Friday, February 27, 2015

Top 50 Films of the Decade So Far (2010-2014)

I have seen 785 films from the years 2010 through 2014. Here is my attempt at the fifty best, unbiased (if that is even possible), taking into account aesthetic/technical quality, performances, entertainment value, and dramatic depth. I have also included five must-see documentaries and my personal ten favorites.

Black Swan, a character drama/thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky – Trailer
The Fighter, a character/sports drama directed by David O. Russell – Trailer
Fish Tank, a character drama directed by Andrea Arnold – Trailer
Inception, a crime action/adventure directed by Christopher Nolan – Trailer
The King’s Speech, a period character drama directed by Tom Hooper – Trailer
Never Let Me Go, a sci-fi drama directed by Mark Romanek – Trailer
A Prophet, a crime drama directed by Jacques Audiard – Trailer
The Social Network, a character drama directed by David Fincher – Trailer
True Grit, a western directed by the Coen Brothers – Trailer

Beginners, a character/romance drama directed by Mike Mills – Trailer
Drive, a crime drama directed by Nicolas Winding Refn – Trailer
50/50, a dramedy directed by Jonathan Levine – Trailer
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a mystery thriller directed by David Fincher – Trailer
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, an action/adventure fantasy directed by David Yates – Trailer
Incendies, a mystery drama directed by Denis Villeneuve – Trailer
Jane Eyre, a gothic period romance drama directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga – Trailer
Like Crazy, a romance drama directed by Drake Doremus – Trailer
Martha Marcy May Marlene, a character drama directed by Sean Durkin – Trailer
Melancholia, a character drama directed by Lars von Trier – Trailer
Midnight in Paris, a romantic dramedy directed by Woody Allen – Trailer
Moneyball, a character/sports drama directed by Bennett Miller – Trailer
Shame, a character drama directed by Steve McQueen – Trailer
The Tree of Life, a character drama directed by Terrence Malick – Trailer
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a spy drama directed by Tomas Alfredson – Trailer
Warrior, a sports drama directed by Gavin O’Conner – Trailer

The Dark Knight Rises, an action adventure directed by Christopher Nolan – Trailer
Django Unchained, a western directed by Quentin Tarantino – Trailer
The Intouchables, a character drama directed by Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano – Trailer
Life of Pi, an adventure drama directed by Ang Lee – Trailer
The Master, a period character drama directed by Paul Thomas Anderson – Trailer
Moonrise Kingdom, a romance comedy directed by Wes Anderson – Trailer
A Royal Affair, a period romance drama directed by Nikolaj Arcel – Trailer
Rust and Bone, a character drama directed by Jacques Audiard – Trailer
Zero Dark Thirty, a mystery thriller directed by Kathryn Bigelow – Trailer

Blue is the Warmest Color, a romance/character drama directed by Abdellatif Kechiche – Trailer
Her, a romantic drama directed by Spike Jonze – Trailer
The Hunt, a character drama directed by Thomas Vinterberg – Trailer
Inside Llewyn Davis, a period musical drama directed by the Coen Brothers – Trailer
The Past, a mystery drama directed by Asghar Farhadi – Trailer
Rush, a sports drama directed by Ron Howard – Trailer
Short Term 12, a character drama directed by Destin Cretton – Trailer
12 Years a Slave, a period character drama directed by Steve McQueen – Trailer
The Wolf of Wall Street – a crime drama directed by Martin Scorsese – Trailer

Birdman, a character drama directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu – Trailer
Calvary, a character dramedy/mystery directed by John Michael McDonagh – Trailer
Gone Girl, a mystery thriller directed by David Fincher – Trailer
The Grand Budapest Hotel, a mystery comedy directed by Wes Anderson – Trailer
The Imitation Game, a period character drama directed by Morten Tyldum – Trailer
Interstellar, a sci-fi adventure directed by Christopher Nolan – Trailer
Whiplash, a character drama directed by Damien Chazelle – Trailer

Must-See Documentaries
The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer – Trailer
Exit Through the Gift Shop, directed by Banksy – Trailer
The House I Live In, directed by Eugene Jarecki – Trailer
The Imposter, directed by Bart Layton – Trailer
Inside Job, directed by Charles Ferguson – Trailer

My Favorite 10 Films of the Decade So Far
The Dark Knight Rises
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Gone Girl
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
True Grit
12 Years a Slave
Zero Dark Thirty

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Movies Spotlight – Upcoming 2015 Films – February 2015

Last year was an interesting year for film. For most of 2014, it felt like it was a fairly weak year, aside from a few bright spots (Sundance hits Boyhood and Whiplash, the surprisingly great The Lego Movie and Wes Anderson’s wonderful The Grand Budapest Hotel). Even the summer movie season felt underwhelming, with many disappointments. Edge of Tomorrow was probably the best summer blockbuster (May-July – the typical summer season for big movies), but it did not find its audience and was a commercial disappointment (to go with all the critical disappointments). Really, only Marvel succeeded with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, bookending the summer coming in early April and early August, respectively. But then awards season rolled around and suddenly we were treated to lots of very good films (Gone Girl, Interstellar, Birdman, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Calvary, and Nightcrawler), turning 2014 into a fairly great year for movies. Especially given that most of the year’s best films came from original narratives (at least original in film form).

2015 is a whole different story. It is shaping up to be the year of the blockbuster sequel. That may sound negative and depressing, a whole year defined by sequels and tent poll films, but honestly I am very excited (as are many of us, I imagine) to see most of these films. Among the sequels/reboots are: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Spectre (the latest installment in the Daniel Craig James Bond films), Ant-Man (continuing the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even if he is a new character to cinema), Mission: Impossible 5, Fantastic Four, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Jurassic World, Terminator Genisys, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.

Disney starts the year off in March with their live-action Cinderella (which looks fairly good). Turning their classic animated films into live action films seems to me to be in response to other studios doing their own adaptations of the stories. I think Disney would probably be happier to not make these live action films, but I guess there is money to be made and they probably think they can do them better. So far, none of them has been very good, by Disney or any other studio. Cinderella looks like it might be, however, as it seems to feature the classic style and grace of the original animated film with a modern vibe to make it more accessible for today’s audiences.

There is not really that much else of interest in March. Well, I am curious about Chappie. It does look like a mix between RoboCop and Short Circuit; but despite the disappointment of Elysium, Neill Blomkamp is still one of the more exciting filmmakers making sci-fi films right now. It was just announced that he is making a new Alien film to be released 2017. Based on the concept art, it looks like it might be really great.

In April, Furious 7 starts off the month, promising to deliver yet another boring formulaic and generic action film built on impossible car stunts. I did enjoy Fast 5, but the rest of the series is not really worth anyone’s time, aside from the pure spectacle of it all. The rest of the month seems just as uninteresting as well. Child 44, however, could be an exception. It is a new thriller from Daniel Espinosa (who directed Easy Money and Safe House) and features a great cast, including: Tom Hardy, Joel Kinnaman, Noomi Repace, and Gary Oldman. The other exception is the British sci-fi import Ex Machina (which I think very well might be the best film to open prior to the summer season).

And then, finally, in May things kick off. The month starts off with one of 2015’s two biggest films Avengers: Age of Ultron. For some critics and filmmakers, it seems easy to dismiss superhero/comic book films as mindless entertainment and not engaging art (like say the films nominated for Best Picture Oscars) and there are many, many examples of bad superhero/comic books movies. Yet, when they are done well, they bring great storytelling and spectacle to the masses, and have their own artistic charms as well. When brilliant filmmakers have passion for the material, they are going to make great films that everyone will see (not just a few). Joss Whedon is one of these brilliant filmmakers. On The Avengers, he was handcuffed a bit by coming to the project a little late in its creative process and needing to fulfill Marvel’s story structure – he still made a wonderfully entertaining film. With Age of Ultron, Whedon has created the film in whole, carefully crafting the story, action set pieces and character arcs. I cannot wait to see it.

Also opening the month of May is Far from the Madding Crowd, a potential Oscar contending drama starring Carey Mulligan, Tom Sturridge, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Michael Sheen. The film is directed by Thomas Vinterberg, one of Denmark’s greatest auteurs. He made the 2012 drama The Hunt, which I highly recommend. In terms of other non-blockbusters, Cameron Crowe’s new film Aloha comes out later in the month. It boasts a very strong cast with Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Danny McBride, John Kransinski, Jay Baruchel, and Alec Baldwin. There is some trepidation regarding whether or not the film will be any good, given its tumultuous production, but there is no denying that based on its cast alone it sure has the potential to be really fun.

After Avengers: Age of Ultron, May also offers the blockbusters Mad Max: Fury Road and Tomorrowland. The latest iteration of the Mad Max series, with Tom Hardy taking on the title role, looks absolutely bonkers, but in all the best ways. It looks aesthetically magnificent, and I want to see it just for its grandiose set-pieces. Tomorrowland sounds like a terrible idea conceptually. Disney taking one of their theme park areas and adapting it into a feature film. And yet, the film looks very interesting. Disney hired Pixar veteran Brad Bird (The Incredibles and Ratatouille) to write and direct the film and Damon Lindelof (Lost and The Leftovers) to co-write it. That is a solid creative team. The film stars George Clooney and Britt Robertson (who is looking to have a breakout year). Tomorrowland very well could be one of the summer’s best films.

 In June, there are a few highly anticipated films, namely: Jurassic World and Inside Out. Universal Pictures hired indie filmmaker Colin Trevorrow to write and directed the film that they hope will jumpstart one of their biggest franchises that stalled out a bit with two poor sequels. They also made a great choice in casting Chris Pratt (fresh off his breakout film role in Guardians of the Galaxy) as their lead. Jurassic World hopes to recapture the magic of Steve Spielberg’s original. Inside Out is Pixar’s first of their two films slated for 2015 (the other is November’s The Good Dinosaur). It looks to be a good family film, mixing comedy and drama well, while engaging not only young audience members but also their parents (something that feels rare in family films).

July keeps the sequels coming with Terminator Genisys, Magic Mike XXL, and Minions; but, the more interesting films are maybe the reimaginings of Peter Pan and Poltergeist. Joe Wright, who is a fine British director, makes his first big studio film with Pan – an adaptation of the Peter Pan story that finds Hook as a younger man who aligns himself with Peter and Tiger Lilly to take on the villainous pirate Blackbeard (played by Hugh Jackman). Assuming Warner Bros. wants this to be the beginning of a new franchise, I imagine that things go wrong for Hook leading him down the dark path to becoming the famous villain Captain Hook we all know. Poltergeist was one of the scarier films of my childhood. Remaking it, as it is with remaking any other classic film, seems a tall order and unnecessary. Yet, this new Poltergeist looks quite good. It is directed by Gil Kenan who made the wonderful animated Halloween film Monster House and produced by horror master Sam Raimi.

July does also have a couple big films that could be very good. The final film in Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase II is Ant-Man. Its production troubles seem to have marginalized it for many fans (the original writer-director of the film, Edgar Wright, left the project due to creative differences with Marvel), but it still has a great cast with Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas. Plus, Marvel has yet to miss during its splendid Phase II run. The film I am most looking forward to in July, however, is Trainwreck, the new R-rated comedy from Judd Apatow. The film stars and is written by stand-up comic Amy Schumer (who is maybe the funniest person in America right now). The film has an outstanding cast of comedians and great actors, including: Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, Mike Birbiglia, Randall Park, Colin Quinn, Dave Attell, and others. It should serve as Schumer springboard into the mainstream. I think Trainwreck will be 2015’s best comedy.

August has a few smaller films that could prove to be big hits, like: Goosebumps, Straight Outta Compton and Regression; but I am most interested in its two blockbusters. Opening the month is the reboot Fantastic Four, directed by Josh Trank (who made the fantastic small superhero film Chronicle). Fox has stated that they want this new Fantastic Four franchise to exist within the same universe as their X-Men films (whether or not that is actually the case, we shall see). The film looks very good, a big change from the utter terribleness of the past two Fantastic Four films Fox made. Fox did a great job casting the films with some of our brightest young stars (Miles Teller of Whiplash, Kate Mara of House of Cards and Michael B. Jordan of Fruitvale Station). The other is the reboot of the remake of the TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., an action spy adventure set during the 1960s. Stylish British director Guy Ritchie is writing and directing (and it seems like a really good fit for him) and he has a great cast with Henry Cavill, Alicia Vikander, Armie Hammer, and Hugh Grant.

Sundance this year produced some great films that very well could contend for Oscars next February. I want to look at five films from the festival that stood out. First the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award winner Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. This drama features strong performances from its young cast (Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler and Oliva Cooke) and is very Oscar friendly dramatically and narratively. James Ponsoldt’s new film The End of Tour features a breakthrough performance by Jason Segel (at least in terms of him being recognized for his dramatic skill as well as his comedic skill – although, I would argue that it was already clear from his great work in Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Segel very well could be among the Best Actor nominees. Brooklyn, John Crowley’s new film, is another potential Best Picture nominee. It is a period romance dramedy about Ellis Lacey, a young Irish woman who must decide if she want to remain in Ireland or make the move to America permanently. And finally, Sundance’s most fun film was Dope, a coming-of-age story about three friends growing up in Inglewood. It feels like a Boyz n the Hood for a new generation. Dope is slated for a June release, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is slated for July and The End of Tour will likely see Fall/Winter Releases.

2015 seems like the year of massive blockbusters, but there are some original films form some of our greatest current auteurs coming later in the year. Danny Boyle is directing a biopic about Steve Jobs starring Michael Fassbender, Quentin Tarantino has a new western The Hateful Eight, Sunday’s multiple Oscar winner (including Best Director and Best Picture) Alejandro G. Inarritu is also making a western of sorts with The Revenant (the film I think is the way-too-early Best Picture frontrunner), Terrence Malick has a new stream of consciousness wandering narrative Knight of Cups, David O. Russell is again reteaming with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro for Joy, True Detective director Cary Fukunaga directs the child-soldier narrative Beasts of No Nation, Ridley Scott returns to sci-fi with The Martian, and Denis Villeneuve gives us a new mystery thriller with Sicario. Lots of great stuff to look forward to – I also want to mention Justin Kurzel’s new dark adaptation of Macbeth with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard; it looks incredible.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Academy Awards Retrospective – Movies Spotlight – February 2015

I thought it might be interesting to look back at the Oscar winners from 2001’s show through last year’s, giving my thoughts, now in retrospect, of who probably is most deriving today (looking at all films, not just those nominated).

Best Picture: Gladiator
Best Director: Steven Soderbergh, Traffic
Best Actor: Russell Crowe, Gladiator
Best Actress: Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
Best Supporting Actor: Benicio Del Toro, Traffic
Best Supporting Actress: Maricia Gay Harden, Pollock

Looking back, 2000 was a pretty lousy year for movies. I do not have any thoughts on many of the categories because there is just no real standout work that has stood the test of time. Best Actor, however, I think probably belongs to Christian Bale for his electric and career-making performance in American Psycho (one of my ten favorite performances of the decade). Best Director now goes to Christopher Nolan for Memento, which seems like a no-brainer today. Best Picture is In the Mood for Love, arguably the best film from the decade.

Best Picture: A Beautiful Mind
Best Director: Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind
Best Actor: Denzel Washington, Training Day
Best Actress: Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball
Best Supporting Actor: Jim Broadbent, Iris
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind

Best Actress Halle Berry is very good in Monster’s Ball; it is by far her best work; however, Maribel Verdu’s performance in Y Tu Mama Tambien is even better. And yet, I think Audrey Tautou takes the award today; her work is among my ten favorite performances of the decade. Her performance in Amelie is iconic and lasting. Best Actor I think belongs to Gene Hackman for his work in The Royal Tenenbaums. Best Director is far more difficult, Ridley Scott’s direction of Black Hawk Down is exceptional, but really it is a toss-up between David Lynch for Mulholland Drive and Jean-Pierre Jeunet for Amelie. The same is true for Best Film. Mulholland Drive and Amelie are just as important and relevant today. I will also add Spirited Away to the mix as well.

Best Picture: Chicago
Best Director: Roman Polanski, The Pianist
Best Actor: Adrien Brody, The Pianist
Best Actress: Nicole Kidman, The Hours
Best Supporting Actor: Chris Cooper, Adaptation
Best Supporting Actress: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago

Three of the four acting categories are hard to dispute this year; however, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep are far better in The Hours (assuming you consider them potential Best Supporting Actress nominees, which the Academy did). Just to mix things up, I think Bill Pullman is wonderful in Igby Goes Down (is what is about a cameo’s worth of screen time worth a Best Supporting Actor Oscar?) and Robin Williams is delightfully insane in Death to Smoochy. Best Actress is hands down Nicole Kidman for The Hours, one of my favorite ten performances of the decade. Best Actor Adrien Brody is excellent in The Pianist, but I also very much enjoy Chiwetel Ejiofor in Dirty Pretty Things and Al Pacino in Insomnia. Best Director is rightfully Roman Polanski’s, but Paul Greengrass with Bloody Sunday and Danny Boyle with 28 Days Later… introduced new styles and aesthetics, changing cinema. Best Picture is a toss-up between The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (which only suffers a minor setback from being the middle of a grander narrative – it is still my favorite of the series) and The Hours, a beautifully constructed and acted film.

Best Picture: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Best Director: Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Best Actor: Sean Penn, Mystic River
Best Actress: Charlize Theron, Monster
Best Supporting Actor: Tim Robbins, Mystic River
Best Supporting Actress: Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain

Starting with Best Supporting Actor, Remy Girard is un-matched in The Barbarian Invasions. Best Actress is Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation and Best Actor is Bill Murray also in Lost in Translation, another of my ten favorite performances of the decade.. Best Director rightfully belongs to Peter Jackson, not just for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King but really the whole trilogy. I also want to mention Kevin Costner for making the brilliant western Open Range, Gus Van Sant for the chilling and unflinching Elephant and Chan-wook Park for the jaw-dropping mystery thriller Oldboy. It is hard for me to deny The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Best Picture, because it is a monumental achievement and I do love it, but Lost in Translation transcends with its beautiful, touching and funny performances and the simplicity of its premise. It is a movie about friendship and life.

Best Picture: Million Dollar Baby
Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Best Actor: Jamie Foxx, Ray
Best Actress: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett, The Aviator

Jamie Foxx is very good in Ray, but Christian Bale’s transformation in The Machinist is staggering and Bill Murray’s hard-luck adventurer/oceanographer Steve Zissou is funny yet emotionally complex. None of them are Best Actor, however, that alone belongs to Bruno Ganz in Downfall. Back in 2005, I agreed with Million Dollar Baby winning the awards it won. Today, I still think it is a powerful and well-told narrative, but it is not Best Picture or even Best Director. For director, I put forth Oliver Hirschbiegel for Downfall and Kar Wai Wong for 2046; and yet, honestly I think the year belongs to franchise sequels. Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 are the best crafted and most entertaining films of the year. With Spider-Man 2, Raimi constructs a perfect narrative. For Best Picture, I will also add Hotel Rwanda to the mix, but it is Spider-Man 2 all the way.

Best Picture: Crash
Best Director: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Best Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
Best Supporting Actor: George Clooney, Syriana
Best Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener

Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor very well could be The Squid and the Whale’s Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels; although, Niels Arestrup is very good in The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Val Kilmer is hilarious in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Tom Hollander steals scenes in Pride & Prejudice. That said, I think Best Support Actor, for me, is Chiwetel Ejiofor in Serenity. I love Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line (and Joaquin Phoenix is wonderful as well), but Best Actress is Keira Knightely in Pride & Prejudice, another of my ten favorite performances from the decade. Best Director very well could be Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain, but I would also like to mention Jacques Audiard for The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Terrence Malick for The New World, Rian Johnson for Brick (reimagining the film noir genre, blending it with a teen film), Steven Spielberg for Munich, Joe Wright for Pride & Prejudice (with his fantastically fluid and kinetic camera), Joss Whedon for Serenity, and Christopher Nolan for Batman Begins (making me forget that Tim Burton even attempted another Batman film before, something seemingly infeasible to my late 1980s adolescent self). Best Picture is among all these films as well as Capote and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. I am torn between Batman Begins, Pride & Prejudice and Serenity – each is highly entertaining, very well-made and just as vital and relevant today. 2005 was a standout year for film.

Best Picture: The Departed
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

2006 mostly comes down to two films: The Prestige and Children of Men, but let us dig a little deeper. Best Support Actor, for me, is Bill Nighy in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (just utter brilliance and joy). Best Actress is Carice van Houten for her tour de force performance in Black Book. Best Actor easily could be Francois Cluzet in Tell No One or Ulriche Muhe in The Lives of Others, but Christian Bale is phenomenal in The Prestige, another of my ten favorite performances of the decade. Martin Scorsese was due to win a Best Director Oscar, and cinema fans were happy to see him win, but there were some move deserving directors: Paul Verhoeven for Black Book, Paul Greengrass for United 93, J.J. Abrams for Mission: Impossible III (I know you are shocked by this, but he made the best action film of the decade with MI3; it is just wholly entertaining), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck for The Lives of Others, and Guillermo del Toro for Pan’s Labyrinth. The award, however, belongs to either Alfonso Cuaron for Children of Men (its aesthetic and technical degree of difficulty) or Christopher Nolan for The Prestige (its masterful construction). I tend to favor Nolan, as I favor The Prestige for Best Picture. I also want to throw in the genuine, sad and heartfelt musical Once, just to mention it. It is a great film.

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men
Best Director: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

2007 was also a very good year for film. I agree with most of Oscar winners. Tilda Swinton is very good in Michael Clayton (a film that has not remained vital in any regard), but Saoirse Ronan is extraordinary in Atonement; she is 2007’s Best Supporting Actress. Javier Barden is Best Supporting Actor, no question, but Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton, Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War probably would have all won in different years. There is also no denying Daniel Day-Lewis Best Actor, but Brad Pitt is sensational in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (probably the best performance of his career, and the performance that won me over; he has since become one of my favorite actors), as is Richard Jenkins in The Visitor. I concur with the Coen Brothers being Best Director and No Country for Old Men being Best Picture, but I also love Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (I know you have not seen it, but if you love westerns, you must), Joe Wright’s Atonement, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz and Best Supporting Actor Heath Ledger (giving maybe the performance of the decade, and one of my ten favorite) are both very deserving (although, you can make cases for Taraji P. Henson and Tilda Swinton in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, both of whom are also very good). Best Actress Kate Winslet is better in Revolutionary Road and should have won for that film; I also very much enjoy Rebecca Hall in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Cate Blanchett in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Sean Penn is great in Milk (it is my favorite performance of his), but I also want to nominate Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (perfectly conveying the humor and sadness – it is the decade’s best romantic comedy), Leonard DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road, Tom Hardy in Bronson, Chiwetel Ejiofor in Redbelt, Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and my pick for Best Actor Michael Fassbender in Hunger. Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight, David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Tomas Alfredson for Let the Right One In are all good choices for Best Director, but Steve McQueen does something exceptional with Hunger. It is mesmerizing, haunting and unforgettable. WALL-E deserves to be mentioned along with these others, as one of the few animated films to really make an impact as one of the year’s very best movies. Yet, Best Picture comes down to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Dark Knight – two grand epics. I pick The Dark Knight.

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique, Precious

This year’s Oscars has a lot of wrongs. Starting with Best Supporting Actress, my pick is Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air, but in close proximity are Rosamund Pike in An Education and Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds. Christoph Waltz is Best Supporting Actor, unquestionably, but there were some other great supporting performances by men in 2009: Michael Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds, Tom Hollander and Peter Capaldi in In the Loop (hysterically funny), Niels Arestrup in A Prophet, and Christian Bale in Public Enemies. The Blind Side being nominated for Best Picture is laughable (almost as laughable as Crash winning in 2006) and Sandra Bullock’s performance boarders on caricature, but I guess everyone decided it was her year, good performances be damned. My pick for Best Actress is Melanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds, followed closely be Carey Mulligan in An Education, Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank and Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria. Jeff Bridges is good in Crazy Heart, but Colin Firth in A Single Man, Sam Rockwell in Moon, Sharlto Copley in District 9, Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds, and my pick for Best Actor Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man all give more interesting and dynamic performances. Best Director could be Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, Pete Docter and Bob Peterson for Up, Michael Mann for Public Enemies, Juan Jose Campanella for The Secret in Their Eyes, Jacques Audiard for A Prophet, Armando Iannucci for In the Loop, or Cary Fukunaga for Sin Nombre, but my pick is Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds, which also my pick for Best Picture.

Best Picture: The King’s Speech
Best Director: Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter

I think all the performances that won are very deserving. I just want to mention some other great performances from the year not nominated: for Best Supporting Actress Rooney Mara in The Social Network; she makes a tiny amount of screen time resonate throughout the whole narrative. Keira Knightley is also excellent in Never Let Me Go, playing off type. For Best Supporting Actor Andrew Garfield is brilliant in both The Social Network and Never Let Me Go, having a breakthrough year. Matt Damon and Barry Pepper (in a tiny role) are great in True Grit. Ben Mendelsohn (who has become one of our best working character actors) is electric and terrifying in Animal Kingdom. And, Tom Hardy is just a treat to watch in Inception. For Best Actress Hailee Steinfeld is wonderful in True Grit, as is Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go. And for Best Actor, Leonardo DiCaprio is very good in Inception, a deseptively difficult performance. Best Director is unquestionably Christopher Nolan (did the Academy not see Inception?). Incendies, Never Let Me Go, True Grit and The Social Network are all top-notch, and could have won Best Picture if not for Inception, a breathtaking feat of directorial skill, narrative construction and realization. In a time dominated by series and series, Inception is a grand and original blockbuster.

Best Picture: The Artist
Best Director: Michel, Hazanavicius, The Artist
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help

The 2012 Oscars were dominated by nostalgia, but in retrospect they got most everything wrong. Best Supporting Actress Octavia Spencer is deserving, but it is a shame that Carey Mulligan did not get nominated for Drive or Shame, Jessica Chastain for The Tree of Life, Elle Fanning for Super 8, Anna Kendrick for 50/50, Keira Knightley for A Dangerous Method, and Shailene Woodley for The Descendents (who probably gave the best performance of the bunch). Best Supporting Actor Christopher Plummer is also deserving, but I also really enjoy Michael Fassbender in Jane Eyre, Omar Sy in The Intouchables, Ezra Miller in We Need to Talk About Kevin, Albert Brooks in Drive, Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life, Corey Stoll in Midnight in Paris, and Jonah Hill in Moneyball. And then things go wrong. Best Actress is Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, followed by other excellent performances by Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, Mia Wasikowska in Jane Eyre, Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Felicity Jones in Like Crazy. Best Actor is Michael Fassbender in Shame, followed by other excellent performances by Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Brad Pitt in Moneyball, Tom Hardy in Warrior, Michael Shannon in Take Shelter, and Francois Cluzet in The Intouchables. Best Director is David Fincher for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (making an even better version of what was already a great Swedish film and book). Steve McQueen’s work on Shame is also striking. A few others worthy of mentioning: Cary Fukunaga for Jane Eyre, Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive, Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life, and J.J. Abrams for Super 8. There were quite a few great films in 2011, like the blockbusters Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which actually lived up to the hype, and surpassed it) and Super 8, fun dramedies like 50/50 and Midnight in Paris, and profound dramas like Shame and Jane Eyre. The Best Picture of the year, however, is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (revisit it and you will see its brilliance).

Best Picture: Argo
Best Director: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hawthaway, Les Miserables

I agree with the acting categories. Anne Hathaway is also fabulous as Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, which would have been my favorite Best Supporting Actress performance of the year if not for her work in Les Miserables (it is the only thing worth watching the very tedious movie for). Kelly Reilly is excellent in Flight, but did not get a nomination. Christoph Waltz winning Best Supporting Actor is probably right, but it was a strong year. These standout performance were not even nominated: Javier Bardem in Skyfall, Ezra Miller in The Perks of Being a Wall Flower, Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained, Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises (his Bane is one of my favorite superhero film villains, up there with Heath Ledger’s Joker and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki), Michael Fassbender in Prometheus (the best part of the film, along with its aesthetics), and Ben Mendelsohn in Killing Them Softly. Jennifer Lawrence is undeniably charming and engaging in Silver Linings Playbook winning Best Actress, but I think Marion Cotillard’s performance in Rust and Bone is just as good (maybe even better). Other great performances not nominated include: Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina (a visual whirlwind, but grounded by her strong work), Alicia Vikander in A Royal Affair and Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha. Daniel Day-Lewis is probably our best working actor presently, he utterly becomes his characters. He deserved to win Best Actor for Lincoln, but here are some exceptional performances not nominated: Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt, Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises, Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained, Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly, and Suraj Sharma in Life of Pi. Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is remarkable. He took 3-D, an improperly used technology, and used it to produce an incredible film experience. And yet, Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial feats on Zero Dark Thirty are just about as impressive. In terms of blockbuster filmmaking, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers is uneven, but he knocked the third act out of the park, creating the year’s most entertaining film, while Christopher Nolan ends his Dark Knight Trilogy with another astoundingly good film in The Dark Knight Rises. Rian Johnson also exhibits flourishes of sheer brilliance in the montages of Looper. And, Paul Thomas Anderson gets pitch perfect performances across the board in The Master. Best Director is a toss-up. If I have to pick though, I tend to lean towards Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty is just so enthralling). Best Picture comes down to The Master, Life of Pi, The Dark Knight Rises, and Zero Dark Thirty. Argo is a good thriller, but nowhere near the level of these films. I love Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and so my pick is The Dark Knight Rises, but if you were to take that out of the running I would go with Zero Dark Thirty.

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Jered Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

We have finally come to the end. I will make this one quick. I agree with Lupita Nyong’o as Best Supporting Actress. I question if anyone will care about Dallas Buyers Club in five year, or if anyone even cares about it now. Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave is Best Supporting Actor. I agree with Cate Blanchett as Best Actress. Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave is Best Actor. Initially I did agree that Alfonso Cuaron deserved to win Best Director for the technical challenges of Gravity, but now I feel differently. The film does not really hold up to multiple viewings and Steve McQueen’s directorial work on 12 Years a Slave is much more profound and interesting. I think Spike Jonze for Her and Marin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street are also more deserving, but McQueen is my pick today. I agree with 12 Years a Slave as Best Picture.

Enjoy the 2015 Academy Awards on Sunday.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Music Spotlight – Dr. Rocket – February 2015

Up and coming rock/pop group Dr. Rocket have released their first single I Never Knew You Like That, a poppy infectious song. The duo from the Pacific Northwest, Nick Carver and Mason Kline, have tapped into a sound that is both fresh and nostalgic. It has its roots in the great pop music to come out of the U.K. in the 1960s (bands like the Beatles, the Zombies, the Kinks, and so on), but also offers a modern vibe both lyrically and musically.

Pop music is mostly concerned with the trials and tribulations of love – specifically when we first fall in love or when it all goes wrong, the thrill or the anguish. I Never Knew You Like That very well may be just another love song, but it feels as if its protagonist is trying to convey the entirety of the experience in a single song – from the dumbfounded goofy awkwardness of first meeting to the painful disassociation following a break-up (in which we wonder how we could ever have even been with a person like that) – an ambitious feat. The song is catchy, fun and a little deep. I cannot wait to hear more.

Follow Dr. Rocket on Twitter @xxDrRocketxx 

And, check out I Never Knew You Like That below:

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

LeapBackBlog 2014 Film Awards

2014 was such a great year for movies. Putting together my top 25 lists was very difficult (and it is impossible to see every film and every performance). Here are lists of my favorites from the year. I have put an “*” next to the best (or, at least, what I think is the best) film, performance and artistic/technical/aesthetic achievement in each category.

Favorite 25 Films of 2014

Birdman, a character dramedy directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrutu – Trailer

Boyhood, a coming-of-age drama directed by Richard Linklater – Trailer

Calvary, a character drama directed by John Michael McDonagh – Trailer

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, an action adventure directed by Anthony & Joe Russo – Trailer

Edge of Tomorrow, a sci-fi action adventure directed by Doug Liman – Trailer

The Fault in Our Stars, a teen romantic drama directed by Josh Boone – Trailer

Foxcatcher, a character drama directed by Bennett Miller – Trailer

Fury, a WWII action drama directed by David Ayer – Trailer

The Grand Budapest Hotel, a mystery comedy directed by Wes Anderson - Trailer

Gone Girl, a mystery thriller directed by David FincherTrailer

Guardians of the Galaxy, a sci-fi action adventure directed by James Gunn – Trailer

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, a fantasy action adventure directed by Peter JacksonTrailer

The Imitation Game, a biographical WWII character drama directed by Morten Tyldum - Trailer

Intersteller*, a sci-fi action adventure drama directed by Christopher Nolan - Trailer

Into the Woods, a musical fantasy drama directed by Rob Marshall - Trailer

The Lego Movie, an animated action comedy directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller – Trailer

A Most Violent Year, a period crime drama directed by J.C. Chandor – Trailer

The Normal Heart, a period drama directed by Ryan Murphy – Trailer

Pride, a period drama directed by Matthew Warchus – Trailer

The Raid 2, a martial arts action adventure directed by Gareth Evans – Trailer

Selma, a period drama directed by Ava DuVernay – Trailer

The Theory of Everything, a biographical period character drama directed by James Marsh – Trailer

Unbroken, a WWII biographical character drama directed by Angelina Jolie – Trailer

Whiplash, a character drama directed by Damien Chazelle – Trailer

Wild, a character drama directed by Jean-Marc Vallee – Trailer

Favorite 25 Performances of 2014

Ben Affleck, a leading performance in Gone Girl

Emily Blunt, a leading performance in Into the Woods

Jessica Chastain, a supporting performance in A Most Violent Year

Carrie Coon, a supporting performance in Gone Girl

Marion Cotillard, a leading performance in Two Days, One Night

Benedict Cumberbatch, a leading performance in The Imitation Game

Ralph Fiennes, a leading performance in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Brendan Gleeson, a leading performance in Calvary

Oscar Isaac, a leading performance in A Most Violent Year

Felicity Jones, a leading performance in The Theory of Everything

Keira Knightley, a leading performance in Begin Again

Keira Knightley*, a supporting performance in The Imitation Game

Matthew McConaughey, a leading performance in Interstellar

Edward Norton*, a supporting performance in Birdman

David Oyelowo, a leading performance in Selma

Rosamund Pike*, a leading performance in Gone Girl

Chris Pine, a supporting performance in Into the Woods

Eddie Redmayne*, a leading performance in The Theory of Everything

Mark Ruffalo, a supporting performance in Foxcatcher

Jenny Slate, a leading performance in Obvious Child

Emma Stone, a supporting performance in Birdman

Miles Teller, a leading performance in Whiplash

Reese Witherspoon, a leading performance in Wild

Shailene Woodley, a leading performance in The Fault in Our Stars

Favorite 25 Artistic, Technical & Aesthetic Achievements

Wes Anderson, the director of The Grand Budapest Hotel

Donald Graham Burt, the production designer of Gone Girl

Damien Chazelle, the director of Whiplash

Jeff Cronenweth, the cinematographer of Gone Girl

Nathan Crowley, the production designer of Interstellar

Roger Deakins, the cinematographer of Unbroken

Alexandre Desplat, the composer of Godzilla

Alexandre Desplat, the composer of The Grand Budapest Hotel

Alexandre Desplat, the composer of The Imitation Game

Maria Djurkovic, the production designer of The Imitation Game

David Fincher, the director of Gone Girl

Hoyte Van Hoytema, the cinematographer of Interstellar

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the director of Birdman

Johann Johannsson, the composer of The Theory of Everything

Ryszard Lenczewski & Lukasz Zal, the cinematographers of Ida

Richard Linklater, the director of Boyhood

Emmanuel Lubezki*, the cinematographer of Birdman

Seamus McGarvey, the cinematographer of Godzilla

Christopher Nolan*, the director of Interstellar

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, the composers of Gone Girl

Adam Stockhausen*, the production designer of The Grand Budapest Hotel

Charles Wood, the production designer of Guardians of the Galaxy

Robert D. Yeoman, the cinematographer of The Grand Budapest Hotel

Hans Zimmer*, the composer of Interstellar

A Few More Fun, Entertaining and Interesting Films You Might Have Missed from 2014

Begin Again, a musical romance drama directed by John Carney – Trailer

Enemy, a mystery thriller directed by Denis Villeneuve – Trailer

Fort Bliss, a character drama directed by Claudia Myers – Trailer

The Guest, a horror thriller directed by Adam Wingard - Trailer

In Your Eyes, a sci-fi romance directed by Brin Hill – Trailer

Laggies, a character dramedy directed by Lynn Shelton – Trailer

Locke, a drama thriller directed by Steven Knight - Trailer

Obvious Child, a dramedy directed by Gillian Robspierre - Trailer

The Skeleton Twins, a character drama directed by Craig Johnson – Trailer

What If, a romantic comedy directed by Michael Dowse - Trailer

A Few More Wonderful and Under-Heralded Performances that I also Loved

Rose Byrne, a leading performance in Neighbors

Kim Dickens, a supporting performance in Gone Girl

Michael Fassbender, a leading performance in Frank

David Gyasi, a supporting performance in Interstellar

Bill Hader, a leading performance in The Skeleton Twins

Tom Hardy, a leading performance in Locke

Michelle Monaghan, a leading performance in Fort Bliss

Joaquin Phoenix, a leading performance in The Immigrant

Tilda Swinton, a supporting performance in Snowpiercer

Kristen Wiig, a leading performance in The Skeleton Twins

Good Films I Have Yet to See (that probably would have factored into the above lists)

The Babadock, a horror thriller directed by Jennifer Kent – Trailer

Force Majeure, a drama directed by Ruben Ostlund – Trailer

Mr. Turner, a period character drama directed by Mike Leigh – Trailer

Nightcrawler, a drama thriller directed by Dan Gilroy – Trailer

Starred Up, a crime drama directed by David Mackenzie – Trailer