Cinephiles rejoice. Tony Zhu’s superb Every Frame A Painting series has a new episode. This week’s entry highlights the cinematography of the Coen’s Brothers (specifically the use of shot/reverse shot in their films), examining how seemingly innocuous camera work is more meaningful than you would think at first glance. Zhu’s series, which has long been a favorite of mine, continues to offer a lot of quick and clean insight into cinema and I would highly recommend his series to anyone who has an interest in film beyond the casual moviegoer. If you like this video, be sure to visit Zhu’s youtube channel.
(Eric’s second opinion list got buried in the original post, so he is getting his own post for his list)
1 – Mad Max: Fury Road – The craziest movie I have ever seen. It felt like a two-hour long action scene, packed full of amazing stunts. I get bummed out when I hear anyone say that they haven’t seen it yet, because they’ll never be able to experience it on the big screen like I did, which really made it that much better. I can’t wait for George Miller to make more films set in this insane universe he’s created. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Max’s fight on the pole-cat as the tanker explodes. I remember Sam and I looking at each other when that happened.
2 – The Revenant – While Mad Max was two hours of crazy fun, this is 2+ hours full of complete brutality and human suffering. The film is shot to make the viewer feel like they are there with DiCaprio, by using natural light and long takes. It sounds like the production was a long, winter-ish nightmare but what came out of it was beautiful. (Trailer)
Best Scene: I won’t spoil it, but “Domhnall and a Tree Branch.” The bear attack is a close second.
3 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Yeah, there was no way I wouldn’t love this movie. I think Conor is going to put it higher, and I’d love to, but while it was immensely satisfying, I did have some minor complaints with the plot and some of the character choices. However, it was exactly what I was hoping for in a new Star Wars movie, and I cannot wait for the next one to come out (in 18 months). (Trailer)
Best Scene: Snow falling on sabers
4 – Inside Out – Pixar can really do no wrong, though I haven’t loved a movie of theirs in a few years, until this came out. While it wasn’t as funny as I would have hoped, the world they created was fun to explore and it really brought the feels. It probably goes in the top 5 of Pixar films for me (Up, The Incredibles, Toy Story 3, Monsters Inc). (Trailer)
Best Scene: Poor Bing Bong!
5 – Spotlight – This film is really well done, very informative, and made me extremely upset about the topic. You really don’t get these kind of investigative movies anymore, but I wish there were more like this one. (Trailer)
Best Scene: When the expert tells the journalists on the phone that the number of cases they’ve uncovered are way too low for the size of a city like Boston.
6 – Sicario – Villinueve is now a director that’s a must-see for me, especially after how much this movie brought the suspense. Also, good to see that Benicio Del Toro can still kick ass. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The prisoner transport over the border.
7 – Ex Machina – A realistic sci-fi film that can be quite slow at times, but very thought-provoking. Oscar Isaac and Domnall Gleeson are just straight killing it. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Obviously the dance scene.
8 – The Martian – Loved the book and the movie was a great adaptation, especially with the humor and what Matt Damon brought to the character. Though there were two big events near the end of the book that I really wished they had put in the movie. (Trailer)
Best Scene: When Watney finally makes contact with Earth via the Pathfinder
9 – MI Rogue Nation – Tom Cruise is a messed up human being, but he’s a damn good actor. I never saw Spectre, but apparently the Mission Impossible series is becoming a much better spy franchise. The new additions, Rebecca Ferguson and director Christopher McQuarrie, were pretty awesome and I’m glad to hear that both of them will be back for the next film in the franchise. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The entire opera scene. Very Hitchcock-esque.
10 – The Big Short – A very interesting take and look in to the housing crisis that caused the 2008 economic recession. Filmed half like a faux documentary, you’d think a film about such a complex and confusing topic would be hard to watch but it was instead quite funny and enjoyable. They often cutaway from the plot and used famous people to explain a complicated topic, such as Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain, to much amusement. (Trailer)
Best Scene: JENGA! Also Carrell and Gosling are awesome in every scene.
Honorable Mention Scene: Michael Pena’s heist pitches from Ant-Man
Honorable Mention Movies: Steve Jobs, Ant-Man, Bridge of Spies
Haven’t Seen Yet But Want To: Anomalisa, Carol, Room, Crimson Peak, Bone Tomahawk
This is my Favorite Movies of 2015 list (along with a second opinion from Eric Sweeney at the bottom). As all movie lists are, this list is highly subjective and probably has a few dumb movies on it. What can I say? It’s a sickness. Even then, there are still quite a few movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet, so no yelling about your favorite film being excluded if it appears on the haven’t seen yet list at the bottom*. If it didn’t make either of those lists, then have at it with the internet yelling (And yes, I saw the Hateful Eight already, but did not dig it. Sorry. Well made, but not my jam).
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Admittedly, my bias was strong with this one. The Force Awakens was always going to occupy this slot unless it was terrible. But it wasn’t. I loved it. The new cast members were fantastic, the old reliables were solid, the script was sharp and the film itself set a promising tone for the rest of the Skywalker saga. I don’t care if it was a mild retread of A New Hope. It was wonderful. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Snow falling on sabers
2. Mad Max: Fury Road – Certainly the surprise hit of the summer, Mad Max stunned viewers by actually living up to expectations set by its insane looking trailer and in some ways even surpassing it. Even with a bit of green screen in play, this movie is a prime example of why it pays to shoot on location. No digitally created environment can trump how the barren deserts of Namibia look in this film. (Trailer)
Best Scene: That two hour chase scene/Many mothers reveal
Watch This If You Like: The Road Warrior, two hour chase scenes, witnessing War Boys reach the gates of Vahalla
3. The Martian – This is the movie Prometheus really should have been. Not necessarily in terms of content, but in terms of quality. It, like Prometheus, has such a slick look to it (credit to Dariusz Wolski‘s cinematography in both movies), but the Martian is so much more satisfying. Armed with a perfect cast, the humor of Weir’s novel and a number of surprisingly poignant moments, this is the best adaptation of the book you could have possibly hoped for. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Watney’s tearful takeoff
4. Sicario – Oozing with a sense of dread from its very first frame, Sicario is easily the year’s most gripping film. A tense narco thriller about an idealistic FBI agent sent to assist in the war against the Mexican cartels, Sicario’s acting (Benicio deserves a best supporting actor nod for this), directing and cinematography really trump what could be a shrug worthy script in other hands. But be warned. This is a bleak film. Like abandon all hope bleak. If you’re feeling good about yourself and for some reason want to take yourself down ten notches, this is the movie for you. (Trailer)
Best Scene: “Go ahead. Eat.”
Watch This If You Like: Traffic, Prisoners, a better version of True Detective Season 2, feeling utterly helpless, depression naps, depressing soundtracks, hiding in the closet when someone knocks on your door, fear, fear naps, reasons to never visit Juarez, anxiety attacks
5. The Revenant – The Revenant is a grisly survival story propped up on the merits of its technical marvels, a fearless lead performance and a collection of starkly desolate landscapes. At some point, it becomes less of a movie and more of a ‘How to Win Leonardo Dicaprio an Oscar’ simulator, but I was still captivated. Despite all the draining brutality, hardship and ugliness, it still remains a stunningly beautiful movie. I expect this one to jump up my list when I get around to seeing it again. Definitely not for the squeamish though. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The opening ambush aka Get to the Boats!
6. Inside Out – Inside Out is a movie I liked significantly more the second time I watched it. Originally, I admired the visuals and the vibrant color palette employed by the animation team, but came away thinking it borrowed too much from its influences (Calvin and Hobbes, Osmosis Jones, Herman’s Head, and Wreck-It Ralph to name a few) and delivered a fun, but fairly innocuous story. The second time through I appreciated it a lot more, seeing it for the emotionally rich picture it really is. Even if you get hung up on the film’s rather accessible approach to psychology, I think there are themes that will resonate deeply with both kids and adults alike. However, the true accomplishment of this movie may be that it makes the audience misty eyed over a character named Bing Bong. Did not see that coming. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Joy realizes the merits of sadness/Bing Bong’s goodbye
Watch This If You Like: Pixar Movies, Feels, Wreck-It Ralph
7. Creed – A far superior boxing movie than the strangely flat and disappointing Southpaw (which I saw someone accurately describe as a trash can fire of unearned sentimentality), Creed, despite having a trailer which unwisely chose to divulge the entire plot of the movie, succeeds just as much outside of the ring as it did inside the ring. Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson turn in solid, likable performances, while Stallone, freed from his usual directing responsibilities in the series, gives a stripped down Rocky Balboa closer to that which we haven’t seen since the first Rocky movie, and it is a welcome surprise. After however many terrible bravado filled posture fest Expendables movies, I had forgotten Stallone could be so good. And that tracking shot in the first fight? Immaculate. Also very happy to see that Marvel just gave Creed’s director Ryan Coogler the directing job for Black Panther. Well deserved. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The one-take fight.
Watch This If You Like: Rocky Movies, Fruitvale Station, training montages
8. Meru – Meru is an alpine climbing documentary that follows a team of climbers (climbing heavyweights Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk) who attempt to complete a first ascent of the seemingly impossible Shark Fin route on Mount Meru. Despite focusing on the kind of esoteric subject matter you would expect to be buried in the deep dark recesses of your Netflix que, Meru is breathtaking, harrowing (all three of its subjects nearly die on a semi-regular basis during filming), and at times profoundly touching (proof of which came when it was recently shortlisted by the academy for best documentary). Even if the outdoors aren’t your thing, give this documentary a shot. It is a truly powerful film that should not be missed. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Survivor’s guilt
9. Beasts of No Nation – This haunting adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s book is the gut punch you would expect it to be. A brutal and unflinching look at a fictitious group of child soldiers led by a cruel but charismatic leader, Beasts of No Nation was Netflix’s first real push into the production side of the movie business, and I think it was a great success. The performances from Idris Elba and Abraham Attah are a large part of why it works so well, but Cary Fukunaga’s production as a whole should be commended. This could not have been an easy film to make. And while it may be difficult to sit through, I do not think this movie should be ignored. I know everyone in America is binging Making a Murderer on Netflix right now, but when you finish, consider adding Beasts of No Nation to your que. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Commandant pumps up his troops
10. Ant-Man – While it may not shock summer audiences quite like Guardians of the Guardians did last year, Ant-Man is a likable superhero flick that proves good casting and the right tone can go a long way toward making an almost unfilmable product worth watching. Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas and Michael Pena are especially good in this, but heavy doses of wit and a rather uncomplicated plot (as far as Marvel movies go at least) really prevent this from being the train wreck that it could have been (there is something about the template of this movie that reminds me a bit of DC’s Green Lantern movie, except if it wasn’t terrible, so if you want to see the disaster version of Ant-Man, watch Green Lantern as a cautionary tale of what could have been). Unfortunately, Ant-Man still falls into Marvel’s recent trappings of having forgettable and shrug worthy villains (Tom Hiddleston being the exception of course) seen in Corey Stoll’s sneering Daren Cross, whose journey from 0 to 60 on the doing bad things to people who disagree with you at board meetings scale seems completely absurd, but I guess you can’t have everything in a second tier Marvel superhero movie. Ant-man won’t blow you away, but at the end of the movie I was completely on board with seeing more of these characters in the Marvel universe. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Michael Pena’s heist pitches
Watch This If You Like: Guardians of the Galaxy, Heist movies, Paul Rudd
11. The Look of Silence – Companion piece to the surreal and disturbing 2012 documentary ‘The Act of Killing’, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer’s second film regarding the Indonesian mass killings follows the brother of one of the victims as he confronts his brother’s killers. ‘The Look of Silence’ is so disturbing and difficult to watch. I had to stop it a few times and wasn’t sure I’d make it to the end. It’s easily one of the year’s best films, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. I have no idea how Josh Oppenheimer managed to make two movies about this subject without his life being seriously threatened. I assume he can’t go to Indonesia now and I fully understand why making these movies gave him insomnia and nightmares. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Is there such a thing as a best scene in a movie like this? I honestly don’t know. I can’t get this movie out of my head though. It’s haunting.
12. Everest – Stunning atmospheric visuals of the world’s tallest peak and a rock solid cast (Brolin, Knightley and Clarke are the standouts) headline this retelling of the 1996 Everest disaster (which Into Thin Air famously and controversially documented). While the spectacle and ruthless nature of alpine climbing are depicted effectively, it is unfortunately hampered by some odd pacing issues that keep it from being truly great. It also loses points for not having a scene where the climbers lug nitro glycerine up the mountain, but you can’t have everything. This is also the second movie on the list featuring John Krakauer. I guess it’s a good year to be Krakauer. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The storm approaches/Hall speaks with his wife
13. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – A mashup of ‘Be Kind Rewind’ and ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ with a sort of Wes Anderson for tweens vibe to it, ‘Me & Earl And The Dying Girl’ won a slew of awards at Sundance this year before triggering a bidding war for the rights to its theatrical release. Earl is better than most of the high school movies released in the last few years, but it’s also not without its problems. While I can’t fault a movie where the teen protagonist is obsessed with Werner Herzog, I do think there are about fifteen to twenty minutes where said protagonist becomes insufferable and the movie suffers as a result. Is this insufferable behavior most likely representative of actual teenage behavior? Sure, but it does prevent Me & Earl and The Dying Girl from taking that next step into becoming a classic coming of age story. It’s still an admirable movie however and RJ Cyler as Earl and Olivia Cooke as Rachel deliver fantastic performances. They should be given all the teenager roles in movies from now on. All of them! (Trailer)
Best Scene: Rachel watches her movie
14. The Salvation – A traditional gritty western revenge tale with no real frills to it, ‘The Salvation’ is bolstered by a strong lead performance from Mads Mikkelsen and spirited support work from Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eva Green, Jonathan Pryce and Mikael Persbrandt. The is pretty much the Danish film industry’s answer to ‘Unforgiven,’ even if it doesn’t quite reach the brilliance of Eastwood’s swan song western. The Salvation may be rough around the edges, but there is still a lot to like here. I mean, Mads Mikkelsen is quietly one of the best actors in the world right now, so that alone should get any respectable western fan reason to chance ‘The Salvation.’ (Trailer)
Best Scene: A soldier’s revenge/Peter taunts his jailer
15. What We Do In The Shadows – A kindred spirit to the deadpan humor of Flight of the Concords, this vampire mockumentary by FOTC creator Jemaine Clement and long time collaborator Taika Waititi is often hilarious. Owing a lot to mockumentary pioneers like Christopher Guest and horror comedy classics like Shaun of the Dead, this clever indie import from New Zealand could be a new Halloween classic in the making. And Stu. Stu really steals the show. Stu is the best. (Trailer)
Best Scene: You can’t eat Stu
Watch This If You Like: Flight of the Concords
16. Slow West – Slow West is an unsurprisingly slow western whose grim tone feels like an odd marriage between the Coen brothers, John Ford and Jim Jarmusch. Featuring some gorgeous vistas courtesy of New Zealand’s always scenic south island, a quality performance from Michael Fassbender and an undeniably tragic conclusion, this quirky tale is worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre. It may not wow you with its gunplay and shootouts, but the film sure is pretty to look at. And if you find yourself fading while watching it, do yourself a favor and fast forward to the last twenty minutes. That is Slow West at its best. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The final shootout
In honor of great villains, here is a tribute to some of the best baddies to ever hit the big screen. Definitely worth a watch, especially if you are working on a story at the moment and are really lacking in the villain department. This should help get the wheels turning. Video by CLS videos.
CineFix’s debuted their Top 10 Most Beautiful Movies of all Time list today and it’s a good one. It’s really nice to see Hero, The Fall, Lawrence of Arabia and Samsara (Terrence Malick should be mandatory on this list, so well done on that, too) included on the list. If you don’t have time to watch the video, which you really should to see the stunning cinematography in these films, here is the full list and description of each film courtesy of CineFix.
Russian Ark (2002)
It’s a single, uncut steadicam shot going through the Russian Heritage museum. Sure, the concept is maybe a gimmick. But it’s amazing.
Woody Allen’s love letter to his favorite city in black and white ultra widescreen is every bit as impactful as Allen’s own memory of the city as a child.
Citizen Kane (1941)
There may be nothing more emblematic of how to make a beautiful movie that Citizen Kane.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
This entire film is a ballet of heavenly bodies, with carefully composed shots.
The Conformist (1970)
This is, in our opinion, the very best of Vittorio Storaro’s work. And that’s saying something.
The Fall (2006)
Tarsem Singh made a beautiful painting of a film; Colin Watkinson spend 4 years and thousands of miles bringing a child’s imagination to life on screen.
This film, which tells the same story from several different perspectives, (and color coded to match), takes a simple concept both in plot and style, and brings it to the next level.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
70mm film, and every frame of it a still image worthy of framing.
The Tree of Life (2011)
The most beautiful of Terrance Malick’s films, and there’s quite a bit of competition there.
There’s no plot, or dialogue in this film, but it tells a story nonetheless – every image tells its own story, and it’s glorious.
Ant-Men, double Jake Gyllenhaals, rabbit carrying treasure hunters and an under appreciated western round out my July movie reviews.
Ant-Man – 3 stars (out of 4 stars)
While it may not shock summer audiences quite like Guardians of the Guardians did last year, Ant-Man is a likable superhero flick that proves that good casting can go a long way toward making an almost unfilmable product worth watching. Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas and Michael Pena are especially good in this, but heavy doses of wit and a rather uncomplicated plot (as far as Marvel movies go at least) really prevent this from being the train wreck that it could have been (there is something about the template of this movie that reminds me a bit of DC’s Green Lantern movie, except if it wasn’t terrible, so if you want to see the disaster version of Ant-Man, watch Green Lantern as a cautionary tale of what could have been). Unfortunately, Ant-Man still falls into Marvel’s recent trappings of having forgettable and shrug worthy villains (Tom Hiddleston being the exception of course) seen in Corey Stoll’s sneering Daren Cross, whose journey from 0 to 60 on the doing bad things to people who disagree with you at board meetings scale seems completely absurd, but I guess you can’t have everything in a second tier Marvel superhero movie. Ant-man won’t blow you away, but at the end of the movie I was completely on board with seeing more of these characters in the Marvel universe. I have a feeling that Edgar Wright could have taken this to some really interesting places if he had stayed on to direct. Also, consider seeing Ant-man in 3-D for the scale action sequences and staying for the two post credits sequences which actually warrant sitting through seven minutes of computer programmers and stuntmen being thanked.
Slow West – 3 stars
Slow West is an unsurprisingly slow western whose grim tone feels like an odd marriage between the Coen brothers and John Ford. Featuring some beautiful, stark imagery courtesy of New Zealand’s always scenic south island, a quality performance from Michael Fassbender and an undeniably tragic conclusion, this quirky western is worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre. It may not wow you with its gunplay and shootouts, but the cinematography sure is a marvel to look at. If you find yourself fading while watching it, do yourself a favor and fast forward to the last twenty minutes. It’s brimming with some beautiful imagery. Also, if you liked Slow West, seek out Mads Mikkelsen in this year’s more visceral revenge tale, The Salvation. Fassbender and Mikkelsen were made for roles like these.
Inside Out – 3.5 stars
Inside Out continues Pixar’s track record of taking material that seems relatively limited in potential and producing very clever and thoughtful films based on those very simple ideas. I don’t think Inside Out cracked my Pixar top five like it has with many critics, but it is still way above and beyond the glut of family entertainment out this summer. And no, you need not worry. Inside Out has all the traditional Pixar staples; the heart warming/wrenching moments, the humor for both kids and adults, a character voiced by John Ratzenberger and a really morbid Chinatown reference (i guess the last one is new). However, the true accomplishment of this movie may be that it makes the audience misty eyed over a character named Bing Bong. Did not see that coming.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter – 2.5 stars
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a glacially paced film based on the semi-true story of an eccentric Japanese woman who traveled to America after acquiring what she believed to be the treasure map for the suitcase full of money buried in the movie Fargo (I know, it’s a little out there). Kumiko explores everything from mental illness to the subjugation of women in Japan on its strange 105 minute journey. It’s not a film for everyone, but it is shot beautifully and Rinko Kikuchi remains a strong screen presence as always.
Me & Earl And The Dying Girl – 3 stars
A mashup of Be Kind Rewind and The Fault in Our Stars with a sort of Wes Anderson for tweens vibe to it, Me & Earl And The Dying Girl won a slew of awards at Sundance this year before triggering a bidding war for the rights to its theatrical release. Earl is better than most of the high school movies released in the last fews years, but it’s also not without its problems. While I can’t fault a movie where the teen protagonist is obsessed with Werner Herzog, I do think there are about fifteen to twenty minutes where said character becomes insufferable and the movie suffers as a result. Is this insufferable behavior representative of actual teenage behavior? Probably, but it does prevent Me & Earl and The Dying Girl from taking that next step into becoming a classic coming of age story. It’s still a very solid movie though. RJ Cyler as Earl is a standout and the casting of Tammy Taylor and Ron Swanson as a parental power duo has to be commended.
Jurassic World – 6 out of 10 raptors
Jurassic World is rated on an adjusted scale as it is not a very good movie, but it is an enjoyable movie, therefore warranting different consideration. It is a very sloppy product however, riddled with poor writing, flat characters and some pretty impressive displays of child neglect, but the last hour of dinosaur mayhem makes up for these flaws in my opinion. Again, this may not even be a particularly good movie, but it’s entertaining, and that’s essentially its function as a summer blockbuster, so at the very least it’s an effective movie in that sense. And I don’t care what people say, this is still a vast improvement on JP3 in my book.
Enemy – 3 stars
With an ending shot that sent a lot of confused viewers scrambling for explanations on message boards, Enemy firmly cements itself as an art house film in the vein of Under the Skin and The Fountain (aka movies that require examination beyond their initial viewings). Because it was marketed as a bit of a straight thriller coming off Denis Villenue’s well liked straight thriller ‘Prisoners’, I feel many people were blindsided by this film and as a result it didn’t gain much notoriety. But if you’re looking for a creepy cerebral puzzle that requires some piecing together, this might be the movie for you. I’ve been a big fan of Denis Villeneuve since ‘Prisoners’ and really like the look of his forthcoming ‘Sicario.’ His catalogue is worth checking out if you want to see a director in the David Fincher school of filmmaking.
Run All Night – 2.5 stars
Run All Night is basically a knockoff of Paul Walker’s ‘Running Scared’ and every movie Liam Neeson has been in since Taken. There’s a lot of running and shooting and Ed Harris looking unhappy. I have no idea how at 63, Liam Neeson has become one of the most consistent action stars in Hollywood, but he continues to be awesome, so I don’t care that he’s entered some odd plagiarism loop where he will only play mild variations of his Taken character. Long live over protective dad Bryan Mills. Just try to date his daughter. I dare you.
Pirates – 2 stars
Korean blockbusters don’t quite rival the quality of their country’s more thought provoking dramas, but if we’re being fair that could probably be said of any country’s studio system, especially our own. Still, the quality of Korean blockbusters is drifting towards being more watchable, and even though Pirates is not the greatest thing ever committed to film, there are some comedic moments that land surprisingly well. There are still about forty movies I would recommend ahead of this one if it was your first foray into Korean cinema, but I suppose you could do worse for browsing Netflix on a Tuesday night (ie: see Anacondas 2: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid. It may essentially have the same plot as Deep Blue Sea, but it’s certainly no Deep Blue Sea).
Big Game – 2.5 stars
Goonies meets Die Hard in this Finnish blockbuster starring Samuel L. Jackson as the President who must be led out of the wilderness by a thirteen year old hunter after terrorists shoot down Air Force One with bazookas. You already know whether or not you’re going to see this movie based on that synopsis, so there’s not much more to be said. I enjoyed it. This is what Snakes on a Plane should have been.
This is my Favorite Movies of 2014 list (along with a second opinion from Midwestern correspondent Eric Sweeney). What a great year it was for movies. Even as I assembled this list, I struggled to find a proper order for them as it was such a strong crop to pick from this year (admittedly this list could be reshuffled on any given day). There are still quite a few movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet (I really want to see The Imitation Game and Nightcrawler, but haven’t had a chance) so no yelling about your favorite film being excluded if it appears on the haven’t seen yet list at the bottom*. If it didn’t make either of those lists, then have at it with the internet yelling.
My Favorite Movies of 2014
1. Whiplash – The last ten minutes of this movie were by far the most compelling and intense moments I witnessed on screen this year (the Raid 2’s kitchen fight might be equal, but it’s more impressive in the context of a relatively bloodless movie about jazz). Whiplash is fantastic and I hope J.K. Simmons wins an Oscar for his performance once award season rolls around. There are so many things in the last ten minutes that I’d love to rave about, even seemingly small decisions made by writer/director Damien Chazelle, but I don’t want to spoil too much. Go see it in theaters while you can. It is an outstanding film.
Watch This If You Like: Black Swan, J.K. Simmons yelling at people, Jazz music
2. Guardians of the Galaxy – What was once projected to be Marvel’s first bomb at the box office turned out to be the year’s most pleasant surprise, succeeding both with critics and fans alike. Some questioned handing off such a large franchise to filmmaker James Gunn, whose credentials were more indy-oriented, but much like when the LOTR franchise was handed off to fellow morbid kindred spirit Peter Jackson, it worked out beautifully. Guardians is fun and entertaining and that’s about all you can ask for in a summer blockbuster. It’s not a high brow movie that will head many top 10 lists, but I don’t care. Hopefully Gunn’s success will ease the minds of nervous studio heads who have recently handed over large summer products to lesser known directors (Colin Trevorrow directing Jurassic World, Rian Johnson tapped to finish episode 8 and 9 of Star Wars and Josh Trank helming the Fantastic Four reboot along with a Star Wars spinoff of his own) and open up the door for other rising talents.
3. Interstellar – Interstellar easily wins the most devastating checking of an answer machine award (I honestly don’t know what sort of competition it has for that award though, Little Miss Sunshine?) and also deserves some consideration for the best space movie with semi-plausible/well researched science behind it award. I’m a sucker for space travel movies, so it’s not surprising that I thoroughly enjoyed this sc-fi opus. While Interstellar had some noticeable blemishes (there were more than a few head scratching moments), I’d say the good things far outweighed the bad; a killer score, great effects, a solid cast, surprise Matt Damon cameos (potentially gearing up for his role in the Martian later this year?) and walking Tetris blocks round out the good.
4. Calvary – Calvary is choppy, disjointed and in giving with the McDonaugh brothers tendency to write witty scripts that read like plays, but I enjoy their style. It stands as a solemn film, anchored by a stellar performance from Brendan Gleeson who plays a priests that struggles to get his affairs in order after receiving a death threat. Set against the distinctly ominous landscape of Sligo, Ireland, Calvary is a bleak exploration of personal pain and the various ways we choose to hide it from others. Gleeson’s performance is a quiet and restrained one and will be overlooked come award season due to its relative lack of showy and fiery sermons, but I think it’s the best performance (Michael Keaton, J.K. Simmons and Rosamund Pike are in the mix, too) that I saw on screen this year. Oh, but what a very sad and haunting ending this film has. Good lord.
5. Snowpiercer – As this was my most anticipated movie of 2014, I had already convinced myself that I loved it even before I saw a single frame, so it’s possible there might have been some bias in play. Snowpiercer was another film that could be considered a surprise hit (albeit on a smaller scale), garnering a lot of positive attention after Miramax essentially tried to bury it in limited release and VOD. In an earlier post I cataloged how much I liked this movie, so I won’t really get into it again, but I don’t think it’s any coincidence that two of my favorite directors found their way into my top five this year. Joon-ho Bong and Christopher Nolan consistently put out movies that I find interesting and engaging on a number of levels. I know Snowpiercer wasn’t for everyone and seemed to produce some rather divisive opinions amongst viewers, which I understand, but I thought it was great. Tilda Swinton hamming it up as Minister Mason? Easily worth the price of admission.
Watch This If You Like: The Host, Trains, Claustrophobic date movies, Movies that aren’t really date movies
6. The Raid 2 – The Raid 2 was definitely the best action movie of the year (with some serious consideration for best all-time, too), a blistering, violent gang epic from the mind of rising action director Gareth Evans and his talented cast of Indonesian martial arts stars. I was ridiculously excited going into the theater to see The Raid 2 and left with the same buzz I entered with, which is a rare feat these days. Admittedly, the movie is too ambitious for its own good at times and could stand to lose twenty five minutes from its run time (along with a subplot or two), but those minors qualms are erased by the insanity that is the last hour of this movie. If you don’t mind heaps of gratuitous violence and want to see what has to be one of the best fight scenes of all time, then the Raid 2 is for you.
7. Birdman – Michael Keaton is excellent in this movie. Well, everyone who gets significant screen time in Birdman is excellent, but that’s besides the point. All signs point to director Alejandro González Iñárritu picking up some technical mastery from his good friend Alfonso Cuarón (along with borrowing his DP Emmanuel Lubezki), as the majority of the film is brilliantly constructed and edited together to appear as one long seamless tracking shot. Technical mastery aside, Keaton is the showpiece and he is the best he’s ever been as washed up star Riggan Thompson. What a great role and performance from him (especially considering the semi-autobiographical nature of the material). Hopefully we’ll see more of him on the big screen once again. He has been missed.
8. Boyhood – Boyhood is unique. Other than the 7 Up documentary series, I can’t think of anything quite like it, and the result is mesmerizing. Linklater should be commended for such an ambitious and poignant project. It’s a fantastic film beyond the perceived gimmick and I’d be surprised if you didn’t find yourself still seated long after the credits have rolled, contemplating the many odd twists and turns of your own life.
9. The Lego Movie – The Lego Movie is the best animated movie of the year and also one of the funniest. Everything from the animation to the jokes to the more heartfelt moments work well. It’s the epitome of clever and evokes some comparable moments to Toy Story without feeling too derivative. This could have been terrible, but isn’t. It’s wonderful.
Watch This If You Like: Toy Story, Legos, Heart warming product placement movies
10. Gone Girl – David Fincher’s near perfect adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best selling novel was a great showcase for Rosamund Pike, who was tasked with playing the role of the infamous ‘Amazing Amy’ Dunne. Kudos to her and Fincher for pulling off what should have been very tough material to adapt and making it look easy. And even though it was a thankless role, credit to Ben Affleck, too. He nailed the feel of scummy old Nick Dunne. Also, as strange as it sounds, Tyler Perry was really good as Tanner Bolt. Seriously.
11. Edge of Tomorrow – This film is much better than it should have been, bolstered by the supremely wise decision to sprinkle the script with humor instead of rolling out the bleak Nolan-esque fare it was most likely destined for. It’s a shame it struggled at the box office, but hopefully it will get a second life on DVD (if they stop renaming it that is). If you want to check out a solid sci-fi movie, give it a shot.
12. The Grand Budapest Hotel – I think at this point people know whether or not they like Wes Anderson’s movies. I do, and thought this one was delightful.
Watch This If You Like: The Wes Anderson catalog, whimsy, lobby boys
13. The Rover – Guy Pearce stars in this semi-dystopian companion piece to The Proposition as a drifter who is dead set on getting his truck back after it’s stolen. I’m a big supporter of Guy Pearce and admired the scuzzy ego-free performance he turned in as the film’s drifter, a role that most actors wouldn’t have even entertained playing. The Rover is an undeniably bleak, dusty, dirty and depressing movie, so stay away from this one if you’re looking for feel good material. This is not it. And for all the hate Robert Pattinson gets, he was actually solid in this movie. It’s tough not to feel sympathy for his tragic dim-witted character of Rey.
14. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies – This CG heavy conclusion to the Middle Earth story certainly seemed to be losing a bit of steam and direction as it came to a close, but there were still some things to like. Martin Freeman continued to be a reliable anchor for the series, the opening scene was thrilling and the battle scenes were executed on a grand scale, but it was tough not to feel the tapestry of Middle Earth starting to fray. I love this series and all its entries, but some of its troubling tendencies were becoming harder to ignore. A entirely CG dwarf character? Why? A guy that turns into a giant bear only getting seven seconds of screen time in an epic battle scene? Also why? Three movies for a skinny paperback? Explain?
Watch This If You Like: Movies with Hobbits in them
Honorable Mention: Locke, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Life Itself, Blue Ruin, Under the Skin, How To Train Your Dragon 2, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Godzilla, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 22 Jump Street, The Signal, Begin Again, X-Men: Days of Future Past, John Wick, The Fault In Our Stars, God Help The Girl, Wild, the synth soundtrack in The Guest
Had High Expectations For: The Drop. I really wanted to like it, but was ultimately a bit disappointed. Tom Hardy was great in it and so are the last fifteen minutes of the movie, but as a whole it seemed messy. I think I need to give it another shot though.
Worst Movie: I’m don’t want to linger too much on the negative, but what the hell happened with Transcendence? It was awful. And Pompei, too. You shouldn’t be allowed to plagiarize that much of Gladiator and not call your movie Gladiator 2: Jon Snow’s Revenge. Equally terrible.
*Still Haven’t Seen But Want To See: Nightcrawler, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Get on Up, Foxcatcher, Lucy, Inherent Vice, Only Lovers Left Alive, Comet, Fury, Manakamana, Jodoroski’s Dune, Force Majure, Coherence, Norte: The End of History, Unbroken, American Sniper, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Big Hero 6, Selma, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Citizenfour, Obvious Child, Cold in July, Frank, Dear White People, Ida, St. Vincent, The Book of Life, We Are The Best, Chef, A Hard Day, Starred Up, The Homesman, Enemy
This is my Best Movies of 2013 list. There are still quite a few movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet, so no yelling about your favorite film being excluded if it appears on the haven’t seen yet list at the bottom*. If it didn’t make either of those lists, then have at it with the internet yelling.
Top Movies of 2013
1. Gravity – ‘Gravity’ was hands down the best movie I saw this year. It shattered all expectations I had for it and I was harboring rather lofty expectations as Alfonso Cuarón’s seven year hiatus successor to ‘Children of Men.’ I saw ‘Gravity’ opening night and went back the very next day, which I probably haven’t done since I was fourteen and ‘Independence Day’ was in theaters. Cuarón’s film is simply stunning. You know you’re doing something right when James Cameron goes out of his way to praise your movie, calling it, “the best space film ever done.”
2. The World’s End – The final entry into the Cornetto trilogy was probably my least favorite of the three, but that doesn’t mean it still wasn’t better than 98% of the movies released in theaters this year. Long time collaborators Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost assembled an interesting sci-fi foray into the nostalgic man-child who refuses to grow up catalog, sprinkling in some strangely poignant moments amongst the drunken debauchery. Although still being relegated to a bit of a supporting role, this is really Nick Frost’s movie to shine and shine he does. Occupying the straight/serious guy role this time out, by the latter half of the film Frost has transformed into a hilarious inebriated dynamo. Hats off to him. Also, as with all their movies, this script only seems to get better with every subsequent viewing.
3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – A vast improvement on the first film in almost every regard – the departure of shaky cam, the arrival of better set pieces, added dramatic weight, Finnick, drunk Woody Harrelson, the tribute interviews, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, more creepy Donald Sutherland, etc. I was originally worried about Francis Lawrence taking over this franchise, but after this entry, I’m happy that he’s going to stay on to direct the last two parts (which really should just be one part) of the series. Here’s to hoping that they close it out with a bang and not a ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.’
4. Fast & Furious Six – Fast Six was a lot of fun. Sure, this movie and franchise are dumb as they come, but what it lacks in brains, logic and basic understanding of physics, it makes up for in sheer mindless spectacle and absurdly long runway finale sequences (tip of the hat for including Joe Taslim from ‘The Raid’ in the cast, too). Although, it is very eerie to go back now and watch the copious amounts of reckless driving after Paul Walker’s passing, the film is still a testament to how far he came as an actor, starting off as a by the books California-cool Johnny Lawrence knockoff and working until he became a linchpin of one of the most financially successful franchises of all time. And by all accounts, it sounds like he was a pretty good dude off camera, too. RIP, sir.
5. Prisoners – It’s a shame that Hugh Jackman saved his most intense (and best) performance of the year for this movie and not for the second iteration of Wolverine, but all the same, Denis Villeneuve’s neo-noir kidnapping drama would not be anywhere near as effective if Jackman had phoned it in. Instead, he turned in something that approaches a Daniel Day Lewis is scaring the caterers type of performance, especially in a scene where Jackman uses a hammer as an interrogation tool in a dilapidated bathroom. Credit to Jake Gyllenhaal for mixing it up and giving a different performance than what we’re used to from him, too. His twitchy/sketchy detective was a nice change of pace for him. Overall, ‘Prisoners’ rounds out as a moody ‘Zodiac’ meets ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ meets ‘Mystic River’ type thriller that deserves to be seen.
6. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Sure, it had its problems. It was forty five minutes too long, still was a little bit sloppy at the corners, had Kate from ‘Lost’ creating unnecessary love triangles and the narrative stitching continued to be more of a patchwork amalgamation of appendices, creative liberties and scattered source material, but I’m biased and there was a dragon in it. So, leave me alone. Positives? The barrels in the river sequence was worth the price of admission, Martin Freeman continued to be quietly underrated, Legolas was back, Lee Pace did more than glare creepily from majestic looking reindeer steeds and there was tons of Benedict Cumberbatch dragon voice. So, you know, it could be a lot worse.
Watch This If You Like: LOTR, Dragons, Dwarf meddling
7. Wolf Children – I haven’t seen ‘Frozen’ or ‘Monsters University’, but I feel confident saying ‘Wolf Children’ is the best animated movie of the year. Having said that, I would warn that it is not a movie for everyone. It looks a bit weird at first glance and admittedly, it is a bit weird. There is some content early on that would probably turn people off and produce some eye rolling ‘Twilight’ comparisons, which is really a shame because if you can get past some of the allegorical oddities of the first twenty minutes, you’ll see something special. A poignant, quiet story essentially about parenting (albeit in hyperbolic circumstances) and the sacrifices and concessions parents have to make to raise their kids. Again, I’m not sure Americans would take to this film on a large scale (although with the exception of maybe one scene, there isn’t anything above or beyond what you would see in the annual stateside Studio Ghibli release, so who knows?) since there are some elements which probably resonate better with Japanese culture, but the messages are heartfelt and universal at the core. ‘Wolf Children’ sneaks up on you and is a sort of mini-masterpiece by the time the credits role.
8. Cutie and the Boxer/Blackfish/56 Up/ – I always leave a slot open for documentaries, so why not throw these three in here together? The first is about the relationship of a husband/wife artist combo, the second profiles killer whales in confinement and the last is just a simple seven year checkup on a group of English men and women. ‘Cutie and the Boxer’ examines Ushio and Noriko, two relatively well-known Japanese-American artists. Ushio is the more well-known of the two and the story focuses on the mentor/protege relationship that has defined (and sometimes plagued) their marriage. Throughout their relationship Noriko has been relegated as more of an assistant to Ushio and relied upon to fulfill more domestic duties than artistic pursuits, despite the fact that she is very talented and capable of passing Ushio in notability. ‘Blackfish’ takes a look at killer whales in captivity and the consequences of their confinement, especially at Sea World locations. The documentary focuses on Tilikum, a male killer whale who has been responsible for the deaths of three people, including his trainer. Pretty depressing and eye opening stuff. ’56 UP’ is another entry into the always mesmerizing (even despite the rather bland, innocuous appearance of the subject matter) 7 UP documentary series, which has followed a group of children from England every seven years since they were seven years old. On their fifty sixth birthdays, the failures and successes of each participant are really magnified as they have seemingly breached the walls of “it’s not too late” territory.
9. Pacific Rim – Robots. Explosions. Ron Pearlman. Charlie Day. Idris Elba. Guillermo Del Toro. It has all the proper load-bearing elements of a good summer movie. Is it a perfect movie? No. But in all honesty, I have a soft spot for Guillermo Del Toro. I tend to like him as a person more than his movies and as a result want to like his movies more because of the person that he is. He is a cinema purist (in a good way) and his enthusiasm and breadth of cinematic knowledge seem to wear off on those he works with. I really like watching his featurettes and commentaries and even own the published copy of his diary that released this Christmas. But outside of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth‘ (which I think is a masterpiece) and probably ‘The Devil’s Backbone‘ (which is very solid from what I remember of it), I don’t know if I’ve ever liked his work as much as I wanted to. That being said, ‘Pacific Rim’ is fun if you can switch your brain off and ignore a myriad of problems that parade across the screen. Let’s be honest though, it still has smarter scientists than ‘Prometheus’ and Idris Elba cancelling the apocalypse will always be worth the price of admission in my book.
10. Iron Man 3 – A good portion of ‘Iron Man 3’ is just Robert Downey Jr. antagonizing a small child, but hey, that’s why we go to the movies, right? But that forty minute stretch of bad parenting is still funny and sweet in a weird irresponsible this would never work in real life way that Shane Black’s screenplays are known for. Black always seems to have a flippant element in his writing that almost borders on improvisational glee and I won’t ever criticize that type of enthusiasm in film. ‘Iron Man 3’ is occasionally rough around the edges, but still worth seeing. I mean, Guy Pearce breathes fire in this movie. Why would you not want to see that?
11. Upstream Color – ‘Upstream Color’ will eventually creep up this list as I see it a few more times, but for now I’m still in the initial “too much to process having only seen it once” stage that also occurred with Shane Curruth’s previous effort, the cult favorite time travel yarn ‘Primer.’ Either way, Carruth’s abilities as a director have significantly improved since his last effort and so have the technical aspects of the film. As a result, he has crafted a really good looking bit of confusing, labyrinthine cinema. Certainly not for everyone, but if you liked ‘Primer’, I’d say give it a shot.
12. Snowpiercer – All right, so I haven’t actually seen ‘Snowpiercer’, which, sure, tends to cut down on your ability to have an opinion on it, but I know that whenever the Weinsteins finally overcome the belief that Americans are incapable of processing movies without voiceover or subtlety and actually release this movie stateside, it will be worth the wait. Boasting one of the best directors in the world in Joon-ho Bong (who is making his English language debut with this film) and a cast featuring the indomitable Tilda Swinton, Captain America and the always reliable Song Kang-ho, there is a lot of promise here. This is a clear #1 on my Most Anticipated Movies of 2014 list.
Honorable Mention: The Grandmaster, The Conjuring, The Way Way Back, Drug War, Europa Report, Ender’s Game, The Hunt, Star Trek Into Darkness, This is the End, The Place Beyond The Pines, The Tower, Kon-Tiki, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mud, World War Z, Riddick, Captain Phillips, 42, The Wolverine.
*Haven’t Seen Yet But Will Eventually See And Consider: The Act of Killing, 12 Years A Slave, Leviathan, Rush, At Berkley, Fruitvale Station, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, In A World…, The Wolf of Wall Street, Anchorman: The Legend Continues, All is Lost, Nebraska, A Touch of Sin, Blue is the Warmest Color, Flu, Filth, Short Term 12, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Room 237, Her, Before Midnight, Spring Breakers, The Spectacular Now, Out of the Furnace, The Selfish Giant, Much Ado About Nothing, The Book Thief, Computer Chess, You’re Next.
Recognition Purely Based On Their Performance: Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt, Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha, Nick Frost in The World’s End, Tony Leung in The Grandmaster, Mia Wasikowska in Stoker, Hugh Jackman in Prisoners, Jake Gyllenhaal in Prisoners, Sam Rockwell in The Way Way Back, Kyung-gu Sol in The Tower, Tye Sheridan in Mud, Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Idris Elba in Pacific Rim, Chadwick Boseman in 42, Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black (it’s TV, but we’ll make an exception), Harrison Ford yelling at children in Ender’s Game.
Just Terrible: (As I’ve said before, I’m not big on bashing things, but once a year, I can pick one out and swing for the fences) New Die Hard. You are the worst. Why do you exist? You have destroyed the legacy of John McClane, Hans Gruber and Nakatomi Plaza Christmas parties. You seem like a generic action movie that was written for Bruce Willis and then plugged around the Die Hard franchise at the last second when executives realized the movie was terrible. Also, unless I missed something in this movie (I zoned out quite frequently during the 98 minute runtime, so it’s possible), Bruce Willis is immune to radiation? Who wrote this screenplay?
Movies I’m Looking Forward To In 2014: Snowpiercer, Edge of Tomorrow, The Wind Rises, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Gone Girl, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Veronica Mars, Godzilla, Million Dollar Arm, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Giver, Interstellar, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, 22 Jump Street, Transcendence, The Monuments Men, Jupiter Ascending, Dumb and Dumber To, Sabotage (only because of Mireille Enos), Robocop (only because of Joel Kinnaman and Gary Oldman/Michael Keaton).
August has been a solid month already, especially since it began with a double feature of Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz hosted by stars Nick Frost, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. I’ve been a huge fan of their Cornetto trilogy since I saw Shaun of the Dead way back when. I really hold those two movies along with their TV show Spaced, in very high regard. I’ve always admired their approach to comedy, which they describe as a valentine to the movies that they draw from and clearly admire. This is the reason that their films stand above the slew of parody films like the Scary Movies and stand more as loving homages to the genres they tackle.
So, needless to say, it was a blast to see them in person when they hosted the screening at the Music Box Theater here in Chicago to promote their new film The World’s End. They regaled us with some funny stories, including what they would do in a real zombie Apocalypse and why the extras on the set of Shaun of the Dead thought it was going straight to video.
Also, my week ended with signing with a literary agent (I am now repped by Kaylee Davis and very excited about that) and shaking James Cromwell‘s hand (he seems to be more Farmer Hoggett than American Horror Story in real life). So, yeah, August has been very cool so far. Let us see what the rest of the month holds.
It was really sad to hear that Roger Ebert passed away last week. I was always a big fan of his reviews and his thoughts on cinema as a whole. I especially loved his Great Movies books, which were thoroughly enjoyable essays on some of his favorite movies. Each entry was a portal into seeing just what Ebert loved about movies and why he did what he did for a living. I think some critics, curbed by their only cynicism, only exist to slam and negatively dissect material. But, Ebert, he truly knew how to celebrate movies he liked, whether it be in his Sun Times column or on some of the select DVD commentaries he did (Dark City was an especially good one). His presence will certainly be missed. RIP, Roger.
– Fans and Friends Gather At The Chicago Theater To Remember Roger Ebert (suntimes)
– Ebert on Death (salon)
– Ebert Reviews Your Favorite Movies (ign)
– What Did Roger Ebert Think of Your Favorite Movies? (ign)
– Ebert’s ‘Great Movies’ Review Archive (rogerebert)
– Movies That Roger Ebert Really Hated (canoe)
– Ebert Reviews Dark City (rogerebert)