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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Jeff’s Wacky SNL at Home Review: Tom Hanks/Chris Martin

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CREDIT: NBC/YouTube Screenshot

Saturday Night Live Season 45 wasn’t meant to end early, after all. Social distancing restrictions might make a live broadcast a little difficult right now, but they haven’t diminished our capacity to create and consume comedy. Thus, we have our first ever “SNL at Home” episode. It’s all pre-recorded, but so was a significant portion of the 1984-85 season, and that was a great year!

Tom Hanks and Chris Martin are officially announced as the host and musical guest, and I see no reason not to include this episode towards the official all-time ledger. Erg, Hanks has now entered diamond status as a ten-time host!

On to the show, which begins with the cast quickly saying hi via Zoom and then goes into an at-home-ified opening montage. Meanwhile, I prepared for the show by running about 12 miles on Saturday morning, going to bed early, getting plenty of z’s, and then watching the sketches early on Sunday (as per usual). Bananas seem important in this era (and all the time), so I had one with my cereal for breakfast.

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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

Super Fun-Time Movie Review: Toy Story 4

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CREDIT: Pixar/YouTube

As I wrote this review of Toy Story 4 almost a week after seeing the movie, the main feeling that I have upon reflection is one of peacefulness. When Toy Story 3 arrived more than a decade after its predecessors, it brought with it familiarity but also emotional upheaval with all the life changes it sought to deal with. Number 4 is similarly concerned about new chapters, but the kind that you never saw coming, yet somehow feel so perfectly right when you let them happen. So did I cry when Woody made his final decision? I did not, not because of a cold heart, but because my warm heart was so proud of the scary, but promising, step forward I had never considered as a possibility in this series. If toys and franchises are basically immortal, sometimes they have to make big bold choices, and it’s a feat when one of them feels like the best decision for everyone involved.

I give Toy Story 4 10 Voice Boxes out of 12 Skunk Cars.

This Is a Movie Review: The Defense of Journalism Mounted by ‘The Post’ is Admirable and Often Rousing, But Almost Quaint

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CREDIT: Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Fox

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

Starring: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, David Cross, Alison Brie, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Jesse Plemons, Carrie Coon, Zach Woods

Director: Steven Spielberg

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Deadline-Related Light Profanity

Release Date: December 22, 2017 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide January 12, 2018

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees some fundamental freedoms, but certain limits on those freedoms are understood. Hate speech is not protected by free speech, for example, and human sacrifice is not protected by freedom of religion. But there is not quite the same shorthand for limits on a free press. Publishing anything demonstrably libelous is certainly unacceptable, but when is it inappropriate to print what is in fact true and has hitherto been hidden? This question is at the heart of so many present-day media matters, so in comes Steven Spielberg’s The Post, which examines a time when this conflict was a momentous occasion and not an everyday one.

In 1971, The Washington Post finds itself in possession of the Pentagon Papers, a trove of documents detailing the United States’ involvement in Vietnam over the past few decades. Executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and his team of journalists think the public deserves to know this information. The federal government says it would be a felony to print it. There is no mistaking where The Post (both the paper and the film) comes down on this conflict. This is not new information and thus serves no imminent threat to American troops in Vietnam. The only harm it can cause is embarrassment for former presidents. The actual conflict that The Post grapples is the attempted reconciliation between ethical and business concerns.

The constant struggle of press outlets, even institutions as big as The Washington Post, is figuring out how to make money by delivering the truth. That struggle is writ large when making a public offering, which is what we’ve got here. Do you make a stronger case to your investors by laying low or by making a ruckus in the course of standing up for your principals? As publisher Katharine Graham, Meryl Streep is all contorted faces and knotted anxiety as she takes the lead to make the decision of printing the Papers or not. The drama is wrung in screwball fashion, with Bradlee appealing to her over the phone at the last a minute, as a gaggle of other interested parties hop on the line.

For as grand as The Post’s ambitions are, it is strange to consider that most of it takes place over the course of just one day. It all then feels almost inconsequential, but of course, certain individual moments can change the course of everything. When that is the case, there has probably been months, or even years, of work behind the scenes setting up those moments, as conveyed by an early scene of Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) gathering and absconding with the Papers. Also delivering the dynamic agita is Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian, an old buddy of Ellsberg’s who tracks down the delivery. Odenkirk’s comedic background is an asset – he moves about with a paranoid shuffle that is somewhere between absolutely necessary and hilariously unnecessary. Also rousing is a typesetting montage following the decision to publish the Papers. This mechanical peek at how things are done is a valuable reminder of underlying structure in much the same way that Michael Mann’s Blackhat spent so much visual space on the wires that undergird the Internet.

Ultimately, while The Post’s advocacy for journalism is timeless, its story feels small-scale, a prelude to the much bigger fallout of Watergate and all the modern-day scandals that use -gate in their nomenclature. The Richard Nixon of The Post is only ever seen from behind and through a window. His fight against the press was fought in the shadows, but today his same tactics are being employed right out in the open. The Post’s lessons are ones I hope everyone takes to heart, but I wonder (despair?) how useful they are when the sorts of secrets exposed by the Pentagon Papers are now nonchalantly tweeted every day.

The Post is Recommended If You Like: All the President’s Men, Spotlight, a Free Press

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Sealed Documents

This Is a Movie Review: The Circle

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

Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Karen Gillan, Patton Oswalt, John Boyega

Director: James Ponsoldt

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13, Because When You Have Cameras Everywhere, You’re Gonna See Something

Release Date: April 28, 2017

As the tagline to The Circle informs us, “Knowing everything is good. Knowing everything is better.” As the plot of The Circle demonstrates to us, nailing a tone is good; nailing several different tones is really hard.

This film’s titular company should feel intimately familiar to anyone alive and plugged-in in 2017. The Circle is basically Google and Facebook combined, and considering the extensive connectivity in today’s major tech and social companies, that combination is not exactly far from reality. Throw the NSA and its massive data collection into this stew, bandy about disturbing maxims like “secrets are lies,” and you’ve got yourself a formula for a relevant paranoid (or not so paranoid) thriller.

Success in such an endeavor requires a protagonist that makes sense or at least one whose motivations can be tracked. Alas, Mae Holland (Emma Watson), the Circle’s latest recruit, swings wildly between suspicion and full-bore acceptance of the surveillance state. She is wildly uncomfortable in a standout early scene when she is indoctrinated into the corporate culture, but soon enough she is working alongside the company heads (Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt) and pushing forward their most privacy-invading initiatives. A mysterious Circle employee (John Boyega) warns Mae about the dangers of what lies ahead, and it is never clear if she trusts him or completely ignores him. Ultimately, she seeks to expose those at the top, but an oddly pitched final shot prompts the question, “To what end?”

The one unqualified success of The Circle is the series of online comments that populate the screen at various points. Mae volunteers to record her whole life to demonstrate her belief in putting cameras everywhere, and her online followers chime in with their various observations. Most of them are along the lines of “You go, Mae!” or “Should we be watching this?” But every tenth one is some hilariously banal declaration like “making a sandwich” or “time to go poo.” This type of humor hits you sideways and buoys The Circle – if only this sort of controlled unpredictability could have been maintained throughout.

The Circle is Recommended If You Like: Nerve, Evil Tom Hanks, YouTube Comments, One More Chance to See Bill Paxton on the Big Screen

Grade: 3 out of 5 Cheeses From Last Year

SNL Review October 22, 2016: Tom Hanks/Lady GaGa

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SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Tom Hanks" Episode 1708 -- Pictured: (l-r) Kenan Thompson, Beck Bennett, Tom Hanks as David Pumpkins, and Kate McKinnon during the "Haunted Elevator" sketch on October 22, 2016 -- (Photo by: 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-it-tom-hankslady-gaga/

Third Presidential Debate – B

Tom Hanks’ Monologue – B

Black Jeopardy – B+

Halloween Block Party Meeting – B-

Broken – B-

100 Floors of Frights (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – A-

Lady GaGa performs “A-Yo” – B

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B+
Leslie Jones – B
The Girl You Wish Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party – B+

Sully – B

A Girl’s Halloween – B-

Lady GaGa performs “Million Reasons” – B

America’s Funniest Pets – B+

This Is a Movie Review: Sully

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sully-tom-hanks-2016

The main conflict driving Sully is the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into US Airways Flight 1549. The implicit question seems to be: Was Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger really a hero? To which presumably every viewer would respond, “Of course!” I suppose the NTSB must do their due diligence to determine if an emergency runway landing was possible, but at a certain point (i.e., right away), you can’t help but ask, “These people do realize that both engines failed and yet everyone survived, don’t they?”

The easy criticism would be to say that Sully should have just focused on the actual Hudson River landing (by far its strongest feature in both technical and dramatic heft). The trouble, though, is that wouldn’t make for a very long movie. The birds fly into the engines almost immediately, there are then only a few minutes to decide what to do, and rescue crews are right on the scene. If this were all shown in real time, it would last about 30 minutes. The entire flight is basically presented twice over, and that is mostly a good decision.

Eventually, everyone decides that indeed this was heroism of the highest order (and not just from Sully, but from everybody involved), and somehow, instead of saying, “Took you long enough,” I instead was roused (and relieved by a zinger of a final line). That is due mostly to high-class acting – of course Tom Hanks as Sully, with Aaron Eckhart right by his side, and also Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, and Jamey Sheridan too awesome to hate as the NTSB crew. (Laura Linney does what she can with the cliché role of “hero’s wife on phone,” which is to say: she’s Laura Linney.) The ultimate results of the investigation declare: this rescue was even more amazing than we could have ever imagined. We were already pretty sure about that, but now we’re sure enough to last two lifetimes.

I give Sully 8 Happy Endings out of 10 Frantic Phone Calls, but I must take away 2 Canadian Geese for the Probably Unfair Treatment of the NTSB.

This Is a (Quickie) Movie Review: Bridge of Spies

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Bridge-of-Spies

Bridge of Spies sneaks up on you. The 20th century conflict between the Americans and the Soviets was not just cold, it was also dry. Accordingly, Bridge of Spies is mostly procedural. Discussions of due process are elucidated, and negotiations are often portrayed as merely functional. This approach is boosted with impassioned integrity and deadpan existentialism (the best running gag is Mark Rylance as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel asking “Would it help?” when told he never worries). Then, the movie brings out its finishing move, throwing down with the scale of all that negotiator James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) achieves, through the power of patience and keeping the faith.

Watch And/Or Listen to This: Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You”

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Yep, the buzz is deserved.