Friday, January 31, 2020

MY FAVORITE MOVIES: 2010 to 2019

It’s been well over ten years since creating my last listing.  For the decade that started off the 21st Century, I actually created it in 2006. Written today, I probably would revise that list greatly leaving out a few of the blockbusters I listed.  No matter, I’m not going to change it now.

Surprisingly, the decade starting in 2010 I felt had much better movies (though I chose to see a lot less of them).  It was a polarizing decade beginning with President Obama and ending with Donald J. Trump in the White House.  And despite the endless number of sequels and remakes, Hollywood began to realize that to stay relevant it had to compete with independent and foreign movie studios.  In the last year, Netflix even becoming a primary competitor.  Therefore, Hollywood occasionally released something worthwhile.

Here are my favorites, along with a few honorable mentions:
  1.  Lincoln (2012): When Steven Spielberg does not interfere with the telling of a story, he sometimes succeeds in great filmmaking.  Lincoln authentically depicts a great president torn by the decisions he had to make during the American Civil War.  It’s one of the few films I ever recall where the moviemakers treat a complex story intelligently.  Daniel Day-Lewis is wonderfully cast as Lincoln – and Day-Lewis came from England. 
  2.  The Mustang (2019): This short film with Matthias Schoenaerts (an unknown) in the leading role provides one of the most convincing portrayals of a reformed hardened criminal ever made in movie history.  The identification of the prisoner with a maverick horse is apt.  Too bad this film only appeared at independent theatres across the country.
  3. The Eagle Huntress (2016): This remarkable documentary about a beautiful thirteen-year-old girl from Mongolia is a film for all audiences. Of course, it only appeared in independent theatres.  The depiction of an ancient rite by its sole female participant is a remarkable demonstration of the ability to live right in a harsh but marvelous world.
  4.  Zero Dark Thirty (2012): I need to use the term “favorite” rather loosely when talking about such a dark film.  In my opinion, it is the most controversial movie since The Deer Hunter appeared in 1978.  It offended both conservatives and liberals for its depiction of alleged waterboarding that took place before the killing of Osama bin Laden.  The film’s subtlety went over the heads of those who can only see the world through their biased political lens.  Kathryn Bigelow proved once again why she’s one of film history’s greatest directors.  Jessica Chastain is excellent in playing the part of a devoted, brilliant, and deeply neurotic individual.
  5.   Darkest Hour (2017): Ordinarily, I do not care for most film biopics, but the unusual casting of Gary Oldman in this film works.  Like in Lincoln, you get deep inside of a great leader’s head.
  6. Nebraska (2013): A low budget and short movie about an aging man, played by Bruce Dern, is both realistic and relevant.  The lead character, who is beginning to slip mentally, insists strongly on living by his separate terms.
  7.  Of Gods and Men (2010): Another almost unwatched film, Of Gods and Men treated the subject of religion an in-depth as any film I ever remember.  It’s a story about Muslims and Catholics who worked together and respected each other.
  8.  The Fighter (2010): Like all movies about boxing, this one had its flaws.  But it accomplishes something quite remarkable by demonstrating how three very different and difficult personalities somehow can live with each other.
  9.  American Sniper (2014): Another controversial war film.  Like The Hurt Locker, released in 2008, this movie provides viewers a good idea of the nightmare many soldiers endure during their deployment.  Clint Eastwood has directed many good, bad and slightly ridiculous films.  This, however, was one of this best.
  10. Killing Them Softly (2012): This uneven film was an interesting character study on many levels.  It was unappreciated by movie critics.  It succeeds because of its poignant, though dark message.

 A few honorable mentions include Lady Bird, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, The Book Thief, Green Book and Creed – all somewhat optimistic character studies concerning humanity.  Less optimistic, but still watchable, films include Fences and Biutiful (deliberately misspelled by the moviemakers).

There were a lot of disappointing movies during this decade as well.  As in the past, there were several movies with a message not so important as the moviemakers would suggest.  The Post was one of the worst movies of this kind, viewing a historical incident almost forty years in the past without shedding anything new not already revealed by The New York Times.  And Moneyball, supposedly shining the light on baseball’s inner dealings, was probably not accurate.  The Revenant and Black Swan were visually impressive but ultimately crass films about humanity at its worst.  Finally, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Mad Max: Fury Road (minus the acting of Charlize Theron), were in large part remakes of earlier films in each franchise.

There are too many movies I’ve missed to mention the ones I’d still like to see.

January 31, 2020
  © Robert S. Miller 2020

Saturday, December 21, 2019


Having never watched Mr. Rogers as a child and never seeing a full episode of the show, I have the opportunity to provide an unbiased review of the film.  A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood stars Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers.  The other major character in the film is Lloyd Vogel, a seemingly cynical journalist played by Matthew Rhys.  The two develop a peculiar relationship, and Vogel eventually writes an extremely complimentary piece about the television icon.  Getting to that point is what the film's plot is all about.

Invitations were sent out to a large number of celebrities to participate in an interview with Vogel.  However, due to his nasty reputation for writing unflattering profiles of those he interviews, the only one to agree to an interview is Mr. Rogers.  At the time the two meet, Vogel is going through an intensely personal conflict with his father, Jerry Vogel (Chris Cooper).  Jerry is a heavy drinker who in the past abandoned Lloyd and his mother when Lloyd’s mother was extremely ill.  Lloyd cannot forgive his father for this.  Jerry’s clumsy attempt to patch up their differences results in a fight where Lloyd is on the receiving end of getting a black eye.  And with Lloyd not feeling good about himself, the last thing he wants to hear are platitudes from Mr. Rogers – the same platitudes Mr. Rogers likes to utter on his television show.

Yet something strange occurs while the two get to know each other.  Perceptions are deceiving, and Lloyd discovers that Mr. Rogers is more complex than he could imagine.  He discovers that Mr. Rogers has had his own struggles during his life.  However, unlike Lloyd, he cannot remain bitter about them.  Mr. Rogers does his best to abide by the feel-good philosophy that his viewers heard him describe for approximately 30 years.  As Lloyd begins to take Mr. Rogers’ teachings more seriously, he ultimately patches up his differences with his father (who by the end of the film is dying), his father’s longtime girlfriend, Dorothy (Wendy Makenna), and his sister Lorraine (Tammy Blanchard).  The other apparent benefit of Lloyd getting to know Mr. Rogers better is that he becomes a better husband to his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and also a better father.  

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood at just 109 minutes is refreshingly short. Directed by Marielle Heller, this is probably the first notable movie she’s had while in the director’s chair. The film is original and quirky in its depiction of Mr. Rogers.  But the movie is notable because of the acting of Hanks playing Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers’ wife, Joanne (Maryann Plunkett), declines to describe her husband as a saint, but this film at times comes a bit too close as portraying Mr. Rogers as just that.  Still, while portraying a character who sometimes appears to be too good to be true, Hanks is at least able to convince viewers that Mr. Rogers is a believable human being.  

There is fortunately enough humor to keep this film, always on the edge of excess sentimentality, entertaining to viewers more used to seeing crassness on the screen.  Like Juno, filmed in 2007, and Forrest Gump, starring Hanks in 1994, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood takes enough chances to make this better than your average Hallmark movie.  And frankly, I believe it is better than either of these two earlier films.  It will make most people think a little bit more about their neighbors than they did before watching this movie.

December 21, 2019

© Robert S. Miller 2019

Saturday, November 23, 2019

INTERLUDE: Brief Comments About Our Current Culture

I haven’t submitted a post for a few months.  I haven’t been to the theatres to watch any new movies.  I’d rather be outside when the weather is nice.  As far as politics, with 18 Democrats and a couple of token Republicans trying to unseat President Trump (not to mention impeachment inquiries), what is going to happen in the 2020 election remains a mystery. 

Yesterday was the 56th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  My younger sister sent out a quote from our fallen leader that today seems apt: 

Too often, we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

I can’t better that quote.  I’ll be back hopefully in December, providing a list of my ten favorite movies from 2010 – 2019.   

Until then, I wish for everyone to have a good Thanksgiving holiday.  I hope everyone is grateful for something.

November 23, 2019

© Robert S. Miller 2019