Best Films of 2014

2014 was an amazing year at the theater. Whether it’s a struggling actor trying to make it big on Broadway or a seemingly guilty husband trying to make sense of his wife’s disappearance, 2014 offered up bold, risky and innovative films to be remembered. Yes, Boyhood will be eyeing Oscar gold come Feb. 22, but the year was at it’s best when its films grabbed you by the brain and wouldn’t let go.

10. The Grand Budapest Hotel Wes Anderson’s quirky, surprisingly violent, but no less charming tale of a hotel concierge and the lobby boy who becomes his best friend was released way back in March. Yet it’s a top contender in the awards race (it has a shot at best original screenplay and Anderson is finally in the picture and director fight) which says a lot for its staying power.

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9. Guardians of the Galaxy One of two summer blockbusters to make the list, James Gunn’s Guardians is the less Marvel-y of all the Marvel films released thus far (apart from maybe Iron Man 3). Yet its mega-popular. Why? Apart from the fact it introduces Marvel’s full-fledged cosmic universe, it’s just a damn good, entertaining film you can watch over and over again without getting bored (I know I have). Who needs Iron Man when you have Groot?

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8. Nightcrawler While Jake Gyllenhaal came up empty handed when it came time for Oscar nominations, he still gives one of the best performances of the year as the dangerously obsessive Lou Bloom, who, once he’s roped into the world of crime journalism, will do whatever it takes to get the perfect footage. Its dark satire on the way we perceive news…and the way its given to us.

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7. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Yep, it is that good. Say what you want about the Planet of the Apes franchise, it’s come back in full-swing thanks to the vision of Matt Reeves. Not to say that Rise of the Planet of the Apes hadn’t already pushed it towards success (it was surprisingly good), but Dawn take it to another level and lands in the pantheon of sequels to top their predecessor in every way.

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6. Interstellar Christopher Nolan’s space opera is sometimes too ambitious for its own good. Nevertheless, it is a mind-boggling, emotion-heavy epic, one that pulls at both the mind and the heart in ways few films can achieve. Only Nolan can be so frustrating, yet so genius, as a filmmaker.

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5. Whiplash The most “normal” film on the list, Whiplash is simply about a young guy trying to be one of the best drummers in the world (an ever-growing Miles Teller), while an emotionally–and sometimes physically–abusive instructor (a never-better J.K. Simmons) berates him every step of the way. The film hangs on its stars’ performances, but its also the energetic style of a young filmmaker that raises it to greatness.

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4. Snowpiercer Maybe I’m cheating a little, but this South Korean film–set in a world where remaining survivors of a climate-change apocalypse live on a globe-trekking, class-based train–made it’s official release in the U.S. in 2014, so don’t mind me if I put this insanely inventive film on the list. One of the most visually stunning and creative films I’ve seen, Snowpiercer reels you in from the start and never lets go.

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3. Foxcatcher Foxcatcher is a tough film to watch. It’s even harder to accept that it’s all true. All the more reason to put it on the list. The real-life story of delusional multimillionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell in a shocking turn) and the Olympic wrestler he recruits to lead his team to gold (Channing Tatum at a career-best), Foxcatcher sticks with you. Research it after you see it and you will appreciate it even more.

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2. Gone Girl It seems like a film only David Fincher could pull off. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened. Ben Affleck plays a husband who’s the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance, but it can’t be that simple right? Rosamund Pike it Oscar worthy here, and the power in the film is in its almost darkly comedic deconstruction of love, marriage and the roles of men and women in society. Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the novel, was robbed of a best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination.

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1. Birdman Birdman is cinema at its finest. The majority of the film from start to finish is all one shot and if that doesn’t pull you in, how’s this: Michael Keaton may be on his way to an Oscar in the best performance of his career. It’s funny, insanely cool (Edward Norton embodies cool) and an all-around commentary on society’s obsession (and then castration) of celebrities. All the more reason to be obsessed with Birdman.

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Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Wonder why Boyhood didn’t make the list? Comment!

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Nine Directors Who Should Direct Star Wars: Episode IX

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With the announcement that Looper’s Rian Johnson is directing Star Wars: Episode VIII, it looks like Disney/Lucasfilm are open to making risky moves in the development of their reinvigorated franchise (even though J.J. Abrams, an obvious choice, is directing the seventh installment). The announcement got my imagination running, and I can’t help but think about the future of the series post-Episode VIII…Episode IX, of course. Here’s nine directors I wouldn’t mind seeing travel to a galaxy far, far away.

9. James Gunn

Gunn may be higher on the list after I see Guardians of the Galaxy (or not on it at all, but I feel like Guardians will be a treat), but for now, I’ll hold off on that. However, Guardians looks like a blast, the perfect summer film, a surprise hit, and a refreshing take on the Marvel cinematic Universe. With Disney owning Marvel and Star Wars, Gunn already has an in with the company. It may just be a matter of whether Guardians does well financially on whether they consider him for such a huge franchise.

8. Drew Goddard

An unlikely choice, but with the Rian Johnson announcement, it feels like anything unlikely could indeed happen. Goddard is responsible for 2012’s surprise hit The Cabin in the Woods, which was his directorial debut. While that “lack of experience” may sound worrisome, fear not: Cabin in the Woods is a great film, jam-packed with the kind of thrilling energy a Star Wars movie desires. Goddard is set-up as the director of the Amazing Spider-Man spinoff Sinister Six, but that should be wrapped up by the time the conclusion to the new Star Wars trilogy had to get underway.

7. Doug Liman

Liman is the director of The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Jumper and most recently, Edge of Tomorrow. While Jumper didn’t fare well critically, Edge of Tomorrow is the surprise of the summer, an entertaining-as-hell and creative effort, with even some nice character work, that speaks to his potential to create a Star Wars film. The only problem may be that we didn’t have expectations set for Edge, while Star Wars would have plenty to live up to.

6. Neill Blomkamp

In 2009, I would have said Blomkamp can direct anything he wants to, because at the time District 9 had wowed us. Since then, his reputation has declined a little. Not much, but enough where he’s not at the top of this list. Last year’s Elysium, his follow up to District 9, proved to be a tad disappointing. A good film, but an overall forgettable one, thanks to its setting that resembled District 9 a little too much and characters that well, we didn’t really give a shit about. But I’m still putting Blomkamp on the list. It’s probably mostly due to the fact I still believe in the guy, but if he were to direct a Star Wars film, I’d be at least intrigued. It would be a much different style than Abrams, but so will Johnson I think we can expect.

5. Brad Bird

Bird is the director of some of the best family-friendly, but mature, animated features out there: The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. He already has more than an in with Disney with the latter film mentioned and Ratatouille. He also directed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, a high-octane joy ride that showed he can direct live-action with the best of ’em. He already has a couple projects lined up, but maybe by the time he had to direct Star Wars 9, his schedule would be free. The Star Wars films have always been family-friendly in nature, but with mature themes. Bird’s style would fit that mold quite well.

4. Matthew Vaughn

Vaughn made waves with his comic book adaptation Kick-Ass, which proved to be the little engine that could. His next project was another super hero film, but this time he toned down the violence and suggestive content and took on the X-Men universe with X-Men: First Class. It was a movie that reinvigorated life into a series that needed it after abysmal movies like X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Both of these movies show Vaughn’s knack for high-energy and excitement, and also his ability to create fun and engrossing characters, something the Star Wars franchise (used to be) all about.

3. Matt Reeves

At first, Reeves may seem like he would be out of his element if he directed a Star Wars film. But I’m sure we’ve thought that of Johnson as well, and I’m sure he’ll bring a creative vision to the series. Reeves sprung onto the scene with Cloverfield, which, love it or hate it, was at least a unique (at the time) take on the monster genre. Then came Let Me In, a film that had so much going against it (being the American remake of the beloved vampire Swedish film Let the Right One In), only to shock critics when it turned out to actually be pretty damn good. Now Reeves is releasing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes soon. It remains to be seen whether the film will be good, but it looks promising and shows Reeves may be able to handle an effects-heavy sequel in a popular franchise. While some would say his style may be too “dark” for a Star Wars film, I think he could bring a unique take on the franchise.

2. Alfonso Curaon

So yes, Cuaron seems like the obvious pick at the moment, having just won the Oscar for best director for Gravity. But think about it: if Cuaron got his hands on a Star Wars movie, it would be unlike any Star Wars movie we’ve ever seen. Cuaron’s vision for things is uncanny, and there’s no doubting the film would be a visual spectacle. And if you’re worried it would be style over substance, remember he also directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which many say is still the best in the series. Depending on the direction they take this new trilogy, Cuaron would be an excellent addition to the array of Star Wars directors. Oh, and tracking shots. Those tracking shots.

1. Michael Bay

Yes, I know what you’re going to say. “What?? That hack? No way!” But hear me out. Bay, despite being known for his explosive, special effects-riddled tendencies that are devoid of plot, has made plenty of memorable movies. The Transformers trilogy shows he can handle an entertaining franchise and–

Okay ya got me. Yes, I am joking. Can you imagine what this shit stain would be like if Michael Bay directed it? Pearl Harbor with space ships. No thank you.

Well, there you have it. Who do YOU think should direct the ninth Star Wars movie following Abrams and Johnson? Sound off in the comments below.

2014 Oscar Predictions

BEST PICTURE: 12 Years A Slave If you thought last year’s race was unpredictable, think again. It was pretty certain that despite its snub of a best director nomination for Ben Affleck, that “Argo” was going to win best picture. This year, though, there are still categories that could be anyone’s for the taking. And while I’m very certain that “12 Years” will win the big award come Sunday night, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have competition. “Gravity” is hot on its heels…

Could Win: Gravity; Should Win: 12 Years A Slave (even though I won’t be dissatisfied if Gravity takes it)

BEST DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuaron …but it has a better chance of winning Best Director than picture. One will find similarities in this year’s winners, primarily in the fact that the director of the visual spectacle (last year it was Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi”) will win over the director of the epic historical drama (this year sees Steve McQueen with “12 Years;” last year we had Spielberg’s “Lincoln”). Cuaron is more than deserving, though; “Gravity” has to be seen to be believed.

Could Win: Steve McQueen; Should Win: Alfonso Cuaron

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE: Matthew McConoughey McConoughey has completely transformed his career within just a year. We saw him briefly in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and even then he stole every scene he was in. But the real stand-outs are his turns in “Dallas Buyers Club” and HBO’s “True Detective.” Is it possible that he could win both an Oscar and Emmy in the same year? Yes, you best believe it is. 

Could Win: Chiwetal Ejiofor; Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio (if only to stop the memes)

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE: Cate Blanchett She’s won pretty much every award there is to win at this point. Not even the Woody Allen controversy will stop her from taking home her second Oscar Sunday night (she won for 2004’s “The Aviator”). This is a no-brainer in a contest that is lacking them.

Should Have Been Nominated: Emma Thompson

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jared Leto It might be strange to see “Dallas Buyers Club” take home two Acting awards Sunday night even though it doesn’t have any chance of winning Best Picture, but it will happen. 

Could Win: Barkhad Abdi; Should Win: Michael Fassbender

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Lupita Nyong’o And here we are. The most competitive race of the year. Will the beloved Jennifer Lawrence take home her second Oscar in a row, or will the break-out star Lupita Nyong’o steal it away? It’s rare for an actor to win two years in a row, but it’s also rare for one to win both the BAFTA and Globe and not win the Oscar. Lawrence falls into both categories. However, Lupita won the SAG and the Critic’s Choice award, and in such a competitive race, I think those mean more than a British award and the Oscar’s little brother. 

Could Win: Jennifer Lawrence; Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Her Another highly competitive category, it comes down to “American Hustle” and “Her.” Will the Academy finally reward David O’Russell or will the creative “Her” take it home? “Her” won the WGA and the Globe, and while “Hustle” may have won the BAFTA, “Her” wasn’t nominated. I think “Her” edges it out, if only slightly. In fact, I feel “Hustle” has been slightly losing its edge as of late. 

Could Win: American Hustle; Should Win: Her

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: 12 Years A Slave If “12 Years” is Best Picture bound, then it will have to win the adapted screenplay award. If anything else wins this Sunday night, then the game will change dramatically, and I will be biting my nails in anticipation for what will take home Best Pic.

Best Animated Feature: Frozen

Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty

Best Documentary Feature: 20 Feet From Stardom

Best Cinematography: Gravity

Best Costume Design: American Hustle

Best Film Editing: Captain Phillips

Best Make-Up and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club

Best Original Score: Gravity

Best Original Song: “Let It Go”

Best Production Design: The Great Gatsby

Best Sound Editing: Gravity

Best Sound Mixing: Gravity

Best Visual Effects: Gravity

Best Documentary Short: The Lady In Number 6

Best Live Action Short: The Voorman Problem

Best Animated Short: Get A Horse

2014 Oscar Nominations Predictions

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Oscar nominations are announced tomorrow morning. Here’s the names I think we’ll be hearing. Keep in mind, this is not an indication of my “best of the year” list (I still have yet to see some of these movies) nor is it a list of winner predictions. That will come later. 

BEST PICTURE:  12 Years a Slave, Gravity, American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street, Captain Phillips, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, Dallas Buyers Club, Philomena; Possible alternates: Her, Saving Mr. Banks, Blue Jasmine

Like last year, I see the Academy only going with 9 candidates this year when there could easily be the full 10. I predict Her and Saving Mr. Banks will be snubbed, but those are also the two I see having the best chance of proving me wrong. 

BEST DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave), Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), David O’Russell (American Hustle), Martin Scorcese (Wolf of Wall Street), Alexander Payne {Nebraska); Possible alternates: Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips), Spike Jonze (Her), the Coen Bros. (Inside Llewyn Davis)

Again, Her has a chance of sneaking in there, but I see Jonze having a better shot at the original screenplay category than directing. Last year’s director noms were quite surprising, but the only surprise I’m predicting this year is Payne for Nebraska. If anyone has a shot of proving me wrong, it’s Greengrass and the Coens. 

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BEST ACTOR: Chewetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Robert Redford (All Is Lost); Possible alternates: Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Joequin Phoenix (Her), Christian Bale (American Hustle), Forrest Whittacker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler)

By far the hardest category to call this year. It’s both frustrating and extremely exciting. So much talent this year boiled down to five nominees. Ejiofor, DiCaprio, McConaughey, Dern, and Redford are my five, and it was extremely difficult to leave Hanks out of the picture.

BEST ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Amy Adams (American Hustle), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks); Possible alternates: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Lead actress is more solid than lead actor this year, with Streep being the only possible upset that I can see. But even that’s a long shot.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Jonah Hill (Wolf of Wall Street), Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips); Possible alternates: Daniel Bruhl (Rush), Will Forte (Nebraska), Collin Farrell (Saving Mr. Banks)

I don’t see my five being in jeopardy. Bruhl is only a possibility because of the Globe nom and Farrell is a personal favorite, likely not getting any recognition come tomorrow morning. 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), June Squibb (Philomena), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wall Street); Possible alternates: Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels’ The Butler), Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)

Okay, so Robbie is a HUGE dark horse but she was great in Wolf. I get one really big surprise, and that’s mine. 

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: 12 Years a Slave, Wolf of Wall Street, Captain Phillips, Philomena, Before Midnight; Possible alternates: August: Osage County, The Spectacular Now, 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Her, American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis; Possible alternates: Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity

Not a lot of room for error in the writing categories this year, but we’ll see if Dallas Buyers Club can possibly sneak in there.

Well, that does it. Did you think I was going to do every award? I took some chances with some picks but we’ll see if it paid off tomorrow morning. 

Why The End of “Man of Steel” Is Good For Superman

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Totally disagree with this article. I think it actually made me mad. I’m not sure, but it made me something.

http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/06/15/man-of-steel-superman-zod-death/

First off, before I get into what I really have an issue with, it baffles me how many critics are complaining about the ending being just one giant, unnecessary fight scene with too much CGI–this writer even goes on complaining that nobody “seems to notice” that an entire city has just been destroyed. Then what the hell did they think The Avengers was? Shakespeare? I’m glad we have a Superman movie where he actually uses his powers to fight someone in building-toppling glory.

Okay, now my real issue with the article. It really bothers me that people would have an issue with Superman killing Zod. Yes, old school comic book readers are going to say “NO, SUPERMAN WOULD NEVER KILL!” But this is a different time and a different Superman. The writer seems to have a predetermined set of rules in his head that Superman has to abide by or it’s not “Superman-like.” Comic book characters are constantly adapting to change, whether it’s figuratively in how they adapt to the times or literally in how they handle situations within their stories. In the lead up to DC’s comic book event, “Infinite Crisis,” Wonder Woman kills a man. She snaps his neck because it was necessary. Because the times were tough. I’m not advocating that super heroes should resort to killing just because “the times are tough.” That’s why they’re super heroes, because they can rise above that. But it happens so few times that when it does it makes for interesting debate.

Superman as a character for years has been labeled as an All-American boy scout. In a word, he was boring. People can say he’s the ideal superhero fighting for truth, justice and the American way all they want, but at the end of the day, it’s when Superman gets angry that he’s the most interesting, especially on the big screen. In the classic “Superman: The Movie” Lois dies and Superman lets out a scream of agony. He’s so mad, he fucking flies around the world at top speed to reverse time. It’s ridiculous, obviously, but it’s this kind of radical action-taking that the Superman in “Man of Steel” will be associated with when he takes Zod’s life.

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I find it intriguing, maybe a little troublesome too, that people don’t have a problem with Superman selfishly using his powers to rewrite history but they do have a problem with him unselfishly using his powers to, yes, kill someone, but more importantly, to save lives.

The writer of the article is insistent in the thinking that Superman has no emotional reaction to killing Zod, and this makes him a cynical, unthoughtful super hero. He doesn’t immediately kill him. It’s clear he doesn’t want to. He pleads with Zod. It’s only right before Zod’s heat vision is about to melt a poor helpless family that Superman FUCKING SNAPS HIS NECK. It’s like a bullet heard ’round the world. I got chills. The audience gasped. And after, just like in “Superman: The Movie” he lets out a scream of agony because he knows what he did was wrong…BUT HE FUCKING HAD TO DO IT. It’s not because the filmmakers couldn’t come up with a way to get rid of Zod without killing him. As much as the writer of this article wants to make us think they’re morons, I’m sure they fought with the idea of whether Superman should kill and had alternative ways to handle the situation. But the fact they settled on this is much more appealing.

This Superman is willing to make hard choices. He gets angry and throws down hard with Zod and his followers and then he makes the ultimate choice in the heat (literally) of the moment. The writer thinks that Superman killing someone doesn’t change him at all, that it doesn’t have any consequences going further. And he has a problem with this. But what the writer doesn’t seem to understand is that we may not have seen any consequences because this is a much different Superman, one that already had the means to kill. This Superman has a choice, and that’s a big part of the film that the writer of the article seems to forget. Just as there are no predetermined set of rules that say what Superman should or shouldn’t do that can’t be broken, so too there is no predetermined course for his destiny in this film. We all know he’ll grow to be a force for good and hope, but Jonathan Kent never implies that that’s what he HAS to do. He doesn’t pretend he knows what Clark’s destiny is, he just does the best he can in raising him and leaves the rest up to fate. Jonathan is willing to let people die to hide Clark’s secret, just as Clark is willing to kill to save lives. It’s not because they are “cynical” people or dishonorable. It just means that what they do they believe will, in the end, be for the better of everyone. It’s very Machiavellian, “the ends justify the means.” And that may not be what we associate with Superman, or want to, but perhaps it’s something we should start doing.

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The writer also makes comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy and how, unlike those movies with Batman, “Man of Steel” doesn’t seem to care all that much about Superman’s code of ethics. He makes the assumption that the filmmakers don’t think he has any. I don’t think that’s the case at all. The film does a good enough job of hammering home the idea that this Superman is still alien to us both physically and emotionally. An alien being still coming into his own and finding his place in this world may not know what his code of ethics is YET. But perhaps him killing Zod is that moment that makes him realize his code of ethics. Maybe it’s the moment where he realizes he doesn’t want to kill again. And if it’s not, then at least we know he’ll only kill in the most necessary of situations. Before the writer jumps to any assumptions, I think he should have remembered that this is an origin story right up until the very last shot of the film.

And speaking of the “Dark Knight” movies, does Batman not kill in those films? In “Batman Begins,” sure he doesn’t exactly “kill” Ra’s al Ghul, but, as he blatantly points out, he “doesn’t have to save” him either. He bails out of a high-speed train just as it’s about to crash, leaving Ra’s to die. And in that exact moment, Ra’s wasn’t threatening anyone’s life like Zod was when Superman kills him. Batman abandons him to save his own ass and make a statement. In “The Dark Knight,” sure Batman saves the Joker from falling to his death but 10 minutes later he pushes Harvey Dent out of a building to save Jim Gordon’s kid. He probably didn’t intend to kill him, but he still dies from an action Batman takes, and it was because, like Zod, Harvey was threatening a life. And after it’s all done, Batman takes the blame for Harvey’s killings. Because if Gotham’s people knew Harvey was bat-shit insane all hope would be lost. This could have never happened if Harvey had lived. And Batman’s not a dumb-ass. So maybe he did want him to die.

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Is this very heroic? By this writer’s thoughts, it’s not. But he makes no mention of these instances, or any other instance in which super heroes are responsible for their enemies dying. It always seems to happen that the hero doesn’t “intentionally” kill the villain. They just fall to their death and the hero doesn’t save them. But is that any better than Superman choosing to take a life? And nobody bats an eye lash when The Avengers leave Manhatten in ruins or Batman HACKS PEOPLE’S FUCKING CELL PHONES TO SPY ON ONE GUY…but they get in a fit if Superman kills for the greater good. I’m not saying what those other heroes do is wrong. But what Superman did wasn’t wrong either. And maybe it’s good that people hold Superman to a higher standard than the rest. He is Superman after all. But in this day and age, Superman needed a makeover, and I say what better way to do that than to give him a reason to kill.