Tag Archives: favourites

TIFF18: American Woman

At first glance, Deb (Sienna Miller) is all-too-easily dismissed. She’s a former teen mom turned grandmother at 31. She’s a mistress whose hot date turns out to be a trip to a sleazy motel room, where she is handed a plastic bag containing either dollar store lingerie or a slutty devil halloween costume (same difference, really). The next morning, we see that she is waking up alone in her own bed, suggesting the motel room was paid by the hour.

At that point, we’re about five minutes into American Woman, and you’re ready to write Deb off.

But don’t. Don’t you dare.

AmericanWoman_02Because Deb is worth more than she even knows, which she stars to discover after her daughter fails to come home one night after a date with her basement-dwelling baby daddy.  A loved one’s disappearance must be life-shattering. Miller lets us see the dissapearance’s drastic effects on Deb in such a restrained and measured way that Deb’s resulting character growth is organic, believable, and most impressively, almost invisible at first. Deb’s evolution is captivating, and the Deb we know by the end of the movie is at once the same core character and a woman whose outlook and attitude have evolved beyond anything I could have ever expected.

I cannot overstate the magnificence of Sienna Miller’s performance in American Woman. She is magnetic and conveys a mix of strength and vulnerability that is as authentic a performance as I can remember. And while Miller is the standout, he excellence is almost always matched by the rest of the cast, including Christina Hendricks as Deb’s sister, Amy Madigan as Deb’s mom, and Mad TV’s Will Sasso as Deb’s brother-in-law. Deb is rightly the focal point but it’s great that the strong supporting characters each get the chance to shine.

The gauntlet thrown down by the cast’s fantastic performances is picked up by those behind the camera, and they are up to the task. Brad Ingelsby’s script is smarter than it has any right to be, discarding obvious answers on a regular basis, and showing off by giving effortless depth to secondary and tertiary characters (including turning an obvious villain into an earnest guy deserving of our sympathy). Director Jake Scott uses care and moderation rather than flash and sensationalism, particularly in a crucial scene at the film’s climax, proving beyond any doubt that less is more. Scott consistently makes brilliant choices even in small details, such as by using visuals and settings to indicate the passage of time, rather than title cards.

The result of all of this individual brilliance, naturally, is a standout character study that can hold its own against anything that TIFF18 has to offer (which I can say with certainty since I saw If Beale Street Could Talk and Roma on either side of it). American Woman is as smart, rewarding and satisfying a cinematic experience as anyone could ask for, making for a film that you absolutely do not want to miss.

SXSW: Fast Color

fast-color-116514Julia Hart, the director and co-writer of Fast Color, almost had me fooled.  She introduced Fast Color to the SXSW crowd as a story about motherhood, and in a way that’s true.  Of course, in a way it is also true that the original Superman comics are about the experiences of Jewish immigrants.  I mention Superman because both Fast Color and Superman use superheroes to tell their stories, although the movies’ respective approaches to the genre are worlds apart.

Fast Color might be best described as a near-future quest for redemption, as Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) tries to stay one step ahead of her pursuers in the harsh wasteland that the midwestern United States has become due to a prolonged drought. Plot-wise, that’s all you’re getting from me, so you’ll have to watch the film to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

I hope one day we won’t need to make the case for inclusion, but since we’re not there yet, Fast Color is more proof that diversity in film generates powerful, original, thought-provoking movies. Fast Color possesses all those qualities and a big reason why is because it is a story about women told by women. It is the kind of movie that we need (and deserve) more of. It is the kind of movie that helps us see things from a different perspective and realize that we are made stronger, not weaker, by our differences.

Fast Color is yet another SXSW surprise, a movie that we lucked into by virtue of scheduling and one that I urge you to keep an eye out for. It does not currently have a release date but hopefully a strong SXSW showing will change that, as this is a movie that deserves to be seen.

TIFF: Black Kite

blackkite_tiff2017Afghanistan is the last place I’d expect to find a kid flying a kite. After watching Black Kite and seeing kites be such a prominent part of life, bringing a tiny bit of joy to those who are trapped in this war-torn land, it seems strange that I ever had a presumption on kites one way or the other.  The smallest of assumptions, something taken for granted without basis, led me to think I knew more about another’s circumstances than I do.  Being wrong about kites reminded me that actually, I know absolutely nothing about what it’s like to live in Afghanistan!  I have Black Kite’s writer/director Tarique Qayumi, a Canadian who came from Afghanistan as an eight-year old refugee, for brilliantly and effortlessly challenging my preconceptions.

Black Kite follows Arian, an Afghan man who has been captured by the Taliban and convicted of the highest crime.  Through a series of flashbacks, we learn how Arian came to be imprisoned and sentenced to death.  Kites feature prominently in his story, from childhood, through adolescence, to adulthood.  There’s a remarkable contrast between the bright coloured kites and Arian’s drab, washed out existence, not only in the prison but throughout most of his life as Afghanistan is oppressed by one ruling body after another.

There are some absolutely beautiful shots of the desert and sky, and some very poignant animation that conveys a lot about what these kites represent: freedom, a means of expression and communication, and a marker of milestones in a man’s life, both good and bad.

Another assumption that Black Kite dispels is that freedom is free.  Freedom is a foreign concept for Arian, not the inherent right that I treat it as.  Arian and his family constantly live in fear, under the boot of one regime or another, with seemingly arbitrary rules that have the sole purpose of keeping them down. The rulers may change but the rules remain more or less the same, so Arian and his compatriots are denied even the simplest pleasures.  It hurts to experience these denials second hand, making the first hand experience all the more difficult for my privileged mind to imagine.

Black Kite is a wonderful film and a timely one.  It showed me how much can be stripped away from individuals, and reminded me that the little freedoms are as important as the big ones.  If those little freedoms were preserved for all, this small world would be a much better place.  There is no easy solution but we should spend our energy searching for ways to help people less fortunate than us.  Instead, we spend our time arguing over how many refugees we should accept from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, places where every day could be your last and little freedoms, like flying a kite, cannot ever be taken for granted.

By the way, the answer to how many refugees we should accept is: as many as we can fit.  And we’ve got plenty of room.

SXSW: Small Town Crime

small-town-crime-F68309No matter how hard you try, you can’t see everything at a festival like SXSW. To prepare for these big festivals, we study the schedule like our lives depend on it, read the synopses repeatedly, and try to see as many of our favourite artists as possible.  All that prep work helps a lot, but sometimes a tight schedule makes a choice for us. That happened today with Small Town Crime and we were better off for it. Put simply, Small Town Crime is an indie gem that is one of the best films I’ve seen in 2017.

Featuring too many compelling, well-written characters to count, and matched by great performances from pros like John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, and Robert Forster, Small Town Crime sparkles.  We are introduced right away to Hawkes’ suitably pathetic, yet undeniably charming, alcoholic ex-cop. He’s got a few skeletons too many in his closet, so he needs some breakfast beers in order to get underway each afternoon. But he is determined not to let that disease keep him from solving a mystery that falls right into his lap.

ian-nelms-F68309Functioning both as a whodunnit and an offbeat action-comedy, Small Town Crime is consistently good, especially when Hawkes’ character shares the screen with Forster’s concerned grandfather and Clifton Collins Jr.’s refreshingly self-aware pimp.  Writer-directors Eshom and Ian Nelms clearly recognized what they had and give those three characters a hefty share of screen time. That must have been particularly difficult here since the cast is extremely deep. Even with the focus on that trio, I was left wanting to see more of them. I’d be first in line for a sequel (or a television series) showcasing more of their adventures.

In addition to its fantastic characters, Small Town Crime also delivers great action scenes and showcases a wide array of memorable vehicles (the Nelms brothers are self-professed car nuts). Small Town Crime is a fantastic film that shoots right to the top of the list of must-see indie movies. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

If you’re at SXSW, you still have two more chances to see Small Town Crime on March 12 and 17, and otherwise, you should cross your fingers for this film to get a well-deserved wide release.

Blade Runner

Jay provides an excellent litmus test anytime I’m unable to separate nostalgia from quality.  It happened with Star Wars, it happened with Indiana Jones, and it has now happened with Blade Runner.  As I write this, it occurs to me that Jay may just hate Harrison Ford, but let’s leave that aside for now.

Yes, because Blade Runner 2049 is on the horizon, I was able to convince Jay to watch Blade Runner with me earlier this week.  Anytime I can get Jay to watch what I will call nerd-fi, a category that includes most movies I saw in the 80s and 90s, it feels like a major brunner4victory.  But only until the movie starts, because so far, about 5 minutes into each movie I proudly show to Jay, she wonders why I bothered to beg her to watch this one, asking things like, “Do you remember it being this bad?” when the flying cars first come into view.

Maddeningly, I can’t even argue against her assessments.  In 2017, Blade Runner is not a great movie.  It’s not really even a good movie.  It’s a movie with vision, it’s beautiful to look at (though the flying cars do look as horrible as Jay pointed out), it brought dystopian futures and particularly Philip K. Dick to mainstream cinema, and it has an ambiguous ending that becomes even more so with every new cut issued by Ridley Scott.  But it’s also a movie with cornball acting, disposable characters that we are barely introduced to, and a ton of sequences that are beautiful but: (a) extremely repetitive (how many times do we need to see a car fly by a Coke billboard or the offworld blimp ad);  (b) essentially silent (like Ford’s visit to a food cart/open air diner); and (c) do nothing to advance the plot (which, let’s be honest, is probably about 35 minutes worth of movie without being padded by all the beautiful shots of futuristic Los Angeles).

brunnerStill, there is something to be said about Blade Runner and something reassuring about its continued relevance.  A big reason that the movie feels thin today is because it has been so influential.  We’ve seen so many films build on what Blade Runner started, and in comparison, Blade Runner is like a wheel made out of stone.  In that way, it’s important but if choosing between the original or the best that the genre has to offer today, the modern film is going to be the better one.  But there is still room in my heart for the rickety original, the one that was ahead of its time (and ahead of ours, as Blade Runner is set in the “distant” future of 2019).

And in some distant future of our own, maybe I will find a movie that I feel nostalgic for that also stands up to Jay’s critical eye.  Your suggestions are welcome!

Top 10 for 2016

As we say goodbye to 2016, Assholes are asking what’s the best thing you saw this year? And more hilarious for us, what was the worst? Happy new year to all of you, and a special thanks to all of you who stop by and leave comments. They are the oxygen of this site.



thumbnail_2508910. Peter And The Farm: I saw a lot of terrific documentaries this year. For the Love of Spock, Gleason, and Life, Animated all come to mind. But the one that never left my mind, not for a minute since I saw it, was Peter And The Farm. It’s unflinching and disturbing.

9. Hell or High Water: The best thing about this movie is that it sneaks up on you. It’s not flashy. It just builds. The writing is good and it earns every minute of screen time.

8. Jackie: Natalie Portman is spot-on in this film, but what I really enjoyed is seeing very familiar events, events we are so hyper-aware of they’re part of our collective conscience, be re-told from her perspective. And suddenly it’s fresh and eye-opening, yet still mysterious in the way only Jackie could be.

7. Arrival: A sci-fi movie that’s cerebral and genre-defying is exactly what I needed without even knowing it. The set-up is very precise and thoughtful, so even if you see the twist coming, it still unravels quite elegantly. Amy Adams is sublime.

6. Hunt For The Wilderpeople: Funny as fuck.

5. Manchester By The Sea: It’s a tough watch, and not exactly a ‘rewarding’ one but it takes a lot of courage to deviate from the ending we want and expect and instead go towards what’s real and honest, even if it leaves us feeling hollow.

4. Moonlight: Haunting in its portrayal of a perspective that feels at once unique, and universal. The film is well-crafted, the character unforgettable, the acting note-worthy across the board. Disarming, graceful, truthful.

3. Swiss Army Man: This movie just made my heart sing. It’s offbeat and original. It’s also maybe a little inconsistent, but the highs were so damn high I can forgive it nearly anything.07bluejay-master768

2. Blue Jay: Gutting. Superbly acted. Blew me away.

1. La La Land: the magic of this movie is almost indescribable. Stylish, joyful, smart, and above all, bittersweet.



For further reading, please check out the top 10 lists of our friends: Steve, Vern, Keith, Niall, Parrot, Becky, Sarah, 2 Eyes, Wendell, Caz, Brian, Tom, another Keith, Liam, Wilson , Mel, Paul, Lolo ….if we missed you, add your link in the comments!

Sean’s Ten Favourite Movies of 2015

Since today is New Year’s Eve, it seemed like a good time to count down my favourite movies released in 2015. I still have lots to watch (Hateful Eight, you’re next!) so I don’t pretend this list is comprehensive, but it’s a damn good start.

10. What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows is such a crazy, what-we-do-in-the-shadowsbizarre comedy that I had to love it. It’s irresistible. There are so many great characters on display, a bizarre mix of humans, vampires, and werewolves, and their interactions with one another killed me. With laughter.  From start to finish, What We Do in the Shadows gave me scene after scene of amusement, from a bat fight to a werewolf showdown to one of the most awkward town dances imaginable.

9. The Martian

INTRO-2_20thCenturyFox_TheMartianThe Martian occupied a strange position for me. I absolutely loved the book, to the point I was worried the movie would fall short and disappoint, but I still felt optimistic that Ridley Scott and crew would pull it off. Well, there’s no doubt now – they pulled it off and then some. The Martian is a fantastic piece of film that captured the book even better than I hoped. It’s got a little of everything (comedy, drama, scifi, thrilller, even a hint of romance) in perfect balance, in a film that is so beautiful to watch it makes you want to visit Mars even after all that happens to poor Mark Watney.

8. Spy

Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy always make good stuff together, and Spy is their best to date. As great as McCarthy is, Spy is not just about her, and the great performances from the entire ensemble are what makes Spy one of my favourite movies of 2spy-DF-04541_R2_rgb.0015.  McCarthy owns the screen when needed but steps back in order to give everyone their moment to shine, from Rose Byrne to Jude Law to Miranda Hart, and Jason Statham is especially memorable as the boneheaded spy who wants to use every action movie cliche in the book, to hilarious results.

7. Creed

Creed brought back Rocky, one of my most beloved franchises, in the best possible way.   It’s a creed-finalposter-frontpagefresh start with a new boxer, Michael B. Jordan, carrying the torch.  But at the same time, it forges strong connections to the existing franchise, with Jordan playing Apollo Creed’s son and Rocky being brought in to train the son of his best friend and biggest rival.  The atmosphere was perfect, the nods to the past were wonderful, and the story made us cheer again for a new underdog, feeling familiar while also opening up a whole new world of possibilities.

6. Kingsman: The Secret Service 

In a year where Marvel released two more superhero movies (and Fox gave us one that we are desperately trying to forget), Kingsman: The Secret Service is mykingsman-movie-review-the-secret-service favourite comic book adaptation of 2015.   Who knew that Colin Firth could be such an action hero?  His character’s last stand at a Kentucky church is one of the best action scenes in recent memory, and the symphony of exploding heads at the end is absolutely masterful.  Style and excess abound in Kingsman and I’m looking forward to more of the same in 2017, when the sequel is released!

5. Bridge of Spies

Is it just me or did Bridge of Spies fly WAY under the radar?  I heard almost nothing about this movie from anyone, which is shocking for a movie directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks, or written by the Coen Brothers (and Bridge of Spies is all three)!  And this is not just any movie.  It’s incredible.  I was captivated from start to finish by this cold war story that eschews stereotypes and in doing so gives us a much richer experience than I ever could have expected.  Nothing is black and white, everything is a shade of grey, especially the Russian spy being bartered (Mark Rylance), who is one of the most upstanding individuals you will ever see on film (especially when in any other movie he’d be the bad guy)!

4. Mad Max: Fury Road

I’m glad to see Mad Max: Fury Road getting so much love, both upon release and as we all reflect on the best of 2015.  Mad Max is my favourite action movie of the year by far.  Mad Max gave us something so original, frenetic, and crazy that it almost blew my mind.  Visually, Mad Max was spectacular but the story and characters were what lifted this movie above the pack. FURY ROAD Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron give particularly memorable leading performances, while Nicholas Hoult and Hugh Keays-Byrne both give us bizarre yet believable supporting turns that increase the crazy factor immensely.  Mad Max never stops, not even for a second, and it’s a hell of a ride!

3. The Revenant

Speaking of non-stop treks through desolate wastelands, The Revenant is next on my list of favourites.  But I would not call The Revenant an action movie – it’s more of a slow burn revenge story as bear attack survivor Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) chases his son’s killer (Tom Hardy, who’s awesome again, this time in a supporting role).  And while the midwest winter is harsh, Hugh Glass’ surroundings are absolutely beautiful.  For my money, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki gave us the most visually stunning movie of 2015, and that’s high praise given the next two on the list are also brilliant in that regard.

2. Ex Machina

Ex-Machina-Cast-Wallpapers (1)As is probably evident, 2015 gave us a wide variety of excellent movies, and my favourites were all unique in some way.  And “unique” is the best way I can think to describe Ex Machina.  It’s a seemingly serene, beautifully shot meditation on what it is to be alive for much of the movie, and yet the whole time your brain is waiting for things to turn ugly.  Because it’s inevitable that they will, and yes, they do.   Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander all deliver incredible performances, playing so well off each other that it’s easy to suspend any disbelief we may otherwise have had.  Ex Machina is spectacular from beginning to end, and most importantly, it puts very difficult questions to us, through the protagonists, that we will ultimately have to answer.

1. Anomalisa

Unique in every way, Anomalisa is head and shoulders above the rest of the movies I saw this year, and without question my favourite of 2015.  Everything in Anomalisa serves a purpose, everything has meaning, everything anomalisais a potential clue to our struggling protagonist of the hidden problems that he’s facing.  Charlie Kaufman’s writing is sharper than ever and Duke Johnson’s animation is stunning and absolutely essential to the story.  Anomalisa is pure cinematic brilliance, and I hope all of you are able to experience it for yourselves (as it’s open in select theatres, expanding to a wider release in January).  Of all the movies I saw this year, Anomalisa is the one that still sticks with me months later, and I don’t expect to shake it anytime soon.

Happy New Year, and please let me know in the comments what your favourites were in 2015!

Citizen Kane: The Citizen Kane of American Cinema?

Citizen kane 3First of all, I like Citizen Kane. It is on my short list of movies that I try to make a point of checking in with at least once a year. “Keeping your film nerd cred up to date,” my friend called it yesterday. Because nothing keeps you current like rewatching a 1941 movie.

Of course, I’m not the only one who watches it regularly. Nearly 75 years later, it is still typically referred to as the prototypical example of a great movie. For example, if you wanted to recommend the latest Oscar bait with qualifications, you might say “It’s not Citizen Kane but I liked it”. I do it too. Back in April, I referred to The Dark Knight as the Citizen Kane of superhero movies. In May, I quoted Entertainment Weekly in calling The Room “the Citizen Kane of bad Citizen Kanemovies”. But is Citizen Kane really the Citizen Kane of American movies?

It’s not my favourite movie. How can it be? My own grandfather was just a kid when it was originally released. By the time I finally watched Citizen Kane for the first time when I was maybe 17, its visual style and narrative structure had been inspiring writers and directors for nearly 60 years, making it easy to take so much of what made the film unique in 1941 for granted. As a 21st century viewer, I’m far more likely to marvel at the style of, say, American Beauty even though that film would not have been possible without Citizen Kane.

Citizen Kane 4So why do I find my annual visits with this movie so essential to my film nerd cred? First of all, I admire the non-linear structure. Even today, where movies like Pulp Fiction and Memento have taken this idea even further, Citizen Kane is still impressive. It remains one of my favourite character studies of a ruthless protagonist. And Rosebud! How often do we sit through an entire movie waiting for an answer that actually satisfies and feels right?

I can’t pretend to feel that Citizen Kane is necessarily the greatest movie ever made but it has a lot to offer even to modern film nerds. It rewards multiple viewings and I’m always looking forward to my next one.