True Grit (2010)


A stubborn teenager enlists the help of a tough U.S. Marshal to track down her father’s murderer. (IMDb)
Beautiful bleak landscapes, memorable old English banter between a bevy of colourful characters, and a straight-forward engaging adventure plot (with admittedly unnecessary flash-forward bookends) are topped off with a simple piano theme and crossfade scene transitions. Throw in some gunfights, horse riding, and beans cooked over a fire and you have the perfect Western, with the fiery Mattie (loved that water-crossing scene) adding just the right amount of new spice as the atypical protagonist.
8/10 (Great)


Hell or High Water (2016)


A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas. (IMDb)
Aesthetically excellent, with its dusty, aching landscapes smoothly shot, rich soundtrack (a tense piano and strings theme alternates with melancholy folk tunes), charming small-town Texas sets, and Chris Pine with windswept hair. The story feels a little light in comparison (it would have been better to focus more on the compelling brothers and less on the at-times awkward cop duo) but it builds well and comes to a riveting climax (though the denouement leaves something to be desired).
7.5/10 (Really Good)

Iron Man (2008)

On one hand, Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is a rich asshole, wisecracking his way through a self-centered lifestyle. On the other, he’s a brilliant and hardworking recluse who still puts his nose to the grindstone for his company. He’s a suitably complex leading man for a film that’s otherwise quite standard (though still with some great action) and his moral transformation–while a bit simplistic–perfects him as a protagonist while still taking care to retain the charisma we’ve grown to love/hate.

The Big Lebowski (1998)


“The Dude” Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it. (IMDb)
A fun madcap crime plot with hilarious mishaps galore (see Walter’s car smash, the Germans’ failed extortion in the parking lot) is decorated by hilarious characters and memorable dialogue, most notably the three main buds (the bowling motif is nerdy excellence, BTW): The ultra-relaxed Dude (“That’s just like, your opinion, man”), the short-tempered Walter (“This is what happens, Larry!”), and the absent-minded Donny (“That’s your name, Dude!”). The dream sequence felt unnecessary though.
8/10 (Great)

Arlington Road (1999)


A man begins to suspect his neighbors are not what they appear to be and their secrets could be deadly. (IMDb)
Although it could have built its intensity more gradually, Arlington Road at least does well at maintaining it right up until its refreshingly devastating (if a tad far-fetched) climax, thanks to Bridges’ crazed, slightly over-the-top lead turn and the heavy socio-political content from his lectures that fills in the gaps between the thrilling scenes of his paranoid detective work, his chilling interactions with the subtly creepy Robbins and Cusack, and the final high-octane action sequences.
7.5/10 (Really Good)