Thursday Ten – Best Performances of the Year So Far

Over on the top menu bar, you’ll find a listing of my current predictions for the 2016-2017 Academy Awards. Or just click here

None of the performances or ensembles highlighted in this Thursday Ten are likely to garner Oscar attention. Whether considered too esoteric for conventional Academy tastes or not having a distributor willing (or capable) to campaign on the actor’s behalf, the performances I want to spotlight are some of the more adventurous I’ve seen over the course of the year. As much as I enjoy following the latest trends in Oscar campaigns, the whole thing can become dreadfully repetitive when the same five names are brought up incessantly.

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Thursday Ten – Most Anticipated Films of 2016

Despite my limited productivity on the good ol’ Chicago Cinema Circuit in 2015, it amounted to a banner year, cinematically. Between the assured and reliable releases of auteur works from Todd Haynes, Don Hertzfeldt, and Frederick Wiseman, it was also a year that produced an incredible amount of feature debuts. My top films of 2015 saw no fewer than four first features, along with several microbudget filmmakers composing significant works. Which is to suggest that the films that I anticipate, at least at this early juncture, are often the ones we know about well in advance; the bold new voices that will come in 2016 are complete mysteries. 

For now, though, here’s a collection of the films of 2016 that I’m most eagerly anticipating. Please note that I have omitted Martin Scorsese’s Silence, Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, and Ti West’s In the Valley of Violence as they were featured in last year’s addition

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Thursday Ten - Your Best Bets at CIFF ‘15

The 51st Chicago International Film Festival begins next week on October 15 with Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre selected as the fest’s opening night film. Two weeks of diverse American and foreign, local and global filmmaking follow. Consider the following ten films as useful recommendations to highlight some of the festival’s eclectic offerings, though an overarching suggestion to keep in mind is: get out of your comfort zone. Utilitarian programming issues aside, there are diamonds in the rough that reward viewers willing to take risks. 

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Thursday Ten – The Best Studio Ghibli Films

Today, the Gene Siskel Film Center marks the conclusion of their Studio Ghibli programming, with a screening of The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. The film, a comprehensive examination of Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki and the creative brain trust that shapes the organization, serves as an open door study on the arduous yet visionary process that has composed some of cinema’s finest films, animated or otherwise. 

To commemorate the retrospective’s conclusion and the Chicago premiere of what’s to be the final Studio Ghibli film, Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s When Marnie Was There, I look to compile what I consider the studio’s ten best features – a cadre of erudite films that will outlast us all. 

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Thursday Ten - Most Anticipated Films of 2015

When making my list of my most anticipated films of 2014, I had the forethought to predict that Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin and Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher would be among the best films of the year. Other pictures, like Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice proved to be significant efforts in spite of missing out of my top ten. But there’s little in accounting for films like Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip, Joel Protykus’ Buzzard and Ramon Zurcher’s The Strange Little Cat, which were the sort of welcome discoveries that I never saw coming. As much as I enjoy scouring through the year’s releases, anticipating the next film from a celebrated auteur, it’s the surprises that really bowl me over. So while the following list of ten (along with an addendum) have piqued my interest, this is only what’s bubbling at the surface at the moment - there are dozens of films awaiting discovery. 

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Thursday Ten - Black and White Films of the 21st Century

Moviegoers of course have the right to dislike black and white, but it is not something they should be proud of. It reveals them, frankly, as cinematically illiterate” - Roger Ebert

In an era of blockbuster filmmaking that emphasizes nonsensical visual bombast, it’s nice to see that Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida has become a box office sensation over the past few months. While I have problems with the film, it’s heartening that Pawlikowski’s rich and densely composed imagery is reaching a wider audience. Meanwhile, another foreign art-house film, Philippi Garrel’s excellent Jealousy is making the rounds. It’s currently slated for release at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center and has played in select theaters over the past month - it’s also available for streaming on iTunes. The film is another brilliant visual exercise anchored by a very intimate relationship narrative that benefits from Garrel’s naturalistic approach. The black and white cinematography only reinforces that intimacy.

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Thursday Ten - Most Anticipated Films of 2014

Much of the discourse surrounding the films of 2013 was quick to note how great a year it was. It’s a tough act to follow, but there’s plenty of interesting pictures to get excited about for in 2014. Reflecting back on my most anticipated list of 2013 (here) and my top ten of 2013 (here), there are always plenty of surprises along the way. And surprises, after all, are our reasons for loving cinema.

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Thursday Ten - The Best Films of 2013

Where to start with 2013? Having seen few bad films and many great ones it makes the process of narrowing down a definitive top ten near impossible. Thematically, the year played heavily to the sound of excess. Like an echo chamber playing Lorde’s Royals on end, films like the underrated At Any PriceThe Bling RingSpring Breakers, and The Wolf of Wall Street all constructed new and complicated images on the concept of the American Dream. But this coincidental lap in concerns was really only one in many. So as an addendum to my annual top ten, I’ve included five groupings of some of the more interesting films of 2013 that share some unified thoughts and concerns - both as a means of discussing some great pictures while submitting to the fact that selecting only ten best films of the years was entirely inadequate. 

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Thursday Ten – 2013 Discoveries

I wanted to avoid brash claims on the quality of cinema in 2013, but I really can’t help myself: it has been an incredible year. Across the board, from American to world cinema, from independent features to studio blockbusters, and from auteur-driven efforts to young directors looking to etch their name into the pantheon, the year was a remarkable bounty of riches. Of course this was coupled with the fact that I saw more films than previous years, though the ratio of quality versus junk skewed to the former’s betterment.

I’ll get into my top ten films of 2013 next week (mark your calendars, y’all), with this week’s Thursday Ten focusing on some of the many discoveries I came across during my screening. Whether they be unique directorial voices, interesting actors and actresses that resonated through a pool of talented performers, or some of the impressive stylists that put together the sound and look of a film, the selected ten should be understood as some of the most exciting talents to come out from the cinema of 2013.

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Thursday Ten - Performances in a Coen Film

December brings a slew of awards contenders to the mainstream fray, none more likely to register than Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis. For this edition of the Thursday Ten, I opted against ranking the Coens’ filmography, instead approaching their work through the rich performances they’ve been able to extract from their eclectic casts. The directorial duo introduced actors like Frances McDormand, Javier Bardem, and Hailee Steinfeld to mainstream audiences - with Inside Llewyn Davis’ Oscar Isaac joining good company. The following ten performances are reflective of the director’s innate ability to provoke the very best out of everyone they work with - the Midas touch if there ever was one.

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