5. Brad’s Status
Brad’s Status is another film that falls within the category of richly told, agonizingly truthful stories of midlife crisis. It is often hard to do this without making the characters feel like bitter, regretful middle aged men, but filmmaker Mike White has a clear sense of style and atmosphere that allows the characters to become aware of their situations. In this film, it’s all about Brad (Ben Stiller), a father who becomes obsessed with his former friends as he takes his son Troy (Austin Abrams) on a college tour. As he sees the world through Troy’s eyes, Brad questions whether he ever will have that optimism and opportunity again.
Stiller delivers one of most subtle and affectionate performances of his career; Brad’s life seems fairly comfortable, but Stiller does a good job at showing how his anxieties eat away at him, both in regards to his own “status” and that of his son. There are points where Brad’s actions seem to be completely selfish, as he attempts to relive his own youth through Troy, but there are also points where his genuine lack of fulfillment wells up in emotion. It is among the best father-son bonding films in recent years.
4. Logan Lucky
A character jokingly refers to the heist in Logan Lucky as “Oceans 7-11,” a clever reference to one of Steven Soderbergh’s most iconic films. Logan Lucky has many of the qualities that made Ocean’s Eleven so great, namely the clever and inventive ways of building up its heist story, but its perspective is completely different; while Ocean’s Eleven was about cool movie stars reveling in their own wit, Logan Lucky is about the forgotten blue collar people who couldn’t be further removed from the spotlight.
Brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver) are struggling to provide for their family, and enlist the help of eccentric criminal Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to help them rob the Texas Motor Speedway. As per usual for a Soderbergh film, there’s a fantastic ensemble of electric actors who excel in very specific character roles, but the film is often best when showing how this family in crisis comes together. Tatum gives one of the quietest, most sensitive performances of his career, a great counterpart to the wildly over the top Craig, who appears to be having the time of his life.
Jim Jarmusch is a filmmaker who just does his own thing, and Paterson is among the most underrated films within his entire filmography. It stars Adam Driver as the titular character, a bus driver who writes poems as he observes his day. That’s essentially all there is to it- there’s no real plot mechanics to the story, or a strong narrative thrust. The film essentially exists on its own plane of existence, a relaxing celebration of everyday life.
Driver is among the most versatile actors working today, and here he is perfect as an average guy who finds the joy within creating something original; Paterson isn’t necessarily the greatest poet in the world, nor is the film claiming he is, but Driver’s warm presence makes the character’s charm inescapable. As far as “slice of life” films go, Paterson is a comforting and thoroughly pleasant experience.
2. Wonder Boys
Despite critical acclaim, Wonder Boys was a major box office bomb, as Paramount Pictures weren’t exactly sure how to market the film. Although it’s steeped in the high falutin world of the literary university scene, the film is accessible and thoughtful, a charming and often strange exploration of student-teacher relationships, artistic criticism, and inspiration. Michael Douglas gives one of the best performances of his career as Professor Gary Tripp, a respected professor who hasn’t written a new book in several years, despite the pressures from his eccentric agent Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.).
It’s a flat out brilliant ensemble, with wonderful actors taking on every role; Downey Jr. gives one of his zanniest comedic performances, but the heart of the story is in the relationship between Trip and his student James Leer (Tobey Maguire), a cold, yet sensitive boy who has the makings of a great author. Frances McDormand is also quite funny as Trip’s employer and love interest, as is Rip Torn as a rival pretentious author. The film is accurate to the world of authorship while still making room for some wacky hijinks; it’s a film that blends all types of comedy.
1. Ghost World
One of the greatest comic book adaptations of all-time, Ghost World is a quintessential coming of age movie. There are many films that capture the gradual divisions that grow between friends as they grow up, but Ghost World does so with quirky specificity and emotional grace. Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) aren’t just two outsiders, but two people who understand each other more than anyone else, and enjoy pulling pranks and deceiving people. Their hilarious friendship built on cynicism strains as the girls embark on the tumultuous world of life after high school.
The comedy in the film is everything that surrounds the sorrow of seeing friends fall apart; they meet strange people, particularly Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a record collector and hopeless romantic who is conned by a phone call gone awry. Bound by a shared disdain for the world around them, Enid and Rebecca begin to reap the benefits of their attitude as they transition into an adult world. Directed with a zany energy lifted from the original text by Terry Zwigoff, Ghost World is a rightfully treasured cult favorite.