Monsters, Inc. (2001)

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In order to power the city, monsters have to scare children so that they scream. However, the children are toxic to the monsters, and after a child gets through, 2 monsters realize things may not be what they think. (IMDb)
Hilarious (high-energy, wise-cracking Mike is an absolute [actual] ball–“Roz, my tender, oozing blossom”–and has great chemistry with amiable big guy Scully) and heartfelt (I felt my heart melting at that final shot; Boo was absolutely adorable), with a clever premise that serves as the vehicle for a brilliant thematic thread commenting on the (actual) power of love, laughter, and creativity in the face of division, fear-mongering politics, and resignation to an unethical system of economics.
9/10 (Amazing)

 

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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After the Vietnam war, a team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden. (IMDb)
Nails that classic adventure movie-feel with its anticipation-building, crew-collecting first act, the dual-jungle trip suspense of the second, and awesome monster action that culminates in a wild third act. The cool aesthetic with its clever scene cuts, slow motion, and classic rock soundtrack only ups the fun factor. The characters are one-note but they’re all you need for this kind of romp (though the surprisingly touching end credits with Reilly’s hilarious Marlow adds a nice bonus arc).
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

Love the Coopers (2015)

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The intertwined stories of four generations of Coopers unfold right before the annual family reunion on Christmas Eve. (IMDb)
A cliche multiple-narrative dysfunctional family script is made nearly unbearable by the omniscient narration (by the family dog, somehow, and for some reason) spoon-feeding you what the acting and visuals should just be showing you (though some things are still left unclear-like Ruby and Bucky’s relationship). Some interesting editing choices (see the quick flashbacks) and asides (see the great Santa montage) get points for trying to do something different, even if they come off as contrived.
5.5/10 (Poor)

 

Evan Almighty (2007)

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God contacts Congressman Evan Baxter and tells him to build an ark in preparation for a great flood. (IMDb)
The set-up’s predictable (yet another working dad neglecting his kids); the build-up is too (The Santa Clause, anyone?), but the plethora of biblical puns make it fun. The humor is mostly bland slapstick (Hill’s stalker Eugene aside) but Carell’s solid turn (the beard probably helped) as the guy God is seemingly screwing over gives the second act surprising dramatic credibility. Finally, though the CGI boat ride of the third act is cringe-worthy, its environmentalist slant is appreciable.
6.5/10 (Alright)

 

Barton Fink (1991)

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A renowned New York playwright is enticed to California to write for the movies and discovers the hellish truth of Hollywood. (IMDb)
Call me a “common man,” but I found the surreal third act a bit jarring in its offloading of abstract symbolism (which was a bit too much so), as artistically affecting as it was, and despite the underlying meta narrative. Still, the great turns, quirky characters, moody atmosphere, and memorable dialogue throughout (Jack’s monologues are hilarious; Barton and Charlie have a great dynamic: “I could tell you some stories-” “Sure you could!”) make for a highly engaging Hollywood satire regardless.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

Bee Movie (2007)

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Barry B. Benson, a bee just graduated from college, is disillusioned at his lone career choice: making honey. On a special trip outside the hive, Barry’s life is saved by Vanessa, a florist in New York City. As their relationship blossoms, he discovers humans actually eat honey, and subsequently decides to sue them. (IMDb)
There’s good animation (the flying sequences are especially impressive) and voice-work (Rock, Warburton, and Goodman’s distinct tones entertain) throughout, but the story is an inconsistent mess, moving from a classic leaving-the-nest plot to courtroom drama to saving-the-world action, with the far-fetched bee-human interaction shifting from excusably funny (see Barry’s battles with Ken and lawyer Layton) to inexcusably ridiculous (see the instant death and life of the plants in the final act).
6/10 (Mediocre)

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

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A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. (IMDb)
Lovely tunes and pleasant soft cinematography are just bonus additions to what is a superbly nuanced (and acted) character study: Llewyn is talented but pretentious, caring but bitter, witty but mean. He’s hard-luck but hard to like; half the time life hits him hard, half the time he seems to bring it on himself. Fleshed out by a perfect secondary cast of various characters, the film nonchalantly but intentionally presents a neutral take on the settling down vs. pursuing your dreams dichotomy.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter with two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack. (IMDb)
An immediate and enrapturing atmosphere of claustrophobic anxiety and unsettling suspicion (Goodman’s great turn as the odd and volatile Howard is perfectly complimented by Winstead’s tense and assertive Michelle) is heightened nicely by an initially inscrutable third party, and given a well-timed twist (see the lady outside). Given its build-up, climax, and overall feel, the extended ending–while appreciably unexpected–feels like an entirely different movie–but it’s still a good one.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

The Big Lebowski (1998)

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“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)

The Artist (2011)

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A silent movie star meets a young dancer, but the arrival of talking pictures sends their careers in opposite directions. (IMDb)
While its compellingly tragic lead bemoans the death of silent film, the film itself showcases its unique (in today’s age) beauty, most notably in its incredible transformative score, impacting emotive acting, and excellent visual storytelling (the newspaper montages look amazing). Full of clever symbolism (recall his opening film [“Speak!”] and the powerful sound-featuring dream sequence) and smart plays on its own conventions (“Bang!”), the meta brilliance of this film cannot be understated.
8.5/10 (Amazing)