HughesReviews: As Oscar Night Approaches, My 10 Favorite Films of 2018

| February 21st, 2019

In 1994 I began writing movie reviews for a Kearny, New Jersey newspaper called The Hudson Press. It was “the other paper” in town. The pricks at The Observer wouldn’t give me the time of day.

Then I went to work at Blockbuster Video, where I was canned for playing Glengarry Glen Ross – instead of the company’s promotional video featuring an obnoxious Jamiroquai track – on every monitor in the store.  Glengarry has a few curse words. Corporate didn’t care for that, apparently.

Then I went to New York University and got a degree in Cinema Studies. What is Cinema Studies?Imagine an English Literature degree but movies instead of books. We didn’t make em. We studied em. This was a degree that meant sitting through all eight hours of Warhol’s Empire and dissecting every frame of Brakhage’s Songs cycle. But it also meant discovering Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Italian Neorealism and great documentarians like Wiseman and Pennebaker.

Yes, I’m way more qualified to write about movies than football. So if you have interest in such things, go over to @HughesReviews on Twitter and give a follow. Eventually I may start writing more than once-a-year about movies again. Eventually. This year I re-committed to the whole deal, seeing 80+. (In my heyday I sailed by triple digits.)

I decided to put all that effort down on digital paper.

Thoughts on Relevant Pictures

  • Who knew oral hygiene would create some of the more memorable sequences in American cinema this year? John C. Reilly’s tooth brushing in The Sisters Brothers and Christian Bale’s mouthwash sequence in Vice were both pretty incredible.
  • Alexander Desplat’s score for Operation Finale was terrific. But somehow one of the most compelling events in the history of the world was turned into a dud of a film.
  • Regina Hall is marvelous in Support the Girls.
  • Three Identical Strangers was an uneven documentary, too obsessed with the stardom of its main characters and less with the dark underpinnings of the story. Still, everyone should see it.
  • Ruth E. Carter’s costumes for Black Panther were unlike anything I’d seen on screen before. But I lost interest in the movie halfway through. Most compelling argument I’ve heard for the film is “it’s good for a comic book movie”. Great. But what if you don’t give a shit about any of these comic book movies?
  • You Were Never Really Here and Leave No Trace are movies that would have found an audience in the mid-90s. They would have sat in little art house theaters for five or six weeks. People would have seen the covers in the video store and thought, “Oh, I like that actor, let’s give it a shot”. (Thomasin McKenzie gave the breakout performance of the year in Trace.)
  • I thought my initial response to Roma – best described as, eh – was maybe unfair. So I gave it a second viewing. No change. It may be the most beautifully shot film of the year. But so was The English Patient and I didn’t much care for that either.
  • I know I’m the only person thinking these things but my thought watching Ethan Hawke’s brilliant work in First Reformed was he should give Hamlet another shot. But on stage this time. That restraint creates a palpable tension that will absolutely rivet a live audience.
  • Did anybody not love that moment in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again when Andy Garcia’s name is revealed to be Fernando and then Cher starts singing “Fernando”?
  • A Prayer Before Dawn is a movie to be endured, not enjoyed. But it’s worth enduring.
  • Both A Star is Born and First Man felt, in their initial 30 minutes, like they were going to turn tired formulas inside out. Then both films wallowed in that tired formula another two hours.
  • Wasn’t there a better way to make The Wife without giving the game away in the first fifteen minutes? This would have made an interesting premise for a two-hander play by David Hare. It’s a bore of a movie. (Let’s be honest, it would have been a boring play too.)
  • Sorry to Bother You is a mess at times but it’s a formidable first feature from Boots Riley. Make more movies, Boots. Original and audacious are traits American cinema desperately needs.
  • It’s obvious watching Free Solo that the filmmakers are brilliant chroniclers of this remarkable craft. The climbing portions of the film are magnificent. But there’s a major difference between an IMAX Experience and a fully-developed documentary: character. This film would have been better served as the former.
  • Shoplifters is a lovely, interesting little movie but it’s so obvious that American film critics give leeway to any picture with subtitles. What’s really in this film that hasn’t been handled with more ruthless honesty throughout Shameless on Showtime?
  • Daniel’s jump shot sequence in Hale County This Morning This Evening might have been the most transfixing three minutes of film all year.
  • Trying to stay away from negativity but Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the twenty-five worst movies ever made.
  • The first half hour of Green Book played like a Fred Armisen/SNL sketch called The Italians. Some of the most embarrassing stuff I’ve seen in a major motion picture in a long time.

And you can’t see EVERYTHING, even though I certainly tried. So apologies to the following films: Monrovia Indiana, Bisbee ’17, Capernaum, The House that Jack Built, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse and Stan & Ollie. These are films I wanted to see and, for one reason or another, never got to.

Honorable Mention

Studio 54

Did you know Steve Rubell coined the phrase “bridge and tunnel” to describe the people he didn’t want inside the legendary midtown nightclub? There’s nothing cutting edge here but the 54 story has almost exclusively been told from the drugs and celebrity perspective. Here’s a film that intimately details how the legacy of the famed club was built and ultimately destroyed.

A Quiet Place

Thrilling from start to finish. And the concept wouldn’t work without Emily Blunt’s brilliant, grounded performance.

The Sisters Brothers

It’s borderline impossible to make an original Western because the genre is about 120 years old. But Jacques Audiard’s film is every bit that. There’s a scene with John C. Reilly, Allison Tolman and a shawl that you won’t soon forget because it’s just too fucking weird to not remember.

A Private War

Rosamund Pike’s performance is a hell storm. Her Marie Colvin is devoured by booze and mental illness and whatever drives those willing to risk spilling their own blood to reveal the truths of others. She is rage. She is desperation. But Pike is always pulsating with a stinging, almost uncomfortable clarity that prevents even this character’s more exaggerated moments to reach the level of cartoon. (With the eye patch, it wouldn’t be particularly difficult.)

The Top Ten

#10 Widows / Blockers (tie)

My favorite line of the year? From Blockers.  “Thank God it doesn’t taste like Mounds. I’d rather eat ten dicks than one Mound.” It’s the use of the singular. Mound.

MY favorite last line of the year? From Widows. “Alice…how ya been?” The subtlety of that moment after the half hour that preceded it was perfection.

I don’t know what Hollywood movies are anymore. Is Amazon “Hollywood”? NetFlix? But these felt like the two best Hollywood pictures of the year. They are both going to be running on the premium cable channels for years to come and I’m never turning either off because they’ve got Robert Duvall screaming racial slurs and Gary Cole and Gina Gershon walking around nude and blindfolded. (You should be able to figure out which has which.)

Not high art. But high entertainment.

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Putting Anthony Miller’s Rookie Season in Proper Context

| February 20th, 2019

On the surface, Anthony Miller had a quiet rookie season. He had 54 passes come his way, catching 33 for 423 and 7 touchdowns. This tied him for 127th in the NFL in catches, 111th in yards, and 16th in receiving touchdowns. On the Bears, he was 5th in catches and yards, but led the team in receiving touchdowns.

This is entirely unsurprising given that rookie wide receivers rarely have huge seasons. Last offseason I looked at all 2nd-round wide receivers drafted between 2008 and 2017 and found that the average player compiled 60 targets, 34 catches, 433 yards, and 2.6 touchdowns. Miller ended up right around those averages for everything but touchdowns, which is perfectly fine.

Now I want to look a bit more closely at that sample to see what we can learn about Miller from his rookie season, and how that might project going forward.

Thresholds Hit

In that study, I found that rookies who saw at least 40 targets and caught at least half of them tended to turn out as at least solid receivers in the NFL. Good news on that front: Miller exceeded both thresholds.

And now for an obligatory reminder from that article:

It’s important to note that hitting these thresholds doesn’t magically guarantee success, and failing to hit them doesn’t guarantee failure. It’s more that most of the players who have hit those thresholds have gone on to have success, while most of the players who didn’t hit them didn’t have success.

You can look back to see the full list of players who did and did not meet the criteria. (I’m not going to re-post it here because it’s too big.) Suffice it to say Miller finds himself on a substantially better list than if he did not meet those two thresholds, giving us reasons to be optimistic he will at least be a competent WR2 or WR3 going forward.

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ATM: Bears Need More at the Tight End Position

| February 19th, 2019

It was a simple play. But the fact that the Eagles were able to pull it off was telling.

Rookie tight end Dallas Goedert easily beat PFF-favorite Adrian Amos for one of the only touchdowns in the game, a home playoff loss for the upstart Bears to the reigning champions. The play proved to be significant in the low-scoring game, but even more significantly it illuminated what the Bears are trying to do as compared to what the Eagles have already accomplished.

The beauty of what Doug Pederson and company have built in Philadelphia is they have a passing game capable of hurting teams any which way they choose. Matt Nagy’s Bears just aren’t there yet and a lack of firepower at the tight end position is a big reason why.

TE has always been an important part of the offense the Bears are running. That’s why the Eagles spent a second round pick on Goedert despite already having Zach Ertz. They knew once Trey Burton went to the Bears, they’d be in trouble without Ertz. Ironically the Bears didn’t have Burton against the Eagles and it killed their game plan.

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Breaking Down Every Single Mitch Trubisky Interception From the 2018 Season

| February 15th, 2019

In his sophomore campaign, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky saw statistical improvement across the board. He completed a higher rate of passes, threw for more yards per attempt, and was much more efficient throwing touchdowns. The one area where he regressed from his rookie campaign (statistically speaking), was throwing interceptions. He threw them on 2.8% of his passing attempts in 2018, compared to just 2.1% in 2017. If he had stuck to his 2017 rate he would have been intercepted only 9 times. He threw 12 picks.

Throwing fewer interceptions is a good goal for Trubisky in 2019, but what does he need to improve to make that happen? In order to figure that out, we need to break down the film, because not all interceptions are created equal. Sometimes it’s the quarterback’s fault, sometimes it’s on the wide receiver, and sometimes it’s hard to tell. In general, I think you can group them all into one of four categories:

  • Bad decisions. These are throws that should never be made because the receiver isn’t open and a defender has a good chance at an interception. Bears fans have seen plenty of these in the last 10 years, with balls being chucked up into double or triple coverage.
  • Bad throws. The target is open, but the pass is off target. The problem here comes not in the choice to throw but in the throw itself.
  • Miscommunications. The quarterback thinks the wide receiver is running one route, the wide receiver runs another route, and the defensive back is the beneficiary.
  • Receiver errors. The receiver is open, the pass is good, but the ball bounces off of the target’s hands and gets intercepted.

The first two are both the fault of the quarterback, though in very different ways. The third one makes it pretty much impossible for us to assign fault. The last one is the fault of the target.

As I did last year, I want to look more closely at each of Trubisky’s interceptions to see which of these categories they fall into, and then consider what we can learn from all 12 together. Special hat tip to Andrew Link of Windy City Gridiron for providing all the GIFs. If you’re a fan of the Bears, you should definitely follow Andrew on Twitter.

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Audibles: Scheduling, Coaching, Movies & Other Stuff.

| February 14th, 2019

Scheduling Notes

Two things have leaked regarding the 2019 Chicago Bears schedule: (1) Packers are rumored to open the season on Thursday night at Soldier Field. (2) Bears will be in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day…again. What do these two reports mean, if anything?

  • That’s 1/8 of the schedule not being played on Sunday. And with the Chiefs, Rams, Saints, Eagles, Giants and Cowboys on the schedule, don’t get used to that Sunday routine. This team is going to be in primetime a lot. And anybody who knows me knows I really, really, really hate it.
  • The league should stop putting games as important as Packers at Bears in Week One. They won’t but they should. What’s becoming obvious is teams are no longer considering the preseason a viable method of preparation and it seems most don’t start playing decent football until midway through October. (The Pats waited until January last season.) I’d like to see the NFL use the first four weeks of the season to play exclusively the non-conference schedule.
  • I know the league’s instincts will be Chiefs at Patriots as the Sunday night opener. But if the league were smart, they’d put the Browns in that spot. Elevate that franchise. Excite a fan base that hasn’t seen a relevant primetime game in years. (And a game as potentially important as Chiefs at Pats should be played on Thanksgiving night.)

Coaching Staff Complete

From Pat Finley in the Sun-Times:

Bears coach Matt Nagy finished up his round of hires Friday, promoting two coaches to finish up the team’s defensive staff.

Sean Desai, a Bears defensive quality control coach for the past six seasons, will serve as the team’s safeties coach. Deshea Townsend, who was hired to coach the Bears’ defensive backs last month, had his title changed to secondary coach. Bill Shuey, who spent last season as a defensive quality control coach, has been named defensive pass analyst/assistant linebackers coach.

I have absolutely nothing to add to these two paragraphs.

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ATM: Out of the Hunt. So Now What?

| February 13th, 2019

The Chicago Bears won’t be signing Kareem Hunt. The great debate ended before the offseason officially began, as the former Kansas City Chiefs running back, facing disciplinary action from the league for a history of violent behavior, signed with the Browns. Time will tell if he’s worth the trouble for Cleveland, but the Bears still need to add some explosiveness to their backfield if they hope to improve their run game.

Because while Jordan Howard is a good player, the Bears simply need more. Forget for a second his sub-4.0 yards per carry number. The Bears offense just didn’t function well with him on the field.

  • According to NFGSIS, the team averaged 4.78 yards per play in the five most frequently used lineups in which Howard was used.
  • In the five most-used lineups that didn’t include Howard, they averaged 6.8 yards per play.
  • The big difference came in the passing game, where they averaged 7 yards per pass play without Howard and 4.92 with him.

Matt Nagy seems to know it too. In the playoff game he used a formation with three wide receivers, one tight end and Cohen over Howard 21 times. Their next most-used formation was used five times, that also didn’t have Howard in it. Howard played just 22 snaps — 34% of the team’s total — against the Eagles. From a football perspective, signing Hunt would’ve been the easy move, but not one the Bears could make without knowing his availability. Now, they have to figure out something else.

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Link: What Went Wrong with Trubisky’s Deep Ball

| February 12th, 2019

By Andrew Link

Filed under the “trying something new” category comes a collaboration of personalities, strengths, styles, and even blogs. I am very excited to bring a unique cross-over between Da Bears Blog and Windy City Gridiron.

This off-season project started months ago as a few random Twitter comments sparked an interesting idea. There are tons of analytics folks out there in the NFL world, and an equal amount of film buffs. But something hit Johnathan Wood and myself at the same time: what if we used the analytics to tell the story and confirmed/de-bunked with the old “eye test?”

The result is something that we both think is pretty cool and hopefully Bears fans will enjoy this as well. I urge you to read Johnathan’s article before going any further (although I will be taking excerpts from his article in this one).

Trubisky was really good on short stuff, but struggled throwing the ball deep. This isn’t a surprise to anybody who watched the Bears this year, but it’s good to see the numbers backing up what we all observed. Stay tuned tomorrow, when Andrew Link of Windy City Gridiron will look to the film to see what went wrong to account for Trubisky’s deep struggles.

Nobody really wants to see a bunch of short throws, besides, there will be some more silver lining articles to come, so let’s focus on the deep ball. 15 yards seems to be the magic number for what constitutes a deep ball by the numbers, I am not sure I totally agree, so I mainly focused on throws over 20 yards.

Things weren’t as pretty when we look at the deep ball though, as you can see in the table below:

That’s not as good as we’d like to see. Trubisky was well below the league average in all four categories, and he even threw more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (7). Deep passes completely account for Trubisky’s uptick in interceptions as a sophomore, and improvement here would turn him from an average/above-average QB into one of the better passers in the league.

The numbers clearly show that there was something off about Trubisky’s deep ball, but there has to be a reason, right? I came up with 3 reasons why the deep ball struggled. As with many things in sports, you can make the case for different reasons on the same play. Cause and affect. Did poor mechanics cause a throw to be inaccurate? Possibly. Could a poor decision still be well thrown? Absolutely. While I had to ultimately put clips into certain categories, there are often times when you could put a play into any of the 3.

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Browns Sign Kareem Hunt

| February 12th, 2019

There were many people hoping another team would make this move, sparing the Bears faithful from the endless debate that would accompany such a signing. It happened. Hunt is now a Brown.

Were the Bears interested? Absolutely. Were they willing to make the move THIS soon, prior to an NFL ruling on Hunt’s availability for 2019? Absolutely not. The Bears have designs on winning a championship next season. They need availability. Because if 2018 proved anything, it proved the gap between the best team in the NFC and the fifth or sixth-best team is minuscule. (If the Bears make a kick in Miami, they would have been in the NFC title game this season.)

The Bears don’t have Hunt next season. But they still need A Hunt.

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Trubisky Was Good in 2018. But He Can Significantly Improve.

| February 11th, 2019

This is the first of a series of collaborations between film guru Andrew Link of Windy City Gridiron and stats guy Johnathan Wood of Da Bears Blog. We’re excited to be working together to bring fans of both sites great content by combining our approaches. 

Last year, I looked at  Mitchell Trubisky’s rookie season and found that, by the end of the year, he was statistically performing like a league average quarterback in every area except throwing touchdowns. So that was his challenge for 2018: throw more touchdowns without getting worse everywhere else.

Let’s see how he did. The table below shows Trubisky’s performance compared to NFL average in the four categories that go into passer rating.

Mission accomplished.

Trubisky got much better at throwing touchdowns, as is common for young quarterbacks looking to improve from year 1 to year 2, and stayed at or above average at completing passes and picking up yards. His interceptions took a slight uptick from right around league average to be higher than you would like, and we’ll look at that more closely later in this series.

Add it all up and Trubisky produced like an average to above average quarterback in his sophomore campaign, a significant improvement from his rookie season, when he was (statistically speaking) one of the worst QBs in the NFL.

But there is certainly still room for improvement, and to illustrate where that improvement needs to come I used the Pro Football Reference Game Play Finder to break up pass attempts into short (less than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage) and deep (15 yards or more past the line of scrimmage).

The table below shows how Trubisky performed compared to the rest of the league in short passes:

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