2016 IndieWire Critics Poll: Christopher Schobert

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My first of — count ’em! — THREE end-of-year lists is now posted at Indiewire. I was honored to again be one of the 200 critics asked to contribute. It’s an impressive group, to be sure. My list has changed a bit since this was filed, but you can’t go wrong with anything I mentioned … Here’s the full Indiewire list, as well.

Best Film

  1. La La Land
  2. Jackie
  3. Moonlight
  4. Paterson
  5. The Handmaiden
  6. 20th Century Women
  7. American Honey
  8. Sing Street
  9. Manchester by the Sea
  10. The Nice Guys

Best Director

  1. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
  2. Pablo Larrain, Jackie
  3. Damien Chazelle, La La Land
  4. Andrea Arnold, American Honey
  5. Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden

Best Actress

  1. Natalie Portman, Jackie
  2. Emma Stone, La La Land
  3. Isabelle Huppert, Elle
  4. Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
  5. Rebecca Hall, Christine

Best Actor

  1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
  2. Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  3. Adam Driver, Paterson
  4. Colin Farell, The Lobster
  5. Peter Simonischek, Toni Erdmann

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Tilda Swinton, A Bigger Splash
  2. Kate McKinnon, Ghostbusters
  3. Kristen Stewart, Cafe Society
  4. Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
  5. Viola Davis, Fences

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
  2. Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!
  3. Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash
  4. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
  5. Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Best Documentary

  1. OJ: Made in America
  2. Weiner
  3. 13th
  4. I Am Not Your Negro
  5. Holy Hell
  6. Off the Rails
  7. Gimme Danger
  8. Kate Plays Christine
  9. Audrie & Daisy
  10. Tickled

Best Undistributed Film

  1. Una
  2. Werewolf
  3. Nocturama
  4. Sieranevada
  5. The Rehearsal
  6. Still Life
  7. The Death of Louis XIV
  8. Le concours (The Graduation)
  9. My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
  10. The Woman Who Left

Best First Feature

  1. The Witch
  2. Swiss Army Man
  3. April and the Extraordinary World
  4. Indignation
  5. Kicks

Best Screenplay

  1. Jackie
  2. Moonlight
  3. The Lobster
  4. Paterson
  5. Indignation

Best Original Score/Soundtrack

  1. The Handmaiden
  2. La La Land
  3. American Honey
  4. The Handmaiden
  5. Sing Street

Best Cinematography

  1. The Handmaiden
  2. Moonlight
  3. La La Land
  4. Arrival
  5. A Bigger Splash

Best Editing

  1. La La Land
  2. Moonlight
  3. Midnight Special
  4. The Lobster
  5. 20th Century Women

Best Overlooked Film

  1. Sleeping Giant
  2. Una
  3. Werewolf
  4. The Student and Mister Henri
  5. Darling

Most Anticipated of 2017

  1. Happy End
  2. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
  3. Star Wars: Episode VIII
  4. The Snowman
  5. Blade Runner 2049

 

Analysis: Should you take your children to see ‘Rogue One?’

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While I did not “review” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” exactly, I did write an analysis of the film for The Buffalo News. I focused on whether the film is suitable for children, a tricky topic, and a very personal one for me.

For parents, “Rogue One” is the great “Should I take my kids?” conundrum of 2016. The first “Star Wars Story” outside of the “episodes” is the most action-heavy, battle-focused “Star Wars” installment yet. It’s also the boldest in terms of outcome. But we’ll get back to that.

“Rogue One” is rated PG-13 for “extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.” As usual, the MPAA rating is not particularly helpful. So many parents are turning to reviews and the opinions of friends and family.

In reviews and pre-release buzz, the film has been described as “darker” than the other “Star Wars” films, but that’s not quite accurate. Remember that “Empire Strikes Back” ended with Han Solo frozen in carbonite, and Luke Skywalker learning that Darth Vader was his father and losing his hand. In “The Phantom Menace,” we see the corpse of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in flames — and let’s not forget Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru burned to a crisp in “A New Hope.”

Even the fairly innocuous “Attack of the Clones” included a beheading. And “Revenge of the Sith” — referred to in my house as “the dark one” — features the most gruesome moments of the series, by far.

The implications of “Rogue One” are certainly dark. But it’s not a graphic film. What it is, above all else, is a grittier “Star Wars” entry. Director Gareth Edwards’ “embedded” shooting style emphasizes on-ground combat, and the result is a more realistic feel. But there is little explicit violence. There is little explicit bloodshed, but there is war-like violence and some disturbing imagery throughout the film.

Without spoiling “Rogue One,” parents need to know that the film is very dark. But for many kids, especially those under 10 or so, the implications of what actually occurs will zip over their heads like an errant X-wing.

The outcome is also hopeful, and even inspiring. In addition, the female heroine of “Rogue One” is a fine role model, and there is a spirit of friendship and collaboration that’s downright wonderful. While there are talky moments in this two-hour-plus film, the visceral surge of the final third is thrilling.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” (Jonathan Olley, Lucasfilm-Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

In addition, another critic friend made a crucial point that I had not considered: “I think the idea of Han Solo’s own son murdering him in ‘The Force Awakens’ is psychologically much worse than anything shown in ‘Rogue One.’ ” Still, something happens that will require discussion and explanation. It may even shock you.

So what’s the appropriate age for “Rogue One”? It sounds like a cop-out, but that answer depends on the child. For better or worse, my 6-year-old son has seen all of the “Star Wars” films (we fast-forwarded through the darkest moments in “Revenge of the Sith”) and the eight “Harry Potter” adaptations (liberal fast-forwarding was involved here, as well).

My wife and I have known for months that he would be aching to see the film at the theater, but it was important for us that I see it first.

As a parent, then, my advice is simple: Do not take your kids until after you’ve seen the film. You know what your children can handle better than anyone, so avoid placing blind trust in critics or even friends. Know what you’re in for. Then, make your decision and feel confident.

In addition, if your child’s only “Star Wars” experience is “The Force Awakens,” it’s best to hold off. Work through some of the others first, then go “Rogue.”

January Coming Attractions: Cinematic gifts from Carpenter and Altman highlight the month in film

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I’m a bit late in posting my December Buffalo Spree “Coming Attractions” column, but there’s still a few treats left before year’s end.

December features a little horror, some Robert Altman, a dash of Sinatra, and, of course, The Nutcracker. So by all means see Rogue One, La La Land, and the other year-end biggies, but don’t forget to also make time for these interesting local screenings.

Thursday Night Terrors—The Thing: The first season for the Thursday Night Terrors film series ends with a modern classic, John Carpenter’s The Thing. Interestingly, the film was a box office flop upon release in 1982, but in the years since has developed an enormous (and well-deserved) cult following. The opportunity to see this Kurt Russell-starrer on the big screen should not be passed up, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the “spider head.” (7:30 p.m. on December 15 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St.; facebook.com/thursdaynightterrors)

Cultivate Cinema Circle—Gosford Park: The CCC’s fall season included several treats from the late Robert Altman, the daring, always forward-thinking director of Nashville and M*A*S*H. Previous screenings featured his underrated ensemble piece A Wedding and his Hollywood satire The Player. (There’s an argument to be made that the latter is the finest film ever made about the movie business.) The season ends with Gosford Park on December 1, and that’s a fine choice. The most successful of Altman’s late-period works, Gosford is a whodunit featuring the crème de la crème of British acting talent: Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, Kristen Scott Thomas, Alan Bates, Maggie Smith. It’s a fitting reminder of Altman’s ability to dabble in various genres and style of cinema. (7 p.m. on December 1 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St.; cultivatecinemacircle.com)

Buffalo Film Seminars—The Tourist: Well this is an unexpected one: the fall season of the Buffalo Film Seminars ends with the critically derided 2010 box office miss The Tourist, starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Yet this could turn out to be one of the most interesting screenings yet for the series hosted by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian. After all, The Tourist was an interesting (if failed) callback to the glossy, star-driven international romps of yesteryear. It was also director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s follow-up to Oscar winner The Lives of Others. So there is plenty to chew on. We’ll just have to see what Jackson and Christian have to say. (7 p.m. on December 6 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; csac.buffalo.edu/bfs.html)

TCM Big Screen Classics—From Here to EternityFred Zinnemann’s adaptation of James Jones’s novel is an acknowledged classic, but I’ve always found the back story even more interesting. Specifically, there is the story that Frank Sinatra was cast in the film thanks to some strong-arming from his Mafia connections. This, of course, was the basis for the Johnny Fontane character’s appeal to Don Corleone in The Godfather, and the subsequent horse’s-head-in-the-bed. Years later, Sinatra and Godfather author Mario Puzo had a charged face-to-face encounter. That’s one of many unique bits of Corleone trivia … Oh, From Here to Eternity! Yeah, it’s great. (2 and 7 p.m. on December 11 and 14 at the Regal Elmwood Center, 2001 Elmwood Ave., and Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville; fathomevents.com)

Fredonia Opera House—The Entertainer: While Kenneth Branagh is not known as “the entertainer,” that wouldn’t be a bad nickname for the actor-director known for his stage, film, and television work. In the instance of The Entertainer, John Osborne’s drama about post-war Britain, Branagh is simple the star. The Fredonia Opera House will screen the production in high definition; it was performed at London’s Garrick Theatre by the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company. When you’re finished, perhaps consider watching Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing or Henry V. (Or Thor, for that matter.) The Opera House will also present the Metropolitan Opera’s L’Amour de Loin at 1 p.m. on December 10. (1 p.m. on December 3 at the Fredonia Opera House, 9 Church St., Fredonia; fredopera.org)

Roycroft Film Society—Russian Ark: The 2002 Russian film Russian Ark is remembered for one reason: it was shot entirely in one take. Yes, the 99-minute feature shot entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian State Hermitage Museum does not include one cut. That’s pretty shocking, and it makes watching the film a unique experience. (4 p.m. on December 11 at Parkdale Elementary School, 141 Girard Ave., East Aurora; roycroftcampuscorp.com)

Old Chestnut Film Society—The Lady EveThe films of Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb are the focus for the latest installment of the long-running Old Chestnut Film Society series. December’s selection is a goodie, as The Lady Eve is one of Preston Sturgess’s finest comedies. (7:30 p.m. on December 9 in the Community Room of the Phillip Sheridan School, 3200 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore; oldchestnut.com)

The Screening Room: Late last month, Amherst’s Screening Room Cinema Café opened in its new home at the Boulevard Mall. To celebrate, the first full month at the mall features some real gems, including Casablanca (starting December 2) and It’s a Wonderful Life (starting December 16). The month also includes holiday favorite Home Alone (starting December 13). Plus, “Clue Year’s Eve” on December 31 features two screenings of Clue, the Tim Curry-starring board game adaptation. It also screens the night before, December 30. (Check screeningroom.net for exact dates and time; all events at the Screening Room, 880 Alberta Dr., Amherst)

Shaw Festival Film Series: I’m sorry to say I was completely unaware that Niagara-on the-Lake’s Shaw Festival presented an annual series of the year’s most acclaimed films. It starts this month with a downright stellar group of films: soaring U.K. music comedy Sing Street (December 3); the somber, Jeff Bridges-starring thriller Hell or High Water (December 10); Viggo Mortensen-led drama Captain Fantastic (December 17); and Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins (December 31). The screenings are held on most Saturdays and some Fridays into February. (3 p.m. at the Shaw Festival Theatre, 10 Queen’s Parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada; shawfest.com)

Holidays at the Aurora Theatre: The Aurora Theatre in East Aurora is lovely year-round, but the holiday season is especially nice. Its annual holiday film series started in November, and it continues into December with How the Grinch Stole Christmas (December 3), A Christmas Story (December 10), White Christmas (December 11), The Polar Express (December 17), It’s a Wonderful Life (December 18), and Vermont Christmas Vacation (December 31). Note that December 3 is “Grinch Day,” with characters in costume and an exhibit of props from the film. (11 a.m. at the Aurora Theatre, 673 Main St., East Aurora; theauroratheatre.com)

It’s a Wonderful Life at the Historic Lockport Palace: The story of George Bailey and his guardian angel, Clarence, was an annual must-watch in my house growing up. Seeing it on the big screen at the Palace sounds like a fine way to re-experience Frank Capra’s beloved classic. (7 p.m. on December 16; 1, 4, and 7 p.m. on December 17; time TBA on December 18, at the Historic Palace Theatre, 2 East Ave., Lockport; lockportpalacetheatre.org)

Amherst Youth and Recreation Department Fall Family Flicks: No pre-registration is required for a free screening of the summer smash The Secret Life of Pets on December 10. (1:30 p.m. on December 10 at the Harlem Road Community Center, 4255 Harlem Rd., Amherst; amherstyouthandrec.org)

Love the Coopers at the Town of Collins Public Library: This 2015 film has quite a cast— Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde—but made little impact at the box office. Its underseen status makes it a good choice for this screening in Collins. (1 p.m. on December 2 at the Town of Collins Public Library, 2341 Main St., Collins; buffalolib.org)

Fathom Events: In addition to From Here to Eternity (see above), Fathom Events has several other unique screenings planned for December. Unless otherwise indicated, the screenings listed here are scheduled at both the Regal Elmwood Center (2001 Elmwood Ave.) and Regal Transit Center (6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville). First up is a “RiffTrax Holiday Special Double Feature” featuring Santa Conquers the Martians and a “Christmas Shorts-Stravaganza” (December 1). Hayao Miyazaki’s animated classic Spirited Away celebrates its 15 anniversary with screenings on December 4 (English dubbed) and December 5 (subtitled). Recent Toronto International Film Festival premiere The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America documents the Stones’ 2016 tour of Latin American cities (December 12; Regal Transit only). And George Takei’s acclaimed Broadway musical Allegiance screens with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews on December 13. (Times and additional events at fathomevents.com)

Shea’s Free Family Film Series—The Polar Express: There’s nothing quite like seeing a film in the ornate Shea’s Performing Arts Center. The second installment in the 2017 Free Family Film Series features the Tom Hanks-starring animated effort The Polar Express. Remember, tickets are available one week before screenings at Wegmans, and doors open one hour before show time. (2 p.m. at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.; sheas.org)

Also screening this month …

The Dipson Amherst Theatre has two opera simulcasts scheduled this month: Swan Lake (directed by Rudolf Nureyev) on December 8 and The Nutcracker (with Iolanta) on December 18. (Swan: 8 p.m. on December 8; Nutcracker: 11 a.m. on December 18; at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com)

December is a fine month for a drive to Toronto, and the TIFF Bell LIghtbox has a very unique installation showing until December 16. The Burghers of Vancouver a collaboration between the great Quebec filmmaker Denys Arcand (The Barbarian Invasions) and artist Adad Hannah. According to TIFF, the “six-channel installation follows individual characters who come together to perform a tableau vivant of Rodin’s famed sculpture Les Bourgeois de Calais.” (Through December 16 at the Tiff Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W., Toronto; tiff.net)

Last but certainly not least, the Julia Boyer Reinstein LIbrary has a family-friendly holiday film scheduled for December 12. Space is limited, so call 668-4991 or stop by the library to register. (6:30 p.m. on December 12 at the Julia Boyer Reinstein Library, 1030 Losson Rd., Cheektowaga; buffalolib.org)

Recommended New Books on Filmmaking: A Holiday Gift Guide for the Discerning Cinephile

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My latest books piece for The Film Stage has arrived, JUST in time for the holidays.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for film fans, with some of the best films of the year in theaters and lots of elaborate and thoroughly-researched books to read. This rundown has real variety, with new and recent texts covering cinema history, TV greats, and, of course, Star Wars. Note that one of this year’s finest books, The Oliver Stone Experience (Abrams Books), was covered by The Film Stage in September via an interview with author Matt Zoller Seitz. Make sure to check out Experience, and see below for another fine selection from the prolific Seitz.

 

Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual History, Updated Edition by Daniel Wallace (DK Publishing)

It’s a fantastic idea: a book that offers a timeline not of the Star Wars story, but of the Star Wars phenomenon. This newly updated edition of the 2010 release now includes recent works like The Force Awakens and Star Wars Rebels, ending with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the soon-to-arrive Star Wars-themed lands at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Quite simply, everything is here: the BBC radio adaptations, that odd magazine cover of George Lucas without his beard, Star Tours, Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars, Disney Infinity. It’s an exhaustive, enormously entertaining coffee table book that succeeds in not only charting the progression of the series, but also configuring its place in popular culture.

 

Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome by Shawn Levy (W.W. Norton & Company)

Levy’s account of 1950s Rome is a stunning parade of legendary names and insightful details. The writing is wonderful (he first describes Fellini as a “cartoonist, journalist, gag writer, script doctor, and shambling man-about-town”) and the imagery unforgettable. Here, for example, is Levy on Marcello Mastroianni’s decision to stay based in Italy rather than the U.S.: “In Rome, he explained, he knew where to go for a coffee, where to get his haircut, where to test-drive the sports cars in which he’d begun to indulge himself once he started commanding substantial salaries. And he had a friendly relationship with a press corps that granted him a remarkable degree of discretion as he indulged in what had become a habit of wandering from the steadfast marriage he bragged about in interviews.” Imagine that! Dolce Vita Confidential is a delight for film fans and anyone who adores yesterday’s pop landscape.

 

TV (The Book) by Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz (Grand Central Publishing)

Who better to ponder the greatest television shows of all time than Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall? Both critics are responsible for some of the finest writing about the medium in recent history, via New York Magazine/RogerEbert.com and HitFix.com, respectively. TV (The Book) is like a long, nicely conversational conversation, one that hits the obvious (The Wire, The Simpsons, Mad Men) and the less-so (Terriers, Futurama). Most effective is the analysis of series that proved to have a lasting impact beyond their initial success, like It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. (Seitz calls it “the most Brechtian sitcom of the ’80s.”) It’s also interesting to hear the authors’ take on some of the current greats of TV, like the FX drama Fargo. (“It had no business working,” Sepinwall writes. “None.”)

 

The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: Volume Two: The Next 25 Years by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman  (Thomas Dunne Books)

The second volume in the Star Trek oral history series from Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman is just as compelling as the first. Covering the Next Generation series and films, the later small-screen Trek installments (Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise), and the J.J. Abrams’ films, The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years includes virtually every figure of note. What’s most involving, however, is the painstaking analysis of some of the Trek failures. Perhaps the biggest of those failures was the final Next Generation film, Nemesis, and the cast holds director Stuart Baird most responsible. Costar Marina Sirtis sums up the cast’s feelings best: “The director was an idiot.” Of course, there are triumphs as well, and ending with Star Trek rejuvenated and reinvigorated on the big screen makes for a fitting conclusion. If you are even the least bit interested in Gene Roddenberry’s creation, these two books are a must.

 

Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen (GoodKnight Books)

It’s difficult to find new ground to cover when discussing the personal life of a legendary figure like Jimmy Stewart, but author Robert Matzen more than pulls it off in Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe. This seriously researched and hugely illuminating text explores the actor’s wartime exploits, and the effect these experiences had on his later life and career. The level of detail is astounding, from stories of his ladies-man days with pal Henry Fonda to the ways in which It’s a Wonderful Life benefited from his military service. (Wonderful Life, Matzen writes, was his Stewart’s first post-war film, and “called on him to express a range of emotions he had never tapped into before.”) The star was never quite the same: “Stewart rarely spoke about his military service and never about combat … Jim being Jim, the memories remained locked inside.”

 

The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia by Stephen Whitty (Rowman & LIttlefield Publishers)

If ever there is a cinematic kingpin deserving of an encyclopedia, it is Alfred Hitchcock. Journalist and critic Stephen Whitty brings humor and insight to The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia, and that makes the text a real delight. The reader can open the 500-page book in random spots and invariably find a worthy entry. Whitty’s takes on John Gavin (a “tall, dull, and handsome leading man”), Kim Novak (her “shyness [was] so often mistaken for hauteur”), and so many others are a treat. And his takedown of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho (Whitty calls it “an inexplicable remake”) is hard to disagree with. His Encyclopedia undoubtedly belongs on every cinephile’s shelf.

 

Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth: Inside the Creation of a Modern Fairy Tale by Mark Cotta Vaz with Nick Nunziata (Harper Design)

It is the tenth anniversary of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, and the more time that passes, the stronger the film seems. This new making-of text is painstakingly piece together, with interviews, the filmmaker’s own drawings and designs, and on-set photography. Most enjoyable is the time spent hearing from del Toro himself, a unique and inimitable figure in modern film. “I know I’m a bit of an alien,” he states in Modern Fairy Tale. “I don’t quite belong in a genre and I don’t quite belong in an industry.” Those comments provide a clue how a story as visually unforgettable and dramatically compelling as Pan’s Labyrinth came to be.

 

Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur’s Cookbook by Janice Poon (Titan Books)

There has to be something that screams “fun” on this list, doesn’t there? The fiendishly clever Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur’s Cookbook offers a stunning array of recipes written for the beloved, dearly departed NBC series Hannibal. The titles alone are wondrous — “Using Your Brains in the Kitchen,” “Rack of Sacrificial Lamb,” “Hannibal’s Disarming Way with Ham.” These creations from Toronto-based food stylist Janice Poon sound seriously tasty, and the accompanying text and photos are a droll delight. (Poon on “Hong Kong Ribs”: “To shoot the scene, I used baby back ribs because they can be twisted to resemble a human ribcage.”)

 

Film Noir Compendium: Key Selections from the Film Noir Reader Series by James Ursini and Alain Silver (Applause Books)

Like The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia, the Film Noir Compendium edited  by James Ursini and Alain Silver should be a required read for new film fans. But that’s a rather limiting classification, since it fails to highlight the inherent joy in these articles. The newly updated compilation features legendary critics like Robin Wood as well as critics-turned-filmmakers like Paul Schrader and Claude Chabrol. Standouts include an analysis of Kiss Me Deadly with perfectly chosen stills and a stunning, deep dive into Out of the Past.

 

BONUS: NOVELS ROUND-UP

Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno (Del Rey)

It’s almost time (at last) for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and we still know very little about the intricacies of the story. That’s a good thing. However, some background never hurts, and that’s why Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno is an essential December read. The focus here is on the relationship between Orson Krennic and scientist Galen Erso, and of course, the reader can easily imagine Ben Mendelsohn and Mads Mikkelsen in their respective roles. There are surprise cameos (I hope you’re seated, Poggle the Lesser fans), but it’s the Krennic-Erso face-off that resonates strongest.

 

Star Wars: Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston (Disney-Lucasfilm Press)

We have The Clone Wars TV series (and the less-successful film) to thank for many unique additions to the Star Wars canon, and at the top of the list is certainly Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan apprentice. She finally gets to be the central character in E.K. Johnston’s novel Star Wars: Ahsoka. Smartly, the book focuses on Tano’s time after she left the Jedi order — in other words, the time between The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels — and it’s a fine, well-written story involving her experiences on a farming moon. And like Catalyst, there are some crucial cameos that tie the novel in with RebelsA New Hope, and beyond.

 

Reykjavik Nights: An Inspector Erlendur Novel by Arnaldur Indridason (Picador)

I was unaware of author Arnaldur Indridason and his Inspector Erlendur series before the recent release of the brisk, relentlessly entertaining Reykjavik Nights. Now I can’t wait to read the rest of the Icelandic detective’s adventures. Like Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole, Erlendur is flawed and fascinating, and this prequel about two seemingly unconnected killings is a perfect introduction.