the team is split into two factions. Captain America (Chris Evans) believes that the team should be allowed to continue to operate freely without interference. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) thinks that the team needs to be held accountable in some way, shape or form. As tensions between the two sides rise, the team eventually collapses and comes to blows with each other, never to leave them the same again. A film as politically-charged as it is fast-paced, fun, and exciting, Captain America: Civil War is unique in the superhero genre in that there is no black-and-white sense of morality. No established sense of right and wrong in the picture, just characters whose ideals and values clash violently with each other. What’s left is an unconventional masterpiece, a moral dilemma packaged as a superhero blockbuster that excites us just as much as it challenges us. Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland shine in their breakout roles as Black Panther and Spider-Man. Four stars.

1. Hacksaw Ridge

A powerful, emboldening film, one that does not shortchange the horror of war, but equally does not shortchange the power of belief either. Hacksaw Ridge is based on the incredible true story of Desmond Doss, a WWII combat medic who saved over 75 soldiers during the battle of Okinawa. Most impressively, he did it armed without a single weapon. Directed by Mel Gibson, who is a master at epic filmmaking with Braveheart and Passion of the Christ, Hacksaw Ridge pulls emotion out of you to the point where you don’t feel like you’re watching a movie anymore, and are instead completely immersed in its harsh, uncompromised reality. Andrew Garfield equally commits to this uncompromising role, showing how his character is scared, frightened, yet earnest and determined all the same. I can’t praise this movie enough. Hacksaw Ridge does more than strengthen the soldier’s spirit. It strengthens the human spirit. Four stars.


And now for my special prize. For those of you that don’t know, every year I award a special prize to a limited release that not many people heard of, but nonetheless deserves to be sought out just like any blockbuster out there. This year’s selection was difficult, because for the longest time, I debated if this film should be placed as my number one in my list over Hacksaw Ridge. I eventually decided that its achievement places itself at a higher, more important caliber than a top ten list. So I decided to give it the appropriate award for its uniqueness.

And my special prize this year goes to…

Special Prize: Moonlight

An urgent, important, and timely film that presses the viewer not to understand its characters by their race or sexuality, but by their personal experiences that mold them into the men that they become. Broken up into three parts, Moonlight follows a young man growing up in an ugly urban neighborhood that doesn’t care much about the people who live in it. As he is hit with one childhood trauma after another, we watch as they shape him into the man that he grows up to become, with all of his flaws, scars, and burdens on his shoulders intact. A great movie that hits on many important issues, Moonlight absorbs great performances from Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, and even child actor Alex Hibbert, who surprisingly keeps up with the outstanding talent surrounding him. Barry Jenkins, who hasn’t made a film in eight years, comes back center stage with a film that is technically immaculate, creatively shot, and emotionally absorbing. It is a personal, astounding film that shows while a person may be scarred, hurt, maybe even broken, they are no less beautiful because of it.

I can’t make it any simpler than this. If you can only see one movie from this year, make it Moonlight.

And that’s my list, folks. Here’s to leaving 2016 behind, and looking forward to making 2017 better.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,