Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The 2018 Movies That Aren't Based on Anything

Lots of films coming out this year are based on something. Avengers: Infinity War. Black Panther. A Wrinkle in Time. Ocean's 8. So, for MEL, I decided to highlight 10 films that are based on nothing. No sequels, no reboots, no remakes, no biopics, no true stories, no adaptations, nothing. This is hard work. You can check out my list here.

Horror's History at the Oscars

For Rolling Stone, I wrote about Get Out, which is nominated for Best Picture. Only a handful of horror films have ever been nominated. What's the deal with that? I have all the answers, and they're right here.

Some Thoughts on Sundance 2018

For MEL, I wrote about my three biggest takeaways from this year's Sundance, including the fact that so many movies I saw felt like a referendum on America. Folks, we are one screwed-up country. You can read the whole thing here.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Sundance, 'City of God' and the Movies We Can't Wait to See in 2018

On this week's episode, I look back at Sundance and discuss some highlights. Plus, we each spotlight five films we're excited for this year. And, in our Reboot segment, we revisit City of God. Boy, that was sure disheartening. You can hear the whole thing here.

Monday, January 29, 2018

What's the Greatest Superhero Performance Ever?

That's what Will and I try to answer in our latest installment of Debate Club. We narrowed it down to five indelible performances. But there can only be one winner. Check it out over at SyFy.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Sundance 2018: Ranking the Best and Worst of the Festival

It was a strange Sundance, in that I basically liked just about everything I saw and that I didn't see as many films as I normally do. (The latter is a byproduct of not screening very many things before the festival.)

With that in mind, the below rankings are filled with recommended movies, even if there were fewer outright raves. I wish I'd had time to see Eighth Grade, Madeline's Madeline, Mandy, Monsters and Men, etc. And I intentionally avoided any documentaries to give me more options for True/False in March.

So, without further ado, here are my rankings, with links leading to individual reviews...

23. Ophelia
22. Juliet, Naked
21. Come Sunday
20. Blindspotting
19. Sorry to Bother You
18. The Miseducation of Cameron Post 
17. We the Animals
16. Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot 
15. Colette
14. The Kindergarten Teacher
13. The Death of Stalin
12. Search 
11. The Rider
10. Wildlife
9. Damsel
8. I Think We're Alone Now
7. You Were Never Really Here
6. Tyrel
5. Leave No Trace 
4. Foxtrot
3. Hereditary
2. Private Life
1. The Tale

I am saddened The Tale will not be getting a theatrical release since it was acquired by HBO. As a huge fan of the Coup, I bummed I didn't like Sorry to Bother You more. And I really love my top three films, even more so because they're so tonally different.

Sundance 2018: 'Hereditary' Review

Toni Collette gave one of the best performances at Sundance this year in Hereditary, a rich family drama that just so happens to also be a very chilling horror film. The movie hits theaters this summer. My review is live now at Screen International.

Friday, January 26, 2018

St. Vincent - "Los Ageless"

Another Sundance is in the books. It's nice to be back in Los Ageless.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Sundance 2018: 'Colette' Review

Director Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice) makes his first film since the death of his partner Richard Glatzer with Colette, a biopic about French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Keira Knightley plays Colette in this likeable, sexy film. My review is live over at Screen International.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The History of National Lampoon at the Movies

On Friday, Netflix will start streaming A Futile and Stupid Gesture, about Doug Kenney and National Lampoon. For MEL, I looked back at the magazine's history -- and how the publication helped change film comedy. You can read the whole thing here.

Some Thoughts on '12 Strong'

Over at MEL, I spent a little time looking back at 12 Strong. I decided to riff on some thoughts the movie inspired, including what movies get wrong about handling live grenades. You can read the whole thing here.

Sundance 2018: 'I Think We're Alone Now' Review

If there's a niche genre I love, it's the intimate post-apocalyptic drama. I was a fan of Z for Zachariah and It Comes at Night, and I also liked I Think We're Alone Now, which premiered here at Sundance. In the film, Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning hang out at the end of the world. They make for interesting company, as I explain in my Screen International review. 

Sundance 2018: 'The Miseducation of Cameron Post' Review

There are plenty of reasons to be interested in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a film about a young woman (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is shipped off to a conversion therapy center because she's, gasp, gay. But I was mostly curious because this is the first big role Sasha Lane has landed since American Honey. I talk about her, Moretz and the movie over at Screen International.

Sundance 2018: 'Ophelia' Review

Daisy Ridley puts down the lightsaber for Ophelia, a feminist reworking of Hamlet. Does it work? As I explain for The Times of London, no. You can read my piece here. (You'll need to subscribe to read the while thing.)

Sundance 2018: 'Search' Review

Search was one of the big pickups this year at Sundance, with Sony spending $5 million for the rights to this mystery-thriller starring John Cho. The film has a cool gimmick -- everything is seen on computer screens -- which, as I explain in my Screen International review, works pretty well.

Sundance 2018: 'The Tale' Review

The Tale is the best thing I've seen at Sundance this year. The big question now is: Will this challenging film be able to find an audience? I reviewed the movie for Screen International.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sundance 2018: 'The Kindergarten Teacher' Review

In The Kindergarten Teacher (a remake of an Israeli film), Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a woman who begins to believe that one of her students is a poetry prodigy -- and that she's the only who can guide him to a bright future. When does mentorship turn into something darker and more upsetting? That's just one question asked by this enigmatic film. My review is up at Screen International.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Oscar Predictions, '12 Strong' and 'Gremlins 2'

The Oscar nominations are announced Tuesday morning. So the latest episode of the podcast is devoted to us making some predictions. But we also review 12 Strong. And in our Reboot section, we look back at Gremlins 2: The New Batch. You can listen to the whole thing down below.

Sundance 2018: 'Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot' Review

The life and personal demons of cartoonist John Callahan are on display in Don't Worry, which is directed by Gus Van Sant and stars Joaquin Phoenix. Do you need to know much about Callahan to appreciate this movie's modest, compassionate portrayal? Not at all. In fact, I think it's one of the film's chief selling points: Don't Worry doesn't try to oversell the man's greatness. My review is up at Screen International.

Sundance 2018: 'Wildlife' Review

A drama about a dysfunctional family in the bad old days of the 1960s? We've seen this movie many, many times before, but Paul Dano (making his directorial debut) applies his thoughtful, muted take on the material. And he's aided by a terrific Carey Mulligan performance. I reviewed Wildlife for Screen International.

Sundance 2018: 'Private Life' Review

Private Life tells the story of a married couple (played by Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn) who are trying to have a baby. That's the setup for a broad comedy, but writer-director Tamara Jenkins uses the premise for something far realer and more insightful about marriage. But, yes, it's also really funny. I reviewed the film for Paste.

Sundance 2018: 'Leave No Trace' Review

Debra Granik hasn't directed a feature since Winter's Bone. (In the meantime, she made the documentary Stray Dog, which I quite liked.) She returns with Leave No Trace, about a father and daughter living off the grid. Ben Foster and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie are both quite good, and so is the movie. My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Sundance 2018: 'Blindspotting' Review

Blindspotting is a mess. But it's a mess I could ultimately get behind. It tells the story of two lifelong friends -- one black, one white -- who live in an Oakland going through rapid gentrification. This comedy-drama deals with police brutality, racial profiling and economic inequality. It doesn't all work, but it got to me. My review is up at Screen International.

Spoon - "Can I Sit Next to You"

Get the stars out your eyes 
Come and sit next to me 
Under Tennessee skies 
Down on South Front Street

Did Britt Daniel spend some time in Memphis?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What's the Most Disappointing Sci-Fi Film of the Last 20 Years?

That's the question Will and I gave ourselves to answer over at SyFy. We narrowed it down to five finalists, but No. 1 was always going to be an easy pick. Check it out here.

My Interview With Greg Barker, the Director of 'The Final Year'

Greg Barker spent a little more than a year shadowing Barack Obama's foreign policy team as the administration was readying to end its term. His documentary The Final Year captures 2016 in a unique, painful way. I interviewed the filmmaker for MEL, and the first thing I asked him was just how hard it was to assemble this movie after Trump's election. We talked about that and lots of other things here.

Some Thoughts on 'The Commuter'

Over at MEL, I wrote a little about The Commuter. Well, not the movie directly. Instead, I riffed on Liam Neeson's action-movie face, the fact that Hollywood is running out of places to set close-quarters thrillers, and why movie characters never are able to use their cellphones to get out of trouble. You can read the whole thing here.

'12 Strong' Review

12 Strong tells the story of a major U.S. military operation that took place in Afghanistan right after the 9/11 attacks. The film stars Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon and Michael Pena (not to mention Moonlight's Trevante Rhodes), but that doesn't keep it from feeling surprisingly dull. My review is up at Screen International.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: We Review 'The Commuter,' 'World of Tomorrow Episode Two' and 'The Thing'

Lots of stuff to cover on this week's episode. First, new reviews: We dig into The Commuter and Paddington 2. Then, we show a little love to Don Hertzfeldt's World of Tomorrow Episode Two, which was released through Vimeo at the very end of last year. Then, in our Reboot segment, we take a look back at John Carpenter's The Thing. A very fun show, and you can hear it all down below.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

My LAFCA Awards Presentation for Luca Guadagnino

At Saturday night's Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards banquet, I had the honor of presenting one of our two Best Director prizes to Call Me by Your Name's Luca Guadagnino. (He tied in the voting with Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water, a very different kind of love story. All our winners are here.)

Here are the remarks I made from the stage...
I wish I could see the world through the eyes of Luca Guadagnino. His enrapturing films are filled with the complexity and pleasure of how romance first sparks, then blossoms and then sometimes drifts away. Most directors’ movies merely recreate the sensation of falling in love—his make you wonder if you’ve ever experienced anything quite so real. He depicts love so intensely because he sees life so beautifully. 
Call Me by Your Name continues a sensual and emotional exploration he began in previous movies, most recently I Am Love and A Bigger Splash. But it also feels like a culmination—a wistful summation of our shared desire to make connection with someone, to be seen. Call Me by Your Name never strains for significance, and yet in its quiet, languid chronicling of Elio and Oliver’s budding romance, it’s profound—cosmic, even.   

So, how did he do it? Not even his actors can quite explain this. When Michael Stuhlbarg was asked once about Guadagnino’s methods, he searched for an answer. And then this is what he said: “It’s wonderful filmmaking, what he allows us to see. Look at this weaving path. Look at this leaf. Look at the rain. Look at a waterfall. All of these images, in some perverse and magical language, help tell the story.”   

Since Call Me by Your Name’s premiere at Sundance, critics have tried to encapsulate this film’s poetry, but I think Stuhlbarg’s explanation is the truest. In Call Me by Your Name, Guadagnino gives us new eyes to see the world around us. Every little element matters—love above all else.  

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating our Best Director winner, Mr. Luca Guadagnino.
When I put together my presentation, Stuhlbarg was actually not scheduled to be in attendance. Saturday morning, I found out he was coming. I was very happy to give him a little shout-out from the stage.

Call Me by Your Name also won Best Picture from the group. A deserving winner, and a very fun night.

(Photo by Matt Harbicht.)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

What's Marvel's Greatest Character: Iron Man or Spider-Man?

Time for the latest installment of Debate Club. In this episode, Will and I tackled the legacy of Spider-Man and Iron Man. Who is the better superhero? Our answer is over at SyFy.

'Press Play With Madeleine Brand': Bears, Polka and Liam Neeson

I was so happy to be back on KCRW yesterday to talk movies. Alicia Malone and I joined Madeleine to review Paddington 2, The Polka King and The Commuter. Check it out here.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Thundercat (featuring Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins) - "Show You the Way"

One of the happiest sounds from 2017? The moment when Thundercat says, "Ladies and gentlemen, Michael McDonald" about halfway through "Show You the Way."

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Misleading Men: Jack Black

Jack Black was one of the stars of the new Jumanji, which has shocked people by how big a smash it is. It gave me an opportunity to write about the veteran funny man, which I did for MEL.

Your Big 2018 Movie Preview

For Rolling Stone, my colleagues and I took a look at 50 movies we're curious to see this year. We've got superhero flicks, Scorsese dramas and whatever Mortal Engines is. You can read the whole thing here.

Monday, January 08, 2018

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: We Open Our Mailbag and Look Back at 'Cloverfield'

This week's podcast was our annual mailbag episode. We got lots of questions, and we tried to answer as many as possible. That inspired a lot of soul-searching. Then, in our Reboot segment, we reevaluate Cloverfield on its 10th anniversary. You can hear the whole thing down below.

What Happened Last Night at the Golden Globes?

For MEL, I recapped the Golden Globes. I wasn't so much interested in who won what. Instead, I was curious about the overall tone of the night -- and why Oprah's speech was so stirring. You can read my thoughts here.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Jay-Z - "The Story of O.J."

Because I listen to a decent amount of hip-hop -- and because I'm someone who likes to sing along to what I'm listening to -- it is not uncommon for me to come upon songs that use the N-word. My wife asked me recently if I'll sing that word. I would never in public, put it that way. I consider that word so loaded that it's not right for me to ever use it. Basically, I adhere to the Ta-Nehisi Coates principle.

Jay-Z's "The Story of O.J." is an interesting test case. The word is used frequently in the song, especially the chorus, and Jay is using it to illustrate the fact that, no matter how rich and successful he becomes, some people will only see him through the prism of race. The video amplifies the theme, incorporating animation that knowingly borrows from offensive past racist depictions of African-Americans. The country's shameful past is tied deeply to the song and the video. That "The Story of O.J." is so catchy makes the whole thing more complicated, as if Jay is tempting his white fans to sing along. I resist every time. The song stings.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

What's the Best Marvel Movie?

For the latest Debate Club, Will and I select two MCU films as our candidates for best Marvel movie. The Avengers battles it out against Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Our winner is here.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Our Top 10 Films of 2017

Right before the New Year, Will and I recorded our 100th episode of the podcast. Over the course of about 150 minutes, we dig into our Top 10 lists for 2017. (Hint: We have four movies in common.) You can hear the whole thing below.

'Insidious: The Last Key' Review

In a short span of time, there have been four Insidious films. The Last Key is the latest. Should it be the last? My review is up at Screen International.