Category: 5 Favorites Redux

5 Favorites Redux #63: Actors Turned Directors

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

With nothing coming out this weekend that I can grasp onto as a theme for this week’s article, I thought I would look to last weekend for inspiration. I know I said last week that there was none forthcoming, but I had an epiphany while inadvertently looking at last week’s content for this week’s consideration. Last weekend, Regina King’s directorial debut, One Night in Miami, released on its march towards Oscar consideration. The film is terrific. That brought to my mind a rather interesting question: actors-turned-directors.

While some actors balanced acting and directing (Kevin Costner), some never returned to the performance realm and kept directing as their primary source of output (Sofia Coppola). King has too exceptional a career to only direct, so I imagine she will keep going with that while pursuing small directorial projects when the mood hits her. Of course, she could also turn into a Charles Laughton and never direct again, but she’s young and will no doubt be empowered by this release. Of course, Laughton was 7 years away from death and who knows if he would have tried his hand again if he had lived longer than the relatively young 63 years of age at which he died. King is on a little younger that that (she turns 50 tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 15) and Laughton was 56.

It doesn’t matter, though. Whether they kept directing or went back to acting, there are some great movies directed by actors out there. There are also a lot of bad ones (here’s looking at you, Mel Gibson), but we look at my favorites each week, not my least favorite, so let’s get started. My first priority was narrowing down the list. The big problem was narrowing the list to only five. There were a lot of good and great films that have come out in the last few decades helmed by actors, especially compared to years prior to that, the question is how do you make the list shorter. As always, let’s dive into some of the selections I had on my list and didn’t ultimately pick.

Finding a way to pare down the list was incredibly difficult. I even made exceptions to some of my exceptions. There were a lot of great actors who were also directors. One of the things I did was take out some people who are now far better known as directors than as actors. This would include Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, Somewhere), Sydney Pollack (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?), Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent), Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon), and the most impressive of them all, Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil). The exception that made the list: Penny Marshall.

The next category I pulled people from included Terry Gilliam (Brazil), Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Bullets Over Broadway, Hannah and Her Sisters), and Charles Chaplin (The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times). That category is directors whose directorial work was comparative to their acting work and who cannot be entirely removed from one without removing them from the other, though Gilliam is debatable on that point. Exception: Greta Gerwig.

Actors who began their careers as comedians and then shifted primarily into comedy directing. They still acted occasionally, but their careers were almost entirely diverted into the directing space. Harold Ramis (National Lampoon’s Vacation) and Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2). The same is also true of dramatic actors moving into the dramatic directing space: Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby) and John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre). And there are even comedic actors who went primarily into dramatic direction: Rob Reiner (Misery), though you could really say he directed a mixture of film types. Exception: Jordan Peele.

Like Laughton before them, several actors directed a little, but were still primarily actors. Examples included John Krasinski (A Quiet Place), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), and Paul Newman (I sadly haven’t seen any of his five directorial efforts yet). This category also includes actors who seemingly directed themselves far more often than others. Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet), Laurence Olivier (Hamlet), Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves), Warren Beatty (Reds, Dick Tracy), George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck.), and Robert Redford (Ordinary People) are on the list. Exceptions: Laughton and Ben Affleck.

That isn’t to say any one of these directors or their films couldn’t have made my list, because there’s no question that Affleck’s career (as an example) hasn’t been as great as say Redford’s or several others on this list, but this isn’t a quintessential list, a definitive list, or whatever you want to call it. It’s also a list of favorite films, not necessarily best. I also chose to do a bit of diversity in the ranks, trying to make sure that there’s a mixture of titles from directors with different styles, backgrounds, genders, and periods. It’s all in good fun, so don’t assume any one of these five selections is any better than the above. They are just examples that I think I’ll enjoy talking about.

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5 Favorites Redux #62: Snowy Movies

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

New Year’s morning (Friday), we had a small ice storm roll through. Then on Saturday we got more snow. While it wasn’t enough to do more than a light covering, it got me thinking about all the snowy adventures we’ve had on the big screen. Some stirring, others hilarious, but always such a rarity that we celebrate when we see them. Or so that’s what we’re supposed to say. There’s nothing more bleak than a snowy landscape. Nature buried beneath flaky whiteness. Danger at every turn. There’s something both peaceful and ominous about snow and its hoary visage. With nothing coming out this weekend that sounds even remotely interesting or with anyone I’ve seen more than a smattering of productions from, I thought I would companion this week’s five favorites with the more hopeful, joyous Christmas list I put together three weeks ago.

Of course, putting those same films on this list would be cheating and unlikely considering there are a lot of films that aren’t about Christmas that take place in the snow. Of course, I’m also interested in looking at specific scenes in films that aren’t entirely about snow, but have scenes set in a wintry landscape. Hence, how I came up with the films on my list, a strange array of genres and from a variety of filmmakers. There are even a few that came briefly to mind, but before I could write them down, I had forgotten them.

Before digging into the top five, let’s look at some of the films I chose to pass over, but not without due consideration. For big screen action adventures and blockbusters, there are no more impressive works than The Empire Strikes Back, The Day After Tomorrow, and Titanic. Each of these films, for different reasons, conjure up strong memories of the snowy environs in which they are set. From the frozen desolation of Hoth in the second Star Wars film, to the dangerous and preventable hellscape of The Day After Tomorrow, to the deadly and heartbreaking frigid climes that ended 1,500 lives in the true story of Titanic. All three films engaged audiences in different ways, but all of them were clear overperformers at the box office.

Moving away from the death and mayhem of the prior five films, we turn our attention to four family-friendly features that are set around or have central storylines involving snowfall or cold climates. Little Women, with either Katharine Hepburn or Saoirse Ronan in the lead, are a great set of films that most closely tie back to the warm familial spirits of the Christmas list I did previously. Two are animated films set either in the run up to Christmas, 101 Dalmatians, or have cold settings crucial to their plots, Frozen. Then there’s Edward Scissorhands, which like most Tim Burton films, defies classification, but is unlimited in its snowy themes.

That leaves three films, two comedies and one horror. None of them fit easily into a category of their own, but they are each standouts. I, Tonya is a semi-biographical exploration of the life and career of Tonya Harding, the most notorious ice skater in history. It’s a hilarious film that both takes itself seriously and has a lot of fun with its narrative. Fargo is the opposite. A black comedy in the truest sense of the word, this Joel & Ethan Coen title isn’t among my favorites they’ve ever done, but it’s hard to argue with the importance the snowy landscape of Fargo, North Dakota has on the film’s themes. And finally, one of two Stephen King adaptations I considered for this list. While Rob Reiner’s Misery gives Kathy Bates one of her greatest screen roles to date not to mention one of the screen’s best performances ever, its snow-bound setting certainly ups the ante of the material, but holds no candle to what was done with the other title that does make my final five.

With that, let’s get to it.
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5 Favorites Redux #61: Favorite Young Actors

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

This weekend, Chloe Grace Moretz has a new film coming out called Shadow in the Cloud. It’s a period monster actioner that has an atrocious trailer. That said, Moretz is one of the better working young actors today. While she doesn’t make my list of five favorite former child actors working right now, I thought I’d take a look at my favorites anyway.

This list will cover actors who began working before the age of 18 and who’ve grown into some of the finest working actors of their generation. There are a lot of these actors from history that I could highlight, but my list will be more recent, child actors who were born in the last thirty years, as in young actors under the age of thirty.

This is only because trying to equate child actors who had lengthy Hollywood careers like Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland to the younger generation like Saoirse Ronan and Elle Fanning would be unfair considering we don’t have the full range of their careers to examine, only what they’ve done up to this point. This would also exclude the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale since both are only a few years away from their AARP cards right now (both will be 47 in 2021).

Before digging into the best, I thought I’d highlight a handful of names that I had considered for inclusion along with brief explanations of why they weren’t included. Actresses Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Keke Palmer, Amandla Stenberg, and Zendaya are all young actors with tremendous potential who I haven’t quite seen enough of to make a judgment, but who have delivered strong performances that might merit inclusion once they make it farther into their respective careers.

Then there are child actors who had promising starts (Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine and AnnaSophia Robb in Bridge to Terabithia) who’ve not found much success subsequently. While I did include one actor who’s done predominantly television work, other actors like Taissa Farmiga haven’t quite had the opportunity to show what they can do on the big screen, although they’ve been somewhat accessible.

Then there are young actors like Jennifer Lawrence, Nick Robinson, Kristen Stewart, Alex Wolff, and Shailene Woodley who got their big breaks on the cusp of 18 and who may have done work as children, but whose best work has been predominantly achieved well into adulthood. An actor who fit into this category, but who fell just outside my 1990 birth year cut-off, is Brie Larson and she’s just so immensely talented that I had to bring her up as part of this particular generation of actors.

One name that came into my head while writing up one of the actors below is Ezra Miller. He has shown a lot of promise even if his work as the Flash in the Justice League films has been unimpressive. His work in We Need to Talk About Kevin and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them shows just enough promise to put him in a close sixth place among my favorite young actors.

Now, it’s on to the final five.

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5 Favorites Redux #60: Most Anticipated Films of 2021

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

As we look back at the shambles of the American film scene for the year, it’s difficult not to be disappointed by all that has come to pass. Theaters largely shuttered after the first quarter and few major releases landed at the severely strained box office. On top of that, several prominent Oscar contenders went the streaming route or otherwise got delayed, leaving some of our most anticipated films of 2020 as our most anticipated films of 2021. Warner Bros. and Disney Plus seemingly going all in on streaming releases rather than theatrical ones makes it a difficult climate from which the film industry can emerge. There are still possibilities, though, and looking at what’s set to come out next year should lift our spirits a bit even if theaters don’t start exhibiting with gusto until the Summer.

When I looked at my most anticipated films of 2020 in this article from January 2, 2020, the possibilities were endless with Fantasy Island, In the Heights, Mulan, A Quiet Place: Part II, and Wonder Woman 1984 being my five selections. In addition to those five, I also listed five other films I was keenly anticipating: Birds of Prey, Emma, The New Mutants, Black Widow, and Tenet.

Of these features, Mulan went straight to Disney Plus, bypassing theaters while In the Heights, A Quiet Place: Part II, and Black Widow got pushed back to 2021. Fantasy Island released before the pandemic hit and was lambasted by critics while Birds of Prey and Emma. also made it to cinemas before the shut down and fared a bit better with critics. Tenet and The New Mutants saw post-shut down, partial-reopening releases but didn’t do as well as they could have had they been released under normal circumstances. As for Wonder Woman 1984? It’s set to be released day-and-date over Christmas at theaters and streaming on HBO Max, a rather disappointing outcome as I have no desire to pick up that service, which will mean I probably won’t ever get to see the film on the big screen.

Of the three films that I highlighted, I remain anticipatory of all three and instead of re-hashing my thoughts on In the Heights or A Quiet Place: Part II, let me highlight five other films I’m anticipating for this year. Before getting into the details on the five major selections for this week’s list, I’d like to highlight four other films I anticipate that I didn’t have room to go into detail on: Chaos Walking looks like an inventive sci-fi actioner that posits what kind of world would it be without women in it among other potentially heady topics. Some elements of the trailer make it look a bit challenging, but hope still wins out on a project like this. Although there’s already a perfectly delightful musical version of Cinderella from Rodgers and Hammerstein, it will be interesting to see how this Kay Cannon-directed musical affair to can subvert expectations. It’s already doing pretty well with Billy Porter playing the Fairy Godparent and Idina Menzel as the wicked stepmother of the tale.

Respect was pushed back from the 2020 Oscar season where Jennifer Hudson was certainly going to compete for Best Actress for her role as Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. I’ve long been hoping Hudson could escape the clutches of her Oscar-winning performance in Dreamgirls and lay claim to being a fine actress in her own right and this might just be the film to quell others’ concerns. And, finally, Sing 2 is the long-anticipated sequel to the surprisingly charming and fun original about a singing competition that brought people of all ages in to compete for a grand prize giving us some terrific musical vignettes. Sequels are always dangerous and I suspect this might not have the engagement of the original, but here’s to hoping.

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5 Favorites Redux #59: Favorite Christmas Movies

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

The annual debate on what makes a Christmas movie is here again with Die Hard as the film at the center of all present and future discussions. Does a Christmas movie simply take place on the holiday? Does it also have to be about something more than just its setting and be about generosity, caring, family, and other traditionally yule-oriented notions? There are numerous ways to answer the question and I’m by no means saying Die Hard isn’t a Christmas film.

Christmastide as a concept is the work of the Roman Catholic Church. While the Bible describes it as Mary and Joseph traveling to Nazareth to pay their annual taxes, such an event would have taken place in the middle of the year rather than at the end. Christmas is predated by numerous events celebrating the Winter Solstice. In film as in all art, winter is a symbol of death while spring is the symbol of rebirth in a long and unending cycle. The myriad tribal and historical celebrations of the solstice embraced and even established such symbolism, recognizing the solstice as the longest night of the year and the beginning of the end of the harsh, cold months. The Church seized on those notions when framing the Christmastide holiday.

Christmas as we have all come to know it was largely dreamed up by the merchandizing industry as an opportunity to incentivize gift giving, the embrace of the Santa Claus figure, and other emblems of commercialism. Regardless of whether you feel positively or negatively about the holiday, certain types of films have come to represent the annual holiday period. Films like It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Holiday Inn, and numerous other products of the Hollywood studio system of the 1940s have long been seen as the examples to which all other Christmas films should be compared.

Yet they all owe a great deal of their success to the numerous cinematic adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, perhaps the most perfect example of what everyone today feels is a Christmas movie both in terms of its themes, imagery, and outlook on life itself. Comparing those films to a picture like Die Hard or Gremlins would certainly make those pictures feel out of place on the list. Yet, they are often considered Christmas films, the latter because it does come to embrace the themes of holiday films while the former does so out of sheer force of will. Of course, if Die Hard is a Christmas movie, then so too would be Night of the Hunter, Meet Me in St. Louis, Carol, and Little Women, films that have key scenes set on Christmas, but which are more broadly about other stories that are far from holiday centric.

You can make your own choices, but I chose to look at all of the aforementioned films as well as a handful of others before choosing my five favorites. Ultimately, I went for films that embraced the notions of charity, love, and family over those that are merely set on Christmas Eve of Christmas Day. Strangely enough, this still required me to narrow down the list and while a film like Little Women, which embraces many of the Christmas qualities we cherish, is superior to something like Bad Santa, I chose five films that I feel warmly about, whether they be comedies, horror films, or traditional dramas.

Before I get to those, I wanted to mention that all of the above films are of sufficient quality themselves to make the list, but four films I haven’t named remain high on my enjoyment list even if they aren’t necessarily Christmasy. Bloody horror schlock-fest Silent Night, Deadly Night; the Bill Murray comedy based on A Christmas Carol, Scrooged; a film I covered last week, Batman Returns, which stretches credulity as a Christmas film, much like Die Hard does, and Love Actually, a rather sentimental picture that ended up being far more entertaining than it had any right to be. Now, onto the five.

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5 Favorites Redux #58: Favorite Christopher Walken Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

Five actors’ names popped out to me from this weekend’s release. Of those, only two had the lengthy filmography to fill up a list with some titles left over. Of the remaining three, two have smaller filmographies, but came close to having sufficient films to merit coverage and one has just begun his cinematic career.

That newbie is Jon Hamm while the two smaller filmographies were Emily Blunt and Diego Luna, both actors having four titles I would highlight each. The fourth actor I jettisoned from the list had six titles I wanted to highlight, but she’s young enough that I suspect she’ll have many more opportunities in the future. That woman was Drew Barrymore. Finally, the individual who will get this week’s 5 Favorites Redux slot is Christopher Walken who began his cinematic career five years prior to Barrymore in a small roll in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. He followed that up with the acclaimed film The Deer Hunter in 1978. Since then, he’s mostly appeared in smaller roles in films, trading on his celebrity for some fascinating selections. Choosing five films wasn’t exactly hard, but he’s done some rather dull projects in the past, so I felt like culling it to five was a bit of a challenge. Ultimately, the final spot on the list came down to two films he wasn’t a major part of, Annie Hall and Pulp Fiction. Since I highlighted Hall recently when looking at Diane Keaton’s filmography, I decided to put Pulp Fiction in the final berth.

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5 Favorites Redux #57: Favorite Tommy Lee Jones Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

As easy as it can be to overrate Tommy Lee Jones’ capability as an actor, it’s equally possible to underrate him. The actor has done some impressive work in both small films and blockbusters while maintaining his gruff, no-nonsense personality. Leveraging that into credible work, Jones has managed to secure four Oscar nominations in his career, starting with his performance in one of the five films I’ll highlight below and winning the Oscar for his second nomination, The Fugitive. His other two nominations come from one film I’ll highlight below and another that barely missed the list, In the Valley of Elah.

Jones co-stars this coming weekend in Wander, a film that headlines Aaron Eckhart as a mentally unstable private investigator who links a suspicious death in the small titular town of Wander with a purported conspiracy he’s been investigating. The film looks rather uninspiring, cobbling together plots from other similar films, but Jones will give it his all, even if he doesn’t give it his best. After the break, we’ll look at my five favorite films that Tommy Lee Jones has either top-lined or supported in his 50-year career.

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5 Favorites Redux #56: Favorite DreamWorks Animation Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

This weekend, a small number of films release, and while I had some interesting options from which to choose, Emma Stone and Catherine Keener in The Croods: A New Age and Amy Adams and Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy, I ultimately chose to go with animation house DreamWorks. Their output has been inconsistent over the year, but there are just enough good films on their roster to highlight their five best.

Before we dig into my five favorites (two of which are trilogies), here are some of the films I skipped over: Antz was inferior to Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, but it was their first film and their first success. Featuring the voice of Woody Allen, the film really felt like a neurotic Allen film, which may be why it left an impression on me.

Chicken Run was the studio’s first collaboration with storied animation powerhouse Aardman animation with their hilarious stop-motion techniques. Their next collaboration made my list below. The original Shrek was a film of its time and was quite fun, but while the sequels were also engaging, it is ultimately my fourth favorite series they’ve produced.

The third favorite was the Madagascar films, which might seem like trifles, but they were fun films that kept us all laughing even if they were better geared towards kids than the more artfully impressive Pixar films. Trolls is just now beginning on a series, but the first film was an intensely fun surprise with wonderful music and some engaging vocal performances.

Now, let’s move on to my five favorites…
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5 Favorites Redux #55: Favorite Nicolas Cage Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

Starting out his career with his more famous Coppola surname, Nicolas Cage appeared in a number of popular films, though he was seldom seen as great prior to his work in Moonstruck, which re-defined his pre-Oscar career. From Moonstruck through to Adaptation. and his Oscar-winning performance in Leaving Las Vegas in between, Cage was a hit-or-miss actor who had plenty of hits and plenty of cash grabs, but hardly the execrable career that would follow after his Oscar win. After his box office success with National Treasure in 2004, his career took a decidedly downward turn with numerous disastrous performances in throw-away films peppered with the occasional well-regarded flick like Kick-Ass or Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. With almost 100 credits in his almost 40-year career, a dud here or there is to be expected, but with roughly 40% of his films coming from the 22-year period between his cinematic debut in 1982 and his last major box office triumph in 2004 (National Treasure) and the remainder from 2004 through 2020, a 16-year period, it’s safe to say that Cage no longer cares about what he stars in and we’re certainly not likely to see his career choices improve in the near future.

This weekend will see the release of another genre pic with Cage in the cast. Jiu Jitsu is a sci-fi film about an alien traveler who comes to Earth periodically to challenge a Jiu Jitsu master or else he will wipe out all of humanity. It looks about as dumb as its premise sounds. That said, there’s no question that Cage was once capable of great acting and he may still be if he ever takes challenging projects in the future. For now, let’s look back at his pre-fallow career with my five favorite films starring Nicolas Cage.

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5 Favorites Redux #54: Favorite Diane Keaton Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

This week, a disposable romantic comedy releases to cinemas and with it, we’re given another chance to bask in the humorous loveliness that is Diane Keaton. Love, Weddings & Other Disasters features Keaton as a blind woman dating a sighted man in Jeremy Irons. Around them, various incidents occur, but the trailer makes them seem utterly disconnected. The film co-stars Maggie Grace, Diego Boneta, and Andrew Bachelor.

While most movies have wasted Keaton’s talents in the last two decades, there’s no question she was at the top of her game from her big screen emergence in the 1970s through her 1990s revival period. Always a charming and welcome presence, Keaton has been stuck in the ditzy comedy style since her career began and which was largely cemented by her Academy Award-winning performance in Annie Hall.

I haven’t seen all of her work and I know films like Looking for Mr. Goodbar demand my attention, but I was able to put together a list of five favorite films for the actress without feeling sanguine about any of them. A brief shout out to First Wives Club, which brought Keaton together with Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn in the uproarious comedy that marked a high-water mark for her 1990s comedic output.

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5 Favorites Redux #53: Focus Features Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

On August 16, 2002 a scrappy independent studio released its first feature to cinemas. Possession was barely seen by audiences, nor were the other four films released that year, but their status as an Oscar powerhouse solidified with that first year of releases thanks to two films: Far from Heaven and The Pianist. The former was nominated for four Academy Awards and the latter picked up seven, taking home three Oscars for star Adrien Brody, screenwriter Ronald Harwood, and, controversially, director Roman Polanski.

From that point forward, their annual slate of releases were hotly anticipated. Both Far from Heaven and 8 Women were among my favorite films for 2002.

This weekend sees the release of another feature from this not-quite-two-decades-old mini studio. Let Him Go stars Kevin Costner and Diane Lane (who combined have only five films I would even cite in one of these lists because I haven’t seen enough of either actor’s work) as they try to rescue their grandson from a dangerous family in the Dakotas.

To celebrate Focus’ great history of cinematic releases, this week I’m taking a look at my five favorite films they’ve produced in the last 18 years. I will also highlight some films that didn’t make the cut, but deserve recognition.

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5 Favorites Redux #52: Favorite Horror Films, Part 3

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

It’s time to take a look at my third and final list of the best horror films of cinema history. Halloween is this weekend, so hopefully this or one of my prior articles has referenced a film you either haven’t seen before or haven’t seen in awhile and have become excited about as a result.

Last week, we came to an end in the mid-1990s when meta horror was about to burst onto the scene in a big way with Scream, the first in a series of three films that spawned similar pictures or parodies by the boatload. Then the trend started to fade as found footage horror made a splash in 1999 with The Blair With Project. Along with Saw in 2004, the 2000s were a decade of heightened realism and gory excess as horror took an even more visually daring direction than it had in the decades prior.

As the 2000s closed in on a new decade, Paranormal Activity changed up the found-footage style and turned it into a cinema vérité experience as cameras caught the action without having to be actively aware of it. It helped cement the 2000s as both an incredibly inventive period, but also a rather fallow one with fewer excellent films on display.

Originality made a huge resurgence in horror in the 2010s with countless original concepts making the middle and later parts of the decades one of the most creatively energetic in horror cinema’s long history. Films like Get Out, A Quiet Place, and The Purge leveled the playing field in unique and interesting ways.

Once again, I’d like to highlight a handful of films before getting into the ten of this period that are my favorites and, this time around, it’s a much broader list of films than before.

As I put together this list of honorable mentions, I realize that I could very well include most of the films I’ve listed the last three weeks into a top 40 list of great horror films and come close to hitting 50, doing so with little effort or regret. Still, I limited myself to 30 and that’s why there are just so many this week…largely because the last two decades have been rather bountiful in terms of great horror and horror-adjacent films.

Ever since Abbott & Costello met various Universal creatures comedy-horror films have been an integral part of the genre; however, the subgenre has had troubles since those days finding really good premises that are hilarious and fitting. Four films from the last three decades have managed to tickle the funny bone while being strong entries in the horror universe: Heathers (1989), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Zombieland (2009), and Tucker & Dave vs. Evil (2010) were the best I’ve seen.

The more I do these lists, the more I remember films that should have been included, but weren’t. 28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later are among the best of the new breed of zombie horror films. Future Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle put together the first film, while Juan Carlos Fresnadillo put together the sequel five years later. Together or apart, these creative and visually daring experiences brought George A. Romero’s greatest work into the present with frightening depth.

As mentioned before, a film that did more to goose the gore quotient in horror films than any other picture was 2004’s Saw. Based on a short film, the James Wan-directed feature starred Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell as two men trapped in a sick game of survival by the mysterious Jigsaw. Meanwhile Danny Glover and Ken Leung play detectives hot on the trail of the killer, hoping to save his victims before it’s too late. A lot of what is done in this film is akin to the locked room subgenre of horror. It also borrows heavily from the moral imperatives of slasher films in the 1970s and 1980s. Combined, this bloody feature was a rousing success and while it most definitely is not for everyone, for better or worse, it reinvented and reinvigorated a genre that was starting to struggle for lack of originality.

While it might be easy to lump supernatural horror films into the horror fantasy subgenre, those films are typically modern and rely mostly on jump scares. Guillermo del Toro, being no stranger to surreal or fanciful films, gave us one of the best fantasy horror films ever made. Pan’s Labyrinth, more so than his more recent Oscar winner The Shape of Water, tackles horror frigtheningly well as it delves into a little girl’s attempts to rationalize the horrific world around her, set against the backdrop of Francisco Franco’s fascistic rule of Spain. It’s visually striking with a haunting score and a stirring central performance from Ivana Baquero.

Little seen by audiences, Exam is a hidden gem of a horror film about a group of young job candidates facing several increasingly dangerous tasks in an effort to secure a lucrative job in the most cutthroat interview ever devised. Set in an alternate Britain, the film takes locked-room thrillers to a new level and throws in a post-apocalyptic vibe and a fascinating escape room concept to make for an entertaining experience.

Ryan Reynolds doesn’t get nearly enough opportunities to flex his acting muscles, but with Buried, he not only gets more than he bargained for, but also finds a way to convey fear, desperation, anger, and hopelessness in spellbinding ways. In the film, he plays a US contractor in Iraq who’s abducted and buried in a confined small box somewhere in the Iraqi desert. It’s this potential tomb in which the entirety of the film takes place. His kidnappers torment him and toy with his emotions as his only connection to the outside world is a cell phone through which he communicates with every other character in the film, including his employers and his wife.

We’ve seen numerous films over the decades where one killer virus after another threatens civilization. Contagion might be more of a post-apocalyptic disaster film than a pure horror film, but its horrific prospects provide stunning foreshadowing of our present-day pandemic threat. An all-star cast makes this Steven Soderbergh feature quite an experience. It’s one you won’t easily come away from unchanged.

I did a 5 Favorites article near the beginning of the feature’s run that looked at inventive horror premises. The Purge was one of them. While ostensibly a locked-room (house) thriller, James DeMonaco’s film had a fantastic and inventive premise, one that seemed all the more possible considering recent trends in US politics. Ethan Hawke leads a sterling ensemble as the annual Purge event begins at sundown and those who don’t protect themselves risk certain death from teeming hordes of joy-seeking and vengeance-taking miscreants of all stripes. Hawke’s family, sitting in a safe house he designed, discovers that no place is truly safe after a group of white, masked intruders break in so they can kill the black man (Edwin Hodge) they have taken in to ostensibly save.

Drawing inspiration heavily from Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (another film I seem to have forgotten to include previously), Hereditary is writer-director Ari Aster’s stellar debut. Following the strange events that surround the Graham family, Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, and Molly Shipiro star. The film is broken into three distinct segments with the horrific and jolting first act finale coming as an absolute shock, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and certain merits a watch even if some scenes give you the creeps or cause you to cringe.

Another entry on my list of inventive horror premises, A Quiet Place (2018) is a fascinating experiment that works incredibly well. In a post-apocalyptic future, an alien species has taken up residence on planet Earth. They are completely blind, but have exceptional hearing. As such, a small family lives entirely in silence with dialogue limited to the latter third of the film. Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe play the children effectively, but it’s parents John Krasinski and Emily Blunt who deliver the strongest performances and Blunt would have been every bit deserving of an Oscar nomination for this performance. The film also should have won the one Oscar it was nominated for: Best Sound Editing.

Director Luca Guadagnino knew that he would never be able to exceed Dario Argento’s horror masterpiece Suspiria, so his remake of the film decides to shift focus and design styles. It all works out surprisingly well as he takes audiences inside an elite ballet company where strange occurrences are commonplace. Dakota Johnson, Mia Goth, and a host of other actors are terrific, but the film belongs to Tilda Swinton who takes on three highly distinct and original roles in the film. While it remains inferior to Argento’s film, it distinguishes itself enough to be marked as one of the greatest remakes in horror history alongside Rob Zombie’s Halloween (which also deserves recognition from this article, but which I don’t have enough space for) and Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The last of this week’s honorable mentions is Jordan Peele’s Us. His second film as a director wasn’t as great as his debut feature, but it’s still a terrific film. It’s one of those films where once you know the twist, everything before it becomes even more fascinating. Encourage your friends not to spoil the end to this one, simply to make the reveal even more enjoyable. Peele injects plenty of symbolism and his script is terrifically written. This is a movie that will help form the foundation of future historians’ bases for establishing the someday-influential Peelian style.

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5 Favorites Redux Delayed

A lot of issues conspired to get in the way of posting the final piece of my three-part series today as planned. As such, I’ve decided to postpone its reveal until Saturday morning, Halloween itself. Hope you enjoy.

5 Favorites Redux #51: Favorite Horror Films, Part 2

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

This week, I continue my look into my favorite horror films of all time. The second part covers a cinematic period from 1978 through 1994. During these years, horror took a hard turn towards gory details. It also covered a period where not only did slashers rule the box office, but their excessive numbers of sequels did as well. Between Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street alone, 18 sequels were generated and that’s not including sequel-heavy series such as Child’s Play, Hellraiser, and Puppet Master.

Granted, some series like Scary Movie, Scream, Paranormal Activity, and Saw all emerged largely after this era, but it was this almost 20-year period that seemed to generate the most frequent and popular series.

In the midst of all of these sequels, some inventive horror films managed to get lost in the shuffle and never secured sequels. Some of them may not have even deserved them, but films like House, House II (which was a sequel in name only, not plot), April Fool’s Day, Creepshow, Prom Night, Return to Horror High, Deadtime Stories, and several other films gave this period not just a distinctive visceral appeal, but it generated some very lovely, cheesy horror films that may not have been great, but were certainly memorable.

Creepshow led the way in terms of launching a small number of anthology horror films, such as its sequel and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie as well as a few other small films, but it was also part of another string of successful horror films in this period, namely movies made from Stephen King books. Among the best were Carrie, Cujo, Salem’s Lot, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, and my person favorite of these films, The Shining. It and Misery both feature in my all-time best list this week, while Dolores Claiborne sits just on the other side of this list and will be highlighted next week. And while King’s adaptations weren’t always great (see Needful Things), they were incredibly popular. He also made a brief ’90s run of television miniseries, which aren’t included in this list, but It and The Shining might well have made the list if they were.

Before we dig into this week’s set of ten films, I’d like to highlight a group of pictures from this period that didn’t make the list, but deserve some measure of recognition.

When I put together my list, I may have haphazardly run through the list of films I’ve seen as it’s an extensive list, but I tried my best to highlight everything possible. Yet, as I started working on this week’s article and began discussing Stephen King adaptations, I realized that Carrie, which I mentioned above, didn’t get a write up anywhere and I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize Brian De Palma’s superb film. The film’s two best performances were head-and-shoulders above the rest of the cast with Sissy Spacek as the psychokinetic teen picked on by her classmates and her demented hyper-religious mother played by Piper Laurie. They were rightfully nominated for Oscars for their performances with Laurie a better option to win than at least winner Beatrice Straight.

Last week, I highlighted the incredible sci-fi horror feature Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In 1978, a sort of remake of that film was made with Donald Sutherland in the lead role. Moving from a small town to a global landscape, the film ultimately was only barely inferior to that 1956 original.

If you were to compare the various franchises that dominated the 1980s, the Friday the 13th films would easily be the worst. Yet, if you look at the very first film, Sean S. Cunningham’s 1980 original, you would ultimately find an inventive premise that belies expectations. Friday the 13th doesn’t hold a candle to the first films in the Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, but it’s a stellar opener with a fun twist and a solid score.

On a quality scale, April Fool’s Day has too many issues to be considered great. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun film to sit down and watch. This 1986 Fred Walton film boasted a cast of nobodies, much like many other horror films of the period. While some of them managed to go on to other acting jobs, including a few TV performers, only one of them could possibly lay claim to fame. Thomas F. Wilson, the villain Biff in the Back to the Future series, takes on a supporting role here as many do. What’s most enjoyable about this film is the twist ending. The lead up to it is most fascinating and marks one of the more inventive of the period. The reference to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was just an added bonus.

Considering the popularity of Anne Rice’s vampire literary universe, it’s surprising that the popular Interview with the Vampire from 1994 never managed to linger long enough to generate popular sequels. Perhaps it was stars Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, who had big careers around them or ahead of them, that didn’t want to continue. Regardless, this sudsy vampire drama did a lot of things incredibly well, but it’s biggest gift to cinema history was the boost it gave Kirsten Dunst’s career. Hers was one of the best young performances captured on film and while her career since has been a mixed bag, she’s more than proven herself to be an incredibly capable actress.

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5 Favorites Redux #50: Favorite Horror Films, Part 1

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

Halloween is just over two weeks away and it falls on a Saturday night, a rare occurrence for the trick-or-treating holiday. The excitement over such an alignment is tempered by a pandemic that makes social interactions concerning and risky. As such, many kids (and probably college students) may struggle to enjoy this holiday, but it doesn’t have to be a total downer. There are plenty of horror films you can stream or rent or buy on DVD/Blu-ray. In honor of this extra creepy holiday, I want to take a special look at my favorite horror films. Over the next three weeks, we’ll look at some of my all-time faves, from the popular to the obscure. It was a tough trick to narrow these all down in only three weeks. Further, since this is 5 Favorites, I feel like a bit of a cheat, but there will ultimately be nothing but intervals of 5 at work here.

We start this off with ten films, mostly in black-and-white, that came to define several different eras of horror at the cinema. Early horror was more cerebral than visceral, which exemplifies the first half of today’s list of films. However, as the 1960s pressed on, things began shifting towards the gore quotient of modern horror films and will end at roughly the point where slasher films began taking over movieplexes.

Before moving on to the list, let’s look at four honorable mentions from this same period that were all stellar films, but which don’t quite fit what we think of as horror today. These are great films that were pulled from my list for one reason or another, but deserve some recognition.

Based on a novel by Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) tells the story of a healthy young man who hides a shocking secret. All the blemishes and blights of aging are transferred to a painting he keeps hidden in his home, allowing him to look perpetually hale and handsome. The character has been referenced countless times sense, but this film effortlessly presents the story with creative energy and a frightening color portrait inserted into the black-and-white framework of the film.

The Night of the Hunter (1955) was the only film celebrated actor Charles Laughton ever director and it’s a shame he never did more as this picture is one of the all-time greats. It’s a taut, tense thriller about an ex-convict who pursues his ex-partner’s widow in an effort to locate the spoils of a prior theft. Robert Mitchum as the “preacher” and Shelley Winters as the widow are absolutely brilliant while the film is a reminder of how musical cues, lighting, and editing can help raise tensions.

This honorable mention is a sci-fi thriller with horror elements titled Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) about an alien invasion where pods mature into exact duplicates of townsfolk, slowly killing and replacing everything with an alien doppelganger. It’s a great film that was equaled and perhaps even surpassed by its 1978 version, which will receive a mention of its own next week.

In Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), Bette Davis is a wealthy widow who asks her cousin Olivia de Havilland to help her convince the local highway commission not to demolish her home. Davis is subjected to several harrowing events that lead to her mental deterioration. Suspecting de Havilland, Davis struggles to prove the case and ultimately risks psychiatric confinement if she can’t uncover the truth. Well acted and directed, the film is an engaging psychological thriller.

Now that we’ve discussed those films, let’s take a look at this week’s ten offerings.
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