DISCLAIMER: HIS POST CONTAINS MANY, MANY SPOILERS. STOP READING RIGHT NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS.
1) Sorcerer, William Friedkin, 1977
Sorcerer is the best movie I've seen this year. It was directed by William Friedkin, the man married to my Single White Female Obsession, Sherry Lansing. Sorcerer is about four desperate men looking for a way out of their hellish existence. Unfortunately, there are no actual sorcerers, wizards, or magic in the movie. Steve McQueen was supposed to play the main role but he insisted that Friedkin give his then-wife Ali McGraw a producing credit which Friedkin said no to and Roy Scheider, who had just starred in Spielberg's Jaws and was a hot actor at the time, took his place. Friedkin often talks about how Scheider and other actors from his various movies were not his first choice but rather, his 4th, 5th, or 6th choice, but I thought Scheider did a terrific job.
The ending is a tragic twist and the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream is AMAZING. The main theme pulsates throughout the film, keeping you on the edge of your seat the entire time. The movie is relentless and unforgiving. Filming in the jungle looked brutal and Friedkin said it was just that in reality. Sorcerer actually completely bombed at the box office when it was released in 1977 but has since been rediscovered and rightfully lauded.
2) Ozark, Bill Dubuque & Mark Williams, 2017 - 2022
Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything
And the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together
This show is really, really good. Jason Bateman plays Michael Bluth, I mean, Marty Byrde, a man who moves his family from Chicago to the Ozarks to launder money for the Mexican drug cartel. They get involved with the locals and their various shenanigans as well.
The casting is terrific. Jason Bateman is surprisingly good in this role. He’s a bit too snarky for me at times but is subdued and much more likable in this role. Laura Linney is amazing as always, and Esai Morales has got to be one of the most handsome men alive. I was mad when they killed off my boyfriend, Esai Morales, but his replacement, Janet McTeer, was so so good!!! She was terrifyingly effective as the cartel lawyer. I now understand why some actors get so much work after a certain role.
I’ve never seen Breaking Bad but I hear these two shows are very similar. If you enjoyed Breaking Bad, you’ll definitely like Ozark!
3) Lord of War, Andrew Niccol, 2005
I watched this movie when it came out in 2005 and thought it was terrific. The whole Brittney Griner thing has been in the news recently and when they began talking about the prisoner swap with Viktor Bout, I was surprised to discovered that Cage's character was partially based on Bout. And so I decided to rewatch Lord of War.
Cage plays a very successful arms dealer. The movie is about the American Dream in many ways. Cage’s character comes from nothing and rises to become an extremely successful man, albeit in a highly illegal and dangerous way. It’s very similar to Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983). The screenplay is extremely well-written and Cage’s delivery is always pitch perfect. The movie is violent, deeply touching, and unusually hilarious. Ethan Hawke is very well-cast as Cage’s foe and Donald Sutherland has several blink and you’ll miss it voice cameos. Cage and Hawke’s conversation at the end is great. Cage may be evil but he’s a necessary evil. We all have a lofty, idealized view of what we would do and how we would behave but at the end of the day, the world is going to run in the way that it’s going to run.
4) The Platform, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, 2019
This is one of the most disturbing and unsettling movies I have ever seen in my life. The premise was bizarre and it has been on my list of things to watch for a while. I’m not going to talk about the moral messages behind the movie because so many reviewers have done so already. I’ll just discuss the things I liked:
a) The acting was terrific. This movie is filled with Spanish actors that I’m not familiar with but they were all amazing.
b) This movie was extremely well-shot given its limited budget. The director, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, was very smart in how he decided to film everything. The entire movie was basically filmed in one room and everyone wore the same clothes. There was obviously some use of CGI but it was limited and conveyed the appearance of the never-ending floors. When your budget is small, you really are forced to think creatively of how you want to film things and I thought Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia did a terrific job.
c) The story was so creepy. In regards to how one would survive, I don’t think we should loudly proclaim what we would do / not do. No one knows how they would behave in a situation like this until they’re actually in it.
I sincerely hope Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia gets more work after this. This movie really got under my skin and I still think about it many moons later. This was a very creative story filmed in a more than competent manner and I really hope Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia gets the chance to tell more stories.
5) My Cousin Vinny, Jonathan Lynn, 1992
Jonathan Lynn’s Clue (1985) is one of my favorite movies of all time. The one-liners are endless and I think it’s a PERFECT movie. I had always heard good things about My Cousin Vinny and when I saw that Jonathan Lynn had also directed this, knew that I had to watch it.
My Cousin Vinny is hilarious from start to finish. Joe Pesci is always cast as a violent gangster but he’s also a very good comedic actor. The entire cast is great and this movie is just very, very funny. Similar to Clue, there is a lot of physical humor and the script is pitch perfect.
6) Prey, Dan Trachtenberg, 2022
I love LOVE the Predator movies. The Predator is one of my favorite movie monsters. The premise was interesting as it’s more of a prequel to the main movies so the Predator isn’t as advanced as the later iterations. I really liked the supportive brother-sister relationship, the action scenes were great, the soundtrack was very good, and the movie was overall, highly entertaining. One standout was Dakota Beavers, the actor who plays the brother. This was his first ever movie role and he was so terrific! Here’s hoping he has a long, successful career.
7) The Grey, Joe Carnahan, 2011
When I saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it was about Liam Neeson beating up wolves. That didn’t sound very interesting to watch. But it is a lot deeper than that, it’s about fighting for your life even when you don’t think there’s much to live for, and about facing your fears head on. I also personally like wolves, the animals themselves. They’re beautiful animals and their creepy howls remind you why they’re such a staple in horror movies. The ending was great, and I liked that it ended on an ambiguous note.
8) House of Gucci, Ridley Scott, 2021
Succession planning for a family business is very interesting to me. Freakanomics did a terrific podcast show about this a long time ago. I can’t find the link anymore but the main takeaway is - It’s not a good idea to hand your successful business to your children, especially if they have no experience, just because they’re your children. The ensuing results are not as good as handing it to someone who has a successful track record.
That’s really what House of Gucci is about - the members of the Gucci family eventually bring about their own downfall. Given that this movie is based on real people, I want to be respectful of the Gucci family and note that I obviously don’t know them or what really went on behind the scenes.
I think it’s often hard for wealthy, successful parents to teach their children the value of hard work. The children have never done any grunt work and feel entitled. I thought this movie demonstrated that well and my favorite scene was the one where Maurizio Gucci is pushed out of Gucci by Investcorp's leaders at the breakfast table. He views Domenico De Sole as a traitor (“She was right about you”) but Domenico De Sole was truly the right leader for Gucci as he brought the brand from near bankruptcy back to its lofty heights.
I didn’t care much about the love story plot with Lady Gaga but she was quite good in this role. Everyone was very good, and I thought this movie was much better than the Getty movie Ridley Scott did, All the Money in the World (2017).
9) Celeste and Jesse Forever, Lee Toland Krieger, 2012
Romantic comedies are my least liked movie genre. I find them to be deeply unrealistic. I only watched Celeste and Jesse Forever because it takes place in Los Angeles and I am deeply, unfairly biased toward movies set in Los Angeles. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by how good this movie was.
The premise is different than that of your typical romcom - Celeste and Jesse are getting a divorce but have a hard time letting go as they’ve been together since high school and still love each other.
What was interesting about this movie is that Celeste realizes they’re not a good fit anymore and initiates the divorce. She’s grown up but he hasn’t. But she still loves him so much and has a hard time moving on. If you’ve been with someone for such a large part of your life, they become a part of you. I found the portrayal of the changes in their relationship and her confusion on how to move on to be highly realistic. Their split really is the best for everyone in the long run and Celeste slowly but surely comes around to see that. Ironically, this is not what I necessarily see in real life. The sunk cost fallacy is a very real thing in relationships but that’s an uncomfortable discussion for another time.
The casting in this movie was so great!! Rashida Jones is one of the most beautiful women alive and radiates intelligence. Andy Samberg is not really my cup of tea but he is surprisingly subdued in this movie and came off well. Chris Messica is so cute and I just love everything he’s in.
10) Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, Johannes Roberts, 2021
The original Resident Evil movies starring Milla Jovovich are some of my favorite action horror movies. She’s SO SO good in them. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a reboot of the franchise and it’s pretty great! I legitimately don’t understand why it got such bad reviews. I’m really not sure what people are expecting when they watch a movie like this. It’s based on a video game. Surely they’re not expecting Oscar bait.
The cast was great, the action was great, and there are some truly creepy scenes in the movie. I kept yelling “AHHHH!!!!” every time a zombie came on the screen (I'm an annoying person to watch a horror movie with) and at one point, M looked at me and asked me if I was going to be able to sleep that night. I am looking forward to the inevitable sequels!
11) Joel Schumacher movies
I’ve been thinking a lot about Joel Schumacher recently and revisited some of his old interviews. He passed away two years ago in June 2020 but his movies live on forever. He's a particularly good interviewee, and I encourage any movie lover to listen to his interview below with Charlie Rose while promoting Batman Forever (1995).
Schumacher has an incredibly interesting background. He grew up very poor, was “out on the streets as a young kid and made every mistake in the book” (his words). He had addictions to alcohol, drugs, and other vices. But when he turned 30, he decided to clean up his act, and go out to Hollywood. He started out making $200 / week as a costume designer, began to write his own scripts (after much encouragement from Woody Allen), and eventually became a very successful movie director. He is very well known for spotting talent and hiring famous actors at the very start of their careers when they were still unknowns (Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Colin Farrell, Matthew McConaughey, and more).
I’ve never met Schumacher but he seems like he would have the most interesting stories to tell. From his interviews, he sounds quite thoughtful, open-minded, and highly articulate. There's one quote I really liked - “If you do not strive to be the best human being you can be, then you have no defense for privilege.” It reminds me of something David McCullough Jr. said at the 2012 Wellesley High School graduation “Be worthy of your advantages.”
Schumacher talks a lot about how his life turned out to be so much more grand and amazing than anything he could have dreamed of when he was growing up. I think Schumacher is a good example of the manifestation of the American Dream. Having said all that, here’s a list of some of his best movies that I encourage all of you to check out.
a) St. Elmo's Fire (1985)
b) A Time to Kill (1996)
c) Batman Forever (1995)
d) Falling Down (1993)
What is this?
An anthropological look at how people think about money. Created and edited by Star Li.