Category: Film

Favorite Films 2015

CurtDespite seeing more films in 2015 than I can count or remember, I am way behind on my to watch list. Not everything I saw was great, but Sicario and Ex Machina are definitely at the top of my list. Both are dark, intense dramas that left me feeling very uneasy.

However, the film that made the biggest impact on me this year, was a 17-minute documentary called Curt. If you’re a surfer, or a parent, or if you know someone who has been affected by autism — basically, if you are human — you will be very moved by this piece. I can’t recommend it enough. You may want to keep a box of tissues handy. Or two.

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San Diego Comic-Con 2015

Life-size Stormtrooper at the LEGO booth.
Life-size Stormtrooper at the LEGO booth.

A lot has been written lately about how inaccessible San Diego Comic-Con has become to the average fan. Between the ridiculous ticket situation and $700 per night hotel rooms, I am inclined to agree. The cost and logistics involved in attending SDCC put it out of reach for most who aren’t industry insiders or friends of industry insiders.

I was able to attend the event for the first time this year, only because I am a member of the latter group. Friends in weird places. Or something. Badges were secured at the last minute, along with a hotel room and parking at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, all gratis. My girlfriend and I left Los Angeles on Thursday morning and a mere two and a half hours later, we were smack dab in the middle of Nerdville, USA.

When we first pulled into town, I was blown away by how much SDCC is embraced by the city of San Diego. Obviously, it brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the local economy each year, but residents and businesses really get into it. The valets at our hotel were all wearing Batman t-shirts and the front desk folks were decked out in Captain America apparel. Buses, trains and entire buildings were wrapped with giant advertisements for movies and TV shows. Restaurant employees, cab drivers and security guards all seemed genuinely happy to have us there.

Giant Conan ad.
Giant Conan ad.

Yes, it gets crowded. 130,000+ people invaded downtown San Diego this year. And yes, it’s a giant marketing opportunity for movie studios, publishers and toy manufacturers. That’s okay. These are the people who make the things we love.

A little patience goes a long way at Comic-Con. Two of my friends were almost trampled to death by rabid Game Of Thrones fans when the cast walked onto the convention center floor. Although my previous statement is a slight exaggeration of the truth, that is the only negative thing I heard about all weekend.

Spoiler alert: I had a great time! Everyone was smiling. People were excited to be there and generally polite. Whenever I did accidentally bump into someone, or got bumped into, the exchange of apologies was cordial and enthusiastic.

Having fun at Comic-Con doesn’t require waiting in line for three days to get into Hall H or getting up at the crack of dawn to try and snag every single exclusive item from every single booth. I bought a couple of cool toys and some awesome t-shirts, ate really good food at local restaurants, hung out with friends and even got to meet a few artists and celebrities.

A lot of creativity and hard work goes into this event every year and seeing it all come together will absolutely blow your mind. San Diego Comic-Con made me feel like a kid again. If you are unable to enjoy yourself in this environment, you are either lost or you’re trying way too hard.

Winner Versus Loser

Frank movie poster
Frank

I am not a fan of awards shows. I have always felt that they are little more than popularity contests and more about album or ticket sales than artistic merit. Far too many talented people and creative endeavors are overlooked because of the presiding committees’ politics, limited palettes or simple lack of awareness.

2014 happened to be an amazing year for both music and film and although I did not watch the Grammy Awards, I find myself slightly curious about the Oscars for once. I couldn’t care less about the show itself, but quite few of my personal favorites have been nominated this year and it’s great to see some very atypical films being recognized.

Generally, I don’t do a year end list of my favorite films because I am always so far behind on recent theatrical releases. This year is no different in that regard, but I would like to share the most notable ones I have seen so far, keeping in mind that this list will need to be added to over the next few weeks and months.

Finding Vivian Maier

I wrote a separate post about this documentary earlier this year. You should read my post and then you should see this film.

Frank

I was on the fence about wanting to see Frank. I honestly had no idea what to make of the trailer, but after hearing good things from numerous people, I decided to give it a shot and I’m glad I did. What seemed like to totally ridiculous concept turned out to be a really wonderful film. It somehow manages to make fun of eccentric musicians while simultaneously celebrating their creativity. What I didn’t expect, was the honest portrait of anxiety, depression and mental illness that is slowly revealed as the story develops.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

I have always been intrigued by Wes Anderson’s films. They are always visually stunning and although they can be hit or miss story-wise, The Grand Budapest Hotel is definitely a hit and my favorite Wes Anderson film to date.

Nightcrawler

A desperate man with questionable ethics, trying to break into local TV news in Los Angeles. It sounds straight forward enough, but I could not believe how far this character was willing to go to get the story or the shot. Jake Gyllenhaal is FANTASTIC in this film and Rene Russo is awesome as well. Nightcrawler does not paint a very flattering portrait of the TV news business or the people it employs and there are more than a few scenes that will make your skin crawl. The camera does not flinch and I guarantee you will need to take a shower after watching this one. Brutal.

The One I Love

This is a very unusual story that starts off with the basic premise of a couple in therapy going away for the weekend at the recommendation of their marriage counselor, but there is a very unexpected twist pretty early on. Other than mentioning the fact that the extremely awesome Elisabeth Moss is in this film, I can’t really say much else without giving it all away, so you’re just going to have to trust me.

The Skeleton Twins

The trailer made The Skeleton Twins look like a comedy, but there are some extremely heavy themes looming here. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader do an impressive balancing act between awkward humor and really uncomfortable, life-changing scenarios.

Whiplash

As impressed as I was with the acting and intensity of this film (J.K. Simmons is the man), I was also blown away by the musicianship that is on display here, including that of lead actor Miles Teller. The way this film was shot and edited made it very clear that Miles did most, if not all of his own drumming and that is no small feat. Even if you are not a musician or a jazz fan, this is a must-see. Whiplash is an exhausting ride, but damn is it worth it.

Finding Vivian Maier

Finding Vivian Maier
Finding Vivian Maier: A film by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

Documenting the documentarian. This film appeals to me on so many levels: as a photographer and serial appreciator of documentary films, as an aspiring archivist and as a not so casual observer of human behavior.

Vivian Maier was a prolific and accomplished street photographer, but no one knew it until after she passed away. For decades, she worked as a nanny and somehow captured over 100,000 images that were not seen by the general public until 2007 when her negatives were purchased at a thrift auction in Chicago by photographer and filmmaker John Maloof.

After an initial Google search turned up barely any information about Ms. Maier, Mr. Maloof set out to discover who this mysterious woman was. Finding Vivian Maier is a fascinating story about an eccentric and talented woman who spent her life doing what she loved, but without revealing herself to anyone. Her story, told through her photographs, personal belongings and interviews with the people who thought they knew her, is simultaneously wondrous and tragic.

John Maloof continues to oversee the reconstruction and preservation of the Maier archive. For more information about the film or Vivian Maier’s work, I encourage you to visit these two websites:

http://www.findingvivianmaier.com
http://www.vivianmaier.com

Everybody Street

Everybody Street: A film by Cheryl Dunn
Everybody Street: A film by Cheryl Dunn

Recently, I attended the west coast premier of Everybody Street, a documentary about New York street photographers by filmmaker and photographer Cheryl Dunn. Unsurprisingly, the Monday night showing at Cinefamily sold out and was greeted by a very enthusiastic audience, half of whom were presumably east coast transplants like myself.

I was familiar with only a few of the dozen or so photographers that are featured in the film, so it was a great history lesson for me. I was equally enthralled with the personal stories of the artists and the tales behind the photographs they took over the last five or six decades.

Of particular significance for me, were the photographs of New York in the 70s and early 80s. I remember driving through the city with my parents and seeing all of the burned out buildings and abandoned cars. I remember what Times Square looked like, pre-Giuliani, and I remember the tent cities filled with homeless people.

What I didn’t see back then, was what went on behind the closed doors of every block we drove past — the poverty and crime and hopelessness — as well as the strength and resilience of the people who struggled to survive there. All of those things can be seen through the many lenses that make up this film.

The images of children playing, quirky New Yorkers with their dogs, and all of the other larger than life characters that inhabit New York had me grinning from ear to ear. They made me miss New York more than I thought I could. I also really loved Jill Freedman’s photographs of the FDNY and NYPD. They showed another side of each organization that many people don’t ever get to see.

From a production standpoint, this film is absolutely seamless. Hundreds of photographs are beautifully stitched in between the interviews and sidewalk segments and the soundtrack is a pitch perfect representation of the pulse and groove of New York City. I really can’t say enough good things about Everybody Street. It is truly an engaging and inspiring documentary. It made me want to pick up my camera and start shooting.