Two Korean-American brothers run their family’s shoe store on the day of the 1992 LA riots. The day starts in their struggling business as they hang out with their friend – an 11-year-old African American girl – Kamilla. The Rodney King verdict is announced and violence breaks out. Written, directed, and starring Justin Chon, it’s a tight 94 minutes of impressive film-making that speaks volumes about America’s intra-minority race relations. It’s a work that elicits sympathy, and manages to uplift the violent event to a human level. An amazing movie.
One of the most relevant movies to come out in the past years, Moonlight is a celebration of onscreen aesthetics and delicate screenwriting, acting and directing. In the poorer area of Miami, snippets of the life of a gay African-American man are shown in three different ages, states, and attitudes. Throughout the movie, and as you witness him progress and regress, you become almost enchanted by what is happening in front of you. You find yourself in a state of understanding and not understanding, of thinking you know what’s going to happen in the next scene, but also of having no idea of what is to follow. Winner of the Best Picture Oscar, Best Supporting Actor (for Mahershala Ali who plays one of the main charachter’s early role models), and Best Adapted Screenplay.
A decidedly mediocre young drummer is discovered by a tyrannical music teacher and transferred to his class. It is in this class, with this teacher, that he discovers his own breaking point and strives to surpass it. It takes traditional thriller elements (outrageous villain, inexperienced victim, plenty of blood) and turns them into something wholly new and utterly provocative. It’s almost impossible to single out the best part of this film, considering the flawless performances, masterful script, and meticulously crafted soundtrack. Watch this movie to step out of your own life for a while and come back asking “How far would I go?”
A delicate and profound exploration of loss, and an unbelievably well-made drama, Manchester By the Sea is a true triumph. Its focus on the characters, its timely unfolding of story elements, as well as its world class acting are only equal to the best European dramas. This deep and slow exploration of the human condition has rarely been successful in American cinema, if ever. The last best attempt was probably another movie by director Kenneth Lonergan, You Can Count on Me. Manchester by the Sea is where he unveils his full potential, and takes the viewer deep into the tensions and history of a building handyman, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). His angry but quiet life is interrupted by news that his brother suffered a heart attack, and upon going back to his hometown he finds that he is the only one left to take care of his teenage nephew. A truly amazing movie, not to be missed, and a huge success too. It grossed around $80 million on a budget of $8.5 million.
There is a chance we will be known as the generation that perfected mixing the two mediums of movie and theater. Think Hateful 8, Horace & Pete, Wild Tales, and Fences! A movie not only packed with Broadway talent, it’s also based on a Pulitzer-winning play by August Wilson. The play element is both strong and visible, the movie is dialogue packed, and takes place almost exclusively in the characters’ house, not to mention most of the events happen within the span of a few days. The movie element comes through beautiful aesthetics and rich scenery, as well as some of Hollywood’s best talent: Denzel Washington (who is also the director) and Viola Davis. They had both actually won Tony Awards for their performances reviving the play back in 2010. Denzel is a black garbage collector who was once a promising baseball player and a victim of racial discrimination. His psyche is as rich as it is determined and he is used to taking out his deep-rooted feelings of anger on his loved ones. His wife (Davis), his son, and his friends are the targets of this hurt and anger, but they also have a lot to deal with on their own. A beautiful if maybe slow play-movie. Do not watch it expecting “things to happen”, but watch it to be mesmerized by the acting, the writing, and the underlying tensions it addresses.
A revelation of a movie, both in filmmaking and commercial success. While little-known abroad, it has made more than $42 million in US Box Office revenue out of a tiny $5 million budget. Kumail Nanjiani, stand-up comedian and star of the show Sillicon Valley, tells his own story of romance with his now-wife Emily V. Gordon (who co-wrote the movie). Because it is based on a true story, and because it is the product of love of both its writers and stars, this movie is incredibly heartfelt. It is also timely, addressing heavy themes such as identity, immigration, and family relationships. Not to mention it is absolutely hilarious. And it’s produced by Judd Apatow. Trust me and go watch it.
Lion is the award-sweeping movie based on the true story of a kid in India who gets lost in a train and suddenly finds himself thousands of kilometers away from home. 25 years later, after being adopted by an Australian couple, he embarks on a journey through his memory and across continents to reconnect with his lost family. Dev Patel plays Saroo, and Nicole Kidman plays his Australian adoptive mother. Two truly amazing performances that will transport you to the time and place of the events, as well as its emotions spanning tear-jerking moments and pure joy. An uplifting, meaningful, and beautiful movie.
A wonderful, witty teen comedy—possibly the best the genre has known in a long time! In a powerhouse performance, Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, a high school junior at peak angst and awkwardness. Her roller coaster journey through family, friends, lovers, or lack thereof, gives her that all-too-common impression for people her age that life is unbearable. Things get more complicated when Nadine’s dad passes and her only friend hooks up with an unexpected person. Her temperament and humor will help her see past her demons to understand what’s important in life, putting you in privileged spectator mode to this highly smart and exciting coming-of-age story.
The main reason to watch Love & Mercy could be that it’s about the life of Beach Boys leader Bryan Wilson, but it shouldn’t. That wouldn’t do the film any justice. Yes it is a great rock biopic, but its reach goes way beyond that: it’s a compelling and beautiful character study performed in unparalleled perfection by Paul Dano and John Cusack. It gives an inside look into the mind of a genius in all its glory and obscurity. And so much of it rings true because, yes, it is about the life Beach Boys leader Bryan Wilson. Such a unique and beautiful film.
An instant classic, Beast of No Nation is a unique and uniquely-paced war drama which ranges in patterns from explosive visual storytelling to calm character studies. A child joins a rebel group consisting almost entirely of children and led by a charismatic leader credited as Commandant. As you get to witness the conflict through the child’s eyes, his own development and his commander’s, the film unfolds as an exploration of the never ending state of war in Africa. It takes you to varying conclusions, most of which you will have trouble admitting you’ve reached. As Commandant, Idris Elba is transfixing, and the whole cast of almost entirely non-actors, as well as the deeply authentic staging by True Detective and Sin Nombre director Cary Fukunaga, are enthralling.
Do not go in to this film expecting a traditional comedy, or anything you’ve previously known Hader and Wiig for. The Skeleton Twins is more of a beautiful, deep drama than it is a comedy – although it will produce many laughs. Due to unusual events, estranged siblings Milo and Maggie (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) reunite after years and attempt to repair their fractured relationship, despite their own individual misgivings. A very bittersweet and touching film starring two actors showing impressive range and versatility as their characters seek to rediscover the childhood friendship and camaraderie they had lost many years earlier. Again, don’t expect a traditional comedy, but an honest display of the complexities of sibling relationships and how conflict, compassion and understanding fits into it all. Really left me with a soft spot in my heart.
Editor’s note: we are only tagging this film as a drama.
Phenomenal and heartbreaking, Wind River is a true masterpiece by Taylor Sheridan, the man behind Sicario and Hell or High Water. In a Native American Reservation, a local girl is found dead and a young detective (Elizabeth Olsen) tries to uncover the mystery. She is accompanied by a tracker (Jeremy Renner) with his own dark history in the community. It’s not a very rewarding movie at first, so don’t expect an incredibly fast-paced story from the get-go. However, when everything unfolds, it’s not only action-packed, its reflections on indigenous communities are deep and poignant. How this remains a relatively known movie is shocking, it has to be one of the best mysteries of the past 20 years.
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