The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

2007.  Directed by Andrew Dominik.

Hypnotic, quiet, and dangerous, Andrew Dominik’s masterpiece, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is an epic deconstruction of the Western and a bold commentary on America’s celebrity obsession.

Robert Ford is a 19 year old hanger-on to the legendary James Gang.  In the wake of their last heist, he slowly inserts himself into James’s family, beginning an intricate relationship in which both James and Ford recognize the threat in the other man.   As the decidedly non-glamorous violence begins to fray James’s already unhinged mind, Ford seizes the opportunity for glory, not fully understanding the ramifications of his deed until staring into his own, personal oblivion.

Casey Affleck delivers the performance of a lifetime as Ford.  His grasp of the homoerotic undertones and soul crushing evolution of Ford is so exposed that he almost evokes pity for his treachery.  The scene in which James takes his guns off is riveting.  Affleck’s expression is pained orgasmic relief, while Brad Pitt’s Jesse James’s nihilistic embrace is flawless.  Pitt portrays James as a near psychopath, barely held together by his wife and children.  These two actors are muted lightning anytime they are together, playing a dangerous game in which every expression, every gesture has malicious designs.

The supporting cast is a knockout.   Sam Shephard, Jeremy Renner, Mary-Louise Parker, Paul Schneider, Garrett Dillahunt, James Carville, Zooey Deschanel, Ted Levine, and Michael Parks are all solid, each of them outlaws in their own right.  Sam Rockwell as Ford’s brother is gripping in his display of all consuming guilt.

The always mysterious Nick Cave partnered with fellow Bad Seeds member Warren Ellis to create an engrossing, and haunting score that compliments the existential symmetry to near perfection.  Patricia Norris’s costume design is yet another pristine component of Dominick’s charade.   This is a film that is lived in and used up.   The legends of the dying west are real and flawed, hiding their weaknesses behind fancy cravats and sterling watch chains.  Janice Blackie-Goodine’s set decoration is meticulous, faithfully cataloging the world that was for the lost souls that wander throughout.

All of these elements are a distant second to Richard Deakins’s transcendent cinematography.  Using a variety of lighting to create authentic, blurred edges, while simultaneously capturing the natural beauty of the Western Canadian landscape that was used for the film.  The train sequence is a miracle to behold.   Deakins’s esoteric approach to the use of light has to be witnessed in order to fully understand how special his work on this film is.

Dominik’s command of these powerful tools is almost to good to be true.  His script takes its time, examining each theme with endless scrutiny.  The cost of fame is the center of the wheel, while celebrity idolatry, forbidden love, and mental illness are the spokes that move Dominik’s dark epiphany to it’s quiet conclusion.  The narration of Hugh Ross is another elegant nail in the romanticized American West’s coffin.  What begins as a thorough examination of the end of Jesse James unrepentant existence ends as a footnote in an era where popular opinion made devils into legends and cowardice into a matter of intent and opportunity.

Available now for digital streaming, and running at a colossal 160 minutes, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is an entrancing addition to the Western genre.  A revisionist epic on the surface, this more of an experience than a film.   It demands patience and thoughtful examination of it’s subject matter, which provides a visually poetic meditation on so-called heroes and those who blindly worship them.

Highly.  Highly Recommend.

-Kyle Jonathan

Resident Evil Film Series

Resident Evil Film Series

2002-2017 . Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, Alexander Witt, & Russell Mulcahy.

Initially based on the popular video game franchise, the Resident Evil films are equally maligned by critics and revered by loyal fans.  Rather than breaking down each individual film, this review will be about the work as a whole, focusing on the themes of the series.

Filled with endless Looking Glass allegories, on the surface, these stories are about the evolution of Alice, the series’ protagonist.  The manipulation of memory, dreamlike flashbacks, and a repetitive rhythm form the basis of Resident Evil’s mythology.   Alice begins the film as the mirror of a video game persona.  Confused and abandoned in a lush mansion that sits atop a nefarious laboratory, she descends into the madness below, embarking on an odyssey of bullets, blades, and the undead.  The thing is, none of it actually matters because the films purposefully abandon the plot of the game in favor of making a rather provocative statement.

Each entry has a theme.  The first film is focuses relationships and how the same event is remembered differently by the two participants. The second film is explores the military as a business, while the third is an apocalyptic story about the culture of government surveillance.  The fourth is a dissertation on cloning and multiple past lives.  The fifth brings these elements together by forcing the hero to work with the villain in order to save humanity.  The six and final entry is the capstone, a summation Anderson’s iconoclastic vision.

It doesn’t fully click until the fifth film, when the various clues hidden in each film start to come together: There’s a beautifully shot sequence by Glen Macpherson involving an endless procession of clones, all of them various characters from each of the films.   No matter the environment, the women are always scantily clad while the men appear as macho ideas rather than fleshed out characters.  Virtually every film is critically panned but yet manages to make a staggering amount of money.  Finally, there is the idea of the good guys being forced into bed with their corporate foils in order to succeed.

These films are a scathing indictment of Hollywood and a love song to creative freedom.  They’re remarkably presented and equally catty, all while espousing the idea that art, in its various forms is a part of the creator who gives it life.

Recycled characters and plot lines, hordes of zombie like fans, authoritative control on everything we experience down to our visual memories, and on and on and on.  The argument loses some water with reference to the first two films, but in the third, when the series finally finds its stride is where it begins to reveal its true intent.  The final three films, helmed by Anderson drive the point home.  They feature some legitimately beautiful cinematography by Macpherson, pure adrenaline laced fight choreography by Brett Chan, wicked costumes by Wendy Partridge, and a performance by Milla Jovovich that is both committed to the story and loyal to the rebellious underpinnings.

Available now for digital rental, the Resident Evil series of films may not be for everyone, but the sum of its parts is an important examination of the current box office obsession that is dividing fans and critics, crushing independent creativity, and burning virtual bridges across social media.  It took a fellow film lover to point my attention to the artistic level of these films and once I revisited them with this idea in mind, I’m unable to disregard them as D level horror entries.  These (particularly the last four) movies are renegade film making at its finest.  If you’re interested in seeing some outstanding action sequences, gorgeous visuals, and an unapologetic ode to personal creativity, these films will not disappoint.

Highly Recommend.

Tim Burton’s Batman Begins

Batman Returns

1992. Directed by Tim Burton.

A landmark achievement and Burton’s masterpiece. Batman Returns marked the beginning of serious, adult themed superhero films with absolutely zero apologies.  There’s so many pieces at work in this tragic fairy tale that it’s difficult to stay focused. It delves into human despair; highlighting rejection, loss, and the life of a victim after traumatic abuse.


Danny Devito and Michelle Pfeiffer deliver the performances of their careers and were both criminally robbed of Oscar nominations. Devito’s Penguin, a menacing troglodyte from the sewers symbolizes the refuse of the American Dream, discarded by his socialite parents for his physical and emotional deformities. He chews up every scene with malicious heartbreak, a son scorned by denial.

Opposite him, is the Catwoman. Pfeiffer’s absolutely brilliant incarnation of Batman’s constant foil is unforgettable.  She forces the viewer to confront the inequalities in the boardroom and in the bedroom. On first glance, it’s easy to dismiss her as a leather clad dominatrix and I believe that is Burton’s intent. It is through this satire that she becomes the epitome of a victim’s rage and it’s simply delicious to watch her spar, both verbally and with claws.


Keaton brings the usual anchor as Batman, whose own demons take a backseat to the troubles of the rogue gallery that are an organic response to the costumed vigilante’s presence in Gotham.  Walken fills out the cast as a white-haired mogul, a modern day symbol of the wealth that rejected the Penguin in his youth, thus showing that ultimately, greed is a spirit as real as Gotham itself.

Stefan Czapsky’s cinematography shows a Christmas time Gotham in its death throws, with blacks, white, and grays flooding the visuals. The concept of death is in the very foundation of the city, brought to life with Cheryl Carasik’s breathtaking set pieces. The costumes are a marvel and transcend the superhero mores with a sense of desperation, due to Bob Ringwood and Mary Voight’s creative efforts.

Some could argue this is not really a Batman film, but more a Burton film and thus that is why it is such a masterwork. I contend the opposite. Batman is a story, at its core, about loss, searching for acceptance, and the inevitability of ones actions coming to fore. I think it is for these reasons that Burton chose Batman as the setting for his turbulent Shakespearean tragedy.

You can’t help but marvel at the spectacle, and the stench of Gotham’s sewers will follow you home, long after you’ve left the film behind.


Clive Barker’s Nightbreed

Nightbreed (Director’s Cut)

1990.  Directed by Clive Barker.

Clive Barker’s most ambitious film, Nightbreed was hacked to pieces by studio execs prior to release and then by critics after its lackluster debut.  Horrendously marketed as a slasher film, Barker’s misunderstood opus has thankfully gained a cult following over the years, and a recent Director’s Cut release by Scream Factory, allowing Barker’s incoherent monster-centric fable to be viewed in its intended form.

Boone is a drifter who thinks he may be killing people.  His dreams are filled with visions of a city called Midian, a place where monsters dwell.  He sets out in search of the city with his paramour, Lori.  Pursued by the authorities and his murderous therapist, Decker, Boone discovers that Midian is not only real, but that his coming has been foretold by dead gods, prophesying a war between the inhospitable forces of humanity and the savagely noble legions of outcast creatures known as the Nightbreed.

The biggest problem with this film is also its strongest attribute.  Barker throws so many balls into the air that it’s a foregone conclusion that not everything will hit the mark, and yet, Nightbreed comes off as wonderful combination of serial killer fodder, a Gothic fairy tale, and a hauntingly rich form of original mythology.  There are dozens of characters that inhabit Barker’s epic with the monsters eclipsing their human foils, save for David Cronenberg’s sadistic Decker, who is one of the more vital roles in the bloated ensemble.  Oliver Parker as Peloquin is the monstrous standout, with his flesh dreaded faux Rastafarian killer barking the film’s best lines.


Mark Coulier’s freakish makeup designs are both elegant and obtuse, as some creatures appear as tangible nightmares and others come across half rendered, in part due to Robin Vidgeon’s stormy cinematography that bounces through lonely cemeteries and ancient catacombs without stopping to catch a breath.  The shame is that many of the creature designs are revealed as horrific intricacies,  whenever the viewer is allowed to glimpse their unspeakable splendor.  Danny Elfman’s amazing score enhances the mythic quality of the story, but it’s offset by the cardboard villainy of the humans and the wholesale familial slaughter that looms in the background throughout the narrative.

A feeling of too little, too fast is the mantra of Nightbreed.  What begins as a menacing serial killer story mutates into a quest for Midian, with Boone’s Christ-like ascension saturating the central act.  There’s also the race war between the monsters and humans and the various social dynamics of the underworld that come into play, but in regrettable portions.  The confusion is when all of these elements collide in an uneven stream of sexually charged violence during the final confrontation.  Despite the inconsistencies, the final battle is an amazing blend of CGI, practical effects, and gritty stunt choreography that is easily Nightbreed’s strongest aspect.


Available now on Netflix, or on an excellent blu ray transfer by Scream Factory,  Nightbreed is a unique horror saga that succeeds as much as it fails.  The director’s cut fills in many gaps, but also leaves the viewer wanting more, which while eternally frustrating, is also a testament to Barker’s meticulous world building.  This is a film that drives the viewer down a pot hole ridden dirt road into another world filled with esoteric mysteries and dark wonders, delivering an excellent horror fantasy unlike anything ever attempted in the genre.

Highly Recommend.


Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow

1999.  Directed by Tim Burton.



Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow takes a loose interpretation of Washington Irving’s classic story and infuses it with poetic Gothic visuals, a fragile Johnny Depp performance, and a heart felt homage to Hammer Film Productions, to create an artistic slasher film that defies genre conventions with its astounding art direction and beautifully captured sequences of operatic violence.

Ichabod Crane is a scientific police investigator who is dispatched to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders in which the corpses are being found without their heads.  Soon after his arrival, Crane is thrown into the midst of scheming aristocrats, malignant chicanery, a precarious love interest, and the impending arrival of the spectral Headless Horsemen.

Filmed almost entirely on set, Peter Young and Rich Heinrich’s art direction creates the town of Sleepy Hollow from the ground up, with the artificial feeling of the sets enriching the dreamy atmosphere.  The architecture has a Byzantine quality that offsets the colonial designs with a menacing undercurrent.  Young and Heinrich would go on to win the Oscar for their work.  Colleen Atwood’s Oscar nominated costume design takes Victorian tropes and uses a dash of steampunk to reinforce Crane’s outsider status, contrasting his big city cop with the town’s nobility, who cling to anachronistic ideals of pomp and circumstance.



Cinematography icon Emmanuel Lubezski uses a Stygian color palette and soft lighting to both emulate the Hammer Film ambiance and to present Sleepy Hollow as an ethereal revelry.  While the action sequences are violent, even the bloodshed has an art house quality, so much so that the viewer often forgets they’re viewing a horror film, an undeniable byproduct of El Chivo’s Oscar nominated work.  Long time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman scored the film, accentuating the Gothic vibe with droning organs and whimsical vigor.

Johnny Depp gives one of his most understated performances as Crane, the would be hero who is completely out of his element.  He’s supported by Christina Ricci, Jeffrey Jones, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Christopher Walken, Caspar Van Dien, Richard Griffiths, Michael Gough, Christopher Lee, and Martin Landau.  Yes, you read that right.  Burton assembled a well oiled machine of top shelf talent in which every participant gladly submits to the melodramatic terror with a playful sense of abandon.  While Andrew Walker’s script doesn’t allow much time for attachment, the sheer amount of talent makes each kill scene a story unto itself, with each of the formidable actors having their moment in the fog drenched spotlight.



Available now on Netflix, Sleepy Hollow is vintage Burton and a riotous horror departure.  Using amazing visual flourishes and tight cinematography to frame a well known story in a humorously violent package, this film is a welcome addition to any Halloween viewing list. Using a fable like presentation, replete with witches, demons, and redemption, Sleepy Hollow is a unique exercise in American folklore that delivers is a devilishly good fright film.

Highly Recommend.





The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

1974.  Directed by Tobe Hooper.


Controversial.  Appalling.  Rebellious.

Tobe Hooper’s infamous masterpiece is a blue collar shocker that stalwartly remains one of the most seminal horror films ever conceived.

Five teenagers set out on a road trip across the blistering Texas back roads.  They pick up a hitchhiker whose bizarre behaviors are a harbinger of the horrific events waiting to befall them.  When they discover a decrepit farmhouse, the teens unwittingly come face to face with a taxidermic nightmare, a grotesque clan of backwoods killers who are looking for new additions to their congregation of flesh.

The combination of gruesome visuals and sweaty, screen door, Americana cover every inch of this slaughterhouse menagerie.  Using a false premise, insinuating that the story actually occurred was a brilliant choice, evoking a lost America, steeped in esoteric pig’s blood and mud caked,work boots.  Virtually every set could be plucked from a house the viewer has no doubt passed on an endless familial road trip as a child.  The victims are realistically foolhardy and the violence is both brutal and unusually rapid, with most executions happening instantly.  It’s the aftermath of the initial onslaught that garnered the film’s notorious reputation.


Daniel Pearl’s cinematography has a vintage quality that gives everything a secondhand feel, using psychedelic oranges to contrast the rustic blues and greens of the locale.  The woods and surrounding environs of the farmhouse are captured with lush wide shots while the interior of the house is shot in a confusing procession of odd angles and extreme closeups.  During the final act, everything switches to restrained voyeurism, including a wonderful long take of the family’s patriarch being brought downstairs for “dinner”.  Robert Burns’s art direction has a repulsive quality that is the perfect accomplice.  From the iconic skin mask of Leatherface to the otherworldly interiors of the house, the most frightening aspect of the film is the idea of what has already transpired, rather than the impending atrocities.

Almost every member of the cast was injured during production,  Marilyn Burns as Sally and Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface display a torturous amount of body work.  Budget constraints required that most of the cast do their own stunts, one of which involved a live chainsaw being perilously close an actor’s neck.  Real blood was used in one of the film’s more dubious scenes and Burns’s costume was so saturated in theater blood that it had almost completely calcified when filming concluded.

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The film was banned in several countries for its depiction of apathetic violence, and yet, for a horror film, the actual on screen bloodshed is remarkably tame when put against modern contemporaries in the genre.  The combination of lighting effects and Larry Caroll and Sallye Richardson’s serrated film editing leave the bulk of the gore to the viewer’s subconscious.  Hooper and Wayne Bell’s nails on chalkboard soundtrack is the final piece, using an industrial arsenal to mimic Leatherface’s primal savagery.

Available now on Amazon Prime and Huluplus, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an outstanding piece of terror that is essential viewing for any film fan.  This is one of the horror titans, using a wonderful combination of independent film tactics to produce a blood slicked masterwork.  On the surface, this is a legendary slasher film, but deeper examination reveals a thoughtful horror film that delivers unforgettable imagery and a thought provoking commentary on post Vietnam America’s specious grandeur.

Highly.  Highly Recommend.

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Beyond the Black Rainbow

Beyond the Black Rainbow

2012.  Directed by Panos Cosmatos.

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Beyond the Black Rainbow is a film out of time, a bad acid nightmare that would have been right at home on the VHS shelves of the 1980’s.  An exercise in personal catharsis for the director after losing his parents, Rainbow is an amalgam of surreal cinematic influences, that uses confounding and genuinely gorgeous alien aesthetics to present an unsettling exploration of what lies beyond the limits of the human mind.

Elena is a teenager who is a captive in a scientific prison underneath the Arboria Institute, a new age research company whose aim is to achieve transcendence through extensive indulgence in psychotropic narcotics.  Her captor is Dr. Barry Nyles, Dr. Arboria’s heir apparent, whose mind and body were cosmically altered after a ghastly inter-dimensional encounter in 1966 that left Elena’s mother dead and Dr. Arboria in a fugue state.  Nyles has become infatuated with Elena’s psychic abilities, believing they hold the key to the mysteries of the subconscious.  As Nyles gradually slips into pure madness, Elena harnesses her preternatural abilities and attempts a desperate escape into an alternate reality in which the Cold War’s threat of nuclear extinction is but one of many horrors waiting in the darkness.


Beyond the Black Rainbow is jigsaw origami.  The surface level is relayed through sharp angles and psychedelic colors that present Elena’s ordeal as a reverse Alice in Wonderland.  Beneath the LSD convolution lies a subversive criticism of the baby boomer generation, presenting the casualness of the demographic as the Black Rainbow, a metaphysical point of no return that mankind had no place crossing in the first place.  The theme of personal improvement and evolution pervades throughout the glacial narrative, with Cosmatos presenting strange technology, malignant psychic capabilities, and the bio-mechanical horrors of the Arboria Institute as the yield from foolhardy experimentation fueled by manic obsession.

Norm Li’s cinematography is jaw dropping, using a deluge of colors and framing techniques to give the Arboria Institute an otherworldly atmosphere that is simply unforgettable, evoking the compositions of Kubrick and Argento with skin crawling results.  In particular, the 1966 flashback scene, shot in unfocused black and white is both terrifying and awe inspiring.   Yes, the concession that many aspects of Beyond the Black Rainbow were taken from other films is undeniable.  However, the way that Cosmatos assembles each nostalgic block into a psionic Jenga is pure, malicious brilliance.  Within a few, precious minutes, you know you’re witnessing something truly different, the type of experimental voodoo that enraptures as much as it divides, and Rainbow is a prime example of one of these poisoned offerings.

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Eva Allan conveys Elena’s torment as a form of telepathic bipolar, portraying a young woman whose entire life has been experienced through captivity.  With only a lonely, unreliable television to keep her company, Elena fixates on the world outside and wishes only to be reunited with her father.  Her chemistry with Michael Rogers’s Nyles is surprisingly potent, especially during the first therapy scene.  Rogers’s gives a delirious turn with his villain, presenting Barry Nyles as the false prophet, a murderous prodigal son who maintains his human status through creepy cosmetics and a barely passable sense of endearment that sits atop a furnace of aberrant rage, epitomizing the film’s central theme that not only should man not seek to exceed it’s karmic limitations, but that success in such endeavors would only lead to a new dimension of unspeakable dilemmas.

Cosmatos’s script is filled with important details that will almost certainly be overlooked during an initial viewing.  Astral communication happens through unplugged telephones, while an ominous Ronald Reagan monologue enshrouds Elena’s predicament.  A disturbing diary contains the profane incantations of a madman and strange automatons, Sentionauts haunt the corridors of the institute, each of them baring a horrifying similarity to Elena’s child like visage.  Almost every aspect of the film has an implied double meaning, electing to use limited dialogue and overwhelming visuals to construct a haunted house story told from the inside out.

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Jeremy Schmidt AKA Sinoia Caves’s soundtrack is a synthesized love note to Tangerine Dream, one of the many influences on the film.  Every song is perfectly applied to a specific segment, enriching the atmospheric occultation with an array of 80’s cult melodies.  La Vonne Girard’s set designs, clearly influenced by Suspiria, present the interior of the institute as a post modern dungeon, filled with precarious open chambers that offer few places for Elena to hide.  Kathi Moore’s costume design is devilishly simplistic, using a simple white dress for Elena and presenting Nyles as a shag carpet hold out from the institute’s free love origins.  The Sentionauts, however, appear as crimson golems who remain suspended in their leather suits until activated, merging the deceptive mundane with the unnatural truths that lurk throughout.

Available now for digital rental, Beyond the Black Rainbow is one of the most unique films of the 21st century.    From a distance, this movie is an extreme example of stylistic overkill for what appears to be a straightforward premise.  However, if you’re patient with the slow burn allegory, Beyond the Black Rainbow has a plethora of dark wonders to explore, hidden among an eclectic blend of hallucinatory motifs and surreal horror.  If you’re interested in a remarkably different, constantly elusive film, this is a one of kind viewing experience.

Highly.  Highly Recommended.


Cult Rewind: Leviathan 1989

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Frank and Kyle join teams to talk about one of their favorite, and underappreciated films from the 80s, George P. Cosmatos’ LEVIATHAN starring Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Ernie Hudson, Daniel Stern, and Meg Foster. While this film does borrow heavily from THE THING and ALIEN, it’s much more than just a rip-off hybrid that stands on its own with strong performances, excellent production design, and value, and remarkable creature effects and a brooding score.

Pick up the Shout Factory blu ray here.

Top 10 Performances of 2017

Here we are, the end of another year of amazing films and amazing performances. Even though the box office performance has continued its downward trend, movies in general haven’t satisfied movie goers and Movie Pass has made a huge splash in the lily pond, there are several noteworthy performances that appealed to our roving film critics, Ben Cahlamer and Kyle Jonathan. Here are their favorite 10 performances of 2017 along with honorable mentions.



  1. Daniel Day Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock in Phantom Thread Although the film is still in a limited release, plenty of critics and LA and New York filmgoers have raved about Daniel Day Lewis’s Golden Globe – nominated and storied turn as a dressmaker in this turn-of-the-century period piece.

Honorable Mention: Barry Keoghan as Martin in The Killing of a Sacred Deer.


  1. Gal Gadot as Diana/Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman and Justice League. It’s very rare that filmgoers get two performances of the same character in one year from two separate movies, Ms. Gadot’s performance in her solo Wonder Woman film just leapt off the screen. More than her beauty is her intelligence and her empathy for the human race. The fact that she played a larger role in Justice League is just icing on the cake.

Honorable Mention: Bella Heathcoat as Olive Byrne in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.


  1. Melissa Leo as the Reverend Mother Marie St. Clair in Novitiate. The convent featured in Melissa Betts’ film is a place where young Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) finds herself. Melissa Leo’s Reverend Mother St. Claire runs the convent on a very short leash, holding tradition sacred, despite the Vatican Papers directing her to follow the new order. Her stoicism in the face of adversity and her adherence to what she has practiced all her life is something to be admired.

Honorable Mention: Sally Hawkins as Maud Dowley in Maudie.


  1. Robert Pattinson as “Connie” Nikas in Good Time. In one of the most brilliant of independent films of 2017, Robert Pattinson breaks out of his Edward Cullen role from the Twilight film series into a more dramatic and adult role. As “Connie,” he is always looking for his next angle. Between trying to hide from the police, trying to get enough scratch to get his brother out of jail and just trying to keep himself sane, Pattinson’s tour de force performance is one for the ages.

Honorable Mention: Richard Jenkins as Giles in The Shape of Water.


  1. Michael Stuhlbarg as Sam Perlman in Call Me by Your Name. Let’s be clear that this is a film actors dream of being able to participate in. Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer are at the center of the film and both are worthy of the accolades they have already received. However, it is Michael Stuhlbarg’s widely praised performance as Sam Perlman that truly gels the film together. I suspect he will be among a very few select actors to be nominated by the Academy for one single scene.

Honorable Mention: Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles ‘X’ Xavier in Logan.

Finally, in the Year of the Mustache, I extend honorable mentions to Kenneth Branagh for his exquisite mustache as Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express and to Henry Cavill for his lack of a mustache, which was digitally removed for his reshoots as Superman in Justice League and the talk about it on social media. Well done, lads.



  1. Florence Pugh – Lady Macbeth

Pugh’s performance is one of the year’s best surprises.  Tackling complex themes of female empowerment, sexual freedom, and class entitlement, Pugh’s total commitment to the role is dangerous and entrancing.  This is a stunning turn that shows how much promise this young actress has and I can’t wait to see what she does next.


  1. Vince Vaughn – Brawl in Cell Block 99

Vaughn started in comedy and appeared to have pigeonholed himself into forgettable roles in which he plays the charismatic underdog.  True Detective season 2 showed exactly how much skill he has and I was eager to see him push his limits.  His quietly ferocious role in Brawl in Cell Block 99 is exactly what I was hoping for.  This is a landmark performance that will undoubtedly go overlooked by many viewers.  S. Craig Zahler’s furious grindhouse homage is an unrelentingly brutal time and Vaughn dominates every one of his scenes.  This is not to be missed, an almost mythological performance.


  1. Robert Pattinson – Good Time

Our first tie!  Pattinson has really developed into something special since his Twilight days.  Not only is Good Time one of the best films of the year, I am hoping that Pattinson is able to nab an Oscar nom for his performance.  Connie is a narcissist who is able to turn the world to his desires….yet unable to escape the darkness of his predicament.  Good Time is more of an experience, a neon soaked love note to Breathless and After Hours and it simply does not work without Pattinson’s bravura at the center.


  1. Kristen Stewart – Personal Shopper

Another Twilight veteran, Kristen Stewart has shown that she is one of the most talented actresses working today.  Pairing with auteur Olivier Assayas, her performance in Personal Shopper has been lauded by film critics across the globe.  A murder mystery, ghost story, and heart breaking meditation on loss, this is one of 2017’s best and Stewart’s endearing role as a medium searching for her brother’s spirit remains the epitome of acting prowess for the year.

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  1. Barry Keoghan – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest continues his trend of divisive, darkly comical, and utterly terrifying storyteller.  Barry Keoghan’s supporting role as Martin is simply astounding.  He has two monologues that absolutely dominate the entire film, producing some of 2017’s most memorable cinematic moments.  Part myth, part morality tale, and always uncomfortable, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is my favorite film of the year and Keoghan gives my favorite performance.

Honorable Mentions – Pekka Strang – Tom of Finland, Michael Fassbender – Song to Song, Keanu Reeves/Jim Carry – The Bad Batch, Gil Birmingham – Wind River, Tiffany Haddish – Girl’s Trip

Dario Argento’s Suspiria


Dario Argento’s masterpiece, Suspiria, is a sinister mood experiment, that uses incoherent dream logic and wicked visuals to create a mysterious world of living nightmares.

Suzy is an American ballet dancer who enrolls at a prestigious performance academy in Germany.  Soon after her arrival, a series of bizarre murders grips the campus.  As Suzy delves into the accursed history of the school, she is drawn deeper into a place beneath reality, a place of dark magic and madness.

Argento’s script presents Suspiria as a string of ideas rather than a conventional plot, making a film that defies explanation.  The performances are overly melodramatic, the set design is impossibly audacious, and the colors are loud and out of control.  These elements bleed into one another, making it difficult to determine what is real and what is dream, while also conceding to the viewer that this was done with intent.  Guiseppe Bussan’s enigmatic sets appear alien and inhospitable.  The compositions of every scene are meticulous down the placement of objects and the positioning of the cast.  Everything is a clue to a mystery that never asks to be solved, with Suzy sleepwalking from one terrifying experience to the next.  Every door promises violence and every window teases a false hope of sanctuary.

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Luciano Tivoli’s cinematography uses strange angles and brilliant colors to show that the subconscious is in control and reality is an ethereal concept, lying just beyond the viewer’s reach. The visual presentation borders on sensory overload, requiring multiple viewings to decipher all of the clues and symbols.  Both the cinematography and set design are considered to be the pinnacle of the horror genre.  This is what sets Suspiria apart from other classics.  It is a high concept film presented in a vibrant, unforgettable package that continues to be imitated and dissected 40 years later.

Jessica Harper’s performance as Suzy is paradoxically cliched and nuanced.   Suzy is the conduit through which the story is told, making her a passive protagonist.  This tactic would normally be a weakness, but Harper uses considerable skill to convey genuine terror and dangerous curiosity, an attribute that Argento continually explores in many of his Giallo works.  One of the more intriguing aspects of her turn is that Suzy never ascends to “final girl” status.  Every action she takes is a reaction to the fear that she is experiencing and even in the climax, her response to the horror is organic and clumsy, harnessing primal instinctual response and subliminal surrender in equal amounts.

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Goblin’s legendary soundtrack has a repetitive quality that bolsters Suspiria’s surreal framework.  Luciano Anzellotti’s sound editing fills the spaces in between with ominous footsteps and creepy incantations, making the supernatural elements auditory phantoms that loom in the shadows.   The amount of restraint with regard to the fantastical elements is remarkable.   Everything is pointedly vague to the point of frustration, with Argento stingily doling out kernels of explanation in a randomized pattern. The abrupt appearance of the credits is a perfect footnote to the experience, snapping the viewer out of the reverie and back to reality.

Available now on a gorgeous 4K transfer from Synapse Films, Suspiria is one of the greatest horror films ever made.  Fans of traditional storytelling may be discouraged by Argento’s design, but if approached with complete surrender to its atmosphere, this is a film that delivers an unforgettable cinematic experience.

Highly.  Highly Recommend.