Best Picture Nominees, 2018 (Ranked)


It’s that time of year again. I’ve spent the past two Saturdays sitting in a dark theater for almost twelve hours, watching the nine films nominated for Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards. I’ll have more thoughts on this year’s nominees later (I plan to write a longer retrospective on the race after the ceremony, and also, I am very tired), but the following is my snap judgment about how they stack up to one another.

But first, a couple of caveats.

To begin with, it is really tough to rank these this year. They are very different films, with wildly different goals. This is true of any year, but seems especially true for this slate. How does one compare Phantom Thread to Lady BirdThe Shape of Water to The Post? The only films that are readily comparable are Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, and even they approach similar subject matter in such vastly different ways that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Also, and more importantly, I don’t have a really strong favorite yet. Last year it was far and away Moonlight, a modern masterpiece that isn’t likely to be equaled anytime soon (that Moonlight also won the big prize is slightly miraculous). However, the slate is overall stronger this year than last, with fewer clunkers and more movies that work all the way through, rather than in just their first half (looking at you, Lion) or second (oh hai, Hacksaw Ridge). So, I essentially have a list of seven movies that I overall liked quite a bit, but fewer than last year that I outright loved. Which makes them hard to rank.

Finally, I should mention that I saw three movies for the second time in the past two weeks: Dunkirk, Get Out, and Phantom Thread. I liked all three much better the second time around. That leads me to suspect that making a snap judgment at midnight after a twelve-hour day at the theater is probably not the best idea for these particular movies.

But of course, I’m doing it anyway. So here’s the list:

  1. Call Me By Your Name
  2. The Shape of Water
  3. Phantom Thread
  4. Get Out
  5. Dunkirk
  6. Lady Bird
  7. The Post
  8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  9. Darkest Hour

The first seven are all quite close, and there’s even quite a lot to admire about Three Billboards (there’s also quite a lot that doesn’t work, and Sam Rockwell, who is usually the unsung hero of every movie he’s in, is borderline miscast here). Darkest Hour though didn’t work for me at all, and I am usually a sucker for “uplifting biopic.” Not sure what went wrong here, but I mostly just found it kind of claustrophobic and unpleasant.

The Post, by contrast, was zippy, entertaining, and featured great performances — so everything you’d expect of late-career Steven Spielberg. Not a masterpiece, by any means, but fun.

Lady Bird was an affecting portrait of a particular time and place, with great, nuanced turns by Saorsie Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. It’s also very funny. This is one that I think will be especially improved on rewatch.

Dunkirk is an absolute assault on the senses. I was really affected by it, and found myself easily connecting to the characters. I was very impressed by Nolan’s ability to draw characters with clear motivation and conflicts with minimal dialogue. I don’t think this one would work half as well on the small screen, so I’m glad I got to see it again in the theater.

Get Out is funny and scary and incredibly smart. I noticed so many subtle touches the second time through, and was even more impressed by Daniel Kaluuya’s performance. Super excited to see whatever Jordan Peele’s next project is.

Phantom Thread caught me by surprise. PT Anderson is very hit-or-miss to me, and I haven’t loved any movie of his since There Will be Blood. Here, the subtle touches of the twisted romance between the lead characters held me utterly captivated, especially the second time through, where I was able to catch a lot of the nuances. I was particularly impressed by his camerawork, and he would, in fact, be my personal choice to win Best Director (of the nominees, anyway).

The Shape of Water is a beautiful film, as long as you can get past the fish sex. Guillermo del Toro’s love for the outcasts and the monsters makes for a moving cinematic experience like none other this year. It’s very close to my favorite of the nominees.

But for some reason, I found myself completely enraptured by Call Me By Your Name. Of course, that’s by design: it’s a beautiful Italian idyll, one that allows the complicated courtship between Oliver and Elio to play out amid perfect beauty. It traps you in this idyllic state, right up to the moment that it pulls back and you realize: in truth, this is a film about the beauty of broken things. As I said, it’s hard to choose a favorite from this group; but also, it’s not so difficult. Call Me By Your Name has not one, but two, perfect moments of cinematic grace. And they come right at the end. Take it away, Mr. Perlman:

“How you live your life is your business, just remember … our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart’s worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now, there’s sorrow, pain. Don’t kill it, and with it the joy you’ve felt.”




Well, old-ish anyway.

Today is January 1st, 2018, and I’m watching trashy 80’s horror movies. I’ll be writing a capsule review for each after I watch it, and editing them all into this post. So watch this space … and the skies … and the apartment complex … and the chopping shopping mall…



“I guess I’m just not used to running around a shopping mall in the middle of the night being chased by killer robots.”

Chopping Mall is about security robots killing a bunch of twenty-somethings trapped in a shopping mall after dark, and that’s really all you need to know. It comes to us from nearer the end of the 80s than the beginning, which gives it the benefit of some self-awareness but not the freedom to act on it. You can sense that tension running throughout: Chopping Mall seems acutely aware of its own genre trappings, and almost — but only almost —  shrugs them off at every turn. Characters are self-aware enough to critique the logic of splitting up — but then split up anyway. The women are resourceful enough to design their own bombs to destroy the killer robots — but then just light themselves on fire. One of the couples is actually married — but the survivors are still the chaste nerds. The film even begins with a random couple commenting on the stupidity of the robots, and thus the film they’re in — but the movie proceeds to plug along regardless. I thoroughly enjoyed the borderline meta-awareness of Chopping Mall, but ended up wishing it would have gone just a little bit further in challenging audience expectations.



“That’s not cranberry sauce…”

Thanksgiving, as a holiday, doesn’t exactly scream “murder rampage” — it’s all family gatherings and turkey and, yes, cranberry sauce. Luckily, Blood Rage knows the truth: family drama isn’t always boring. In fact, it can be absolutely killer. The film centers on twins Todd and Terry, both played as adults by Mark Soper. When they were kids, Terry killed a man and blamed his brother; Todd was sent to an asylum, while Terry got to live a normal, productive life. On Thanksgiving, Todd breaks out and Terry decides it’s the perfect time to start killing again. Blood Rage is your typical slasher in many respects, with fakeouts, jump scares, and sexy coeds getting murdered left and right. Three things set it apart. First, the gore effects, which are fabulous and gross and creative, get a real showcase in the many, many kills. Second, the performances are actually legitimately compelling. Soper does a great job differentiating the twins, with his performance as casual psychopath Terry being especially entertaining. And Louise Lasser is exceptionally raw as the twins’ mother, who spends most of the film in her own subplot slowly losing her mind. Finally, what makes the film really special is the focus on family. By taking the theme of family to its logical conclusion — that is, brutal murder and dismemberment — Blood Rage really is the ultimate Thanksgiving movie.



“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

I might as well quit while I’m ahead, because I’ve found it: The Best Slasher. Oh sure, there may be “better” slashers, but they all lack that most important of ingredients, that single defining quality that really makes a horror movie pop … They’re all missing…



Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. First things first: Mutilator is about a bereaved widow named Big Ed chasing down his matricidal son and his son’s lecherous friends. Oh, except Ed Jr. killed his mother by accident, and Big Ed also kills a couple of cops for some reason. Also, his son’s friends aren’t so bad. So actually, not so much of a stand-up guy.

The story takes place at a lonely beach house, where Ed’s father supposedly spends some of his time. Ed Jr.’s friends are a motley crew; the acting is oddly affected in places, which only adds to the camp value. But everyone here is likable, and most of them (except the horniest couple, obviously) get some time to shine before being, variously, decapitated, drowned, pitchforked through the neck, or, in one particularly excessive case, jabbed through the groin with a giant fish hook and then decapitated with a battleaxe.

I actually really enjoyed this one, and Mutilator is handily the best of the three slasher films I watched today. To begin with, it has actual suspense, and there were a few genuinely tense moments. The deaths are appropriately gory and the villain — though his motivations are still murky — at least has the semblance of a reason for doing what he’s doing. Oh yeah, and lest I forget …



Pam is Ed’s girlfriend and so prime slasher fodder. But she resists this pretty much from the word go. To begin with, she is obviously in charge — of Ed, and everyone else. She doesn’t take shit from resident jokester Ralph, once even FULL ON TOSSING HIM TO THE GROUND, PINNING HIM, AND RARING UP A PUNCH. When shit gets real, she’s immediately like “Come on, we’re leaving.” And when she’s overruled, she at least refuses to split up from Ed. Then in the climax of the film — spoiler alert! (no seriously, I’m gonna talk about the ending) — she straight-up kills the villain basically BY HERSELF. Ed is immediately incapacitated, so she throws a sharp block into Big Ed’s face, stabs him in the heart, burns his hand, and runs him into a brick wall, CUTTING HIM THE FUCK IN HALF. Pam rules. I don’t understand why Pam isn’t at least as iconic as Laurie Strode.

So anyway, that’s Mutilator. A great slasher by almost any metric, with at least one all-time worthy character. Definitely recommended if you like this genre.

New Directions


I recently wrote an entry for a prospective encyclopedia on sexism in American cinema on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. Hopefully it’s published someday (unfortunately, the publisher decided it wanted to focus on films only — no concepts or stock characters). But it got me thinking about this blog again, which I have sorely neglected, and about what I hoped to achieve when I started it.

Mostly I just wanted a place to record my thoughts on Criterion movies I watched. But the more I wrote, the more it felt like a waste of time — the responses I wrote were pitched somewhere uncomfortably between legitimate film criticism and capsule reviews. I couldn’t figure out the right tone to strike; for capsule reviews, they were too long, but for film criticism, they were too shallow. And so eventually I just stopped doing it.

But again, that article got me thinking. It would be fun, I thought, to write a blog in which I could practice my film writing. In which I could write the kinds of critical analysis that I enjoy reading in the special features of Criterion releases. Why not?

So, that’s where I am now. I’m interested in using this blog as a space to curate and practice film criticism. I imagine the focus will primarily be on Criterion movies, at least at first. But despite the name of the blog, I’m open to other movies, too.

I haven’t decided what form this critical reviews will take yet. The potential scope of this project rather boggles the mind. So at least at first, I think I’ll be focusing on film form as it relates to content. And I’ll look at one specific aspect of the movie I’m analyzing as a point of departure. For instance, time in Pulp Fiction, or visual language in the films of Jacques Tati. Of course, I probably won’t know what aspect of the film to analyze until I’ve watched it, though I may go in with some ideas.

I imagine that these reviews will take some time to write. I’m anticipating doing no more than two of them a month. And if you have any suggestions for themes, movies, or critical approaches, let me know. Also let me know if there are some critical texts on film writing that would be useful; though I have some general ideas about how to write a critique like what I’m proposing, it’s been some time since I’ve actually done it. I could use a refresher.

So that’s the New Direction. Similar to the Old Direction, but with a little more heft.

Here’s a clue for my first film.

Blade Runner 2049 is a Masterpiece Worthy of the Original


I did not love Blade Runner the first time I saw it. This may have been the result of some teenage rebelliousness: I went in knowing it was my father’s favorite movie. I also went in thinking it was going to be some kind of sci-fi action movie; if not Star Wars, at least Star Wars-adjacent. What I got was a film whose pace can charitably be called “measured.” At the time, I would have chosen words more like “boring” and “pretentious.”

I think because I’ve been there, I am not the kind of Blade Runner fan who thinks that if you don’t like it, you don’t “get” it. It took many viewings to settle on my adoration for the film, something that often happens for me with thoughtful, measured sci-fi epics (I went on virtually the same cinematic journey for 2001: A Space Odyssey). I began to love the languid pace, the stunning visuals, the deep ambiguity at the core of the film. But it took time, and many years, to get there.

Which is why it’s rather extraordinary that I loved Blade Runner 2049 pretty much right out of the gate.

To be sure, much of this is likely due to the fact that I now deeply respect the first film. The original Blade Runner has become strangely nostalgic for me, despite that it’s probably only in the last ten years or so that I developed a real appreciation for it. Yet it’s not just nostalgia driving my love of the new film: it’s also that, in those same ten years, I’ve become increasingly interested in the question of humanity. What does it mean to be human? And what would happen if we extended that definition to encompass all sorts of nonhuman others?

Blade Runner 2049 is interested those same questions, and it approaches them with all the ambient beauty and deep ambiguity of the original Blade Runner.


The story of Blade Runner 2049 is best experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible. Suffice it to say, Ryan Gosling plays a Blade Runner named K who stumbles across a mystery that could change everything. And really, that’s all you need to know.

There’s a large number of characters in the film, and almost every one broaches a new subject in the question of what it means to be human. My favorites in the supporting cast were undoubtedly Ana de Armas as Joi, a hologram girlfriend, and Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, a deadly replicant in service to Jared Leto’s creepy Niander Wallace. Both do exceptional work here and deserve to break out into the mainstream. Robin Wright also does fine work as K’s icy, though sympathetic, boss, and Mackenzie Davis, though her runtime is brief, is involved in what will certainly be among the most infamous sequences in a major Hollywood film this year.

But you’re here for Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. Good news: they’re both great. Gosling’s stoic charisma has never been better deployed, and Ford gives a late-career best performance here as a wounded man (or replicant!) who wears his heartbreak on his sleeve. (If you’re wondering, by the way, whether this film addresses “the replicant question” that has become the heart of so much debate about Blade Runner since its release, the answer is yes. And the answer it comes up with is brilliant.)

Of course, the real star of the show is Roger Deakins, cinematographer extraordinaire whose work here will hopefully net him a long-deserved Academy Award. Blade Runner 2049 looks absolutely stunning; every sequence is gorgeously constructed, deepening the world and creating an intoxicating atmosphere that draws you in and doesn’t let you go. See this on the biggest screen you can. Deakins and director Denis Villeneuve have created an entire world here.


But it all comes back to that question: What makes us human — is it how we’re born, or how we live? The way the story is weaved into that question at every turn is Blade Runner 2049‘s real triumph, and the reason it more than lives up to the promise of the original. The new Blade Runner is a masterpiece, a worthy successor that deepens and extends the themes and the world of the original while honoring a sci-fi aesthetic that quite literally changed cinema forever. It is a perfect sequel.

And I only had to see it once to fall in love. That has to count for something too, right?

Favorite Films Since I Was Born: ’05-’09

Don’t stop me now! I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball…

**Note: This post is still in progress



Batman Begins, Dir. Christopher Nolan

The Brothers Grimm, Dir. Terry Gilliam

Capote, Bennett Miller

Constantine, Dir. Francis Lawrence

A History of Violence, Dir. David Cronenberg

King Kong, Dir. Peter Jackson

V for Vendetta, Dir. James McTeigue


Grizzly Man, Dir. Werner Herzog — A singularly powerful documentary about hubris, innocence, and the relationship between humans and nature.

My Favorite Film of 2005


Brokeback Mountain, Dir. Ang Lee — One of the most beautiful films ever made, with Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal both projecting intense vulnerability and strength.



Blood Diamond, Dir. Edward Zwick

The Departed, Dir. Martin Scorsese

The Devil Wears Prada, Dir. David Frankel

The Host, Joon-ho Bong

The Lives of Others, Dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Dir. Gore Verbinski

Pan’s Labyrinth, Dir. Guillermo del Toro

The Prestige, Dir. Christopher Nolan

Silent Hill, Dir. Christophe Gans


Slither, Dir. James Gunn — A deliciously dark horror-comedy with top-notch performances, hideous makeup, and an appropriately disgusting monster. Not quite as good as John Carpenter’s The Thing, but certainly in the same ballpark.

My Favorite Film of 2006


Children of Men, Dir. Alfonso Cuaron — A brilliant dystopian vision with magnetic performances and outstanding camerawork.



The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Dir. Andrew Dominik

Atonement, Dir. Joe Wright

Enchanted, Dir. Kevin Lima

Gone Baby Gone, Dir. Ben Affleck

Grindhouse, Dir. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Dir. David Yates

Hot Fuzz, Dir. Edgar Wright

Persepolis, Dir. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Dir. Gore Verbinski

The Savages, Dir. Tamara Jenkins

Stardust, Matthew Vaughan

There Will be Blood, Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson


Zodiac, Dir. David Fincher — Fincher’s best film is one about a subject he knows well: obsession. Jake Gyllenhaal is perfect as a reporter doggedly trying to solve an unsolvable case by unmasking the Zodiac Killer. Beautiful and creepy, with a few scenes of violence and tension that stick with you long after the final frame.

My Favorite Film of 2007


No Country for Old Men, Dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen — 2007, let it be said, is a stacked year. I absolutely adore several other films from this year, including Enchanted, Stardust, Grindhouse, Hot Fuzz, and The Assassination of Jesse James; also, the fifth Harry Potter is in a dead-heat for my favorite in the series with Azkaban. But even in such a wonderful year for film, No Country wins it handily. Pitch-black comedy; clutch-your-armrest suspense; shocking violence: this one has it all. One of the Coen Bro’s best movies, a dark exploration of violence that forgoes catharsis for something altogether more unnerving and, ultimately, thought-provoking.



The Dark Knight, Dir. Christopher Nolan

Iron Man, Dir. Jon Favreau

Rachel Getting Married, Dir. Jonathan Demme

The Strangers, Dir. Bryan Bertino

Synecdoche, New York, Dir. Chales Kaufman

Tropic Thunder, Dir. Ben Stiller

WALL-E, Dir. Andrew Stanton

The Visitor, Dir. Thomas McCarthy


The Hurt Locker, Dir. Kathryn Bigelow

My Favorite Film of 2008

The Wrestler, Dir. Darren Aronofsky




My Favorite Film of 2009

Favorite Films Since I Was Born: ’00-’04

Onward and upward!

The ’00s



American Psycho, dir. Mary Harron

Battle Royale, Dir. Kinji Fukasaku

Billy Elliot, Dir. Stephen Daldry

Cast Away, Dir. Robert Zemeckis

The Emperor’s New Groove, Dir. Mark Dindal

Ginger Snaps, Dir. John Fawcett

O Brother, Where Art Thou?, dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Unbreakable, Dir. M. Night Shyamalan

Yi Yi, Dir. Edward Yang


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Dir. Ang Lee — A moving and romantic wuxia epic, and one of the most gorgeous films ever made. Sublime action underscores how helpless the characters feel to change their fates. All the bold swordplay in the world can’t save you from unhappiness, or from the constraints of a society built on suffocating honor. Any other year, and this would have been an easy favorite.

My Favorite Film of 2000


In the Mood for Love, Dir. Wong kar-Wai — Even more than kar-Wai’s Chungking Express, my favorite film of 1994, In the Mood for Love is a brilliant, beautiful, and difficult evocation of unconsummated love. It is deeply romantic, but compelling because, like its characters, it resists getting too close: kar-Wai’s camera is always peeking at our characters, around a corner or through a door, as they circle each other, trying desperately to decide if they love each other enough to overcome the disappointments that bring them together. A bold and compelling masterpiece, and one of the greatest films ever made.



A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Dir. Steven Spielberg

Amelie, Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Donnie Darko, Dir. Richard Kelly

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Dir. John Cameron Mitchell

A Knight’s Tale, Dir. Brian Helgeland

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dir. Peter Jackson

Monsoon Wedding, Dir. Mira Nair

Mulholland Dr., Dir. David Lynch

The Others, Dir. Alejandro Amenabar

Wet Hot American Summer, Dir. David Wain


Spirited Away, Dir. Hayao Miyazaki — Another beautiful, poignant, wildly creative Miyazaki film, well deserving of its Oscar for Best Animated Film.

My Favorite Film of 2001


The Devil’s Backbone, Dir. Guillermo del Toro — In my opinion, this is del Toro’s finest film: a great ghost story, with terrifying human villains and an unforgettable setting. It made an indelible impression when I first saw it, and some images (like the one above) continue to haunt and mesmerize me to this day.



28 Days Later…, Dir. Danny Boyle

Catch Me if You Can, Dir. Steven Spielberg

City of God, Dir. Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund

Lilo and Stitch, Dir. Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Dir. Peter Jackson

Minority Report, Dir. Steven Spielberg

Road to Perdition, Sam Mendes

Signs, Dir. M. Night Shyamalan


The Pianist, Dir. Roman Polanski — I am by no means a Polanski apologist, but The Pianist remains a gut-wrenching masterpiece, a story of the Holocaust told on a deeply intimate scale, with a shattering performance by Adrien Brody.

My Favorite Film of 2002


The Ring, Dir. Gore Verbinski — That rare horror film that is not only terrifying, but also absolutely beautiful. Sequences here stick with you because they are shot in a stunning melancholy way that burrows right under the skin and scrapes along your bones.



Elf, Dir. Jon Favreau

Finding Nemo, Dir. Andrew Stanton

House of Sand and Fog, Dir. Vadim Perelman

Hulk, Dir. Ang Lee

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Dir. Peter Jackson

Oldboy, Dir. Park Chan-wook

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Dir. Gore Verbinski

The Station Agent, Dir. Tom McCarthy

The Triplets of Belleville, Dir. Sylvain Chomet

X2: X-Men United, Dir. Bryan Singer


Big Fish, Dir. Tim Burton — A timeless fairy tale tinged with that Buron darkness. His last masterpiece, and a very, very close runner up this year. But how can I say no to…

My Favorite Film of 2003


Kill Bill, Vol. 1, Dir. Quentin Tarantino — A demented symphony of blood and honor, featuring killer dialogue and sublime action. Far and away my favorite Quentin Tarantino film for the way it distils his excesses to their very essence for 111 minutes of pure cinematic expressionism. The sequel is also good, but somehow less pure. They stand together as some of the best action cinema since Die Hard.



Dawn of the Dead, Dir. Zach Snyder

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Dir. Charlie Kaufman

Hellboy, Dir. Guillermo del Toro

Howl’s Moving Castle, Dir. Hayao Miyazaki

The Incredibles, Dir. Brad Bird

Kill Bill Volume 2, Dir. Quentin Tarantino

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Dir. Brad Silberling

Mean Girls, Dir. Mark Waters

Shaun of the Dead, Dir. Edgar Wright

Spider-Man 2, Dir. Sam Raimi


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — A rain-drenched fantasia that manages to deftly combine whimsy with despair: the Dementors, J.K. Rowling’s greatest inventions, are not simply “fear itself,” they are potent metaphors for depression, something Harry is feeling a lot of. More than any other film in the series — which I thoroughly enjoy, and which will continue to pop up on the rest of my list (albeit never quite in the #1 spot) — Azkaban understands the power of magic — and the terror of feeling alone even in a magical world.

My Favorite Film of 2004


Before Sunset, Dir. Richard Linklater — In a very,  very tough year, I ultimately had to go with one of my all-time favorites, a brainy, romantic walk-and-talk that is just about the purest expression of Linklater’s slacker aesthetic that you could imagine. Featuring appealingly vulnerable performances by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, this bold cinematic experiment in the nature of time began with the perfectly constructed Before Sunrise and found its natural apotheosis in the earth-shattering Before Midnight. Let this perfect middle movie stand in for the whole perfect –yes, perfect — trilogy.

Favorite Films Since I Was Born: ’95-’99

Continuing on with the list!

The 90s



Before Sunrise, Dir. Richard Linklater

Clueless, Dir. Amy Heckerling

Die Hard with a Vengeance, Dir. Jon McTiernan

Jumanji, Dir. Joe Johnston

La Haine, Dir. Mathieu Kassovitz

The Quick and the Dead, Dir. Sam Raimi

Seven, Dir. David Fincher

Toy Story, Dir. John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, and Ash Brannon

The Usual Suspects, Dir. Bryan Singer


Waterworld, Dir. Kevin Kostner — I know what you’re thinking: But this movie is terrible! Yes, yes it is. It was also one of my favorites growing up, in no small part because of how awful and cheesy it is. I also love how much of a financial failure it was: something about the fact that everyone hates it, and that it failed spectacularly, makes it endlessly endearing to me. Go figure.

My Favorite Film of 1995


Safe, Dir. Todd Haynes — Julianne Moore is absolutely terrific, and the film itself is by turns harrowing, unsettling, and incisive: a brilliant commentary on contemporary society from a myriad of directions. This is one I actually want to revisit now, as I haven’t seen it in a while.



The Birdcage, Dir Mike Nichols

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dir. Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Independence Day, Dir. Roland Emmerich

James and the Giant Peach, Dir. Henry Selick

Scream, Dir. Wes Craven

Trainspotting, Dir. Danny Boyle


Matilda, Dir. Danny DeVito — A dark delight that I watched a lot when I was younger, in part because young Matilda reminded me a lot of myself, at least as far as her love of reading goes (though not, thankfully, in terms of her family life!). Pure magic.

My Favorite Film of 1996


Fargo, Dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen — This was not a difficult decision, as Fargo is one of the all-time greats — another brilliant black comedy, but with a genuine sweetness at its core. Not a moment is wasted in the Coen Bro’s typically funny and abrasive screenplay, and Frances McDormand gives one of the all-time great performances.



Austin Powers, Dir. Jay Roach

Contact, Dir. Robert Zemeckis

Event Horizon, Dir. Paul W.S. Anderson

Gattaca, Dir. Andrew Niccol

Grosse Point Blank, Dir. George Armitage

The Ice Storm, Dir. Ang Lee

Jackie Brown, Dir. Quentin Tarantino

Mousehunt, Dir. Gore Verbinski

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Dir. David Mirkin

Starship Troopers, Dir. Paul Verhoeven

Runner Ups

The Fifth Element, Dir. Luc Besson — I love the totally gonzo imagination on display here, from the great design to the haunting music to the inventive direction. I’ve even grown to love Chris Tucker’s mostly insufferable, but oddly endearing, Ruby Rhod.

My Favorite Film of 1997


Princess Mononoke, Dir. Hayao Miyazaki — In a surprisingly competitive year, Princess Mononoke wins by being not just my favorite of 1997, but very likely my favorite ever. Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece is a tour-de-force approaching complex themes like the relationship between humans and nature, the difference between good and evil, and even the definition of humanity. It’s visually sumptuous, funny, shocking, action-packed, and complicated. Love everything about this one.



The Big Lebowski, Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

The Faculty, Dir. Robert Rodriguez

Practical Magic, Dir. Griffin Dunne

Saving Private Ryan, Dir. Steven Spielberg

Shakespeare in Love, Dir. John Madden


Mulan, Dir. Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook, and Niki Caro — The only thing I don’t like about this one is Mushu, and even he’s pretty tolerable for a Disney sidekick. Otherwise, everything works: from the action to the humor to insanely catchy music.

My Favorite Fim of 1998


The Thin Red Line, Dir. Terrence Malick — A beautiful, harrowing, and thoroughly Malick-ian exploration of war — both the external kind and the internal kind. Malick asks some of the biggest questions — Is humanity inherently violent? Is the impulse to destroy something we are born with, or something we learn? — and somewhow, miraculously, turns out one of the greatest films every made about the violent conflict at the center of the human heart.



American Beauty, Dir. Sam Mendes

Audition, Dir. Takashi Miike

The Green Mile, Dir. Frank Darabont

Magnolia, Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

The Matrix, Dir. The Wachowskis

The Sixth Sense, Dir. M. Night Shyamalan

Sleepy Hollow, Dir. Tim Burton

Toy Story 2, Dir. John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, and Ash Brannon


First, know that I had to literally do a coin toss to choose my favorite of this year. I’m at peace with what ended up on top, but I love both of these films SO MUCH.

The Iron Giant, Dir. Brad Bird —  A movie that’s absolutely bursting with heart, wit, and beauty. One of the greatest animated films ever made.

My Favorite Film of 1999


Galaxy Quest, Dir. Dean Parisot — Simply put, one of the funniest films ever made. Every single actor is perfect for their part, including and especially Alan Rickman in one of his most sublimely irritated performances. Tim Allen is even appealing, and the film ends up being quite emotionally affecting, too. The more I think about it the happier I am with this choice. By Grabthar’s Hammer, what a movie.

So, just to recap, my choices so far are:

1989 — The ‘Burbs

1990 — Total Recall

1991 — A Brighter Summer Day

1992 — Death Becomes Her

1993 — Addams Family Values

1994 — Chungking Express

1995 — Safe

1996 — Fargo

1997 — Princess Mononoke

1998 — The Thin Red Line

1999 — Galaxy Quest

Tomorrow: The First five years of ’00’s!

Favorite Films Since I Was Born: ’89-’94

I was born in the back half of 1989, which means I have spent almost 28 years on Earth (before that, who can say?). Those 28 years have produced some truly outstanding films, a few of which I’ve actually seen.

A few days ago I saw on article on the AV Club asking, “What does your favorite movie from every year since you were born say about you?” I wasn’t sure I could answer that question, but I knew I could probably come up with a list of movies, mostly because I love making lists. What were my favorite movies of the last 28 years? This should be fun!

I threw together my list in about ten minutes, posted it on Facebook (which often feels like shouting into the void), then moved on to my grading. Not long after, a few friends picked up the idea, and before I knew it a bunch of people were making lists that they seemed to be taking quite a bit more seriously than I had. I am not used to feeling outdone when it comes to list-making — so I’ve decided to try again, and take it a bit slower this time.

I’m going to make a blog post for ever five years over the course of the next few days. Each year will have three categories: “My Favorite Film of [x],” which will get a short write-up; “Runner-Up,” which is my second favorite of the year and will also get a write-up; and “Contenders,” a few other movies that I also liked but didn’t quite make the top two. So, without further ado, let’s give a more serious attempt at this a shot.

First, late 80s and 90s.




Back to the Future Part II, Dir. Robert Zemeckis

Batman, Dir. Tim Burton

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Dir. Steven Spielberg

Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, Dir. Masami Hata and William T. Hurtz

My Left Foot, Dir. Jim Sheridan

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Dir. Jeremiah S. Chechick


Crimes and Misdemeanors, Dir. Woody Allen — This was my pick on the original list, before I started taking a closer look at the years. I am not the world’s biggest Woody Allen fan, but Crimes and Misdemeanors is a great morality play with a complicated and dark center. Martin Landau is fabulous.

My Favorite Film of 1989


The ‘Burbs, dir. Joe Dante — Going with my gut and my heart, not my brain! The ‘Burbs is a delightfully oddball dark comedy, and I can probably attribute much of my sense of humor today to scenes like this one, and my love of horror to scenes like this one. To this day I probably watch The ‘Burbs about once a year.

The 90s



Arachnophobia, Dir. Frank Marshall

Dances With Wolves, Dir. Kevin Costner (fight me m8!)

Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Dir Joe Dante

Miller’s Crossing, Dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Misery, Dir. Rob Reiner

Nightbreed, Dir. Clive Barker

Tremors, Dir. Ron Underwood


Edward Scissorhands, Dir. Tim Burton — Burton’s luminous, dark fairy tale still enchants to this day, and remains one of my favorite of his many classic films.

My Favorite Film of 1990


Total Recall, dir. Paul Verhoeven — I have a confession to make: I love trashy Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, and I love many of Paul Verhoeven’s films, as well (Starship Troopers would handily win 1997 if my favorite film of all time hadn’t been released that year). Total Recall is a deft combination of both, delivering great action, some of Arnold’s best one-liners (“Consider that a divorce!”), and plenty of surreal touches, the latter of which helps set it apart from your run-of-the-mill action movie.




The Addams Family, Dir. Barry Sonnenfeld

The Double Life of Veronique, Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski

Fried Green Tomatoes, Dir Jon Avnet

Hook, Dir. Steven Spielberg

Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Dir. James Cameron


The Silence of the Lambs, Dir. Jonathan Demme — A psychologically twisted exploration of madness and identity; Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins are both terrific.

My Favorite Film of 1991


A Brighter Summer Day, Dir. Edward Yang — I’ve written about this film before here. Suffice to say I adore it; if it were released in almost any other year, it would take the top spot there, too. It’s four hours long, but an absolute masterpiece. You have to be in a particular mood to enjoy it, I think, but despite that I can’t recommend it highly enough.



Alien 3, Dir. David Fincher

Army of Darkness, Dir. David Fincher

Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dir. Francis Ford Coppola

Candyman, Dir. Bernard Rose

Dead Alive, Dir. Peter Jackson

The Muppet Christmas Carol, Dir.

Reservoir Dogs, Dir. Quentin Tarantino

Unforgiven, Dir. Clint Eastwood


Batman Returns, Dir. Tim Burton — This might actually be my favorite comic book movie, for one big reason: Michelle. Pfeiffer. Catwoman is a great villain, but Selina Kyle is just as interesting — and when the two halves of her character get to play off one another, as they do in this standout scene, magic happens. The only reason this isn’t #1 is that the rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to what Pfeiffer is doing here.

My Favorite Film of 1992


Death Becomes Her, Dir. Robert Zemeckis — A bitingly funny, unrepentantly nasty piece of dark comedy with pitch-perfect performances by Bruce Willis (playing way against type), Meryl Streep, and Goldie Hawn. Admittedly I haven’t seen this one in a while so it may not hold up, but come on — scenes like this are comedy gold!


Note: Wow, I did not realize how crazy packed this year was when I made my list the first time.


Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Dir. Bruce Tim and Eric Radomski

Cronos, Dir. Guillermo del Toro

Hocus Pocus, Dir. Kenny Ortega

Jurassic Park, Dir. Steven Spielberg

The Nightmare Before Christmas, Dir. Henry Selick

Schindler’s List, Dir. Steven Spielberg


Dazed and Confused, Dir. Richard Linklater — I dearly love this film and wrote about it here. It was an absolute dead heat for #1.

My Favorite Film of 1993


Addams Family Values, Dir. Barry Sonnenfeld — Again, heart over head: this is a film I’ve watched probably over a dozen times, and it never gets old. It’s an absolute joy, nailing the gothic aesthetic of the Addams Family and with two killer performances from Christina Ricci, as the demented Wednesday Addams, and Joan Cusack, as the possibly even more demented Debbie.



The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Dir. Stpehan Elliot

Hoop Dreams, Dir. Steve James

Interview With the Vampire, Dir. Neil Jordan

Leon: The Professional, Dir. Luc Besson

Pulp Fiction, Dir. Quentin Tarantino


Ed Wood, Dir. Tim Burton — I have a deep and unironic love for Plan 9 From Outer Space. Ed Wood was a terrible filmmaker, but an incredibly passionate one as well. Burton’s sensitive, funny, and thought-provoking homage portrays this beautifully. Also, Martin Landau gives a performance for the ages as Bela Lugosi.

My Favorite Film of 1994


Chungking Express, Dir. Wong kar-Wai — A beautiful, fragmentary journey to a specific time and place, filled with unforgettable images, performances, and characters. Achingly romantic and defiantly complicated.


And that’s it for this set. I’ll be back tomorrow with the next five to finish out the 90s.

Spine #44: The Red Shoes [1948], Dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger


I watched The Red Shoes principally because Black Narcissus, a 1947 film from the writer/director duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (the former did the directing, the latter the writing), had so impressed me as to immediately become one of my favorite films in the collection. Black Narcissus is a brilliant film even despite a little bit of casual racism, and it’s brilliant for many of the same reasons that The Red Shoes, released a year later, is also a masterpiece: both films are melodramas on the surface, but dig a little deeper and both deal with extraordinary existential themes about how far we are willing to go and how much we are willing to sacrifice in the name of that which we hold to define us. In Black Narcissus, which concerns the lives of a group of nuns who move to the Himalayas, this defining quality is faith. In The Red Shoes, it is dance. Specifically, ballet.


It’s a tale as old as time, a dance as old as … mime? (I don’t know, it’s the only ballet-adjacent term I could find that rhymed). Anyway, the story concerns a young woman who desperately wants to be the greatest dancer in the world, the complicated manager who promises her stardom, and the talented composer who steals her heart — and forces her to choose.

At the center of this unfolding drama is Vicky Page, played by the fiery-haired Moira Shearer, who was a ballet dancer first, actress second. Not that this comes across in her performance, which is an extraordinary combination of nervous energy, raw talent, and melodramatic flair. She is flanked on either side by Anton Walbrook, as the mercurial impresario of the Ballet Lermontov, and Marius Goring, as a talented composer by the name of Julius Craster whose love affair with Vicky leads them both down a tragic path.

Walbrook is especially impressive here: Lermontov is a complicated figure, whose own motivations remain at times frustratingly opaque, and whose moods can switch easily from smugly satisfied to enraged. The one constant? His love — even worship — of dance. Indeed, as he says at one point, “A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never.” One senses that he believes this because he himself is incapable of finding fulfillment elsewhere, and so believes that it must be true for all people; one senses that Lermontov has never loved, or loved once, perhaps, but had it taken from him. One senses these things, boiling just under the surface of Walbrook’s performance, and it is to his credit that we sense them at all, as the script leaves him a satisfying enigma.

None of the other characters has Lermontov’s complexity, but all have clearly defined motivation. Vicky,for instance, wants to be a dancer. Consider this dialogue from the beginning of the film, a famous exchange between the two:

BORIS LERMONTOV: Why do you want to dance?

VICTORIA PAGE: Why do you want to live?

BORIS LERMONTOV: Well, I don’t know exactly why, but I must.

VICTORIA PAGE: That’s my answer too.

Lermontov is intrigued by this dancer who wants to dance as much as to live, and so takes her under his wing. She and Craster meet when he is asked to score a new ballet of Hans Christian Andersen’s fable “The Red Shoes,” and Page is cast in the lead role.

“The Red Shoes,” if you know of it, is a story about a young woman who is forced by (you guessed it) some red shoes to dance until she dies. You probably don’t need me to tell you that this turns out to be a bit of foreshadowing.


The centerpiece of The Red Shoes, the movie, is “The Red Shoes,” the ballet, and it is absolutely, gobsmackingly stunning. The sequence itself is a little over fifteen minutes long — a fifteen minute ballet interlude, with no dialogue, and virtually no cuts to the audience. This would be daring enough on it’s own, but what takes it over the top is that Powell stages it as a surreal odyssey into a phantasmagoric realm that would be impossible to replicate on the actual stage — he has, in other words, staged a ballet that could only happen on film. It’s absolutely incredible, one of the grandest expressions of the singular magic of cinema that I can ever recall seeing. It may, in fact, be one of the single greatest scenes in all of film.

Is it any wonder that the film doesn’t have anywhere to go after this? To be fair, it’s not like what follows is bad. It’s actually quite good: unfortunately, it’s also fairly predictable. Perhaps The Red Shoes invented some of the tropes that are used here, but seeing a tortured artist forced to choose between love and her art is hardly a new story, even in the prehistoric time of the late 1940s. And anyway, the ballet sequence itself expresses all of this more powerfully and more forcefully than the rest of the film could possible hope to: it’s such a pure, visceral experience, that it proves almost the film’s undoing.

And yet, of course, it’s not undone. The Red Shoes remains, in the end, an incredible tour-de-force, a ravishing, thorough examination of how we choose to define who we are. Is Vicky a dancer? Is she a lover? Why does she feel she needs to choose? (Why in fact does she feel these are opposed?) How could she hope to? Lermontov and Craster ultimately come to represent the angel and the devil on her shoulder, and the ballet becomes heaven and hell all rolled into one. Perhaps it’s because she comes to feel trapped in this purgatory that the film ends the way it does — perhaps, when she finally takes off the red shoes, it’s a release from the pain of art … and the pain of love.


Final Thoughts

Aside from the plot and character stuff I discussed above, it must be said: The Red Shoes is just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Seriously amazing cinematography, and an incredible transfer by Criterion — the Blu ray is a stunner. The film is a little overlong, and really does sag a bit after that incredible ballet, but overall this gets a very high recommendation. Great art of a high order.

Incidentally, this post is the first in my November series, which I am tentatively organizing around the theme of LOVE. The Red Shoes has some very important romance at the center of its story — the love between Vicky and Craster and, more importantly, the love between Vicky and ballet. The way in which these two romances collide forms the centerpiece of the film’s drama. I am obviously defining love rather loosely here.

Next time: Wong Kar-wai’s masterpiece Chungking Express, followed shortly thereafter by his other masterpiece, and one of my personal favorite films, In the Mood for Love.

August Wrap-up, September Mea Culpa, October Theme

Welcome! As this is the first post from this blog that I’ve shared publicly, it’s possible that this is the first time you’re visiting. Short version: I’m watching and reviewing a bunch of Criterion movies, loosely organized around a monthly theme. I’m hoping to get some practice writing film criticism and to create a catalogue of my thoughts on films in the collection along the way.

In August, I watched “Coming of Age” films. My plan was to write an overall wrap-up in which I parsed out some of the similarities and differences between the films, but that turned out to be a more intensive endeavor than I originally thought so I ended up abandoning it. And anyway, September was super busy for me: I’d intended to watch a bunch of films organized around the theme of “Faith” that month, but ended up watching almost no new Criterion films, and definitely no new films from my original September list. Instead of shuffling “Faith” to October, I’m starting over: a fresh slate, if you will. Only one “film” is carrying over from that original list, and I haven’t actually finished it yet (the film in question is actually a television miniseries, the ambitious and sprawling 10-part Dekalog by Kryzysztof Kieslowski. Look for a review later this month.)

So how to wrap up August without wrapping it up? Well I thought it might be fun to rank the films. Ranking films is a somewhat silly endeavor, because it almost never actually tells you anything about the quality of the films themselves. What it can do, though, is offer a snapshot of one person’s opinion at a certain time and place. I would be surprised if the order below didn’t change and shift over the coming years as I revisit these films, all of which were extraordinary, with new contexts and new life experiences. And naturally I wonder what the order says about me … Anyway, here’s the list:

  1. The Spirit of the Beehieve, [1973], Dir. Victor Erice
  2. A Brighter Summer Day [1991], Dir. Edward Yang
  3. Dazed and Confused [1993] Dir. Richard Linklater
  4. Au revoir les enfants [1987], Dir. Louis Malle
  5. Ivan’s Childhood [1962], Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
  6. My Life as a Dog [1985], Dir. Lasse Hallström

As for a justification, I have flimsy ones at best. The top three on the list are all extraordinary films for various reasons. There’s something in the ethereal, haunting beauty of The Spirit of the Beehive that has burrowed its way into my subconscious. Every time I watch it I come away more and more impressed with its poetic imagery and incisive political commentary by way of an exploration of a young girl’s psyche. A Brighter Summer Day is a quite close second, a certifiable masterpiece that goes on for nearly four hours but never overstays its welcome, creating such a vivid portrait of a time and place that one senses it must really be out there, somewhere, just waiting for us to reach it. Dazed and Confused does the same in much less time: its light, nostalgia-tinged cynicism makes for a Texas high school with a whiff of deja vu, even if my own experience was quite different from that depicted in the film. The other three films are all varying degrees of impressive or emotional, but didn’t strike quite the same chord with me. Why? Good question. Maybe when I revisit this list in a year or ten I’ll be able to tell you.

And that’s it for Coming of Age! And now on to October. And what is the theme for October? Glad you asked …


Yes, it’s the spooky time of year, so for October I’m watching a variety of cult movies and other scary features. I’m defining “cult” rather broadly here, to the point where it essentially means “whatever I feel like watching.” In general, I looked for movies with either an obvious cult following (such as House), cult-like sensibilities (such as Cat People or The Woman in the Dunes), or movies about actual cults (Haxan). Another general criteria was that it had be horror-cult related: “the Criterion Collection” as a brand is practically synonymous with cult anyhow, so I felt the need to narrow it to ostensibly spooky movies, as befits October. I’m pretty excited about my selections this month, only two of which (House and The Blob) I’ve seen before. Starred movies are ones that I own, all the rest will be watched on Hulu (or Filmstruck, whenever that finally gets off the ground). Films below are ordered according to their spine, not necessarily the order in which I’ll watch them (spoiler alert: Cat People is actually up first. I’ll be watching it tonight and posting a review sometime on Sunday).

#63      Carnival of Souls [1962], Dir. Herk Harvey – United States

#91      The Blob [1958], Dir. Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. – United States*

#134    Häxan [1922], Dir. Benjamin Christensen – Denmark

#260    Eyes Without a Face [1960], Dir. Georges Franju — France

#366    The Atomic Submarine [1959], Dir. Spencer G. Bennet — United States

#394    Woman in the Dunes [1964], Dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara — Japan

#539    House [1977], Dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi — Japan*

#833    Cat People [1942], Dir. Jacques Tourneur – United States*


If you have any ideas for cult Criterion movies to watch this month, feel free to let me know!