2019 Feeler’s Choice Award Winners

It’s our 3rd Annual Feeler’s Choice Awards and this year we couldn’t be more proud of the selection of films. Thank you so much to all of the incredible members of our free-to-join Feelin’ Film Facebook Discussion Group who participated by nominating and then voting to make these awards a success. There is no doubt that these winners are very representative of the varying cinematic tastes we have in the Feelin’ Film community. Be sure and listen to the 2019 Oscars & Feeler’s Choice Award Recap episode to hear us discuss these.

Best Costume Design BLACK PANTHER (Ruth E. Carter)
Best Documentary Feature FREE SOLO
Best Animated Feature SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
Best Original Screenplay EIGHTH GRADE (Bo Burnham)
Best Adapted Screenplay BLACKKKLANSMAN (Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee)
Best Original Song “Shallow” (A STAR IS BORN)
Best Original Score FIRST MAN (Justin Hurwitz)
Best Sound Editing A QUIET PLACE
Best Visual Effects AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
Best Cinematography ROMA (Alfonso Cuarón)
Best Actor in a Leading Role Bradley Cooper (A STAR IS BORN)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Michael B. Jordan (BLACK PANTHER)
Best Actress in a Leading Role Elsie Fisher (EIGHTH GRADE)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Emily Blunt (A QUIET PLACE)
Best Director Alfonso Cuarón (ROMA)
Best Picture ROMA
Poignant Performance of the Year John Krasinski (A QUIET PLACE)
E-Motion Picture of the Year ROMA

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners!

Film earning multiple awards were:

A Quiet Place – 3
Roma – 3
Avengers: Infinity War – 2
Black Panther – 2
Eighth Grade – 2
A Star is Born – 2

We look forward to having even more participation next year, so come be a part of the community at https://www.facebook.com/groups/feelinfilm.

Oscar Locks

It’s an annual tradition in my house. I spend 9 months of the year trying to convince myself that I don’t care at all about movie awards. I don’t need fancy, self-important awards shows to tell me what’s good. Sure, I’m not a critic, but I’m a dude who watches a whole lot of movies. I can decide for myself what’s good. Then, once December rolls around, I’m a triggered, angry mess for 3 long months as the awards roll in for all of the movies that I didn’t end up seeing. Well, not this year. This year, I’ve seen more movies than ever before and I’m ready to not be disappointed come time for Oscar’s big night. So for your reading pleasure, here’s a list of a few of the awards I’m looking forward to with a film/actor or two that should’ve been nominated but wasn’t, the nominee I want to win, and the nominee that I believe will win.


Animated Feature

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Incredibles 2, Mirai

Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet, Isle of Dogs

Should’ve been nominated: I’m going to start off here with a pretty boring opinion, but I think the nominations here were pretty good. I haven’t seen Ralph Breaks the Internet or Mirai, but all of the other three were great movies that I really enjoyed.

I want to win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This movie is a game changer in the world of animation. It’s funny, smart and gorgeous to look at. I can’t wait for my next opportunity to visit the Spider-Verse.

Will win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Supporting Actor

Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born; Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Sam Rockwell, Vice; Mahershala Ali, Green Book; Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman

Should’ve been nominated: Hugh Grant, Paddington 2. The Paddington sequel was one of the first 2018 films I saw and Grant’s performance as aging villainous stage actor Phoenix Buchanan has remained my favorite throughout the entire year.

I want to win: Sam Elliott and his glorious mustache or Adam Driver. Sam Elliott because I love Sam Elliot and the small amount of time he gets in A Star Is Born is very, very good. Adam Driver is just dynamite in BlacKkKlansman. I’m always impressed when someone plays a role of someone who is playing a role and Driver does it about as well as anyone I’ve seen.

Will win: Richard E. Grant. I haven’t seen Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but he seems to be winning everything else.

Supporting Actress

Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk; Amy Adams, Vice; Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Emma Stone, The Favourite; Marina de Tavira, Roma

Should’ve been nominated:Rachel McAdams, Game Night. She’s a total delight and boasts a comedic timing that is absolutely on point in the funniest movie of the year. “But she’s a lead, Jeremy,” you might say. And you’d be right, but so are Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone.

I want to win: Regina King. I haven’t seen the movie, but I hear she’s great and I think the Academy finally makes up for snubbing her work in Jerry Maguire in 1996.

Will win: Regina King

Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale, Vice; Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born; Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Viggo Mortensen, Green Book; Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate

Should’ve been nominated: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed. Paul Schrader’s film is criminally underrepresented in this year’s nominations. Sure it got a screenplay nod, but it very easily could have gotten a director and picture selection as well. Being left off of those lists is understandable. It was a strong year in film. What isn’t understandable is Ethan Hawke not being recognized for what is arguably the best work he’s done in a very long and storied career.

I want to win: Bradley Cooper

Will win: Christian Bale. Rami Malek does have momentum in this race, but for some reason, Hollywood is really keen on Vice. And Bale’s transformation just to get in character is easily the best part of Vice.

Actress in a Leading Role 

Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born; Glenn Close, The Wife; Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Yalitza Aparicio, Roma

Should’ve been nominated: The list here is really long. Regina Hall (Support The Girls) and Amandla Stenberg (The Hate U Give) both have strong arguments. But if you would’ve told me that Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade was simply video of an awkward teenage girl being filmed without her knowledge, first I would’ve thought that was super creepy, but second I totally would’ve believed you. That’s how amazing Elsie Fisher is in that film.

I want to win: Lady Gaga

Will win: Glenn Close. Because no one has seen The Wife and the Academy hates me.

Director 

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman; Alfonso Cuarón, Roma; Adam McKay, Vice

Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite; Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War

Should’ve been nominated: Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born. I don’t understand how Adam McKay got a nomination over Cooper in this race. Vice is fiercely adequate as a film, but from Adam McKay it’s hardly a stand-out. It’s an angrier The Big Short with the smugness turned up to 11. I don’t think it should’ve been shut out, there are some legitimately great performances that deserve to be recognized, but it doesn’t belong anywhere in the vicinity of this category or Best Picture.

I want to win: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman. Some people might call a win for Lee a career achievement award. I think those people would be wrong. BlacKkKlansman is one of the most important films of the year and Lee presents it in a package that is funny, intriguing, intense, and uncompromising.

Probably will win: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma. I’m not sure if it’s the dog crap or the naked martial arts, but people are super into Roma. In all seriousness, it is a beautiful film and every moment feels crafted with love. I wouldn’t at all be upset to see Cuarón go home with the statue.

 

Best Picture

Black Panther, Green Book, BlacKkKlansman, Roma, A Star Is Born

Vice, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite

Should’ve been nominated: Blindspotting. It’s better than anything else on this list. Full stop. No snark, no quips, it’s better than anything else on this list.

I want to win: A Star Is Born is my favorite movie nominated, but as an unashamed lover of superhero movies, I’d love to see Black Panther go home a winner.

Probably will win: Roma. If I’m being honest, picture is the only category where I really don’t have any idea what’s going to win. I’d love to think that A Star Is Born would have a good chance because of how well it’s performed at the box office since it’s release in October, however that’s hardly an indicator of awards success. Roma is currently the odds on favorite, most likely due to it nearly sweeping the critic awards so far this year. But I think this is looking like a pretty tight race, so I’d keep checking in over there until you have to turn in your picks for the office Oscar pool.

 

There you have it. Those are my picks. Get your bets in on time. I’ll take 60% of your winnings and you can cover any losses (there won’t be any). And as a bonus for making it this far, I’ll give you one more quickie: I don’t want to be over-dramatic, but if “Shallow” doesn’t win Best Original Song, I’ll light myself on fire. Your move, Academy.


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

 

Patch’s Top 10 Films of 2018

2018 was a stellar year for movies. More often than not, I found myself asking the question “Can this year get any better?” after finishing one of the many great films ranging from big blockbusters to upstart independents to non-fiction narratives. Anytime I do a top 10, wrestling with the ones that “didn’t make the cut” makes me feel like a coach that has to cut those players that were great, but just not great enough. That doesn’t negate the films’ impact on me by any means. Sometimes, you just have to make sacrifices. However, I’m not going to completely disregard them, so here are my honorable Top 5 Best of the Rest of 2018.


THE BEST OF THE REST

5. Annihilation
4. Upgrade
3. Green Book
2. Crazy Rich Asians
1. Sierra Burgess is a Loser


 

THE FEATURE FILMS

Now, for the all-star team of films that I chose, I was surprised at how varied my list was. That says so much about how great this year was in film-making. If you are reading this, I hope that you’ve had a chance to see these films, and if not, that this will encourage you to do so.


10. RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET – Sequels can be a high risk/high reward avenue when it comes to franchises. Honestly, I was content with Wreck It Ralph as a stand-alone feature. That story was told. What more needed to be said? Well, apparently, a whole internet’s worth of stories. What the first film did for my love of all things gaming, the sequel successfully pulled off the personification of the world of cyberspace. Not only that, but the message at the heart of Ralph 2 is one that I wasn’t expecting, one that speaks to the importance of what real friendship is.

9. FIRST MAN –  Damien Chazelle + Ryan Gosling + Space = Yes Please. I thought I knew what I was getting when I walked into the theater. Apollo 13, The Right Stuff, and From Earth to the Moon are staple space viewings for me. But I walked out of the theater saying, “Wow, that really was about Neil Armstrong.” I thought that I was going to get a movie about space and the guy who first set foot on the moon. Instead I got an intimate portrayal of a man who struggled with the weight of being a father, a husband, and an astronaut, all while dealing with grief over the loss of a child. Any nominations this film get are much deserved, and I hope to see that come awards season.

8. A STAR IS BORN – This was a movie that I had very little interest in. I hadn’t seen any of the previous iterations, and thinking about Lady Gaga in a theatrical performance where she may be out of her element (aka not dressed up as something obnoxious) didn’t give me a lot of hype value. But then I watched the opening performance by director/actor Bradley Cooper, a man who altered his whole persona (voice included) to own this role of Jackson Maine, and I was floored. Then Lady Gaga comes in and completely sells me on her character, Ally, not only with her singing chops (this I knew) but the way in which she and Cooper’s chemistry worked so well. This film did so much in helping me see that beauty and ugliness of a star’s life, how it can change you and turn you into something you aren’t proud of. It also showed me how the love two people have in the midst of that can not only survive, but succeed, and leave a lasting legacy.

7. THE ENDLESS – Imagine a movie that tells you one thing and then about half way through, shouts in your face “Gotcha.” Now imagine if that worked for you. I’ve had experiences like that, where I’m sold on a movies premise and then it completely goes sideways. More often than not, it spoils my movie experience. The Endless just ratcheted it up to another level of enjoyment. It’s drama and sci-fi, two things I love, but packaged together in a way that I have never seen before. I can’t say much more without spoiling it, but of any movie on this list, I would say see this as soon as you can.

6. READY PLAYER ONE – Book to movie adaptations can be a slippery slope. I’ve learned to extend a lot more grace as I’ve watched more of these as long as the central plot doesn’t change and characters don’t become inconsistent with who their book counterparts are (I’m looking at you Percy Jackson). But something interesting happened with Ready Player One for me. While those two character traits stayed intact for the most part, the book and movie became two different experiences because of the amount of changes that Spielberg and company implemented. Some will complain that the deviations from the source material detracted from the quality, I would make the opposite observation. The spirit of what the book was trying to do played out on the big screen, and the changes done made so much more sense in that medium. I love being able to have two unique experiences when it comes one of my favorite stories in the last decade.

5. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – Stakes. That’s what seemed to be missing for me in the massive success that is the MCU. Infinity War changed that. Finally, we had real consequences to a universe that has been growing for 10 years. Finally, we had significant sacrifices with the real possibility that some of our favorite heroes have been lost for good. And finally, the MCU gave us a villain that wasn’t as flat as a pancake. Infinity War got my superhero excitement revived and my hope is that Avengers: Endgame finds its way to this list in 2019.

4. THE HATE U GIVE – If I had to give a One Word Takeaway for this film, it would be “honest.” I’ll admit this was a hard watch for me. It’s a movie that finds a way to portray the ugly reality of what our current racial landscape looks like, to walk in the shoes of a young black teenager. To say this film is important is an understatement. It’s a conversation starter and a perspective changer. But it’s also a movie that, in the most subtle way, leaves me with a sense of hope, and it’s an honest hope. It’s a reminder that even though things are ugly and may always be that way, I don’t have to be a part of that ugliness. I can help be a voice that changes the conversation, the perception, and the landscape.

3.  EIGHTH GRADE – This movie and The Hate U Give were neck and neck in my final rankings, and on any given day I could switch the two. Eighth Grade hits all the emotional notes for me, a guy who never cries, enough to start sobbing in the middle of the gym while on a treadmill. I confess that I don’t have a middle school daughter. Currently, I’m experiencing what it’s like to live with a 6 year old boy. But the truths presented in this film still resonate with me. I was that awkward kid trying to figure out who I was, caught in the middle of elementary school and high school. I am also a dad that knows those experiences are going to befall my child one day and as a dad, I can’t even begin to know how to handle it. But that’s okay. This film is a fantastic depiction of the beauty that can exist in the messiness of life. It’s also one that leaves me feeling hopeful as a dad. Gucci!

2. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE – My most anticipated movie of 2018 did NOT disappoint. From the animation to the narrative to the adaption of the comic event that, in and of itself is fantastic, this film helmed by the guys behind THE LEGO MOVIE and LEGO BATMAN brought exactly what I expected and more. Spider-Verse gave me, not only a fresh take on Marvel’s flagship character, but also opened the door for more stories that could come from this “spider-verse” and what that could mean for introducing more different kinds of spider characters. I would not be disappointed if I got to experience a new Spider-Verse film every holiday season. Merry Christmas to me.

1. HEARTS BEAT LOUD – Where did THIS film come from? Had it not been for my best friend pointing me to this movie, I wouldn’t have even considered it as a contender. And why would I. Independent movies have a hard time finding their way to my neck of the woods. Fortunately, I was able to see it and my goodness, I hadn’t felt the way I did since Sing Street. It hits all the right notes for me. Drama, family relationships, and music. Lots of great music. Kiersey Clemons and Nick Offerman make a fantastic father/daughter combination. It’s tender, funny when it needs to be, and doesn’t try to be anything more than it sets out to be. Movies like this, because of their quiet demeanor are not going to get a lot of recognition, and that’s sad. Nonetheless, it topped my list and I will gladly champion it as much as I can.


Patrick “Patch” Hicks calls Little Rock, Arkansas home with his family of four (his wife, son and three pets). When he’s not podcasting, he works as a multimedia designer and is also dabbling in the art of writing and directing. You can find him floating around the web on Twitter, Facebook, and his home on the web, ThisIsPatch.com.

 

 

Aaron’s Top 10 Films of 2018

Roma, If Beale Street Could Talk, Black Panther, Upgrade, Burning, A Quiet Place, First Reformed, Widows, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? These are just some of the wonderful movies released this year (out of 171 new films seen, up from 155 last year) which I couldn’t find room for in my Top 20, much less my Top 10, but still heartily recommend you seek out and see. The process of narrowing down my favorites to the top ten films of the year was a painful experience that required a lot of reflection and time. Just know that I harbor deep affection for many of the films you see listed earlier in this introduction and also below in the #11-20 special mention spots.

With regards to my criteria, when it comes to ranking films critically, I do that as part of my membership in the Seattle Film Critics Society (see our awards here). But here at Feelin’ Film we focus on matters of the heart, so my chosen films are often ones that I found the most affecting in 2018 – those movies that provided me an incredible emotional experience of some sort. Other things that factor strongly into my ranking are how likely I am to remember a film months down the road and rewatchability, so think of this list as leaning more favorite than best.

In order to make this a tad easier on myself, and also because they truly are a unique medium unto themselves, I have listed my Top 5 Documentaries separately. This was an incredible year for non-fiction filmmaking and more than one of these below would be featured in my Top 10 of the year if these lists were combined.


THE DOCUMENTARIES

5. SCIENCE FAIR – An entertaining, encouraging, and essential spotlight on some of the bright young minds that will be responsible for innovations and research that dictate the future of humanity. This inspirational, feel-good documentary follows a handful of brilliant multi-ethnic teenagers from around the world as they compete at the annual International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the “Olympics of science fair”, and is a heartfelt celebration of both their drive to learn and the parents and teachers who support their ambition.

4. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? – I knew very little about Fred Rogers, the iconic and innovative television personality, before seeing this story about his life. His heart for children and unwavering hope to see every person loved and respected for who they are, as well as his sense of ministry and passion for child development, led to an incredible career of service that the world sorely needed. It was a joy to learn about his life through those who knew him and a reminder that the world could sure use a solid dose of Mister Rogers again today.

3. MINDING THE GAP – Incredibly personal story of three skateboarding friends, one of which is documenting their lives over the course of many years Boyhood-style. The film takes unexpected turns in dealing with the realities of absentee fathers, the challenges of parenting, and domestic abuse, but the honesty and courage of director Bing Liu and his friends throughout the process creates an experience that is extremely important and potentially life-changing for viewers.

2. THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD – An immersive documentary experience like nothing that has ever been made before. What Peter Jackson has done with previously unseen archival footage from the Imperial War Museum, restoring and colorizing it, then combining it with recorded interviews of the very soldiers who lived through World War I, is truly stunning and deeply intimate. The film is nothing less than a triumphant tribute to those who served and an impressive technical marvel that sets a new standard for the kind of storytelling that can be achieved in 2018 and beyond.

1. FREE SOLO – Real, raw, and intense as it gets. This story of Alex Honnold’s attempt to become the first person to ever free solo climb (that means with no ropes, y’all) Yosemite National Park’s 3,200 foot high El Capitan wall is stripped of Hollywood special effects, stuntmen, and safety measures, creating a truly unique voyeuristic experience. World-class photographer Jimmy Chin’s camerawork is amazing but it’s the intimacy of getting to know Alex, his girlfriend, and fellow climbers that makes this documentary truly special. This deeper connection with Alex as a person also makes watching his final ascent one of the most truly nail-bitingly stressful things I have ever witnessed. This film additionally inspired me to get back outdoors and commune with nature, so it impacted me in a potentially long-lasting way. (Hear my interview with 2018 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year & subject of Free Solo Alex Honnold in Minisode 53 here.)


THE FEATURE FILMS

20. GREEN BOOK – (Hear our discussion about Green Book in Episode 138 here.)

19. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE – (Hear our discussion about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in Episode 140 here.)

18. ISLE OF DOGS 

17. SEARCHING – (Hear our discussion about Searching in Minisode 51 here.)

16. INCREDIBLES 2 – (Hear our discussion about Incredibles 2 in Episode 114 here.)

15. SHOPLIFTERS

14. ANNIHILATION – (Hear our discussion about Annihilation in Episode 099 here.)

13. CREED II – (Hear our discussion about Creed II in Episode 137 here.)

12. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT – (Hear our discussion about Mission: Impossible – Fallout in Episode 120 here.)

11. EIGHTH GRADE – (Hear our discussion about Eighth Grade in Minisode 48 here.)


10. THE HATE U GIVE – I was a complete wreck watching this film from start to finish. It provides perspectives on police violence and race that you just can’t get without intimately knowing people who’ve lived through the kind of experiences these characters do, and does so through expert filmmaking, performances, score, and script. It’s eye-opening, heartbreaking, and evocative. It is also entertaining in stretches, but engaging with the complex thematic material is challenging. The emotional experience I had watching The Hate U Give was likely the most powerful one I had all year, and if there is one film that I find vitally important enough to suggest families see it with their teenagers, this is the one.

 

9. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – We waited 10 years for this and the historic puzzle that the Russo Brothers have put together is nothing short of amazing, lending itself to multiple viewings and deeper analysis. Despite being 2.5 hours long, I never once felt that length, as the film hurtled me along toward an inevitable tragedy. I was shocked that Infinity War managed to live up to its incredible hype. It was as entertaining and emotional as a superhero film has ever been and sucked me back into MCU fandom right as I was starting to fall away from it from fatigue. (Hear our discussion about Avengers: Infinity War in Episode 107 here.)

 

8. THE RIDER – This Western slice-of-life story about real-life cowboy Brady Jandreau wrestling with what he wants versus what is best for him plays out in ways that are both painful and touching. Director Chloé Zhao’s choice to have the film acted by the actual Jandreau family added a layer of realism and created a level of personal connection to the characters that may not have been reachable otherwise. The film features a beautiful score and my favorite cinematography of the year. It is both a moving piece of storytelling and cinematic achievement that I won’t soon forget. (Hear me discuss The Rider with J.D. on InSession Film Podcast here.)

 

7. FIRST MAN – From the pulse-pounding opening scene, seeing this film in IMAX was an extraordinary, unique, and stunningly immersive cinematic experience. Damien Chazelle’s manner of storytelling, keeping the focus centered on one man and letting us experience Neil’s journey through both the intimacy of his personal life and the exhilarating flight challenges that give him purpose, was incredibly impactful. The performances and production design are phenomenal, but the technical mastery of this picture’s flight sequences is unlike anything I’d ever seen. Likewise, the sound design was so intense and score so awe-inspiring that you could feel them in your bones and soul. Chazelle’s film is breathtaking, while also being a fantastic history lesson, and is definitely both the best biopic of 2018 and one of the best films ever made about the space program. (Hear our discussion about First Man in Episode 131 here.)

6. HEARTS BEAT LOUD – Hearts Beat Loud is not just the witty title of this third feature film from Brett Haley, but also a prophetic description of the physiological response it evokes when I watch it. Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons are stellar as a father and daughter bonding over a shared love of music, dealing with his mid-life crisis of sorts and her impending departure for college. The catchy tunes they create bring out the feels but it’s the thoughtful, realistic story about coping with the challenges that life brings us that keeps me emotionally invested throughout this charming, heartwarming exploration of parenthood, love, and facing the future. (Hear our discussion about Hearts Beat Loud in Episode 129 here.)

 

5. A STAR IS BORN – The first act of this film is a mesmerizing display of immersive, emotional storytelling and song, and one of the top five or so sections of any film in 2018. What Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga have created here in this 4th retelling of the classic Hollywood tale is not only the best version but also one of the most entertaining, memorable films of the year. Its songs and performances, its triumphs and tragedy, have grown on me with every viewing thus far, and the deeper my emotional connection gets the more closely I hold this film in my heart. (Hear our episode about A Star is Born in Episode 130 here.)

 

4. READY PLAYER ONE – My expectations for this film adaptation of a favorite book were sky high, and somehow the master of the adventure movie himself, Steven Spielberg, delivered. Seeing the OASIS come to life before my eyes had me in awe. I love the visual effects, the constant references that gamers and pop culture addicts like myself eat up, and the new version of a beloved story that stands on its own as equally (if not more) impressive than its source material. This film, like the book it is based on, was created with a very specific geeky target audience in mind. I am that audience and this film is a new favorite, bound to be joyfully revisited year after year. (Hear our discussion about Ready Player One in Episode 103 here.)

 

3. AQUAMAN – Do you remember the moment when you became a fan of something? My favorite superhero of all-time is Batman, and seeing Michael Keaton on the big screen is what kicked off a nearly 30-year love affair with the caped crusader. I also cannot forget the feeling inside me when I first witnessed Middle-earth in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I enjoyed the books before that, but seeing them realized in a cinematic way is what cemented my extreme fandom. Well, this year that happened again, and came from a completely unexpected place. Aquaman is a combination of things that I love. It is an underwater Star Wars, with the visual world-building of Tron: Legacy and Avatar, plus an adventurous quest for a relic a la an Uncharted video game, and topped off with epic Lord of the Rings-like battles. I had little to no knowledge of the character prior to this film, but I fell hard for the origin story of this king torn between two natures, wrestling with guilt, familial conflict, and mercy. The visuals, the score, the performances, the costumes, the amazing action, and the campy way in which this epic tale is constructed fit together perfectly for me. Thanks to this film, I am now an Aquaman fan and riding this rare wave of pure bliss as far as it will take me.

 

2. BLINDSPOTTING –  Rarely have I ever been been so floored by a film. This movie gave me one of the most emotionally visceral cinematic experiences that I’ve had this year, leaving me thoroughly exhausted and in need of both a hug and a nap. The performances by Diggs and Casal are phenomenal. The script, which the two friends/stars spent years developing, is the best of the year and brings absolute fire in every scene. There is so much heart in this funny, thought-provoking, entertaining picture that perfectly expresses a relevant rage about such topics as police violence, gentrification, post-traumatic stress, and more. The battle between #1 and #2 was very, very close, and I suspect that Blindspotting is the type of film whose genius ability to address these topics in an honest but healthy way will only be appreciated more as time passes.

 

1. PADDINGTON 2 – “If we are kind and polite, the world will be right.” Little did I know walking into a theater in early January that I would be seeing my #1 film of the year. The aforementioned quote is the most memorable line of dialogue from any movie in 2018. It, and many other wonderful pieces of Aunt Lucy’s advice, have stuck with me all year long. Technically the film is marvelous. Its flawless blending of live-action and CGI is special. The colorful, symmetrical cinematography is so vibrant and alive that it bursts off of the screen. No other film was quite as perfect a blend of artistic excellence in filmmaking, lovely performances, and emotional significance for me. In a world that often gives us plenty of reason to frown, Paddington brings kindness, hopefulness and pure delight. (Hear our discussion about Paddington 2 in Episode 112 here.)


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

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July 23, 2018                      March 27, 2019

The Evolution of Eastwood: ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN

ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980)

“Why me, Lord? You made other men out of clay. Mine, you made out of s$%#.” – Cholla, Black Widow Leader

At this point in his career, only two of Clint Eastwood’s films had received direct sequels: A Fistful of Dollars and Dirty Harry. Both had come to help define his persona and cinematic footprint. But given the rabid financial success of Every Which Way But Loose, a sequel was not only understandable – it was inevitable.

Any Which Way You Can follows a very similar formula to its earlier predecessor. Philo Beddoe (Eastwood) is still bare-knuckle brawling alongside his corner bookie, Orville (Geoffrey Lewis, reprising his role) and they’re both still side-stepping the bumbling and cantankerous Black Widow Gang. Along for the ride too is the faithful orangutan, Clyde and Orville’s ornery Ma (Ruth Gordon). Not to be left out, the pair also cross paths once again with Lynn Halsey-Taylor (Sondra Locke), who had left Philo broken-hearted and wounded-ego’d in the last film.

What’s different this time around is that Philo is genuinely wanting out of his brawling habits. He’s starting to become addicted to the pain and does not want to spend the rest of his days in a brawl with himself. He’s coaxed out of a self-imposed retirement by the representatives of the undefeated Jack Wilson (played by William Smith) who believe the underground fighting arena would pay huge sums to see the pair do battle. When Philo refuses, they kidnap Halsey-Taylor as leverage, which sparks a madcap series of chases in the film’s latter half as Orville and Philo pursue a rescue, the Black Widow Gang pursue revenge, and the bare-knuckle brawling bookies pursue a major payday.

Directed by long-time Eastwood stunt double, Buddy Van Horn (whose most prominent on-screen appearance had been in High Plains Drifter), Any Which Way You Can is, pound for pound, a funnier, faster, and generally more entertaining film than Every Which Way But Loose. Its elements are more absurd and less credible, but the laughs are sharper and the final fist-fight has more interesting stakes (not to mention a genuinely better matched opponent in Wilson). In purely objective terms, it’s a lesser film for all of its outrageousness; but it’s also a difficult film not to enjoy.

There isn’t much to credit in terms of performance that wasn’t there in the first film except that the leader of the Black Widow Gang (a buffoon named Cholla played by John Quade) is given a surprising glut of comedic opportunities. Quade was in the first film playing the same character, but that earlier film tried not to push the absurdity boundaries very much whereas this film embraces the looney tunes nature of the gang of knuckleheads. Cholla’s lines (as well as the overall narrative arc of the gang) are better in this film and the film is better for their continued presence.

Eastwood, Lewis, Gordon, and Locke are each as watchable and engaging as they were the first time around (if not more so). One element of this entry that I enjoyed tremendously was that the final fight sequence between Philo and Wilson is evenly matched and genuinely tense. Eastwood has had a multitude of fist-fights in nearly all of his films, and in almost every one of them he single-handedly mops the floor with his opponents. However, in the fight in this film, he’s not only evenly matched, there is a genuine question through out the whole fight as to whether or not he will win. I won’t spoil the outcome for you here, but there are some anxious surprises in the midst of it that I frankly found refreshing.

There is an element to the film which is worth noting, although it is sad and disturbing. There is an on-screen fight between a ferret (called a mongoose in the film) and a rattlesnake. The American Human Society gave a pass to the fight sequence (even though it looks uncomfortably realistic) because the rattler had been milked and defanged and therefore posed no real threat to the ferret. In my opinion, the fight looks too realistic to have been anything but traumatic for the animals whether or not they survived. However, the real tragedy of the film is that the orangutan who portrayed Clyde was beaten to death by his trainer shortly after filming wrapped (reportedly for stealing donuts from the set). It is tragic to think of the basic care and respect that was denied these animals on set and regardless of the justifications of a different sociological climate, it is upsetting to hear of such horrific behavior in an otherwise delightfully joyful and silly movie.

With the sincere asterisk pinging the treatment of the animals on set (which may understandably upset certain viewers beyond excuse), Any Which Way You Can is an otherwise fun, delightful and charming entry for Eastwood. If viewers were remotely a fan of Every Which Way But Loose, viewing this sequel is a no-brainer, but it’s even easy to recommend for the casual viewer looking to see a bit of Eastwood’s lighter side.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: BRONCO BILLY

BRONCO BILLY (1980)

I’ve got a special message for you little pardners out there. I want you to finish your oatmeal at breakfast and do as your mom and pa tell you because they know best. Don’t ever tell a lie and say your prayers at night before you go to bed. And as our friends south of the border say, ‘Adios, amigos.’” – Bronco Billy McCoy

Eastwood’s filmography had begun to take a surprising turn towards lighter and more optimistic material. His gritty revisionist westerns and ultra-violent cop thrillers had yielded to the comically whimsical Every Which Way but Loose and the understated suspense of Escape from Alcatraz. While these films are by no means family-oriented, they’re unquestionably lighter than Eastwood’s typical fare.

But then he directed Bronco Billy – a modern day fable steeped in idealism and sentiment thicker than frozen maple syrup. The script was written by the team of Dennis Hackin and Neal Dobrofsky (with only Hackin receiving eventual film credit) and Eastwood was immediately drawn to the material.

Bronco Billy chronicles the struggling days of a traveling Wild West Show, featuring an assortment of ex-convicts and deadbeats who pose as cowboys and Indians to entertain local communities. Led by “Bronco” Billy McCoy (Eastwood) the troupe frequently scrape by on little to no money, driven by their familial comradery and the joy that they bring to children or the less fortunate who enjoy their show. Billy can be ornery and stubborn, but he has an open heart and a loyal spirit. When the troupe encounters the feisty Antoinette Lily (Sondra Locke) – a woman who had been abandoned and left penniless by her new husband (Geoffrey Lewis) – she is initially skeptical of their benevolence and idealism, but eventually comes to genuinely admire Billy and his team. However, her disappearance has left her husband a suspected murderer and an inheritance in question. While the troupe debates about whether her presence is bad or good luck, Billy is determined to keep his Wild West Show alive and smiling for as long as humanly possible.

It is immediately evident, even without any meta-knowledge of the production, that this became a very personal work for Eastwood. He strikes a tone with Bronco Billy that we’ve yet to see from him. Even the tenderness he displayed in Breezy was offset by a heavy and mature narrative. But with Bronco Billy, Eastwood forays into outright sentiment, and delivers a surprisingly charming and good-natured film (something which does feel truly rare in his catalogue). The wackiness of Every Which Way but Loose may have set the stage for the lighter material, but that film carried a sarcastic bite with its fun. Bronco Billy, by contrast, isn’t remotely cynical. Both in the character of Billy McCoy and in the good-natured dynamic of his acting troupe, the film dares to explore something truly anomalous in Eastwood’s filmography thus far: that not only does your past not have to define you, but you can actively be whoever you set out to be.

Eastwood’s films are often mired in consequence and detriment, burdened by the weight of moral ambiguity and a painfully haunted landscape (whether the bullet-riddled west or the streets of San Francisco). But Bronco Billy never pulls the rug out from under its optimism. There are complications along the way – sometimes dire ones – but there is a firm undercurrent of hope that feels genuinely refreshing for someone like Eastwood to express. Billy’s troupe of characters are all losers according to common standards, but Billy has given them a place and a chance to move beyond those distinctions. True, he isn’t perfect (just check out the tongue-lashing he gives to his whole gang when they dare to ask about payment after six months), but he’s genuine, and that’s the real irony and charm of his character. Billy McCoy is an ex-con and a louse, but by pretending to be “Bronco Billy” his more authentic self emerges and produces something impressive and joyful (even when the bits they perform go comically wrong).

Eastwood surrounded himself with dependable performers who could authenticate the material: Geoffrey Lewis who had previously co-starred in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and – more recently – Every Which Way but Loose; the charismatic and boisterous character actor, Scatman Crothers; and in her fourth collaboration with real-life partner Eastwood – Sondra Locke. All of them deliver earnest and entertaining performances, making Bronco Billy a disarmingly enjoyable – if somewhat slower paced – piece. Eastwood himself delivers a surprisingly sensitive performance, juggling comic timing and tenderness in equal measure to his trademark tough squint.

Bronco Billy wasn’t a huge success at the box office (although it was profitable), but was praised among most critics. Eastwood often spoke of that film in personal and affectionate terms. He is quoted as saying, “It was an old-fashioned theme, probably too old fashioned since the film didn’t do as well as we hoped. But if, as a film director, I ever wanted to say something, you’ll find it in Bronco Billy.” Speaking for myself, I found the film to be a refreshingly heartfelt piece of work. Not only was it not diluted by its overt sentiment, that sentiment made it all the more endearing and worth seeking out.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979)

“I may have found a way out of here.” – Frank Morris

Aspiring writer Richard Tuggle had painstakingly researched and adapted a script about the only potentially successful escape attempt from the world’s most notorious prison. He submitted it to multiple agencies and was consistently rejected. Finally, he sought out the agent of Don Siegel and cleverly deceived a way to get his script to him. Siegel read the script and enjoyed it, passing it on to Eastwood as their next potential partnership.

Siegel and Eastwood, once close friends and frequent collaborators, had not made a film together since the original Dirty Harry (in which Eastwood had even directed a few scenes). Eastwood agreed to let his old friend direct if the film could be made through Malpaso Productions (Eastwood’s film company which had produced nearly every film in which he’d been involved since Hang ‘Em High). Siegel wanted production credit, however, and went around Eastwood to acquire the script directly. This choice created tension between the longstanding friends and would seal Escape from Alcatraz – their fifth collaboration – as their final one.

The film tells the true story of Frank Morris (Eastwood), who partnered with the Anglin brothers to mount an escape from the legendary Alcatraz prison in 1962. The film presents the prison warden (Patrick McGoohan) as a cold and cruel figure, choosing not to have him represent a real warden from the prison but rather a fictional archetype. The prisoners suffer various injustices at the hands of the guards and the warden, pushing Morris to develop a risky plan of escape.

Escape from Alcatraz is a different breed of thriller for Eastwood, allowing a deliberate pace to develop tension over an extended time rather than in a series of action bursts. The first half of the film is almost entirely dramatic in nature, establishing a variety of characters within the prison community and the various troubles the inmates suffer while there. Eventually the casualties and restrictions become too oppressive and the second half of the film becomes an escalating puzzle of tension as our characters struggle to enact their plan without being caught by the rigorous routines of the guards.

The performances are unanimously solid, featuring particularly strong turns from Robert Blossoms and Paul Benjamin (and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance by Danny Glover in his feature film debut). Patrick McGoohan is expectedly dastardly in a role perfectly suited for his special brand of passive malevolence. The film’s script is also remarkable in its focus, despite having little in the way of spectacle or shock and nothing in the way of romance. Whether or not the facts presented are authentic, the film’s tone makes you think that this all went down precisely how you’re seeing it, including the unstated but heavily implied outcome of the escape itself.

The pairing of Eastwood and Siegel has typically yielded strong work from each of them (Coogan’s Bluff was a real dud to me, but Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, and especially Dirty Harry are all standouts in Eastwood’s filmography). Escape from Alcatraz represents strong work yet again, albeit of a more restrained variety. It would be easy to sympathize with viewers who are put off by the bridled pace, but chances are strong that most viewers will find the steadily ratcheting tension rewarding and compelling.

It is unfortunate that this marked their last partnership, but it is not wholly unexpected. Eastwood had reached a point in his career where he’d had too many established hits (particularly as a director) and it’s easy to imagine that they’d both outgrown the mentor/performer dynamic that had flavored their earlier collaborations. Presumably, they patched up their differences prior to Siegel’s death in 1991, but there would never be another film from the pairing that was most directly responsible (apart from Sergio Leone’s western trilogy) for Eastwood’s rise and development as a star. As finales go, Escape from Alcatraz may not be the biggest possible hit, but it’s an impressive work nonetheless.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE

EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978)

“I’m not afraid of any man, but when it comes to sharing my feelings with a woman, my stomach turns to royal gelatin.” – Philo Beddoe

Every Which Way but Loose is often cited as one of the oddest entries in Eastwood’s catalogue. It’s also the highest-grossing hit of his career, even when adjusted for inflation. The film reunites Eastwood with his former costars Geoffrey Lewis (from Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) and Sondra Locke (who was quickly becoming a staple of Eastwood’s material). It also pairs him up with Academy Award Winner Ruth Gordon and an infectiously entertaining orangutan named “Clyde”. Clyde is most definitely a scene-stealer (although rumors of mistreatment by his trainer sour the fun of the film more than a little bit).

The story involves a blue-collar trucker named Philo Beddoe (Eastwood) who makes extra money on the side bare-knuckle brawling in underground fighting rings. He’s frequently compared to the legend of that arena, Tank Murdock, who he dreams of someday getting the chance to defeat. After Beddoe meets the lovely and mysterious country singer Lynn Halsey-Taylor (Locke), he sets aside nearly all priorities to pursue her and woo her. The somewhat zany antics that he and his buddy Orville (Lewis), not to mention the ever-present Clyde, encounter along the way make up the bulk of the narrative of the film (and nearly all of the fun). Both the romance and the fighting plotlines take some surprising turns adding up to a genuinely entertaining (if still vitally flawed) film.

Every Which Way but Loose is constantly referred to as a “change of pace” or “uncharacteristic” for Eastwood. But I found that designation puzzling after viewing his first 20+ films. True, it isn’t as dark or violent as the Dirty Harry films or any of Eastwood’s westerns, and it doesn’t feature ambitious action sequences like The Eiger Sanction or The Gauntlet. But apart from the overtly comedic elements (of which there are a multitude), this feels almost like textbook Eastwood material. Eastwood is once again playing a no-nonsense tough guy, who frequently scores with the ladies and embodies an almost western-style machismo.

The comedy is certainly uncharacteristic for Eastwood (the closest he’d come to it before was the disastrous Paint Your Wagon), but Eastwood spends most of the narrative as the straight man, allowing the eccentric Ruth Gordon, Clyde, and Geoffrey Lewis to handle most of the comedy. Eastwood is so firmly a man’s-man in this film that it almost becomes absurd how skilled he is as a brawler. Even the resolution to the final fight – which attempts to add some unexpected flavor to the character – feels so unearned and predictable as to be laughable rather than admirable.

As for the supporting cast, everyone is delivering solid work. Gordon had won an Oscar for Rosemary’s Baby and she brings the full force of her absurd-but-believable comedic powers to this role. Lewis is given a greater chance to play with different character beats – all of which he deftly handles – and the endearing orangutan Clyde is as charming as you’d expect him to be. Locke, who delivered a remarkable performance in The Gauntlet, stretches herself performance-wise by showing off her singing chops, but otherwise brings a similar catalogue of character choices to the role. It’s not a step down from The Gauntlet for her, but amidst a collection of stronger fellow supporting players, she doesn’t stand out quite as much as she did in Gauntlet.

Eastwood was advised against making this film and – as he usually did – he trusted his instincts more than the voices of his advisors. He didn’t direct the film, though. Those duties fell once again to James Fargo, who had directed Eastwood – if that’s what you can call it – in The Enforcer. There are no apparent rumors of on-set drama this time around and the resulting film was wholeheartedly embraced by audiences despite only being met with lackluster reviews from critics.

It also launched a series of more family-friendly and accessible films which would represent one of the most surprising and interesting periods in Eastwood’s filmography. The film remains the biggest money-maker of Eastwood’s career (and in the top 200 biggest box offices in cinema history). Having now seen the film, I’m uncertain it deserves that particular pedigree, but it is undeniably charming in its own way… or, every which way… something like that. You know what I mean.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: THE GAUNTLET

THE GAUNTLET (1977)

I’m warning ya, you mess around and I’ll put the cuffs on you. You talk dirty, I gag ya, if you run, I’ll shoot you. My name is Shockley, and we’ve got a plane to catch. Let’s go.” – Ben Shockley

The script for The Gauntlet had been bouncing around development for a while before it landed with Eastwood. Previously attached stars included Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, and even Barbara Streisand. When Eastwood eventually signed on to direct, he cast himself alongside his then real-life romantic partner Sondra Locke (who had first appeared with Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales).

The narrative is, in many ways, reminiscent of Eastwood’s much earlier film Coogan’s Bluff. In fact, several comparative narrative beats made me wonder if there wasn’t a subconscious desire on Eastwood’s part to try that basic story again, this time helming the directorial duties himself. The premise is that drunk and disillusioned officer Ben Shockley (Eastwood) is sent on assignment to extradite a witness named “Gus” Malley for a “nothing trial”. Upon arrival, Shockley quickly realizes that someone powerful would do anything to make sure that neither he nor Malley makes it back to Phoenix alive, and the pair of them must navigate a treacherous series of ambushes, traps, and unfortunate encounters before eventually facing down a multi-block, heavily armed barricade.

The two films are similar in their basic extradition plotline and in the narrative elements of the protagonist stepping into trouble beyond his original understanding. But there are some major differences between The Gauntlet and Coogan’s Bluff that make The Gauntlet the unquestionably stronger film.

First and foremost is the presence of Locke as the feisty and resourceful Malley. Locke wasn’t given much to do acting-wise in The Outlaw Josey Wales except for pine, swoon, and worry (all of which she still managed to make believable). With the character of Malley, she is given a much richer character and she attacks the role with commitment and complexity. She steals nearly every scene she’s in (which is most of the movie) and the real-life chemistry between her and Eastwood make their dynamic on screen frequently crackle.

The script is also tighter and more direct, with a more logical and focused direction to its narrative. There are some obvious contrivances and conveniences, a handful of which may very well elicit eye rolls, but the general structure is noticeably stronger than Coogan’s Bluff. However, the script could have done more with its character development and presented a less outlandish resolution to the central conflict. When viewed in reference to the similarly-premised earlier film, the script shines. But taken as an isolated piece, it’s pretty pedestrian.

Eastwood himself is as reliable as always, boosted substantially by getting to work with Locke. As an actor, there isn’t much surprise here, but as a director it’s both a step forward and backward. It lacks nearly all of the rich thematic exploration of The Outlaw Josey Wales, which makes it feel somewhat regressive – I forgot several times in the viewing of it that Eastwood directed it. However, as an action thriller, Eastwood deftly navigates some authentically thrilling sequences. His experiences on The Eiger Sanction were more ambitious (and dangerous), but his instincts for pacing the thrills take a big step forward here. Nearly a fifth of the film’s budget was spent solely on the action effects and that investment shows on-screen.

All of this adds up to something of a mixed bag. The script is mostly innocuous (not to mention frequently trite and unbelievable), but the action sequences are genuinely exciting (particularly the bombardment of its outrageous climactic journey through the gun-saturated city streets) and Sondra Locke delivers a compelling and interesting performance. Fans of Eastwood’s more rough-and-tumble thrillers will find a lot to enjoy, but those looking for something with more depth or substance might be left shrugging it off.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.