Monday, May 30, 2016

You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch!)

It's been a little while since my last blog entry, but I'm back! Near the end of last year, I made an acting reel, mainly comprised of footage from Alex Fofonoff's Blood and Thunder (in which I starred) and my films Jack and Lucas Go To A Wedding, Jake the Cinephile and With Love, Marty. Take a look below if you're interested, and please share - I'd love to get more acting work (if anyone needs a Jack-like character in their movie, I'm your man!) Look for memorable appearances by excellent acting partners like Desi Domo, Alexis Gay, Bethany McHugh and Lucas Loredo. Thank you to Bobb Barito for his sound design and to Alex for so much great footage from Blood and Thunder.

Jack Kyser Acting Reel 2015 from Jack Kyser on Vimeo.

Speaking of Blood and Thunder, we had a great first screening of the film back in December. It was truly an honor to share Alex's film on a big screen with a group of friends and collaborators. We're still in the process of getting the movie out there and submitting it to festivals, and I'm very excited for more people to see it.

My friend Marissa Rutka has a great new web series titled Coffee Catch-Ups that's online now, and it was a lot of fun to be a part of the production (and a subject in the series). You can find the two episodes where I'm featured before - in the first, Morgan Ingari and I recount the eye-watering events of Hurricane Sandy, and in the second, I go into Jake the Cinephile mode and offer out my rather obsessive-compulsive idea of perfection. Keep watching the series for more memorable guests and friends, like Charlotte Arnoux, Adam Boese, Nick Tanis and Emmy-winning guest star Jon Annunziata. The series was also nominated in the Documentary & Factual category of T.O. Webfest and will play at their festival later this month, so that's exciting!

In other news, my movie Jake the Cinephile is now available to watch online on Vimeo! I had a lot of fun screening this film at NewFilmmakers New York and The Beacon Film Festival (Freeze Frame) a few years ago, and I can't thank all of my extraordinary collaborators on the film enough. Here it is:

Jake the Cinephile - A Film By Jack Kyser from Jack Kyser on Vimeo.

My senior thesis film You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory is winding down its festival run after screening at a number of festivals last year. We were proud to be nominated as a Finalist for Best Student Film at the Blow Up-Chicago International Arthouse Film Festival in December. And earlier, on Saturday, November 21st, I was thrilled to screen You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory at the Katra Film Series with some other great films. After the film screenings at Katra, there was a Q&A with the other filmmakers, where I was joined by my great lead actor Mike Wesolowski.

On Friday, April 22nd, By Sidney Lumet, the wonderful documentary on which I was an associate producer and assistant editor, had a special free screening at the Tribeca Film Festival at the SVA Theatre, followed by a lively Q&A with panelists Jonathan Demme, Treat Williams, Amy Ryan and Jenny Lumet moderated by director Nancy Buirski. It was a particularly exciting day because, before the screening, I was part of the production team on an excellent interview with Mr. Williams, where he discussed shooting Lumet's masterpiece Prince of the City (1981). From both that interview and the post-screening talkback, I learned so much great New York City filmmaking history in the span of a few hours.

By Sidney Lumet received a lot of great press in advance of its screening at Tribeca. Rolling Stone listed the film as one of fifteen movies they couldn't wait to see at the festival, and the Village Voice selected it as one of the Best of Tribeca.

The trailer for By Sidney Lumet is also now available for the world to see - you can watch it here. Earlier this year, the film screened at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham. But, for me, the most exciting screening of By Sidney Lumet was at the Austin Film Festival last October, where it played at the historic Paramount Theatre. It was a great afternoon screening, and a good number of my friends and family members were able to come see the picture on the big screen. Nancy held an excellent Q&A after the film was over onstage (I was also able to see a number of other films at the festival, including YouthBrooklynLegend and Coming Through the Rye, and meet one of my favorite actors, Chris Cooper, for the second time).

By Sidney Lumet spans Lumet's entire career, from 12 Angry Men (1957) to Dog Day Afternoon (1975) to Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), and it's really been great to see the film and Lumet's work so justly celebrated over the last year.

Meanwhile, Loving, the narrative film adaptation of Nancy's first film, The Loving Story (2011), wrapped production last fall, and earlier this year Focus Features bought the film to release in the fall. Directed by the astounding Jeff Nichols (Take ShelterMudMidnight Special) and starring Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga and Michael Shannon, Loving recently made its world premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and it was the talk of the festivalLoving is shaping up to be the second masterful film by Nichols this year (after Midnight Special, which I'll discuss below), and it's a very exciting time for Nancy's career.

The Cannes line-up this year, by the way, was particularly exciting - in addition to Loving, there were new films from Sean Penn (The Last Face), Woody Allen (Cafe Society), Paul Schrader (Dog Eat Dog, starring Nicolas Cage) and Jim Jarmusch (Paterson), along with a special screening of Jonathan Jakubowicz's Hands of Stone to honor star Robert De Niro, who is supposed to give another great performance in the film. And in the absolute best news of the festival, STX bought the international rights for Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, which is the movie I've been waiting for my entire life. If The Irishman is indeed moving forward, it's the best news of the century.

By the way, I suspect Penn's The Last Face (which was received poorly) is a good film, and critics are simply making it difficult for the movie to find a distributor. Meanwhile, most studio crap gets a pass - I'll have a bit more to say on critics dismissing interesting cinema while giving bloated, uninteresting superhero films way too much leeway a little later.

On Saturday, April 23rd, ten years after the best concert of my life (seeing The Rolling Stones in Zilker Park in Austin), I went to the only concert that can ever top it - finally, after waiting for so long, I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert. That's right, I went down to The River to worship at the altar of The Boss. His two performances at Brooklyn's Barclays Center marked the end of The River Tour 2016, in which Springsteen and the E Street Band performed the entirety of their 1980 album The River (along with a large number of other Springsteen songs). As you might expect, I rocked out. From the homemade Springsteen t-shirts worn by fans congregating at the nearby Shake Shack to the power and majesty of the music itself, this concert was three and a half hours of joy. The River is such a beautiful, haunting album (here's a link to some of the videos I took on my phone during the concert).

And his live performances of these classic songs were as full of exuberance and passion as I've heard (though I feel quite familiar with his live work, having watched recordings of his concerts for years now). There was simply so much energy in songs like Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, Born to Run, Badlands, Out in the Street, I'm A Rocker, Cadillac Ranch, Crush On You, Two Hearts and You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch). He crowd-surfed, he threw multiple guitars off-stage (toward someone waiting to catch them), he got a married couple onstage to slow-dance, he danced like a madman, he busted through the crowd like The Boss.

And then there were the songs that nearly moved me to tears. He opened with Purple Rain, as this was two days after the tragic passing of Prince. And then The River stand-outs Fade Away, Stolen Car, The River and Independence Day broke my heart, along with two of his most emotional and triumphant songs, Lonesome Day and The Rising.

Earlier this year, my roommate Bobb got a vinyl record player for our apartment, and my used copy of The River I purchased from Other Music (which is unfortunately closing in June) has received more play than almost any other record in our collection. It's just a masterpiece, and as someone who considers Bruce Springsteen my favorite musician, I'm embarrassed I hadn't explored it and appreciated it the same way I have with Born to Run, Born in the U.S.A., The Rising, Magic, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Devils and Dust and so many other seminal Springsteen albums until this year.

April 29th was the fourteen year anniversary of my dear dad John Kyser leaving this earth - what a fun, loving man he was. He is deeply missed. To the right, you'll see some pictures taken by my great mom Gretchen Kyser.

Earlier in March, we held the Second Annual Lip Sync Battle Contest at my apartment, where friends attended and took turns performing sections (or the entirety of) songs that they chose (and rehearsed) before the competition. To commemorate the one year anniversary of our first party, I edited together a trailer of our performances from last year's inaugural contest. Take a look here and marvel at the talent on display.

Congratulations to our outrageously talented winners Mo Faramawy, Marissa Rutka, Taylor Frey and Alex Schaefer, as well as our Special Jury Prize winners Jon Annunziata and Emma Viles (traveling all the way from Boston!). There were magical performances by everyone and excellent judging all around.

We're not even half-way through the year, but there have already been several outstanding new film releases - although it's sometimes disturbingly difficult to find them when so many screens are devoted to the latest superhero monstrosity. In all seriousness, any self-proclaimed lover of film owes it to himself or herself to actively go out and see the new films from Richard Linklater, Terrence Malick, Jeff Nichols and Joel and Ethan Coen in a movie theater. It is more important than ever to support great cinema and choose wisely, particularly when nearly every screen in the city is dedicated to garbage (even when the garbage is supposedly "good," I simply find myself bored, desperately wanting to watch a real movie). Many, many worthy films open every Friday, and they're often lucky to survive even for two weeks in New York. I shudder to think how many films like Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret (2011) I've missed and have flown under the radar - and I'm someone who keeps up regularly with what's out there.

In my last post, I wrote in detail about my love for Linklater's flat-out amazing Everybody Wants Some!! Instead of making a top ten list this year, I might just list the ten best uses of music in the film. Linklater's new movie deserved a wide release, but Paramount Pictures didn't let that happen. Anyone who has seen the movie has fallen in love with it, but the studio simply didn't give the picture the chance it deserved and allow word-of-mouth to spread. Linklater is a national treasure, and actor Glen Powell delivers a star-making performance here (plus, my friend Jenna Marie Sab plays the mud wrestling champ, and Bernie Tiede served as the set cat wrangler).

It's a miracle that a movie as contemplative as Malick's Knight of Cups exists in this day and age. Richard Brody wrote a great piece on the film for The New Yorker (it's worth noting that Brody is one of the only film critics who actually seems to appreciate daring filmmaking anymore - some of the reviews for Knight of Cups would lead you to believe your money would be better spent seeing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).

Malick finds real beauty in the decadence of Los Angeles, with locations as evocative as anything in his filmography (production designer Jack Fisk does amazing work, as always). Malick also benefits from having an incredibly strong, emotive lead actor in Christian Bale, who is fascinating to watch in every quiet moment of this film. He seems to relish Malick's style of filmmaking, inviting us to share his character's very real struggle without having anything close to a traditional scene of dialogue.

The scenes with Bale's father (Brian Dennehy) and his brother (Wes Bentley) are some of the best in the film. Cate Blanchett makes a memorable impression as Bale's ex-wife, in a sequence in which we come to understand so much about his character through his reactions to her work as a nurse.

It's interesting to see Malick film the modern-day emptiness of a heavily materialistic culture, partially because I'm so used to seeing the natural world represented in his films. This is only Malick's second non-period piece (after To the Wonder), and I love seeing him capture our world in a way that emphasizes both the beauty and the trappings of a decadent wasteland.

Structuring the film in sections named after tarot cards fits so well with this story of a man on a quest to find meaning in his life and world. The experience of a hard-partying Hollywood player has never been put onscreen quite like this before, with so much contemplation as to what it all means and what role he's playing. There's a very memorable scene in which Bale's apartment is robbed and he's held at gunpoint. One of the burglars asks why there isn't anything of value in his home, and Bale doesn't have an answer.

As always with Malick, I found myself lost in Knight of Cups in a beautiful way, and I was made a little less aware of the current time and space around me. There's no way in his pictures to really know where we are structurally in the story, and so our minds are free to wander and take in the beauty of each moment. We simply exist in the space of the movie, and that is a wonderful thing.

Midnight Special is really, really special. The films of Jeff Nichols take place in cheap roadside motels, gas stations, backwoods areas and on dark highways. The locations alone have more character than most other studio films out there. All of his films are about parental concern in some way or another, and about a kind of anxiety and longing at the heart of modern southern men.

Interestingly, both Mud (2013) and Midnight Special feature powerful late scenes that help unearth the themes of the film, followed immediately by a rousing shootout. These critical scenes – in Mud, the titular character giving our young protagonist advice on love, and in Midnight Special, a child comforting his parents about to lose him – have a beautiful romanticism to them. And then Nichols leaps immediately into the thick of an adventure. It’s exhilarating filmmaking.

I love how dark Nichols and cinematographer Adam Stone allow some of these scenes to get – we actually feel like nighttime is upon us. And the darkness only helps conceal the mystery, along with the beautiful score from David Wingo, who also scored Mud, Take Shelter (2011) and the films of David Gordon Green.

Edgerton is silent and strong, providing a subtle, effective presence in each scene, while Shannon is riveting as a father willing to do anything for his son.

Midnight Special is an emotional story about parents protecting and eventually letting go of their child, and how others along the way are deeply affected by the child's vision. Nichols is so good at making movies that are about so much more than they seem, and they always sneak up on you and reveal themselves in profound ways. The combination of supernatural imagery with ordinary life is even more prevalent here than in Take Shelter, but Nichols uses special effects only when necessary, and only in the interest of enhancing the story.

With these last few films, Nichols has created a new American South that feels real and heartfelt. Here, he embraces his inner Spielberg and makes a film full of haunting images, quiet characters whose inner lives speak volumes, and an atmosphere that lingers long after the credits are finished.

In February, Joel and Ethan Coen released their latest masterpiece, Hail Caesar! Josh Brolin, in his third collaboration with the Coens, leads a hilarious ensemble cast, and the picture is a treat for anyone who loves classic cinema. The Coens have a great time paying homage to classic studio films from the 1950s. They're also two of the only major American filmmakers to deal seriously with religion in their films. Hail, Caesar!, which begins and ends with Eddie Mannix (Brolin) in confessional, is fascinating when you consider the minor sins for which he atones, as opposed to the things he doesn't confess. He doesn't give a second thought to anything slightly immoral that involves running Capitol Pictures more effectively, whereas smaller things, like having an occasional cigarette, weigh on him heavily. This is a dense film, and worth seeing multiple times. Every film from the Coens is like a puzzle, and as you're watching it, you know the pieces are going to add up to something brilliant, but part of the fun is trying to determine how seemingly throwaway scenes contribute to the overall picture.

If you want brilliantly-written, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang-style fun, run to see Shane Black's The Nice Guys, in which Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling make a hilarious pair of private eyes. This is precisely the kind of movie that deserves to be making loads of money - if only America wasn't so simultaneously force-fed and obsessed with superhero atrocities. Jodie Foster's Money Monster is also a great, tight thriller reminiscent of Sidney Lumet's work - and features a fantastic supporting performance from my friend and NYU peer Grant Rosenmeyer! He plays Tech Dave, who spends a great deal of time in the control room and later in a van with Julia Roberts.

A24 continues to release the most memorable films out there - The Lobster is amazingly inspired and strong, with an extraordinary performance by Colin Farrell. And earlier this year, The Witch unsettled me deeply. Talk about a production company on a winning streak - in the last year, they've released While We're Young, Ex Machina, Amy, The End of the Tour, Room and Green Room, in addition to the above titles. If I see their logo attached to a movie trailer, I'm seeing the movie without a doubt.

I was a little late to the game in seeing it (after it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film), but Son of Saul by László Nemes is a work of art. In short, it's important to go out there and see the original films. So please go support The Nice Guys, Money Monster, The Lobster, A Bigger Splash, Weiner, Maggie's Plan, Elvis and Nixon, Miles Ahead, The Family Fang, Green Room and - if it's still playing near you - Everybody Wants Some!!

Earlier this February, I attended the first screening of the Blackhat Director's Cut at BAM, with Michael Mann, one of my favorite directors of all time, introducing the film. I was a fan of this movie when it first opened a year ago, and I love this restructured version even more.

In this cut, the romance between Chris Hemsworth and Tang Wei's characters is much stronger, and the characters overall are more fully defined. You know you're watching the work of a master visual stylist when you can practically feel the locations while watching the picture, and Blackhat has no shortage of incredibly memorable set pieces.

The sheer urgency and immediacy of the shootouts are as gripping as anything in Mann's filmography. The hacking scenes are beautifully filmed and visualized, and Mann's hyper-digital aesthetic has rarely felt more appropriate and essential, given the subject material. It's hacker versus hacker at the end of this picture. The film feels like it takes place in two worlds - one made up of sprawling and confusing physical geography, the other an unknowable and far advanced world that leaves the physical one muddled in chaos. On a side note, I was thrilled to be quoted in an IndieWire story about the Blackhat screening.

In April, I saw the current revival of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway, which was an incredible production. I hadn't seen the musical since the 1990s, when I went with my parents to a production at Austin's Paramount Theatre.

As for this year's Academy Awards, I thought the winners themselves were right on the money. The final three Oscars went to exactly the people who deserved them - they got it right. Let's finally say it - Academy Award Winner Leonardo DiCaprio. We all know it should have been Oscar #4, as he should have won for Martin Scorsese's The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), but no matter. The Academy awarded a magnificent actor and a truly kind person (from the few times I met him on The Wolf of Wall Street), not to mention an extraordinary performance.

In fact, I made the t-shirt to the right two years ago in the spirit of a possible DiCaprio win for The Wolf of Wall Street. That didn't happen. But I brought it back this year, and it happened.

The Best Director win for Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu and Best Picture win for Spotlight are, again, precisely the choices I would have made - not just among the nominees, but for the entire year, period. I loved whatever it was Michael Keaton mouthed when Spotlight won - that's two Best Picture winners in a row for Keaton, baby (and you can bet he's coming back for more this year with his excellent-looking performance in The Founder). The awards were enough to start a hashtag like #OscarsSoRight.

I was a little sad about Sylvester Stallone's loss for Creed, though my two picks for Best Supporting Actor (Harvey Keitel for Youth and Keaton for Spotlight) weren't even nominated. But it's cool that, before Lincoln (2012), Steven Spielberg had never directed an Oscar-winning performance - and now, with Mark Rylance's brilliant performance in Bridge of Spies, he's directed two. I was hoping to see the Best Song Oscar go to Youth, the actual best song nominated, by an artist apparently not famous enough to perform (don't even get me started on the exclusion of Brian Wilson's song from Love & Mercy).

To be honest, I hadn't been so excited for the Oscars since The Departed (2007) won it all nine years ago, mainly because of the prospect of a DiCaprio win. And the other winners were largely excellent (Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight! Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer for Spotlight! Brie Larson for Room! Adam McKay and Charles Randolph for The Big Short!). Still, the tone of the evening oftentimes left a bad taste in my mouth - there's a way to critique the politics of the entertainment industry without disrespecting the films and people who are nominated.

In the same vein, it's hard to find articles about the Oscars that actually discuss the films themselves anymore, but here's a great piece on how Tom McCarthy's Spotlight is a master class in the art of visual nuance. Also, here's former Boston Globe editor Marty Baron on the power of Spotlight and great journalism, and Carl Bernstein on his love for Spotlight.

It was a good awards season, for the most part, as well - with The Revenant becoming a worldwide hit, winning the major BAFTA awards and Alejandro González Iñárritu winning the DGA for the second year in a row - he could not be more deserving. Spotlight, meanwhile, won the WGA award. Here's a great Rolling Stone article on Iñárritu, which includes Scorsese's thoughts on The Revenant (he calls it a masterpiece).

There have been some tragic deaths since I last wrote here, including musical legends Glenn Frey, David Bowie and Prince; Gary Shandling, who gave us masterful comedy with The Larry Sanders Show; Kathryn Altman, who so lovingly kept her late husband Robert Altman's legacy alive and well, particularly with the magnificent book on his career; and brilliant author Harper Lee. I had the honor of briefly meeting Harper Lee ten years ago with my friend Bolton Eckert at Horton Foote's ninetieth birthday party - she was an extraordinary person, and her work and legacy will live on forever.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

On Everybody Wants Some!! and An Untitled New Film Project

There have been a lot of great movies so far this year (Knight of Cups, Midnight Special and Hail, Caesar! among them), but the best is Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! The feeling of this movie lingered with me days after seeing it. It’s a deceptively powerful film, perhaps because underneath all of the good times and hard-partying, there’s a profound sadness that’s only revealed when it’s all over.

I'm amazed how similarly the film works as Linklater’s masterpiece Boyhood (2014) - there's really not much melancholy in the movie itself, but the experience of watching it and then leaving the cinema allows the sadness to slowly seep in afterward. Suddenly, you realize you can’t hang out with these guys anymore, and you want the good times to continue. The film’s cumulative power is so much bigger than I realized during the casualness of its individual scenes, and it isn’t until the final quiet moments of the picture, right before Let the Good Times Roll by The Cars starts playing, that the full impact of what you’ve seen hits you.

The moment that best hints at this sadness in the film is during the team’s baseball practice, in which Willoughby (Wyatt Russell) is quietly called off the field by the coach, told he has to leave the team, and shakes the coach’s hand (it’s later revealed he’s thirty years old and fudged his transcript to get back onto a college team – he simply wants to relive his glory years).

“Here for a good time, not a long time,” Willoughby says to the others in a down-to-earth manner as he’s called off the field, echoing the film’s tagline.

The other guys don’t know how to react, and we’re quickly whisked away from the potentially melancholy moment by the ridiculously bad sportsmanship of Jay Niles (Juston Street). It’s a technique that recalls something Martin Scorsese does in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), where Jordan Belfort briefly comes face-to-face with one of the deeply disturbing consequences of his lifestyle (a co-worker’s suicide) and then immediately brushes it aside and moves on to the next fun thing. These movies don’t want to linger in the melancholy, but we’re always aware it’s there, bubbling just beneath the surface.

In a strange way, Everybody Wants Some!! both doubles down on the partying in Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993), and yet it’s somehow even more nostalgic and elegiac than that movie. It captures what you wish college was like, in its most idealized form.

Leaving the theater, I felt something I've experienced after some of the best moments of my life – when, after being surrounded by friends, the noise settles down and you slowly realize that that feeling won't return ever again – not that exact feeling, anyway. In a way, this feeling is what’s going to come over the characters in this movie in the near future. They’re all on their way to unremarkable adulthoods, and it’s doubtful the rest of their lives will live up to what they experience here. When I think of Everybody Wants Some!!, I’m essentially a character from the movie who wants to go back to that time.

The structure here is awesome – rather than cutting from one baseball practice to a wild party and then back to another baseball practice, we just get one long practice scene. By not cutting away from any one location too quickly, we get the most out of the hang-out feeling, like we’re really living in these scenes. Linklater and editor Sandra Adair give every scene breathing room – we’re not just jumping from one thing to another. And Linklater does such a good job of introducing fifteen central characters and helping us know and understand each of them.

And I’m amazed by how subtly Linklater is able to infuse a sense of melancholy throughout the movie. I think he partially does it through music, and by showing these characters charging ahead for their youthful goals that, sometimes, seem a little sad. Will they remember any of these frivolous games in ten years? Will any of this matter?

Take, for instance, the scene at the county-western bar, where the guys re-locate after Jay gets them kicked out of Sound Machine. One of them, Nesbit (Austin Amelio), rides the bar’s mechanical bull ferociously - and as the tune Driving My Life Away by Eddie Rabbit plays, I suddenly felt a great deal of despair.

It's something about the match between music, activity and the character's goal – he’s dead set on riding that bull as well as he can. And it made me deeply sad - for the character, for the thrills and highs we try to achieve every night as young people. It just reminded me of something. I don’t know what, exactly. Maybe it felt reminiscent of a time, place and feeling I've shared, and the truly insignificant goals we’ve all embarked upon that only distract from the larger loneliness of a given night on the town. That’s all here, in this one quick scene, with that song playing and Nesbit riding that bull.

Sometimes I think a movie is well made, but I resist connecting to it, or feel that it can’t be one of my favorites, because the characters aren’t anything like me, or the picture doesn’t mirror my own experience. But watching Everybody Wants Some!!, I was reminded that that’s not how great cinema works. Sometimes great cinema shows you what you wish your life could be, and makes you nostalgic for something you’ve never experienced. You respond deeply to the feeling of the picture without it necessarily reflecting anything in your life.

Certain details in Everybody Wants Some!! made me feel at home – for instance, the sound of white wing doves calling out in the early morning to Jake (Blake Jenner) and Beverly (Zoey Deutch) intertubing on a Texas lake.

But more than anything, this movie made me feel like I missed out. It’s what I imagine an alternate life could have been like, if I was just a little different from the way I am. A lot of what happens in the movie is almost like what my life growing up in Texas was supposed to be like. The characters in this film are the guys from my high school (in one case, quite literally), and I always felt a little left out of this kind of thing – which is why I want to make the version of this film from the outsider’s perspective (more on that below). But Everybody Wants Some!! warmly invites you to be a part of the action for two hours. In Linklater's universe, we're all connected, if only for a short amount of time.

On a slightly unrelated note, it wasn’t until watching this movie that I made a key connection between the work of Martin Scorsese and Richard Linklater. The thematic material and cultures explored in the work of these two filmmakers couldn’t be more different, but in terms of storytelling approach, they both make movies that immerse you in a specific culture, time and place, in which you simply hang out among its vivid, authentic characters. There are virtually no plots to speak of in these films, but instead a huge amount of atmosphere.

With Scorsese, the pictures are often about morally conflicted, alienated protagonists and the unsettling violence, both social and literal, that consumes their worlds. Linklater’s stories have a more casual, laid-back feeling, oftentimes about the art of living in the moment without a great deal of thought about the future. These attitudes are very different, but the approaches are similar. And while Linklater’s films better represent the world and culture in which I grew up, Scorsese’s films better capture the internal struggle I continue to feel.

So, this piece is a review, yes, but also a discussion of a new project I’m planning to make this fall, which I first wrote back in August. My friend Mike Wesolowski (the star of my senior thesis film You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory) is a co-writer on the project with me, and though we wrote our script before seeing Everybody Wants Some!!, I think Linklater’s new film has helped inform how we want to make the movie. Linklater’s vision is so clear, I can’t help but relate it to my own, and in a sense use his film as part of the pitch for the picture I want to make.

In my new script, it’s as if someone dropped one of Scorsese’s morally conflicted, obsessive protagonists in the middle of a Linklater movie and he was expected to function – which may very well be the story of my life.

I'll be writing in more detail on this project, which does not yet have a title, in the coming weeks. Please check out Everybody Wants Some!! while it is still in cinemas.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Best Films of 2015

I'm a little late in posting my list this year, mainly because I've been going back and forth between the top two films on this list - it's really close this year. A special shout-out to the unloved movies of the year – the good ones that for some reason weren't appreciated, including Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk, Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, Michael Mann’s Blackhat, David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn and Angelina Jolie’s By the Sea. 

As always, it bears repeating – when you’re in the cinema, shut the hell up. In my experience, 2015 was one of the worst years for audience behavior I can remember. Many cinemas I used to frequent in New York (ahem, Film Forum) are now overrun by gratingly loud talkers. By not coming out before the movie and reminding the audience that you enforce a no-tolerance policy for this kind of behavior (as Landmark Cinemas does), your cinema may gain the patronage and business of a few loudmouth idiots for a night, but you’re losing the business of those who really care for a lifetime.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for all of these films. 

1. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)

Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight is so extraordinary at doing so many different things that it’s difficult to appreciate them all from just one viewing. A brilliant procedural newspaper drama about the Boston Globe journalists who researched and broke the story about the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Boston Archdiocese in the early 2000s, the film is also a complete and thorough examination of the social strata and hierarchy of a great American city that still, in many ways, functions as a small town. Anyone even remotely interested in the dynamics of a proud community facing an internal crisis will find the material in Spotlight riveting.

Any single thread of this film would be fascinating on its own: the story of the first Jewish editor of the Globe (Liev Schreiber) moving to Boston and acclimating to its inhabitants and Catholic traditions; the seasoned reporter (Michael Keaton) who grew up within the town’s Catholic community and finds he may have to lose friends in order to expose the truth; the lapsed Catholic reporter (Mark Ruffalo) who always figured he’d come back to the church grappling with the disturbing information he’s covering. Put together, these stories make up the most compelling narrative of the year.

Spotlight is also about how an entire community is complicit in its silence regarding this kind of crime. The movie so wisely avoids finding outright bad guys (besides the priests) – it’s comprised mainly of a bunch of people who have either tried in their own way to address the issue, or somehow slowly convinced themselves over the years that there isn’t a problem.

Consider the two lawyers we meet early in the film, neither of whom are initially what they seem. There is Eric Macleish (Billy Crudup), the smug, successful lawyer who appears to have settled many of the church cases without losing sleep over profiting from child abuse. And then there’s the rattled, grumpy and temperamental Mitch Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), who is slowly revealed to be a decent, caring man fighting on behalf of his clients. Beneath his distrust is someone exhausted from having fought tirelessly, with little financial or personal gain, for the right thing, and it’s made him defensive and prickly. The nicest and most genial people in this movie are often the ones who need to push a little harder.

Meanwhile, Macleish’s humanity is maybe not apparent until seeing the film a second time, when you see him drop hints about how he tried to bring the story to the press years ago. McCarthy masterfully upends our expectations with both of these characters.

The spatial geography of the film is beyond impressive. McCarthy firmly roots us in the world of the newsroom, and almost as soon as the movie starts, he shows us exactly where the small Spotlight office is located, just down the stairwell in a corner office. The direction here isn’t showy, but I sincerely hope nobody confuses the intimate, interior nature of the movie’s setting with its immense scope and ambition.

Rarely have I seen a movie that better grounded me geographically and emotionally in the world of its city than Spotlight. In an age when most movies take place in some generic metropolis that could very well be anywhere, this movie absolutely takes place in the suburbs of Boston, and I feel like I’ve been there. McCarthy has made some great films before Spotlight – including The Station Agent (2003), The Visitor (2007) and Win Win (2011) – but nothing quite as brilliant as this.

As the Spotlight team’s leader Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, Keaton’s transformation in this film from skeptic, to slowly realizing his entire world is complicit, to ultimately admitting culpability in turning a blind eye, is astonishing. Keaton is the nuanced, underplayed moral center of Spotlight – an obviously good, decent guy who has to question how much he might be responsible for burying this story. He crusades, but he also questions, almost a little bewildered that this was going on all these years and keenly aware that he needs to act now. This inner conflict is all conveyed beautifully in a performance that stands alongside Keaton’s brilliant work last year in Birdman. I wouldn’t feel as safe in the world of Spotlight without knowing that Keaton is there with the team – he’s that much of the movie’s center.

In a year full of outstanding ensemble casts (Joy, The Hateful Eight, The Big Short, Steve Jobs, The Martian), Spotlight has the best acting of them all. You could fill an entire Best Supporting Actor category alone with the performances from Keaton, Ruffalo, Tucci, Schreiber, Crudup, John Slattery and Brian d’Arcy James, while McAdams gives her strongest performance to date.

I think what makes Spotlight so profoundly moving is that it absolutely comes from a point-of-view that respects the church and the role it plays in people’s lives. It would have been so easy to make a film that vilifies religion and denigrates the role of the church, but Spotlight is too interested in the effect this kind of story has on people of faith to fall into that trap.

The best films are always about something larger, almost ephemeral. They go beyond the specifics of their subjects. I’m not usually one to fawn over “issue” movies, but Spotlight is remarkable both for how subtle and non-exploitive it is about its particular issue and for how it feels so much bigger than a story about the Catholic Church scandal. It’s a powerful study of a community’s complacency.

There are so many moments in the film that send shivers down my spine: the final scene with Tucci’s character, in which Ruffalo gives him the Globe article and he tries to not appear too proud, soldiering on to continue fighting for his clients; Keaton admitting that he buried the original story in Metro when he was the editor, and, later, sitting in his car outside the Globe, as the final story goes to print; McAdams watching her grandmother read the breaking story, and, with a lump in her throat, ask for a glass of water. These little moments give an extraordinary resonance and power to a movie that only gets richer with each viewing.

2. The Revenant (Alejandro González Iñárritu)

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant is completely and totally unlike any movie I’ve ever seen, which I can’t really say about any other film this year. At one moment, I was in awe of the technical prowess of Emmanuel Lubezski’s cinematography and Jack Fisk’s production design, and by the next, I was deeply moved by the emotional back-story upon which the foundation of the movie is based – the relationship between frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his son, Hawk.

When Glass is mauled by a bear and badly injured early in the film, his team of fur traders attempt to carry him back to their fort, but he’s ultimately left behind in the care of the untrustworthy John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Soon enough, Fitzgerald murders Hawk right in front of his father and buries Glass alive, leaving him for dead.

The flashback fragments we glimpse of Glass and his wife give the story a weight and power even before Glass’s son is murdered. I was amazed by how deeply I cared for these characters simply through the power of the experiential filmmaking here, which at times recalls the work of Terrence Malick (Lubezski and Fisk are both regular Malick collaborators).

Once Glass crawls his way out of the ground and starts building his strength to find and destroy Fitzgerald, the movie starts to feel like a journey in a way that few other movies can claim – it is an absorbing and hypnotizing film, and when it’s over, I could feel the effect of the movie physically on my body.

There is almost nothing I can say about the staging and choreography of actors and camera that I didn’t already say about Iñárritu’s Birdman last year – everything here is so beautifully staged that it leaves little doubt about this being the work of the most talented artists in the industry. The only difference is that, in this film, Iñárritu and Lubezski are staging wildly complicated action scenes in the middle of the wilderness in single takes. To be completely honest, I’m really not sure how they made this movie. Even simple scenes of dialogue are blocked and framed in such an elegant way.

And yet none of the technical brilliance would mean anything without an emotional center, and DiCaprio gives the performance of a lifetime here. If he wins the Best Actor Oscar for this movie, which he damn well should (there isn’t another leading male performance this year as good as this one), it will be long overdue, considering he should have won at least three times before, for Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – not to mention nominations for Revolutionary Road (2008), Shutter Island (2010), J. Edgar (2011) and Django Unchained (2012) that he didn’t even receive.

With The Revenant, Iñárritu has now made three consecutive films in which his lead actor overwhelmingly deserves to win Best Actor, after directing Michael Keaton in Birdman and Javier Bardem in Biutiful (2010) to career-best performances. These three films alone are evidence that he brings the very best out of his actors – all the while accomplishing technical feats that very few other filmmakers are even attempting. Is he the best filmmaker working today? He’s certainly right up there with Scorsese.

Hardy is equally brilliant in a villainous performance that should bring him his first Oscar nomination (after excellent turns in so many films over the last few years, including Mad Max: Fury Road, Legend and Child 44 this year). This movie needs a horrific antagonist who deserves every bit of the vengeance coming his way, and Hardy earns our hatred early and often.

Here is a movie that asks you to stare in awe at the beauty and the horror of nature, and an unparalleled sense of what it must have been like to live in the nineteenth century wilderness. The film feels authentic from start to finish, and it lingers in the memory as something lived and experienced, not merely seen. I can’t wait to experience it again.

3. Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad)

Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy is a caring and understanding film about mental illness, the best musician biopic since Todd Haynes’s I'm Not There (not coincidentally, Oren Moverman co-wrote both that film and Love & Mercy), and an incredibly comforting film, with some of the best performances and music I’ve seen and heard this year. It has moments of such stunning power that I felt compelled to see it again, as I often do with movies I love, and examine why it’s so effective and moving.

Paul Dano and John Cusack brilliantly portray Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys at two very different points in his life – Dano during the creation of the masterful album Pet Sounds in the 1960s, and Cusack in the 1980s, when Wilson was in terrible mental health and under the care of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Landy misdiagnoses Brian as a paranoid schizophrenic, and keeps him estranged from his family for years. When Brian meets his future wife, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) while buying a car from her dealership, he finds not only a soul mate empathetic to his mental illness, but someone willing to fight against the tyrannical Landy to help Brian find his way back to himself.

Jumping back and forth between time periods, the movie gives us one remarkable sequence after another, all of which feel organic and thematically connected (and not simply like a greatest-hits of major events from a person’s life, a problem in many biopics.) Just as The Beach Boys seem to be bridging apart while creating Pet Sounds, we get a perfect recreation of the music video for Sloop John B, and the power of this recreation comes not just from the beauty of the song, but from seeing the brothers as comrades – goofy, fun-loving and joyous, playing around in their backyard swimming pool.

It’s the same pool where, in another magnificent scene, while the band tries to have a business meeting, Brian barely hangs onto a raft in the deep end. His only request is that they whisper and join him on the other side of the pool, and it’s heartbreaking to watch as the meeting goes on, with Brian seemingly oblivious to the larger implications of the band’s decisions as he tries to stay afloat on his end of the pool.

Director Bill Pohlad has only directed one other film, but his directorial choices in this movie are so strong, you’d think he was one of our most seasoned filmmakers. Pohlad produced Brokeback Mountain (2005), Into the Wild (2007), The Tree of Life (2011) and 12 Years a Slave (2013), and perhaps working with such excellent filmmakers has enabled him to make a film every bit the equal of those other masterful titles.

I think of the many strong editorial and camera choices made throughout the film. In an early date between Brian and Melinda, there’s a long take where Brian describes his childhood, and the camera stays on Melinda. We catch glimpses of Brian’s face from the reflection at the back of the booth, but mostly, we’re watching Melinda slowly fall in love with him.

There’s a slow 360-shot later in the film that simply seems to take in the life and creativity flowing among the sessions band and Brian in the recording studio. Or what about the sequence near the end, in which Dano's Brian and Cusack’s Brian seem to merge when he confines himself to his bed at the height of his depression, and sees visions of characters from his past and present, beautifully set to In My Room?

Both Cusack and Dano’s performances feel free, alive and not even remotely constricted to playing to an audience’s pre-conceived idea of Brian Wilson, whatever that might be. They each create a memorable and unique character completely separate from the real-life Wilson, and that’s really what makes the character feel real (and, as I’m Not There so terrifically proved, casting more than one actor in a role like this only adds to our complex understanding of the person.)

So many films about geniuses – whether famous musicians or physicists (ahem, The Theory of Everything) – are simply content to show the genius completing an equation or being smarter than everyone else in the room, without bothering to actually explain what it is they do, or, even harder, help us understand how they’re doing it.

Here is a film that attempts to actually understand how a genius works, in large part through its rich use of sound and score (Atticus Ross uses elements of many of Wilson’s songs in his score, but breaks them down into their separate parts.) Because many of the individual sounds and notes seem distantly familiar to us (through knowing the music of The Beach Boys), we’re able to understand how Brian can isolate different elements in his head and try to piece them together as a new song.

The film is such an aural experience, which is made clear by the early shot that slowly pulls out of Brian’s eardrum. It’s as much a movie to listen to as it is to watch – attuned to the sounds and noises Brian experiences in his everyday life.

With the music, you can feel Brian reaching for something greater. Is it God? You can feel it in the songs, which are transcendent, as if Wilson made a connection through to another world of indescribable emotions and sensations. Listening to the sounds in his head becomes its own journey of discovering the notes of songs you’ve always known, which feel bigger than all of us – like music that’s always been there, it’s just been waiting for a human to piece it together.

The look of the film is extraordinary. As filmed by Robert Yeoman (who shot all of Wes Anderson's pictures), the warm palettes of the 1960s, with Brian surrounded by his family (whatever disagreements there may be among them), contrast beautifully with the later sequences, which largely take place in white, sterile spaces to which Landy has confined Brian. It’s only the presence of Melinda that gives us hope. Even in its more intense moments, though, there is a calming and comforting quality to Love & Mercy, perhaps because we view the world through such a kind and gentle man, whose only aim seems to be to make the sounds in his head make sense. May we all be granted such love and mercy.

4. Joy (David O. Russell)

When it comes to family, David O. Russell gets it. Arguments, broken alliances, unfair accusations and the downright comical and uncomfortable nature of familial spats are the subject of his masterful and misunderstood new film Joy, which is without question another work of genius from the filmmaker. There’s perhaps no other modern director working besides Martin Scorsese who I love and admire as much as Russell. His movies are full of the messy, chaotic feeling that makes up our lives.

Joy is loosely based on the true story of Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence), who invented the Miracle Mop and a whole bunch of other household items. Chronicling her journey from living in a Massachusetts house with her divorced parents, played by Robert De Niro and Virginia Madsen, her ex-husband Édgar Ramírez, grandmother Diane Ladd and two kids, to patenting her invention, selling it on television and running her own empire, Joy takes a lot of chances with its structure, which starts right off the bat with a stylized recreation of a soap opera with which her mother is obsessed.

Joy herself comes very close to becoming part of the soap opera alternative reality that consumes her mother’s life, but it’s not until reading her daughter a book about cicadas burrowing into the ground for seventeen years that she realizes she’s essentially done the same with her life – she’s buried her potential and abandoned her childhood dreams to take care of her family. Joy starts her journey to not end up like her family by asking De Niro’s latest girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), to invest in her idea for a new mop.

Like Russell's The Fighter (2010) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012), Joy examines the way family plays a role in our failure and success as human beings – except that family plays a very different role here. It does not provide the same comfort and love as it does in Silver Linings Playbook – here, her family is crazy, but they’re not even helpful crazy. By the end of the film, the feeling is almost that you have to go it alone at some point, and your allies and enemies are not necessarily who you thought they were originally.

As Joy’s grandmother, Ladd is sort of her last supportive line, and then, as soon as she’s gone, the rest of her family immediately starts to turn on her. No sooner than at Ladd’s funeral does De Niro bring up the bad business decision he’s made on Joy’s behalf with her half-sister (Elisabeth Röhm). It’s straight out of The Godfather (1972) – and, indeed, by the end of the movie, Joy has become a kind of Michael Corleone, albeit legally and a lot less mercilessly. But it’s haunting to see how lonely it is at the top by the film’s end.

There’s a constant edge to the way Russell shoots his scenes. He’s a master of tone – even in a scene that’s enormously funny, we get a vivid sense of how painful the situation must be for a particular person. In Joy, that person is almost always Lawrence, and Russell makes us feel her pain by highlighting the absurd whims and madcap behavior of her family.

Even in the way it’s edited, Russell seems to suggest that what we’re seeing isn’t necessarily a realistic depiction of what happened, but rather a heightened version of how Joy experiences it. But even when it’s hilarious, it’s oftentimes also horrifying, and nobody is better than Russell than creating a tone that’s both highly comical and dangerous. The use of the Steadicam in his pictures gives the proceedings a kind of unpredictability and a musical quality, and also manages to unexpectedly unify the characters just when we think they’ve all but devoured each other.

Joy hasn’t been as universally acclaimed or received as Russell’s last three films, and I think that’s because he’s going for something darker, different and not always entirely crowd-pleasing here. It’s big, ambitious, chaotic and wild.

By the last third of the film, the same techniques that Russell used in his previous films to unite the family members is deployed differently. Many of the family’s divisions aren’t healed by the film’s end. There’s no reconciliation scene between Joy and her father, or between her and Trudy. Business is cold and cutthroat, and in the end, she ends up essentially alone – just as she predicted as a young girl. She doesn’t need a prince. And in the world Russell shows us here, a prince would only trap her and keep her from reaching her full potential. If Silver Linings Playbook showed us that family is chaotic but necessary, Joy shows us that family can keep us from making the most of our lives.

Starting with The Fighter, Russell has assembled a troupe of actors, chief among them De Niro, Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, who all star in his three most recent films. I know there are people who would like to see Russell cast different people in his next movie, but I’m ecstatic that, like Scorsese with his muse Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell keeps finding new and exciting ways to use these actors. Lawrence, De Niro and Cooper all understand the rhythm of Russell's direction and give outstanding performances. With a typically outstanding soundtrack featuring Russell favorites The Bee Gees (whose To Love Somebody is used in the most memorable music moment of the film), The Rolling Stones and Alabama Shakes, and a brilliant ensemble that also includes Paul Herman, Drena De Niro and Melissa Rivers, Joy is one of the best movies of the year, and a film I expect will be reconsidered in the years to come as something very special.

5. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)

My review of any new Quentin Tarantino film is always very similar. It’s rare to think of another filmmaker who shows you such a good time, and who understands inherently what we like to see in cinema.

His eighth film, The Hateful Eight, is a bleak western set in post-Civil War Wyoming in which eight strangers (plus a few surprise guests) are snowed in at a cabin together. Among them are bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), hangman John Ruth (Kurt Russell), prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) – even writing their names is fun. The Hateful Eight has the added bonus of being a mystery, and it’s a pleasure to watch a master filmmaker like Tarantino surprise us with the twists and turns this story takes.

Like all Tarantino films, The Hateful Eight is full of memorable and haunting musical moments. Listening again to its soundtrack (which, being a Tarantino film, I bought before even seeing the movie), I was reminded not only of the haunting and almost instantly iconic score by Ennio Morricone, but many other great cues, such as Now You’re All Alone by David Hess, which plays when Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) calmly follows a wounded man outside the cabin to murder him in the snow. Or what about Jennifer Jason Leigh’s prophetic and haunting song, Jim Jones At Botany, that comes right after Intermission? Best of all is the ending song by Roy Orbison, There Won’t Be Many Coming Home.

In its 70mm Roadshow version, complete with an Overture, Intermission and collectible program, The Hateful Eight feels like what cinema should be. It’s the closest I felt like a kid going to the movies this year, and this is a year that included Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And for a picture that runs three hours and fifteen minutes, this is one perfectly paced film.

These hateful eight may be a rotten group of bastards, not one of them worthy of the personal letter from Abraham Lincoln that Warren claims to own, but damnit if the remaining few of them don’t finally solve the mystery. These are the kinds of people that were probably deservedly forgotten by history, but there’s something kind of sad and sweet seeing all of them gathered in one room. As always with Tarantino, the feeling is there – beyond the bloodshed and carnage, there’s something almost cathartic in the movie’s power.

6. Youth (Paolo Sorrentino)

Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth is a profound film, the perfect example of a picture to experience emotionally rather than intellectually – it captures a feeling and stays with you. So few movies are allowed to simply be meditations, but Youth, by thankfully not concerning itself with much of a plot, is able to tackle emotions most movies wouldn’t dare.

Michael Caine’s masterful lead performance, as composer Fred Ballinger, doesn’t fully announce its power until late in the film. He’s staying at a spa in the Alps, along with his friend Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) and daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz). Early in the film, he’s visited by the Queen of England’s Emissary and asked to perform his Simple Songs – one of his most popular pieces of music that, much to Ballinger’s frustration, endures – in a special concert for Prince Philip. He refuses for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious.

I’ve not seen a film in which the lead character was so deeply apathetic for much of the film, and then, suddenly, reawakened by a tragedy late in the movie.

Harvey Keitel is one of my favorite actors in the history of cinema, and here, his performance as acclaimed filmmaker Boyle moved me to tears. The fact that he isn’t the frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar mystifies me. He is the heart and soul of this beautiful film – while Caine mopes around reflectively, Keitel bursts with energy, eager to make his new film, his “testament,” with the help of a group of young writers.

In a way, Keitel’s character lifts everyone’s spirits, including Caine’s, in the film. But then, when he faces a brutal rejection from his longtime leading lady Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda), he suddenly can’t take it anymore. His shocking suicide shakes Caine awake.

As it turns out, Caine won’t revisit his Simple Songs because he wants to be old and finished, like his wife, for whom he wrote the songs to perform. But he’s not – he has life left to live, and he doesn’t realize it until Keitel, his lifeline, is gone.

The conversations between Caine and Keitel become even more poignant in retrospect. They joke back and forth about a woman with whom Keitel can’t remember if he had relations, while Caine laments that he never got to have relations with her at all. But Keitel does remember the time he first learned to ride a bike, which brings him great joy. By the film’s end, when Caine receives the news from his doctor that he’s healthy as a bird, the same doctor also reveals that Keitel told him his happiest memory – holding the hand of the woman in question. He called it the moment he learned to ride a bike. It’s such a sweet moment that perfectly epitomizes the essence of both the Caine and Keitel characters – one looking back in agony and regret, the other looking back with wonder and appreciating the simple, beautiful moments.

The movie is full of other characters finding their own way. Weisz is superb, as is Paul Dano, in another great performance this year (after his better-be-Oscar-nominated performance in Love & Mercy), as an actor who decides he wants to celebrate life and not death after making an ill-advised decision to dress in character around the spa as Hitler.

Midway through the picture, Keitel takes his screenwriting students to a mountain observatory and asks them to look through a viewfinder. He has them first look through it the normal way, at the mountains. That’s the future, he says – everything seems very close.

Then he turns the viewfinder around, and asks them to look through it again. Now everything looks so far away, he says. That’s the past.

At the film’s end, when Caine finishes performing his Simple Songs before the Queen and a large audience, he turns around to face us – humbled, tears in his eyes, looking forward. And then, briefly, we get a flash of Keitel looking back at us – and at Caine. It’s the most beautiful and haunting ending to a film this year.

7. Mistress America (Noah Baumbach)

Noah Baumbach's Mistress America does everything right - it has masterful staging of actors, it’s shot precisely how a comedy should be filmed, and it's every bit as funny and moving as Baumbach and actress/ co-writer Greta Gerwig's previous collaboration (and masterpiece) Frances Ha (2013). Man, I would love to be friends with them – they are making the kinds of movies I want to make.

Lola Kirke plays Tracy, a freshman at Barnard who isn’t making friends or feeling at home in the city right away. Her mother recommends she reach out to Brooke (Gerwig), her soon-to-be stepsister. Gerwig gives one of the year’s best performances as a carefree big sister, immediately taking Tracy under her wing and joyously partying into the night.

The movie evokes the freewheeling energy of what it feels like to be around someone like Brooke. Finding the perfect companion song/ anthem in Hot Chocolate’s You Could’ve Been a Lady (boy, do I love Baumbach’s use of Hot Chocolate songs in his movies), Mistress America makes us fall in love with her just as quickly as Tracy does. And yet we’re also constantly aware, as Tracy is, that Brooke is a larger-than-life character who dreams big, but doesn’t always take responsibility for her actions. There’s a scene in which a woman Brooke bullied in high school confronts her, and it deepens our understanding of Brooke’s thwarted ambitions and failures. It’s at this point that Tracy starts writing a short story about Brooke, quite innocently, that later lands her in trouble.

Mistress America is also so observant of how relationships grow in college. Tracy’s early scenes with fellow student Tony (Matthew Shear) are slightly awkward and sweet, but it’s sort of imperceptible whether there’s a romantic connection between them or not. The things they won’t say to each other aren’t said until they both tag along with Brooke to the house of her nemesis Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind) in Connecticut to pitch her idea for a new restaurant. It’s in this absurd and brilliantly written set piece, which essentially makes up the second half of the movie, that the characters are put in situations where they reveal how they really feel. And Tracy is cornered and attacked when her short story about Brooke is read by the entire gathering of people.

Baumbach and Gerwig are so good about capturing the essence of each of these characters in even the most seemingly thrown-away lines. I’d need the film in front of me to cite one specific example that tickles me, but in short, it’s an exchange between Tracy and Mamie-Claire in which Baumbach and Gerwig perfectly reveal that Mamie Claire is someone who deflects blame whenever possible.

Somehow, in the midst of the madcap comedy, Baumbach manages to capture what the first semester of college actually feels like. A lot happens to Tracy in this movie, and when she says she can’t believe how much she’s experienced in one semester, we feel it. Near the end, when she stays in the city for Thanksgiving and goes to the parade alone, I was reminded of the scariness and deep loneliness of freshman year. This section of the film, memorably set to Dream Baby Dream by Suicide, also has a moving mother-daughter scene in Tracy's dorm room.

Baumbach’s earlier films, including The Squid and the Whale (2005), Margot at the Wedding (2007) and Greenberg (2010), are razor-sharp, biting masterpieces that oftentimes make you uncomfortable in their frankness. And yet it’s his recent work with Gerwig, as well as the next film on my list, that’s made him one of my favorite working filmmakers. His last three films feel like they’re written about people I know, and they’re packed with ideas and some of the best writing around. Which leads me to…

8. While We’re Young (Noah Baumbach)

Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young opens with a quote from Henrik Ibsen’s play The Master Builder:

Solness: “I’ve become so disturbed by younger people. They upset me so much that I’ve closed my doors.”

Hilde: “Maybe you should open the door and let them in.”

Paul McCartney’s Let ‘Em In echoes this same sentiment in the film’s closing credits.

It’s one of two contrasting sentiments that the movie gives us; the other is best exemplified by James Murphy’s opening and closing lullaby rendition of David Bowie’s Golden Years, which is alternately both sweet and unnerving. Let them in, yes, but also be wary. It’s these two contrasting viewpoints that make While We’re Young so rich and complex.

The first act by itself is such a funny observation on the cultural and behavioral differences between modern-day twenty-somethings and middle-aged adults that I was caught off-guard when the film goes even deeper. Even more so than Baumbach’s masterful Frances Ha, While We’re Young packs it in. This movie keeps expanding as it goes along in unexpected ways, taking on larger themes and ideas with every passing minute. I kept waiting for it to not quite manage all of these things successfully – but Baumbach pulls it together beautifully.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star as married couple Josh and Cornelia. He’s a documentarian who has been toiling away on the same film for eight years, while she produces the films of her legendary documentary filmmaker father, Leslie Breitbart (the great Charles Grodin, whose return to movies, in both this movie and last year’s The Humbling, is a beautiful thing). Josh was once Leslie’s protégé, but, after marrying his daughter, he’s distanced himself from the filmmaker in order to establish his own career.

When Josh and Cornelia meet a younger married couple, the impossibly hip Brooklynites Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) after Josh’s lecture to a documentary film class at Columbia, they suddenly find themselves spending all of their time with two people twenty years their junior. Jamie, a self-professed fan of Josh’s films, asks him to collaborate on an idea for a documentary. At first, Josh declines, but then, acknowledging his past unwillingness to collaborate with others, he opens up to Jamie’s idea. Both Josh and Cornelia are enamored by the young couple’s liveliness, and let them both in fully.

But what starts as admiration and even genuine friendship eventually grows into annoyance – after all, these kids don’t even know what they’re referencing half the time. “That’s a thing I actually experienced – to him, its just some kitschy thing he saw on YouTube,” Josh complains of an old commercial James quotes ironically. Finally, annoyance leads to disgust, as Josh discovers that Jamie’s hip exterior masks a morally questionable code of ethics.

The film’s third act is insane – when Josh exposes Jamie in the middle of a Lincoln Center tribute to Leslie, it’s a kind of fantasy situation in which Baumbach is able to articulate his frustration with a set of values in front of this cast of characters, and they’re all able to fight it out and respond with their own perspectives. It’s absolutely hilarious, beautiful and would never happen in real life. Thankfully, While We’re Young has very little interest in naturalism (there’s one scene in particular that feels like a bad dream – and Stiller even says something to that effect.) So many movies nowadays are concerned with naturalism, but Baumbach proves – as do Woody Allen, Alexander Payne and Wes Anderson in their films – that it’s rarely as effective as a slightly artificial movie world in terms of hinting at some kind of greater truth.

It’s frustrating to watch Jamie experience the kind of success that’s eluded Josh for years, despite the fact that Jamie doesn’t adhere to either the ethics of documentary filmmaking or really any basic values as a decent person. And when Josh finally exposes him as a fraud, nobody even seems to really mind.

In the end sequence at Lincoln Center, Leslie admits that the nature of what constitutes “truth” in filmmaking is changing, and we have to be open to that. “I’m not sure it matters,” Leslie says, referring to the falsehoods in Jamie’s documentary. Leslie is more accepting that the times are changing, and that the “how” of Jamie’s film matters less than the effect of the movie. In the end, Josh can’t stop this guy from succeeding. Jamie’s values are now the world’s values – at the expense of his success in documentary filmmaking even meaning anything, since everyone is now a documentary filmmaker. It’s just like the toddler playing with an iPhone and taking pictures in the film’s last scene – everyone is recording everything, and it all means nothing.

Leslie, on his way out after a storied career, is more open to this change because he had all of the success he ever wanted doing it the old way. And now, just as Josh is trying to achieve that same success in his own life, in comes this new way of doing things – a new way of earning respect as a filmmaker. It’s comparable to the fact that I’ll never be able to achieve what Martin Scorsese achieved – partially because the landscape of filmmaking is changing so rapidly. It’s easier for someone who ruled the day in their field to be open to the future, because they had their time. But what about my time? What about Josh’s time? While We’re Young seems to share that frustration.

Even as they’re about to embark on adopting their own child in the final scene, both Josh and Cornelia are kind of disgusted and disturbed by this toddler taking pictures with an iPhone. The future is scary. And pretty soon, all those things that seemed special before and actually meant something won’t mean anything any longer. If that sounds like old man talk, it’s because – to quote Stiller – I am an old man! (By the way, I’m well aware that I’m closer in age to Jamie, even though I identify more with Josh and his values.)

While You’re Young is a wonderfully angry film. Baumbach doesn’t settle for some kind of wishy-washy “Well, each generation is different from the last one, and each one is valid in their own ways“ attitude. What makes the movie work is that it has a perspective. When it wants to be, it is incisively sharp, indicting the generational values of millennials while also accepting the fact that accepted values and norms are changing.

Even as the film ends with Josh admitting that Jamie “isn’t evil – he’s just young,” the movie still has a perspective, which is that these people are awful. And it’s right. Take Josh’s painful meeting with Jamie’s corporate hedge-fund friend. Sure, Josh’s pitch for his years-in-the-making documentary may not be very streamlined or “sellable” – but it’s humiliating for him to have to explain his movie to the most vapid potential investor imaginable. It’s going to be a scary world when people like that guy are in charge – and they probably already are.

9. Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle)

Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs is a frenetic masterpiece. In a strange way, it almost feels like last year’s Birdman in terms of its energy, blocking and pacing. With Boyle's stunning direction and Aaron Sorkin's breathless dialogue, the film is almost sensory overload - there's no way to see it once and fully absorb everything that's happening. It does so well what many biopics fail to even attempt – Steve Jobs give us the experience of being inside the mind of its subject. Boyle and Sorkin thankfully don’t even try to go for realism here – the result is something that feels like an opera.

Sorkin’s screenplay stages the film in three acts, each one its own long sequence leading up to the launch of a major Apple product by Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender, in a mesmerizing performance). Of course all of his various arguments and scores weren’t settled just before every new Apple product launch – but by framing it this way, Boyle and Sorkin are able to connect the thematic dots in this man’s very complicated life.

There are moments of unexpected, stirring power – we’re so caught up in the frenzy and whirlwind of creation and innovation in Jobs’s mind that we’re genuinely caught off-guard in the film’s second movement, when his young daughter, Lisa, runs up and hugs him, and says, “I want to live with you.” The final third of the film unexpectedly guts you, as well, showing a man who has mellowed in some ways and also exploring the repercussions of how he treated people in the past.

And there isn’t a more thrilling scene in cinema this year than Fassbender and Jeff Daniels, as Apple CEO John Scully, sparring with each other at the San Francisco Opera House before the launch of the NeXT computer. The way this sequence is intercut – between their current argument and flashbacks to Scully and the Apple board voting to fire Jobs – is electric.

I didn’t have a major investment in the subject material walking into this movie, but I can say without question that the right creative team dramatized this man’s life by making bold choices that pay off beautifully.

10. Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg)

Steven Spielberg's new film Bridge of Spies is another spectacular collaboration between one of the greatest filmmakers and actors of our time.

Tom Hanks is James B. Donovan, a fair-minded and decent insurance lawyer who is asked by the CIA to defend captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) during the Cold War. When the Soviet Union shoots down an American pilot and takes him as their prisoner, Donovan is tasked with brokering a negotiation between the two countries, in which he travels to East Berlin and negotiates the swap of spies. With a riveting third act set piece filmed on the real-life Bridge of Spies (the Glienicke Bridge), this movie is all dramatic tension by way of words and glances, in a fantastic screenplay written by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen.

Spielberg, coming off one of the best films he’s ever made (Lincoln), is on fire once again. This is his fourth collaboration with Hanks, after Saving Private Ryan (1998), Catch Me If You Can (2002) and the underrated The Terminal (2004), and together they’re keeping classical, adult Hollywood entertainment alive.

Spielberg makes it all look easy - it’s entirely possible that the skill and artistry behind a movie like this might go unnoticed by some audiences, because the filmmaking is not flashy. Everything is in the service of storytelling. And Hanks’s performance is something only the world’s best movie star could give us.

I couldn’t be happier that Spielberg is concentrating his efforts toward making big budget, challenging historical dramas like this and Lincoln that nobody else can get made nowadays. With Bridge of Spies, he and Hanks out-class the rest of this fall’s releases by miles.

The Rest of the Best

There were many extraordinary movies this year, in particular #11 - #15, all of which are excellent films I wish I could have included in the top ten.

11. The Big Short (Adam McKay)

12. Carol (Todd Haynes)

13. Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)

14. The End of the Tour (James Ponsoldt)

15. The Martian (Ridley Scott)

16. Black Mass (Scott Cooper)

17. Inside Out (Pete Docter)

18. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson)

19. The Connection (Cedric Jimenez)

20. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams)

21. Ex Machina (Alex Garland)

22. 99 Homes (Ramin Bahrani)

23. Room (Lenny Abrahamson)

24. The Walk (Robert Zemeckis)

25. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie)

26. Creed (Ryan Coogler)

27. The Wolfpack (Crystal Moselle)

28. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

29. Chi-Raq (Spike Lee)

30. Irrational Man (Woody Allen)

Other Movies I Loved and Admired:

Manglehorn (David Gordon Green)
Blackhat (Michael Mann)
Danny Collins (Dan Fogelman)
Aloha (Cameron Crowe)
Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)
Spectre (Sam Mendes)
Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg)
Amy (Asif Kapadia)
Welcome to Me (Shira Piven)
By the Sea (Angelina Jolie)
Meru (Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin)
Grandma (Paul Weitz)
Crimson Peak (Guillermo Del Toro)
The Night Before (Jonathan Levine)
True Story (Rupert Goold)
The Intern (Nancy Meyers)
The Gift (Joel Edgerton)
Trainwreck (Judd Apatow)
Infinitely Polar Bear (Maya Forbes)
Trumbo (Jay Roach)
Ant-Man (Peyton Reed)

Best Director

Winner: Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant

Runners-Up: Tom McCarthy, Spotlight; David O. Russell, Joy; Bill Pohlad, Love & Mercy; Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight; Paolo Sorrentino, Youth; Noah Baumbach, Mistress America and While We’re Young; Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies; Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs; Todd Haynes, Carol; Ridley Scott, The Martian

Best Actor

Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Runners-Up: Paul Dano, Love & Mercy; Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs; Michael Caine, Youth; Matt Damon, The Martian; Jason Segel, The End of the Tour; Johnny Depp, Black Mass; Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies; Al Pacino, Danny Collins; Steve Carell, The Big Short; Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight

Best Actress

Winner: Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Runners-Up: Greta Gerwig, Mistress America; Cate Blanchett, Carol; Emily Blunt, Sicario; Brie Larson, Room; Lola Kirke, Mistress America; Kristin Wiig, Welcome to Me; Lily Tomlin, Grandma

Best Supporting Actor

Winners: Harvey Keitel, Youth and Michael Keaton, Spotlight

Runners-Up: Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight; Robert De Niro, Joy; Christian Bale, The Big Short; Stanley Tucci, Spotlight; Liev Schreiber, Spotlight; Tom Hardy, The Revenant; Benicio Del Toro, Sicario; Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies; Michael Shannon, 99 Homes; Harrison Ford, Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight; John Cusack, Love & Mercy; Joel Edgerton, Black Mass; Peter Sarsgaard, Black Mass; Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Rooney Mara, Carol

Runners-Up: Rachel McAdams, Spotlight; Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy; Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight; Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs; Rachel Weisz, Youth; Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina; Jessica Chastain, The Martian

Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Spotlight

Runners-Up: The Hateful Eight, JoyLove & MercyMistress America, While We're Young, Bridge of Spies, Inside Out, Youth, Sicario

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Steve Jobs

Runners-Up: The Revenant, The Big ShortCarol, The Martian, The End of the Tour