In a world in which we are so challenged on multiple fronts, and so much media focuses on negativity, fear, and the darker sides of our humanity, I believe that we also need to remember how brave, beautiful, and inspirational we can be as human beings; therefore, there is a common theme in all of the films I chose this year: a life-affirming sense of the beauty of our humanity and the comforting essence of the supremacy of love.

Even though I am a voting member of the Academy, this is NOT a “best” movies list. I see film as an art form like music and art. Can anyone objectively claim that Van Gogh was a better painter than Gauguin or Mozart a better composer than Beethoven? I believe that all any of us can honestly say is which film, music, or art we personally prefer.

Some of these films will be opening in various theaters and cities this month but may be hard to find. I promise you that they are worth searching for:

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WONDER is so exquisitely titled—an amazing, uplifting film about  the extraordinary courage of a young boy who is born looking different.. his family…and the dignity of the human soul.

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US is a compelling, intimate love story between two people (Idris Elba and Kate Winslet, both of whom give bravura performances) who are stranded on a mountain after a plane crash.

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In THE LEISURE SEEKER, two beloved actors (Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland) play characters well into their senior years who decide to take one last road trip in their beloved RV, which they call The Leisure Seeker. Love and magic are also along for the ride.

FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL is the true story of actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) who finds love with both a charming younger man and also an adopted family in England as the sun of  her career is setting.
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THE GREATEST SHOWMAN is a rousing, uplifting, 1950s-style musical about master showman P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) who electrified show business in the mid-19th century…and who had the courage and vision to dare to be different..and inspired others to do so as well.

In VICTORIA AND ABDUL, another screen legend (Judy Dench) plays the queen of England who finds friendship, inspiration, and platonic love with a young Indian man (Ali Fazal) who becomes her muse and closest ally.

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In DARKEST HOUR, Gary Oldman gives the bravura performance of his career as Winston Churchill whose bold vision, courage, humor, humanity, and tenacity literally helped save the world from catastrophe.

In BRAD’S STATUS, Ben Stiller plays a middle-class businessman who becomes jealous of the financial successes of his college friends…until he discovers he has something they don’t seem to have: love and family.

What were your favorite films of 2017?

Here’s to a great 2018!!

Stephen

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thAs I note each year, I do not consider this a “best” movies list because I see film as an art form like music and art. Can anyone objectively claim that Rembrandt was a better painter than Van Gogh or Mozart a better composer than Beethoven? I believe that all any of us can honestly say is which film, music, or art we personally prefer.

As a proud member of The Academy who has been voting for the Oscars for more than thirty years, I keep hoping we can change “Best” to “Favorite”…but I’m not holding my breath ;-).

My favorite films of 2016:

Blessed be the children…and those who love them:

1. ARRIVAL is haunting, elegant, poignant, hypnotic, thrilling, mysterious, spiritual, loving, majestic, inspiring, original film making at its very best. On the surface, the film (brilliantly directed by Denis Villenueve) stars Amy Adams as a linguist who is drawn into humanity’s first contact with a totally non-human extraterrestrial species…and who is also haunted by a vision (or is it a memory?) of her daughter. At its heart, ARRIVAL is about love, life, and the very notion of time itself…and is a film that will touch your heart, stimulate your mind, and stay with you long after you leave the theater.

2. LION is based on the incredible true story of Saroo Brierley who wandered onto a train in India at the age of 5 and became hopelessly lost and displaced a thousand miles away. Eventually adopted and moved to Australia by nurturing, loving foster parents, he grew to be an accomplished, charismatic young man (Dev Patel). Haunted by knowing that his mother and siblings had no idea of his fate, and not having any idea where he originally came from, he begins a search for his birth family that ultimately takes him home. Gripping, moving, and triumphant, LION is a stirring tribute to the eternal power of love.

3. In the exquisitely moving, and deeply affecting MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, Casey Affleck gives a truly extraordinary, nuanced, vulnerable performance as a man who has experienced one of, if not the most heartbreaking tragedies that any human being could ever have to face. Somehow, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan performs a celluloid magic trick of herculean proportions by transforming such challenging subject matter into a tour-de-force inspirational film about love, compassion, and forgiveness.

4. For me, the most welcome film surprise of 2016 was A MONSTER CALLS. Director J.A. Bayona’s magical and enthralling film follows a young boy who is trying to cope with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness, a stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), school bullies, and his own inner fears. One night, a friend appears to help him face those fears and heal his pain. Oh, and that friend happens to be a two hundred foot tall yew tree “monster” (Liam Neeson). Together, they lead us all on a magical, healing journey through dreams, nightmares, and love itself that is achingly beautiful, wise, and life-affirming.

5. COLLATERAL BEAUTY seems a curious title until you see this extraordinary, brave, spiritual, emotional roller coaster of a film and realize that the title refers to the collateral beauty that exists within even the most tragic circumstances. Will Smith plays a father who is so grief-stricken from the death of his daughter that he lets his marriage, business partners (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, and Michael Pena), and entire life fall into disarray. One day, he mails letters addressed to Death, Love, and Time but is shocked when they actually come to him in human form (via Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, and Jacob Latimore) to answer his questions. Are they who they seem to be…or messengers…or perhaps even….?

All of these first five films are inspiring and ultimately uplifting because they illuminate the collateral beauty experienced by children and the parents who love them, no matter the circumstances…and they also remind us of the incredible resilience of the human spirit.

Old Hollywood lives on…

 6. Visionary director Damien Chazelle’s LA LA LAND is a dazzling homage to both Old Hollywood musicals and also the behind-the-scenes challenges of achieving your dreams in La La Land, aka Hollywood. Ryan Gosling is beyond charming as a young man out of step with his times because he loves old-time jazz and dreams of owning a club that showcases that truly original American art form. Emma Stone gives a virtuoso, career-defining performance as a young actress who endures the heartless, demeaning, and rude nature of endless auditions and rejections to follow her dream. I was utterly charmed and engrossed from the very first jaw-dropping musical number on an L.A. Freeway to its emotional, bittersweet conclusion.

Enter the real life heroes, to whom we owe so much, and whom we need now more than ever….

7. HIDDEN FIGURES is the inspiring true story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, three extraordinary African-American women who went to work at NASA in the fledgling days of the space program in the mid-1950s. Despite their brilliance, the women ( beautifully played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Jonelle Monae)  were subjected to blatant sexism and racism, including the humiliating need to use “Colored” bathrooms at the NASA headquarters. Undeterred, they all persevered and contributed so significantly to America’s role in the space race that their fierce determination and patriotism began the process of transforming NASA’s culture. In fact, Ms. Johnson’s genius at celestial navigation compelled the NASA director (played in the film by Kevin Costner) to break both racial and gender barriers by including her in the heart of NASA’s core team. In 2015, Ms. Johnson (now 98!) was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2016 had a building named after her at NASA’s headquarters. HIDDEN FIGURES is a testament to the dignity and bravery of three women who will always stand as inspirational role models for future generations.

8. PATRIOTS DAY chronicles the incredible courage, determination, and heroic actions of the first responders, police, doctors, nurses, and FBI agents who saved so many lives after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Less than 4 days later, due to some amazing police work and the help of the extraordinary people of Boston, the terrorists whose vile and cowardly actions caused so much pain and grief were both identified and then found, with one dying in a police shootout and the other apprehended. This powerful, moving film is also a tribute to the people who died tragically that day, to those who survived, and to the families that were so grievously affected but who recovered to inspire us all. Boston Strong forever!!!

9. SULLY is a riveting film about a real American hero (Chesley Sullenberger), starring the incomparable screen legend Tom Hanks, and directed by the extraordinary 86 year-old (!!) Clint Eastwood. As a U.S. Airways pilot in 2009, Mr. Sullenbereger lost both engines due to a bird strike after takeoff from La Guardia in New York but somehow managed to land the plane on the Hudson River.  While Mr. Sullenberger was immediately hailed by his passengers, the media, and the public as the hero of the “Miracle on the Hudson”, he and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (played by Aaron Eckhart) were subjected to an intense bureaucratic inquisition as to the wisdom and necessity of his decisions because NTSB computers showed he could have returned to La Guardia.. Mr. Sullenberger was eventually exonerated and hailed for his actions by proving that the computer simulation was inaccurate. Human judgment triumphing over a computer. Imagine that.

Lastly, to quote Monty Python….”and now for something completely different…”

10. BAD MOMS. No, that’s not a misprint! In a year that was so challenging for so many people in so many ways, we needed laughter more than ever. BAD MOMS absolutely provided that…and then some. In addition, the film illustrates how challenging it is today for women to have a full-time career and a committed marriage while also finding the time and energy to be a mom who is fully engaged in the myriad of activities of her children. Raunchy, irreverent, howlingly funny, socially relevant, brilliantly acted, and politically incorrect to the max, BAD MOMS made me laugh harder and more often than any film in recent memory. And what’s not Oscar-worthy about all that????

What were your favorite films of 2016?

….and a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous, Wondrous 2017 to all!!!

 

 

 

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Stephen Simon’s Top Ten Movies of 2015

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As I note each year, I do not call this a “best” movies list because I see film as an art form much like music and art itself. Can anyone objectively claim that Rembrandt was a better painter than Van Gogh or Mozart a better composer than Beethoven? I believe that all any of us can […]

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Although I am very proud to have been a voting member of The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences since 1984,  I do not know how to determine a “best” film or performance. To me, “best” is too subjective to be used in relation to any artistic endeavor. To do so would be akin to […]

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 Winter’s Tale, which is by far my favorite movie so far in 2014, is now on pay-per-view and will soon be available on DVD and for download. The film is truly miraculous..first because it’s about miracles….and second, because it got made in the modern-day cynical world of The New Hollywood. (More on that in a […]

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Tonight, we celebrate the best of Hollywood. And the magical art of filmmaking. Yesterday, however, I encountered one of the saddest aspects of our industry. My wife and I saw a few trailers for upcoming movies. Mostly teen action films, silly comedies, etc. Fine. Not my cup of tea, but, hey, to each his and her […]

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