Hard to believe it’s already August. But with the summer winding down and Oscar-bait season on the horizon, I thought I’d share my picks for my five favorite films of the year so far.
From a blockbuster perspective, it’s been kind of a disappointing year. But when you take a step back and look at everything released, there’s a number of great little gems you should seek out. My list is a mix of summer fare and indie picks.
5. ‘Win It All’
The only film on this list not officially released in theaters, Win It All arrived on Netflix in early April. Directed by Joe Swanberg, the film follows Eddie Garrett (Jake Johnson), a thirty-something screw up with a gambling addiction.
At the end of another mundane day, Eddie comes home to find an acquaintance sitting at his kitchen table. The man is heading to prison and wants Eddie to keep a duffel bag for him until he’s released.
Unable to resist seeing what’s in the bag, he discovers a large amount of money inside. Giving a gambling addict a bag full of cash is like throwing a match on a gasoline-soaked blanket. Eddie inevitably winds up in debt and after finding out that the acquaintance’s sentence has been shortened, it’s a race against the clock for Eddie to win back the money.
It takes a special kind of performance to pull of this role because Eddie could have easily come off as nothing more than an unlikeable character. But Johnson and Swanberg blend raw emotion with great little comedic moments to breath life into the film and make us root for Eddie.
It’s an indie film about addiction, love and ultimately redemption as our main character walks a tight rope of getting everything he’s ever wanted or failing miserably and losing it all. Win It All is sweet, funny and full of life.
FINALLY! An R-rated Wolverine movie. After the awful first Wolverine movie and the forgettable sequel, Fox finally gave star Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold the freedom to make a superhero movie that was more grounded and didn’t necessarily revolve around saving the world.
Much like Win It All, Logan is a personal story about one man struggling to move beyond his past, find some semblance of peace and seek redemption for his sins. Plus, there’s a lot of limbs sliced off, skull penetration and raining blood. Just what we wanted in a Wolverine movie.
Jackman said in interviews that he wanted to make one last Wolverine movie in the vein of Unforgiven and The Wrestler. Not only did he succeed, but he made not only the best X-Men movie to date, but one of the greatest superhero films as well.
3. ‘The Big Sick’
I wasn’t that familiar with Kumail Nanjiani’s work before seeing The Big Sick. I’ve never watched Silicon Valley so my only impression of him was from bit parts in movies and television.
That is why I was pleasantly surprised by his deeply personal and funny autobiographical film about his relationship with his girlfriend, Emily.
After another successful night of stand-up, Kumail meets Emily. What starts out as a casual fling quickly turns more serious as the two spend more and more time together. But when Emily suddenly becomes ill and put into a medically-induced coma, Kumail must navigate his budding stardom, Emily’s illness and two sets of parents (His own and Emily’s).
Mark Twain famously said: “Humor is tragedy plus time.” That’s exactly what this movie is. It’s finding the humor during difficult moments and times in our lives and making the best of any situation.
Kumail wrote the screenplay with his now wife, Emily, and together they have crafted a poignant and often hilarious film about their unusual path to falling in love. The supporting cast is tremendous, including Ray Romano who should be in more movies, and it’s a film that not only tackles tragedy, but race and social norms.
The Big Sick is the best romantic comedy to come along in quite some time.
2. ‘The Lost City of Z’
I’m just realizing that with all of my picks so far, each of them have been about a man either seeking redemption or seeking the correct path to live his life. Yes, we’re all sad and confused little boys at heart.
The Lost City of Z is another example. Written and directed by James Gray, the film stars Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who at the dawn of the 20th century discovered evidence of an unknown and advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region.
Despite being mocked by his peers who regard indigenous people as nothing more than uneducated “savages,” Fawcett is determined to prove them wrong after many trips to the Amazon.
City of Z is an engrossing adventure with Hunnam giving the best performance of his young career. Gray has crafted a multi-layered and heavily-researched story about one man’s obsession with discovering the undiscoverable.
I like to think of this film as a more dramatic version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. What it lacks in set pieces it more than makes up for in gorgeous cinematography, beautiful writing and great acting.
It’s hard to believe that a man who directed Memento, The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception could possibly top all of them. And yet, director Christopher Nolan has done just that with the visceral experience that is, Dunkirk.
Having seen the film twice and thought about it a lot, I’ve come to the conclusion that the entire film is essentially a third act. Nolan has bypassed character development (To which some have criticized) and instead made a film all about an event in time and the experience of it.
Told in a triptych structure, the film follows soldiers trying to escape the beach, civilians attempting to rescue them from the sea and pilots buying them time from the air.
Nolan loves playing with time in his movies and here, he’s essentially made an experimental film with a blockbuster budget. Nolan can get away with that at this point in his career.
This is why we still love going to the theater. Dunkirk is an awe-inspiring spectacle featuring amazing visuals, a beautiful yet understated musical score and moments of sheer terror and joy that sometimes occur in the same scene.
Dunkirk is the best film I’ve seen this year and has to be a front-runner for the Oscars by the end of the year.