Monday, September 2, 2019

Best Of First Half of 2019 | Films | Personal Favorites



The first six months of the year sometimes felt like the world was on fire. If not underwater. Literally. With record high temperatures world wide and biblical floods elsewhere. Mass shootings on a daily basis. And a political regression to the early fifties. In such times, I found salve in the comfort of movie theaters, when stepping in, no matter how briefly, into the lives of others on screen was distraction enough. So now is as good a time as any to list the better films that got released in the first half of 2019.



1. BOOKSMART (VOD: iTunes/Amazon)
Objectively smart, wickedly funny, and ultimately well meaning, this film will hold up as a classic of the American teen film genre.  Not since FRANCES HA have we seen a film take on, as its principal focus, the careful examination of the relationship between two female friends, an oft neglected topic. And start preparing to hear the name of Olivia Wilde at end-of-year Best Director discussions.  

2. GLORIA BELL  (VOD: iTunes/Amazon)
No film this year brought be greater delight at the simple joy of being alive as GLORIA BELL. Remaking his own celebrated 2013 Chilean film GLORIA, starring the indomitable Paulina Garcia, director Sebastian Lelio, fresh off his Best Foreign
Film Oscar win for A FANTASTIC WOMAN, teams with Julianne Moore for his English language debut in GLORIA BELL. This film chooses to watch, without judgment, a woman of a certain age post-divorce try to find her place in the world again. People always complain that the stalwarts like Streep and Moore and Close always grab all the attention, not leaving room for new actor recognition, but to watch Julianne Moore here, in a resplendent, unaffected, and open performance is to realize why the good actors deserve our continued respect.

3. US (VOD: iTunes/Amazon)
Jordan Peele’s sophomore feature lacks the elegantly clean plotting that made his first film, GET OUT, a breakout hit. This second film from Peele is messier and
bites off more than it can chew. But that doesn’t make it a lesser film, just a more ambitious one. Most of the film plays, and effectively so, as a thriller, even as a genre home invasion film. But in its last thirty minutes it digs deeper at what Peele had in mind with the film all along. A blistering attack on privilege, the price we pay for repressing our identity, and our cultural acceptance of elitism, US has one of its characters say in so many words that the film title refers to an unsteady “United States” and not the deceptive warmth of “us”. Is it that each one of us has an other hidden self, the truer person that we keep firmly subterranean. And what if all our other hidden selves were to get together. That we are even discussing these ideas is a testament to the vision of Jordan Peele. When can we see your next film, Mr Peele?

4. EVERYBODY KNOWS (streaming on Netflix)
A woman returns with her kids to her hometown in Spain for her sister’s wedding and her teenaged daughter goes missing on the night of the celebrations. This plays like a thriller, but only as a device to comment on the unknowable secrets that lurk within families. And the long-held resentments and past grudges that erupt when something bad happens. This is a melodrama in the best sense of the word, a fully satisfying moral dissection of family couched within a whodunit.  This is a Spanish language feature made by an Iranian director, set in Spain and features some of the best acting talent from Latin cinema. All one needs to say is that it stars Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Ricardo Darin. What more do you want from your cinema, especially coming from two-time winner of Best Foreign Film director Asghar Farhadi.  And as terrific as Cruz and Bardem (playing Cruz’s past lover) are in this film, it is Barbara Lennie who plays Bardem’s wife who should be included any year-end discussion of the best supporting performers in cinema. I wonder if there is a better film screening on Netflix right now.

5. MIDSOMMAR (back in theaters for the Director's cut with 30 additional minutes)
This film technically didn’t open until July 3rd, but I saw it at a screening earlier in June, so I am including it on this list. How could I not. This is not a perfect film, and a few times comes dangerously close to buckling under its own heft. And I wanted the ending to hold more wonders, be more original (although the conclusion has a delighting sourness to it). But the film is constructed with so much wonder otherwise, and is so masterfully crafted, that I readily surrendered to where it took me. The film is about a group of friends who visit the rural home of their Swedish friend to attend the once-in-decades Midsommar festival, and soon start to realize that things there may not be as idyllic as they seem. The film circles around so many issues, (including a nicely haunting prologue featuring rising star Florence Hugh having to deal with sudden tragedy), that it is often difficult to identify the film’s primary thesis. But therein lies its strength because the road to its conclusion is so gleefully unpredictable.

6. ROCKETMAN (VOD: Amazon/ITunes)
Now here is how to make a biopic.  Of a musical genius, even while being constrained by the jerky, necessarily episodic nature of the storytelling. In its execution and in its joyful, surreal, and altogether delightful visual splendor of the musical pieces, the film goes to heights that completely eluded the overcelebrated BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY from last year. Unlike that film, ROCKETMAN has its lead sing his own songs (and he is mighty adept at it), the film covers a relatively short period of time (childhood through the early eighties) in the life of its protagonist, and most critically handles them with integrity.

7. PHOTOGRAPH (streaming on Amazon Prime)
As small as this film is, it gives so much. The director of the celebrated film THE
LUNCHBOX, has his next film that is set in India deal with the unlikely connection between two strangers who need each other more than each realizes. Wise, gentle and never kneeling to the unnecessary turnings of a plot, PHOTOGRAPH best of all is a movie about movies, and finds a way to pay wistful homage to a past Bollywood that will never be again. The film is also a marvel of acting, as the unimprovable Nawazuddin Siddiqui creates another indelible character of an everyman in India. Seek out this film, particularly since it is streaming on Amazon Prime now.

8. JOHN WICK 3 (VOD: iTunes/Amazon)
The John Wick films have become an unexpected paean to superlative action in cinema. And JOHN WICK 3 is no exception; the film is essentially a concatenation of hard-to-believe, how-did-they-do-that set pieces that frequently bring jaw to floor. How each successive film in the

series amps the ingenuity of the action is something to marvel at, even as the scripts widen the mythology of the world created by the first film. What is not something to marvel at is how Chad Stahelski, the man behind these films, feels the need to also unfortunately ramp up the violence in these films; look, I am fine with violence in cinema and it doesn’t usually bother me. But as many others have mentioned, if JOHN WICK 3 didn’t get an NC-17 rating for extreme violence, then no film ever will. Why this need to push the limits of the eye-gouging and bone-crunching; Stahelski should have confidence in his craft and understand that not everyone savors violence as entertainment.

9. GULLY BOY (streaming on Netflix)
A young man from the Mumbai slums dreams of becoming a rap artist. This was film I should have had no interest in, and yet it totally captivated me, proving again
Roger Ebert’s assertion that it’s not what the film is about, but rather how it is about what it is about. Ranveer Singh just coming off his gloriously deranged role in PADMAVAT, plays the title character with a mixture of resigned despair and cautiously germinating optimism. And Alia Bhat playing his girlfriend who will take no prisoners, very nearly steals the film. This is another winner from writer-director Zoya Akhtar.

10. THE DEAD DON’T DIE (VOD: iTunes/Amazon)
I am not routinely a fan of horror, but Jim Jarmusch’s droll, dry take on the zombie genre made me beam through the running time of THE DEAD DON’T DIE. Many found the film inconsequential, but I
resonated fully with the deadpan humor, and the film’s frequent forays into self-aware breaking of the third wall. Bill Murray has reached a mythical stature in cinema, but to see his line readings in this film is to realize why he earns that place. And with a ridiculously privileged cast that includes Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny and Alison Janney, this film is a breezy hoot.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Best of 2018 | Films | Personal Favorites


There were so many good films released in 2018, that to whittle them down to just ten seemed a betrayal. Isn't the point of these lists to bring recognition to the most adventurous, the most humane, the most risk-taking of films. So spread the wealth, I say. Recognize more. I have my top 15 films, and then a list of ten more to round up the top 25 of 2018. And I even cheated and placed more than one film in a ranking occasionally. Whatever it takes to shine a light on the better films.

Also as in past years, the films on my list are those that changed something within my emotional circuitry. 


1. THE FAVOURITE
Filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos throws battery acid at the British period piece genre. One woman has usurped the powers from the frail Queen Anne, and another is, at any cost, on her way up literally from the mud into the queen’s chambers. Director Lanthimos gleefully incorporates anachronistic costumes and music, and invents plot where there are historical gaps ,to create something deliciously nasty; I watched most of the film agape. The script, by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara lets each of the three female leads be conflicted and scheming, wary and hilarious, that is, altogether human.  
2. A QUIET PLACE
One measure of a better film is this: you come out after watching it and immediately wonder why no one thought to tell this story before. A QUIET PLACE has the simplest of premises: a family trying to survive in a future world ruled by aliens that hunt by sound. As far as visceral thrills go, no film this year did better.
3. SHOPLIFTERS
Ah, is there a more humanist filmmaker working today than Hirokazu Kore-eda. For more than a decade he has made films that refuse to make easy villains of any characters. He typically takes a story from the Japanese headlines, and compassionately examines how that might have come to be.
Like Kore-eda's criminally under-appreciated LIKE FATHER LIKE SON, this film too asks the viewer to reconsider the definition of ‘family’. The film is a grand showcase for its actors, including his long collaborator Kirin Kiki (who passed away soon after the release of the film) and the unimprovable Sakura Ando, who tackles, with a surplus of heart, what might be the most complex role of any in cinema this year.
4. ROMA
I have learned over the years that the single greatest deterrent to the enjoyment of a film is high expectations. By the time I saw ROMA it had already been hailed as the best this and best that. And yet, from the opening credits appearing over floor tiles
splashing with foamy water, to the film's quiet end, I was displaced. Displaced from my cinema seat to another time and place, at once silvery and unreal in glorious black-and-white photography and as invasively authentic as turning the pages of someone’s brittle, tissue spliced photo-album. Perhaps my reaction to the film owes much to the fact that I too grew up in the early seventies in a busy city, and under the full influence of many a generous domestic help. This film will hold up well to posterity.
5. LEAN ON PETE / THE RIDER / LEAVE NO TRACE
Most days in 2018 felt like the world was in a race to greater isolationism. And the one thing that we could use, more than anything else, was objective unconditional empathy. I was most grateful this year then for the triptych of films that were about individuals on the
fringes of society, those that we would rather not consider. Or worst, those we would prefer to actively ignore. All three films, excellent pieces of cinema each, are empathy generators asking us to re-examine the outsiders in our nation, outsiders by any definition: by way of economics, social standing, or geography.

6. BADHAAI HO (CONGRATULATIONS)
A man in his late twenties hesitates to introduce his affluent girlfriend to his rough-hewn family. Only to have his parents sheepishly announce to him instead that they are expecting a child. Another film would have taken this clever premise and made a soap opera out of it. But BADHAAI HO has no interest in tired plot gymnastics, or feckless humor. It takes its central conceit - the imminent arrival of a child to a couple of a certain age and authentically watches its impact on every member of the family and neighbors. And uses this to craft some of the wittiest writing this side of the Atlantic. What can I say: I laughed and I cried. How often can you say that.
7. WIDOWS
This is a heist film, but to call it so is severely reductive. Director Steve McQueen takes this genre and uses it to construct a dense labyrinth of characters set around contemporary Chicago to create something Shakespearean: layered, marked by shifting loyalties, and inevitably tragic. Make no mistake, it takes no small measure of brilliance to create what looks like a gangster heist film which is a deeply, consistently satisfying entertainer, while also deftly commenting on the state of race, class and political rot in contemporary urban America. The film starts with a con job gone spectacularly wrong, killing all involved, and proceeds with the mafia leaning on the widows of the dead men to recover the spoils; the women band together to pull off, as they say, one final heist. With this pedigree and this cast, this film should have been a flat out hit. That it isn’t is both a mystery and a tragedy.
8. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU
There is more gonzo creativity in this film than any other ten films released this year. Writer-director Boots Riley has so much contempt for the state of race relations in contemporary America, and so much righteous anger that he can barely contain in within each frame of his film. So he throws everything he has onto each scene. Some of it sticks, some of it doesn’t, but it is nothing less than giddying to see pure ideas thrown at the viewer at such rapid-fire pace. It is futile to try and explain the plot, except for the basic set-up: an out of work African American man who gets employed at a call center, quickly learns that he can be highly ascendant in this career by taking on a Caucasian voice. And then things go to poop, as they say. Gleefully surreal, nakedly bruising in its strife for social justice, and unbound by limits of reason or logic, the film takes off into a cloud of absurdist genius.
9. THE SISTERS BROTHERS
I do not usually gravitate toward Westerns. And yet here is another film that takes the outward shell of a genre and uses it to beautifully comment on human failings. This English language film, directed by a French filmmaker, based on a novel by a Canadian, and starring American and British actors is something to be experienced: funny, unexpectedly insightful, and wistfully tragic. The film is like a hybrid of HIGH NOON and IN BRUGES. And how can you pass up the opportunity to see John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed in peak form. There is a scene late in the film where the eponymous brothers arrive in 1850s San Francisco that is wonderfully realized and a marvel of Production Design. Best of all, there is a lot that remains to be unpeeled after having seen the film.
10. TULLY
This film is many things, but what has endeared it to me is that from the first scene of a mother softly brushing her son to calm him down to the very last, it seeks understanding. In cinema’s pursuit of taking on the most challenging and taboo of topics, it has often ignored one staring in the face of so many: the post-natal challenges of motherhood. In our fear of anything short of the glorification of the state of motherhood, the unpleasantness of it, the physical and psychic stress of it goes unmentioned. TULLY handles with authentic agency.
11. DISOBEDIENCE
Watch out for Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Celio, who has had an untarnished streak to date. He is beloved by arthouse movie fans and his A FANTASTIC WOMAN nabbed the Best Foreign Film Oscar last year. It won’t
be long before he becomes a household name, perhaps no sooner than the release in 2019 of GLORIA BELL, the English language remake of his GLORIA. But look no further for evidence of the magic of his craft than the woefully underappreciated DISOBEDIENCE. A woman (Rachel Weisz) returns to her orthodox Jewish London community upon news of the death of her father, the rabbi. Her return triggers a disruption within the insular world, not the least because of her renewed friendship with the wife (Rachel McAdams) of the expected new rabbi. Smart, brave, questioning and ultimately empathetic the film ponders on the impact of warring with tradition.
12. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
If films could create their own language. If the experience of the lesser other in society can
be rendered on screen. If the social issues of fifty years ago remain woefully relevant even now. If the colors and visual composition in a movie can take your breath away. If a decades old James Baldwin work can breathe and be breathy on celluloid. If the ache, and the burning seething heat of new love can be conjured up. Then one gets a film so perfectly composed, acted and brought to its inevitably artful end. Then we would get IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK.
13. MUSEO
Two men from relatively affluent families, afflicted with the usual discontent of youth, pulled off the biggest heist of artwork from a museum in Mexican history. They also thought that they could sell the spoils of their theft relatively easily to make money, even after the media blitz that
followed the robbery. Always ahead of the audience, this artful construction of the events, plays like a terrific thriller. It also is Evidence H in the case for how criminally underappreciated Gael Garcia Bernal remains in cinema.
14. 22 JULY
Not too long ago a man working for the Norwegian police opened fire on the streets of Norway, and then took a ferry up to an island off the city and systematically hunted and shot down children who were camping there. To make a film about a hate act is a high challenge, because it can come off wrong twenty seven ways: being too preachy, or heavy handed, or sentimental, or glib. Paul Greengrass uses his mastery of craft to retell this story with objectivity. And while the first part of the film deals with the actual events leading up to
those acts of domestic terrorism, the second half follows two individuals: the court-assigned lawyer to defend the shooter, and one of the teenagers who managed to survive the attack on the island and is under the pressure to speak at the shooter’s trial. This is a sobering, bracing, and ultimately hopeful film that is asking each of us to contemplate global terrorism.
15. FIRST MAN
Ah, this film filled me up. Based on the events in the life of Neil Armstrong leading up to the moon landing in 1969, many a viewer came away nonplussed, because they were unprepared for Armstrong to be a stoic, internally drawn lead character. But director Damian Chazelle lets Ryan Gosling play Armstrong as he was in real life, a person of few words, even while recognizing the perils with making this person the lead in his film. There have been plenty of films made about larger than life characters, it is time that we make more about those who are quieter, self-reflecting. I
marveled at the impossibly accurate and you-are-there depiction of the NASA efforts to get the first man to the moon. There have been other films made about the moon landing but none that made you experience it like here. The great wonder of FIRST MAN is how acutely it conveys the sheer odds that were against humans stepping on the moon. Particularly with the computational power available at the time which was less than what most of us have on our smartphones now. And the space shuttle itself being no more sturdy than a tin box. And yet we prevailed.
And the next ten films are:
16.   THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
17.     PADDINGTON 2
18.   A SIMPLE FAVOR
19.     BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE
20.   ANDHADHUN (BLIND TUNE)
21.   HOTEL ARTEMIS
22.   CRAZY RICH ASIANS
23.   TU HAI MERA SUNDAY (YOU ARE MY SUNDAY)
24.   JULIET NAKED 
25.   PUZZLE

Monday, February 5, 2018

Best of 2017 | Films | Performances


As my colleagues on the Moviewallas podcast have mentioned on more than one occasion, 2017 was a year of incredible performances from films that were not themselves always incredible. I cannot argue with that. Yes we had our share of exceptional films this year, but the actors shone in so many other less than exceptional films too. And as in past years, I have not restricted my picks of the top performances to just five in each category. When there is an opportunity to recognize great acting turns, why limit yourself to just a few. In fact I may have gone a bit overboard with more than 20 picks for Best Supporting Actor, Male! In each category, I have bolded my absolute favorites.


Jake Gyllenhaal in STRONGER

Best Actor, Male
Adam Sandler, MYEROWITZ STORIES, NEW AND SELECTED
Charlie Hunnam, THE LOST CITY OF Z
Colin Farrell, THE BEGUILED
Garrett Hedlund. MUDBOUND
Jake Gyllenhaal, STRONGER
Jeremy Renner, WIND RIVER
Timothee Chalamet, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Tom Hanks, THE POST


Timothee Chalamet in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Best Actor, Female
Bria Vinaite, THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Charlize Theron, ATOMIC BLONDE
Emma Stone, THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES
Meryl Streep, THE POST
Salma Hayek, BEATRIZ AT DINNER 
Sally Hawkins, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Saoirse Ronan, LADY BIRD


Salma Hayek in BEATRIZ AT DINNER





Saoirse Ronan in LADY BIRD

Best Supporting Actor, Male
Adam Driver, LOGAN LUCKY
Adam Driver, STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
Armie Hammer, FREE FIRE
Barry Keoghan, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER 
Chris Pine, WONDER WOMAN
Daniel Craig, LOGAN LUCKY
Harrison Ford, BLADE RUNNER 2049
Jason Clarke, MUDBOUND
Jason Isaacs, A CURE FOR WELLNESS
John Lithgow, BEATRIZ AT DINNER
Lilrel Howery, GET OUT 
Lucas Hedges, LADYBIRD
Michael Fassbender, ALIEN: COVENANT
Michael Stuhlbarg, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME 
Michael Shannon, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Noah June, SUBURBICON
Oscar Isaac, SUBURBICON
Ray Romano, THE BIG SICK 
Richard Jenkins, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Sharlto Copley, FREE FIRE
Stan Sebastian, I, TONYA
Tracy Letts, LADYBIRD
Willem Dafoe, THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Woody Harrelson, THE GLASS CASTLE


Barry Keoghan in THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
Oscar Isaac in SUBURBICON



Best Supporting Actor, Female
Andrea Riseborough, THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES
Alison Williams, GET OUT
Beanie Feldstein, LADYBIRD
Carey Mulligan, MUDBOUND
Catherine Keener, GET OUT
Daisy Ridley, STAR WARS, THE LAST JEDI
Holly Hunter, THE BIG SICK
Julianne Moore, SUBURBICON
Kirsten Dunst, BEGUILED 
Laura Dern, STAR WARS; THE LAST JEDI
Laurie Metcalf, LADYBIRD
Lois Smith, LADYBIRD
Michelle Pfeiffer, MOTHER!
Michelle Pfeiffer, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
Miranda Richardson, STRONGER
Nicole Kidman, THE BEGUILED
Nicole Kidman, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
Sarah Silverman, THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES
Sienna Miller, THE LOST CITY OF Z
Tatiana Maslany, STRONGER
Tiffany Haddish, GIRLS TRIP


Holly Hunter in THE BIG SICK
Tatiana Maslany in STRONGER

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Best Of 2017 | Films | Mainstream Cinema


I have never found a paucity of films to celebrate when it comes to the year-end. I have previously posted a list of my personal favorite films from 2017, in which the majority of my selections were smaller, independent films. I complain every chance I get about the hegemony of Hollywood studios in financing only superhero films and sequels of late. But were I to be perfectly honest, that is a falsehood. Yes, the majority of studio dollars go toward the making of the umpteenth sequel, but challenging, original films still get made, if not as often as we would like.

So here is a list of relatively big, commercial films released in 2017 that kicked ass:

1. ATOMIC BLONDE: Not just far and away the best action film of the year, this was also a wonderfully specific, mid-eighties Cold War-set piece of intelligent cinema. There is nothing cute about ATOMIC BLONDE; it is a bruising, bleeding-knuckles, black-and-blue-faced film. And in less than three years, Charlize Theron has created the two best female action characters in that period, first with MAD MAX; ROAD WARRIOR and now here, thereby cementing her status as the most hard-working and credible action stars of contemporary cinema. In ATOMIC BLONDE, her character does not reveal any back-story, she just is. Hard-ass. Undeterred. Punishingly fierce. A set piece mid-film where she faces off a series of attackers in the stairwell of a decrepit Berlin apartment building, seemingly done in a single shot of more than 7 minutes, is one of the best action scenes in history. Ever. I am in love with this film, irrationally so.

2. JOHN WICK 2: Sure the scene stealing doggie that spring-boarded the action in the first JOHN WICK film is no longer in the sequel. But everything else that made the original film a bonafide modern classic is safely carried through to the second installment. The sequel opens up the somewhat insular world of the sly villains from the first film by having the Keanu Reeves titular character be on the run after he refuses to take on another job from the bad guys. This allows the film to get even more deviously innovative in its action pieces and permits director Chad Stahelski to put foreign locales to impressive use in wowing the audience. I could easily get used to a few more JOHN WICK films.

3. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI: I found this film so deeply satisfying that one of the great mysteries of this filmgoing year has been trying to understand the fierce
backlash to this film from some quarters. With the reins handed over to Rian Johnson for the new installment in the adventures of the next generation of Star Wars protagonists (Rey, Finn and Poe, played by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, respectively, and first introduced in THE FORCE AWAKENS), the film takes decidedly risky plot turns while retaining major contributions from the enduring characters played by Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. Not to mention new characters in the form of Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro. Most striking of all however is how the soul of THE LAST JEDI lies in the volleying relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the most unlikely of pairs.


4. FREE FIRE: This film is fun in a bottle. Why it didn't get more traction during its commercial run
befuddles me. Set in the late seventies and set almost entirely in a warehouse in Boston where two gangs meet for a transaction (that of course goes terrifically wrong), this movie has pluck and cleverness to spare. And the film circles unapologetically around repeated lessons on how things can always get even more worse. There's Brie Larson here. There is Armie Hammer here (perhaps even better than his more celebrated turn in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME). There is Sharlto Copley here. And there's Cillian Murphy here too. And do they cook up a swell mess. This is breathless, heedless, bloody fun.

5. AMERICAN MADE: Doug Liman isn't yet given the credit he deserves; remember this is the director of SWINGERS, GO, THE BOURNE IDENTITY, MR AND MRS SMITH and THE EDGE OF TOMORROW. He reteams with the star of that last film, Tom Cruise, for AMERICAN MADE, based on the hard-to-believe-if-it-weren't true story of Barry Seal, an American pilot who was recruited by the CIA and double crossed his way with high-profile South American gangsters (including Pablo Escobar), and became a key player during the Iran-Contra Affair. Liman wisely constructs this film with a comic book sensibility, clearly bowled over with wonder at a man who managed to do the unthinkable. And Cruise, who's always had an edge of the noxious tucked away under his dazzle, is perfectly able to depict a man whose smarminess is inseparable from his charms. What a rollickingly great ride this is.

6. BABY DRIVER: It would seem British director Edgar Wright has been working his entire career to the destination that is this film. And what a film it is: a veritable calling card for how style can entirely define the sensibility of a film. The story is jump-started by one of those you-must-come-back-for-one-last-con-job premises that is elevated to something that seems entirely new. Pumped up on equal parts adrenaline and high-octane, the movie zips along at a pace where you have to catch your breath to keep track of who is conning whom, particularly in its last reel when things spiral to even more heady chaos. And I haven't even mentioned how Wright uses music as a integral part of the film's psche, by creating a central character who needs to constantly listen to music to drown out the tinnitus he suffers from. This film will age well.

7. WONDER WOMAN: It should have been an obvious thing: that the story of a female superhero film be entrusted with a female director. And yet we are surprised by the success of this film. Much of the credit for how well this film works rests on the shoulders of director Patty Jenkins, who takes the Wonder Woman mythology, shakes off the campy eighties association (from the television series), and plays the origin story with nary a wink or a snark. Gal Gadot invests the character with an elusive balance of self-assertion and a sincere desire to help others. In the balance it maintains, it resembles Captain America from the Marvel Universe, who also is a wholesome, even square person, whose goodness of intent is far from worthy of being mocked. A fine balance still is achieved with how the Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) character stands beside Wonder Woman, not because she needs him to rescue her, but because the two work well together. This is a film of many tightrope walks, and it always makes it safely to the other side. And if you get a few goosebumps along the way in your cinema seat, that is added value.

8. LIFE: Am I the only living person to have liked this Jake Gyllenhaal/Ryan Reynolds/Rebecca Ferguson sci-fi film. The film earned $100 million in revenues, so maybe I am the only living person to stick out my neck and publicly admit to liking this film. The premise: scientists aboard a spaceship discover a unique single-cellular organism that rapidly starts to grow. Of course this film is inspired by ALIEN, but it also taps into the well of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and GRAVITY. But that doesn't make this a bad film; quite the contrary. Even as we know that the evolving alien is going to wreak havoc on the space ship inhabitants, the film holds the fate of the characters in deliciously unpredictable strands. The film is visually arresting, breathless, and happily, perversely, violent. I do not watch much horror, but I wonder if another film this year has found so much beauty in the deep redness of blood.

9. THOR: ROGNAROK: The director of small, spryly funny films like WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS and THE HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE is hardly the go-to person for helming the next instalment of a popular Marvel property. And yet the imp that is the New Zealand director Taika Waititi drove the THOR franchise to its best outing yet. By injecting a healthy dose of self-awareness, building a meaty part for Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, and hiring the redoubtable Cate Blanchett to play the bad guy. The Marvel films are getting a little too incestuous for my liking as the superheroes have started to bleed into each other's films. THOR: ROGNAROK is guilty of that, but this film is a romp still.

10. BLADE RUNNER: 2049:  Few films are as iconic as BLADE RUNNER, and it would be a fool's errand to try and update that world. And yet, producer Ridley Scott
entrusted Denis Villeneuve to bring forth the next chapter more than three decades after the original film went on to become a bonafide legend. This is a punishing task (something that the STAR WARS sequels have also had to contend with), but turns out Villeneuve was up to it. Yes the film is too long, and yes it does get a little lost within its own world. But it turns a new page to this universe, and yet retains enough links with the original characters, and the game-changing visuals. And what visuals these are; I watched this film in a state of enraptured wonder.