Best Movies of 2019….so far

Masculinity gets a beatdown in Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self-Defense, a scathing satire about the fragile and toxic variations of modern manliness. After nearly dying from an assault by helmeted motorcyclists, wimpy Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) finds empowerment at the karate dojo of Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), a martial-arts guru who helps him become that which he most fears. Stearns’ off-kilter script is defined by awkward conversations and absurd twists, and its droll approach to its material generates considerable black humor. As he becomes more devoted to the dojo, Casey is drawn deeper into a demented space marked by homoeroticism, sexism, and devious criminality. What he learns, ultimately, is that violence has the power to both transform and corrupt — a lesson that Eisenberg brings to amusingly wacko life via a performance in which Casey’s seething anger and resentment at his own powerlessness lies just beneath his placid surface, ready to erupt at a moment’s notice in a flurry of kicks and punches.24. Toy Story 4

Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of Pixar’s animated toys are back in Toy Story 4, and though their return engagement may not be wholly necessary — considering 2011’s ideal franchise-capping Toy Story 3 — it proves a charming, funny and deceptively weighty saga about independence, purpose and loyalty to both loved ones and, just as importantly, to one’s self. Now the property of kindergarten-bound Bonnie, who’s disinterested in playing with him, Woody finds meaning in life by protecting her newest plaything: Forky (Tony Hale), a makeshift weirdo crafted from trash. Their ensuing road-trip odyssey leads Woody to Bo Peep (Annie Potts), now enjoying her freedom as a “lost toy.” Director Josh Cooley and writers Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom pepper their material with the usual barrage of sharp jokes, and the voice cast — including Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as a conjoined bunny and duck — is, as always, top-notch. Plus, it has Keanu Reeves stealing every scene he’s in as Duke Caboom, the greatest Canadian motorcycle daredevil to ever grace the silver screen.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

23. The Dead Don’t Die

Jim Jarmusch crafts an undeadpan comedy of apocalyptic proportions with The Dead Don’t Die, a Night of the Living Dead riff played for bleak satire. In the “nice” town of Centerville, chief Cliff (Bill Murray) and officer Ronnie (Adam Driver) are forced to contend with a zombie outbreak caused by…well, maybe it’s the polar fracking that’s knocked the Earth off its axis, or the MAGA-type insanity peddled by local farmer Frank (Steve Buscemi), or simply good ol’ fashioned American materialism. “This isn’t going to end well,” warns Ronnie at regular intervals, which he knows because he’s read Jarmusch’s script — just one of many instances in which the film indulges in goofy self-referentiality. A stellar cast that also includes Chloë Sevigny, Larry Fessenden, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez, and Tom Waits (looking like a reject from Cats) go through their end-of-the-world motions with laid-back confusion and panic (they’re barely animated themselves). Meanwhile, Jarmusch stages scenes of gruesomeness with a shrug-ish good humor that belies this simmering-with-anger critique of a world going, perhaps deservedly, to hell.22. Fast Color

“If something’s broken, it stays broken,” intones Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) at the outset of Fast Color, which then proceeds to show that things — and people — can be mended through the power of family, love, and connection to the past. Director Julia Hart’s sophomore feature (co-written with Jordan Horowitz) is an unconventional superhero saga about Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who in a near future decimated by lack of rain, flees government agent Bill (Christopher Denham) while trying to control her extraordinary abilities, which manifest themselves as seismic seizures. Ruth’s flight takes her to her childhood home and her mom Bo and daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney), both of whom have the capacity to wield swirly-colored constructive/deconstructive energy. The volatility of youth and the vitality of kinship (with present and former relatives) serve as sturdy thematic undercurrents for this low-key genre tale. Far more subdued than its summer-blockbuster brethren, it’s a showcase for Hart’s vibrant visuals and Mbatha-Raw’s heartfelt performance as a woman finding strength not from independence but, instead, from bonds of blood.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

21. Greta

image

Focus Features

The kindness of strangers is exploited for demented purposes in Greta, Neil Jordan’s playfully bonkers thriller about the trouble that befalls young Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) after she finds a pocketbook on a New York subway and returns it to its owner, lonely Greta (Isabelle Huppert). Courtesy of that humane act, Frances –grieving the death of her beloved mom, as well as adjusting to her new Manhattan environs with the help of her wealthy roommate (Maika Monroe)—nets herself a surrogate mother figure. Their friendship, however, is eventually revealed to be predicted on a lie that turns the proceedings cockeyed. Jordan laces the film with erotic undercurrents but otherwise refuses to unduly embellish his material, instead content to keep it on steady ground even as it grows loopier. It’s Huppert who truly elevates this story about twisted maternal obsessiveness, her Greta a cunning predator who uses sophistication and solitary sorrowfulness to mask more devious desires. Sad, elegant and extremely unhinged, she’s a stalker to remember.
20. Avengers: Endgame

null

Marvel

Marvel saves the best for last—at least in terms of this phase of its sprawling cinematic universe—with Avengers: Endgame. This entry is theculmination of its decade-plus run of interconnected films, which offered not only surprising twists and electric superhero spectacle, but also routine chances for its illustrious cast to actually act. Helmed by Joe and Anthony Russo with the same juggling-multiple-strands craftsmanship they brought to their prior franchise installments, this latest saga finds Earth’s Mightiest Heroes trying to undo big bad Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) population-halving “Snapture.” To discuss plot particulars would be to spoil some of the fun, although the real enjoyment derived from this extravaganza comes from its self-referential fan-service nods, its ability to embellish every portentous moment with character-specific humor, and its satisfyingly seamless and cohesive conclusion. It’s a superior piece of tentpole cinema, thanks in large part to A-game performances from stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Mark Ruffalo.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

19. The Mountain

A hallucinatory nightmare of loneliness, alienation, and Oedipal desire, Rick Alverson’s The Mountain boasts shades of Stanley Kubrick and Yorgos Lanthimos even as it carves out its own peculiar, penetrating identity. Set free from the company of his remote skating-instructor father (Udo Kier), miserable Andy (Tye Sheridan) — desperate to reconnect with his institutionalized mother — sets out on a trip with Dr. Wallace Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum), who wants Andy to photograph the psychiatric patients he treats with his unique electroshock-and-lobotomy procedures. Set during the 1950s, theirs is an expedition marked by disintegration and yearning for escape and deliverance, and it ultimately leads to the home of a French healer (Denis Levant) who wants Fiennes to perform his technique on his daughter Susan (Hannah Gross), with whom Andy develops a connected-by-disconnection relationship. Aided by unnervingly stoic, expressive turns from his leads, Alverson dramatizes this off-kilter madness via painterly compositions of figures trapped in cramped, confining architectural spaces, set to ominous audio tones and blowing wind. In this surrealist landscape, humor and horror are almost indistinguishable, epitomized by Levant’s unforgettable dance of the deranged.18. Plus One

Weddings can be a torturous drag for singles, so longtime friends Alice (Maya Erskine) and Ben (Jack Quaid) decide to spend their overbooked nuptials season tag-teaming events as platonic dates. Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer’s romantic comedy is, per formula, bound to have its seemingly opposite protagonists discover their attraction for one another, yet predictability is of no concern when the amorous action is as consistently funny and charming as it is in this jaunty indie. Be it stumbling their way through one ceremony and party after another, or embarking on their own unlikely relationship while dealing with their troublesome parents, Alice and Ben prove to be exceptional company. She uses booze and a sharp tongue to cope with her loneliness, and he clings to high standards as a way to avoid commitment and stave off potential abandonment. Erskine in particular is a revelation—a charismatically uninhibited riot, she seems destined for Hollywood’s A-list.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

17. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

John Wick dispatches adversaries in a frantic knife-throwing fight, on horseback through the streets of New York City, and with a library book (!) in Chad Stahelski’s latest go-round—and that all happens in the first 20 minutes. No franchise delivers more crazily choreographed violence than John Wick, in which savagery is carried out with both concussive force and dancer-like grace. In Parabellum, Wick teams up with Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, and Halle Berry (and her two crotch-fixated German shepherds) in order to stave off death at the hands of the world’s assassins, all of whom seek a bounty on his head. Improving on Chapter 2, director Stahelski stages his set pieces as exercises in vicious physicality. Through it all, Keanu Reeves strikes a dashing pose as the increasingly harried (and bloodied) Wick, his trademark designer suits and walk-softly-and-carry-a-big-gun demeanor once again employed to expert effect in a series that continues, like Reeves himself, to improve with age.16. High Life

image

A24

Fertility and desolation, creation and destruction, isolation and togetherness all intermingle in hypnotic fashion in High Life, Claire Denis’ entrancing sci-fi reverie. Indebted, spiritually if not narratively, to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Denis’ story concerns a space ship on which a doctor (Juliette Binoche) attempts to successfully conceive children through experiments with convicts as they all hurtle toward a black hole whose energy they seek to harness. One of these passengers is Monte (Robert Pattinson), who’s introduced caring for an infant, alone, in what’s soon exposed as a flash-forward. Barren spaces abound, and the French auteur infuses her material with a sense of ominous hollowness, born from longings—for purpose, conception, and reinvention—that remain unfulfilled. No clear-cut answers await those who make it to the end of this mesmerizing journey, only a mood of enigmatic ennui, bursts of sexualized violence and hunger (the latter coming via Binoche’s unforgettable visit to a room known as the “f–k box”), a superbly cagey Pattinson turn, and a finale of cautious optimism.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

15. Birds of Passage

Capitalist modernity, taking the form of the marijuana trade, corrupts a local Colombian culture in Birds of Passage, an ethnographically rich crime drama from Embrace of the Serpent director Ciro Guerra. Split into five sections spanning 1960-1980, and set in the country’s northern La Guajira region, Guerra’s film (co-directed by his wife and producing partner Cristina Gallego) details the disintegration of a Wayuu community thanks to enterprising Rapayet (José Acosta), who marries the daughter of terrifying matriarch Ursula (Carmiña Martinez) and transforms everyone’s fortunes by smuggling weed procured from relatives. The tension between tradition and progress is almost as taught as that between mercy and brutality, as the clan’s rise to drug-running prominence comes at a catastrophic cost. Interjecting their verité tale with doses of hypnotic dreaminess, Guerra and Gallego capture the insidious ways that greed spreads like a poison, cutting people off from their heritage, their morality, and ultimately, from their loved ones and themselves.14. Ash Is Purest White

image

Cohen Media Group

Love is fractured and the past is torn asunder in Ash is Purest White, another remarkable saga from Chinese auteur Jia Zhang-ke about individuals trying to plot a course through a rapidly developing nation. Employing expansive and boxy aspect ratios to denote different time periods, and embellishing his action with pop songs (including the theme from John Woo’s “The Killer”), Jia dramatizes the romance between gangster Bin (Liao Fan) and girlfriend Qiao (Jia’s wife and favorite leading lady, Zhao Tao). This abruptly ends after the latter is imprisoned for using a firearm to save her beau during an attack. Upon release, Qiao strives to acclimate herself to a modernizing world that doesn’t care about the collateral damage left in progress’ wake. From young upstarts looking to take Bin’s position, to work along the Three Gorges (which will ultimately submerge towns), change is afoot. Divided into three sections, it’s an epic vision of sacrifice and tenacity in a tumultuous age, led by Zhao’s commanding performance as a woman whose cunning resourcefulness is matched by her devotion.
ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

13. Her Smell

image

Donald Stahl

Elisabeth Moss gets her riot-grrrl on in Her Smell, delivering a tour-de-force performance of rampant egomania and self-destruction that galvanizes Alex Ross Perry’s film. A mid-‘90s Courtney Love-type who resides in the center of a tornado of her own making, Moss’ Becky Something leaves only chaos in her wake, much to the chagrin of her bandmates (Agyness Deyn and Gayle Rankin), ex (Dan Stevens), young daughter (Daisy Pugh-Weiss), mother (Virginia Madsen), collaborators/rivals (including Amber Heard and Cara Delevingne), and heroically loyal manager (Eric Stoltz). Split into five chapters that are interlaced with flashback home videos of happier early times, Perry’s tale traces Becky’s journey from apocalyptic drugged-out collapse to cautious resurrection. Throughout, his handheld camera is exactingly attuned to his protagonist’s scattershot headspace. There’s a vicarious thrill to watching this rocker spiral into the abyss and pull herself back out. While Moss doesn’t hold back in depicting Becky’s ugliness, she taps into the underlying hurt and vulnerability fueling her firestorm heart, peaking with a heart-rending single-take piano rendition of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven.”12. Shadow

image

Well Go USA

As evidenced by Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Zhang Yimou is no stranger to dazzling martial-arts action. Still, Shadow is an aesthetic wonder, drenched in ash-gray hues and wielding serpentine cinematography to enhance its tale. The film follows a military commander’s “shadow” (Deng Chao)—i.e. double—who, when not falling in love with his superior’s wife (Sun Li), attempts to incite a war with a rival kingdom against the wishes of his self-serving king (Zheng Kai). Epitomized by the yin-yang symbol on which many battles are fought, dualities (masculine and feminine, light and dark, real and imitation, mortal and ghostly) are rampant throughout. Romance and court intrigue are also part of this stunning package, yet far more exhilarating than the stock story is the director’s precisely choreographed wuxiacombat, highlighted by Zhang’s signature slow-mo shot—in which his camera trails behind a running fighter’s blade as it scrapes against the ground, casting water skyward—and often carried out with the most badass umbrellas ever committed to film.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

11. Diane

image

IFC Films

Diane (Mary Kay Place) is always looking out for others, be they her good friends, her older relatives, or her son Brian (Jake Lacy), who can’t get his drug habit under control. Kent Jones’ Diane is a character study of this solitary Massachusetts woman, filled with telling details and sharply observed moments that speak to her Christian altruism, her tough love, and the secrets that continue to torment (and, perhaps, drive) her. Revelation, resurrection, abandonment, and mourning all factor into her haunting story. In his debut, the critic-turned-writer/director cuts efficiently. No gesture or expression is wasted, and yet he also tends to linger—on a notepad’s to-do list, or a face trying to hide the reality behind a recent utterance—in order to evoke greater unspoken truths. Buoyed by a script attuned to the sorrowful rhythms of older age (and New England), Jones’ film rests on the shoulders of Place’s stellar, lived-in performance as Diane, a fallible woman whose selflessness is colored by anger and regret.
10. Long Day’s Journey Into Night

image

Kino Lorber

Kaili Blues director Bi Gan concludes his sophomore feature with a 56-minute single-take sequence shot in 3D, his camera trailing alongside (and above, and behind) his protagonist, Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue), as he navigates a rural dreamscape that he’s travelled to while sitting in a movie theater. The past, memories, and the cinema are inextricably intertwined in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The story—about Luo’s return to his Kaili hometown, where he remembers an old comrade and looks for former love Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei)—comingles today and yesterday in poignant fashion. Motifs involving broken timepieces, dripping water, starry skies, flight and fire all pepper Gan’s latest, which is bookended by telling images of rotating colored ceiling lights and a room spinning around blissful lovers. As beguiling as it is gorgeous, his oblique film charts Luo’s experience in a world at once real and imagined, along the way spying him in, and through, numerous mirrors and glass filters until he resembles a displaced ghost in search of home.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

9. Apollo 11

image

NEON

The term “awe-inspiring” may be overused in critical circles, but it roundly applies to Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11, a definitive documentary about the United States’ first trip to the moon. Premiering on the 50th anniversary of that momentous event, it utilizes a treasure trove of recently discovered 65mm footage and audio recordings to offer an up-close-and-personal view of the preparations for launch, the men and women toiling behind the scenes to ensure its safety, the crowds gathering to witness history, and the outer-space flight itself, shot by cameras accompanying (and sometimes manned by) Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. That imagery boasts breathtaking scale, conveying the literal and figurative enormity of everything involved with the Apollo 11—making it ideally suited for IMAX. Nonetheless, in any format, Miller’s curatorial effort is a work of thrilling enormity, presenting this pioneering triumph as the byproduct of myriad individuals, immense ingenuity, and the colossal bravery of three men who dared to venture to the stars.
8. The Souvenir

Young love is a vehicle for self-definition in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, the writer/director’s finely calibrated coming-of-of age drama. Aspiring London filmmaker Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) falls for older, cultured Anthony (Tom Burke), who has a habit of making every compliment sound self-serving. Hogg depicts their affair with little concern for superfluous in-between stuff, cutting pointedly to the couple’s most crucial incidents together, and in the process she strikes an assured balance between realism and impressionism. A semi-clandestine drug habit eventually becomes a complicating factor for the duo, but the real heart of this enthralling film is Julie herself, whose interior state is brought to vivid life by the director’s intimate, aesthetically diverse approach. Awash in talk about movies and moviemaking, Hogg’s feature is elevated by Byrne’s star-making turn as a young woman caught between genuine love, her recognition that her relationship is perhaps doomed to fail, and her desire to find her voice—personally and artistically—on her own.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

7. An Elephant Sitting Still

image

Kim Stim

Tragedy comes from rejection, resentment, alienation, rage, and sorrow in An Elephant Sitting Still, an intimate epic about Chinese citizens who view themselves as powerless and worthless. The outstanding debut feature from Hu Bo (who died shortly after production was completed) concerns a collection of individuals whose lives intersect during the course of a single day. This includes Wei Bu (Peng Yuchang), an angry high-school student who accidentally commits a catastrophic crime; Yu Cheng (Zhang Yu), the guilt-stricken gangster brother of Wei Bu’s victim; Huang Ling (Wang Yuwen), a classmate of Wei Bu’s who’s involved with her vice dean; and Wang Jin (Liu Congxi), a grandfather being coerced by his son and daughter-in-law to move into a nursing home. Hu shoots each protracted scene in long, unbroken takes, habitually foregrounding his subjects in shallow focus while staging key action in the fuzzy background. At nearly four hours, the film imparts an overpowering sense of its characters’ despair, and the misfortune that befalls them whether they remain alone or try to engage with others—a despondency only amplified by its empathy.6. Gloria Bell

Growing old isn’t easy for Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore), the single heroine of Sebastián Lelio’s outstanding English-language remake of his 2013 Chilean drama. Between friends being laid off, concerns about retirement, and adult children navigating their own fraught romantic paths, Gloria makes her way through middle age with a brave face, finding temporary solace on the dance floor and, for a time, in the arms of Arnold (a magnificent John Turturro), a recent divorcé struggling to break free from his ex-wife and two needy daughters. With a light touch that allows for instances of escapist lyricism (none better than recurring shots of Gloria spinning amidst swirling colors), Lelio fashions a tender, incisive, heartbreaking ode to the myriad complications of adulthood, where efforts to move forward are burdened by regrets, entanglements, and longing for connection. Led by a tour-de-force turn by Moore, whose expressive work is some of her finest to date, it’s a small-scale story marked by a profound understanding of life as it’s actually lived, and felt.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

5. Hagazussa

image

Doppelganger Releasing

Dark, demonic power courses through Hagazussa, a legitimately evil folk story of inheritance, corruption, and damnation. In the Austrian Alps circa the 15th century, young Albrun (Celina Peter) tends to her mother (Claudia Martini), a supposed witch, in their remote log cabin. Years later, adult Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) cares for her infant daughter in that same abode, whose only visitor is Swinda (Tanja Petrovsky), a neighbor who, like the local priest, seems concerned with saving ostracized Abrun’s soul. Light on dialogue but heavy on black-magic mystery, writer/director Lukas Feigelfeld’s fable casts its spell via slow-burn plotting and malevolent imagery, culminating with a kaleidoscopic underwater visual orgy of blood, roots, bone, tendrils, and mutating shapes. Like the mist that covers the mountainous region’s treetops, suggestions of profane forces are everywhere—in the sight of Albrun milking her goat, or a shrine for a skull—and they burrow under one’s skin, much like the unholy whispering and thunderous bass heard on a soundtrack that heralds madness, doom, the end.4. The Beach Bum

image

NEON

Matthew McConaughey is the king of bongo-drumming laissez-faire cool, and in The Beach Bumhe assumes the role he was born to play. That would be Moondog, a South Florida “bottom feeder” who, having set aside his once-illustrious poetry career, is now content to coast through his beachside town’s many imbibing establishments. He’s looking for his next toke, drink, and beautiful woman to bed. Writer/director Harmony Korine’s shaggy-dog saga follows the bedraggled Moondog from one absurd adventure to the next (with, among others, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence, and Jonah Hill), channeling both his gift for taking life as it comes, and his ability to derive sensualist pleasure from each new encounter. With long hair and a fanny pack permanently affixed around his waist, McConaughey is a magisterial stoner hedonist, and if his rollicking escapades aren’t enough to deliver a potent contact high, Korine and cinematographer Benoît Debie’s rapturously colorful portrait of Florida’s posh and downtrodden landscapes more than do the delirious trick.
ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW3. Climax

image

A24

Gaspar Noé’s cinema routinely traces the line from harmony to chaos, and that’s once again true in Climax, the inspired-by-real-events tale of a dance party descending into hellish madness. Beginning, portentously, with interviews seen on a television set surrounded by the director’s favorite VHS horror films, the French auteur’s latest is arguably his least provocative to date. Regardless, it’s still an escalating nightmare scored to thumping electronica and populated by a raft of potential monsters. Even during its more serene early scenes, his characters’ choreographed numbers exhibit a frightening intensity, and once these artists unwittingly drink some LSD-spiked punch, their emotional equilibrium and interpersonal relationships spiral terrifyingly out of control. Often executed in long single takes, Noé’s swirling, floating, slithering camerawork is as dexterous as his physically agile subjects. The result is an aesthetic performance piece that feels like the psychosexual underworld dance freak-out that Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria wanted to be, replete with a finale that takes up residence in some hallucinatory ninth circle of Hell.
2. Under the Silver Lake

image

A24

There are codes within codes within codes in Under the Silver Lake, David Robert Mitchell’s deliriously shambolic neo-noir about stoner sleuth Sam (Andrew Garfield, never better) traversing a Lynch-ian L.A. landscape in search of a mysterious missing beauty (Riley Keough). Also channeling the spirit of Robert Altman, Brian De Palma, Alfred Hitchcock, and Hollywood golden-age classics (set to a Henry Mancini-esque score), Sam’s cine-odyssey is a quest for meaning in an overstuffed pop-culture world. Movies and myths collide, both mirthfully and mournful, as Sam strives to uncover the knotty conspiracy-theory connections linking everything and everyone. From Super Mario Bros.,new-age cultists, pirates and bomb-shelter tombs, to masturbatory porn patterns, dog killers, comic books (Spider-Man, wink wink) and song lyrics scribbled on pizza boxes, secret world-governing ciphers are ubiquitous. Mitchell reveals them through an adventure that’s witty, aesthetically dexterous, and laced with dark disillusionment about the puppetmaster powers-that-be and their covert machinations. Reconfiguring noir’s fatalistic heart for our tangled modern condition, it’s a portrait of the surreal new bleakness, with everything part of a grander whole that offers no substance or solace—leaving only that eternal desire for truth, and togetherness.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

1. Transit

image

Music Box Films

In a Europe that simultaneously resembles today and 1940, German expat Georg (Franz Rogowski) endeavors to escape Paris before the arrival of encroaching Nazi-esque fascists. Arriving in Marseilles, he befriends the African son (Lilien Batman) and wife (Maryam Zaree) of a former comrade. Through circumstance, he also assumes the guise of famous writer Weidel, whose possessions he acquires and whose documentation permitting travel to Mexico await him at the port city’s embassy. So too does Weidel’s wife Marie (Paula Beer), who repeatedly mistakes Georg for her husband, and who longs for reunion even as she continues an affair with a man (Godehard Giese) whose obsessive amour prevents him from departing. Borders to cross and barriers impeding passage are omnipresent in Transit, which like so much of writer/director Christian Petzold’s transition-fixated oeuvre, is a forlorn romantic reverie about identity, regret, trauma, and rebirth. Moreover, it’s another of his masterworks to confront issues of personal and national consciousness through a distinct cine-filter, with Casablanca and The Passengerproving two of its many spiritual touchstones. It’s an entrancing and inherently mysterious ghost story that’s both timeless and, sadly, of our particular moment.

Amy Poehler Shines at the 2019 Women In Film Annual Gala

Last week, some of the most luminous stars in cinema, both in front and behind the camera, came out to shine as Women In Film, Los Angeles (WIF, LA) celebrated exceptional women in the entertainment industry at the 2019 Women In Film Annual Gala.

The Women In Film Annual Gala honored film entrepreneurs working in the cinematic arts. The event brought attention and recognition and celebrated the potential and performance of women crafting skilled work in the film world. The 2019 Gala cast a bright spotlight as Natasha Lyonne presented The Women In Film Entrepreneur in Entertainment Award to noted actor/director Amy Poehler.

Other creatives who were honored included Cathy Schulman, who was acknowledged with The Crystal Award for Advocacy in Entertainment. Shulman’s award was presented by actor/activist Viola Davis. Maria Giulia Maramotti presented The Women In Film Max Mara Face of the Future Award to Elizabeth Debicki. And Stephanie Allain introduced the irrepressible Issa Rae with The Women In Film Emerging Entrepreneur Award.

The Stars Come Out
Among the cinematic VIPs who came out for the Gala were performer Charlie Barnett, famous for her work in “Orange is the New Black,” “Russian Doll,” and “You,” WIF, LA Board President Amy Baer, and powerhouse creative Cindy Chupack, director and writer of “Otherhood.”

The WIF Members’ Choice Awards
The sisterhood was strong at the Gala, and the criteria for winning the WIF, LA Members’ Choice Awards focused on female directors who created fantastic narrative feature films that hit the big screen in the US in 2018. Lake Bell, who presented the awards to the winners, got to call on talents and laud works like “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” by Marielle Heller, “Leave No Trace” by Debra Granik, “On The Basis Of Sex” by Mimi Leder, “Dumplin’” by Anne Fletcher, and “The Rider” by Chloé Zhao.

ReFrame for Film
ReFrame, a creative collaborative for cinema under the auspices of WIF, LA and Sundance Institute announced the first class of ReFrame Rise directors and Kyra Sedgwick proudly played the host to the directors who had been selected. The honors went to directors Akhavan, al-Mansour, Cardoso, Culpepper, Freeland, Fuentes, Mabry, and Menon. Sedgwick, a triple-threat as a performer/director/producer noted in her speech that in her experience as an actor and director, she understood and empathized with the necessity of support within the profession. She also noted the need to present fresh vantage points in all areas of the film arts and how cinema was made stronger by hearing from a diverse range of voices to craft stories that resonate with audiences.

ReFrame Rise is providing sponsorship that supports opportunities, recognition, and visibility for female film entrepreneurs. The program is intended to help film artists take on an array of positions, including studio honchos, directors, and producers who create content for feature films and television programs. ReFrame and Hulu announced their plans for a 3-year commitment to foster talent and to create innovative new content.

What Investors Should Know About The Walt Disney Company’s Financial Strength

What Investors Should Know About The Walt Disney Company's Financial Strength
What Investors Should Know About The Walt Disney Company’s Financial Strength

Want to participate in a short research study? Help shape the future of investing tools and you could win a $250 gift card!

The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS), a large-cap worth US$252b, comes to mind for investors seeking a strong and reliable stock investment. Market participants who are conscious of risk tend to search for large firms, attracted by the prospect of varied revenue sources and strong returns on capital. But, its financial health remains the key to continued success. This article will examine Walt Disney’s financial liquidity and debt levels to get an idea of whether the company can deal with cyclical downturns and maintain funds to accommodate strategic spending for future growth. Remember this is a very top-level look that focuses exclusively on financial health, so I recommend a deeper analysis into DIS here.

Does DIS Produce Much Cash Relative To Its Debt?

Over the past year, DIS has ramped up its debt from US$25b to US$57b – this includes long-term debt. With this increase in debt, DIS’s cash and short-term investments stands at US$10b to keep the business going. Moreover, DIS has generated US$14b in operating cash flow during the same period of time, leading to an operating cash to total debt ratio of 24%, meaning that DIS’s debt is appropriately covered by operating cash.

Does DIS’s liquid assets cover its short-term commitments?

Looking at DIS’s US$44b in current liabilities, it seems that the business may not have an easy time meeting these commitments with a current assets level of US$34b, leading to a current ratio of 0.77x. The current ratio is the number you get when you divide current assets by current liabilities.

Does DIS face the risk of succumbing to its debt-load?

With a debt-to-equity ratio of 54%, DIS can be considered as an above-average leveraged company. This is common amongst large-cap companies because debt can often be a less expensive alternative to equity due to tax deductibility of interest payments. Since large-caps are seen as safer than their smaller constituents, they tend to enjoy lower cost of capital. We can assess the sustainability of DIS’s debt levels to the test by looking at how well interest payments are covered by earnings. Net interest should be covered by earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by at least three times to be safe. For DIS, the ratio of 25.05x suggests that interest is comfortably covered. It is considered a responsible and reassuring practice to maintain high interest coverage, which makes DIS and other large-cap investments thought to be safe.

Next Steps:

DIS’s cash flow coverage indicates it could improve its operating efficiency in order to meet demand for debt repayments should unforeseen events arise. Furthermore, its lack of liquidity raises questions over current asset management practices for the large-cap. I admit this is a fairly basic analysis for DIS’s financial health. Other important fundamentals need to be considered alongside. You should continue to research Walt Disney to get a better picture of the stock by looking at:

  • Future Outlook: What are well-informed industry analysts predicting for DIS’s future growth? Take a look at our free research report of analyst consensus for DIS’s outlook.
  • Valuation: What is DIS worth today? Is the stock undervalued, even when its growth outlook is factored into its intrinsic value? The intrinsic value infographic in our free research report helps visualize whether DIS is currently mispriced by the market.
  • Other High-Performing Stocks: Are there other stocks that provide better prospects with proven track records? Explore our free list of these great stocks here

Most Popular Books of 2019

Most Popular Books of 2019
Most Popular Books of 2019

Even if you’re living the perfect life, in the perfect location, there’s just something about summer that makes you long to experience new things. The best books of beach season all have that in common: a desire to escape place, time, or circumstance. We read the most highly awaited releases, both fiction and non-, and picked our preferences.

My Lovely Wife

By Samantha Downing

Central Escape: Instead of couples therapy, what if you kept your marriage alive by murdering young women?

Summary: A suburban couple’s proclivity for violence spirals out of control when the discovery of a victim’s body generates intense public interest, requiring an elaborate cover-up.

Best Line: “Millicent killed Robin the same way I had killed Holly. No hesitation. All instinct. And it was sexy.”

The Vagabonds

By Jeff Guinn

Central Escape: Hit the road with best friends Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone at the dawn of the automotive era.

Summary: Nearly every year from 1914 to 1924, the three titans of American industry took a highly publicized road trip to promote “the possibilities of car travel.” It happened to be a pivotal decade that transformed the world.

Best Line: “It seemed a foolproof plan. And then, on August 2, President Warren G. Harding died.”

I’ll Never Tell

By Catherine McKenzie

Central Escape: Imagine how different your life would be if your parents ran a summer camp.

Summary: The five MacAllister siblings reunite at the family’s camp in rural Canada after the death of their parents. Their father’s will stipulates that four of them must determine if older brother Ryan killed camper Amanda Holmes 20 years ago.

Best Line: “Her father had been spying on them. All of them. For twenty years.”

Working

By Robert A. Caro

Central Escape: Put yourself in the shoes of America’s most recognized biographer.

Summary: The Power Broker author Robert A. Caro became a successful nonfiction writer in the U.S. through a journalistic approach to truth (“Can it be verified?”) and novel-worthy prose. His new book provides a peek into how he manages it all: hard work and a brilliant wife.

Best Line: “Interviews: Silence is the weapon, silence and people’s need to fill it—as long as the person isn’t you, the interviewer.”

Furious Hours

By Casey Cep

Central Escape: After working with Truman Capote on In Cold Blood, Harper Lee decamps back south to report her own crime novel.

Summary: An Alabama reverend, accused of murdering a growing list of family members for insurance money, is shot dead at the funeral of one of them. The trial of his killer captures the attention of the state’s most famous author.

Best Line: “A murdered person’s name always becomes synonymous with her murder; a murdered person’s death always threatens to eclipse her life.”

Three Women

By Lisa Taddeo

Central Escape: Take your pick of perspectives: an unloved housewife, a student in love with her teacher, or a restaurateur with a voyeuristic husband.

Summary: Lisa Taddeo tracked three women and conducted thousands of hours of interviews with them to understand, and portray, the nuances of female desire.

Best Line: “She wipes her eyes and walks out and passes the rest of her senior year like a kidney stone.”

The Golden Hour

By Beatriz Williams

Central Escape: A society reporter heads to Nassau in 1941 to cover the infamous Duke and Duchess of Windsor and their colorful coterie.

Summary: A shocking death under the Caribbean sun. A cover-up with a whiff of royal privilege. Williams mixes those ingredients with spies, swindles, love affairs—plus a dash of racial animosity—and the result is a zesty romantic cocktail.

Best Line: “Murder. It’s one of those words, isn’t it, that sounds as dreadful as the deed itself.”

City of Girls

By Elizabeth Gilbert

Central Escape: For a naive 19-year-old girl, nothing could be more alien than dizzy, post-Prohibition New York.

Summary: At 89, Vivian Morris takes a rollicking look back on her days as a promiscuous girl working with a cast of flamboyant characters at her aunt’s theater in the 1940s.

Best Line: “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.”

Honestly, We Meant Well

By Grant Ginder

Central Escape: A remote, run-down island is lovely for a vacation but maybe not where you want to live the rest of your life.

Summary: The Wright household needs to flee—their lives, their mistakes, and each other. Still, a hilariously misguided visit to certain overlooked ruins in Greece ends up unearthing more than just ancient history.

Best Line: “A mistake is mismatched socks or taking the Bay Bridge at rush hour. You didn’t make a mistake this time, Dad. You made a baby

Acting Tricks to Help You Stop Playing the Stooge

Acting Tricks to Help You Stop Playing the Stooge
Acting Tricks to Help You Stop Playing the Stooge

Are you one of those people who values cooperativeness over-assertiveness? Would you rather back down in a confrontation, doing anything to avoid seeming too bossy? Are you constantly afraid that others won’t like you unless you give in to them?

Possibly you have your favorite seat on your regular commuter train or space on the floor to stand during a kickboxing class. To make sure you get this spot, you arrive early enough to occupy it. Some latecomer arrives and insists on pushing you out of the way. To avoid seeming rude, you feel like you have no choice but to accommodate that other person’s demands. You might not even have a regular spot that you claim as your own, but instead may be stuck waiting in a very long line at a checkout counter. Just as you’re about to move to the head of the line, someone comes racing in and, without even asking, stands right in front of you. Not to the side, but right in front. Your cooperative nature surfaces, and before you can question this person’s right to shove you around, you’ve got to wait that much longer for your turn.

People who assert themselves over others, despite what’s “right,” perhaps rarely have insight into their own behavior. They continue to be rewarded for their pushiness, because there are enough people like you who find this behavior difficult to confront. Although your niceness can win you all kinds of praise and regard from those you interact with, aren’t there times when you’d like to be the one to have your way?

A new study based on the voice patterns that professional actors use to portray certain types of characters may be just what you need to help express, and satisfy, your needs in these situations. McMaster University’s (Hamilton, Ontario) Matthew Berry and Steven Brown (2019) investigated the vocal tones that actors use to convey assertiveness as part of their character depictions. As the authors note, to get into their roles, actors can take on the personalities and identities of their characters either through “method” acting, in which they literally become the character or by altering their outward appearance to make it seem as if they are what the audience expects from a given role. Even if they do try to slip inside the character’s identity, they have to make some changes in their speech, mannerisms, and ways of interacting with the other players to convey the particular persona the role requires.

Think about Meryl Streep in her iconic role in The Devil Wears Prada, where she is anything but a pushover as a fashion magazine editor, and her completely contrasting role as a meek and humble mother-in-law in the latest season of Big Little Lies. Whether or not she herself feels she has become the person she’s portraying, her outward mannerisms from the Prada Streep are barely recognizable. Berry and Brown believe that all acting roles fall into one of nine types based on whether they are high, medium, or low on the two dimensions of assertiveness and cooperativeness. Knowing how actors navigate these spots on the matrix could help you move from the cooperative to the assertive side on those occasions when you worry about being a pushover.

The nine character types with their associated dimensions are as follows:

Bully: High assertiveness, low cooperativeness

King/Queen: High assertiveness, medium cooperativeness

Hero(ine): High assertiveness, high cooperativeness article continues after advertisement

Cynic: Medium assertiveness, low cooperativeness

Self-portrayal (for actors portraying themselves): Medium assertiveness, medium cooperativeness

Librarian: Medium assertiveness, high cooperativeness

Recluse: Low assertiveness, low cooperativeness

Loner: Low assertiveness, medium cooperativeness

Lover: Low assertiveness, high cooperativeness

If you’re the “lover type” (romantic or otherwise), then you want to seem as “lovable” as possible. To move up the assertiveness hierarchy, you could stay cooperative by progressing slightly up to the hero type, if you still want people to like you. Becoming a bully would most likely not feel very comfortable, so perhaps you could take on some of the features of a king or queen.

Berry and Brown presented 24 actors with the nine character types (14 men, ranging from 20 to 63 years of age). Rather than give the players scripts with already established characters, the Canadian researchers gave their actors the category names, as above, along with a monologue script consisting of seven neutral sentences, organized around a narrative of representing objects in a room. The authors then analyzed audio and video recordings of the performances to learn primarily how the actors used their voices to portray the nine types of roles. Recording the actors in an ordinary conversation also allowed Berry and Brown to obtain a control baseline.

Imagine hearing what some of those characters would sound like to you. According to Brown and Berry, the most important qualities are pitch (high or low), loudness, timbre (wavering or solid), speed (rapid or slow), and continuity (taking pauses or speaking without a break). Comparing the speech ratings of the actors, the authors found reliable differences according to the assertiveness dimension, but only scattered results with respect to cooperativeness. Apparently, it is more difficult for the actors to distinguish themselves as loners vs. lovers than loners vs. cynics.

What ways of speaking led actors to seem more assertive? The study team’s findings can be summed up with these six acting tricks:

  1. Up pitched—Use a higher-toned voice without going up into falsetto tones.
  2. Loud—Speak up, as a quiet voice conveys low assertiveness.
  3. Clear—Use clear tones in your speech without wavering.
  4. Swift—Speak quickly to show you know what you want to say.
  5. No gaps—Leave out the “ums” and other signs of hesitation.
  6. Add Variety—Allow your voice to go up and down in tone, loudness, and rapidity to show that you are in control of what you want to say.

Practice these tricks yourself now by trying to portray the role of your favorite hero, or perhaps, your beloved bully. How has your voice changed from the way you normally speak? Hold onto this the next time you are faced with a potential pushover-like situation.article continues after advertisement

One other interesting result from the study involved the performance persona that the actors used when portraying themselves. Berry and Brown regard some aspects of the tonal qualities of this type of speech as similar to infant-directed communication (“motherese”), which, in their words “is the characteristic situation of caregiver-infant interaction, but is also the discursive arrangement of a seminar speaker, a tour guide, the narrator of a story, and many other situations where one speaker plays a dominant role in an interaction with attentive, but typically silent, recipients” (p. 15). If you’ve had to read a speech to your audiences, instead of talking without notes, you’ve probably adopted this tone of voice as well. Teaching versus conversing, therefore, carries distinct qualities all its own.

To sum up, it appears that, whether or not you feel more assertive, you can fool your listeners into thinking that you are just by virtue of the way you speak. Rather than needing weeks of assertiveness training to be better at getting your way, the Brown and Berry study hints that using your voice can help you accomplish the same goals.

Five Acting Techniques To Help You Quickly Get Into Character

Five Acting Techniques To Help You Quickly Get Into Character

Five Acting Techniques To Help You Quickly Get Into Character

If you’ve ever gotten to meet a truly great actor just after they have performed a role on stage, you might have been shocked by just how different they are face to face.

Of course, we all know that the character on the stage or in the film isn’t the same as the person playing him or her. However, to see and hear that actor up close, to witness their transformation in that context can still be a bit unexpected.

So how do they do it? As actors we all have those friends and colleagues who seem to effortlessly slip into character just before a performance or an audition–what’s their secret? Here are a few procedures that can help ease your way into getting into character more smoothly and quickly.

1. Inside Out

The truth is the real secret to great acting is hard work. As much as we lionize and admire masterful actors like Daniel Day Lewis and Meryl Streep for their seemingly effortless gift for playing characters, the truth is that all the greats are incredibly hard workers. Sure, there is such a thing as inborn talent. But without hard work that talent would wither and die. So the first step to playing a character is to know who you are. Research, research, research. You should know the piece backward and forward, the era, the time of year, time of day, etc. You should also know where you are coming from. As Michael Shurtleff, author of the seminal actor’s handbook “Audition” says, “Every scene you will ever act begins in the middle, and it is up to you, the actor, to provide what comes before.” And this applies not just to the literal moments leading up to the scene you’re about to play–you also have to know your character as you know yourself. What made them who they are today? What kind of childhood did they have? Imagine some experiences that may have shaped them as you yourself have been shaped. The more you can take the time to do this kind of background work and internalize this sort of research, the easier it will be to slip into the skin of your character when the moment comes.

2. Outside In

So that takes care of the internal part of the character. Now for the external. You may hear some actors refer to themselves as “inside-out” actors, or “outside-in” actors. This usually refers to whether they approach the creation of the character from the internal, mental and emotional base, or if they approach it from the externalities, like a limp or other physical mannerisms, or a costume or wig or something like that. It’s important to building a genuine character to use both internals and externals, but once you’ve locked in a solid way of physically being with the character, it becomes much easier to slip into it. Just to look at one example: is your character shy? Or bold? Think about how that will affect the set of his or her shoulders, the way they walk, the way make and hold eye contact, etc. As you’re learning the lines, get up and move around. How do the words you’re saying make you feel, in a physical sense? Every real actual human being in the world is made up of layer upon layer of psychological, emotional, and mental baggage that informs how we move and speak–in order to play a genuine character you need to build up a simulacrum of that. It sounds silly, but it’s amazing how easy it is to “put on” a character once you’ve established a physical shell for him or her to reside in.

3. Where Are You Going

That gets us to the present, how the character became who and what they are, and what forces shaped them, both mentally and physically. Now it’s time to focus on what is to come for the character. What do you want as the character? What is your objective in the scene and in the overall piece? This is obviously Acting 101-level stuff that we all know and will have worked on by now. But it’s vital that you take a little extra care here, in order to get yourself in a state where you are truly inhabiting the character. Too many of us go into an audition thinking about what we wore (Is it right? Is it wrong? Is it too much? Too little?) worrying about forgetting lines, thinking about what the casting director might be looking for, (Am I too fat/thin/old/young?). Or perhaps we’re simply dreaming about what we’re going to do with all that filthy lucre once we land the gig. In other words, our minds are in million pieces and in a million places that have nothing to do the character we’re supposed to be playing. So as backwards as it may sound, just before stepping into the audition room or into the scene, stop thinking about the lines for a moment and instead really focus on what you want as the character. What are you trying to make happen? As humans we’re all driven by our desires, both hidden and apparent. In order to play a genuine character, you must let those desires come to the fore.

4. Focus

As discussed, so much of what we see as great, natural ease with acting is really the result of hard work. That holds true for getting into character as well. Acting requires a tremendous amount of concentration. When you’re acting, you’re pulling off an insane balancing act: saying words that you know by heart but that must appear to be spontaneous, and portraying a person that is you, but not really you–in other words you must “…behave truthfully under imaginary circumstances,” as Sanford Meisner said. In order to do that you need to focus yourself. If you’re in a busy audition waiting room, try to find a quiet corner when your time is coming up. Take some deep breaths and focus all your energy on the previous background work you’ve done. Sure, it’s possible to go directly from a silly conversation with another actor about last weekend’s party into playing a character, but you’re likely to have better results if you take the time to properly focus your energies.

5. From Your Heart and Soul

So much of what comes out in our words and behaviors originates in nothingness. That is, a thought is just the electrochemical firing of communication between neurons in our brains, a tiny, infinitesimal bit of energy. You can’t weigh a thought; you can’t measure it physically. Yet those thoughts can manifest in very real externals: nervous sweat, red-faced anger, tears of sorrow. So the first step to playing a genuine character is to believe in yourself as the actor who is right to play him or her. Confidence–like nervousness, anger, or sadness–radiates outwards and manifests in our physicality. If you believe in yourself as an actor, your belief in your character will reflect that. Let go of doubt, and take all the hard work you’ve done to get where you are, and let it shine. The result will be a genuine, deep, and rich character!

Can I Claim Movie Tickets as a Business Expense?

Can I Claim Movie Tickets as a Business Expense?
Can I Claim Movie Tickets as a Business Expense?

Whether you work in the movie business, use movies to entertain business clients or support charities through ticket purchases, it is very likely you can claim movie tickets as a business expense, even if there is no tax on movie tickets. Since movies are widely viewed as a form of personal entertainment, it is imperative to be thorough with your record-keeping to support your claims. Make sure you are claiming movie tickets for the right reasons to pass inspection when you file

Tip

The IRS allows for business deductions that are considered ordinary and necessary for your type of business. This means it may be possible for you to deduct those movie tickets come tax time.

Business Expenses Defined

A business expense is a cost that is incurred while a business is operating. This could mean the amount spent on advertising to new customers, or money spent on potential clients to attempt to gain their business. If movie tickets are part of the cost of doing business, then at least a portion of the expense can be claimed as a business expense. But how the tickets and used and the reason for them comes into play.

Entertaining Clients

When entertaining a client for business reasons, from rounds of golf to movie tickets, you can deduct half your entertainment expenses. However, there are a few things you should do to support your deduction claim so you do not run afoul of the IRS. Keep timely track of your entertainment expenses. Keep a journal, diary or calendar updated with the following information: who was present, where the theater is located, when it happened, why the meeting was important and how much it cost. If you do not record this information immediately, you may not be able to deduct the movie tickets. Any expense over $75 requires keeping a receipt.

General Work-Related Education

Expenses you incur to maintain or improve your skills for your job are deductible, according to the IRS. That means if you are a history teacher, tickets for a documentary movie with new, related information about a historical event is deductible because you are watching it to maintain or improve your professional knowledge. However, education expenses for a new job are not deductible. The movie has to be related to your current job for you to claim it. Keep detailed records concerning the time, place and importance of the film to support your claim.

Charitable Organizations

If your movie tickets are part of a charitable donation, you may be able to claim a deduction. The fine print on this example is that you can deduct only what you spend beyond the fair market price of the ticket. For instance, if at a fundraiser you purchase movie tickets for $100 that would typically cost $30, your charitable contribution is $70. That $70 is deductible. Benefits for film-funding charities sometimes offer overpriced tickets to a screening to raise money for students and grants. If you support an institution in this manner, the amount you spend that is over the fair market value of the entertainment you receive is considered a deductible expense.

Film Industry Professionals

Simply because you work in movies doesn’t mean that every movie you see will be considered a business expense by the IRS. In fact, if you attempt to deduct every movie you see, that will raise a red flag. The most important element of claiming movie tickets as a business expense as a film professional or claiming tax deductions for entertainment industry professionals is keeping thorough records and receipts that explain the business need to see each film. Whether you are an actor, technician, writer, director or producer, make claiming a movie ticket easier on yourself by keeping the receipt and the ticket stapled together, along with an explanation of why this particular film was a business requirement.

Pixar Movies ranked #1 – 21

21. Cars 2 (2011)

The worst thing about Cars 2, even worse than the fact that it is 106 minutes of Larry the Cable Guy doing his unfunny Larry the Cable Guy shtick against a backdrop of borderline offensive clichés and regional stereotypes, is that the animation is frequently dazzling. It’s flashy, colorful, full of intricate and eye-pleasing detail, and far, far lovelier than this terrible movie deserves.

The first Cars movie was a tired story about a cocky race car who needs to learn humility from a bunch of small-town yokels, but it still managed to deliver at least some charm and character variety. In contrast, Cars 2 puts all of its energy into a bafflingly insipid mistaken-identity spy plot, entirely centered on Larry the Cable Guy, a.k.a. Mater. It’s North by Northwest by Hee-Haw, and no matter how hard you wish for it, there is no reprieve; Larry the Cable Guy keeps being in the movie, and the movie keeps happening, and the movie is 106 minutes long.

Here is a list of other movies that are 106 minutes long: Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, Gremlins,D2: The Mighty Ducks, Whiplash, Fright Night, Lars and the Real Girl, Something’s Gotta Give,The Lego Movie 2, Halloween (2018). None of them contain uncomfortably long bidet gags, or references to “pains in my undercarriage,” or a scene where Larry the Cable Guy’s talking tow truck character pees himself in public. This makes them all five-star movies by comparison; highly recommended. —Aja Romano

The gang from Cars 3

20. Cars 3 (2017)

For a movie that largely exists to allow Disney’s merchandising arm to create more toys, Cars 3is better than it has to be. Like the other Cars movies, its world-building feels especially half-assed (unless you assume it’s the post-apocalyptic tale of a world where sentient cars have killed all humans). But unlike the first two movies, it’s a surprisingly involved story about aging, the dismantling of white male privilege, and our coming artificial intelligence-dominated future.

Befitting its characters, Cars 3 feels more assembled than gracefully created, and its distinctly episodic nature holds it back. But it’s the rare movie whose protagonist learns that winning at all costs isn’t the only thing. Consider it the computer-animated version of a classic sports film like Bull Durham. —Emily VanDerWerff

Arlo and Spot in The Good Dinosaur

19. The Good Dinosaur (2015)

Even now, four years after its release, The Good Dinosaur can make a claim to being the most beautiful Pixar movie. Its photorealistic backdrops provide a gorgeous canvas for a story of a talking dinosaur and a silent human child trying to make their way across the American West to the dinosaur’s home.

The problem stems from how obvious it is that the story is cobbled together from the elements of other, better stories. Pixar made its name by taking wild scenarios that could only happen in animation — toys wake up, bugs have a secret society, there are monsters in the closet, etc. — and grounding them in old-fashioned, classic Hollywood storytelling. But The Good Dinosaur (which went through a tumultuous production process) doesn’t have much to add to the old tropes it’s updating. —EV

Lightning McQueen and Mater

18. Cars (2006)

My 2-year-old nephew’s favorite movie — before he saw Toy Story, that is — was Cars. But then he saw Toy Story and he stopped talking about Cars (to my brother’s chagrin, since my brother loves cars, and Cars). I have to side with my nephew on this one. Cars is an absolutely fine movie, and it has a sweet affection for small-town, forgotten life by way of Radiator Springs. But Cars fails to match the ambition of some of its Pixar cousins, instead coming across as relaxed to the point of low stakes. And once you’ve seen any one of the studio’s other films, your love for Cars will most likely become but a passing phase. —Alex Abad-Santos

Dory and her parents in Finding Dory

17) Finding Dory (2016)

Over the years, Pixar — or more specifically director-screenwriter Andrew Stanton — has perfected the basic studio sequel formula of repeating the previous movie’s plot without making it feel like more of the same. Prime example: Finding Dory doesn’t have much to add to the original story of Finding Nemo, but it does have the great reveal that Dory really cantalk to whales! Yes, that’s a small way to move things forward, but a fun one nonetheless.

The themes at the heart of Finding Nemo are still present in this film; there’s still an emphasis on the importance of found family, the unique challenges and delights of navigating life with a neuroatypical brain, and the vast and stunning splendor of the ocean. But Finding Dory diminishes Nemo’s philosophy of perseverance and communal kindness a bit, drowned out by a plot whose daring rescues frequently verge into the extravagant and often undermine the urgency of Dory’s quest to find her parents. That said, it’s still a fun kids’ movie, it’s still Pixar, and wow, the ocean: pretty cool, huh? —AR

Flik in A Bug’s Life

16. A Bug’s Life (1998)

A Bug’s Life is something of a sophomore slump for Pixar. The studio’s follow-up to Toy Storywas one of two animated movies about insects to hit theaters within months of each other, dampening some of the excitement around it. (The movie’s competitor, Dreamworks’ Antz,came out first.) That was a strange move on both studios’ parts: Ants and grasshoppers aren’t the most endearing or marketable main characters. But few (if any) of the characters from A Bug’s Life are likely to rank among Pixar fans’ favorites.

The film culls from an old Aesop fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper, to tell a story that feels much folkier than Pixar’s more modern fare: Flik is an inventor who wants to help save his home from invading grasshoppers in an effort to prove his worth to his suspicious neighbors. Instead of recruiting real fighters, he collects a traveling circus group of other bugs and tries to pass them off as the saviors his fellow ants are looking for … an amusing premise, but ultimately not one that really sticks.

There’s still some value in watching A Bug’s Life, if only just to see how much Pixar’s animation and storytelling have evolved in the years since. And the movie does have some unique touches, like an explicitly romantic ending and a villain, the terrifying Hopper, that straight-up dies. Otherwise, A Bug’s Life is but a quirky footnote in Pixar’s catalog. —Allegra Frank

The cast of Monsters University

15. Monsters University (2013)

One of Pixar’s lesser follow-ups is this college-set prequel, which fails to leave as much of an impression as the film it’s based on. Mike Wazowski and his future BFF James P. “Sulley” Sullivan are college freshmen who, as we know from Monsters, Inc., are about to become lifelong pals. The stakes are low as a result, and in the end, it’s not all that interesting or exciting to watch their friendship develop. The college setting doesn’t really expand on the world of Monsters Inc., and watching these characters flail as their younger selves hardly adds to a story already defined best by its humor.

To the movie’s credit, there is a nice theme of learning to make peace with yourself when you fall short of achieving your dreams. Mike wants to be an accomplished scarer of humans, just like Sulley is — and again, we already know that isn’t to be. But when he realizes it’s not quite in the cards for him, he chases another passion instead. It’s not necessarily the most uplifting message from Pixar, but it plays out nicely (and realistically) enough. —AF

Princess Merida in Brave

14. Brave (2012)

It felt, and in a way still feels, like so much was riding on Brave: It was Pixar’s first female-driven film, the first film with a girl as the hero, the first film with a woman as director. But Brenda Chapman, presiding over a depressingly gender-imbalanced art production team, found herself abruptly replaced in the director’s chair, on the orders of a CEO who later resignedfrom Pixar following allegations of sexual misconduct and accusations of “open sexism” that referenced Chapman’s firing.

Did Brave manage, then, to live up to expectations despite that production hurdle? I vote yes: Brave, by Pixar standards of excellence, is a delight. You feel the lovingly detailed animation in every curl on Princess Merida’s head, in every stitch of each intricate wall tapestry. Its story, about a fiery Scottish lass whose desire to fight and hunt like her father inadvertently leads her mother to be cursed and transfigured into a bear, is as interesting as the studio’s best. Its stakes — the restoration of Merida’s family and, oh, just her lifelong happiness and ability to be treated with respect in a violently patriarchal society — are as high as ever.

The plot isn’t as tightly wound as those of other, more highly regarded Pixar films, but that’s just fine. Brave takes its time reinforcing its emotional connections, lingering on the bond between Merida and her mom, and building Merida into one of Pixar’s most fully realized characters. Brave did everything the boys’ movies did, and it did it backward, in high heels, while frequently fending off inappropriate workplace behavior. If you want a better movie, well, here’s what you can do. —AR

Mike and Sulley in Monsters, Inc.

13. Monsters Inc. (2001)

Remember how Monsters Inc. lost the first-ever Oscar for Best Animated Feature to Shrek? Awards aren’t everything — not to mention they’re both political and subjective — but the loss still feels like a sore spot in Pixar’s history. Unlike the movie that took the crown that year,Monsters Inc. holds up as something like an even more intimate Toy Story. It’s in part a platonic love story between an odd couple of monsters, the one-eyed Mike Wazowski and furry blue Sulley. Throw in a human toddler nicknamed Boo, who ends up in the guys’ care after getting lost in the monster world, and things get a bit more special.

Boo, Mike, and Sulley’s makeshift family is where Monsters Inc. wrings out its most emotional moments, even if it may be easy to cynically consider her a human plot device meant to inspire coos from viewers and create drama between her two fumbling monster dads. But Monsters Inc. is charming, funny, and often moving nonetheless.

In contrast to the more meme-friendly Shrek,Monsters Inc. doesn’t have an extensive internet legacy. And maybe that has clouded somefolks’ memory of its quality — there’s nothing like Shrek’s “All Star” sequence. (A high-energy musical number from Billy Crystal’s Mike comes really close, though.) But there’s a reason Pixar revisited the film with a (much less engrossing) prequel: Mike and Sulley are as classic a pair of best friends as Buzz Lightyear and Woody. It just may be harder to remember it because there’s no goofy alt-rock song attached. —AF

Helen Parr/Mrs. Incredible

12. Incredibles 2 (2018)

It took 14 years for director Brad Bird to return to the world of 2004’s The Incredibles (one of Pixar’s finest films), and in that time, the world had gone absolutely gaga for superheroes. So this sequel engages with questions of what we’re looking for from superhero storytelling and from our current superhero boom.

But it’s also interested in a whole host of other questions, like what it means to be exceptional and how to balance the needs of the self against the needs of the community. That it wraps all this up in a zippy plot filled with brilliant action sequences and is centered on Holly Hunter’s Helen Parr (a.k.a. Elastigirl) gives the movie plenty of visual and storytelling verve. It’s messier than the first film, and at times, it’s hard to parse exactly what its villain’s motivations are. But that pales in comparison to all the stuff that works, because it works so, so well. —EV

Woody and Forky

11. Toy Story 4 (2019)

If Toy Story 4 is the end of the 24-year-old Toy Story franchise, it will be a satisfying one. While its predecessors are more ensemble-focused, this movie is really about Woody, the pull-string cowboy, as he comes to terms with his own obsolescence. Bonnie, who inherits Woody at the end of Toy Story 3, doesn’t love him as much as his original owner, Andy — leaving Woody to look for meaning in a life that doesn’t match up with the way he’s always believed it was supposed to go. Woven into the plot are vulnerable moments about how we deal with love, our feelings, and relationships that fall off with age.

Toy Story 4’s message to viewers is that we don’t have to stop loving someone just because they’re not in our lives anymore. And even if those relationships end, it doesn’t make them any less special or powerful.While one could argue these themes were already explored in the second and third Toy Story movies, Toy Story 4 still stands out with its rich storytelling and focused story. —AAS

Joy from Inside Out

10. Inside Out (2015)

When it was released in 2015, on the heels of a rough patch for Pixar (from when 2011’s Cars 2became the only Pixar movie with a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes to when The Good Dinosaur had to abandon a late 2014 release date due to production problems), Inside Out felt like the studio finally righting its way. Its depiction of the emotions guiding the inner life of a girl on the cusp of adolescence was clever and visually innovative, while its cast (including Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, and Bill Hader) was perfectly chosen.\

The movie’s superb storytelling introduces incredibly complex ideas — like the notion that two emotions can combine into some third emotion, more complicated than either of them alone — in ways that make instant sense to the audience without tons of exposition. And the message that sometimes feeling darker emotions like sadness and anger is necessary is a meaningful one. Inside Out has its problems (particularly its perhaps too simplistic view of the divide between men and women), but on the whole, it’s a sneakily devastating good time. —EV

Bonnie and her new toys

9. Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3 is a heartbreaker. It’s the perfect culmination of a story that, when it came out in 2010, had been 15 years in the making. Andy, the kid who owned the franchise’s familiar ensemble of toys, grew up and out of his once-beloved playthings. As viewers, maybe his choice to ditch his toys as he preps for college feels unfair, even cruel. We love Woody and Buzz, after all — doesn’t Andy remember that he once did, too?

Of course he does. But as he enters a new phase of life to be filled with new people, new memories, new loves, his toys must accommodate him. And they have to come to terms with their own growth too; as new residents of Sunnyside Daycare, they’re about to meet new kids and learn to love them, as scary as that can seem.

As a viewer around Andy’s age when Toy Story 3came out, I found the film beautiful, if very difficult to watch. Yes, it’s beautiful and emotional at any age (there’s a scene toward the end with an incinerator that should be used as a sociopathy test, because if you don’t cry, there’s an issue). But watching it as I sat on the cusp of college myself, I found it to be the most affecting, realistic portrait of the transition to adulthood I’d ever seen in animation. This was the dramatic, necessary conclusion that Pixar had been building toward since the first Toy Story. All apologies to Toy Story 4, but Toy Story 3 will always feel like the series’ true finale. —AF

Miguel in Coco

8. Coco (2017)

Coco doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the most beautiful films of Pixar’s entire run — if not the past 25 years overall. That first glimpse of the soaring, stupendous, and sweetly spooky Land of the Dead is breathtaking. But a failure to fully recognize Coco’s beauty could be blamed on how wonderfully Coco tells a story about how crucial our families are to who we become.

Miguel, the movie’s plucky protagonist, travels to the underworld to find out about himself and his family’s history, but ends up finally understanding his grandmother and, for the first time, truly discovers who she is. Through the journey, he realizes that love is the only way for him, and for those who have died, to forever remain in the world of the living — at least in spirit. In Coco’s world, and in ours too, love, life, and survival are one and the same. —AAS

Woody and Bullseye in Toy Story 2

7. Toy Story 2 (1999)

Toy Story 2’s magic lies in its ability to add world-shattering wrinkles into the fabric of everything we thought we knew about Toy Story. In this installment, Woody’s going through an existential crisis, as he has to choose between leaving Andy to “live” (a loose interpretation of the word) in a Japanese museum forever or staying with Andy, despite Woody’s fears that Andy will outgrow him. The narrative twists and trapdoors in making Woody more cognizant of his own existence, and his wants and desires, are equal parts stress-inducing and thought-provoking for those of us who have grown attached to the pull-string cowboy. The creativity, adventure and emotional depth in Toy Story 2 make it, in the eyes of some viewers, the bestToy Story of all time. [Ed. note:Our collective ranking suggests otherwise, but it’s all subjective, right?] —AAS

Russell and Dug in Up

6. Up (2009)

One of my favorite things about Up is the delighted conversation my friends had upon its release about Kevin the Bird. Granted, there are lots of reasons to love Up: It’s masterful at wrangling its openly bittersweet emotions, particularly showcased in Pixar’s best and most memorable opening montage. It’s dotted with faint touches of magical realism that befit its South American locale, and many of them are warmhearted surprises: Balloon-ship houses! Dogs that can tell you they love you! “Squirrel!”

But none of them top my excited group of friends explaining to me, a clueless white person, how funny it is that Russell, the eager boy scout who accompanies grieving widower Carl on his mission to the Venezuelan tepuis, names the exotic bird they find “Kevin.” Russell is a tiny Asian kid, they explained, and Asian guys named Kevin are a whole Thing. To me, Kevin was just a bird named Kevin; to them, it was an entire sly cultural in-joke.

Look, Up is only the second animated film ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, deservedly, and it’s my favorite Pixar film because of its warmth, its humor, and its painful truths about grieving and letting go. But it’s also full of small coded details like “Kevin,” and they remind me that it might be even more special for eager Asian kids like Russell than it is for me. I love Up all the more for that. —AR

Remy in Ratatouille

5. Ratatouille (2007)

Ratatouille is best remembered for its triumphant finale, which serves as a thesis on the nature of criticism — one that almost feels like director Brad Bird is speaking to film critics directly through the intimidating food writer Anton Ego. But Bird isn’t thumbing his nose at critics or their work. Instead, his film’s message is that love for art of all forms is what inspires all critics, professional or otherwise; that’s what drives us, and that’s what we mustn’t forget.

What makes this remarkably strong takeaway so effective is that Ratatouille works as a great example of why film critics are so drawn to the medium. The movie is a work of art on its own — beautifully animated, with a well-constructed story. And its characters, from the dopey cook Linguini to “little chef” Remy the rat, each tell us something about art itself. Art is an opportunity to share our passion, and it can offer pleasure, no matter the bona fides of its origin.

This resonates even if you aren’t a critic by trade. In all art, we seek entertainment, or joy, or excitement. And Ratatouille offers all of that in spades.The movie benefits from the work of a Pixar crew performing at its height, even if its high-concept, slightly bizarre story — a rat that cooks? It’s weird! — could suggest at first that it may not sing for audiences quite as beautifully as some of Pixar’s other stories. Not the case: As Anton Ego says, “A great artist can come from anywhere.” Ratatouille is a great artist, and great art. —AF

Dory, Marlin, Bruce in Finding Nemo

4. Finding Nemo (2003)

Finding Nemo’s greatness can be measured in the sheer number of characters — minor and major — that you think about long after the movie’s over. There’s Nemo, Dory, and Marlin, the core trio, but there’s also Gil, Bruce, and even smaller characters like Peach, the Allison Janney-voiced starfish, and Pearl, the baby octopus who inked herself. Nemo succeeds in not only capturing the natural beauty and wonder of our real-life ocean but also telling a story about parenthood and friendship and, to our own deep sadness, the fragility of life in a way — and through diverse, myriad characters — that we don’t usually think about. —AAS

Buzz Lightyear and Woody in Toy Story

3. Toy Story (1995)

Rare is it that a film studio gets its first-ever feature just right. But Pixar came out of the gate as a unique breed: a studio that dared to release a full-length animated movie created entirely with computer-generated graphics. In 1995, that was unheard of; traditional animation was still dominant. Despite having little competition on that front, Pixar wowed audiences not just on the basis of Toy Story’s impressive novelty but also through the film’s sheer wit, storytelling, and maturity. Its introduction of Woody and Buzz Lightyear, opposites who very much repel each other until they naturally attract, contends with love, friendship, and the meaning of life in funny and thoughtful ways.

While Pixar’s work has become more technically advanced in the past two decades, I’m still so drawn to how the original Toy Story feels lived-in and expansive, like every nook and cranny of Andy’s room could be worth exploring. As a kid, I found that world to be, well, a world: somewhere I felt safe and comfortable and excited to see more of. That’s something I continue to look for in movies, particularly animated ones; while Pixar continues to craft living, breathing universes for its stories, Toy Story’s remains the one I feel as though I know best.

It helps that Toy Story is the longest-running franchise in Pixar’s oeuvre, just slightly edging out Cars. What makes Toy Story so essential where Cars feels exhausting, though, is the toys. Watching Buzz and Woody’s friendship grow is an emotional experience; the 90-minute journey they take to accepting one another remains powerful. Above all, their relationship is why the toys’ (and Pixar’s) inaugural outing remains as funny, dazzling, and satisfying today as it was in 1995. “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” indeed. —AF

Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible, in The Incredibles

2. The Incredibles (2004)

Brad Bird is the closest thing Pixar has to an auteur filmmaker, who makes movies with a strong, personal vision that keep returning to the same ideas over and over. And his first movie for Pixar, The Incredibles, showed off his talent for large-scale action sequences balanced against small-scale domestic comedy, in a tale of a family of superheroes living in a world that’s made superpowers illegal after some unfortunate incidents and massive amounts of property damage.

What’s great about Incredibles is how it balances the two sides of its personality, while also allowing for a surprisingly meaty dive into ideas about what it means to be “special” and making room for other people to have their own sense of specialness. The ideas in this film have gotten Bird accused of being a Randian objectivist, but what’s so smart about The Incredibles is how Bird never pins himself too thoroughly to any one point of view. This is a movie that can be read on many different levels, from a simple family comedy to an action movie imbued with philosophy to a genuine war of political principles that manages to pack in some great sight gags. —EV

EVE and WALL-E

1. Wall-E (2008)

All by itself, Wall-E’s sublime, dreamy opening sequence, in which a lonely android compacts trash on a desolate planet while enjoying the strains of Hello, Dolly!, would warrant its place at the top of our list. Like a little mermaid who’s been collecting human gadgets and gizmos for several hundred years, Wall-E has managed to retrieve something like a soul out of all that discarded refuse; like us, he’s entranced by musical theater, baffled by sporks, and full of love. This image of an adorable Curiosity-like rover keeping his spirit alive after centuries of solitude is simultaneously full of heartbreak and hope, and the film rides that delicate balance all the way through its wrenching highs and lows as Wall-E and his fellow android Eve fight to bring humanity home.

Pixar’s finest movie trusts frequently in its purely aesthetic storytelling, keeping viewers absorbed through long, dialogue-less scenes that marry stellar animation, intricate world-building, and superb sound engineering. Its perfectly humanistic androids have deeply human hearts, in contrast to actual humans, who’ve been navigating in space for so long that they’ve fallen into a lethargic simulacrum of real life. Writer Andrew Stanton has constructed one near-perfect story after another for Pixar over the years, but with Wall-E, he gets more private than ever, simply by presenting the dystopian future as a product of everyday environmental mismanagement, corporate greed, and out-of-control consumption and wastefulness, and letting the results largely speak for themselves.

Even as it dives into a conversation with Kubrick and Sagan, Atompunk and Heinlein, Wall-E never fully feels retro, because it never stops asking painfully contemporary questions. We need its dose of clear-eyed, restorative faith, perhaps even more now than we did a decade ago. —AR

FROM Allegra Frank at Vox Media

Rules to Live By When Launching a Franchise Program

1. Self-evaluation: what interests to you about opening a franchised business? Are you ready, willing and able to work long hours, including weekends and holidays (especially in the beginning)? Can you commit to following pre-determined business methods with very little variation, if any variation at all? Can you accept paying a portion of your profits to another entity (the franchisor)? Are you comfortable with the reputation of your business being largely reliant on the franchise’s network and not just your business unit?

Moreover, how much of your personal cash are you willing to part with to establish the business? Unless you’re fortunate enough to have enough money personally, do you have adequate assets (savings accounts, real estate, securities, etc.) to secure a loan?

2. Pick a franchise consultant to assist you (optional): despite all of the information available online, it’s still a good notion to enlist the help of a franchise consultant to help guide you through the process.

Much like a real estate agent is a good ally in the purchase of a home, a franchise consultant has industry-specific knowledge and can relate possibly complicated topics (including aspects of agreements and disclosure documents) to you in a more understandable way. A franchise consultant could also potentially keep you from experiencing pitfalls that may happen without their expertise.

3. Research: what kind of businesses can your area sustain—and are those the type of businesses you’re interested in opening? Federal and state governments provide free access to statistics and other data. Use the info gathered to match up your personal situation and the business environment of your area with a suitable franchise system. Plus, your common sense and gut feelings are good guides to figuring out what businesses are and could be sustainable in your locale.

Once you’ve narrowed your research down to a few strong contenders, request the franchise application from those companies. After the franchise decides that you could be a good match for their system, they will send you a copy of their franchise disclosure document (FDD). The FDD will give an even deeper look into their business system.

4. Visit a ‘discovery day’: a discovery day is an in-depth meeting between the franchisor and one or more potential franchisees. It can take place at a local outlet, but most likely will happen at the company’s corporate office.

Often, the franchisee or franchisees in attendance will see presentations about what the franchisor can offer in terms of support, and can ask questions. If done at the corporate office, a tour of the different departments and introductions to franchisee training and support personnel are common.

5. Speak to other franchisees: within the FDD provided by the franchisor is a listing of all current franchisees in their system. Find a few that are close to you and pay them a visit. Are they satisfied with the franchisor’s support? Is the reality of the business in line with prior expectations (financially and otherwise)?

6. Find a suitable location: if you’re located in a low traffic area or an area where there are no complementary businesses around, how are you going to get customers? The franchisor will delineate certain parameters for your territory in the FDD and franchise agreement. In addition, most franchisors assist with site selection. If you choose a suitable place for business on your own, the franchisor will have to approve your location before you can move forward.

7. Choose a franchise and secure funding: after you’ve completed your research, it’s time to make the big decision—which franchise system will you invest in?

Once you have decided, you’ll have all of the information necessary to complete a business plan and present it to potential lenders. There are numerous financing options out there for you to consider: bank loans, SBA (Small Business Administration) loans, HELOC (home equity line of credit), etc. Remember, you’ll need enough cash reserves to cover expenses until the business begins to turn a profit, which in some cases can be months after opening.

8. Sign the agreement: while many franchisors have rigid franchise agreements, some franchisors may be more flexible about negotiating terms in the agreement.

If the franchisor is willing to negotiate certain terms (like lease parameters), it’s a good idea to seek counsel from a lawyer with franchise-specific experience to find the best solutions for your particular situation. If the franchisor does have a rigid franchise agreement, that isn’t a cause for concern. Remember, franchises are based upon a proven system and consistency of the brand. If the franchise agreement for the brand you chose is overly negotiable, it could be cause for deeper investigation.

9. Obtain all necessary permits and insurance: each industry has its own requirements for permits and insurance. Regulations by state, city, county, etc. will vary as well. The franchisor will likely have background knowledge of the permits and insurance needed to operate their business system.

However, it’s a good idea to check with local authorities to ensure compliance. Two good websites to use as a reference to what permits and insurance might be necessary for U.S. businesses to obtain are the Small Business Administration and FindLaw.

10. Hire staff and attend the training: the number of staff members needed to run the operation will depend on the type of franchise chosen.

One of the most appealing aspects of franchising to those wanting to open a business is the training component. Franchisors usually provide training, in a combination of classroom and practical experiences, to at least the franchisee and another manager. A copy of the franchise operations manual is also typically presented at this time.

11. Open your franchise business: before opening, you will need to alert potential customers to their new marketplace option. Franchisors will often have defined processes for signage, ads, and other initiatives to be performed. Estimates for these initiatives will usually be a part of the start-up costs quoted in the FDD.

Some franchisors will do a ‘soft opening’ before the ‘grand opening’. A soft opening is designed to smooth out problems with the operation of the business before the big marketing blitz and hopefully larger crowds that will come with the grand opening. Some franchisors also arrange for a corporate trainer to be on hand at the franchise location during the opening days.

3 Smart Ways to Overcome Your Anxieties about Investing

Anxieties about Investing

Most of us have the most basic understanding of finances. We work hard to earn our money. We use that money to pay our bills, buy a house, pay for our kids’ education, and whatever is left over we put in the bank to save for the “future,” whatever that means. But we all know there is another world out there. A world with people in nice suits and fancy cars. People who seem to know how to get their money to work for them. The people of Wall St. We don’t want to be like them. Most of us just want to lead simple lives but, man, wouldn’t it be great to be a little like them? But there’s no way. There’s just too much to learn and it requires skills we just don’t have, right?

No. That kind of “I don’t belong” fear is what prevents most people from investing. Here’s what you can do to get over it.

Start learning
You want to get over your fear of investing? Learn how to invest. It’s not as hard as you think. You don’t need an Ivy League education to become a wise investor. You can teach yourself by buying a few books. Just Google, “top rated investment books for beginners,” and you will see many options to choose from with detailed reviews. There are also websites dedicated to the subject such as The Balance, Bloomberg, and Yahoo Finance. Teaching yourself how to invest is easier than you think.

Realize you are just as wise as everyone else
Remember those Wall St. people with their fancy stuff? A lot of them go on TV to talk about “dividend plays,” and “price to earnings multiples,” and whatever highfalutin terms that don’t make sense to us. They obviously know something we don’t know, right? No. Believe it or not, most investors under-perform the market. That means if all you do is put money in an index fund and do nothing else for the next 20 years you will have outperformed most investors. Seriously. Why? Most investors are really bad at timing. They buy when they should sell and sell when they should buy. Does that mean you should just put your money in an index fund and forget it? No, there are a few really good investors who consistently outperform the market. Learn from them. Buy their books.

Go with what you know
You might not know which pharmaceutical company might be developing the next great cancer drug, but maybe you love watching movies on Netflix, or eating at Chipotle. Behind each great company you love there is a stock that you can invest in. Do some homework on them and invest if their future looks bright. You’ll feel more comfortable investing in companies you understand than ones you don’t. 

Remember, investing isn’t a members-only club. You belong. Go out there and buy wisely.