Best Film Performances of the 2010s

1 Comment

CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

Back in April, I revealed my lists of the best podcasts, TV shows, TV episodes, albums, songs, and movies of the 2010s. I declared that that was it for my Best of the Decade curating for this particular ten-year cycle. But now I’m back with a few more, baby! I’ve been participating in a series of Best of the 2010s polls with some of my online friends, and I wanted to share my selections with you. We’re including film performances, TV performances, directors, and musical artists, so get ready for all that.

First up is Film Performances. Any individual performance from any movie released between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019 was eligible, whether it was live-action, voice-only, or whatever other forms on-screen acting take nowadays. For actors who played the same character in multiple movies, each movie was considered separately.

More

‘Velvet Buzzsaw’: Something Killer This Way Arts

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Claudette Barius/Netflix

Not too long before I watched Velvet Buzzsaw, I discovered that its director, Dan Gilroy, has been married to one of its stars, Rene Russo, for nearly 30 years. I migh have previously known that fact, but I don’t think I knew about it as far back as Gilroy’s last film, 2014’s Nightcrawler, which also featured Russo acting quite excellently. Besides making movies together, they also have a daughter who’s already all grown up. I mention all this because I enjoy thinking about the familial background that can go into making a movie. And also, I find it more satisfying to think about the Gilroy-Russo family than I do to think about Velvet Buzzsaw. That’s not to say that Velvet Buzzsaw is bad, but rather, it’s just to say that I’m the type of person who generally finds it heartening to see even just a snapshot of any family life.

Anyway, it’s particularly interesting to think about this marriage in light of Russo’s death scene in Buzzsaw, which her husband wrote AND directed! Honestly, I think it’s the sign of a good relationship when you can orchestrate your spouse’s death onscreen but not do so in real life. It’s a pretty gnarly moment and probably the best realization of the movie’s concept of “killer art.” I got a real Wes Craven’s New Nightmare “art imitating life” vibe during Velvet Buzzsaw‘s first deadly set piece. It takes us a little while to get to all the moments of the paintings and pieces tearing up human flesh, but when they do happen, they’re impressively, lavishly staged. But I think I would have recommended getting to the gore a little more quickly, because before we get there, we don’t have much to latch on to, other than Jake Gyllenhaal (who, you may recall, was also previously directed by Gilroy in Nightcrawler) as a fellow named “Morf” lounging around naked with only a laptop to cover his naughty bits.

I give Velvet Buzzsaw 3 Thick Black Eyeglass Frames out of 5 Wax Families.

Movie Review: ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ Offers Goofs Galore and Surprise Reveals Aplenty

1 Comment

CREDIT: Sony Pictures/YouTube

Starring: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Angourie Rice, Martin Starr, J.B. Smoove, Marisa Tomei, Tony Revolori, Remy Hii

Director: Jon Watts

Running Time: 129 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Nicks and Bruises from Webslinging Around and Awkward Situations That Teenager Somehow Stumble Into

Release Date: July 2, 2019

The name of the game is the ol’ switcheroo, the bait-and-switch, the smoke-and-mirrors routine … yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s only been a couple of months since the release of Avengers: Endgame, but despite all that seeming finality, the MCU must continue. And the first arrival in this new status quo is Spider-Man: Far From Home, which means we’re going to kick things off with an in memoriam montage that features Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” Comic Sans lettering, and a Getty Images-watermarked photo. But there are also some baddies to defeat, although Peter Parker (Tom Holland) would much rather focus on his school’s European class trip and taking things to a more romantic realm with his friend MJ (Zendaya). You get the sense that this cinematic iteration of Spider-Man would also like to just focus on the high school ecosystem. But superhero movie requirements beckon, and Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers’ script does a fun enough job of incorporating Peter and his pals’ shenanigans into the CGI blowout.

The topsy-turvy hook begins with the fallout from the fact that the people who were snapped away in Infinity War and then returned in Endgame (referred to here as “the Blip”) have not aged the five years that everyone who remained did. Adding to all the pandemonium is the appearance of Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a caped-and-suited fellow who claims to be from a parallel Earth and is here to help fight some monsters that have escaped from his world. But not all is as it seems, as characters may not be who they say they are, relationships have sudden accelerations and decelerations, and it really isn’t what it looks like when a classmate discovers Peter taking his pants off next to a much older woman.

That sense of the wool being pulled over and off and back on everyone’s eyes lasts all the way through to the end of the credits, with the extra scenes turning out to be surprisingly essential in clarifying what just happened. Peter’s efforts to puncture his way into what’s really going on have a satisfying vibe of getting past the bullshit. However, that level of satisfaction is not met with any corresponding visual panache, as Far From Home plays it way too safe in the standard-issue Marvel CGI department. If this is the post-Endgame status quo, at least it won’t be so stressful.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is Recommended If You Like: Spider-Man: Homecoming, High Quality Character-Centric Jokewriting

Grade: I don’t know how to grade these Marvel movies anymore. I could give it a 4 out of 5 for Fun, but I also want to downgrade it to 3.5 out of 5 for (Lack of) Originality, and then I also want to downgrade it to Less Than 3.5 out of 5 for Frustration about this being yet another good-but-not great Marvel movie. So my overall grade is all of that somehow mixed together.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Sisters Brothers’ is the Ultimately Charming Tale of Two Fraternal Wild West Hitmen

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2018.

Starring: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed

Director: Jacques Audiard

Running Time: 121 Minutes

Rating: R for Wild West Gunfire, Saloon-Based Vices, and the Aftereffects of a Spider Crawling Into Someone’s Mouth

Release Date: September 21, 2018 (Limited)

John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix have teamed up as a couple of brothers whose last name is “Sisters.” Reilly is Eli and Phoenix is Charlie. They’re killers-for-hire out on the frontier in the middle of the 19th century, but eliminating their marks just is not their preferred way of spending their time, plain and simple. Charlie is too busy drinking and whoring, while Eli has too much of a conscience to last too long in this business (and honestly so does Charlie). There are plenty of people who don’t like their jobs, and plenty of movies about that predicament. Certainly, “the hitman who wants to get out of the game” is a tried-and-true trope. But this is different from your John Wick‘s or your Sexy Beast‘s. Eli and Charlie aren’t hard-bitten, they’re just tired and would prefer to find something to be happy about.

The Sisters’ target is Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a chemist who has devised a new method for discovering gold. It seems a little fantastical in theory, but Warm sounds like he knows what he is talking about. So when Eli and Charlie catch up to him, they decide they would much rather collaborate than kill. Same goes for Detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), who was supposed to be aiding the Sisters in this assignment but instead becomes drawn into Warm’s machinations. (This team-up is miles away from Gyllenhaal and Ahmed’s partnership in Nightcrawler, with the two giving performances that barely share any DNA with those earlier roles.) It’s heartening watching this quartet work together, for while riches do play a motivating factor, they are really more after a more general sense of fulfillment. The menace of the boss coming to collect is always lurking, but the moments of finding a mutual understanding (along with Alexandre Desplat’s surprisingly jazzy score) are enough to convince you to focus on life’s pleasures where you can find them.

The Sisters Brothers is Recommended If You Like: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix When They’re a Little (But Not Completely) Goofy

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Gold Sifters

This Is a Movie Review: Stronger

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown

Director: David Gordon Green

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R for Bombing Gore and Boston Profanity

Release Date: September 22, 2017 (Limited)

Inspirational stories of recovery typically focus on people who are working towards some major goal that is waylaid by an accident or a tragedy. But what about the people who are just getting by in life? Many runners were injured at the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, but so were many spectators. Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs to the blast, is one of the latter. He was there to support his on-again/off-again girlfriend Erin Hurley, as she made her way to the finish line when fate destructively intervened. Without any sort of motivation to get back out on the pavement driving him, what would the road to recovery for Jeff be like? Stronger opens up the curtain on that frustrating process.

Bauman achieved fame in the wake of the bombing when a (graphic) photo of him being pulled away from the blast site became iconic and also when he gave a description of Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the FBI upon waking from a coma. This led to media appearances like throwing out the first pitch at a Red Sox game that served the purpose of solidifying the Boston Strong mythologizing of his hometown.

But the public image of everyday heroes obscures the painful struggle behind the scenes. As Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal makes clear, Bauman was not at all eager to play this role. His scraggly hair and deep pupils complement his physical and emotional breakdowns in the face of any pressure. It certainly does not help that his family – loud, crude, overbearing, fiercely protective – fits the Bostonian stereotype to a T. Director David Gordon Green makes sure to have an ever-present feeling of claustrophobia.

The cruel joke at the heart of this all is that Jeff has a reputation for never showing up to the important moments in his life. Cheering his girlfriend on at the race is totally out of character for him. It is the major divisive factor causing the strife in their relationship. It drives the engine of his feelings of inferiority that prevent him from fully committing to his recovery. As Erin, Tatiana Maslany bears the brunt of the agony of these shortcomings, registering the pain all over her face. Even when Jeff ultimately turns a positive corner, the damage is done, and the scars are lasting.

As a title, Stronger is more wish than fact. The movie concludes with Jeff trying to do his best, but the major lesson to be gleaned from his story is that not everyone can summon the willpower to stand defiantly against the evils of the world as easily as catchy slogans and media mythmaking may want us to.

Stronger is Recommended If You Like: Jake Gyllenhaal in all his versatility, Million Dollar Baby, Sticking with people through their lowest points

Grade: 3 out of 5 Gallows Jokes

This Is a Movie Review: Bong Joon-ho Wants ‘Okja’ the Super Pig to Be Your New Best Friend

1 Comment

This review was originally published on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins, Shirley Henderson

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: Not Rated, But Watch Out for Factory-Grade and Mano-a-Mano Violence

Release Date: June 28, 2017 (Theatrically in New York and Los Angeles/Streaming on Netflix)

There are some people who are perfectly fine with consuming animal products, and then there are others who are staunchly vegan. If a multinational conglomerate were to engineer adorable giant pigs to cure world hunger, I do not imagine that most people would change their stances. Nor, if his latest film Okja is any indication, does Bong Joon-ho. But we are not here to focus on the masses (save for a decadent prologue that establishes that they are here to lap up whatever innovation/new species is fed to them). This is a story about a girl and her super pig, and all the zany, brainy, insane-y forces of the world that get in her way.

It might be possible to find Okja – who looks like a land-dwelling hippo with big ol’ floppy ears and a stretched-out porcine face – completely adorable and still be okay with eating bacon. I know I certainly do. Or perhaps this film will convince to swear off all pork products forever. No matter where you fall on this spectrum, it cannot be denied that Okja’s young farmgirl companion Mija (newcomer Ahn Seo-hyun) has been done wrong in so many ways. Her grandfather sells Okja to the Miranda Corporation, which will purportedly parade her around as the winner of a Super Pig contest, but of course that is just a distraction away from how the sausage is made. A visit to the factory makes it look practically genocidal. A group of activists known as the Animal Liberation Front teams up with Mija to expose Miranda for what it really is, but their motives may not fully align with each other, as Mija just wants to take Okja back home. And taking it all back to the beginning, Okja and Mija’s friendship was practically engineered by Miranda for its marketability.

Despite how grossly its animal characters are treated, Okja is not about shaming its audience. Its purpose is holding up a cracked funhouse mirror to global capitalism. Or is it just a normal mirror? In which version do we ravenously consume faces and anuses? (They’re American as apple pie!)

Befitting a Bong Joon-ho film and a world in which people feel that they can get away with anything, the production design is a beautiful and lavish rainbow, but also probably extravagantly wasteful. The characterization is similarly outsized, with the heroes, villains, and half-hero/half-villains alike displaying a range of delectable behavior. As the braces-wearing Miranda CEO, Tilda Swinton is an anxious mix of demonstrating her power and proving that she does in fact have power. Her underlings include the preternaturally calm Giancarlo Esposito and the bizarrely squeaky-voiced flibbertigibbet Shirley Henderson. Jake Gyllenhaal is deep in character work as usual as a sweaty, shorts-sporting zoologist TV host. And as the head of the ALF, Paul Dano offers up scary commitment. His brand of ethics is admirable, but not above violent enforcement. Okja asks: do we really want to free the animals if it requires such militancy?

When the film gets into specifics, though, the questions are never that simple. It all rests on the shoulders of little Mija, who has the most clear-cut motivation of anyone. Her focus and resolve allow her to achieve her purpose, but it is not clear that that result makes the world a better place. What do we make of life when every individual story is a MacGuffin?

Okja is Recommended If You Like: Orphan Black, Free Willy, The Hunger Games

Grade: 4 out of 5 Magical Animals

This Is a Movie Review: Life (2017)

Leave a comment

This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2017.

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Beautifully Disturbing Blood Loss

Release Date: March 24, 2017

The paradox of life is that it requires death to be sustained. The paradox of Life is that its successes and failures are both technical, with staging both skillful and sloppy alternately sustaining and choking itself. This combination corresponds thematically with the story, but I do not think it is intentional, and it is frustrating regardless. This is a locked-room creature feature that does not show its hand too early. Once it does, it knows how to drag out the tension, but it also occasionally forgets that knowledge.

The premise here is ideal for instant dread. A six-person crew on board the International Space Station meets a life form that has hitched a ride on a returning Martian probe. Dubbed “Calvin” by a group of stargazing schoolchildren, the creature starts out microscopic but soon starts growing to the point that it is no longer a curiosity and more a threat. I know what you’re thinking: this is Alien, but in space … er, a different part of space. A part of space where your screams can be heard, if only all communication – as is so often the case – had not immediately been destroyed.

There is no escaping the comparisons to Ridley Scott’s extraterrestrial horror landmark, but Life does distinguish itself with plenty of philosophical thought lent to the creature concept. Each cell of Calvin has the capacity to fulfill any bodily function. It eventually grows to resemble a crystalline starfish, but it is very much its own new frontier, with its entire body (if that is even the right word) serving as mouth, hands, legs, and whatever else it can use to survive. Also, when it comes down to the resolution, this is more The Thing than Alien. The ISS is not in deep space, but rather close Earth orbit, so if Calvin is not suppressed, there is a very real chance he could consume the whole planet. Life does not shy away from just how nasty that implication is.

The devilish little monster flick that Life mostly succeeds at being is constantly interrupted by a survival tale that fails because no character has any room to come across as a fully realized human being. That is not necessary in a movie like this, but when there is as much dialogue as Life has, it becomes important. But the editing and cinematography seem wholly uninterested in any of that. Shots are frequently cut mid-sentence, effectively garbling the speech, and the look is so washed out, which is fine for generating unease, but annoying when attempting to make sense of facial expressions. Horror often works best by withholding its villain, but the formula is a little different when the monster is by far the most fascinating character.

Life is Recommended If You LikeAlien (though it’s not as well-crafted), The Thing (though it’s not quite as ominous), Tremors (but without the cheekiness)

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Doomed Lab Rats