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J. Olson

The Top 10 Films Of 2016

It was a mammoth year for film; arguably the best of the decade to date! Many outright gems just missed inclusion on this list. “Sing Street.” “Manchester By The Sea.” “Hunt For The Wilderpeople.” “Captain Fantastic.” I saw and wrote about more new movies this year than ever before. Below are the ten I found to be most effective, distinct, intoxicating, consequential. The ten that I’ll carry with me always.

10. Southside With You

As the Donald Trump presidency takes hold, Richard Tanne’s directorial debut “Southside With You” suddenly seems like science fiction. Also known as the Obama first date movie, “Southside” tells the story of two bright, community-minded people unknowingly beginning an historic romantic relationship. When the film came out this past summer, it was a substantive, inimitably well-acted date movie. Six months later, it’s something to aspire to; a startling symbol of the hope and idealism that’s since been dampened. But not lost. Full Review…

9. Pete’s Dragon

The premier remake of the year was a left-field delight. Disney’s live-action redo craze has yielded mixed results, but charging “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” filmmaker David Lowery with rebooting 1977 flop “Pete’s Dragon” proved an unexpected masterstroke. Lowery’s version is gentle and kind and everything so many modern family films neglect to be, ending up a must-see for anyone who’s ever had a pet; or more broadly, anyone who’s ever been a child. That means you. Full Review…

8. 20th Century Women

Neither Annette Bening nor Greta Gerwig were nominated for Oscars for their work in “20th Century Women,” an absolute travesty that fortunately won’t affect the movie’s legacy one bit. It’s destined to be discovered and treasured for a long time to come, providing warmth and laughs to all in need of its considerable wisdom. Full Review…

7. Nocturnal Animals

For his second feature, Tom Ford dropped unconventional thriller “Nocturnal Animals” onto unsuspecting multiplexes. Starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, the film is best experienced cold, without the burden of misleading trailers or television spots. Although not for mainstream audiences, Gyllenhaal fans used to the actor’s sterling selection of projects should find it their wheelhouse. He, Adams, and Michael Shannon make an ideal team for a twisted, twisty drama that immerses as much as it thrills. Full Review…

6. Arrival

Speaking of Amy Adams, sci-fi elegy “Arrival” delivered the starring role the actress had long been building towards. Guided by “Sicario” director Denis Villeneuve, the result is a spiritual epic not fully appreciated until its closing moments. While the journey alone is worthwhile, the destination carries sweet chariot home, reconfiguring everything we’ve just seen. It’s an absolute must for science fiction fans – and a deserving Best Picture nominee. Full Review…

5. Green Room

Dear Jeremy Saulnier, please never stop making movies. Nearly a year before Nazi-punching rightfully recaptured the country’s imagination, Saulnier’s “Green Room” carried the art form to unforeseen heights. In one of Anton Yelchin’s final performances, he and Alia Shawkat play punk band members doing their best to rain holy hell down upon a backwoods white supremacist (Patrick Stewart) and his minions. Come for the music, stay for the indelible suspense, stay even longer for Yelchin’s definitive performance. Full Review…

4. American Honey

Andrea Arnold’s 160-minute “American Honey” proved divisive with critics. It’s long on the clock and short on plot. But let me tell you this: the glory of a rat-tailed Shia LaBeouf dancing in the middle of a K-Mart to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” is the closest 2016 came to the showing mine eyes the glory of the coming of the Lord, proving once and for all that love really can be found in a hopeless place. Sasha Lane’s lead performance as a roving teenager is every bit as memorable as LaBeouf’s, shepherding an extraordinary road movie into the promised land. Full Review…

3. Christine

The true story of suicidal reporter Christine Chubbuck is not an easy watch, but it’s vital; perhaps the most empathetic film to come along in years. Rebecca Hall’s headlining performance is loving and sensitive and everything Christine Chubbuck was in the face of her demons. Mental health issues are a reality for many of us, eternally underrepresented in film. And when they are represented, they’re all too often stigmatized. The film is sad and horrifying but also deeply moving, culminating in an epilogue that will break every heart in a five mile radius. “Christine” is an incredible work of art. Full Review…

2. Paterson

Actor Adam Driver had a very good year! For further evidence of his very good year, see below. But “Paterson,” bearing his first true-blue starring role, is a stunner, with the actor working absolute magic with director Jim Jarmusch. It’s an outwardly humdrum comedy-drama that sneaks up on you, like falling in love. One moment you’re curious, the next moment you’re hanging on every word Garden State bus driver and poet Paterson has to say. Don’t resist. Just go. Full Review…

1. Silence

Driver didn’t headline Martin Scorsese’s latest – that would be Andrew Garfield, inexplicably nominated for Best Actor in “Hacksaw Ridge” rather than “Silence” – but proved an essential piece to its puzzle, nonetheless. “Silence” is just shy of a masterpiece, and time may very well get it there. As a true-life tale of Christian missionaries in 17th century Japan, the picture is both brutally violent and preternaturally humane – like Garfield’s other 2016 movie pretended to be – coming down firmly on the side of compassion. It’s also Scorsese’s best movie in decades, demanding nearly as long of study and appreciation. Watch it. Watch it again. It’s an astonishing act of both faith and craft – two elements of film eternally linked. Full Review…

-J. Olson

The Top 10 Films of 2015

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10. Straight Outta Compton

A treat for rap experts and neophytes alike, F. Gary Gray’s N.W.A biopic is two-thirds of a great film. That it falters down the stretch isn’t enough to take away from its surplus of excellent performances and raucous concert scenes. Full Review…

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9. Sicario

“Sicario” similarly stumbles in its final act, but Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer represents one of the year’s great female protagonists – in a world few filmmakers have allowed them to go. Suspenseful drug-trafficking pic is not for the faint of heart. Full Review…

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8. Crimson Peak

Guillermo del Toro is one of our most frustrating filmmakers, too often wasting his talents on junk like “Pacific Rim.” But “Crimson Peak” is his best film in ages, absolute heaven for fans of cinematic eye candy – not just relying on CGI but stunningly beautiful set and costume design. Full Review…

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7. Bridge Of Spies

“Bridge Of Spies” is a deceptively simple spy yarn that makes terrific use of its period and cast both. It might even be the best collab between Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks to date. Full Review…

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6. The End Of The Tour

Those unfamiliar with the late author David Foster Wallace will get just as much out of “The End Of The Tour” as his fans. Jason Segel drives this dialogue-heavy dramedy with the confidence of a longtime dramatic heavyweight. Full Review…

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5. Anomalisa

The writer of “Being John Malkovich” makes his second directorial effort one to remember. Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion “Anomalisa” is bliss for the kind of moviegoer that wants to be challenged and delighted all at once. It won’t beat “Inside Out” for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, but it should. Full Review…

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4. The Hateful Eight

Where “The Hateful Eight” ultimately lands in Quentin Tarantino’s filmography is anyone’s guess, but that it’s his freshest offering since “Jackie Brown” certainly helps its prospects. Full Review…

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3. Steve Jobs

All but ignored at the box office, Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” should one day ascend to its rightful place as definitive 21st century biopic. That it’s not a traditional biopic only helps its case. Michael Fassbender is dynamite as the late Steve Jobs. Full Review…

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2. While We’re Young

Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young” is as smart as it is funny, fashioning a bizarre hybrid of comedy and thriller out of an unlikely cast. Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, and Charles Grodin are all great, but strangely enough it wasn’t Baumbach’s best work in 2015. Full Review…

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1. Mistress America

That’s because 2015 also saw Baumbach deliver an endlessly rewatchable goldmine of a comedy called “Mistress America.” Co-written by and starring his beau, Greta Gerwig, the picture is as great as it is underseen (it made a dinky $2.5 million worldwide). Consider it the best movie John Hughes never made. Full Review…

One year, two of its very best films. If that’s not the mark of genius, nothing is.

-J. Olson

The Top 10 Films Of 2014

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10. The Interview

There were better comedies in 2014 (see: “22 Jump Street”) but only “The Interview” would find its way into the history books. (No, really. It will literally be in history books.) All the bonus points for blowing up a vicious dictator to the strains of Katy Perry’s “Firework.” Full Review…

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9. Nightcrawler

Deeply flawed but featuring Jake Gyllenhaal’s best performance to date, “Nightcrawler” is immediate and chilling and doesn’t merely command attention – it demands it. Full Review…

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8. Fury

Apart from a lull in act two, David Ayer’s “Fury” is a masterful WWII movie that manages to be both virile and sensitive – a rarity in the genre. Full Review…

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7. Wild

In “Wild,” Reese Witherspoon sneakily subverts expectations of what a female movie star should be, all while telling a compelling story that affords Laura Dern a career best performance. Full Review…

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6. Interstellar

Coming off the tepid “The Dark Knight Rises,” Christopher Nolan corrected course in a major way with “Interstellar.” It’s esoteric and opaque in ways that blockbusters aren’t allowed to be anymore, and Matthew McConaughey is as good as ever in it. Full Review…

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5. Boyhood

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” is the ultimate “journey-without-a-destination” movie, marking his best work since 2004’s “Before Sunset.” Full Review…

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4. Foxcatcher

A deeply uncomfortable anti-crowd pleaser, “Foxcatcher” is everything great about American cinema in a 130-minute package. A must-see for cinephiles. Full Review…

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3. Whiplash

The best ending in years is just a microcosm of the greatness of “Whiplash.” J.K. Simmons is brilliant in it, Miles Teller is excellent, and it’s propulsive in a way few movies are. One of the year’s greats. Full Review…

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2. Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)

“Birdman” is a fever dream reflected through a Viewmaster, scored by classic stand-up comedy records. If that doesn’t make any sense, that’s because nothing about “Birdman” makes any sense. It just is. And it’s just transcendent. Full Review…

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1. Under The Skin

“Under The Skin” is pitch-perfect, pitch-black science fiction. Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Philip K. Dick, et al. would be proud. The hordes of one-star reviews on Amazon make clear that it’s not for everyone, but it’s their loss. Full Review…

-J. Olson

The Top 10 Films Of 2013

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THE TOP 10 FILMS OF 2013

10. RUSH

Nothing in Ron Howard’s previous body of work suggested he was capable of something as sleek, sexy, and dynamic as “Rush,” but I’m thrilled that he made it happen. Chris Hemsworth is good here, but Daniel Bruhl gives one of the best performances of the year. The cinematography is obscenely beautiful. An overlooked gem.

Original Review: Rush

9. NEBRASKA

With time, “Nebraska” might rise up this list. Bruce Dern and Will Forte are magical in it and few filmmakers are as in tune with their own strengths as Alexander Payne. It’s a fantastic piece of Americana that’s as heartfelt as it is searingly funny.

Original Review: Nebraska

8. AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Its cast is overstuffed with A-list talent, but that shouldn’t count against this monster of a black comedy. Streep, Roberts, and just about everyone else is on top of their game, making for an interminably watchable stage-to-screen adaptation. If only the ending were more faithful to the stage version.

Original Review: August: Osage County

7. BLUE JASMINE

Rarely has an actor or actress stolen one of Woody Allen’s films out from under him, but Cate Blanchett does just that in “Blue Jasmine.” She’s an ethereal force of nature here, painting a stark portrait of a mentally ill, middle-aged woman fraying at the ends. The rest of the diverse cast holds up well, too, providing Allen with one of his best ensembles to date.

Original Review: Blue Jasmine

6. IRON MAN 3

I reacted tepidly to “Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2,” and “The Avengers,” so I’m as surprised as anyone to see “Iron Man 3” on my top 10 list. But in hiring writer-director Shane Black to replace Jon Favreau, Marvel injected some much-needed vigor into their formula. “Iron Man 3” is joyous and inspired, vehemently rebuffing the dourness that had overtaken the genre.

Original Review: Iron Man 3

5. THE SPECTACULAR NOW

Hard-fought, bittersweet romances are hard to pull off onscreen, but “The Spectacular Now” is a great one. Stars Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley give luminescent performances and the screenplay never gives itself over cliché, despite numerous opportunities to do so.

Original Review: The Spectacular Now

4. PRISONERS

Far and away the best thriller of 2013, “Prisoners” exemplified the power of atmosphere in cinema. It’s not a particularly innovative film, but its might lies in its execution, its cast and crew firing on all cylinders amidst the voraciously moody backdrop that is winter in middle America.

Original Review: Prisoners

3. HER

The best films blur lines between genres, and that’s exactly what writer-director Spike Jonze accomplishes with “Her.” As a strange coalescence of romance, comedy, drama, and sci-fi, the pic is another terrific showcase for legend-in-the-making Joaquin Phoenix, while Scarlett Johansson impresses in what’s arguably her most challenging role to date – a disembodied voice.

Original Review: Her

2. SHORT TERM 12

For the final three months of 2013, “Short Term 12” held a vice-like grip on this list’s top spot. Brie Larson is perfect in the film, deftly blending strength and vulnerability in a role (and film) that hinges on a memorable lead performance. She delivers in spades, carrying the bulk of the pic’s heavy dramatic weight with ease. “Short Term 12” would be my favorite film of most years. This year it’ll have to settle for runner-up.

Original Review: Short Term 12

1. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

I didn’t get to “Inside Llewyn Davis” until New Year’s Eve, but it was an experience I’ll never forget as it reframed everything else I had seen throughout the year. Nothing else achieved its level of poignancy, grace, or, quite simply, mastery of the medium. The film spoke directly to me, seamlessly aligning with my current life circumstances. It certainly won’t reach everyone on a personal level, but its craft is undeniable and I remain gobsmacked by how right the Coen brothers got this one. May it soon ascend to its rightful place as a classic.

Original Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

-J. Olson

The Worst Films Of 2013

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MAN OF STEEL

Dishonorable Mention – How did it all go so wrong? Oh, yeah. David Goyer. His screenplay is a disaster and along with Zack Snyder’s unbearably gloomy direction, the result is an inexplicably dour 2.5 hour disservice to the character. The performances are all over the place, the product placement (IHOP!) is completely distracting, and the third act encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the genre. I have yet to read a single persuasive argument in favor of the film. It’s across-the-board terrible. (more…)

Blu-ray / DVD / VOD: Man Of Steel

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[“Man Of Steel” is] a thundering dud that embodies everything wrong with modern day superhero yarns. David Goyer’s work on the “Dark Knight” trilogy was always in concert with Jonathan Nolan, and it’s more apparent than ever that the former had nothing to do with that series’ creative successes. Goyer’s work here is so uninspired, so hackneyed, that it’s a wonder anyone even considered handing him the keys to such a celebrated franchise. That Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures actually did it boggles the mind. It takes a special kind of writer to turn Michael Shannon (General Zod) into just another character actor, but the innately talented Shannon gets nothing to work with here and essentially fumbles around whenever he’s on screen. (more…)

Blu-ray / DVD / VOD: Iron Man 3

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In the wake of two enormously successful “Iron Man” films (and an accompanying superhero mash-up, “The Avengers”), Marvel could have rested on its laurels with “Iron Man 3,” extending the series’ legacy as lucrative but tepid summer entertainment. Yet, remarkably, the series’ latest entry flies in the face of everything that came before it, resulting in a wonderfully imaginative (and frequently bizarre) riff on the superhero genre. Some audiences won’t know what hit them, but “Iron Man 3” is a picture of absolute infectiousness – and a nearly perfect piece of summer entertainment. (more…)

Blu-ray / DVD / VOD: World War Z

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For a film so famously plagued by production issues (budgetary, creative, and otherwise), “World War Z” is remarkable in its composure, as if retroactively transforming its choppy history into something nearly unflappable. That its biggest thrills come in its quietest moments is even more of a surprise, but a welcome one. At its best, Marc Forster’s film is an atmospheric, frequently creepy zombie thriller that strikes a nice balance between horror and action-adventure, leaning on familiarity but never abusing it. (more…)

Blu-ray / DVD / VOD: Star Trek Into Darkness

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For a series that prides itself on space exploration, “Star Trek Into Darkness” is surprisingly shortsighted, remaining a little too close to its roots as a television serial. From a cold open that acts as a rousing but ultimately insubstantial short film, the world of “Into Darkness” feels closed off, particularly during a protracted, hour-long space battle in the film’s second half. Yet, what the film sets out to do is done wonderfully. It’s exactly what a self-contained “Star Trek” film should be. This means that, strangely, its lack of ambition is both its biggest strength and most glaring weakness. (more…)

Blu-ray / DVD / VOD: The Place Beyond The Pines

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“The Place Beyond The Pines” has no trouble pinning down its destination, but struggles mightily with the journey. This brand of character study should grab each member of the audience by the collar, dragging them into its fragmented world of crime, corruption, and moral ambiguity. But instead, “Pines” is content in tapping us on the shoulder and politely going about its business, weaving a decidedly unconventional tale of fathers and sons and the impact they have each other’s lives. (more…)
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