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Friday, January 19, 2018

25 Films to Look Forward to in 2018

As we all try to finish catching the last of 2017's movies, let's take a look forward! At the beginning of each new year, we take a look ahead at the year of movies to come–what are we excited about? Some of these movies have been a decade in the making, while others are pleasant surprises from our favorite directors, writers, and performers. While on the podcast we recently discussed the mixed bag that was our 2017 most anticipated films, here are 25 movies we're (cautiously) optimistic about for 2018!

Black Panther
dir. Ryan Coogler
Release Date: February 16th

I'm not sure there will be a better cure for the fatigue I'm feeling with Marvel's cookie-cutter approach to films than Ryan Coogler's Black Panther. Coogler knocked what should have been a stale and unnecessary sequel - Creed - out of the park, and had said he wants to make Black Panther "as personal as possible," and if the visually stunning trailers are any indication, we may be in for the rare Marvel movie they puts its director's vision at the forefront. The film's cast alone is worth the entry fee: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. (Hannah)

dir. Alex Garland
Release Date: February 23rd

The new film from Alex Garland, the mind behind Ex Machina, Dredd and other great genre entertainment made last year's list, but we're such fans of his we couldn't let the actual year it finally got released go by without another mention. The film looks to be quite the departure from Jeff VanderMeer's book, and was the subject of some serious push and pull between the studio and its producer and filmmaker. I expect it to be this year's early favorite for "most divisive film". But really, between his screenwriting work and his excellent directorial debut, this is the first movie of the year I am well and truly excited about. (Kyle)

A Wrinkle in Time
dir. Ava DuVernay
Release Date: March 9th

What can I say? It's Ava DuVernay's world, and we're just living in it. After pushing David Oyelowo into stardom by giving him an absolutely iconic turn in Selma, DuVernay stepped back and crafted the best documentary of 2017 with the heartbreaking, powerful 13th -- and teamed up with Oprah to put Queen Sugar on TV. But now DuVernay is back on the big screen, and in full-on blockbuster mode with A Wrinkle in Time, adapting Madeleine L'Engle's absolutely beloved young adult classic. The movie has an excellent adult cast (Oprah, Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris Pine, and more) and some promising newcomers like Storm Reid. They should be a great fit with DuVernay's crowd-pleasing sensibilities and strong sense of character. The trailer looks strong, the source material is classic, and DuVernay herself is a massive talent to look out for. (Alexander)

The Strangers: Prey at Night
dir. Johannes Roberts
Release Date: March 9th

Marvel/Disney aren't the only ones capitalizing on ten years of storytelling this year.  A decade after its release, The Strangers is finally getting a sequel.  The Strangers is one of my favorite horror movies of this century, and it has the distinction of being one of the last horror movies to scare me to the point of losing sleep.  Our three masked killers are back, this time targeting a family in an abandoned trailer park.  Bryan Bertino is the only one returning from the original film, this time co-writing instead of writing/directing.  Given how cleverly the original Strangers played on the home invasion trope in horror movies, it will be interesting to see if The Strangers: Prey at Night brings something new to the table, or if it falls under the trap of being yet another disappointing horror sequel. (Shane)

Isle of Dogs
dir. Wes Anderson
Release Date: March 23rd

New Wes Anderson Movie? And it’s stop-motion animated like the gorgeous Fantastic Mr. Fox? Count me in. Isle of Dogs is set in a future world where all dogs in Japan have been quarantined to an island covered with garbage, and a young boy sneaks there to find his dog. It looks weird, adorable, and beautifully animated, not to mention the outrageously packed voice cast including Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, Edward Norton, Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum just to mention a few. The Grand Budapest Hotel was on of Anderson’s finest films to date, so there are a lot of reasons to have high expectations for his follow up and return to animation. (Harper)

Pacific Rim Uprising
dir. Steven S. DeKnight
Release Date: March 23rd

I'm not a huge Charlie Hunnam fan, but I AM a big Pacific Rim fan, so I couldn't be happier that John Boyega will be the lead in the franchise's next chapter. Uprising follows the events of Pacific Rim 10 years later, in which Boyega will star as the son of Stacker Pentecost. There's bad news with the good, though. I'm a little nervous that Guillermo del Toro isn't directing this one - he's only acting as a producer - and the resume of director Steven DeKnight doesn't give me much hope. But by some miracle, if I can get a fun, thrilling monster battle movie like I did the first time around, I'll be thrilled. (Hannah)

A Quiet Place
dir. John Krasinski
Release Date: April 6th

If you told me a year ago that I’d be picking a horror movie directed by The Office’s John Krasinski, I’d have guessed you came from a weird, parallel universe. Based on the film’s first trailer which is so silent for its first minute that you might check your speaker’s power button, the film follows a family living in quiet solitude, taking extreme measures not to make any loud noises. They lay sand on the forest path, only step on the painted footsteps in their home, and play Monopoly with knitted pieces, all to keep a mysterious and terrifying threat from hearing them. With Krasinski co-starring with Emily Blunt, it looks to be not only very frightening, but perhaps one of the most interesting uses of sound in horror films in recent times. (Harper)

You Were Never Really Here
dir. Lynne Ramsay
Release Date: April 6th

Lynne Ramsay is one of the most gut-level disturbing filmmakers working today. Ramsay got her start with the excellent indie drama Ratcatcher, a drama about a young child in a poor, trash-filled slum working through his guilt at watching a friend drown to death without going for help. Her most recent film was, if anything, even darker: 2011's We Need To Talk About Kevin followed two separate threads, Ezra Miller's teenage sociopath pushing closer and closer to a truly monstrous act, and Tilda Swinton as his mother trying to live with the consequences in the aftermath. It's a brutal, emotional story that features phenomenal performances from both Miller and Swinton. In You Were Never Really Here, Joaquin Phoenix plays a hitman trying to save a teenager from being forced into prostitution, but comparisons abound to things like Scorsese's Taxi Driver, so don't expect this to be a simple anti-hero story. Ramsay is fascinated by the horrifying things humans can do to one another and the happiness they can find coming out of tragedy, so I'll be fascinated to see what Ramsay does with the story. (Alexander)

Avengers: Infinity War
dir. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Release Date: May 4th

It feels like we say this every few Marvel movies, but this time it really has all been building to this.  Easily the most anticipated movie of the year for many, Avengers: Infinity War sees the culmination of literally a decade of storytelling with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The cast is massive and the plot is widespread across the galaxy. The Avengers find themselves face to face with Thanos, who will hopefully break the curse that has befallen so many MCU villains before him.  While there are so many things that can go wrong with a movie with so much riding on it, Joe and Anthony Russo have not struck out yet with their Marvel offerings.  Captain America: Civil War seemed to be the practice round for juggling a gigantic cast, but fan expectations are through the roof with this one.  Nothing short of a masterpiece may invoke the ire of the MCU loyal.  At the very least, they'll be more skeptical when pre-ordering their Avengers 4 tickets. (Shane)

Ant-Man and The Wasp
dir. Peyton Reed
Release Date: July 6th

What a change of perspective for me. You see, three years ago I outright boycotted Ant-Man in the theater after the execrable way Edgar Wright was treated by the studio, even to the point that we had Cal and Harper describe the film beat by beat to me on the podcast, rather than actual seeing it. It frankly still stings a bit to think about, but I happened to catch Peyton Reed's final product on blu-ray when it was brought over, and of course I ended having a really good time with it. So much so, that I'm really delighted to see what Reed can do with a film that isn't a Frankenstein monster of a script, and also makes hopefully much better use of Evangeline Lilly's Hope Van Dyne. Plus, shrinking heroes! Always here for that and the fun set pieces that'll produce! (Kyle)

2014's The Babadook directed by Jennifer Kent
The Nightingale
dir. Jennifer Kent
Release Date: August 10th

The Babadook remains one of the truly great horror films of the 21st century, coming in 3rd in our list of the new century's best horror. As a debut for Jennifer Kent, it was a powerhouse, and we've all been wondering what Kent would do next. Now we know: The Nightingale is the story of a young prisoner in 1820s Australia seeking revenge on the man that killed her family. What impressed me most about The Babadook was the way Kent built on and managed the film's powerful tension even before the film's horror elements took off, so seeing her going for a full-on thriller has me incredible excited. The Nightingale seems like it may be a bit of a harder sell than the pure genre thrills of The Babadook, but Kent is a great up-and-comer, and I can't wait to see what she does as she branches out into more complex work. (Alexander)

The Happytime Murders
dir. Brian Henson
Release Date: August 17th

Another film which has been in development hell for a longtime, The Happytime Murders just may be the most unique comedy film lined up for 2018.  In a world where humans and puppets co-exist, The Happytime Murders tells the story of a puppet detective searching for a serial killer responsible for the murder of his brother as well as a recent string of murders of the stars of a popular 80's TV show.  The plot synopsis on its own is intriguing, but then seeing that the film is directed by Brian Henson and stars the likes of Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, and Maya Rudolph makes this a movie you don't want to ignore.  Given the noir feel of the plot and concept art, perhaps this could be the next Who Framed Roger Rabbit...only with a lot more felt and googly eyes.  A list of five screenwriters doesn't offer much hope, but we can at least wait for a trailer.  If nothing else, you won't see another movie like The Happytime Murders this year. (Shane)

First Man
dir. Damien Chazelle
Release Date: October 12th

Look, all Oscar joking aside, La La Land was great, and so was Whiplash. I was expecting another music-focused film from Chazelle, so it’s a nice surprise to see him delving into the historical biopic of American astronaut and first man on the moon Neil Armstrong. I’m a sucker for all things early NASA–all the men and women involved with putting mankind into space are unquestionable heroes, and their stories have been uniquely fascinating in film, from 1989’s For All Mankind right up to last year’s Hidden Figures. Add to that Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy playing Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong and a script by Josh Singer (Spotlight and The Post) and this might just be a way for Chazelle to make a great movie without trying to save jazz. (Harper)

2015's The Diary of a Teenage Girl directed by Marielle Heller
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
dir. Marielle Heller
Release Date: October 19th

A few years ago, we really didn't have many smart female coming-of-age stories breaking through into the mainstream. Now, we have Lady Bird and The Edge of Seventeen, but I consider both to be following in Marielle Heller's footsteps: The Diary of a Teenage Girl was Heller's debut, a sexually frank coming-of-age period piece set in '70s San Francisco, and she crushed it. At the time, she was adapting a graphic memoir by cartoonist Phoebe Gloeckner; with Can You Ever Forgive Me? Heller is adapting a memoir by biographer, forger, and thief Lee Israel. Playing it as a black comedy, Heller has cast Melissa McCarthy to star as a famed writer whose star wanes after a notable feud with a celebrity, who ends up forging and then later stealing letters from celebrities to keep her career going. Dark comedies are always a difficult tonal tightrope act, particularly when they're based on a true story, but Diary - a frank look at a relationship between an adult man and a young teenage girl - was similarly tricky territory that I think Heller nailed, so I'm excited to see what she does with something more overtly comedic. (Alexander)

dir. David Gordon Green
Release Date: October 19th

The Strangers aren't the only horror icons returning to the big screen in 2018.  Michael Myers is back once again, and he's got a lot of familiar faces with him.  Though it may be the 11th film in the series, this new Halloween is a reboot of sorts, ignoring all previous entries in the series and acting as a sequel to only the 1978 film.  If that isn't enough to intrigue you, Jamie Lee Curtis is back (last seen briefly in 2002's Halloween Resurrection) as well as original Michael Myers, Nick Castle.  John Carpenter is also returning, this time as executive producer and creative consultant.  Newcomers to the series Judy Greer and Andi Matichak are also along for the ride, playing Curtis's daughter and granddaughter respectively.  Nothing is known about the plot at this point, but so many returning faces and with the ever-successful Blumhouse in charge of production, you're not going to want to miss Halloween.  Given that this film will ignore even Halloween II, it will be interesting to see if a new connection is established between Laurie Strode and the Shape. (Shane)

2011's Much Ado About Nothing directed by Josie Rourke
Mary Queen of Scots
dir. Josie Rourke
Release Date: November 2nd

With The Crown creating a surging interest in British royal history, this historical drama about the Scottish queen attempting to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth I may just come at exactly the right time. The director Josie Rourke has recently been directing live filmings of plays at the National Theatre, but her debut film was an adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing starring Doctor Who favorites David Tennant and Catherine Tate. Tennant returns here along with a very exciting cast including Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth, both hot off 2017 critical hits Lady Bird and I, Tonya respectively. The rivalry of two of the most powerful women in the world is a story I’ve always been fascinated with, so having adapted with such a formidable cast is something to look forward to. (Harper)

dir. Steve McQueen
Release Date: November 16th

After Gone Girl was adapted for the big screen, it seems the book's author, Gillian Flynn, will make her own attempt at big screen adaptation. This might sound like a risky proposition, but Flynn's co-writer is none other than director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), who will also direct the film, which stars Viola Davis. The premise is an adaptation of a 1980s television show about a group of men killed trying to rob a bank, and their widows, who finish the job. (Hannah)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Release Date: December 14th

While Spider-man may have crawled his way to the MCU, Sony still technically has control over the character's film rights.  Not wanting to risk two live action Spider-men on screen, Sony has opted to go animated for its next Spidey film.  Into the Spider-verse sees the cinematic debut of Miles Morales, the popular African American/Puerto Rican Spider-man (formerly) of the Ultimate Marvel Universe.  Aside from having a breathtaking art style taken from the comics themselves, not much is really known about the plot of the film.  The title comes from the recent Spider-Verse storyline, which saw an entire multiverse of Spider-men and women working together.  Does this mean we may not just get Miles but also Spider Gwen, Spider-man 2099, or Spider-Ham?  Could we see Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield return to the role of Peter Parker?  Only time will tell, but Into the Spider-verse is already off to a great start with a screenplay by Phil Lord and a cast including Mahershala Ali and Liev Schreiber. (Shane)

dir. James Wan
Release Date: December 21st

2018's lone DC offering may actually be the most promising one of the lot. You have a likable, if untested, star, a director who seems a bit of an unusual pairing for the material, and it arrives on the heels of another poorly received Zack Snyder curated vehicle. Sound familiar? While the broad strokes of James Wan's foray into the DC Universe sound a lot like what gave us Wonder Woman, the actual material looks to be wildly different, with Wan describing it as an underwater cross of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Romancing The Stone...as much of Aquaman will take place post-character introduction in Justice League (a lukewarm debut by most accounts), it won't have the tried and true origin arc to rely on, and thusly its task will be just a bit more difficult in winning dubious audiences over. Still, I look forward to seeing how Wan conceptualizes the underwater environments...particularly how characters communicate...and if this can finally be the moment when DC Films gets on track. (Kyle)

Hold the Dark
dir. Jeremy Saunier
Release Date: TBD

Green Room was one of the most interesting and terrifying movies of 2015, defying genre expectations by bridging the gap between crime, thriller, and horror in a way that left many unsettled and excited to see what Saulnier does next. In Hold the Dark, Saulnier sees an author (Jeffrey Wright) trying to locate a couple’s young son who is presumed to have been killed by wolves in the Alaskan wilderness. The cast also includes Riley Keogh and Alexander Skarsgård, as well as frequent Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair, who also co-wrote the movie. With the filmmakers behind Green Room and I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore diving once again into a world of violence and crime, I’ll be sure to be there! (Harper)

2013's Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuarón
dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Release Date: TBD

I know very little about this, except that it returns Alfonso Cuaron to his Mexican roots as it chronicles a year in the life of one family in Mexico City in the 70's. With a cast of actors unknown to American audiences, this long-awaited return for Cuaron sounds, on paper, to be pretty enticing. After Children of Men and Gravity, two of the more highly regarded science fiction films of the current era, this is also a return to grounded storytelling, and a nice change of pace for the auteur. (Kyle)

2013's The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Let the Corpses Tan
dir. Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Release Date: TBD

Okay, first off, this clearly has the best title on the list. For a film paying homage to the Euro thrillers of the 1970s, it needed an evocative title, and co-directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani have certainly found that. Cattet and Forzani are known for their homages to the exploitation films of old, most notably in 2009's giallo homage Amer and again in The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears just a couple years ago. Cattet and Forzani's take on horror tends to be slow, methodical, and partnered with surreal imagery and hallucinatory editing. It will be interesting to see them change the force of their fetish with Let the Corpses Tan, but regardless of the subject matter, this is a duo that is always interesting to watch. While I didn't love The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears, it seemingly pushed their bizarre imagery as far as it can go, and I'm interested to see if they'll pull back a bit now that they're working in a different genre. (Alexander)

dir. Duncan Jones
Release Date: TBD

Welp. This was on my 2017 list, but after release delays, Mute is back on the list for 2018. So I'll say now what I said then: I have to admit that I skipped out on Warcraft, but I was a big fan of director Duncan Jones' Moon, so I'm interested to see what he has in store for us with his next film. Mute is already drawing comparisons to Blade Runner based on recently released images, and the film stars Alexander Skarsgard, Paul Rudd, and Justin Theroux in a noir-ish quest set in Berlin circa 2052. Rather than a traditional theatrical release, Mute will release on Netflix. (Hannah)

dir. Luca Guadagnino
Release Date: TBD

A remake of the Dario Argento classic would hold very little appeal to me in almost every single case...but I guess there's always an exception to be had. Post-A Bigger Splash and Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino, who just really doesn't know how to take a break, takes on this herculean task...and I am very much here for it. One has to presume this will be more of a remake in name only, and this will allow Guadagnino the opportunity to really pick apart and recontextualize the source material. The cast is an interesting mix, bringing on the ever excellent Tilda Swinton with younger talent like Dakota Johnson (maybe finally getting the stink of the 50 Shades of Grey franchise off of her) and Chloe Grace Moretz, who has been in need of a career redirect herself - Clouds of Sils Maria notwithstanding. (Kyle)

Let It Fall Back
dir. Luca Guadagnino
Release Date: TBD

I'm still torn over whether Call Me By Your Name occupies my #1 movie slot for 2017 or if it sits at second, but either way, director Luca Guadagnino has my attention. So I'll be eagerly awaiting this one - a drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jake Gyllenhaal as friends involved in faking a murder. It's also penned by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight. (Hannah)

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Review: FREAK SHOW Is Stylish But Sloppy

Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther) is fabulous. A gay teenage boy growing up with his hard-drinking wit of a mother (Bette Midler), he was ecstatic. But when his mother goes away, he is left with his father, forced to move down south and attend an ultra-conservative private school. His tendency to dress as a woman - or as one of a variety of richly elaborate costumed identities he comes to school as - quickly alienates him from his classmates, but a savage beating from a handful of bullies that puts him in a temporary coma introduces him to Flip (Ian Nelson), a high school football star who is unusually sensitive -- and happy to be friends with the slowly recovering Billy. Back at school, Billy's social standing doesn't particularly improve, nor does his rocky home life, so when he learns that Lynette, a bullying demagogue of a girl, is running unopposed for Homecoming Queen, he decides to challenge her for the crown.

The film's emotional core -- that Billy can't help but stand out at all times, but he still needs the same love and respect that his classmates deny him -- is where the film works best. Alex Lawther is a dab hand with a catty one-liner, playing his potentially stereotypical gay character so loudly that it circles all the way around cartoonish back to feeling real and earned. Lawther struggles a bit with some of the more emotional material, though part of that has to do with just how blunt that emotional material is. Still, Freak Show is a film that vacillates wildly in its tone, and Lawther is the heart of those shifts, holding together a story that can leap wildly from a 'crazy outfits' montage to a moment of shocking violence, and he mostly pulls it off.

Abigail Breslin is a pretty seasoned young actor at this point, but she can't do a lot to rescue a character as hammy and one-dimensional as Lynette. In the current environment, I understand having a God-fearing, snide Southern girl just coming out and saying things like "Make America Great Again," fits, the character is so slim that she basically only exists as a caricature of a hateful Southern belle. As a concept that certainly works, but it does kind of strand Breslin -- and it doesn't give Billy Bloom a lot to go up against. She's not crafty, not cutting, not clever... as villains go, she doesn't offer much beyond a facile look at modern American conservatism. I'm fine with that, but do something with it; Freak Show never really does. She's obviously the villain, but she's a deeply impersonal villain to end with for a lead who goes through a lot of really bad shit.

Ultimately, the core issues I have with Freak Show come down to its scripting and editing. Important moments are de-emphasized to the point of non-existence, while important characters come from nowhere and vanish for enormous stretches of the film. The big showdown that concludes the film, a race for Homecoming Queen between out-and-proud Billy and Lynette is introduced and resolved within, it seems, the film's final twenty minutes. Indeed, Lynette, who began the film set up as a major antagonist, vanishes for the vast bulk of the film's run time as an enormous chunk of the film's entire midsection is taken up by drama at home.

Look, I get it, adapting novels to film is hard. There's so much material you have to cut, you lose a lot of the interiority of the characters -- or you end up with a ham-fisted voice-over, as we do here. Cut too much, and none of it makes sense; cut too little and the movie can run way too long and feel sluggishly paced. And that's not even getting into structural differences between the two media. But Freak Show runs into so many problems when it comes to adapting its material. Take Mary Jane, for example, who the film introduces out of nowhere to do the typical 'here are all the cliques that will be important to this movie' high school movie thing... and then promptly vanishes. At first, I thought this was supposed to be clever commentary on Billy's self-absorption, but she comes back later in a role that seems semi-important, and Billy's treatment of her is completely ignored, so... why is she in this movie, other than that she had a role in the book? There are a ton of different small moments like this, where it seems clear that three or four different characters really needed to be combined into one, or excised entirely.

The movie Freak Show most reminds me of is 2004's coming-of-age indie, Saved! This was a potent reminder of how easy the Saved! formula can go off the rails. Saved! is another teen coming-of-age movie that dealt with finding your own identity amidst a hyperconservative environment that has a hard time accepting you -- and confronting its own hypocrisy and moral failings. But, where Saved! is incredibly focused, making sure we're reminded of its supporting players regularly and checking in on their conflicts, Freak Show just abandons them until its time for their Big Moment. Why is Bo Bo in this movie? Or Sesame, or Felicia? What impact do they have on the lead? Do they have any arc of their own? Do they want or need anything? Do they even impact the lead's journey? No! They're just... background noise. And that's not even getting into the pointless homages to famous works of art that seem to exist as the weirdest, least relevant outside references I've seen in a film in ages.

Freak Show is, if nothing else, inoffensively pleasant. There are a few moments that I really do love -- the scene where Billy declares that he's running for Homecoming Queen is hilariously overwrought, for example, a weirdly delightful left turn in a movie that had been running a bit on empty for awhile at that point. And it does have one super fun trick up its sleeve, using its extras in a clever way, though it introduces the conceit late in the film and does very little with it in the end. But ultimately, the film just felt a bit too sloppy to really hit home with me. The subject matter is timely and the cast is certainly game, but Freak Show could have been considerably tighter than it ended up being -- and considerably more interesting.

Freak Show is available to rent now on streaming services like Amazon Instant Video. Written by Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio adapting a novel by James St. James, Freak Show was directed by Trudie Styler. The movie stars Alex Lawther, Abigail Breslin, and Bette Midler.
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Monday, January 15, 2018

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 213

Batwoman #11
by Michael Cho

 Ice Cream Man #1
by Martin Morazzo

Trinity #17
by Bill Sienkiewicz

Assassinistas #2
by Cara McGee

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Best Sounding Movies of 2017

We'll have our annual Oscar predictions podcast in a few weeks after the nominees are out, but why not get a head start on figuring out what your picks will be for your Oscar pool? Often the categories that make or break a bet will be the technical awards, and the two sound awards for editing and mixing are among the most mysterious for many. No longer! Here are our picks from our resident sound guy for the best sounding movies of 2017, along with some predictions. For a breakdown of the difference between the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing awards, check out my picks for 2014's best sounding films.

Baby Driver
Julian Slater - Supervising Sound Editor / Re-Recording Mixer / Sound Designer
James Peterson, Mary H. Ellis - Sound Mixers
Watson Wu - Car Sound Effects Recordist
Bradley Farmer - Music Editor

It's rare that sound is as crucial as–arguably more important than–the cinematography in a movie, but Baby Driver is certainly one that fits that profile. The film is pumped full of rhythmic sound effects that blend in and out of the soundtrack and create a musical world that the entire movie is set to. Think about the early long-take scene above of Baby getting coffee, when every sound around him, from the sweep of a broom to the beep of an ATM keypad are timed to the music and his movements. We're talking about a movie that literally filmed car chases to live music to ensure everything rhythmically lined up. And since the movie is so car-focused, it was essential that they create some excellent car recordings made specially for the film. It's likely to be nominated for both sound categories, and it stands a very good chance of taking home the editing award for its precise, toe-tapping sound design.

Richard King - Supervising Sound Editor / Sound Designer
Gary Rizzo, Gregg Landaker - Re-Recording Mixers
Mark Weingarten - Sound Mixer
Alex Gibson - Supervising Music Editor

One of the many incredible things about Nolan's WWII masterpiece Dunkirk is it's sound; in particular the way the music and picture blend together in a perfect rhythmic crescendo that is sure to give viewers a near heart attack by the end. There is music in almost 100% of the film, and the way it is edited together makes it feel like a seamless symphony that never stops building. Another big part of the nonstop intensity of the movie is the extreme and often terrifying sounds of passing gunfire, a fighter plane fading in from a distance for a bombing run, or the side of a ship suddenly bursting open with an explosion. War movies often take home the sound editing award, so it's got a good shot at that one in particular, especially given that Richard King has been nominated five times and won for three of those films (Master and Commander, The Dark Knight, Inception).

Craig Henighan - Re-Recording Mixer / Sound Designer / Supervising Sound Editor
Jill Purdy - Supervising Sound Editor
Paula Fairfield - Sound Designer
Simon Poudrette - Sound Mixer

Mother! is one of my favorite films from 2017, and it's phenomenal sound design is one of my favorite things about it. The film has literally no music, so to fill that aural gap, Henighan and co. create weird soundscapes by amplifying the ambient sounds of the film. Every drop of mysterious medicine mother trickles into her water, every shard of broken glass, and every footstep from a floor above play with unnatural clarity and often ring out in surreal ways that recall the infinitely ringing lobby bell in Barton Fink (another masterclass in sound). All of this heightens the first person perspective of the movie and makes the chaos of the third act all the more intense. The surround mix of the film is also extremely important and well done, as it creates a real sense of space and direction that ties us more intimately to the house in which the entire film takes place. This one might slide under the Academy's radar, but it absolutely deserves nominations in both sound categories. (Soundworks Collection did a great in depth interview with Henighan and Aronofsky about the sound of the movie)

Get Out
Trevor Gates - Supervising Sound Editor
Chase Everett, Jonathan Wales - Re-Recording Mixers
Robert C. Bigelow, Jeffree Bloomer, John D'Aquino - Sound Mixers

Horror movies often get a chance to run wild with over the top sound design, from juicy gore sounds to tense atmospheres, and perhaps this year's best example is Get Out, which masterfully utilizes both big jump scare moments and more subtle sound design. The deer sequence near the beginning of the movie is a great example of how to execute a perfect jump scare, but my favorite sound in the movie comes from it's scariest idea: the Sunken Place. When Chris is hypnotized and his consciousness drops down into a black empty space, all we can hear is the voice of his captor over the dull roar of watered down screams and ambiences. It's incredibly frightening, and the sound perfectly complements the visuals on the complex sequence, and for that it's deserving of some major recognition. (Here's a great podcast where Supervising Sound Editor Trevor Gates talks about Get Out)

Blade Runner: 2049
Mark A. Mangini - Supervising Sound Editor
Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill - Re-Recording Mixers
Mac Ruth, János Csáki Jr. - Sound Mixers

The original Blade Runner is famous for, among other things, its sound, so Villeneuve and his sound team had some big shoes to fill. In addition to its lush synth score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, the 35-years-later sequel manages to capture the sounds of the world in a way that is both faithful to the original and perhaps even more expansive. Supervising Sound Editor Mangini went to great lengths to recreate the musicality of the ambiences by using verbed out chimes and guitars, and the alternating dust and rain of this future is amplified by carefully placed rattles and drips. In Blade Runner: 2049's slow, long take shots, it's often the sound that tells the story while we take in the gorgeous visuals, so for that reason it is almost guaranteed nominations in both categories. Mangini has been nominated for the editing award four times, and won in 2015 for Mad Max: Fury Road, and Doug Hemphill boasts seven nominations and one win (The Last of the Mohicans) for the mixing category, so there's definitely a level or prestige there, too.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Matthew Wood - Supervising Sound Editor
Ren Klyce - Sound Designer
David Parker, Michael Semanick - Re-Recording Mixers
Stuart Wilson, Tim White - Sound Mixers

Science-fiction films often have the most room to get creative with sound in ways more grounded films cannot, and there is no greater legacy of sci-fi sound than that of the iconic Star Wars sounds created by Ben Burtt. The Last Jedi is notably the first Star Wars film to not have Burtt at the helm of the sound team, but his replacements are no newcomers between Ren Klyce (David Fincher's regular sound designer and five time Oscar nominee) and Matthew Wood (Wall-E, Super 8, and Rogue One, with three Oscar noms). The Last Jedi has some stunning scenes of lightsaber duels, outer space bombing runs, and rickety speeders, all of which are impeccably sound designed in the grand tradition of Star Wars. Yet it is perhaps the very un-Star Wars decision to use silence during the lightspeed crash sequence that is perhaps the most memorable sound moment in the movie. Nearly every Star Wars film has been nominated for one or both Sound awards, so it will likely be nominated in at least the editing category this year.

The Shape of Water
Nathan Robitaille - Supervising Sound Editor
Christian T. Cooke, Brad Zoern - Re-Recording Mixers
Glen Gauthier, Paul Gosse, Sylvain Arseneault - Sound Mixers

In a film where the protagonists are a mute woman working in a super-secret 1960s government facility and the amphibious creature who is imprisoned there, it's no surprise that the sound team had to work overtime to genuinely create the world of the movie. At the forefront here is the careful sound work on the creature's vocalizations and movements that were created using, among other things, raw meat, pineapples, old 1/4" tape, a rubber lobster, and del Toro's own voice. The whole film, though, puts an emphasis on the importance of sound to convincingly build this world that is equal parts fantasy and real. From the subtle sci-fi laboratory ambiences to the deliberate design of rain storms, The Shape of Water uses sound to tell the story just as much as its dialogue, or anything else. (Read more in this excellent interview with Supervising Sound Editor Nathan Robitaille over at A Sound Effect)
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