Mads Mikkelsen might not be a household name but the Danish actor has haunted some of the biggest Hollywood properties in the known universe, from playing Jyn Erso’s father in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ’to featuring as big bad Kaecilius in Marvel’s Doctor Strange to starring opposite James Bond in Casino Royale. The distinctive-looking actor is also known for playing the titular cannibal in NBC’s deliciously macabre (and unfairly cancelled) horror serial Hannibal in addition to offering up a should-have-been-Oscar-nominated role in Thomas Vinterberg’s outstanding drama The Hunt. For me, it’s Mikkelsen’s turn as Le Chiffre in Casino Royale (for my money, the best villain 007 has faced) that both showed the actor’s vast potential and represented his promise best – playing a calculating, wildly intelligent baddie is Mikkelsen’s bread and butter and no one does it quite like him. Even flipping the script and playing on the light side of the spectrum, the actor is undeniably magnetic. Read More
Alex Honnold is a man like few others. The world-famous free solo climber, the complicated subject for Jimmy Chin and Chai Vassarhelyi’s record-smashing adventure documentary Free Solo, may sound nuts on paper but, turns out, is actually a remarkably normal guy. Quick-witted, personable, and calculated in every word and movement, Alex isn’t the reckless adrenaline junkie that those who hear his story may imagine at first glance. He just is willing to take risks that few of us can even imagine. And the payoff, it turns out, is huge. Read More
Festival darling Eighth Grade is another critical, and now low-flying commercial, score for studio A24 as well as a massive coming out party for writer-director Bo Burnham and star Elsie Fischer. Telling the story of Kayla, a perfectly average 13-year old girl with an unvisited YouTube channel and a quiet streak at school, as she navigates coming out of her shell. Awkward, tender, and, most of all, real, Eighth Grade is a triumphant piece of storytelling that lives and dies by its earnest depiction of the traumas and triumphs of middle school. Seconds of social interchange are filmed as if a horror movie, with Burnham’s film making for a horrifyingly transportative experience, pimples and all, in bringing one back to the woebegone young teenage angst. Read More
Yorkshire native Andrew Haigh has worn many hats in the entertainment industry. He cut his teeth in the early 2000s working as an assistant editor on a number of big budget blockbusters including Gladiator, The Count of Monte Cristo, Black Hawk Down, Reign of Fire and Kingdom of Heaven. In 2009, shortly after his last editorial gig, he released his first directorial debut, Greek Pete which he followed up two years later with Weekend. Neither made a huge splash at the box office but with his next feature, 45 Years, Haigh erupted on the art house scene, directing Charlotte Rampling to an Oscar nomination. He’s since lent his talents to the small screen, directing a number of episodes of the HBO sleeper gay drama Looking as well as a feature version of that same show. Read More
Sean Baker. A man so humble that when I inaccurately stated the number of films he’s made, he not only didn’t not turn up his nose at me, he actually ran to his hotel room to grab me copies of the films I had missed. So it probably comes as little surprise that this man, a 46-year old New Jersey native, would be behind a film as empathic and compassionate as The Florida Project. Read More
Matthew Heineman has made a name for himself over the past few years hawking visceral documentaries in some of the world’s most harrowing war zones. In 2015, he brought Cartel Land to the screen, a story about drug smuggling and vigilantism that put the documentary filmmaker in the midst of fire fights and in the bellies of meth labs and torture chambers. He’s since set his sights on ISIS and a group called RBSS (Raqqa is Being Slaughter Silently), a guerrilla band of civilian journalists committed to exposing the horrors that have taken place since ISIS seized their hometown and made it into their de-facto capital. City of Ghosts follows the members of RBSS as they flee the omnipresent threat of ISIS, contend with the reality of their family’s being tortured and killed and still continue to do all they can to rally support against the terrorist organization dead set on dismantling everything they care about. Read More
Gillian Robespierre took the independent film world by storm in 2014 with her breakout hit Obvious Child. A story about millennial maturity told through an abortion comedy, Obvious Child‘s blatant irreverancy was all the rage, making her an overnight name in many in-the-know film appreciation circles. Robespierre’s follow-up, a 90s set comedy about a family dealing with two separate instances of infidelity, may not have accrued the same cult following, nor is it likely to pock as many end of year favorites lists, but the dramedy has tonal and directorial elements similar of a budding Noah Baumbach, who has since gone on to great acclaim. Read More
Perhaps the biggest breakout hit of this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Michael Showalter‘s The Big Sick. The semi-true love story of star and writer Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, The Big Sick tells an unfamiliar courtship saga that involves, you guessed it, hospitalization and, you probably didn’t guess it, Pakistani 9/11 terrorist jokes. Uncommonly earnest and full of unique cultural perspectives, this slice-of-life dramedy fits perfectly into producer Judd Apatow‘s wheelhouse with the personal touches courtesy of Kumail and Emily’s true story keeps it from fresh and funny throughout. Read More
Best known for her depiction of April Ludgate on NBC’s hit sitcom Parks and Recreations, Aubrey Plaza has found a niche in the tv and Hollywood stratosphere as the perpetually awkward, alarmingly tongue-in-cheek millennial type. Quick with a jab and quicker with an eye roll, Plaza has flexed her thespian muscles lately playing Lenny Busker on FX’s standout superhero series Legion and her resume shows no signs of slowing. Her most recent venture, playing an irreverent nun in Jeff Baena‘s subversive slice of per-Renassiance feminism The Little Hours may see the star angling in familiar waters but the fit is perfect nonetheless.
Sam Elliot‘s baritone has taken on an almost mythic quality. Be it his narration of the Coen Bros cult hit The Big Lebowski or his iconic “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner” ad campaign, everyone knows the distinction growl of the California native with a classic Southern Drawl. And we haven’t even brought up his iconic mustache yet. Of late, Elliot has undergone a twilight career resurrection, offering a number of standout performances in smart, sensitive independent drama, including his excellent co-star role in Paul Weitz’s Grandma, but perhaps none is more personal than his turn in Brett Haley‘s The Hero.