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Tag Archive: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs


It’s a little difficult to get your head around.  Eight years ago when I suggested going to your video rental store to watch the ultimate Fourth of July movie–Jaws–we still had several video rental stores in every town.  It’s very different now with streaming services (have you finished Season 3 of Stranger Things yet on Netflix?) and any Blu-ray you want available overnight for purchase from retailers like Amazon.  To be fair, you can still rent movies, the plastic disc kind, at local Redbox machines, and Family Video still has a good footprint across the nation and a broad video selection (pretty much Blu-rays prevail, so sorry to people still with only VHS and plain ol’ DVDs).  Back in 2011 when I listed some recommended viewing material for Independence Day here at borg, I mentioned some films including my pick for today.

Every audience, every moviegoer, is after something different.  If you’re looking for action try on Captain America: The First Avenger, or even binge the entire Captain America series of films.  The first Independence Day movie from 1996 has your dose of sci-fi, and it’s an easy choice to go to especially if you’re too young to have watched it before.  Even Independence Day–the day, not the movie–means different things to different people.  I would recommend to anyone films like Dave, The American President, The Post, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, All the President’s Men, Sergeant York, Far and Away, The Last of the Mohicans, Lincoln, Glory, and Dances with Wolves–each covers some aspect of what America stands for.  Actually Frank Capra has more in the category, too, including Meet John Doe and State of the Union.  

Four of my favorites are playing on Turner Classic Movies/TCM today.  At 8:30 a.m. Central is John Ford′s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, followed at 10:30 a.m. Central by Ford’s Fort Apache These are some of the famed director’s finest works, and high points for both Henry Fonda, John Wayne, and Maureen O’Hara, plus the stories tell other tales of the American experience (and both rate high on my all-time best Westerns list here).  A recent anthology film fits the bill for today well–that’s the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which we reviewed here at borg last year.  It tells several stories of the pain, struggle, and sacrifice of peoples from throughout the world coming together to build a nation.  But what’s that sure-fire Fourth of July movie that should appeal to everyone?

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When we created last year’s preview of 2018 movies we were pretty sure we were going to have some great movies this year, but we were surprised by what ended up being the best.  All year we tried to keep up with what Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre content we thought was worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our picks for our annual Best Movies of 2018.

GenredomAs always, we’re after the best genre content of the year–with our top categories from the Best in Movies.  There are thousands of other places that cover plain vanilla dramas and the rest of the film world, but here we’re looking for movies we want to watch.  What do all of this year’s selections have in common?  In addition to those elements that define each part of genredom, each has a good story.  Special effects without a good story is not good entertainment, and we saw plenty of films this year that missed that crucial element.

Come back later this month for our TV and print media picks, and our annual borg Hall of Fame inductees.  Wait no further, here are our movie picks for 2018:

Best Film, Best Drama – Bohemian Rhapsody (20th Century Fox).  For the epic historical costume drama category, this biopic was something fresh and new, even among dozens of movies about bands that came before it.  Gary Busey played a great Buddy Holly and Val Kilmer a perfect Jim Morrison, and we can add Rami Malek and Gwilym Lee’s work as Freddie Mercury and Brian May to the same rare league.  But it wasn’t only the actors that made it work.  Incredible cinematography, costume and set recreations, and an inspiring story spoke to legions of moviegoers.  This wasn’t just another biopic, but an engaging drama about misfits that came out on top.  Honorable mention: Black Panther (Disney/Marvel).

Best Sci-fi Movie, Best Retro Fix, Best Easter EggsSolo: A Star Wars Story (Disney/Lucasfilm).  Put aside the noise surrounding the mid-year release of Solo before fans had recovered yet from The Last Jedi, and the resulting film was the best sequel (or prequel) in the franchise since the original trilogy (we rate it right after The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars as #3 overall).  All the scenes with Han and Chewbacca were faithful to George Lucas’s original vision, and the new characters were as cool and exciting, and played by exceptional talent, as found in the originals, including sets that looked like they were created in the 1970s of the original trilogy.  The Easter Eggs scattered all over provided dozens of callbacks to earlier films.  This was an easy choice: no other science fiction film came close to the rip-roaring rollercoaster of this film, and special effects and space battles to match.   Honorable mention for Best Sci-Fi Movie: Orbiter 9 (Netflix).

Best Superhero Movie, Best Crossover, Best Re-Imagining on Film Avengers: Infinity War (Disney/Marvel).  For all its faults, and there were many, the culmination of ten years of careful planning and tens of thousands of creative inputs delivered something no fan of comics has ever seen before:  multiple, fleshed out superheroes played by A-list actors with intertwined stories with a plot that wasn’t all that convoluted.  Is it the best superhero move ever?  To many fans, yes.  But even if it isn’t the best, its scope was as great as any envisioned before it, and the movie was filled with more great sequences than can be found in several other superhero movies of the past few years combined.  But teaming up Thor with Rocket?  And Spider-Man with Doctor Strange and Iron Man?  That beat all the prior Avengers team-ups that came before (and anything offered up from the other studios).  It’s easy to brush off any given film with so many superhero movies arriving these days, but this one was the biggest, grandest, and greatest made yet and deserves all the recognition.  Honorable mention: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures Animation), Black Panther (Disney/Marvel).

Best Fantasy Movie, Best Comedy MovieJumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Columbia Pictures).  No movie provided more laugh-out-loud moments this year than last winter’s surprise hit, a sequel that didn’t need to be a sequel, and a video game tie-in for a fake video game.  A funny script and four super leads made this an easy pick in the humor category, but the Raiders of the Lost Ark-inspired adventure ride made for a great fantasy film, too.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Movie: Black Panther (Disney/Marvel), Ready Player One (Warner Bros./Amblin).

Best Movie Borg, Best Borg Film – Josh Brolin’s Cable, Deadpool 2 (20th Century Fox).  Brolin’s take on Cable ended up as one of those great borgs on par with the Terminator from the standpoint of “coolness” factor.  But the trick that he wasn’t really the villain of the movie made him that much more compelling in the film’s final moments.  Ryan Reynolds was back and equal to his last Deadpool film, and his Magnificent Seven/Samurai Seven round-up of a team was great fun.  If not for all that unwinding of what happened in the movie in the coda, this might have made the top superhero movie spot.  But Deadpool 2 was a good reminder there is something other than Disney’s MCU to make good superhero flicks.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Although the first chapter in the anthology film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will have you thinking the new straight-to-Netflix movie is more of the same from the Coen Brothers, the subsequent chapters may have you think again.  It just may be the most thought-provoking, subdued, and effective film from the entire catalog of Coen Brothers films, and it may even eclipse Bone Tomahawk and the Coens’ own True Grit as this century’s best Westerns–at least in parts (and it’s a leap ahead of Quentin Tarentino’s past two efforts).  Netflix’s Mudbound was nominated this year in major categories (but didn’t win) and the studio brought in one documentary Oscar, but can this new Coens release bring Oscar home to Netflix for a major, large-scale production?

The common thread of the film is classic Americana: 19th century settlers possessed a kind of unique grit, and they paid a steep price, in unique and unglamorous ways, to build a nation.  The film chronicles six fictional fails and near fails that might have happened (mostly), presented as chapters of an anthology dime novel.  The first chapter follows the title character, a goofy but sure-shootin’ singing cowboy played by Tim Blake Nelson, in a story that will have many thinking this movie is another Western parody like 1985’s Rustler’s Rhapsody (it is not).  The next chapter follows a determined thief (James Franco) unsuccessfully robbing a bank in an era before the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment (in a mash-up inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”).  Another story finds a young woman (Zoe Kazan of the famed film dynasty in a masterful performance) on a frontier wagon train just trying to make it to the next town.  The least of the tales comes off more as a one-note Aesop’s Fable, as Liam Neeson‘s character carts a young limbless orator (played eloquently by well-known Harry Potter actor Harry Melling) from town to town carnival style for money.  To round off the anthology, Brendan Gleeson, Saul Rubinek, and Tyne Daly star in a John Ford-inspired stagecoach bit that would be good source material for a stage play.

But the best of the chapters is an adaptation of a Jack London story about an old gold prospector, a character study starring Tom Waits.  His performance could be seamlessly spliced into any of the best classic Westerns.  And it’s the kind of acting achievement that should earn Waits a supporting Oscar nod, if the Academy gets in lock-step with Netflix as a legitimate moviemaking studio.  The other performance worth Oscar contention is Chelcie Ross‘s trapper in the stagecoach segment.  His rambling story and delivery is laugh-out-loud funny, and you can almost see in the eyes of Rubinek and Daly a real struggle to hold back laughs.

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