Lisa Marie Picks The 30 Top Films of 2020


Well, it’s finally time!  It’s time for me to announce my picks for the best films of 2020.

Before we begin, there is one thing I want to make clear.  Unlike the Academy, I did not extend my eligibility window.  Films like Nomadland, Minari, and The Father (amongst others) will undoubtedly be competing for the Oscar for Best Picture of 2020.  However, as far as I’m concerned, those are all 2021 films.  And I imagine that a few of them will probably appear on my best films of 2021 list.  However, the list below are my picks for the best films of 2020.  You’ll probably agree with some of my picks and disagree with some of the others.  As always, I welcome any and all comments.

Also, be sure to check out my picks for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019!  Wow, I’ve been doing this for a while!

And now, in descending order, my favorites of 2020!

30. Money Plane (dir by Andrew Lawrence) — Okay, I can sense that you’re already rolling your eyes at my list by seriously, Money Plane is such a cheerfully absurd and self-aware little B-movie that there’s no way I couldn’t include it.  Seriously, how can you not love a film that features Kelsey Grammer always a gangster known as the Rumble?  Basically, as soon as I heard that priceless declaration of “We are going to rob the Money Plane!,” this movie had me under its spell.

29. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (dir by George C. Wolfe) — Though this adaptation of August Wilson’s play never quite escapes its theatrical roots, no one can deny the powerful performances of Viola Davis, Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, and especially Chadwick Boseman.  Boseman dominates the film from the minute that he makes his first appearance, playing an ambitious, troubled, and undeniably talented trumpeter.  Viola Davis plays Ma Rainey with the self-awareness of someone who knows that the record producers need her more than she needs them.  She has the power and she’s not going to let anyone get away with forgetting it.

28. The Invisible Man (dir by Leigh Wannell) — Before the Academy announced that they would be changing their rules to considers streaming movies, many critics speculated that one of the results of the pandemic would be The Invisible Man winning all of the Oscars.  Though they may have been joking, it was not as outlandish an idea as they seemed to think.  The Invisible Man is a horror film that proves that being a genre film does not mean that film can’t also be a good and thought-provoking work of art.  The Invisible Man breathes new life into a somewhat hokey premise and Elisabeth Moss gives a great performance as a woman stalked by her abusive (and now invisble) ex.  The Invisible Man features one of the best ending scenes of 2020.

27. The Hunt (dir by Craig Zobel) — Delayed due to a manufactured controversy and released to critical bafflement, The Hunt is a clever satire of our hyper-partisan and hyper-polarized society.  The film’s final twist is a clever commentary on social media drama and Hillary Swank steals the show with an unexpected cameo.

26. One Night In Miami (dir by Regina King) — I went back and forth on this one.  Based on a stage play, this film imagines what happened the night that Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Muhammad Ali met in a Miami motel room.  There are a few times that the film is undoubtedly a bit too stagey for its own good and, early on, some of the dialogue is a bit too on the nose.  But the film has a cumulative power and, despite a few uneven moments, it’s ultimately an intriguing look at race, celebrity, and political activism in America.  A good deal of the film’s power is due to the ensemble.  While most of the awards chatter seems to be focused on Leslie Odom, Jr. as Sam Cooke, it’s Aldis Hodge’s Jim Brown who truly anchors the film.

25. Gunpowder Heart (dir by Camila Urrutia) — This raw and angry film from Guatemala was one of the more powerful films to be featured at 2020’s virtual South By Southwest.  In Guatemala City, Maria and her girlfriend Claudia are assaulted by three men.  Maria wants revenge, no mater what.  Claudia, the more cautious of the two, knows that Maria’s plans are going to end in tragedy and disaster but she also knows that there’s nothing she can do to stop her.  Gunpowder Heart isn’t always easy to watch but it’s undeniably powerful.

24. The Shock of the Future (dir by Marc Collin) — Taking place in 1978, this French film follows one day in the life of a composer named Ana (Alma Jodorowsky).  It’s a typical day — Anna wakes up, a friend comes by with the latest albums, Anna tries to compose music, she goes to a party, and she hears the newest music.  It’s a simple but effective celebration of both music and the thrill of having your entire creative life ahead of you.  Alma Jodorowsky is brilliant in the role of Anna.

23. She Dies Tomorrow (dir by Amy Seimetz) — This a disturbing mood piece about a woman who is convinced that she is going to die in a day.  Everyone who she meets also becomes convinced that they’re going to die within 24 hours.  Some of them go out of their way to make sure that it happens while others just wait for death to come.  Is it a mass delusion or is it something else?  The atmospheric film may raise more questions than it answers but it will definitely stick with you.

22. Driveways (dir by Andrew Ahn) — Kathy (Hong Chau) and her young son, Cody (Lucas Jaye), move into the home that was owned by Kathy’s deceased sister.  In his final film appearance, Brian Dennehy plays the gruff but caring neighbor who befriends both Cody and his mother.  This is a low-key but emotionally resonant film, elevated by Dennehy’s heartfelt performance.

21. Figurant (dir by Jan Vejnar) — Clocking in at 14 minutes, this unsettling but powerful French/Czech co-production tells the story of a quiet man (Denis Levant) who follows a group of younger men into a warehouse and who soon finds himself in uniform and on a battlefield.  Or is he?  It’s not an easy question to answer but this intriguing short film will keep you watching, guessing, and thinking.

20. What Did Jack Do? (dir by David Lynch) — David Lynch interrogates a monkey in an expressionistic train station.  The monkey talks about a chicken and sings a song about true love’s flame.  “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?” Lynch asks.  It’s a brilliant short film and really, it’s the sort of thing that only David Lynch, with his mix of earnestness and eccentricity, could have pulled off.  Technically, this film was made a few years ago but it only got it’s official premiere in 2020, when Netflix released it on Lynch’s birthday.

19. Red, White, and Blue (dir by Steven McQueen) — Steve McQueen’s Small Axe was made up of five short films.  Three of them appear on this list.  There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not the Small Axe films should be considered individual features or if they should be considered a miniseries.  Obviously, I see them as being individual features but, in the end, they’re brilliant and thought-provoking regardless of whether they’re television or film.  Red, White, and Blue takes a nuanced look at institutional racism and features an excellent lead performance from John Boyega.

18. Mr. Jones (dir by Agnieszka Holland) — A film that deserved more attention than it received, Mr. Jones tells the story of Gareth Jones, the Welsh journalist who, in 1933, discovered the truth about the state-sponsored famine that was killing millions in the Ukraine.  Despite his efforts, the press refused to report on what was really happening in the Ukraine and instead, an odious propagandist named Walter Duranty was awarded a Pulitzer prize for writing pro-Stalin stories that were later determined to be full of deliberate lies.  An important and heartfelt film, Mr. Jones features a subtle but effective lead performance from James Norton and a memorable supporting turn from Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Walter Duranty as a smug snake.

17. The Outpost (dir by Rod Lurie) — Based on a true story and directed by Rod Lurie, this film pays tribute to the men who have fought and died in America’s forgotten conflict, the War in Afghanistan.  Well-acted and doggedly unsentimental, The Outpost will literally leave you breathless.

16. Emma (dir by Autumn de Wilde) — The latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s much-adapted novel, Emma has a playful spirit that is lacking in so many other literary adaptations.  It also has a great performance from Anya Taylor-Joy, who makes the character of Emma Woodhouse her own.

15. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (dir by Eliza Hittman) — Two teenagers, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), travel to New York City from Pennsylvania so that Autumn can get an abortion without having to get her parent’s consent.  Though I’m occasionally a bit skeptic of cinema verite, Never Rarely Sometimes Always makes good use of the style.  Far more than just being a film about abortion, it’s a character study of two people trying to survive in a harsh world.  The scene where the previously withdrawn Autumn is prodded to open up about her past is one of the most powerful of the year.

14. Possessor (dir by Brandon Cronenberg) — Brandon Cronenberg’s disturbing sci-fi/horror hybrid is not an easy film to explain or to even describe.  Questions of identity and betrayal are mixed with grotesque images of body horror and societal neglect.  By the end of the film, you’ll find yourself reconsidering everything that you previously assumed about the movie.  This one sticks with you, even though you may not want it to.  (How’s that for a recommendation?)

13. Horse Girl (dir by Jeff Baena) — This is a film that definitely deserved a bit more attention than it received.  Alison Brie gives a brave and sympathetic performance as someone who believes that she’s a clone who has been abducted by aliens.  Is she suffering from delusions brought on by a combination of loneliness and too much television?  Or is she right?  The film will leave you guessing.  While Brie is at the center of almost every scene, Molly Shannon also gives a good performance as one of Brie’s only friends.

12. Sound of Metal (dir by Darius Marder) — Riz Ahmed plays an occasionally obnoxious drummer who goes deaf.  Worried that Ahemd is going to relapse into drug use, his girlfriend and musical partner (Olivia Cooke) checks him into a rehab center for the deaf.  With the help of a sympathetic but no-nonsense counselor (Paul Raci), Ahmed struggles to come to accept the loss of sound and music from his life.  The three main performances elevate this film, making it one of the year’s best.  In the film’s best moments, we hear the world through Ahmed’s ears and experience what he’s experiencing.

11. Mangrove (dir by Steve McQueen) — The first film in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology tells the story of a true life court case.  Politically charged from beginning to end and leaving no doubt as to what the true stakes were in the case, Mangrove is the film that Trial of The Chicago 7 should have been.

10. Soul (dir by Peter Docter) — The latest from PIXAR made me cry as only a great PIXAR film can.  A music teacher named Joe (voices by Jamie Foxx) falls down a manhole shortly after winning his dream job in a jazz band.  Unwilling to die before performing on stage, Joe finds himself in the Great Before, assigned to teach an unborn soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey) what it means to be human …. okay, you know what?  This film has one of those plots that sounds silly if you try to explain it.  What matters is that it’s a heartfelt film that celebrates every minute of life.  Foxx and Fey both do wonderful voice work and the animation is as clever as always.  Plus, there’s a cat!

9. The Vast of Night (dir by Andrew Patterson) — This low-budget film is a wonderfully atmospheric look at what may or may not be an alien invasion taking place in the 1950s.  Featuring wonderfully naturalistic performances and an intelligent storyline, The Vast of Night is a triumph of the independent spirit.  I can’t wait to see what Andrew Patterson does next.

8. Lovers Rock (dir by Steve McQueen) — The 2nd film is Steve MQueen’s Small Axe anthology, Lovers Rock centers on one exhilarating house party.  Though the world outside of this party may be harsh and full of oppression and racism (a group of white teens shout racial slurs at one partygoer when she steps outside of the house), the world inside of the party is one of love, music, and celebration.

7. i’m thinking of ending things (dir by Charlie Kaufman) — A riddle wrapped in an enigma, i’m thinking of ending things features great performance from Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis.  What starts out as an awkward drive to visit Plemons’s parents grows increasingly more and more surreal until the audience is left to wonder what is real, what is fantasy, and whether the majority of the film’s characters even exist.  This film plays out like a dream and stays with you long after it end.

6. Palm Springs (dir by Max Barbakow) — Perhaps the ultimate twist on Groundhog Day, Palm Springs is a thought-provoking comedic gem from Lonely Island Classic Pictures.  Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, and Cristin Milioti find themselves living the same day over and over again.  Each one reacts to their predicament in a different way.  It’ll make you laugh and then it’ll make you cry.  Revealing too much else about the plot would be a crime.  It’s on Hulu so go watch it.

5. The Assistant (dir by Kitty Green) — This infuriating and ultimately tragic film follows one day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner), a production assistant at a film company.  Though he’s never seen, Jane’s boss is clearly meant to be a fictionalized version of Harvey Weinstein.  Should Jane save her career or try to warn the actress that her boss has clearly set his eyes upon as his next victim?  The scene where the head of HR assures Jane that she needn’t worry about her boss’s behavior because “you’re not his type,” rings all too horribly true.  The Assistant was obviously designed to be a rallying call for #MeToo but sadly, today, it feels more like an obituary.

Bad Education

4. Bad Education (dir by Cory Finley) — All year, I have been lamenting the fact that Bad Education was bought by HBO and not Netflix.  If it had been released on Netflix, it would probably be an Oscar contender and Hugh Jackman would be in the hunt for his first Best Actor Oscar.  Instead, it aired on HBO and it had to settle for limited Emmy recognition.  It’s a shame because this film, which centers on embezzlement at one suburban school, was one of the best of 2020.  At a time when we’re being told not to question authority, Bad Education encourages us to question everything.  Along with being thought-provoking, it’s also occasionally laugh out loud funny.  Jackman is brilliant in the lead role.  Allison Janney is award-worthy as his partner-in-crime.  Ray Romano takes another step in proving that he’s more than just a sitcom actor.  All in all, this was a great movie.

3. First Cow (dir by Kelly Reichardt) — This melancholy tale follows two men who meet in Oregon in the 1820s and who become unlikely business partners.  Unfortunately, being partners means stealing milk from Toby Jones’s cow and thievery was even less appreciated in the 1820s than it is today. Featuring outstanding lead performances from Jon Magaro and Orion Lee, First Cow is a rewarding work of historical fiction.  Kelly Reichardt makes you feel as if you’ve woken up in the 1820s, even as she uses the past to comment upon the present.  This probably isn’t a film for everyone.  Reichardt’s style has always been more about observing than passing judgment.  But for viewers willing to stick with it, this deliberately paced film is a rewarding experience.

Finally, when it comes to the best film of the year, I’ve been going back and forth between two films.  In the end, I have to declare a tie.  In alphabetical order by title, here are the two best films of 2020:

2. The Girl With A Bracelet (dir by Stéphane Demoustier) — This French film is about a teenage girl who is on trial for murdering her best friend.  Whether or not she’s guilty is ultimately less important than why everyone has been so quick to accuse her in the first place.  Featuring an outstanding ensemble and an intelligent script, The Girl With A Bracelet will leave you thinking about …. well, everything.  It can currently be viewed on Prime.

1. Promising Young Woman (dir by Emerald Fennell) — When I first started watching this film, I worried that it might be too stylized to be effective.  But it soon became apparent the director/screenwriter Emerald Fennell and star Carey Mulligan both knew exactly what they needed to do to tell this story.  Mulligan plays a med school drop-out who is seeking her own unique style of revenge against not only the men who raped her best friend in college but also the people who Mulligan feels subsequently let her friend down.  Bo Burnham plays the pediatrician who asks Mulligan out on a date and who appears to be the perfect nice guy, the adorably awkward boyfriend who you you would expect to find in a 90s rom com.  Neither character turns out to be exactly who they initially appeared to be.  Promising Young Woman mixes genres that normally don’t go together, smashing together drama and comedy, and it’s just audacious enough to be one of the best films of the year.

 

 

TSL Looks Back at 2020:

  1. 2020 In Review: The Best of Lifetime (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  2. 12 Good Things I Saw On Television in 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  3. Lisa Marie’s Top 8 Novels of 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  4. Lisa Marie’s Top 8 Non-Fiction Books of 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  5. Lisa Marie’s 20 Favorite Songs of 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  6. Lisa Marie’s 16 Worst Films of 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  7. My Top 20 Albums of 2020 (Necromoonyeti)
  8. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems That I Saw In 2020 (Valerie Troutman)
  9. Top 10 Vintage Collections (Ryan C)
  10. Top 10 Contemporary Collections (Ryan C)
  11. Top 10 Original Graphic Novels (Ryan C)
  12. Top 10 Ongoing Series (Ryan C.)
  13. Top 10 Special Mentions (Ryan C.)
  14. Top Ten Single Issues (Ryan C)

Here’s The Trailer for Soul!


Here’s the latest trailer for Soul!

Yes, yes …. I know.  I’m two days late in sharing this.  Listen, these things happen and I think you should find it within your soul to forgive me.  After all, how can you be angry when I’m sharing a trailer for a PIXAR film?

Personally, I have loved just about every PIXAR film that I’ve ever seen.  That said, I also think that it’s possible that PIXAR is secretly run by aliens who want to see how frequently someone can be traumatized before they totally give up on happiness.  From all of the toys being given away in Toy Story 3 to the first ten minutes of Up, PIXAR is all about getting people to cry.  I’ve cried during every PIXAR film that I’ve ever watched, with exception of those movies about the talking cars.

This latest PIXAR film is called Soul and it’s about just that.  It’s about …. well, the plot sounds really strange to me so I’m not even sure if I want to try to type it out.  I will say that it involves death and not giving up on your dreams and celebrating life and it’ll probably make me cry a lot.

Soul was originally going to be released into theaters but we all know what they say about the best laid plans of Disney and PIXAR.  So, instead, it’ll be released on Disney+ on Christmas Day.  Hopefully, Disney+ will let its subscribers watch it, as opposed to charging them an extra thirty dollars for the opportunity.  (That’s right …. I’m looking at you, Mulan!)

Here’s the latest trailer for Soul:

Quick Review: Ratatouille (dir. by Brad Bird)


The following is a Mini Review for Ratatouille, written on June 17, 2007,  taken word forratatouille word from my old Livejournal.

“The absolute worst thing I could ever say about Disney / Pixar’s “Ratatouille” is that I have to wait 2 whole weeks until I can see it again at the official release.”

The Movie: “Ratatouille”

Starring:
(cast list borrowed from the IMDB)
Patton Oswalt … Remy (voice)
Ian Holm … Skinner (voice)
Lou Romano … Linguini (voice)
Brian Dennehy… Django (voice)
Peter Sohn … Emile (voice)
Peter O’Toole … Anton Ego (voice)
Brad Garrett … Gusteau (voice)
Janeane Garofalo … Colette (voice)

This review may be biased, as I’m a Pixar Nut. I have no idea how they do it. Right now, they’re 8 for 8 in my opinion (or maybe 7 for 8 only because anyone who hates or doesn’t understand Nascar may have had problems relating to Cars, like myself).

This place has to be the most enjoyable and creative working establishment on the planet. The absolute worst thing I could ever say about Disney / Pixar’s “Ratatouille” is that I have to wait 2 whole weeks until I can see it again at the official release. Yesterday, Disney hosted a Special Sneak Peek around the country of the film. A one time showing that didn’t quite fill all of the seats in the theatre (and I think that’s only because not too many people were aware of it – about 20 -30 in my audience), but amused and amazed everyone who did show. We had laughter, applause and even a few happy murmurs in the audience. 🙂

Ratatouille is the story of Remy, a rat who adores food. Not just eating it, but actually creating meals with it. Walking in the footsteps of a great and renowned chef Gusteau, Remy wants to cook (with the assistance of his brother Emile), but his father feels that his place is with the rats he lives with. After finding himself in need of job, Linguini is brought on as the newest worker at the famous Gastau’s restaurant, which has seen better days. Linguini wants to fit in, but the staff have regulated him to something of a low position. Together, Remy and Linguini are able to help one another, in quite a few funny ways.

Like all of the Pixar stories before it, the themes are universal. One of Ratatouille’s themes is a “being brave enough to go after what you want most, despite the changes that may occur” and under director Brad Bird’s leadership (who also directed “The Incredibles” and my favorite Amazing Stories episode, “The Family Dog”), this comes across really well. All of the main characters are made to grow in some way (even the ones that appear to not really have a sense of direction).

The graphics (if you can even call them that) are wonderful, and Paris is rendered in a near picture perfect look. According to the film, it’s 100% animation, without any motion capturing whatsoever (which makes sense, considering that Brad Bird has gone on record as stating that animation is an art form and not a genre). The food looks great, and the a lot of the smoke effects (fire, steam, hair getting wet) have improved since The Incredibles. The sound (at least my theatre) was also very good, sounds typically jumped around the speakers for the most part.

As a kids film, Ratatouille works, but parents may want to be on the lookout. The word ‘dead’ comes up quite a bit, and if you’re one of those parents that haven’t had that talk with your kids, I’m just warning you now. There’s some animated violence throughout, but considering my movie theatre had parents that were taking their kids to see Hostel II, I don’t think it’s too bad. It’s up for the viewer to really decide.

Also note that before the movie starts, the animated short “Lifted” also appears, which was hilarious and may cause one to remember their first few driving lessons. I’ll leave it at that. ☺ “Ratatouille” is a marvelous triumph by Disney and Pixar, who always seem to remember that that the story (above all), comes first.

The film doesn’t contain any ACP’s (I call them After Credit Pieces – those little snippets of film that show up right after the credits are done – see Pirates of the Carribean (any one of them) to understand what I mean), though the credits themselves are cute, complete with a new set of Pixar Babies. Michael Giacchino was also on board with the Soundtrack, which is a mix of mostly french violin/piano pieces. Quite a jump from the Incredibles and Mission Impossible III for him, but sweet, nonetheless.

Ratatouille opens in theatres June 29.

Here’s The Super Bowl Teaser for Toy Story 4!


Right after the game ended, PIXAR snuck in this little teaser for Toy Story 4.  I have to admit that I nearly changed the channel and missed it.  I’m glad I didn’t!

Anyway, it looks like Buzz is still getting into trouble and Woody is still trying to hold it all together.  To be honest, I thought Toy Story 3 ended the series on a perfect note so I’ll be curious to see what they do with Toy Story 4.  But you know what?  It’s PIXAR and it’s Toy Story so I have faith!

Cars 3 Extended Sneak Peek


It’s been 11 years since Disney/Pixar released Cars. The audience has grown up, and from the looks of it, the story tied to Cars 3 is trying to grow with them. Another trailer was recently released, this time featuring Lightning McQueen’s (Owen Wilson) new nemesis, the ultra modern rookie sensation Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). It also introduces Cruz Ramirez, another character that appears to be a new trainer for McQueen. Most of the favorites will also be returning for this installment. Lightning is now standing in the same spot as the legendary Doc Hudson when he first met him. Is Lightning finally at the twilight of his career, or does have one more good race left in him?

Brian Fee, who’s worked on the other Cars films as well as a number of other Pixar projects , gets to sit in the Director’s chair this time around. I just hope it’s as dark as Toy Story 3.

Disney/Pixar also released a profile trailer, showing off some of the new characters.

Lightning McQueen:

Jackson Storm:

Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo):

Film Review: Finding Dory (dir by Andrew Stanton)


finding_dory

Finding Dory, the latest film from Pixar, tells the story of Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a regal blue tang (for our readers in Vermont, that’s a fish) who suffers from short-term memory loss.  You may remember her from Pixar’s previous movie about fish, Finding Nemo.  In that movie, she helped a clownfish named Marlin (Albert Brooks) find his son, Nemo (voiced, in Finding Dory, by Hayden Rolence).  In the sequel, it’s Marlin and Nemo who are now helping Dory to find her parents.

Dory has spent years searching for her parents.  Of course, it would be easier if she didn’t suffer from short-term memory loss.  It seems that every time she sets out to track her parents down, she ends up getting distracted and forgets what she was doing.  However, while helping to teach a class about migration, Dory has a sudden flashback to her parents (voiced, quite charmingly, by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton).  She sets out once again, determined to find her parents.  This time, Marlin and Nemo are accompanying her.  As Dory continually frets, she’s can’t do it alone because she can’t remember directions.

Though her memories are fuzzy and her flighty nature leads to some conflict with Marlin (who is just as cautious and overprotective of Nemo as he was in the first film), Dory eventually finds her way to where her parents were last seen.  And, in doing so, Dory discovers that she and her parents originally lived at a water park, the California Marine Life Institute.

(One of my favorite parts of the film is that apparently, Sigourney Weaver recorded several greetings and other messages that are played continuously over the Institute’s PA system.  “Hello, I’m Sigourney Weaver and welcome to the Marine Life Institute.”  Dory becomes convinced that Sigourney Weaver is some sort of God-like being who is leaving personal messages for her.  At one point, Dory exclaims, “A friend of mine, her name’s Sigourney, once told me that all it takes is three simple steps: rescue, rehabilitation, and um… one other thing?”)

Since this is a Pixar movie, Dory meets the usual collection of oddball and outcast sealife at the Institute, all of whom help her out while overcoming their own insecurities, providing properly snarky commentary, and hopefully bringing a tear or two to the eyes of even the most jaded of viewers.  Finding Dory is full of familiar voices, everyone from Idris Elba to Bill Hader to Kate McKinnon.  But, for me, the most memorable of all the voices (with the exception of Ellen DeGeneres herself) was Ed O’Neill’s.  O’Neill brought Hank, the bitter but ultimately good-hearted seven-legged octopus, to poignant life.  I imagine that, should there be another sequel, it will be called Finding Hank.

Finding Dory continues the annual tradition of Pixar films making me cry.  Finding Dory is an incredibly sweet and truly heartfelt movie but, at the same time, it’s also an extremely witty comedy.  This is one of those Pixar films where the joy comes not only from looking at the amazing animation but also from listening to truly clever dialogue being delivered by some of the best voice actors around.  DeGeneres does such a great job bringing Dory to life that, as the movie ended, my first instinct was to run out and buy a regal blue tang of my very own.  But then I read an article on Wikipedia, which explained why I shouldn’t do that.

(Basically, blue tangs may look cute but they have big, scary spikes that can cut up your hand.  As well, they don’t do well in captivity.  So, if you’re planning on getting a Dory of your very own, you might be better off just rewatching this movie…)

It’ll make you laugh.  It’ll make you cry.  Finding Dory is another great film from Pixar.

Pixar Does It Again With Inside Out


Inside_Out_(2015_film)_posterInside Out is the latest brilliant film from Pixar’s Pete Docter and it will remind you why you fell in love with Pixar in the first place.

There are no talking cars or lovable monsters in Inside Out.  Instead, it’s the story of a very normal 12 year-old girl named Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias).  Or rather, it’s the story of what goes on in her head.  For most of the movie, Riley deals with experiences to which we can all relate: she moves to a new city, she struggles to relate to her well-meaning parents (voiced by Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane), and she tries to fit in at a new school.  Inside Out is a film about the small moments of life and how they all add up to create a bigger picture.

What sets Inside Out apart is the way that it tells its deceptively simple story.  Inside Out takes place almost entirely inside of Riley’s brain.  And it turns out that her mind is gigantic wonderland, one that is so big and complex that not even the characters who live there quite understand how it all works.  Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a pink half-elephant, half-cat, half-dolphin creature, spends his time wandering through the halls of memory and mournfully thinking back to when he was Riley’s imaginary friend.  Whenever Riley goes to sleep, the actors and directors at Dream Productions film a different nightly movie.  Meanwhile, Imagination Land is a fun place to visit but not a good place in which to live and past childhood traumass — like a gigantic stalk of broccoli and a terrifying birthday clown — are locked away deep in Riley’s subconscious, where they are guarded by officious policemen.   Zigzagging through this mental landscape is the literal Train of Thought.

And then, above it all, there’s Headquarters.  This is where five different emotions take turns “steering” Riley through life.  Fear (Bill Hader) is always nervous but, at the same time, keeps Riley safe.  Disgust (Mindy Kaling) prevents Riley from eating broccoli and hanging out with the wrong crowd.  Sadness, meanwhile, hasn’t had much to do over the past 12 years and, as a result, she spends most of her time standing in a corner and feeling … well, sad.  Sadness is voiced by Phyllis Smith, best known for playing Meredith on The Office.  Smith proves herself here to be a strong and empathetic voice artist.

Their unquestioned leader is Joy (Amy Poehler).  As befits her name and job, Joy is always positive, always upbeat, and always optimistic.  For 12 years, Joy has been in charge of steering Riley’s life but that all changes when Riley and her family move to San Francisco.  Suddenly, Joy finds it more difficult to keep Riley permanently happy.  Memories that were formerly color-coded yellow for happy start to turn blue.

When both Joy and Sadness are accidentally expelled from the Headquarters, it’s up to the three remaining emotions to try to keep Riley well-balanced until they can return.  However, the journey back up to the Headquarters is a long and dangerous one, full of some of the most imaginative (and metaphorical) imagery in Pixar’s history.  Joy and Sadness will have to work together to make it.

And really, that’s what makes Inside Out so special.  It’s the rare family film that acknowledges that allowing ourselves to feel sad is often as important as being happy.

Inside Out is a brilliant coming-of-age story and one of the best films of the year.  It’s a film that will make you laugh and cry and will remind you of why you fell in love with Pixar in the first place.  Kids will love the humor and adults … well, adults will probably be trying to hold back the tears.

What a great film!

Thank you, Pixar.

Lisa Marie Gets Brave (dir. by Mark Andrews)


I want to make one thing very clear before I start this review:

I LOVED BRAVE!

Okay, now that that’s out of the way…

2011 was something of a disappointing year for me because it was the year that I discovered that the people at Pixar Studios are as fallible as any other filmmaker.  Cars 2 was cute but, ultimately, rather forgettable and it was the first Pixar movie that failed to move me tears.  Certainly, Cars 2 was not a terrible film but, when it comes to Pixar, moviegoers just naturally expect more and it was difficult to watch those expectations dashed.

Well, last night, I saw this year’s offering from Pixar, a little film called Brave. I’m happy to say that Pixar has redeemed itself from Cars 2.  I loved Brave.  It not only kept me entertained but it made me cry as well.  In short, Brave is a film that earns its place in the Pixar library.

Set in a beautifully animated version of the Scottish highlands, Brave tells the story of Merida (voiced, quite brilliantly, by Kelly MacDonald), the red-haired daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson).  Merida takes after her extroverted, stubborn father and can’t understand why her refined mother isn’t as enthusiastic as Merida is about things like archery, hunting, and exploring the wilderness. 

When Merida finds that, by tradition, she is to be married off to the first-born son of one of the kingdom’s three lords, she devises a plan to prove just how unfair this practice is to her.  She announces that the winner of an Archery competition shall be her suitor,  However, during the actual competition, Merida announces that she will compete “for her own hand” and proceeds to out-shoot all three of her moronic suitors.  After an argument with an enraged Elinor, Merida flees the castle in tears. 

Merida eventually meets a witch (voiced in perfect busy-body style by Julie Walters) who offers to cast a spell that will change Elinor.  Merida impulsively agrees and then returns to the castle where Elinor is eventually transformed into a gigantic bear.

I have to admit that Brave nearly lost me when Elinor turned into that bear.  Pixar’s trademark has always been that they make animated films that feel like live-action films and Elinor’s transformation felt almost too predictably cartoonish.  However, as close as the film came to losing me at that moment, the important thing is that it didn’t.  That’s due to both the impeccable animation (which managed to give the bear some very recognizable Elinor-like facial expressions) and the strength of Kelly MacDonald’s  vocal performance, which brings a true sense of reality to a very unreal situation.

(Perhaps my favorite moment was when Merida hastily explained to her three younger brothers, “Mum’s turned into a bear but it’s not my fault!”  That’s exactly the same thing I would have said if I had been responsible for turning my mom into a bear.  And yes, I have to admit that as a stubborn redhead, I very much identified with Merida throughout the entire film.)

Merida and the Elinor Bear flee from the castle (and from King Fergus who doesn’t know that the bear is actually Elinor and who is known as the Bear-killer) and start to bond as Merida tries to find a way to turn Elinor back into a human being.  It was here that Brave turned into a rather emotional experience for me and it didn’t take long for the tears to come.  (What’s a Pixar film without plenty of tears?)  So much of Brave hit home for me, from Merida’s desire to be independent to her complicated relationship with her mom and the fear and regret that she feels when she realizes that she might lose her mom forever.  Like the best fairy tales, Brave uses a fantastic situation to tell a story about some very basic and simple human truths. 

Whenever you review an animated film, there always seems to be one question that has to be answered: will boring old adults get as much out of the film as kids?  Well, I know that I certainly enjoyed it but I’m not sure if I’m ready to admit to being an adult.  The main thing to remember about Brave is that it’s not Toy Story 3 and it’s not Up.  At the same time, it’s not Cars 2 either.  Instead, it’s a heartfelt film for kids (and girls, especially) that won’t transform adults into bears. 

Finally, I have to note that between Brave and the Hunger Games, 2012 is turning out to be a pretty good year for girl power.  For once, we’re actually seeing films where girls can be heroes without being cast as either emotionally damaged refugees (like in the David Fincher version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) or as perpetual virgins just waiting for the right man to come along and give their life meaning (like in just about every other movie that comes out of Hollywood).  This is a good trend and I hope it continues.