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2017 Top 10 Films

Top 10 of 2017

List by-Jarrett Leahy

As the 2018 Academy Awards near, it’s time yet again for AmateurCinephile.com to release the site’s Top 10 list for the 2017 movie year. Every year, there are always films that unfortunately go unseen before the Top 10 posting.  This year is no different, but, overall, I’m fairly comfortable with these selections, and I hope you’ll give a few of them a watch if given the chance.


Baby Driver (Edgar Wright)
Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo)
Get Out (Jordan Peele)
Mudbound (Dee Rees)
Last Flag Flying (Richard Linklater)
Wind River (Taylor Sheridan)
Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins)


  1. Columbus (Kogonada): He is stuck in Columbus, Indiana, tending to his ailing, estranged father.  She selflessly remains in Columbus, Indiana, to look after her recovering mother. Written and directed by Korean-born filmmaker, Kogonada and starring John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson, Columbus is a contemplative and emotionally therapeutic examination of responsibilities the child must endure when it comes to taking care of ailing parents. A showcase of the heralded modern architecture that populates the town it is set in, Columbus is a hidden gem worth seeking out. (A-)

  1. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan): The harrowing true story of the evacuation of the Allied army from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, as the German forces surround and close in on their location. Told using three intertwined storylines, each with its own timeline, auteur filmmaker Christopher Nolan expertly recounts this momentous event in world history with meticulous detail and accuracy. Rivetingly immersive, Dunkirk proves yet again Nolan remains at the top of his game. (A)

  1. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson): A distinguished 1950’s London dressmaker finds his meticulously controlled life upset by a headstrong young woman who becomes his muse and romantic interest. The final performance for three-time Academy Award-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread is an elegant and sumptuous period drama filled with stunning costume design (he’s a world-renowned dressmaker after all). But all this pageantry masks a dark, little secret.  This film is a bit naughty. Clandestine power struggles ensue between this famed artist, used to getting his way, and his new creative influence he does not want to alienate, and we the viewer get to sit back and enjoy the lovingly underhanded and subversive actions that emanate. (A)

  1. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino): Set amongst the beautiful 1980’s Italian countryside, a burgeoning relationship blossoms between a 17-year-old young man and an older college student who is hired to be the research assistant for his father. Nostalgic and romantic, Luca Guadagnino’s tale of infatuation and sexual discovery never over-sensationalizes or turns tawdry.  Rather, it remains honest and adoringly engaging as we experience the euphoric highs and afflicting lows of an unconventional first love. (A)

  1. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve): After the uncovering of a long-repressed secret that could plunge a society already in disarray into anarchy, LAPD blade runner, Officer K, is tasked with covertly identifying and eliminating this threat and seeks out the assistance of former blade Runner, Rick Deckard, who has been in hiding for over thirty years. The choice to make a sequel to a cult-classic science fiction masterpiece twenty-five years after its initial release was a perilous decision to say the least. But if anyone could pull it off it would be Canadian auteur, Denis Villeneuve, and boy did he. Starring Ryan Gosling as Officer K, Blade Runner 2049 not only expertly compliments the narrative laid down by the original film, but skillfully expands on it to create its own existential questions involving artificial intelligence and what exactly are our responsibilities as the creator. A true masterwork of the science fiction genre, let the endless debate begin as to which film is better. (A)

  1. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig): This deliciously quirky coming-of-age story follows a peculiarly charismatic 17-year-old girl trying to find herself in the mundane suburbs of Sacramento, CA circa 2002. Written and directed by actor/filmmaker Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, Jackie, Mistress America) Lady Bird is a fictitious homage to her own unconventional upbringing in Sacramento, CA. Starring now three-time Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn, Atonement), Lady Bird cunningly captures the angst-ridden world of this precocious young woman as she tries to find her way in life. Filled with amusing Catholic school anecdotes and a period-accurate soundtrack, Lady Bird shows that Gerwig will remain a creative force to be reckoned with for years to come. (A)

  1. The Big Sick (Michael Showalter): Kumail, a Pakistani-born comedian living in Chicago, struggles with the idea of possibly alienating his family after he meets and falls for Emily, a non-Pakistani grad student. These feelings become even more convoluted when Emily becomes critically ill. Written by real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon based on their own covert courtship, The Big Sick is an immigrant story, medical drama, and behind-the-scenes look at the life of a stand-up comedian wrapped up into a wonderfully sentimental and diverting romantic comedy. A film that gets better with each viewing (I’ve seen it three times), The Big Sick joins Lady Bird as two first-rate pieces of comedic cinema destined to be modern comedy classics. (A)

  1. A Ghost Story (David Lowery): The ghost of a man who suffered a sudden, tragic death returns to his bucolic house to be with his grieving wife. Writer/director David Lowery creates an uncommonly peculiar and exceptional ghost story, exploring the idea of the afterlife with a poignant eeriness, as you sympathize with the ghost’s frustration about not being able to communicate or even comfort the woman he loves. Lowery’s decision to utilize the childish ghost-in-a-sheet motif was an intrepid choice, bringing a level of existential realism to a character that could have easily been construed as campy or nonsensical. Achingly hypnotic and mesmerizing at times, this film may not be for everyone, but if you’re into more experimental cinema, A Ghost Story is by far one the best. (A)

  1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson): As the Resistance prepares to battle the First Order, Rey remains on Ahch-To, hoping to persuade exiled Jedi-Master Luke Skywalker to train her how to harness and control her new-found abilities. The second installment of the third Star Wars trilogy has caused quite the controversy amongst some of the so-called Star Wars purists, as many have taken umbrage with the Luke Skywalker story arc that writer/director Rian Johnson created for the iconic character. After witnessing Johnson’s masterful extension of the Galaxy, far, far away, the only controversy I can see is whether or not The Last Jedi has surpassed The Empire Strikes Back for the title of the best Star Wars installment. It has for me, and I suspect that, if you are a fan of the franchise and go into your viewing without any preconceived expectations, you will find this film to be one of the best of 2017. (A)

  1. Mother! (Darren Aronofsky): A couple’s secluded tranquility is up-ended when unsolicited visitors unexpectedly show up on their doorstep, straining their peaceful way of living. Choosing this film for my #1 film of 2017 comes with a bit of trepidation, for many moviegoers have expressed a general dislike (or downright hatred) for Darren Aronofsky’s latest cinematic creation. However, for me, there was no film more daring or original to come out in 2017 than Mother! and I honestly believe it will find its rightful critical praise as time passes. A biblical allegory disguised as a psychological horror film, at the time of the movie’s theatrical release, there was a big debate about whether the film’s allegorical aspects should be known beforehand, basically “spoiling” any major surprises it offered. It is my recommendation that you should spoil the plot for the sake of understanding and/or possibly enjoying the film’s abstract narrative involving humankind’s infatuation with God and mistreatment of mother nature. Terrifying, intoxicating, avant-garde, Mother! will be hated by many. There’s a good chance you will or already do, and that’s perfectly alright. But for me, no film from 2017 challenged me more or left me downright giddy with appreciative enthusiasm. I truly hope you’ll give it a chance. (A)

Edited by-Michelle Zenor
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Movie Hall of Fame-Class of 2018!

Hall of Fame 2018

List by-Jarrett Leahy

Being Oscar night eve, it’s time again to announce the 5th annual AmateurCinephile.com Hall of Fame class of 2018. This year’s cinematic inductees include one first-ballot film (movies from 2008 became eligible for selection this year), a Best Picture Oscar nominee, three National Film Registry selections, two crime dramas, two comedies, a beloved sports fantasy, arguably the greatest silent film of all time, and a Robert De Niro film for a fifth straight year (I think that’s some kind of record!) all wrapped up into six extremely worthy candidates. If you have not seen any of these amazing films, please take the time to go seek them out, and feel free to share your thoughts…


Rachel Getting Married (2008): Rachel Getting Married is the one inductee this year being selected in its first year of eligibility. I foresee some out there questioning this film’s worthiness of 1st ballot status over a caped-crusading 2008 entry, but allow me to point out that Rachel Getting Married was listed on over twenty critics’ end-of-year Top 10 lists back in 2008, including five #1 selections.  Additionally, Anne Hathaway received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her poignantly spellbinding performance as the recovering addict sister Kym. Directed by the late, great Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia), Rachel Getting Married deftly melds a beautiful storyline that encompasses real-life subject matter including addiction, rehab and recovery, grief, forgiveness, sister dynamics, and the blending of two families, all exquisitely presented in a wonderfully vibrant wedding setting filled with the effervescent sounds of the various musicians that make up much of the wedding party. Some may have written this film off, but ten years later, Rachel Getting Married remains the one of finest dramas of the 21st century and very much worthy of Hall of Fame inclusion.

Bringing Up Baby (1938): A single-minded paleontologist finds his bid to procure a $1 million dollar donation repeatedly thwarted by a zany woman of means and her pet leopard, Baby. Starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant (our editor’s favorite debonair heartthrob), Bringing Up Baby has overcome its initial reputation of a box office bomb (director Howard Hawks was fired from his next film at RKO after its abysmal failure) to become one of the most celebrated slapstick comedies of all-time. Selected for inclusion into the National Film Registry back in 1990, Bringing Up Baby is one of two films from the 1930’s being inducted into AmateurCinephile.com Hall of Fame this year…

City Lights (1931):…with City Lights being the other 1930’s inductee. Endearingly sweet and endlessly comical, Chaplin’s masterpiece tells the story of his cherished character, the Tramp, who has fallen for a blind, ethereal young woman who is struggling to make ends meet. Hoping to win her heart, the Tramp sets out to help with the financial difficulties that have befallen the young lady and her beloved grandmother. A 1991 National Film Registry inductee and arguably the finest work from Hollywood legend Charlie Chaplin, City Lights now holds the honor as the first silent film to be inducted into the AmateurCinephile.com Hall of Fame.

Field of Dreams (1989): “If you build it, he will come.” This iconic movie line is just one of many reasons for Field of Dreams’ entry into the Hall of Fame. The fourth film from the 1980’s to be inducted, Field of Dreams is on the short list of candidates for the title of the greatest sports film of all-time. (Just try to remain stoic at the ultimate manly tear-jerker, “Hey Dad, you wanna have a catch?”). Starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, and Burt Lancaster in his final performance, Field of Dreams was Oscar nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score, as well as being chosen last year for inclusion into the National Film Registry for its status as “a culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film.” Its induction into the AmateurCinephile.com Hall of Fame is a testament to its ability to deliver a timeless baseball fantasy that never fails to inspire reverie and wonderment.

Heat (1995): This year’s 1990’s representative becomes the third movie from the decade’s most celebrated year in film, 1995, to be inducted, joining inaugural Class of 2014 member Before Sunrise and Casino, which was part of the Class of 2015. Auteur filmmaker Michael Mann has made his fair share of great films (Collateral, Last of the Mohicans, Manhunter), but Heat is unquestionably his magnum opus. The last truly masterful film from acting legends Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more intense, or louder, scene than the aftermath of the bank robbery that spills out into the downtown Los Angeles streets. Heat may have been “criminally” overlooked back in 1995 by the Academy, but today this fiercely compelling crime drama is now an AmateurCinephile.com Hall of Famer.

Road to Perdition (2002): Nominated for six Academy awards including a win for Best Cinematography, Road to Perdition was the exquisitely crafted followup to director Sam Mendes’ Best Picture winner, American Beauty. Starring Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig, Jude Law, and Paul Newman in his last on-screen performance, Road to Perdition tells the story of a mafia hit man who is forced to go on the lam to protect his son after he witnesses a mob killing. Known for playing more wholesome roles, Tom Hanks adroitly embraces the enigmatic and immoral aspects of this character’s profession while still bringing a level of earnestness and compassion that helps ground his performance in reality. Now that director Sam Mendes has escaped the responsibilities of the James Bond franchise, I hope he returns to making more creative films like Road to Perdition, the final 2018 AmateurCinephile.com Hall of Famer.
road to perdition

So there you have it, the AmateurCinephile.com Hall of Fame Class of 2018. Make sure you come back next Oscar’s eve when six more films are chosen for inclusion.-JL

Edited by-Michelle Zenor


-1930’s (3):
Bringing Up Baby, 1938
(Class of 2018)
City Lights, 1931 (Class of 2018)
Wizard of Oz, 1939 (Class of 2014)

-1940’s (3):
Casablanca, 1942
(Class of 2014)
Notorious, 1946 (Class of 2015)
The Third Man, 1949 (Class of 2015)

-1950’s (1):
Anatomy of a Murder, 1959
(Class of 2014)

-1960’s (3):
Belle de Jour, 1967
(Class of 2017)
The Leopard, 1963 (Class of 2016)
2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968 (Class of 2014)

-1970’s (4):
Chinatown, 1972
(Class of 2015)
The Deer Hunter, 1978 (Class of 2017)
The Godfather, 1972 (Class of 2014)
The Godfather Part 2, 1974 (Class of 2014)

-1980’s (4):
A Christmas Story, 1983
(Class of 2017)
Field of Dreams, 1989 (Class of 2018)
Hannah and her Sisters, 1986 (Class of 2014)
Tender Mercies, 1983 (Class of 2015)

-1990’s (8):
Before Sunrise, 1995 (Class of 2014)
Boogie Nights, 1997 (Class of 2015)
Casino, 1995 (Class of 2015)
Dazed & Confused, 1993 (Class of 2016)
Goodfellas, 1990 (Class of 2016)
Heat, 1995 (Class of 2018)
Pulp Fiction, 1994 (Class of 2014)
Rushmore, 1998 (Class of 2017)

-2000’s (10):
Almost Famous, 2000
(Class of 2014)
Before Sunset, 2004 (Class of 2014)
Brokeback Mountain, 2005 (Class of 2016)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004 (Class of 2015)
Lost in Translation, 2003 (Class of 2014)
No Country For Old Men, 2007 (Class of 2017)
Rachel Getting Married, 2008 (Class of 2018)
Road to Perdition, 2002 (Class of 2018)
Sideways, 2004 (Class of 2016)
There Will Be Blood, 2007 (Class of 2017)

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Movie Hall of Fame–CLASS OF 2017!!


List by-Jarrett Leahy

As we approach the eve of Oscar night, it is time yet again to announce the AmateurCinephile.com Hall of Fame class of 2017. This year’s cinematic inductees include two first-ballot films (movies from 2007 became eligible for selection this year), two Best Picture Oscar winners, a foreign classic, a war film, two modern westerns, two comedies, perhaps the greatest holiday film of all time, and a Robert De Niro film for the fourth straight year (that guy is really good) all wrapped up into six extremely worthy candidates. If for some reason, you have not seen any of these amazing films, please take the time to go seek them out, and feel free to share your thoughts…


No Country For Old Men (2007): No Country for Old Men is one of two films from 2007 being selected in its first year of eligibility. The Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Best Director(s), and Best Adapted Screenplay, the film will most likely be remembered for Javier Bardem’s terrifying depiction of sociopathic hitman Anton Chigurh, a performance that garnered him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar and will undoubtedly remain one of Hollywood’s most iconic portrayals. Legendary filmmakers the Coen brothers have made their fair share of accomplished cinema, but for my taste, No Country is their finest cinematic achievement to date.

There Will Be Blood (2007): Nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning two for Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Best Cinematography, There Will Be Blood is the second 2007 film to be selected for AmateurCinephile.com Hall of Fame status. Blessed with one of the finest performances in cinema history (Day-Lewis’s portrayal of oil tycoon Daniel Plainview was recently ranked #1 Best Actor winning performance of the 21st Century by RollingStone.com), There Will Be Blood is the magnum opus of gifted filmmaker, Paul Thomas Anderson, and is Anderson’s second film to be elected into our Hall of Fame, joining his 1997 masterpiece, Boogie Nights.

Belle de Jour (1967): A passionless young housewife looking for excitement, explores the idea of spending her afternoons as a high class prostitute while her husband is at work. Provocateur filmmaker Luis Bunuel traded in subversive, incendiary cinema, but none is more playfully sardonic or arousingly titillating than Belle de Jour. Winner of the 1967 Golden Lion, the highest prize given at the Venice Film Festival, Belle de Jour offers an absolute tour-de-force performance from its sultry, French star, Catherine Deneuve. Belle de Jour becomes the second foreign language Hall of Fame film, joining 2016 inductee, The Leopard (1963).

A Christmas Story (1983): I can hear some out there (like my mother for instance) questioning the selection of A Christmas Story as a Hall of Fame movie, so let me lay out it’s candidacy. For a decently sized portion of our movie-loving society, A Christmas Story is arguably the greatest holiday movie of all time. I obviously fall into this very astute and enlightened group. But even if it isn’t number one, there’s no disputing that A Christmas Story would be included alongside the likes of It’s A Wonderful Life and the original Miracle on 34th Street on the Mount Rushmore of Christmas movies. What puts A Christmas Story over the top for me is it is simply one of the finest comedies of the 1980’s, regardless of its holiday film status. Year after year, I find myself chuckling at the slew of classic jokes and sight gags. These jokes, no matter how many times I watch the movie during its annual 24-hour marathon showings, never seem to get old or lose their comedic punch. And if that doesn’t convince you of its worthiness, A Christmas Story was a National Film Registry selection back in 2012 for “important cultural, artistic and historic achievements in filmmaking.” If it’s good enough for the Library of Congress, it’s good enough for the AmateurCinephile.com Hall of Fame!

The Deer Hunter (1978): Winner of the 1978 Best Picture, The Deer Hunter is seen by many as the one crowning jewel of a rather disappointing filmmaking career for its director Michael Cimino (although I’m a staunch defender of his much maligned Heaven’s Gate). Starring 1970’s acting icons Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken, who was awarded the Best Supporting Actor for his formidable portrayal in the film, The Deer Hunter wound up being the final film of the short yet illustrious career of character actor extraordinaire, John Cazale, who tragically died of cancer shortly after filming was completed. The Deer Hunter is the fifth Best Picture inducted into the AmateurCinephile.com Hall of Fame (Casablanca, Godfather, Godfather Part 2, No Country For Old Men), and the fourth movie from the 1970’s, joining inaugural Class of 2014 inductees, The Godfather and The Godfather Part 2, and Class of 2015 selection, Chinatown.

Rushmore (1998): This year’s 1990’s representative comes from the marvelously singular filmmaker Wes Anderson, a director I can never get enough of. Starring Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray, whose distinguished portrayal earned him the Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe, Rushmore was one of twenty-five selections the Library of Congress chose for inclusion into the National Film Registry in 2016. Quirky and intelligently droll, Rushmore will forever be Anderson’s first comedic masterpiece. Rushmore becomes the seventh film from the 1990’s elected into the AmateurCinephile.com Hall of Fame, joining Before Sunrise, Pulp Fiction, Boogie Nights, Casino, Dazed & Confused, and Goodfellas.

So there you have it, the AmateurCinephile.com Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Make sure you come back next Oscar’s eve when six more films are chosen for inclusion.-JL

Edited by-Michelle Zenor
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2016 Top 10 Films

List by-Jarrett Leahy

As the 2017 Academy Awards near, it’s time yet again for AmateurCinephile.com to release the site’s Top 10 list for the 2016 movie year. Every year, there are always films that unfortunately go unseen before the Top 10 posting, and this year is no different. But overall, I’m fairly comfortable with these selections and I hope you’ll give a few of them a watch if given the chance.


-Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)- A New Zealand-set, odd-couple comedy starring Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) and a precocious Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a sweetly amusing outback adventure that will leave you wanting more. (B+)

-Swiss Army Man (Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinhert)- A man deserted on an island befriends a dead body that washes up on the shore, and, together, they find their way back to civilization. A farcical comedy with such a preposterous premise should have been dead in the water (pardon the pun) but in the hands of filmmakers Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert along with stars Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, Swiss Army Man is a true absurdist gem that tugs at the heartstrings. (B+)

-Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford) Fashion designer/filmmaker Tom Ford’s second cinematic effort is a dark and intoxicatingly raunchy mystery thriller that will keep you glued to your seat until the film’s bitter end (and be prepared for the most…unforgettable opening credits ever). Nocturnal Animals proves yet again that Amy Adams can do anything she wants. (B+)

-Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross)- A family living off the grid in the Northwest wilderness is forced to come back to the “real world” after a sudden, unexpected tragedy. Vigo Mortensen earns his second Oscar nomination for his celebrated portrayal of Ben, a complex family patriarch who is forced to re-evaluate the unconventional lifestyle choices he has made for his children. An amusing and heartfelt comedic drama, Captain Fantastic will leave you smiling inside. (B+)


10. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos) A dystopian satire depicting a future where being single is against the law, Yorgos Lanthimos’ deranged and unhinged pitch black comedy is the film I’m most hesitant to recommend, for I foresee a majority of everyday movie fans not appreciating the movie’s quirky darkness. But if you’re the type that digs unusual and unconventional cinema, I promise you’ve never seen anything like it, as The Lobster’s true originality left me floored. (A-)

9. Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols) A father and son go on the lam, evading capture from both Federal authorities and a religious cult which has become enamored with the young boy’s unexplained supernatural powers. Restrained and methodically paced, writer/director Jeff Nichols masterfully builds the mystical intrigue surrounding this young boy’s gifts. Blessed with a “beyond-his-age” performance from the gifted young actor, Jaeden Liberher, along with a first-rate supporting cast that includes the likes of Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and Adam Driver, Nichols has added yet another impactful piece of cinematic work to go alongside his accomplished films, Mud and Taking Shelter. (A-)

8. Sing Street (John Carney)After family hardships force a sudden change in schools, Conner, a young man growing up in 1980’s Dublin, decides to start up a band in the hopes of impressing the alluring new girl he is smitten with. Delightfully wholehearted, Sing Street is writer/director John Carney’s third music-based film, joining the much loved Once (2007) and Begin Again (2013). Chock-full of catchy originals and classic ’80’s tunes, Carney’s ode to youthful exuberance perfectly captures the naïve excitement of starting your first band. (A)

7. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve) When unidentified spacecraft mysteriously appear around the globe, language specialist Louise Banks is charged with the difficult task of deciphering the complex communication of these new celestial species. After a string of successful films including Incendies (2010), Prisoners (2013), and Sicario (2015), it’s time to state the obvious that Denis Villeneuve is one of the most gifted filmmakers working today. Starring Amy Adams, whose superb portrayal of Louise Banks is arguably this year’s biggest Oscar snub, Arrival is an intelligently crafted science fiction drama filled with tension and emotional complexity. (A)

6. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins) Told as a three-part drama, Moonlight follows the story of Chiron from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to survive in the dangerous urban projects of Miami all while coming to grips with a true identity that could make life even harder for him. Poetic and harrowing at times, this gay, coming-of-age story is a beautiful piece of cinema that raises questions about personal identity and the true nature of masculinity, all while shining a light on the constant struggles inner-city youth face on a daily basis. Easily one of the best of 2016, Moonlight will give La La Land a run for its money come Oscar night. (A)

5. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie) Writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) and director David Mackenzie prove again that the western isn’t dead just yet as they unleash this charged tale of two brothers who go on an eleventh-hour crime spree in hopes of staving off an impending bank seizure of their family’s ranch. Chris Pine and Ben Foster bring a genuine sincerity to their morally flawed characters, and Jeff Bridges has perfected the amusingly cantankerous curmudgeon. While nothing groundbreaking, Hell or High Water is a fine piece of filmmaking and a wonderful new addition to the western genre. (A)

4. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman) After making a name for himself in the ’90’s with a trio of highbrow, intellectual indie comedies, Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), and The Last Days of Disco (1998), writer/director Whit Stillman is back with this waggish adaptation of the Jane Austen epistolary novel, Lady Susan. Starring Kate Beckinsale in one of her finest performances, Love & Friendship tells the story of a high society widow who visits her in-laws’ estate in the hopes of escaping her checkered past and finding a husband for her flighty daughter. Blessed with a gifted cast, the film’s true scene stealer is Tom Bennett, whose uproarious performance as Sir James Martin left me in stitches. This is a Jane Austen film for fans and non-fans alike. (A)

3. Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater) Described by some as the “spiritual sequel” to Linklater’s 1993 cult classic, Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! follows a group of college baseball players over a two day period in the fall of 1980 just before the beginning of the new semester. Detractors have described the film as being “plotless,” but what Everybody Wants Some!! may lack in traditional storyline, it certainly makes up for in sheer amusement as it perfectly captures the overtly bro-tastic emanation that surrounds a college baseball team. I foresee Everybody Wants Some!! being yet another cult classic for Mr. Linklater. (A)

2. La La Land (Damien Chazelle) What else can be said about La La Land that wouldn’t be superfluous? Writer/director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to his award-winning Whiplash is a dazzling cinematic creation that truly jumps off the screen. A musical set in modern day Los Angeles, La La Land’s two stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, radiate sultry on-screen chemistry. The film’s overwhelming success at this year’s Golden Globes and subsequent haul of Oscar nominations has led to the inevitable backlash, but don’t let that scare you away from seeing one of the truly great films of 2016. (A+)

1. Blue Jay (Alex Lehmann) Two former high school sweethearts reunite by happenstance, spending an evening together reliving fond memories and opening old wounds from the past. Voyeuristic in the sweetest sense, Blue Jay is filled with unspoken words, flirtatious expressions, and lighthearted banter that mask repressed feelings. A film about reuniting high school sweethearts could come off as timeworn or hackneyed, but Mark Duplass, who not only stars in the film but also wrote the screenplay, does an adept job infusing genuine emotion and universal sentiment into this taut, black and white, eighty-minute masterwork. Highlighted by a remarkable performance from the consummate Sarah Paulson, there’s no better way to describe why I’ve chosen Blue Jay as my number one film of 2016 other than: I simply LOVE THIS FILM! I hope you’ll have the chance to seek it out. (A+)

-Edited by: Michelle Zenor
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2015 Top 10 Films

List by-Jarrett Leahy

I have finally had a free moment to finalize the AmateurCinephile.com Top 10 Movies list for 2015, and only a month later than I originally hoped to have had it posted. Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve seen all the possible candidates from 2015, and I’m sure there will be one or two I’ll later regret not having on this list, but I feel this is a pretty accurate depiction of what I found to be the best in the year of film circa 2015…

Honorable Mentions:
-Spy: Going in with minimal expectations may have aided in my enjoyment, but I must confess Melissa McCarthy’s Spy was a bit of a shocker for me. A comedienne whose talents have been squandered in the past, Spy left me thoroughly amused thanks to the aid of a stellar cast including fellow funny woman, Miranda Hart.
-The Gift: Australian actor Joel Edgerton’s first crack at writing and directing gave us The Gift, a taut and extremely tense Hitchcockian thriller co-starring Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall that’ll leave you squirming in your seat throughout.
-Straight Outta Compton: Straight Outta Compton, the NWA bio-pic, is an unexpectedly adept and entertaining look at the rise and fall of one of hip-hop’s most feared and influential 1980’s rap groups.
-Star Wars: The Force Awakens: An end-of-the-year box office smash, Star Wars: The Force Awakens felt a bit too much like a remake of the original 1977 film to crack my top 10 list, but credit must be given to J.J. Abrams for creating quite the nostalgia trip.
-Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: Only the second feature film from director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl turned out to be quite sweet & charming despite it’s melancholy subject matter (cancer) and  self-righteously nettlesome lead character.
-Room: a movie that just missed cracking my Top Ten, Room will forever be the film that announced to world what many cinephiles had already discovered in films like Short Term 12 and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Brie Larson is really good.

10. Dope
A gifted, inner-city high school senior finds his dream of attending Harvard University jeopardized when he unwittingly comes into possession of an illicit package. Blessed with a killer 90’s hip-hop soundtrack, writer/director Rick Famuyiwa’s comedic drama offers a surplus of laughs thanks to pitch-perfect chemistry from the film’s trio of lead characters all while delivering a very relevant message.

9. The Hateful Eight-
As an ardent Tarantino fan, I must confess that this was the first time I had to contemplate whether one of his films was actually worthy of Top 10 inclusion. While not quite as masterful as past achievements, The Hateful Eight still brings together all the elements you’d expect from a Quentin creation: a stellar cast, striking cinematography, and a caustic script filled with its fair share of barbed language and bloodthirsty violence.

8. Mad Max: Fury Road-
It’s extremely rare that the fourth film of a franchise, made thirty years after the previous effort, would wind up being the best of the bunch, but that is what 70-year-old Australian director George Miller managed to do with Mad Max: Fury Road. Blessed with two star-studded performances from Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road is a terrifying, adrenaline-fueled thrill ride extravaganza that will no doubt leave you exhausted.

7. Mistress America-
A lonely college freshman joins up with her free-spirited, prospective sister-in-law to explore the quirky happenings of New York City. Mixing elements of screwball and comedy of manners, Mistress America, the follow up to the near perfect 2013 comedy, Frances Ha, is a witty breath of fresh air that offers yet another reason why writer/director Noah Baumbach is quickly rising up my list of favorite filmmakers.

6. The Big Short-
The Big Short is a scathing examination of the 2008-09 American housing bubble and the small group of outsiders who saw the opportunity to cash in on the arrogant miscalculations of our nation’s top banking institutions. Bursting with sterling performances from a sensational cast of A-list stars, The Big Short’s array of sardonic humor helps make much of the film’s financial terminology more coherently digestible for the banking layman. An enlightening must-see, who would have guessed Adam McKay, the director of Anchorman and Step Brothers, could step so far outside his comfort zone and create such a pertinent, satirical tour de force?

5. Spotlight-
Based on a true story, Spotlight showcases the behind-the-scenes efforts of a group of Boston Globe investigative reporters who dared to take on the Catholic Church and expose the institution’s unfathomable molestation scandal. Spotlight’s meteoric ascent to the 2015 Best Picture Academy award is more than well deserved. Writer/director Tom McCarthy does a masterful job not to sensationalize the gory details of the misconduct, instead highlighting the immense efforts it took the team of gifted writers to bring this essential story to light.

4. The Revenant-
While on a fur-trading expedition, a frontiersman is mauled by a bear and left for dead by the hunting party he is leading. The latest work of art from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, Amores Perros) The Revenant is an expansive epic with spectacular cinematography, delivering an arduous journey of survival and revenge that should (and did) finally bring Oscar gold to acting megastar Leonardo DiCaprio.

3. Inside Out-
After an unexpected run of mediocrity, it is such a relief to see Pixar back on top. A truly innovative creation that delightfully explores the inner emotions of young adolescent girl, Inside Out offers both childlike wonder, while delivering an emotional depth that will melt even the most frigid of adult hearts (thank you Bing Bong).

2. Sicario-
 Sicario is the latest example of why director Denis Villeneuve, a native of Quebec, Canada, is considered one of today’s finest filmmakers. Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and highlighted by yet another milestone performance from Academy Award winner, Benicio Del Toro, Sicario is a blood-curdling, behind the scenes examination of our ongoing war on drugs with the powerful cartels just over our border in Mexico.

1. Ex Machina-
Caleb, a gifted computer programmer, is selected to take part in a secretive A.I. experiment at the secluded estate of his brilliant, mercurial boss. As the week progresses however, Caleb begins to suspect there may be more to this experiment than he was originally led to believe. One of the most skilled and assured directorial debuts of recent memory, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is a transcendent, science fiction masterpiece that examines the exciting and terrifyingly unknown future of artificial intelligence. Alicia Vikander may have won this year’s Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role in The Danish Girl, but it’s her astounding portrayal as the alluring cyborg Ava that will be her lasting legacy from 2015. Dark and engrossingly thought provoking, Ex Machina puts forth a myriad of questions as to what exactly is true consciousness and what ethical boundaries are there, if any, when it comes to our creation of artificial intelligence.

Here’s hoping 2016 is a great year in movies for you all. Happy viewing…-JL

-Editor’s Note: Room should be much higher!-MZ

Edited by-Michelle Zenor
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We’re Still Here I Promise

To anyone out there that cares, I just wanted to drop a quick note to let you know we haven’t disappeared. A lack of quality movies during the beginning of 2015 along with extra time requirements from the day job has caused a small break here at AmateurCinephile.com. But summer vacation is just around the corner, and I can’t wait to dive back into the handful of intriguing films about to hit theaters.
ex-machinaI’m excited to report I recently saw my first great film of the year, Ex Machina, I hope to get a review up for it sometime this week. I also plan to catch Pitch Perfect 2 this weekend with my lovely editor and perhaps catch a showing of the newest Mad Max this holiday weekend as well. I hope all of you have had some excellent cinema experiences during our small absence and I look forward to sharing more movie love over the next few months. Happy viewing everyone.

-Jarrett L.

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The Joust-Pulp Fiction (20 Years Later)

By Jarrett Leahy & Jason Chandler

Before 2014 too quickly recedes into our rear-view mirror, we would be wrong not to backtrack just a bit in order to recognize the 20th anniversary of one my all-time favorite films. For this edition of The Joust, I imagine there will be more agreeing than debating, as Jarrett and I discuss the impact of the great Pulp Fiction.-JC
PULP-FICTIONJason Chandler: I know we both love this movie, as millions of others do, but for me it’s one of those films that started me on a path to becoming interested in the movie-making process. When I saw it for the first time in my college dorm with my roommates, I was equally shocked and fascinated. It pushed passed a lot of boundaries. I really think Tarantino created a whole new movie audience, in a totally new and fresh way, in the 90’s.

Jarrett Leahy: You are correct in your assumption that this latest Joust will be much more cordial than our first one a few months ago where we discussed the merits of Spike Jonze’s masterpiece, Her 😉 Building on your praise, Pulp Fiction was and remains a complete game changer in the world of cinema. It inspired a cottage industry of copycats, giving inferiors like Guy Ritchie a career. However, where we differ is our paths to Pulp Fiction enlightenment. Upon its initial release, I was the robust age of 11. Thankfully, my father had little issue ignoring the R-rating and allowed me to sit in while he watched the Blockbuster rental. While admittedly I had little comprehension for what was truly going on, I remember being wide-eyed by Tarantino’s L.A. underworld crime opus. It was only after I went off to college many years later that I decided to step back into Tarantino’s singular world, and while, even at age 19, I was still unsure of exactly what I was witnessing, I knew I must see it again…and again.
pulpfiction_185pyxurzChandler: That is great stuff. I would have liked to have seen 11-year-old Jarrett’s eyes widen at the sight of Marvin meeting his untimely demise in the midst of Vincent Vega’s “miracle rant.” I know when we first met, Pulp was one of the first movies we found ourselves dissecting, quoting, and re-watching. Despite the insanely good list of films Tarantino has created, I still feel Pulp Fiction is the undisputed champ in his catalog. Where do you come out on that?

Leahy: You recently sent me a link where two Grantland writers discuss the merits of Michael Mann’s film resume, and one of them noted when discussing the film Heat, “Because of how ubiquitous and popular Heat is, we try to downplay how much we love it.” I think there are times I feel the same way about Pulp Fiction. The film’s reputation and acclaim is so huge that it almost feels tiresomely obvious to profess a personal reverence. It’s like saying, “The Godfather is a flawless masterpiece.” But there’s little doubt that, for me as well, Pulp Fiction is Tarantino’s best film. The battle for the number two spot can be a heated debate; Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, The Kill Bills, Jackie Brown, and Reservoir Dogs all have a legitimate claim for the runner-up spot, but none of them has topped the magic of his sophomore effort. Saying that, with my loyalty to Pulp, I must confess I’m not sure I’d be able to concede its throne if Quentin ever does make a better film.

Chandler: It’s mind blowing to consider that all of those films play second fiddle, right? Inglourious, Django, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill – if any one of those were made by almost any other director, it most likely would be considered their crowning achievement. But the fact that they all belong to Tarantino and that they can’t dethrone the champ says a whole lot about Pulp as well as QT’s career. So what do you make of Tarantino’s impact after 20 plus years? Hard to think of any other director who has hit so many home runs with virtually no strikeouts in his first two decades (No I don’t consider Grindhouse a strikeout).

Leahy: You’re right, there are very few modern directors who have had such a consistent run of success right from the beginning of their careers. A few that come to mind are Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, maybe David Fincher (if you forgive Alien 3), but it seems that even the best filmmakers have a few duds in their movie-making closet. As for your assertion that Grindhouse was not a strikeout, yes I agree; when taken in context of what Quentin and Robert Rodriguez were trying to do with Grindhouse, that project was a success. But, I must concede that I found Rodriguez’s Planet Terror to be more entertaining than Quentin’s Death Proof.
grinhousetituloChandler: Planet Terror was pretty cool, I’ll give you that. Speaking of Robert Rodriguez, he recently interviewed QT on his Director’s Chair series. Tarantino spoke to the fact that the relative lack of box office success for Grindhouse marked the first time he felt a sense of pressure to up his game. I got the sense that in his mind, that was his low point. Needless to say he came out swinging on his next two, so I really don’t see him bogging down anytime soon.

Leahy: So how much longer do you see Tarantino doing this? Can you foresee a day when his audience gets tired of his fan-boy stylings? Do you think he’ll ever venture out to make a more mature piece of cinema or, like most auteurs, stick with his style till the end? I’ll be curious how well his resume ages and whether younger generations of movie fans embrace his trashy, over-the-top sensibilities the way we have. I fear he may overstay his welcome, lose his touch, which could jeopardize his reputation and that of his work.

Chandler: It’s a good question whether audiences will continue to respond to QT’s work. I’m prone to believe they will, simply because he will continue to be the alternative to mainstream cinema, a.k.a. Comic book movies. As for venturing out, I imagine Tarantino’s choices will continue to evolve within his particular style, as it has with Django and Inglourious. But I don’t think and hope that he won’t ever settle for making a “conventional” movie. God knows we have plenty of those to go around.
Pulp-Fiction-036Chandler: Well, Its obvious we could chat about QT’s career and impact for a long time. Twenty years since its release, Pulp Fiction remains one of my Top 3 favorite movies of all-time, and I’m not sure that will ever change. Even with the accolades he has received, I believe Tarantino’s legacy may mirror that of Hitchcock, in that his greatness won’t truly be appreciated until a certain amount of time has passed. Forty years from now I believe film junkies will consider Tarantino to be not only the most influential director of his time, but also the most singular. Before I throw it back to you for your closing thoughts, consider this: The average IMDb score for QT’s first eight movies is 8.1, and his Rotten Tomatoes average critical score is 84%. Pretty impressive digits by any stretch. That wraps it up for me for this edition of The Joust. It’s been fun.

Leahy: Those numbers are impressive, and I hope you’re correct in your prediction about Tarantino’s legacy. I must confess being a little more pessimistic in how influential he will be seen as. Personally, it feels to me that his influence has already produced whatever copycats there were going to be, all of whom proved far less talented than QT—which brings me back to the original premise of this Joust, just how great Pulp Fiction was and still remains. Despite a decade of studio copycats, no filmmaker has ever come close to the visceral power and supremacy of what Tarantino was able to unleash twenty years ago. And I think that will be his lasting impact, creating a film that still shocks, captivates, and entertains despite every major studio’s attempt to steal its thunder and cash in on its brilliance and ingenuity.

Well, it’s been interesting having such an agreeable Joust, but next time lets make sure we pick one of the rare films we don’t quite see eye to eye on. JL signing off…

Editor’s Note: Worst date movie ever!-Michelle Zenor