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MY FAVORITE FILMS OF THE YEAR

MY FAVORITE FILMS OF THE YEAR The Holdovers Maestro Killers of the Flower Moon Nyad Ferrari Are you There, God? It’s Me, Margaret Poor Things Fallen Leaves American Fiction Origin There is no objectivity in crafting “ten best” lists at the end of the year; it’s all a matter of opinion. I like to think that mine is an informed opinion, at least, but it still reflects just one person’s point of view. These are the films that spoke to me this past year. I enjoyed both components of Barbenheimer but neither Greta Gerwig’s megahit nor Christopher Nolan’s (predictably) overlong docudrama meant that much to me. But when I watched Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, I realized that I was witnessing a rare bird: a movie…

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NEW AND NOTABLE FILM BOOKS – DECEMBER 2023

As usual, film books are coming out at a faster pace than I can read them, so I am unable to offer reviews or opinions of the following titles. Please consider this a survey of recently published books and my first impressions of them. Needless to say, any of them would make great gifts. MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS: THE AMAZING STORY OF LAUREL & HARDY’S BABES IN TOYLAND by Randy Skretvedt (Bonaventure Press) Having written and compiled definitive books about Laurel and Hardy, Skretvedt is the ideal person to trace the history of Victor Herbert’s operetta, which became a vehicle for L&H in 1934. It was an ambitious and troubled production for Hal Roach, and Skretvedt unfolds the story in detail, with startlingly rare…

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‘AMERICAN FICTION’ HITS THE BULL’S-EYE

Satire is a rare commodity and always has been, but Cord Jefferson’s debut film American Fiction has restored my faith in its survival. What’s more, it offers the gifted Jeffrey Wright an exceptional leading role that he plays to perfection. (You can also see him in a cameo appearance as flamboyant New York City politician Adam Clayton Powell in Rustin, now playing on Netflix.) Thelonious “Monk” Ellison is not an easily embraceable character: a misanthropic college professor whose lukewarm track record as a novelist has forced him to teach in order to make a living. His students’ ignorance and indifference drive him mad. When he discovers that a young black female has written a novel called We’s Lives in Da Ghetto in outlandish street vernacular and readers have made it a…

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‘POOR THINGS’ IS WILD AND CRAZY

On the face of it, I wouldn’t have bet that I would take to Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest film, but I am crazy about Poor Things. This high-flying feminist variation on the Frankenstein tale is as wacky and unpredictable as a Tex Avery cartoon. No other film in recent memory can match it for sheer ingenuity, both in terms of storytelling and visual execution. Lanthimos has gotten the best out of his many collaborators on both sides of the camera. Emma Stone delivers a fearless performance, much of it unclothed, and her bravado is matched by costars Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, and a straight-faced Ramy Youssef. As the story hops around the globe we encounter other well-cast actors, many in tiny roles, whose unique faces recall Fellini in…

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‘ORIGIN’ IS A KNOCKOUT

Ava DuVernay has taken a big swing and hit a home run. Origin tells the story of how Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson pursued an idea that tied the notorious murder of Trayvon Martin to the existence of slavery in America, the Nazi attempt to exterminate Jews in Germany, and the treatment of Dilats in India. The key was determining that it was the caste system, not racism, that fueled these phenomena. The beauty of the film is how DuVernay puts us in Wilkerson’s shoes and allows us to learn and discover this connection, step by painful step. The casting of the gifted and deeply empathetic Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor makes this possible. DuVernay’s screenplay, adapted from Wilkerson’s best-selling book, is sprawling but compelling at every stage. Some episodes may…

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THE PATH TO PARADISE: A FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA STORY

THE PATH TO PARADISE: A FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA STORY by Sam Wasson (Harper) Having taken a “big picture” approach to the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Chinatown, Wasson focuses here on an individual rather than a film. This is not a conventional biography, but the saga of a man with the soul of an artist. He doesn’t play by the rules and is never satisfied because perfection is always just out of reach. He’s a dreamer, an idealist, a gifted filmmaker who has made masterpieces but rarely derives pleasure from the experience. He is one of a kind: Francis Ford Coppola. Wasson enables us to vicariously experience the highs and lows of Coppola’s life, from a desperately unhappy childhood—berated by both parents, coming in second to his older brother, confined…

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THE BEST NEW HOLIDAY DVDS, BLU-RAYS AND 4KS

The following article was written by my friend and colleague Alonso Duralde. You can learn more about him HERE. Whether you’re stuffing the stocking of a physical-media fan or just building up your own holiday home-video library, there’s an eclectic selection of media guaranteed to spice up your Christmas. Holiday Horrors and Thrillers The 4K release of 2022’s sleeper hit Violent Night (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) – starring David Harbour as an exhausted Santa who has to face off with a team of criminals headed by John Leguizamo – is one of several new releases that color way outside the lines of what has traditionally been considered holiday entertainment. Also getting 4K reissues are two classics set at the holidays but not always considered “Christmas…

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