Memorable Moments 2019

The following is a list of movie sequences, scenes, and moments that percolated in my mind long after the credits rolled. In no particular order:

 

VICE – We live in confusing times

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Vice lays out its thesis with enormous clarity in its opening minutes. We are all slaves to a system of governance that is sick and broken, and we are the only ones capable of doing anything about it. But we won’t because our jobs exhaust us, our bills stress us out, and it’s easier to chill with Netflix than to engage with our putrid reality.

 

THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED) – Lunch

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A father sits across the table from his son, and they try to converse. But the father is too blinded by selfishness and delusion to truly connect with his son. The son knows this, and still he powers ahead, trying to make his dad notice him, be proud of him. It’s an extraordinarily moving moment in a film that zeroes in on father-children relationships like very few in recent memory. 

MIDSOMMAR – Intro

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This is the second year in a row a scene from Ari Aster shakes my very bones. Not even 10 minutes in and we are introduced, in a chilling way, to our heroine and the scars she’ll wear for the next two hours. Not only does the scene set the stage for the nightmare ahead, but it dives head on to the themes of loss and grief that the film explores, to varying effect.

JOKER – The Murray Show

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The most celebrated comic book villain of all time has always existed within the realm of fiction. Even Heath Ledger’s personification of the character in The Dark Knight did not step out of the screen into our real. Not so with this joker. The scene at the late night show, in which he comes clean to his sins, is chilling because you see this villain, for the first time, as existing in this very moment, perhaps somewhere close to you. It is a picture for our troubled times.

AS GOOD AS IT GETS – KITCHEN LETTERS 

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As aching, beautiful, and tender as cinema can get. Already wrote about this moment in my initial review, but it is worth mentioning again. A treatise on motherhood, singleness and loneliness that spans but a few minutes, this scene is one of the finest in years.

THE RETURN OF THE KING – DO YOU REMEMBER THE SHIRE, MR FRODO?

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Boasting an amount of gravitas that modern blockbusters can only fantasize about, the heroism of the hobbits Sam and Frodo is moving. In this moment, at the end of all things, it reaches its apex when a weary Sam literally carries a moribund Frodo on his back, on their way to a mountain of fire that may very well mean their doom. There’s a couple other sequences from this trilogy that could have made this cut, but I settled on this one since it concludes the story on an uplifting note. 

INCEPTION – GROW OLD TOGETHER

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“I miss you more than I can bear, but I have to let you go”. 

VOX LUX – AMBULANCE RIDE

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Vox Lux begins with a student walking into his classroom, taking out a shotgun and shooting all his classmates. One of the students is put into an ambulance, and for the next five minutes (I timed it) the camera stays there. It shifts from an exterior to an interior shot, the camera swirling around the vehicle, capturing the highways, the vegetation next to it. Then it captures the young victim, as the first responders attempt to keep her alive. Meanwhile, Scott Walker’s mournful score plays over all. 

THE DEATH OF STALIN – I HAVE PAPERS ON ALL OF YOU

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Were this not played for laughs, a sharp satire shining a light on the events occurring immediately after Stalin’s death in Soviet Russia, it all might be too horrific. It’s more bearable and entertaining this way, since we get to mock the disgusting human beings who were in power then, without having their atrocities in the foreground. But then there’s this scene, in which one of the leaders confronts the rest of the committee with all the nasty things everyone else has done. There’s still some jokes here and there, but you cannot help but be in awe at the lengths our species will go to for power’s sake. 

THE LAUNDROMAT – PRAYER OF DELIVERANCE

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I think most genuine believers, at one time or another, have prayed or will pray a supplication similar to the one delivered by Meryl Streep here, as she sits in a church pew. This moment only works because of what precedes it: 2 wealthy bankers say that the prayers of the rich and powerful are monetary contributions to political campaigns. Only suckers, and the rest of us, attend church to make our prayers. And right now our prayers aren’t being heard. Or they are being answered in a way not of our liking. Whatever the case, please God, deliver your perfect justice. Amen. 

Best Films 2019

My mom watches movies in segments. She divides her attention between her phone, the screen, the kitchen, the weather and the neighbor’s dog. It takes her literal days to finish watching movies sometimes. My dad watches one movie every month, sometimes every two months. I joke with them by asking how I can possibly be related to them when our movie watching habits are so dissimilar. But sometimes I don’t joke. Rather, I look Godwards in gratitude. Surely I’ve done nothing radically different from my parents that would cause me to live cinema in a way that breathes vigor to my bones. Yet here I am again with the yearly list of the best films watched in 2019. 160 they were, a surprisingly high number considering I spent many months traveling. There must have been some nights in which I watched more than one, more than two. I recall these moments very, very fondly. And the following films even more so. 

 

HARRY POTTER SAGA

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Simultaneously a tender look at being a teenager and a parable of the biblical story of Jesus and Satan, the Harry Potter series is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Watched over the course of four spellbinding days, the level of engagement it stirred within me is unparalleled. Unmatched too are the echoes of the Gospel story present throughout, from the Messiah-like Harry to the astute ways the evil one assails our commitment to the cause. I won’t soon forget the night in which, after finishing my dinner, I rushed to my bedroom to watch Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince. I sat in bed for five hours, bewitched by every little thing. The next day I told my mom that I was going to finish watching Harry Potter that night, and she apologized for not allowing me to watch them years before. I told her there was no need for an apology because it had turned out to be for the best. I discovered Harry Potter at just the right moment in life. 

THE FOUNTAIN

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Here’s something I’d never done before. Once the credits started to roll, I hit play and watched The Fountain all over again. A feast for the senses, The Fountain is a tragedy of lost love. It is also a triumphant reminder that one need not be crippled by the fear of death, for together we will live forever.

THE IRISHMAN

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The most elegiac film of Martin Scorsese’s storied career, The Irishman mourns the lives that are lived in service of all that is ultimately inconsequential. Subverting the expectations created three decades ago with his masterpiece Goodfellas, in which crime was glamorized and life was fast paced, The Irishman is a film only an old man could make. Rueful, wise, patient. Scorsese, pushing 80, has never shied away from his faith. The confession scene is not only for his protagonists, not only for his audience, but also for himself.

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK

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“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you’ll never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is: it’s what you create. Even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but doesn’t really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope for something good to come along. Something to make you feel connected, to make you feel whole, to make you feel loved.”

MARRIAGE STORY

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2019 delivered some of the best acting by men I’ve seen in a while. You couldn’t take your eyes off Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. Robert DeNiro was phenomenal in The Irishman. And Adam Driver was absolutely superb, the best he has ever been, in Marriage Story. You watch him slowly disintegrate as the film progresses. The scene in which he pretends he’s fine after cutting himself by accident is a marvel. 

LISTEN TO ME MARLON

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Ten months ago, reviewing this documentary for the first time, I wrote that “Brando’s story is our story, the small details varying but the overall picture looking the same: a life in a world with pain as its principal currency, with every soul aching for a more permanent release than wealth, or family, or sex”. No more needs to be said.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

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His films tend to be fun and easy to watch, but Tarantino outdid himself with this one.

COLUMBUS

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It happens, almost imperceptibly and not to everybody, but it happens. The moment you discover your parents, the people who were meant to nourish and see you thrive, are suffocating you. They don’t do it out of any ill will; they love you, after all. And you love them, and now you’re compelled to see them thrive, compelled to nourish them. It’s a reversal of the natural order, and it hurts your little heart. But it cannot be this way forever for you are young and you must leave them behind. This hurts your little heart some more. Columbus is a perfect distillation of this. 

SET IT UP

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In an age in which the rom-com is all but dead, here comes Zooey Deutsch to breathe new life into it and make it soar, soar, soar. 

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

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To call this the best superhero movie I’ve seen might be faint praise, considering my slight indifference towards most movies of its ilk. But it is anything but. Into the Spider-Verse is a colorful, hilarious, inventive and strangely moving picture about the hero’s journey. One, it turns out, we’re all in. 

Top 10 Films 2018

In 2018 cinema saved me thousands of dollars in counseling. In a year in which every other film was related to matters of the heart, from Forgetting Sarah Marshall to Revolutionary Road, the time invested watching them turned out to be therapeutic for my own. I am closing out the year with a mighty realization, one that would have taken longer to arrive, if it did at all, were it not for the probing properties of the movies. 
As is the case annually, I wish to publicly thank them. 

1. The Florida Projecthttps3A2F2Fblueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.com2Fuploads2Fcard2Fimage2F6998282F93d88f78-614b-479c-a463-449654509d2d

Boasting one of the most imaginative final scenes that I have ever seen, The Florida Project is unconcerned with the viewer’s preconceived notions of how the world works. The film’s power resides in choosing not to romanticize or exploit it’s themes-parenting,poverty,the dealings of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate-, resulting in a picture that at times feels like a documentary. By the time it arrives at its wrenching, traumatic conclusion, the viewer should ideally possess a different outlook on the follies of human justice.

2. Atonement

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There’s a scene I keep coming back to again and again. Robbie (James McAvoy) is confronting Briony (Romola Garai) about her sins, when he finally loses it. He snaps at her, and the only thing that saves Briony from the wrath of this wounded man is the only woman he’s ever loved. “Come back to me”, Cecilia (Keira Knightley) repeats gently, lulling him back to his senses. Briony gazes at the soulful tenderness on display, and her guilt threatens to suffocate her. Unable to stand it, she turns around. 
It is as powerful a moment as I have ever experienced, the unbearable pain of loss crashing drown, leaving me out to drown in my memories.

3. A Ghost Story

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A haunting exploration on the transcendental power of love, A Ghost Story is the closest companion to Upstream Color that I have watched since Shane Carruth’s 2013 cerebral masterpiece.

4. Phantom Thread

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A spellbinding film on sewing.

5. Mission:Impossible-Fallout

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While the halo jump scene was the one on everybody’s tongue now that the year is coming to a close, I have a different pick for favorite one. The motorcycle chase across Paris is absolutely breathtaking, a small miracle into itself for the way everybody involved managed to make every small detail come together perfectly. This is the greatest action picture since Mad Max: Fury Road, which in turn was one of the best films of its kind in cinema history, and further proof that Tom Cruise is the last remaining movie star.

6. First Man

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Perhaps having already received validation from his peers as somebody who’s really talented at his job, director Damien Chazelle shot for the moon this time. It worked splendidly, delivering not so much a testament to the greatness of America as a portrait of the great lengths humanity goes in order to live with their grief.

7. The Big Sick

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Dear reader, I have probably watched and re watched the final seconds of this terribly insightful and heartwarming picture more than five times already, grinning like an idiot every one.

8. Annihilation

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I refer you to an excerpt that I wrote on this ten months ago:

In an era in which Hollywood has to hold the audiences hand and lead them to the nicely tied in a bow ending in which good triumphs over evil, Alex Garland has provided a conclusion in which the answers only serve as springboards for more questions, for further prodding of every little thing that has preceded it. Such examination stimulates the intellect, invigorating the notion that cinema is truly the only thing that has the capacity to transport you to far away places, to challenge you, to question what it means to be human and what to do with the time we have left.

9. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

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Ambition is never synonymous with greatness. One has only to gander at the movie landscape to notice many movies with lofty goals that end up crashing and burning. Few are those who succeed at pairing their dreams with practical results, and director Tom Tykwer is one of them.

10. Every Day

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Steering clear from most of the genre’s trappings, this YA adaptation is surprisingly perceptive. It is an easy watch, barely 90 minutes long, wholesome, and with an ending that, considering its target audience, is entirely bittersweet.

Top Characters in Film 2018

Carrying on the yearly tradition of listing the characters which caused an impression-sometimes good, sometimes bad, always memorable-, 2018 is a bit different: the list stops at 5, instead of the usual 10. This is certainly not due to a decrease in offerings; watching 130 films per year provides many candidates for this list. It’s just I did not find myself drawn to many of them the way I did in years past. Whether that’s a byproduct of the emotional and mental anguish 2018 had on me is debatable, though the inclusion of not one, but two characters who end up committing suicide on screen might be telling.
The 5 most memorable characters in film, in alphabetical order:

Dean and Cindy – Blue Valentine

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Making this list for the second year in a row, Ryan Gosling plays Dean, the once knight in shining armor to Michelle William’s Cindy. Alternating timelines between the effervescent exuberance of first love, and the soul crushing mundanity of living with the same person for the rest of days, Dean and Cindy make the picture come alive. You will never again listen to “You and Me”, by Penny and the Quarters, without thinking of the pair in a seedy motel. Raw and vulnerable, Dean and Cindy are the year’s most unfortunate role models, there to remind us that there’s more to love than the magical first kiss.

Jackson Maine – A Star is Born

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Resigned and weary, he sighs “maybe I fucked that up”. All too familiar with his failures, Jackson Maine, as embodied by Bradley Cooper, stopped giving himself any credit a long time ago. He hates the bottle, but it’s the only way he can feel, even if it’s only shame, because something is preferable to nothing at all. Jackson Maine is the manifestation of my greatest fears, those nights in which God is nowhere to be found and which all I’m good at is messing up.

Joe – You Were Never Really Here

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I’d name two actors who are unmatched at displaying differing levels of dejection. The first is Ryan Gosling, and the other is Joaquin Phoenix. The latter plays Joe in You Were Never Really Here, inhabiting a character that is full of sorrows, battling his demons with every breath he takes. There comes a point where watching Phoenix is actually discomforting, his character having already exhausted every possible outlet for his pain without finding any solace. And just when you think death is the only alternative, a girl reminds him that it is actually a beautiful day. If Joe can be saved, maybe so can all of us.

Patrick Kenzie – Gone Baby Gone

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Patrick Kenzie sits at the couch next to the girl now found, and asks about her favorite doll Mirabelle. “Annabelle”, the little girl replies. The enormous effect of this one line cannot be stated without effectively summarizing the entire picture. Suffice it to say that it’s an added burden on Patrick, as he silently stares into a television screen, before everything turns to black.

Peter Graham – Hereditary

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The scene which shocked every viewer that was brave enough to walk into Hereditary would not have been nearly as successful without the full, unbearable weight of regret that Alex Wolff brings to Peter in the seconds following an unspeakable tragedy. The camera, set on his frightened visage until it becomes his gaze, captures the pain of somebody with a million thoughts racing, each one concluding that his life will never be the same again. The way he asks, but doesn’t finish the question since he already knows, “are you okay?”, is haunting.

Top 10 Films 2017

Cinema is God’s way of making me care. On the days when I feel on top of the world, film is there to remind me that existence is so much more than my emotions. On days when I’m drowning in despair, film lets me know that I should fight on, be brave, for there is yet hope. Above all, cinema works as a mirror in which I discern the version of the man I want to be, the one I should not be, the one I am grateful I left behind. When I think about the movies I think about God, forever grateful that He’s allowed me the privilege to watch, dissect, enjoy and live the greatest art form of all.

Here are, in descending order, my 10 favorite movies of 2017, an absolutely incredible year:

  1. CAFÉ SOCIETY

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Were it not for the jazz score consistently playing in the background of near every scene, Woody Allen’s Café Society would feel like a tremendously sad film. An American fable of a New Yorker traveling to Hollywood only to get his heart broken, Café Society name drops ancient celebrities, features a visual gag or two and characters the audience is meant to laugh along to, or at. Had it been played a little bit more straight, comparisons to An American Tragedy and The Great Gatsby would not have been out of place. Indeed, the film features a narrator who recounts even the most awful of episodes—when main characters die, for instance—in the same casual tone of voice he employs throughout the entire proceedings. And yet no amount of lightheartedness can make that final, memorable shot hurt any less.

  1. AMERICAN HONEY

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It must say something about the Hollywood production system that the most damning indictment of contemporary middle America was a film written and directed by a British woman. Andrea Arnold’s film is a poignant tale of lost youth, of its wild enthrallments of the new, of rebellion not only against adults but against the very social mores that raised them, of its frantic attempts at encountering meaning in the mundane, of its doubts masked by the confidence that only irrepressible hormones provide. But if American Honey seems to condemn anyone, it’s not the young, but the old. Shots of dilapidated homes, wretched cities, a thriving drug scene, all seem to indicate that kids must stick together or perish in the hopelessness of their forbears.  

  1. EL SECRETO DE SUS OJOS

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If reading certain novels makes it easier to visualize them on the screen, then this Argentinian wonder makes me feel as if I am in my bed, reading about the mystery of the murder of a young wife. The film works like a novel, from its opening voiceover narration, to its various flashforwards and flashbacks, to the dual romance at its center. One romance belongs to the victim’s husband, eyes peppered with longing; the other belongs to the detective assigned to the case and his boss. Above all, it manages to convey regret. Its lingering shots on door knobs, characters eyes and old photographs provide a sense of opportunities not taken, of wistfulness and a desire to love that went unfulfilled until the day bravery overcomes our fears.

  1. MULHOLLAND DR.

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Overwhelmed by the sheer ecstasy of the picture, I drove to Mulholland Drive a few days after watching it. I got my car towed, and a parking ticket. Thank you David Lynch!

6. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

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I watched 162 movies in 2017, and none could break my heart quite as spectacularly as the three minute conversation between Lee (Casey Affleck) and Randi (Michelle Williams) near the end of the film. I dare you to watch it and not feel something, anything, swelling inside you, not only for the on-screen couple but for everyone out there who exists solely for the burden of their unforgiven sorrows.

5. MUNICH

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Munich will continue to feel timely not only for its even handed, impartial approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but for how it portrays vengeance. In horrific events such as the one depicted here, vengeance is not only clamored for, but necessary. A couple of flashy executions later, however, and the full picture starts coming into view. What is the true purpose of revenge, if not seeing others suffer the way you have? And if we want to see others suffer, what does that say about us? “There is no peace at the end of this”, somebody says, and no truer words have ever been spoken. Munich is as bleak a film as they come, yet the lessons it imparts have the potential to change the world.

4. CIDADE DE DEUS

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Beyond its unstoppable kinetic energy, more than the flawless union of humor and carnage, greater than the pirouettes the camera engages in, City of God remains with me for a very distinct reason: it reminds me of the madness of El Salvador, my home country. Until the day national cinema catches up to the greats, I’ll always have this picture as a document of what’s going on in my country.

3. 25th HOUR

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Sometimes I felt as if 2017 was too stacked, too much of a good thing. As this list makes clear, I was fortunate enough to catch many sublime films, which are among the best, if not the very greatest, of all the director’s oeuvre. It was not a problem until now, in which I had to go over all the fantastic films and settle on a mere ten. I settled on 25th Hour because there was no way around it: this is a monumental piece of work, Spike Lee’s crowning masterpiece.

2. SILENCE

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The most hauntingly despairing moment I’ve ever witnessed in a motion picture occurs 140 minutes into Silence. After suffering a series of horrendous torture rounds, father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) is led to a courtyard where six people are hanging upside down, their heads stuck in a pit, blood slowly dripping out of their skulls. If Rodrigues does not recant faith in Christ, they will remain there for days, until the blood runs out of their bodies. I know what my response would have been, and have been asking God for answers as to why life forces some to pits of hopelessness and cruelty, while all you hear from the heavens is silence.

1. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

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As a whole, the Planet of the Apes trilogy illustrates why the human race will never know peace. It doesn’t portray humans as naturally bad and apes as naturally wrong; by favoring a more shaded approach, the series is empathetic to all sides of a conflict, recognizing good and evil is not as clear cut as black and white. War for the Planet of the Apes features a flawless motion capture performance by Andy Serkis, conveying more heartbreak, regret and anger with one mere glance than most actors do in entire monologues. The picture belongs to him, and he will go down as one of my favorite film characters ever. It is through Caesar’s eyes that we understand the dangers of not letting go of our grudges; the decision to not forgive unleashed a series of events that culminated in doom not only for his people, but for the humans as well.
Caesar, weary and exhausted from a lifetime of conflict, becomes a hero the moment he admits to his flaws and recognizes his mistakes; yet he is not the only one. The picture is littered with many small moments of beauty, of selflessness and reflection that you start to wonder how the heck something this meditative and thoughtful ever made it out of the Hollywood blockbuster system. When you realize this tale of tragedy, betrayal and redemption is not really about monkeys but about us, about our ancestors and our children, about our apparent inability to let bygones be bygones and focus on the beam in our eye instead of on the speck on our brother and sister, the only appropriate response is admiration.

Top Characters in Film 2017

A film character is defined by several traits. The first and perhaps most prominent one is the performance by the actor hired to perform the role. And while movies rise and fall on the strength of its performances, solid acting alone is not enough to sell me on them. So beyond acting chops, I consider the setting these characters are in, their backgrounds and contexts, and how they must feel in the adventures that play out for my viewing pleasure.

The following 10 characters provided me with memorable lines, great story lines, wild entertainment and above all, reminders that it is not how much money is put into a project that matters, but how much heart.

In alphabetical order:

BEN—CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

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When Ben (Viggo Mortensen) tells his six children that their mother has just committed suicide, he utilizes the same tone of voice and manner that he employs when he is teaching them about Noam Chomsky and lecturing them about Lolita. As most loving parents do, he believes this to be the right way to raise his children, but the film argues that love is not a good enough excuse to do certain things. Ben, we come to discover later, is kind of a kook. This is his journey of realization, occasionally moving, hilarious and insightful.

DOROTHEA, JULIE, ABBY, JAMIE and WILLIAM—20TH CENTURY WOMEN

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The greatest film narrator of 2017, Dorothea Fields (Annette Benning) cares so much about everybody that she invites strangers over to her house for dinner. It’s a house where she already lives with two girls and two guys, and though only two of them are still teens, everybody is in the process of growing up. The film, which appears lyrical at times, presents the interactions between them as almost poetic, tinged with wisdom, sadness and the hope of a freer tomorrow.

BROOKE and TRACY—MISTRESS AMERICA

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For somebody who utterly loved Frances Ha, it took me a while to finally get around to this Greta Gerwig/Noah Baumbach collaboration. But when I did, there was nothing I wished more than being witness to the writing process of this acting/directing duo. The witticisms they make their characters express! The last stretch of the film, when Brooke, Tracy, and some of her friends invade a rich guy’s house with a business proposition, is absolutely genius and one of the funniest moments I’ve had at the movies all year.

K—BLADE RUNNER 2049

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Nobody does dejected misery better than Ryan Gosling. What he accomplishes as an android with dreams of a soul in Blade Runner 2049, however, stirs the heart so that the only appropriate response is silence, astonished at the sacrifice.

LOGAN—LOGAN

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Delivering the performance of a lifetime, Hugh Jackman is a wounded, depressed and alcoholic Wolverine in a film that’s almost uncomfortable to watch. The opening frame makes it clear that Logan does not want to be in this world anymore, and for the next two and a half hours he will slice, dice and cut up fools who want to help him get to his final destination quicker. Therein lies the tragedy of Logan: in its inability to see beyond the scars and blood, deep into the soul that is worthy of redemption.

NADINE—THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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Sometimes we are the asshole. Far too often movies present the hero of the story, making us relate to the hero’s righteous indignation, in one shape or another. With Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), we are forced to relate to a person who’s not all that likable. Nadine is such a fantastic creation not because she is cruel and insensitive for meanness sake, but because she is so human. Her flaws and follies are the ones of all of us, and by seeing her we can confront ourselves with the question: “am I in the wrong here? Should I be the one asking for forgiveness, instead of demanding it?” It is no easy feat of course, but the movie makes clear that though the path to redeem oneself is tough, at least it’s there for everybody to embark on.

REY—STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

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Rey (Daisy Ridley) is what happens when writers are allowed to explore characters motivations and be bold with their behaviors. I did not care much for Rey when she was first introduced, seeing her as a bland Luke Skywalker rip-off. Now, however, she has truly come into her own, and it is exhilarating to watch. “You’ve got spunk”, somebody tells her in the movie. She does, and you wish more characters around her did too.

RICK BLAINE—CASABLANCA

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In a perfect world, men would be like Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). Selfless and brave, he recognizes that his demons don’t amount to a hill of beans in this messed up world, and he lets the woman he loves fly away to a better world. In a perfect world, men would not be like Rick Blaine. Bitter and grieving over the loss of the only woman he has ever loved, he shacks up in Casablanca, sticking his neck up for nobody. Bogart perfectly encapsulates the duality of love, its heroic deeds and restless nights.

SOUTHEAST TEXAS CHEROKEES—EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!

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I’ve never watched a single baseball game in my life, but this made me want to join a team. More than any other experience in 2017, the shenanigans of the Southeast Texas Cherokees are so damn fun its near impossible not to have a good time.

TERRY MALLOY—ON THE WATERFRONT

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Single handedly transforming acting forever, Marlon Brando is something to behold. Sure, there’s the “I could’ve been a contender” monologue, devastating and memorable, but Brando was such a gifted performer that even in the most mundane shots, like picking up a glove from the floor, he appears as if he is a god among mortals. By the time he enters the warehouse bruised, battered but victorious, Marlon Brando has become a legend.

Favorite Films 2015

In December 2013, when I first sat down to compile my ten favorite films I’d seen that year, I opened my list with a brief statement on what cinema meant for me. “It was like seeing the world for the very first time”, I wrote.
A year later, I could not believe the luck I had at having watched so many incredible films, and said as much in the introduction to the list.
Looking back at them right now, I shiver at the mere glance of movie titles which I continue to carry with me, if not in my heart then surely in my memory. And I cannot help but feel slightly disappointed with 2015. It’s not that I did not watch enough movies; my journal informs me I watched 176 of them. Nor that I did not see enough good ones. There were a few times in which I felt elation at what was going on inside the screen. I suppose the answer is simple: I watched better ones before than I did this year.

Here they are then, the best ones of 2015.

1. World of Tomorrow

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With a documentary topping my list in 2014, and this animated short taking the honor in 2015, I wonder if 2016 will see an experimental film or something crowned. Anyways, World of Tomorrow is perfect.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

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I fear no hyperbole this time. This is by far the best action movie I have ever seen; one of the finest action spectacles ever produced in Hollywood history; and, unless George Miller convinces the gods of madness to inspire him one more time and he produces a sequel to Fury Road, will not ever be topped by any other product of its kind.

3. Boyhood

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On May 12th, 2015, I waved my friends and family goodbye, hopped on a plane and left El Salvador for California in order to go to school. I have not seen them since.
I wrote at length about Boyhood at the time, but let me mention another story.
Sometimes, when I’m riding the bus by myself and start reminiscing on the loved ones I left back home, my mind wanders to I ponder on the briefness of time and the life we are given to live and the small moments that turn into precious memories. That Richard Linklater managed to contain all of this and more into a 140 minute picture is nothing short of miraculous.

4. It Follows

it followsThis year’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but with demons haunting the protagonists at every turn. This horror film is already one of my favorite movies of all time. If you want to know how much I love this one, open me up and examine my insides.

5. Love & Mercy

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The more I think about this film, the more I like it. Paul Dano’s superb performance aside, this movie took such a fresh approach to the old and repetitive biographical picture concept, that it would get high marks just for trying. But it succeeds. And that final, closing scene…Shivers.

6. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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I will watch this a second time and love it just as much.

7. Che

cheClocking in at over 4 hours, I did not expect this to make it to my list. But I never could shake off Benicio del Toro’s impersonation of Che Guevara, nor the way Steven Soderbergh shot the different episodes that make up this narration. The director focuses on four events which could be considered the pillars of the life of the character: Che in Argentina before he became a revolutionary; Che leading the successful Cuban revolution; Che speaking at the United Nations; and Che failing miserably in the jungles of Bolivia, which led to his demise.
If this journal has any loyal readers, and one or the only one has made it this far down the list, then be sure to add this movie to your must watch list.

8. Schindler’s List

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Of course this was going to show up here.

9. The Act of Killing

ActofKillingMondoPosterArtXLOSave2As important as it is disturbing, this is much more than just cinema. This works as a historical document and indictment against all those people who kill in the name of their twisted sense of morality.

10. Run All Night

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The only movie that made it to both my Favorite Scenes list and this one, Run All Night never left the back of my mind, even after having watched it at the beginning of the year. I dare say I empathized more with this Liam Neeson than the one at number eight.

Favorite Scenes 2015

Cinema is much more than the sum of its parts. In any given movie, if I’m lucky, there is one or more aspects to the finished product that stands on its own. Whether a performance or a musical score, the features that make up a movie enthrall me.
I went over the 177 films I watched this year in search of the ten most memorable scenes contained within them. Because every compilation is subjective, these are not, by any means, the finest scenes I watched.
They are the ones that made me cringe, smile, cry, and spoke to me in some way or another; the ones that kept reminding me why I like movies so much.
In alphabetical order:

Force Majeure – Couples Dinnerforce-majeure3

Public embarrassment at the dinner table is at the top of the most uncomfortable things I can imagine. The other would be having the girl I love find out I am not only a spineless dweeb, but a liar too. These two collide magically when Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are having dinner with strangers, and the conversation devolves into an earlier incident the couple had. Funny at first, then absolutely squirm worthy, the scene ultimately becomes a sad portrait of a marriage that much like the mountain at the lodge they are staying, is about to explode.

Mississippi Grind – Grand Piano and Dreams

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Ben Mendelsohn is one of the most interesting actors around. This year alone I saw him in a Western (Slow West), a thriller (Black Sea), a historical epic (Exodus: Gods and Kings), and a superhero movie (The Dark Knight Rises). But it was his turn as Gerry, the depressed and gambling prone former shell of a man in Anna Boden’s Mississippi Grind which let me know I was never going to forget about him.
The moment where he sits at the piano and starts to play Gymnopédie No.1 to Vanessa, a prostitute he just met hours before, is beautiful in its simplicity. And then he confesses something to her. And she confesses back. Much like Mendelsohn himself, the moment is unforgettable.

Polisse – Goodbye Mommy

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Sometimes it is necessary to engage in cinema that is made outside of the U.S. if only to observe how filmmakers approach material that American directors would do so very different. If an immigrant woman is forced to abandon her only child in the hands of police care, you have two choices: you appeal to sentimentality and play it for tears, which is how most American pictures function; or you go the route of Polisse. The camera never tells you how to feel. Much like a documentary, it is simply recording another day at the office for these unsung heroes. The tears this time are earned.

Pride and Prejudice – Bliss

71562291_1280x960This is on my list simply because it is lovely. The loveliest actually. Too lovely to ignore.

Run All Night – Escape

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Little did I know, walking into the theater that spring afternoon, that the latest Liam Neeson shoot ‘em up was not only going to become my favorite, but that I’d still be talking about it eight months later. The scene in question occurs halfway through the movie, in which a beaten and bloodied Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) limps his way to freedom alongside his son Mike (Joel Kinnaman). It consists simply in them trying to evade capture by the police. There are no explosions or CGI monsters behind them. It is just a father trying to do what’s right for his son for the first time in his life; and a son, giving his dad a second chance.

Swingers – Voicemail

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Maybe it’s because I’ve been as pathetic as Mike (Jon Favreau) is. Maybe because, long ago in my youth, I might have done something similar. Whatever the reason, once Mike picks up the phone at three in the morning and starts to leave a series of increasingly desperate and despondent voicemails in the phone of a girl he just met, it’s impossible to look away.

The Dark Knight Rises – Bruce Rises

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Because I did not watch Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy when it came out, once I finally did, I did not approach each film as an event. I saw it as a Greek tragedy adapted for modern times consisting of three acts. The element that bonded the acts to each other and is present throughout the entire story is bats. The most significant use of the animals arrives in the last film, as Bruce Wayne attempts to escape the hell Bane locked him in. From the start, the series has been about Bruce’s quest to defeat fear. Spurred by his father’s dying words of “do not be afraid”, Bruce tries to overcome fear. That Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) is the one villain who is present throughout the trilogy is telling. Here in prison however, Bruce discovers what he has been searching for since the moment a crook gunned down his parents more than twenty years ago. Fear does not have to be your enemy. And as he escalates the prison’s walls, bats come flying out. Bruce Wayne’s journey is complete. And so is Batman’s.

The Final Girls – New Beginning

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What wouldn’t we give to be back in the arms of a loved one we lost? For a moment, it does not seem real. The sting of loss overwhelms so much that it must be a dream; life is not supposed to hurt this much. Max (Taissa Farmiga) sits with her mom discussing the endless possibilities of being alive. Seeing Max’s face display surprise, sadness and hope, sometimes within the same beat, is heartbreaking. I was expecting a silly slasher comedy; what I got instead was the best model I’ve ever seen on Kubler-Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief.

The Theory of Everything – Flashback of a Life

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This is where the movie tells you to take out your bag of tissues. Usually, I’d roll my eyes and wait for the credits to start rolling, but during the two hour runtime I had become incredibly invested in Jane and Stephen’s romance. Indeed, this movie is a romance, plain and simple. It deserves to go out big.

Wild Tales– Pasternak

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This is probably one of the most inventive, if not the absolute funniest, cold openings I’ve ever seen in a movie.