2019 Ten Best Movies


Brad Pitt: Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Columbia Pictures)

Here’s my Ten Best list for the Herald, the article linked here.

  1. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
  2. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)
  3. The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)
  4. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
  5. Atlantics (Mati Diop)
  6. Midsommar (Ari Aster)
  7. Peterloo (Mike Leigh)
  8. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Celine Sciamma)
  9. The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent)
  10. Booksmart (Olivia Wilde)


2018 Ten Best Movies


Brady Jandreau: The Rider (Sony Pictures Classics)

Here’s my list for 2018. I didn’t have a single obvious, slap-in-the-face #1 for the year, so almost any of the top half-dozen here could have been on top.

  1. The Rider (Chloe Zhao)
  2. Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski)
  3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel and Ethan Coen)
  4. Lean on Pete (Andrew Haigh)
  5. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
  6. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
  7. Hereditary (Ari Aster)
  8. Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
  9. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)/Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)
  10. First Man (Damien Chazelle)

Here’s a link to the full end-of-year article from the Herald, including a Bottom Ten. Here’s the link from the Seattle Weekly, which, weirdly, counts backwards rather than down.

I voted in the National Society of Film Critics awards, and the group ended up going for The Rider as Best Picture, a not-untypical offbeat choice for the NSFC. Here’s their list on their website, plus a link to the list at Variety.

2017 Ten Best Movies


Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks: The Return

For 2017, I have an annotated list at Seattle Weekly, and a list that includes a Ten Worst at the Herald.

  1. Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch)
  2. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
  3. Get Out (Jordan Peele)
  4. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)
  5. A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)
  6. The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs)
  7. Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow)
  8. The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro)
  9. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
  10. Logan (James Mangold)

Ten Lion Elle (This Week’s Movies)



Isabelle Huppert: Elle

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Elle. “It’s provocative, and Huppert is indeed fantastic, but I’m not convinced.”

Lion. “A generic feel.”

And a Top Ten for 2016. The Weekly link is here; the Herald link includes ten worst, if that’s your idea of fun.

The shorthand version, as of today:

  1. Aquarius
  2. Our Little Sister
  3. The Fits
  4. Cemetery of Splendor
  5. Things to Come
  6. Everybody Wants Some!!
  7. Sully
  8. Paterson
  9. Green Room
  10. Aferim!

Hateful Home Carol-ing (This Week’s Movies)


Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

The Hateful Eight. “A slyly anti-romantic Western by a filmmaker who loves Westerns.” (In case of Herald paywall, Weekly link here.)

Carol. “The twist on Brief Encounter is that these characters do not have to be martyred on the altar of propriety.” (Weekly link here.)

Concussion. “Respectable to the point of stuffiness.” (Weekly link here.)

Daddy’s Home. “Ferrell hasn’t exhausted the comedy of emasculation just yet.” (Weekly link here.)

And a Weekly list of Ten Best for 2015; slightly longer version appears in the Herald.

Here’s the list, in short:

  1. 45 Years
  2. Son of Saul
  3. Bridge of Spies
  4. Experimenter
  5. It Follows
  6. Clouds of Sils Maria
  7. Ex Machina
  8. The Assassin
  9. Spotlight
  10. The Duke of Burgundy

At the Overlook Podcast, Steve Scher and I find four essential things to note about Star Wars: The Force Awakens; listen here.

2014 Ten Best Movies (and etc.)

L'Air de Panache: Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel

L’Air de Panache: Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Winter Sleep. “How small incidents can open up an entire world.” (In case of Herald paywall, Weekly version here.)

Rocks in My Pockets. “It’s a rare movie that makes you want to check in on how the filmmaker is doing since completing the project.” (Weekly version here.)

And a top-ten list for 2014, for Seattle Weekly. For the Herald, there’s also a ten worst. Click on the links for details, but here’s the ten:

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

2. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)

3. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)

4. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)

6. Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier) and The Rover (David Michôd)

8. Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund)

9. The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones)

10. Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman)

There’s more Top Ten excavation at the 2014 Critics Wrap, where the discussion involves Jim Emerson, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, and me. It has one more broadcast on the Seattle Channel on Saturday January 3 at 9 p.m., and is watchable online here.

At the Overlook Podcast, Steve Scher and I talk about The Interview, does have some laughs and some political satire, layered in amid the raunch. Listen here.

I dropped by KIRO radio’s “Mark Rahner Show” again last week, where we talked about The Gambler and Into the Woods and other stuff. Listen here.

Selfish Ride (Weekly Links)

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart as Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, Ride Along

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart as Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, Ride Along

Links to reviews I wrote this week for the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Ride Along. “Mostly you get the impression that Hart was allowed to improvise through each scene on whatever subject was at hand.”

The Nut Job. “Animation’s rebuke to Atlas Shrugged.”

The Selfish Giant. “Whether she’s honoring those thick accents, finding the proper pitch for the boys’ tussling friendship, or pausing for eerie shots of the town’s nuclear towers shrouded in fog, Barnard rarely sets a foot wrong.”

Don’t forget to catch the 2013 Critics Wrap, available at the Seattle Channel website. Perhaps some of our observations will seem newly piquant in the wake of the Oscar nominations.

The Broadcast Film Critics Association held their Critics Choice awards last night; Gravity got seven wins, American Hustle took four, and 12 Years a Slave had three, including Best Picture. Hey, I voted for Inside Llewyn Davis – but poor Llewyn is never going to be a winner. And hey, Blue is the Warmest Color got Best Foreign Film – take that, Oscars. The results are here.

Movie Diary 1/2/2014

The 2013 Critics Wrap, held at the Frye Art Museum, is about to debut on the Seattle Channel. This might’ve been the best Critics Wrap we’ve had, so do please give it a look. Thanks to the Frye, to Shannon Gee and everybody at Seattle Channel, and to panelists Kathleen Murphy, Jim Emerson, and Andrew Wright for a great evening.

The local broadcast debuts tonight (Thursday Jan. 2) at 8:30 p.m., and repeats a buncha times for the next 10 days. Here’s the schedule. Seattle Channel is frequently found on channel 21 hereabouts, but you never know about these things.

Or you can just watch it the old-fashioned way, online. Go here and do that.



Her Wolf Secret (Weekly Links)

Joaquin Phoenix, enjoying a day at the beach with Her.

Joaquin Phoenix, enjoying a day at the beach with Her.

Links to reviews I wrote this week for the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

The Wolf of Wall Street. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

Back before we rewarded people for being corrupt buccaneers of Wall Street, there lived a man named Jordan Belfort. He did some naughty things with his investing habits back in the 1990s, made millions, and lived the life of a rock star.

He went to jail for this. How quaint, right? Jailing someone for rigging Wall Street. Belfort obviously paid the price for being ahead of his time. This creep is now the subject of a sprawling, hyperactive movie directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. “The Wolf of Wall Street,” based on Belfort’s memoir, is so juiced-up it’s understandably being compared to Scorsese’s “GoodFellas,” another saga of an illicit American Dream soaring and crashing.

The violence and imminent danger of a gangster movie is somewhat replaced here by the audacity of modern stockbrokers. Their amoral world is equally appalling for being out in the open.

This is nowhere better expressed than in the film’s first ten minutes, as young Belfort shares lunch with his boss (Matthew McConaughey) on his first day as an assistant at a brokerage firm. It’s one of the few quiet moments in the movie, and McConaughey’s suave explanation of just how much contempt his business has for the suckers who invest with him is a lucid explanation of how the system is arranged.

From there, Belfort’s meteoric rise attracts debauchery like a magnet: cocaine, prostitutes, his own yacht. Of course he trades in his wife for a sleeker model (Margot Robbie), and his offices and staff keep getting bigger and bigger. The movie itself escalates in a similar way. At times it’s brilliant, pausing for looney-tunes conversations between Belfort and his associates (Jonah Hill is quite funny as his business partner), or stopping to appreciate how Belfort just barely avoids offering a bribe to a federal agent (Kyle Chandler) while basking on his yacht. There’s also a tour-de-force sequence in which Belfort, already hooked on Quaaludes, takes a few too many of the tranquilizers just at the moment a major threat to his empire arrives. DiCaprio’s drooling attempts at setting the ship right are uproarious, as is the revelation that his confident narration of the sequence has been just as deluded as he is.

As you can see, “Wolf of Wall Street” is played as comedy, a stranger-than-fiction roller coaster. Individual scenes pop, in part because of great actors doing exquisite work in small roles, like Joanna Lumley and Jean Dujardin (the Oscar-winner for “The Artist”).

I’d love to acclaim this movie the masterpiece it aims to be. As a tale of ambition unchecked by conscience, it’s timely, of course, and the movie is alive with its own roiling energy. Either the movie is missing a layer or I’m not seeing it, because somehow all this sound and fury falls short, despite the wild entertainment it generates.

One thing it nails: a world in which the purpose of life is selling. (As someone employed by Hollywood, Scorsese must feel this in his bones.) In this case, what’s being sold is actually non-existent—just phantoms. Its characters are happy to be phantoms, too.

Her. “This is a movie of breathtaking design and conventional ideas.”

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. “You can feel the movie straining to be something special.”

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. “The self-imposed tip-toeing required in the Great Man school of moviemaking.”

Grudge Match. “Doesn’t offend, although it rarely comes to life, either.”

Oh, and it’s Ten Best time, isn’t it? Here’s that article, with best and worst included. Here’s the non-annotated list:

  1. Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas)
  2. All Is Lost (J.C. Chandor)
  3. Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron)
  4. Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechice)
  5. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen)
  6. The Unspeakable Act (Dan Sallitt)
  7. Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
  8. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer)
  9. Amour (Michael Haneke)
  10. “Like a Rolling Stone” video

Ten Best of Promised Miserables Unchained (Weekly Links)

Waltz and Foxx, unchained

Waltz and Foxx: They’ve got spurs that djingle djangle djingle

Links to reviews I wrote this week for the Herald, and much etc.

Django Unchained. “One walks away reeling from the audacity of it all.”

Les Misérables. “An emotional breakdown in almost every song.”

Parental Guidance. “Cranky.”

Promised Land. “The script isn’t able to disguise how thin its actual story is.”

And a Ten Best of 2012; apologies that this one from the Herald eventually arranges itself in a click-click-click slideshow. Update! the slideshow appears to have vanished, so although the wrap-up article still exists, the list itself does not. Here is that:

Margaret. This one opened (barely) in a few cities in 2011, but didn’t arrive locally until January. Kenneth Lonergan’s amazing movie about a teenage girl (Anna Paquin) faced with a serious ethical dilemma and all the other issues of growing up, a character so difficult and raw and exasperating that you may just recognize yourself in her. (The DVD has a longer cut of the movie sanctioned by the filmmaker.)

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. There is a murder being solved in this slow-burner from Turkey, but it’s not the only mystery afoot. Both funny and philosophical, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film is the opposite of today’s rapid-fire moviemaking style, and a spellbinding way of unfolding a story.

Silver Linings Playbook. The year’s best comedy puts two damaged people (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) in a dance contest and a football betting pool, a peculiar situation that has moments both uncomfortable and giddy. This is the film director David O. Russell (“The Fighter”) has been aiming at throughout his career.

This Is Not a Film. This is not a sympathy vote for Iran’s imprisoned filmmaker Panahi, because the project he made under house arrest is ingenious and even funny. Artists should work as though it’s a matter of life and death, and for Panahi, who was forbidden from making films when he made this, that is literally true.

Lincoln. Steven Spielberg’s re-creation of a single month in 1865 is engrossing and literate. While we are rightly impressed by Daniel Day-Lewis and his eerie turn as the 16th president, this film is a “process” movie (Lincoln isn’t even on screen for large sections of the picture), and fascinating for the way it gives itself over to showing how business gets done in Washington.

The Turin Horse. This is a specialized movie experience from Hugary’s Bela Tarr, a study of a farmhouse that might be perched at the edge of an apocalypse. Slow and repetitive (it contains 30 shots, as opposed to the hundreds in most films), this one will either put you in a trance or send you screaming from the room.

The Master. Rarely have I been so impressed by a movie that I wasn’t entirely sure about. Paul Thomas Anderson, who swung for the fences with “There Will Be Blood,” creates two compelling adversaries here: Joaquin Phoenix’s brutish WWII vet, and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s cultivated cult leader. Their saga is both vivid and mystifying.

Bernie. Jack Black gives a wonderful performance as an effete small-town Texan caught in a murder story. The real citizens of Carthage, Texas, appear as a chorus of voices commenting on the wacky story in Richard Linklater’s droll tale; the co-stars are Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey (who had a career year).

Searching for Sugar Man. Let’s give a nod to a documentary, especially one that told a more incredible story than most fiction films. Don’t read about this wonderful movie before you see it; just know that it involves an obscure 1970s Detroit musician, the apartheid era in South Africa, and a mystery solved.

To Rome, with Love. I have a soft spot for this Woody Allen offering, a sunny fantasia with some corny jokes and a pleasant end-of-the-day mood to it. Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg lead the capable cast through bouts of magical realism.

For the second ten: a pair of delightful animated pictures, “The Secret World of Arietty” and “Wreck-It Ralph”; “The Deep Blue Sea,” with a stunning Rachel Weisz performance; Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis,” which makes a credible leading man out of Robert Pattinson; Tarantino’s madball “Django Unchained”; the unhinged “Holy Motors”; “Elena,” a subtly devastating Russian film; Wes Anderson’s bittersweet “Moonrise Kingdom”; the uneven but mighty “Dark Knight Rises”; and the oddly philosophical action picture “The Grey,” with a potent Liam Neeson performance.

Speaking of, the Seattle Channel has posted the 2012 Critics Wrap from earlier this month; it’s about 90 minutes of movie-year conversation between Jim Emerson, Kathleen Murphy, and myself. The program will also be broadcast in the Seattle area (usually channel 21) a number of times over the next week.

The Broadcast Film Critics Association has announced it list of nominees, which you can read here; the winners have yet to be voted on by those of us in the group, but the 18th annual Critics Choice nods will be awarded at the ceremony on January 10th on the CW Network at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

And on KUOW’s “Weekday” this week, I talked with Steve Scher about – whaddya know? – the best movies of 2012. The session is archived here.

And at long last, Seattle’s history museum, the Museum of History and Industry, is re-opening in its new location at South Lake Union. MOHAI’s first Special Exhibit is “Celluloid Seattle: A City at the Movies,” for which I served as curator. The exhibit looks at Seattle as a place imagined by movies, and also the ways Seattle has gone to the movies over the years. The museum opens Saturday December 29. Read more about the exhibit here. I will give a curator’s talk on January 10, more info here. The show plays through September 8, so please join us sometime in the next eight months.