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Top 10 Films of 2016 (So Far)

The Fall movie season is on the horizon, and with it inevitably comes a wave of hotly anticipated festival hits, independently-produced game changers, and studio prestige pictures all gunning for one thing: gold.  Now that the Summer movie season is more or less behind us, I thought I’d take a look back at the best and worst of the last eight months.  These lists will likely look much different come January 2017, after studios have released the films they’ve been sitting on all year long, so it’s important to give credit to some of the movies that may become lost in the shuffle over the next few months.


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10. Hail, Caesar!
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes

The Coen Brothers’ most recent directorial effort wasn’t one I fell in love with immediately, but instead came to greatly appreciate it over time.  The beauty of Hail, Caesar! comes in the form of its solid script, bringing with it absurd comedy, nods to beloved Hollywood classics, and difficult themes like religion and communist politics.  The performance of future Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich as western star Hobie Doyle is perfect, and easily my favorite thing about the film.  It may not feel like a major work by two of the greatest living American directors, but it’s quickly wormed its way into my heart.


ZOOTOPIA9. Zootopia
Directed by: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Written by: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate

Disney proves once again that when they go outside of their comfort zone is when the time-tested production house delivers their very best output.  Following the early law enforcement career of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), Zootopia creates a beautiful and unique universe for viewers to really sink their teeth into.  The world building, character development, and film noir-esque inspired plot come together in one fluffy, wonderful package.  There’s a heck of alot here for audiences of all ages to enjoy, including some genuinely hilarious gags (the sloth sequence was a true highlight).  


1-maggies-plan8. Maggie’s Plan
Directed by: Rebecca Miller
Written by: Rebecca Miller
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore, Ethan Hawke, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph

Greta Gerwig is quickly becoming my favorite working actor, and her performance in Maggie’s Plan is another home run from the talented young woman.  She stars at the titular Maggie in writer-director Rebecca Miller’s dramedy about the complications of long-term relationships, and the lengths people will go to when trying to rid themselves of such burdens.  Gerwig’s performance is as neurotic as always, but feels more mature and layered than previous starring roles in films like Frances Ha or Mistress America.  Gerwig is propped up by a typical good performance by Ethan Hawke, and a hammy but solid turn from Academy Award winner Julianne Moore.  Maggie’s Plan doesn’t quite reach the highs of Noah Baumbach’s Gerwig vehicles, but is still an intelligent, touching, and funny film in its own right.


zero-days-cia-nsa-xlarge7. Zero Days
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Written by: Alex Gibney
Starring: n/a

The newest addition to the list is also one of Alex Gibney’s best documentaries in years.  Zero Days is the terrifying look at America and Israel’s long-standing nuclear tension with Iran, and the role played by a highly advanced computer malware called Stuxnet.  While Gibney doesn’t get the answers he intends to, the reasons given for the lack of information are just as unsettling as the film’s subject matter itself.  What Zero Days does feature is in-depth interviews with incredibly important figures in America’s modern domestic defense force, and a very narrow focus.  If the subject matter interests you in any way, you shouldn’t miss out on this startling documentary.


maxresdefault6. Green Room
Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
Written by: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart

In 2013, Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin (the director’s second film) took the independent film scene by storm with its grounded, brutal realism and expert direction.  You can imagine my surprise when his follow-up Green Room was every bit as good, especially with the description essentially being “punk band clashes with neo-Nazi’s after a performance”.  For something that sounds like a B-level horror film, Green Room absolutely brings the goods.  It’s violent as hell, tense, and features the same realism that made Blue Ruin so great.  Green Room also features excellent performances from its entire young cast, consisting of the late Anton Yelchin in one of his final roles, Imogen Poots, and Alia Shawkat.  Stealing the show is the veteran Patrick Stewart in an extremely intense and commanding role, showing that the aged actor isn’t afraid to venture outside of his comfort zone.  In a weaker year, Saulnier’s Green Room would most definitely be at the top of this list.  It’s truly an experience you can’t miss, as long as you can stomach it.  


e95a78d0a8bdfc12dd50023c9d8822ea4a0845465. Sing Street
Directed by: John Carney
Written by: John Carney
Starring: Lucy Boynton, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Aiden Gillen, Jack Reynor

As somebody who adores musical films, John Carney is absolutely one of my favorite working directors, creating two of the best musicals of the last decade or so in Once and Begin Again.  Carney’s Sing Street features the best elements of both those films, perhaps eclipsing both of them in terms of filmmaking and tremendous songwriting.  Set in mid-1980’s Dublin, Sing Street follows a young man named Cosmo as he establishes his very own DIY alternative rock band while navigating the ups and downs that are growing up, including falling in love, dealing with bullies, and a turbulent family life.  Sing Street is absolutely infectious in its energy and optimism, making it one of my favorite movie experiences of the year.  It may feel minor in comparison to your typical heavy-hitting Hollywood drama, there’s nothing slight about John Carney’s Sing Street.


the-nice-guys-film-goruntusu4. The Nice Guys
Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Keith David, Kim Basinger, Margaret Qualley

The sleeper hit of the summer came in the form of Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, harkening back to the days of good ol’ buddy cop movies.  Black and Bagarozzi’s hilarious and intelligent script sees the unlikely duo of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe trying to solve a series of adult entertainment-related murders and disappearances in 1970’s Los Angeles.  Serving as both a tribute to the films of yesterday and as an original movie aimed at adult audiences, The Nice Guys was a breath of fresh air in a season focused largely on men and women in spandex beating the hell out of each other.  Gosling and Crowe have incredible chemistry together onscreen, and the laughs come at you a mile a minute.  The Nice Guys did the impossible and managed to stand out on its own during one of Hollywood’s most contested release period.  If you’re looking for quality entertainment that doesn’t pander to younger crowds devoid of an attention span, The Nice Guys is absolutely for you.


oj-simpson-4816-usnews-getty-ftr_1wr8irqcosxa31etndnurfdyxv3. O.J.: Made in America
Directed by: Ezra Edelman
Written by: Ezra Edelman
Starring: O.J. Simpson

ESPN’s 30 for 30 series of sports-related documentaries has an impossibly high turnout of incredible works, and their latest epic miniseries is without a doubt their greatest achievement yet.  O.J.: Made in America methodically chronicles the life, career, alleged crimes, and subsequent trial of former football superstar O.J. Simpson.  Made in America runs for nearly 8 hours, but every minute of this documentary is riveting, and really helps you understand how the prosecution fumbled a case that seemed so simple to win in the beginning.  ESPN’s latest project looks at the socio-political climate of America in the early 1990’s, and without saying it implies that our currently climate is very similar.  O.J.: Made in America is peppered with phenomenal archival footage, and features in-depth interviews with those closest to O.J. Simpson, Nicole Brown, and Ron Goldman.  This documentary is a triumph, and nobody reading this should let the daunting runtime scare them away: O.J.: Made in America is a modern documentary masterpiece.


the_witch_a24_2.02. The Witch
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Written by: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie

Filmed a short distance from my lovely little city, The Witch is the hotly-contested Sundance award-winner and incredibly impressive directorial debut of filmmaker Robert Eggers.  Set in 17th century New England, The Witch sees a young family exiled from their home settlement and sent to live on a farm on the edge of a large, menacing forest.  From the moment the family touches down on their new home, they begin to experience unimaginable horrors.  The Witch is without a doubt one of the most atmospheric horror films I’ve ever seen, filling viewers with feelings of dread every step of the way.  Robert Eggers directs with an expert hand, bringing levels of subtlety that most novice filmmakers could never even dream of.  This expert direction coupled with beautiful washed out photography by cinematographer Jarin Blaschke and a solid, genuinely frightening script make The Witch one of the most memorable horror films of the past ten years, sitting alongside modern masterpieces like It Follows and The Babadook.


everybody-wants-some-image11. Everybody Wants Some!!
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Will Brittain, Zooey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell

Richard Linklater is a filmmaker who at this point in his career shouldn’t require an introduction, but is sadly not the household name he deserves to be.  Linklater has directed such incredible films as Boyhood, the Before trilogy (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight), Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, and Bernie.  Everybody Wants Some!!, the spiritual successor to the aforementioned Dazed and Confused, fits perfectly among this eclectic list of tremendous films.  The premise is simple: the film sees a college freshman on his first weekend of college, making friends, meeting girls, playing baseball, and partying his face off.  We follow an incredibly lovable band of jock-y varsity baseball players doing everything college kids do best, and I couldn’t have possibly had a better time doing so.  Everybody Wants Some!! features sharp, hilarious writing by Linklater, a living, breathing 1980’s Texas backdrop, a hell of a soundtrack featuring the very best of the 70’s and early 80’s, and fun performances from a band of young up-and-comers.  It may not seem like much at first, but as the saying goes: don’t judge a book by its cover.  There’s much more to Everybody Wants Some!! than meets the eye, and anybody open to the experience is going a great time diving into it.

Top Ten Films of 2016 (So Far):


Honorable Mentions:

  • Barbershop: The Next Cut
  • Don’t Breathe
  • Finding Dory
  • The Fundamentals of Caring
  • The Invitation
  • Jim: The James Foley Story
  • The Jungle Book
  • Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  • Sleeping Giant
  • Weiner

That’s my list!  I’ll soon follow-up with my least favorite films of the year, and the films that disappointment and surprised me the most, as well as highlight some of my favorite performances of the year, and movies I’m highly anticipating and haven’t yet caught up with.  If you feel I’ve missed anything or that I’m just plain wrong on one of my picks, let me know in the comments!

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End of Year 2015 – Best Albums of 2015

Disclaimer: I am not, nor do I claim to be, an expert in the field of music of any kind.  I listen to a great deal of it, and read about it occasionally, but nowhere near the amount that I watch or read about films and film criticism.  I can’t tell you what it is that makes music great or artful in the way that I can tell you about films, and for that I apologize.  I’ll probably anger passionate music fans with my lack of knowledge and terminology, but hey – I’m going to give it my best here.  It’s important to know before reading that my musical preferences include hip-hop, independent folk, and bands led by female vocalists, which is very much reflected by my list.  If I’ve managed to miss anything you think I should check out, by all means shoot me a recommendation or two!  For those wondering, my 2014 albums of the year were Run the Jewels’ Run the Jewels 2, and Taylor Swift’s 1989, and in 2013 Kanye West’s Yeezus and Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City.  Without further ado, my top ten albums of 2015


SremmLife_cover10. Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife

Chain swings like nunchucks
She gon’ chew you up, yeah
Twerk like she from Russia
Don’t get me wile’d up (up)
Soldiers at a 10 hut
Look what you’ve don’ done (up)
Now you’ve done fucked up, up
– Up Like Trump, Rae Sremmurd

Easily the most energetic album I had the pleasure of hearing all year, SremmLife was released early on in the year and still managed to resonate nearly a year later.  After the release of their hit No Flex Zone, Rae Sremmurd quickly became a huge mainstream success.  The two brothers, Khalif (Swae Lee) age 19, and Aaquil (Slim Jimmy) age 20, have incredible careers ahead of them, and if they can keep a consistent quality in future releases look to only get bigger and bigger in the eyes of the public.  They’re young, clever, cool as hell, and most importantly know exactly the kind of sound that their audience wants to hear.  Most tracks on the album were produced by the terrific Mike WiLL Made-It, who clearly sees potential in these young men.  Using repetition in songs like Unlock the Swag and No Flex Zone, nearly every song on SremmLife is an earworm, and will undoubtedly get stuck in your head for days on end.  Whether you enjoy the trap music club sound or not, this album deserves your attention.  If you’re looking for an album full of nothing but bangers, look no further.

Standout Tracks: No Flex Zone, Come Get Her, Throw Sum Mo (feat. Nicki Minaj), YNO (feat. Big Sean)


9. The Staves – If I Was
91SZT9tUzhL._SL1500_
How can I want you a little bit more than I did before?
I don’t need you,
But I want you back just a little bit more than I knew
Now I can’t go back to life before
Before I knew
That you didn’t love me no more
You didn’t need me no more
You didn’t love me no more
You didn’t want me at all.
– No Me, No You, No More – The Staves

The Staves are a folk trio out of England composed of three sisters, Emily, Jessica, and Camilla.  If I Was is the band’s second full-length release, and boy is it a real treat for fans of the three young ladies.  Their latest release has been entirely produced by the acclaimed Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and you can really hear it deep in the music.  The entirety of If I Was feels like perfect winter music for some reason, and I’m not sure why that is.  It may be attributed to the loneliness felt in the album’s cover art, or the natural winter-y sound of Bon Iver’s music, but whatever it is makes it a perfect album to curl up with, drink some hot coffee, and try not to cry as these women create a heartbreakingly beautiful album that rings so true.  It’s clear that at least one of these sisters has been through a great deal of trauma in her life, whether it be romantic or otherwise.  Featuring a bold sound that never distracts from the lyrics at play, The Staves’ If I Was may be a slow and clearly folk-influenced album, but not once has it been a chore for me to listen to it all the way through.  Their voices are beautiful, Vernon’s production is inspired, and the lyrics in songs like No Me, No You, No More make it hard not to immediately fall in love with this album.

Standout Tracks: No Me, No You, No More, Let Me Down, Damn It All, Horizon


Mac_Miller_GOOD_AM8. Mac Miller – GO:OD AM

I’m a deranged motherfucker, took too many uppers
Now it’s rush hour, Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker
I stuck around for the past six summers
Karma is a bitch and that bitch don’t love ya
We was in the attic you could smell the weed
Bitches getting naked, we was selling E
Bitches kissing bitches just like Ellen D
In the kitchen whipping biscuits, giving generously
– Rush Hour, Mac Miller

Having never delved into the work of young Mac Miller before his latest release, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  When the album opens you’re treated to a dream-like introduction that doesn’t do well to reflect the incredible Mac Miller sound you’re about to hear.  Packed with lyrics that detail the unthinkably difficult life Mac has had, his ambitions, and his regrets, GO:OD AM is a more personal and autobiographical album I ever thought possible for a 23-year old to release.  Miller is still so young, and yet he’s lived a life of hardship the likes of which we couldn’t even imagine sitting behind our computer screens or smartphones.  GO:OD AM focuses on Miller getting clean and sober, and trying his damndest to rid himself of the depression that he’s been trying to contend with for some time.  Triumphant songs like 100 Grandkids make the album a constant blast to listen to, but it’s in the searing, personal lyrics of songs like Perfect Circle/God Speed that the album truly shines.  It’s clear that Miller knows he’s not completely out of the dark yet, and I can only hope that he stays safe and sober so he can continue to grow as an artist and blow away all of his critics.  GO:OD AM is a revelation, somehow being one of the standouts in a year littered with incredible hip-hop albums.

Standout Tracks: Rush Hour, 100 Grandkids, Clubhouse, Break the Law, Perfect Circle/God Speed, The Festival (feat. Little Dragon)


7. Young Thug – Barter 6
Young-Thug-Barter-62

But really what is it to do
When the whole world constantly hatin’ on you?
Pussy niggas hold their nuts, masturbatin’ on you
Meanwhile the fuckin’ federal baitin’ on you
Nigga tell me what you do
Would you stand up or would you turn to a pussy nigga?
I got a hundred things to do
And I can stop rappin’ but I can’t stop stackin’ fuckin’ figures
 – Constantly Hating, Young Thug (feat. Birdman)

It took me more than a week to get through the entirety of Young Thug’s full-length debut album Barter 6, but not because of the quality, but because I just couldn’t make it past the first track “Constantly Hating”, which I adored.  I listened to it on repeat, and legitimately forgot that there was more to the album than that one song.  When I finally managed to make it past the opening track, I was absolutely floored.  Every song that followed was even catchier and more fun than the one that preceded it, and Barter 6 instantly became one of my most-listened to albums of the summer.  Young Thug’s slow is incredible, never going for obvious or awkward rhymes, and his selection of incredible and energetic beats is incredible.  The pure energy that one feels from listening to Young Thug’s album is incomparable to any hip-hop album I listened to all year, which I feel is impossible to ignore.  What Barter 6 gives you is a mainstream sounding album full of catchy hooks, incredible beats, and lyrics that paint Young Thug as both a frustrated and endlessly joyful artist who never fails to infect you with his unique energy.  The album is made even better with terrific features from established rappers like Birdman, Duke, and T.I.  If you enjoy rappers like Lil Wayne or Birdman, then Young Thug might be right up your alley.  I can’t recommend it enough.


Cournetbarnett6. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

I love you, I hate you, I’m on the fence, it all depends
Whether I’m up or down, I’m on the mend, transcending all reality
I like you, despise you, admire you
What are we gonna do when everything all falls through?
I must confess, I’ve made a mess of what should be a small success
But I digress, at least I’ve tried my very best, I guess
This, that, the other, why even bother
– Pedestrian at Best, Courtney Barnett

Speaking of infectious energy, the debut album by Australian indie rocker Courtney Barnett does exactly what Young Thug’s album did for me, but for a completely different genre.  Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit has received a great deal of critical acclaim from critics, and even managed to pick up a Grammy nomination for Barnett.  Simply put, the album absolutely rocks in every sense of the word.  It’s at times loud, as times contemplative, but always manages to sound fresh, personal, and very invigorating.  Barnett’s album sounds less like a debut album and more like that of an established rock star with years in the music scene.  Songs like “Pedestrian at Best” have a mainstream sound that could get Barnett on any Top 100 list in the world, while “Depreston” is a look at the truly mundane and depressing.  Sometimes I Sit and Think is an intensely personal album, but unlike other debuts manages to be funny, insightful, catchy, and down-to-earth.  It sounds like a perfect summer rock album, and it has me incredibly excited for the future of this young and unique artist.

Standout Tracks: Pedestrian at Best, An Illusion of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York), Depreston, Aqua Profunda!, Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party


5. Vince Staples – Summertime ‘06Summertime-06

I feel like “Fuck Versace”, they rapin’ nigga’s pockets
And we don’t get acknowledged, just thank me for the profit
A prophet just like Moses, if Moses look like Shaka
Zulu, my .44 loaded, I’m aimin’ at Nirvana
My bitch look like Madonna, they starin’ at katana
Waiter still ain’t brought the chopsticks, should have brought the chopper
Uber driver in the cockpit look like Jeffrey Dahmer
But he lookin’ at me crazy when we pull up to the projects
– Lift Me Up, Vince Staples

Making what was easily my favourite hip-hop album of 2015, Vince Staples is an artist I hadn’t actually heard of until June when the hype around Summertime ‘06 started to build to epic proportions.  The 22-year old rapper made one of the most impressive, ambitious, and personal debut hip-hop albums in recent memory.  Summertime ‘06 is a double album featuring 20 tracks in total, and a runtime of nearly an hour, showing off Staples’ incredibly varied and versatile style.  As soon as I heard “Lift Me Up”, the second track on the double album, I knew I was going to be in for a treat.  Staples wastes no time in painting a unique and provocative portrait of who he is as both a person and an artist, and instantly hooks the listener into caring about him and the stories he has to tell.  The album serves as a kind of coming-of-age tale that would play almost as well on the big screen.  Staples has an ear for both intensely personal songs, as well as mainstream bangers that even the most jaded music fans can appreciate.  Songs like “Norf Norf”, “Birds & Bees”, “Lemme Know”, and “Jump Off the Roof” all sound like they could be club hits, but also manage to be profound and infinitely listenable.  And that’s just the songs on the first disc.  The highlight of the album comes at the end of side one, with Vince Staples’ beautiful song “Summertime”, which instantly became one of my all-time favourite songs.  The song is sung in a somewhat monotone, quiet way, and is full of incredibly vivid lyricism the likes of which I legitimately hadn’t heard in hip-hop before this point.  It’s slow, it’s serious, and it’s incredibly beautiful.  Vince Staples’ Summertime ‘06 is an epic-length hip-hop album that features the work of a young man who has all the potential in the world to become the next big thing.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Standout Tracks: Lift Me Up, Norf Norf, Birds & Bees (feat. Daley), Summertime, Surf (feat. Kilo Kish)


Miguel_-_WILDHEART4. Miguel – Wildheart

I wanna fuck like we’re filming in the valley
I wanna push and shove and paint your hills and valley
I got a rad idea to expedite the ride
Bend it over, pull em to the side
– The Valley, Miguel

I can’t believe just how long it took me to finally get to this album just because of the supposed genre it fit.  The moment the album got to its halfway point, I knew I was listening to one of the most unique and incredible albums of the year, and that the genre doesn’t matter as long as the quality is there.  I’ve described Miguel’s Wildheart as “baby making music” to everybody I’ve told about it, and I’d say that’s not such a stretch.  Full of sexy lyrics and beats, Miguel will make even the most seasoned hip-hop or R&B fans blush.  This is music for adults and only adults, and that seems to be increasingly rare in today’s scene with artists trying to reach the broadest audiences possible.  The songs on Wildheart vary more than I thought possible on a single R&B album, with rap inspired N.W.A. to the sexy hit single Coffee, and over to the lewd and impossibly catchy The Valley, preceded with the screeching guitars of Deal.  All these varying songs make for a diverse album that keeps me guessing even all these listens later.  If you’re not sure how you feel about R&B, give some of his more accessible songs like Coffee or The Valley a listen and see where you stand.  I promise you that this is an album that won’t disappoint, and it’s easily the sleeper hit of the year for me.  If you’re looking for something to play in the car during a road trip with some friends, maybe pick something that’s a little less likely to make you all embarrassed to look one another in the eye.

Standout Tracks: The Valley, Coffee, NWA (feat. Kurupt), What’s Normal Anyway, …goingtohell


3. Hop Along – Painted Shuthomepage_large.96f9778e

Realized I knew you from
His photo when you walked
Into the restaurant
And my heart just sunk
Your friend looked over from the bar
She must’ve known, who I was
The worst possible version of what I’d done
As, seating couples
I tried to listen
– Waitress, Hop Along

The third full-length album by indie rock band Hop Along has finally earned them the praise and critical attention they so obviously deserve.  Painted Shut is an album that seemingly came out of nowhere and absolutely blew me away with how much I truly enjoyed it.  Hop Along’s sound isn’t quite rock, and it isn’t quite punk, but whatever it’s technically classified as is a genre I want to hear much more of, especially if it’s full of as many revelations as I found in Painted Shut.  The beautiful voice of Frances Quinlan might not be to everybody’s liking, but it’s exactly what got me hooked on Hop Along’s album.  Painted Shut’s incredible personal nature hit me on levels I was never expecting, managing to make captivating stories out of very mundane and regular situations.  The highlight of the album is “Waitress”, one of my absolute favorite songs of the year.  The song captures the awkwardness and anxiety filled in being in a situation where you have to confront the new lover of your ex.  Quinlan’s voice conveys embarrassment and guilt like nobody I’ve ever heard, creating something truly unique.  Hop Along’s Painted Shut is an underrated album that I’d love to see get a lot more love from mainstream music fans.

Standout Tracks: The Knock, Waitress, Happy to See Me, Powerful Man, Well Dressed


1035x1035-MI00038079872. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Oh, I just love the kind of woman who can walk over a man
I mean like a god damn marching band
She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes
And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream
I wonder if she even knows what that word means
Well, it’s literally not that
– The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt., Father John Misty

Painful, romantic, awkward, alienating, cheesy, intensely personal.  These are all words I’ve used to describe Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear to the people around me, and yet they don’t even cover a fraction of the emotions and feelings that the album gets across.  Josh Tillman, former drummer for Fleet Foxes, managed to create one of the most unique folk/rock albums I’ve ever heard.  Every song on the album feels different than the one preceding it, from the dark romanticism of “Chateau Lobby #4”, to the synth-pop sounds of “True Affection”, to the disturbingly funny “Bored in the USA”.  With every song bringing its own sound and feel to I Love You, Honeybear, it’s incredibly hard to pick a standout.  It’s just all so damn good.  The song that had me hooked on the album was the fourth track, “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment”, a sarcastic, spiteful song about a brief romantic fling Tillman might’ve had.  The album is full of dark and romantic personal anecdotes, sarcasm, satire, and insight.  It’s sickly sweet at times, and incredibly depressing at others.  I Love You, Honeybear may not always a fun listen, but it’s surely the most interesting and ambitious project I heard in 2015.  I highlight recommend it, though it may take a listen or two before the genius of the album truly sinks in.

Standout Tracks: Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins), True Affection, The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt., The Ideal Husband, Bored in the USA, I Went to the Store One Day


  1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & LowellSufjan_Stevens_-_Carrie_&_Lowell

Don’t back down, concentrate on seeing
The breakers in the bar, the neighbor’s greeting
My brother had a daughter
The beauty that she brings, illumination
Don’t back down, there is nothing left
The breakers in the bar, no reason to live
I’m a fool in the fetter
Rose of Aaron’s beard, where you can reach me
Don’t back down, nothing can be changed
Cantilever bridge, the drunken sailor
My brother had a daughter
The beauty that she brings, illumination
– Should Have Known Better, Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell is only on my list so I can keep my indie cred with the music blogging scene.  Only kidding, the album is legitimately one of the most special and highly emotional things I’ve ever heard, and I instantly fell in love with it after its release early on in the year.  Carrie & Lowell is the most mature album to date from the prolific and multi-talented indie folk artist Sufjan Stevens, and you can feel it in every line of every song.  The album chronicles the lives of his mentally ill mother (Carrie) and her relationship with Sufjan’s stepfather and producer (Lowell).  It deals with serious themes like death, depression, aging, suicide, mental illness, and addictions.  Stevens’ album is incredibly intimate, emotionally and thematically deep, and every single song packs a punch – while still managing to be catchy, memorable, and enjoyable.  Carrie & Lowell is perfect for a rainy day, curled up under your favourite blanket with a cup of hot coffee by your side.  There’s literally not a single dull or bad moment in the entire album, as every single song manages to set itself apart from the last, while still maintaining the serious and emotional nature of the project.  I can’t recommend enough, especially if you’ve ever dealt with the loss of a loved one, or struggled with mental illness yourself.  It’s one of the most beautiful projects I’ve ever heard, and one I can legitimately say I’ve listened to fifty or so times already.  Do yourselves a favour and listen to it at least once.

Standout Tracks: The entire album, duh.


Honorable mentions:

  • Adele – 25
  • A$AP Rocky – At. Long. Last. A$AP
  • Beach House – Depression Cherry
  • Chvrches – Every Open Eye
  • Drake – If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late
  • Drake & Future – What a Time to Be Alive
  • Future – Dirty Sprite 2
  • Future – 56 Nights
  • The Game – The Documentary 2
  • JME – Integrity
  • Joanna Newsom – Divers
  • Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
  • Laura Marling – Short Movie
  • Laura Stevenson – Cocksure
  • Meek Mill – Dreams Worth More Than Money
  • Travi$ Scott – Rodeo
  • Wale – The Album About Nothing
  • Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

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End of Year 2015 – Bottom 5 Films of 2015

Kingsman-Secret-Service-Group5. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson

Kingsman: The Secret Service kicked off 2015 with some of the most unwarranted hype of any film to be released last year.  Not only was it somewhat well-received critically, but it also managed to wrack up more money at the box office than most films could ever dream of.  So why did I hate it?  Well, Matthew Vaughn’s vision here leads to one of the most mean-spirited, cynical, and unfunny films I saw all year, and I knew it almost from the get-go.  Kingsman pretends to be a hilarious parody of famous spy films in the vein of James Bond, the Bourne franchise, and even Austin Powers, but doesn’t feature even an ounce of the charm those movies hold.  Instead it wastes its incredibly talented English cast on one of the most conflicted and confused scripts I’ve ever seen adapted to the screen, and becomes a stain of the fairly good reputation of writer-director Matthew Vaughn.  Kingsman may be an entertaining watch at first, but you’ll quickly see that it’s only skin deep.  There’s nothing more to the film than some cheap gags, jokes about anal sex, and mean-spirited edge-lord comedy that would make even the proudest 4chan users blush.  I can’t believe the praise that this thing received, what am I missing?


CrimsonPeak14. Crimson Peak
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver

Oh Guillermo del Toro, how far you’ve fallen.  The once great and visionary Mexican filmmaker directed some of the most interesting horror/fantasy works of the last decade, including 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone, and 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth.  It’s with a heavy heart that I have put Crimson Peak on this list, despite being incredibly beautiful in its photography and competent direction from del Toro.  Much like the prettiest girl at the prom, Crimson Peak’s beauty is only skin deep, and the longer it lingers, the more it becomes evident that it’s all it has to offer.  del Toro’s script for the film is quite possibly the worst aspect of it, blending together classic Gothic literature and films like Hitchcock’s Rebecca, and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, but somehow dropping the ball and being far less interesting than either of those works..  Crimson Peak attempts to be a profound story of love and deceit, using ghosts as an incredibly obvious and eye-roll inducing metaphor.  The film thinks it’s far more clever than it actually is, and ends up becoming unintentionally hilarious in its last act.  Characters chasing each other around a decrepit old mansion, frail young women falling three stories and surviving, awkward ghost encounters, and Charlie Hunnam trying his damnedest to be charming makes Crimson Peak almost screwball comedy worthy.  Crimson Peak is a very highly polished turd, but a turd nonetheless.  It might be wise to revise the screenplay a couple hundred times for your next film, Guillermo.  But don’t worry, I still believe in you.

Side note: Can we stop trying to make Charlie Hunnam happen?  He’s not going to happen!


R00L3UM3. Jurassic World
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan

Like everybody else this past year, I was overcome with excitement about the looming sequel to the modern Spielberg classic, Jurassic Park. When it finally released, it was met with millions of equally excited patrons ready to bask in the nostalgia of dinosaurs and the incredible world of Jurassic Park.  Except what they got was a bizarre, bloated, action film that was almost a parody of the three films that came before it.  Box office sensation Chris Pratt comes off as completely unlikable throughout, and the concept of training raptors to do the bidding of park zookeepers just felt completely silly and unnecessary.  Director Colin Trevorrow’s vision for Jurassic World is incredibly muddled and confused throughout, never quite deciding on whether it wants to be a fun action-adventure film, or an absurd parody of itself.  The script is a perfect example of having too many cooks in the kitchen, as it was re-written multiple times over production.  What results feels like four conflicting voices all trying to make Jurassic World their own film, and instead creating a horrendous disaster of a screenplay.  The cast of characters are all almost completely void of charisma and end up being unlikable, especially the aunt character of Bryce Dallas Howard.  On top of empty and uninspired performances, we are treated to two of the most embarrassingly bad and hammy supporting performances of 2015 from actors Vincent D’Onofrio and B.D. Wong.  Jurassic World is a film that seemed to have so much going for it, and in the end had no idea what it wanted to be.  It made a great deal of money and in the process secured the future of many of its producers, but it sure as hell won’t live in the memories of millions the same way 1993’s Jurassic Park did.  I can’t wait to see the train wreck of a film Star Wars: Episode IX could be with Trevorrow behind the camera.


Lorenza-Izzo-and-Ana-De-Armas-in-Knock-Knock2. Eli Roth Double Feature: Knock, Knock & The Green Inferno
Directed by: Eli Roth
Written by: Eli Roth, Guillermo Amoedo, Nicolas Lopez (Knock, Knock) | Guillermo Amoedo, Eli Roth (The Green Inferno)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas (Knock, Knock) | Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Daryl Sabara, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Sky Ferreira (The Green Inferno)

Eli Roth was once a name being touted as the next innovative voice in the horror genre.  With fun splatter films like Cabin Fever and Hostel under his belt, young Roth was quickly brought into a sort of mentor relationship with the veteran Quentin Tarantino.  I want to know what has happened in the last decade or so, because this version of Roth isn’t nearly on the same level as he once was.  Although his ideas were never completely unique or refreshing, there was an undeniable charm about his works.  His two releases in 2015, Knock, Knock and The Green Inferno feature none of that charm, and instead resemble the work of a hack who is years past his prime.  Knock, Knock is a look at what happens when you lie to your spouse, let attractive strangers into your house, and spin a complex web of deceit.  The Green Inferno tells the story of environmental activists who crash land near a village of cannibals, risking their lives and the lives of those around them to escape at any cost.  Both of those stories sound fairly interesting and full of potential, right?  I certainly thought so too, so you can imagine my disappointment when not one, but both films crashed and burned almost immediately after take off.  Both films feature some of the worst lead performances I’ve seen in modern horror films, especially those of Keannu Reeves and Lorenza Izzo, the current spouse of director Eli Roth.  Why he refuses to branch out of his comfort zone and cast charming, talented young actors and search for a competent screenwriter, I’ll never know.  It’s clear that the skills are there in the hands of Eli Roth, but he doesn’t seem to have any idea what to do with them.  I really have no further comments about either film, as both are almost completely forgettable experiences in every single way.  These aren’t simple misfires, but rather the last gasps from a filmmaker a decade past his prime, trying desperately to remain relevant in the breakneck world of American film-making.  Better luck next time, Eli Roth.


adam-sandler-ridiculous-6-trailer1. The Ridiculous 6
Directed by: Frank Coraci
Written by: Tim Herlihy, Adam Sandler
Starring: Adam Sandler, Julia Jones, Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson, Nick Nolte, Will Forte, Nick Swardson, Steve Zahn

The Ridiculous 6 and Netflix’s entire model of “throw something against the wall and see what sticks” for their original content lineup is exactly why I can’t possibly endorse the current product.  Their exclusive deal with Adam Sandler is looking like a complete bust just one film in, hopefully it can only go up from here.  Those defending Sandler’s latest foray into the world of absurdest comedy are delusional, because they clearly haven’t seen the same piece of trash I watched for two hours (!!!).  “It wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, it was just a stupid movie made by a bunch of actors have fun!” is the laziest way to praise a horrible film, and I would hope that most people hearing those words would think twice about the person repeating them.  The Ridiculous 6 is trash in its purest form.  It’s bloated run-time, embarrassing performances, and “satirical” screenplay all make notoriously bad cult films like The Room and Troll 2 look like okay films in comparison.  I don’t understand the thought behind Netflix producing and financing the film, especially if their whole business strategy is keeping users around by providing them with new and exciting original content.  Who in their right mind would ever watch The Ridiculous 6 a second time, let alone leave the film feeling proud to be a subscribing or looking forward to the next Sandler romp?  What’s most tragic about the film is that Adam Sandler is a talented performer and writer, and it’s clear that he’s being surrounded by some of the laziest yes men in the business.  Instead of being inspired to create content on the level of his pretty good comedies of the 1990’s, and give performances on the level of Punch-Drunk Love or Reign Over Me, he’s taking his friends on vacation to make films that would embarrass even Uwe Boll.  Props to Taylor Lautner for giving the most insensitive performance of 2015, by the way.  I’m sure he’s going to be proud of that one in a decade when all of that sweet, sweet Twilight Saga money runs dry.  Both Netflix and Adam Sandler should be ashamed of themselves for producing this train wreck, they’re both capable of creating such higher quality output.  Avoid this thing at any cost.

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End of Year 2015 – Best Films of 2015 (#15-#11)

LM_02573.CR215. Love & Mercy
Directed by: Bill Pohlad
Written by: Michael Alan Lerner, Owen Moverman
Starring: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Jake Abel, Kenny Wormald, Brett Davern

Another example from this past year of just how powerful a biopic can be when it manages to overcome the cliches that have overtaken the genre over the years.  Love & Mercy is one of the most unique biopics I’ve seen, showing the life of The Beach Boys Brian Wilson in his prime and in his later years, portrayed by two terrific actors – Paul Dano plays young Brian Wilson, and John Cusack is older Brian Wilson.  Even as a fairly big fan of The Beach Boys, this film managed to show me a great deal I didn’t know about the band’s infamous frontman.  Dano’s performance as the young Wilson is incredible, perhaps his most layered performance to date.  He perfectly conveys the loneliness and paranoia that Brian Wilson felt as a young rock star, being sympathetic without coming off as pathetic.  Dano’s performance is one of the most subdued and subtle of the year, and I hope he stands a chance of earning an Academy Award nomination later this month.  John Cusack, who has seemingly recently been taking most projects offered to him, is also infinitely better than I’ve seen him be in years, being one of the highlights of the films flash forward scenes.  The composition scenes of Brian Wilson’s attempted masterpiece are incredibly well-handled by director Bill Pohlad, never opting to focus on the music over Brian Wilson’s psyche.  Love & Mercy is a film filled with amazing performances, great music, and tight writing and direction that should be seen by everybody, whether or not you’re a fan of Brian Wilson or The Beach Boys.


maxresdefault14. Dope
Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa
Written by: Rick Famuyiwa
Starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Kimberly Elise, Chanel iman, Tyga, Blake Anderson, Zoe Kravitz, A$AP Rocky

2015 proved to be a massive year for hip-hop in the mainstream, seeing the release of incredible albums like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and the highly successful film Straight Outta Compton, so naturally Rick Famuyima’s Dope seems incredibly timely and relevant.  Dope sees three young teens from tough neighbourhoods in Los Angeles unexpectedly unloading large quantities of illegal drugs in any way they can possibly do it, and it’s hilarious, smart, moving every step of the way.  The film, produced by the talented Forest Whitaker and Pharrell Williams (mainly the soundtrack), stars three young up-and-comers in Shameik Moore (Malcolm), Tony Revolori (Jib), and Kiersey Clemons (Diggy), all of whom bring their relative inexperience to the film, which helps make it feel more authentic than other similar releases.  The soundtrack full of modern and classic hip-hop is incredible, and even had a handful of songs stuck in my head for the weeks following my viewing of Dope.  What could come off as a typical and cliched indie Sundance favorite instead feels completely genuine and heartfelt, while still managing to be incredibly funny and even insightful at times.  It may not be the most believable film made this year, it’s absolutely one of the most fun to watch unfold.  Dope is a film that can be enjoyed by anybody, and I hope its young stars and director will go on achieve greatness in the coming years.


113. The Gift
Directed by: Joel Edgerton
Written by: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton

The unexpected critical hit of the Summer movie season, The Gift is actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut, and hopefully the beginning of an exciting new career path.  The Gift is a film that on paper just shouldn’t work nearly as well as it is, but it manages to completely work in all of the cliches of the thriller genre and tell a tired old story in a very unique and interesting way.  Edgerton’s screenplay is dark, wickedly smart, and playfully evil at times.  Joel Edgerton not only wrote and directed this incredibly tense and taut thriller, but also stars in an incredibly unsettling supporting performance.  Also starring in the film are Jason Bateman, who for my money has never been better, and Rebecca Hall, who delivers an incredibly sympathetic and caring performance.  The change of focus in the last act of The Gift is an Alfred Hitchcock-worthy twist on the age-old formula, and it works way better than I ever thought it could.  My expectations going into it couldn’t have been any lower, and the last act of the film cemented it as a modern day classic of a genre that seems very difficult to master for modern filmmakers.  Joel Edgerton is unexpectedly multi-talented, and I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve next.  Go into The Gift with an open mind, and I promise it’ll be a tense experience you won’t forget anytime soon.


DOATG12. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Directed by: Marielle Heller
Written by: Marielle Heller
Starring: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Meloni, Austin Lyon

The latest addition to my top 20 list is also one of the most shockingly good films I saw all year.  The Diary of a Teenage Girl is the often funny, always relatable story of a young girl growing up in 1970’s America and discovering her sexuality, and trying to find who and what she wants to be as a person.  Bel Powley’s performance as the teenage Minnie is one of my favourite performances of the year.  Powley’s performance manages to somehow be both over-the-top and subtle in a down to earth and understandable sort of way.  Watching a young person come into themselves is relatable to literally anybody, and when it’s peppered with as much humour and as many great side characters as this film has, it’s undeniably powerful and charming.  Both Alexander Skarsgard and Kristen Wiig give memorable supporting performances as Minnie’s lover and mother respectively, and it was very refreshing to see both actors stepping out of their comfort zones.  Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl feels so genuine in its setting and time period, and so modest in its approach at the subject of aging.  It’s never sexy in the same way that similar stories are, but instead a completely open, shockingly honest look at how young people tackle things like sexuality, drugs, alcohol, growing up under their parent’s roof, and finding a passion for something and deciding to try to make a career of it.  The Diary of a Teenage Girl is undoubtedly one of the funniest, most shocking and honest coming-of-age films ever made, and one I hope to revisit as soon as possible.  


reservoir-dogs11. The Wolfpack
Directed by: Crystal Moselle
Written by: Crystal Moselle
Starring: The Angulo Family

One of the few documentaries I saw in 2015 also turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in quite some time!  Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack turns the camera on the Angulo brothers, living in a Manhattan apartment never having seen the outside world around them.  Their father is a reclusively and strict man who doesn’t allow them to go outside unless it’s for shopping trips or a walk around the block, amassing an incredibly large DVD and blu-ray collection for the boys to watch in the meantime.  The Angulo brothers learn everything there is to know about humans and the world around them through the magic of film, reenacting their favorite scenes, quoting dialogue, and creating their own costumes and props.  The story picks up after one of the brothers leaves the apartment and explores Manhattan on his own, shifting the entire dynamic of the family.  The Wolfpack is hilarious, odd, and so indescribably charming.  It rivals documentaries like Grizzly Man’s Timothy Treadwell or Grey Gardens’ Edith and Little Edie Beale in how animated and larger-than-life their characters and stories are, and yet somehow it’s still incredibly relatable and touching.  While it may not reinvent the wheel, The Wolfpack is an incredible story full of heart and ambition, and I hope it gets the attention it rightly deserves.  

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End of Year 2015 – Best Films of 2015 (#20-#16)

mad_max_fury_road_2015_rictus_and_nux-wallpaper-1920x1080

20. Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

It seems that no year-end list would be complete without Mad Max: Fury Road, which has gained so much steam that it managed to defy all odds and pick up a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture, a huge feat for an action film.  George Miller’s incredibly impressive and high-octane direction is easily the strongest aspect of the film, making even the film’s slowest moments somehow riveting.  Though the speed-ramping of action set-pieces and the sparingly used, but admittedly weak CGI were at times detriments to the film, the end result is still a highly enjoyable if slightly minor blockbuster.  What it lacks in the departments of character development and stakes, it makes up for in spades with incredible world-building, beautiful photography of its hot and bleak Australian outback setting, and one of the best soundtracks I heard all year.  It took me two watches to appreciate this fully, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s one of the best action films ever made, and one everybody should probably see at least once.  While I don’t think it’s nearly as important a film as some are claiming it to be, I do think it has raised the stakes for all action blockbusters to come.  God willing, at least.


000052-5992-brooklyn_still2_saoirseronan_emorycohen__bykerrybrown_2014-12-19_04-10-16am19. Brooklyn
Directed by: John Crowley
Written by: Nick Hornby, Colm Toibin
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent

I’ve seen John Crowley’s Brooklyn written off as being nothing but a performance-driven film, a criticism I can certainly see, but one that simply just isn’t true.  Brooklyn is the beautiful story of a normal young woman torn between living the life she has always dreamed of, or staying in the country where everybody and everything she has ever loved presides.  Saoirse Ronan gives the performance I’ve always known she could, and absolutely steals the show in her portrayal of Eilis.  Ronan’s performance is down to earth, independent, delightful, and at times naive and too small for the massive city around her.  She brings a full living, breathing character to life in less than two hours.  Brooklyn is the story of a romance that never feels unbelievable or melodramatic, but is instead lighthearted, incredibly uplifting and comedic at times, and almost painfully charming.  Emory Cohen’s performance as Eilis’ eventual love interest Tony is perhaps a little louder and less subtle than Ronan’s, but nonetheless impressive in his plain likeability.  This is a very small, personal story that touched me much more than I ever expected it to, and one I hope that more people get to see as its theatrical rollout expands.  While it may not immediately change your life, Brooklyn is a subtle, heartwarming, and charming love story anchored by an incredible performance by a beautiful young star.  All future hamfisted Nicholas Sparks film adaptations should take notes from Brooklyn’s success.


Screen-Shot-2015-05-18-at-07.31.1118. Steve Jobs
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Aaron Sorkin, Walter Isaacson
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston

While never reaching the soaring heights set by 2010’s The Social Network (admittedly one of my favorite films), Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs manages to subvert the major tropes and downfalls seen in most biopics.  Aaron Sorkin’s writing and Boyle’s frantically-paced direction help makes Steve Jobs an always tense and fast-moving look at the personality of a technology and marketing giant.  Sorkin’s script is immediately recognizable, bringing with it the razor-sharp wit and speedy, sarcastic dialogue that would make even Ernst Lubitsch smile.  Michael Fassbender’s performance as Jobs is incredibly believable, while never becoming a parody of the man or a mere impression (I’m looking at you, Ashton).  Fassbender, using Sorkin’s tight screenplay, does an incredible job of making the audience both love and hate the Apple mogul.  It’s amazing to me that Fassbender’s performance isn’t being talked about more, but I suppose that just goes to show how incredibly impressive a year 2015 has turned out to be.  I wish I could rank Danny Boyle’s spotlight of late Jobs higher on my list, but I found that the film dragged a great deal in its second act, especially after the soaring highs of the first act, and the far more compelling last act of the film.  The story structure is another huge credit to the genius of Aaron Sorkin, taking place at three separate press conferences headed by Jobs himself, facing personal troubles, technological bumps, and tension with all those around him.  Steve Jobs is an incredibly tense and fun drama driven by another amazing script, a tremendous and fitting (but never distracting) soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton, and a cast full of mostly likeable characters.  I wish I could say the same about all biopics being made today.


MISTRESS AMERICA17. Mistress America
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Written by: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Heather Lind, Cindy Cheung

After the release of 2005’s The Squid and the Whale, writer-director Noah Baumbach cemented himself as one of the foremost American independent filmmakers.  With hits like 2010’s Greenberg and 2012’s Frances Ha under his belt, he’s a bonafide great filmmaker.  2015 saw the release of two films, first While We’re Young, a very good film about aging and the complications it creates starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, and Adam Driver, and Mistress America, something of a continuation of Frances Ha.  Mistress America is an incredibly fun (albeit brief) road trip film with a cast full of quirky and really funny characters.  Baumbach and girlfriend Greta Gerwig co-wrote the film, each of whom bring their own unique sensibilities to it.  Baumbach, in the most relatable sense possible, brings with him a sense of being afraid to grow up, and Gerwig brings her effortless charisma, charm, and natural comedic timing.  Mistress America might not have as much to say about young people as something like Frances Ha did, but I can say with absolute certainty that I had an amazing time watching things unfold.  The film works as a modern screwball comedy, yet still manages to make its two stars Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke instantly likeable in all the hijinks taking place onscreen.  I hope Baumbach keeps exploring the themes of youth and loneliness, because he does it better than anybody else.


landscape-1439933880-elle-august-2015-intel-tiger-lily-0116. Grandma
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Written by: Paul Weitz
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Sam Elliott

A film that took me completely by surprise, Grandma boasts one of my favorite performances of the year in Lily Tomlin’s titular grandma.  A surprise hit from the director of American Pie, Grandma was easily one of the most charming, funny, and honest movies I had the pleasure of seeing all year long.  Tomlin’s performance as Elle Reid is wise, hilarious, and highly emotional in its best moments, serving as a triumphant return to form for the Oscar-nominated actress.  Backing her up is the young Julia Garner, who gives a very impressive down-to-earth performance as Sage, Elle’s young granddaughter in need of money for an abortion, which is the main focus of the film.  Both Marcia Gay Harden and Judy Greer appear in memorable minor roles, delivering very good supporting performances as both women are known to do.  The legendary Sam Elliott also appears in a brief scene, delivering one of the film’s most powerful moments; one that further complicates the audience’s opinion of Elle as a character.  On top of having some truly terrific performances across the board, Grandma never panders to the older audience it’s aimed at, and instead takes the high road and decides to challenge the audience.  This isn’t a film like The Bucket List or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that only exist to serve as fluff for their mature audiences, but instead a truly powerful movie that has a great deal to say about aging, abortion, gender rights, and homosexuality.  Grandma is one of the most socially important films of the year, and I hope it gets the recognition it truly deserves.  


Note: As with almost every single year, the majority of great films released in 2015 came towards the end of the year and are still circulating the festival circuit, in limited release, or in limbo until they show up on home media.  Some of the films that are currently available I just have not had the time to get to, so this list will serve as something of a temporary one.  When I feel like I’ve seen all of the films worth seeing from 2015, I will try my very best to issue an addendum of sorts, or re-publish the list to my liking.  The major movies I’ve yet to see from 2015 include:

  • 45 Years
  • Amy
  • The Assassin
  • Black Mass
  • The Brand New Testament
  • Carol
  • Cartel Land
  • The Danish Girl
  • The Good Dinosaur
  • Goodnight Mommy
  • Hard to Be a God
  • Irrational Man
  • Joy
  • The Keeping Room
  • The Lobster
  • The Look of Silence
  • Magic Mike XXL
  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
  • Mustang
  • Pawn Sacrifice
  • Phoenix
  • Shaun the Sheep the Movie
  • Son of Saul
  • Spy
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • Trumbo
  • Victoria
  • When Marnie Was There
  • Youth

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My 20 Favorite Documentaries of All-Time (#15-11)

Grey_Gardens_(1975_film)_poster15. Grey Gardens (1975)

Directed by: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer, Ellen Hovde

Starring: Edith ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale, Edith Bouvier Beale, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Brooks Hyers

The Maysles Brothers might be two of the most influential documentary filmmakers in the history of the medium, and 1975’s Grey Gardens might be one of their absolute best, most unique works.  The film takes a look at the incredibly odd and hopelessly grungy lives of Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Little Edie, the aunt and first cousin of former US First Lady Jackie Kennedy.  The very eccentric mother-daughter pair have resided at the titular Grey Gardens estate for decades, the massive home now dirty, cluttered, and dilapidated.  Their interactions with each other and with directors Albert and David Maysles are hilarious, unique, weird, and charming in ways I can’t possibly describe in a short blurb about why I adore the film.  The Maysles Brothers step back and allow Big Edie and Little Edie to tell their own story throughout the run-time of the documentary, painting a funny and disturbing portrait of this family.  The Beale’s many cats (and raccoon’s), their gardener Brooks and other friends of the family, and the Grey Gardens estate feature heavily throughout the film, making it an incredibly memorable experience, and one I can’t possibly recommend highly enough.  Grey Gardens is available on Blu-raythrough the Criterion Collection, and I recommend it to anybody interested in the genre.


14. Deep Water (2006)Deep_water_poster

Directed by: Louise Osmond, Jerry Rothwell

Starring: Donald Crowhurst, Clare Crowhurst, Tilda Swinton

During the painstaking process of composing this list, Deep Water is one of the films I immediately thought of, despite not knowing where or if the film would end up on my list when all was said and done.  The fact that the film, which I’ve only seen one time several years ago, made the list is a testament to just how powerful Jerry Rothwell and Louise Osmond’s 2006 documentary is, and the emotional effect it had on me as a viewer.  Deep Water tells the story of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst and his experiences in the 1969 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, which took a number of yachtsmen around the world for a trophy, a cash prize, and the obvious fame and notoriety that would come with it.  Not to spoil things for those who haven’t seen this thrilling doc, but things don’t exactly go entirely smoothly for the amateur seaman, and his trip around the world becomes much more about survival than it does about a measly cash prize.  Coupled with archival footage and photos of the time, we get a realistic account of Crowhurst’s time at sea through interviews with those close to him, as well as terrific narration by the incomparable Tilda Swinton.  Deep Water is a film that is criminally under-seen in the film community, and could really do with having a resurgence of sorts.  Deep Water is exciting, it’s depressing, and it’s incredibly interesting.  The film is currently available on US Netflix for those looking to see it based on my recommendation.


InsideJob2010Poster13. Inside Job (2010)

Directed by: Charles Ferguson

Starring: Matt Damon

Inside Job is the timely Oscar-winner that took the world by surprise in 2010 by being both incredibly relevant, entertaining as hell, and making more than three times its meager budget at the box office, a rare feat for a documentary.  This is especially shocking because it’s not a documentary about a famous person, an iconic or influential movement or artist, but rather about a devastating financial crisis that hit the United States just two years earlier.  Inside Job tells the story of how the financial crisis of the late-2000’s took place through five parts: “How We Got Here”, detailing the burst of the internet stock bubble in the early 2000’s, investment banks and other protected corporations and agencies that dealt in things such as unpayable subprime loans, “The Bubble”, which covers the housing boom of the 2000’s, “The Crisis”, about the market collapse of investment banks, the fall of corporations like Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and AIG, as well as the asset relief program put into effect by US President George W. Bush, “Accountability”, which targets the executives, directors, consulting firms, and others who played a part in the recession, and lastly “Where We Are Now”, about the mass layoffs of American factory workers, and the efforts by the Obama administration to combat the effects of recession.  Charles Ferguson’s pressing documentary is insightful, entertaining, and has a hell of a lot to say about those responsible for the market crash.  If you’re even the slightest bit interested in important contemporary events that have shaped the Western world, I implore you to check out Inside Job.


12. The Central Park Five (2012)The_Central_Park_Five_poster

Directed by: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon

Starring: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise

Ken Burns is perhaps one of the most famous names in documentaries because of his epic-length films covering major historical events, wars, and movements.  His filmography includes The Civil War, The Dust Bowl, The War, Prohibition, and Jazz.  Burns’ 2012 film The Central Park Five is a different monster, quite different from many of his epic historical documentaries.  The film covers the famous Central Park jogger case, which saw five young minorities falsely accused and imprisoned for the brutal rape of a female jogger late one Spring night.  The assault left the young woman in a coma for nearly two weeks, and resulted in one of America’s most famous cases of false imprisonment.  The case was immediately jumped on by news media of the time and involved a great deal of racist implications, finger-pointing, and false accusations being leveled at the five young men.  Ken Burns lays all the facts out on the table in the two-hour run-time of The Central Park Five, shocking the audience with accounts of how the defendants ended up in such a dire situation, including stories and evidence of intimidation, lying, and coercement by police officers.  Ken Burns’ daughter Sarah joined her father in writing and directing the film, and helped inspire the documentary with her thesis on the cases media coverage.  The Central Park Five will move you to tears, infuriate and frustrate you, and make you feel both hopeless and hopeful about the change in direction of news media and law enforcement as a whole.  The film is available on Netflix Instant for those interested.


Bowling_for_columbine11. Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Directed by: Michael Moore

Starring: Michael Moore

Not only did Michael Moore win an Academy Award for his social-political documentary Bowling for Columbine, but he also made himself an icon in the process; setting the bar for future generations of documentary filmmakers – especially those who wish to eclipse the popularity of their film with their own popularity.  Bowling for Columbine is Moore’s heartbreaking, entertaining, and thought and discussion-provoking 2002 documentary that took the world by storm.  It was one of the first major pieces of pop-culture to openly criticize the new Bush administration, and started a brand new conversation about gun control and America’s obsession with violence, both in the media, entertainment, and in their political affairs, that is still raging to this very day.  The film covers the tragedy that took place at Columbine High School in 2000 in-depth, interviewing some of the survivors of the shooting, features the now famous bank-opening scene, as well as multiple montages and humorous segments covering America’s foreign policy history – installing and overthrowing dictators for fifty years, violent moments in recent American history that the media heavily focused on, and a brief animated piece on the history of the United States and the creation of suburban communities and racism.  Though Bowling for Columbine never features a dull moment, the film isn’t all jokes and lightheartedness, it features incredibly eye-opening pieces on the National Rifle Association, the domestic creation of weapons of mass destruction, and the country’s constant obsession with fear-mongering.  In short, Bowling for Columbine is a documentary masterpiece in every way, bringing important, valid information to viewers while also being highly entertaining and digestible.  Seek it out immediately if you haven’t already seen it.


Part 1 (#20-#16) can be viewed here

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Top 20 Foreign-Language Films (So far)

As of my viewing of Edward Yang’s acclaimed film Yi Yi on June 1st, I have seen exactly one hundred foreign-language films from around the world.  Through the magic of the cinema, I’ve travelled across four continents, and visited 28 different countries.  I’ve seen films from mighty nations like Russia, France, Japan, and South Korea, and some from countries people don’t normally think of as having film industries like Iran, Cuba, Chile, and Romania.

This is a list of the twenty best foreign-language I’ve seen during my time watching more slightly more challenging films (only 3 or so years now).  It hasn’t been an easy journey, as subtitled films can be hard to enjoy when you don’t have a lot of experience.  To anybody out there who is the least interested in watching some of these films, it only takes a short while to adjust to.  These films are well-worth sitting down and taking in.  You’ll thank yourself for seeing them, because some of them will change your life.  Without further a-due, these are my top 20 films of world cinema (so far):

Image20. Zazie Dans Le Metro (1960)

Country: France

Director: Louis Malle

Starring: Catherine Demongeot, Philippe Noiet, Hubert Deschamps

Runtime: 89 minutes

Rating: 87% Fresh

Why?: Zazie Dans Le Metro was my first experience with the films of legendary French filmmaker Louis Malle.  It’s a hilarious, satirical, and incredibly fun ride, and Catherine Demongeot is infinitely likeable as the titular Zazie.  I’ve never felt this much joy while watching a film for the first time.

19. Persona (1966)Image

Country: Sweden

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Starring: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullman, Gunnar Bjornstrand

Runtime: 83 minutes

Rating: 93% Fresh

Why?: Persona is perhaps Ingmar Bergman’s most famous film (aside from The Seventh Seal), and for good reason.  There isn’t anything about Persona that I can criticize in any way, as in my opinion it is a near-perfect film.  It’s about a nurse and a mute actress who’s persona’s slowly start melding together, and it’s a heck of a trip.  This is a film that will change the way you look at the medium forever.

Image18. I Am Cuba (1964)

Country: Cuba/Russia

Director: Mikhail Kalatozov

Starring: Ensemble cast

Runtime: 141 minutes

Rating: 100% Fresh

Why?: I Am Cuba started as being essentially a propaganda film for the South American country, but it has evolved into so much more than that over the years.  Kalatozov’s long tracking shots are some of the most beautiful camera movements I’ve ever seen in the film, and the stories of Cuban revolutionists and everyday citizens are far most exciting than they sound.  I Am Cuba is truly one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen from both a technical and a storytelling perspective.

17. L’Enfant (The Child) (2005)Image

Country: Belgium

Director: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Starring: Jeremie Renier, Deborah Francois, Jeremie Segard

Runtime: 100 minutes

Rating: 86% Fresh

Why?: The Child marks the second time that Belgium’s The Dardenne Brothers have won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival.  This time they follow a young man with financial problems who tries selling his newborn son on the black market.  It’s incredibly tense, and is one of the most natural and realistic films I’ve ever seen.  This film was on my mind for days after seeing it.

Image16. 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007)

Country: Japan

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Starring: Kenji Mizuhashi, Yoshimi Kondou, Ayaka Onoue

Runtime: 63 minutes

Rating: n/a (90% Audience rating)

Why?: 5 Centimeters Per Second is the first of two animated films on my list, and one of the greatest stories of love that I have ever seen.  It’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen, both in its incredible animation and in its actual content.  At barely over an hour long, 5 Centimeters packs an emotional punch the likes of which I’ve never felt before.  One of my all-time favourite animated films!

15. Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall…and Spring (2003)Image

Country: South Korea

Director: Ki-duk Kim

Starring: Yeong-su Oh, Ki-duk Kim

Runtime: 103 minutes

Rating: 95% Fresh

Why?: Spring, Summer,… is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing unfold before my eyes.  It’s a film you have to experience rather than just watch and analyze.  It’s peaceful, quiet, and visually stunning.  It tells the story of a monk and a small boy living together on a floating temple.  The monk watches the young boy grow up and mature as the seasons wear on.

Image14. Close-Up (1990)

Country: Iran

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Starring: Hossain Sabzian, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abolfazl Ahankhah

Runtime: 98 minutes

Rating: 87% Fresh

Why?: Close-Up was my first real experience with Iranian cinema, and it very quickly got my addicted to it.  Close-up tells the story of a man pretending to be a famous film director, and how it affects a family who accepts him as one of their own.  It’s incredibly well told, incredibly intelligent, and very “meta” in a lot of ways.  I can’t recommend this film enough.

13. No (2012)Image

Country: Chile

Director: Pablo Larrain

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco

Runtime: 118 minutes

Rating: 92% Fresh

Why?: No was easily my favourite foreign film of 2012, and was even nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film at the Oscars this past year.  It tells an incredibly intelligent and fascinating story of Chile’s 1988 referendum, and features remarkable acting from Gael Garcia Bernal.   No is fun, incredibly well shot (it’s meant to look like it was captured on video), and expertly directed by Pablo Larrain.  This is a film absolutely anybody could get a lot of enjoyment out of.

Image12. Wild Strawberries (1957)

Country: Sweden

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Starring: Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin

Runtime: 91 minutes

Rating: 94% Fresh

Why?: Wild Strawberries was my first exposure to the works of Ingmar Bergman, and it had an incredible effect on me.  It left me wide-eyed and wanting more, but also so emotionally exhausted that it took me nearly two years to visit another Bergman film.  Wild Strawberries is truly one of those few films that will change your life, especially if you watch it at the right time in your life.  Wild Strawberries is one I’m desperate to re-visit, but one I’m also afraid to see again for fear that it might leave me stunned again.  See this film at any cost.

11. Rififi (1955)Image

Country: France

Director: Jules Dassin

Starring: Jean Servais, Carl Mohner, Robert Manuel

Runtime: 122 minutes

Rating: 93%

Why?: The heist scene.  This is all that really needs to be said of Rififi, one of the greatest crime films ever captured on film.  Rififi‘s heist is carried out in a nearly 30 minute scene of complete silence.  It is easily the most nervous I’ve ever been during a film, and literally had me on the edge of my seat the entire way through.  If you like films like Ocean’s 11, you must see Rififi at some point during your life.

Image10. City of God (2002)

Country: Brazil

Director: Fernando Meirelles, Katia Lund

Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Pellipe Haagensen

Runtime: 130 minutes

Rating: 90% Fresh

Why?: City of God does the epic story of two boys growing up in Rio de Janeiro who take drastically different paths in life.  It’s violent, it’s funny, and it’s incredibly well directed and acted.  It was nominated for four Academy Awards upon its release, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Truly one of the great crime films of modern-day cinema.

9. Kagemusha (1980)Image

Country: Japan

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ken’ichi Hagiwara

Runtime: 162 minutes

Rating: 86% Fresh

Why?: Kagemusha was my first ever Akira Kurosawa film, and I wasn’t sure what to expect before I went into it.  What I got was an incredible samurai film featuring epic battles, incredible colours, and unforgettable costumes.  Anybody who enjoys films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy or any of Kurosawa’s other samurai epics will love Kagemusha.  It’s a brilliant and truly underrated masterpiece.

Image8. Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Country: Israel

Director: Ari Folman

Starring: Ari Folman, Ori Sivan, Ronny Dayag

Runtime: 90 minutes

Rating: 96% Fresh

Why?: Waltz with Bashir is the second and last animated feature on this list, and is more effective than most live-action films could ever hope to be.  In the film we follow former soldiers as they tell stories of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, a vital piece of Middle Eastern history.  Waltz with Bashir uses some of the most amazing animation I’ve ever seen, and tells one of the most emotionally draining stories I’ve ever heard.  It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, and a fascinating look at a moment in history that most people aren’t even aware of.

7. In the Mood for Love (2000)Image

Country: Hong Kong

Director: Wong Kar Wai

Starring: Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Ping Lam Siu

Runtime: 98 minutes

Rating: 88% Fresh

Why?: In the Mood for Love tells one of the most beautiful and subtle love stories in the history of film.  Brilliantly performed by Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, the film tells the story of a man and a woman who suspect their partners of having an affair.  This would just be another romance film without the help of Wong Kar Wai’s brilliant direction, the amazing performances by the two leads, and featuring some of the most magical moments in movie history.  Highly recommended to anybody.

Image6. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007)

Country: Romania

Director: Cristian Mungiu

Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov

Runtime: 117 minutes

Rating: 96% Fresh

Why?: 4 Months… is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen, and it will leave you dazed and confused once the credits begin to role.  It’s a fascinating look at Communist Romania during the 1980’s, and features two of the most incredible performances I’ve ever seen.  4 Months… is the gripping story of a young woman and her best friend looking to arrange an illegal abortion during a time of hardship in Romania.  One of my all-time favourite films.

5. The Earrings of Madame De… (1953)Image

Country: France

Director: Max Ophuls

Starring: Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux, Vittorio De Sica

Runtime: 105 minutes

Rating: 100% Fresh

Why?: The Earrings of Madame De… is a magical film from start to finish.  It tells the story of a woman who sells a pair of earrings her husband has bought her so she can pay off her debts.  They are purchased by a young Baron, who Louise eventually falls madly in love with.  I can’t say anymore about the plot, because it really is much better to go into the film knowing very little about it.  Max Ophuls’ highly energetic camerawork is at its absolute best here, as is the performance from Danielle Darrieux.

Image4. Chungking Express (1994)

Country: Hong Kong

Director: Wong Kar Wai

Starring: Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung, Faye Wong

Runtime: 98 minutes

Rating: 96% Fresh

Why?: Chungking Express is easily one of the “coolest” films ever made, and the 98 minutes it runs for are far too short.  Quentin Tarantino cited this film as an influence on the style of Pulp Fiction, and said it was a huge inspiration to him as a filmmaker.  Wong Kar Wai’s direction is incredibly stylish and impressive, and Tony Leung is nearly as good as he is in In the Mood for Love. One of the most unique and amazing movie-going experiences I’ve ever had.  “California Dreamin'” will be stuck in your head for days after seeing this incredible film.

3. M (1931)Image

Country: Germany

Director: Fritz Lang

Starring: Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut

Runtime: 99 minutes

Rating: 100% Fresh

Why?: Fritz Lang’s most famous film film M tells the story of a hunt for a man who murders children in 1930’s Germany.  It’s incredibly tense, builds terrific atmosphere, and is an early example of why the sound film eventually overtook the silent film at the greatest storytelling medium.  Peter Lorre as the films titular M is amazingly creepy.  Not only is it a great thriller, but it also delivers some very relevant messages about our society as a whole.

Image2. Winter Light (1963)

Country: Sweden

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Starring: Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Gunnel Lindblom

Runtime: 81 minutes

Rating: 80% Fresh

Why?: My third and final Ingmar Bergman on the list is perhaps the most moving, the coldest, and the most thought-provoking the director has ever been.  Winter Light tells the tale of a pastor suffering from a cold and from a severe crisis of faith in the freezing Swedish winter.  Bergman’s usual cast of familiar faces are here, as are his themes of life, death, and faith.  One of the most thought-provoking films I’ve ever seen.  Just thinking about it nows gives me chills.  I can’t recommend Winter Light enough.

1. Seven Samurai (1954)Image

Country: Japan

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima

Runtime: 141 minutes

Rating: 100% Fresh

Why?: Seven Samurai is perhaps one of the most famous films of all-time, and it has literally every reason to be.  Kurosawa’s most well-crafted film is one that has been universally praised by critics and viewers alike.  It tells the story of seven samurai warriors banding together to defend a village from bandits.  It’s incredibly exciting, violent, hilarious, and very beautiful.  It also has one of the greatest performances in the life of legendary actor Toshiro Mifune.  Seven Samurai is literally a perfect film in every aspect, and one that everybody should see if they haven’t already.

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