Denis Villenueve

CinemAbysmal’s Best of 2017 – Movies

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Well, here we are! We’ve come to the end of another year, and the hosts of CinemAbysmal: The Podcast are here to round up their favorites. We’ve included some surprises, like some stuff showed on (gasp) television! Amazing writers and directors are choosing this medium over Hollywood lately, so get over it. Anyway, enjoy the picks and let us know if you agree with the selections or want to let us know about any of yours!

Holly Hill

10. Logan Lucky

9. Thor: Ragnarok

8. Guardians of the Galaxy 2

7. Logan

6. It

legion

5. Legion (FX)

4. Ladybird

3. Baby Driver

2. Blade Runner 2049

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1. Dunkirk

 

Eric Lemons

10. Baby Driver

While I will contend that this film is style packed on to very little substance, the style is enough to carry this fucking joy of a film. Ansel Inglberghumperdink kills it, though every shot looks like a different actor. Wright is the king of this kind of movie and a heist flick is always welcome in the Lemons Casa.

9. Life

This is a brutal fucking film that takes the Alien film and turns it on its microscopic head. Boasting a boring title and a lackluster ad campaign, this film snuck under many noses as just more space peril, but the stellar cast and nihilistic viewpoint thrive in this earth-shattering, intense horror sci-fi flick.

8. Raw

Sure it is French and not as fucked as we could imagine a French horror being, but the thrill of this film comes from the humanity within it. Focusing on a vet student with a lust for human flesh, we see the making of a monster in her most vulnerable and interesting state: maturation.

7. Logan Lucky

Soderbergh is officially king of making films better than they have to be in  this rural heist movie; a genre that produces at least one interesting film a year. The film is funny, inventive, and builds around a story of idiots making smart moves.

6. It

Pennywise is back in this 80s remake that feels fresh and new, despite rehashing the same King notes down the line.

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5. Kong: Skull Island

A frolicking flick for fans of 70s creature horror and Vietnam action fare. A nice mix of old school fun and new school aesthetics bring out the best in a revival of the Kong series.

4. John Wick 2

Easily the most fun I had watching a film all year. Non-stop action pours out and rubs against your legs in a manner that would be creepy if it weren’t so beautiful.

3. The Bad Batch

KEY-AH-NEW! We get more Keanu as he plays a minor villain (?) in a story of a girl caught between warring factions in a dystopic wasteland. Cast, thrills, and story is a lovely morality tale in a land without morality.

2. Blade Runner 2049

Denis Villanueve fucks us all real hard and good in bringing to life the future of Ridley Scott’s world in a film that is brilliant on its own before blasting your mind brain apart with its connections to the 1985 classic.

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1. A Ghost Story

Every couple years comes a film that blows your heart apart and depicts some epiphany about the world around us. It changes the way you speak to your loved ones and the way you see yourself. A Ghost Story is that film 100 times over. A triumph unlike anything else.

 

Nick Spanjer

Just Missed the Cut:

  • Kong: Skull Island
  • Wonder Woman
  • Silence
  • Thor: Ragnarok
  • Okja

10. The Bad Batch

As far as straight-up coolness goes, no film matched this one in 2017. Between the literal trippy scenes, the music, and the jaw-dropping cinematography, this almost alternate dimension, post-apocalyptic thrill ride is sure to quench any action fiend’s thirst. Plus, Jim Carrey being weird as fuck.

9. Marjorie Prime

Holy shit. This is one crazy good flick. Jon Hamm is a hologram. Tim Robbins is at his best since The Shawshank Redemption. Geena Davis’ performance will tear your heart out. If you’re easily upset by dementia and Alzheimer’s in film, this one will probably get to you. It’s a little too indie to catch any awards action, but if I had a vote, I’d be all over this little wonder.

8. A Ghost Story

Oof. Speaking of having your heart torn out. Yeah, yeah, Casey Affleck is an asshole. Don’t fear, though. He spends most of the film under an actual bed sheet. That is beside the point of this incredible movie, though. Casual movie watchers beware: this is not a horror film. There’s hardly any dialogue for long stretches of time. But what it says about us as humans and the mark we leave on those we love is just heart-wrenching. Absolutely beautiful movie.

7. The Big Sick

I finally got around to watching this movie today after hearing about it nonstop for the last year. Oh man. I really dig Woody Allen films, and though this movie reminded me of Allen’s golden age in the late 70’s, it’s something entirely different. With that signature Apatow feel, this true life story between Nanjiani and wife Emily Gordon is funny as hell at times, and gut-wrenching at others. Also, they could not have gotten a better cast together for this. Zoe Kazan is amazing, Ray Romano is hilarious, Holly Hunter kills it, and god damn. Who knew Kumail Nanjiani could carry a film in a lead role? Also, Michael Fucking Showalter directed this! Looking forward to his new career path. Upsetting to see this got snubbed at the Golden Globes, but I recommend this one for anyone that’s enjoyed any Judd Apatow or Woody Allen films.

6. Legion (FX)

I know. It’s TV. But fuck, watch these 8 ‘episodes’ (creator/god Noah Hawley calls them ‘Chapters’) all together and it’s one of the coolest movies you’ll ever see. Yes, it’s Marvel. But it’s nothing like you’ll ever see in that universe. The music is incredible and the cinematography is one of my favorites in anything that I’ve ever seen. I’m fairly sure I watched the seventh chapter four times, and it’s absolutely thrilling to watch. Speaking of snubs, where the hell is Aubrey Plaza’s nomination? Seriously though, check this out if you haven’t yet. It’s essential.

LOGAN

5. Logan

Wow, man. I waited too long to see this one. I love Westerns, and this – though it’s a Marvel film – is one of the best Westerns I’ve ever seen. There’s no cowboys, but there’s pretty much everything else. I really dig James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma and Cop Land, and the Rated R feel is perfect in this. It’s different than Deadpool, as much of this film is not funny at all, but the violence seems to never let up. I think Patrick Stewart delivers one of the best performances of his career, not to mention Hugh Jackman’s stellar and heartfelt spin as Wolverine. I know that Disney just power-grabbed Fox, but I’m really hoping we’ll get more R-rated superhero flicks. We deserve it.

4. Get Out

There’s not much to say about this flick that hasn’t already been said. So instead, I’ll just tell you how it made me feel. I have never been more uncomfortable sitting in a movie theater. At times, Jordan Peele’s funny side shows, but it’s more like nervous laughter than anything else. Peele designed the film this way, knowing white dudes all over the country were going to be watching it. I sunk lower and lower in my chair as the movie progressed, and though the movie isn’t particularly scary, the chills are incredibly effective in other ways. One of the better metaphorical film packages I’ve ever seen. Jordan Peele directing is going to be pretty damn awesome for years.

3. It

I really don’t like going to movie theaters, but I couldn’t pass this one up. So I went twice. Pennywise has been in my life since I was a kid, and I just read the book again last summer to refresh myself for the film. Though I like to fantasize what the first part of this two-headed monster could have been with Fukanaga at the helm, I think Muschietti did a damn fine job bringing history’s most horrifying clown to life. One of the most important things to remember with Pennywise is that It is not just a clown. It’s an interdimensional being out of time as we know it, and this film captures that perfectly. Not to mention, holy shit, some of the finest kid acting I’ve ever seen. I love this damn movie and can’t wait for Part Two.

2. Blade Runner 2049

I noticed that all three of us made this our second favorite film of the year. And if it weren’t for the next one, it would have been my favorite by far. I really dig the original movie, but everyone knows that it’s got its share of problems. Not 2049. This movie is perfect in every single way. Gosling was the perfect choice as the lead, his performance muted, yet commanding. Ford is great as an older Deckard, but the performances are just a small part of this gigantic event. The music, cinematography, story – everything is absolute perfection in this. From beginning to end, I was floored in its scope. Villenueve may be the greatest living director we have…but he’ll have to wait for this next guy to leave the throne first.

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1. Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime)

It’s not technically a movie. I know. But fuck off. It is filmed like a movie, and it’s the weirdest, most fucked up, absolutely beautiful thing we’re ever going to get in a theater or a television set. I’ve been waiting for a return to Twin Peaks for most of my life (not to mention a return from David Lynch doing anything), and now that I’ve finished this round, I don’t think I could be more satisfied. No, it wasn’t the same Twin Peaks. Like, even a little. But what we got instead was David Lynch free to do whatever the fuck he wanted for 18 hours and it is the most batshit insanity he’s ever produced. It’s violent, maddening, ridiculous, beautiful – just one of the craziest things that has ever been produced in any medium. I love that Showtime did this and hope it opens doors for other creative geniuses. Kyle Maclachlan turns in one of the greatest performances of not just his career, but television and film history as not just Dale Cooper, but three brand new characters. And don’t even get me started on Part Eight. This is the greatest hour I’ve ever seen on television, and may be the best and most Lynch piece that Lynch has done in his illustrious career. Fight me. I could legitimately go on for hours about his glorious cinematic event, and if you know me personally, you’ve probably caught some of it already. I’ll leave it here, though: we’re never going to get anything as insane as this again. So if you get a chance, sit down for a weekend and crush this. It’s the best and craziest “movie” you’ll ever see.

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Arrival

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Arrival (2016) – Science Fiction | Drama

Directed by: Denis Villenueve

Starring: Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner

How I Watched: Theatres

Best Line: “Language is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”

The events of the last two weeks have been rough on a lot of us. No matter which way you would like to slice it, the truth is that the world has fundamentally changed. Some of us are clinging to reality in a strange existential fog while others are sitting back and waiting to see what will happen. I’m not suggesting that writer Eric Heisserer and director Denis Villenueve saw the future when making Arrival, but I think it’s safe to suggest that they did a good job tapping into the anger, frustration and confusion floating like a cloud above our planet right now.

On the surface, Arrival is a pretty hard Sci-Fi film, borrowing elements from some of the most revered movies in the genre. For those who don’t know, the movie begins with an “arrival” as 12 mysterious and enormous objects suddenly appear across the globe without any apparent intentions. The US government enlists the help of language expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to perhaps obtain this intent. The film is unapologetic with its use of aliens and these are some of the better aliens I’ve ever seen. When it comes down to it though, Arrival  is a pretty great drama.

Those that have seen Amy Adams in movies like DoubtThe Fighter and American Hustle know that she can handle herself in a dramatic role. This however, is something different. Adams absolutely owns this film, delivering an incredibly heartbreaking performance that is both devastating and thought-provoking in the most mind-fucking way possible. We’ve all seen Inception and we’ve all experienced the occasional Shyamalan twist, but what Arrival gives us is a whole new meaning to crazy.

I’ve only seen a couple of Villenueve’s movies (I haven’t seen Sicario yet – I know, I’m just the worst), but Prisoners rocked my world with its twist-filled darkness. Enemy with Jake Gylenhaal is probably more closely related to Arrival with its utterly bothersome climax. Something that Villenueve is definitely great at though, is using darkness to stun his audience. Like David Lynch, his movies are dark, muted and a bit relentless in the shock value. There’s plenty of shock in Arrival so be prepared.

Speaking of shock, holy shit, the aliens. I won’t go too far into it, but the Lovecraftian brilliance that they put into these things was astounding. I talked to a friend last night that also saw the movie and he described them as “a big bucket of nope.” While I can see why someone would say that, I wanted to see more of them. Perhaps though, how Villenueve presented them was perfect, as their appearances did not take away from the incredible storyline either. However, if aliens frighten you, I’d stay away from this one.

The most important part of Arrival to me was the narrative concerning international relations. Amid the invasion, the countries in which a ship landed each investigated the ships in their own way. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that each country does not agree on how these ships should be handled, which leads to an all-out international crisis. This hit way too close for home for me, as my fears for how the world is currently treating itself looked a lot like this. I know, I know, it’s a movie about aliens, but this really struck a chord in me that I was not expecting walking into the theater.

I was a little stunned to find as much meaning as I did from Arrival. While it’s a really cool science fiction movie about aliens making first contact, it cleverly delivers a statement about the shape the world is in right now. I enjoy the way Denis Villenueve works and absolutely expect Arrival to shake things up this awards season. Science-Fiction is not generally treated very well at the Academy, but movies that have something to say with relevance about us as a species generally do. So don’t be shocked when this one gets heaped up toward the top.

Final Score: 4/4

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Similar Films: Enemy, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, War of the Worlds

31 Days of Horror – ‘Scanners’

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Scanners

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Starring: Stephen Lack and Michael Ironside

Review by CinemAbysmal

OK, so maybe this is not technically a horror movie in the classic sense. However, it is a David Cronenberg film so it’s unsettling enough at every turn that it feels like a horror movie. There are certainly parts that are horrifying; the infamous head explosion, for instance. Really though, this is just an intense movie all around. There isn’t a whole lot of dialogue, but Cronenberg lets the film breathe, not really punching everything up until the very end.

This is my first time seeing this movie. I know a lot of people reading this probably already have, but I just never got around to it. I really enjoy a lot of Cronenberg films, (ExistenzA History of ViolenceNaked Lunch, the list goes on and on), so I’m not sure why it took so long to watch it. After finishing, I really wish I watched it sooner. The effects (for 1981) are absolutely amazing and disgusting, the pacing is strange but in a way, beautiful and god dammit, Howard Shore’s score is haunting and perfect for the movie.

One complaint I must lodge, is the main character, Cameron’s (Stephen Lack) acting. It’s so unbearable to hear him speak, that you can’t help but feel disconnected from the story for a good portion of the film. His lines are hamfisted and even his most general of reactions are not even convincingly human. That’s alright though, because the fantastically vicious Michael Ironside is there to balance out the awfulness with his creepy villain, Darryl Revok. Ironside is incredible in this and really carries the movie all the way to the end.

Cronenberg is a weird dude. Maybe it’s because he’s deeply Canadian, but that’s alright with me. I dig the hell out of the Canadians. From The Kids in the Hall to Denis Villenueve to Ivan Reitman, some of my favorite works come out of that wonderfully beautiful country. And after watching Scanners, I’ll just have to add another one to that ever-growing list.

Prisoners

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Prisoners (2013) – Thriller | Drama

Directed by: Denis Villenueve

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman

How I Watched: DVD

Best Line: “They didn’t cry until I left them.”

I don’t know what it is, but Jake Gyllenhaal does a wonderful job slipping himself into fantastically creepy films. From Donnie Darko, to Nightcrawler, to Villenueve’s own Enemy, he always seems to be somewhere on the bill in these type of films. Now, if you saw Enemy, you might be expecting Prisoners to be REALLY weird. It’s not, but it’s got enough of that Lynchian, otherwordly line-walking to make you want to turn on the lights.

Prisoners is not a feel good movie. I will tell you that now. It’s dark as hell, mostly brown and grey throughout and the characters are permanently scared and/or yelling the whole movie. But holy shit, is it vicious. From the onset, Hugh Jackman quietly utters the lord’s prayer as a deer takes its last breaths and it does not let up from there. Every scene seems to be bathed in a perpetual dusk that the entire cast seems trapped in. It’s a very claustrophobic film that is precise in its efforts of making you feel like shit. I can really see a lot of people not being able to handle some scenes in this one.

If you watch the trailer for Prisoners, you can tell what this story is about, so no worries about this spoiler. Two families lose their daughters in the middle of the day and Gyllenhaal investigates their disappearance. Hugh Jackman is Hugh Jackman in this one, and you get about what you expect from an ‘unsettled Jackman’ performance. However, Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano are magnificent and really carry the film. Dano does his best “creepy guy in a van” at the beginning, but as time passes, he becomes so much more than that. His soft-spoken demeanor is terribly discomforting beneath those wire glasses that are so typical in child-kidnapping films.

Gyllenhaal, though is really the barometer of the film’s emotion. From the beginning, the viewer is challenged to make a choice between Jackman’s outbursts as a frantic father and the situation that Dano finds himself in after the girls disappear. Gyllenhaal is always there, dividing the two parties, testing your limits as a viewer. It’s not a simple choice to make and the movie does everything in its power to throw your emotions into a blender.

The rest of the cast is just kind of there, though. This is perhaps the film’s greatest flaw. Both Jackman’s wife (played by Maria Bello) and the other mother in the film (Viola Davis) are understandably grieving the whole film, but that’s really all they do. Terrence Howard attempts to show emotion, but it’s not very convincing. Melissa Leo is pretty good as Dano’s aunt, but again, Dano and Gyllenhaal really steal this one away from everyone else.

At times, Prisoners really rides the line of the supernatural. Not ghosts and witches, but more like the end of the first season of True Detective; that awful feeling that I know you got when the detectives entered Carcosa in the finale is present in a few scenes in this film. It does not really stick to that, but still, Villenueve definitely has some skill in discomfort.

I feel bad about this, but I did not see Villenueve’s 2015 Sicario. Trust me, I really want to, I just have not gotten around to it yet. Seeing that he is taking the helm for Blade Runner 2 (due out 2017) makes me really excited, though. Enemy was an awfully creepy little story full of doppelgangers and Kafka-esque suggestions that will fit into the Blade Runner universe perfectly.

While I definitely would not suggest Prisoners if the kiddies are around or you had a rough day at the office, it’s perfect for those nights where you want to watch a scary movie that’s not that kind of scary movie. The performances from Gyllenhaal and Dano are excellent and while the story was a few hairs away from being epic, it’s a moral brain-twister that will have you talking when the credits roll.

Final Score: 3.5/4

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Similar Films: Mystic River, The Lovely Bones, Zodiac