AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #4 ‘The 40-Year-Old Version’

4. “The Forty-Year-Old Version” – A star is born!  Radha Blank writes, directs, produces, and plays the lead in a charming underdog tale of a middle-aged woman trying to jumpstart her playwriting career.  Blank pens memorable supporting players – including a group of sincere but unpolished high school students, her best friend who moonlights as her agent, and a younger love interest – who mark her journey to possible nirvana.  Still, Broadway-Eden is a ways off, as Radha grapples with the uncomfortable comforts of New York City, her professional shortcomings,…

AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #5 ‘David Byrne’s American Utopia’

5. “David Byrne’s American Utopia” – With a minimalist stage design of hundreds of slender, elegant metal chains hanging from the rafters, 68-years-young David Byrne and 11 talented musicians/singers perform a film version of their successful show at New York City’s Hudson Theatre.  Spike Lee’s clever camerawork captures Byrne and his harmonious compadres – who all don matching gray suits – as they strut, tap, and twirl barefoot to lively, bouncy tracks and ballads from the lead artist’s new album and some absolute classics from yesterdecade, including this critic’s favorite…

‘The Mauritanian’ gives us another reason to never forget 9/11

“The Mauritanian” – It’s difficult to believe, but the September 11 tragedy is almost 20 years old, and indeed, the lasting impact of losing 3,000 human beings on American soil during that horrible day will never fade.  The United States has been changed forever, not unlike how The Civil War, The Pearl Harbor attack, and JFK’s assassination altered the country’s optimistic trajectory.  Yes, I believe that the U.S. is still a hopeful place, but certainly, 9/11 wounded the U.S.A.’s psyche and removed chunks of our collective soul. Its aftermath cost…

‘Minari’: An absorbing and authentic American immigrant story

“Minari” – “Nothing’s gonna turn us back now.  Straight ahead and on the track now.  We’re gonna make our dreams come true.  Doing it our way.”  – “Making Our Dreams Come True” by Cyndi Grecco, the “Laverne & Shirley” (1976 – 1983) theme song “And there ain’t no nothing we can’t love each other through.  What would we do baby, without us?”  – “Without Us” by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams, the “Family Ties” (1982 – 1989) theme song Writer/director Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” is an immigrant story about a…

‘The Map of Tiny Perfect Things’ isn’t flawless, but you’ll discover heartfelt smiles

“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” – Mark (Kyle Allen) is too cool for school, and quite frankly, he seems too cool for any formal or informal institution.  This teen walks in the kitchen for breakfast with an assured confidence that most adolescents lack.  Without a second thought, this know-it-all helps his father (Josh Hamilton) with a crossword puzzle, verbally duels with his sister (Cleo Fraser), catches a ceramic dish falling off the table with the reflexes of The Flash, and heads outside – that’s filled with miles and miles…

AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #6 ‘The Father’

6. “The Father” – Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) and his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) live together in a spacious, comfortable London flat, but she breaks some life-changing news to her dad.  She’s moving to Paris, and – because of Anthony’s dementia – he has to pick up his life and relocate to a nursing home.  Plenty of movies capture this unenviable topic, but director/co-writer Florian Zeller looks at the crisis from Anthony’s perspective, his world, which clouds our judgment about on-screen realities.  These two masterclass actors traverse through Zeller’s disconcerting puzzle…

AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #7 ‘Apples’

7. “Apples” – Director/writer Christos Nikou began scribing his “Apples” script – about a worldwide pandemic – in 2012.  Little did he know that COVID-19 would shake up the planet, but thankfully his plague dramedy carries a lighter touch.  For unknown reasons, random adults suddenly develop amnesia, including our lead (Aris Servetalis) – otherwise known as # 14842 –  and a team of doctors and counselors help him form a new identity and start over.  Nikou’s first feature film pits an average guy against uncomfortable, awkward surroundings, and through comic…

Movie of the Week: ‘Election’

Happy Birthday, Alexander Payne!   This uber-talented writer/director turns 60 on Feb. 10, so let’s celebrate the man’s birthday by looking back at one of his very best films:  the sarcastic, cynical, and flat out hilarious dark comedy “Election”. “Election” (1999) – Pick Flick!  Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), a resolute overachiever, relentlessly pushes to be picked/elected as the student government president, but history/civics/current events teacher Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick) tries to obstruct her seemingly-destined political culmination. Writer/director Alexander Payne’s wild, stressful ride first appears as a straight-forward, light comedy, but he…

AHFW’s Top 5 Sundance 2021 Films

Even though the Sundance Film Festival is a big deal and only a 90-minute flight away from Phoenix, I sadly never attended.  After growing up in Upstate NY, shoveling our 60-yard driveway hundreds of times and trudging through blizzards, ice storms, and 3-foot snowdrifts as a paperboy for five years, I tend to shy away from snowy, cold weather whenever possible.  (Living in and embracing one of the hottest cities in the country is reasonably reliable proof, don’t you think?) This year, however, I enrolled in Sundance 2021, and through…

AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #8 ‘One Night in Miami’

8. “One Night in Miami” – On Feb. 25, 1964, Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) knocks out Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion at age 22.  Afterward, Cassius, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) get together at the Hampton House Hotel for an evening of conversation.  Believe it or not, these four icons truly did meet that night, and screenwriter Kemp Powers (based on his play) imagines their discourse in a mesmerizing, intricate feature that leaves you hanging on every word.  Director…