Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sundance 2017: Ranking the Best and Worst of the Festival

Arriving back in Los Angeles on Thursday, I found myself unable to care all that much about the festival I had just attended. The real world feels like it matters more now, and so in that spirit I'm keeping this rundown pretty short.

Was it a bit of an underwhelming year at Park City quality-wise? I'm inclined to say yes, although there are a few films I wished I'd seen. Still, I'm taking with me a few gems -- and the hope that some other discoveries still await me. (True/False, I'm trusting you'll program some of the acclaimed documentaries I intentionally skipped, like Machines and Dina.)

So, let's do the ranking. Links lead to individual reviews....

27. Wilson
26. Bushwick 
25. Ingrid Goes West 
24. The Last Word   
23. Walking Out
22. An Inconvenient Sequel
21. Before I Fall
20. Rebel in the Rye
19. Newness
18. Landline  
17. Whose Streets?
16. Pop Aye
15. Beach Rats 
14. The Discovery
13. The Incredible Jessica James
12. Novitiate
11. The Big Sick
10. Manifesto 
9. The Yellow Birds 
8. The Force
7. Columbus
6. Strong Island 
5. Mudbound
4. Where Is Kyra?
3. Casting JonBenet
2. A Ghost Story
1. Call Me by Your Name

Want more words from me? I did an overview of the festival's first few days for The Times of London. And for MEL, I examined some of the most intriguing characters (some fictional, some real) from Sundance. Before the festival began, I wrote a piece for The New Republic about the movies I was most interested in seeing. I did a decent job of anticipating what the hot films were going to be -- although I missed I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore, a title that became an unofficial theme to this year's Sundance, the first with Trump in the White House.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Psychedelic Furs - "Love My Way"

When I get back from a festival, I'm often carrying a mixtape in my mind of songs that made an impression in the movies I saw. Often, these are songs I've heard dozens and dozens of times before, but their use in a new context makes them feel like I'm hearing them (or really noticing them) for the first time.

I could have chosen a few songs from Sundance, but "Love My Way" gets the nod. I don't want to say what movie it's in -- you could probably Google it if you're that interested -- but I now connect it strongly to the film. I don't think I'd ever picked up on its euphoric quality before.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Talking 'Split' and 'The Third Man'

In the midst of Sundance, I recorded the latest episode of the Grierson & Leitch podcast with Will. We talk about the festival, we review Split and then we take a look back at The Third Man. Eclectic, one might say. Check it out here.

Sundance 2017: 'Rebel in the Rye' Review

I never met Danny Strong when he and I went to USC, but I obviously have noted what he's done since then. Starting out as an actor, he's become a go-to writer on the Hunger Games movies, as well as written Recount and Game Change. (He also co-created Empire.) He makes his feature directorial debut with Rebel in the Rye, which is about J.D. Salinger and his writing of The Catcher in the Rye. I will say this: It made me want to read the book again. As for the movie ..... well, you can read my thoughts over at Screen International.

Sundance 2017: 'The Last Word' Review

A couple weeks ago, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association honored Shirley MacLaine with our Career Achievement award. She was a hoot at the banquet, and she's exactly the same way in The Last Word, in which she plays a cranky retiree who decides she wants her obituary to be written while she's alive so that she can approve it. Sad to say, I was not a fan, for plenty of reasons, which I get into over at Screen International.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Sundance 2017: 'Before I Fall' Review

I'll give Before I Fall this: It's probably the smartest YA adaptation in a while. But I'm going to stop short of saying I liked it. The film follows the exploits of a popular teen girl (Zoey Deutch, on the far left) who discovers that she's repeating the same day over and over again. It's Groundhog Day for the high-school set ... although it's more emotional than expected. I reviewed the film for Paste.

Sundance 2017: 'Newness' Review

Here's the question you need to ask yourself going into Newness: "What did I think of Like Crazy?" Filmmaker Drake Doremus is back with a new romantic drama that somewhat parallels his award-winning Sundance entry from 2011. I think that movie's great, but his new one isn't as strong. (By the way, I had forgotten just how much people hated Like Crazy -- some of my colleagues here at the festival still seem downright offended by that movie.) I reviewed Newness for Screen International.

Sundance 2017: 'Manifesto' Review

Sometimes, you want to applaud a performance full of subtle grace notes. Other times, you just want to have a ball with Cate Blanchett playing 13 different characters. In Manifesto, she takes on different personas while giving voice to some of the great artistic manifestos of the 20th century. Totally uneven film, but also very fun. Check out my Screen International review.

Sundance 2017: 'Where Is Kyra?" Review

Expect everybody to start talking about a Michelle Pfeiffer comeback. She's terrific in Where Is Kyra?, a small-scale drama about a woman drowning in debt and depression in New York City after the death of her mother. Also, this film is flat-out gorgeous: Director Andrew Dosunmu and cinematographer Bradford Young (who was just nominated for Arrival) give the film a rich, shadowy hue. My review is up at Screen International.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Sundance 2017: 'Wilson' Review

Why did I have faith in Wilson? This movie, based on the Daniel Clowes graphic novel, stars Woody Harrelson as the titular grump. Look, everybody, he acts in misanthropic ways! Hilarious! Sigh. My review is live at Screen International.

Sundance 2017: 'Casting JonBenet' Review

I've reviewed more documentaries at this Sundance than I normally do. (Usually, I avoid them if I can so that I can see more features. Then, I catch up at True/False.) But I'm sure happy I saw the terrific Casting JonBenet. It's a movie about Ramsey's killing -- but not exactly. Compassionate, smart, fascinating ... it's the whole package. My review is up at Screen International.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sundance 2017: 'The Force' Review

No, this documentary has nothing to do with Star Wars. The Force chronicles the troubles plaguing the Oakland Police Department, and what's best about the film is how it gets your hopes up about reforming a corrupt police force -- just so that it can then dash those hopes. My review is up at Screen International.

Sundance 2017: 'A Ghost Story' Review

A haunted-house love story told with stripped-down realism, A Ghost Story is really something. The new film from writer-director David Lowery is his strongest work yet, chronicling what happens when a husband (Case Affleck) dies but can't let go of his wife (Rooney Mara). I'm still thinking about the pie scene. You can read my review over at Screen International.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Our Oscar Predictions

On this week's installment of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, it's time to make our guesses about what films and performances will be nominated for Academy Awards. (Reminder: The nominations come out Tuesday.) Plus, in our Reboot segment, we tackle Gangs of New York and To Die For. I really liked this episode: Check it out for yourself.

Misleading Men: Steve Guttenberg

Steve Guttenberg was a man with many hit films in the 1980s. And then, everything went dry for the guy. Did he change? Or the era? I dig into these questions for my latest "Misleading Men" column for MEL. I hope you enjoy.

Sundance 2017: 'Whose Streets?' Review

Whose Streets? takes you back to the painful first few days, weeks and months after the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police. This is a raw documentary that doesn't care about being elegant or composed -- it's meant to be an unfiltered blast of pain and anger. Mission accomplished. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Sundance 2017: 'The Incredible Jessica James' Review

My dirty little secret is that I never thought Jessica Williams was that great on The Daily Show. Which is why you should trust me when I say she's great in The Incredible Jessica James, a smart romantic comedy in which she and Chris O'Dowd play new lovers who are also still dealing with their exes. Williams has real star power, as I explain in my Screen International review.

Sundance 2017: 'The Yellow Birds' Review

The Yellow Birds is an Iraq War movie, and I can imagine many will say, "Oh, lord, another one of those?" Well, yes, but this is a good one. Plus, the film is a nice reminder of what a superb actor Alden Ehrenreich is. I reviewed The Yellow Birds for Screen International.

Sundance 2017: 'The Discovery' Review

The Discovery is the new movie from Charlie McDowell, who last made The One I Love. This one has a sci-fi premise as well: What would happen to humanity if we proved there was an afterlife? I loved the concept, but the execution is only so-so. My review is live at Screen International.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday, January 13, 2017

Chance the Rapper - "Same Drugs"

Sometimes, relationships are held together by the flimsiest of reasons -- a shared love of a sports team, interest in the same hobby. But what happens if the individuals stop being into the same things? Chance's "Same Drugs" takes that idea in a great direction, chronicling a romance that's ended, in part, because he and his girl aren't doing the same drugs anymore. That's a funny conceit -- but look how poignant he makes it, too.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: We've Got Answers

For our first podcast of the new year, Will and I respond to a bunch of listener questions. This is one of my favorite episodes we've done so far -- it's a good FAQ for our philosophy on movies and criticism. (Plus, you get to hear a little of our backstory.) Later, for our Reboot segment, we tackle Michael Mann's Heat. I thought it was overrated then -- and I still do. Hear Episode 50 here.

2017's Must-See Movies

I come to you bearing three different lists that look at this year's most-anticipated movies. For Rolling Stone, I helped out with a rundown of 2017's 50 biggest films. For MEL, I highlighted 10 films coming out this year that aren't based on anything. (This is a harder list to compile than you might think.) And at The New Republic, Will and I spend a little time analyzing 10 movies that most intrigue us in 2017. Dive in! Enjoy!

'The Bye Bye Man' Review

A horror movie coming out in January is usually not a good sign. And so it is with The Bye Bye Man, which has jumped around the release schedule a few times. It's got a clever idea and some potentially intriguing commentary. But does the movie live up to its premise? No, not at all. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Exploring the Flaming Lips' Best Non-Hits

The Flaming Lips have been around since the early 1980s, and over the years their style has morphed. When I saw them back in 1993 -- on a bill with Butthole Surfers and Stone Temple Pilots -- they were a loud, guitar-heavy alternative-rock unit. By the end of the decade, they were more symphonic/philosophical in their approach. Now, we recognize the band for its glitter-and-hand-puppets live shows, with frontman Wayne Coyne acting as leader of this group of merry pranksters. With Oczy Mlody coming out Friday, I went through the Lips' back catalog to find their best deep cuts. The results are live over at MEL.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Solange (featuring Q-Tip) - "Borderline (An Ode to Self Care)"

My favorite 2016 album from a Knowles sister, A Seat at the Table, is much more than "Cranes in the Sky."

Thursday, January 05, 2017

My Interview With Lily Tomlin

Yeah, I talked to Lily Tomlin. I actually hung out with her. It was kind of amazing. I made her cry -- not on purpose -- and I just let her tell me a bunch of stories. It was terrific. The reason for our meeting was to interview her for Backstage because she's getting the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. She made me laugh a lot. She told me about working with Robert Altman. She's the best. Here's the piece.