Category Archives: Oscars

The Best Films I Saw in 2018

It’s Oscars weekend, so time once again for my list of the best movies I saw in the previous year. (Annual disclaimer: This isn’t a list of the best movies of 2018, but a roundup of the best films I saw, no matter what year they were released.) I saw 66 films in 2018, an average of 1 every 5.5 days. I’ve noticed a pattern over the last few years: I watch a lot of movies in the early months of the year, then I slow down in the summer months (kids are out of school, I’m doing yard work, a seasonal job that takes up my time), then it picks up in the fall. One exception is that my viewings spike in the 2 weeks after a marathon, when I am in recovery mode. (And by “recovery mode,” I mean “sitting on a couch and eating from a bag of chocolate chips.”)

Anyway, the films (Sorry, there’s 11, not 10. Also, because of a tie, there’s 12, not 11.):

Unknown11. “Everything, Everything,” 2017 teen drama directed by Stella Meghie, starring Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson. The first of three movies based on a young-adult novel (also one of two starring Nick Robinson, see below), this film is about teenager Maddy, who has an immune disorder that leads her physician mother to quarantine her in their house, for fear that contact with the outside world will kill her. She develops a texting relationship with Olly, a new neighbor boy, and we see how far she is willing to risk her health to explore this friendship.

Unknown10. “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things,” 2015 documentary directed by Matt D’Avella. This film could change your life, if you are open to it. It’s about compulsory consumption and why we (Americans, Westerners in general) are driven to buy things we don’t need. Specifically, we see two guys called The Minimalists, who have a podcast and have written books, talk about how to refocus your life on what is important (hint: it’s not the stuff you own).

Unknown9. “Nowhere Boy,” 2009 biographical drama directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, starring Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Anne-Marie Duff. This story is loosely based on the early years of John Lennon, pre-Beatles fame. Although we see him meeting schoolmates Paul McCartney and George Harrison for the first time, it’s more focused on his messed-up family life (i.e., absent father, unreliable mother, strict aunt who acts as his guardian). You don’t have to be a Beatles fan to appreciate this film.

Unknown8. “Wonder,” 2017 comedy/drama directed by Stephen Chbosky, starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay. This touching film (another based on a young-adult novel) is about Auggie, a boy with a rare facial deformity that has required 27 surgeries, who is about to enroll in a school after years of being homeschooled by his mom. It’s that rare film that you can see with your whole family and everyone will get something out of it. It deals with bullying, accepting people for who they are, parents struggling to let their children grow up, and confronting our fears. Stellar supporting cast, particularly Mandy Patinkin as the school principal and Daveed Diggs as the teacher.

Unknown7. “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” 2012 documentary directed by Alison Klayman. A great film about the Chinese artist, architect, and activist Ai Weiwei and the increasing hostility he faces from the Chinese government, as he is harassed, beaten, surveilled, and eventually arrested, all while his brand-new art studio is razed by Chinese authorities. What were his crimes, other than artistic provocation? Printing on his website the names of all 5,000 children who died in an earthquake in Sichuan, a disaster that the Chinese government had hoped to cover up. Inspiring story about true bravery.

Unknown6. Tie: “I Am Your Father,” 2015 documentary directed by Marcos Cabota and Toni Bestard; and “Elstree 1976,” 2015 documentary directed by John Spira. These movies go together. They are definitely for the Star Wars fans among us. One focuses on the filming of the original “Star Wars,” at Elstree Studios in London in 1976, and captures the indie feel that the film had before it became a worldwide success. More specifically, it follows Unknownextras and ancillary support crew, who had no idea what they were signing on for. Similarly, “I Am Your Father” is about actor David Prowse, a fascinating former world-champion bodybuilder who portrayed Darth Vader in the original trilogy, and his falling out with George Lucas over the making of the movies. Essentially, he’s been persona non grata to the Lucasfilm folks ever since, and the directors would argue unjustifiably. If you saw “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and were disappointed (I liked it, but I’m sure you’re getting tired of seeing these movies on my best-of lists), you might want to check these out.

Unknown5. “Crazy Rich Asians,” 2018 comedy/drama directed by John Chu, starring Henry Golding, Constance Wu, Awkwafina, and a large ensemble cast. This was the “La La Land” of the year for me: a film that I heard so much about that I didn’t think it would live up to the hype. Well, I was charmed. It was funny, romance-filled, gorgeously filmed, and hit all the right notes on family and obligations in the face of love. One downside for me was that there were so many characters that we didn’t get to spend time with some people I would have liked to see more screen time of.

images4. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse,” 2018 animated sci-fi directed by Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman, featuring the voices of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, and many others. This isn’t your typical cartoon. Not sure where to begin with the plot: Miles Morales gets bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes Spider-Man. Wait, I thought Peter Parker was Spider-Man. It turns out this is in an alternate universe, and when the bad guy (Kingpin, voiced by Liev Schreiber) creates a machine that rips open the fabric of the universe…okay, I’m losing the plot thread here. Just know that there are several Spider-Mans (and girls, and, um, pigs) from different universes involved. Visually amazing; I felt as if we were watching 1970s-era NYC graffiti come to life.

Unknown3. “Get Out,” 2017 satirical horror directed by Jordan Peele, starring Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams, Lil Rel Howery, Bradley Whitford, and Catherine Keener. Oh man, what hasn’t been said about this movie? I’m not a fan of horror movies, so I was surprised that this one got to me. While there were some horror-movie tropes (jump scares, bloody violence, “wait, didn’t he kill that guy already?,” things like that), the psychological suspense and cultural commentary parts were strong. This one will stay with you for a while afterward.

Unknown2. “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” 2017 comedy/drama directed by Noah Baumbach, starring Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, and Elizabeth Marvel. I’m a fan of Baumbach’s movies. Stiller, Sandler, and Marvel play siblings dealing with their aging father, the not-quite-respected artist and retired professor Harold Meyerowitz, played with aplomb by Hoffman. Stiller is the successful son, and Sandler (in his best dramatic role since “Funny People”) is the sad-sack who can’t seem to please his dad or live up to this father’s wishes, while dealing with his college daughter (Grace Van Patten). As with most Baumbach films, I’d describe it as painfully funny.

Unknown1. “Love, Simon,” 2018 romantic comedy/drama directed by Greg Berlanti, starring Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Alexandra Shipp, and Katherine Langford. The third movie adapted from a YA novel on my list, this one is sweet and uplifting. Simon is a teenager who starts an online relationship with another boy. A third boy finds out about the relationship and blackmails Simon into helping him get a date with a female friend of theirs, for fear of outing Simon. I thought of the John Hughes movies of the 1980s, and not because of the topics, but the “of its times” feel of the film. Example: the high schoolers swing by Starbucks to get coffee drinks on their way to school everyday. Another example: Well-meaning, loving adults who support but can’t really solve problems they don’t understand, specifically Garner and Duhamel as Simon’s parents and Tony Hale as the trying-to-be-hip vice principal.

Movies that just missed the cut: “Brad’s Status,” “Jeff Who Lives At Home,” “Solo: A Star Wars Movie,” “Game Over, Man,” Springsteen On Broadway.”

The Best Films I Saw In 2017

Faithful blog readers! It’s time once again for my list of the best movies I saw in 2017! Why am I yelling?! Just a reminder: These are not the best films released last year. These are the best movies I saw in the last calendar year, whether they were new or old. I saw 72 movies in 2017, or 1 every 5.1 days. I have mentioned in past posts that I screen movies for my lovely wife Jen. See, she has a real job. And a life. I sit through hours of bad filmdom so she doesn’t have to. (When she catches me sitting on the couch munching on dark chocolate M&Ms and watching “Ted 2″ at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, I tell her, “But honey, I’m doing this for you!”)

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I put this photo here to get Jen to read my blog post.

Actually, I found out that I’ve failed Jen in one crucial aspect this year: I thought I was doing a good job of weeding out the bad films from her life, but one day we were having a casual discussion about the movie “Baywatch.” I was telling her that, other than Zac Efron’s and Dwayne Johnson’s ripped bodies, she didn’t miss much. She said, “Hold up. You are hiding another shirtless Zac Efron movie from me? This is like the fourth one this year! And in most of them, you said he gets fully naked!” (For the record, in the past 2 years, I’ve seen 5 naked-or-nearly-naked Zac Efron films: “Neighbors 2,” “Dirty Grandpa,” “Baywatch,” “That Awkward Moment,” and “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.”) I hadn’t been keeping track, but apparently, she was. So I have learned my lesson: the wife would appreciate a little Troy Bolton with his shirt off. But who wouldn’t, if we’re being honest?

Anyway, the list (sorry Jen, no Zac Efron to be seen in these films):

139ba3eecd2df4d6fa438634bb3e50fadbdc845310. “The Incredible Jessica James,” 2017 romantic comedy directed by Jim Strouse starring Jessica Williams and Chris O’Dowd. Funny, surprising, sarcasm-laced film about a woman coming out of a bad breakup who reluctantly agrees to go on a date with a guy getting over a bad divorce, and the fits and stops their friendship takes. Williams (“People Places Things,” incidentally my favorite film from 2016) runs this flick; when O’Dowd (you’d recognize him as the cop/love interest in “Bridesmaids”) tells her character, “I really like you,” she responds, “Of course you do, everyone does, I’m freaking dope.”

Unknown9. “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru,” 2016 documentary directed by Joe Berlinger starring Tony Robbins. If you’ve ever seen infomercial star/entrepreneur/life coach Anthony Robbins and thought, Who is that giant man with the self-confidence to match his height? (He is 6’7″), this movie is for you. It follows one of Robbins’ “Date With Destiny” 5-day seminars in Boca Raton, FL, where people shell out $5000-plus to learn how they are screwing up their lives and what they can do to fix it. He is brutal, honest, and to the point. Does this come off as a drink-the-Kool-Aid promotional video? At times. But he is very open about his own shortcomings, and it’s fascinating to see someone explain how they got their sh*t together and turned their life around, and to watch others try to do the same. It’s quite emotionally deep, actually.

Unknown8. “The King’s Speech,” 2010 historical drama directed by Tom Hooper starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter. The story of King George VI’s unexpected ascension to the throne, his struggles with stuttering (and self-confidence; he should have talked with Tony Robbins), and the speech therapist whose unorthodox methods helped him overcome so much in his life. This deservedly won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler), Best Director (Hooper), and Best Actor (Firth).

Unknown7. “Captain Fantastic,” 2016 drama directed by Matt Ross starring Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, and Samantha Isler. Heartbreaking film about a guy struggling to raise his children away from the civilized world after the death of his wife. The trailer made it look more like a comedy; don’t be fooled. Very thought-provoking; watching him butt heads with his in-laws about his wife’s wishes for her burial versus what societal norms would require is tough.

Unknown6. “Don’t Think Twice,” 2016 comedy/drama directed by Mike Birbiglia starring Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Birbiglia, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Chris Gethard. When does a person give up on their dreams? What if one of their best friends is better than them at something? And how much do we owe our mentors for our successes? This movie follows an improv ensemble as they struggle to pay the bills; when a few of them get a tryout at a “Saturday Night Live”-type variety show, the reactions of the individual members of the group threaten not just their careers but their friendships. Very funny and poignant.

MV5BNzg1MzQyMjI4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDMzNzQyNjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_5. “She’s Funny That Way,” 2014 comedy directed by Peter Bogdanovich starring Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Kathryn Hahn, Jennifer Aniston, Will Forte, and Rhys Ifans. This movie was fun. At times it approached farce; like the plays “Noises Off,”  ”What the Butler Saw,” or “You Never Can Tell,” this movie has love triangles, doors opening and closing while people try to hide their trysts from their partners, and great comic timing. Ifans plays a director whose latest play is upended by the addition of a call girl-turned-actress (Poots).

BREAK FOR ANNUAL STAR WARS MOVIE: I feel as if there should be a special place on my list for all of the Star Wars films that Disney will be releasing annually for the next decade. Last year’s “The Last Jedi” should be on my list, but let’s just assume that I’m going to like it (I did) because I have a blind spot for Star Wars movies and thus am incapable of objective criticism. Moving on:

Unknown4. “La La Land,” 2016 musical comedy/drama directed by Damien Chazelle starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and John Legend. There’s always a movie that receives universal praise that I want to dislike. I thought I wouldn’t like this one. A musical? About Hollywood? Where a white guy saves jazz? And did I mention it’s a musical? But I liked it. Gosling and Stone have chemistry, and they make us want to see where they are going. I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s a scene at the end of the movie, no talking, just music and pictures, and it reminds me of the scene in the Disney film “Up” when the old man is thinking about his long relationship with his wife, and…well, you have to see it.

Unknown3. “The Fundamentals of Caring,” 2016 comedy/drama directed by Rob Burnett starring Craig Roberts, Paul Rudd, Jennifer Ehle, and Selena Gomez. Rudd plays a struggling writer going through a divorce and trying to get into a new career as a home-health caregiver. He gets hired to take care of a young man (Roberts) who is wheelchair-bound. Turns out the kid’s a smartass (picture Bubble Boy in that episode of “Seinfeld;” he’s pissed that everyone wants to feel sorry for him, so he acts like a jerk). The two guys decide to take a road trip and pick up a few stragglers along the way, including Gomez, who is a wonderful surprise in this film. A very funny and very touching movie; you will laugh and you will cry (unless you’re an unfeeling jerk).

Unknown2. “The Edge of Seventeen,” 2016 comedy/drama directed by Kelly Fremon Craig starring Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Kyra Sedgwick, and Woody Harrelson. My God, are all of my favorite movies comedy/dramas? Yes. This hilarious coming-of-age film follows a girl (Steinfeld) whose high-school problems are compounded by the fact that her best friend is now dating her older brother. Her closest confidante is an English teacher (Harrelson) who can barely tolerate her. It reminded me of “Juno.”

Unknown1. “The Big Sick,” 2017 comedy/drama directed by Michael Showalter starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano. This is really three movies in one: a comic romance between Nanjiani’s and Kazan’s characters, a drama about a health scare, and a relationship film between them and each of their parents. Hunter is great, and Romano is way more understated than I expected. Nanjiani, who co-wrote the movie with his wife, carries the film; if you have seen him, it’s probably from “Silicon Valley” or his frequent minor roles in “Portlandia.” This film is like “While You Were Sleeping” if Sandra Bullock was an Uber-driving son of Pakistani immigrant parents who were trying to arrange a marriage for her/him. I feel like I lost the thread there somewhere.

Movies that just missed the cut: “The Last 5 Years,” “Song One,” “Scott Pilgrim Versus the World,” “Bad Moms,” “Hello My Name Is Doris,” “Starter for 10,” “The Martian,” “Good Night and Good Luck,” “Other People,” “Table 19,” “American Teen.”

My Oscar Acceptance Speech

Wow. I’m as stunned as all of you are to have heard my name called tonight. I did not expect to win this Oscar, especially since, until a few months ago, I wasn’t even aware that a person could be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for a movie based on a blog post. But I’ll take it.

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“You like me! You really like me!”

I guess I should take a moment to thank my business partner, mostly because of the lawsuit: part of the agreement was I mention him in any potential acceptance speech. So, this one goes out to my former friend and mentor, or as I like to call him, “Plaintiff.” I’d also like to give a special shout-out to the little people, and by “little people,” I mean anyone 5 feet 3 inches or shorter; thank you for making me feel tall.

In all seriousness, a lot of hard work went into the making of this film. I am humbled to have worked with such a great director and cast and crew and production team; I’d like to give most of the credit to them for bringing my words to life. I’d like to, but I can’t because, let’s be honest, without my script, this movie would have been nothing. Hence, me standing here holding this statuette and them all sitting at home cheering me on. So, thanks for your minor contributions.

I have to believe that my late mom is looking down on me and smiling. She was such a big part of my success; I can still hear her speaking the words that motivated me to get to where I am today: “Sweetie, don’t listen to what your teachers and the social worker and the school administrators say: You can be anything you want when you grow up. As long as it doesn’t involve being tall, or particularly good-looking, or especially intelligent, or having the ability to work with your hands, or playing well with others.” I knew then and there that I was going to be a writer!

I know, too, that my dad is looking down on me. He’s not dead; he just disapproves of my life choices. Dad, this one’s for you; you warned me that when I went to Hollywood, it would be filled with a bunch of whiny, narcissistic, ego-inflated, body-obsessed liberal wackos who spent their days puffing each other up in useless meetings and their nights at drug-fueled orgies in the Hollywood Hills. Well, Dad, you were right: it was everything you promised and more! Thanks for cutting me off financially; that really forced me to find my way in the world (and, unanticipated bonus, to find cheaper pot suppliers).

One of the greatest pieces of advice I got when I first starting working on screenplays came from two previous Oscar winners, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. They told me, “Write what you know.” I’m paraphrasing from their legal filing; it was more along the lines of, “Whereas we find Mr. Dudley’s screenplay to have undeniable similarities to our own work,” etcetera. Boy, did I learn the hard way to write what I know. I suppose in hindsight I shouldn’t have named my first attempt at a screenplay “Good Will Hunting 2.” But that’s all been settled in the courts, and now I hold no grudges against Ben and Matt, who are both in the audience tonight. However, I would like to kindly suggest that they drop the order of protection requiring me to stay 50 feet away from each of them at all times; that’s why my seats were in the balcony and I had to find an alternative access to the stage from the backstage area when my name was called. (I’m also trying to figure a way to triangulate our paths through the Vanity Fair Oscar party, but I’ll cross that red carpet-covered bridge when I get there.)

Did I thank my agent yet? No? I owe a lot to her. (Twenty-five percent, actually; she told me that was the standard rate.) She had all the connections and taught me which parties to attend, which studio heads to schmooze, and, most importantly, which producers to sleep with. (As an aside to my wife: Just kidding, honey! And as an aside to certain producers: Not really; those two and/or three nights we spent together were some of the most memorable drug-fueled times of my life!)

I see that someone in back is giving me the “wrap it up” signal. Either that or they’re telling me that they are going to slit my throat when I step off the stage. Wait, is that Affleck? Aw, Ben, you’re a card! Always joking! Anyway, I would be a heel and a cad if I didn’t mention my lovely wife Jen. Jen, my darling, this is all possible because of you, in so many ways. First of all, the movie is named “My Lovely Wife Jen,” so there are some obvious real-life comparisons. I was particularly pleased when the casting director got Jennifer Lawrence and Jennifer Aniston to play you in different stages of your life, although I didn’t realize how powerful a player Aniston was until I found out she was playing the young “you” and Lawrence was forced to play the mature “you.” Also, Jen (my Jen, not the other Jens), thanks for always supporting me when things looked bleak. I’m talking about the financial support, because there were times when your emotional support was frankly a little lacking. I mean, how many times can a guy be criticized for not having a real, actual job and not getting changed out of his sweatpants all day (and, in one particularly low stretch, not doing anything but watching Seasons 1 through 4 of “thirtysomething” on repeat for 6 months straight while eating pork and beans on the couch) before it starts to affect his self-confidence? But we worked through all that, and I just want to say that everything I earn from this movie goes to you. That is, everything after paying my lawyers and Affleck and Damon and my former business partner and my agent. Everything after that, I mean.