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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‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ Demonstrates the Life-Changing Power of Meeting Someone Who Treats You Like the Most Important Person in the World

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CREDIT: Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Starring: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper, Enrico Colantoni, Christine Lahti, Tammy Blanchard

Director: Marielle Heller

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: PG for A Small Skirmish

Release Date: November 22, 2019

How can the cinema industry justify releasing a Mr. Rogers biopic just a little over a year after a documentary about the longtime PBS host came out? This isn’t the first time that two such films about the same subject have come out in such close proximity, and while at first blush it might appear to be overkill, this is actually an excellent example in which both movies are distinctly valuable. As A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood demonstrates, people like Fred Rogers lived lives that were rich enough to have multiple stories worth telling, thanks to the other lives they touched dearly. One of those lives was that of journalist Tom Junod, whose 1998 Esquire article “Can You Say… Hero?” inspired the film. Matthew Rhys plays Junod avatar Lloyd Vogel, who believes he’s meeting just another interview subject but instead finds himself a therapist and a dear friend.

Director Marielle Heller makes a fantastic filmmaking choice to open up Beautiful Day, presenting a framing device in which Lloyd’s story is introduced as a segment on an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mr. Rogers (thoroughly inhabited by Tom Hanks) is showing his viewers a board featuring pictures of some of his friends, including his new friend Lloyd, whose photo sticks out distressingly, thanks to a nasty bruise between Lloyd’s eyes and a wild look on his face. It’s a jarring image in this context (for multiple reasons), but Mr. Rogers gently guides us through it with such spectacular empathy, informing us that Lloyd is having a hard time forgiving someone who hurt him. That someone is Lloyd’s father Jerry (Chris Cooper), who has suddenly reappeared in Lloyd’s life decades after sleeping around on his terminally ill wife and abandoning his young children. Lloyd’s default state when Jerry is around is a fiery coil of resentment, but luckily his next assignment has him meeting someone who treats whomever he is talking as the most important person in the world.

Lloyd’s life and profession have trained him to be skeptical, which is how he initially approaches Mr. Rogers. Surely and obviously, this man who speaks so gently and fastidiously must be putting on an act whenever the cameras are rolling. But what Tom learns, and what we all get to witness, is just how genuine Fred is. It takes practice to be as thoughtful and concerned as he is, but that effort makes his persona no less real. Instead, it makes it even more powerful and effective. We should all be as concerned for and interested about the people in our lives as Fred is to Lloyd. When a film is as useful an empathy how-to guide as A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is, it is truly something special.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is Recommended If You Like: Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Wonder, Magazines

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Special Friends

This Is a Movie Review: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, and Jane Curtin Bring the Literary Forgery Biopic ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ to Deliciously Caustic Life

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CREDIT: Mary Cybulski/Twentieth Century Fox

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

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin, Ben Falcone

Director: Marielle Heller

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Naughty, Foul-Mouthed Witticisms

Release Date: October 19, 2018 (Limited)

I would like to begin my review of Can You Ever Forgive Me? by first saying how happy I am to see Jane Curtin on screen in a role worthy of her talents. Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant are going to get the most praise out of this cast, and rightly so, as they play the two main characters with wonderfully caustic aplomb, but I want to make sure that Ms. Curtin does not get lost in the mix. Whenever I see her in old SNL clips, I wonder how she is not still one of the biggest comedy superstars around (at least she still is in my heart). Sure, few folks have ever maintained such a status into their seventies, but Curtin remains spry and clearly capable of throwing out some deadly zingers. And as Marjorie, the (understandably) impatient literary agent of an unruly client, she is doing exactly what any Jane Curtin fan wants to see.

That client is Lee Israel, who achieved a bit of success in the ’70s and ’80s with biographies of the likes of actress Tallulah Bankhead and game show panelist Dorothy Kilgallen. She is now struggling to pay her bills, partly because she insists on only writing about people who were popular decades ago and partly because she is too antisocial to hold down any regular job or maintain any human relationship. So she turns to penning letters that she passes off as the work of famous writers like Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward, selling the forgeries to collectors who are willing to play top dollar. Melissa McCarthy may not seem like the obvious choice to play Lee, though her aggressive comedy chops certainly lend themselves well to cynical wit-slinging. McCarthy actually benefits immensely from being able to underplay a bit. Lee is just as unapologetic as McCarthy’s normal stable of characters, so in a way Lee is actually right in her wheelhouse, but with fewer temptations to go more over-the-top than is bearable.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a bit of a two-hander, with a significant chunk of the runtime consisting of the shenanigans between Lee and her drinking buddy/partner-in-crime Jack Hock (Grant), a bon vivant in similarly dire financial straits. I know Grant primarily as the villainous puppetmaster Dr. Zander Rice in last year’s Logan, but fans of his breakthrough performance in Withnail and I will likely find plenty to recognize and love here. And those unfamiliar with Withnail should be happy to discover his infectious comedy chops. Lee and Jack are a salty-and-tart odd couple; they’re both gay, but also somehow kindred spirits. Their friendship fuels each of them to find a purpose in life, although their relationship is a bit volatile, as much of it is built around a criminal enterprise. Can You Ever Forgive Me? Resembles redemption narrative, but not quite. Instead, it is a story of self-actualization that manages to have as much of a naughty good time as it can.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is Recommended If You Like: Withnail and I, All About Eve, Sideways

Grade: 4 out of 5 Forgeries