Wednesday, March 14, 2018


“The Dude abides…”

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Joel and Ethan Coen’s THE BIG LEBOWSKI.

A dark comedy with elements of a crime novel, LEBOWSKI followed an adventure by Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski; a laid-back, White Russian-drinking, pot-smoking, unemployed bowling enthusiast who has the bad luck of sharing a last name with a local millionaire involved in a kidnapping plot. Dude is joined by his friends and bowling teammates Walter, who is an aggressive Vietnam veteran, and Donny, a neutral fellow who never understands what’s going on. The three casually try to unravel the mystery of the kidnapping, which may or may not be real, in a film that unspools in a series of episodes involving ransom money, bowling rivals, the porn industry, performance art, wacky dreams, and the theft of Dude’s beloved rug.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI was the 8th film by the producing, writing, and directing sibling team of the Coens, and their first follow-up to their Oscar-darling FARGO from 1996. The beginnings of the film go as far back as 1991, when the Coens began writing the script before abandoning it to work on BARTON FINK. When they revisited the project, the script was written with John Goodman (Walter), and Steve Buscemi (Donny), in mind, who had worked with the Coens before. The central character of The Dude was inspired by two acquaintances of the brothers, who had all of the traits from White Russians to going by “Dude”. That role would eventually go to Jeff Bridges. The rest of the outstanding cast would include Julianne Moore, David Huddleston, John Turturro, Sam Elliott, Tara Reid, David Thewlis, Peter Stormare, Flea, and the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

With the city and culture of Los Angeles being so prominent in the script, shooting took place on location over a period of eleven weeks, with Dude’s dream sequences shot in a converted airplane hangar. Sam Elliott, acting as a narrator and making two cameos, shot for only two days. Famed cinematographer Roger Deakins gave the film a colorful look which popped off the screen.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI was not a hit financially and did not score well with critics, but over the years has earned a massive cult following. Fans hold festivals and the characters are the inspiration for cosplay at conventions across the country. There are over 450,000 ordained priests practicing a pseudo-religion called Dudeism, and the film has inspired competitions ranging from trivia, White Russian contests, and academic treatments. Entertainment Weekly ranked it 8th on their Funniest Movies of the Past 25 Years list, and the late, famed movie critic Roger Ebert added it to his list of Great Movies in 2010.


It took this Blogger several years to really appreciate the art of THE BIG LEBOWSKI. As a film it is a joy to take in through its twists and turns, the dialogue is instantly quotable, and the chemistry between Bridges, Goodman, and Buscemi is pure magic. The three characters benefit from holding to classic archetypes; the passive, the aggressive, and the neutral…and are executed so well that the film should be played and studied at every Film 101 class. It has elements of a Western, or even a Greek adventure through a series of perils and encounters…all while maintaining a sense of fun with a barrage of laughs (the gag with Donnie’s ashes cracks up this Blogger every time). After 20 years, The Dude is the role that the world relates Jeff Bridges to, and offers an important lesson; just take ‘er easy.

“All The Dude wanted was his rug back.”

Friday, March 9, 2018


The last time we saw writer/director Alex Garland, he brought us the brainy and most-excellent EX MACHINA, which was a closed-quarters paranoia sci-fi flick which shocked as much as it fascinated. Showing a knack for the genre, Garland returns to sci-fi, this time with ANNIHILATION, which is another closed-quarters paranoia story, only this time told on a grander scale.

Lena (Natalie Portman), is a doctor who has her military husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) return home from a secret mission with mysterious behavior. When his condition worsens, she and Kane are taken by a government agency to the outskirts of a “The Shimmer”, a quarantined bubble which is growing and taking over the Earth. Lena joins a team of scientists (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriquez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny), to enter the zone and discover the source before Earth is consumed.

Despite the grand stakes, ANNIHILATION is all Lena’s journey, which is two-fold. First, to find a way to stop The Shimmer from growing, and to solve the mystery of what happened to her husband Kane on his similar mission inside (spoiler alert – that’s what his secret mission was). Once inside, Lena and her team find themselves in a wild house-of-horrors, as they suffer from short-term memory loss, and are surrounded by revolting, mutated wild animals which take on the characteristics of anything they kill…including humans.

Garland is playing with a lot of horror elements here, as the team is stalked at night and attacked by the creatures. But at the same time he’s building a mystery in this fantastical little zone inside the bubble. With the stakes so high, Garland does manage to make it grounded; keeping Lena and her desire to save her husband always up front, while filling in the blanks of their marriage with some well-timed flashbacks. But on this journey, the mystery keeps on growing and growing, and the desire to over-explain things never bogs down the script to a fault; there’s a lot that’s left unanswered by movie’s end.

Garland flexes his muscle as a potential horror-film director with some truly frightening scenes, and the tension build-up is nicely done. The film looks beautiful as the team makes their way through the surreal landscape, and the creepy sound effects throughout the movie is unnerving. The landscapes are stunning, the creatures horrifying, although the beings we encounter near the film’s end suffer from poor CGI. With the exception of Lena, the team is all one-note and paper-thin and as disposable as a throw-away camera. And speaking of cameras, the old cliché of characters finding a video camera with a tape that explains things is used one too many times.

Acting is okay. Natalie Portman goes through a lot of torment, and her chemistry with Oscar Isaac is very good. Isaac’s role is an extended cameo, but what he does with his time is effective. The rest of the cast is forgettable with little to do.

The bulk of the film is spent building and slowly revealing, but in the last 20 minutes there is a lot of frustration to be had. The film goes for a shock ending that is very predictable and not as mind-blowing as it thinks it is, and there is way too much left unexplained; ambiguous doesn’t always mean genius. The wrap is very plain, and what’s odd is that there were hints throughout the film that there was something bigger going on, so it almost feels like the ending was changed at some point in production. It’s a frustrating destination because the journey was so good, and that type of imbalance earns ANNIHILATION a small recommendation.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Reel Preview: The Year in Film 2018 - Episode III

There’s a lot to look forward to in the cinematic month of March. With the Oscars and awards season over, 2017 can be officially considered put to bed, and we’re also out of the dead months of January and February. This March, there are some big-name directors appearing with some special projects, giving us a nice warm-up before the Summer Movie Season brings the heat.

Here are the notable releases for March…

RED SPARROW – Based on the novel of the same name, Jennifer Lawrence (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK), plays a Russian intelligence officer dispatched to the CIA to uncover a mole. Co-stars Joel Edgerton (WARRIOR), Mary-Louise Parker, and Jeremy Irons.

DEATH WISH – Bruce Willis stars in this remake of the 1970’s classic in which a doctor avenges the death of his daughter. Directed by Eli Roth (HOSTEL).

A WRINKLE IN TIME – Acclaimed director Ava DuVernay (SELMA) adapts the best-selling novel of the same name, in which a young girl sets off on a quest to find her father, who disappeared searching for a new planet. Stars Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Michael Pena, Zach Galifanakis, Reese Witherspoon, and Chris Pine (STAR TREK).

GRINGO – This zany action-comedy is about a doctor who invents medical marijuana in a pill form. Stars David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried, Thandie Newton, and Sharlto Copley (DISTRICT 9).

TOMB RAIDER – Academy Award winning actress Alicia Vikander (THE DANISH GIRL), stars as the jungle-exploring Lara Croft, in this new adaptation of the popular video game.

7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE – This crime thriller is based on the true story of a 1976 counter-terrorist rescue mission. Stars Rosamund Pike (GONE GIRL), and Daniel Bruhl (RUSH).

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING – The sequel to the 2013 sci-fi spectacle featuring giant robots slugging it out with equally-sized monsters, which does not have original director and creator Guillermo del Toro returning. It stars John Boyega (THE LAST JEDI), and Scott Eastwood (son of Clint), and also has returning actors Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and Rinko Kikuchi.

ISLE OF DOGS – Beloved director Wes Anderson returns with this stop-motion animated film about a world where all canines are quarantined on a single island. The massive cast features the voices of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murrary, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, F. Murray Abraham, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Courtney B. Vance, Harvey Keitel, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, and Ken Watanabe.

READY PLAYER ONE – Legendary director Steven Spielberg directs this adaptation of the cult-favorite novel, in which the population of Earth spends their time in an interconnected virtual space. It stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance.


Next month, Reel Speak previews the month of April.

Monday, March 5, 2018

A Reel Opinion: Oscar Wrap-up - The Good, The Bad, & The Glorious

The 90th Academy Awards were last night, bringing a fair amount of moments ranging from good, bad, and glorious. Here’s how the punches landed…

The Good

-Host Jimmy Kimmel, in only his second Oscars, looked right at home and set the tone early…which was high energy and showing no fear in skewering topics; topics that have plagued Hollywood in the past year, including the mistreatment of women by the industry, our vice-president, along with last year’s screw-up when the wrong Best Picture was announced. Gags such as the awarding of a jet-ski to the shortest acceptance speech and a field-trip to a movie theatre with a gaggle of nominees were excellent.

-In keeping with Kimmel’s early tone, actors and actresses were also fearless in going after Hollywood’s turbulent year. Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek, and Annabella Sciorra…victims of abuse by now disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, stood on stage together, as they introduced a very well-done montage of Hollywood trailblazers who are speaking out about inclusion and equality. Frances McDormand, during her acceptance speech for Best Actress, literally brought the place to its feet with a call for unity.

-Writer and director Jordan Peele made history as the first African American to win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

-In a rare crossover, sports and Hollywood came together. Best Documentary Feature went to ICARUS, which explored the Russian doping scandals, and NBA superstar Kobe Bryant took home the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film with DEAR BASKETBALL. And keeping with a theme of stars, Bryant was given his Oscar by the stars of STAR WARS, which included the basketball-shaped droid BB-8.

The Bad

-The In Memoriam piece was once again a show-stopping tearjerker; very well done with Eddie Vedder performing the late great Tom Petty’s Room at the Top. But, every year there seems to be an exclusion or two. Powers Boothe did not appear in the montage, and neither did Bill Paxton…who died on last year’s Oscar Sunday and was not included in that montage.

-Fans of the horror film GET OUT, which was nominated for four Oscars and took home one, have been in a rampage since the end of the ceremony, which did not honor their favorite film for Best Picture. The internet can be an ugly place for film criticism, and the overzealous fans of the film who don’t know when to quit are starting to give GET OUT a lousy reputation; which is the exact opposite of what the film stands for. No one likes a sore loser.

The Glorious

-This Blogger has been saying for years that the Academy needs to embrace their history more, and this year they listened. The lead-ins to the major categories were preceded by wonderful montages of past winners, and the four-minute 90 Years of Going to the Movies, which was a tribute to both film and theatre-goers, was nothing short of tremendous. Also great was a montage of past war films which served as a way to honor our veterans.

­-Famed cinematographer Roger Deakins and actor Gary Oldman finally taking home Oscars, with Oldman’s acceptance speech speaking directly to his mom.

-Guillermo del Toro’s Best Director win, for his fantasy love-story THE SHAPE OF WATER, made him the fourth Mexican director in five years to win that Oscar.

-Guillermo del Toro would also take home the top prize, with THE SHAPE OF WATER winning Best Picture. It was glorious moment because it made history while blazing a trail forward. It is the first female-led film to win Best Picture since MILLION DOLLAR BABY in 2004, and the first since 2014 that even had a Best Actress nominee in it. It’s also the first fantasy film to win since THE RETURN OF THE KING in 2003. What’s also interesting about its big night is that genre films usually win the technical awards (Visual Effects, Sound Mixing and Editing, etc.), and drama takes home the big creative Oscars such as Director, Writer, and Best Picture…but this year that was reversed. THE SHAPE OF WATER is also the first film in 22 years to win Best Picture without a nomination from the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG). There are many stats and trends to follow when trying to predict Best Picture, but sometimes all of that can be obliterated by just being a good movie. And that is all anyone ever wants. With that in mind, the right film won.


The 91st Academy Awards arrive on February 24th, 2019.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Reel Opinion: Oscar Picks - Part 2

When the Academy Awards were first handed out 90 years ago, the winners were known in advance. Things have changed since then, with the voters keeping their secrets closer than 007 in bed. That’s all fine, because part of the allure of the Oscars every year is trying to crack the code; as bloggers, critics, and fans of cinema use trends, stats, and gut-instinct to pick the winners in 24 categories.

Out of those 24, there are eight which are elemental towards Best Picture. Four belong to the actors (see Reel Speak’s acting picks HERE), and the rest belong to the hands and minds behind the camera. In this second and final part of Oscar picks, this Blogger makes selections in those all-important categories.

Best Editing

This is a vital category which is often overlooked. Two-thirds of all Best Picture winners have won this, and 35 out of the last 36 Best Picture winners got this nomination. This year the frontrunners are Christopher Nolan’s towering WWII epic DUNKIRK, and Edgar Wright’s snappy heist-film BABY DRIVER. BABY DRIVER was a surprise winner in this category at the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA), while DUNKIRK won with the American Cinema Editors (ACE), which could point towards what the society of editors (peers) are thinking. BABY DRIVER was an assault on the senses, as was DUNKIRK, but BABY DRIVER was like editing a music video, while DUNKIRK required a lot more thought with its non-linear structure. This will be Nolan’s big win of the night.


Best Adapted Screenplay

This is where this Blogger learns from last year’s MOONLIGHT; that gut-instinct can be defeated by stats and trends. The favorite to win here is the scummy overpraised CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, which won this category at BAFTA and with the Writers Guild of America (WGA). It’s also going up against weak competition; the other four are not nominated for anything major.  


Best Original Screenplay

Jordan Peele’s horror film GET OUT won this category with the WGA in a minor surprise, but then lost to Martin McDonagh’s THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI at BAFTA. THREE BILLBOARDS has been gaining a lot of attention for its acting (three Oscar nominees and wins at all the other major awards), and great acting always begins with the written word. GET OUT may be a fan-favorite, but THREE BILLBOARDS wins; its powerful sequence with a suicide-note is worth the Oscar alone.


Best Director

Guillermo del Toro takes home this one for THE SHAPE OF WATER. He’s already won Best Director at the Globes, BAFTA, and the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), and his fantasy film checks off all the boxes in acting, cinematography, design, and editing…pulling in the most nominations of any film this year. His closest competition is Christopher Nolan for DUNKIRK, but Nolan did not direct any of his actors to a nomination, while del Toro sent three to the Oscars, which is tied for best. The Academy does love its actors.

Winner: Guillermo del Toro

Best Picture

As stated above, any film lacking a Best Editing nomination does not have the odds in its favor, so that eliminates GET OUT, LADY BIRD, DARKEST HOUR, PHANTOM THREAD, and THE POST. Continuing the process of elimination, Nolan’s DUNKIRK may be a grand achievement, but with no nominations in acting and writing, and scoring donuts in the Guilds, Globes, and BAFTA…sadly falls out of contention. That leaves del Toro’s THE SHAPE OF WATER to battle it out with McDonagh’s THREE BILLBOARDS. SHAPE has important wins with the Producers and Directors Guilds, and although THREE BILLBOARDS won big at BAFTA, the Oscars and BAFTA have not picked the same Best Picture in four years. McDonagh did not get a nomination for Best Director, but we’ve seen films overcome that before, especially if the writing is good…and THREE BILLBOARDS does have that nod. THREE BILLBOARDS has been dominant this season; winning at BAFTA, the Globes, and the all-important Screen Actors Guild (SAG)...and with SHAPE not even receiving a nomination for SAG, that’s where the race changes. The only movie to win Best Picture without a SAG nomination was BRAVEHEART over 22 years ago. Since then, no movie has won without it. Why is that? Because most of the Academy is made up of actors, and that’s the codebreaker.



The Oscars will be awarded March 4th.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Reel Opinion: Oscar Picks - Part 1

It's Oscar Week! With the 90th Academy Awards just days away, this is a time not just to celebrate awards contenders, but the art and craft of filmmaking. From directors to writers to technicians to the people in front of the camera, this is the time to celebrate the power and magic of cinema.

In this first part of Oscar Picks, Reel Speak picks the winners in the four acting categories. This so far has been one of those rare years where the major awards from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Golden Globes, and British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) are all on the same page. Oscar may follow the trend and complete a sweep for our nominees, but there is always potential for an upset.

Best Supporting Actress

Having already won the SAG, Globe, and BAFTA in this category, Allison Janney looks to complete her awards season sweep for her firecracker role in I, TONYA. Similar to how the world always loves a grumpy old man on film, Janney’s portrayal of a grumpy old woman who operated behind the scenes of the one of the biggest sports scandals in history offered a unique insight and fresh angle to a story that the world has known so very well.

Winner: Allison Janney

Best Supporting Actor

Having already won the SAG, Globe, and BAFTA in this category (see the trend yet?), Sam Rockwell looks to complete his season sweep for his role as the biggest asshole in Ebbing, in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. Rockwell could very well be upset by his co-star Woody Harrelson, or even Willem Dafoe in the lower profile THE FLORIDA PROJECT, but Rockwell’s character went through a lot of different phases; going from jerk to sympathetic in a blink…and that is no easy task.

Winner: Sam Rockwell

Best Actress

This seems to be a lock for Frances McDormand and her powerful performance in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI…which is an acting clinic. McDormand has already won this category at the Globes, SAG, and BAFTA, and is favored to complete the sweep. However, the much-adored LADY BIRD could play spoiler here. Saorise Ronan, an Irish actress, has captured a lot of hearts in her portrayal of an outspoken California teen, and her win could be the only Oscar LADY BIRD takes home, but McDormand is definitely the safe bet.

Winner: Frances McDormand

Best Actor

This category is a long-awaited clash of the titans, with the long-overdue Gary Oldman going up against the greatest of all time, Daniel Day-Lewis. Oldman’s towering performance as the famed Winston Churchill took a lot of work, as he had to act past the heavy prosthetics and sell the character with his eyes (again, no easy task), and he also has won this category in SAG, Globes and BAFTA. Daniel Day-Lewis has won this Oscar three times (best in history), and could play spoiler to Oldman’s long-awaited win. Another upset could come from Timothee Chalamet from the stupid CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, but Oldman should have this as easily as Churchill has a cigar.

Winner: Gary Oldman


Read Reel Speak's picks in the elemental categories leading to Best Picture HERE

The Oscars will be awarded March 4th.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Reel Review: The Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films

Animated short films have the same challenges as live-action shorts; they need to tell a story and develop characters as swiftly and effectively as possible…but they have the advantage of working in the animated world, where anything and anywhere can be created. With no limits other than imagination, the Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films are always the category to look forward to the most.

Here are this year’s nominees and their Reel Reviews.

LOU – A schoolyard bully meets his match in a mysterious creature who lurks in the lost-and-found box.

This annual entry from Pixar ran in front of CARS 3 last summer, and in addition to being an effective, anti-bullying story, is one of the most inventive from the famed animation studio. Schoolyard toys and childhood playthings are combined to bring the mysterious being to life, and a clever twist towards the end suddenly has us rooting for the villain of the story.

DEAR BASKETBALL – Narrator Kobe Bryant explores what it is to chase a dream, achieve it, and leave it behind.

This star-studded nominee was created and narrated by former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, animated by Disney legend Glen Keane, and scored by the great John Williams. It is a literal love-letter to the game of basketball as told by Kobe, and while it seems self-serving at first glance, it runs deep as it covers what everyone must go through in life with their pursuits. The combination of Kobe’s unique insight and the creative team involved makes this a must-see for fans of both sports and cinema, and that is a rare combo. 

GARDEN PARTY – A group of frogs explore an abandoned house.

The first thing that must be said about this film is the animation is simply breathtaking; the texture on the frogs and the purity of the water looks as real as possible, which makes up for the lack of plot. The film merely tags-along with the frogs as they follow their instincts through the abandoned mansion, and a series of events slowly reveals to us just how the house became abandoned in a shocking and grotesque fashion.

NEGATIVE SPACE – A boy connects with his father over the art of packing a suitcase.

This stop-motion film is the only one of the group in which real models and character-puppets were built. The paper-Mache look is a welcome throwback and the craftmanship can really be appreciated. The film is light on plot and is instead an unfolding of one man’s memories of his father. The final shot is a chuckler and doesn’t quite land as well as the bulk of the film.

REVOLTING RHYMES – Snow White, Red Riding Hood, and the Three Little Pigs come together for an adventure.

Based on the book by famed children’s author Roald Dahl, this adventure of revenge and deception is a wonderful tale which brilliantly combines the elements of the most famous fairy tales of all time. It mixes tragedy and laughs with a haunting and shocking ending…but not so shocking if we keep in mind the true nature of most fairy tales. The only knock against it is its running time; at 28 minutes, it is the longest of the nominees and pushes the limits of a short.


The Oscars will be awarded March 4th.

Read Reel Speak’s review for the Live Action Nominees HERE

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Reel Review: The Oscar Nominated Live Action Short Films

Short films can be considered to the purest form of filmmaking. With limited time to work with, the challenge is to tell a story and develop characters as effectively and swiftly as possible, and with the rules in place for all, independent filmmakers can easily compete with larger studios. This year’s batch of live-action Oscar nominees rises up to the challenge, while drawing inspiration from real life drama.

Here are the Reel Reviews for the nominees…

DEKALB ELEMENTARY – A lone gunman enters an elementary school and forms a bond with the terrified receptionist.

Inspired by a real-life 911 call during a school-shooting incident in Atlanta, this film feels like a chunk of a larger story, and could have benefitted from more setup and a stronger conclusion. But, on its own this is a harrowing movie, as it doesn’t pull any punches in dropping us right in the middle of a frightening ordeal.

WATU WOTE (ALL OF US) – In Kenya, a Christian woman is protected by Muslim passengers on a bus hijacked by terrorists.

Also based on a real-life incident, this powerful film also drops us right down the gun barrel. It’s an exploration of faith and trust, and how different religions can ultimately have one thing in common.

THE ELEVEN O’CLOCK – A delusional patient of a psychiatrist believes he is actually the psychiatrist.

The only comedy film of this year’s nominees is full of laughs, but at the same time can be obnoxious as the patient and doctor battle over their identities. The dialogue is sharp and witty and very clever, and it constantly changes what we think we know is going on…although the twist at the end is telegraphed very early.

MY NEPHEW EMMETT – A preacher in 1955 Mississippi tries to protect his 14-year-old nephew from racist killers.

This nominee is based on the real-life, infamous murder of an African-American teen in 1955, and has the potential for a feature-length film while standing well on its own. It’s a quick reminder of the vicious racism that plagued the deep south in the 1950’s, and also ramps up the tension once threats are made and guns are drawn. It’s the best-looking of the batch with stunning cinematography which seems to rely only on natural lighting.

THE SILENT CHILD – The parents of severely deaf little girl clash with her social worker/teacher over the best way to help her.

This little heartbreaker serves as a social statement and has the most potential as a feature-length. The idea here is that deaf children are at a disadvantage not only because of their handicap, but because schools and parents are un-equipped, or un-willing to take the right steps to help them. The acting in this is excellent, and the finale will have anyone reaching for the tissues.


Review for the Animated Short Film nominees HERE

The Oscars will be awarded March 4th.

Friday, February 16, 2018


For director Ryan Coogler, the pressure was certainly on in bringing BLACK PANTHER to the big screen for the first time. Originally created in 1966, the character was the very first African-American superhero; a reaction to the Civil Rights movement, and over the years has come to mean a lot to a lot of people. The character represents equality and culture and a lot more, and deserved to be done right in the massive, and ever-growing series of Marvel’s super-films.

After the death of his father, T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) arrives home as the new king of Wakanda; a hidden, technologically advanced African nation which has remained secluded from the world for thousands of years. While being faced with the immense pressure of Wakanda’s future and living up to his father’s reign, T’Challa’s right to the throne is challenged by N’Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan), also known as Killmonger…who has big plans for Wakanda and its secrets.

BLACK PANTHER arrives as the 19th (!) film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) since 2008, and right away makes the smart decision to focus its story on a single, isolated region which rarely ventures out, even though the eventual stakes have far-reaching consequences. It’s a battle for the throne and the future of Wakanda, with the latter point being the most important. Wakanda is a region of long-standing tradition; with the tradition of never interfering or assisting the world with its problems the hardest one to break. It’s a world-building exercise that gives T’Challa, his supporters, and his enemy Killmonger good territory to battle over, as the film leans heavily on a theme of what to do with old traditions when they seem obsolete; is it a betrayal of ancestry to adopt to the changing times, or a necessity to survive?

Far from a basic origin story (it’s not an origin story at all), BLACK PANTHER goes deeper with its characters for even more meat to chew on. T’Challa is struggling with the burden of rule and getting out of his father’s shadow, while Killmonger is a villain coming out of tragedy. Killmonger especially is given strong motivations to take over Wakanda, and his ideas of how the isolated kingdom should be using its riches and technology is debatably on the right side. This gives BLACK PANTHER an important depth.

Once the action starts BLACK PANTHER truly soars. The fight scenes, especially the hand-to-hand combat are a thrill, and every time T’Challa dons the Black Panther suit, the screen is commanded by his presence. The film is packed with tragedy with character deaths and lots of stabbing with spears and claws, and the stakes to every fight are always felt. The film looks beautiful and every shot is framed nicely. Editing and pacing could be a little tighter in some places; scenes leading up to a few action sequences needed some more energy and forward momentum. Ludwig Goransson’s score is excellent. The film is saturated in African culture; clothing, traditions, and music are a major part of the film’s identity and give it a uniqueness in the Marvel catalog and the superhero genre.

Chadwick Boseman is excellent as the struggling ruler and as the hero. The burden of leadership can always be seen on his face, but he switches from unsure to fierce in a blink, and his accent is perfect. Michael B. Jordan matches Boseman nicely, and is given a lot to do while nearly stealing the movie. Boseman is surrounded by a great supporting cast; Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, and Forest Whitaker are well-cast and are very good, and Jordan trades barbs with returning Marvel bad-guy Andy Serkis…who is always a joy to see. Martin Freeman also reprises his role as a government man; his character feels a little extraneous but his worth is eventually felt by movie’s end.

The final battle of BLACK PANTHER relies on way too much spectacle and becomes a bit of a CGI headache, but the film still wraps with a satisfying conclusion, and despite being firmly entrenched in the MCU, operates very well as a standalone film. As a superhero movie, BLACK PANTHER excels in action and character, and its few flaws don’t derail it as a fitting adaptation to an important hero.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Reel Preview: Everything You Need to Know About BLACK PANTHER

This week, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) releases their 18th film in their series since 2008 in the form of BLACK PANTHER, which may be one of the most anticipated superhero films of all time. In this preview, is everything you need to know about this newest Marvel adventure…

What’s the big deal? – The big deal is that the character of Black Panther is the first African-American superhero to appear in the comics, predating other well-known heroes such as Luke Cage, Falcon, and the DC Comics’ character John Stewart/Green Lantern. Although cinema has brought us black superheroes before in BLADE (1998) and HANCOCK (2008), the Black Panther character pre-dates those, and is the first solo outing for the character in the MCU.

What is this all about? – Picking up after the events of CIVIL WAR (2016), BLACK PANTHER follows T’Challa, who is returning home as the king of Wakanda; a fictional, technologically advanced secret city in East Africa. T’Challa uses his wealth, technology, and skills to moonlight as the Black Panther hero, and he finds himself challenged by a long-time adversary…leading to global consequences.

Who is behind the camera? – BLACK PANTHER is directed by Ryan Coogler, who brought us the magnificent CREED in 2015. His other notable credit is the acclaimed FRUITVILLE STATION in 2013.

Who is in front of the camera? – Chadwick Boseman reprises the role of T’Challa/Black Panther, which he debuted in CIVIL WAR. Boseman is also well-known for his role as Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013). The aforementioned adversary of T’Challa is played by Michael B. Jordan, who is a long-time collaborator with Coogler…having appeared in CREED and FRUITVILLE STATION. Returning Marvel actors include Martin Freeman (CIVIL WAR), and Andy Serkis (AGE OF ULTRON). The rest of the strong cast includes Lupita Nyong’o (12 YEARS A SLAVE), Daniel Kaluuya (GET OUT), Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker.

Random Facts – Andy Serkis’ character and T’Challa’s country were introduced in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON in 2015. Wakanda was also mentioned as a location in IRON MAN 2 (2010) * Wakanda is the home of vibranium mines, which is what Captain America’s shield was made out of * The fighting style in the film is based on Africa martial arts * The filmmakers cite BLADE RUNNER (1982) as an inspiration for Wakanda’s design * The February release is the earliest ever for an MCU film * This is the second solo movie for a character introduced in CIVIL WAR. The first was Peter Parker/Spider-man in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) *

What to expect – Beginning with the creative team behind the camera, Marvel has succeeded time and time again because they always seem to get the right people for the right jobs. The decisions in their directors and actors have been solid. The call to bring Ryan Coogler aboard, a well-established and acclaimed filmmaker, can only be a good thing. Coogler has shown great skill behind the camera and an ability to express his characters very well. In front of the camera, Chadwick Boseman brought chills his first time out as Black Panther in a limited role, and having him in a film full-time is sure to be a treat. Boseman is surrounded by a great cast and he can only thrive on that. All these pieces should add up well, with the sum-total another home-run, and historic hit for Marvel.


BLACK PANTHER arrives February 16th.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Reel Birthday

This month marks the 8th anniversary of Reel Speak.

This little blog was founded on a love for cinema; a love that began in a darkened theatre in 1977 when the magnificent STAR WARS captured the imagination and heart of me, and the entire world. It was a night that set me on a career and life path, with Reel Speak founded on a desire to share that love and expand on the wonderful world of movies.

Each year, to celebrate Reel Speak’s first blog entry on February 24th, 2010, this Blogger is proud to share the Top 20 reasons Why I Love the Movies. It’s my favorite one to post each year, as I get to revisit this list of direct and indirect references to films which have captured me the same way STAR WARS did over 40 years ago. This list has changed and evolved, and each year it offers an opportunity to reflect. The events of the past year in my life has me looking back at family, and my family’s love for movies which led us to that theatre in 1977. Dad was a John Wayne fan, and was all about watching The Duke in THE COWBOYS and THE GREEN BERETS. Mom is all about GONE WITH THE WIND. My brother and sister followed in my footsteps with STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and this Blogger’s girlfriend is all about THE SOUND OF MUSIC and MARRY POPPINS. Cinema has been with me for years, and it always shall be.

So here are my reasons for loving film, which can give a glimpse into what makes me tick, and maybe inspire you to examine what films are important in your life, and why.


20. Because the trick is not minding that it hurts.

19. Because if they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you.

18. Because a Jaguar Shark ate my best friend.

17. Because we will not walk in fear of one another.

16. Because of John Williams.

15. Because I have been, and always shall be your friend.

14. Because what we do in life echoes in eternity.  

13. Because Red October was hunted.

12. Because the only Virtue is Vengeance. A Vendetta.

11. Because Crom laughs at your four winds!

10. Because it’s a wonderful night for Oscar.

9. Because they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

8. Because “I love you”, and “I know”.

7. Because every man dies. Not every man really lives.

6. Because I will drink your milkshake.

5. Because if someone asks me if I’m a god, I say yes.

4. Because they needed a bigger boat.

3. Because there had to be snakes.

2. Because the Fellowship will not fail.

1. Because of what happened on May 25th, 1977.

Monday, February 5, 2018

A Reel Review: The Super Bowl Movie Trailers - The Good, The Bad, & The Glorious

The Super Bowl, the NFL’s championship game and annual cultural milestone, is always one of the most watched TV events of the year. Advertisers take full advantage of even the most casual observer tuning in to roll out a new campaign, as does Hollywood. This year’s crop of movie trailers was on the light side, but still offered plenty of Good, Bad, and Glorious. Here’s how it played out during Super Bowl LII (that’s 52, for you muggles)…

The Good

-Airing before kickoff, but still worth a mention are John Krasinski’s horror-thriller A QUIET PLACE and the Jennifer Lawrence-led spy flick RED SPARROW. Both offered new footage while ramping up the tension and action.

-It’s always fun to see Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doing anything, and the trailer for his new thriller SKYSCRAPER didn’t disappoint. The trailer offered some dizzying visuals and a surprise handicap for the Rock’s character.

-The MISSION IMPOSSIBLE series with star Tom Cruise is about to bring its sixth film since 1996, and the new trailer for the July release, subtitled FALLOUT, was a showcase for some great-looking stunts.

The Bad

-The good news about the trailer for JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM is that it was full of people being chased by dinosaurs. The bad news about the trailer is that it was full of people being chased by dinosaurs. Just the same old thing all over again.

-You get negative points for not showing up. No trailer for the Warner Bros. adaptation of DC Comics’ AQUAMAN (they need positive vibes badly), and nothing for high-profile releases such as TOMB RAIDER, PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING, THE INCREDIBLES 2, or READY PLAYER ONE.

-Marvel’s BLACK PANTHER was cross-promoted with a car commercial. Fans don’t care about cars, they want to see their heroes.

The Glorious

-Where Disney may have stumbled with BLACK PANTHER and INCREDIBLES 2, they made up for it in the superhero department with a new spot for the much anticipated AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. The quick spot drove home the point that this is the beginning of the final chapter of a journey that started a decade ago, and also managed to feature the majority of the massive cast.

-You get major points for pulling a surprise, and Disney won the cinematic night with the first look at SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. We heard that there would be a trailer last week, and then told no...we’d have to wait until Monday, so when that famed LucasFilm logo faded up, attentions were no doubt grabbed. The trailer was quick and snappy with some stunning visuals of the old Empire and the Millennium Falcon, and the first look at Alden Ehrenrich as Han Solo. And as a bonus, the trailer served as a teaser for the full-trailer release which arrived today. STAR WARS is still full of surprises.


Super Bowl LIII will be played February 3rd, 2019.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Reel Preview: The Year in Film 2018 - Episode II

The bad news about the cinematic month of February is that it’s still in Movie Siberia; where cast-offs go to quickly die. But the good news is that it’s a short month, and this year there is at least one high-profile release to look forward to. Here are the notable releases for the upcoming month:

WINCHESTER – Based on the true location of the famed Winchester manor, this horror film follows the widow to the creator of Winchester Firearms (played by Helen Mirren) who is haunted by spirits in the mansion. Jason Clarke (ZERO DARK THIRTY) co-stars.

FIFTY SHADES FREED – Based on the novel by E.L. James, this erotic thriller is the third and final entry to the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY series. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan reprise their roles.

PETER RABBIT – The beloved creation by Beatrix Potter comes to life in this live-action, CGI hybrid. James Corden provides the voice of the rabbit, and he is joined by Margot Robbie, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Sam Neill, and Daisy Ridley (THE LAST JEDI).

THE 15:17 TO PARIS – Famed director Clint Eastwood returns with this true story adaptation of three American friends who confront a terrorist on a train bound for Paris. Those three American friends star as themselves.

BLACK PANTHER – It’s not often we see a high-profile superhero film released in the first two months of the year, but Marvel has earned the clout to do whatever the hell they want at this point. Chadwick Boseman reprises the role of Black Panther which he originated in CIVIL WAR, and he is joined by Michael B. Jordan (CREED), Lupita Nyong’o (THE LAST JEDI), Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kuluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. It is directed by Ryan Coogler, who directed the acclaimed CREED (2015), and FRUITVILLE STATION (2013).

ANNIHILATION -  Director Alex Garland, who brought us the most-excellent sci-fi thriller EX MACHINA (2015), returns to sci-fi with this thriller in which scientists and soldiers venture into a mysterious disaster zone. Stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Oscar Isaac (THE LAST JEDI).


Next month, Reel Speak previews the month of March.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Reel Review: HOSTILES

The Old West can be a tricky genre to bring to the screen these days. It’s the one genre that can fill us with a great sense of nostalgia; images of cowboys and Indians, outlaws and lawman, gun-slinging and horseback riding into the sunset. It’s all familiar territory that movie fans love, but perhaps a little too familiar; after 100 years of Old West films, it’s a challenge to make the old seem new again. Such is the task for writer and director Scott Cooper and HOSTILES.

In 1892, Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) reluctantly accepts the task of escorting a Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) back to his tribal land; from New Mexico to Montana. Along the long journey, Blocker and his men come across a widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family was killed by hostile Comanches.

The structure of HOSTILES is an episodic, road-trip movie…with the travelers going from one area to another avoiding hazards such as Comanche attacks, outlaw fur-trappers, overzealous land-owners, and bad weather. The journey gets off on the wrong foot right away, as Blocker, weary and broken from way too many years of war and killing Indians, would rather be doing anything than escorting a war chief, who is himself guilty of many atrocities, back to his native land and freedom. Things are compounded when the widow, Rosalie, comes into the picture and is forced to travel with Indians when she just saw her family slaughtered by natives.

Putting characters into tough positions and seeing how they survive is the name of the game here, and it works well. Blocker, and his long-time comrade Tommy (Rory Cochrane), are both broken men who feel they lost their souls over their years of killing natives, and having them on a mission which is basically a humanitarian task is an opportunity for redemption for the both of them. By the time the destination is reached and the bullets and blood are done, both redemption and tragedy are found in shocking ways.

Director Scott Cooper is no hurry to get his characters anywhere, and certainly drives home the point that it took a long time to go places on horseback. The journey is slow and treacherous, and it shows. The landscapes are filmed beautifully, and Cooper can’t help but to film more than one important scene with the only light coming from a campfire. The gun-fights are outstanding and offer more than one seat-jumper. Max Richter’s score is outstanding, and Ryan Bingham contributes some period-piece friendly original songs.

Christian Bale is outstanding and once again proves his great range. He is battle-fatigued to the point where there is barely anything behind his voice, and the struggle the character has to do his duty can be felt at all times. Rosamund Pike is equally great, and the moment when she has to bury her own family is a heartbreaker. Rory Cochrane nearly steals the show as Blocker’s right-hand man and old friend. The rest of the cast, including Stephen Lang, Wes Studi, Jonathan Majors, Jesse Plemons, and Timothee Chalamet are all excellent. Ben Foster shows up in a little twist of an extended cameo. If there’s any flaw, it’s that the commitment to the style of speaking is so good that it’s occasionally difficult to understand bits of dialogue.

HOSTILES is officially a 2017 film, but it’s dumb release-strategy doesn’t have most of the world seeing it until late January…which basically sabotaged any hopes it had during Awards Season. As shame, as it would certainly have been a contender. Scott Cooper has delivered a Western that is simple in structure, but rich in character…giving the Old West something new to hang its hat on.  


Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Reel Opinion: Oscars v. Superheroes

The nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced this week (read the recap HERE), and one of the most-talked about snubs, or surprises, is the exclusion of Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN. The superhero flick based on the famed DC Comics character was one of the biggest hits of the year, earning universal praise and pulling in an impressive box office haul; it was the ninth-highest grossing film of the year, and is currently the all-time fifth-highest grossing superhero film domestically. It was a cultural phenomenon; re-inventing a decades old comic character and inspiring young women across the globe, with actress Gal Gadot, who played the lead role, instantly rising into the stratosphere of stardom.

And on Tuesday, the Academy nominated it for nothing.

Almost immediately, calls for the Academy being blind to the accomplishments of women in cinema populated social media, despite some historic nominations happening this year. Greta Gerwig, director of LADY BIRD, became the fifth female recognized in the Best Director category, and Rachel Morrison made history as the first woman nominated for Best Cinematography; nominated for MUDBOUND. Not to mention Meryl Streep’s nomination for THE POST made her the most nominated performer of all-time. Yes, the industry has made great steps forward in recognizing women, but those disappointed in WONDER WOMAN’s shutout say it’s a step backwards.

But history also brings up another point; the Academy is too quick to dismiss superhero movies. There is a snobbery that can be felt every year; superhero films are too cartoony, flashy, noisy, and silly to be taken seriously. In 2008, when Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT didn’t earn an expected nomination for Best Picture, the point was proven that any film with a cape and mask would not be considered; despite Nolan’s film having the cinematic maturity that Academy voters seem to look for. Although Heath Ledger from DARK KNIGHT won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year, superhero films, it seems, would mostly be limited to the technical categories such as visual effects and makeup.

Just as the Academy (and the industry) has slowly been making the turn for women in film, they have slowly (like molasses in January) been making progress in looking at superhero films. This year, James Mangold’s LOGAN became the first superhero adaptation to earn a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, showing that the right approach can work. LOGAN didn’t play out like a superhero film at all, and made the bold and brave moves to take a beloved hero and turn him into a broken old man. It was a move forward for the genre, and the Academy noticed.

WONDER WOMAN was also a step forward for the genre; being the first superhero film with a female lead to be successful critically and financially. But film-wise it stuck close to the standard template that movies of the genre tend to stick to, and while that worked just fine, that’s not enough to impress the Academy. At best, the film could have, and probably should have earned nods for Costume Design, Original Score, and some other technical categories…but Best Picture was always a bit of a stretch. The situation wasn’t quite right for a cape and mask to enter the Best Picture race, but like so many out there who have been overlooked in the past…the day is coming.


The Oscars will be awarded March 4th.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Reel Facts & Opinions: Oscar Nominations - The Good, The Bad, & The Glorious

Nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced today, bringing with them a mix of Good, Bad, and Glorious. Here’s how it breaks down…


-The nominations were announced in a slickly produced setting with hosts Andy Serkis and Tiffany Haddish (more on them in a minute). Each category was preceded by a short video with stars such as Gal Gadot and Zoe Saldana. The videos were fun and created specific for each category with no dialogue and strong visuals…like a silent film from the age of yesteryear. More of this for the actual ceremony, please.

-Diversity is once again the primary topic of discussion. Oscar favorites Octavia Spencer and Denzel Washington are back, along with newcomer Daniel Kaluuya. Dee Rees became the first African American nominated in adapted screenplay, for her work on MUDBOUND.

-Some other history: Meryl Streep is now the most nominated performer with 21 career nods, having been recognized for her work in THE POST. Also, Christopher Plummer, who famously replaced Kevin Spacey in ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD six weeks before opening night, earned a nomination and became the oldest person ever to be nominated at 88 years young.

-More history: Greta Gerwig, director of LADY BIRD, became the fifth female recognized in the Best Director category, and Rachel Morrison made history as the first woman nominated for Best Cinematography; she was nominated for MUDBOUND.

-James Franco was not nominated for Best Actor for THE DISASTER ARTIST, despite a strong showing during this awards season. Franco was likely passed on due to inappropriate sexual conduct allegations, and it seems the Academy has finally drawn a line; you misbehave, we don’t want you.


-Co-host Tiffany Haddish was a goddamn disaster. She stumbled over every name that was longer than one syllable, mispronounced everything, and came off as an amateur. A little bit of preparation goes a long way.

-I, TONYA, one of the most acclaimed films of the year…did not get a Best Picture nomination, despite earning nominations for Best Actress (Margot Robbie), and Best Supporting Actress (Allison Janney).

-MUDBOUND, a Netflix production, earned four nominations. While this is definitely deserved, the Academy just contradicted its long-standing rule of films needing to play in an actual movie theatre to be eligible. MUDBOUND never left the TV screen, and now the rules have become clear as mud.

-Vicky Krieps was not nominated despite her tremendous turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s PHANTOM THREAD.

-Patty Jenkins’ magnificent WONDER WOMAN, a cultural phenomenon, did not receive a single nomination.


-Co-host Andy Serkis was a charismatic charmer. Get this man a job as a future Oscar host.

--John Williams received his 51st career Oscar nomination with his nod for Best Original Score for STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

-Speaking of STAR WARS, the four nominations for THE LAST JEDI brings the total number of nominations for the franchise up to 36 over nine films. This is second only to the Middle-Earth films of THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, which has 38 nominations over six films.

-Christopher Nolan finally gets his first Best Director nomination for his towering DUNKIRK, which earned a total of eight.

-This was a great year for sci-fi and fantasy. Guillermo del Toro’s fairy-tale THE SHAPE OF WATER leads the pack with 13 nominations, and the genre is backed up by THE LAST JEDI (four), BLADE RUNNER 2049 (five), and LOGAN (one). LOGAN, by the way, is the first superhero adaptation to be nominated for its writing.

-2017 has generally been considered a strong year for film, with many movies earning plenty of good attention, accolades, and reviews. This year the list of Best Picture nominees reflects exactly that, with nine movies selected for the top category (by the way, five of the nine appeared in Reel Speak’s Top 10 Best list HERE), so the Academy was clearly impressed by the year’s output.


See all of the nominees HERE

The Oscars will be awarded March 4th.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Reel Opinion: The Best & Worst Films of 2017 - Part 2

As stated in Part 1 (HERE), the worst of 2017 happened off the screen, as some of Hollywood’s biggest names were revealed to be flat-out evil men; committing atrocities against women and children for decades. But the absolute best part is that the revelations did finally happen; the bad guys have been flushed out and will continue to be flushed out.

It was a grand year for women in film, as several of the top grossing films of 2017 had female leads, and women who operate behind the camera were noticed during Awards Season. The year was a major step forward, and the trend is sure to continue.

On the screen, Disney had another one of their stellar years; hitting pay-dirt with their re-adaptation of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and two emotional wallops with their two Pixar offerings, CARS 3 and COCO. On the battlefield of superheroes, Marvel served up a triple-cocktail of excellence with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING, and THOR: RAGNAROK. Rival studio DC Comics in the meantime blazed new trails with their magnificent WONDER WOMAN.

Other films that this Blogger highly recommends are Greta Gerwig’s LADY BIRD, Ridley Scott’s ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, Jordan Peele’s GET OUT, Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER!, Craig Gillespie’s I, TONYA, Sofia Coppola’s THE BEGUILED, James Franco’s THE DISASTER ARTIST, and Gary Oldman’s stunning performance in DARKEST HOUR.

Now, on to the ten best films of 2017.

10. LOGAN – The first X-MEN movie way back in 2000 can be credited with getting the ball rolling on the current wave of superhero films, and it took 17 years for the franchise to find a film with the maturity and emotional power of any Oscar or arthouse film. Hugh Jackman, playing the clawed, self-healing mutant for perhaps the final time, plays the once-mighty Wolverine as a broken and aging character, in exile and ridden with guilt. It was a sobering thing to see, and a far cry from the typical cartoon-like movies we get from comic book adaptions; our heroes do grow old, which is new territory for the genre.  Director James Mangold delivered a film with a tremendous sense of closure, topped off with an amazing closing shot.

9. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI – An aging and broken hero in exile is also the basis for the 8th entry in the central STAR WARS saga, as writer and director Rian Johnson makes the bold move to tear down the iconic Luke Skywalker (wonderfully reprised by Mark Hamill), and give him the mightiest weight any Jedi has to carry; the last of his kind with the responsibility to pass on what he’s learned. Where the preceding film, THE FORCE AWAKENS, played it safe, THE LAST JEDI threw out the playbook and dug in deep, offering a startling, and welcome self-reflection at the way we perceive failure, legends, and heroes…all while keeping true to the values established in the first STAR WARS 40 years ago, capped by a closing shot decades in the making. The decisions made here may have been divisive among fans, but it ultimately proved one thing; after all this time, STAR WARS is still full of surprises.  

8. BLADE RUNNER 2049 – Speaking of surprising sequels to a decades-old film, Denis Villeneuve delivers a sequel which is far superior to the original, cult-favorite BLADE RUNNER from 1982. Picking right up in the futuristic world where artificial humans are manufactured and hunted, 2049 is visually stunning, thoughtful and engaging, trance-like and meaningful. Harrison Ford steps right back into the role he created 30 years ago, and the film has excellent performances from Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, and Ana de Armas.

7. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI – A wonky third act does not stop this film from being the acting powerhouse of the year, with tremendous performances from Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. Director Martin McDonagh’s tale of tragedy and loss was a snapshot of small town America, while making a strong statement on race, family, and coping with loss.

6. THE SHAPE OF WATER – It was an excellent year for sci-fi and fantasy, and director Guillermo del Toro’s take on the old Beauty and the Beast fairy tale was the capper. Set in the 1950’s, del Toro takes us to a secret government facility where a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins) connects with a captured mysterious sea creature. It’s a tale of two misfits literally from different worlds who find common ground, and despite the odd circumstances their love doesn’t seem that far-fetched. The film has a dream-like trance effect to it, and the great Michael Shannon turns in one of the best bad-guy performances of the year.

5. THE POST – Done in the spirit of the classic newspaper film ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, famed director Steven Spielberg brings us the all-important, and very relevant story about the publishing of The Pentagon Papers, which exposed over 30 years of lies about Vietnam by the U.S. government. Spielberg draws many on-the-nose parallels between the Nixon Administration and what’s happening in today’s White House, and while that may seem like low hanging fruit, it works and it works well. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are both tremendous, and THE POST easily belongs on the top shelf of important journalism films; it’s all about telling the truth.

4. WIND RIVER – Taylor Sheridan beefs up his strong resume, which already includes SICARIO (2015), and HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016). Jeremy Renner plays a hunter of predators on an Indian Reservation who assists a young FBI Agent, played by Elizabeth Olsen, in a murder investigation. What could be a simple and clichéd procedural turns into a twisting and turning stunner, while reminding us of the continuing, modern struggles of the American Indian.

3. PHANTOM THREAD – The last time writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson collaborated with the great Daniel Day-Lewis, we got the magnificent THERE WILL BE BLOOD in 2007. Ten years later, they get together again, and deliver an elegant, layered, and unique look at love. Taking place in the 1950’s high-end world of dressmaking, Anderson and Day-Lewis paint the life of a famed dressmaker as one of strict routine, only to be upset when a new lover (wonderfully played by Vicky Krieps) enters the picture. Shot and edited beautifully, PHANTOM THREAD takes the elements of love and relationships into shocking directions, while throwing in one of the most hair-raising, frightening scenes in all of 2017 cinema. This is the product of two masters at work.

2. A GHOST STORY – On paper, the concept seemed ridiculous; take your lead actor (Casey Affleck), throw a sheet over him for 90% of his screentime, and strip away almost all the dialogue. In lesser hands, it would be a failure, but writer and director David Lowery turns it into a masterpiece of love, loss, and the staggering concept of just how enormous time can be. Affleck plays a ghost who is not ready to move on, due to his un-ending love for his wife (Rooney Mara). Time goes by in a blink for the film, but slowly for him, and the decades that pass on-screen boggles the mind. This is a simple, yet grand idea on what happens in the afterlife, and more importantly, what happens when we’re here.

1. DUNKIRK – This Blogger and his girlfriend had the opportunity to view Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic in the glorious 70mm format this year, and it made for one of the most memorable and jaw-dropping cinematic experiences for us both. DUNKIRK, which tells the story of the difficult evacuation of over 300,000 Allied troops who were pinned down with nowhere to go, was definitely made for the big (and biggest) screens possible with its large canvas spanning the enormity of land, sea, and air battles. But beyond that, Nolan finds and re-invents an old cinematic language of impressionistic sights and sound; ditching the clichéd usage of bravado speeches, planting flags, and taking that last hill. The film is fully immersive as it drops us right into the battles taking place on three different fronts, and it makes for an unforgettable and harrowing experience. Nolan’s fascination with the concept of time takes what could have been a simple A to Z tale into a thinking-man’s war picture, and the editing, sound design, and commitment to practical effects and old-fashioned filmmaking is most-impressive. No other film in 2017 was as stunning, or found that rare balance of making old-school, classic cinema feel like new; and that is the best of all worlds.

The Best Films of 2017

1.       DUNKIRK

2.       A GHOST STORY


4.       WIND RIVER

5.       THE POST



8.       BLADE RUNNER 2049


10.   LOGAN