12 Years a Slave (2013) Written by John Ridley Directed by Steve McQueen
In 1841, freeman Solomon Northrup, a resident of Saratoga Springs, New York was tricked by two white men into joining them as a traveling violinist. With his wife and children away for work for three weeks, Northrup sees an excellent opportunity to make a little money on the side and travel. Instead, his companions drug the man and sell him to a slave ring. A journey begins that brings Northrup to New Orleans and into the ownership of a plantation owner where our protagonist experiences just a taste of the hell that his life will become. From there he ends up at the cotton plantation of Epps, a drunkard and a brute who sexually abuses one slave in particular, Patsey. Northrup tries to keep his hope alive while watching those around him become brutalized and eventually murdered in some instances. Eventually, he will be free again but forever changed, terrors and evils scarred into his mind that he will never forget.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Written & Directed by David O. Russell
Pat Solitano’s mom picks him up from a mental hospital in Baltimore, despite the doctors saying he’s not ready yet. Eight months earlier, Pat came home to find his wife in the shower with a co-worker which sent Pat into a frenzy. He’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but believes he doesn’t need meds or a psychiatrist; Pat requires positive thinking. His dad, Pat Sr. shows all the signs of OCD and likely has some undiagnosed issues himself, and he thinks the time he devoted to the elder sibling is what led to his younger son becoming so volatile. Through an acquaintance, Pat meets Tiffany, a widow who has very similar challenges with social cues as Pat does. The duo verbally spars, and there is the spark of an attraction, but Pat is convinced he can get his wife back if he stays on his path of self-improvement. Tiffany sees his wife regularly and promises she’ll deliver a letter to her if Pat pledges to be her dance partner in an upcoming competition. This was an event her late husband would never do with her, and it has become Tiffany’s primary focus. Pat hesitantly agrees with hopes he’ll end up reunited with his former bride.
Big Little Lies (HBO) Season 1, Episode 1 – “Somebody’s Dead” Written by David E. Kelly Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
There is so much television I hear I should watch and with 24/7 streaming services abounding it can quickly become overwhelming. To finally get a taste of all these great shows I will start doing TV Tryouts. Each month I will watch a couple of pilot episodes of series I have been hearing rave reviews about and see if that first episode can hook me to keep watching. Now, an argument you might make is that you have to view the first six or entire first season before a show “gets good.” To that, I say, “I just don’t have the time.” A television series should have strong enough writing that its characters, dialogue, and plot naturally compel me to keep watching. If it doesn’t then that’s ok, plenty of shows for everyone.
The Wife (2018) Written by Jane Anderson Directed by Bjorn Runge
Elderly writer Joseph Castleman receives the call many artists dream about. He is being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, being told that he has made a significant contribution to the realm of writing in ways that will resound for generations beyond. His ever-loyal wife Joan listens on the phone extension and then prepares to care for and navigate her husband through the gauntlet of press and meetings to come. There is a secret behind her attentiveness to Joseph. They travel with their adult son to Stockholm where a week of formalities follows related to the prize. Tensions build when Nathaniel Bone, a journalist shows up and tells Joan he plans on writing an expose about Castleman, that he knows how Joan is tied to his success that he wants her to be the one to come forward first, on the record.
Hugo (2011) Written by John Logan Directed by Martin Scorsese
Hugo is a boy living in 1931 Paris, holed up in the clockwork behind the scenes of the Gare Montparnasse railway station. He has ended up in this strange place due to the death of his father and subsequent death by drunkenness of his uncle. The only thing Hugo has left to remember his father by is a broken automaton his parent recovered from the museum where he worked. Hugo swipes clockwork toys from a store in the station to use as spare parts in rebuilding the mysterious machine. Eventually, he’s caught by Mr. Georges (Sir Benjamin Kingsley), the toy store’s owner who is curious about the strange notebook of sketches in Hugo’s possession. Hugo befriends Mr. Georges’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and the two work to uncover the secret behind the automaton. However, looming over our protagonist is the specter of the station inspector and being carted away to an orphanage.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) Written by Bridget O’Conner & Peter Straughan Directed by Tomas Alfredson
In 1973, Control (John Hurt), the head of British intelligence sends Agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Hungary to speak with a general claiming a desire to defect to the West. Prideaux is shot when things go bad, and Control is forced to step down. Retiring alongside him is George Smiley (Gary Oldman), his longtime right-hand man. Shortly after Control passes away and Smiley’s wife leaves him (again). The twilight years appear to be a dark road ahead. Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) is a spy for the agency who has now gone AWOL and communicated with the prime minister’s office that there is a mole for the Soviets within the Circus (the nickname for intelligence). Smiley is pulled out of retirement to run a black ops investigation into the very leadership of Britain’s intelligence service, sussing out if the new head (Toby Jones) or his lieutenants are using their position to funnel sensitive information to the enemy. The deep Smiley goes the more he realizes that he’s lost himself in a world of paranoia and mistrust.
Moneyball (2011) Written by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin Directed by Bennett Miller
The Oakland As general manager Billy Beane has just watched his team suffer a brutal defeat in the playoffs which leads to the departure of the team’s “superstar” players. With 2002 looming on the horizon, Beane has got to assemble a team who stands a chance in the division. On a trip to make trades with the Cleveland Indians, Beane meets Peter Brand, a statistician who sees the key to baseball as not finding stars but cultivating the guys who get hits and get on base. Beane and Brand present their potential players to the scouts and the team’s coach only to be met with stiff resistance. As the new team comes together, everyone must work to overcome the conflict, with Beane’s primary goal being an outcome that shows the Major League teams that baseball is more than a game of spending millions.