Columbus Film Critics Assoc. Award Nominees

 Nominees for the 16th annual Columbus Film Critics Association awards

The Columbus Film Critics Association, formerly the Central Ohio Film Critics Association, is pleased to announce the nominees for its 16th annual awards. Winners will be announced on the evening of January 4th, 2018.

Founded in 2002, the Columbus Film Critics Association is comprised of film critics based in Columbus, Ohio and its surrounding areas. Its membership consists of 26 print, radio, television, and online critics. COFCA’s official website at www.cofca.org contains links to member reviews and past award winners. A redesigned site will be launching on January 4th, 2018.

The 2017 Columbus Film Critics Association awards nominees are:

Best Film
-The Big Sick
-Blade Runner 2049
-Dunkirk
-The Florida Project
-Get Out
-The Killing of a Sacred Deer
-Lady Bird
-The Post
-The Shape of Water
-Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director
-Sean Baker, The Florida Project
-Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
-Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
-Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
-Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
-Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Actor
-Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
-James Franco, The Disaster Artist
-Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
-James McAvoy, Split
-Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Best Actress
-Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
-Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
-Frances McDormand, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
-Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
-Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Best Supporting Actor
-Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
-Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
-Barry Keoghan, The Killing of a Sacred Deer
-Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
-Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me by Your Name

Best Supporting Actress
-Hong Chau, Downsizing
-Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
-Allison Janney, I, Tonya
-Tatiana Maslany, Stronger
-Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Best Ensemble
-The Big Sick
-Get Out
-Lady Bird
-Mudbound
-The Post
-Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Actor of the Year (for an exemplary body of work)
-Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name, Hostiles, and Lady Bird)
-Woody Harrelson (The Glass Castle, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, War for the Planet
of the Apes, and Wilson)
-Sally Hawkins (Maudie and The Shape of Water)
-Tracy Letts (Lady Bird, The Lovers, and The Post)
-Nicole Kidman (The Beguiled and The Killing of a Sacred Deer)

Breakthrough Film Artist
-Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name, Hostiles, and Lady Bird) – (for acting)
-Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird – (for directing and screenwriting)
-Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick – (for acting and screenwriting)
-Jordan Peele, Get Out – (for directing and screenwriting)
-Brooklynn Prince, The Florida Project – (for acting)

Best Cinematography
-Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049
-Hoyte Van Hoytema, Dunkirk
-Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water
-Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Call Me by Your Name
-Alexis Zabe, The Florida Project

Best Film Editing
-Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, Baby Driver
-Bob Ducsay, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
-Lee Smith, Dunkirk
-Joe Walker, Blade Runner 2049
-Sidney Wolinsky, The Shape of Water

Best Adapted Screenplay
-Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled
-James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name
-Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, The Disaster Artist
-Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game
-Virgil Williams and Dee Rees, Mudbound

Best Original Screenplay
-Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
-Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick
-Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, The Post
-Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
-Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Score
-Carter Burwell, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
-Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water
-Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, Blade Runner 2049
-John Williams, The Post
-Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk

Best Documentary
-Faces Places (Visages, villages)
-Jane
-Kedi
-Step
-Whose Streets?

Best Foreign Language Film
-BPM (Beats Per Minute) (120 battements par minute)
-First They Killed My Father
-Raw (Grave)
-The Square
-Thelma

Best Animated Film
-Cars 3
-Coco
-Despicable Me 3
-The LEGO Batman Movie
-Loving Vincent

Best Overlooked Film
-Brigsby Bear
-A Ghost Story
-Logan Lucky
-The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
-Wind River

COFCA offers its congratulations to the nominees.

Previous Best Film winners:

2002: Punch-Drunk Love
2003: Lost in Translation
2004: Million Dollar Baby
2005: A History of Violence
2006: Children of Men
2007: No Country for Old Men
2008: WALL·E
2009: Up in the Air
2010: Inception
2011: Drive
2012: Moonrise Kingdom
2013: Gravity
2014: Selma
2015: Spotlight
2016: La La Land

For more information about the Columbus Film Critics Association, please visit www.cofca.org or e-mail info@cofca.org.

The complete list of members and their affiliations:

Richard Ades (Freelance); Dwayne Bailey (Bailey’s Buzz); Sam Brady (I Am Sam Reviews); Logan Burd (Cinema or Cine-meh?); Kevin Carr (www.7mpictures.com, FilmSchoolRejects.com); Bill Clark (www.fromthebalcony.com); Olie Coen (Archer Avenue, DVD Talk); John DeSando (90.5 WCBE); Johnny DiLoretto (90.5 WCBE, PencilStorm.com); Chris Feil (FilmMixTape.com, TheFilmExperience.net); Frank Gabrenya (The Columbus Dispatch); Mark Jackson (MovieManJackson.com); Brad Keefe (Columbus Alive); Kristin Dreyer Kramer (NightsAndWeekends.com, 90.5 WCBE); Adam Kuhn (Corndog Chats); Joyce Long (Freelance); Rico Long (Freelance); Hope Madden (Columbus Underground and MaddWolf.com); Paul Markoff (WOCC-TV3); David Medsker (Bullz-Eye.com); Lori Pearson (Kids-in-Mind.com, critics.com); Mark Pfeiffer (Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema; WOCC-TV3); Melissa Starker (Freelance); George Wolf (Columbus Radio Group and MaddWolf.com); Jason Zingale (Bullz-Eye.com); Nathan Zoebl (PictureShowPundits.com).

The following information is not for publication:

If you would like comments about COFCA and these awards, please contact:

Mark Pfeiffer (mark.pfeiffer@gmail.com)
Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema
Co-host/co-producer, Now Playing, WOCC-TV3

The Best of 2017

by Hope Madden and George Wolf, MaddWolf.com

The end is nigh, so let’s celebrate: celebrate the bold visions, surprise hits, underseen gems, beautiful storytelling, social commentary, scares, thrills and love the films of 2017 held in store for us. It was an amazing year for movies, from big budget to micro, horror to rom-com, comic book blockbuster to indie absurdity. Let’s revel. Here are the best of the year, as well as thoughts on nooks and crannies around the movie world.

25. War for the Planet of the Apes  The rebooted Apes trilogy concludes with a thrilling, deeply felt and visually stunning rumination on the boundaries of humanity and the levels of sacrifice, where the wages of brutality are driven home in equal measure by both sweeping set pieces and stark intimacy. Ultimately, we’re left with a bridge to the original 1968 film in sight, and a completely satisfying conclusion to a stellar group of prequels.

 

24. Mudbound Director/co-writer Dee Rees layers this tale expertly, as the fates of two families come together in 1940s Mississippi. We’re drawn in through finely- crafted characters and excellent performances, as the film gradually builds our investment toward an emotional payoff at times hopeful, devastating, and profound.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xucHiOAa8Rs

 

23. Baby Driver  Baby Driver is as tasty a feast for the eyes as it is the ears. The game cast never drops a beat, playing characters with the right mix of goofiness and malice to be as fun or as terrifying as they need to be. For all its danceability, Edgar Wright’s film offers plenty of tension, too. Like much of the filmmaker’s work, Baby Driver boasts a contagious pop mentality, intelligent wit and a sweet heart.

 

22. Spider-Man: Homecoming  As solid as the Marvel universe has been, it’s not hard to find moments (especially in Civil War) when the push for a hip chuckle undercuts the action. The humor in Homecoming hits early and often, but only to reinforce that the film’s worldview is sprung from the teenaged Peter Parker (Tom Holland). In this way, it feels more true to its comic origins than most in the entire film genre. Best of all, Holland re-sets the character to a place where its growth seems both unburdened and unpredictable. That’s exciting, and not just for Pete.

 

Best Fresh Perspective:              

1. Get Out                                  

2. The Big Sick                            

3. Wonder Woman  

     

21. Raw In a very obvious way, Raw is a metaphor for what can and often does happen to a sheltered girl when she leaves home for college. But as writer/director Julia Ducournau looks at those excesses committed on the cusp of adulthood, she creates opportunities to explore and comment on so many upsetting realities, and does so with absolute fidelity to her core metaphor. She immediately joins the ranks of Jennifer Kent (Babadook) and Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) – all recent, first time horror filmmakers whose premier features predict boundless talent.

 

 20. The Square Writer/director Ruben Ostlund continues to bring visionary scope to his writing and direction. Nearly every frame becomes a lavishly fascinating microscope, probing deep into the inner impulses and outward pressures that are constantly forming our actions and reactions. The humor is dark and droll, often awkward and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but The Square (winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes) is also alternatively weird and occasionally freakish.Regardless of whether you’re able to make sense of it all, it’s a visceral, thoroughly rewarding experience.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKDPrpJEGBY

 

19. Whose Streets? Moving like a living, breathing monument to revolution, Whose Streets? captures a flashpoint in history with gripping vibrancy, as it bursts with an outrage both righteous and palpable. Activists Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis share directing duties on their film debut, bringing precise, insightful storytelling instincts to the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Together, they provide a new and sharp focus to the events surrounding the 2014 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson.

 

18. Hounds of Love Driven by three fiercely invested performances, Hounds of Love makes a subtle shift from horrific torture tale to psychological character study. In 108 grueling minutes, writer/director Ben Young’s feature debut marks him as a filmmaker with confident vision and exciting potential.

 

Best Nobody Saw It: 

1. Columbus

2. The Survivalist

3. Brigsby Bear

 

17. Call Me By Your Name  Awash in sensuality, Luca Guadagnino’s love story is unafraid to explore, circling Oliver (a terrific Armie Hammer) and Elio (Timothee Chalamet-astonishing) as they irritate each other, then test each other, and finally submit to and fully embrace their feelings for one another. Theirs is a remarkable dance, intimately told and flawlessly performed.

 

16. The Post  Spielberg. Streep. Hanks. It is official: The Post has it all, beginning with the almost-too-relevant true story of a newspaper casting off its personal associations to hold the government accountable by sharing actual news with citizens of the United States and the world. Spielberg’s passion and polish come together here as an expertly crafted rallying cry. He’s preaching to the choir, but he preaches so well.

 

15. Columbus In yet another of 2017’s stunning debuts, writer/director Kogonada unveils a dreamily detailed study of two people (John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson – both stellar) stuck in Columbus, Indiana for very different reasons. The film’s magic is gentle and steady, slowly enveloping you in a beautiful meditation on the mysteries of human connection.

 

14. The Big Sick  The Big Sick is that rare breed seldom seen in the wilds of the multiplex. It’s a smart and incisive romantic comedy that has something new and vital to say while it’s being both romantic and comedic. It also feels incredibly authentic, probably because co-writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani are telling much of their own story. At times hilarious, sweet, emotional and even heartbreaking, The Big Sick has a case of charming that will follow you home.

 

Best Let’s Fight About It: 

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

2. mother!

3. It Comes at Night

 

13. The Florida Project Co-writer/director Sean Baker follows up his ambitious 2015 film Tangerine with another tale set gleefully along the fringes of society. Baker’s many talents include an ear for authentic dialog, a knack for letting a story breathe and an eye for visual details that enrich a tale. But maybe what’s most striking is his ability to tell fresh but universal stories. The Florida Project certainly is one, reveling in the freedom and bravado of a young girl, but always aware of the dangerous edges when blurring childhood and adulthood.

 

12. The Beguiled  The Beguiled marks a return to critical favor for writer/director Sofia Coppola, who won best directing honor at this year’s Cannes Fest Festival for her adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s novel. Few frame delicate, ornate beauty quite like Coppola. She has found quite a palette with this film – the draping trees, columned porches, foggy woods, the tender grace of the inhabitants at Miss Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies, The result is a bewitching film – beautifully acted, gloriously filmed and haunting.

 

11. Star Wars: The Last Jedi  The Last Jedi makes any letdowns seem light years away. With a deft mix of character-driven emotion, high stakes action and mischievous fun, it waves a proud flag for the legacy of this cinematic universe while confidently taking big strides toward crafting a new one. Visionary talent Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) now has the con as both director and sole screenwriter. His affection for the franchise, coupled with an innovative sense of character arc and storyline, combine for a freshness that respects nostalgia even while priming you to move beyond it.

 

Best Foreign Language Feature:

1. The Square

2. Raw

3. B.P.M.

 

10. A Ghost Story Writer/director David Lowery has crafted a poetic, moving testament to the certainty of time, the inevitability of death and the timeless search for connection. Our vehicle through this existential exercise is the white-sheeted ghost of childhood Halloween costumes. The irony of such a childlike image representing themes so vast and existential seems silly, but only for a few moments, until Lowery’s stationary camera and long, elegant takes wrap you in a strangely hypnotic trance.

 

9. Detroit Kathryn Bigelow’s return to the screen burns with a flame of ugliness, rage and shame that simmers well before it burrows deep into you. It is brutal, uncomfortable, even nauseating. And it is necessary. Together with writer and frequent collaborator Mark Boal she brings craft and commitment to the story of Detroit’s infamous Algiers Motel Incident. Brilliant supporting performances from Will Poulter, John Boyega and Jacob Latimore keep you riveted even as you cannot wait for the ordeal to end.

 

8. The Shape of Water Along with a likely Oscar contender in Sally Hawkins, writer/director/unabashed romantic Guillermo del Toro crafts a dreamy mash note to outsiders. An ensemble like none other includes Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg and Richard Jenkins—not to mention Doug Jones, again in a wet suit. But del Toro’s imagination is the real star here, touching on social anxieties of the Cold War that more than transcend to modern times and putting all of it in a blue-green dream of romance.

 

7. It Comes at Night Deep in the woods, Paul (Joel Edgerton, solid as always), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) have established a cautious existence in the face of a worldwide plague. They have boarded their windows, secured their doors, and enacted a very strict set of rules for survival. But what are the dangers, and how much of the soul might one offer up to placate fear itself? In asking those unsettling questions, It Comes at Night becomes a truly chilling exploration of human frailty.

 

6. The Killing of a Sacred Deer What if God exists and he’s an awkward adolescent boy? That’s not exactly the point of Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, but it’s maybe as close a description as we can muster. The filmmaker’s unique tone finds its perfect vehicle in Barry Keoghan (also wonderful this year in Dunkirk). Unsettlingly serene as Martin, the teenage son of a patient killed on surgeon Steven (Colin Farrell) Murphy’s table, he controls the film and its events. With Martin, Lanthimos is able to mine ideas of God, of the God complex, of the potentially ludicrous notion of cosmic justice. All the while he sends up social norms, dissecting the concept of the nuclear family and wondering at the lengths we will go to avoid accountability.

 

Best Animated Feature:                             

1. Coco                                             

2. Loving Vincent             

3. The Lego Batman Movie    

   

5. Blade Runner 2049 With Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve returns us to the hulking, rain-streaked metropolis of another generation’s LA. We ride with K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner charged, as always, with tracking down rogue replicants and retiring them. Few if any have delivered the kind of crumbling, dilapidating futurescape Ridley Scott gave us with his original. But between the stunning visual experience and meticulous sound design, BR 2049 offers an immersive experience perfectly suited to its fantasy. Picking at ideas of love among the soulless, of souls among the manmade, of unicorns versus sheep, Villeneuve channels Philip K. Dick by way of Scott as well as a bit of James Cameron and more than a little Spike Jonze. There’s even a splash of Dickens in there. Sounds like a hot mess, but damn if it doesn’t work.

 

4. Get Out You want to know the fears and anxieties at work in any modern population? Just look at their horror films. You probably knew that. The stumper then, is what took so long for a film to manifest the fears of racial inequality as smartly as does Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Opening with a brilliant prologue that wraps a nice vibe of homage around the cold realities of “walking while black,” Peele uses tension, humor and a few solid frights to call out blatant prejudice, casual racism and cultural appropriation. It’s an audacious first feature that never stops entertaining as it consistently pays off the bets it is unafraid to make.

 

3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Writer/director Martin McDonagh provides his stellar ensemble with smart, insightful dialog that crackles with bite, poignancy and scattershot hilarity. His tale is offbeat but urgent and welcome, speaking as it does to grief, compassion, and navigating the contrasts between the good and evil in our flawed selves. McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) compliments his usual knack for piercing wordplay with well-paced visual storytelling and some downright shocking tonal shifts. We are constantly engaged but never quite at ease, as McDonagh demands our attention through brutality and dark humor, holding the moments of humanity until they will be most deeply satisfying.

 

Best Documentary Feature:                  

1. Whose Streets?                     

2. An Inconvenient Sequel        

3. Human Flow  

                      

2. Lady Bird Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird may be the most delightfully candid and refreshingly forgiving coming-of-age film we’ve seen. The plot and the comedy are less the point here than you might expect. They are really just a device Gerwig uses to explore adolescence and its characteristic stage of reinvention. Though Lady Bird’s landscape is littered with coming-of-age tropes, there is wisdom and sincerity in the delivery. Gerwig offers genuine insight rather than nostalgia or, worse yet, lessons to be learned. She’s aided by an awards-worthy ensemble. Literally everyone deserves an award, from the letter perfect lead Saoirse Ronan to sweetly tender Lucas Hedges, the downtrodden but loving Tracy Letts to certain Oscar nominee Laurie Metcalf. Oscar or no, what a gift they’ve already gotten from Gerwig.

 

1. Dunkirk Christopher Nolan’s storytelling here is simultaneously grand and intimate. To do justice to the story of the truly amazing evacuation of 400,000 British troops from certain death on the beaches of Dunkirk, France, he approaches it from three different perspectives and creates, with a disjointed chronology, a lasting impression of the rescue that a more traditional structure might have missed. Solid performances abound without a single genuine flaw to point out, but the real star of Dunkirk is Nolan. He dials back the score – Hans Zimmer suggesting the constant tick of a time bomb or the incessant roar of a distant plane engine – to emphasize the urgency and peril, and generating almost unbearable tension. Visually, Nolan’s scope is breathtaking, oscillating between the gorgeous but terrifying open air of the RAF and the claustrophobic confines of a boat’s hull, with the threat of capsize and a watery grave constant. What the filmmaker has done with Dunkirk – and has not done with any of his previous efforts, however brilliant or flawed – is create a spare, quick and simple film that is equally epic.

The Abyss of Freedom

All the Money in the World

by George Wolf

The eleventh-hour replacement of Kevin Spacey wasn’t just a boldly genius play by legendary director Ridley Scott – it was the only play, a cinematic Hail Mary that elevates All the Money in the World as a curiosity, a statement and a filmgoing experience.

Christopher Plummer steps in as the legendary J. Paul Getty, delivering a terrific, gravitas-rich performance that anchors Scott’s dramatic retelling of events surrounding the 1973 kidnapping of Getty’s teenaged grandson Paul (Charlie Plummer).

Scott digs in to a meaty script from David Scarpa (adapting John Person’s book) to deliver a highly engaging film filled with tension, insight, stellar performances and crackling relevance.

As Paul’s mother Gail Getty, Michelle Williams is award-worthy fantastic. Gail, no longer a “real” Getty after divorcing Paul’s father, must negotiate with both the kidnappers and her former father-in-law for her son’s safety, and Williams makes Gail’s mix of frustration, desperation and disgust emotionally genuine.

While refusing to pay the 17 million-dollar ransom, J. Paul enlists the help of former CIA agent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to recover his grandson. As the hunt intensifies, Scott gracefully balances the extremes on opposing sides of the boy’s fate, each one consumed with profits and losses.

Wahlberg again shows how effective he can be under a strong director, and Fletcher’s search for Paul becomes a taut nail-biter while the elder Getty -“not just the richest man in the world but the richest man in the history of the world“- shells out millions on the black market for a masterpiece canvas.

Getty’s defense of his interest in things over people is just one of several passages from Scarpa that are weighty with resonance. His script is full of biting, memorable dialogue, such as Getty’s explanation of an “abyss of freedom” that comes from extreme wealth, without ever succumbing to grand speechifying.

The “erasing” of Spacey is incredibly seamless, but long after those headlines fade, All the Money in the World holds plenty of capital. As both a fascinating historical drama and a telling reminder of what we value, it’s a film that can stand with the best of Scott’s storied career.

Fright Club: Best Horror Movie Openings

The horror prologue—almost a matter of necessity at this point, a short film in itself to introduce the terror, make you jump, serve as a reference point for a third act call-back.

As cliche as they may be, the opening jump scene is still handled more effectively and more memorably in horror than in any other genre. (I’m looking at you, James Bond.) They can become iconic cinematic moments and pop cultural touchstones like Scream or The Ring. They can, without the aid of the rest of the film, haunt your dreams: It, Martyrs. They can amuse you while setting up the rules for the film: Zombieland. Or they can be just astoundingly beautiful, like Rear Window.

We want to thank Brandon Thomas for joining us this week to count down the six best (fuzzy math!) opening scenes in horror.

6. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film.

And finally! A strong female lead who seems like a real person. Poor, overworked Ana (Sarah Polley) just wants to get off her nursing shift—a subtly brilliant way to introduce the facts of the infection without beating you about the face and neck with it.

Then on to a quiet ride home with “Have a Nice Day” on the radio—one of many brilliant musical choices by director Zack Snyder—and our first aerial of the tidy suburban landscape that is about to be destroyed.

Cut to ordinary, comfortable wedded bliss, then Vivian in her bloody little nightgown, then a rabid husband, a bloody escape and the second pan around the neighborhood gone insane.

5. The Reflecting Skin (1990)

It isn’t often when documenting horror cinema that you have the need to mention an art director, but for The Reflecting Skin, the work of Rick Roberts deserves a note. His gorgeous, bucolic Idaho is perfectly crafted, with golden wheat and decrepit wooden outbuildings representing both the wholesomeness and decay that will meld in this tale.

Writer/director Philip Ridley has a fascinating imagination, and his film captures your attention from its opening moments. A cherubic tot walks gleefully through wheat fields toward his two adorable little buddies, carrying a frog nearly as big as he is. “Look at this wonderful frog!” he calls out to them.

What happens next is grotesque and amazing – the casual but exuberant cruelty of children. It’s the perfect introduction to this world of macabre happenings as seen through the eyes of a little boy.

4. It Follows (2014)

David Robert Mitchell wears his fondness for the genre on his sleeve. His startlingly realized prologue not only sets you on edge for one of the strongest new genre films in a decade, but it announces that Mitchell, like many of us, is a very big John Carpenter fan.

As Mike Gioulakis’s camera circles this comfortable suburban street, following poor Annie (Bailey Spry) in circles as she decides her next panicky move, Mitchell’s inspirations are clear. It’s both clever and ballsy: drawing comparisons to the genre master in your opening scene can very well set you up for tremendous failure.

But not if you’re about to follow this pristine piece of horror set-up with one of the most imaginative, well-crafted and terrifying films in recent memory. Well done.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cs0PrI3ylso

3. Halloween (1978)

Speaking of John Carpenter, here’s a guy who knows how to open a movie. The Thing, for instance, brilliantly and almost wordlessly sets up the entire film with an economy and visual style that tells you all you need to know about the harsh environment, isolation and, if you’re really paying attention, the danger that’s afoot.

But it’s the prologue to Halloween that has been the most inspirational of any of his film openings. Backed by his spare and perfect score, the spooky chanting of children sets the mood: black cats and goblins and broomsticks and ghosts/covens of witches with all of their hosts/ you may think it’s scary/ you’re probably right/ black cats and goblins on Halloween night!

Switch to the now-famous killer’s pov through the eye-holes of a Halloween mask—an iconic image clearly inspired by Bava’s devil mask pov shot in Black Sabbath—and then the blank face and bloody knife of the jester-suited Michael Meyers and your masterpiece has taken its first steps.

2. Get Out (2017)

Opening with a brilliant prologue that wraps a nice vibe of homage around the cold realities of “walking while black,” writer/director Jordan Peele uses tension, humor and a few solid frights to call out blatant prejudice, casual racism and cultural appropriation.

Lakeith Stanfield is just trying to find the party, but he’s lost on McMansion avenue in a suburb. When a sports car slows down next to him and then stops, Peele has introduced utterly perfectly his method of subverting genre expectations to make terrifying salient points about America.

Backed by Flanagan and Allen’s utterly terrifying golden oldie Run Rabbit Run, we watch the age-old genre scene unfold: a vulnerable innocent alone in the dark with no one coming to the rescue. But suddenly it’s not the beautiful co-ed, not the helpless victim we’re trained to worry for, accustomed to seeing as prey. It’s actually the image we’ve been trained to see as the aggressor, the villain, the reason to fear.

And yet, what happens here feels far, far too much like reality.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GheJAxYvbfs&t=5s

1. Jaws (1975)

Poor, drunk Chrissie and her stupid, wasted suiter.

Steven Spielberg, 29-years-old at the time, was about to cause a tidal wave of pop culture defining terror. But first, a late-night beach party, a couple of wholesome if drunken revelers, a late swim and our first taste of John Williams masterpiece of a score.

No, Chrissie does not look like she’s having a good time, and actress Susan Backlini seems to have gone through enough of an ordeal to come away with PTSD. Bill Butler’s camera switches from the disturbing shark’s-eye-view to the even more disturbing close up just above the water line—that line Chrissy keeps crossing, up and down, up and down, and then back and forth and back and forth.

The result was a lingering terror of the water that not only kept you hoping against hope that every member of Amity stayed off that beach, but very likely caused you at least a little anxiety the next time you want for a late night dip.
d: Steven Spielberg; w: Peter Benchley

The Screening Room: A Stocking Full of New Movies

Helping you separate naughty from nice with this weekend’s movie options, The Screening Room looks at Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Pitch Perfect 3, Downsizing, Darkest Hour, The Greatest Showman as well as your new options in home entertainment. Join us!

Listen to the full podcast HERE.

Let’s Get Small

Downsizing

by George Wolf

Word is, writer/director Alexander Payne has had the Downsizing idea for years, apparently waiting for when a satire of endless greed and unapologetic self-interest would feel the most relevant.

Good timing, then.

Payne, working with frequent co-writer Jim Taylor, returns to the political mindset he showcased so effectively in the classrooms of 1999’s Election. Here, their palette is a not-at-all distant future where science has come up with a solution for global sustainability: shrinkage!

By reducing people and communities to a ratio of 2.744 to 1, the potential for a guilt-free good life is off the charts! That sounds pretty great to Paul and Audrey Safranek (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig), and a hilariously obnoxious info-mercial (Lauren Dern and Neal Patrick Harris, killing it) seals the deal.

Of course, it isn’t long before human potential meets human nature, familiar class systems develop and, as Paul’s smarmy neighbor (Jason Sudeikis) points out, getting small becomes more about saving yourself than saving the planet.

For three quarters of the film, the satirical slings and arrows find frequent marks, and layers deepen when Paul starts hanging with a crazy new neighbor (Christoph Waltz) and his cleaning lady (Hong Chau, in an award-worthy, film stealing performance).

Payne and Taylor aren’t as sure-footed when the satirical tone gives way to the absurd, or when a budding pretense makes the opening of a white man’s eyes feel a bit too heroic.

But while the scale of Downsizing is small, the film is thinking mighty big. The new world it envisions is engaging, with sharp comedy, unexpected turns and the keen observational structure to make it all impactful.

Big Top PT

The Greatest Showman

by Hope Madden

In so many ways, The Greatest Showman is a wildly inappropriate vision of the life of PT Barnum—a politician, spokesman for temperance, abolitionist and, above all things, an outsized promoter and self-promoter. He’d been all these things for decades before he dipped his toe into the circus industry, but what fun is that story?

Let’s rewrite. We need romance, lessons, heartwarming children and resolvable, tidy drama. Barnum as a tot, working dirty-faced and split-shoed besides his father, tailoring for Dickensian clients and wages. But he has dreams. Big dreams.

Yes, the film simplifies the actual story of Barnum’s life to its barest lessons-to-be-learned minimum. The oversimplification spills into the core conflict (of many) in the man’s actual history: his presentation and monetization of “human curiosities.”

But maybe that’s where this movie is closest to the truth. It is selling you an enjoyable time, spinning your head with breathless setpieces, color, glamour, surprise, happiness. Sleight of hand. And at the same time selling the tale that, no matter how Barnum may have used these people for his own profit, this is really a story of empowerment.

“Some critics might have even called this show a celebration of humanity,” says Barnum’s harshest critic, New York Herald writer James Gordon Bennett.

As genuinely if superficially enjoyable as The Greatest Showman is, there is something unseemly in embracing so tidy a view.

Still, Hugh Jackman—maybe the most charismatic performer in modern film—is in great voice in yet another big, big musical. His earnest likeability and exuberance convince you to disregard your instincts on this film just as surely as his Barnum uses the same tactics to lure uncertain outcasts out of the shadows and onto the stage.

Michelle Williams fares less well as Barnum’s wife Charity, saddled as she is with the bottomless devotion and forgiveness that is the mark of the underwritten spouse character. Rebecca Ferguson mines for emotional clarity in a small role and a magnetic Keala Settle is a natural fit for the heart and soul of Barnum’s “curiosities.”

Director Michael Gracey, working from a script by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, crafts a Moulin Rouge-esque vision that transports you, which is appropriate when tackling the life of PT Barnum.

It also works to convince you that all this—the spotlight, the manipulation, the exploitation, the laughter and the admiration—was the best possible thing for Barnum’s performers.

Barnum might have liked that spin, too, but maybe that’s the problem.

The Pitch is Back

Pitch Perfect 3

by Hope Madden

Did anyone think to themselves this Christmas season, I wonder what those acapella singers from Pitch Perfect are doing now?

Me, either. And yet, Pitch Perfect 3 hits theaters this weekend.

The Bellas have mostly graduated from college by now, dealing with careers, the daily grind and wishing they were still singing in an all-girl, no-instrument band. So they take their talents to the USO to compete with a country group, a rock band and a hip hop duo to land the opening slot for DJ Khaled.

I know that almost sounds like a plot, and there is this side bit about an international criminal and a kidnapping, but honest to God, this is the most disposable, pointless movie of the season. (Full disclosure—I haven’t seen Father Figures yet.)

Director Trish Sie can’t find a pace or visual style to suit the project, which only emphasizes the weakness in any shadow of a storyline.

Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson, along with most of the Bellas, return to vocal action. There’s nothing fresh or appealing about the music, but if that’s your bag, there you go.

Wilson’s Fat Amy still says amusingly inappropriate things, as do the always welcome John Michael Higgins (“We’ll stick to you like mom jeans to a camel toe,”) and Elizabeth Banks. Why are the announcers of the college acapella championships involved in a USO gig?

Writers Key Cannon and Mike White realize this makes little sense, so they devise a knowingly ludicrous excuse for it. In fact, it’s this self-referential tendency that provides the film’s only clever laughs.

Well, “laugh” is a strong word, but there are passably enjoyable moments. The rest of it is mainly insufferable: catty, meandering and needless.

Fightin’ Words

Darkest Hour

by Hope Madden

Back in the day—before the mustachioed Commissioner Gordon or the bewitching Sirius Black—back in the way back of the 80s and 90s, Gary Oldman was known for disappearing into real-life characters. Whether it was his Sid Vicious or Lee Harvey Oswald or Ludwig Van Beethoven, Oldman could cease to be, leaving nothing behind but the most amazing reimagining of true life.

So the fact that he’s magnificent in Darkest Hour should come as no surprise.

Besides his physical transformation, thanks to what may be the single greatest achievement in fat suits in all of moviedom, Oldman convinces by capturing the spirit of Winston Churchill.

In retrospect we know Churchill’s fighting spirit was desperately necessary— his nation was facing unfathomable odds and dealing with an establishment’s inclination toward surrender. But it’s Oldman’s performance that makes us understand why so very few were able to trust not just Churchill’s vision, but Churchill.

With the aid of an excellent turn by Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill’s wife Clementine, Oldman makes the Prime Minister knowable: driven, insecure, passionate, drunk, uncertain, romantic and somehow lovable. The performance is effortlessly layered and authentic and honestly the best work the veteran actor has done in decades.

Credit a crisp screenplay by Anthony McCarten for providing context by way of illuminating points of view, each one deftly animated by an understated ensemble delivering nuanced performances. Ben Mendelsohn’s King George and Stephen Dillane’s Viscount Halifax, in particular, quietly but assuredly manifest the uneasy but shifting perspective of a nation on the brink of possible annihilation.

Joe Wright’s direction sometimes feels fanciful given the seriousness of the story, but he works mightily with his poetic camera to enliven what could otherwise have been a claustrophobic chamber piece.

Instead, he’s crafted a fine bookend to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Darkest Hour glimpses the backroom politics that led to the ingenious and breathless rescue of England’s armed forces the summer of 1940. It lacks the gut-punch or cinematic mastery of Nolan’s film, but it does boast one hell of a performance.

The Safari Club

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

by George Wolf

Do you hear a ruckus?

It’s coming from some easily identifiable high schoolers in detention, but this time they’re in an old storage room filled with everything from old magazines to a gaming system from the 1990s.

Turns out, that’s the same decade the soul-sucking Jumanji morphed from board to video cartridge, so the nerd, the jock, the queen bee and the outcast decide to power up this mystery game and kill some time.

In an instant, Welcome to the Jungle puts them all in the heart of one, playing for their lives as the avatars they chose, which just happen to be the polar opposites of their “real” selves.

Whaaat?

Yes, convenient, but director Jake Kasdan and an extremely likable cast squeeze a fine amount of fun from a colorful adventure that follows its own advice for a healthy self-image.

Nerdy Spencer becomes the muscular hero (Dwayne Johnson), athletic “Fridge” is now the diminutive sidekick (Kevin Hart), and introvert Martha becomes a Lara Croft-y babe (Karen Gillan) while the self-absorbed beauty faces life as Jack Black.

Some solid laughs are landed from the foursome discovering their new gaming strengths (“smoldering intensity”), weaknesses (“cake”) and body parts (“don’t forget to aim!”), with the actors’ willingness to poke fun at their own images only adding to the good vibes.

There are some effective set pieces, but the overall heroics required to get back home are fairly standard, and Kasdan (Bad Teacher, Sex Tape, the under-appreciated Walk Hard) wisely doesn’t overreach. He’s not tasked with one-upping Indiana Jones, and keeps things focused more on the breezy fun to be had with his stars. These moments when the tone hits a frisky groove of self-awareness (no doubt aided by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, two writers from the wonderful Spider-Man: Homecoming) are the film’s high points, making it easier to look past some shaky CGI or an overly cartoonish villain (Bobby Cannavale, in yet another over-the-top waste of his talent).

The teens have to learn something today, so Welcome to the Jungle can’t hold that tone throughout, but it displays enough of a commitment to character-based comedy for a ruckus worth exploring.