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2018 was a big year for me personally. In many ways it was the most significant of my life so far. In May I got engaged, and recorded the first full-length album with my band. In October, I got married. Went on my honeymoon. Navigated the first holiday season as a member of a new family. It was wonderful. It was also a lot.

With so many major life events demanding my time, energy, and focus, it’s only natural that the hobby of movie watching and reviewing fell by the wayside, at least somewhat. 2018 was the year in which MoviePass ran out of favor (and money) roughly a year after its historic price drop brought an unprecedented number of subscribers to the service. It was the year FilmStruck left us. So not only was my movie viewing down by sheer numbers, but the avenues by which to explore it were narrowing as well.

All this is to say that I didn’t see as many movies as usual in 2018, and as such I don’t feel that my annual top list is as meaningful is it might have been. I know there’s so much that I missed. And I know, therefore, that this list isn’t likely to turn anyone on to any small movies that flew under their radar. So I can’t help but feel my excitement about this annual effort isn’t what it usually is. That said, I can’t break with tradition; and my discussion of movies is always about what they mean to me and not about any supposed social import or insider clout. So it is without pretense or ego that I offer you the 10 movies I liked most from last year.

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2016.

Just saying it is enough to make some of you cringe.

There’s an ongoing narrative about how awful this year has been, and not just in American politics. I’ve heard more than a few people say that 2016 has been underwhelming for movies, too, and I can certainly see where they are coming from. Personally, I’ve found a great many movies this year to be disappointing. In a lot of cases I was either let down by something I was anticipating, or I didn’t share my peers’ enthusiastic response to films I enjoyed. I found Deadpool, Jackie, Zootopia, and The Magnificent Seven to be uninspiring at best. Two of my favorite up-and-coming directors (Jeff Nichols and Denis Villeneuve) released three films between them and none was particularly strong. And even though I liked Arrival, Rogue One, Sing Street, Hell or High Water, The Wailing and others, I wouldn’t say any of them were better than pretty good. So in some sense my experience fits the concept of a weak year.

However, we live in a time when the media harvest is nothing if not plentiful. There are so many movies being made by so many people that you’re bound to find the good ones if you look long enough. While I merely scratched the surface of all the films released this year, that was enough to reveal gold amidst the dross. This year saw new films by Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, the Coen Brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn, Paul Verhoeven, Shane Black, Clint Eastwood, John Carney, Richard Linklater, Whit Stillman, and Pixar. We had exciting debuts from Robert Eggers, Kelly Fremon Craig, Dan Tractenberg, and the Daniels; and auspicious new features from such talents as Jeremy Saulnier, Damien Chazelle, and Fede Alvarez.

It’s not every year you witness a masterpiece, but my number 1 film of 2016 is just that. So let’s get there, shall we? Here are my 15 favorites from 2016:

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Dying of the Light (2014)
Director: Paul Schrader
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Anton Yelchin, Alexander Karim
Running Time: 1 hr, 34 mins
Rated: R


Review by Daniel Stidham

Early in Dying of the Light, the camera zooms in on a man’s hand which then begins to tremble uncontrollably. The hand belongs to Nicolas Cage, and this shot is the first best hope we have that the film we’re watching will be worthwhile. Though Cage has a notoriously uneven track record, many of his highest highs involve him playing disturbed, afflicted, or deeply neurotic characters. Leading Man Cage, National Treasure Cage, is fine as far as he goes; but what you really want is Matchstick Men Cage, Bad Lieutenant Cage. You want the guy who has unpredictable freak-outs, manic ticks and ridiculous hair. Sometimes it’s a thin line that separates “I want to take his face…off!” from “No, not the bees,” but we’re willing to take that risk because when it works it pays off big time; and for at least a few minutes of Dying of the Light, it looks as though we’re about to be treated to the next entry in the “Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit” canon.

Read the full review on CutPrintFilm.com

Godzilla (2014)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen
Running Time: 2 hrs, 3 mins
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

SPOILER WARNING: This review references the movie’s ending and other plot developments throughout. Read at your own risk.

The moment the screen went black, I threw up my hands in exasperation. It was an emotion that had been building slowly over the past hour. This was the first time that I, a lifelong Godzilla fan, had ever seen the King of the Monsters on the big screen. I should be ecstatic. The last time he came to an American cinema was a universally recognized travesty, disowned and dismissed by most fans as an affront to the character’s legacy; and this new movie is by all accounts a superior entry into the well-loved saga. So why was I so disappointed? In fact, disappointment is really the wrong word for it. I was angry. I felt cheated. Bamboozled. Snookered. Ne’er-done-well. I won’t reproduce here the exact comments I made in the theater but here’s a visual aid:
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The-Wind-Rises-Poster The Wind Rises (2013)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski (English version)
Running Time: 2 hrs, 6 mins
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

Oh, Miyazaki. You have given us so many wonderful films over the years. Spirited Away. Castle in the Sky. Princess Mononoke. You’ve been a champion of imaginative animation without creative limits. And now at the end of your career, you’ve given us The Wind Rises, a movie about the act of creation that, surprisingly and unfortunately, doesn’t seem very creative. The only thing limitless about this movie is how long it feels. READ FULL REVIEW

non-stop-poster Non-Stop (2014)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery
Running Time: 1 hr, 46 mins
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

What about Non-Stop, though?

Non-Stop may have had the most effective advertising of any movie in recent memory. That Key and Peele tie-in sketch, for all its transparency, completely cemented the title of the movie in my consciousness. Now I haven’t actually loved any of these Liam Neeson tough guy movies, though I thought Taken was alright. Unknown and A-Team were completely forgettable. Still, there isn’t a lot of competition right now so I went out to see the conspicuously hyphenated Non-Stop, featuring the incomparable Liam Neesons. READ FULL REVIEW

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I love movies about music.

I’ll give you a moment here to process the shock.

Virtually anyone who knows me could have likely predicted that I would say this, since music is such a big part of my life. It’s a thing that drives me to create, to push my own boundaries and to weather disappointment time and again. So when I watch a film that deals with that process, those struggles, that joyous and heartbreaking expression, it’s easy to see why I immediately identify. Not only that, but music in general, including scores and soundtracks, contributes hugely to making films memorable and impactful – a statement with which I think even the casual moviegoer would agree.

Recently I found myself reflecting on my taste in movies, and as I did so I thought about what it is that makes someone’s list of personal favorites personal. What are those films that are not merely good movies, but that say something about the person who choose them, the person who is moved or enriched by them? After all, that is at the heart of Raptor Reviews’ purpose to be transparent about how our own biases, experiences and preferences shape our conversation about film.

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