Best Film Directors of the 2010s

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

I’ve got another extra-innings Best of the 2010s for ya. This time, the focus is on Film Directors, those folks who hang out behind the camera and let everyone know how they would like the movie to go.

Based on the eligibility rules of the poll that I submitted my list to, each director had to have at least two films come out between 2010 and 2019 to be considered. I made my selections based on a combination of how much I enjoyed their output and how much they influenced the medium and the culture at large.

My choices, along with their 2010s filmography, are listed below.

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This Is a Movie Review: ‘First Man’ Captures All the Stresses of Neil Armstrong’s Trip to the Moon

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CREDIT: Daniel McFadden/Universal

This review was originally published on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas, Shea Wigham, Brian d’Arcy James, Pablo Schreiber, Olivia Hamilton, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Damien Chazelle

Running Time: 141 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for the Psychological Fallout of Preparing for Space Travel

Release Date: October 12, 2018

There are a few things I want to say about First Man, Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic. First of all, it’s the best I’ve ever seen a film portray the stresses of going up into space. That certainly is not to say that the likes of The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 have made takeoff and its aftermath look like a cakewalk, but in focusing on one individual, First Man burrows in and exposes so many extra levels of intensity. We’re right there with Neil as he staggers to the bathroom following a stint in a g-force simulator, and when he endures multiple tragedies. This is a man who must deal with the accidental deaths of multiple colleagues as well as the loss of a young daughter from disease. Accordingly, Ryan Gosling plays him as a man wearing the weight of the world on his face for basically 2 hours straight.

Next, I have plenty to say about Claire Foy as Neil’s wife, Janet. She gives a hell of a performance, displaying the sort of fiery emotion and desperate toughness that you can’t look away from. She is definitely enough of her own person that we can clearly see her as more than just a wife and mother. But this is very much Neil’s film with everyone else orbiting around him, and as such, Foy is playing The Wife. One example of such gender disparity between lead and supporting roles is not in and of itself a bad thing, but it is part of a Hollywood history that favors men’s over women’s stories. This is an issue that is better discussed than pontificated upon, so please, let’s continue to have these conversations. And let’s not place too much blame on First Man in the meantime, but instead work to expand what stories are valued by the historical record.

Finally, a note on some technical matters. Composer Justin Hurwitz triumphs with a quiet, but forceful score that gives First Man the stamina it needs to maintain its intensity over 2-plus hours. It is a bit of a lullaby that plants the expanse of space right into our souls in a way similar to how it surely felt for Armstrong. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography, on the other hand, while similarly technically accomplished, is more than a little exhausting. A constant (subtly vibrating) handheld setup is just too much to bear for such a significant running time. That’s just one little bit of too much intensity in a film that’s otherwise so acutely calibrated.

First Man is Recommended If You Like: Intimate Biopics

Grade: 3.75 of 5 G Forces

 

This Is a Movie Review: La La Land

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This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling

Director: Damien Chazelle

Running Time: 128 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Doing Once That Thing You Can Get Away With in a PG-13 Movie If You Only Do It Once

Release Date: December 9, 2016 (Limited)

Is it the sign of a successful musical if it leaves you humming one of its tunes as you walk out of the theater? It certainly helps if it has a head start by featuring a certain set of notes so prominently in its trailer and if that phrase is meant to be whistled so steady and easy. But to directly answer the question: yes, a musical is successful if it leaves you humming. All the other trappings – story, acting, set design, pretty colors, whatever – may have their purpose, but who cares, if that one defining feature does not do its job? So what’s the verdict on La La Land? It’s a wistful, eternally romantic tingle that has imprinted on me, perhaps forever.

This may very well be that same old story of showbiz doing showbiz: struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone) toils at auditions and coffee shops, sparks fly when she meets jazz pianist Seb (Ryan Gosling) – the type who is so single-mindedly focused on keeping the old school alive, and the feelings may are powerful enough to literally lift them into the air. This is not tiresome, because there are still, and probably always will be, so many Mia’s and Seb’s making their way in the real La La Land. The film is deeply inspired by tradition, but it is not beholden to it. It is wide-eyed enough for the romance to be worth investing in, but it is clear-eyed enough to know that practicality, honesty, and confidence are essential for making those romantic dreams come true.

For most of its running time, La La Land is perfectly diverting, but not much more. But then it becomes revolutionary at the end when it redefines its entire story, and what is possible in this style of storytelling. I would not dare to spoil this turn, as its impact hit me a great deal via its surprise. But let me just say that it has to do with its organization of the four seasons as chapters. Winter and henceforth are not pointed out for the sake of a convenient format, but to set you up for a treat that only cinema can inflict.

La La Land is Recommended If You Like: Any Musical, as a Rule

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Leg Raises