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.

What We Learned This Week: April 8-14

LESSON #1: INFUSE HEART INTO HORROR FILMS FOR ELEVATED IMPACT— John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place is making a killing at the box office for a multitude of reasons.  First, from a business standpoint, it’s a well-marketed horror movie with a PG-13 rating to increase the potential audience compared to R-rating fare.  Second, and more importantly, Krasinski and company made an intelligent and resonating film compared to the usual shock value thrills of the genre.  I believe their secret ingredient was heart.  Strip away the monsters and you have a family survival film comprised of characters you care about and invest in, not a cast of hollow and unmemorable stereotypes occupying a buffet menu for carnage.  For most disposable horror films, you kind of root for the creative kills but once the surprises are gone, so is the repeat value.  In A Quiet Place, you dread any potential for loss and the journey of avoidance becomes more compelling than any swift action.  That’s a powerful draw worth revisiting.  You’ll find three over-the-moon reviews of A Quiet Place between Aaron White’s take, the main episode here on Feelin’ Film, and my own on Every Movie Has a Lesson.

LESSON #2: HOW DO YOU PROPERLY REPLACE DECEASED ACTORS?— The rumor is out there that Meryl Streep could replace Carrie Fisher as Leia in the next Star Wars film.  Naturally, the purists… errr… I mean… hardcore fanboys led the charge of torches and pitchforks against such an idea, forgetting needs and logistics of the story in place.  If you have noticed (as the cited article points out), each returning Original Trilogy great has led the main focus for each film (Han had The Force Awakens, Luke had The Last Jedi), and Leia was the planned centerpiece of the third in J.J. Abrams’s script before Fisher’s death.  If that is true, it’s going to take quite a rewrite.  With shooting due to start this summer, it’s going to be very interesting to see how filmmakers are going to modify the plan.  What would you do?

LESSON #3: HOW DO YOU PROPERLY REPLACE DISGRACED ACTORS?— Comic actor T.J. Miller keeps adding to his sh-tstorm and diminishing reputation.  After reports of sexual misconduct and violence and transphobic bigotry surfaced last winter, he’s added federal fake bomb threat charges this week.  Even before this week, many, including a film critic peer of mine Danielle Solzman and an excellent Scott Mendelson piece in Forbes magazine, have questioned why Miller hasn’t received the Kevin Spacey treatment and been replaced or cut from Ready Player One (a simple ADR replacement you would think) and the upcoming Deadpool 2.  I have to believe the answers aren’t always as simple as a replacement, between the hangups of effort, time, negative impact potential, contracts, or the sliding scale of morality trying to define punishments that fit crimes.  In the end, I’ll sound like a teacher to say “fair is not always equal.”  What worked for Ridley Scott and TriStar Pictures might not work for Steven Spielberg and Warner Bros.  The only part that is up to moviegoers is whether to support films with these questionable cast inclusions with your ticket money.  For a critic like myself, it’s about checking biases at the door and judging the film not the people.

LESSON #4: THE SECRETS OF NETFLIX— I can’t be the only person who wastes time scrolling Netflix menus looking for something the sparks my interest while running into the same promoted and retreading menu preferences.  Word is there are codes to unlock and directly navigate to the narrow subgenres appearing within the evolving algorithms on Netflix that contain thousands of underrepresented movies.  Has anyone tried these?!  Follow this link and let us know!


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

What We Learned This Week: April 1-7

LESSON #1: BUILDING A CINEMATIC UNIVERSE IS HARD— With the impending arrival of Avengers: Infinity War marking a peak as the seventh film of the planned ten-film third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Patrick Shanley of The Hollywood Reporter asked the question “Can Anyone Besides Marvel Make a Cinematic Universe Work?” and it’s a good one.  We’ve seen Universal Pictures flop with its “Dark Universe” of movie monsters and Warner Bros. unable to find the same success with their DC Comics titles.  Franchises with sequels can be done (Transformers, Star Wars, Fast and Furious, etc.).  It’s the intertwining of standalone films and storylines that can exist on their own outside of the combinations that is key.  That requires developing more than one narrative and character.  Marvel did it right with by having patience with its unified vision.  Nothing was rushed.  The other attempts have not shown that level of patience.

LESSON #2: BELIEVE IN CINEMATIC GUILTY PLEASURES— The arrival of Pacific Rim: Uprising side-by-side with the nostalgic energy of Ready Player One calls to mind the idea of guilty pleasures.  Some movies are never going to win Oscars, but are just flat-out fun and garner repeat viewings for easy entertainment.  A fellow Chicago film critic buddy of mine always tries to assert that there are no such things as guilty pleasures.  If a film is good for someone to a pleasurable level, it must have some objective merit worth a higher rating without shame or the need to defend it.  I see his point, but I disagree.  I think it’s perfectly OK, realistically even-keeled if you will, to recognize the differences found between artistic integrity of a film and the fun value.  Honestly, we do the very same with the vice versa end of the highbrow other stuff.  For example, a film like Schindler’s List or any Terrence Malick film can easily be recognized for its artistic superiority and seriousness, but no one is going to Netlfix-and-Chill to a Holocaust film or an Emmanuel Lubezki slideshow of familial hate and trees.  If we’re going to put qualifiers on one end, why not the other?

LESSON #3: DON’T ALWAYS BELIVE FILM SNOBS— From guilty pleasures, we switch the gears to revered classics and faked bragging rights.  Film snobs exist in this world (I work amongst them constantly), but, let me tell you, the majority of them are full of sugar-honey-iced-tea.  First, they don’t admit to finding fun in those aforementioned guilty pleasures.  They were silly kids and teens once too, and I’ll put money on them geeking out to some adventure or playing princesses in a younger life.  They didn’t always watch French New Wave films on 35mm.  The second point of fakery stems from this Gizmodo article by James O’Malley presenting the top movies film snobs say they’ve seen but never actually have.  Those types of film snobs feel the need to rub our commoner noses with notions like “you’re not a true cinephile if you haven’t seen ____” or “you haven’t lived unless you’ve seen ___.”  If they are faking that, they deserve to be called out.  You have my permission to troll the hell out of these people with every meme of movie commercialism possible.

LESSON #4: AVOID PURVEYORS OF THE WORST CLICHES OF FILM REVIEW— Speaking of film snobs and piggybacking off of last week’s column, film critics are often guilty of hyperbole of their own.  Props to Feelin’ Film Facebook discussion group regular Jacob Neff for providing this Letterboxd list piece by Erik Bazjert on the worst frequently-used cliches in film reviews.  I adore this list and know too many film critics who fall for these and write with a pull-quote/pun methodology of little substance.  Worst of all, more often than not, these cliches are celebrated and even encouraged by every studio’s marketing departments to fill their posters, packaging, and signage with these overused and weak zingers.  Even if I never get to scratch off that bucket list item of having one of my reviews cited on a DVD/Blu-ray cover, I, for one, actively try to avoid every single one of these tired and ultimately meaningless expressions.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

What We Learned This Week: March 25-31

SPRING BREAK AND EASTER EDITION!

LESSON #1: DEAR CHRISTIAN FILM COMPANIES AND DISTRIBUTORS, SPREAD YOUR RELEASE SCHEDULE OUT— Don’t get me wrong.  I get it.  Easter might as well be Christmas: Part II, the Super Bowl, and WrestleMania when it comes to public awareness on all things Christianity.  Just because all eyes are on the “reason for the season” (if they can put down the eggs, bunnies, and candy) doesn’t mean that Easter should be the most stacked weekend of the calendar year for Christian-themed films.  The presence of I Can Only ImaginePaul Apostle of Christ, and God is Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness makes for three films competing for your Easter weekend dollars against the inviting mainstream fare like Ready Player One.  Spielberg’s film is going to get its money, but your films have a hard enough time making money (as well as other problems) as it is to have to now compete with each other.  Share the wealth, space your calendar out, and that means more than the two-week head start I Can Only Imagine gave itself to great success.  The calendar is full of holidays.  Pick another couple go-to weekends and fallbacks other than Easter.

LESSON #2: STEVEN SPIELBERG STILL HAS THE MAGIC— As heard on this week’s main Feelin’ Film podcast and read in my own review on Every Movie Has a Lesson (among many others) as well, Ready Player One feels like a tremendous return to form for the 71-year-old director who has spent the better part of the last decade making safe and tidy historical Social Studies lectures on film.  Cinema has sorely lacked the full power of his signature sense of wonder after mere glimpses in films like War HorseLincoln, and others.  Cue the WWE chant!

LESSON #3: STEVEN SPIELBERG NEVER LOST THE MAGIC— No matter the moral history preaching that went on, Steven Spielberg never lost his technical prowess within the medium.  If anything his more reserved and refined projects sharpened it and modernized it to be ready for something like Ready Player One.  The craftsman-level maturity he and his frequent collaborators (editor Michael Kahn, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, ILM guru Dennis Muren, and others) bring to a project like Ready Player One elevate the material and prevent what would be over-amplified noise and lazy fluff in lesser hands (yeah, I mean you Michael Bay and Tim Burton).  Rediscovered mojo or not, he never lost the talent.

LESSON #4: STEVEN SPIELBERG STILL LOST OTHER THINGS— Where Steven Spielberg might be slipping is with his rhetoric.  While doing press this week for his blockbuster’s big release, he commented that Netflix films shouldn’t qualify for Oscars, equating the streaming platform to a television outlet, making the filmmaker appear to be a little out of touch with the evolved marketplace film viewers operate within nowadays.  If you go to the official rulebook from the Academy, here’s the basics of what it takes for Best Picture eligibility:

I’ll grant the kicker of the Part D listed above as deal-breaker in my book to match Spielberg’s opinion.  Here’s the thing, Netflix has previously and does currently release some of its films in theaters for limited runs.  The trouble is, for the most part, their theatrical drops are a blip on the radar and the bare minimum similar to the “one-and-done” trend happening in NCAA Men’s Basketball with holding players in college for a year before making the leap straight to the NBA.  Neither practice really does much good and just delays the inevitable profitability (NBA money or Netflix reach) but, if the rule is followed eligibility is met, plain and simple.  This year’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival is already displaying an anti-Netflix power move by banning Netflix Original films from competing without a theatrical release.  I’ve said this before on other topics.  It’s all about price point, earning potential, and this being a business first now.  If a studio can make more money selling to Netflix (just ask Paramount with Annihilation) than it would the cost of printing it, marketing it, and putting it in limited theaters, I sure couldn’t tell them not to.

LESSON #5: “META” CAN’T GET WEIRDER THAN SHIA LEBOUF— In WTF news that could only come out of Hollywood, word hit the wire that Shia LeBeouf, at the young age of 31, has written (under a pseudonym) his own film autobiography and the casting has raised an eyebrow.  Signing Manchester by the Sea Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges to play the young Shia is a nice get, but what gets really weird is that LeBeouf himself will play his own father.  Yowzers!  Even if Shia is a dead ringer for his own father, I don’t know how big the grain of salt has to be to suspend the disbelief that the Shia you’re watching acting next to the other dude playing Shia isn’t the real Shia you see and recognize but his dad instead?!  That’s not going to be a good look for the continually growing deep end you’ve been leaping from, Mr. LeBeouf.  Dude, either play yourself (because you can) for the vanity or get another actor to separate the work behind-the-camera from the one on-camera.

LESSON #6: MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, NUDITY IS AN UNNECESSARY DISTRACTION IN MOVIES— As the former horndog pre-teen/teen who had no problem sneaking through his local video store to rent some Shannon Tweed Skin-a-max films back in the day, this lesson might be the most mature realization I’ve ever grown up to admit the truth on.  Get out the #adulting hashtag.  Jessica Chastain got herself a headline this week talking about nudity in film.  No stranger herself to nudity, the acclaimed actress made excellent points on discomfort, victimization, and whether the nudity in question matches what the characters themselves would really do.  The word “gratuitous” was never used by Chastain, but most of us adults can quickly label nudity in a movie (female and male, mind you) with that word pretty quickly.  She brings up valid points and I tip my hat with respect that someone wants to talk about it, especially during this #MeToo era.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

 

Episode 103: Ready Player One

It’s time to enter the OASIS! This week we were so excited to drop our new episode that we bumped up the release date because we’ve been anxiously awaiting this film ever since it was announced.We’re talking Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel, Ready Player One. We have a joyful conversation and also discuss some of the criticisms we’ve heard. Enjoy, gunters! 

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:57

(Aaron – The Hunger Games Quadrilogy & “Making Of” Documentaries)
(Patrick – Krypton)

Ready Player One Review – 0:17:22

The Connecting Point – 1:28:58


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MOVIE REVIEW: Ready Player One

READY PLAYER ONE (2018)

GOING IN

When you’ve read a book five times, purchased copies of it to give away, and sung its praises from the rooftops for almost 7 years, there are two major feelings you get when a movie adaptation is announced. First, you get incredibly excited (especially when it’s going to be directed by Steven freaking Spielberg), and second, you get incredibly nervous. Author Ernest Cline’s involvement in writing the script offers hope that any changes will be consistent in tone with the original work, but any time a piece of art/entertainment is so close to your heart it results in a battle to keep expectations in check.

2 Hours and 20 Minutes Later.

COMING OUT
Remember back to the time you saw an epic blockbuster film for the first time. Maybe it was Star Wars. Maybe it was Jurassic Park. Maybe it was The Avengers. Whatever the film was, it left you in awe of what movies could be. It transported you to some new world that you wanted to inhabit. It was an experience unlike any you’d had. Most likely, you would have gladly sat right in that same seat and started watching it again the moment it ended.

For the generations of people who grew up as gamers, movie, music, and TV lovers, and general pop culture addicts… Ready Player One is next in line. This is that film for you.

It was probably foolish to distrust Steven Spielberg in the first place, but we all make mistakes. Instead of disappointment, he delivered something wholly unique and special. The screenplay by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline is incredible. At the risk of using hyperbole, this might be the second best adaptation of a book that I’ve ever seen, and it’s not because the story is portrayed exactly as it is on the page. In fact, it’s the opposite. The film still follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan)/Parzival as he searches for James Halliday’s Easter egg inside of the OASIS. Parzival’s best friend Aech (Lena Waithe) and rival/love interest Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) are also looking for the egg, and the three try desperately to stay ahead of the evil Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and IOI Corporation, who wants control of the OASIS and seeks to monetize it through advertisements and subscription plans. So, the general flow of the book’s narrative remains the same, yet getting from point A to point B happens in much different ways. The brilliance of it all is that the story has been modernized. It is updated with current gen gaming and pop culture references galore, while retaining many of the 80’s story beats and nostalgia that made it so beloved in the first place. There are even references to older films such It’s A Wonderful Life and Citizen Kane. The updated way in which this script remembers classics is truly something special and it results in two different versions of the same story – which fans of all ages can now love.

Visually, Ready Player One is a staggering achievement. Transitioning from the CGI world to the one on film is nearly flawless, and the visual effects of the OASIS itself and what takes place inside of it is mind blowingly good. This is a film that truly does demand an IMAX viewing (or five). It is wonderful to look at but it is also accompanied by an incredible score from Alan Silvestri. Utilizing many classic films scores (plenty of which are his own), he creates themes that are at once both familiar and fresh. The nostalgic rush that comes from seeing a DeLorean on screen and a subtle alteration of the Back to the Future theme playing in the background creates such a feeling of joy. This experience is even better when shared with friends, who you’ll no doubt be poking constantly as you draw each other’s attention to some awesome reference made in the film.

And this communal nature of enjoying nostalgia together is also something that the script takes very seriously. In some ways, this film’s message is better than the book. Despite it taking place almost entirely in a virtual world, Ready Player One ultimately urges us to remember reality and take a break every now and again. It also puts a premium focus on teamwork, friendship, and avoiding regret.

VERDICT

Ready Player One is a special film. Spielberg and Cline have crafted a new version of a beloved story that stands on its own, and is equally (if not more) impressive than its source material. It is the kind of blockbuster that doesn’t come along very often and that fans will embrace with adoration – endlessly watching, quoting, and discussing. If you aren’t a gamer or don’t love pop culture references, then you’re not the droid this film is looking for and you should probably just move along. Otherwise, you’re in for a treat. Enjoy your visit to the OASIS. I hope to see you there.

Rating:


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 how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.