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Everybody Wants to be Us

Graduate Student at Loyola University Chicago. Check out the blog for what I'm currently obsessed with in film and culture. Michael Fassbender, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Winslet, Christian Bale, Jesse Eisenberg, David Lynch, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, and Daniel Radcliffe are regulars here.

#brad pitt

Fall 2013 Preview: Most Anticipated Fall Movies

4) (Tie) 12 YEARS A SLAVE (October 18)

Dir. Steve McQueen

THE COUNSELOR (October 25)

Dir. Ridley Scott

All Fassbender All The Time!  

I’m most excited to see Steve McQueen’s third film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Soloman Northup, a free man and musician who was kidnapped and sold into slavery.  Michael Fassbender plays the vile slave owner to which Northup is sold.  The cast is full of amazing talents including Brad Pitt, Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar is comin’, y’all), Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard, & Paul Giamatti.  I’m especially excited to see Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry from Beasts of the Southern Wild making their second film outing with McQueen.  

In The Counselor, Fassbender leads a ridiculous cast (Pitt again, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz) with Ridley Scott directing and Cormac McCarthy writing his first original screenplay.  Still no real idea what the story is, but with a lineup like this, I know it’s going to be amazing. 

bbook:

Stripping the novel of it’s original political climate, Dominik sets the film at the height of the 2008 election— the world on the precipice of financial collapse. With a gritty testosterone-heavy attitude and dramatic authenticity akin to classic 1970s crime dramas of desperation, Killing Them Softly gives a desolate view of the world today through the eyes of its pessimistic and morally-wavering characters. But for all its realism and nerve, Dominik also favors a very choreographed execution to the film—elevating the story to more of an intelligent political cartoon than strictly a polemic. 
Getting Down to Business with ‘Killing Them Softly’ Director Andrew Dominik

I need to see this film.  

bbook:

Stripping the novel of it’s original political climate, Dominik sets the film at the height of the 2008 election— the world on the precipice of financial collapse. With a gritty testosterone-heavy attitude and dramatic authenticity akin to classic 1970s crime dramas of desperation, Killing Them Softly gives a desolate view of the world today through the eyes of its pessimistic and morally-wavering characters. But for all its realism and nerve, Dominik also favors a very choreographed execution to the film—elevating the story to more of an intelligent political cartoon than strictly a polemic. 

Getting Down to Business with ‘Killing Them Softly’ Director Andrew Dominik

I need to see this film.  

On the Set: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Radcliffe, and Michael Fassbender.

It’s good to keep busy and these three actors are hard at work on new projects. Leonardo DiCaprio, just after finishing Django Unchained is back in New York with Martin Scorsese filming The Wolf Of Wall Street.  The cast also includes Kyle Chandler, Jonah Hill, and Matthew McConaughey.  Along with Wall Street, DiCaprio will rule the summer of 2013 with The Great Gatsby.  

Daniel Radcliffe is in Toronto filming indie romantic comedy The F Word with Zoe Kazan.  2013 will also feature at more than one Radcliffe project; “The Young Doctor’s Notebook” with Jon Hamm (Hamm Radcliffe 2013) and Kill Your Darlings with Dane DeHaan and Elizabeth Olsen. 

Michael Fassbender is re-teaming with Ridley Scott for The Counselor. Filming in London, the film also stars Brad Pitt, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Cameron Diaz. A serial collaborator, Fassbender will do his third film with Steve McQueen in 2013: Twelve Years a Slave with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Brad Pitt.  

2013 is going to be a hot year at the multiplex.  

Most Charming Smile

Against four Hollywood greats, including Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Demian Bichir, giving career defining performances the charming Jean Dujardin took home the statue for Best Actor for his work in “The Artist.” Dujardin’s win was expected after winning at the SAG Awards, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes. The announcement of his win was so devastating to me (a hard core Gary Oldman fan) that I had to leave the room.  Days later, I can say Bravo to Mr. Dujardin and I hope Uggie gets a piece of that Oscar too!

BEST PICTURES REVIEWED: “Moneyball”

myfilmhabit:

Problems are easy to spot, often they lie on the surface so big that looking at them seems defeating.  Many turn away, keep doing things as they’ve always been done.  A few experiment with slight diversions from the original path, only to return to the “devil you know.” Even fewer have an actual solution and the courage to lead others to change.  Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller, is about the latter and is one of the most compelling, gripping, and substantial films to come out this year.  All that and it manages to also be completely hilarious and winning.  

Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the manager for the struggling Oakland Athletics.  Like he says, “There are rich teams and there are poor teams…and then there’s 50 feet of crap, and then there’s us.”  Beane, a former player, knows there’s something wrong with the game. You can see him inwardly twitching and stewing knowing that recruitment, strategy, and money have all fallen in on itself to keep rich teams rich and everyone else irrelevant.  Beane’s notion is confirmed and emboldened when he meets Peter Brand (played wonderfully by Jonah Hill), a genius in love with baseball who recognizes the same problems in baseball through the statistics.  He knows the potential of every player, on every team.  Together, the man of experience and the man of numbers, decide to turn the Oakland Athletics around, recruiting players based on their stats alone and building a team they can afford and that could win- solely based on data.  

What really connected with me about Moneyball was the central story of two people, one informed by experience and the other by statistics, who see the world in a completely different way and have the courage to change it.  They’re attracted to each other because each represents the missing link in what they know is true.  Billy knows from his experience as a failed baseball player- traded to a half-dozen different teams after being touted by so-called expert recruiters he was a 5 tool player- that the system is broken.  Pete, a mathematical genius in love with baseball, looks past the glamour of star players to what a player can actually do. Players who can achieve runs are being undervalued for quirks- a weird throw or ugly girlfriend- while the shinning stars are completely over-valued. By taking on players that are viewed as damaged goods by the old model, Beane shines a light on unorthodox talent.  His faith in the players, something that has never been bestowed on them before, acts as a catalyst for their performance.  

The relationship Pitt and Hill form on screen was the most wonderful part of the film. They’re exact opposites, yet form this perfect unit- completing each other’s sentences and thoughts.  Also, Beane grooms Peter, training him to make the decisions necessary to run a team.  In another way, the two actors mirror their characters with Pitt as the experienced veteran star and Hill as the rising up start who might have been overlooked for a role in a blockbuster drama. Hill more than rises to the material and should be cast in more mainstream, serious roles.  His Peter is an obvious geek and shy, but incredibly passionate about baseball.  That devotion came through in his performance and made me invested in the story.

Pitt is great here, perhaps one of my favorite performances by the actor.  He’s restrained, but magnetic as Beane.  From his expressions and sly grins, he always gives you the sense he’s three steps ahead of every conversation he’s having.  He looks with amusement at the naysayers on the Oakland A’s, agitating them further against his campaign.  Only in scenes with Jonah Hill and his daughter, played by Kerris Dorsey, does he break to a more open and relaxed demeanour.  With those people, he wants to be stimulated and knows he can trust their criticism and advice.

Pitt also holds scenes, of which there are many, of Billy Beane stewing alone while listening to the games. Pitt conveys in these private moments what it’s like to really love something and invest your entire being in it. His performance draws the difference between professionals who take an interest in their jobs and people who love their jobs.  In the latter, the triumphs are taken with hesitancy while failures hurt with the force of physical injury.  I’ve felt that about the things I care about and could immediately relate to the character’s struggle.  In all, Moneyball really hit me. In the days after my screening I kept turning over the film in my mind and I plan to read Michael Lewis’ book. Not that baseball stats could ever get me riled up, but the idea of taking a chance on under-valued talent is an interesting aspect of the film that I would love to delve into further.  

BEST PICTURES REVIEWED: “Tree Of Life”

myfilmhabit:

The end of summer brings many new beginnings and reunions. Seeing friends again and hearing about exciting travels brings the grace needed to transition from heaps of sunshine to cloudier and colder days ahead. In one such catch up talk with one of my Jesuit friends, we both experienced what we termed a “Tree of Life” moments. We had both seen the film early in the summer and felt moved by it’s beauty and lyrical storytelling. For my friend, the quiet, peace of enjoying nature during his break called him back to the experience of seeing the film.

For me, it was stepping into the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, Spain. Walking into the church, I caught my breath taking in the magnificent beauty of the space. The bright stained glass windows, the sculpted turrets, and floating balconies along the high walls were all demanding my attention and praise. Eyes dizzying, mind soaring, heart swooning; all this at once made me think how beautiful this place was and wonderful God is. I think in many ways Terrence Malick’s film prepared me for that moment. As a looked at the windows in Sagrada Familia, my mind floated by to The Tree of Life and like my friend, made me even more grateful for having seen it.

I resisted writing my review for a long time, partly because the film evoked in me raw, undigested thoughts, memories, and feelings I couldn’t quite distill into coherent words. Also I thought Fr. James Martin SJ summed the film up for me perfectly in his essay found here.  His piece captures everything I thought and felt right after seeing the film.  My experience in Barcelona and others since has given me a bit more to add to the discussion. I found Tree of Life to be film that glorifies interiors as well as nature and explores relationship between grief and memory.

The first is simple, the experience I had in Sagrada Familia, transfixed by the elemental beauty of the church, the carvings depicting foundational scenes of my faith, and imagining having mass in that heavenly place transported me to something beyond that day and time. So too did Malick’s shots of Jessica Chastain and the three boys playing her sons running through their Texas home in the morning light, or Sean Penn rushing in a glass office building, or Brad Pitt playing the organ in a lofted, dark church balcony. Finding God in the created interiors, the places where we celebrate, dine, and commune with each other is as important as loving creation itself.

The second point has more to do with the “plot” in Tree of Life. I suspect if 5 people saw the film, you’d get 5 vastly different plot descriptions. Well, here’s my stab at it. In the beginning we know someone has died- the son of Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain’s character. Sean Penn, their oldest son begins to remember childhood, trying in some way to bring his relationship with his brother into better focus. We see his father, a stern man insistent his sons respect him and not repeat his mistakes. Pitt’s character is a musician without an audience, an intellectual without a degree, and an entrepreneur without a business. He takes out his frustrations on his wife and sons, especially the eldest who dares to challenge him.

Chastain is the lovely counterforce to Pitt representing love, light, and beauty. She encourages and supports her sons, keeping the household in balance. Sean Penn’s younger brother, in memories seems like the best of the bunch. He brings a rare smile to his father’s face playing the guitar while he plays the piano. He trusts his older brother, submitting to his mild abuse and forgiving him after. Losing this good soul causes each family member a deep sorrow. Pitt wonders if he should have been kinder. Sean Penn revels in memories of their soft brawls in their Texas lawn.

Yet Chastain’s mother character experiences a grief so deep that it stretches to the beginning of time. We cast our sights to the creation of the world, dinosaurs, and the origins of human life to find out why this great human life is no longer with us. The loss of her son is so painful it changes the course of time itself so it is necessary to start anew, at the beginning of creation to heal. These three responses all mingle around each other, meeting on the beaches at the end of time- reuniting the family in a peace that escaped their mortal experiences together. That’s my take and I’m sure you’ll have your own response to this beautiful film.

I would not measure The Tree of Life by its greatness, it may not crack my top 20 of the year. However, more than most films I’ve seen this year, it sharpened my own awareness of the beauty around me and those transcendent moments that arise from being truly present. I would instead measure the Tree of Life in gratefulness. For it allowed me to ponder great questions and see great beauty. For that, I thank Mr. Malick for his imagination and artistry.

Moneyball (2011) Coming to DVD January 10th!

myfilmhabit:

Problems are easy to spot, often they lie on the surface so big that looking at them seems defeating.  Many turn away, keep doing things as they’ve always been done.  A few experiment with slight diversions from the original path, only to return to the “devil you know.” Even fewer have an actual solution and the courage to lead others to change.  Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller, is about the latter and is one of the most compelling, gripping, and substantial films to come out this year.  All that and it manages to also be completely hilarious and winning.  

Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the manager for the struggling Oakland Athletics.  Like he says, “There are rich teams and there are poor teams…and then there’s 50 feet of crap, and then there’s us.”  Beane, a former player, knows there’s something wrong with the game. You can see him inwardly twitching and stewing knowing that recruitment, strategy, and money have all fallen in on itself to keep rich teams rich and everyone else irrelevant.  Beane’s notion is confirmed and emboldened when he meets Peter Brand (played wonderfully by Jonah Hill), a genius in love with baseball who recognizes the same problems in baseball through the statistics.  He knows the potential of every player, on every team.  Together, the man of experience and the man of numbers, decide to turn the Oakland Athletics around, recruiting players based on their stats alone and building a team they can afford and that could win- solely based on data.  

What really connected with me about Moneyball was the central story of two people, one informed by experience and the other by statistics, who see the world in a completely different way and have the courage to change it.  They’re attracted to each other because each represents the missing link in what they know is true.  Billy knows from his experience as a failed baseball player- traded to a half-dozen different teams after being touted by so-called expert recruiters he was a 5 tool player- that the system is broken.  Pete, a mathematical genius in love with baseball, looks past the glamour of star players to what a player can actually do. Players who can achieve runs are being undervalued for quirks- a weird throw or ugly girlfriend- while the shinning stars are completely over-valued. By taking on players that are viewed as damaged goods by the old model, Beane shines a light on unorthodox talent.  His faith in the players, something that has never been bestowed on them before, acts as a catalyst for their performance.  

The relationship Pitt and Hill form on screen was the most wonderful part of the film. They’re exact opposites, yet form this perfect unit- completing each other’s sentences and thoughts.  Also, Beane grooms Peter, training him to make the decisions necessary to run a team.  In another way, the two actors mirror their characters with Pitt as the experienced veteran star and Hill as the rising up start who might have been overlooked for a role in a blockbuster drama. Hill more than rises to the material and should be cast in more mainstream, serious roles.  His Peter is an obvious geek and shy, but incredibly passionate about baseball.  That devotion came through in his performance and made me invested in the story.

Pitt is great here, perhaps one of my favorite performances by the actor.  He’s restrained, but magnetic as Beane.  From his expressions and sly grins, he always gives you the sense he’s three steps ahead of every conversation he’s having.  He looks with amusement at the naysayers on the Oakland A’s, agitating them further against his campaign.  Only in scenes with Jonah Hill and his daughter, played by Kerris Dorsey, does he break to a more open and relaxed demeanour.  With those people, he wants to be stimulated and knows he can trust their criticism and advice.

Pitt also holds scenes, of which there are many, of Billy Beane stewing alone while listening to the games. Pitt conveys in these private moments what it’s like to really love something and invest your entire being in it. His performance draws the difference between professionals who take an interest in their jobs and people who love their jobs.  In the latter, the triumphs are taken with hesitancy while failures hurt with the force of physical injury.  I’ve felt that about the things I care about and could immediately relate to the character’s struggle.  In all, Moneyball really hit me. In the days after my screening I kept turning over the film in my mind and I plan to read Michael Lewis’ book. Not that baseball stats could ever get me riled up, but the idea of taking a chance on under-valued talent is an interesting aspect of the film that I would love to delve into further.  

Best of 2011

Out of 101 films, here are my favorites!

1) Midnight in Paris

This film gets better each time I see it. Woody Allen captures the magic of Paris beginning with a beautiful opening montage of the city in bloom. Owen Wilson gives a balanced and brilliant comedic performance as Gil, an aspiring writer who discovers his literary muses on his midnight walks through Paris. It’s easy to pass over how great he is in early viewings of the film, but I think he brings that trademark Woody Allen neurosis while making the dialogue all his own. Corey Stoll, Tom Hiddleston, and Allison Pill are wonderful as Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds. I treasure this film more than any other of 2011 because of the way it admires the magic of cities. The history, personality, and architecture of the great city can enthrall you more than any other art form.  See “Midnight in Paris” and then see it again and then go out and discover the wonders of your city.  

2) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo


Everything from the frenetic and beautiful credit sequence to the last surprisingly heartbreaking scene worked for me in David Fincher’s adaptation. This was my first encounter with Lisbeth Salander having not read the books or seen the Swedish films from last year. Fincher’s camera makes you co-investigator with Lisbeth and Mikael Blomkvist panning across evidence, collecting important details, and keeping you guessing.  Rooney Mara undergoes a fierce and convincing transformation into Lisbeth.  She gives one of the best performances of the year as the girl you don’t want to cross, but would love to be on your side.  Daniel Craig shows a whole new side as the intuitive and sometimes bumbling journalist and investigator. I would watch these two do just about anything.  The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is perfection, particularly Lisbeth’s theme which plays like a haunting lullaby.  

3) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2


The greatness of Deathly Hallows 2 (and the entire series) is rooted in the brilliant production design by Stuart Craig and the consistently enigmatic performance by Alan Rickman.  In the opening Gringotts heist scene, Harry, Hermione, and Ron walk through the wizarding bank lobby which is exactly identical to dazzling sight in the first film. Yet the stakes have completely changed and everything Harry does means life or death.  In the Snape’s memory scene, again we the the delicate blend of continuity and character development through Rickman’s work.  The scene melds new footage of Snape’s past with footage from all 7 films.  We see Snape look at young Harry in Sorcerer’s Stone, noticing now a mixture of disdain and wistful interest. That’s the wonder of JK Rowling’s books: nothing is ever as it seems. The last film was an exhilarating send off for Rowling’s fans. Yet also accessible to Muggles who enjoyed an action packed resolution to Harry’s quest to defeat Voldemort.  Radcliffe, Rickman, and Maggie Smith lead a cast of top notch performances. 

4) Hugo


My favorite director created a film that expresses all the things that are special and wondrous about films. Films not only capture our dreams, but also remind us of who we are and what we want to be.  Films can bring people together and mend broken spirits. Martin Scorsese takes the story of Hugo Cabret and creates something both personal and universal.  The use of 3D in “Hugo” is completely essential. The technology creates greater depth in each frame, enveloping the audience in the comings and goings in this Paris train station. Ben Kingsley is devastatingly good as filmmaker turned toy maker George Melies.  Asa Butterfield is an exciting new performer.  ”Hugo” is the real deal.

5) Shame


Unbroken takes, long silent stretches, and lots of explicit sex make “Shame” difficult to sit through.  Yet, these aspects make the film thrilling to behold. Michael Fassbender gives the best performance of the year as the isolated and broken Brandon. He can barely make it through the day without a sexual encounter. He looks predatory when he’s searching for his next “fix”, yet afterwards he seems empty and confused. His compulsions take him to dangerous places as his volatile sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay with him.  Their interactions are so uncomfortable as we try to piece together a relationship plagued by past traumas.  It’s a great film that forces us to relate our own brokenness and loneliness to Brandon’s. 

6) Moneyball


Some people see problems and concede change isn’t possible. Others see problems, find solutions, and decide change is the only way forward.  ”Moneyball” is a wonderful rendering of the true story of Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics. Instead of accepting the status quo, Beane takes a controversial view and lets it guide his entire approach to managing the team. Instead of looking for flashes of talent, the Oakland A’s looked for the right combination of skills and outcomes to fashion a team that could win at a price they could afford. I’m not a baseball geek, but I could relate to Beane’s desperate love of the game, brought vividly to life by Brad Pitt. Beyond all the baseball minutiae what captured me about “Moneyball” was its theme of embracing overlooked talent.  We all have something to offer and need someone to unlock those gifts.  Pitt as Beane unleashes the talent of Peter (Jonah Hill) to the great benefit of the team.  Hill and Pitt make a great screen pairing; sparring and riffing off of each other.  

7) King of Devil’s Island

This Norwegian film was the biggest surprise for me this year. Based on the true story of a revolt at the Bastoy boys prison, “King of Devil’s Island” is a powerful story of friendship and triumph over abusive power. At every level, the boys of Bastoy surrender their freedom to the oppressive rule of the Governor (Stellan Skarsgård). His power is challenged by a defiant new inmate Erling (Benjamin Helstad) who is determined to escape. When model inmate Olav (Trond Nilssen) begins to challenge the sanctimonious Governor for the crimes he wishes to ignore, the walls of control come crashing down. Despite being opposites, Erling and Olav build a friendship that keeps them from surrendering to despair.  The score by Johan Söderqvist is a haunting and beautiful piece of music.  I want fly to Norway just to buy it.  ”King of Devil’s Island” won Norway’s Oscar equivalent for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Nilssen, and Score. I hope it gets a release in the US.

8) Drive 

My opinion of Nicolas Winding Refn’s violent film has changed so drastically since I saw it. Leaving the theater, I could feel the film pounding against my chest, as if I had been shot. Yet, it has some of the most dreamy and beautiful scenes of the year.  That close mixture of sweetness and savagery makes “Drive” impossible to ignore.  The soundtrack of retro electronic pop ballads have permanent rotation on my iPod. Every time I hear the songs, I’m back in the theater, amazed and horrified by what is on screen. More than any other film, “Drive” got under my skin and finds a way to pop up in my day to day.  As the nameless driver, Ryan Gosling is perfect. His piercing eyes let you know he will never relent.  His sleek white Scorpion jacket becomes stained with the blood of so many enemies who underestimated his silence for disinterest and weakness. 

9) Bridesmaids


No film made me laugh more than Paul Feig’s ”Bridesmaids.”  Screenwriters Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo bring to the screen real female characters and relationships. The fear of being out of sync with the person who knows you best is explored with heart and humor.  Wiig gives a brave lead performance, taking Annie to some dark places for our comedic enjoyment.  The diverse cast of female talent in “Bridesmaids” shows a range of comedic power. In each woman you find something wholly familiar and unique.  

10) Jane Eyre


This was my favorite film for much of 2011.  Mia Wasikowska perfectly brings forth Jane’s fierce integrity and longing for happiness.  Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation brings the right amount of Gothic terror and romance.  His vision brings the dark Thornfield Manor to life, leaving us wondering what is really going on with Mr. Rochester. Michael Fassbender is also great as the brooding and temperamental Rochester.  He and Wasikowska build a cerebral chemistry in their long verbal matches, which explodes into a physical one.  

11) Martha Marcy May Marlene


Sean Durkin’s ”Martha Marcy May Marlene” will have you questioning everything you see and feel.  As Elizabeth Olsen’s troubled character becomes more unhinged between her past in a cult and present with her distant sister, we also become confused. Martha’s paranoia bleeds into the story and film making.  It’s the best kind of manipulation.  Olsen gives a completely open performance.  The camera puts every inch of her under our examination, making this difficult character impossible to not to emphasize with.  

12) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy


Forget international espionage and jet-setting to exotic locales. The real danger is the person you’ve known and trusted for years who holds the power to destroy you and your country. In “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” George Smiley must uncover a mole bleeding British intelligence to the Russians. To find the source, he must wrestle his darkest memories and question everything he thought was secure.  Gary Oldman gives a masterful performance as the economical and exacting Smiley.  For the first 20 minutes, he hardly says a word, but when he does he commands the screen.  On the surface, Smiley seems passive and still, yet Oldman brings a steady urgency to the character.  He conveys a sense that this mild looking bureaucrat could take off at any moment.  The supporting cast is full of Britain’s best actors all at top form.  

13) Bill Cunningham New York

The best discovery of the year was meeting the legendary New York times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham in Richard Press’ documentary.  On bike or on foot, Bill Cunningham is documenting the runway of New York streets and finding the eccentric, fun, inventive, and special tastes of ordinary people.  Cunningham could care less about celebrities and lives a life of remarkable simplicity. He lives for his work; dedicating each minute to finding something beautiful on the streets to celebrate.  ”Bill Cunningham New York” is the film I want everyone I know to see and love.  More than that, Cunningham has become a personal hero with his overwhelming integrity and loving personality. 

14) Fright Night


I like my vampires like Colin Farrell’s Jerry: deadly, intelligent, and sexy as hell. “Fright Night” is the most fun I had at the movies.  It builds suspense, while keeping you laughing at the clever lines and vampire mythology.  Anton Yelchin is great as the sardonic former nerd trying to save his loved ones from the bloodsucker next door. Farrell is doubly deadly as he can hunt his victims with reckless ferocity, but gently seduce them into his bloody embrace.  

15) The Descendants


Alexander Payne finds a whole new side to George Clooney’s cool persona in “The Descendants.”  Here we see him failing to connect to his teenage daughter, while becoming unglued as they search for his comatose wife’s lover.  ”The Descendants” makes great drama and tender comedy of the strains in our closest relationships.  The way back for Clooney’s Matt King is forgiveness and Payne takes us on an engaging journey through Matt’s anger, denial, and acceptance of his wife’s indiscretions. Shailene Woodley is a brave new talent as Matt’s caustic older daughter.  

16) Win Win


What does it take to do the right thing? Tom McCarthy’s excellent film “Win Win” answers “Whatever the fuck it takes.” Paul Giamatti plays a small town lawyer drowning in financial troubles of a small practice, broken boiler, and two kids to raise. Everyone is passing him by, taking the short cuts he neglected to become a respected member of the community. Since respect does not pay the health insurance bill, Mike decides to take guardianship of Leo, a disoriented and feisty old man, and pockets the $1500 monthly fee.  When Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up, Mike’s luck begins to change as Kyle makes his rag-tag wrestling team a contender, but complicates the benefits he’s getting as Leo’s guardian. McCarthy’s “Win Win” explores the stresses and the challenges to doing what is right.

17) A Dangerous Method

David Cronenberg’s film creates a full and engaging portrait of a great thinker by exploring the most important relationships in his life. Carl Jung begins the film as the eager healer, teeming with enthusiasm for Sigmund Freud’s talking cure.  The volatile patient Sabina Spielrein allows him to work with his idol, but also challenges his professionalism. These pioneers of human behavior are revealed to be as petty, obsessed, and damaged as we are.  Jung most of all, played wonderfully by Michael Fassbender, is a hypocrite and victim of his pride. Jung tries to reject Freud’s theories, wanting their to be “more than one hinge to the universe” while also engaging in an affair with Sabina that proves the sexual roots to his identity.  The film is seriously funny with a series of quotable lines and verbal skirmishes.  Keira Knightly gives her best performance here, embracing Sabina’s madness, but also her intelligence and grace.  

18) The Interrupters


"The Interrupters" as a film does exactly what you might expect. Through Steve James’ camera we are taken into communities plagued by violence. Yet, "The Interrupters" isn’t an issue film or cultural vegetables to be taken with our noses closed. It’s a film about a city- my city- and the people that live in it. The people featured in the film, especially the three leads Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, and Eddie Bocanegra, will stay with you long past your screening. I would place the film closer to Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee’s cinematic portraits of New York.  Like "Mean Streets" or "Do The Right Thing" "The Interrupters" agitates the heart not the head and will change how people see Chicago by simply showing it truthfully.

19) We Need to Talk About Kevin

Lynne Ramsay’s film adaptation of “We Need to Talk About Kevin” may be one film I love but cannot recommend to anyone. How could I knowingly encourage someone  to witness the unending suffering Tilda Swinton’s Eva goes through? How could I lead a friend to meet the cold Kevin and be forever haunted by Ezra Miller’s murderous stare? Despite the grizzly subject matter, there is great beauty in the film. We float between Eva’s memories of raising Kevin, constantly wondering why Kevin is so dangerous. Between her recollections, we struggle through Eva’s lonely life as a pariah in the community. Eva takes abuse from everyone and never fights back, as if she deserves punishment for giving birth to a murderer.  Tilda Swinton gives one of the best performances of all time.  

20) Beginners

"Beginners" is an incredibly touching and inspiring film that balances quirky indie qualities with great humor and drama.  I was completely involved in the film and affected by many scenes.  There is so much to love about this specific slice of life.  I think by getting the details so right of these people and their conversations, Mike Mills makes an emotionally accessible and enchanting film. 

I could easily rearrange the films on this list or exchange with ones I had to leave off. Just missing the cut were “The Trip”, “Super 8”, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, “Melancholia”, “Attack the Block”, “Tree of Life”, “Higher Ground” and “50/50”.  

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