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J. Olson

The Top 10 Films Of 2018

10. Halloween

David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” may not be perfect, but it’s exactly the rough-and-tumble twenty-first century sequel that Carpenter’s film deserves. Somehow, the improbable combination of Green and McBride with an impassioned-as-ever Jamie Lee Curtis in tow has finally broken the series’ long tradition of disappointment. It turns out that if you’re Michael Myers, you can go home again. Full Review…

9. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman wield their animators’ wild talent like a flamethrower, leaving retinas pleasantly singed and optic nerves well-traveled. At the center: Miles Morales, who remains the heart and soul of the movie despite a bevy of spotlight moments for his newfound associates. (Juggling the emotional turbulence of our lead with a talking pig is quite a vault. The pic’s creative team lands it flawlessly.) Full Review…

8. Sorry To Bother You

You’ve seen parts of “Sorry To Bother You” before, like in Donald Glover’s admittedly Lynchian FX show “Atlanta” (also starring Stanfield), but never assembled like this. The whole is a gleaming signpost of an attention-worthy filmmaker that we didn’t know we had. Now we know. Full Review…

7. You Were Never Really Here

[Writer-director Lynne] Ramsay seems to know this kind of tragic figure better than most, transposing their suffering into something at once horrific and poetic. Such is the duality of human existence, wrapped up here in a celluloid bow. Full Review…

6. If Beale Street Could Talk

The cellos at the forefront of Nicholas Britell’s “If Beale Street Could Talk” score are more compelling than the entirety of most films. What happens when cues like “Eden (Harlem)” and “Agape” accompany a great film? One of the most revitalizing moviegoing experiences of 2018. Full Review…

5. The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos keeps stockpiling evidence that he’s one of cinema’s heavy-hitters, a legitimate once-in-a-lifetime talent who we need delighting and shocking us for decades to come. At its best, his newest feature is larger than life; the kind of spark plug period piece that only comes around once in a queen’s reign. Full Review…

4. Roma

“Roma” is that rare small, big film that engrosses entirely on its own terms, long and slow but full, painstakingly meted out by a filmmaker at the top of his game. Its reach will not be great as it should be. It’s liable to bore the pants off a great number of Netflix subscribers, and it may strike some Oscar voters as ponderous – or even impenetrable. Dive beneath the surface, though, and it’s anything but. Full Review…

3. First Man

The piece’s steadfast push-pull between macro and micro, between small steps and giant leaps, is too muted to elicit the kind of glowing takes that play on social media. But let it grow in mind and Chazelle’s virtuosic telling of the ne plus ultra of human discovery will leave its mark on you. Highly recommended. Full Review…

2. BlacKkKlansman

American racism may not have worn a white hood between 1979 and 2016, but it’s always lurked in the shadows, waiting for a populist voice to give it its grand re-entrance. Lee’s extraordinary film doubles as a visceral entertainment and an urgent reminder of a past we haven’t been able to shake. Full Review…

1. Eighth Grade

With the realism of “Boyhood” and without the affectedness of “Lady Bird,” “Eighth Grade” proves Burnham’s worth as a filmmaker just as he’s gotten started. In just over 90 minutes, he and Elsie Fisher evince, hand in hand, that they are genuine articles. That no matter the medium, Bo Burnham will thrive – on his own terms, of course. He’s made the best film of 2018. Gucci! Full Review…

-J. Olson

The Top 10 Films Of 2017


10. Good Time

Ben and Josh Safdie’s breakthrough blazes across the screen for all of its 101 minutes, positioning the New York-based filmmaking brothers as the most exciting duo since the Wachowskis. Erstwhile “Twilight” leading man Robert Pattinson deftly reorients his career as bank robber Constantine Nikas. Full Review…


9. Darkest Hour

Had star Gary Oldman languished underneath the makeup required to turn him into Winston Churchill, World War II pic “Darkest Hour” still arrived with enough punch, enough humor to survive. Blessedly, the make-up is faultless and Oldman’s performance enhances a surprisingly spirited period piece. Full Review…


8. Dunkirk

Perhaps director Chris Nolan has yet to make his unmitigated masterpiece, but World War II pic “Dunkirk” is unmistakably his: an ingeniously structured, terrifically acted exercise in audiovisual tension that, experienced in 70mm IMAX, has the capacity to change one’s perception of the medium itself. Full Review…


7. Phantom Thread

Paul Thomas Anderson’s opulent “Phantom Thread” is prone to puzzle in the moment, like waiting on the bloom of a peony you’ve only just planted. But with some water and sunlight, the film reliably grows in mind, paying dividends long after its end credits have come and gone. Full Review…


6. Call Me By Your Name

Like “Phantom Thread,” “Call Me By Your Name” is the kind of unshakable potential classic whose sense of immersion extends well beyond its playing time. Not only does it establish star Timothée Chalamet as a talent to keep both eyes on, it reclaims Armie Hammer from the scrap heap of failed leading men experiments and suggests that we’ve had him wrong all along. Full Review…


5. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Although not as bubbly or user-friendly as its predecessor, James Gunn’s sequel manages an incredible feat: it’s a narratively free-floating, visually sumptuous, grown-up comic book movie that exists in – and perhaps stands atop – the increasingly insipid Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coming on the heels of the bargain bin superhero tropes of 2016’s “Doctor Strange,” it’s nearly miraculous. Full Review…


4. Coco

Disney•Pixar’s “Coco” missing out on a Best Picture nomination at this year’s Academy Awards is the snub no one is talking about. The rousing, heartrending film is one of Pixar’s very best and deserved to be the fourth animated movie nominated for the Oscars’ top honor (and the first since 2010’s “Toy Story 3”). Instead, it’ll have to settle for Best Animated Feature – and the hearts and minds of untold millions of moviegoers worldwide. Full Review…


3. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

Kicking off a decidedly dark and controversial top three, Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up to “The Lobster” is both devilish and demanding. The horror-thriller’s innately limited appeal only means more appeal for those into this sort of thing: a relentless headtrip where audiences are toyed with like a mouse cornered by a tabby. Full Review…


2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The vocal backlash to the moral ambiguity of “Three Billboards” (charges of racism have run rampant since the film’s release) has only reinforced precisely how raw and uncompromising the picture is. Martin McDonagh’s ink-black comedy-drama is determinedly messy, going out of its way to prod viewers. It succeeds wildly. Full Review…


1. mother!

In what may sound like backhanded praise (it isn’t), Darren Aronofsky’s turbulent “mother!” is a shoo-in to be pored over by film students at the behest of their professors ad infinitum. The pic very nearly gave this writer a panic attack – and that was before the berserk third act. Dive in to the madness at your own peril – or pleasure. Full Review…

-J. Olson

The Top 10 Films Of 2016

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


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


[“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


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


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…)
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