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moonlight. [a month of happy.]

“Who is you, Chiron?”

I would imagine that this may seem a strange inclusion in the month of happy. This film isn’t exactly light fare.

But after watching Moonlight for the second time, the best word to describe the mix of feelings it leaves me with is joy, followed quickly by hope.

For one, its beauty is inspiring. There is no aspect of this film that isn’t beautiful. The screenplay is beautiful, the score is beautiful, the camera work is beautiful, the themes are beautiful, the characters are beautiful. Every actor in the film manages to imbue each character with an amazing humanity and depth, which is especially impressive in light of the fact that only one cast member appears in all three parts of the film.

Moonlight is remarkable and joyful in many ways, it certainly deserves more than this stream-of-consciousness blog response. But, all the same, I wanted to share something that struck me on my second viewing.

This film– in addition to all the huge things it portrays in terms of race, sexuality, and identity — quietly illustrates the immense significance of kindness and hospitality.

The most poignantly hopeful scenes in Moonlight all take place when characters are creating space for each other in small and extraordinary ways.

**Spoilers and whatnot**

As these characters provide a meal, offer a ride, light a cigarette, share a table, make a bed, create a nickname, make a cup of tea, teach a child to swim — as they offer the gifts of touch, warmth, and home, they save a life and create room for a man as he continues the struggle to find himself and feel at home in his own body.

Take the scenes in the film set at tables. These alone are enough to illustrate my point.

With a glaring exception in the center of the film — in the cafeteria when Kevin is goaded into assaulting Chiron — every other scene in which characters share a table with each other is a scene when characters are fighting for Chiron, making room for him in the world.

In a perfect film, which I’d argue this one is, we’re rewarded for paying attention. Director Barry Jenkins doesn’t waste a single gesture or camera movement, every frame plays to the larger story.

Chiron is an easy character to love, but his world is forcefully telling him the opposite.

Again and again, we see characters share various tables with Chiron. They serve him food, juice, water, and wine. They talk and listen, they attempt to coax him out of hiding and toward himself. There’s more to unpack there, but I’m not entirely sure how to do it without a video essay. In part because so much is expressed in the performances.

This film is obviously about much more than this idea of the importance of creating space for people. It would take dozens of blog posts and essays to even scratch the surface. Yet, while every scene is about much more than this, they are certainly not about less.

Moonlight makes me happy. In part, because it helps me believe that there is some hope for us, if perhaps only in the small moments and kindnesses we share with those around us.

I’d love to continue fleshing out more thoughts about this movie in conversation if anyone is interested, but as I’ve learned talking to Emily about it earlier today, I can’t promise not to cry in the process.


taika waititi. [a month of happy.]

When I watch a Taika Waititi film, I feel happy. As a person with clinical depression, that’s basically like saying that I found a huge gold stash hidden in my basement.

I’ve already written about him twice since October, so imma be lazy and repost all that. Still true.

Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement have a comedic voice that is unendingly amusing to me.

All of Waititi’s writing has this rare combination, where it’s so sharp and funny, but also genuinely sweet and warm. He revels in the flaws and awkwardness of his characters, and it’s where I find so much joy in his work.


A friend recently asked people on Facebook to give a list of their favorite films since 2012, and I listed What We Do in the Shadows; not just because of my affection for that film, but because I needed a representative of Waititi’s work.

His films are so full of charm and joy and sweetness, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople is no exception. Plus, I’m a sucker for stories about people who come together and make weird nontraditional families. It deserves all the inclusion it has gotten on various lists of underrated or underappreciated films of 2016.

Taiki for life!

I bet some people are unreasonably disappointed when they visit New Zealand and it’s not actually Middle Earth. I’m probably going to be unreasonably disappointed if I ever go because everyone doesn’t talk like a character in a Taiki Waititi film.


Here I am, the president of the Taiki Waititi fan club, at it again.

I don’t really know what else to say to get my friends to watch Waititi’s movies. I don’t know how anyone could not love his work. Don’t you like being happy?!

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is stuffed with joy, charm, and Waititi’s trademark lovable weirdos who become a family. There’s so much sweetness, but it never gets cloying.

Recently, when I recommended Hunt for the Wilderpeople on this blog, I joked that I’ll probably be disappointed if I ever go to New Zealand because people won’t talk like Taiki Waititi characters. The more I think about it, I realize it’s actually just disappointing that the people of the world in general don’t act more like Taiki Waititi characters.

Also, here is a trailer for Boy, which is criminally underseen.


icheckmovies. [a month of happy.]

There are very few things in this world that make me happier than movies.

When you take movies and add in lists and achievement trophies to the mix you have a tailor made obsession machine for me. That’s what they do at iCheckMovies

iCheckMovies is a film nerd’s dream. An aggregation of list after list of history’s greatest and most important films according to various websites, critics, publications, film groups, and sundry.

It’s a great way to fill in blind spots and omissions in film knowledge, gleefully charge down rabbit holes of genres and subgenres, or even just decide what to watch next.

The first thing I do whenever I watch a new movie is head over and check it off. It’s super fun and I highly recommend it.

If you love movies and you don’t have iCheckMovies, you should remedy that and start checking movies immediately. If you do have it and we aren’t friends yet, you should find me and let us join movie nerd forces.


cinefix: 10 best uses of color.

I’m sharing this because, while the video essay played out, I just kept worrying, “Please don’t leave In the Mood for Love off this list.” And then, they go and make it #1, those smart, charming bastards. And there is sense and justice and meaning in my world again.

Long live Wong Kar-wai! Long live international cinema!

I really need to pull the trigger on my planned deep dive into cinema. Fair warning to my friends who read this blog, once I go down that rabbit hole I might not be around for a while.


my year in movies, 2016.


My year in film. For a year in which nearly two full months were swallowed by a farewell tour/road trip/cross-country move, I’m pretty happy with getting up to 125. 

The key is mostly the same as always:
(#) Movie I saw in the theater.
[#] Movie I saw for the first time.
E# Movies I watched with Emily.
Favorites (These underlined films cannot be movies I saw this year for the first time, or movies I have only seen once, they have to be movies that have been able to stand up after more than one viewing, and still keep me coming back for more.)
*Best movies I’d never seen before. (It doesn’t matter when these movies came out, I saw them for the first time this year, and they were awesome. I was probably too liberal with my asterisks, I just couldn’t help myself.)
Halloween Movie Fest.

1. Four Rooms
*2. The Hateful Eight [1] (1)
3. Mad Max: Fury Road – E1
4. Cinderella (2015) [2] E2
5. Queen of Earth [3]
*6. Meet the Patels [4] E3
7. While We’re Young [5] E4
8. Super [6]
*9. Memories of Murder [7] E5

memories of murder
10. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
11. The Final Girls [8]
12. Lethal Weapon – E6
*13. Boy [9]
14. The Station Agent – E7
*15. Turbo Kid [10]
16. Angel Heart [11]
17. Velvet Goldmine [12]
18. Ip Man
19. Amy [13] E8
20. Sicario [14] E9
21. Sleeping With Other People [15] E10
22. The Bourne Identity – E11
*23. Stray Dog [15]

24. The Bourne Supremacy – E12
*25. The Conformist [16]
*26. Deadpool [17] (2)
27. The Maltese Falcon (3) E13
28. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
29. Dope
30. In Bruges
31. The Good Dinosaur [18] E14
32. American Ultra [19]
*33. Steve Jobs [20] E15
*34. The Big Short [21] E16
35. In The Mood For Love – E17

36. Black Mass [22]
37. Trainspotting
*38. Midnight Special [23] (4)
39. Lucy [24]
40. Listen Up, Philip [25]
*41. Creed [26] E18
42. Zootopia [27] (5) E19
43. The Jungle Book (2016) [28] (6) E20
*44. Keanu [29] (7) E21
45. The Overnight [30]
46. The Dark Knight Returns: Part One
47. Captain America: Civil War [31] (8) E22
*48. Straight Outta Compton [32] E23
49. The Grandmaster [33] E24
*50. The Nice Guys [34] (9) E25
*51. Upstream Color [35]

52. Less Than Zero [36]
53. Macbeth (2015) [37] E26
54. X-Men: Apocalypse [38] (10)
*55. Meek’s Cutoff [39]
*56. Deadpool – E27
*57. Nikita [40]
58. The Big Sleep – E28
59. The Sweet Smell of Success

60. Mikey and Nicky [41]
61. His Girl Friday
62. Mud – E29
*63. Hail, Caesar [42] E30
*64. 10 Cloverfield Lane [43]
65. Eddie the Eagle [44] E31
66. Finding Dory [45] (11) E32
67. Man Up [46] E33
*68. Anomalisa [47] E34
*69. Don’t Look Now [48]
70. Reservoir Dogs
71. Moon – E35
72. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – E36
*73. Blow Out [49]

*74. The Lobster [50] E37
75. Ghostbusters (2016) [51] (12) E38
76. Mr. Right [52] E39
77. Swingers
*78. Tell No One [53]
79. Suicide Squad [54] (13) E40
*80. Kubo and the Two Strings [55] (14) E41
*81. Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall [56] E42
82. Elvis & Nixon [57]
83. Kung Fury [58]
84. Moonrise Kingdom
85. The Family Fang [59] E43
86. Near Dark [60]
87. Cronos
88. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – E44
89. What We Do In the Shadows – E45
90. Martin [61]
91. The Lost Boys [62]
92. Kill List [63]

93. Pontypool – E46
94. Slither
95. Attack the Block – E47
96. Dracula [aka, the Horror of Dracula] (1958) [64]
*97. Trouble Every Day [65]
*98. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht [66]
99. Stake Land [67]
*100. They Look Like People [68]
101. We Are Still Here [69]
*102. The Invitation [70]
103. The Hallow [71]
*104. The Witch [72]
105. Mascots
106. Doctor Strange [73] (15) E48
*107. Hunt for the Wilderpeople [74] E49

108. Star Trek Beyond [75] E50
109. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice [76]
110. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [77] (16) E51
*111. Arrival [78] (17) E52
112. Hot Fuzz
113. Hannibal Takes Edinburgh [79]
114. Rumble Fish [80]
115. Ocean’s 11
116. The Boy and the Beast [81]
*117. De Palma [82]
*118. La La Land [83] (18) E53

119. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg Commentary)
120. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – E54
121. Rushmore
122. Fantastic Mr. Fox
*123. Swiss Army Man [84]
124. Rogue One [85] (19) E55
125. Sing Street [86] E56


my favorite films released in 2016.

This year, I’m so far behind on my movie watching that I probably still haven’t seen most of my favorite 2016 films.

For example: I still haven’t seen Moonlight (fortunately I have a ticket to finally see it on Wednesday), WeinerHigh-Rise, Things to Come, Elle, Always Shine, Manchester by the Sea, Silence, American Honey, Toni Erdmann, The Handmaiden, The Love Witch, O.J.: Made in America, Jackie, 13th, Green Room, Hell or High Water, Paterson, Certain Women, The Fits and a massive, seemingly unending list of other movies. Fortunately, January is always a shitty month for new releases, so I have some time to get to work.  

Still, with all those films I missed, that’s not to say I haven’t seen quite a few gems released this year. Here are my favorites so far.


La La Land


If you ever need an example of a film that can be both grandiose and small, or both nostalgic and inventive, or both uplifting and heartbreaking, then look no further than La La Land.

Any one of the elements that worked in this movie would have been enough to make it better than most. Since everything in it worked, it snuck its way in as my favorite 2016 film [note: I haven’t seen Moonlight yet].

Sometimes, I see a movie and feel a little sad that I can never see it again for the first time. This was one of those movies.

Watching La La Land, an ode to love and movies and Los Angeles and music and musicals and life, I just kept thinking, “This is why people make movies.” I’m not sure exactly what my brain is getting at with that thought — I think there are all sorts of reasons why people make movies, many of them beautiful — but it still feels partly true. At the very least, La La Land captures the essence of why I personally fell in love with movies: the wonder of it, being surprised by a filmmaker, and when that plays out on a big screen while I’m surrounded by other people being taken on the same journey — that is what continues to make the cinema so special to me. I laughed often, I cried, I smiled both from joy and awe — in short, I fell in love. What else can you hope for from a love story?

I also really enjoyed the effect of having leads in a song and dance musical who aren’t great singers or dancers, who are imperfect. It illustrated a vulnerability that fit the story so well, a beautiful ordinariness that really worked.

**Side note: As I was writing this, I just found a quote about La La Land from Siddhant Adlakha’s list of his favorite 2016 films that I really loved, related to both my love of this film and film in general: “We may be the sum of all our experiences, but we can build our future on the very best parts of them, and the movies will always be there to guide us along. They still make them like they used to.”

The last bit is quite spoilery. 

That scene, where she accidentally walks into his jazz bar all those years later, the one he named after her idea, and he sees her in the audience; the wistful smile as he says, “Welcome to Seb’s,” and then sits down and plays a song for her that is everything he wishes had been different, a dream of how it might have been instead. If that’s not a classic movie moment then there’s no such thing.

All love stories end in loss, the real question is whether or not our love made us better while it lasted.


The Invitation


As I wrote during Halloween Movie Fest this year:  Don’t learn anything about this movie, just watch it.

This is a tense, slow burn that is interesting and unique. It’s evidence that the right people can make a wildly good film for very little money.

I can’t wait to see what Karyn Kusama does next; also, thus far in his career Logan Marhsall-Green has been seriously underutilized.

I won’t say more so I don’t spoil anything.

This was my favorite new movie from HMF16. Watch it! I’ll watch it with you if you need a creepy movie buddy.




The closest challenger La La Land has for my favorite of the 2016 films I’ve seen so far is Arrival. 

Denis Villeneuve’s first foray into sci-fi is pretty fucking beautiful. I’m glad it won’t be his last sci-fi story, as his next film is Blade Runner 2049 and there have been talks for him to adapt Dune in some form, which is apparently a dream project of his. That could be amazing!

Please don’t sleep on this movie because you think of yourself as a person who doesn’t like sci-fi. Two primary reasons: One, because it’s not true that you just flat out “don’t like sci-fi” (I can prove that to you if you let me, but it would take actual conversations with you because it would be a unique set of proofs for each person). And two, because this movie is too great to let slip because of your blanket dismissal of a genre.

Arrival is a great film, and it shows the range of what a good sci-fi story can do. It’s a story about humanity in the big sense, but more than that, it is the small story of a particular woman told in a really big frame of reference. It’s the perfect example of how accessible sci-fi can be because it isn’t sci-fi-lite; meaning it’s not sci-fi that everyone might like because it tastes like water, this is complex sci-fi flavor executed so well that everyone might appreciate it. I mean, this is the story of a fucking linguist decoding an alien language: nerd stuff. Yet, I can’t imagine any open-minded viewer being turned off by the sci-fi aspects, because the heart that beats at the center of the film is so vital, the texture is so rich.

Also, can we just give Amy Adams the earliest lifetime achievement award ever bestowed? She’s already in the hall of fame, let’s just make it official. And for all his blockbuster appearances, Jeremy Renner is still a really underrated actor; he can do an awful lot with very little.

Now, it gets spoilery from here

I’m enamored with one of the central questions I come away with at the end of this movie, which is: if you knew a choice to love was going to end in tragedy, would you still go through with it? If you knew in advance that your marriage would be happy at times but end in divorce, would you still choose to love? And if you knew your child would die of a rare disease as a teenager, would the joyful moments be worth that immeasurable heartache? I know most parents would say “Yes,” but that’s still a huge question that pulls at the nature of what it means to love. I know, part of the question in Arrival is whether or not she had a choice at all, but if you did have a choice, what would you choose?


Hunt for the Wilderpeople


Here I am, the president of the Taiki Waititi fan club, at it again.

I don’t really know what else to say to get my friends to watch Waititi’s movies. I don’t know how anyone could not love his work. Don’t you like being happy?!

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is stuffed with joy, charm, and Waititi’s trademark lovable weirdos who become a family. There’s so much sweetness, but it never gets cloying.

Recently, when I recommended Hunt for the Wilderpeople on this blog, I joked that I’ll probably be disappointed if I ever go to New Zealand because people won’t talk like Taiki Waititi characters. The more I think about it, I realize it’s actually just disappointing that the people of the world in general don’t act more like Taiki Waititi characters.


The Nice Guys


Shane Black at the height of his powers. That’s really all anyone would need to say to me and I would buy a ticket sight unseen. I fell in love with Black without knowing it when I was 14 and saw The Long Kiss Goodnight at least five times, and years later Kiss Kiss Bang Bang forever solidified my devotion.

I really hope that every decade or so — at least — Black keeps making noirish comedies about violent men and dangerous women, or the other way around, doesn’t matter who, it works either way. No one does buddy film banter and reluctant chemistry better than Shane Black.

Ahem, exhibit A, from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: “Look up the word idiot in the dictionary, you know what you’ll find?”

“A picture of me?”

“No, the definition of the word idiot, which you fucking are!”

Anyway, there’s no reason for me to write anything else about it, because Nerdwriter1 already did this great piece on how Shane Black does movie violence the right way, which prominently features The Nice Guys.


Kubo and the Two Strings


First, I can’t praise this movie without pointing out the disappointing degree of whitewashing at work. This is a story told with asian characters in an asian setting, and yet almost all of the lead voice actors are white. That sucks.

This makes my love for the film complicated, and I would understand anyone who dismissed the film outright as a result.

I really do wish there was nothing complicating my love for Kubo, because there is so much here to love. It’s a genuinely great film in every other respect. The mere fact that I can have such qualms about it and still include it amongst my few favorite films of the year has to say something.

Visually the film is a remarkable achievement. What Laika is able to do with stop motion animation is astounding. It’s amazing that they continue to make films that are so good that you have to call them great movies, period, not great movies “for stop motion.”

The folks at Laika are always great storytellers, but even by those standards, Kubo and the Two Strings is significantly more moving and inspiring than I’d anticipated.

This is a dark, beautiful telling of the sort of story the world needs right now. I just wish they’d told it without making such disappointing and insensitive casting decisions.


Swiss Army Man


Most weird movie characters aren’t actually weird. Much like the way “ugly” or “uncool” people in movies are actually hot people wearing ill-fitting frames for their glasses and an unfortunate hairstyle, the supposed weirdness is cast off with an ease that reveals it was never really there to begin with. Surprise, these outcasts are actually fairly well-adjusted socially and come to a satisfying denouement that finds them healthy members of a family or friend group!

Swiss Army Man is not that sort of movie. It’s as weird as the story of a suicidal castaway who befriends a corpse ought to be, and that weirdness is embraced throughout — and by embraced I actually mean ratcheted up consistently.

The fact that the weirdness isn’t merely a trapping used while convenient and then dropped later on to serve the cloying “message” of the story means Swiss Army Man is a film that can actually mean something to real weirdos. It also means the film has to work harder to earn its charm and emotional depth, which makes it so much more satisfying when it works. And it really, really works.

Early on, it took me a bit to warm up to Swiss Army Man, but in the end I loved the time spent with these disturbed and beautiful characters, and that early uncertainty on my part made the payoff so much sweeter.


The Lobster


Speaking of weird, The Lobster. 

Yorgos Lanthimos’ film is odd and idiosyncratic in the best possible ways.

As I look back over my list of favorite films of the year, I see the common thread of filmmakers skillfully using interesting metaphors to get at something deeply true. In this case, it’s a look at modern love in all of its many horrors and glories… although mostly horrors.

Everyone is great in this movie, and it’s further proof that Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz would be massive movie stars if the economy of film were a meritocracy (which reminds me, the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them franchise trading Colin Farrell for mid 2010’s Johnny Depp is mind-blowingly stupid).

The Lobster reminds me of Charlie Kauffman, one of my favorites, but more understated and direct.

This is certainly not a feel-good option — for example, it includes a scene of non-chalant and heartbreaking human on dog (who used to be a human) violence — but with its dark humor and sharp insight, it stayed with me well after finishing it. It’s the sort of film you’ll be talking about with your friends immediately.


Honorable mention/movies that I enjoyed and might realize should have been on the list tomorrow: 10 Cloverfield Lane, De Palma, Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to ‘Off the Wall,’ The Witch, Hail, Caesar, and Midnight Special.