Music Break: Five soundtracks from 2015 I’m currently obsessed with

MusicBreak_5soundtracks

Most people who know me know I have an old school taste when it comes to music. I basically only listen to genres. One is classical music – my radio dial goes back and forth from MPR news to Classical MPR 99.5, and I’m not ashamed that I owned two Sarah Brightman CDs. The other is movie music [natch] My CD changers in my car (I’m dating myself aren’t I?) consist mostly of soundtracks (Moulin Rouge and Sense & Sensibility are on there right now). 2015 have produced some truly awesome soundtracks that I currently listen to a lot, and probably will for years to come. They’re quite an eclectic bunch, just like my taste in films, I like my period dramas to go with the high-octane action.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Composed by: Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL

I had never heard of Junkie XL before but man I LOVE this extremely energetic music that adds so much cool vibe to the movie. It perfectly complements all the crazy action that goes on in the movie and the music IS an integral part of the action as well w/ the guitar guy in red jumper on top of the convoy truck.

Brothers in Arms is one of my fave tracks from the album:

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Composed by: Joe Kramer

I LOVE Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, which was featured in the fantabulous Vienna Opera sequence early in the film. Well, three of the tracks managed to inject the famous area beautifully and mix it with the iconic Mission Impossible theme. I just LOVE it!!

I also love the music featured in the MI5 trailer by The Fugees from the mid 90s. It works brilliantly with the trailer cut and somehow sounds like it’s made just for this movie!

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Far From the Madding Crowd

Composed by: Craig Armstrong

I’ve already dedicated an entire Music Break post of this one last September and I’m still obsessed with it.

I especially love Carey Mulligan’s rendition of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme, but this opening sequence with the repetitive piano and violin melody has such a beautiful, swoon-inducing quality.

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Cinderella

Composed by: Patrick Doyle

Speaking of swoon-inducing, that’s the one essential ingredient when you’re composing a fairy tale film. Mr. Doyle’s done some of my favorite soundtracks ever, so he’s the perfect choice for this movie. I was just listening to it last night as I was working on my script, as a matter of fact. At times I’d stop and let myself be swept away by the lush & gorgeous music, just like Cinderella was by Prince Kit ;)

Sicario

Composed by: Jóhann Jóhannsson

I just watched this recently so it’s fresh in my mind. I remember vividly how the ominous score adds so much tension to already ultra-suspenseful scenes. One of the major reasons my nerve was stretched to its snapping point was because of this brilliant music. The Icelandic composer wrote such a perfect music with his minimalist electronic style, it’s as pulsating and heart-throbbing as the film itself. I can’t imagine this movie without THIS music, it’s made all the richer because of it.

 

HONORABLE MENTION:

Girlhood

I had to include this scene from one of my top 10 films of 2015. The song Diamonds is by Rihanna who I never listen to, but somehow it’s so perfect for this scene. The first time I saw it I actually rewound it as it moved me so much. It captured the sentiment the girls are feeling… every girl, no matter what background they come from, once to get all dolled up and be glamorous once in a while.

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Hope you enjoyed this week’s music break. Which of these are YOUR favorites?

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12 films debuting at Sundance 2016 I can’t wait to see

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I’ve been dreaming of Sundance all week! I had planned on going initially, I even had the press application ready to go last December but I decided it was cutting it too close to my Christmas trip to the East Coast. But I’ve been closely following Sundance and reading some of the buzz/reviews.

“The Sundance Film Festival is truly a place for discovery,” said festival director John Cooper (per Screendaily) and it’s so great to see a variety of genres AND many female filmmakers represented in the lineup. Seems that Sundance is far more progressive in terms of gender/race diversity than Hollywood. For this purpose, I’m only highlighting feature films, though certainly there are quite a few documentaries at Sundance that caught my eye.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the list:

[in alphabetical order – ‘W’ marks films directed by women]

1. Ali & Nino

AliNino

Muslim prince Ali and Georgian aristocrat Nino have grown up in the Russian province of Azerbaijan. Their tragic love story sees the outbreak of the First World War and the world’s struggle for Baku’s oil. Ultimately they must choose to fight for their country’s independence or for each other.

Director: Asif Kapadia

Cast: Adam Bakri, Maria Valverde, Mandy Patinkin, Connie Nielsen, Riccardo Scamarcio, Homayoun Ershadi.

“… an epic love story set against the backdrop of the First World War, expansionist Communist Russia and the independence movement in Azerbaijan.” (per UAE’s The NationalBoy you don’t hear that every day. Nor do you hear a love story between two faiths, which is many parts of the world could be even more problematic than love story between two races. Kapadia is the filmmaker behind two acclaimed docs, Senna and Amy, so I’m curious how he’d fare with his dramatic feature.

2. Birth of a Nation

BirthOfaNation2BirthOfaNation1

Nat Turner, a former slave in America, leads a liberation movement in 1831 to free African-Americans in Virgina that results in a violent retaliation from whites.

Director and screenwriter: Nate Parker

Cast: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, and Mark Boone Junior

This is perhaps the buzziest film out of Sundance this year. I had read last week about how Nate Parker quit acting for two years and raised $10 mil to get this film made. I’ve only seen him in Beyond the Lights so far and I think he’s a pretty charismatic actor. It’s been a passion project for him for years and it seemed to have paid off big time. Fox Searchlight Pictures has bought the worldwide distribution rights for the film for $17.5 million, apparently the biggest deal in the history of the Sundance Film Festival. You can read this THR article about his journey to get this film made. So far the reviews have been universally positive, at least from what I gather on Twitter. Vulture calls it ‘… a beautiful, reflective film even as it is also a brutal, visceral one.’ The subject matter is as timely as ever and it’s definitely a film I’ll keep an eye on.

3. Captain Fantastic

CaptainFantastic

In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.

Director and screenwriter: Matt Ross

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd

The premise sounds intriguing, esp. with Viggo Mortensen in the lead. It seems quirky, even bizarre on the outset, but promises a lot of heart. This Huffington Post reviewer describes it as ‘… a spirited film celebrating life and ingenuity’ that sparked his spirit after a long, hectic day at Sundance.

4. Certain Women [W]

CertainWomen

The lives of three woman intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Cast: Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, and Kristen Stewart

I’m not familiar with Reichardt’s work at all but I’m immediately intrigued by the premise of this film and the mostly-female cast. The Guardian says, ‘Like Reichardt’s directorial hand, the performances are understated across the board, but deeply felt.’ I should check out her earlier film Meek’s Cutoff, which also stars Michelle Williams.

5. Complete Unknown

CompleteUnknown

Michael Shannon plays Tom, a married man who, at his birthday celebration, feels sure he knows Alice (Rachel Weisz), and pursues her during a long, adventurous night.

Director: Joshua Marston

Cast: Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover, and Michael Chernus

This is one of the two Michael Shannon films that caught my eye from Sundance. Interestingly enough both have romantic tones and I haven’t seen Shannon as a romantic hero before. But I LOVE Rachel Weisz and the premise of her playing a mysterious woman definitely intrigues me. Per Screen Daily‘It’s hard to imagine Complete Unknown working as well as it does without Weisz in the lead role. She is equally adept at embodying some kind of ideal vision of a woman—charming, intelligent, and sociable—as she is revealing the vulnerabilities and insecurities that exist underneath her alluring surface.’ Sounds like it’s worth a watch just for miss Weisz!

6. Equity [W]

Equity Equity_2

The first female-driven Wall Street film, follows a senior investment banker who is threatened by a financial scandal and must untangle a web of corruption.

Director: Meera Menon

Cast: Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas, and Alysia Reiner

Ok so Working Girl was technically a female-driven Wall Street film, but this one is not about a woman trying to get into the male-driven industry. As Variety puts it, it’s a female spin of The Big Short and Margin Call about a group of women caught up in the world of high finance. The fact that there’s a female director at the helm naturally made me even more intrigued by it. Oh, and having James Purefoy here doesn’t hurt either. Sony Pictures Classics has bought it so it’s likely we’ll see this in cinemas soon.

7. Frank & Lola

FrankLola

Set in Las Vegas and Paris, this love story covers the full circle of emotions: love, obsession, sex, betrayal, revenge and eventually the search for redemption.

Director & Screenwriter: Matthew M. Ross

Cast: Imogen Poots, Michael Shannon, Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette

Check out this short clip:

It’s billed as a romantic thriller and it’s got Shannon in the romantic lead. Color me intrigued. As I mentioned before, I haven’t seen Shannon in a romantic role before, but he’s a terrific and versatile actor so I’m sure he’d acquit himself well. I haven’t seen Rosanna Arquette in anything for a long time, I wonder what role she’ll be playing here.

8. Love & Friendship

LoveFriendship

Set in the 1790s, Love and Friendship centers on beautiful widow Lady Susan Vernon, who has come to the estate of her in-laws to wait out colorful rumors about her dalliances circulating through polite society. Whilst there, she decides to secure a husband for herself and her rather reluctant debutante daughter, Frederica.

Director: Whit Stillman

Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel

You already know I have a penchant for Jane Austen. Per Variety, this film is an adaptation of Austen’s earlier work called “Lady Susan” that was published posthumously in 1871. I haven’t seen Kate Beckinsale in ages (I think the last time it was the ghastly Total Recall sequel) so nice to see her in a period drama once again. Here she stars as Lady Susan, described as the most irresistibly devious of Austen protagonists. Yes please! Interesting to see Chloe Sevigny here, I don’t think I’ve seen her in this genre before.

9. Maggie’s Plan [W]

MaggiesPlan

A young woman’s determination to have a child catapults her into a nervy love triangle with a heart-throb academic and his eccentric critical-theorist wife.

Director: Rebecca Miller

Cast: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Travis Fimmel.

I had missed a lot of Greta Gerwig’s films though I realize she’s quite the indie darling. So perhaps this will be my first movie I see her in. But what intrigued me right away was Rebecca Miller directing. She’s the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and she’s married to acting legend Daniel Day-Lewis, but she’s a multi-talented artist herself being a painter/sculptor/writer/director. This is her fifth film and yet I haven’t seen a single one. [Note to self: watch The Ballad of Jack and Rose which stars Day Lewis)

10. Sophie And The Rising Sun [W]

Sophie_RisingSun

In a small Southern town in the autumn of 1941, Sophie’s lonely life is transformed when an Asian man arrives under mysterious circumstances. Their love affair becomes the lightning rod for long-buried conflicts that erupt in bigotry and violence with the outbreak of World War ll.

Director: Maggie Greenwald

Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Lorraine Toussaint, Takashi Yamaguchi, Diane Ladd, Joel Murray.

Check out this short clip:

Interesting seeing Nicholson and Martindale in a film together again since August, Osage County. Last time Nicholson was paired with Benedict Cumberbatch whose relationship ended up being a shocking revelation in the plot. Well, this time around it’s her relationship with a Japanese man that causes a stir in her community. The whole ‘forbidden love story’ thing always intrigues me, too. As for Greenwald, I haven’t seen any of her work but I really should check out Songcatcher (2000) starring Janet McTeer and Aidan Quinn.

11. Sing Street

SingStreet

A boy growing up in Dublin during the ’80s escapes his strained family life and tough new school by starting a band to win the heart of a beautiful and mysterious girl.

Director: John Carney

Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen, Mark McKenna.

Having loved two of Carney’s earlier films, Once and Begin Again, naturally I’m looking forward to what he’s going to do next. Surely it’ll be music-related and who doesn’t love 80s music? I love movies set in Ireland and this one has an Irish cast, too, including Jack Reynor whom I met during his Transformers 4 press tour. The Guardian says Carney ‘…hits the bullseye again with a goodnatured 80s-set comedy’ and many reviewers have called it ‘joyful.’ I can’t wait to see this one!

12. Tallulah [W]

Tallulah

Desperate to be rid of her toddler, a dissatisfied Beverly Hills housewife hires a stranger to babysit and ends up getting much more than she bargained for.

Director and screenwriter: Sian Heder

Cast: Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard, Evan Jonigkeit, and Uzo Aduba

My pal Kirsten Gregerson gave me some updates right from from Park City. The reason she was able to attend Sundance in the first place was because her dear friend, Stacey Thunder, played the reporter in Tallulah.  She and Heather Rae, Tallulah‘s producer, have been friend’s for some time, meeting through Kimberly Guerrero who also was in The Jingle Dress with Stacey.

“I was very thankful to be a part of the Tallulah weekend as well as help Stacey with her new show called Indigenous with Stacey Thunder.  I was able to attend the Sundance Native Forum Brunch and take pictures behind the scenes of her interview with Chris Eyre who directed the film Smoke Signals.” – Kirsten

Tallulah‘s written & directed by Sian Heder (Orange is the new Black), who was pregnant during the shoot and is now the mother of two young children. This is her mini review of the film:

A smart and touching comedy about taking the risk of needing someone and being needed.  I have often felt judged as a mother by other moms, probably the hardest though on myself. This film helped me to realize that mothering is not black or white but shades of grey.  The role of Carolyn played by Tammy Blanchard was a difficult one to play and she nailed it.  She is a woman that desperately wants to feel needed but, like many of us, looks to fill that void with alcohol and men.  She has a child that so desperately needs her and wants her but she can’t see that until that child is taken away from her.

The two leads, Allison Janey and Ellen Page, are magic on screen as we have seen before in Juno. Some scenes are dramatic, others are really funny, kind of like life. It was also refreshing to see the woman who plays Crazy Eyes in Orange Is The New Black (Uzo Aduba) as a reporter in this film, who is also a mother.  Although he had limited screen time, Lu’s (Ellen Page) boyfriend, played by Evan Jonigkeit, gave a memorable and truthful performance.  You will definitely be seeing more of him.

In a nutshell, I absolutely loved the film and left the theater feeling good about what kind of mom I have been over the years.  We are all just trying are best and want to feel loved and needed, but in a healthy way.

I can’t wait to see this one. I’ve mentioned in this post that Netflix has bought this film for $5mil and an unnamed theatrical partner will release the film in the latter part of 2016.

For more info on which films have been sold at Sundance so far » The Wrap

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NOTABLE MENTIONS:

Christine
Christine

The story of 1970s TV reporter Christine Chubbuck who committed suicide on live TV.

Director: Antonio Campos

Cast: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Maria Dizzia, Tracy Letts, and J. Smith-Cameron

Manchester By the Sea

ManchesterBySea

After his older brother passes away, Lee Chandler is forced to return home to care for his 16-year-old nephew. There he is compelled to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his family and the community where he was born and raised.

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler.

The Hollars

TheHollars

Aspiring New York City artist John Hollar returns to his Middle America hometown on the eve of his mother’s brain surgery. Joined by his girlfriend, eight months pregnant with their first child, John is forced to navigate the crazy world he left behind.

Director: John Krasinski

Cast: John Krasinski, Anna Kendrick, Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Charlie Day.


Sources: Variety | Screen Daily | Buzzfeed


Have you been keeping up with Sundance? Which film(s) are YOU looking forward to the most?

2016 BLIND SPOT #1: Marie Antoinette (2006)

MarieAntoinettePoster

I have to confess that since I visited Paris a couple of years ago, I’ve become slightly obsessed with French history. Sofia Coppola‘s retelling of France’s iconic but ill-fated queen promises a character study of the title role instead of a historical account that led to the fall of Versailles. I have no problem with that, after all I’m not expecting a documentary of the subject. If one actually wants to learn more in depth about French history that’s also visually stunning, there’s a good three-part docs called The Rise & Fall of Versailles on Hulu.

MarieAntoinette_archducessAustria

It’s loosely based on the Marie Antoinette biography by Lady Antonia Fraser which reveal the humanity of the French icon. The film opened with the archduchess of Austria at 14, being betrothed to Louis Auguste by her mother Empress Maria Theresa to secure the fragile allegiance between France and Austria. I can only imagine what it must’ve been like for a teenage girl like her to have to part with her family, and her beloved pug, and enter a strange new world on her own. I think the film captured that sense of alienation perfectly, as well as the intense loneliness, not to mention utter bewilderment, of all the new traditions she must quickly become accustomed to. Some of the most amusing scenes pertain to the mystifying traditions at Versailles.

MarieAntoinette_tradition

There’s one where the young queen had to be dressed in front of dozens of courtiers. Given that the most important courtier had to dress her, she literally had to stand shivering in the cold room waiting for someone to finally put clothes on her!

Kirsten Dunst was quite mesmerizing in the title role and being that she was Austrian, I thought she looked the part physically. There’s a playfulness as well as fragility in her performance, and despite being in her early 20s at the time, she looked quite believable as a teen. Jason Schwartzman on the other hand, seems miscast here as Louix XVI. He wasn’t given much to do here either, perhaps that’s purposely done to further the sense of estranged marriage between the two.

MarieAntoinette_Schwartzman

Some critics have said the film is style over substance and there’s certainly style in abundance. The film is lavish and absolutely gorgeous to look at. I have to admit that the first half hour or so I was marveling at the spectacular set pieces and colorful costumes, but the film grew rather tedious and repetitive that it threatened to grind it to a halt. Coppola seems obsessed with the unconsummated marriage that the scenes of Marie being frustrated in bed is played over and over again. I understand Coppola intended to create an unconventional biopic, and that’s to be commended, but it feels overly indulgent. The young queen might’ve been giddy and frivolous, but it doesn’t mean the film depicting her has to be done in the same way.

MarieAntoinette_Cake

“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” (Let them eat cake)

As a character study, I feel that Coppola didn’t really go deep enough into the titular heroine. Marie Antoinette is depicted as a friendly, vivacious and sweet, though like most teen, she has a penchant for gossip and spectacular parties. ‘The Party That Started A Revolution’ one of the film tagline says, and well, the queen sure gave some ridiculously opulent parties in a time where the French citizens were starving. Whether she actually uttered the heartless remark ‘let them eat cake’ had been largely disputed, but she did say that line in this film. There’s perhaps a good five minutes or so devoted to the Revolution, there’s not even a mention of the Guillotine anywhere in the film. By the time the crowds had seized Versailles and the royal family escorted to Paris to await their doomed fate, I felt a tremendous sympathy for the characters, but more because of what I’ve learned in history about them, not necessarily due to their depictions here.

MarieAntoinette_Dunst

The supporting cast was filled with actors who’ve become quite famous of late, especially Tom Hardy who had basically a cameo here as one of the French aristocrats. The other pretty boy was Jamie Dornan as a French soldier who became Marie Antoinette’s lover Count Axel Fersen. There’s also Rose Byrne as Duchesse de Polignac, the queen’s best friend. Rip Torn played Louis XV here, a role which was apparently offered to French actor Alain Delon, which I think would’ve been perfect. According to IMDb trivia, it has been speculated that Delon did not have confidence in the young American director to do justice to a film on this period of French history.


In any case, the star of this film is definitely Dunst, who carried the film with her charisma. She’s able to convey a variety of emotions throughout and make me sympathize with her despite her obvious flaws. The feeling of total isolation and tremendous pressure of having to produce an heir seemed so unbearable and she conveyed those emotions convincingly.

Technically the movie is a marvel. The cinematography by Lance Acord is simply stunning, a *decadence porn* displaying the most extravagant aristocracy lifestyle in history. I also like the use of contemporary music, as I quite like anachronism in period films when it’s used well. I think Sofia Coppola has been known for having good soundtrack in her movies. This one called Fools Rush In is one of my favorites:


Overall I think Marie Antoinette is a pretty shallow affair, an incomplete and rather unmoving character study that could’ve been much tightly-edited. The film tends to only focus on certain aspects of the character and leave others out, for example the infamous diamond necklace affair that forever tarnished her reputation wasn’t mentioned here. I do think the second half of the film is a bit more interesting as the revolution drew near. I’d still recommend this if you’re into this genre and anything to do with French history. I’d also still applaud Coppola for taking a novel approach to the subject, even if it’s far from being a superior work.

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Check out my full 2016 lineup by clicking the graphic below

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Well, have you seen Marie Antoinette? Well, what did you think?

2016 BLIND SPOT series film picks

Blindspot2016Ok, so I dropped the ball last year on this Blindspot series as I wanted to spend more time on my script. I’ve also blogged a lot less for the same reason and will continue doing so until my script is done. But given how much I’ve enjoyed discovering *old classics* or acclaimed films I’ve missed over the years, I thought I’d do it again this year. But instead of doing 12 films, I opt to do just 10 films in 2016.

As I did last year, I try to cover a variety of genres here, and include at least one that I don’t normally go for. In this case, I include… I’m also putting in one of the films I missed in 2015 (The Big Sleep). I included mostly classic films here but there are a couple that fulfilled two criteria I wanted to be represented on my list: a foreign film that’s preferably directed by a woman. Well, After the Wedding is an Oscar-nominated Danish film by Susanne Bier and Andrea Arnold‘s Fish Tank fit perfectly. I also have to have at least one period drama on here, and why not one directed by a woman (Sofia Copolla’s Marie Antoinette) as I’ve pledged to participate Women in Film‘s #52FilmsByWomen movement. Do join if you haven’t already!

Anyhoo, here’s my 10 picks in alphabetical order:

  1. 8 1/2 (1963)
  2. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
  3. After the Wedding (2006)
  4. American Graffiti (1973)
  5. Fish Tank (2009)
  6. Funny Face (1957)
  7. Laura (1944)
  8. Marie Antoinette (2006)
  9. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
  10. The Big Sleep (1946)


Per usual, I will just pick at random which film I want to see in a given month and I shall try to publish it in the first week of every month.


The Blind Spot series was originally spearheaded by Ryan at The Matinee, and I was also inspired by Dan’s list at Public Transportation Snob.


Well, have you seen any of these films? Which one(s) are your favorite?

2015 Recap: Top 10 Best + 5 Worst Movies of the Year

Top10Movies2015

It’s THAT time of the year again… time for film bloggers to rake our brains to do the tricky-but-fun process of selecting the best films they’ve seen all year. I was going to post this on December 31 but due to my East Coast trip I had to delay it until I’m back home. Suffice to say I didn’t see any 2015 releases since I left on Dec 22, so the last 2015 film I saw at the cinema was The Force Awakens. As it wasn’t tough enough selecting only 10 films, it’s even tougher ranking them. But like the years before, once I decided on my top three, ranking the other seven was a bit easier to do. Btw, what constitutes a 2015 movie is based on US release, so even though it’d say 2014 on IMDb, if a film is released in 2015 in the US, I will include it here.

In case you’re wondering about the criteria of selecting these, well I always say that my ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Re-watchability is also a factor here and I’d readily re-watch most of the films listed here, in fact, I have seen a few of them at least twice already.

Ok well, without further ado, I present you …

10 BEST FILMS OF 2015

10. Girlhood (Bande de filles)

Top10Films_Girlhood

I saw this at MSP film fest last April and it really made an impression on me. It’s the only foreign language film on my list, which means I didn’t get to see as many foreign films this year. Bande de filles means gang of girls, and it’s set in a low-income suburbs of Paris, which offers the unglamorous part of the City of Light I rarely see in cinema. The female-centric drama was written AND directed by a female filmmaker, Céline Sciamma, and it centers on16-year-old girl Marime played by the mesmerizing Karidja Touré. Let’s just say she’s one of my two French actor discoveries I’m thankful for this year. The film is on Netflix and I highly recommend it if you’re in the mood for an off-the-beaten path French film that’s emotional and indelible. (full review)

9. 99 Homes

Top10Films_99Homes

For some reason this film flew under the radar and it’s really a shame. Based on the strength of the two actors alone, Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon, this film is well worth your time. The latter is especially electrifying in a role that really utilized Shannon’s inherently ominous quality, combined with his understated but powerful dramatic style. This is my first intro to Ramin Bahrani’s work and he’s made such a riveting drama about the housing crisis without resorting to sensationalizing to get the point across. A timely drama that will linger long after the closing credits. (full review)

8. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Top10Films_MI5

I LOVE how there are two franchise films that shift the film’s focus to be more female-driven and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is one of them. Yes of course we still have the venerable Tom Cruise back as super-spy Ethan Hunt, but Rebecca Ferguson‘s Ilsa Faust has an intriguing character arc. Miss Ferguson also belongs to my list of top 5 actors I’d love to see more of based on 2015 viewing. She is as bad ass as she is shrewd, pretty much Hunt’s equal, if not better. This is a film that prides itself in its preposterous action sequences and there’s chock full of those here to entertain even the most cynical moviegoers. There are SO many awesome sequences I could watch over and over, with the Vienna Opera House sequence being my absolute favorite. (full review)

7. Creed

Top10Films_Creed

I LOVE it when a film I wasn’t really interested in initially ended up blowing me away. Well Creed is one of those films and it proves that not every reboot/spin-off is automatically bad. In fact, I’d consider this a gem of 2015 cinema that’d certainly please Rocky fans as well as win new ones. Michael B. Jordan hit gold once again with his second collaboration with writer/director Ryan Coogler, whose excellent direction makes for a dynamic as well as emotional film. Jordan is a charismatic lead, but it’s Sylvester Stallone who’s the scene-stealer, reprising his role he did forty years ago. As I mentioned in my awards musings post, it’d be cool to see him be nominated AND win an Oscar for the same role, as he absolutely deserved it. (full review)

6. The Big Short

Top10Films_BigShort

Films about the housing crisis have been the subject of many films as well as documentaries. I have to admit that the cast that include Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt piqued my interest. Well, those four actors were great, especially Bale and Carell who were the most memorable of the bunch. When I first saw the trailer and saw Adam McKay directing, I was a bit taken aback. I mean, this is the guy who did Anchorman and a bunch of comedies with Will Ferrell.  In a way, treating this dark and even upsetting subject matter in a comedic way works and it breaks the topic down to a level that’s easy to understand. The comedic style doesn’t mean it downplays the heartbreaking reality of the housing bubble crash however. There’s a similarities to 99 Homes and also Wolf of Wall Street in terms of its subject matter, but compared to Scorsese’s film I actually enjoyed this a lot more. It’s immensely entertaining from start to finish, so the bold-but-risky filmmaking style paid off here.

5. The Martian

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If you had told me that The Martian might end up on someone’s top 10 list earlier this year, I’d have laughed in their face. Somehow I just didn’t have any interest in seeing this given my disappointment with Ridley Scott’s movies lately, but I had to eat my own words as I ended up loving this. The comedic tone (as well as the disco music) was so unexpected but somehow worked beautifully for the film and Matt Damon is as likable as ever in the lead. For much of the film, it was mostly a one-man show with his character Mark Watney, but I remained engrossed throughout. The film also had a nice balance of his scenes in Mars and the scenes on earth with the rescue team at NASA. Jeff Daniels gave one of his two most memorable performances of the year (the other was in Steve Jobs), but kudos to Drew Goddard‘s sharp script and Mr. Scott for his return-to-form as a filmmaker. (full review)

4. Ex Machina

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This has been quite a year for Alicia Vikander. I hadn’t even heard of her before 2015, as I had just seen Anna Karenina earlier this year where she had a small part. Well, my intro to the Swedish actress was a memorable one. She played a beautiful female AI, as fetching and seductive even when her body looks very much like a machine. Alex Garland took an oft-told story of man vs. machine and somehow made it feel organic and even personal. Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac delivered excellent performances as well, especially the latter, as he continues to display amazing versatility as an actor. I saw this early in the year but I knew it’ll end up in my final top 10. It’s one of the best sci-fi films in recent memory, quite amazing what they achieved on a shoe-string budget of $15 million. (full review)

3. Brooklyn

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This was my favorite film I saw at TCFF this year and I knew this film would make my final Top 10. Brooklyn tells a simple yet very relatable and heartfelt story of an Irish immigrant and being an immigrant myself, I definitely relate to her in many ways. I’ve been a huge fan of Saoirse Ronan for some time and this is definitely her best work amongst her already illustrious career. She infused such gravitas into her role and able to convey the internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile. I also love Emory Cohen as one of her love interests, but the supporting cast are excellent overall. Sometimes a simple, no-frills story can make a great impact, and that’s the case with this one. Brilliant work from director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby, certainly one I’d appreciate for years to come. (full review)

2. Spotlight

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I just heard about this film a few months before its release and I’ve been anticipating it since. Well it did NOT disappoint and it ranks as one of the best ensemble cast AND journalism film ever. It’s the kind of good story-telling that I wish Hollywood would make more of. The captivating dialog grabs you right from the start and the pacing is just right that the film never drags despite not having much action. Powerful without being sensationalizing the story or emotionally-manipulative, at times it even felt like a documentary.

The fantastic cast brought the disturbing true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the Catholic Church’s child molestation and cover-up scandal to life. The investigative journalism scenes are riveting, but quiet scenes such as the meet-up between the Globe’s new editor and Cardinal Law was brimming with tension, and even occasional humor. I love that it subtly highlights the humanity of the journalists, more than just their reporting skills, without distracting from the main narrative.

The entire cast brought their A-game, especially those who made up the Spotlight investigative team: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo (who got the most screen time), Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James. Also kudos to Stanley Tucci and Liev Schreiber, the latter had the least screen time but perhaps one of the most memorable scenes as the Globe’s editor, thanks to his understated but astute performance. Tom McCarthy‘s script (co-written with Josh Singer) and his astute direction made a solid drama that will certainly linger with you for days. Definitely not the most comfortable subject but I encourage everyone to see this. Guaranteed to stun and rile you up, but that’s what what a brilliant retelling such a grievous subject matter is supposed to do.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

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This is an easy pick for number 1. It’s one of the most unique and unusual films I’ve seen in a while, and the level of artistry that goes into it is off the charts. Technically it’s simply astounding, especially in terms of cinematography. Now, the first two sentences were from my #1 pick of 2014 (Birdman), but it also fits perfectly for George Miller‘s masterpiece. Yes I said the ‘m’ word and I don’t think it’s a hyperbole.

I wish I had seen this more than once on the big screen but I’ve seen re-watched it on Blu-ray twice and loved every minute of it. The visual effects is simply magnificent and awe-inspiring, which is more fun to watch over and over and you’d always something new to marvel at. Once you realize most of it is practical effects and not simply CGI it’d blow your mind away even more. But action alone, no matter how spectacular, doesn’t make a movie, and that’s what makes Fury Road so gratifying on every level. At the heart of the film is a compelling and heart-wrenching, female-driven story. I love stories of unlikely friendship and so is the pairing of fierce Furiosa and the drifter, Max Rockatansky. The partnership between the two lost souls is beautifully realized… nobody needed *saving* but their shared journey ended up bringing redemption to both of them. I sure hope Charlize Theron would get lots of nominations for Best Actress in the role as she’s absolutely astounding. Tom Hardy‘s as cool as ever as the strong, silent-type hero and I look forward to seeing more of him in this franchise.

What a rockin’ duo this proved out to be, oh and the music is equally rock-tastic [pardon the pun] and has become a staple in our car now. It’s tough to find films that are such an intense feast for the eyes (and ear) but also deeply emotional and moving, but Fury Road did that for me. It made me want to get up and cheer one moment and got me teary-eyed the next. Yes it’s an inherently bizarre film, but once it grabs you it’s impossible to turn away. What a ride, what a lovely ride! (full review).

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Some of these almost made my final top 10 so some of these are excellent and some have become personal faves that I’d love to watch again and again. I list this in order of personal favorites, I actually owned the Blu-ray of Cinderella and What We Do in the Shadows, so yeah, I absolutely adore those two!

  1. Cinderella

  2. What We Do in the Shadows

  3. Inside Out

  4. Bridge of Spies

  5. Clouds of Sils Maria

  6. Room

  7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  8. Me and Earl and The Dying Girl

  9. Remember

  10. Mr. Holmes

  11. Cartel Land

  12. Kingsman: The Secret Service

  13. The End of the Tour

  14. Steve Jobs

  15. Spy

One film I’m surprised didn’t even make my top 25 is Macbeth, which I had been anticipating for some time. I don’t think I’ll be reviewing it but suffice it to say it didn’t quite make an impression to me, in fact I found it rather tedious. I was far more captivated watching Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus at the Donmar Theater on National Theatre Live. It may not be Shakespeare’s most famous play, but Hiddle’s performance was gripping from start to finish.

What I missed from 2015:

45 Years, Carol, The Danish Girl, The Lobster, Love & Mercy, Mustang, The Look of Silence, Tangerine, The Revenant, Sicario, Straight Outta Compton, etc.

I hope to catch these later this year.


5 Worst Movies of the Year

Now, some of these aren’t straight out horrible, there are some things I admire about Tomorrowland and Pan, I think both have interesting concepts but the execution didn’t quite work. I’d say those two still merit a rental, but I’d skip the rest. It really pains me to put Blackhat on here as I LOVE Michael Mann, but well, the movie was terrible! I wish Hollywood would realize there are other hunks besides Chris Hemsworth who can actually act! Self/Less and Jupiter Ascending are simply dreadful and a complete waste of time. In fact, the latter is just SO bad it still makes me cringe every time I see a photo of it, ugh. To this day I can’t understand the appeal of Channing Tatum and I probably never will.

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Now, I probably should’ve made a separate list for Most Disappointing Movies but I’d rather not waste my time. For sure Spectre and Jurassic World would make THAT list, as they’re not terrible film per se but it sure wasn’t nearly as good as I had expected.

Bullets Dodged:

Glad I missed some terrible ones like Terminator Genysis, Fantastic Four, The Seventh Son, The Cobler, Chappie, Aloha, etc. I have no interest in even renting these.


So that’s my top 10 list of 2015. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d love to hear it!

My Top 10 Picks from Twin Cities Film Fest

Top10_TCFF2015

Well, it’s been almost two weeks since the 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest wrapped. I knew the tough part would be selecting the top 10 and so I took my time posting this. I use the same criteria when selecting my top 10 films from a given year. So when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible.

So with that in mind, I present you my top 10 picks:

[Click on the title to read my full review]

10. Touched with Fire

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I really didn’t know what to expect from this, but the subject matter intrigued me. A directorial debut from Paul Dalio, the film seems to have been crafted as a love letter to bipolar artists and creative people. I was quite impressed by Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby who played poets who are manic depressive. It’s a heartfelt and sensitive tale of an unconventional love story.

9. Too Late

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This is one of those unique films in which the risky experimentative film-making style paid off in the end. It’s another feature film debut from Dennis Hauck, and it contains only five 20-minute uninterrupted takes, amounting to 100 minutes of non-linear narrative. It’d be a shame if the style was only a gimmick, but thankfully the story is intriguing and actually quite emotional in the end. Plus it’s got an amazing performance from the criminally underrated thespian John Hawkes. His 2015 Northstar Award of Excellence from TCFF is so well-deserved!

8. Remember

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As I mentioned in my review, there have been so many Nazi vengeance tales been made on screen before and yet this one manages to inject something new and different into the sub-genre. That alone is a feat in and of itself. Director Atom Egoyan made this with not much frills but the film is brimming with mystery and suspense. Boasted by an astute and heartfelt performance by Christopher Plummer, I was engrossed in the story despite not much action in the film. That finale packs quite an emotional punch, and it’ll make you forgive the generic and boring title, as it actually fits the plot VERY well.

7. It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong

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Films that contain mostly of dialog between two people is tricky because a lot is required of the chemistry two actors AND of course, the script. Well, director Emily Ting in her directorial debut certainly managed to create a compelling film thanks to those two ingredients. Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung (who I found out was a real-life couple after I saw the movie) have an effortless chemistry together. Everything flows nicely and in a natural way, the actors seem comfortable and fit the roles perfectly. But the strength of the film is in the dialog (also written by Ting), which comes to life as the night wears on.

6. A New High

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A homeless shelter in Seattle took a novel approach in helping their residents overcome their addictions, and that is to give them an epic goal to summit one of the most dangerous mountains in the country, the 14,400 ft Mt. Rainier. The film shows the residents train for that mission and the drama that happens in the group, led by former Army Ranger Mike Johnson, who spearheaded this unorthodox rehabilitation project. The film asked the question, ‘will their personal mountains be too steep to overcome?’ and it certainly made me ponder about that in my own life. It’s quite riveting to see each recovering addict face their demons head on, plus the vast splendor of the mountain is absolutely stunning to watch. Directors Samuel Miron & Stephen Scott Scarpulla also had to train for mount climbing as well in order to make this film. Their dedication and their labor of love definitely paid off on screen.

5. The Last Great Circus Flyer

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There are a ton of great documentaries playing at TCFF every year and so it’s no surprise they made up nearly half of my top 10 list. This one certainly has one of the most intriguing subject matter. In 1982, Miguel Vazguez performed ‘the greatest feat in all of circus history’, that is the quadruple somersault, during a Ringling performance. He certainly had a fascinating life journey to tell and director Philip Weyland certainly did his story justice. It’s one of the most entertaining and moving documentary that showcase not only a series of amazing–you could say impossible–physical feat, but also a portrait of a truly extraordinary and inspiring individual. Even if you’re not a fan of circus or trapeze act, I highly recommend this one.

4. Thank You For Playing

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Critics have called this film one of the most important film about video game ever made and it certainly lived up to that. It’s a tear-jerker of a film but one that’s also incredibly uplifting. The story chronicled the Green family, as Ryan and Amy deal with their son Joel who’s diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Ryan is a video game designer and he embarked on creating a most unusual and poetic video game to honor Joel’s life. Most video games deal with a lot of deaths, that is people getting shot or chopped to pieces violently. But never has a game dealt with death the way That Dragon Cancer game does it, tackling the issue of death head on in such a personal, affecting and encouraging way. This well-crafted film should encourage everyone going through a tough time in their lives, and also inspire people to channel their emotion, whether it’s grief or joy, into something truly creative.

3. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

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When I saw this on the TCFF schedule, I knew this would be one I had to see with my husband. We’re both such huge fans of Indiana Jones and we LOVE Raiders of the Lost Ark! The film has a huge dose of exhilarating fun that matches Spielberg’s adventure masterpiece, as it’s truly the greatest homage to a film fueled 100% by genuine passion and creativity. You can’t help but root for the three guys who remade the film shot for shot when they were 11 years old and reunited 30 years later to finish it. It’s also interesting to see how their families share this unusual journey over the span of three decades. Watch for some extra special surprises that would definitely make you want to get up and cheer. A must-see for Indy fans, but really, anyone who loves a good story would be entertained by this.

2. Room

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I’m thrilled that there have been a lot more female filmmakers as well as talents represented this year, one of the reasons I love TCFF! So it’s especially gratifying that two of the main gala screenings feature a strong female performer in the lead. I actually saw Room at a press screening before TCFF started, but I’m still going to include it here as this was TCFF’s opening gala.

Room is one of the most well-acted films I saw the entire year, emotionally heartbreaking but not a dour, depressing film. Featuring one of the strongest lead performances this year, Brie Larson shines as a doting mother who’s kept in captivity in a single room for years. The believable relationship between Ma and her young son Jack is crucial to the film and both Larson and Jacob Tremblay nailed it. It’s a deeply immersive film that really get you into the emotional psyche of the characters, thanks to a shrewd direction by Lenny Abrahamson.

1. Brooklyn

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It’s always wonderful when a film lives up to your already lofty expectations and then some. Saoirse Ronan is the perfect leading lady to tell the story of Eilis, a young Irish immigrant who moves to Brooklyn and becomes torn between the new city and her homeland. The story is deceptively simple, but I was swept away by the rich, engrossing human drama that’s brought to life by the nuanced performances of the cast.

This is such a gem of a movie and watching Ronan is her understated yet layered portrayal of Eilis is nothing short of mesmerizing. She’s able to convey internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile, as there’s a great deal of economy of dialog in this film but everything has a purpose. I’m also impressed by Emory Cohen, and actor I’ve never seen before but I certainly want to see more of. He has a James Dean-esque vibe here, charming but vulnerable, certainly a worthy suitor to the film’s protagonist.

No doubt this is Ronan‘s best work among her already illustrious career and I’d love to see her get major acting nominations come award season. Kudos to director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby for crafting a beautiful story that’s engaging and full of heart. I mentioned this in my review already but it bears repeating: lest Hollywood forget, well-written story is the greatest special effects of all.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in random order):

Just because these didn’t quite make my top 10, I still think these films are excellent and definitely well worth your time. In fact, I’m pretty sure Anomalisa would make a lot of critics’ top 10 of the year. I love how film festivals always offer *a cure for the common flicks* so to speak, a breath of fresh air from what you see in mainstream Cineplex today.

THANKS AGAIN Twin Cities Film Fest for the awesome lineup!


The TCFF Insider Series kicks off in December, so be a member so you don’t miss out on film screenings/events all year long!

If you miss my TCFF coverage, click on the Twin Cities Film Fest tab at the top of the page.


What are your thoughts on my Top 10?
Which one(s) of these films have you seen or look forward to?

Five for the Fifth: Special James Bond Edition

FiveForFifth_Bond

Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

Well, since SPECTRE is released this weekend here in the US, I’m dedicating this month’s edition to be ALL THINGS James Bond!

007chatter1. As I grew up watching Bond movies, I have a special fondness for the franchise. Even though I haven’t always loved all the movies, I always look forward to seeing a new one whenever it comes along. If you’ve read my blog long enough, surely you’ve noticed that this is a pretty frequent topic here, I even have a special category for it… 007 Chatter.

My twin brothers and I would watch Bond movies on VHS (yes I’m that old) over and over, and we’d always watch ’em when they’re on TV.  I actually don’t remember which Bond film I saw for the very first time, I just know it was a Roger Moore film.  Now, he’s not my favorite Bond (some loyal readers know it’s THIS guy), but I always have a fondness for some of his movies, especially For Your Eyes Only.

So tell me, how did you first discover the Bond franchise?

2. One of the things I LOVE about the franchise is that it’s pure escapist entertainment. Yes, we’ve got the guns, gadgets and girls, but for me, it’s location, location, location. You can always count on Bond movies to be shot on location in the most exotic places in the world.

There are SO many places in Bond movies I’d love to visit, but you’d have to be a billionaire to have THAT kind of bucket list. So I were to pick only six Bond locations to travel to in my lifetime, I’d choose these from each of the six Bond actor’s film:

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So what’s your favorite Bond film setting?

….

3.  As the saying goes, “a hero is only as good as their villain”. It’s true for most great stories, but it’s extremely crucial when it comes to the Bond franchise. The worst Bond movies is often as a result of a weak villain, whether it’s in the writing or in the casting, but I think the latter plays an even crucial role.

The topic of Bond villains have been covered several times here. We’ve talked about the best and worst villains, as well as who I’d like to see as a Bond villain a while back. In regards to that last one, I still stand by these choices as none of them have ever been cast yet (what a shame!)

BondBaddies

L-R: Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen and Timothy Dalton

Oh man, it’d be a dream to see Timothy Dalton be cast as the next Bond villain. I mean he’s contracted to do three Bond films before the MGM legal woes basically caused Dalton to walk out, so casting him as a Bond villain would just be the perfect *atonement.* If you’ve seen him in Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, you’ll see he’s still got the chops, not to mention he still looks pretty damn good in his 70s! If only Penny Dreadful‘s creator John Logan, who’s also one of the writers of Skyfall and Spectre would agree with me, he could pitch that to the Broccolis! :)

Which actors/actresses are on your wish list as a Bond villain?


4.
I’m not going to talk about who should replace Daniel Craig as Bond at this point. There’s just been way too much talk on that topic and Craig is supposedly under contract for at least another Bond movie anyway. I already talked about who I think would be great to play 007, but what I haven’t ever really discussed is Craig himself… apart from his role as Bond.

DanielCraig

I’ve only seen Craig in a handful of non-Bond roles, the first one being Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Yep, he was Lara’s um, boy toy before Gerard Butler got the *honor* in the sequel. I haven’t seen any of the Dragon Tattoo movies nor Layer Cake, but I did see him in supporting roles in The Road to Perdition and Munich. That’s about it. So I really don’t know how good an actor he is apart from the Bond films, which doesn’t exactly show his range.

I’m curious, what’s your favorite Daniel Craig role apart from 007? 

>>>
5. 
This month’s Five for the Fifth’s guest is a longtime friend and fellow Bond fan Dan from Top 10 Films site! Dan’s posted a myriad of Bond-related top 10s, including top 10 Bond gadgets from contributor Rodney aka Fernby Films, so it’s no surprise that his question would be gadget-related. Check out this awesome infographic on this very topic!

NELRKo3dovVxPN_1_1

So what’s your favorite James Bond gadgets? Is there a memorable moment(s) when Bond uses one of his gadgets to get out of a sticky situation?


Well, that’s it for the James Bond edition of Five for the Fifth. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all!

10 Things I Love about Twin Cities Film Fest!

TCFF2015EVENT

And so it begins!! In less than 24 hours, the 6th annual Twin Cities Film Fest commences! Starting this Wednesday, we’ll have 11 days filled with cinematic festivities… 120+ films of national and international screenings, live musical performances, red carpet galas, cocktail mixers, film panel discussions and all kinds of special events for film lovers to enjoy. From today all the way until Halloween, SHOWPLACE ICON THEATRE is THE place to be for film lovers in the Upper Midwest!

I’ve been blogging for TCFF since its inception back in 2010 (all documented in my TCFF Archives page) and it just keeps getting better and better! Whatever type of cinephile you are, you’ll likely find something to look forward to at TCFF. Now, I’ve been wanting to do a top 10 list to kick off the event, so today seems as good a time as any.

How do I love thee TCFF? Let me count the ways…

A film fest with a cause

YouthlinklogoEach year TCFF brings awareness to an important social issue, such as bullying, hunger prevention, poverty, sex trafficking which were themes from the past few years. This year, the Twin Cities Film Fest is partnering with Minneapolis-based YouthLink, which serves as a resource center for homeless youth. According to the nonprofit, on any given day about 4,000 youth are homeless in Minnesota. We have four films tied to the topic of homelessness, including this opening night film, A New High. I think it’s cool that the organizers are mindful about the social issues of the community and make the most of the festivities for a great cause!

Great mix of studio + indie films

One of the perks of attending a film festival is that you get to see smaller independent films that you probably won’t get to see until much later when it’s available on VOD. But there’s something about going to the theater and seeing them on the big screen that makes it extra special. There are a plethora of great indies I’m looking forward to, some of them I’ve highlighted in this post. Three of the big studio movies I REALLY can’t wait to see are The 33, Brooklyn and Youth.

studiofilms

TCFF’s artistic director Steve Snyder have highlighted some of the top ones from each day, here’s just a sampling from this week alone:

Wednesday, Oct. 21 – For Book Fans and Oscar Buffs: ROOM – This is probably the biggest film we’re screening. Period. But given the odd timing, there’s still seats available. It stars Brie Larson, is based on the hit book, and just took home the top prize of the Toronto International Film Festival.
ROOM

I saw this a couple of weeks ago at a press screening and was blown away. I’d be sorely disappointed if I don’t see Brie Larson’s name in this year’s Best Actress nominees!

Friday, Oct. 23 – War Film and History Buffs: Remember – Starring Christopher Plummer as a Jewish man who barely survived World War II and Auschwitz who sets out as an elderly man to get revenge against a Nazi camp guard.
Remember
Saturday, Oct. 24 – Romantic Comedy and Katie Holmes‘ big comeback! Touched With Fire – Holmes returns to the movie screen in this South By Southwest smash shit. She plays a bipolar poet who befriends and then falls for another poet while admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
TouchedWithFire
The-Last-Great-Circus-FlyerSunday, Oct. 25 – Performance Arts: The Last Great Circus Flyer is one of the year’s best documentaries, about the greatest trapeze artist who ever lived – the first to ever complete a quadruple jump – who one day abruptly quit the circus and walked away. Director Philip Weyland AND the trapeze artist Miguel Vazguez himself will be present. This is a magical film.
Stay tuned for my in-depth interview with the gracious Mr. Weyland, I can’t wait to meet him and Miguel in person!

Eye-opening & entertaining documentaries

Speaking of great docs, well I’ve highlighted seven not-to-be-missed documentaries in this post. For the first time in TCFF’s six year’s existence, the fest will open AND close with a documentary feature: A New High and Thank You For Playing, respectively.

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Each year TCFF programmers seek out some of the most riveting documentary films to share with our festival goers. This year they went above and beyond! The FILM page on TCFF official site makes it easy to search films by genre, so as you can see under the Documentary page, there is something for everyone.

Growing female filmmakers represented

The gender disparity in Hollywood when it comes to female talents AND filmmakers have come under scrutiny of late and I certainly welcome the opportunity for discussions. So I’m always glad to see more and more women in the the notoriously male-dominated industry and pushing through challenges to get their films made.

These are just some of the female filmmakers whose films – big studio films/indies/docs/shorts – are screening at TCFF:

  • Shalini Kantayya – Catching the Sun
  • Patricia Riggen – The 33
  • Pamela Romanowsky – The Adderall Diaries
  • Emily Ting – It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong
  • Stéphanie Joalland – The Quiet Hour
  • Vanessa Magowan Horrocks – Keepsake
  • Courtney Ware – Sunny in the Dark
  • Debra Granik – Winter’s Bone
  • Kelly Huang –A Refugee’s Story: Khamsay Huang (short)
  • Annie Silverstein – Skunk (short)

A variety of MN-connected films

It thrills me that Minnesota have such a booming arts & film culture… we have nearly 50 MN-connected films playing at TCFF just this year alone! Now, when we say MN-connected, it doesn’t always mean they’re filmed here or that the topic is about MN, but we also have MN-based producers financing Hollywood films.

MNconnected_indies

Some of those filmmakers/producers are coming to town, such as Andrew Putschoegl for NERDGASM, Justin Mikelson for The Dust Storm, and Zac Adams & Tim Vandesteeg for Autism in America doc. I also got a chance to interview executive producer Ralph S. Bovard for the indie sci-fi The Quiet Hour.

A plethora of great short films

ShortsBlockI tell myself that I need to see more short films, but I don’t always get around to checking them out. I’ve just reviewed a great short film In Vitro by actor Toby Stephens recently and I always think that short films can be just more effective and compelling than feature films.

So it’s great to see that TCFF continue to feature short films in blocks with various themes, i.e Land of 10,000 Stories, Coming of Age, Love American Style, Shoot to Kill, etc. I’ve seen a few of them and are REALLY impressed by the skills of these filmmakers in crafting engaging stories efficiently told in such a short time. In many ways, developing a short film serves as a launching pad for some filmmakers trying to break into the industry, so there’s definitely a ton of promising work represented here.

Insightful educational panels

I have to give kudos to Matt Cici who’s in charge of this year’s Educational Events. I came to know Matt from his directorial debut Lambent Fuse, and earlier this year he’s also played the lead in The Center. He’s put together a collection of great film panels, featuring screenplay reading and discussions on film trends. The best part? These events are FREE and takes place at TCFF Lounge right at Showplace ICON Theater, so if you’re going to see a movie anyway, might as well attend one of the panels and get great insights from film experts and those who’re working in films that are screening at the fest.

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Two of the panels I can’t wait to participate on are:

  • The Future of Film (Saturday, 10/24 @ 1pm-2:30pm)
    A discussion on the state of the film industry with some of the top media professionals in the publishing industry. Featuring film experts from publications like Variety & Twitch Film
  • Capturing the Image (Saturday, 10/31 @ 11am-12:30pm)
    A discussion on the challenges and tools of telling stories through images. Featuring award-winning cinematographers/directors of photography, i.e. Checco Varese who shot one of TCFF’s gala films, The 33.

Access to Talents & Filmmakers

Perhaps the best perks as a TCFF blogger is the opportunity to chat with filmmakers and talents involved with the fest. I definitely have the most interviews, perhaps more than the last two years combined! Most of the filmmakers/producers have been so gracious and kind in responding to my interview requests, so stay tuned for the interview posts in the next two weeks. Special shout out to directors Emily Ting, Philip Weyland, Brent Baum, Ryan Lacen and David Spaltro for taking the time to do the email interviews, can’t wait to see all of you at the fest!!

Great venue for films & mixers!

Of course the venue of a film festival is crucial for theatergoers and filmmakers to enjoy and it really doesn’t get any better than Showplace ICON Theatre at the Shops at West End! It’s become my favorite theater with its comfy VIP section and great lounge upstairs (fabulous burgers!).

Just one of the perks of for TCFF festival goers year after year is the mixers/after party. You can check out the Mixer schedule to see which band is playing on a certain night. Anyone with a ticket from a film that day may attend for no charge. We’re also offering a TCFF Festival Lounge Pass this year for people who just want to enjoy the mixers without buying a film ticket. The mixer space at the former Love Culture space across the street from the theater is three times as large as last year’s spot!

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Being around film fans

Last but not least, the best part of attending any film festival is being around fellow film fans! It’s awesome meeting new people who share the same passion, whether it’s just people who enjoy watching movies or those in the industry making them. It’s a fantastic place for networking or simply hang out with fun people who love movies!

I’m thrilled that this year I’d get to meet yet another fellow film blogger! Mike from Just Me Mike blog is actually coming to Minneapolis to cover TCFF! I’ve come to know Mike over the years and enjoyed reading his blog, so it’ll be a treat to hang out with him in person starting tomorrow. Of course I also look forward to hanging out with my friends and FlixChatter blog contributors Ted S. (whom most FC readers already know) and Sarah J. who’ve helped cover TCFF in the past years!

So thank you Jatin Setia, Naomi Dahlgren, Steve Snyder, Bill Cooper, Dani Palmer & the rest of TCFF staff for always bringing your A-game year after year in bringing us this awesome film event!!


Well that’s just a sampling of why I’m super excited for TCFF 2015! Stay tuned for a complete coverage of the fest and see which movies you wouldn’t want to miss!

Thursday Movie Picks #62: Journalist/Reporters for Print/TV

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 

Movies featuring journalists/reporters for print/TV

I LOVE this month’s theme as I actually wanted to be a journalist growing up. I was thisclose to enrolling in Journalism major in college before I switched to Advertising. I like a lot of film that involve journalism, especially investigative journalism that continues to be an intriguing subject today. In fact one of the films I’m anticipating later this year that screened at TIFF is SPOTLIGHT, about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the child molestation scandal within the local Catholic Archdiocese. These three films also involve scandalous events that’s notable in their time.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

All The President’s Men (1976)

AllPresidentsMen

Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Nixon’s resignation.

This was one of my Blindspot picks of last year and I’m glad I finally saw it. It’s as much a detective tale as it is about journalism. I like how the story stays focused on the investigative aspect of the scandal and how the Post finally got to publish it, there’s no unnecessary subplots about the personal lives of the leads or anything of the sort. What an intriguing slice of American history, and as someone who’s not born in the US, it’s especially fascinating to see. To this day, every political scandal is tagged with the “-gate” suffix because of this, which adds to the timeless aspect of this film. Thanks to Robert Redford for acquiring the rights to Bernstein’s and Woodward’s memoir and for Mr. Pakula for bringing this engrossing political history to life. The two leads Redford and Dustin Hoffman are in top form here, but it also feature fantastic supporting performances from Hal Holbrook who played Woodward’s extremely secretive source, “Deep Throat.”

The Insider (1999)

TheInsider

A research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco

This film (as well as HEAT) is why I will always admire Michael Mann. I was disappointed by Blackhat but I think he’s still a phenomenal filmmaker that can infuse such a compelling drama to an otherwise ho-hum story. Russell Crowe gave one of his best performances in his illustrious career, which I think deserved a Best Actor Oscar more than his role in Gladiator. I dedicated this post to highlight some of the scenes I love from this film. The relationship between Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe), the whistle blower of the mammoth tobacco company Brown & Williamson’s and Lowell Bergman, a senior producer on 60 Minutes (Al Pacino) is compelling to watch. It’s amazing how even just two people talking on the phone can be so riveting, but that’s the genius of Mann’s style. Lots of great supporting cast here too, most notably Christopher Plummer as the legendary CBS News reporter Mike Wallace, Bruce McGill as trial lawyer Ron Motley, and Michael Gambon as the top tobacco company exec.

Veronica Guerin (2003)

VeronicaGuerin

Based on a true story, this is about the Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, a reporter for The Sunday Independent, who exposed some of Dublin’s most powerful crime barons and drug lords in 1996.

One of my all time favorite Cate Blanchett performances, where she totally disappeared into   her role. Cate not only portrays the feisty reporter, she embodies the journalist’s incredible valor in investigating Dublin’s drug trafficking. You immediately believe her as the character and the Aussie thespian even nailed Guerin’s Irish accent convincingly. I know some of you might be put off by Joel Shumacher as director, but it’s a good film, so give it a shot if you haven’t already. It’s one of the great examples of the danger of investigative journalism and how some of them are truly unsung heroes for their bravery to expose things that are harmful to society.

 

BONUS PICK

Philomena (2013)

Philomena

A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.

I already had the three above locked down but I still want to include this film as I haven’t reviewed it yet. I LOVE Dame Judi Dench and she’s simply phenomenal as Philomena (hey that rhymes :D) Steve Coogan (who also co-wrote the script) played the disgraced former journalist Martin Sixsmith who ended up coming alongside Philomena Lee in her journey to find her long lost son. A lot of his acting consist of bewildered reaction to Philomena, especially the part where she basically divulges the entire plot of a trashy book she’s reading that he couldn’t possibly be more disinterested in. It’s a bittersweet story that made me laugh and cry. Dame Judi is mesmerizing here and she’s as effortlessly adept in comedy as she is in dramatic roles. I find the story to be poignant, thought-provoking, and profoundly moving.

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What do you think of my picks? Which movies involving journalism/reporting are your favorites?

Thursday Movie Picks #61: TRAIN Scenes

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 

TRAIN Movies

For this month’s theme, instead of going with a film that’s set entirely or even mostly inside trains, I’m going to post three memorable train scenes in movies. The train is also a key part in the film so I think that would count.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

It’s Harry’s third year at Hogwarts; not only does he have a new “Defense Against the Dark Arts” teacher, but there is also trouble brewing. Convicted murderer Sirius Black has escaped the Wizards’ Prison and is coming after Harry.

This is possibly my favorite Harry Potter film and if you’ve seen any of the films, obviously the Hogwarts Express plays a key role in the story. So there are many great train scenes, but this one is perhaps one of the most memorable ones. The Dementors are just so creepy!

I love the Hogwarts Express, they made it one of the main feature in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Florida. It’s one of my fave rides when I was over there last Spring.

SNOWPIERCER

Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.

The entire film is set inside the train and it’s definitely one of the most memorable films set inside a train, as well as one of the best futuristic sci-fis. There are many scenes here to choose from, and I like a lot of the scenes with Tilda Swinton, but if I have to choose only one memorable scene, I have to go with this axe battle. I mean how many axe battles actually happen inside a train? So the small space definitely makes the brutality even more potent!

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson join forces to outwit and bring down their fiercest adversary, Professor Moriarty.

I don’t love this movie, I think the first film is better but still it’s enjoyable thanks to the great bromance between Sherlock and Watson. The train sequence is particularly fun and action-packed. Robert Downey Jr. definitely relish on this over-the-top role and the constant bantering between him and Jude Law is what makes this movie watchable.

 

BONUS PICK

Mission Impossible (1996)

An American agent, under false suspicion of disloyalty, must discover and expose the real spy without the help of his organization.

Well technically this scene isn’t inside a train but on top of one. Well, every Mission Impossible film has to have one ridiculously preposterous action stunt and THIS is definitely the highlight. Even compared to the crazy plane scene of the latest movie, this one still gets my blood going.

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What do you think of these train scenes? Which train movie scene(s) are your favorites?