THIRTEEN LIVES docudrama mini review

Interesting. Ron Howard’s big screen adaptation of the true story of the daring rescue of the Thai youth football (soccer) team from the flooded cave is faithful to the wikipedia page, but with an impressive addition of underwater cinematography. Thirteen Lives chronicles the seemingly impossible rescue that captured the attention of the entire world in summer 2018. While Howard’s docudrama is well-made all the way around, what audiences will find most fascinating is the mechanics of the rescue. It took thousands of volunteers in the labyrinth of caves, mountain peaks, and basecamps to bring all the boys and their coach to safety. Although none of the performances particularly stand out, the film delivers solid casting. Thirteen Lives is a different kind of “based on the true story” film, because it does not have particularly strong plotting to map-out the narrative. On one hand, it is a simple plot rescue the boys, but the film ultimately plays as a blow by blow description of what happened. Upon viewing the film, I thought to myself, why not just make a documentary instead; and then it occurred to me, that there would have been little to no footage of the inside of the caves. Therefore, docudrama was the way to go. There really isn’t much in the way of connective tissue between plot points; events just happen. That’s not to say that what we are watching isn’t terrifying in places–it certainly is–especially if you have kids; but at the same time, it doesn’t feel like a cinematic story in the conventional sense. Even though we all know how the true story ends, the film focuses on the steps that were taken in order to rescue the youth soccer team. Is it good? Well, it’s not bad. It just kind of is. Often we see based on a true story films that take so much dramatic license that it’s no longer a faithful big or small screen adaptation; sometimes, character or situational nuances or motivations are lost in translation. Thirteen Lives is so incredibly focuses on a dutiful adaptation, that it sometimes forgets that it’s also supposed to be finding the narrative amongst the facts. I wouldn’t wait to see this on the small screen, catch it during its limited theatrical run because the visuals are impressive.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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Recipe for the Best Picture Oscar

With the Academy Awards quickly approaching and the nominations announcement early tomorrow morning, I thought that it would be interesting to dive deep into what it takes to build a film that gets nominated and wins the most coveted film award in the United States, the Oscar for Best Picture. In order to explore this topic as objectively as possible, criteria from 1987-2017 has been analyzed and broken down into a chart. Although there are many artistic and technical merits that make a film, this article selected runtime, genre, IMDb score, and popularity. According to the empirical date, it is possible to produce a film that theoretically should get nominated and even win, but there are incalculable uncontrollable variables that range from makeup of the Academy, to number of films submitted, to release times, to the socio-political climate at the time, so it is NOT an exact science. However, looking at the data does paint a portrait of what are some correlations between winning and the various elements that make a motion picture. Depicting the criteria in the form of a chart is certainly helpful and measurable, but combining a qualitative analysis to the quantitative approach will aid in developing a comprehensive exploration of what it takes to bring home the gold.

Films range from shorts to 3+ hour epics, and there is a correlation between runtime and winning the Best Picture Oscar. The sample of winners for this data is gathered from the Best Picture winners 1987-2017 (up to 2018 Oscars) totaling 31 films. According to the sample, 21/30 films ranged from 91 to 120 minutes with 11 of them ranging from 121 to 150 minutes. The shortest and longest films to win the Best Picture award are Driving Miss Daisy at 99mins and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King at 201mins. There were zero films to win the Best Picture award released between 1987-2017 and the number after 150mins drop off significantly. The shortest film to ever win a Best Picture award is Marty at 90mins and the longest is Gone with the Wind at 238mins. Looking to the most recent winners of this most prestigious award, there is a measurable trend toward shorter feature length films. Looking to films such as Moonlight and Lady Bird, there is clearly an intentional effort to not exceed 2hrs but get close to it. Why is this? While you may think it may have to do with film budgets, that’s incidental. Yes, money and budgets are part of the equation, but it’s because movie theatre chains want to fit as many movies as possible into a daily schedule. Two hours is a solid time not to cross because a movie theatre can play the film every three hours in a single auditorium (and stagger it with multiple auditoriums). So if you are attempting to draft your Best Picture nominees or winners, look to the runtime for one of the correlating criteria for winning this award.

Genre films are certainly the favorite of the Academy. Rarely do we witness a film playing around or experimenting with genre get nominated much less win. Personally, I like it when a film plays around with genre in an innovative attempt to tell a new story or provide a new perspective on a previous one; however, the Academy likes their straight forward dramas most. Yes, drama is in every story; but this label specifically refers to the cut-and-dry serious narratives that lack a significant level of comedy, horror, romance, etc. From 1987-2017, ten drama films won Best Picture. The next highest winner is a significant drop at 4 with the crime genre. While drama wins the most, horror, thriller, war, musicals, and romance win the least. While many dramas certainly contain elements of the aforementioned, these genres refer to the films that are genre purest than crossovers. There are certainly high profile, memorable exceptions to this rule. And the biggest surprise on this list is the Best Picture win of The Silence of the Lambs. Not only did it win the Best Picture award, but it also won Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. No other film in the last 30 years has won the Big 5 Oscars. The win of The Silence of the Lambs is also the single win for the horror genre. Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in the general popularity and critical acclaim of horror films (Get Out is a great example) but the winningest genre still remains to be drama. Another exception to the rule is Chicago’s win! Perhaps big musicals once dominated the box office but not as much anymore. Last year’s La La Land came close to winning (that is an article in and of itself) but it came in second to a hard drama. Although there are other genres represented on this graph, that covers 1987-2017 released films, it is clear that you stand you best chances of winning by writing a straight-forward drama.

While genre can be debated on many films, IMDb scores are hard quantifiable evidence that is not subject to interpretation. Personally, I am a qualitative researcher but even in an analysis such as this, having the hard numbers is an important part. While you think it would be the films that score high 8s and 9s that would win the most, the evidence from 1987-2017 states that it’s the low 8s and high 7s that win the most often. Unlike genre and runtime, there is no way to predict your IMDb score; therefore, this evidence is most handy when trying to pick the nominees and winner. It’s like looking as a sports team’s stats going into the playoffs of the final big game of the season. Perhaps it’s not an ingredient in the same way genre and runtime are; but you can extrapolate from the aforementioned data what plots to consider when building your story and how long your movie should be. If you are one of those who are selecting which films are going to get nominated or which nominee will win, then you definitely need to look to the IMDb score for guidance.

Lastly, let’s take a look at the ten most popular motion pictures to win the Best Picture award over the last 30 years. The graph referenced in this paragraph depicts the ten most popular films from 1987-2017 to win the Best Picture award. IMDb takes multiple values into account when developing this list from IMDb score, Metacritic, audience score, etc. So, this is the most subjective criteria on this list; however, since the popularity is based upon quantifiable data, it can be used as a reliable source of information. The most popular movie on this list is 2017’s The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro, which IS an example of a film playing around with genre that won! It combines elements of science-fiction, drama, and romance. Taking the number 10 spot on this list is the Tom Hanks classic Forrest Gump. Interestingly, each of these winners is quite different from the rest. The only two to really share any similarities in plot are Silence of the Lambs and The Departed. Both of these films contain crime elements, with one skewing more towards thriller and the other more towards horror. Whereas these films differ in terms of plot, what they DO share in common is a strong lead cast. The top IMDb scorers on this list are Return of the King (8.9), Schindler’s List (8.9), Forrest Gump (8.8), Silence of the Lambs (8.6), and The Departed (8.5). All are 8.5 or higher. Beyond the IMDb score, runtime, and genre, what makes these films so popular is a compelling story comprised of a simple plot and complex characters. A superlative story begins with a screenplay, and the films on this list to also win Best Original or Best Adapted screenplay are BirdmanMoonlightThe DepartedThe Return of the KingForrest GumpSchindler’s List, and Silence of the Lambs. With 7/10 of these Best Picture winners also winning the best screenplay award, it is imperative that the film begin with strong writing.

For aspiring writers and directors, look at this data and take it into account if it is your intention to write or direct the next Best Picture nominee or winner. Following this data does in no way guarantee that you have an award winning film, but it does help to highlight some important and controllable elements to consider when crafting your story. With the new additions to the academy this year to include more women and other underrepresented groups amongst the Academy’s makeup, we may see a new pattern to observe over the next 5-10 years. There have been many changes to the landscape of motion pictures in the last few years with Netflix and Amazon throwing their respective hats in the ring, and with increased at-home viewing as opposed to watching first-run films in the cinema. It’s an exciting time to analyze the films that have a shot at winning the golden man, especially as the socio-political climate is becoming increasingly influential on the nominees and winners. What this data shows us is what we can observe over the last 30 years and apply that to the nominee predictions that are going on now and the eventual predictions for the winner in this category.

For more on the awards talk, you definitely want to follow #FilmTwitter on Twitter and the podcasts of Mike, Mike, and Oscar, Next Best Picture, and InSession Film. These are just a few of the great folks I follow, but ones that specialize in awards talk.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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2018 in Review Plus My 10 Best and Worst Films

I’ve read everything from 2018 has been the best year for cinema in recent years to the worst. Aside from the valid argument that “best” or “worst” are highly subjective when basing it on a qualitative criteria, there is no doubt that it has certainly been a year with a lot of variety. There have been some great films and complete dumpster fires. If I were to evaluate 2018 cinema, I would say that this year’s selections skew much closer to best than worst in recent years. Personally, I feel that it has been an exciting year! This observation is evident through the plethora of dynamic conversations on #FilmTwitter. While I do not feel that there is any singular standout film in 2018, there are ones that I feel help to make this a banner year, a truly memorable time in cinema for blockbusters, auteur, and indie films. The combination of new releases in the theatre, through streaming services at home, or sometimes both concurrently, provides audiences with an unprecedented ability to access a wide assortment of movies and films to satisfy even the most discerning cinematic palate.

While it is certainly up for debate how 2018 performed compared to past years, there is little debate that the horror (and horror adjacent) genre has become increasingly mainstream. But is that what the horror community wants? As a longtime fan of the American horror film, I gotta be honest with you that I am not a huge fan of how popular this genre has become. For the longest time, to be a fan of the horror genre was something niche. It was seen as this weird or macabre subculture to which outcasts, geeks, and goths, for example, belonged. Without writing an entire research paper on the subject (which, now that I think about it, may be a good idea), the horror community felt like a family or perhaps a neighborhood. Now it’s getting to the point that it feels like a city. Horror has always been popular and bankable, but it hasn’t been until the last couple of years that it has exploded among a wide array of movie lovers. With the growing affinity among general audiences, that sense of family is slowly fading.

Perhaps it’s the idea that our attraction to the repulsive, the “pleasurable unpleasure” as Freud would say, does not feel as special as it once did. If there is a positive side to more and more people looking to be entertained by horror, it is the number of horror films and shows released. Standout movies and shows from 2018 are A Quiet PlaceHereditaryHalloweenThe Haunting of Hill HouseAmerican Horror Story: Apocalypse, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. All highly successful and extremely well made, a few award-nominated and winning even! For 2019, many of us are eagerly awaiting the remake of Pet SemataryIT: Chapter 2Us, and others. I love how there seems to be new horror movies and films coming out all the time. Gives me new movies to watch! But the tradeoff is a lot of “new fans” who think they know the genre in the same way as us lifers; furthermore, flock to, not only the cinema, but to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios to create 2-3hr waits for the world-class haunted mazes/houses, many of which are based on horror films and shows. HHN28 was the most crowded that I’ve ever seen it. Maybe it will be up to us lifelong fans of the horror genre to stick together to discuss what we’ve loved and have demonstrated an appreciation for a long time.

Horror isn’t the only genre or subject that has received a lot of attention in 2018, we also had some incredibly strong “non straight white male” writers, directors, central characters, and actors. From incredible performances delivered by Toni Collette, Viola Davis, Glenn Close, and Olivia Colman to films such as BlindspottingWidows, Boy Erased, and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, just to name a few, we have certainly seen a much-needed increase in representation from those whose stories had more difficulty making it to the silver screen. There are many other fine examples of this shift in cinema, and I hope that this trend continues into 2019 and beyond. With all the outlets for storytellers now, it’s a great time to have the money and resources to bring hidden stories to life for all the world to see.

Okay, enough with some of my 2018 observations, here is my Top 10 Films of 2018 list followed by my most disappointing films list. If I wrote a formal review on my blog, I added the link to the title. Some films are so bad that I don’t even bother reviewing them on here. Haha.

Top 10

Honorable Mention: Annihilation

10. Halloween

9. Tully

8. Widows

7. Green Book

6. A Simple Favor

5. A Quiet Place

4. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

3. A Star Is Born

2. Hereditary

  1. The Favourite* After a lot of thought as I’ve been reviewing 2018, and when I was selecting my picks for the Oscars, I realized that I actually liked The Favourite a little more then ASIB. So, I’ve updated my blog to reflect that. (01/22/19).

Bottom 10

10. Christopher Robin

9. Happy Time Murders

8. 15:17 to Paris

7. Rampage

6. Skyscraper

5. AXL

4. Death Wish

3. Truth or Dare

2. Slender Man

  1. KIN

Check to see if I’ve reviewed a movie from 2018 that you are interested in by typing the title into the search bar at the top of the page. There are 44 reviewed NEW 2018 films on my blog plus more than 250 other films! For horror fans, checkout my All The Horror blog from October that has 31 brief reviews of horror and Halloween movies. Odds are, you’ll find some for which you are looking!

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” brief film review

Now THIS is the amazing Spiderman! Eat your heart out Tom Holland and move over Incredibles and Ralph for the best animated feature of 2018. Even if you do not care for comic book or superhero movies, by in large, but love excellent motion pictures (animated or live-action), then I can almost guarantee that you will thoroughly enjoy and greatly appreciate Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Although there have been a handful of animated films that I have liked in recent years, I have not felt emotionally and physiologically engaged with an animated feature to this degree since Kubo and the Two Strings. What both these animated features have in common is groundbreaking artistic precision that typifies the art of animated visual storytelling. Not only does Spider-Verse blow all other animated films out of the water this year, in terms of its contribution to the art and science of motion pictures, I put it on par with Kubo. The attention to production design details and mindblowing editing set the bar incredibly high for animated features moving forward. While the visuals have been likened to an acid trip, do not allow that to dissuade you because never once did I find the avant-garde artistic expression dizzying or obnoxious. It was completely immersive. There was genuine, tangible emotion felt in every frame. And the Stan Lee cameo was priceless. Underscoring everything on screen is the phenomenal screenplay upon which this mesmerizing animated feature is built. Undoubtedly, you will find yourself emotionally invested in the central character of Miles and the chief supporting cast, including the fantastic villain King Pin. There is so many layers to this story, and it works on several levels such as: family, love, self-sacrifice, and more. Highly recommend this film!

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“The Favourite” full film review

A brilliantly entertaining satirical dramedy! Not your history channel biopic. Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite is a motion picture inspired by the reign of 18th century Queen Anne of England. Even if Lanthimos has not previously won you over with his renown commitment to auteur filmmaking, The Favourite may just be the film to draw you into his penchant for dark dramedies that mock the absurdities of the world in which the story exists. Personally, I did not care for either Lanthimos’ The Lobster or Killing of a Sacred Dear, nor did I like last year’s highly stylized artistic film Phantom Thread directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. However, I truly enjoyed every second of The Favourite. A screenwriter’s dream, this film is built upon one of the year’s (if not THE) best screenplays, and brought to life by an incredible lead and supporting cast. And the degree to which this outstanding film impresses the audiences does not stop there. The costumes, locations, and set design are incredible. Upon watching this film, I was reminded of another worldclass period drama where each scene felt like it was an oil painting. I am talking about Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Never before have I seen a film come so close to delivering the experience that the Kubrick masterpiece did. Another film of note that this one reminds me of is All About Eve. When you’re comparing a film to some of the best films to ever be made, you know that is a good sign. This no-holds-barred dramedy provides audiences with a story about a twisted love triangle within the royal court of Queen Anne that is anything but prim and proper. You will be instantly sucked into just how bizarre and brilliant this film is because of the seductive visuals and razor-sharp wit.

In the early 18th century, England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne occupies the throne, and her close friend Lady Sarah governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing, and Abigail sees a chance to return to her aristocratic roots. (IMDb)

With so much to love about this film, it is difficult to know precisely where to begin. Visually, this film is stunning. Between the cinematography executed with impeccable precision and the set design lit with a combination of natural lighting and candles, each scene is as if it was a commissioned painting by a Baroque artist. Not quite to the levels of Barry Lyndon but certainly encroaches upon that territory. The use of wide angle and fish eye lenses, the creative use of camera positioning to convey the tone of a scene or a subjective view of a character was masterfully directed. While the palace where we spend most of the time is already immense, the camera makes everything look even larger to convey the relationship between a character and the royal court or the emotion of a scene. Under most circumstances, it’s difficult to pull off a fish eye lens but Lanthimos does so excellently! The unconventional camera placement and angles reflect the emotional beat or warped nature of the scene. While this film is heavy on the dialogue, it is also equally heavy in the visual storytelling. There are moments in the movie that assault the eyes and others that are so hilariously candid that you are glad the camera allows us to get a glimpse into the twisted world of 18th century royal England. More than any other film I’ve seen this year, this one exemplifies the ability for the camera to be an extension of our own eyes to bring us even closer–intimately close–to the narrative.

A screenwriter’s dream! The writing in The Favourite is some of the best that I have seen in a long time. We’ve had many great screenplays this year, but there are usually flaws here and there–something that could have been streamlines, expanded upon, or reworked in order to make better. However, there is literally nothing about this screenplay that I would change. Every scene of a screenplay should begin as close to the end of the scene as possible and every scene needs to point to the realization at the diegetic conclusion. And this screenplay does precisely that. Even the development of the characters can be witnessed through the physical movement and dialogue of the characters. Not that commitment to the guidelines of screenwriting means the screenplay lacks imagination–definitely not. There is plenty of imagination in this story but it delivers every emotional beat, every turning point, every action with a powerful punch. The characters contain multiple layers and each scene reveals something new to add to these multidimensional characters. Sometimes it may be a subtle nuance that we learn about a character or it could be a big reveal that was hinted at earlier in the story. At times, your senses are assaulted with a sequence of actions that are wildly erotic or offensively contemptible. It’s that oscillation between extremes that keeps this drama titillating.

More than a satire on the 18th century British royal court, this film is about the lengths one goes to change one’s life or situation and all the costs associated with that. Screenwriter Tony McNamara worked with Lanthimos to adapt Deborah Davis’ original script into the outstanding script that serves as the foundation for this film. It’s also a grim reminder that you can change your surroundings, title, clothes, and job but you may still be selfish, power-hungry, lonely, and unfulfilled on the inside. Perhaps you think you’ve won one game, but you were completely unaware of all the rules or that you were actually playing a difference game altogether. Perhaps you are trying to rise up in a capitalist company or culture, and when you almost reach the top, you are reminded that you are just a lowly pawn in a greater scheme or plan. So many ways to read this film. There is depth to this film that Phantom Thread did not have (hence why I did not like it). It’s not just pretty to look at and listen to, but there is diegetic depth and dimension to this narrative brought to the screen. One of the most brilliant aspects to the story is how you feel about Abigail, Queen Anne, and Sarah. Because you will definitely change how you feel as the story unfolds. No spoilers, but you will witness a course of events that truly reveal who these characters are, what motivates them, and where allegiances lie. The character whom you think you should be rooting for, may actually be the very one who is the most deceptive of all. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard dialogue that is this vicious and beautiful all at the same time. And yet, nothing ever feels forced, fake, or annoyingly on-the-nose. The subtext of what is being said is rich and intriguing. Not only do these characters do and say some of the very things that we either do or imagine we would do but they execute it with razor sharp precision and in an organic manner. You will see it all and hear it all–that is certain. Be prepared to gasp, laugh, cringe, and more. Never before has cruelty, power, and desire been so delicious.

Yorgos couldn’t have asked for a better cast. The ensemble that makes up The Favourite is stellar. And there is lots of eye candy to go around. Whether we are talking the royal court, parliament, or even the servants, there are lots of pretty guy and gals whom make up this phenomenal cast. Beyond the look of the cast, the talent is breathtakingly good. Delivering figuratively sucker-punches one moment and conveying something seductive through the use of subtlety the next, the breadth of talent on display in this film is remarkable. Heavy dramedies like this one require chemistry levels near perfection. Because it is a character driven story that is supplemented by actions; therefore, it’s imperative that the actors work well together in order to never allow the audience to slip out of the story. Everything about this film works flawlessly.

Now that you’ve watched Bird Box, you need to head to your local cinema to experience one of the most audacious motion pictures of the year. You are certain to be entertained by the witty dialogue, picturesque locations and production design, and magnificent cast. Not your typical Jane Austen-esque period drama; it artistically pushes the envelop and holds nothing back. This film definitely ranks within my Top 10 films of 2018, and look forward to see how well it does at the major award shows coming up.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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