Best Film Performances of the 2010s

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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.

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This Is a Movie Review: The Coen Brothers Sing ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ and Other Tales in This Western Anthology

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CREDIT: Netflix

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

Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Stephen Root, Tom Waits, Liam Neeson, Harry Melling, Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck, Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: R for Surprisingly, Perhaps Hilariously, Deadly Gunfire

Release Date: November 8, 2018 (Limited Theatrically)/November 16, 2018 (Streaming on Netflix)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs has a Buster Scruggs problem. That is to say: Buster’s not in it enough! That can be the trouble with anthology films in which no characters appear in more than one segment. This issue can be alleviated, at least somewhat, if there are multiple memorable roles. But when Tim Blake Nelson saunters into town in his white cowboy suit, guitar in tow, he immediately wins us over with his storytelling aplomb, extreme self-confidence, and superhuman marksmanship. As Buster’s is the first story, he sets a rollicking, self-aware tone that makes us want to spend as much time with him as possible. Alas, it is not meant to be. But surely, he could have been a narrator or a wandering troubadour throughout! As it is, though, his arrival brings us pleasure, while his quick departure only leaves us hungry for more.

The other segments are more scattershot, but if you believe that the Coen brothers’ droll humor belongs in a Western setting, then you should find enough to enjoy. The three chapters immediately following the titular kickoff – in which bank robber James Franco gets his comeuppance, Liam Neeson puts on a travelling show, and Tom Waits goes prospecting for gold, respectively – wrap up before they are able to have much of an impact. It gets better and deeper with “The Girl Who Got Rattled,” in which Zoe Kazan plays a single frontierswoman who must summon an unexpected amount of independence, while also dealing with a surprising, but perhaps promising, marriage proposal. It’s actually quite sweet, but then a Coen-style cruel twist of fate swoops in, leaving you a little devastated but narratively satisfied. The concluding chapter, “The Mortal Remains,” is more of a tone piece than anything else, with a group of strangers in a carriage on its way to somewhere resembling purgatory, or maybe even Hell. As one of the passengers, Tyne Daly is a force of nature to bring us home, but even she cannot quite protect us in this harsh landscape. It’s an otherworldly approach befitting filmmakers who are heavily influenced by the Old Testament God, and while I may find The Ballad of Buster Scruggs to be a minor Coen effort, it is not without plenty to chew over.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is Recommended If You Like: Coen brothers comedy in general, but can deal with scattershot results

Grade: 3 out of 5 Color Plates

SNL Review December 9, 2017: James Franco/SZA

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CREDIT: Will Heath/NBC

My letter grades for each sketch and segment is below. My in-depth review is on NewsCult: http://newscult.com/snl-love-itkeep-itleave-james-francosza/

Mall Santa – B-

James Franco’s Monologue – C-

Office Sexual Harassment Apologies – C+

Gift Wrapping – C

Scrudge – B

Iowa City All-District Spelling Bee – B

SZA performs “The Weekend” – B

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B-
Cathy Anne – B+
A White Woman Named Gretchen – B

Courtroom aka ‘Za (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

Christmas Charity – B

SZA performs “Love Galore” – B

Franco Family Reunion – B-

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Disaster Artist’ is James Franco is Tommy Wiseau is the Star Inside Us All

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CREDIT: Justina Mintz/A24

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

Starring: Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Megan Mullally, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, Hannibal Buress, Nathan Fielder, June Diane Raphael, Andrew Santino, Charlyne Yi, Melanie Griffith, Sharon Stone, Bob Odenkirk, Judd Apatow

Director: James Franco

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for an Auteur Asshole

Release Date: December 1, 2017 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide December 8, 2017

When I watched Shane Carruth’s 2013 film Upstream Color – about a man and a woman who ingest a larva with the power to drastically affect the human mind – I was excited by the conscious-altering possibilities. But I was ultimately disappointed by the impenetrable narrative. Upstream does have its fans, but I thought an opportunity was missed by presenting an abstract subject with just-as-abstract storytelling. But now we have a film that is more along the lines of what I thought Upstream Color was going to be, and that film is The Disaster Artist, which imposes a typical biopic structure onto one of the strangest individuals of all time. There is the classic rise-fall-rise and a soundtrack that raises the roof with beats that were first hits about a decade before the events of the film, but all this normality only illuminates the unfathomability that is Tommy Wiseau.

Wiseau has achieved a very unique sort of fame as the writer-director-producer-star of the 2003 independent melodrama The Room. It has been called by some the worst movie of all time, but that descriptor is way off-base. A better take that others have offered is “the greatest bad movie of all time,” but that is still not quite right. “A surreal masterpiece” is the moniker that I prefer. For The Disaster Artist to be successful, it does not need to be as surreal as The Room, as The Room already exists. Although perhaps a perfectly valid option would have been to simply remake The Room shot-for-shot with a new cast, which The Disaster Artist does in part in a delightful post-credits segment featuring recreations of classic scenes from The Room presented side-by-side along the originals, displaying how the new versions are accurate to every inch and millisecond.

James Franco directs and stars as Wiseau, and this proves to be the perfect outlet for his incorrigible proclivities. Wiseau is infamously dodgy about his personal background, but based on his accent, it is clear enough that he is from Eastern Europe, though he claims to be from New Orleans. But it is perhaps most accurate to think of him as a vampire caveman alien, as his odd syntax, singular worldview, and inexplicable behavior go beyond simply being lost in translation. Nobody but Tommy could be Tommy, but Franco comes as close as possible. And this is not the sort of lark that much of his career has come off as. Instead, it is in service of a strangely uplifting story about never giving up on your dreams.

Alongside Wiseau is his Room co-star/friend-despite-all-obstacles Greg Sestero (who co-wrote the book of the same name that The Disaster Artist is based on), played by James’ younger brother Dave. The younger Franco is a little more boyish than the deeper-voiced Sestero, but they both have an all-American squeaky-clean handsomeness befitting the moniker “Babyface,” Tommy’s nickname for Greg. The Franco brothers have significantly different faces than Sestero and Wiseau, though their looks are well approximated by solid hair and makeup jobs. This is not an exact encapsulation of the original Wiseau-Sestero dynamic (how could it be?), but there is some weird magic in the Franco pairing that works as an avatar to this weird creative pairing.

I read The Disaster Artist when it was first published in 2013. I have not re-read it since, so my memory of it is not perfectly fresh, but I remember enough to know that there is some streamlining at play here. But the liberties that were taken serve to bolster the film’s thesis that has been borne out by the directions that Wiseau and Sestero’s lives have taken since The Room has become a cult classic. In one scene, Tommy approaches a producer (Judd Apatow) at a restaurant, who assures Tommy that he will never find success in Hollywood in a million years. “But after that?” Tommy earnestly asks. It has not literally taken him that long to achieve his stardom, but “more than one million years later” might be the best figurative way to explain how long it took him to realize his dreams, and that boundlessness beyond normal temporality is the engine that The Disaster Artist runs on.

The obvious antecedent to this film is Ed Wood, but that earlier biopic was released more than a decade after the death of its titular maker of the worst films of all time. Tommy’s story is not over, and now it is inextricably tied up with the most fervent fans of The Room, many of whom populate the cast of The Disaster Artist. There are several moments in this making-of in which classic lines from The Room are uttered in Tommy’s personal life that could come off as fan service but avoid that pitfall because of how nakedly autobiographical The Room is. James Franco and his crew of shockingly eager collaborators have invited us all to take place in this autobiography, and the result is intoxicating.

The Disaster Artist is Recommended If You Like: The Room of course, Ed Wood, James and Dave Franco’s old Funny or Die videos, How Did This Get Made?

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Doggies

This Is a Movie Review: Why Him?

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why-him-bryan-cranston-james-franco

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

Starring: Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally

Director: John Hamburg

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R for Getting a Little Loose with the Language

Release Date: December 23, 2016

When I first saw the trailer for Why Him?, I thought, “Well, if there’s anyone who can wring something worthwhile out of this stale premise, it might just be Bryan Cranston and James Franco.” It’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for the 21st century: instead of a black man marrying a white woman, it’s James Franco. This particular version of Franco is Laird Mayhew, a vulgar and oversharing but very sweet billionaire video game mogul. He butts heads with father of his girlfriend Ned Fleming (Cranston), the high-strung head of a struggling Detroit printing company. A big deal is made about how alike Ned and Laird are, which is a bit of an exaggeration, though they are both honest to a fault. It is also striking how similar these characters are to their stars’ past roles. Ned is a harried dad that is a variation of the same vein as Walter White or Malcolm in the Middle’s Hal. And Franco is as irrepressible as always.

So, the leads are all set to bite into the gags, and they are not timid about exploring the explicit shenanigans the script leads them into. But the marks of assembly-line modern film comedy (i.e., unimaginative editing and cinematography that favors simple coverage of all angles) cramp their style. That lack of directorial personality is a shame, because the film has some fascinating and relatively unique ideas at its core. For example, Laird was raised by a single mother who never let him outside the house much, which renders Why Him? an interesting examination of someone who never had the experience to learn social skills.

Why Him? also aims to go thematically deeper, as Ned’s predicament touches upon the disappearance of traditional Midwest manufacturing jobs – a sort of Office meets Brexit, as it were. This does not play as a huge concern, but it is a hard topic to avoid in 2016. More pressing, and more timeless, are the women-friendly bona fides at play. This may be no fiery treatise, but the underlying message is undeniably feminist. The film is positively aware that the girlfriend/daughter (Zoey Deutch) is no mere MacGuffin, but a legitimate person in her own right.

Why Him? is Recommended If You LikeDaddy’s Home But Wish It Had Been a Good Movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner But Wish That James Franco Had Played Sidney Poitier, Breaking Bad But Wish That James Franco Had Played the Methamphetamine

Grade: 3.5 out 5 Bidet-Style Toilets

SNL Recap December 6, 2014: James Franco/Nicki Minaj

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SNL: Nicki Minaj, James Franco (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in December 2014.

With a crisis in policing in America, and a movie studio being hacked, possibly in retaliation to the upcoming film starring tonight’s host, this week’s “SNL” was not struggling for topicality.  Surprisingly enough, one of the most uncomfortable issues of the year shocked the show out of its politically tepid default, resulting in some legitimately funny material on a difficult subject.  However, what this episode was most notable for was a bizarrely naturalistic pace.  It was not slow and sleepy so much as it was that many of the sketches took their time to find a joke.  Rhythmically, this did not feel like a typical 2014 episode of “SNL,” for better, for worse, and for neutral.

Politics Nation – The Ferguson and Eric Garner decisions were impossible for “SNL” to ignore, though it was a little odd that the show chose to initially take them on with Kenan Thompson’s malapropism-prone Al Sharpton.  While this rendition of the MSNBC spoof did keep that goofy element, the reverend came off smarter than usual, with his gaffes seeming more like the result of frustration than incompetence.  The conclusion of him eagerly hugging an uncomfortable police officer firmly established this as a genuine, albeit silly, call for solidarity. B

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