The Godfather has 83 Fresh votes on Rotten Tomatoes….. and 1 Rotten. Who’s the jerk? L.A. Confidential has 107 Fresh votes….. and 1 Rotten. Who’s the jerk? Moonlight currently has 103 Fresh votes….. and 1 Rotten. Seriously, who the hell is this jerk? Is it Skip Bayless? It’s probably Skip Bayless.
Moonlight is a beautiful, 3-act coming of age film unlike anything you’ve ever seen before on the big screen. It’s authentic in every measure, from the characters, to the story, to the swirling, hypnotizing way it is shot in the Miami outskirts setting. Does Vegas take bets on which movies garner Oscar nominations? If so, give me a parlay on Moonlight getting nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali aka Remy from House of Cards), Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris), Best Director (Barry Jenkins), and Best Picture. Also, I know I raved about the way music was used in American Honey, but it’s featured just as well in Moonlight, mostly using the R&B classics that our favorite rappers love to sample. Tier 1 – RATED GREG
The first frames of 13th, a Netflix documentary from Selma’s Ava DuVernay, present four matters of fact. The fact that the US contains 5% of the world’s population. The fact that the US contains 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. The fact that African Americans make up 14% of the US population. And finally, the fact that African Americans make up 40% of the US incarcerated population. DuVernay uses the rest of this fast moving, 100-minute doc to examine exactly how those extremely lopsided and ludicrous percentages came to be, starting with the adoption of the 13th Amendment in 1865, ending with this year’s shitshow election, and the 150 years of steps forward and steps backward in between. Specifically in terms of the election, both candidates take some well-deserved hits. The Clintons are admonished for their very direct involvement in discriminatory mass incarceration tactics during the 90’s. As for Trump…well…he doesn’t come off great to say the least. Tier 2 – Runner Up
Rated Greg’s All-Time Favorite Movie Soundtracks – Ranked
- Dazed and Confused
- O Brother, Where Art Thou
Pulp Fiction American Honey
Guardians of the Galaxy Pulp Fiction
In Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, a troop of unfastened, wild ass kids travel the American heartland by van, partying and selling magazine subscriptions door to door as they go. First off, I find the casting of this movie fascinating. Aside from a rat-tailed Shia LaBeouf and Elvis Presley’s granddaughter Riley Keough (love her) playing the leaders of the pack, the rest of the cast is made up of actual wild ass kids in real life that have little to no acting experience. Arnold, who wrote and directed the film, traveled the country holding open auditions in random parking lots and approaching 17-22 year olds that she thought fit the bill. She even met a then 20 year old Sasha Lane, who plays the main protagonist Star in her first acting credit, on the beach in Panama City during spring break (pictured below). Arnold then rounded up all of these young heathens, who had no qualms dropping whatever else they were doing at the time, and had them hit the road. Shot chronologically, there is a clear story arc about Star coming into her own, but a lot of the conversations and interactions to get her there appear improvised.
The best part of American Honey in my opinion is the extremely eclectic soundtrack. Juicy J, Springsteen, Raury, Sam Hunt, E-40, Lady Antebellum, Migos, Madeintyo, Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Carnage…its an impressive collection for a movie that I have to imagine had a pretty small budget. And a lot of these artists aren’t even really my steez typically (nothing makes me feel older than hearing modern hip hop while out on the town and not getting it) but each pick works so well within the film that I have a newfound appreciation for them. Particularly, there’s a scene set to Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” that is just perfect.
I definitely recommend American Honey and I doubt I’m in the minority on this. It won the Jury Prize at Cannes, which is the festival’s bronze medal, and also scored an 81% on RT. But I should warn you that it’s a long friggin’ movie clocking in at 162 minutes, so you should probably wait until you can see it from the comfy confines of your own home. Tier 2 – Runner Up
Sometimes you just want to watch reasonably well off, unreasonably attractive people do bad things. No shootem’ ups, no history lessons, no grand gestures of eternal love, just a whodunit with your favorite movie stars acting grimy. Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone were able to base their entire brands on this notion, the psychosexual thriller, throughout the 90’s. Douglas especially. It’s almost as if he picked his movies exclusively by selecting which scripts included an adultery subplot and would require his A list counterpart to be seductively draped over him in the poster.
Thanks to 2002’s Spiderman, which sparked the advent of an entirely new economic model for the film industry, the resources for genres geared strictly towards grownups were drastically slashed, so we get less of these types of big budget thrillers these days (TV would eventually pick up the slack, i.e. Showtime’s The Affair, which is on it’s third season of affairing). But the one’s that do make it onto the big screen tend to be very good, like in the underrated Side Effects of 2013 or the properly rated Gone Girl of 2014.
I guess Rotten Tomatoes is America’s de facto resource for measuring the quality of a movie, but I gotta say the 43% rating The Girl on the Train received is wayyyyy off. I think the movie got a raw deal because it was marketed as this year’s Gone Girl, which I’ll admit it does fall short of, but it’s still a very solid and entertaining two hours. I also hear it’s not as good as the book, but has any movie ever (other than Varsity Blues of course)? Anyways, don’t be scared off by the low RT score, The Girl on the Train is well worth the ticket price. Tier 3
Amanda Knox is a thoroughly intriguing Netflix documentary recounting the Seattle native’s arrest and trial for the 2007 murder of her roommate while studying abroad in Perugia, Italy. As Making A Murderer proved last Christmas break, Netflix knows how to make true crime content. But what sets stuff like Making a Murderer and HBO’s The Jinx a part from this documentary is that those subjects were relatively unknown by the general public, whereas Knox’s ordeal was heavily covered in real time by the American media and was even considered Italy’s “trial of the century.” Personally, I was too preoccupied with Xbox Live and Whitlow’s on Wilson dollar drafts back in 2007 to pay much attention to this developing story, so a lot of the film is brand new to me. But for some of you this may be more of a refresher as opposed to learning anything new. Tier 4
The Birth of a Nation, a film about preacher Nat Turner and the slave rebellion he orchestrated in 1831 Virginia, won the top prizes at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and subsequently sold to Fox Searchlight for a record deal. Like the 2013 Best Picture Winner 12 Years A Slave, the horrific nature of the times that the film encompasses includes scenes that are extremely troubling to watch, but being uncomfortable is necessary sometimes to fully grasp an auteur’s point. Also like 12 Years A Slave, this is a very well made and exceptionally acted film. Tier 2 – Runner Up
You know when a band makes a really popular album that people of all ages and walks of life enjoy, and they eventually get a little uncomfortable with being worshipped by the mainstream, so for the next album they set out to alienate the types of fans that they don’t want to be associated with? Like Nirvana purposely making In Utero less poppy than Nevermind, much to the chagrin of their record label? Well it feels like that’s what Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has been doing his last couple movies since the release of Drive, his Ryan Gosling vehicle that was both a public and critical darling in 2011 (definitely a Tier 1).
Refn’s follow up to Drive was Only God Forgives, a Bangkok crime story. In the movie, the protagonist, once again played by Gosling, seeks to avenge his brother’s murder by fighting the retired, crooked Bangkok cop that ordered it. It’s a super weird, artsy, slow movie but you stick with it because you want to see the climax fist fight, only it turns out (SPOILER ALERT) the fight is a giant letdown because Gosling gets the absolute shit kicked out of him by the old man. Seriously, he doesn’t even land one punch. The movie bombed critically as well as at the box office, and was even supposedly boo’d at Cannes Film Festival where it premiered. I imagine Refn witnessing this and smirking while thinking “that’ll show these squares not to like my movies.” For the record, I didn’t hate it. I enjoy the way Refn shoots things and the synthesizer scoring kinda kicks ass, but I can’t recommend it as a good movie.
The Neon Demon, a horror movie commenting on the ruthless nature of the Los Angeles modeling industry, is Refn’s most recent and is definitely closer to Only God Forgives than Drive in terms of whether it was made for the general public or not. Like it’s predecessor it’s extremely strange and slow, but also captivating to look at more often than not, excluding a few occasions of extremely squirmy material. I always get a kick out of bars that project movies on a random wall with the sound off (i.e. Blackjack on 14th) and while Neon Demon may not translate well to movie night with your boo, I think it would look great against the wall while music blares on a Saturday night. Tier 6
You can add Mark Wahlberg versus Oil Spill to the previous list of memorable 2016 slugfests. He’s gone up against Decepticons, prize fighters, countless criminals, and a justifiably protective father of teenage Reese Witherspoon, but how will he fare against the most destructive oil spill in US history? Let’s find out. If you responded with serious side eye to Lionsgate turning the 2010 BP oil spill into a disaster movie, I wouldn’t blame you.
But after seeing Deepwater Horizon, I can attest that this is actually a very considerate and gripping retelling of the events that happened in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20th, 2010. Upon closer look this shouldn’t be a surprise given that it’s directed by Peter Berg, one of the most underrated screen auteurs working today (Lone Survivor, The Kingdom, HBO’s The Leftovers, and Friday Night Lights both movie and TV show). What makes Deepwater Horizon more than just a disaster movie is that the hour or so leading up to the catastrophe is truly compelling storytelling, intermixed with grade-A Louisiana good ole boy banter, and not just filler waiting for the hook. In fact, I even enjoyed the lead up a little more than what follows in the onset of Mark Wahlberg, family man morphing into Mark Wahlberg, action hero (that part’s still good too though, duh). The main event of the film in my opinion isn’t even the spill, but site crew chief Kurt Russell going toe to toe with a contentious BP executive played by John Malkovich. Malkovich in particular, with such a good southern drawl that I seriously thought it was just someone that looked like him playing the part, turns in probably my favorite villainous performance of the year. BP certainly cannot be thrilled with their portrayal in this film, for obvious reasons. Tier 4