Rodricks, Reed and DeLibero on 2017 Academy Awards Ceremony


On Monday, February 27, 2017,  Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film & Moving Image, Stevenson University – joined Dan Rodricks on his Baltimore Sun podcast, “Roughly Speaking,” where we discussed this year’s Academy Awards Ceremony, which ended in an embarrassing mishap when La La Land was mistakenly announced as Best Picture (Moonlight was eventually declared the winner, a well-deserved award). Dan talked to Linda and me separately, by phone, and then cut us together as two segments, back to back, starting with me. In addition to discussing the feature-film awards, I gave a shout-out to the Oscar-nominated shorts, which I recommend you see, if you can.

Here is the link to the show. Enjoy!

Mr. Reed’s Metaphysical Neighborhood Presents the Best Technical and Artistic Film Work of 2016


On Tuesday, January 24, the  Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the 2017 Oscar nominees. Three days later, I am finally getting around to finishing up my own lists of favorites from last year. I already posted my “best film” and “best acting” lists, so today’s post – about the (often) unsung artists and craftspeople who are essential to the filmmaking process – completes the triptych. Most of the time, the movie’s hyperlink will take you to my review, if one exists (and if not, I have a note explaining where the hyperlink takes you). I also hyperlink the artists’ names, as well (mostly to IMDb, but sometimes to their own personal websites), so you can see what other work they have produced over their careers. In the case of best score, I link to the movies’ soundtracks on Amazon or iTunes, as well.

For each category, I stick to 5 candidates, in alphabetical order. These are the films where I thought that the work in that particular area truly enhanced the quality of the movie. Enjoy, and feel free to leave comments after you look it over!

Best Screenplay (adapted and original, combined):

Best Cinematography:

Best Editing*:

[*2 of these are documentaries – Cameraperson and The Last Man on the Moon – which are among the hardest kinds of films to edit, given the huge amount of material to work with, from which one must, somehow, extract a coherent story.]

Best Production Design:

Best Visual Effects**:

[**Too many people to mention all, so I have simply hyperlinked, next to the title, to the movie’s crew page on IMDb page, where you can look at the multitude of people involved in the many visual-effects teams.]

Best Original Score***:

***plus The Lobster for best choice of previously composed music (particularly Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1, Adagio affettuoso ed appassionato)

Mr. Reed’s Metaphysical Neighborhood Presents the Best and Worst Films of 2016

[For an explanation of my blog post title, check out my “best of” list from 2013.]

Below you will find lists of my favorite films of the year, divided by narrative (fiction) and documentary (nonfiction) formats (I do not separate animated films from either genre, and there are examples of at least one animated film in each category). This is the first time I have broken down my lists in this way, and it largely has to do with the sheer number of documentaries I now watch and review in my position as lead film critic for Hammer to Nail, which makes me want to highlight even more of the great work being done by the 21st century’s exceptional nonfiction filmmakers. As always, the main factor that motivated me to include a film among my favorites is whether or not that film surprised or moved me; was there something in it that reached deep down into my cinematic soul and woke me up as I watched it, even if the film as a whole may have had some flaws (perfection is a subjective reality, anyway).

Not all of the movies mentioned received some kind of theatrical or online release in 2016, though most of them did; a few may still be looking for distributors after making their festival rounds. Where I have previously written reviews of a movie (whether for Hammer to NailFilm Festival Today or this blog), the title of that movie is hyperlinked to my original review. If I only wrote a brief capsule review of a film after seeing it at a film festival, then I link to that write-up, however short it may be. Where I have not (yet) reviewed a film, I have hyperlinked the title to the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes page and written a (very) short description of it, just to explain what I admire (or don’t).

If a film that you, yourself, saw and liked is nowhere mentioned here, then it is possible that I did not see it (or saw it and liked it, but not enough to include among my favorites, or saw it and, of course, did not like it). As many films as I watch every year, I do not see everything; Swiss Army Man is but one example of a movie I missed. If you have questions about any omissions, feel free to comment and/or send me a note. And really, what separates the “Top 10” from the “runners-up” is very little.

Enjoy! Over the next three weeks or so, as always, I will publish a separate list of the best acting and technical/artistic achievements of the year.

Top 10 Narrative Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Best of 2016 Narratives Part 1

Best of 2016 Narratives Part 2

  1. Captain Fantastic
  2. Certain Women
  3. Hell or High Water
  4. La La Land
  5. Loving
  6. Manchester by the Sea
  7. Moonlight
  8. Rams
  9. Toni Erdmann – Perhaps excessively long (perhaps), this delightful German film is nevertheless a profound (and very entertaining) meditation on familial bonds that features one of the best uses of nudity to ever grace the silver screen.
  10. 20th Century Women – Mike Mills (Beginners) delivers a loving fictional portrait of his mother that is also a tribute to the strength of women, of all ages, everywhere.

2016 Narrative Film Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):

2016 Narrative Runners-Up Part 1

2016 Narrative Runners-Up Part 2

  1. Claire in Motion
  2. The Edge of Seventeen
  3. Fences
  4. The Handmaiden – Bound meets Rashomon in this  twisted Korean period thriller from Chan-wook Park (Stoker) that offers us a satisfying frisson both sexual and intellectual.
  5. Hunter Gatherer
  6. The Lobster
  7. Miles Ahead
  8. Moana
  9. Silence – An adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name, this chronicle of the plight of Portuguese priests in 17th-century Japan is director Martin Scorsese’s best work in years.
  10. Zootopia

Top 10 Documentary Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Best of 2016 Documentaries Part 1

Best of 2016 Documentaries Part 2

  1. Cameraperson
  2. Chicken People
  3. In Pursuit of Silence (linked to my interview with director, which includes a brief capsule review)
  4. The Last Man on the Moon
  5. Newtown
  6. Plaza de la Soledad
  7. Salero
  8. Tower
  9. Under the Sun
  10. Weiner

2016 Documentary Film Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):

2016 Documentary Runners-Up Part 1


  1. Abortion: Stories Women Tell
  2. Almost Sunrise
  3. Audrie & Daisy
  4. The Bandit
  5. The Dwarvenaut
  6. The Eagle Huntress
  7. The If Project
  8. National Bird
  9. Ovarian Psycos
  10. Sonita

Documentary and Narrative Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Worst Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Stay tuned for more posts in the week ahead, where I will list my favorite performances and technical achievements of the year, as well.


Rodricks, Reed and DeLibero on the Films of December 2016


Today, Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film & Moving Image, Stevenson University – joined Dan Rodricks on his Baltimore Sun podcast, “Roughly Speaking,” where we discussed the films of the current season, from the Oscar-worthy to big box-office draws, including The Edge of SeventeenJackieLa La LandManchester by the Sea and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, among others.

Here is the link to the show. Enjoy!

“La La Land” Is a Magical, Musical Paean to the Hollywood Dream Factory

[Note: This review also appeared on Film Festival Today.]

La La Land

La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

From its exuberant opening musical number, set atop a traffic-jammed Los Angeles freeway overpass, La La Land announces its intention to win your heart through whimsy. With songs and score (alternately toe-tapping and soulful) by composer Justin Hurwitz (Whiplash) and dances (alternately snappy and romantic) by choreographer Mandy Moore (Silver Linings Playbook, So You Think You Can Dance), the film breezes through a celebration of dreams and passion, equal parts comedy and drama. At its center are two magnetic performances by lead actors Emma Stone (Magic in the Moonlight) and Ryan Gosling (The Big Short), as Mia and Sebastian, two young artists – she an actress and he a jazz pianist – who meet and fall in love while struggling to make it in their respective fields. Writer/director Damien Chazelle, who mesmerized us with his 2014 Whiplash, proves that he can tackle the same themes as before but in illuminating new ways, all the while creating a dazzling tribute to Hollywood and its legacy of charming musical confections.

I’ve now seen the film twice (my initial capsule review is embedded in my write-up of the Middleburg Film Festival), and like it even more after the second viewing. I had initial reservations about Stone’s and Gosling’s talents as singers and dancers – they are capable, if not quite polished – but the sweet, unaffected way they gamely go about their paces (after months of rehearsal) becomes part of the movie’s aesthetic, with neither Hurwitz nor Moore asking too much of them. They’re no Fred and Ginger (nor Gene and Judy, nor Gene and Rita, etc.), but they don’t need to be for Chazelle to cast his spell. Rather, they need to be believable in the universe he fashions out of tinsel and tune, and they are. From the moment they appear on screen, Gosling all bristling cynicism and Stone all desperate hope, they clash and unite in a fiery combination that recalls the best romantic dramedies of yore while creating a relationship thoroughly of our time.

Indeed, it’s this update of the musical genre, simultaneously looking backwards and forwards, that lends the movie much of its power. As we watch Sebastian and Mia navigate the pitfalls of the music and studio worlds, we find ourselves immersed in the tradition of the great MGM musicals of the famed Freed Unit (such as Singin’ in the Rain or, especially, An American in Paris), always aware, however, that the time is now. Chazelle asks us to consider how and whether art and commerce can coexist, and what might be the human cost of holding on to a belief in the former even as one is overcome by the latter. It makes perfect sense to set his story in “La La Land” (i.e., Los Angeles), since Hollywood has always been the locus of such concerns, where money rules but cultural prestige is forever sought. Beyond the love story, this is a movie about movies, writ large.

The very first image we see announces Chazelle’s grand ambitions: we see a black-and-white square frame – the old pre-1953 Academy aspect ratio of 4:3 – with the word CinemaScope framed in the center, its right and left syllables cut off, which suddenly expands to the wider aspect ratio that the word implies (in this case, 2.55:1), gaining color at the same time. This will be a big movie, emotionally affecting, intellectually satisfying and deeply entertaining. The later numbers do not disappoint, from a night-on-the-town party scene to a pas-de-deux in the Hollywood hills to a waltz in the Griffith planetarium; it’s all joyous good fun. What makes the whole affair more than a modern retelling of the same old love story, however, is its final scenes, where all does not go as expected and Chazelle ups the cinematic ante in an ending montage that will take your breath away. The director, not yet 31, is most definitely a young man to watch.

Beyond the pitch-perfect Stone and Gosling, the ensemble cast, including many unknowns, is a delight. Musician John Legend appears as a rival/colleague of Sebastian’s, while J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) shows up briefly as a jerk of a boss. In many ways, though, it’s Hurwitz and Moore who are the real stars, crafting beautiful routines that transport us into the magical fairyland of the world’s dream factory (the final credit even reads “Made in Hollywood, USA”). I highly recommend.