Ten Best Lists

2020 Ten Best List

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     As we relect on all we have been through this past year and how the pandemic has affected and taken so many lives, it should be no surprise my list of the Ten Best Films of 2020 will also be different for a number of reasons.  This list is comprised of releases dictated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, allowing for films released up to February 28th, 2021 to be considered.  In addition, the films I thought were the most exceptional were watched in an unprecedented manner, as the majority of releases seen by audiences in 2020 were viewed in their own living rooms.  Only ten of the films I watched last year were at a movie theater, with seven coming before the pandemic began.  And while seeing first run releases in the comfort of your own home certainly has its merits, nothing will ever replace the atmosphere and experience of seeing movies in a theater.  Let’s hope when I compile my list of films for 2021, we are all talking about how theatrical exhibition was one of the many pre pandemic past times that came roaring back.


     Few war films have the “you’re there” quality exhibited by director Rod Lurie’s “The Outpost”, the true story of the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh which saw a small Army outpost in Afghanistan overrrun by the Taliban in what proved to be an overwhelming tactical blunder on the part of the U.S. forces.  Lurie has created the standard for a film depicting the Iraq/Afghan wars, doing so while offering a narrative that goes well beyond the expected action sequences, while injecting life into each of the men depicted within the story.  Some of them survive.  Others do not.  But we care becasue we know them and what they stood for.  This is the kind of dedication and selfless service our country was built on. 


     “Tenet” may well be director Christopher Nolan’s deepest dive yet into how time affects the way a story unfolds on screen.  Here, Nolan introduces a concept of which a supporting character tells us we are not meant to understand, but rather only feel.  You’ll finish watching the film likely holding on to that since there never is a cohesive explanation fiven for the logic defying visuals you will have just witnessed.  All of this proves to be a creative canvas for Nolan to unspool several eye popping action sequences, each of which seems determined to outdo the last.  The film is that proverbial mystery box, likely designed through Nolan’s extensive imagination to be the kind of experience we as filmgoers will endlessly debate and dissect for years to come.


     Marking the feature directorial debut of Regina King, “One Night in Miami”  brings four 1960s icons, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X, to life as they meet for a spirited and emotional debate about the future of the Civil Rights Movement just hours after Clay defeated Sonny Liston on February 25th, 1964.  The fight sequences depicted in the film are important because they set the stage for an even bigger battle within the walls of the hotel room.  Some questions are answered.  Others are left another day.  But one can learn so much from simply listening to what these guys are saying.  At times, the speeches are mesmerizing, as all four actors capture the screen in much the same way the people they are portraying once did themselves.


     Writer / director Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” is a heartfelt and clearly personal story of which he has said he waited until his experience level as a filmmaker ascended to the proper heights before tackling the most important film of his career.  And the result is nothing short of astonishing, particularly given the simplicity of the story and emotional pitch nearly every scene achieves.  Beautifully photographed and expertly acted, this is what prestige filmmaking is supposed to look like.  With no pretense to be found, the characters portrayed, even given the fact they speak Korean while at home, project that of hardworking Americans who share a common dream of succeeding and making a life for themselves and their family.  There’s inspiration to be had from beginning to end.

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 Director Florian Zeller’s debut film “The Father” opens with a scene introducing us to Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), an older fellow who appears as spry and invigorated as you could expect from someone of that age, and his daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman), during what appears to be a routine visit.  She tells him she has finally met someone and plans to move from England to Paris, but will still be able to come see him on the weekends.  We assume at this point this is all taking place in Anthony’s residence, and the fact Anne is moving away has little effect on his overall wellbeing.  But then the next scene happens and the person we were told was Anne has now taken the form of another person, while an unknown male comes into frame claiming to be Anne’s husband and they are in fact in their apartment, not his. Something is clearly amiss.  Or is it?  

     This heartbreaking film chronicles the journey of a man who suffers from dementia, utilizing a unique storytelling mechanism allowing for each scene to be shown from the perspective of Anthony, rather than those around him.  As such, we only get bits and pieces of reality, often jumbled together with other thoughts and emotions, and even past memories.  It can be gut wrenching to watch, particularly if you have had the experience of watching a loved one deteriorate in this manner.  As much as you empathize with Anthony, the helplessness Anne must feel resonates just as strongly.


     Something special typically happens when you bring together actors, writers, and directors who find a way to work at the height of their powers while collaborating on the same film.  For the audience, such an event can be a magical and often transformative experience where we become engrossed by the lives of characters we may not have known otherwise.  “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is one of those films.  

     Directed by George C. Wolfe, the film is based off the 1982 play by the late August Wilson, and features Viola Davis as the title character who turns out to be quite the spectacle with flamboyant costumes and generously applied grease paint covering her face.  It’s Viola Davis at her peak, showing instantly the kind of range and presence most actors will never come close to achieving.  But its the late Chadwick Boseman whose band member, Levee, provides the emotional core of the story with the kind of deep rooted anger and ferocity akin to a slow burning fuse which could explode at any moment.  This is how a powerful performance is defined.


     There are so many things in life of which we take for granted.  Our ability to see, hear, taste, and feel are only a few of the senses we utilize on a daily basis.  More often than not as a crucial element to our livelihoods.  Take one of those away and suddenly what was once a norm within your existence changes who you are in an instant.  Most will never know what it’s like to suddenly lose your hearing and thus become deaf, but if the very personal ordeal experienced by Riz Ahmed’s character, Ruben, in director Darius Marder’s “Sound of Metal” is any indication of the unbearable anxiety, anguish, and loss which accompanies such a tragic circumstance, this story will shed light on what seems to be an ignored segment of our population.

     What follows is a storyline centered around Ruben’s experience at a rural community established for the deaf and his quest to raise enough money to pay for a surgery said to potentially restore his hearing.  Of course, the film goes much deeper than that as Marder’s camera seems to accompany Ruben’s every experience in what plays visually as more of a documentary than a traditional film where every shot is planned out and choreographed. This, combined with an alarmingly realistic sound design, courtesy of sound editors Nicolas Becker, Maria Carolina , & Santana Caraballo-Gramcko, which attempts to allow the audience to experience what Ruben can and cannot hear, brings forth a certain realism about the condition likely not seen or heard in a film before.

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     Hopefully, given its lofty status as being widely considered one of the greatest films of all time, you will have viewed Orson Welles’ 1941 film “Citizen Kane” before settling in with David Fincher’s “Mank”, a brilliant ode to Hollywood’s Golden Age which provides a unique character study on the man primarily responsible for the Academy Award winning screenplay that would become Welles’ masterpiece.  Stepping into the shoes of the long time Hollywood screenwriter, Herman Mankiewicz, is Gary Oldman, who again turns in one of the best performances of the year and continues to solidify his ability to morph into a wide range of characters in a manner that remains nuanced, rather than overpowering.  

     Shot in glorious black and white, “Mank” transports the audience to mid 1930s depression era Hollywood, where, quite frankly, it doesn’t appear those within the studio system are suffering all that much.  We accompany Mank into a series of office meetings where he and the studio higher ups discuss ideas for ensuring people continue to come to the movies, even as many people are now out of work.  We see the inner workings of a movie studio through Mank’s various relationships, as he is a clearly established heavyweight whose ability to write and produce has ensured his seat at the table amongst the key decision makers.  With his signature style, Fincher brings the audience behind the scenes during a bygone era, only to find the politics of your average workplace were just as alive and well then as they are today.


     Director Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman” ups the ante on the traditional female revenge thriller and dares to defy the common tropes within the genre as the lead character, fueled by a stunning performance courtesy of Carey Mulligan, systematically breaks down the barriers between a group of affluent wrongdoers and the street justice they clearly deserve.

     The film follows Cassandra as she plots to teach a lesson to those involved in the cover up of an incident that happened to a close friend while in college.  Fennell delineates these  encounters with a roman numeral on screen as to chronicle the importance of each person’s culpability that will ultimately lead to the perpetrator himself.  A slimy attorney, a crooked college dean, and enabling friends all make the list, as Cassandra’s approach to each of them is so well thought out, you won’t be able to predict any of the outcomes.  No, this isn’t some horror film gore fest.  Fennell respects this character too much to have her concoct some low brow scheme that includes torture or murder.  Instead, Cassandra remains smart and poised throughout, even when in the face of reliving the trauma of her past and the intense survivor’s guilt that occupies her mind each and every day.

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      Writer / director Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland” is that film which comes along ever so often proving incomparable to anything else we have ever seen.  The touching story of a middle aged woman named Fern (Frances McDormand) who has lost everything, and her subsequent journey across America in a cargo van, brings forth the kind of authenticity seen only in the best documentaries.  This is a film truly about something, exploring the inner depths of loneliness, loss, and the strange and obscure places we tend to find life altering inspiration.  If there ever was a complete film, “Nomadland”, boasting awards worthy performances, direction, screenwriting, and cinematography, may come the closest to achieving the perfection every filmmaker strives for.

Zhao works from a screenplay she adapted from Jessica Bruder’s book, a chronicle of her own journalistic experiences alongside people who have chosen to live on the road.  The film makes a compelling statement against our broken financial system that seems to leave behind many who find themselves in circumstances well beyond their control, as we follow Fern from site to site, job to job, taking her through Northern Nevada and as far East as South Dakota.  She meets several interesting characters along the way, many of which are actual nomads Zhao has cast in the film.  How real all of this feels is astonishing, leaving no doubt that this is the best film of the year.



10.  THE OUTPOST - My Review

9.    TENET - My Review

8.    ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI - My Review

7.    MINARI  - My Review

6.    THE FATHER  - My Review


4.    SOUND OF METAL - My Review

3.    MANK - My Review


1.    NOMADLAND -  My Review

2019 Ten Best List

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     As time moves forward, we will likely look back on 2019 as the year where Disney positioned an unprecedented number of tent poles througout the release calendar, including series ending installments from Marvel and Lucasfilm, in an effort to ensure audiences would be well aware of the IPs in sole possession of the Mouse House as they prepared to unleash Disney +, their unrivaled contribution to the ongoing streaming wars.  It was Disney's most significant contribution to filmdom in 2019 that kicks off my list of the Ten Best Films of the Year.


     As the 22nd and final film of the three phase Marvel Cinematic Universe that began with 2008’s “Ironman”, “Avengers: End Game" accomplishes one very important thing.  It gives the audience exactly what they want.  The superhero juggernaut would go on to become the highest grossing film worldwide of all time, besting the ten year old record set by 2009’s “Avatar", and was, by far, the most talked about event film of the year.  With the characters fully developed over some fifty hours of screentime within the eleven year journey of the series, the accomplishment of bringing this universe to life may very well be one of the greatest cinematic feats in history.  And “Avengers: End Game” delivers an emotion filled narrative while achieving something few films of the comic book genre ever have in that you come away from the experience completely satisfied.

     Movies that are actually about something, even if the issue is hidden deep within the core of its narrative, typically succeed as being much more than merely entertainment.  Director Josh Cooley and his collaborators behind “Toy Story 4”, the fourth entry in Disney/Pixar’s flagship franchise, clearly set out to bring forth the fact that society has allowed children to skip what is perhaps the most important portion of their childhoods in favor of mindless technology that slowly poisons their impressionable brains. The film encourages children, by example of a  kindergarten aged girl, to see the importance of imagination and creativity without the use of technology, while demonstrating the value of playing with actual toys, even if they are made during an arts and crafts class at school.


 With all of the bravado on the technical side of Sam Mendes’ “1917", it’s easy to overlook the startling performances by both Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay, whose work explores the very depths of their character’s soul and provides a very human interpretation of what it is like to fight in a war, while leaving everyone you care about behind.  Often times not knowing whether or not you will ever see them again.  That the story begins and ends in a similar location is symbolic of what everyone in this situation already knows.  You may have survived the battle today, but it is now time to begin preparing for the battle tomorrow.  War is hell, and “1917” depicts this idea in its most raw form.


     Writer/director Greta Gerwig's “Little Women” is beautifully shot, evoking the period with stunning costumes and an exquisitely detailed production design.  Her frequent collaborator Saoirse Ronan again establishes herself as one of the finest actors of her generation, but it is the performances by the entire ensemble cast that bring the story to life.  All of which is made possible by Gerwig’s screenplay, which emphasizes aspects of the story that are eerily comparable to many of the issues we deal with today, including equal pay for women and their standing in an entertainment industry traditionally dominated by men. 


     With “Joker”, Todd Phillips has made a film that will endure.  Not just this year, but likely forever.  This is what the underbelly of the comic book genre looks like.  No, it’s not the buffed out ultra patriotic look of a Captain America, nor does it feature the shiny advanced tech of an Iron Man.  Instead, “Joker” is a direct reflection of us and where society is heading if we don’t find a way to come together and heal. Led by Joaquin Phoenix’s haunting performance, the film literally turned the genre upside down and in the process has recreated an adversary likely to do quite a bit of damage before the inevitable showdown with the Caped Crusader in a future installment.


      The ensemble Martin Scorsese brings together for “The Irishman" is one of the best of the year.  In addition to the top billed cast, which features Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, there a number of standout performers who provide important supporting roles during key scenes including Ray Romano as Bill Bufalino, the family’s lawyer; Anna Paquin as Peggy Sheeran, Frank’s oldest daughter; Stephen Graham as Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, a union boss and made guy who clashes with Jimmy Hoffa; and Jesse Plemons as Chuckie O’Brien, Hoffa’s foster son.  Pesci may have delivered the most calming performance of his career, while Pacino is perfect for the ranting and loud Jimmy Hoffa, but De Niro proves yet again why he is the best actor of his generation, providing a nuanced take on the Frank Sheeran character that proves both compassionate and scary at the same time.


     Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” is one of those rare films where the dialogue and story remain front and center, leaving the audience not only satisfied, but wondering how a film like this could be pulled off in today’s landscape of mind numbing big budget spectacles.  The film is a complex and well layered character study of the inner workings of a wealthy family and the monsters within that are created through years of entitlement and expectation.  It’s both timely and extremely entertaining. Essentially, the plot focuses on a murder mystery, but it’s where all of this ends up when you realize how well crafted “Knives Out” really is, with the tables turning instantly in a way that remains unpredictable and devilishly clever.

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     Led by powerful performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson,    Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” serves as a poignant and emotional look into a divorcing couple who must bring forth some level of clarity to the situation for their son who is left in the middle of a conflict he didn’t ask for.  Baumbach stages sequences that will be all too familiar for those who have endured this life altering process, including the eventual mud slinging in front of a full courtroom where accusations fly in the name of gaining an advantage for custody of the child.  The kind of crude gestures that lead to court appointed evaluators observing your parenting skills at home or interviewing your child and asking which parent they want to spend more time with.  Marriage Story" will no doubt conjure a series of painful memories for anyone who has been through this, but you will also realize life continues to move forward and you may be stronger today as a result of the experience.  


     Director Bong Joon-hoParasite is the kind of cinematic creation that through the test of time may be worthy of consideration for a ten best films of the decade list.  The performances by the ensemble cast power the story to heights we wouldn’t expect from a comedic take on the differences between the poor and the wealthy.  This kind of material typically delves into a series of stereotypes that often stray from the realities of life in order to give certain groups of people identifiable characteristics in a story.  Joon-ho avoids that trap by building the worlds of the two families from the ground up.  You believe the Parks minimalistic, yet impeccably decorated mansion is truly their home, as the details of the kid’s bedrooms, the living room that looks out into a lush green backyard, and the kitchen area where the housekeeper is constantly preparing meals are all indicative of a well appointed lifestyle seemingly operating like a well oiled machine.  But that’s until the Kims enter the fray.  Bringing with them the clutter of their disorganized and frantic lives where money is difficult to come by and their nightly entertainment resides with the regular appearance of a drunk who utilizes their apartment window as a toilet.  It’s the kind of film destined to be studied by film academics and cinephiles alike for years to come.


     Quentino Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood” is the best film of 2019, the period piece, featuring the director’s signature brand of revisionist history, boasts Oscar worthy performances by both Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, supported by a game ensemble capable of commanding the screen in their own right.  These scenery chewing performers include Margot Robbie,  Al Pacino, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Damian Lewis, Margaret Qualley, Luke Perry, and many more who make a memorable impact.  There are just too many fantastic scenes and performances to mention, which practically begs for repeat viewings in order to absorb the details you may have missed, a testament to the heft of Tarantinos screenplay.  Its difficult to say if this is Tarantinos masterpiece, given a filmography that includes “Pulp Fiction”, “Kill Bill”, “Django Unchained” among others, but in making a film about Hollywood and particualrly the struggle nearly every movie star endures when they come to realize their relevance is waning, the legendary filmmaker brings forth a timeless classic about an era when the film industry was losing its innocence and changing forever.  No film in 2019 can match its exceptional combination of screenwriting, acting, production design, and ingenious creativity.


10.  AVENGERS: END GAME - My Review

9.    TOY STORY 4 - My Review

8.    1917 - My Review

7.    LITTLE WOMEN  - My Review

6.    JOKER  - My Review

5.    THE IRISHMAN - My Review

4.     KNIVES OUT - My Review

3.     MARRIAGE STORY - My Review

2.     PARASITE - My Review


2018 Ten Best List


     2018 gave filmgoing audiences the usual array of blockbusters, sequels, and original offerings, but there were also several groundbreaking films playing both in theaters, as well as our own living rooms, in what seems to be an obvious change in the way we watch movies.  There is no better example of this than Netflix’s “Roma”, a film which was given a platform theatrical release in order to qualify for awards season, but was viewed by audiences on the streamer’s own platform rather than the traditional theater setting.  Will “Roma” and its ten Academy Award nominations pave the way for Netflix and Amazon to present their feature films exclusively on their respective platforms and skip wide theatrical release altogether?  Time will tell, but there is no question Hollywood is paying attention.  


     It’s not often a film franchise moving into its sixth entry is able to not only up the ante in terms of action and stunt work, but also become universally praised as the best film in the series, but that’s exactly what writer/director Christopher McQuarrie accomplished with “Mission: Impossible - Fallout”.  Easily the best action film of the year, Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, leading the IMF team in their tracking down of an ominous organization seeking to possess a large quantity of plutonium.  Henry Cavill joins the group as a rogue CIA Agent and in the process turns in the best work of his career.


     The Marvel Cinematic Universe continued its dominance amongst the comic book genre, and also managed to again raise their game in origin storytelling, while taking us to the mystical & ultra advanced world of Wakanda in “Black Panther”.  Director Ryan Coogler builds a world unlike any we have ever seen, and populates it with an endless supply of memorable and meaningful characters.  As the lead, Chadwick Boseman brings a quiet confidence to the role of T’Challa, while Michael B. Jordan is a welcome departure from the typical Marvel villain, elevating his Eric Killmonger to the kind of emotional heights that bring forth real stakes in the power struggle for the throne.  Coogler not only has created a beautiful film to look at, but also something that contains all of the very elements we typically use when determining the best films of the year. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact the film was able to outgun and outgross “Avengers: Infinity War” which came out two months later.


     It’s sad that just prior to the release of Damien Chazelle’s “First Man”, the film was dogged by baseless reports of the film being “Un-American” because of the decision not to feature a scene in which Neil Armstrong plants the American Flag on the moon. A ploy that turned out to be false, given there is indeed a scene featuring the flag in the ground in a fantastic wide shot of the Apollo landing craft and the vast ocean that is the moon surface behind it.  Fact is, “First Man” is an exceptional film, featuring outstanding performances by Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, as well as a game supporting cast including Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, and Kyle Chandler.  Chazelle presents the experiences of these famed astronauts from a first person perspective, giving the audience a startling look at 1960s space travel and the painstaking efforts made to send humans on what was once an unthinkable mission.

     Out of nowhere, Bradley Cooper stepped into the director’s chair for the first time, directing both himself and first time feature film actress Lady Gaga, in “A Star Is Born”, the story of a veteran performer who mentors and subsequently falls in love with a lounge singer of whom he sees great potential.  Armed with what is certain to win the Oscar for Best Original Song (“Shallow”), the film relies less on its musical aspects than you would think, delivering powerhouse performances from Cooper and Gaga, but also noteworthy work from Sam Elliott and even Andrew Dice Clay.  There is also a compelling story line that goes well beyond the pitfalls of rising fame, with very powerful exploration of addiction and the helpless feeling loved ones experience when desperately trying to navigate someone they care about away from the dark places they reside in.


     Director Barry Jenkins follows up his 2017 Best Picture winner, “Moonlight”, with “If Beale Street Could Talk”, an adaptation of the novel written by activist James Baldwin.  Featuring a breakout performance by KiKi Layne, and an Oscar nominated turn by Regina King, the film tells the 1970s set love story of Fonny (Stephan James) and Tish (KiKi Layne), as their future suddenly becomes shattered when Fonny is arrested and jailed for a crime he did not commit.  The film explores the injustices often weighing down our legal system, then and now, as the families of our two leads find ways to cope, as any chance of Fonny being released becomes less likely every month he’s incarcerated.  The scene in which Tish and her family invite Fonny’s family over to make an important announcement is easily the funniest and most shocking scene in a film this year.


     Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone form one of the most audacious love triangles ever in director Yorgos Lanthimos’ daring “The Favourite”, a film taking place in 18th century England in which a vicious handmaiden to the Queen sets her sights on regaining her lost royalty by stepping between the Queen and her lover.  Lanthimos employs some of the most creative cinematography of the year, utilizing fish eye lenses to give an ultra wide look at the well appointed sets and gloriously over the top costumes worn by the stellar cast.  It’s no coincidence all three of these actresses are nominated for acting Oscars, nor is it surprising Lanthimos has garnered a directing nomination as well.  And though the period has been well explored in the past, you have never seen it done quite like this.


     It’s wonderful to finally see director Spike Lee get the recognition he deserves, after a long career where despite his best efforts, he never seemed to be mentioned amongst the greatest filmmakers of his generation.  One viewing of “BlacKkKlansman” and you’ll understand exactly why he has finally broken through with his first Oscar nomination for Directing.  Based on a true story, the film chronicles the investigation into a local KKK chapter in 1970s Colorado by an African American police detective who utilizes phone conversations to establish a rapport.  Turning in outstanding work as Detective Ron Stallworth is “Ballers” star John David Washington, who is flanked by his Jewish American partner Flip Zimmerman, an equally as good Adam Driver, as they combine their talents to infiltrate the hate group and unravel a nefarious plot.  It’s top shelf work by all involved, and an extremely compelling police story with undeniable ties to today’s hate driven culture.


     Telling a story based on director Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood in early 1970s Mexico City, “Roma” dares to change the way we watch movies, as the streaming juggernaut Netflix has positioned a true Oscar contender at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection and a device to stream it on.  Starring a host of unknown Mexcian actors, the foreign language film explores the struggles of an upper middle class family through the eyes of their housekeeper Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio).  The children are often forced to witness turmoil as their father leaves on business for long periods of time, and then leaves for good when infidelity is discovered.  Through it all, Cleo is on her own journey, looking for love and experiencing the joys of bringing a child into the world. But she is also fiercely dedicated to the children she has now practically raised, and Cuarón masterfully tells the story utilizing awe inspiring set pieces and stunning camera work all within the subtle confines of glorious black and white.  With every scene, you can literally feel Cuarón’s passion for this material, creating the kind of raw emotion not seen in any other film this year.


     With the monster movie genre all but thoroughly explored over the years, it was some trick for director John Krasinski to create an original take on the genre while expanding on common tropes in a way that satisfied like no other horror film in recent memory.  Set in a post-apocalyptic world sometime in the future, “A Quiet Place” immerses the audience in a world over run by creatures whose ability to hear sound leads them directly to their next victim.  This forces the scant amount of humans left to live in silence, where even the slightest noise can mean the immediate arrival of a hoard of dastardly beasts and a gruesome end to those in the vicinity.  So why is this film so good?  Directing both himself and his real life wife, Emily Blunt, Krasinski creates an ongoing tension that lasts throughout the entire film, never letting up, even during its dramatic conclusion.  The performances are nearly wordless, and yet the sense of loss and the bond between the Abbott family is demonstrated by the desperate circumstances they have no choice but to cope with.  The film is a masterful exercise in hitting the audience hard, and allowing the consequences of the character’s every action to be their potential downfall.  There isn’t a single moment where you think anyone is safe.  The peril is real.

     Even casual movie goers can probably tell you who The Farrelly Brothers are.  The directing duo is responsible for some of the most notable comedy classics, including “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary”, for which they are credited as having single handedly created the R-rated gross out comedy genre.  Perhaps that’s why “Green Book”, directed by one half of that duo, Peter Farrelly, has an unending supply of comic humor, making it the hands down funniest film of the year.  But there’s so much more.  “Green Book” tells the true story of New York bouncer Tony Lip, who was hired in the early 1960s to accompany Dr. Don Shirley, a genius concert pianist, on a tour within the southern portion of the United States during a time of rampant and overt racism.  Lip himself displayed a number of his own racial biases, but agrees to the job given the need for money after losing his gig at a New York nightclub.  Together, the two men create a shining example as to how simple it is to respect our differences, but also realize just how similar we all are.  With a world so rich in culture and diversity, why wouldn’t we want to live a life in which we experience different ways of accomplishing the kind of change that will benefit all of us?  The relationship forged between these two men, played beautifully by Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, was said to have lasted for the rest of their lives, a testament to the fact anything is possible if we can just listen to one another and put aside petty conflicts that result in more divide.  “Green Book” brings forth tremendous heart and is one of the finest entertainments I’ve seen in years.  This is the best film of 2018.



9.    BLACK PANTHER - My Review

8.    FIRST MAN - My Review

7.    A STAR IS BORN - My Review


5.    THE FAVOURITE - My Review

4.    BLACKKKLANSMAN  -My Review

3.    ROMA - My Review

2.    A QUIET PLACE - My Review

1.    GREEN BOOK  -My Review

2017 Ten Best List

     2017’s film offerings provided audiences an endless array of interesting on screen relationships, historical perspectives, and eye popping visuals, as well as the usual glut of blockbuster entertainment.  Most of all though, 2017 will be remembered as the year of the woman, as more notable titles than ever featured female centric stories anchored by standout performances from female leads and created with the vision of female directors.  It’s baffling to me as to why women have been ignored within the Hollywood studio system for so long, but perhaps this past year will prove once and for all that gender does not, and should not, be a barometer for talent or inclusion.  Everyone should be given the opportunity to tell their stories regardless of their race, gender, or background.  Allowing membership to only a select few does disservice to the art of filmmaking and buries a potential treasure trove of imaginative filmmakers who have compelling things to say.


     As the summer box office moved into high gear, Patty Jenkin’s “Wonder Woman” exploded to the top of the charts, delivering the best DC Extended Universe film to date, and a universally praised and awards worthy film that excited both audiences and critics.  Perhaps the biggest snub within the recently announced Academy Awards nominations was the absence of a single nod to “Wonder Woman”, which earned a massive $412 million at the domestic box office and was lauded for Gal Gadot’s lead performance, as well as its stylistic World War 1 set narrative and emotional core.  And regardless of what the Academy thought of the film, the fact remains “Wonder Woman” will be one of the few films from 2017 that will still endure decades from now.


     There was likely no task more daunting in 2017 than the one taken on by director Denis Villeneuve in creating a sequel to “Blade Runner” some 30 years after the original first premiered in theaters.  Armed with the impeccable cinematography of Roger Deakins and strong performances by Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049" pulls of the difficult trick of utilizing the style and mood that made the first film a classic, while expounding on already established ideas and exploring new ones.  Like its predecessor, “Blade Runner 2049” is the kind of film that needs to sit with you for a few months, maybe along with a repeat viewing, before you come to realize the profound meaning of it all.  And while its technical brilliance cannot be denied, the story of Agent K reminds us just how small we all really are in a world where everything is so much bigger than just ourselves.


     Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was that rare film in which all expectations were abandoned early, as audiences soon realized the director had other things in mind when writing the story, creating one of the most original and thought provoking “Star Wars” episodes to date.  And the difficulty of such a feat cannot be understated, given the framework of the story Johnson was given to work with from J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, as well as the fervent fanboy culture who apparently wants to enter the theater knowing how each film will end.  Nonetheless, Johnson delivered a film filled with well earned emotional moments, bombastic and thrilling action sequences, plenty of light hearted humor, and enough sharp turns in its plotting to keep those aforementioned theorists busy for another two years until the ninth and final installment is released.


     By far the funniest film of 2017 was James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist”, which chronicled the untold story of the making of 2003’s “The Room”, which owns the dubious distinction of being the worst film ever made.  As writer, director, and star Tommy Wiseau, Franco directs himself and gives the best performance of his career portraying one of those larger than life characters that only come along once in a generation.  To a certain extent, director Greta Gerwig’s coming of age story “Lady Bird”, also provides similar  doses of comic banter, though the proceedings are set in a far more serious situation.  In another Academy Award nominated performance, Saoirse Ronan portrays Christine McPherson, a senior at a Catholic high school with big dreams that are often not supported by her hard nosed mother who maintains the balancing act of trying to keep her daughter’s expectations about life in perspective.  There are moments in the film we can all relate to, and there are also plenty of things that remind us of ourselves at that age.  Things we often look back on and laugh at.


     There may have been no film more emotionallly compelling to me in 2017 than director Dee Rees’ “Mudbound”, the story of two men returning home after serving their country in World War 2.  There should be nothing that seperates Jamie McAllan and Ronsel Jackson from their brave and heroic accomplishments in the war.  One returns as a decorated fighter pilot, while the other led a tank crew into battle against heavily fortified German troops, but in late 1940s Mississippi, one of them will not be treated like the hero he is and deserves to be.  Jamie is white and Ronsel is black, meaning Ronsel returns to a country filled with hatred and people who do not see the merits of his service the way they do Jamie’s.  “Mudbound” is a heartfelt story of the comradery between fellow service members where the only color that matters is the one your uniform.  And in addition to Rees fine work, the film also features the first ever woman, Rachel Morrison, to be nominated for an Oscar in Cinematography.


     Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” features a starmaking cast of preschool aged kids, as they make there way through life living in a daily/weekly motel in a less desirable area near Disney World.  Led by an Academy Award nominated performance by Willem Dafoe, the story brings light to the fact that the true difference between people in our country has more to do with class and economic status than it does race.  The kids depicted in the film have virually no likelihood to succeed and are often left behind with little or no opportunities moving forward.  And yet, the children, led by a ferocious performance by 6 year old Brooklynn Prince, still manage to entertain themselves with what they have,  all while traversing the seedy outskirts of the Happiest Place On Earth.


     Director Guillermo del Toro has always been known for his creative artistry, particularly in creature design and the settings they occupy.  “The Shape of Water” is no exception, boasting 13 Academy Award nominations and the strong likelihood of the long time filmmaker winning his first Best Director Oscar.  The film, set in the Cold War paranoia of the 1960s, tells the tale of a mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) working as a janitor in a military research facility housing a sea creature thought to be a possible Russian weapon of some kind.  They say love works in mysterious ways and “The Shape of Water” could not be a better example, as Elisa and the creature foster an interesting, yet touching relationship.  What transpires is not only unpredictable, but is truly a sight to behold.  In this love story, it’s what is deep down that matters, and it’s all that every did.


     “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is one of the best films of the year, managing to infuse the oft explored genre with both main and supporting characters who provide plenty of noteworthy moments throughout.  The writing is spot on and the direction is certainly awards worthy, though the Academy opted not to nominate director Martin McDonagh.  And Frances McDormand has to be considered at this point as the frontrunner to receive her second Best Actress Oscar, as her work in the film has not only created another memorable character, but also one who is multi layered with a hard edged exterior covering for a grieving mom who has lost everything that was important to her.    With the town in a chokehold from the ongoing ramifications of the murder case in question, the story highlights the fact that people both involved and not involved have plenty of their own problems to deal with, leading to the revelation of just how fractured our society really is.


     Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” isn’t the conventional war film many were expecting in that the narrative is anything but conventional.  Nolan expertly navigates the events that would see over 800 civilain boats sent from England to the French beach of Dunkirk to rescue some 400,000 English and Allied troops  surrounded by Hitler’s German Army in World War 2.  Because of the shallow waters, a larger vessel could not be used, so the approach needed to be grass roots, transporting a small amount of men at a time.  At a point in the war where the U.S. was not yet involved, one can imagine what would’ve happened to England had the Germans eliminated the Brits at Dunkirk and moved closer to complete European dominance.  Nolan doesn’t go the route of telling the story from a lead characters perspective, instead choosing to move around from different supporting players, told from various points of the operation.  The result is a stunning experience, both viscerally and emotionally, where the audience, regardless of their historical knowledge, couldn’t possibly predict exactly how this operation would eventually become one of the most successful in history.  Nolan’s achievement both from a storytelling and technical aspect has created the best film of 2017.  A film that will prove timeless in the way it tells its story on its own terms.   It’s a film made by Hollywood that doesn't feel like Hollywood.  Instead of the emotions coming from the heroics of one person, you will find yourself engulfed in the gravity of the entire situation and what it took to pull off the rescue of the century. 


10.  WONDER WOMAN - My Review

9.    BLADE RUNNER 2049 - My Review


7.    MUDBOUND - My Review

6.    STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI - My Review

5.    LADY BIRD - My Review

4.    THE FLORIDA PROJECT  - My Review

3.    THE SHAPE OF WATER - My Review


1.    DUNKIRK - My Review

2016 Ten Best List


     In 2016, the stories of the forgotten men and women who made a profound impact on our country’s history reigned supreme, as films were produced which would finally comemmorate the enourmous contributions of those who until now were missing from the minds of the mainstream audiences and critics who made these films some of the most celebrated of the year.  The films I speak of, Theodore Melfi’s “Hidden Figures” and “Mel Gibson’s  “Hacksaw Ridge”, were just two of a quality crop of films released in 2016 that captivated the public and brought recognition to people whose names should have occupied the pages of our history books in school, rather than falling into relative obscurity for the past half century or more.


     Filmmakers love to tell stories about crime and the fall out effecting both sides, be it the victim, the criminals themselves, or the men and women charged with bringing them to justice.  Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” and David Mackenzie’s “Hell or High Water” both cover plenty of ground on this subject, exploring the desperate motivations that drive a person to commit such atrocities, as well as the frustration a law officer experiences in bringing these people to justice.  


     Perhaps the most exhilarating film of the year, simply due to the fact the incident was only a few years ago and played out on television sets across the country, Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” brought to startling realism the dread of knowing a plane carrying more than 150 people has lost engine power and its pilot is looking for options on where to conduct an emergency landing.  The chant by the flight attendants as the plane skims the Hudson River still haunts me to this day.  And haunting circumstances are what drives Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea”, as we seemingly enter the lonely life of a Boston area janitor whose older brother dies of a heart attack and makes him the guardian of his teenage nephew.  The story remains lighthearted as the reluctant guardian attempts to deal with the roller coaster of emotions exhibited by the boy, but it’s the backstory of the character, expertly acted by Casey Affleck, that defines what dealing with tragedy and loss can do to a person long term.

     And while Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” came out of no where to literally redefine Science Fiction as we know it, with a combination of errie suspense and a smartly written narrative, it was the performance of a surprising non Oscar nominee, Amy Adams, who took her lead character to new found heights, displaying the kind of heartfelt emotion normally not seen in a genre film.  Two of the very best performances of the year were featured front and center in the Broadway stage play turned feature film “Fences”, directed by and starring Denzel Washington.  Along with Viola Davis, the dialogue embodies the characters and their emotions as they navigate the pitfalls of family life in the 1950s and the difficulties of teaching children what they need to know in order to succeed.


     Perhaps the most inspirational film of 2016, Garth Davis’ “Lion” tells the true story of Saroo Brierley, a 5 year old boy who was seperated from his family in India and for 25 years was raised by an Australian couple, only to come to realize as an adult that he needed to somehow find his family.  Another stand out performance that was not recognized with an Oscar nomination is that of child actor Sunny Pawar, who portrays the 5 year old Saroo during the first half of the film.  Under Davis’ direction, Pawar turns in the most heart wrenching performance of the year, while doing so without speaking a single word of English.


     With the utmost in respect to the other nine films on my list, no film resonated more with me in 2016 than Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land”.  In bringing back a true Hollywood style musical set in and around some of the most famous locations in Los Angeles, Chazelle continues with the trend he began with his 2014 film “Whiplash”, as he writes his characters in a way that consistently functions as a love letter to Jazz music and the arts in general.  Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling turn in powerhouse performances as two people pursuing their dreams in Hollywood, while trying to find time for each other in a budding but difficult relationship.  The film is full of color and energy, exhibited by several notable original songs performed by Gosling and Stone which are sure to be awarded come Oscar night.  And while the glitz and glamour of the production is what tends to stand out, at its core, “La La Land” is a love story that explores the road relationships often travel, only to one day come to a roadblock when both people realize one of them will have to give up their dreams in order for the relationship to continue.  At the most personal of levels, that is something everyone can relate to.  



9.     ARRIVAL - My Review

8.     HIDDEN FIGURES - My Review

7.     MANCHESTER BY THE SEA - My Review

6.     SULLY - My Review

5.     FENCES - My Review

4.     LION - My Review

3.     HACKSAW RIDGE - My Review

2.     HELL OR HIGH WATER - My Review

1.     LA LA LAND - My Review

2015 Ten Best List


     With the return of the “Star Wars” franchise, the 8th film from Quentin Tarantino, and several important films which explored powerful and thought provoking subject matter, 2015 proved to be a banner year both for overall film quality, as well as the box office. The offerings ranged from great independent films to some of the biggest blockbusters in history, with each leaving its own fingerprints on a landscape culled together by some of the brightest and most creative minds in the industry. Narrowing down the 89 films I reviewed in the past year to a short list is always a difficult task, but here I present the 10 Best Films of 2015.


     Together, we cheered the return of the “Rocky” franchise to the big screen with the seventh and perhaps most emotional installment, “Creed”, a film which successfully passed the torch from Stallone’s beloved character to a new breed, led by actor Michael P. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler.  With immigration a hot topic in the upcoming presidential election, director John Crowley created a film reminding us all what America stands for and how important it is for our nation to continue to be a place where people come to follow their dreams with “Brooklyn”, a beautifully shot love story about an Irish immigrant played by Saoirse Ronan who must choose between her life in Ireland and a young Italian man she falls in love with while in 1950s New York.  Leonardo DiCaprio gave what may be the performance of his career with his portrayl of frontiersman Hugh Glass in the Alejandro Inarritu film “The Revenant”, a harrowing survival story depicting the dangers of the fur trade in the 1820s.  Just those three films alone could satisfy the cravings of most movie goers for the entire year, but 2015 was special, featuring the return of the most influencial franchise in modern film history, along with the latest creation from a writer/director who seemingly can’t miss.


     Quentin Tarantino  returned to the big screen with his 8th film “The Hateful Eight”, providing what was easily the most entertaining film of the year.  For over 3 hours, during the exclusive 70mm Ultra Panavision presentation I viewed, Tarantino’s characters come alive in brutal take no prisoners fashion, spitting out his signature dialogue like a machine gun until each arrives at their last dying breath.  I’m still amazed at how consistent Tarantino remains some 25 years after the premiere of his first film “Reservoir Dogs”. Shortly after  the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney in 2012, director J.J. Abrams was given the reigns to write and direct what would become the biggest film in 2015 by far.  “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is one of those rare films that actually surpasses the hype and succeeds in creating a new standard for the films that follow in the classic series.  Abrams found the right combination of nostalgia by featuring actors from the Original Trilogy, while also laying the foundation for three new characters who will be central to the story in future installments.  He also made one of the best films of the year.  


     Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay anchor Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” with two of the year’s best performances as the duo must fight to survive after being kidnapped and secluded in a backyard garden shed for more than five years.  Like “Brooklyn”, “Room” is the kind of film that invokes several key emotions from the audience by way of characters whose situations will inspire in the manner in which they exist, cope, and overcome.  Anger may be the overriding emotion one has after viewing “The Big Short”, which is surprising considering “Anchorman” director Adam McKay is at the helm and the cast includes funnyman Steve Carell in a lead role.  “The Big Short” tells the story of a handful of hedge fund managers and investors who sought to bet against the housing market just prior to the recession in 2008.  And while the Oscar winning documentary “Inside Job” sufficiently layed out the facts behind the mess that was the housing bubble, McKay’s film does so in a more human fashion with witty and comedic banter between characters played by actors such as Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt.


     A scandal which had been covered up for decades is brought to light in resounding fashion in Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight”, the story of the Boston Globe investigative team whose 2002 report brought to light the massive problem with child molestation within the  Catholic Church.  The ensemble, which includes Oscar worthy performances from Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Liev Schreiber, displays marvelous chemistry and has the benefit of an outstanding script by McCarthy and Josh Singer.  The power of this true story is reflected in every meeting, interview, and confrontation this group endures as they strive to uncover the truth before more irreparable damage is done.  The most intense film of 2015, the kind where you find yourself on the edge of your seat throughout, is director Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario”, a brutal look at the current status of the War on Drugs and how the United States fights the war behind enemy lines.  Featuring a tour de force performance by Benicio Del Toro as a shadowy consultant on the Mexican Cartel and Emily Blunt as a more than capable hard nosed FBI Agent, “Sicario” centers around the hunt for a notorious Cartel kingpin known to have a violent grip on the drug trade south of the border.  An action centerpiece in which the group convoys into Juarez, Mexico to extradite a Cartel underboss back to the U.S. is a master’s work in both nail biting suspense and glorious imagery courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins.


     During a career spanning well over 40 years and a filmography including the likes of “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, and “Gladiator”, Ridley Scott has earned a reputation as a filmmaker with an unmatched visual flair and a gift for epic storytelling.  “The Martian” is yet another example of his ability to leave audiences in awe with stunning imagery and taut direction, while leading an all star cast that includes Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejoifor, Jeff Daniels, and Kristen Wiig.  “The Martian” is the best film of 2015 and will stand the test of time as a true classic, both within the genre and as a genuine crowd pleaser.  Drew Goddard’s script, based on the book by Andy Weir, features Damon (Mark Watney) on screen alone for much of the time, but counters this with supremely funny dialogue and an inspiring effort by the character to survive even when the odds are stacked against him.  Scott perfectly melds together the characters both at home and on the space ship that accidentally stranded him with Damon and the various subplots surrounding his scientific will to live.  The characters are immersed within several impressive set designs, most notably the temporary structures Watney must live in for over a year before a rescue mission can arrive.  There are only a handful of filmmakers with the skill and bravado capable of creating such a complex and epic film.  It’s no surprise Ridley Scott has done so yet again.


10.  CREED     My Review

9.    BROOKLYN     My Review

8.    THE REVENANT     My Review

7.    THE HATEFUL EIGHT     My Review


5.    ROOM     My Review

4.    THE BIG SHORT     My Review

3.    SPOTLIGHT     My Review

2.    SICARIO     My Review

1.    THE MARTIAN     My Review

2014 Ten Best List


     Many have spoken about how 2014 was a down year for feature films in both the fact the box office dropped 5.2% from the previous year and that there never really seemed to be an established group of awards front runners as there was in years past.  I reviewed over 100 films in 2014 and awarded an “A” grade to 14 films, down significantly from the 19 films I gave that grade to in 2013.  While the overall quality may have faltered when considering the overall crop of 2014 films, there were still a number of outstanding entries which I believe over time will be looked back upon as the high point of several of these filmmaker’s careers.

     Of the notable films this year, if one thing stood out more than anything else, it was the high level of creativity and originality that seemed to set the best films apart from the pack.  We saw a film in which director Chris Nolan transported us through a worm hole and into another dimension where we learned another more advanced version of ourselves may be what shapes our being in the present.  A father and son team up and learn plenty about one another as they tour the country in a food truck, successfully creating a bond between themselves while serving up Cuban sandwiches to the hungry masses who await their arrival each day thanks to the son’s social media wizardry and the father’s passion for cooking.  Even the most unlikely of stories unfolded into, perhaps, the year’s most thrilling film when an upcoming jazz student at a prestigious New York music school runs head first into a teacher who strives to bring the best out of him using teaching methods which, lets just say, are unconventional. 

     These are just some examples of what stood out to me, as each film in this Top 10 contain an important message and meaning, but most importantly, are able to effectively convey that message on a thoroughly emotional level.  This is done through achievement primarily in direction, but supported with an exceptional effort in acting, screenwriting, production design, and the successful ability to carry out this vision in a way that maintains the standards set by the great films of the past and maybe even exceeding those standards and creating new ones. The following list contains the 10 films I consider to be the best of 2014 in numerical order.  Each film is linked with my original review.

  1.    Snowpiercer - My Review

  1.    Birdman - My Review

  1.    American Sniper - My Review

  1.    Gone Girl - My Review

  1.     Chef - My Review

  1.     Selma - My Review

  1.     Interstellar - My Review

  1.     Whiplash - My Review

  1.     Nightcrawler - My Review

   1.      Boyhood - My Review

The Top 10 Crime Films of All Time


     If there’s another film genre more appropriate than Martial Arts films for a Ten Best List by myself and Jon Gentile, it’s the Crime Drama.  Given both our professions, as well as the sheer amount of great films in this very broad category over the last 40 plus years, the Crime Drama delivers very much the same kind of characters we have dealt with nearly every day of our careers. Both of us find it interesting to see how well the filmmakers of the past and present are able to translate the realities of the streets, courtrooms, prisons, and briefing rooms to film and how accurately they are able to accomplish doing so.  The criteria of our lists only required the depiction of crime in some manner with any setting, thus ensuring our lists would almost certainly be different while fostering some friendly debate.


10.  Fargo  (1996) Watch the Trailer

     Taking place in a world not familiar to most and certainly not me, “Fargo” is the Coen Brother’s crown jewel within their highly accomplished filmography.  Perhaps those from the region may not think so, but the characters who populate this film are some of the most richly drawn in all of cinema history with cast members Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, and Steve Buscemi all on top of their respective games bringing them to life.  I can’t think of a better example of a film that uses it’s setting so effectively, as the Coen’s weave a tale of murder that spins way out of control.  Nominated for 7 Oscars and winning 2 for McDormand’s performance and the Coen’s screenplay, “Fargo” stands as one of the most original films of all time and is both highly quotable and memorable.

9.  Seven (1995) Watch the Trailer

     Not long after his directorial debut “Alien 3”, David Fincher brought a truly haunting vision of a serial killer’s attention to detail and the two homicide detectives charged with hunting him down in the film “Seven”.  The killer, played with a scene stealing wit by Kevin Spacey, meticulously constructs each murder based on the seven deadly sins.  As the killings begin to add up, veteran detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) realizes how the killer is patterning the murders and is joined by his partner, Mills (Brad Pitt), in a race against time to determine where he might strike next.  In all of cinema history, is there a more harrowing sequence than Somerset (and the audience) discovering the contents of a box delivered to the detectives at the request of the killer and Mills begging Somerset to reveal what’s inside?


8.  The Untouchables (1987)  Watch the Trailer

     Brian De Palma’s masterpiece tells the story of Federal Agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his hand picked team charged with stopping and ultimately prosecuting Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) during the Prohibition Era.  Featuring Sean Connery’s Academy Award winning performance as Chicago lawman Jim Malone, the film captures the nostalgic atmosphere of the time and the tactics necessary to bring down the mob, who bragged of having numerous politicians, judges, and cops on their payroll.  Functioning as a mentor to Ness, Malone sets the tone for the film early on when he tells him “He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.  That’s the Chicago way.” 

7.  Scarface (1983)  Watch the Trailer

     With “The Untouchables” on the list and several other classic crime films to his name  (“Body Double” and “Dressed to Kill” also come to mind), Brian DePalma has proven to be a staple within the genre.  His epic film “Scarface” proved to be one of the most violent and brutal depictions of organized crime ever and stands today as a unique and highly watchable film about the rise and fall of the American dream.  Put simply, “Scarface” is a film like none other, featuring a standout performance by Al Pacino as Tony Montana along with an outstanding supporting cast and set within the crime ridden streets of a early 1980s Miami. Montana begins as a street level thug and expertly works his way up to one of the biggest cocaine distributors in the city, killing anyone who dares get in his way.  It’s the ultimate story of how lust and power can overcome sanity and send someone down a path of self destruction.  As graphic violence goes, few sequences can possibly match the gut wrenching suspense and sheer horror created when one of Tony’s guys is tortured in a bathroom by way of chainsaw.

6.  The Godfather (1972)  Watch the Trailer

     Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” stands as the best mafia film of all time, easily outpacing the many works of Martin Scorsese who clearly stood to benefit from the foundation created by this 1972 Best Picture winner.  In perhaps his most notable and iconic role, Marlon Brando plays the aging Don Vito Corleone in the story of a powerful organized crime empire and the need to transfer control to his son Michael (Al Pacino), who seems reluctant to take the reigns of the family business.  The film is chalk full of top level performances, including James Caan’s hot head Sonny Corleone and Robert Duvall’s even tempered family attorney Tom Hagen. Nino Rota’s score is likely the most recognizable of any film on this list, playing along with some of the most quoted dialogue in all of film history.

5.  True Romance (1993)  Watch the Trailer

     In order to get his famed film “Reservoir Dogs” made, Quentin Tarantino sold his “True Romance” script to Warner Brothers who hired the late director Tony Scott to make the film.  With an all star cast in tow, Scott created one of the very best crime films of our time, in a sort of “Bonnie and Clyde” story infused with signature Tarantino dialogue and a level of violence that had the MPAA up in arms. Whereas quoting some of these films is normally limited to a phrase, quoting “True Romance” requires memorizing entire scenes with multiple characters.  Perhaps the most famous of these scenes is an exchange between Vincent Coccotti (Christopher Walken) and Clifford Worley (Dennis Hopper) in which we see what happens when two actors at the top of their respective games are given the kind of meaty dialogue most only dream of.

4.  A Few Good Men (1992)  Watch the Trailer

     Represented well amongst the many subcategories within the crime film genre is the courtroom drama.  No film in history represents the courtroom better than Rob Reiner’s “A Few Good Men”.  Based on Aaron Sorkin’s stage play, the film chronicles the aftermath of a hazing incident gone wrong at the Marine Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Two Marines are charged with murder and their fates are decided within the military court system.  Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore have rarely been better and Sorkin’s screen adaptation allows each actor to shine not only in certain moments, but each and every time they are on screen.  There isn’t a single dull moment and literally every word spoken matters to the story.  Another highly quotable film and one that has stood the test of time, now 22 years old, “A Few Good Men” is a riveting piece of filmmaking that maintains a tone as rigid and disciplined as the Marine drill team that performs during the opening credits all the way through to it’s climactic third act.

3.  Wall Street (1987)  Watch the Trailer

     Of course, not all crime films involve street level violence and yet blood shed is what grabs all of the headlines.  Director Oliver Stone has made a living predicting the future of America.  In 1994, he predicted some 20 years in advance the lust our mass media would have for murder and the appetite the news world has created in society for everything from the motives to the play by play tactics of today’s mass shootings with “Natural Born Killers”. Stone also predicted another watershed moment in America’s history when he made “Wall Street”.  Featuring Michael Douglas’ Academy Award winning role as Gordon Gekko, the film features an important speech about greed which proved to foreshadow the thinking behind what caused the Great Recession.  White collar crime effects each and every one of us, yet no one talks about it.  The story of an up and coming stock broker who is willing to take short cuts to get rich, regardless of who loses on the other end, is an age old story that has happened millions of times over the years.  We all seem deeply concerned about the gangster who holds up the local liquor store, but as a crime film, “Wall Street” will teach you who the real criminals are.


2.  Heat (1995)  Watch the Trailer

     From beginning to end, films just don’t get much better.  Michael Mann’s Los Angeles crime saga “Heat” is a tour de force in filmmaking, featuring two of our generations most iconic actors performing in roles they were made to play.  It’s a true hollywood heavyweight prize fight between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro with, at the time, the first on screen appearance together in a classic coffee shop scene that sets the stage for one of the finest action sequence ever filmed, period.  As a true cop film, Pacino’s Vincent Hanna leads a squad of Robbery/Homicide detectives as they attempt to track down a high end crew led by De Niro’s Neil McCauley.  Mann presents the relationships these men have, both at home and at work and how each lives their lives in a manner that best suits what they are trying to accomplish.  Obviously this means complications in both of their situations, but you get the idea quickly that both of them will give up everything to achieve their goals.  For Hanna, that means several failed marriages.  For McCauley, he’s willing to walk away from anything or anybody if it means not getting caught. Essentially, Mann’s film has two fascinating character studies who live on opposite sides of the law, each painted with a realism rarely seen in films anymore.

1.  Pulp Fiction (1994)  Watch the Trailer

     To this day, it bothers me.  Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece “Pulp Fiction” garnered 7 Academy Awards nominations, but only won for Best Original Screenplay.  With several losses in major categories to “Forrest Gump”, including Best Picture, I feel the Academy got it wrong.  One of the very best litmus tests of a film’s overall worth is to measure it’s impact on popular culture, both at the time of it’s release and then years later.  No disrespect to Robert Zemeckis, but every fledgling filmmaker who has made a crime film in the last twenty years has tried to both write like Tarantino and create those one of kind shocking, yet hysterically funny, moments a film like “Pulp Fiction” is full of.  Nobody has tried to emulate anything about “Forrest Gump”.  Fact is, no one will every make a film as consistently engrossing and original again.  “Pulp Fiction” is the ultimate crime film, utilizing characters who would easily blend into our everyday lives.  Unlike typical mob films that feature stereotypical larger than life characters, “Pulp Fiction” draws up a plethora of unique people who just happen to be on the wrong side of the law, and yet you could picture yourself having a conversation with any of them.  Most films would love to have a moment like the famous “adrenaline shot” scene as their film’s centerpiece, but “Pulp Fiction” actually has three scenes that are equally as exhilarating, with both the Zed’s Pawn Shop sequence and the hilarious “I think I shot Marvin in the face.” scene.  Add in the fact that Tarantino not only relaunched John Travolta’s career, but also got him dancing again and you have all the makings of not only the best crime film, but one of the best films of all time.

Honorable Mention:  Reservoir Dogs, Silence of the Lambs


1.  The Usual Suspects (1995)  Watch the Trailer

     Sleek crime drama. "Who is Keyser Soze?” The lineup of the crooks in the beginning of the movie sets the stage to a great who done it drama. Chazz Palminteri and Kevin Spacey with an all star cast. Dark humor, gritty and  impeccable acting.  A story of mystery to the end that will keep you thinking.


2.  The Shawshank Redemption (1994)  Watch the Trailer

     Great drama focusing on a prisoner who eventually turns the table on some rather mean, cruel, and corrupt prison guards. Tim Robbins with Morgan Freeman----great movie.


3.  Seven (1995)

     Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt are detectives investigating a serial killer. Great contrast between the two detectives and Freeman is superb. The movie is dark with a very surprising ending sure to leave you shocked!


4.  Donnie Brasco (1997)  Watch the Trailer

     A story of a law enforcement agent infiltrating the mob based on the true life of Joe Pistone (FBI agent). Meeting Joe in real life and seeing the movie really made me give this one props.  Stars Johnny Depp as Joe Pistone and Al Pacino.


5.  L.A. Confidential (1997)  Watch the Trailer

     Kevin Spacey, Russell Crow, and a great cast make this movie stand out. The movie was based on true events which occurred in LA. 


6.  Heat (1995)

     An  explosive and action packed crime drama. Several great scenes stand out such as the coffee shop meeting between Pacino  and De Niro and one of the better shoot outs depicted in a movie. A must see!


7.  The French Connection (1971)  Watch the Trailer

     Heroine smugglers beware Detective Popeye Doyle is near and watching you. Gene Hackman plays a relentless detective after drug smugglers. Great car chase, one liners, surveillance, and of course shots fired. Same director would later make “To Live And Die In LA.”  Worth researching and renting.


8.  Training Day (2001)  Watch the Trailer

Stylistically very slick. Denzel Washington is an off kilter undercover detective cunning like a fox.  A tale of breaking all the rules and training a rookie (or tempting one) to join you. Luckily, it doesn't end up that way.


9.  Dirty Harry (1971)  Watch the Trailer

Where it all started. Fed up with crime.....well this movie made you feel good. Street justice and a dislike for the system Dirty Harry was there. Started a series of movies to follow representing good v evil. Lets not forget all the one liners. " Go ahead,  make my day".  


  1. To Live And Die In L.A. (1985)  Watch the Trailer

     Secret service agent will do anything to get his man. His man is William Defoe who play a sleek , smart, criminal. Great plot that has lots of turns and another fantastic car chase. The movie is suspenseful leading up to the last scene which you won't want to leave your seat. “CSI's” William Peterson plays Chance, a do anything to get the bad guy secret service agent. Lots of action in this drama. The movie had an subject matter expert (Secret Service Agent) help with the plot and counterfeiting scenes. 


Honorable Mention:  Die Hard, Leon: The Professional

The Top 10 Martial Arts Films of All Time


     I met Jon Gentile some 20 years ago and immediately learned of his great passion for the Martial Arts.  An instructor and practitioner way ahead of his time, Jon owned and operated American Filipino Self Defense, where he taught the Rossi Kun Tao system.  Unlike other schools in town in that era, Jon was open minded and always looked to expand the curriculum at his school, as well as his own proficiency in styles and systems well beyond the one he had perfected back home in Connecticut.  Having studied and learned from legendary former students of Bruce Lee, Larry Hartsell and Dan Inosanto, Jon embraced and ultimately passed on techniques that encompassed all ranges of fighting.  In 1995, Jon was one of the first schools in Las Vegas to teach what we now refer to as Mixed Martial Arts with classes in Kun Tao, Jeet Kune Do, Submission Grappling, Sambo, Shoot Fighting,  and Filipino Stick/Knife just to name a few.  Put simply, the white belts in Jon’s classes knew quite a bit and had the confidence to prove it.  How do I know?  I was one of them.

     Because Jon and I still work together to this day, there has been no shortage of Martial Arts related conversations that typically range from the results of recent UFC events to the state of tactics training in our line of work.  Knowing my passion for writing about movies, Jon suggested we put to use our experiences in chosen craft and create a Top 10 List for the Best Martial Arts Films of all time.  Both of us love movies as well as Martial Arts and our knowledge in both subjects is vast, yet the perspectives are different in the way we view what is worthy of such a list and what is not.  The task at hand is to put the 10 Best Martial Arts Films in ranked order from ten to one, including two additional films given Honorable Mention.  The results are as follows:


10.  Blood Sport (1988)   Watch the Trailer

     The true story of Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his participation in the Kumite, an underground tournament in Hong Kong featuring fighters from around the world.  I can’t help but to think Rorion Gracie and Art Davie, the original owners of the UFC, watched “Bloodsport” and hatched their idea for the now mainstream American version.  Though not in a cage, the film follows fighters from nearly every discipline, pitting them against one another to determine which style is the best.  The film launched Van Damme into a career of making movies just like it over and over again throughout the 1990s, introducing his famed jumping helicopter kick paired with bad acting.  For all its faults; however, the film is and remains a classic if for no other reason many a VHS cassette copies were worn out by anyone who was into Martial Arts at the time.

9.  The Raid (2011)  Watch the Trailer

     Rarely will a Martial Arts film waste time with the complexity of a well thought out plot when the filmmakers would clearly rather be choreographing fight sequences instead.  The Indonesian action film “The Raid” fits that bill perfectly as the plot is reduced to that of your typical video game, but quite possibly features some of the best Martial Arts action sequences ever filmed.  The pace is fast and furious as the opening shot has a van load of SWAT team members being briefed on their mission.  A ruthless drug kingpin resides near the 30th floor of a building and their orders are to go get him.  Problem is, they must start at the first floor on foot and work their way up as they encounter endless hoards of the bad guy’s henchman.  These encounters allow for the cast and crew to stage fight sequences that set the bar for both technique and brutality in a modern film.

8.  Fist of Legend (1994)  Watch the Trailer

     Not long before Jet Li made his way from Hong Kong to the United States and took mainstream audiences by storm with his performance as the villain in “Lethal Weapon 4”, the Kung Fu expert and overseas action star made what I believe to be his best offering in a Martial Arts film, “Fist of Legend”.  Taking place in 1937, the story follows Chen (Li) and his return to Shanghai, only to find his long time teacher and mentor dead and his school constantly bullied by the Japanese, who now occupy the country.  Li demonstrates unmatched speed, fluidity, and bone crushing force in every fight scene, along with skills which individually speaking are likely the best of any actor from every movie on this list.  His skills play on screen as if he is a Bruce Lee 2.0 if you will.  The final fight sequence against the so called undefeated Japanese General, who killed his master, is one for the ages.  

7.  Kung Fu Hustle (2004)  Watch the Trailer

     Famed film critic Roger Ebert said of “Kung Fu Hustle”, “Imagine a film in which Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton meet Quentin Tarantino and Bugs Bunny”, a description that holds true and then some.  Director Stephen Chow’s extraordinary concoction of the zany and the hilarious mixed skillfully with inventive twists and hard core Martial Arts action makes for one creative film recipe.  The story takes place in a 1940s Shanghai housing complex with its occupants hell bent on defending their homes from the nefarious Axe Gang.  The choreography of sequences involving hundreds of actors fighting at the same time, along with the creative use of household items as weaponry, creates some of the most complex action sequences ever put to film.

6.  Ong-bak (2003)  Watch the Trailer

      Muay Thai expert Tony Jaa burst on the scene when his first film to make it to an American film screen created a buzz which anointed him as the next big action star.  No one at that point had brought such a brutal, yet acrobatic, Muay Thai skill set to the screen and though his films thereafter proved to be a rehash of this one, it can’t be denied that Ong-bak stands as perhaps the best Muay Thai Martial Arts film ever made.  Doing away with techniques, such as kicks and punches, traditionally used in Martial Arts films, Jaa infused the choreography with a massive dose of devastating knees and elbows.  Gone were the types of scenes stuffed with overlong exchanges between evenly matched opponents.  Jaa has brutal intentions with every strike thrown and finishes opponents in the film with a normally life ending exclamation point.   


5.  The Legend of Drunken Master (1994)  Watch the Trailer

      Jackie Chan has long been somewhat of a gold standard as a star of Martial Arts films for the better part of four decades now.  While his films are typically low in the plot and story department, Chan has excelled in both action choreography and a strong emphasis on stunt work.  One of the best parts of watching a Jackie Chan film is the end credits in which a series of  fight sequence outtakes are shown that sometimes end with Chan seriously injuring himself.  What sets “The Legend of Drunken Master apart is the fact he basically  reinvented his Kung Fu fighting style to show how it might look if the person using his legendary techniques was under the influence of alcohol.  His character in the film struggles mightily when fighting sober, but when he guzzles red wine something happens.  He literally transforms himself into an unpredictable fighting machine, who is nearly impossible to hit as he moves in a way that defies the laws of balance.  Chan doesn’t necessarily get stronger with alcohol, but he definitely departs his normal mindset for one who believes he can and will defeat anyone. 


4.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)  Watch the Trailer

     Nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, director Ang Lee’s best film to date is also a crown jewel of Martial Arts films, featuring superb acting, beautiful cinematography, a rousing score, and gravity defying fight sequences among the best ever captured.  The film would go on to win four Oscars and was a box office sensation world wide.  This was the film that made the use of wire work in Martial Arts choreography the common technique it is today.  Lee tells the story of Master Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat), a warrior swordsman is on the cusp of retirement and wishes to part with his most prized weapon, the Green Destiny.  Set during a period in China when it was said Zen warriors could float through the air, walk on water, and scale rooftops with ease, Lee stages a number of action set pieces that push the envelope on both style and jaw dropping skill.

3.  The Karate Kid (1984) Watch the Trailer

     If you grew up in the 80s as a teenager, “The Karate Kid” was required viewing as it displayed the attributes of dealing with themes important to kids in high school and combined them with a stateside version of the tropes which make the very best Martial Arts films.  Easily the most quotable film on this list, director John Avildsen and screenwriter Robert Kamen tell the story of Daniel Larusso (Ralf Macchio), a high school age teen who has just moved to Los Angeles and is almost immediately  bullied by a group of kids who train at one of the most fearsome Karate dojos in the area.  When his apartment complex handyman observes the bullies, led by the notorious Johnny, beating Daniel up, he singlehandedly fends off the group and agrees to train Daniel in the art of Karate.  The story culminates in a tournament that pits Daniel against Johnny in one of the most memorable scenes in all of film history.

2.  Enter the Dragon (1973)  Watch the Trailer

     Observed by some as the best Martial Arts film ever made, “Enter the Dragon” was the first film starring Bruce Lee to receive a wide release in America and thus catapulted him to superstardom.  His untimely death in 1973 cut short what was certain to be a long and influential film career, making it impossible to predict how high he would’ve ascended in both film as well as Martial Arts.  His philosophy behind his signature fighting style, Jeet Kune Do, encouraged his students to be open in their training and seek out techniques from all styles and disciplines, using only what works for each individual person.  It’s amazing when you think about his death being over 40 years ago and then examining how embedded his namesake, his ideals, and his persona are in our society today.  In some way, every film on this list, as well as nearly every Martial Arts film made post 1973, pay homage to Bruce Lee in some capacity.  You have to wonder if the Martial Arts film genre would even exist outside of Asia today if not for his massive fingerprints on popular culture.

1.  Kill Bill: Volume 1 & 2 (2003-4)  Watch the Trailer

     The easiest decision to make for this list, “Kill Bill” as one epic story is the greatest Martial Arts film of all time.  I named Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece number one on my 2000-2009 All Decade list and it has a place in my All Time Top 25 Films, checking in at number ten.  “Kill Bill” pays homage and respect to each and every Martial Arts film before it with everything from the casting of “Kung Fu” star David Carradine as the film’s namesake to the costuming of The Bride in a yellow and black jump suit similar to the one Bruce Lee wore in “Game of Death”.  The fight sequences in “Kill Bill” would stand on their own and still ensure the film a spot on this list, but what makes “Kill Bill” stand alone at the top is the writing by Tarantino himself.  The action scenes, as good as they are, only enhance what is a compelling story that is expertly directed and acted.  The film plays like a “Disneyland” of Martial Arts, including numerous fighting styles and techniques ranging from swordplay to the five-point-palm-exploding-heart-technique used during the film’s conclusion.  Though the story is told in non linear fashion, we follow Uma Thurman’s The Bride, beginning with her horrific wedding day and then through the series of events that occur where she is hell bent on revenge.  The sequence in which The Bride takes on the Crazy 88s gets the most attention, but have you had a more shocking experience at the movies when The Bride’s fight versus Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) comes to an abrupt and decisive halt?

Honorable Mention: “The Best of the Best” and “Rapid Fire”


1.  The Way of the Dragon (1972)  Watch the Trailer

     Bruce Lee v Chuck Norris- Roman Coliseum sets the stage for the final fight. Ignited martial arts to where it is today. Traditional versus non-traditional fighting.....a must watch classic.


2.  The Hunted (1995)  Watch the Trailer

     Samari v Ninja- Freaking train scene is awesome fight. One of the best choreographed scenes ever.  Weapons fighting is on the money! Stars John Lone and Chris Lambert. Lone plays a great ruthless villain.


3.  Rapid Fire (1992)  Watch the Trailer

     His best movie- Brandon Lee- Fast and good......good story and plenty of action. Trapping and Jeet Kune Do can be seen all over . Glimpses of Bruce Lee do come to mind! 


4.  Blood Sport (1988)

     Before the UFC there was Blood sport-----styles competing in a ring. Some very authentic exposure to this style v style. Quite simply entertaining. 


5.  The Raid (2011)

     Simple story and easy to follow. The movie exposes effectiveness in street fighting intertwined with a police story. Superbly done. Introduced audiences to Indonesian Silat fighting techniques. The story shows an innovativeness of different fighting techniques mixed with weapons. New entry.


6.  Kill Bill (2003-04)

     Great revenge story ! Has scenes running of brutality with a similar twist of the Chinese Connection. Great fight scenes and character development as you expect from Tarantino!


7.  The Matrix (1999)  Watch the Trailer

     Mainstream Sci Fi movie. Great, clean, and fast fight scenes. Major stars and one liners.


8.  Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)

     Good story with romance and martial arts-Plot was very good and surprised many viewers. It was a good cross over movie.


9.  The Karate Kid (1984)

     Influence and story popularized martial arts and a story of bullies set the stage. Pat Morita steps in to help a troubled youth played Ralph Macchio who begins to see the light. Good story will have you cheering in the end. Feel good movie and blockbuster.


10.  Ninja Assassin (2009)  Watch the Trailer

     Sleek and dynamic- This guy is a ninja machine. Simplistic plot but who cares. This guy piles up the bodies where ever he goes! Korean Pop star Rain plays the kick ass ninja against his clan run by Sho Kushi- who many have known from early ninja cult films like Revenge of The Ninja and opposite Van Dam in Black Eagle. Non stop action!


Honorable Mention: “The Legend of Drunken Master” and “Enter the Dragon”


2013 Ten Best List


     Filmmaking quality has seemingly trended upward during my now four years of reviewing feature films.  I reviewed over 95 films in 2013 and awarded an “A” grade to 19 of them, up from 17 “A” grades in 2012.  Yes, 2013 had it’s fair share of low points, but a solid summer frame combined with a better than usual awards season brought audiences plenty of entertainment, as well as many films which had significant meaning to our culture.  2013 was a year that explored where we have been; where we are now; and more importantly; where we are going in a collective way I have yet to see in previous years.  Some of the most appealing films to me where the ones which set out to uncover and explore our very social fabric with both daring and honesty.  Whether it be the people barely scraping by in the economically depressed Midwestern town of Hawthorne, Nebraska, or the ones clinging to any hint of hope at all during the highly consequential time in our history when slavery was a horrific reality, the very best films of 2013 were strikingly human to me.  In other words, they showed no one is perfect, but when we learn and grow from our experiences, we can overcome anything. 

     There were many worthy films to consider this year, but these 10 represent in order the ones I feel were exceptional in most every way.  Each of them struck that proverbial cord we often talk about, resonating with me on an emotional level that left me thinking days, weeks, and months later about their meaning and overall place in film lore.   Each film is linked with my original review.

10.  Enough Said - My Review

9.  Saving Mr. Banks - My Review

8.  August: Osage County - My Review

7.  Gravity - My Review

6.  Dallas Buyers Club - My Review

5.  Nebraska - My Review

4.  Blue Jasmine - My Review

3.  The Wolf Of Wall Street - My Review

2.  Her - My Review

1.  12 Years A Slave - My Review