Tim Cowlishaw

Archive for the ‘Additional Facetime’ Category

December Madness: Now THIS is a Final Four

In Additional Facetime on January 1, 2018 at 6:32 pm

I viewed fewer movies this year than usual and thought about skipping the annual top 20 list. Then came the December film rush, the best I can recall in years. Now I have 4 films that I feel deserving of a No. 1 award. So if you don’t like the order of the top four, well, I’m not wild about it, either, only because I think both “Molly’s Game” and “Three Billboards” deserve better. But this is where we stand. And here we go.

1. “I, Tonya” — Can’t begin to describe all the things I like about Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Tonya Harding or especially Allison Janney as her mom, who gives Lady Bird’s mom a strong race for Best Portrayal of the Worst Mother figure of the year. But let me just remind you of one thing — 48.5 and 64.

That was the TV rating and the share that Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan produced at the ’94 Winter Games. Those are numbers LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant in Game 7 could never approach. Those are numbers the Cubs in Game 7 of their first World Series in a century did not approach. At the time, it was a higher ranking than all but two of the 28 Super Bowls played. And — AND — this was tape delay of an event held four hours earlier in which many knew the outcome.

To suggest that we were caught up in the drama of Tonya vs. Nancy and the suspicion that Harding was responsible for an attack on Kerrigan weeks earlier is to understate the case wildly. We all knew who Jeff Gillooly was. In fact, as the actor portraying him in the faux documentary film states “I was a verb.”

Robbie is a revelation. She has never looked, well, worse while giving such a perfect portrayal. And beyond all the humor and the craziness, I love how they managed to mic the skating so that you hear the skates slashing through the ice. Figure skating from on high looks like a graceful, beautiful thing to behold, and we forget that it’s three minutes of sheer power, endurance and athleticism on top of all the pressure that hangs on every leap.

This film made an incredible leap to get past the film I was certain I would rank first. Which, of course, was…

2. “The Shape of Water” — Sally Hawkins doesn’t utter a word (except for one dream sequence) and yet you’re cheering for her and the creature to somehow survive, perhaps even share their love somehow although we know it’s against all odds. I would watch and listen to Michael Shannon do almost anything like, say, read a sorority president’s email (oh wait, he DID that) and he is great as the antagonist determined to keep the creature he discovered in South America out of Russian hands in this early-’60s Cold War setting. Don’t sleep on the performances of Richard Jenkins or Michael Stuhlbarg (he will always be Arnold Rothstein to me although the former ‘Boardwalk Empire’ may be the most prolific actor in Hollywood.

3. “Molly’s Game” — One of five films I reviewed for the Dallas Morning News this year, and I didn’t go expecting to love it. I have on again/off again feelings about Aaron Sorkin’s rapid fire dialogue, but it works beautifully with the highly intelligent Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) and her father (Kevin Costner), not to mention the lawyer she hires (Idris Elba) after the FBI arrests her and cleans out her bank accounts for running poker games that her original lawyer described as “mostly legal.”

4. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” — Frances McDormand carries the film as the aggrieved mom unsatisfied with the small town police department’s inability to solve the rape and murder of her daughter. But I really hope Sam Rockwell gets recognition in a supporting role, a lousy out-of-control cop who makes a remarkable transformation in the course of the film. The top 4 ranked films here are all driven by women which, in itself, is great. While I have made it clear that I always watch the Oscars but no longer worry about them because they make such flawed decisions on a consistent basis, I am curious about the Best Actress category which will be the key category this year — If Robbie, Hawkins, Chastain and McDormand are nominees, Meryl Streep is probably a lock for “The Post” (not yet in Dallas) and so is Saoirse Ronan of “Lady Bird.” That’s one too many without considering any long shots. I feel for whoever gets left behind, but rest assured it won’t be McDormand, whose intensity is frightening in this film.

5. “Killing of a Sacred Deer” — Give credit to director Yorgos Lanthimos, who never makes it easy on the viewer. I liked the first half of “The Lobster” but thought it lost its way once the characters disappeared into the woods. This strange film about a family of doctors and an odd teenager who has become a friend since his father died in surgery performed by Colin Farrell never loses its way even if it makes you cringe at the conclusion Farrell reaches when forced with the choice of killing a family member in order to save the rest. A film so strange shouldn’t possess moments of unbearable sadness but when the doomed children speak to each other, this one does.

6. “Detroit” — Thought this would do much better at the box office, although I suppose revisiting the Detroit riots of ’68 doesn’t have everyone grabbing the car keys to get to the theatre. Like other Kathryn Bigelow films, it’s intense and overlong and I thought there was a flaw in the key scene in which ruthless Detroit cops are trying to get someone to confess to shooting at them. But you’ll never look at the kid from “We’re the Millers” (Will Poulter) the same way after this film. You can feel the sweat pouring off the cops and the suspects on this hot Detroit night. It’s a reminder of how far we have come (sometimes not very) and how far we still have to go.

7. “Last Flag Flying” — Could have been a glorified buddy pic as three old Vietnam vets reunite for a road trip to bury one of their sons who died in the Middle East. But an over-the-top Bryan Cranston and a subdued Steve Carell prevent any thing of the kind and the ending will surprise you.

8. “Lady Bird” — Coming of age tale, strained mother-daughter relationship…this tale has been told so many times. Has it ever been done with more honesty? Plenty of humor along the way as Saoirse Ronan becomes an actress to watch if she wasn’t already there after “Brooklyn.”

9. “Wind River” — There’s a shootout scene that looks like something from “Archer” with dozens of bullets flying from close range and almost no one getting hit. Put that aside and appreciate the Jeremy Renner performance. Wear a sweatshirt because you’ll feel the Wyoming cold leaking through the screen in this murder investigation that becomes about something much more.

10. “Darkest Hour” — The better Dunkirk movie of the year, Gary Oldman locks down Winston Churchill from the opening scene. After marveling at the make-up job for the first hour, you’ll just enjoy Churchill himself in action the rest of the way and forget that Oldman has anything to do with it. A film that could have been bogged down by talking never does. In fact, there’s one long tracking shot that becomes heartbreaking as we see an English officer reading the telegram from Churchill telling him that no one is coming to save his troops pinned down by the Germans and the camera, after following him through a tunnel of pure mayhem, travels into the sky where the bombs that will seal his and his men’s fate are being delivered.

11. “Battle of the Sexes” — Almost like the Harding-Kerrigan battle, in that younger folks can’t imagine how a country was so riveted in a tennis match between a 55-year-old Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in her prime in the Astrodome. But the way King saw it, the only thing at stake was the future and viability of women’s tennis. Steve Carell (he had a nice year) and Emma Stone (who would have been an easy Best Actress nominee in a less crowded year) do the signature roles justice.

12. “Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond” — You can catch this documentary on Netflix and marvel at Jim Carrey one more time as he describes in detail all that went into his inheriting the character of bizarre comic Andy Kaufman for the film “Man on the Moon.” Actors talk about staying in character, and what Carrey did here had to be punishing at times for director Milos Forman and others to deal with, especially when he took on the truly unpleasant Tony Clifton character. Great footage here and a chance to get inside the mind of Carrey.

13. “The Big Sick” — I don’t watch “Silicon Valley” so I knew a lot less about the main character than most in the theatre the night I saw this, who were ready to laugh at his every line. There’s a cliche love story at the heart of this but the film battles through it nicely. The performances by his girlfriend’s doubting parents, Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, are gold.

14. “The Hero” — Sam Elliott, who does those memorable Coors voiceovers among other, is an aging actor who does voiceovers here. Not sure another actor could have made this film particularly interesting. I’ve been an Elliott fan since “Lifeguard” and especially since the made-for-TV movie “Murder in Texas,” the adaptation of Tommy Thompson’s terrific “Blood and Money,” the true tale of a murdering doctor in Houston.

15. “Get Out” — Much higher on other people’s lists I know, and there’s not much I dislike about it although I think the complete over-the-top climax diminished the effectiveness of the racism that Jordan Peele so deftly conveyed in the first half of the film. It’s an intriguing film that forces you to rethink why some of the early developments of the film took place, once you know the outrageous outcome.

16. “Dunkirk” — There’s going to be some beautiful sound and photography in any Christoper Nolan film. I’ll watch “Memento” 10 more times before I’ll sit down for another viewing of this confused depiction of the British boats that saved soldiers from the German onslaught at Dunkirk.

17. “Murder on the Orient Express” — Liked this film more than the one I saw in the ’70s that I reviewed for my film class at Richland Junior College (how about that?) but I have one particular issue. In a film peopled with so many recognizable stars and fine small performances, why did every other shot seem to be a close-up of Kenneth Branagh? The film was directed by Kenneth Branagh.

18. “The Disaster Artist” — Surprised to see this score into the 90s both from critics and audience on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s mostly a one-trick joke of a film until the credits roll when you realize the lengths that James Franco, Seth Rogen and Co. went to do a complete recreation of a Hollywood insiders’ cult film most of us know nothing about.

19. “Ingrid Goes West” — Aubrey Plaza deserved better. Movie has you torn — Is this a comedy or what? — most of the way. Mostly it’s sad. I think.

20. “LBJ” — Not easy to play a bigger-than-life character that’s so familiar and has just been brilliantly captured by Bryan Cranston. Woody Harelson, on a heck of a run that reminds you of the one his True Detective pal Matthew McConaughey enjoyed, does an exemplary job in an otherwise small film by Rob Reiner, determined to portray LBJ’s liberal side and leave Vietnam and the rest of his disastrous presidency to others.

Best of 2016: Manchester by the Sea gets an A-plus

In Additional Facetime on December 30, 2016 at 10:36 am

This is my 5th (and final?) Top 20 list. I saw only four or five great movies this year but plenty of good ones. I also saw “Cafe Society” which deserves a special place in movie hell, but I’m feeling positive here today, so let’s just get to the top 20.
1. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA — I wouldn’t think that anyone comes out of the theater feeling exhilarated other than by the film-making, the story-telling, the work of Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and the young Lucas Hedges. There is an unbearable sadness to this film, but not in an after-school special type of way. It’s the waking up every day and hoping that the misery won’t overwhelm you kind of sadness. You know from the previews you have seen that something has happened that disturbs Affleck but you don’t know what it is until maybe halfway through the film. And then you see why it never leaves him, and it is all he can do to get his nephew through the day.
2. ARRIVAL — There are 3 surprises in this film. One is that the aliens are not here (at least it appears this way) to attack us. Two is that a movie about language can keep us on the edge of our seats. Three is that — and I like to use character names, rather than actors’ names (sorry, Michael Stuhlbarg) — Arnold Rothstein parlayed his work in Boardwalk Empire to appearing in almost every movie we see!
The fact that Amy Adams can carry a film is not surprising at all.
3. HELL OR HIGH WATER — A great Texas film (even if shot in New Mexico) with a terrific Mr. Pibb reference. Best soundtrack in a long time, headed by Nick Cave with occasional help from Townes Van Zandt, Chris Stapleton and Waylon.
4. EDGE OF SEVENTEEN — If someone out there has the time to rank best teenage coming-of-age parents-out-of-town movies of all time, all I can tell you is that this is No. 2 behind Risky Business. And I wasn’t smart enough to see that there was anything really special about Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit a few years back. But, man, you can see it here from the first scene with the increasingly great Woody Harrelson.
5. OJ: MADE IN AMERICA — Not really sure where to rank an 8-hour movie that most of us watched in two-hour installments on TV. But when most of us were completely OJ’ed out after the FX series, Ezra Edelman reminded us that if one takes the time (and I mean years in the editing room) to examine this story, it’s probably not so much “Made in America” as it’s simply “America.”
6. DON’T THINK TWICE — Not a big improv fan, even if I have immense respect for people who can think fast in front of an audience or a camera (after 1,600 Around the Horns, maybe I’ll get there), but this is more about people and how we are so much more comfortable with failure than success. And, yeah, it’s hilarious when it needs to be.
7. LA LA LAND — This movie cracks the top 10 because I never thought it would make the top 20. I am not a fan of people bursting into song on screen. Combine that with dancing and you’re really in trouble. On top of that, factor in that Emma Stone isn’t much of a singer and Ryan Gosling can neither sing nor dance. So why do I like this 2-hour-plus movie so much? Why do I (gulp) wanna see it again? Because the 2 of them are so damn likable and because anyone who loves any aspect of LA will embrace the city here. Critics rave about the opening scene which I pretty much hated. The last 10-15 minutes is as good as it gets.
8. BIRTH OF A NATION — I’m not overly interested in the politics that derailed the movie (just as I don’t really have an answer for you on my No. 1 choice and the settlements Casey Affleck reached with female co-workers a few years back). I’m just ranking films here, buddy, and my awards aren’t worth anything. All I can tell you is that Nate Parker who directed and wrote and starred and brought sort of a young Everson Walls vibe to this film was sensational. I liked it better than the overdone 12 Years a Slave. This one didn’t have Brad Pitt riding to the rescue for Nat Turner.
9. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL — Michael Shannon. You need to make at least three movies a year, sir.
10. DENIAL — A court case about a Holocaust denier, you’ll learn more than you expected about the difference between the U.S. and England and their libel laws. There are really good performances here, especially Timothy Spall as the supposedly disgraced historian.
11. MOONLIGHT — My only problem with this film comes in the final third. The first two thirds would probably rank in the top five. Without giving anything away, it’s hard to describe my issues, and in all likelihood they are solely my issues, so go see it, especially if you’re a Remy Danton (House of Cards) fan.
12. JACKIE — Ignore Bobby Kennedy’s all-over-the-place accent and just focus on a great performance by Natalie Portman in the days after the assassination and what that might have been like from the First Lady’s perspective.
13. SULLY — Liked it but wish Clint Eastwood had included five minutes to explain how and why Sully believed he knew the right angle, the proper speed to take to land a plane filled with passengers on the Hudson River. It’s hinted at in Sully’s background, but I saw an easy explanation on the Discovery channel or somewhere and it would have been a nice addition. Regardless, Hanks is great as you might expect. Skyler’s still a little wobbly from all those years with Walter White.
14. EYE IN THE SKY — There are moments where this feels like a pretty good “Homeland” episode but it’s mostly better than that and asks important questions that we pretty much ignore whenever we hear that an American drone (oops) killed a few civilians in some Middle East country we never plan to visit.
15. WEINER — It helps that I saw this in a theater near NYU while visiting my son this summer. Unfortunately, it already feels dated because of Mr. Weiner’s almost unparalleled continuing issues with selfies and his junk. An uncomfortable documentary, Huma Abedin (Weiner’s wife when he was running for mayor when this was shot) never looks remotely pleased to have her life being captured on film.
16. THE LOBSTER — First half of this movie is top 10 for sure. Falls apart a bit when they leave the — let’s call it a hotel. Colin Farrell is fine but if you’re like me and you loved Broadchurch, seeing Olivia Colman (Ellie Miller) in this role is hysterical. Actually I would recommend Broadchurch over most anything on this list, now that I’ve brought it up. Mil-Lah!!!!
17. BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK — Read the book. Not sure what Ang Lee was thinking, although this is a fairly faithful rendering if you can handle all the extreme close-ups.
18. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS — A film I expected to love, based on the trailer, I saw two people walk out during the credits. The opening credits. Once you weather that and whatever Tom Ford was telling us in his designer way, it’s a mostly fun story-within-a-story but with scenes that take way too long and an over-the-top Aaron Taylor-Johnson performance.
19. STAR TREK BEYOND — Just to let you know I can go to and enjoy an action movie. Occasionally. As long as involves Spock.
20. MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY — Give Dev Patel his due, the man gets around. Interesting movie about math. OK, you weren’t going to see it anyway, but I would still rank it ahead of those that didn’t make the list this year.
Honorable mention: Fences. Free State of Jones. Hacksaw Ridge. Nice Guys. Jason Bourne. Finding Dory.
From The Coen Brothers Make Mistakes Too List: Hail Caesar.
Dishonorable discharge: Cafe Society.
Probation: The Accountant for producing a spellbinding trailer with “Everything in its Right Place” and then never using the Radiohead song anywhere in the film. There ought to be a law.

2015 Movies — On Dr. Dre, Brian Wilson, Slava Fetisov and a man on Mars

In Additional Facetime on January 2, 2016 at 2:56 pm

It’s that time. Sorry, Leo, I can’t wait for “The Revenant” to show up on Dallas screens Jan. 8. Same for you, weird looking characters in “Anomalisa.” You’ll have to take your place in my 2016 rankings because, really, that’s where you belong. It’s the same reason that films like “Still Alice” and “A Most Violent Year” show up here because they didn’t reach theatres until last January.
For much of 2015, I thought we were going to have the oddest of rap beefs — Dr. Dre (Straight Outta Compton) vs. the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson (Love and Mercy) — for the top spot on this list. Loved both, especially “Compton.” But films big and small at the end of the year did not disappoint. So we provide our annual top 20 with a dozen others receiving mention, honorable or otherwise.
Apologies to Dirk Nowitzki, Apollo Creed’s kid and David Foster Wallace for just missing the top 20.

1. SPOTLIGHT — I’m not going to pick a film about great journalism No. 1 simply because I’m a journalist. Most reporter and newspaper depictions fall somewhere on the scale between awful and inaccurate. Just as Season Five of the Wire got the flaws of a newspaper newsroom just right, Spotlight hits on every note. I can’t imagine anyone showing more acting versatility in the last two years than Mark Ruffalo. Hard to go from completely believable as doomed Olympic wrestler David Schultz (“Foxcatcher”) to a dogged, determined slightly asshole-ish newshound here but he pulls it off. Same for Liev Schreiber who won’t be talked about as much as Michael Keaton or Ruffalo, but his soft-spoken outsider is what editors are like more often than not. They aren’t Perry White in Superman — gruff, confident, bellowing.
But even getting the Boston Globe right isn’t as important as telling a great story in riveting fashion. The movie is entertaining as hell and it’s honest about the Globe having missed the story of abusive priests the first time or two around before finally getting it right. Credits in the final frames are rarely as powerful as the ones we see here about the Catholic Church and abuses around the world.
2. STEVE JOBS — No idea why this didn’t do better and resonate with more people. And I was never a huge fan of Jobs or his story, but after one viewing, I ran out and bought Walter Isaacson’s 600-page biography. Not a fan of Aaron Sorkin in some circumstances (thought “Newsroom’ was unwatchable) but when he gets it right — and what’s wrong with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak trading barbs and sounding like geniuses — it can be fabulous. Beyond an excellent performance from Michael Fassbender as Jobs, Seth Rogen found something to do beyond his normal stoner range as Wozniak. It doesn’t matter that all these conversations didn’t really happen 15 minutes before Jobs went on stage to deliver new products. Most of them did, in fact, take place, and no attempts to sugarcoat the darker side of Jobs are made here.
3. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON — With my limited but not completely empty hip hop background, I was more a fan of Public Enemy than NWA when it comes to west coast rap bursting out of the ’80s. But this is terrific stuff, from Ice Cube’s son nailing his portrayal of the young, angry Ice Cube (OK, he had a home-field advantage) and Jameis Winston was fabulous as Dr. Dre. OK, maybe that wasn’t Winston, but if Corey Hawkins ever wants to play the Heisman winner, he has a head start.
4. THE BIG SHORT — For the first 15 minutes, I was asking, “What is this exactly?” But then the film catches fire and it becomes an acting duel between Steve Carell and Christian Bale with Ryan Gosling a nice third option. Two years ago the Matt Damon-narrated doc, “Inside Job,’ was both frightening and impenetrable. The gimmick The Big Short employs to keep your attention while discussing collateralized loan obligations is genius. Let the untried criminals of 2008 not be forgotten.
5. BRIDGE OF SPIES — A mostly un-Spielberg-like film by Spielberg, Tom Hanks is great in this Cold War tale. And you will definitely look forward to seeing more of Mark Rylance in Spielberg’s next film after his understated portrayal of a Soviet spy.
6. ROOM — There are two films in the last five years in which I could not eat popcorn or make any other sound because of the intensity. One was “Winter’s Bone” before we knew who Jennifer Lawrence was going to become. The other is the first hour of “Room,” and even when you know the premise — a woman and child locked away from the world for a long period of time in a single room — it still overwhelms you.
7. LOVE AND MERCY — Two Brian Wilsons for the price of one in this film that wasn’t based on but seemed mostly faithful to “Catch a Wave,’ Peter Ames Carlin’s biography of the Beach Boys’ tormented genius. John Cusack has the tougher task, playing the elder almost comatose Wilson, but Paul Dano is superb as the young man who gave us “Pet Sounds” and wanted to produce so much more but was handicapped by the Beach Boys’ popular sound and his own troubled mind.
8. THE MARTIAN — Saw this with my father, we had both read the book and neither of us could cite a single moment in the movie that deviated from it. Matt Damon is all alone on the beautiful red planet as he teaches us the basics in how to grow potatoes. And, yeah, there’s more to it than that but I’ll save it for you.
9. THE HATEFUL EIGHT — Maybe you hate that I have this so high on the list. I may hate myself for it, too. It’s not unusual for me to leave the theatre not knowing EXACTLY what I think, but Tarantino’s marathon of a movie took me beyond that place. There are parts I hated. Violence for the sake of irony seems to have run its course, at least for me. But the simplicity of the story itself — eight people in a room, someone is lying about who they are — and the execution of the actors makes it worth your time. I’m a big fan of Walton Goggins from “Justified,” and if you liked Boyd Crowder, you will get more than your share of his over-the-top scene-stealing here. I don’t like it as much as “Inglorius Basterds” or “Django Unchained,” but I will say that at 2 hours, 47 minutes plus a 12-minute intermission, it still didn’t seem as long as the latest Star Wars.
10. SICARIO — There’s strange stuff going on along our nation’s border with Mexico. I was wondering if Trump’s wall would be enough to take the tunnel used here out of commission. I thought the film was veering off course with a love scene halfway through. Don’t lose faith. Never realized Benicio del Toro could look so much like a dark-haired Brad Pitt. A nasty one, in this case.
11. ’71 — I think most movies need to be cut by 15 minutes. This Northern Ireland tale needed 15 minutes more. Never really figured out who that kid was and his relationship to the main character. Doesn’t matter. Belfast has never been a darker, scarier, more disorienting place.
12. TRAINWRECK — You may know from the past that comedies rarely register anywhere on my lists. So give props to Amy Schumer, Bill Hader and, oh yes, LeBron James himself for making this wreck a worthwhile ride.
13. BLACK MASS — It’s not the best Boston crime film (“The Town,” “Mystic River”) or even the best about Whitey Bulger (“The Departed” loosely) but I bought into Johnny Depp’s work here. Not everyone did. Benedict Cumberbatch as his highly successful politician brother (which is really what makes the Bulger story unique) is outstanding.
14. TRUMBO — I will never look at Hedda Hopper the same way (sorry to those under 60 who have no clue who Hedda Hopper might be).
15. EX-MACHINA — Liked a lot, especially the ending, of this sci-fi flick but struggled with Oscar Isaac’s beer-drinking everyman demeanor as a reclusive world-changing genius.
16. THE GIFT — Don’t do what I did and assume this is another Jason Bateman comedy vehicle. My God is it something different. If you don’t bounce out of your seat twice, you’re probably playing with your phone while watching this.
17. RED ARMY — When I had the good fortune to cover the Red Wings capturing their first Stanley Cup in more than 40 years in 1996, I loved the five Russians but didn’t fully appreciate Slava Fetisov and his painful but heroic journey to the NHL. You can get caught up on that and how Russia came to embrace and then dominate hockey before being toppled at Lake Placid in 1980.
18. JOY — I am tempted to rank the first half or two thirds of “Joy” in the top 20. This is what happens when you give a great director (David Russell) and his favorite cast the third time around (Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooperr) a poor script and a story that never seems particularly important. The players achieve moments of greatness in a film that leaves you saying, “Well, so?”
19. JURASSIC WORLD — If comedies have a hard time qualifying for these lists, action pictures have it even tougher. Note the absence of Star Wars-The Force Awakens and Mad Max Fury Road. Chris Pratt and a familiar looking group of raptors and other creatures beat the odds.
20. BEST OF ENEMIES — Admittedly, there’s a limited audience for some (at times) poor quality footage of William F. Buckely debating Gore Vidal during the 1968 Democratic and Republican conventions. But having just read “Buckley vs. Mailer,” in which Vidal makes several apperances, I was all over it. Doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative, if only there were any political discussions today that achieved the level of discourse Buckley and Vidal reached so easily while tearing each other to shreds…
SAW AND LIKED: End of the Tour. Focus. Creed. Perfect Shot (Dirk Nowitzki doc). The Intern. Magic Mike XXL. Mad Max Fury Road. Star Wars The Force Awakens.
SAW: Carol. A Most Violent Year. Still Alice. Southpaw. The Overnight.
CAN’T BELIEVE I SAW: Fifty Shades of Grey.

2014: The Year One Film Soared Above the Rest

In Additional Facetime on January 15, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Better late than never, here are my top 20 films for 2014. I was trying to wait for a few films to get to Dallas and this team called the Cowboys kept me busier and even traveling to Green Bay longer than anticipated. For what it’s worth (very little), I watched none of the Golden Globes and have no idea how the Oscar nominations went Thursday. But I’m not trying to predict what movies will capture awards and which ones won’t. If that were the case, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have ranked “Bernie” ahead of “Lincoln” two years ago.
I rank films for my own amusement. I go to lots of movies, but I’m no film critic. When I took film classes in college, I may have enjoyed Italian Cinema (mainly “Bicycle Thief”) but when I was introduced to “Wild Strawberries” in another class and expected to marvel at its greatness, I just said, “What the hell was that?”
Anyway, it’s kind of ridiculous to take film rankings too seriously when I see some in empty theatres and some when it’s jam-packed and I’m on the front row (“Wild”). These are radically different experiences. So I try to rank movies based on 3 things, and that’s really it. 1. How long did I continue to talk or think about it when it was over? 2. How much was I interested in seeing it again? 3. How badly did I want to tell my kids, my friends, whoever that they had to see it?
With that in mind, I can tell you that I could take 2 thru 7 on this list and pull them out of a hat and be OK with it. But as far as the best movie of 2014, I will quote Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) from The Exorcist: “There is only one.”

Never seen another film directed by Alejandro Inarritu. Not sure I’d like them if I did. But “Birdman” is brilliant from the first shot, and by the first shot I mean (what appears to be, although it’s not quite true) the one and only shot in the entire film, and if you’re not mesmerized by what’s going on with the camera and the storyline about a former Batman-type actor here, if you don’t think this is as good as Michael Keaton gets (and that’s fantastic), if you aren’t laughing with or at Edward Norton when you see what’s happening or realizing what a talented actress Emma Stone is, even as she manages to appear in about five movies a year, then I just can’t help you. I didn’t think anything else would touch this in 2014 and nothing ever did.

It’s a gimmick, yes, to make a film over a 12-year period, but it’s a hell of a gimmick not like trying to get people to sit still for a black-and-white silent film and calling it genius. More and more it seems Richard Linklater is one of the great directors that no one puts on any list of great directors. There was nothing about this movie that disappointed me. And when Ethan Hawke attempted to explain to his son that the Beatles actually made great music after breaking up, it was icing on the cake.

The movie that confirmed that yes, in fact, our best actors ARE spending most of their time in insurance commercials. I can see Nick Saban screaming “Not my tempo” at his quarterback after watching this movie. Given the story and the fact I absolutely hated “The Spectacular Now” and I was holding that against the young Miles Teller, I did not expect to even like this movie. But I loved it, it’s powerful and is the rare film that actually ends ABSOLUTELY THE WAY IT SHOULD END.

Each year it seems we deal with more and more people in movies who like to talk, who think they are sitting on their couch, who do not know how to shut up. In “American Sniper,” which I saw in a large sold-out Northpark theatre since it wasn’t showing anywhere else, you could feel the audience holding its breath for about two hours. Not the biggest Bradley Cooper fan in the world but he’s perfect for this. For a movie that perhaps has 5-6,000 bullets in its soundtrack, director Clint Eastwood avoids being graphic when he doesn’t need to be. I saw this twice (not because I wanted to see it a second time more than other movies but just through circumstances), and when the ending approached on second viewing, I was gulping, wishing it could go another direction. But it couldn’t. And, sad as it is, Eastwood handled it perfectly.

Make a movie about World War II and I’m in. Make it about code-breaking and I’m in line the first day. Saw “Enigma” and read the Richard Harris book a few years back, and both were fine, although this is a more honest re-telling of Alan Turing, who should be remembered as the man most responsible for saving the world from the Nazis but never has been and still won’t be. Some scenes not as great as I’d like them to be but the versatile and awkwardly named Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent throughout.

Of all the dramatic and overly serious actors who make surprising turns to comedy, who was more surprising than Ralph Fiennes in this film? I’m not always a huge Wes Anderson fan (yes, I’m the ONE who didn’t think “Royal Tenenbaums” was genius), but this was about as perfect as “Moonrise Kingdom.”

Reese Witherspoon walks 1,000 miles or so. Somehow it’s worth every step.

There was no more touching moment in cinema this year than a crippled but brilliant wheelchair-bound man (that would be Stephen Hawking) bumping his chair softly into his wife in a last gasp of affection. Eddie Redmayne worked hard at this role and it paid off.

This was a movie that got better in my mind the further I got from having seen it. But mostly it’s just Jake Gyllenhaal paying wonderful tribute to Travis Bickle while not exactly imitating him in an LA that is as dark and rotten as New York appeared through “Taxi Driver” windshield.

Unfortunately fell into the “Crowd doesn’t know what to make of this so they are laughing at Steve Carell” category early. As the movie went along, I never thought his performance was as powerful as both wrestlers and particular Mark Ruffalo. A film that intentionally makes the audience uneasy throughout — nothing wrong with that.

Sadly the last we will see of James Gandolfini, but Tom Hardy’s performance drives this occasionally difficult-to-follow who is stealing from whom film set in a miserable Brooklyn bar.

Is it more than a long “Twilight Zone” episode at heart? Maybe not but who cares? Gives me one more opportunity to mention how much I love Elisabeth Moss (Peggy in Mad Men) and remind you that “Top of the Lake” is the best six-episode TV series you never saw.

Certainly expected this to be much higher on the list when I first saw the previews. The truth is that as strong as my UT man-crush is on McConaughey, I tend to fell Christopher Nolan gets worse as a director the further away he gets from “Memento.” I give the film credit for trying to be much more honest in its depiction of space travel than “Gravity.” At least as honest as one can be while zipping around the edges of black holes. Doesn’t mean it’s not a long, tedious ride that somehow finds McConaughey and Matt Damon staging a fight that looks one step removed from “Lost in Space” on the authenticity meter.

The tragic career of Philip Seymour Hoffman goes out not with a bang, but a solid, memorable performance in a truly dismal Hamburg, Germany. Neatly avoids being a run-of-the-mill spy tale at the end.

Ben Affleck has done better. Director David Fincher has done a hell of a lot better. Whatever great truth this was supposed to unveil about how the media drives a story, it says it poorly but in (at times) highly entertaining fashion.

How long are we defined by our worst moments? What if they didn’t cost us anything? What if they could have cost us everything? Also has some nice skiing photography. Part funny, very disturbing.

What did I say earlier about World War II movies? I see them and I tend to like them. I’m not big on plays turned into movies that needed to stay plays, but the story of what might have happened to Paris if not for a Nazi general making a late conversion to morality is worth seeing.

The Martin Luther King speeches by actor David Oyelowo provide the only real impact although the MLK-LBJ fights are amusing if wildly inaccurate. King had more enemies than any man deserved, why did they choose to turn LBJ into one of his biggest? Too much of the film simply drags along. An important part of civil rights history doesn’t get its due here.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon trading imitations falls near the bottom of the “social significance” scale compared to blacks being systematically denied their voting rights in the film ranked just above. Not as funny as “The Trip” but still worth the ride.

20 (tie). ROSEWATER
Jon Stewart left “The Daily Show” for several months in order to travel to the middle east and film this tale, and it’s not as if he failed. Maybe we have simply seen too many people wrongly imprisoned, and I hate to think I have become that jaded. It definitely succeeds in becoming claustrophobic.

I will go ahead and mention SPOILER ALERT here although I don’t think it’s entirely necessary. There are some wonderful moments shared between former SNLers Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. So…..whose idea was the escapist happy ending?

SAW AND DIDN’T HATE: Chef, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Godzilla, Leggo Movie, This Is Where I Leave You.
SAW: Horrible Bosses II, The Gambler, The Rover, Sex Tape.

See you next year.

The best Scorsese is the other Scorsese in 2013

In Additional Facetime on January 1, 2014 at 11:35 am

I don’t know why I spend so much time anguishing over my Top 10 movies of the year which last year was expanded to Top 20 and this year reaches the almost unneccessary level of a Top 25. I am not a film critic. I do not pretend to be a film critic. There are choices on this list that you won’t likely find on other lists, mostly because I have my own way of looking at these things.

I thought 2013 was an excellent year with probably 7-8 movies I could have ranked No. 1 and at least 20 I could have listed in my top 10. So while trying to compile this list, I thought of 3 things in determining where these films should be ranked. 1. How much did I think about it when it was over? 2. How badly did I want to see it again? 3. How quickly did I want to tell friends to go see this movie?

OK, I’ve got a lot of rankings to run through here, so let’s get started.

1. AMERICAN HUSTLE — Was director David O. Russell paying respects to Martin Scorsese or just copying all his trademark techniques — lot of zooming in on characters, occasional freeze frames, great soundtrack? Doesn’t really matter to me. Russell has had his own great run of top 10 films lately (“The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook”) so I pretty much feel he can do what he wants. I just thought Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper were all great here, in particular Bale who lets others (notably Jennifer Lawrence) do the scene-stealing here. And I guess I knew Amy Adams could look like that? But I never really though about Amy Adams looking like that. There was nothing I didn’t love about this movie.

2. IN A WORLD — Up until two weeks ago, I thought this terrific film by Lake Bell was going to be my No. 1 pick. It has two of the funniest moments I saw in movies all year (“What’s wrong with the blue towels?”). The title refers to all those movie trailers you have seen through the years (“In a world where….”), and with the death of the man who had cornered the market on that industry, everyone is competing to be the new “In a world” guy — including Lake Bell against her own father. It’s kind of odd that I ranked it this high and picked “Bernie” No. 1 last year because I don’t like most movie comedies. This is not standard comedy material, just great stuff.  

3.  DALLAS BUYERS CLUB — Matthew McConaughey is on an amazing roll — “Bernie,” “Killer Joe,” “Mud,” a small but great part in “Wolf of Wall Street” plus the upcoming HBO series “True Detective.” Somewhere in the midst of all this in the last two years (sorry I left off “Magic Mike”) he found time to lose 40 pounds and shoot this film (in New Orleans, not here) about a very heterosexual man diagnosed with AIDS in the ’80s. Jared Leto is probably going to win a series of Best Supporting Actor awards for his transgender character who eventually moves McConaughey’s angry young man into a more tolerant position.

4. GRAVITY — For a second viewing, I took my 87-year-old father. It was Willis’ first 3-D experience and I knew he would love all those incredible shots of Earth from above. I feel like giving this film a special award for being one of the few this year that isn’t 20 minutes too long or even more which brings us to…

5. WOLF OF WALL STREET — The latest Scorsese is all about excess in every conceivable way. Lots of money, lots of nudity, lost of cocaine to the point that when Leo rips open his own couch to find another cocaine stash in the film, it has zero impact. We’ve seen it. We get it. These people are unlikable and way out of control. And at 2 hours, 59 minutes, this is far more than any of us ever need to know about Jordan Belfort or any other corrupt real-estate types. Now having said that, it’s Scorsese, so it’s film-making brilliance throughout and there are scenes I would love to watch again and again. My favorite is DiCaprio (Belfort) on his yacht talking pleasantly to the FBI agent investigating him. When the conversation becomes something other than pleasant, it’s an amazingly powerful moment given that no one is so much as raising a fist. But, hey, Leo, you don’t mess with Coach Taylor of Friday Night Lights TV fame. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose, buddy.

6. THE ATTACK — It’s hard — I mean really hard — to make a film about a Palestinian suicide-bomber in Israel that finds a way to show both sides of the equation. To paraphrase as best I can remember what one character tells another near the end of the film, “We can talk for a thousand years and we’re never going to hear each other.” A terrific and intelligent look at an impossible situation.

7. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS — “Look at me. Look at me…I’m the captain now.” The first 90 minutes of this film has it competing for the very top spot on the list. By the end, when what appears to be the entire U.S. Navy shows up — even if that’s a fairly factual account of what happened — it takes too long and leaves you remembering those initial scenes when you were amazed at what the Somalian pirates were trying to pull off.

8. MUD — McConaughey again? Damn right, but there’s a lot more to this film than his puzzling island-bound character. You have to love the two kids, one of whom had never acted and just won an audition in Arkansas based in part on his ability to handle a boat.

9. FRUITVALE STATION — I really liked this account of what happened on New Year’s Eve in the East Bay a few years back, and it was only after the movie I learned I had been watching Wallace from “The Wire” in the lead role. I thought he looked familiar with those puffy cheeks but I didn’t know.

10. ENOUGH SAID — On the other hand, like everyone else, when I went to see this movie, I knew it was the last I’d see of the great James Gandolfini. That can’t help but have an impact on how you feel about a film. But not only is he great — very un-Tony Soprano like — so is Julia-Louie Dreyfus who is on a great roll herself with the success of one of my favorite shows, “Veep.”

11. THE HUNT — What happens when you’re wrongly accused of something truly awful? Do you ever get over it? Will people let you?

12. SIDE EFFECTS — Allegedly the last full-length film Stephen Soderbergh is directing. I’m a sucker for anything Rooney Mara is in and for “I didn’t see that coming” moments because, frankly, I never see them coming.

13. 12 YEARS A SLAVE — I know this is much higher on critics’ lists and it’s not as if I didn’t think it was outstanding. But I always feel that overdoing a thing works against a director’s best interests, even if we’re talking about slavery and mistreatment. Two or three shots of someone getting whipped do the trick. Eighteen shots of it diminish the impact for me. But there are some great performances here even if Brad Pitt riding to the rescue is a little much.

14. THE CONJURING — I don’t usually go see anything that falls into the “good scary” movie category because, to be honest, they scare me. I think my son Ben and I were both a little nervous as we settled into the Inwood balcony for this one. But I’ll watch anything that has Ron Livingston (“Band of Brothers,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Office Space” and apparently “Sex in the City”). First hour was good. And scary. Last hour was an Exorcist take-off but still very much worth seeing.

15. NEBRASKA — In the battle of “This Movie Is Going To Be Slow and Viewers Are Okay With It”, this film gets the nod over “Inside Llewyn Davis.” I remember seeing Bruce Dern on stage here almost 40 years ago at a Texas Film Festival showing of “Smile” and I haven’t seen a heck of a lot of Dern in between. He’s really good here and so is Jenna’s boyfriend from “30 Rock.” Not much happens. It’s in black and white. And that’s OK. It’s real.

16. THE WAY WAY BACK — Better than I expected. Steve Carell as someone you don’t like takes some getting used to.

17. PARKLAND — A story on the fringe of the big story here on Nov. 22, 1963. Lots of familiar faces popping in and out — loved, yes, Ron Livingston again as the beleaguered FBI agent James Hosty who didn’t follow up on an Oswald lead.

18. LORE — What happens when you see a torn photo and that appears to be your father…in a Nazi uniform?

19. DON JON — I would say this film gets a lot of things right about porn, but, hey, I don’t even know what that is. So I’m just guessing.

 20. BLUE JASMINE — Kate Blanchett’s pretty interesting and it’s fun to see Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), but this isn’t the quality of Late Era Woody that “Midnight in Paris,” “Match Point” or “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” are.

21. ALL IS LOST — I realize this is a great, nearly soundless one-man performance from Robert Redford but about 15 minutes in, all I could think of was: “Man, I hate sailboats.”

22. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS — Yeah, I’m still buying in because Zachary Quinto gets a young Spock about as right as someone could get it.

23. 42 — Nothing really new about Jackie Robinson here. Interesting to see that the kid from “Sling Blade” is now old enough to play Pee Wee Reese.

24. PLACE BEYOND THE PINES — SPOILER ALERT: This movie has been out almost a year, don’t read the next two sentences if you are still waiting to go see it. I liked the first movie a lot. I just didn’t know there were going to be three. I mean, really, when Ryan Gosling hit the pavement, didn’t you think “That can’t be it!” ?

25. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS — I read a very interesting article about the cat in this movie in The Atlantic the day after I saw it. I didn’t get any of that. Maybe if I had, I would have been less inclined to look at my watch. The Coen Brothers make some of the best films in modern cinema, but for me, this is “A Serious Man with a Guitar.”       


In Additional Facetime on November 10, 2012 at 8:49 am

And here’s the chapter I posted Friday. Was orginally going to post the one about spending Christmas night ’08 in Parkland Hospital with a fractured skull but that one seems to work better (I hope) in context. Being stupid and getting arrested — that kind of speaks for itself.

In Additional Facetime on November 10, 2012 at 8:39 am

Re-posting the intro to Drunk on Sports for those who might have missed it Wednesday. Hoping to hit home with a few, give a few laughs to others. Thanks, have a great weekend…

Drunk On Sports

I am going to post what is meant to be the introduction to my book “Drunk on Sports.” Actually, it will follow Charles Barkley’s foreword, I think. I had Charles write that because he’s a (current) friend and (former) drinking buddy. I will save what Charles has to say for later.

Today, you’re getting the intro for free. I’m hoping you will get the entire book by early 2013. It’s at least 80 percent written. I will tell you more about it later. Jimmy Johnson, Jerry Jones, Josh Hamilton and others pop in and out of the book. I hope you will get something out of it — if nothing else, more than a few laughs, generally at my expense.

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Riot shields, voodoo economics, it’s just business

In Additional Facetime on November 6, 2012 at 10:42 am

It’s Election Day. So why shouldn’t my first post be about my glorious voting history, starting with a headline from Radiohead’s “Electioneering?”
First of all, it took me all of four minutes to get in and out of the Lakeside gym where I voted this morning. Where are these lines you people speak of? Not in crime-free Coppell, I can tell you that.
Second, I am not one of those people who encourages everyone to vote. If you have to beg someone to vote, if you have to plead with them to set aside their fantasy teams long enough to learn the difference between Romney and Obama, those people shouldn’t be determining our next President.
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