Top Movies of 2016: Mo Money’s Picks

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Below are Mo Money’s top films of 2016 excluding movies that originally premiered in 2015 outside of the United States.

1.) The Love Witch

This isn’t camp or kitsch; this is a feminist thesis in the guise of a murderous witch film. Anna Biller took years writing this film after Viva, and the end result was worth the wait. If you don’t know her work, fix it! Continue reading

The Most Intriguing TV Opening Credit Sequences

DaredevilNetflix assumes that I want to skip opening credit sequences, which isn’t true. Yes, Netflix, I have been binge-watching Marvel’s Daredevil for the past six hours, but I still want to see the melting maroon wax (or blood?) statue of Lady Justice turn slowly as the eerie cadence of high notes fights with the low, booming bass sounds that slowly intensify beneath them. It gets me in the mood.

A title sequence is an emotional trigger, and I appreciate the opportunity to mentally prepare myself for the narrative that follows. This article contains an analysis of some of the more musically intriguing and visually engaging opening sequences. Obviously, some opening credit sequences, like those of The Simpsons and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, are well-established classics, so I will not discuss those below. Other title sequences feature brilliant theme music but do not offer much in terms of visuals, like those of Firefly and Battlestar Galactica. Even the simple melodies of shows like Scrubs and Gilmore Girls work well as triggers of nostalgia and empathy, but they will not appear below.

Other classic intro sequences that will not be discussed here: the concise opening of The Twilight Zone, the friendly notes of Cheers, the mission statement of Star Trek, the Big History explanations of The Big Bang Theory, and the catchy expositional songs of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island.

Dexter Continue reading

Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10 cloverfield laneI loved Cloverfield. As an avid monster movie fan and gamer—I liken the feel of Cloverfield to a mix of Call of Duty and Resident Evil—this is not the type of sequel I anticipated. When the marketing for 10 Cloverfield Lane came out, I was baffled that what looked like a psychological thriller bore the Cloverfield title and was the supposed next entry in a giant alien monster movie franchise. All these things left my expectations low but hopeful.

The beginning starts cautiously, establishing the mood with a strong and foreboding score at the forefront. You are given details and character hints without any dialogue. Then, once you’ve been established in the world and you settle in for what you expect to be a slow build to the first tension of a slow psychological thriller, everything explodes on screen in full audio and visual. I think this opening epitomizes the shock that I felt throughout the entire film. This movie is an odd but pleasant surprise throughout, and definitely nothing I was expecting.

The thing that stands out first is the score and the sound mixing. The mechanical noise of the door opening and shutting, the clatter of objects, the jostling of a car shaking and rolling; all the sound in the film feels like it’s turned up to 11 and it presents a visceral world that keeps you braced for something terrible yet to come. At some points I thought the sound and the score might’ve tried a little too hard to push the drama of a scene, but they played a big part in shaping it as well. Ultimately, as the film rises to its peaks the sound really stands out in delivering the drama of each scene. Continue reading

Brilliant Short Films You Can Watch Right Now

Don HertzfeldDon Hertzfeldt is an impressive artist. Hertzfeldt is a two-time Oscar nominee, and a 2012 Indiewire Best Director poll placed Hertzfeldt above filmmakers like Richard Linklater and Steven Spielberg. While the short film genre has always been an artistic platform for profound ideas, few short films have captured the public’s attention more than Hertzfeldt’s. Rejected, for example, has gained a cult following. Rejected was first screened at the San Diego Comic Con and has since been viewed by Cartoon Network audiences and Sundance Film Festival attendees. Rejected is a simple, absurd animated short film that tackles big concepts. In about nine minutes, Hertzfeldt introduces audiences to an assortment of supposedly rejected cartoon clips. Though the characters seem basic and the narrative seems fractured, the short film as a whole shines a somber light on the plights of the forgotten.

Hertzfeldt’s latest short film, World of Tomorrow, is now on Netflix. Of World of Tomorrow, culture commentator David Sims writes:

The idea of the copy-pasted brain, and the moral quandaries that could stem from it, has enjoyed a quiet revival in sci-fi recently, with World of Tomorrow as the must-see standard-bearer. Hertzfeldt, whose work always tends towards the absurd, had never experimented with the genre before making this short, which was his first digitally produced film. As Emily and her clone drift through the “outernet,” the virtual reality through which all people in the future apparently communicate, the environment pops and crackles around them. But for all of his fantastical imagery, Hertzfeldt triumphs by focusing tightly on his protagonist’s emotions, which are seemingly haywire thanks to their being a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox. “I am very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive,” the clone proclaims, while acknowledging that she has occasionally fallen in love with inanimate objects in the past.

As World of Tomorrow proves, short films can wrinkle your brain as much as feature films can. Below are some short films (some by Hertzfeldt) that you can watch right now. Enjoy!

Everything Will Be Ok (2006) dir. Don Hertzfeldt

Created after Rejected and before World of Tomorrow, this animated short film is the first portion of a three-part story about Bill, a passive, thoughtful stick-figure man. Everything Will Be Ok is seventeen minutes of social commentary that slowly transitions from amusing and relatable to unsettling and poignant.

Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody? (2005) dir. Miguel Arteta

Written by Miranda July (The Future) and starring John C. Reilly (Step Brothers), this short film features three different responses to a seemingly simple question. Bob Davidson calls it a “profoundly simple short.” (Warning: Film may be a trigger for those with depression.)

Continue reading

Why Kimmy Gibbler Should Be Your Role Model

Fuller HouseIt has been described as “an inescapable nightmare” and “a new low in the current culture’s inability to leave behind the blankies, binkies and wubbies of one’s youth.” Writer Rich Juzwiak described the viewing experience as “what tripping on ayahuasca must be like.”

Critics do not like Fuller House.

Though, as of today, the new Fuller House has earned a paltry 38% on Rotten Tomatoes and seems to offer little more than aggressive nostalgia and thinly veiled jabs at the Olsen twins, the somewhat forced existence of this Netflix sequel has given the world an unexpected and well-needed gift: another glimpse into the life of Kimmy Gibbler, one of TV’s most underrated heroines.

Kimmy Gibbler is the socially awkward friend of D.J. and next-door neighbor of the Tanner family. Her role in the show is to permeate the often sickeningly wholesome Tanner family environment with hijinks and unsolicited opinions. Despite D.J.’s unclear motives for interacting with Kimmy—”whether it’s because she can live on the edge a little by hanging around her, or because she gets to practice her leadership skills and guide her, is uncertain”—many episodes of Full House include at least one scene with this eccentric teenager.

Taken as a whole, these scenes tell the courageous story of a unique, independent female who, which grace and wisdom, rejects the antagonistic behavior of those around her. Continue reading

The 86th Academy Awards: Big B’s Oscar Predictions

Oscars SITEBest Actress

Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

Honorable Mention: Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”

Best Actor

12-years-a-slaveChiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”

Honorable Mention: Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”

Honorable Mention: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Should have been nominated: Tom Hanks, “Captain Phillips”

Best Supporting Actor Continue reading

90s Kid’s TV Shows: Why My Childhood Was Better Than Yours

“Music these days is awful. It’s much worse than it used to be.”

“I only like movies made before 1985. Modern films are stupid.”

“Back in my day, food was good and nurturing. It gave us energy. Not like today’s food. You can’t chop wood with a belly full of McNuggets.”

You’ve heard the arguments. Perhaps while at Applebee’s with your moderately hipster friend who takes pleasure in critiquing the barely audible background music. Perhaps on an international flight when your seat-neighbor insists on critiquing your television show selection instead of watching his own screen. Or perhaps at the movie theater when you accidentally sit in front of the loud and opinionated older couple who thought Moonrise Kingdom didn’t appropriately represent the Cub Scouts of America. It’s difficult to escape the judgmental gaze of haters of modernity.

What makes such pretentiousness so frustrating is its commitment to tunnel-visioned subjectivity. First, many of these opinions are fueled by the same visceral nostalgia that connects today’s youth with modern pop culture. You may appreciate The Dick Van Dyke Show (which is a wonderful show), but is your love inspired by the brilliance of Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, and Mary Tyler Moore? Or is it fueled by the fact that The Dick Van Dyke Show reminds you of childhood memories? Though they are not mutually exclusive, there is a difference between nostalgia and critical thought.

Even if hipsters, older generations, and the overly opinionated can swallow the red pill and bypass the temptation to limit criticism to new media, their perspectives of pop culture timelines are often distorted. Pitbull, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift might not create the most poetically inspired albums, but post-Y2K years are not the only years with arguably bad music. Both Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch” and Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” were 90s Billboard hits; “Boogie Oogie Oogie” by A Taste of Honey was a 70s disco success; and Patti Page’s “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?” reached the top of the charts in the 1950s. But a nostalgia-infused lens either eliminates such songs from memory or persuades its wearer that hits like “I Write the Songs” by Barry Manilow—”I write the songs that make the whole world sing / I write the songs of love and special things”—are examples of profound lyricism.

There is one specific type of media, however, that I believe has declined in quality since the 90s.

While all decades contain examples of poor programming, the 90s was the best decade for kid’s television. Television shows for children and tweens had not yet reached their potential before 1990, and shows created after 1999 have been, with several exceptions, meaningless and uninspired. The sighs of relief as our computers continued to operate on January 1, 2000 signaled the beginning of over a decade of mediocre programming for kids.

The 90s played host to a variety of intelligent and unique shows for children and young teenagers. Shows like Hey Arnold! and Recess meaningfully and unpatronizingly highlighted the nuances of life as a kid. The protagonists of these shows offered children understandable and often humorous environments in which to consider more profound topics, concepts like divorce, obscenity, multiculturalism, and gender stereotypes. Even secondary characters like Stoop Kid and Swinger Girl, while simple in some ways, contained layers of relatable emotions.

Though not all 90s kid’s shows offered the readily applicable morals of Hey Arnold!, most shows of the decade had something unique to offer. For many, any lack of obvious morality was made up for with bold originality. CatDog featured an anatomically confusing pair of protagonists and an instantly classic theme song; Dexter’s Laboratory introduced an array of fascinating secondary characters and was nominated for four consecutive Primetime Emmys; and The Powerpuff Girls parodied gendered superheroes and had Mojo Jojo.

Wishbone, The Magic School Bus, Legends of the Hidden Temple, and Bill Nye, the Science Guy set the standard for educational entertainmentAll That was one of the first sketch comedy shows for kids. Rugrats and Doug became archetypes of kindhearted media for kids. The Big Comfy Couch championed a new generation of imaginative, small-set children’s shows. Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain uniquely combined academia, pop culture, slapstick comedy, and satire. Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? brought the horror genre to kids in a way that has not been done since. Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon peaked in the 90s. And even Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, arguably the best of the Power Rangers franchise, existed in the 90s.

Compare these shows with modern entertainment like Dave the BarbarianBrandy & Mr. Whiskers, and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and you may notice the difference. While modern music, film, and television programming for adults and older youth are as inspired now as they were in the past, kid’s television shows are not.

The 84th Academy Awards: Big B’s Oscar Predictions

Best Actress

Viola Davis, “The Help”

Honorable Mention: Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Best Supporting Actress

Should win: Bérénice Bejo, “The Artist”

Will win: Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

Best Actor

Jean Dujardin, “The Artist

Honorable Mention: George Clooney, “The Descendants”

Best Supporting Actor

Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”

Honorable Mention: Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”

Best Picture

“The Artist”

Best Director

Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”

Honorable MentionTerrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”

Best Animated Film

Should win: “Kung Fu Panda 2”

Will win: “Rango”

Honorable Mention: “A Cat in Paris”

Best Art Direction Continue reading

Review: Melancholia (2011)

via IMDb.com

I saw Melancholia twice in theaters. The first time I saw the movie was at an artsy theater in Indianapolis. The audience was quiet, focused, and alert, absorbing all of the subtle and profound emotions portrayed by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

The second time was at a theater in a college town. The audience was loud, talkative, and arrogant. And they were definitely more intoxicated than the Indianapolis audience, which is weird because the artsy theater offered alcohol (and the university had a supposedly dry campus). Though, to be fair, I don’t blame the college students. If I was sporting a 1.5 GPA because of a moderate Call of Duty addiction and was going to see a movie about the slow demise of our planet, I’d probably drink too.

What intrigued me, however, was how the different audiences impacted my perception of the movie.

via IMDb.com

Before diving into that ocean of gaudy introspective self-praise, though, I need to explain a little about Melancholia. Lars von Trier‘s 2011 film is a beautiful juxtaposition of the emotional and mental struggles of two sisters and a newly discovered planet that likes to invade Earth’s personal space. Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, a personification of depression and doom. For the first half of the film, the audience watches Justine destroy her wedding bit by excruciating bit. The second half of the film follows Claire, Justine’s sister, as she tries to juggle Justine’s emotional state, a creepily quiet child, Jack Bauer, and a new planet that may end all life.

So when the booze-filled audience burped their laughs, I was surprised. Depression and interplanetary tango is not exactly comedic gold. But, in some ways, it worked. Melancholia offers a dark look at life on the edge (in more than one way), and sometimes mild laughter is a good way to deal with impending doom. Also, if good movies aren’t your preference and you get bored while watching this wonderful film, it’s sort of fun to imagine Spider-Man swooping in to save Kirsten. Or Kiefer Sutherland yelling at someone.

“Life is only on Earth. And not for long,” says Justine with tired eyes.

“Like Hell it is!” growls Jack Bauer, cocking his gun and running toward the sunset.

Lars von Trier: Director

Lars von Trier: Writer

Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Kiefer Sutherland: Stars

Review: Flashbacks of a Fool (2008)

via imdb.com

Flashbacks of a Fool is a coming-of-age tale about forbidden romance, teenage innocence, and the dangers of old sea mines. More importantly, it is evidence that brilliance can exist without coherence or flow.

The movie is about a struggling Hollywood star and his bizarre past. The star, played by Daniel Craig, is a promiscuous, emotionally immature has-been who discovers that a childhood friend has passed away. Instead of casually reminiscing about his childhood while relaxing on his couch or listening to Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” over and over (which is a great way to relax, by the way), Joe Scot (Craig) decides to go for a semi-drunk swim. This, of course, brings about a rather long flashback, a flashback that lasts for nearly half of the movie and includes impromptu dancing, intergenerational intercourse, and unexploded mines.

Baillie Walsh, the writer/director, guides the audience through a beautiful cacophony of settings, camera angles, and storylines without regard for context or flow. This is Walsh’s first and only feature film, but that fact didn’t seem to stop the novice director from peppering the occasionally cliché film with some beautifully absurd scenes. The film is a constant war between art and kitsch, and Walsh doesn’t seem to care which side wins. Using the flashback gimmick as a weak invisibility cloak for randomness, Walsh embraces the kitsch of his protagonist’s childhood, and that willingness to flaunt cinematic spontaneity allows Walsh to blur the lines between gaudiness and beauty. The movie’s flashback scenes, as a whole, are like the contents of a particularly unique party mix—both delicious and unnerving—and their weirdness helps explain the protagonist’s reluctance to relive his past.

Flashbacks of a Fool encourages paradoxical descriptors. It is both fascinating and dull, gaudy and beautiful, kitschy and artsy, ignorant and self-aware, easy and confusing, complicated and simple. The video below (featuring the lovely Felicity Jones) is beauty without context. When the scene first appears in the film, it seems random and spontaneous, yet it is crucial to the film’s ending. Enjoy its beauty. Embrace its absurdity.

Baillie Walsh: Director

Baille Walsh: Writer

Daniel Craig, Harry Eden, and Felicity Jones: Stars