Top 10 films of 2016

I know this is a few weeks late, but I’m doing it anyway. I need something to distract me that is the travesty of President Cheeto being sworn in to office. So here…we…go!

10) The Invitation (Dir: Karyn Kusama, Writers: Phil Hay,  Matt Manfredi

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This movie…if I had started to put this list together shortly after I had seen this one, it probably wouldn’t be here. However, since I’ve seen this flick, it’s dug deeper in to my mind. It’s stuck with me. After seeing this with my cuz Ryan, we spent at least 90 minutes talking about it. We both decided it was a “good” movie, not a “great” one. Yet, I keep coming back to it. I thought maybe I didn’t give it a fair shake when I originally saw it. A rewatch confirmed that: this movie is so packed with tone and expert storytelling. Very seldom do I watch a film where you’re questioning the sanity of the protagonist; you start doubt whether you should trust the main character, who’s POV you are seeing the film through. I won’t give any spoilers away; just do yourself a favor and check this out on Netflix/Amazon. Preferably alone. With the lights off. Late at night. Trust me.

9) Captain America: Civil War (Dir: The Russo Brothers, Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely)

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In past years, my top 5/10 films in a particular year are predominantly comic book movies. This year, not so much. With only two comic book movies on my list, I made a strong effort to focus on other genres (and production sizes) to expand my movie tastes. That said, one can’t deny the awesome spectacle that is CA: CW. Chris Evans and RDJR have such a strong chemistry. Every time they are on screen together I’m in awe. I would literally pay so much money for them to star in a My Dinner With Andre remake starring them two. While it wasn’t a straight adaption of the comic mini-series the name is based off of (for good reason), the Russo Bros were able to make something better and logically sound based off of everything that has come before in the MCU. Plus introducing Black Panther and Spider-Man was a huge bonus. (P.S. I really hope the Marvel folks stop dragging their feet about bringing the TV folks in to the movies…I want to see Daredevil, Punisher, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and the like crossing paths with the Avengers and Guardians.

8) 10 Cloverfield Lane: (Dir: Dan Trachtenberg, Writers: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, & Damian Chazelle)

Two of my favorite films of all time are T2: Judgement Day and Alien. Besides many of the obvious reasons, the biggest would be the strong, female protagonists both films have (Sarah Conner and Ripley respectively.) Characters like that have been missing for quite some time. When attempts are made to make movies with these types of characters, even if well done it doesn’t feel earned. In 10 Cloverfield Lane, we finally see a movie where the female protagonist earns the title of “Badass Heroine.” While I’ll avoid spoilers explaining how that comes to be, this movie does an amazing job showing Michelle (played by an on point Mary Elizabeth Winstead) digging deep within herself and finding the inner strength/badass to overcome the dire situation she has been dragged in to (both metaphorically and physically.) The final 10 minutes of the 3rd act had me on the edge of my seat in the theater, so much so my back ached from how tense it was afterwards. Amazing sound design and editing keeps the pace quick and the shocks big. And the final scene literally made yell “F*** yeah!”

7) The Nice Guys: (Dir: Shane Black, Writers:  Shane Black,  Anthony Bagarozzi)

Oh man, Shane Black just knows how to do dark comedy. Don’t get me wrong, The Nice Guys isn’t a dark and twisted comedy by any means, but the humor does a hint of that. Just enough to make you laugh with your jaw dropped. My question is: Why hasn’t someone thought to put Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe together sooner in a movie? The back and forth between this two makes it seem like they’ve been doing this for years. A classic 1970s buddy cop/film noir comedy. And it wouldn’t be a Shane Black movie if it all didn’t start with some random, seemingly unrelated event kicking things off. This film is packed with laughs, great acting, impeccable directing, and a screenplay that just oozes awesome. I would love it if this became a new Lethal Weapon-style franchise for Black.

6) The Witch: (Dir: Robert Eggers, Writer: Robert Eggers)

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Unsettling. If I had to choose one word that describes The Witch, I couldn’t think of one better than that. Set 1630s New England, the dreary colors and Puritan devotion to religion gets under your skin from the very start. Why this movie succeeds is because it doesn’t reveal it’s hand until the very end. While most movies want to hurry up and get to the “money shot”, this film uses restraint like a master. Robert Eggers understands the need to let atmosphere and character work to draw you in. He gets you fully invested (with a cast that is pitch perfect casting) so that when the curtain is drawn back, it hits you like a freight train. Are there jump scares? Yeah, they’re present. But they aren’t what matters. What matters for Eggers is creating an experience that will get under your skin, that will make you appreciate what you saw but make you question if you want to come back to this New England homestead any time soon. Trust me when I say the final shot of the film will leave you speechless…and unsettled.

5) Green Room: (Dir: Jeremy Saulnier, Writer: Jeremy Saulnier)

Talk about shocking! This film starts off by presenting characters that some may deem “unsympathetic”; they’re in an indie punk rock band, they steal gas to drive cross country while on tour, they shun things like “social media”, they’re kind of rude dicks to people…but then you start to realize that when you’re just busting your ass trying to get by, trying to make something happen with your creative endeavors, that they’re just tired and trying to make things work, in whatever way they can. So while you learn this about the bandmates, there is a slow burn happening in the background. A slowly burning fuse that leads to a powder keg. When you are starting to invest in the struggle of the starving artists in the band, things take a sudden (and horrifying) turn. Each scene ratchet ups the tension and brutality more and more. Characters shockingly die that you don’t expect, drastic measures are taken by people that you know won’t end well. The end of the movie makes you feel like you’ve ran a marathon, but instead of an easy run, it involved barb wire, guard dogs, guns, knives, grenades, broken light bulbs, fire, and a shit ton of neo-nazis. And one more thing: after the 1st act, you’ll never willingly put your arm through a slightly cracked open door again.

4) Deadpool: (Dir: Tim Miller, Writers: Rhett Reese,  Paul Wernick

This is the 2nd (and best) comic book movie to make the list. Finally, after waiting for what seems like forever, Ryan Reynolds and Co. were able to make the Deadpool movie we’ve been wanting (no, NEEDING) for years. This movie does the right thing and veers way in to the hard R rating, allowing the title character be the mutant he’s meant to be. The amazing thing about this flick though is it is not grotesque for the sake of being grotesque; it is a genuinely amazing movie that has heart and plenty of character to boot. Maybe it’s because Reynolds oozes charisma, the writing team did an amazing job, or the director just knew how to bring this character to the screen, but whatever the reason, it makes for one of the best movies of the year. This movie gets better with repeated viewings, which is hard for me to say. Most movies diminish in value. Deadpool keeps coming back, better than last time. Gah, can’t wait for Deadpool 2!

3) Sing Street: (Dir: John Carney, Writer: John Carney)

This movie has all the feels and probably the best soundtrack in 2016 (trust me, Brown Shoes will be stuck in your head long after watching this.) A ragtag group of teenagers in a Catholic school in the U.K. form a band. Why? ‘Cause why not? (Well, the lead singer and founder of the band does want to win this one girl over, but ya know…) With original songs that just radiate classic 1980s pop, it never lets you stop smiling. There are so many “coming of age” films now in the indie scene, it is so awesome to find one that is so unique and unafraid of what it really is: a musical, fairy tale story. You don’t realize until the very end that you just watched a fairy tale wrapped in a musical wrapped in “coming of age” story. And that is expert filmmaking.

2) Hunt for the Wilderpeople: (Dir: Taika Waititi, Writer: Taika Waititi)

This film is just pure joy. Take Waititi stole my heart on work on shows like Flight of the Concords and on movies like What We Do in the Shadows  (“What are we?…we’re werewolves, not swearwolves” is still one of my favorite movies scenes ever.) This film though…it made me giddy. Happy. Excited. Full of wonder. Waititi takes something simple and for the most part fairly unexciting (the drop off of a foster child at their new foster home) and it soon becomes a rollicking, pseudo father/son adventure through the New Zealand wilderness. By the end of the movie you are stuffed full of all the feels and want nothing more than a happy end for Hec and Ricky. The third act pays off on everything that has come before, which makes it all the better because of that. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve watched a movie (at home or in the theaters) that made me laugh this hard. The best thing about this film is that while you are laughing your arse off, there is still an emotional through line that draws you in. It could just as easily have been made a drama and you would still love it. Plus, you will never laugh so hard at a warthog being butchered than you do in this movie.

  1. Arrival: (Dir: Denis Villeneuve, Writer: Eric Heisserer)

This movie folks…this movie. When the trailer was revealed, I expected it to be good. I didn’t expect it to be AMAZING!!!!!! The director, Denis Villeneuve, is so far 2 for 2 in films of his that I’ve seen (Prisoner and Sicario) but I didn’t know how he would handle sci-fi. This was an important question as he is directing Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to one of my all time favorite films. So I went in to this movie with a lot of questions and he answered all of them! His control of pacing, visuals, acting, story, and all of the other elements that make a film were soooooooo good. You are never overloaded with information, everything has a specific reason for existing, and are not disappointed in anything that happens on screen. I don’t want to get in to specifics on Arrival simply because by revealing anything, it can diminish the overall experience. After my wife and I walked out of our local Alamo Drafthouse after seeing this, we struggled to form sentences to truly state our thoughts on what we just saw. This movie must be seen. It must be experienced.

Honorable Mentions: Doctor Strange, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Midnight Special

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Childcare, single parents, and a cause for 2017…

Single Moms Shouldn’t Have to Choose Between Child Care and Getting an Education

Over the last couple of years I have been working on a project for the super awesome Marci, my aunt-in-law. This project makes poor through studies and articles focused on several topics: Early Ed, Childcare, PreK, Birth thru 8 years old policy, and foster/adoption stuff. Every day there is something I come across that really impacts me, especially since shortly after the new year starts I myself will be a parent. The stuff I am finding now will impact Heather Harris and I in the near future. So when I come across articles like this one in #NYMag, I get upset.

Offering #ChildCare for single and/or low income parents who are trying to further their education so they can offer a better life for their little one just makes sense. But…that is something that is lost on a lot of people. This is an issue that won’t see improvement in the next two years either (that may change in 2018 depending on what happens w/Mid-Term elections.) Starting in 2017, I am going to make it my goal to do everything I can to help these causes that I currently just read about. I want and need to do this. Not just for my son’s future, but for my neighbor, my fellow Kansas Citian, my fellow American.

I’m gonna start stepping away from posting purely on politics on my social media (unless it is something pretty urgent.) It is fairly obvious where I stand; I hate Trump, the GOP will cripple our country/government, and I still am upset that Bernie wasn’t given a fair shake. Going forward, I want to focus on causes that I know will have a long-lasting impact on our country. A positive impact, one that will help us in 2017 and 2077 if done right. Let’s do this New Year; I’m ready to make you better.

Keeping’ it Geeky,

Average Joe

“Dead Hearts” shoot starts tomorrow…

And I’m excited, nervous, scared, thrilled, over-joyed, etc, etc, etc. All of the emotions one could feel before such a big day, I’m feeling’em. This short film has technically been in the works for 10 years or so now. How do I mean? Well, check this…

To Recap:

2005: While at community college (don’t knock it, I highly recommend it as a great place to get a higher ed), I watch two films for the first time: Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Classics. I’m blown by how…cool each film is. The dialogue pops, the jokes hit perfectly, and the shocks are big. I was instantly in love. These two films coupled with my affection for Clerks (which I saw my sophomore year of high school) made me realize that film could be a possible career path. Well, I could at least try and make films, even if I never made it in Hollywood.

Late 2005: Still feeling the affects of those QT films, an idea popped in my head for a movie scene. Well, less an idea and more a small seed. And not really one scene but rather two. It was at first the question of “What if the roles were slightly changed for Jules, Vincent, and The Wolf?” From there, I started writing down little pieces of dialogue, snippets of visuals, etc. in my head. It was hackneyed, horribly written, formatted incorrectly, and I was writing it in a little 3×5 Mead notepad on my lunch breaks from work. But it was something.

2005-2008: That notepad followed me to my (2nd) brief tenure at KU, to Wisconsin, and to Minnesota. (Note: As a matter of fact, I believe I still have it somewhere in storage.) There are scribbles, changes, new *unrelated* ideas, and it’s all together awesome and bad. But I proceeded forward until…

Late 2008: I am promoted with the retail big box company I was currently working for. I went from being a simple hourly employee to a salaried manager. I went from working just 40 hrs per week to 60 (by my choice honestly.) I had no social life where I lived in Minnesota. Went on a few dates but nothing more. Most of my time was spent doing most of the following: A) Work B) Work from home C) video games D) watching movies at home and E) watching movies at the run down theater the small town I lived in had. It was during this time I gained a crap ton (that is an actual measurement in my opinion) of weight and started to suffer from severe depression. That little notepad I had? It just sat in a box, never being touched. I would talk about it sometimes with people, but that was it.

Mid-2010: I move to KS for work and Cuz R (who is my actual cousin and #BestFriend4Life) moved with me too. It was during our time living together that I would mention my story sometimes while also throwing other ideas back and forth every once in a while. But we were both so focused on our jobs and had no idea how to actually make a movie (at all or in the middle-of-nowhere KS) that if never became more than just talk.

Mid-2015: I know this is a 5 year jump, but not much progressed with this film during that time. However, at this time in the story, I had been talking to my wife a lot about actually making that idea from 2005 as a short film. I was working a job that had me on the road 95% of the time, I was miserable, and I was not enjoying life at all. The wife asked what would make me happy; I told her, “Honestly, getting off the road, working a part time job at a bookstore, and making my short film.” She could have been logical and rational and said “I wish you could, but we need to be able to provide for ourselves and the kids we want someday, so lets just find you a job in your field closer to home, etc.” But, that’s not how my wife rolls.

9/21/15: This day is specific for a reason: this is the day that a phone call between my wife and I would change everything. I was in St. Louis for work, having just completed an assignment, and I had seen her only a couple days over the last month. I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of the mall I had just stopped working at and I was crying. Literally crying. So of course she is too. There’s a break in the blubber-fest and she says “Why not? Why not come home and make your movie? What is stopping you?” It was at this moment that I fell even more in love with her and also realized that the answer of what I should do was right in front of me. So I literally called my boss once I got off the phone with her and put in my 2 weeks. Was it slightly foolhardy? A little irrational? Yes, oh god yes. Yet, it was the best decision for me to make. (Spoiler Alert: Our movie shoot is taking place almost exactly 1 year from this day.)

Late 2015-2016: So after I got off the road, I started hammering away at the script. It was too long, bloated, had plot holes galore, and just wasn’t that good at all. But putting those words on the page was the most thrilling rush of excitement; it was like riding that awesome new ride at Walt Disney World for the first time again and then riding a bazillion times after that, each ride better than the last. Knowing I couldn’t do this all alone, I sought the help of some trusted confidants.

Durka: To produce and push me to make this project an actual project, rather than a crazy fever dream.

Cuz R: To help rewrite, redraft, and redevelop the film. He became the official co-writer and my partner in crime. The film went from being a silly idea by me to a true vision for both of us.

The wife: She says she only wanted to handle craft services, but she really wanted to be in show biz 🙂

9/15/16: We are less than 24 hrs before we are on set, calling action on the first shot. I have so many worries going through my head. I am bouncing back and forth between extreme confidence to utter despair. But I wouldn’t ask for anything different. The call sheets for tomorrow have been sent by the 1st AD. Follow up texts are being sent by various folks to finish prepping for tomorrow. Equipment rentals and purchases are arriving at any time today. A final walkthrough for the biggest scene (the one that started all of this) is tonight at 9 pm.

It’s all coming together. 10 years of waiting finally coming to an end. Once we wrap Saturday evening…raising a kid will be a piece of cake (Cue nervous laughter.)

Let’s break some legs!

Keepin’ it Geeky,

j