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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Mini-Movie Review: Aliens Take Over a Very Gray Chicago in the Intermittently Promising ‘Captive State’

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CREDIT: Parrish Lewis/Focus Features

Starring: Ashton Sanders, John Goodman, James Ransone, Jonathan Majors, Machine Gun Kelly, Vera Farmiga, Alan Ruck, Kevin Dunn, David J. Height, Madeline Brewer, Ben Daniels, D.B. Sweeney, Kevin J. O’Connor, KiKi Layne, Marc Grapey

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Occasional Explosions and Minorly Disturbing Sci-Fi Flourishes

Release Date: March 15, 2019

Captive State reminds me of 2010’s Skyline, a pretty awful movie that was at least fascinating for how it attempted to craft a genuinely compelling alien invasion with a fairly small budget. Captive State is a little more competent, but it has that same vibe of a director who is burning with a unique vision that he simply must deliver to the world no matter what the handicaps. That director is Rupert Wyatt, and his vision is a version of Chicago enslaved by aliens who want humans to pretend that this is actually an arrangement of unity. There’s clearly some commentary about conformism at play here, which in past instances in this genre has been about the likes of communism and consumerism. But in this case, it is not clear what the target is. (Maybe blind patriotism?) And that really sums up Captive State as a whole. You can feel that there is a plentiful mix of ideas, and even an admirably ambitious combination of genres (chase-filled actioner, paranoid thriller, even a bit of a heist flick), and the surprisingly robust cast is here to give it what they’ve got. But alas, the overall effort never quite coalesces into something with a fully fleshed-out overarching purpose.

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Implant Trackers

This Is a Movie Review: Atomic Blonde

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CREDIT: Focus Features

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

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones

Director: David Leitch

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: R for Bullets, Knives, Punches, and Kicks

Release Date: July 28, 2017

At its best, Atomic Blonde is like a cool music video. That description may sound useless in its simplicity, but when a film’s pleasures are its simplest ones, such pith is justified. I believe most people understand inherently what makes a music video cool, but to deconstruct it into its concrete components and how it relates to Atomic Blonde: it is about the combination of recognizable beats and imaginative imagery. Most action films have style, but not all of them have distinct visual wit that you won’t find anywhere else. Spray paint-strewn opening credits give way to an aesthetic dominated by icy blues. 1989 Berlin is filled with cloudy, low-lit neon clubs, and a new wave-heavy soundtrack that tends towards the robotically impersonal. Charlize Theron, the atomic blonde herself, is even introduced waking up in an ice bath.

For some godforsaken reason, Atomic Blonde also cares just as much about its plot. Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent sent to Berlin to kill German spies. There is no need to remember her name – I am not sure anyone ever calls her by it – but it is useful to keep track of all the other byzantine details. Broughton teams up with a loose cannon station chief (James McAvoy) with some trepidation, eventually they have to extract a German operative (Eddie Marsan), and it all goes pear-shaped, leading to the frame device of the (consistently amusing) exit interview with her superiors (Toby Jones, John Goodman). The twists keep turning all the way to a somewhat exhausting near-two hour running time.

But do your best to trim through the fat, because we’re all here to see Charlize – as they say – “kick ass.” Director David Leitch offers hectic set pieces that are much easier to keep track of than his work on the first John Wick. Broughton is impressively skilled in all forms of combat, but she is not invincible. Just about every character suffers puncture wounds, so be prepared to wince. (2017 Trend Watch: improvised slicing weapons to the face, as one baddie gets a set of keys stuck in his cheek, just as John Wick utilized a pencil in his second chapter.)There is also a little bit of time to kick back and relax. A detour with Sofia Boutella as an undercover French agent is kind of cool partly because you do not often see queer relationships in this type of movie, but more so because a Theron-Boutella tȇte-à-tȇte is a solid attraction. The whole affair is a little more distressing and less intellectual than it probably means to be, but Atomic Blonde gets the job done.

Atomic Blonde is Recommended If You Like: John Wick: Chapter 2, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Raid: Redemption, Dark New Wave Soundtracks

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Keys to the Face

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ is Confident and Visionary in a Way All Films Should Aspire To

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© 2016 VALERIAN SAS Ð TF1 FILMS PRODUCTION

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

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Herbie Hancock, Sam Spruell, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke

Director: Luc Besson

Running Time: 137 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Lasers, Gunplay, and the Accompanying Alien Splatter

Release Date: July 21, 2017

My quick pitch for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is “Star Wars but more European and colorful.” Now, don’t take that mean it is overly derivative. Most great modern stories are just variations on the classics, space fantasies especially so, Star Wars more than any other. Even if a movie finds inspiration from the tales of the Jedi, there is a genuinely strong chance it has a fair degree of originality. Valerian’s source material predates Star Wars, as it is based on the long-running French comic series Valérian et Laureline, which was first published in 1967 and, in the vein of John Carter, was by all accounts an influence on George Lucas. I cannot speak to how closely the film hews to the original, but I can say without hesitation that the result is the delightfully unfiltered vision of Luc Besson.

After I first watched the trailer for Valerian, my take on its prospects for success was that while it looked spectacularly unique, there was no way it could be a box office hit. It would be too lavish, too weird, too alien. But here’s the thing: that’s a bunch of baloney. If people who like movies want to be entertained, they need to go see Valerian. It is such a crowd-pleaser. Yes, it is a little more out-there than your average blockbuster, but it is not as impenetrable as something like Jupiter Ascending. The plot is straightforward and weighty enough to be neither confusing nor laughable, and if folks cannot appreciate the beautiful production design, fleet-on-its-feet action, and overall good vibes, then I don’t know what’s what.

The opening montage set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” could be overly on the nose but is instead an ode to the human (or human/alien/all sentient beings) spirit. Over the course of decades on a satellite orbiting Earth, a trio of astronauts keeps welcoming a new trio of astronauts from all corners of the globe. After a century or so, the new entrants start to become extraterrestrial. Eventually, the station becomes so popular that it must break away from Earth’s gravitational pull and become an intergalactic hub: Alpha, the titular city of a thousand planets. The international/interplanetary cooperation is inspiring. This is not quite a utopia, but the effort of all involved to make it as close to one as possible is palpable.

The central conflict is a classic of the genre: an entire planet has been wiped out, and its surviving residents seek a new home. A device exists with enough energy to create a facsimile version, but its power makes it life-threateningly dangerous, and it may very well be in the wrong hands, so government operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are on the case. Often in this type of story, the destruction or conquest of another planet would be at stake, but the displaced here are a profoundly peaceful collective; in keeping with the utopian spirit, their goal fits this future’s high ideals.

There is a love story between the two leads that could have easily felt shoehorned in, but instead it is part and parcel of getting Besson’s message across. Despite a long list of past conquests, Valerian proposes to Laureline within the first ten minutes, desiring to prove that he is noble enough to turn their professional partnership into a life one. Their flirtation is playfully teasing, though their chemistry is never quite steaming. Still, their loyalty to each other ultimately demonstrates a high-minded connection of the variety that has united the peoples of Alpha.

In their travels to restore the balance of the universe, Valerian and Laureline come across a number of instantly lovable characters, both CGI and humans playing dress-up (or in some cases, both). There is an implied foundation of tolerance insofar as every interaction feels so lived-in and in how every outfit plus every style of skin (or whatever the alien equivalent of skin is) is matter-of-factly accepted. Clive Owen, Herbie Hancock, and Ethan Hawke each play some degree of against type, but the biggest delight is Rihanna as a shapeshifting alien dancer named Bubble who aids Valerian and Laureline in a crucial escape mission. For those who have been waiting for the Barbadian singer to have an iconic cinematic moment, your time has come. She is the best part of the film, with her malleable nature fully inhabiting the theme that you can be and do whatever you want as long as you are fighting for what is right.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is Recommended If You Like: Star Wars, The Fifth Element, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Art and Vocation of Filmmaking

Grade: 4 out of 5 Handshakes

This Is a Movie Review: Patriots Day

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

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan

Director: Peter Berg

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Rating: R for a Graphic Recreation and the Explicit Language Reacting to It

Release Date: December 21, 2016 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide January 13, 2017

Films about real-life terrorist attacks are tough beasts. Even with the best of intentions, the results can be sensationalistic. And even if the end product is as respectful as possible, survivors and witnesses may be too traumatized to relive that day in any capacity, which begs the question: is it even worth it? It is a conundrum whose scope goes beyond any simple answer, but it is important to keep in mind.

Then on pure storytelling terms, there is the matter of where to even place the focus. Patriots Day, which retells the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent capture of its perpetrators, chooses to spread its character reach far and wide, which works surprisingly well. The implications and motivations behind a terrorist act can be too massive to capture completely, but this particular event actually lends itself well to the real-life recreations that director Peter Berg (Lone SurvivorDeepwater Horizon) has recently excelled at.

A frequently reiterated theme is that Bostonians have each others’ backs, and that is borne out through how interlinked the main characters are to each other. That connection is heightened through crisis, but the glue is already there. Even the terrorists themselves (chillingly and matter-of-factly played by Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff), classmates and neighbors to many, are part of the Boston milieu.

Following the bombing, Patriots Day turns into a chase movie, with the urgency of the best of that genre already baked in. Armed forces, intelligence agencies, and civilians join together for an inspiring display of coordinated decision-making and action. The actors playing them summon their best reserves of basic decency to pull it off. The entire cinematic effort makes for a mix of emotions, often uncomfortable, frequently awe-inspiring, never without honor, even through the cathartic bursts of laughter.

Patriots Day is Recommended If You LikeLone SurvivorWorld Trade Center, Credits Scenes with the Real-Life People Portrayed in the Movie

Grade: 4 out of 5 Acts of Bravery

This Is a (Quickie) Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

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There are multiple premises baked into the DNA of 10 Cloverfield Lane, and they are all significant enough to stand on their own. So the success of this film could be due to at least one of the films within it working so well or due to the confluence of all of them making for just the right formula. To best determine that answer, there ought to be an experiment breaking up this clever sequel into its constituent parts, with a control movie serving as the most bare-bones version. Perhaps there could be one sub-version of each with John Goodman, and one without, though that is unnecessary because he is clearly a national treasure.