The 25 best movies of the decade

This article was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

It’s a maxim among cinephiles that movies don’t change—but people do. Our reaction to a new film is shaped by the experiences and perceptions we bring into it, even as the first words upon leaving the theater (or turning off Netflix) typically are about an actor’s performance, a screenplay’s effectiveness, a specific shot’s inventiveness. That we can revisit movies later and come away with new insights – new pieces of the cinematic fabric to grasp onto – says as much about the medium’s unspoken power as it says about our malleable connections to art. Who among us doesn’t have a movie we refuse to revisit for the first time since childhood, out of fear that adult sentiment will muddle our memory of it?

A decade that felt both historic in that the world has never been more connected by social media and fleeting in that we’ve never been more empowered to move on to the next viral story – or the next thing in our streaming queues – shaped the cinematic product, too. For one, movies have never felt so much like a reckoning with real-world forces that are continuing to mold what the 2020s will look like.

For another, it’s an increasingly rare thing for a film to be universal, in its ability to resonate not (or not only) through legions of audiences, but through time, beyond the moment it carved out for itself on a release schedule. These 25 films – the best of the 2010s – remain moviemaking triumphs as the curtain begins to close on this decade, and may very well endure as such into the next as well.  As a certain purple Mad Titan would say: They are inevitable. Continue reading →

‘Uncut Gems’ Review: Adam Sandler has never been wilder than in the Safdie Brothers’ new anxiety attack of a movie

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

Adam Sandler is such a morally unkempt, familiarly uncouth and determinedly unkillable livewire of shameless intention in the adrenaline rush of “Uncut Gems” that watching him in Josh and Benny Safdie’s new film doesn’t involve seeing an actor strut about and say their lines so much as observing a star on the verge of bursting into supernova.

And as Sandler’s pernicious Jewish jeweler Howard Ratner goes, so do the Safdies and their movie. “Uncut Gems” – a grand showcase of acting, and also of the Safdies’ cosmic filmmaking sensibilities – swells when Howard swells, spirals when he spirals and takes a breath when he takes a breath (which, if I recall, is practically never). As with Robert Pattinson in the Safdies’ 2017 breakout “Good Time,” Sandler’s performance and the movie itself are impossible to separate and scrutinize on separate terms. A scant few other films in 2019 have had a similar kind of deeply-anchored performance—among them Elisabeth Moss in “Her Smell,” Lupita Nyong’o in “Us” and Jessie Buckley in “Wild Rose.”

It may very well be a career-defining performance for Sandman, but it’s worth parsing out what exactly that means for someone whose filmography is enshrined in memes and reaction gifs, and not necessarily conversations of the prestige. Continue reading →

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Review: The phantom finale

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

Force ghosts, parental legacies, devotion to prophecy—“Star Wars” has always been a story influenced by specters of the past. It’s also true in “The Rise of Skywalker,” the historic franchise’s ninth episodic entry – and, if the marketing is to be believed, the surefire finale to the Skywalker saga (anyone ready to take bets on that?) – that revisits old locales, revives long-thought-dead space dictators and echoes the conservative approach to character-building that was tossed out with Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber in the early moments of “The Last Jedi.” There’s no extinction in the galaxy far, far away, apparently; only hibernation. (It’s quite literally stated in the very first words of Episode IX’s crawl.)

But “Rise of Skywalker” – a triumphant finale, so long as you’re content with emotional complacency, raw visual bombast and general lack of ambition – is also stalled by specters of the future, and an unshakeable feeling that the movie is doing little more than rocketing toward inevitable showdowns you could predict from several parsecs away, as if rushing to get the fall’s most anticipated film over with. Continue reading →

‘A Hidden Life’ Review: Quiet acts of superheroism

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here.

 

Although “A Hidden Life” takes place in early-1940s Austria – an era of hell on earth for much of Europe – the sound to be wary of in director Terrence Malick’s latest film isn’t sirens signaling an incoming blitzkrieg, but the chirp of a bell. A bike-riding messenger makes increasingly regular visits to the idyllic mountain valley village that is home to August Diehl’s Franz Jägerstätter, who exchanges concerned looks with his wife, Franziska. They’re awaiting the inevitable, and the day they’re dreading eventually arrives: There’s a message for him. It’s time to march for Hitler.

But he’s concrete in his resolve to abstain, even through arrest, imprisonment and abuse. The idea of being on the frontlines doesn’t frighten him; rather, he refuses to swear loyalty to nationalistic attitudes that have begun to invade the consciences of the other farmers he has worked, drank and lived alongside all his life. Exercising free will, Franz insists, has to be more than swearing blind allegiance. For him, that extends to challenging it.

With “A Hidden Life,” Malick has his most exceptional work in years, even as his devotion to impressionistic storytelling increasingly goes against the grain of cinema on the cusp of a new decade. Set to release in late December, this may very well be the last film of the 2010s worthy of the term “profound.” It’s a different kind of war epic (clocking in at nearly three hours, it’s the director’s longest movie in 21 years), one in which ideologies are the artillery, perseverance the battle strategy and victory achieved through martyrdom in the dark. Continue reading →

‘Bombshell’ Review: Kidman, Theron, Robbie fuel chronicle of pre-#MeToo empowerment that transcends its Fox News prodding

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

In the three years since Donald Trump’s stunner of an election victory, we’ve had some movies produced in response, whether explicitly or implicitly, to what was perhaps the monumental American moment of the 2010s, a decade that saw rage spilling from online forums into the streets, and to the multiplex as well. Spike Lee’s “BlackKklansmen” tackled the cyclical nature of history’s ugliest chapters, ending with a coda of condemnation. The truths simmering under the tensions of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” were just as undeniably relevant. And there’s a reason Bong Joon-ho’s rage-against-the-system thriller “Parasite” is resonating with American audiences this fall more than any of the Korean director’s previous works.

Now we have Jay Roach’s “Bombshell,” a peek behind the cameras of a toxic Fox News newsroom in the days leading up to Roger Ailes’s luxurious ousting following allegations of sexual harassment. Trump isn’t just part of the world of “Bombshell”—he’s essential to the movie’s clear desire to be a story of the moment. Considering that the filmmaking process is typically a years-long one, as well as the fact that President Trump may not even last a full term, Roach’s gamble paid off.

“Bombshell” is the first film I can think of with chants of “No KKK, no fascist USA”; tweets from the president attacking everyone in sight fill the screen; and Roach uses actual footage from 2016’s election early and often, including a GOP debate when Fox personality Megyn Kelly (here played by Charlize Theron, completely transformed) targeted him for his attacks on women, inviting poisonous words. Later, in the offices of Ailes (John Lithgow), Kelly and her boss high-five their strategy. It made for excellent TV—what’s more important? The answer, as we later learn, might be the stuff that self-respect and integrity is made of. Whether those things can be found in Roach’s version of Fox News – “the nostalgia machine for lost America,” as Theron’s Kelly describes it, and where reality can be mistaken for hyperbole – is a whole other question. Continue reading →

Movies in the 2010s largely captured, and warned of, our moments of reckoning

This article was originally published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

Spoiler alert for “Parasite” and other recent movies

In “Parasite,” Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s newest masterwork that identifies class warfare as as much a fact of 21st-century life as Twitter and streaming entertainment, there’s no telling where a plan will get you.

For a time, a plan gets the destitute Kims – who can’t afford wi-fi and resort to constructing pizza boxes around the dinner table for scant income – into the cavernous home of the wealthy Park clan. The plan then, cruelly, leaves them homeless, having not been there to salvage what was in their sewer of a home when a biblical flood overtakes it.

“You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan. No plan at all,” Song Kang-ho’s Kim Ki-taek tells his son when asked what the plan is going forward.

The domino effect that results from another invasive element having thrown the Kims’ lives into an even higher state of disarray than before is a bloody series of unfortunate events, one that leaves the Kim patriarch virtually imprisoned, his daughter dead and his son vowing to one day free him. “I made a fundamental plan…” he tells him in a message, and even before we see the best case scenario played out on the screen, “Parasite” has betrayed our yearning for catharsis. Joon-ho, after all, has just shown us where plans get people hoping to break out of the confines of systemic capitalism. Art has confronted reality.

More than perhaps any other shared characteristic, this decade’s standout movies often reflected onto us the inevitability of a reckoning—of recognizing systems and histories whose massive consequences have started to be magnified through the communicative avenues of a world that has never been more connected. Movies have always been conversation starters, but the medium takes on a different might when the conversation is everywhere, as the bullhorns of Twitter, acute polarization and slow erosion of privacy standards have ensured is the case this decade. And take on that power cinema has, in ways sometime subtle, in ways sometime extravagant and in ways almost always irrefutable. The line between fiction and non-fiction has never felt nimbler when it comes to the movies. Continue reading →

‘Marriage Story’ Review: A complex portrait of love at the end, and one of the year’s best movies

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

“Marriage Story,” Netflix’s newest offering that finds the life-traipsing of writer-director Noah Baumbach at his most soulfully devastating, begins with a pair of monologues from the couple at its center played over scenes from a marriage. You may remember snippets from the trailers – she loves that he’s brilliant, he loves that she’s brave – but some details are missing. Who are these things being said to? Who are they being said for?

The questions are answered early. And, well…it’s complicated. But if you think those mirroring floods of compliments are Charlie and Nicole at their most honest, prepare to be emotionally walloped by “Marriage Story”—one of the very, very best movies of the year.

It isn’t a spoiler to say “Marriage Story” ends with divorce, but this is largely, and marvelously, unlike most divorce movies you’ve seen. It’s certainly not like Baumbach’s own “The Squid and the Whale,” a thornbush of a film in which every other caustic remark rocketed between members of the Berkman family is intended to do maximum damage. In the story of Adam Driver’s Charlie and Scarlett Johansson’s Nicole, whose mutual vow to keep an initial, seemingly amicable separation free from the tentacles of lawyers is doomed from the start, Baumbach trades in causticity for the infantile inexperience of two people navigating new waters of love and life as they become uneasy participants in contemporary structures meant to pit them against each other. It’s a key choice by Baumbach that Charlie and Nicole aren’t out to make enemies of themselves, and it’s not just for the sake of their son. The auteur is exploring something more heart-wrenching and universal: If we give ourselves completely over to another, what could possibly be left of us when they’re no longer by our side? Continue reading →

‘In Fabric’ Review: Covens, rituals and murder—but make it fashion

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

 

The first thing you notice in Peter Strickland’s “In Fabric” are the synthesizers. It’s impossible not to—the hypnotic, brazen, constantly-droning score from German alternative group Cavern of Anti-Matter makes the music of “Stranger Things” feel tame in comparison. Once the credits roll two hours later, however, the synths are far from the most evil element of Strickland’s viciously bizarre horror movie, in which consumption is the all-powerful curse of capitalism literalized in bloody, discordant ways.

Undercurrents of eroticism and sinister intention dominate the socially abrasive world of Strickland’s film (an A24 joint if there ever was one), making it easy to be on the side of the middle-aged Sheila (played by the English actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste, whose work in 1996’s “Secrets & Lies” garnered her an Oscar nomination) as she searches for a second shot at love. Meanwhile, her son’s friend/artistic model/sexual partner (a vampiric Gwendoline Christie, making me curious why she isn’t being cast in projects left and right) practically moves into their home, and the managers at the bank where she works humiliate her daily, to cartoonish levels. Continue reading →

‘I Lost My Body’ Review: Severed limbs, severed connections

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

In the new Netflix animated movie “I Lost My Body” (“J’ai perdu mon corps” is the original French title), there’s always a higher place to get to—a higher social position, a higher sense of self-regard, a higher state of connection. It is true of the socially-trapped Naoufel coping with the loss of his parents after a mysterious tragedy, and it is true of his severed hand that we see come to life before beginning a perilous journey through the city, fending off sewer rats and dodging high-speed traffic as if David Cronenberg had directed “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

Director Jérémy Clapin’s strangely mesmeric movie – the best animated offering of 2019 – casts a sentimental eye towards its absurd premise, but “I Lost My Body” isn’t out to exploit its handtagonist. There’s no grisly bone fragments in sight, no streak of blood that trails it. In a month when one of the most highly-anticipated (highly-dreaded?) movies is about anthropomorphic dancing cats, it isn’t the images of a sentient hand that’s strange; it’s Clapin’s blasé attitude toward it, as if it were a child separated from its mother. Surreally, that sentiment may not be too far off.

What happened for Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris) to lose his hand? We inevitably learn the grisly details, but they’re not too important. What is vital is the aching sense of longing that’s manifested through the delicately-animated movements of one of the human body’s most delicate parts. Continue reading →

‘Waves’ Review: A24’s new family drama will shatter you, and help put you back together

This review was first published on KEN5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

Trey Edward Shults is allegedly the director of the new A24 drama “Waves,” yet it’s impossible to imagine anyone “directing” this intensely naturalistic movie – the year’s most unbearably honest – in which storytelling agendas takes a backseat to the mysterious, often-dizzying pulse of life itself.

For those who go to the movies seeking temporary escapes from reality, “Waves” will perplex: There’s no place for traditional structure or plotting in its observations of an ostensibly ordinary black American family. Consequences and implications stretch far, far beyond its 135 minutes. And the most easily-discernible decision by Shults in guiding the movie’s events – the thing I found myself responding to with shifting loyalty before giving in during the film’s sublime final half-hour – is a complete submission to the idea that the movie’s events should actually guide him. That experimental nature, at first, feels like it limits “Waves.” Then it becomes the air under its magical wings, lifting it into something wondrous in its universality—and into the upper echelons of 2019’s most memorable movie-going experiences.

“Waves” anchors its start on high school teen Tyler Williams (a stunning, go-for-broke Kelvin Harrison Jr.), though nothing about our meeting him is anchored, really. We’re lurched into the frenetic pace of life as a 17 or 18-year-old in the social media age, cinematographer Drew Daniels matching the seductive thrum-thrum-thrumming of Tame Impala with a camera that spins through cars and classrooms and adolescent impulse with such boundless energy that you may not want to eat lunch 30 minutes beforehand. Whirlwind images of wrestling practice, meeting his girlfriend’s eyes, scream-singing in a car on the highway with eyes everywhere but the road—we’re not just watching Tyler experience life. “Waves” insists we experience it with him, by forcing a bottle of cinematic Adderall down our throats. Continue reading →