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)

The Things You Find On Netflix: The Last Thing He Wanted (dir by Dee Rees)


As I watched The Last Thing He Wanted on Netflix, it occurred to me that smoking cigarettes and slamming down phones is no substitute for a personality.

The Last Thing He Wanted stars Anne Hathaway as Elena McMahon and, over the course of the movie, she smokes a lot of cigarettes and slams down a lot of phones.  That’s because Elena is supposed to be a veteran D.C. journalist.  She works for The Atlantic Post, which is an awkward name for a newspaper.  (In the novel on which this film was based, Elena worked for The Washington Post but I assume that plot point was changed to avoid upsetting Jeff Bezos.  That’s the sort of thing that gets this film off to a bad start.)  Hathaway is never exactly believable as a hard-boiled journalist who is known for uncovering government scandals and reporting from war zones.  She is, however, believable as a talented but miscast actress who watched a lot of old journalism movies before showing up on the set of The Last Thing He Wanted.  The end result is a performance that feels like cosplay.

Anyway, the film itself is a mess.  It takes place in 1984 and starts out with Elena getting yanked off of her usual Central America beat and assigned to instead cover the presidential campaign.  This leads to a lot of scenes of Elena lighting cigarettes and slamming down phones while talking about how difficult it is to be a journalist when you’re working for a spineless organization like the Atlantic Post.

Elena is estranged from her father, a dissolute drunk named Dick.  Dick is played by Willem DaFoe, who deals with the fact that he really doesn’t have much of a character to play by chewing up every piece of scenery that he can get his hands on.  (At times, it seems like Willem DaFoe has been replaced by someone doing a poorly conceived Willem DaFoe impersonation.)  Dick is suffering from dementia and he keeps forgetting that his wife is dead.  Dick needs Elena to do something for him.  It turns out that Dick has set up a “huge deal.”  Elena assumes that it must be a drug deal but it turns out that Dick is actually a small-time arms dealer.  So now, Elena is transporting weaponry through Central America and — surprise! — it all links back to the very story that her editors at the Atlantic Post didn’t want her to cover in the first place.

Soon, Elena is flying all over the place and meeting a rogue’s gallery of anti-communist rebels and arms dealers.  In a different film, they would all be fascinating characters but, in this one, it just comes across as being more cosplay.  Ben Affleck shows up a few times, playing some sort of Washington D.C. fixer and he’s absolutely the worst actor to cast in a film like this because the film’s vaguely-defined liberalism brings out his worst instincts as a performer.  The character’s written to be an enigmatic rogue but Affleck appears to be incapable of playing him as being anything other than just a one-note Republican.  (Whenever Affleck is cast in a role like this, you can see him thinking, “How would Matt Damon play this scene?”)  Toby Jones also makes an appearance and you’re excited to see him until you realize that he’s just going to be recycling his Truman Capote imitation from Infamous to no great effect.  There’s a lot of good performers in The Last Thing He Wanted but they’re left stranded by a script that doesn’t seem to know why any of them are there.  It all leads to an absolutely terrible ending, one that proves that combining voice over narration with slow motion is not always the brilliant narrative technique that some directors believe it to be.

The Last Thing He Wanted was directed and co-written by Dee Rees and it has all of the flaws but none of the strengths of Rees’s previous Netflix film, MudboundMudbound was frequently ponderous and predictable but it was redeemed by some beautiful images and some unexpectedly nuanced performances.  The Last Thing He Wanted is ponderous without being much else.

Film Review: The Snowman (dir by Tomas Alfredson)


So, I finally watched the 2018 thriller, The Snowman, and my main reaction to the film is that it featured a lot of snow.

That’s understandable, of course.  The film takes place in Norway and it’s called The Snowman so, naturally, I wasn’t expecting a lot of sunshine.  Still, after a while, the constant shots of the snow-covered landscape start to feel like almost some sort of an inside joke.  It’s almost as if the film is daring you to try to find one blade of grass in Norway.  Of course, the snow is important because the film’s about a serial killer who builds snowmen at the sites of his crimes.  They’re usually pretty big snowmen as well.  It’s hard not to be a little impressed by the fact that he could apparently make such impressive snowmen without anyone noticing.

Along with the snow, the other thing that I noticed about this movie is that apparently no one knows how to flip a light switch in Norway.  This is one of those films where every scene seems to take place in a dark room.  I found myself worrying about everyone’s eyesight and I was surprised the everyone in the film wasn’t wearing glasses.  I can only imagine how much strain that puts on the eyes when you’re constantly trying to read and look for clues in the dark.

Michael Fassbender plays Harry Hole, a Norwegian police inspector who may be troubled but still gets results!  He’s upset because his ex-girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) has a new boyfriend (Jonas Karlsson).  He’s also upset because his son (Michael Yates) doesn’t know that Harry is actually his father.  Or, at least, I think that Harry’s upset.  It’s hard to tell because Fassbender gives a performance that’s almost as cold as the snow covering the Norwegian ground.  Of course, he’s always watchable because he’s Fassbender.  But, overall, he doesn’t seem to be particularly invested in either the role or the film.

Harry and his new partner (Rebecca Ferguson) are investigating a missing person’s case, which quickly turns into a multiple murder mystery.  It turns out that the crimes are linked to a bunch of old murders, all of which were investigated by a detective named Gert Rafto (Val Kilmer).  Gert was troubled but he still got results!  Or, at least, Harry thinks that he may have gotten results.  Nine years ago, Rafto died under mysterious circumstances…

Now, I have to admit that when, 30 minutes into the film, the words “9 years earlier” flashed on the screen, I groaned a bit.  I mean, it seemed to me that the movie was already slow enough without tossing in a bunch of flashbacks.  However, I quickly came to look forward to those brief flashbacks, mostly because they featured Val Kilmer in total IDGAF mode.  Kilmer stumbles through the flashbacks, complete with messy hair and a look of genuine snarky bemusement on his face.  Kilmer gives such a weird and self-amused performance that his brief scenes are the highlight of the film.

Before it was released, The Snowman was hyped as a potential Oscar contender.  After the movie came out and got roasted by the critics, director Tomas Alfredson replied that the studio forced him to rush through the production and that 10 to 15% of the script went unfilmed.  Considering Alfredson’s superior work on Let The Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.  The film’s disjointed style would certainly seem to back up Alfredson’s claim that there was originally meant to be more to the film than actually ended up on the screen.

The Snowman is one of those films that doesn’t seem to be sure what it wants to be.  At times, it aspires to David Lynch-style surrealism while, at other times, it seems to be borrowing from the morally ambiguous crime films of Taylor Sheridan.  Ultimately, it’s a confused film that doesn’t seem to have much reason for existing.  At the same time, I’ve also been told that the Jo Nesbø novel upon which the movie is based is excellent.  The same author also wrote the novel that served as the basis for 2011’s Headhunters, which was pretty damn good.  So, read the book and ignore the film.

Review of Berberian Sound Studio, ALT Title: Huh? I mean, Huh?


bsstudio

I was considering posting this review later in the month because I didn’t want to do two negative reviews in a row. I’m starting to feel like an old curmudgeon with a sciatica issue, but here we are.  I didn’t write, direct, or produce this steaming pile of shit, but again… here we are.  I’m not writing that every film should have three distinct acts that are easily defined and understood, but this film sure could have used some structure or a beginning, a middle, or (if they really felt wild) an ending.

We open with Gilderoy (Tobey Jones) starting a job as a foley artist for a Giallo film.  He is immediately shocked at the graphic nature of the film that he will be looping.  This is where the movie grinds to a halt – minute 7.  Either through a lack of budget or imagination, the film takes place in the sound studio, his apartment, and a hallway – that’s it.  You’d think that this would establish tension…nope; no more than sitting in the DMV for 90 minutes establishes tension.  There are no subtitles and everyone’s speaking Italian and screaming a lot to loop the spooky film that you never see.  Again, you’d think that perhaps this would create tension or alienation because we don’t know what’s being said in 85% of the film….nope; no more than watching Raiuno (Italian Basic Cable).   Keep in mind, I’m very proud of my very sexy Italian roots, but not everything we make is a winner- even our towers lean over sometimes.

Gilderoy proceeds to obsess over getting reimbursed for his travel and when he doesn’t get reimbursed, he mopes … a lot and smashes fruit to mimic bludgeoning sounds. At one point he does get upset about it, but then goes back to doing what he does best – moping and fruit smashing.  There are two producers Francesco and Santini who spend the majority of the film bullying Gilderoy around and just when you think he’ll snap, he doesn’t because his moping around and fruit smashing won’t get done by itself.

Gilderoy slowly makes a quasi-friendship with Elena a voiceover artist who hints at something sinister being afoot, but it never materializes. Snore.  Later in the film, Santini sexually assaults her off-screen and she wrecks the studio this is also off-screen.  Since all of the action takes place off-camera, it really makes you wonder if they ever wanted to film a movie.  Elena’s departure necessitates the need to hire new voiceover actress to replace her.

This is where the film takes an absurdist left turn – Gilderoy starts speaking Italian.  As someone who has taken some formal Italian language instruction- it’s a challenging language, but not for Gilderoy because he just starts spouting it – damn it!  Then, Elena’s replacement tries to kill Gilderoy, but he manages to kill her.  He then wanders into the sound studio and for some reason he sees the self-defense killing on the screen.  This causes the need for yet another voiceover actress to be hired and he uses mild sound torture to get a better performance out of her – it’s both weird and stupid because she could just take the headphones off, but she doesn’t.  She does quit and we don’t have to see them go to Central Casting again.  Maybe they get a stamp on a card for every voiceover actress they hire?  If so, they are all due a free sammich!!!  The movie ends.  Yep, that’s it.

This film proved that there are two big losers in Giallo pictures: voiceover actresses and fruit!  Enjoy the horror month!  My next review will be one of my favorite movies of ALL TIME: Ginger Snaps!  Ginger Snaps is a werewolf movie that is an allegory for a girl’s menarche! Tagline: They don’t call it the curse for nothing!  It’s awesome!

 

 

For Your Consideration #8: Captain America: The Winter Solider (dir by Joe and Anthony Russo)


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I would estimate that, when it comes to the movies, Ryan the Trash Film Guru and I agree with each other perhaps 95% of the time.  What’s interesting is that the 5% of the time that we have disagreed, it’s always been the result of an entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  As Ryan has documented many times on this site, he’s not a fan of the MCU.  (The title of his review of the second Thor film is probably one of the best that’s ever appeared on this site.)  As for me, I’m the exact opposite.  In fact, I am such a fan of the MCU that I am about to suggest that Captain America: The Winter Soldier — along with being one of the best action films of the year — deserves serious Oscar consideration.

(Ryan’s opposite take on the film can be read here.)

Now, unlike some of the films that I’ve suggested deserve your consideration, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, along with receiving critical acclaim, was also a major commercial success.  What made The Winter Soldier unique was that it deserved both the acclaim and the money.  There was a lot that I liked about The Winter Soldier.  In the role of Captain America, Chris Evans was both likable and, most importantly, believable as a hero out of time.  And while I would have never guessed that her character was supposed to be Russian, Scarlett Johansson continued her streak of kicking serious ass in the role of the Black Widow.  Samuel L. Jackson brought his customary style to the role of Nick Fury and Sebastian Stan was properly intimidating as the Winter Soldier.  The action scenes were exciting, the dialogue was sharp and witty, and the film worked both as a stand alone film and as a part of the overall Marvel universe.

But, for me, what truly elevated Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the film’s subtext.  (In that way, I would compare it to another surprisingly intelligent genre film, The Purge: Anarchy.)  For those who may have forgotten, the villains of the Winter Soldier are all members and pawns of Hydra, a secret organization that has so infiltrated the American establishment that it has literally become something of a shadow government.  Hydra has also infiltrated SHIELD and plans to use their intelligence capabilities to not only preemptively identify possible threats but to eliminate them as well.  In fact, by taking control of the SHIELD helicarriers, Hydra can anonymously deliver death and destruction from above.

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

What truly makes this subtext come alive is that fact that the main villain — Hydra’s double agent in SHIELD — is played by none other than Robert Redford.  Any student of American film knows what Robert Redford represents.  Early in his career, Redford was the idealistic, ambitious, and frequently laconic protagonist, the perfect symbol of American exceptionalism.  In the 1970s, Redford was the audience surrogate in classic paranoia films like Three Days of the Condor and All The President’s Men.  Lately, as the man behind the Sundance Film Festival and a frequent director, Robert Redford has been the epitome of bourgeois, establishment liberalism.

Hence, when we hear Redford say, “Hail Hydra,” it’s more than just a catch phrase.  It’s also the film’s way of saying that we’re all fucked.  If even Robert Redford can be a villain, the film seems to be saying, then how foolish do we have to be to fully trust anyone or anything?  If Robert Redford can order people killed and then justify it by claiming that he was acting for a greater good then why are we so shocked when governments do the exact same thing?

We live in paranoid times.  In the future, historians will recognize that few films captured that paranoia as perfectly as Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (4 Minute Extended Clip & Trailer)


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It’s just less than a month away from one of 2014’s most-anticipated films. It’s the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger and Marvel Studios has been kind enough to treat it’s fans to a 4-minute clip/trailer of the film.

This clip from Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes early in the film and helps in setting the tone of the film. This is not the gung-ho and patriotic first film. This follow-up shows the after-effects of the events from The Avengers and how it’s created a sense of paranoia and conspiracy surrounding the very group Captain America has now become a part of.

Where the first film had the nostalgic feel similar to Joe Johnston’s The Rocketeer, this sequel looks to tap the 70’s conspiracy and 80’s technothriller genres. It’s anyone’s guess whether the Russo Brothers succeeded, but just going by this extended scene and the previous teasers and trailers they may have just done that.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier arrives in North America on April 4, 2014.

Super Bowl Trailer: Captain America: The Winter Soldier


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It’s becoming a sort of yearly occurrence to have a Marvel Studios film premiere a special trailer during the live-broadcast of the NFL’s latest Super Bowl event. Last year, it was a special Super Bowl trailer of Iron Man 3 (an extended version soon coming out after). This year it will be Captain America: The Winter Soldier that will get the special Super Bowl treatment.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has been gaining some major buzz since the release of its first teaser trailer from a couple months back. Where Thor: Dark World used fantasy as an overall theme for its look and story, with the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger the filmmakers have taken on the look and feel of a techno/conspiracy-thriller. The Winter Soldier looks to be like something that wouldn’t seem out of place if made during the cynical and distrustful era of the 1970’s when conspiracies and distrust of those in power dominated the headlines.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is set for an April 4, 2014 release date.

Also, we have the UK and Ireland version of the trailer which show a brief glimpse of Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) who is the descendant of Peggy Carter from the first film.

Trailer: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Exclusive Teaser)


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The next installment in The Hunger Games series, Catching Fire, looks to return later this year with a new director taking over the reins. Gary Ross began the series as director of the first film and the film enjoyed massive success and very positive reception from the critics-at-large. So, it was surprising news that Ross wouldn’t be returning to continue the series and instead Lionsgate replacing him with Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend).

This sequel brings back everyone who survived the first film and adds some new faces in the cast such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toby Jones, Jena Malone and Jeffrey Wright.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is set for a November 22, 2013 release date.

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (dir. by Joe Johnston)


It is called the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” and it’s a world-building program that’s been in the making for almost half a decade. It first began when Kevin Feige and the powers-that-be at Marvel Entertainment decided to forgo licensing out the rest of their comic book characters to other studios to play with (Spider-Man, X-Men, Wolverine, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, etc.). Marvel Entertainment was getting rich off of these films without having to help finance any of the films, but the results of these films where hit-or-miss and recently they’ve been really misses (X-Men: Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider to name a few). So, the decision was made for Marvel to open up their own film studio, Marvel Studios, and use money from those licensed films to adapt the remaining characters in the Marvel Universe the Marvel way.

The first film to come out with Marvel Studios as the primary company was 2008’s Iron Man which was followed very closely with a reboot of the Hulk with The Incredible Hulk later that same summer. Iron Man 2 arrived in 2010 (though it was a mixed bagged depending on who one asks about this sequel) and in 2011 two more Marvel Studio films arrived to continue building this so-called “Marvel Cinematic Universe”. In early May 2011, the first one was Kenneth Branagh’s Thor hitting the big-screen which was widely-acclaimed to be a good and fun entry to this cinematic universe. The final piece and the second Marvel Studio film to arrive in 2011 is the Joe Johnston-helmed film adaptation of one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic characters. The “Marvel Cinematic Universe” finally finds it’s last piece before 2012’s arrival of Marvel Studios’ superhero team film, The Avengers.

Captain America: The First Avenger was being predicted as a film that could fail because of the character itself. Steve Rogers aka Captain America is the All-American G.I. who was straight-laced and never morally ambiguous. This was a character sure of himself and saw the world through a moral prism of black and white. The film that came out of the work by Joe Johnston and his capable film crew was one which surprised most everyone by it’s retro and nostalgic look at action serials of the past but without becoming to beholden to those tropes and losing all the fun in the story. This film played out like a throwback to those very serial action films of the 40’s and 50’s before cynicism and snark took over Hollywood and most of the entertainment industry.

Joe Johnston and his screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (and an uncredited Joss Whedon whose strength with dialogue could be seen in this film), were able to make an origin tale which didn’t seem too rushed in laying out just who Captain America was and his early adventures during World War II. It was a great decision to keep most of the film set in World War II since Captain America’s origins would be the hardest to pull off and even harder to convince audiences too used to conflicted and unsure superheroes in their superhero films.

The film begins in current Marvel times as an expedition finds Captain America’s shield in the frozen ice floes of Greenland in what looks to be the wreck of a giant flying wing-type aircraft. Once the shield’s discovery was made the film quickly transitions back in time to 1942 where we get to see first-hand the evil mastermind Johann Schmitt aka the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) whose obsession and search for ultimate power finally garners him the Tesseract from Odin’s weapon’s vault (the Cosmic Cube last scene in Thor). He would use this cosmic power to power the superweapons being developed by his Nazi-funded splinter group, HYDRA, and it’s lead scientist in Dr. Armin Zola (Toby Jones).

Both Markus and McFeely actually wrote the film to be two storylines running concurrently with Red Skull and HYDRA running in one storyline and the other with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as the 90-lbs Brooklyn-native weakling whose attempt to enlist in the Army gets shotdown each and every time he tries. Rogers is just not the type of man the US Army requires no matter how much courage and heart his asthmatic and weak body may hold within. But this very non-physical quality of Rogers is what gets the attention of the US Army’s own research division headed by German scientist and expatriate, Dr. Abraham Erskine, who believes Rogers is the perfect candidate for his super-soldier serum program.

Much of the Roger’s storyline in the early-going brings much comedic dialogue and scenes which made Captain America such a fun film. While Roger’s appearance and situation was never played off for laughs, it was how those around him outside of a few people whose reaction never get past the weakling standing in front of them. Once Rogers does become Captain America the film continued to have fun with the character as he’s drafted by politicians who sees him as the perfect pitchman for the government’s program to sell war bonds. This entire part of the character’s arc even got the full Busby Berkeley musical dance number reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s musical number to start off Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (this won’t be the first time Johnston would pay homage to the Indiana Jones series).

Once Captain America moves past his war bond selling phase the film’s two concurrent running storylines of the Captain and the Red Skull converge to begin the second-half of Captain America. While the comedic dialogue and sequences take a back seat the film still remains very fun as Johnston ramps up the action. He begins with the Rogers disobeying orders and attacking a HYDRA base to rescue not just his boyhood friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) from the clutches of HYDRA, but all the prisoners held in the same weapons manufacturing base. The action sequences were filmed in an almost old-school fashion. There’s no tricks of fast editing and quick cuts to make the battles and action chaotic and real, but brought to mind more the action scenes from the Indiana Jones films of the 80’s which Johnston was a part of. All the action sequences in this film were choreographed to be seen and understood, but at the same time with a sense of fun energy that most action films seem to have lost in the last decade.

Captain America was also the first film in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” which added to the fun by creating a genuine romantic subplot for it’s main lead. The relationship between Steve Rogers and British agent Peggy Carter was written quite beautifully as one between two people who saw each other as equals. This relationship unfolded very organically and not forced onto the two characters and to the audience. There was no manipulation to create a false couple. Steve Rogers gradually grew to not just admire Peggy Carter as a strong-willed, capable, but still feminine woman who saw beyond his initial weakling appearance, but by film’s end as a person who he truly had feelings for. It wouldn’t have worked if the Peggy Carter was just written to be a damsel in distress which she wasn’t and this character’s own journey to admiring Roger’s courage and tenacity in the face of impossible odds to mutual admiration once he became Captain to full-blown love by the end really added the emotional punch to the film. It’s no wonder that the bittersweet ending to the film between these two characters had such an emotional impact. The audience followed these two characters’ in their growing relationship from sweet beginnings to the tragic and bittersweet climactic finish.

It’s that very writing which made Captain America: The First Avenger more than just another superhero film. This was a film that went beyond just superhero action sequences, but a film which brought to mind not just the retro film of such films as Johnston’s own 1991 retro-futurist superhero film, The Rocketeer, but also the fun inherent in the serialized action films of the 40’s and 50’s which Spielberg did paid homage to with Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark. The action, explosions and witty (though without the snark and cynicism) dialogue didn’t dominate the film but became supports for the well-written characters. Characters that were well-played by it’s cast of exceptional actors.

This film, like any other superhero film of the past quarter century, lives and dies by how it’s hero and villain were played. It’s a great thing to have not just Hugo Weaving playing the Red Skull with such relish (with a voice that sounded like a mash-up of Werner herzog and Klaus Kinski), but the surprise was Chris Evans as Captain America himself. Evans had the tougher role since he was the titular character. He was an actor who was more well-known as playing wiseass and jokester roles, but in this film he plays Steve Rogers straight with a sense of unabashed goodness and confidence that he became Captain America without having to be unsure of his abilities, conflicted about his new role as a hero. Evans showed depth and range that was only hinted at in films such as Sunshine.

Another delight in the film would be Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. She could’ve been the weak-link in this film and no one would’ve noticed, but she became the moral anchor and strength for the film as she became not just Steve Rogers’ eventual love interest but also his sounding board whenever doubts creeped in. She kept not just him, but the film on course and it helped that she was just as much as kickass as Captain America. Also, to say that Atwell as Peggy Carter was gorgeous to the point of blinding would be an understatement. It’s no wonder Captain America fell for her.

The rest of the supporting cast were up to the challenge no matter the size of the role. Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones were great as the compassionate mentor and grizzled commanding officer respectively. Jones’ Col. Phillips actually got some of the best one-liners in the film. When Tommy Lee Jones plays such a character as well as he does it’s no wonder he’s the go-to-guy for such roles. He just lives the part and pulls off the lines with such great comedic timing. Dominic Cooper as the young Howard Stark (father of Tony Stark/Iron Man) brought images of the suave and debonair Howard Hughes while Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes did a great job in making the character not just a sidekick, but also show hints of why he would become the Winter Soldier later on in the Captain America stories. It’s Stan’s role as Bucky which gives me hope that future Captain America sequels would tap and mine this character’s own journey from sidekick to potential rival as the Winter Soldier.

Captain America: The First Avenger is Marvel Studios’ last puzzle piece in what would transition into 2012’s The Avengers by Joss Whedon and it more than delivers the goods which was a testament to the creative forces led by Joe Johnston, Chris Evans and everyone involved. This was a fun, rollicking good time which brought back the concept that films were ultimately started as a form of mass entertainment. Not every film had to explore the meaning of life and existence. Not every film had to be a journey into the light and dark of existential themes. Films could be a couple hours spent entertaining and allowing it’s audiences to have a fun and good time. Captain America: The First Avenger was able to deliver this type of experience and do so with not a cynical gene in its code. It’s definitely Marvel Studios’ best film to date and one of the best films of the summer.

(Leonard Wilson’s review of Captain America)

As an added bonus below are some of the character and propaganda-type posters released for the film.

Movie Review: Captain America – The First Avenger (dir. by Joe Johnston)


This won’t be the only review for Captain America: The First Avenger here on the Shattered Lens. This may very well be considered an editorial on the film, depending on whether I can stay on topic (I gush a lot in this one). Once they see it, both Arleigh and Lisa Marie will probably make their own posts. Either way, you’ll have more than one perspective on the film.

Addendum: Arleigh’s review is up.

Many years ago, Marvel Comics decided that with all of it’s key franchises spaced around various film production companies, they’d create a series of films that would culminate to one big “Team Up” story. That team is known as The Avengers and it’s members (for the sake of the films, anyway) are Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, The Scarlett Witch, Hawkeye and Captain America. The project really went into high gear when Marvel Studios was born and Disney purchased Marvel.

I didn’t have a lot of hope for Captain America: The First Avenger. I know very little about the character save for the comics my older brother used to read. He was an army guy given something to make him super and he had a really cool shield that he’d throw and have return to him.. That was basically the bulk of my knowledge. When taken into account the announcement that Joe Johnston was directing the film, after his somewhat disappointing turn in The Wolfman and that Chris Evans was playing the role, I was certain the film was going to fail. I mean, wasn’t he just playing the Human Torch in The Fantastic Four?

Now, you need to understand that hearing Joe Johnston’s name attached to this left a mixture of feelings. I absolutely love The Rocketeer (1991) and period pieces in general. He was able to give it a nice ‘30s feel, right down to the old war serials that used to be shown before films. Hell, even the poster to that film was something grand. My little brother had a Rocketeer toy and I used to film home movies with it, holding the character just in front of the camera and running around the house as if it were flying. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out as well for Johnston or Disney then – but that’s another story.

As for Captain America, the movie floored me. The story isn’t as complex as say, The Dark Knight or as full of itself as Green Lantern, but it’s hands down the best story in the whole Avengers arc that Marvel’s worked on. From my viewpoint, only Iron Man comes close to competing with this film.

The premise of the story is pretty straightforward. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a frail man with just about every problem you can think of. He’s short, he’s asthmatic, and he can’t do a pull up to save his life. Yet, as his parents were in the Army, he felt it was right that he do his part. Every time he tries to enlist, however, he’s told he can’t. This doesn’t sway him from the belief that he can do it, it just forces him to find other ways in. When a scientist overhears Steve’s reasoning behind wanting to join, he gives him a big chance to become the first of many Super Soldiers. The process does indeed work, but a mishap leaves Steve as the only Super Soldier the Allies have, and thus, Captain America is born.

Now, I’m kind of summarizing things there as the story’s just a little bigger than that, but it really needs to be noted just how great a job Chris Evans did in this. He portrays Steve Rogers as one of the most noble characters I’ve seen since Superman. The character never loses that drive or passion, and it came across so well that on reflection, I can’t recall ever thinking once about the Human Torch (something I fully expected to do here). I found myself really wanting this character to succeed, which is more than I could say about Hal Jordan in Green Lantern despite loving the comic. Evans truly was the right person for this film, in my opinion. Again, die hard Captain America fans that have grown up with the character may disagree.

Captain America also has a rich supporting cast. Hayley Atwell, coming over off a great role in the Starz Miniseries The Pillars of the Earth plays Peggy Carter, a tough as nails Army Officer that helps to motivate Rogers toward the path he’s destined to take. Atwell is beautiful, demure at times and responsive at others, every bit as she was when playing Alienna. Also from Pillars of the Earth is Anatole Taubman as one of Johan Schmidtt’s (Hugo Weaving’s) Officers. Tommy Lee Jones’ Colonel has some of the funnier lines in the film. Weaving does a great job as always at playing the villian. There’s really very little I can say on that other than the make up job they gave Weaving’s Red Skull was nice, right down to the visible seams just under his ears. Sebastian Stan has a good role in Rogers’ best friend, Bucky, but I think he could have used a little more. Even Natalie Dormer (Cassanova, The Tudors) and Amanda Righetti (Friday the 13th) have cameos. If the film has two supporting anchors other than Atwell, it would be Stanley Tucci (Easy A) and Dominic Cooper (The Devil’s Double). As Abraham Erskine and Howard Stark, respectively, they both almost steal the show from Evans. They both have a few key moments in the film.

If Captain America suffers from any problems, it may be that it gets from Point A to Point B a little quicker than I’d have liked it to. Some of the pacing is done in Montages, which is okay for showing the audience that the Captain is making progress, but I would have liked to have seen another mission or two before the finale. The buildup to Steve Rogers becoming the Captain is fast, and everything else moves pretty quickly from there on in. The last battle sequence could have been stronger – I’m reminded of the tank sequence in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – but considering the era in which the story was told, I wasn’t really expecting lightsabers or anything along those lines. It wasn’t bad, but it was over sooner than I expected. I should also point out that it really does help to have seen the other Avenger related movies. It’s not really a requirement, but the larger puzzle really comes into view on seeing this film.

Visually, the film is great. Johnston really catches that sense of old New York, though it may not be as nuanced as Jackson’s in King Kong. The colors are a little muted in some places, but I’m thinking that’s part of the tone that was set. There’s even a musical number that’s somewhat cute. The 3D effects in this are okay for some scenes. The end credits in particular were nice, but over all it’s really nothing to write home about. I’m still of the notion that 3D should really be restricted to animated features.

Overall, Captain America was a fun film in the vein of Joe Johnston’s earlier film, The Rocketeer and is easily the best of the Marvel Studios Avenger prequels. I’ll be heading back to see it again on Sunday.

And remember, when the movie is done, don’t leave. After the credits comes something definitely worth seeing (at least the yelling and cheers from my audience seemed to deem it so).