21 Favorite Films of 2015

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Looking back at my old posts I realize I am way too wordy. 20 films plus my “double feature” add-ons is a bit much, and I know all you fine people are just reading the last 5 anyways. Ive actually had quite a bit of trouble ordering my favorite films into any discernible order, but thats always the case when you finally look at your list of favorite films of the year. Each films offers such utterly unique pleasures, from heart-rending WWII dramas to adrenaline-fueled gut punches in a scorching post-apocalyptic landscapes (big surprise, Mad Max-Fury Road is on the list. Shocking, I know). I actually got to work in a high-end theater over the summer, giving me an interesting perspective on the film industry and how audiences connect with films (and I got to meet some celebrities like Colin Farrell and Denzel Washington). Turns out Danny Pudi, who plays Abed on Community, is actually the polar opposite of his on screen persona, a charming and confident family man. Didnt see that one coming. Of course I wasn’t able to catch a few films which most likely would have absolutely made this list (Steve Jobs, Macbeth, Carol, 45 Years, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight) but I was able so see a few absolute gems that I hope none of you have seen and will search out. So here we go!

21. ENTERTAINMENTI would love to compare Rick Alverson (The Comedy) to Lynch or Wim Wenders, but he truly has a dark comedic mind that is totally unique. Gregg Turkington plays the most depressed, pathetic stand-up comedian ever as he slowly makes his way across the Mojave desert, performing at hole in the wall gigs which usually result in him berating his half-interested audience on how they don’t appreciate his craft. Surreal and utterly deadpan, Entertainment will repulse yet fascinate you long after the credits roll.

Double Feature- WELCOME TO MEAlice Klieg (Kristen Wiig) suddenly wins the lottery and immediately decides to start her own talk show, yet instead of interviewing guests she uses her air time to make the world understand her. The cable company lets her do whatever she wants so long as the checks keep clearing, yet soon realize that she is a deeply disturbed and troubled woman. Mental illness now has a time-slot as Alice begins digging deeper into her insecurities and failings on air, and you cant help but wonder if you should laugh at her antics or feel terrible for this damaged woman. The film is unafraid to go down some dark paths, and I applaud this film’s vision.

20. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWDBased on Thomas Hardy’s 4th novel, Far From the Madding Crowd is a period piece done right. Carey Mulligan shines as Bathsheba Everdene, who after taking control of a large farmstead is pursued by 3 men, all equally complex and infatuated with her in their own ways. Matthias Schoenaerts’s loves her from afar with a certain quiet observation and respect, just waiting for the right moment. Michael Sheen steals the show as a wealthy suitor who can no longer hide his suffocating loneliness. Gorgeous costumes (seriously) and cinematography aside, Far From the Madding Crowd feels modern in its approach, crafting relatable, passionate characters and never falling prey to the stiffness of so many other period films. Plus Carey Mulligan is wooed with livestock, which is always a hoot.

Double Feature- BROOKLYNBrooklyn somehow manages to be both dizzyingly romantic and also entirely sensible, a feat few films achieve. The story is your classic immigrant story, Irish girl moves to New York and falls in love with a Brooklyn boy who loves the Dodgers and his ma, yet every step of the way the film feels fresh and exciting, like this is the first time we have seen this story. Vibrant colors and a fantastic score make Brooklyn an absolute delight.

19. ME, EARL, AND THE DYING GIRLSpeaking of making an old story seem new and invigorated, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl makes every other hipster coming of age film (Fault in our Stars, A Walk to Remember… you know the type) seem like they were first drafts, slowly perfecting the formula for a film like Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl. And what is so fascinating about this film is that while you can see most of the plot points coming, they are handled so brilliantly and maturely that you stop waiting for them to happen and just watch it play out. I went in a cynical moviegoer and left in amazement. (The climax to the film is perfection BTW)

Double Feature- DOPEhttps://i.ytimg.com/vi/strEm9amZuo/maxresdefault.jpgDope is one of the most enjoyably uneven films I saw all year. The story is about 3 high school kids living the retro 90’s hip-hop dream when they end up with a backpack full of dope and a slew of unsavory low-lifes who want it back. What makes the film work though is its energy, bolstered by a killer soundtrack and a fantastic debut performance by Shameik Moore. The direction is tight and LA provides the perfect backdrop for this high risk, high rewards tale that will leave you on a high.

18. JOYhttps://i1.wp.com/static1.businessinsider.com/image/5627f6009dd7cc19008c3b32-1200-630/jennifer-lawrence-saves-her-latest-oscar-hopeful-movie-joy-from-being-a-total-disaster.jpgUnfairly reviewed by critics, David O. Russell’s film of perseverance hit a chord with me. There is something universal about having dreams as a child and slowly watching them get farther and farther away. There is a magical realism to the film, which contrasts the harsh realities of life that our protagonist Joy must battle. She wants to invent something, and decides to pursue her dream no matter what. I found the film to be a breath of fresh air, finding strength in every setback and not white-washing the realities of hard work.

Double Feature- Mistress AmericaGreta Gerwig must have truly changed Noah Baumbach drastically after they got married, because his last few films have had a pervasive positivity that has become a welcomed treat. (Im a sucker for hipster New-York rom-coms). The film follows Lola Kirke, a nervous college freshman who gets swept away into the New-York scene by Greta Gerwig, her soon-to-be stepsister who embodies the Millennial American Spirit. Hilarious, insightful, and above all intelligent, Mistress America feels like a directorial debut in its energy, and I loved every minute of it.

 

17. KRAMPUSThis movie has everything: Demonic elves, killer gingerbread men, amazing practical effects, laughs, scares, stop motion cut scenes, racist in-laws, you name it. Michael Dougherty perfected the holiday horror flick his first time around with the fan favorite Trick-R-Treat, and with Krampus he proves that he wasn’t a one trick pony. This movie is basically a home invasion flick, slowly building in tension and WTF-ness until the final shot. (Which is great by the way). Adam Scott and cast treat the material with just enough seriousness for it all to work, and with references to Gremlins and even Calvin and Hobbes, this holiday horror is an absolute blast and a new personal favorite. (This movie is why my list is 21 and not 20. I just had to show it some love)

16. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

The premise is almost too good. Juliette Binoche plays an aging actress who gets the chance to once again bring to life a stage production that made her famous 30+ years ago about a corporate love affair between two women. Except this time she is playing the older woman, and decides to travel into the mountains with her young assistant Kristen Stewart to practice her lines. While there is no romantic tension between them, Binoche and Stewart begin to display the power struggles in the play itself, as Binoche struggles with her age. Stewart is a revelation, obliterating any Twilight-skepticism and matching this french legend blow for blow. The Clouds of Sils Maria is a multi-layered and masterclass drama that is often too clever for its own good, yet manages to stay grounded.

Double Feature- YOUTHPerhaps one of the most beautiful films on this list (and that’s saying something) Youth is an absolute feast. I’m a huge fan of films whose ambitions far exceed their capabilities, and Youth definitely falls into that category. Exploring death, family, beauty, and everything in between, the film utilizes sumptuous visuals and an truly breathtaking soundtrack in an attempt to at least scratch the surface of these unanswerable questions.

film jane fonda youth rachel weisz michael caine

film jane fonda youth rachel weisz michael caine

film jane fonda youth rachel weisz michael caine

film jane fonda youth rachel weisz michael caine

15. CRIMSON PEAKIt’s unfortunate that Legendary botched the marketing of this film, since its very existence is something of a miracle. A character in the film even basically breaks the 4th wall an says that it is a love story that happens to have ghosts in it, not a ghost story. I would love Del Toro to go full horror one day, but ill take a visually breathtaking gothic romance in the vein of The Innocents or Wuthering Heights any day. My favorite scene was by far the cup scene with the surprisingly villainous Jessica Chastain (the sound of the spoon against the porcelain… chills). I love me some melodrama, and combined with the massive sets and bold artistic choices, Crimson Peak is a bloody good time.

Double Feature- TALE OF TALESLike it was ripped straight out of the pages of medieval mythology, Tale of Tales is a bizarre anthology unlike any other this year. Loosely following a trio of morality tales involving giants, dragons, and witches, the film remains surprisingly spry narratively, never following the obvious story path and finding creative methods of weaving such primal tales of lust, betrayal, and wonder. Starring Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, and John C. Reilly, Tale of Tales is an uneven but fascinating film that utilized pre-Raphaelite imagery to draw you into a fantastical yet brutal world where seeing a mythological creature during your morning walk would seem perfectly normal.

14. LOVE AND MERCYA film far better than it should have been, Love and Mercy chronicles the genius and mental illness of The Beach Boys frontrunner Brian Wilson during his creation of the album Pet Sounds. Paul Dano always delivers excellent performances, but his portrayal of Brian Wilson may be my favorite male performance of the year. I was floored. The film avoids almost every cliche musical-biopic pitfall and crafts a story that has an enormous heart at its core. You will be surprised by Love and Mercy and you will never listen to God Only Knows the same way again.

Double Feature- THE VOICESA similarly overlooked gem, The Voices also tackles mental illness, but in a….. slightly different way. Question, do you ever go home after work and feel unfulfilled? Are the pressures of life weighing you down? Are your pets telling you to kill women? Well for Jerry, the answer to all these questions is a resounding yes. Ryan Reynolds is one of those actors who shines in very specific roles, and his performance in The Voices is possibly his finest work to date. The film hits the sweet spot in being both hilarious and unnerving, a dark comedy in the truest sense. Its also kinda brilliant.

13. IT FOLLOWSI feel comfortable placing It Follows under the new umbrella of Hipster Horror. Both It Follows and Spring are fantastic examples of relationship horror, adding horrific genre elements as a means to investigate the darker aspects of human interactions. The plot centers around a young woman who, after sleeping with a young stranger, now has the misfortune of being endlessly pursued by…. it. “It” can be anyone, a close friend, a total stranger in the background. The rules and origin of “it” are kept ambiguous intentionally so as not to distract from the thematic elements at play. People have been saying It Follows is about STD’s, but I disagree. I believe its more about the seriousness of sex, how its repercussions extend far beyond STD’s and how gossip and shame are shared. There are a lot of ideas in this film, but luckily the film never feels pretentious. The 80’s soundtrack is one of the best this year, and the premise is used creatively to construct instantly memorable scenes equally part beautiful and terrifying. Watch it.

Double Feature- SPRINGIf Richard Linklater (Before Sunset, Boyhood) ever made a Lovecraftian horror movie, it would probably look a lot like Spring. Fleeing the authorities, a young man flees to an impossibly beautiful Italian coastal city where he falls for an impossibly beautiful Italian woman named Louise who has a secret. Like Crimson Peak, this is a romance at its core with horror elements, and lives somewhere between your generic genre classification. Director Justin Benson said in an interview that he got bored of vampires and zombies and decided to try and create an entirely new type of monster with its own mythology. As a horror fan those words are like music to my ears, and I cant wait to see what he does next.

12. SLOW WESTI cannot understand why this film isnt being talked about more. Westerns are all the rage now, yet Slow West separates itself from the pack with its almost quirky and offbeat aesthetic. There is a touch of fantasy in the film that paints the west as a land just waiting for stories and heroes to be made. Kodi Smit-McPhee is a young scottish boy traveling across country in search of his lady-love, and along the way picks up Michael Fassbinder. Ben Mendelsohn (quickly becoming one of my favorite actors) plays the villainous Payne, who wears possibly the greatest fur coat ive ever seen. Strange characters and events come and go on this journey, which culminates into one of the best shootout/action sequences of the year.

Double Feature- BONE TOMAHAWKThe biggest surprise of the year for me easily. In fact this film should probably switch places with Slow West. Not for the feint of heart, this horror/western is a marvel, delivering old school thrills and action due to rock solid direction by first timer S. Craig Zahler. Kurt Russell is perfectly cast, but its Patrick Wilson and especially Richard Jenkins who steal the show. The story follows a group of men who must travel into cannibal country to rescue townsfolk. Everything about this film WORKS, from its perfectly proportioned humor to its chilling finale. I can pretty much watch anything no problem, but there is a scene in this film where I had to watch from behind my fingers. Its been a while since I’ve done that. Bravo.

11. DER SAMURAI An utterly bizarre film, Der Samurai is a sort of queer retelling of the werewolf story set in a small German town. One part slasher movie, another part Freudian nightmare, the film follows a young, lonely cop trying to deal with local wolves. One day a package arrives at his house by mistake, which leads him to travel into the deep dark woods to the proper address where he finds another young man, but feral… and wearing a wedding dress. This man promptly draws a samurai sword out of the package and thus begins a night of mayhem and decapitations. Is this feral man a representation of the cop’s conflicted sexuality, or perhaps he represents his anger for living such a pathetic life in a pathetic town, taking care of his dying mother. Or maybe he is just a crazy dude. Who cares, this movie runs purely on midnight-movie logic, with surreal happenings all flowing together to create an unforgettable experience. I hate calling new films “cult classics” but…. yeah, it is. (Warning, this film is not for everyone)

Double Feature- A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT A perfect companion piece to Der Samurai, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the first Iranian, B&W, vampire fantasy flick (definitely hipster horror). With smatterings of Jim Jarmusch and Let the Right One In, the film is set in a town called Bad City where bodies are piling up outside the walls mysteriously and there have been sights of a dark figure gliding through the streets, delivering brutal street justice. Beautifully framed and acted, the film is a curiosity of the highest order. (The soundtrack is phenomenal as well)

10. ROOM Brie Larson has been killing it for the last few years (Short Term 12, Trainwreck), but with Room she is a marvel. After being kidnapped and used as a sex slave in a locked shed, her character has a baby boy named Jack who becomes her reason for living for the next 7 years. Jack only knows “room”, and Larson struggles to explain to him that there is a world outside of room, filled with colors and smells and people. Every emotion in the film rings true, and by the end of the film I had experienced such a wide range of emotions that I was honestly dazed. It is fantastic filmmaking, bold and human and hopeful and one of the best films of the year. (The kid who plays Jack, Jacob Tremblay, gives one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen).

Double Feature- ANOMALISA Im not entirely sure what calling a film “human” means exactly, but both Room and Charlie Kaufman’s transcendent Anomalisa seem to fit the bill. From Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman has a unique outlook on the human experience, and isn’t afraid to use any cinematic tools at his disposal for observe his subject material. This couldnt be more true with Anomalisa, a very adult, stop motion story about a brit in Cincinnati who experiences an anomaly in his normal, soul-crushing experience. “Please dont be a gimmick” I told myself over and over going in, and within 10 minutes I forgot I was even watching a stop-motion film. I keep thinking about this film at the strangest times, and I’m curious what im going to think of it 5 years from now.

9. PHOENIXI consider this film to be a “perfect” film. Not a line of dialogue or shot is wasted, every component seems vital in telling such a strange story of redemption in the face of betrayal. The premise sounds like a bad soap opera, a woman returns from a concentration camp to post-war Berlin after having facial reconstructive surgery, only to start a relationship with her old husband who does not recognize her as his wife. Yet this masterpiece handles the material with complete seriousness, and even has film noir undertones (as well as numerous Hitchcock elements) that make this film completely unforgettable. Nina Hoss’s performance is one of this years best, and her final scene….. wow. And hey, its on Netflix!

Double Feature- QUEEN OF EARTHGoing full “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown“Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth is 2015’s female freakout flick you didnt know you needed in your life. (And im not being sexist, female freakout flicks were practically a genre in the 70’s). Anyone who knows me knows I adore Elizabeth Moss, one of my many spirit animals, and when I say she gives her career’s best performance in this film, I mean it. After a bad breakup, she goes to a cabin by a lake with her best frenemy Katherine Waterson for a bit of R&R. Slowly her mental state begins to deteriorate as old fears and paranoia begin surfacing. The transformation is like watching a car crash, and wouldn’t know it its also on Netflix! Go, now.

8. HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT One of the most intimate and spellbinding films of the year, the film is actually based off the lead actress’s personal memoir of her life as a heroin addict living on the streets of New York. Practically all the actors in the film used to be homeless, and the film feels like a true fly on the wall documentary. Realism aside, Heaven Knows What is not a love story, but more of a film of desire. There is something primal about these characters as their desire for connection is equal to their desire to simply survive the night. Raw and authentic, this is a film that pulls no punches yet still has compassion for its broken, lost characters.

Double Feature- TU DORS NICOLEA beautiful film to just get lost in, Tu Dors Nicole (You’re Sleeping, Nicole) plays out like a small town memory. Its hard to explain the appeal of the film, but there is an endearing laziness that washes over every frame that gives the impression that this could all be taking place under some alien sea. With touches of surrealism, Tu Dors Nicole is one of those meaningless film that suddenly mean everything.

7. STAR WARS VII: THE FORCE AWAKENSLook, I’ve heard all the complaints. It borrows far too many plot points from the OG trilogy, it had too many references… and whats interesting is that usually when I watch a film like this, I walk out loving it but then small issues start popping up in my brain, spoiling the movie. The Force Awakens is one of the few films Ive ever seen where none of my issues taint how much I loved watching this movie. In terms of pure theater entertainment, this movie is in a league of its own. Bold and operatic, JJ Abrams trashes exposition (a middle finger to the prequels) and instead focuses of the action, throwing us onto different worlds and universe-altering events with gusto. The film holds up fantastically to multiple viewings, which is essential for a Star Wars film, and the entire new cast is perfection. Daisy Ridley stole the movie, and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is one of my favorite villains in a long time. Above all it was FUN, with great banter and gorgeous set piece that felt instantly iconic. I would love to spoil everything and talk specifics, but for now just know that I think JJ actually did it. (Now if Episode VIII borrows too much from the OG trilogy, then I will have major issues. That will be the real test)

Double Feature- JUPITER ASCENDING Screw you haters, this movie was great. Remember when I said I loved melodrama? Yeah, Jupiter Ascending is like General Hospital in Space. I loved the whole concept of the universe being a collection of real estate, and its overall weirdness won me over. Eddie Redmayne overacted straight into my heart, and the overall design was gorgeous. Mila Kunis is horrifically miscast, but if you have some friends over and nothing to watch, throw in Jupiter Ascending and one way or anther you will get your moneys worth.

6. THE MENDOne of my the biggest surprises this year was throwing on some movie called The Mend. I didn’t know anything about it, and was completely entranced by it from the start. The premise is fairly typical, a New York drama following a drifter brother (Josh Lucas) who reconnects with his over-achieving brother (Stephen Plunkett). This dysfunctional tale of brotherly love skews its genre trappings and moves freely from scene to scene, a rousing and abstract dramedy that refuses to stay still. The humor is rough and the breaks rougher, and the film isnt afraid of ambiguity, but there is a certain positivity to it all. Also Josh Lucas’s performance is one of my favorite this year, and its a shame he won’t be recognized for it. Highly recommended.

Double Feature- DIGGING FOR FIREhttps://i2.wp.com/assets.rollingstone.com/assets/2015/moviereview/digging-for-fire-20150819/206521/large_rect/1439932598/1401x788-DiggingForFire.jpgMumblecore and self-discovery are also featured in Joe Swanberg’s latest Digging for Fire, a story about a married couple who discover that their back yard is filled is strange objects and decide to dig them up. The analogy is obvious, as they dig in their backyard, they also dig up old emotions and resentments long buried. Its a small film, but the cast is solid and it hits all the right emotional beats. Plus Orlando Bloom makes a surprisingly enjoyable appearance. Where has that guy been?

5. EX MACHINAIf I had to use one word to describe Ex Machina, it would be “surgical”. Everything about this movie is razor sharp, from the editing to the screenplay, there is not an ounce of fat on this film. Alicia Vikander embodies the uncanny valley as Ava, a secret AI who is tested by Domhnall Gleeson to determine whether or not she can pass as human. As this advanced turing test progresses, Director and writer Alex Garland (Sunshine, 28 Days Later) keeps us guessing by constantly staying ahead of the game. Not since Agent Starling took on Hannibal Lector has jail cell power plays been this fascinating. Oscar Isacc, Ava’s creator, provides a much needed relief to the films tension, and never lets the film become overbearingly clever. This film came out earlier this year and it has never left my mind since.

Double Feature- Z FOR ZACHARIAH I also saw this small post-apocalyptic film early this year, and it too has stayed with me. The end of the world has never looked so good with a cast of Chris Pine, Margot Robbie, and Chiwetel Ejiofor (they are the only actors in the film). Post apocalyptic in setting only, this is a old-school drama involving a love triangle created purely out of desperation. As they slowly try to build something out of this dead earth, Chiwetel Ejiofor carries the film with some the best acting this year. He is able to express so much nuance with his facial expressions, his character could have been mute and it wouldn’t have changed the power of his performance one bit.

4. INSIDE OUTIt’s been 5 years since we got a Pixar film worthy of its golden age brethren, but with Inside Out Pixar shows that they still have the stuff. In many ways Inside Out is the culmination of what makes Pixar so unique. They have always been more interested in the emotional honestly of their stories than anything else, and by making actual emotions characters, Pixar is given the unique chance to explore what makes humans tick from the inside out. (hey ohhhhh) I actually ended up watching this movie multiple times while I was working at the theater, and that’s when my appreciation for it grew and grew. Its message is so unique for a children’s movie, and just like all good Pixar it speaks to adults just as much as children. I deal with depression like everyone else on the planet, and there is nothing worse than being told to “be happy”. Inside Out is all about being true to your emotional state, to learn to accept the good with the bad. The voice acting is phenomenal, the score turns me into a total mess, and its one of the best films of the year.

Double Feature- THE LITTLE PRINCEThere is something classic about this animated gem. Despite using both claymation and CGI, it never feels like it is trying to be modern or subversive. It tells its story with an old-school charm that is utterly refreshing and beautifully constructed. With a huge cast of voice actors (Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Benicio Del Toro, Marion Cotillard…) it is one of 2015 hidden treats just waiting to be discovered.

3. THE LOBSTERLike a modern day Luis Bunuel, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, Alps) has been making a name for himself among lovers of surreal cinema. The Lobster is his first English language film, and his greatest cinematic achievement to date. It sports the best premise of the year (single humans are taken to hotels where they have 45 days to find a partner or else they are turned into an animal of their choosing), and what’s amazing is that in the context of the story this plot device seems totally normal. Normal I would assume a premise this good would be wasted, but Yorgos finds some truly brilliant ways to explore how our sad little species desperately struggles for connection. Sharp, insightful, surprisingly romantic, and even laugh-out-loud hilarious (Colin Farrel kicks a kid in the shins…. its amazing), The Lobster is a genius exploration of human relationships that I can honestly say you’ve never seen before.

Double Feature- A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCEEvery bit as bizarre and experimental as The Lobster, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a quirky collection of near wordless intertwining stories which investigate the human condition in the broadest strokes imaginable. The camera never moves, soaking up the meticulous mise en scene as strange characters (all with white faces) try to make sense of life’s little absurdities.

2. MAD MAX: FURY ROADPossibly the best thing to come out of Fury Road is that now when I see an action movie that cant live up to George Miller’s cinematic opera to violence, I can just yell “MEDIOCRE!”. Watching Mad Max: Fury Road for the first time was like watching The Matrix for the first time, you can just tell you are witnessing a future classic. What makes Fury Road so incredible is that by all accounts it should have been a disaster. Re-shoots, a lengthy production with numerous pitfalls, a 70 year old director who hasnt made a good film since the 80’s (his recent films include the Happy Feet films), and the obvious fact that its a sequel that no one was asking for. Yet despite all this Miller delivered what many are calling one of the greatest action movies EVER FILMED. There is nothing I can say that hasnt been said a million times by now. I’ve seen it 5 times now and it still holds up. The trailer got it right, 2015 DID in fact belong to the Mad.

Giphy QA mad max fury road the doof warrior

movie angry mad max anger mad max fury road

Double Feature- TURBO KID Fan service done right, Turbo Kid is the love child of Mad Max and G.I. Joe. Hyper violent yet also somehow charming, the movie plays like a Saturday morning toy commercial as “the kid” finds the armor of his favorite comic book hero in a crashed ship, giving him powers to defeat the evil Zeus and Skeletron. Throw in Masters of the Universe as a reference I guess while you’re at it. Pop culture and 80’s nostalgia combine to create an adventure like no other this year. With fantastic practical effects and a perfectly synthy score, Turbo Kid does not disappoint and is perfect for those of us who grew up on Thundercats and Count Chocula.

1. MOMMYI’ve been of fan of ridiculously talented Canadian Xavier Dolan for years now (He is 26… how….), and Mommy was one of my most anticipated films this year after it won the Jury Prize at Cannes. Dolan has always played fast and loose with his films, with stylistic flourishes that critics want to call amateurish, yet are forced to admit add an energy and much needed youthfulness to the foreign drama scene. (The film has a 1:1 aspect ratio, which again feels like it should be a gimmick but it actually works thematically) Mommy is about a son who after another run-in with the police is returned to his biological mother, who both loves him more than anything and is overwhelmed by his violent, unpredictable nature. I related to so much in this film, the rollarcoaster of family relationships, dealing with social pressures and struggling to discover yourself apart from the preconceptions and expectations of the world . We love who we love, but what happens when you discover that you both have entirely different values and natures. Do you muscle through it? Are relationships worth it if we must change so much for each other? There are questions in this film I will be thinking about for years, and when I first saw it I knew no other film would move me the same way this year.

Double Feature- GOODNIGHT MOMMYNo, I’m not making this Austrian horror flick Mommy‘s double feature because they have a similar title. Without spoiling either film, they both share themes of the special relationship between mothers and sons, as well as how these relationships can deteriorate. “Mother” returns to her country home after facial reconstruction, where she is greeted with mistrust by her identical sons Lukas and Elias. With her face bandaged and scarred, the twins begin to doubt she is actually their mother. (Just realizing this movie would have made a great double feature for Phoenix) This is a dark film, beautifully shot but brutal especially near the end, and marks a high point for foreign horror and lovers of the twisted. (And just when you thought you could hate cockroaches any more….)

 

And as always, here is a supercut summing up this amazing year.

OTHER CATEGORIES

Films That Almost Made the Cut: Cop Car, End of the Tour, While We’re Young, Cinderella, Sicario, Song of the Sea, Faults, The Gift, 71, Testament of Youth, Spotlight

Films That actually aren’t That Bad: Spectre, American Ultra, Man from U.N.C.L.E., Tomorrowland, Manglehorn, Jurrasic World, Terminator: Genisys, Ant-Man, Kingsman, Goosebumps, Chappie, Unfriended

Films I Hated with a Passion: Kill Me Three Times, Home Sweet Hell, True Story

Best Horror Films: Let Us Prey, Cub, Last Shift, The Hallow, We are Still Here, The Visit, The Hive, Cooties, What We Do in the Shadows

Delightful Oddities: Wild Tales, Hard to Be a God, Lost River, Alleluia, Yakuza Apocalypse, Hellions, The Duke of Burgandy

Personal Favorite Performances: Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind), Jason Segel (End of the Tour)

Disappointing Films: Focus, Pan, Black Mass, Legend, The Lazarus Effect, Child 44, Self/Less, Everest, Age of Ultron, The Green Inferno, Aloha, Sinister 2, A Little Chaos

Overrated Films: The Assassin, The Tribe, Mr. Holmes, The Stanford Prison Experiment

25 Favorite Films of 2014

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As you can tell, this blog of mine is now simply a platform to unveil my “end of the year” lists. I’ve moved twice this year across country, and along with up-in-the-air jobs and freelancing storyboards, I haven’t had the motivation/time to dedicate myself to my film criticism. That’s a real shame because this year there have been some truly great films, films which are challenging audiences to reevaluate the form itself. Looking back to last years list, I’m amused by some of my choices. American Hustle, for example, I now consider to be a rather empty film with all the makings of a great one. Who knows what films will be considered classics 20 years from now. Recently I’ve become all too aware of the dangers of “over-hyping”, with every good movie being hailed as a “modern classic” or a “future cult film”. We are so steeped in nostalgia and the desire to artificially create it (hence the studios remaking countless old classics) that we inadvertently halt the process itself. Young filmmakers now have this mentality to “instagram” their films, instead of reacting to our modern world through their lenses. Of course if done right, evoking the past can be both stunningly beautiful and (most importantly) relevant, and there are a few films this year that accomplish this. In fact, I would be so bold as to declare 2014 as the Year of the Pulp. That dark, violent, exploitative 80’s melodramatic goodness certainly made the rounds this year, and I couldn’t be happier. Now just like last year I will be including “companion” films along with my actual top 25, both to offer interesting double-feature options and as an excuse to talk about other films I loved this year. Also there have been a number of critically-claimed films I haven’t been able to catch this year, either because they weren’t playing near me or are just coming out now such as Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice (arg!), A Most Violent Year, Mommy, Whiplash, Force Majeure and so on. I try, ok guys!!! In any event, lets get started!

25. PREDESTINATION

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I thought I would both begin and end this list with a good old-fashioned mind-f*ck movie, and in terms of sheer head-scratchiness (its a word now), the Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers) sci-fi film Predestination takes the cake. The metaphor of a twisted snake devouring itself plays a vital role in the narrative, and the very construction of the film follows suit. Featuring B-movie king Ethan Hawke (one of my favorite actors) and a truly vibrant and fearless performance by newcomer Sarah Snook, this film has been one of the most difficult films for critics to summarize, since seemingly every bit of information spoils the fun in some way. In very general terms the film follows Ethan Hawke who is trying to stop a terrorist by using time travel, and recruits an unnamed individual to assist in the chase. Vague, I know, but you’ll thank me for it. The first thing to know is that Predestination is NOT an action movie at all, and that by the time the credits role your brain will be attempting to grow new lobes to process what the HELL just happened. I’m 99% sure the film makes zero sense logically, but the ride is so utterly unique that you won’t give a damn. And like any good sci-fi, contained in all the genre trappings is some surprisingly meaty emotional and psychological themes concerning the self-made man, self-love, and, well, predestination. (Catholic Liberal arts degree not required)

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Double Feature- THE ZERO THEOREM

Oh Terry Gilliam, you wondrous, enigmatic bastard you. I gotta say, I love it when directors reach that point when they seem to create solely for themselves, without a thought to the audience. That’s not to say the film is cold or confusing per se, but it does march to the beat of its own, completely bonkers and occasionally atonal drum. In the film, Christoph Waltz plays a hacker in a very Gilliam-esque future dystopia who is hired to solve an a proof for human existence and purpose. The rest is all a blur of colors, rants, acid trips, and pizza, but its interesting stuff (with a surprising sadness) and makes great use of a cover of Radiohead’s hit Creep by Karen Souza.

24. THE HOMESMAN

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Tommy Lee Jones once again directs and acts in his sophomore directorial effort, The Homesman. Following his mature debut, The 3 Burials of Melquiades Estrada, his new film portrays an unromantic depiction of the Old West. Devout Hilary Swank (who’s never been better) is hired to transport 3 severely mentally disturbed women crushed by the brutal pioneer life to an asylum, and meets convict Tommy Lee Jones along the way who accompanies her. Along the journey, gorgeously shot with a sharp eye to period detail, we begin to delve into Swank’s loneliness, a woman who could very well be as emotionally damaged as the women she is trying to help. Her apparent iron will is her only defense against her depression and longing, and for a vast period piece to really explore such topics usually reserved for a modern setting in the big city was fascinating to me. There is a twist of sorts in the third act I did not see coming, and will certainly divide audiences. In conclusion, Tommy Lee Jones successfully crafts a Western that still feels remarkably current and relevant, and has a welcomed against-the-grain style that seemed almost anti-Hollywood in its austerity. Yet there is a real sympathy for its characters that carries the film across, and overall this film was one of my biggest emotional surprises and deserves to to seen and discussed.

Double Feature- RUDDERLESS

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Both The Homesman and Rudderless observe the breaking point of the human spirit, along with featuring an actor-turned-director (William H. Macy in this case) and a heartbreaking twist. Billy Crudup plays a successful business man whose life shatters after his son is killed in a school shooting. Two years later, he’s living an a boat and painting houses to get by when his ex-wife drops off a collection of his son’s music recordings. Touched by this side of his son he never knew about, he begins performing the songs at his local bar and catches the attention of young musician Anton Yelchin. Filled with beautiful music and nicely understated filmmaking, Rudderless is a strong debut for William H. Macy who plays the bartender, and Billy Crudup is phenomenal in his non-sentimental portrayal of grief and dealing with tragedy. Some critics said that the film was unable to answer some of its emotional conflicts and weighty material, and while that may be true, I felt I was just as unable to solve BIlly Crudup’s character’s emotional damage and internal torment as he was, making the film all the more justified in its subjectivity.

23. THE BABADOOK

“If it’s in a word, or if it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” This terrifying slice of maternal horror comes out of Australia and is directed by first-timer Jennifer Kent. (A woman horror director?!) First of all, this film is being marketed as a creature feature, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Its psychological horror with dark/fairytale undertones with a strong emotional backbone similar to Rosemary’s Baby or Repulsion. Sharply directed with hues of dark blues and blacks, the story centers on Essie Davis (who absolutely kills it) and her son after the sudden and violent death of her husband. The son, Samuel, has become disturbed and begins testing his mother with his outbursts of violence and anger. He then finds a kid’s pop-up book called The Babadook (replicas of which are now selling like hotcakes to horror fans) and the chilling character within starts appearing around the house. Like an Edward Gorey illustration, the film has an almost gothic feel to it, with its monster reminiscent of Slenderman or Max Schreck. Now I do want to say that the film is being called the greatest horror in the last 5 years, a masterpiece, blah blah blah. I actually thought it had its share of issues, especially relying on some obvious horror cliches. I still absolutely recommend it, and although I wasn’t crazy about it the first time, it has definitely grown on me. That being said, watch it with someone, wait till they go to bed, then start crooning in a raspy voice, “dook, dook, DOOK!!” from behind their door. A true test of friendship.

22. MAPS TO THE STARS

Films have often taken a swing or two at Hollywood, but never with such blatant loathing and grotesqueness. Cronenberg has never been a particularly subtle director, but he goes to knew vile heights with this condemnation of the film industry. Think Game of Thrones in SoCal. The Hollywood elite try to hold onto their sanity until the past (in the form of a burnt Mia Wasikoska) shows up, pealing back their facades until all that is left is fire, pain, and a body count. Julianne Moore is at her best as “the woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown”. Truly Oscar-worthy performance, much better than her role in this year’s Still Alice. Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams, and John Cusack also star, and are all fantastic. Lies, incest, secrets, drugs, all are laid bare with surgical precision as Cronenberg applies his particular brand of body horror to an entire industry. His work is famously cold and detached, almost alien, yet he always knows the best stories to apply his perverse aesthetic to. He completely understands himself as an artist, and Maps to the Stars is pure Cronenberg. (Practically all the gifs I could find for this movie are of Robert Pattinson… sigh)

Double Feature- STARRY EYES

A true companion piece to Maps to the Stars, Starry Eyes is a Faustian tale of a wannabe actress who would do anything to be a star. After many failed auditions, she finally breaks down in a bathroom stall, pulling out her hair and screaming. Then suddenly she gets a call back. “We liked what you did in the bathroom. Do it again.” The metaphor is obvious, with the film industry’s reputation for offering glory and fame in return for, well, your soul. A bit of Eyes Wide Shut and Black Swan, this notion of dark, cultish factions secretly controlling the entertainment industry has become its own genre, with Escape from Tomorrow from last year covering similar ground. Psychological horror morphs into body and slasher horror by the third act, and while the ending is easy to see coming, it’s still nonetheless satisfying in its grotesque beauty.

21. THE ROVER

Post-Apocalyptic Earth has never been such a downer. Following his operatic crime thriller Animal Kingdom, director David Michod creates a harsh landscape in the Outback where water and fuel are a luxury, and compassion is a product of a world long gone. Guy Pierce is at his most scruffy as Eric, a drifter who has his car stolen and hunts it down across deadly terrain and cutthroat towns without any thought to his own survival. Mildly mentally-disabled Robert Pattinson is along for the ride, and over the course of the film they form a strange bond based equally on fear and paternal sympathy. This is an atmospheric film, establishing a lived-in feel and grit that gives Eric’s journey heft. The violence comes quickly and brutally, and in a world where only the cruel survive, the film ends with a tenderness that offers a glimmer of hope. Unfortunately it may be too little too late though for this world.

Double Feature- YOUNG ONES

Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones mixes arthouse with the post-apocalypse genre for an unusual and unique tale of adulthood, ancestry, and betrayal. Constructed like a John Steinbeck novel, the film is composed into “acts”, with each act tackling the turning points of Kodi Smit-McPhee’s life in a world where water is as precious as gold. Michael Shannon plays his father, Elle Fanning his sister, and Nicholas Hoult her boyfriend. Filled with countless details and brilliant world building, the film spans years and plays out with Shakespearean panache.

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20. IDA

As if it were an undiscovered masterpiece from Poland’s New Wave cinema, Pawel Pawlikoski’s breathtaking Ida captures not just the look of 60’s Poland, but the cinematic and emotional tone of great European filmmakers such as Bresson and Tarkovsky. Now some will argue that the film is artsy-fartsy European hogwash. B&W? Check. Very little dialogue? Check. Long shots of faces doing nothing? Check. You get the idea. Yet films should be judged on their own merits, and every artistic choice made in this film makes total sense. The film follows an orphan novitiate nun who, before taking her vows, goes to visit her aunt for the first time, which leads to a gradual discovery of her family roots and their ties to WWII. The story is surprisingly focused, and at a mere 82 min runtime the film manages to convey a broad spectrum of emotions and themes. Ida was brought up in the convent, and throughout the film begins to question her religious calling, which seems perfectly sane given the fact that she was born into it without out choice. Characters are often shot in the far corners of the frame, as if they must fight for the screen. This creates a sense of unseen presence, whether its God or the ghost of WWII. Beautiful stuff.

Double Feature- LOCKE

Famed British writer Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Peaky Blinders) crafts a tight one-man film in Locke, a story of a man who, like Ida, is forced to come to terms with his past and decide what direction his life will take. The film literally begins with him at a literal crossroads, and in choosing one direction the film slowly reveals who this man is and what he must do. The whole film is shot in or around a car and inside that car is Tom Hardy. 85 min of Tom Hardy talking on the phone? Count me in. He is my favorite actor working today, and I have never seen a performance by him where he has not is some way changed both his look and his voice. Now this film is being called a thriller by critics, and that almost killed the film for me, because it is basically a dramatic monologue, with various famous British actors playing the voices of the people he calls (such as Ruth Wilson from Luther, and Andrew Scott from Sherlock). Great drama and performance.

19. BOYHOOD

I found Boyhood to be a terribly frustrating experience. I very much wanted to love it as I did Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, which is such an emotionally raw experience. Instead it’s 3 hours of nothing major happening, yet in retrospect I have grown to understand and appreciate it. The film is shot in the same way we remember our childhoods, not necessarily of the huge, life changing events, but of the small moments which seemed unimportant at the time, yet for some reason are the memories that last. In case you don’t know, this film was made over the course of 13 years, with Linklater following child actor Ellar Coltrane as he grows up in a small town. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play his divorced parents, and Linklater’s daughter Lorelei plays Ellar’s sister (who I felt should have gotten more praise critically). There are so many ways this film should have failed, but it all ties together breathlessly, and watching a child grow up before your eyes really does demonstrate the potential film has over other mediums. Linklater stays away from the “big” events of Ellar’s life, resulting in a more nuanced yet oddly less affecting final product. I could change my mind about this after a second viewing. There are some great little scenes scattered about the film, especially Patricia Arquette’s heartbreaking and poignant “I thought there would be more” scene, and Boyhood is truly essential viewing and a film which will be discussed for years to come.

Double Feature: HIDE YOUR SMILING FACES

Like a darker cousin of The Tree of Life, Hide your Smiling Faces is childhood at its most existential. Following a neighborhood tragedy, two brothers begin trying to make sense of the world and its darker truths. Filmed using almost all natural light and sounds, the film teases with subtle imagery, evoking that childhood sense of fear, the fear that you cannot quite put your finger on but can arise at any moment. The older we get, the better we are at disguising our confusion at the world, but for these two children they are defenseless against Nature’s indifference. And yet they have each other. Hide your Smiling Faces is the directorial debut for Daniel Patrick Carbone, and for his first film to display such confidence in tone and subject matter makes me excited for whatever he works on next.

18. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

What makes Guardians of the Galaxy so irksome is how close it got to greatness. As Marvel films become more and more interchangeable, James Gunn (Super, Slither) managed to infuse a sense of adventure and irreverence into his big-budget space opera. And while I don’t want to hold this film to a higher standard, I feel as though Guardians was Marvel’s chance to do something TRULY different, to perhaps make a straight up comedy, or a crude, foul-mouthed Dirty Dozen type of film. Instead we got a little bit of everything and not enough of anything. Marvel’s insistence to make every film into part of a larger story detracts from the film feeling WHOLE, and the obligatory lack-luster villain doesn’t help. And yet the film is on my list, because in spite of everything the film is just damn fun. There are only so many Ida‘s and Hide your Smiling Faces I can watch before I need to see a racoon and a tree fight purple aliens. The film was a risk and it paid off handsomely, plus its been a while since there’s been an actor that the whole world loves and wants to see succeed. Chris Pratt isn’t and I doubt ever will be a great actor, but his appeal is his likeability, a sense of goofy fun. He’s one of the biggest actors in the world right now, and I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t be relaxed having a beer with him and maybe a joint. He’s like Jennifer Lawrence but with muscles. Of course I also have to mention the now-famous soundtrack, with every song being the perfect one for its scene. Using the cassette player to tie Chris Pratt to his Earth origins was a BRILLIANT move, and the whole supporting cast delivered marvelous performances, especially Michael Rooker. (Even Dave Bautista wasn’t bad) Hopefully Marvel will realize that taking risks is usually worth it, and will take bigger ones with Phase 3. (Dr. Strange! Benedict Cumberbatch IS the Sorcerer Supreme.)

17. THE ONE I LOVE

I just realized how many new talented directors have appeared on the scene this year! These are exciting times for independent filmmaking, and Charlie McDowell’s The One I Love proves this. Staring the ever talented Elizabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, and Ted Danson, the film begins with Moss’s and Duplass’s failing marriage. Therapist Ted Danson suggests a couples getaway on the edge of the city, and after arriving the usual indie romance/struggles occur, until suddenly the film does a 180 and the two protagonists are thrown into a trippy alternate universe where the title of the film really comes into play. With touches of sci-fi, the film has a clear message yet is utterly unique in its execution, resulting in one of the more fascinating psychological studies in film this year.  I cannot stress enough how consistently impressed I am by Elizabeth Moss,and this film’s complex narrative allows her to give a multi-faceted performance that in a perfect world would attract Academy voters. This film is BRILLIANT and it’s on Netflix, so go on then.

Double Feature- LISTEN UP PHILIP

Well, Listen Up Philip is an indie movie with Elizabeth Moss, so im justified including it as a double feature. Jason Schwartzman plays Philip, a self-involved, egotistical author who desperately tries to get his second novel published. Obsessed with his noble craft and his artistic vision, Philip looses himself in the idea of being a socially elite New York author, and in doing so lets every good thing that real in his life fade away for a fantasy. Jonathan Pryce plays an older, washed-up author desperate to relive his literary glory days, trying to live vicariously though Schwartzman as Schwartzman himself desires to have the renown of Pryce. And yet as the audience we see how empty Pryce’s life is, how all the literary awards in the world cannot make a man happy. Old books offer little comfort as one’s life comes to a close. Listen Up Philip seems to be a rejection of those yuppy indie films that pretend to hold the future notion of a perfect life above all else, while what they really mean is a trendy life.

16. STARRED UP

Perhaps the most brutal depiction of prison life ever committed to film, David Mackenzie’s terrific Starred Up can be a queasy experience. The film begins with Jack O’Connell arriving at the prison, filled with cutthroats, rapists and murderers, and instead of trying to remain invisible he wastes no time fashioning a shiv and making a name for himself with terrifying ferocity. The whole prison is like a cage match, and O’Connell is a rabid dog thrown into the mix. His performance is utterly fearless, and completely believable. You want to believe that the prison system can rehabilitate, yet for the first half of the film O’Connell seems like a lost cause. Then you learn his father (played by Ben Mendelsohn) is also inside with him, and suddenly you begin to realize the type of childhood this boy must have lived through. Equal parts white-knuckle tension and soul-stirring drama, Starred Up pulls no punches literally and figuratively with its characters, portraying them with brutal honestly and heartbreak. You couldn’t get me in the same room as O’Connell’s character if you paid me, but I still feel compassion for him and hope for the best. (SideNote- The British working-class slang is pure cockney, so subtitles are a must.)

15. FRANK

Many films try to be Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank, and most never get close. Mixing hilarity with tragedy, absurdity with realism, Frank is a film as bonkers as its assortment of bizarre experimental musicians. Domhnall Gleeson is a wanna-be musician who through fate winds up traveling with a band with their own ideas about what music is. This band is lead by Frank, a seemingly bi-polar man of pure artistic freedom and creative brilliance. Or he might just be an nutjob making noises and calling it art. He also wears a paper mache headpiece 24/7 and is played by Michael Fassbender. This may be my favorite role for Fassbender, its so bizarre you can’t look away, refusing to let us put his character into a box. Doing quirky right is near impossible, but Frank manages to strike a balance as the Gleeson tries to make the band marketable while unintentionally compromising their vision. The film really shines when it studies if art is for the sake of the audience or the artist. Their song “I Love you All” could be one of the most emotionally powerful songs in context out of any movie in 2014.

Double Feature- WE ARE THE BEST!

It is quite possible that We Are the Best! is a better film about the nature of music than Frank. Set in 80’s Stockholm, the film follows 2 girls, Bobo and Klara, trying to bring back punk. With zero musical experience, they decide to start a band at their local youth center, and end up recruiting a talented Christian nobody at school named Hedvig, who despite her quiet and mature disposition might be the most punk out of all of them. Mixing middle-school drama with old-school juvenile anarchy, We Are the Best! is a vibrant, free, hilarious, and joyous film the perfectly captures a time and place. There is a naturalism to the performances and script that feels authentic. They may be the adorable in their antics, just don’t let them hear you say it.

14. THE GUEST

After last years horror sensation You’re Next, director Adam Wingard wasted no time improving on his renowned debut with slick thriller The Guest. Starring Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey in a role that would make fans of the show gasp, the film begins with Stevens appearing on the doorstep of a family grieving for their dead soldier son, and claiming he knew their dearly departed he works his way into the family unit. Stevens is utterly charming but behind his eyes there is a madness that is both terrifying and compulsively watchable. The Guest is equal parts Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and John Carpenter’s Halloween, and is pure pulp through and through. Just as The Matrix can correctly be called a modern classic because of its obvious future influences, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive has established itself as a modern classic, and The Guest is a clear descendant. Completely self-aware, the film wears its 80’s heritage on its sleeve, and features an absolutely KILLER soundtrack, pulsating with sinister synth syncopations. You are not sure if you should dance along or run the hell away.

Double Feature- COLD IN JULY

Jim Mickle has been giving genre filmmaking a good name with every brilliant film he whips out (Stake Land, We Are What We Are), and his most recent Cold in July is his most accomplished and confident. Based on a thriller book from the 80’s, Jim Mickle in an interview says that what attracted him to the book is how the narrative constantly changes, never allowing the audience to become comfortable in a single genre. After watching countless one-note genre films every year, Cold in July tries something different, constantly morphing from drama to thriller to horror to action. It won’t work for everyone, but it made perfect sense to me. Starring Michael C. Hall from Dexter, the film begins with Hall killing an intruder, only to realize that the intruders father (Sam Shepherd) is a cold-blooded murder who just got out of prison. Now this set up could have been the whole movie, a sort of cat and mouse story, but this barely skims the surface of this films dark, brutal storyline. Like The Guest this film is 80’s inspired and sports a phenomenal synthy soundtrack, and with strong direction and performances, Cold in July is a real genre surprise with style and substance.

13. TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT

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Like name-dropping Michael Haneke, saying Two Days, One Night is directed by Jean and Luc Dardenne (The Son, L’enfant, The Kid with the Bike) should be recommendation enough to justify a theater ticket. Starring Marion Cotillard in a Oscar-worthy performance (aren’t all her performances though?), the film is deceptively simple as she desperately tries to convince co-workers to give up their bonus in order for her to keep her job. The set up is simple, but the implications are enormous as she experiences the whole spectrum of human emotions as she begs for her livelihood, bringing her severe depression to the surface. There is no clear “right” actions on either side, since many of her coworkers need the bonus to get by, and must choose mercy or reality. She hates being a victim, yet through no fault of herself she is thrust into a terrible position and much choose to fight or despair. Beautifully filmed with pure naturalism, this is working-class drama of the highest order that observes human nature with brutal honesty and compassion. Life is about fighting, not winning, and Two Days, One Night is a film of such truth that no matter what happens to Cotillard, her struggles are our own and we are better for it. Highly recommended.

Double Feature- STRETCH

Visually, Stretch is the polar opposite of Two Days, One Night, a The Hangover-esque caper that is filled with sex, drugs, and violence, but surprisingly shares many themes with its French counterpart. Directed by Joe Carnahan (The Grey, Smokin Aces) is one of the most fun films to come out this year that no one watched because it didn’t have a theatrical run. Carnahan decided one day to make a bonkers movie for the hell of it, and grabbed some actors who had time off and shot it. He even offered full refunds if moviegoers didn’t like it. Patrick Wilson plays a down-and-out limousine driver who gets one chance over the course of one night to clear all his debts and turn his life around. Co-starring Chris Pine, Jessica Alba, Ray Liotta, David Hasselhoff, Ed Helms, and even Norman Reedus, Stretch, for all its craziness (ghosts, Eyes Wide Shut parties, evil Russian tow truckers) it is about taking control of your future, no matter the cost like in Two Days, One Night. Both are workplace films on opposite ends of the spectrum, and are oddly complementary. Whether you like the film or not, you will never be bored. (Available on Nexflix Instant)

12. INTERSTELLAR

Nolan’s films have always been held to an oddly high standard. It’s as though after reaching his peak as a filmmaker, critics are looking for cracks and weaknesses, ready to pounce. Luckily audiences have been HUGELY supportive of this epic, which is a rare occurrence in Hollywood. Sure sometimes the drama is spread on a bit thick, and I will be the first to admit that sometimes the film, in an attempt make a connection between the fate of humanity and love, simply made a character say as much. (Also calling Damon’s character Dr. Mann… come on) That shows a lack of faith in the audience, and maybe next time Nolan should keep the screenwriting outside the family. Yet a sense of awe is almost extinct, with people recalling the golden age of Spielberg as the last great American epics. Interstellar recaptures that scope like never before. Good sci-fi asks questions, great sci-fi inspires men to seek answers. The antithesis of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar believe that mankind can save itself from itself, and this positive outlook surges through the film in every “all hope is lost” scene. I consider the term “pure cinema” to mean moments in films when every component (acting, story, sound design, music, cinematography…) suddenly work together with such beauty and understanding that it is impossible to look away. Rarely does a film manage to have one such scene. Interstellar has at least 3. (Side Note- I love the scene where David Gyasi listens to a recording of rain to calm himself, then Nolan cuts to a wide shot of Saturn. Gorgeous.)

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Double Feature- THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

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Combining the cosmic and the heart, James Marsh (Man on Wire, Shadow dancer) utilizes his considerable talents to tell the tale of Steven Hawking. Played brilliantly by the ever-impressive Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything begins with Hawking’s college years at Cambridge in the 60’s, falling in love with Jane (Felicity Jones), and having to watch as his body succumbs to a motor neuron disease. After being told his diagnosis, Eddie Redmayne, instead of breaking down in tears and frustration, simply asks, “What about the brain? Does it effect the brain?” The film is mercifully user friendly when discussing Hawking’s theories of black hole radiation and gravitational singularity theorems, and instead focuses more his marriage and struggles as he desperately tries to hold onto his wife and dignity. Much of the more non-Hollywood-friendly facts of his life are glossed over, yet the performances are so good and heartfelt that you really don’t mind. A bit Oscar-baity, but still an emotional, well made look at one of the worlds most influential living minds.

11. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

What can I say that will convince you to watch this film? Either you like Wes Anderson or you don’t. If you don’t, then every color-coordinated, overtly designed, dollhouse looking, right angled, typeface overlaid, musically cued scene will have you running for the hills. If you do like Wes Anderson, then you have no need of me and you’ve probably seen this film 4 times in theaters. Boasting a cast too numerous to mention here, the film takes place during an end of an era between the 2 world wars, and using a conversation years in the future as a framing device tells the tale of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the most interesting man in the world. Concierge at the Grand Budapest is his title, but for him its a calling, taking customer service to a whole new level. Countless hijinks ensue, and Anderson combines multiple narratives such as a murder mystery, a love story, a prison breakout, a character portrait, and a nation at war all into a confection of nostalgia. Wes Anderson’s control of his environment is impeccable, and his attention to detail is clearly reflected in his protagonist Gustave. Yet amongst the fond memories of adventure is a sense of sadness for a time gone by, where manners still meant something. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a triumph of old-world romanticism and Wes Anderson has never been better.

10. THE SKELETON TWINS

My favorite crowd-pleaser of the year, The Skeleton Twins bursts with chemistry as long-time friends Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader play siblings both on the verge of ending their lives. They haven’t seen each other in 10 years, and a suicide scare brings them together and forces them to confront their lives and choices. Hader manages to avoid most gay stereotypes with his portrayal of Milo, a man in his 30’s who is still living out his highschool years, and Wiig plays Maggie, the “got it together” twin who’s marriage with Luke Wilson is falling apart without him knowing. In fact she could very well be more damaged than Hader, she just hides it better. Luke Wilson surprised me, stealing scenes with his portrayal of probably the nicest guy in the world, Lance. But as we all know, the nice guy never wins. The film isn’t exactly ground breaking, but it combines humor and heartbreak effortlessly and its trio of performers are clearly having so much fun making the film that you cannot help but join in. Featuring probably the best song sequence this year (one of my favorite songs too), The Skeleton Twins is heartwarming without the bad aftertaste, and is a must for SNL fans or lovers of well made indie romcoms in general.

Double Feature- THE BACHELOR WEEKEND

Bro-bonding done Irish style, The Bachelor Weekend is a film that tries to be a stupid American comedy but ends up being a deeply moving film about brotherhood and friendship. Hugh O’Conor is about to get married and best friend Andrew Scott (Sherlock) plans a stag party out in the woods where they can all get in touch with their inner bachelor, but through a series of unfortunate events they wind up getting lost and running through the woods half-naked looking for food and shelter. Much of this is due to the unwanted addition of Peter McDonald to their group, or as he likes to call himself, “The Machine.” The comedy is genuine, and the characters are (gasp) completely 3 dimensional. (3 dimensional characters in a comedy? Preposterous!) As the days grow longer all their deep rooted issues with each other surface, and Andrew Scott shines as he begins to break down. He is quickly become one of my favorite actors, and his work in the film is wondrous, equally heartwarming and heart-wrenching. By the end of the film you may just want to find your friends and give them all a hug, and maybe try out an Irish drinking song or two.

 

9. THE IMMIGRANT

The Weinstein Company really dropped the ball on this one. James Grey (Two Lovers, We Own the Night, Little Odessa) has been one of the most mature American filmmakers around, and The Immigrant is easily his greatest yet, a complex story of survival and love set in 1920’s New York. And yet the film was barely in select theaters, and slipped onto VOD without almost any marketing. Its truly bizarre, because with the right marketing this film could easily be an Oscar contender, sporting gorgeous cinematography and stellar performances from Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner. Cotillard arrives to New York with her sister, but at Staten Island they are separated and alone in the big city without money, she is taken in by pimp Joaquin Phoenix and is forced into prostitution. Yet he begins to fall for her, right before his handsome magician cousin (Jeremy Renner) arrives with his traveling performers, putting all three of them into a conflicted love triangle with no easy way out. The story delicately paints a tale of the industrial age swept up in romance, betrayal, and subdued passion. Despite the sheer size of the film’s environment and period, James Grey keeps the film tight and focused, forgoing the obligatory sweeping CGI shots of bustling 1920’s New York for on-the-street realism. Nothing is glorified, yet the amber hues he works with give the film the look of an old photograph, which adds an almost magical quality to the raw human drama unfolding. The era is recreated exquisitely, and featuring a stunning final shot, The Immigrant is a haunting and mature work that has a quiet greatness and dignity that I hope more come to discover. (Available on Netflix Instant)

Double Feature- MR. TURNER

Timothy Spall grunts and “gufahs” his way into our hearts with his depiction of the great landscape painter J.M.W. Turner. Like The Immigrant, Mr. Turner takes what should be a straightforward narrative and adds nuance, approaching its subjects in a surprisingly harsh and unforgiving light, yet softens the bite with its breathtaking environment and tone. Veteran director Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies, Happy-Go-Lucky, Another Year) is complete artistic control, crafting a film that refuses to follow the usual paths these types of biographies travel, jumping from one significant event to the next. The film is long (2 and 1/2 hrs) yet focuses on small events, traveling to the shore, arguing with his dad, finding a place to sleep. When the film begins Turner arrives home and promptly gropes the maid (its consensual), but it definitely sets the tone that this portrait is not going to whitewash anything. For all his outer grit you get the sense he is a lost soul, yet Mike Leigh refuses to give us the obvious scene where he paints and cries and we see how vulnerable he is. Framing and constructing shots that could be right out of one of his paintings, Mike Leigh presents an artist in all his faults and conflicting passions, and asks the audience if his art was worth the pain. Yet with reflection we discover that its the other way around, that this tortured man used art to stop the pain, and even to give it a face.

8. GONE GIRL

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Gillian Flynn’s book Gone Girl was one of the few I read this year, mainly to see what all the fuss was about. Talk about a page turner. David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, The Social Network) is known for his razor sharp direction, mechanizing every aspect of a story, with him arranging each piece precisely like a watchmaker. Gone Girl is perfectly suited to his tastes, and so unsurprisingly its amazing. With a constantly changing narrative like Cold in July, the film follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) who arrives home to find his wife (Rosamund Pike) gone. Bolstered by Trent Reznor’s unnervingly static score, Fincher keeps the surprises coming and even though I’ve read the book there were scenes that left my jaw on the floor. There is a definite pulpiness to the film that Fincher keeps to allow us accept some of the more ridiculous plot points, but it is Rosamund Pike’s performance as Amy that steals the show. The film certainly has a few opinions about marriage, but whats hilarious is to watch critics call the film sexist yet interpret the film’s themes completely differently. (SPOILERS) I find is funny that we finally get a phenomenal FEMALE villain and immediately bloggers are falling over themselves saying how its a step backwards for women in film and other such bullshit. (END SPOILERS) Stupid and wrong. Gone Girl is possibly the worst date movie ever, but it is pure dark, twisted entertainment with a sardonic twist that had me craving for more.

Double Feature- THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: THEM

Originally director Ned Benson made two films subtitled “Him” and “Her”, each from the other character’s perspective, but of course he was forced to combine the two in order to make money at the box office. The film follows Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy as separated spouses who were unable to cope after their son died. (We never learn how he died.) Both waiting for the other to make a move, they slowly start spending time together trying to see if its possible for them to find their connection after so much time and pain. Like Gone Girl, the film focuses on a broken marriage and asks what’s the breaking point. Both actors kill it and add richness to their characters. The film’s material has been covered before, and yet it treats it protagonists with such care and sensitivity that it feels fresh and exciting.

7. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE

Perhaps Jim Jarmusch’s (Ghost Dog, Dead Man, Broken Flowers) most accessible film, Only Lovers Left Alive manages to make a case that there is still a bit of blood left in the vampire genre. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston (the most androgynous actors out there) play vampires named Adam and Eve living in Detroit. I know, it already sounds awesome. Detroit is already a deadland, so the setting is perfect for Jarmusch’s signature style of large empty spaces and dead things. Hiddleston is a musician who helped the early classical composers like Mozart and Vivaldi with their works, yet still gets excited by Jack White. His passion for music is barely holding off suicide, so Swinton arrives to reconnect with her lover. Traveling the world has sustained her interest in living, yet both of them are beginning to think dark thoughts. Blood is obtained from a blood bank, since with all the blood diseases now biting a human could lead to contamination. The film has an effortlessly cool vibe, with a amazing soundtrack and beautiful people in sunglasses reminiscing about the 17th century while sipping on type 0 at the pier at night. The best vampire film since Let the Right One In, Only Lovers Left Alive mixes bloodsucking monsters with jazz, and made me want to go to there.

Double Feature- GRAND PIANO

Clearly a Brian De Palma fanboy, Eugenio Mira’s Grand Piano is a brilliantly self-contained, fast-paced, and ridiculous thriller with an absurd premise that the film treats with utter seriousness. Elijah Wood continues his involvement in quality genre films as Tom Selznick, a renowned concert pianist who during his comeback performance into the art world gets a death threat saying, “Play one note wrong and you die!” The red dot of a sniper’s scope on his chest convinces him the threat is real. Grand Piano is just a great time, filled with some brilliant camera work and a cameo by John Cusack, it was one of the best visual thrillers I’ve seen all year. (Available on Netflix Instant)

6. CALVARY

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One of biggest surprises for me this year, Calvary stars Brenden Gleeson in the best performance of his illustrious career. Playing a small town priest, Gleeson is told in confession by a man that he was molested by a priest as a child, and will therefore kill Gleeson by the end of the week, despite Gleeson being innocent. After all, someone needs to pay. Instead of trying to figure out who this man was, Gleeson begins a sort of pastoral journey through his Irish village, coming across all manner of sinners. It’s as if Gleeson needs to see if he has done enough for his parishioners, if his life calling has made any difference at all in their lives. There is so much nuance to his portrayal that we are constantly guessing his motivation, allowing us to learn who this man is through the people he’s touched. One of the most beautiful movies visually I saw all year, the film makes excellent use of its windswept environment and makes for one of the most emotionally impactful experiences I’ve had in a while. It’s as if Gleeson takes on the sins not just of his village, but of the entire Church, and the film asks whether or not forgiveness is an answer. No ideologies are pushed, but instead we are stuck looking at the events that unfold and wonder what our own role is in ending violence. Starting small is always a good idea. (Side Note- The Madonna imagery at the end was heartbreaking)

Double Feature- ROAD TO PALOMA

Road to Paloma also deals with sins of the past, yet approaches the material differently. Jason Momoa (Kal Drogo and soon to be Aquaman) stars and directs as Wolf, a Native American drifter who is traveling to a sacred place to bury the ashes of his murdered mother. The film is mostly gorgeous motorcycle porn, but the performances are surprisingly good (including actual wife Lisa Bonet from the Cosby Show) and the directing was actually quite stunning, especially for a actor known for playing silent muscly dudes. In an interview Momoa said the film is a response to the many murders that happen every year on tribal land which are never investigated by the police. Clearly this was a passion project for Momoa, and I’m a HUGE fan of his, so if you interested please check out Road to Paloma.

5. NIGHTCRAWLER

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What a nasty little film. Recalling such films as Network or Taxi Driver, Nightcrawler is a film of pure ambition, and the horrors it can birth. Jake Gyllenhaal lost 30 lbs to create the character of Lou Bloom, a LA bottomfeeder who gives the term “opportunist” a darker new meaning. A creature of the night, Lou begins involving himself in the world of crime journalism and through hard work and terrifying focus begins making a small name for himself in the LA news world. Photographing horrific car crashes or shootings pays the bills, but never satisfied he begins going to new extremes to get exclusives. The weight loss gives Gyllenhaal a skeletal, grim-reaper face with bulging bug eyes that reveal an unchecked hunger for more. The direction is slick and the film is just as focused as its, well, antagonist. Making a film where your central character is a villain is near impossible to do, but Nightcrawler keeps Lou’s character so enigmatic that by the time we realize how malicious he is we can’t turn away, like watching a car crash.

4. SNOWPIERCER

There is a moment in Joon-ho Bong’s (Mother, The Host) stunning Snowpiercer that I am positive was intended just for me. It occurs when Chris Evan and company are fighting through the upper class freight cars and wind up in a steam room cabin. A gut-wrenching prison-style brawl occurs, and as the camera hovers over the casualties Al Bowlly’s Midnight, the Stars, and You begins softly playing. Of course this song was made famous by its use in my all-time favorite movie, The Shining, capturing the horrors of the Overlook Hotel with a haunting elegance. There is no reason for the song to play there, and its as if in post-production Joon-ho Bong looked at his sound designer and said, “What else can we add that will make Nick from Glendale, CA love this film even more?” The film is a masterpiece. It takes place on a train traveling across a frozen and dead Earth, carrying the last of humanity. Over the years a class system has evolved, with the lower-class inhabiting the tail of the train, and the farther up you go the higher the class. This is a purely conceptual film, presenting its totally unrealistic world without apology. Refusing to suffer at the hands of the upperclass anymore, the back of the trail stages a revolt, led by Chris Evens, Octavia Spencer, and Jamie Bell. Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and John Hurt join the cast as other players in this fight for humanity’s soul. The film is not afraid of the bizarre, and orchestrates one of the most unique and visually impressive action films in recent memory. (Available on Netflix Instant)

3. UNDER THE SKIN

A film that is finding its way onto practically every top 10 list, Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin has been compare to Kubrick’s best works. Like Kubrick, Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) understands that film has no need of dialogue being a primarily visual medium. That’s not to say that Under the Skin has no dialogue, but it very well could have considering it’s tale of a predatory alien discovering the truths about humanity is told purely through images. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien (we never learn the name of anyone in the film) who arrives on earth, replacing another alien and taking her place as a seductress, luring human men into her lair in order to do…. something with them. This continues until an interaction with a particular man (one of the most amazing scenes of any film this year) leads her to start feeling empathy, even sympathy. These feelings terrify her, and she has no idea how to define them. Glazer manages to film Earth from the perspective of an otherworldly being, and after leaving the theater it took me a while to shake the feeling that the world around me was a hostile and foreign environment. So much of the film is abstract that there are different interpretations of the events which unfold. It took Glazer 10 years to fully develop the film, and it remains one of the most singular cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. Impossible to define or compare to (The Man Who Fell to Earth?), and featuring the most pure sinister scores I’ve ever heard, Under the Skin will divide audiences (plenty of people walked out of my screening), but most truly great film do. (Side Notes- The scenes in the truck were filmed with hidden cameras and real interactions with townspeople, and the beach scene may be one of the most unsettling things I’ve ever seen.)

Double Feature- BORGMAN

Anyone who loved Under the Skin will adore the brilliantly strange Borgman. Like a wackier Funny Games, the film never stays still, moving from one bizarre scene to another. The plot is difficult to describe. A unknown man with indeterminate intentions escapes from his home (its a hole in the ground) and is chased by a priest and men with guns to upper-class household, where he worms his way into their life and slowly turns their everyday lives into suburban nightmare. Macabre and unpredictable, deciphering what it all means is part of the fun, if it means anything at all. If you like Haneke, Lanthimos, Ken Russell, odds are you’ll love Borgman.

2. BIRDMAN (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I’m really not sure what more I can say about Birdman. Go see it? Why haven’t you seen it? ARE YOU MAD?! It’s rare that you get to see a perfect movie, a movie that is called every positive adjective and hyperbole by critics and deserves them all. Of course now there are a few critics popping up calling the film overrated, but that is to be expected. (Plus the film has thing or two to say about critics). Michael Keaton plays Riggan, a man made famous for playing a superhero called Birdman in the 90’s, who now is starring, writing, and directing a stage production in order to reaffirm himself as a “real” artist. Of course the film is about Keaton’s relationship with Tim Burton’s Batman films, and how they affected his future career. Filled with possibly career-best performances by Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, and Naomi Watts, Birdman is one of those films that is about everything, life, love, career, fears, art, etc. Yet it never feels preachy, partially because we are so mesmerized by the seemingly single take that spans the whole film, but mostly because for all its magical realism the film is grounded with phenomenal writing and irreverence. It covers deep themes while also having Keaton run half-naked through times square, in the same way that Shakespeare (an obvious influence of the film) was able to pontificate about things of the highest order all contained in a screwball comedy. There is so much I want to praise about this film, and I could go on and on, but just see it for yourself if you haven’t already and then try to express your praise in a single paragraph. I dare you.

Double Feature- WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL?

Just as meta and ambitious as Birdman, Shion Sono’s (Suicide Club, Cold Fish) wacky Why Don’t You Play in Hell is a smorgasbord of cinematic influences. Spanning 10 years, the film focuses on a overly-enthusiastic indie film crew that feel destined to make the greatest film of all time. They end up getting pulled into a vicious war between two rivaling yakuza clans and agree to film their eventual bloody battle so long as they get to orchestrate it. Reality becomes a soundstage as Shion Sono cements himself as one of the most extreme filmmakers of all time, splashing buckets of bloods and throwing body parts at the camera. Just when the film can’t get any more meta we get the final shot that is gloriously on the nose. With a climax that one-ups Kill Bill, the film is a love-letter to the art of filmmaking, in all its spontaneity.

1. ENEMY

I can count on one hand my truly great theater experiences. I was a fan of Denis Villeneuve work (Prisoners, Incendies) and so after work in DC I walked to the only small independently owned theater in the area that was showing it. It was the afternoon, and there was only one other guy in the theater, if you could call it that (it was the size of a large living room). I ordered a Guinness, sat down, and proceeded to watch a film that could very well be one of my favorites ever made. I love all genres, but deep down psychological horror with strong imagery will always be my favorite. (The Shining, Dark City, Angel Heart…) Anyone who talked to me over the next month can attest that I couldn’t shut up about Enemy. Most critics have called a well-made, possible underrated film, but for me this film is everything. It’s why I love movies. Not since Mulholland Drive has a film dived into the dark psychology of an individual with such intelligence and artistry. With notes of Lynch and Cronenberg, Enemy follows a college professor (Jake Gyllenhaal) living a wasted circular life until while watching a local film he sees an extra that looks exactly like him. This leads him on a nightmarish journey into the depths of his own psyche as he tracks down his doppelganger. As their paths cross and reality keeps growing legs (for real), we are forced to play catch up with the narrative as every new reveal challenges the one before. What makes Enemy work is that all of its sinister imagery and plot twists aren’t just for show but carry immense weight and Freudian meaning, for as the beginning if the film tells us, “Chaos is order yet undeciphered.” With haunting cinematography, a spine-tingling score that transports you to a claustrophobic landscape filled with eyes looking out from the dark, and a stunning dual performance by Gyllenhaal, Enemy weaves a web in you subconscious and then lets the spiders come out to play. (Side Note- Enemy makes the top 5 best film endings ever in my book. Hilarious or terrifying? You decide, either way, you won’t stop talking about it and deciphering it.)

Double Feature- THE DOUBLE

Enemy‘s hipster cousin, Richard Ayoade (Moss from The IT Crowd) masterfully crafts a dystopian world which would make Terry Gilliam proud. Based on the novel by the same name by Dostoyevsky, The Double stars Jesse Eisenberg as a shy clerk at a soul-crushing government job and Mia Wasikowska as the girl next door. The authoritarian hierarchy seems hellbent on thwarting his attempts to make something of his life, and as his outlook on life becomes utterly bleak a new co-worker suddenly appears who physically is his double, but emotionally is a vibrant, confident ladies man who always gets what he wants. This clash of wills leads to Eisenberg taking charge of his life as he battles both himself and an unforgiving, mechanical world. Heavily stylized, the film captures Dostoyevsky’s surreal netherworld with a sense of black humor that is more unsettling that humorous. Ayoade puts his Cambridge education to good use, and is definitely a talent to watch. (Side Note- The poster is awesome) (Available on Netflix Instant)

And now to soak it all in with this Supercut.

OTHER CATEGORIES

Films that Almost Made the Cut: Days of Future Past, The Wind Rises, Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Lego Movie, Blue Ruin, Neighbors, Coherence, A Most Wanted Man, Fury (almost a great movie)

Underrated Films: Begin Again, Noah, Space Station 76, Chef, Happy Christmas, Joe, Breathe in, Tom at the Farm

Overrated Films: Obvious Child, Boyhood (still great movie)

Best Horror Films: In Fear, The Canal, The Borderlands, The Sacrament, Honeymoon, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, ABC’s of Death 2, Killers, The Taking of Deborah Logan, Late Phases, Afflicted, Housebound, The Town that Dreaded Sundown

Best Horror Film for Liberal Arts Majors: As Above, So Below (Copernicus, Dante fanboys)

Best films to Watch after a Night of Drinking/Guilty Pleasures: Hercules, Non-Stop, Cheap Thrills, The Raid 2 (insane), Lucy, Dracula Untold, Horns, The Machine

Best Songs: Lost Stars (Begin Again), Wolfcop (Wolfcop)🙂, Everything is Awesome (Lego Movie), Split the Difference (Boyhood), Heavenly Father (Wish I Was Here), Hal (Only Lovers Left Alive), The Last Goodbye (Hobbit), Miracles (Unbroken)

Best Scores: Interstellar, Under the Skin, Enemy, The Guest, Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, Gone Girl, Amazing Spiderman 2, Cold in July, Theory of Everything

Delightful Oddities: A Fantastic Fear of Everything, Filth, The Signal, I Origins, The Two Faces of January, White Bird in a Blizzard, What We Do in the Dark, Don’t Blink, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Rigor Mortis

Disappointing Films: Rise of an Empire, A Dame to Kill For, The Amazing Spiderman 2, Jersey Boys, Deliver Us From Evil, Magic in the Moonlight, St. Vincent, Stonehearst Asylum, Dom Hemingway, Transcendence

Best Documentary: Life Itself, Jodorowsky’s Dune (didn’t watch enough docs this year)

Favorite Endings: Filth, Enemy, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

Films I Hated: Tusk, Ouija, Horrible Bosses 2, Age of Extinction

Performances that Surprised: Kristen Stewart (Camp X-Ray), Tye Sheridan (Joe), Rose Byrne (Neighbors), actual cannibal Shia Labeouf (Fury), Kim Dickens (Gone Girl), Don Johnson (Cold in July), Chris Pine (Stretch)

22 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2013

22?! Seriously? The lack of multiples of 5 disgusts me. Last year my list had 15 films, and that process of elimination was hell. Critics have been hailing 2013 as the greatest year for cinema since Gone with the Wind, and my inability to reduce my number of favorite films to at least 20 proves this point. Themes of capitalism gone wrong and isolation pervaded this year’s films, tackling both America’s justification for excess as well as it’s hidden desire for a fresh start. Like last year this list is comprised of my FAVORITE films, and not necessarily the BEST films. I am a firm believer in objectivity in criticism, a concept many professional critics don’t understand, and the ability of a critic to separate their own emotions and experiences from the actual quality of a film. There are many films which I have left off this list that I consider to be some of the greatest films of the year (Wolf on Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave, Upstream Color) that I hold with the utmost respect, but not love. The Act of Killing is easily the most important piece of cinema to come out this year, but I have left it off this list. Basically, all BEST OF lists tend to be the same (mine would pretty much look like everyone else’s), and I wanted to throw in some films touched me personally. There of course were some acclaimed films I wasn’t able to catch in theater (Captain Philips, Nebraska, Shot Term 12), but oh well. Finally, I noticed many of the films this year had a similar film come out that would make for a great double feature, and so I’ve decided to include those films when they apply along with the 22 others, sort of like how Netflix had the “because you watched (insert embarrassing romcom here)”.

#22  A HIJACKING

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From one of Denmark’s new emerging talents Tobias Lindholm (writer of The Hunt) comes this gripping depiction of modern high seas piracy. Told without flourishes, this refreshingly low-key thriller is best described as an action movie about inaction. A Danish cargo ship carrying cook Mikkel and engineer Jan is boarded by pirates, and what follows is a constant edge of your seat game of life and death, but half of the movie is also dedicated to the negotiation process, with each side giving each other radically different numbers with grim consequences on both sides. Days, weeks, months go by, and if the pirates don’t kill the prisoners, disease or starvation could very well do the trick. A Hijacking places the viewer right into the heart of this terrifying ordeal, and realistically captures the suffering, both big and small, of all involved.

Double Bill- CAPTAIN PHILIPS

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Duh. Of course I didn’t see this film, and if I had these two films could very well be reversed.

#21  IN THE HOUSE

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Ozen is back, and he’s better than ever. In the House is a literal literary thriller (lol) which follows failed writer turned teacher Germain as he encounters a student named Claude with that creative spark he lacked as a writer. The catch is that this student writes about his desire and eventual success in finding a house with occupants which interest him and finding ways of incorporating himself into that family. Every week he writes a little more and gives his work only to Germain, who by all accounts should put a stop to Claude’s actions but the story becomes too intoxicating, and Germain can’t help himself but to begin giving Claude directions on how to manipulate this family’s dynamics to create a more satisfying narrative. The writing is brilliant and full of twists, almost like if Michael Haneke relaxed and just had fun for a change.

#20  THE PAST

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While not as impactful as A Separation, writer/director Asghar Farhadi once again proves what a force of nature he has become in the film world, release another masterclass drama with similar themes to A Separation, which is common for a sophomore film. Israeli father Ahmad returns from his homeland to sign divorce papers with his French wife Marie, only to find himself slowly drifting into his wife’s new life, which brings to the surface emotions and secrets thought to be buried. With beautiful pacing and powerhouse performances, The Past sneaks up on you, portraying real humanity and respect for its characters rarely found in films today. A single tear has never been more devastating than at the end of this movie.

 

#19  ENOUGH SAID

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Perhaps James Gandolfini’s death helped put this film of this list, but I doubt it. Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money, Please Give) has become one of the most recognized female directors today, with her largely female casts. Enough Said is my new favorite of hers, following Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a masseuse who falls for single dad James Gandolfini, only to discover he is the ex-husband of one of her clients (Catherine Keener). In addition to Julia’s and Jim’s amazing chemistry and hilarious script, Enough Said focuses on the little individual quirks everyone has, like leaving the toothpaste cap off, that can grow to become the most irritating habit possible by the end of a relationship. Julia truly loves Jim, but hearing his ex-wife badmouth and complain about him every session starts to poison their relationship. Gandolfini is at his loveable best here, adding subtle complexity to his character, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus is perfection. She has a captivating quality about her (just watch Veep) and she brings so much life and energy to the film.

Double Bill- TOUCHY FEELY

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With similar themes such as finding a connection later in life, and…. masseuses, Touchy Feely just barely didn’t make this list. Set in Seattle, masseuse Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) finds herself unable to handle bodily contact, her dentist brother Paul (Josh Pais) has made being an introvert practically an art form, and his daughter Jenny (beautifully played by Ellen Page) is torn between staying at home to look after her dad, or actually trying to make something of herself in the world.

With a side cast of the amazing Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, and Scoot McNairy, Touchy Feely takes a delicate approach to its characters, allowing them to slowly sort through their issues, overcome heartbreak, and accept change. Its a quiet film, but beautiful in little ways.

#18  SPRING BREAKERS

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“Spriiiiiiiiiiiiiing breaaaaaaaaaaaaaak.” Every neon splattered, candy colored, ADHD/MTV-style scene of this film is presented ironically. Provocateur Harmony Korine holds nothing back with this “Disney Princesses gone Wild” epic. James Franco’s performance as Alien was like nothing this year, especially with his love of dark tanning oils and Scarface on repeat. The monotony many critics complained about by the end was of course the point, and this film also offered the best musical moment of 2013. You know how sometimes you watch a legitimately great film, but after a couple weeks you’ve forgotten about it? Whether or not you think Spring Breakers is a good film, it WILL be permanently spray-painted on your brain till the day you die in big, neon-pink lettering. Spring break for ever, bitches.

Double Bill- THE BLING RING

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Following a group of Beverly Hill, celebrity obsessed high school students raiding their idols’ homes, Sofia Coppola’s latest mood piece also demonstrates the monotony of unrestrained excess among America’s youth, along with a fun “Mean Girls”-esque performance from Emma Watson.

#17  FROZEN

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Frozen is just the best. I wanted to end my review right there, but I have to mention that I rate Disney musicals based on how quickly I memorize all the songs, and with Frozen it took about 4 hours, tops…. she just wanted to build a snowman! Why am I crying?!

#16  GRAVITY

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What can I say that hasn’t been said already? Of course there is already a backlash against the film, but this idiocy is to be expected. Gravity is perfection bottled up and thrown into space. Every aspect of the film is minutely crafted, relying on a

heightened form of narrative simplicity to convey its message of isolation, depression, rebirth, evolution, faith, and countless more IN A FREAKIN SPACE THRILLER. Everything works, every scene perfectly transitions to the next, and perhaps this surgical like precision turned some people off from the film. In terms of Cinema, with a capitol “C”, no other films can touch Gravity. How could they, they’re still on earth.

Double Bill- EUROPA REPORT

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A group of scientists travel to Jupiter’s 4th largest moon in search of life. Forget that piece of crap found footage movie Apollo 18, Europa Report is a Sci-fi nerd’s wet dream, using found footage to create a palpable sense of authenticity and terror to the storyline. Much of the dialogue went over my head on account of its technicality (NASA helped with the film), and the film has got to be one of the most ambitious small independent films in a long while. Staring District 9‘s Sharlto Copley and Michael Nyqvist

#15  PRINCE AVALANCHE

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This film surprised me more than any other this year, and it’s a true return to form for comedy director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Your Highness). Starring almost exclusively Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, the film is I guess a road movie, but in this case they’re are actually building the road instead of driving on it. I’m having difficulty saying what the actual story of the film is, but I think it’s best if you go into this film with a clean slate anyway. It’s funny, touching, sad, thoughtful, and a joy to watch.

Double Bill- SCENIC ROUTE

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Like Prince Avalanche this film relies solely on its screenwriting and its two leads, Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler, both of whom deliver some exceptional work. While on a road trip their car breaks down in the middle of a desert, and what follows is gripping portrayal of survival, betrayal, and masculinity. With a controversial ending, Scenic Route is one of those gem films that you want to recommend to your guy friends.

#14  PACIFIC RIM

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Pacific Rim is actually my least favorite Guillermo Del Toro film, but how could I not include it? I think there is more love in every frame of this film than any other this year. Like the underrated Wachowski films, Pacific Rim possesses a real belief in its world and characters, and requires its audience to unclench their assholes for its duration and let the film work it’s monster-punching magic. Pacific Rim GIFSure it had obvious influences, but still remained the only original blockbuster of the year, and I just wish audiences put their money where their mouths were and showed the studios that originality pays. Still it made a decent profit overseas, so there is a chance it will get a sequel. The second one should definitely involve Godzilla. Favorite scene: When little Mako is saved my Elba. If the film had more scenes like that (and no Charlie Hunnam) it would be far lower in my list.

Double Bill- THE OTHER GIANT MONSTERS FIGHTING GIANT ROBOTS MOVIE…OH WAIT

#13  BLUE JASMINE

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Midnight in Paris may be a better film than Blue Jasmine, but Cate Blanchett cements herself with this film as possibly the greatest actress currently working, and I don’t make that assertion lightly. The role of Jasmine is one which actresses must dream of, and Blanchett handles this often cruel and narcissistic ex-socialite with startling complexity and gives her humanity despite the screenplay. We don’t like Jasmine, but we can’t help but pity her.

All the usual Woody Allan stylings are present, and the cast is phenomenal, especially Sally Hawkins (Jasmine’s sister) and Bobby Cannavale (Hawkins’ loser boyfriend with a heart and a temper to match). I saw Blue Jasmine alone in a theater one day since I got out of work early, and that definitely improved the experience. Favorite Scene: When Jasmine is talking to her nephews at the diner and she assumes they know Frank Sinata’s Blue Moon.

#12  THE GREAT BEAUTY 

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What a fitting title. I caught this film a couple of days ago, and it blew me away. I know that calling a beautiful looking film Malick-esque is clique, but the way Paolo Sorrentino captured the architecture of Rome reminded me of Tree of Life and The New World. Similar to Fellini’s work, The Great Beauty romanticizes Rome with a euphoria that’s intoxicating, full of borderline surreal scenes.

Jep Gambardella is an aging socialite who’s seen and done it all, and now is confronted with his own mortality/reason for existing etc. This film covers so much that it would be useless to write them all down, but it is possibly the most gorgeous film I’ve seen all year and your soul will be lacking if you don’t watch it. Also the soundtrack is AMAZING.

Double Bill- TO THE WONDER

From a purely aesthetic perspective, Malick’s vastly underrated meditation on the different kinds of love matches The Great Beauty blow for blow.

#11  AMERICAN HUSTLE

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David O Russel is of course a great director, but his true ability lies in getting career defining performances from his actors, and in that respect American Hustle is his greatest achievement. American Hustle was just damn fun. I know people talk about how great of an actor Christian Bale is, but I never really got it until I watch Out of the Furnace and American Hustle back to back. Perhaps I never really bought his portrayal of Batman, but the sensitivity and humanity he portrayed in both won me over and them some. Amy Adam’s shines as his accomplice in crime, and of course Jennifer Lawrence kills her role. jennifer-lawrence-hustle-fireaJeremy Renner has always seemed too stiff, but here he displays a relaxed and fun-loving side which I hope he taps into later down the road. Everyone hustles everyone, and at times the film seems messy and should fall apart, but the dynamite performances and exaggerated 70’s look holds it all together fantastically. (Plus some welcomed cameos) The toupee scene in the beginning is one of the best scenes of the year.

#10 STOKER

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Here is a film that has surprisingly been featured on many “Top 10” lists this year, despite its lukewarm critical reception. I believe this is because what many saw as pointless and pretentious stylistic flourishes have actually over time revealed themselves to be calculated images which enhance this dark, gothic tale. The film is incredibly confident in its vision, doing things with the camera that I have never seen, and slowly builds its tension with a grandiosity which set Korean directors apart from the rest. A vampire tale without vampires, Stoker follows young India (Mia Wasikowska) who has just lost her dad, and mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Out of nowhere India’s charming uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) appears and seduces India in order to change her. With a score by Clint Mansell and Philip Glass, Stoker is horror at its most elegant.

Double Bill- BYZANTIUM

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Neil Jordan (Interview with a Vampire) also decided to tackle the vampire genre again this year, and while the result was mixed I did appreciate his old-school approach to the material. Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton play vampire sisters in the modern world, moving from town to town. Mixing vampiric folklore with a modern setting, I liked how even after living for hundreds of years Saoirse and Gemma still maintain a mother/daughter relationship, complete with protective natures and rebellious attitudes.

#9  DRINKING BUDDIES

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Usually I hate mumblecore, but amidst the huge blockbusters and thrillers this year, with every film being about the apocalypse or how the earth in the future will be a total wreck (Elysium, After Earth, Oblivion), Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies is the perfect refresher film. Think of it as a palate cleanser. Following 2 couples (New Girl‘s Jake Johnson, Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston), 2 of whom work at a brewery, the film is almost completely improvised, and all 4 of these actors do some of their best work of their careers. There are no great conflicts to overcome, but their characters are so real and human that as we see their relationships grow and fade, we feel every triumph and failure right along side them. All romantic cliques are thrown out, and the integrity of the story and its characters are put before any stereotypical notions of how romcoms must end.

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Double Bill- THE SPECTACULAR NOW

One of the best coming of age films of the year, The Spectacular Now is further proof of James Ponsolt’s (Smashed) incredible talent. Like Drinking Buddies this film puts its characters before anything else, and allows for scenes to be somewhat improvised. With stunning teen performances from Miles Teller, Shailene, Woodley, and Brie Larson, The Spectacular Now captures the highschool years like never before, subverting the usual sex-obsessed, awkward teen format and instead focusing on the fear of the future, of becoming an adult, and the boredom in between.

#8  THE HUNT

A terrifying portrayal of mob mentality, The Hunt is a movie that will make you ANGRY. Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal… I cannot wait for season 2) plays a preschool teacher and a man of exceptional compassion and virtue. He’s practically a saint. As he tries to get his son back from a divorce, the smallest lie from one of his students about sexual abuse tears a hole in his life, slowly and methodically destroying everything he cares about until there is nothing left. He is helpless, and his old friends now spit and beat him, refusing to listen to his pleas. Mikkelsen delivers a performance that left me breathless, one of quiet restraint and explosions of pure anger and frustration. With a thought provoking ending, The Hunt is one of this year’s best dramas, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

 

Double Bill- FRUITVALE STATION

Also featuring a phenomenal lead performance and social injustice, Fruitvale Station is a film I go back and forth on. Chronicling the notorious Fruitvale Station shooting, I partly feel like the film laid the drama and foreshadowing on a bit thick, but at the same time the ending was undeniably a punch to the stomach, plus Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer are outstanding and heartbreaking. “Bold” is definitely a word I would use to describe this film, and it is essential viewing.

#7  MUD

Following one of my favorite films from last year (Take Shelter), Jeff Nichols has crafted one of the greatest coming of age stories I’ve ever seen. Featuring the two best child performances of the year (besides Connor Chapman from The Selfish Giant) and another knockout role for Mathew McConaughey, Mud is a beautifully crafted slice of Americana, slowly building its small-town world and letting its two young leads explore it as they stumble upon some harsh realities of life and love, courtesy of Mathew McConaughey. This is a film that has it all, and I can’t wait to see what Jeff Nichols does next.

Double Bill- GINGER AND ROSA

I knew I had to mention this movie somewhere, and this seems like the most fitting. Set in 1960’s London with the threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis looming, Elle Fanning astounded me with her performance as Ginger, a outgoing young girl who is confronted with issues both from her family and from the world that she is unable to handle. It is a gripping portrait of confusion, fear, and how incapable we truly are in grasping the enormity of our surroundings, the good and the bad, love and war. A coming of age film in the truest sense of the phrase, Ginger and Rosa, like Mud, places its two young actors in a world they are not prepared for, and this existential sink-or-swim feeling is something I think we all universally experience.

#6  BEFORE MIDNIGHT

Richard Linklater may have finally done it. Created a perfect trilogy. Easily the darkest of the three, Before Midnight is an staggering, untouchable masterpiece, a perfect complement to the last two films and rigorous exploration of… pretty much everything. After watching countless imitators think what Linklater does must be easy, it is truly a joy to watch Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy work their magic, bouncing off each other ideas, thoughts, fears, etc with a naturalism that is spellbinding. The last 20 of this film were “Passion of the Christ”-level hard to watch, but it was definitely worth it. “Like sunlight, sunset, we appear, we disappear. We are so important to some, but we are just passing through.”

#5  INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

I was sure this new brilliant and heartbreaking (and occasionally hilarious) piece of work by the Coen Brothers would be my #1, and if it had come out last year it would have been. Llewyn Davis is perhaps the most human character I’ve ever seen from their films. Sure he has some exaggerated quirks, but Oscar Isaac instills in him such a profound longing that despite him being an asshole (Carey Mulligan’s words, not mine), his self-destructive qualities bring out a highly complex and broken portrait of who he has become over the years. The best way to watch the film is to think of it as a folk song. Full of sadness and regret, there is a circular nature to many of those songs, a lack of conclusion. Llewyn talks about how music is just a job for him, but when he plays you realize that he has bought into the words of his own songs, releasing all his pent up frustrations while at the same time accepting his self-imposed fate. At one point he auditions for a gig he desperately needs, but chooses a song about a queen crying over her dead baby to play for the producer. It is unclear whether or not he consciously did this to sabotage himself, but it accurately sums up his perspective on life. And yes, the ending scene works if you think about it. WARNING- This film will stay with you for days after you watch it and it may turn you into a bit of a melancholic misanthrope, much to the annoyance of friends and family. Be warned.

Double Bill- THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN

The plot of this musical drama from Belgium sounds like a lifetime special, a folk musician and a tattoo artist fall in love and have a child, but the kid has cancer and dies, because of course she does. What is amazing is how the director and actors take this plot and turn it into one of the most raw, emotionally brutal films of the year. The wife Alabama takes a spiritual journey after her daughter’s death, while the husband Monroe takes to the streets screaming and spitting on every form of religion, like an atheist fire-and-brimstone preacher. Both try to make sense of the tragedy, and the result is gut-wrenching. With beautiful folksongs performed throughout, a nonlinear narrative, and phenomenal performances, The Broken Circle Breakdown is one of the most emotional movies of the year.

#4  FRANCES HA

It’s in B&W, but no film this year felt more modern than Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha. With partner Greta Gerwig co-writing and laying lead, Baumbach has crafted a film bursting with life. Gerwig grabs your attention and never lets go, her face and bizarre mannerisms effortlessly shaping one of the most unique and memorable characters in any movie in a long while. Constantly broke and moving from one couch to another, Gerwig gives Frances so many flaws that her character should a mess, but instead she becomes instantly relateable, dreaming of become a dancer despite her lack of talent. Surrounding herself with other professionally unimpressive, New York 20-something-year-olds, Frances uses her bombastic energy as a survival tool, and makes the audience wish they saw the world through her eyes. Favorite Scene: When that guy makes a move and she does that thing with her shoulder. It’s an inspired touch.

#3  PRISONERS

I feel as though thrillers, I mean really good thrillers, have become all but extinct, and so when I finally got to watching Prisoners I was expecting to be underwhelmed, especially after some of the reviews I had read. Well, I wasn’t. I was on the edge of my scene the entire time, marveling at the films complexity, the beautifully crafted Roger Deakins compositions and inspired decisions, the Hugh Jackman performance I wasn’t prepared for, and the role I as the audience played in the story. I feel as though Prisoners is actually a dark, modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel from the side of the parents, with much of the imagery having a fairytale feel (wicked witch, snakes, the dark woods). I’m still not entirely sure about the faith presented in the film, but fatherhood is definitely explored in great detail. As a whole the film reminded me of Zodiac (not just because of Jake Gyllenhaal), and that is some high praise. It never felt rushed, every reveal felt earned, and there was really nothing this year that came close to its caliber as a straight-up thriller with brains.

#2  HER

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I almost missed seeing this film, and I’m so glad I didn’t. You know those all-night conversations you had as a kid during a sleepover, when you both just said whatever was on your mind with complete honesty, no matter how fooling or ignorant, mostly because you were too tired to care? Her is like that. Set in the future (which looks like an Apple commercial), Joaquin Phoenix once again dares the Academy to vote for him as Theodore, a recently separated bachelor isolated from the world. Filling his days with work, hilarious future video games and bizarre phone sex, he downloads the first AI (Scarlett Johansson) and falls in love. Like the most gorgeous episode of Black Mirror ever, filled with warm, pastel colors and beautiful design, Spike Jones takes this simple concept and goes to fascinating places with it, exploring our dependance on technology, our slipping grasp on value, and, well, love. Her is the most intelligent film of the year.

Double Bill- THE CONGRESS

While Her might be the most intelligent film of the year, in terms of pure conceptual audacity The Congress stands above all the rest. The story is this, Robin Wright realizes her acting career has gone steadily downward, and after being called Princess Buttercup for the millionth time she is offered the chance to upload herself digitally for Miramount Studios. After doing so she may never act again, but the studio can make movies with her digital copy for ever, keeping her perpetually at whatever age she wishes. She agrees, and 20 years later goes back to renegotiate the contract, but entertainment and reality have merged in the future, resulting in the pic above. The film is entirely about the how entertainment has changed the world, and the film definitely thinks its for the worst. With a monster cast (Robin Wright, Paul Giamatti, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, John Hamm, and more) The Congress is a heady experience you wont forget any time soon.

#1  THE WORLDS END

Giving Linklater a run for his money, Edgar Wright’s final film in his Cornetto trilogy is the best of the three. Inspired by Simon Pegg actually doing the Golden Mile and finding it depressing, Wright uses every trick he learned making Scott Pilgrim to elevate the entertainment/action factor to 11. With huge fight scenes, alien invasions, and of course Wright’s trademarked fast paced and witty dialogue/editing, The World’s End is a glorious work of genre heaven. But that’s not why it’s #1. Amidst the craziness is Gary King’s alcoholism, a theme which pervades the very core of the film and resulted the most dramatic scene of the year for me. When I think back on the film what’s odd is that all the scifi trappings fall away and whats left is a incredibly honest portrayal of addiction, with Gary King always running to that next pint of beer, ignoring the consequences and justifying his addiction both to himself and his friends as a recapturing of youth. I took the Golden Mile to be Gary King’s subconscious cry for help. This is a two-sided film, one side draws you in (aliens!) and the other side shows how debilitating and tragic having an addiction can be. The real accomplishment is how seamless Wright combines the two using metaphors and visual representations. I can’t remember the last action movie to be so intelligent and thought-provoking (even the whole idea of the aliens motivation was fascinating), and I truly hope Simon Pegg gets recognized for his epic portrayal as Gary King. (in a perfect world he would get at least a nomination) The World’s End was the most satisfying film of the year.

OTHER CATEGORIES

Blockbusters that Almost Made the Cut: Catching Fire, Man of Steel

Film Most Undeserving of Critical Hatred: The Lone Ranger, Only God Forgives

Best Constructed Action Scene of the Year: Final train scene of The Lone Ranger.

Other Double Features that Didn’t make it. Saving Mr. Banks and Escape from Tomorrow

Most Sensory Film of the Year: Leviathan

Best Film to Watch After a Night of Drinking: John Dies at the End, This is the End, Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters, You’re Next, Bad Milo

Best Scifi Film of the Year that’s Didn’t make the List: Oblivion

Best Song: Let it Go, Dear Mr. Kennedy, I See Fire, The Moon Song

Best Soundtrack: The Great Gatsby, followed by Frozen, Inside Llewyn Davis

Favorite New Film Composer: M83

Best Score: Man of Steel, followed by Upstream Color, The Place Beyond the Pines, Mud, 12 Years a Slave, Saving Mr. Banks

Best Horror: The Conjuring, Evil Dead, Maniac, We Are What We Are, Frankenstein’s Army

Best Underseen Film: Rush, Out of the Furnace

Films That were Almost Great: The East, Don Jon, Antiviral, Desolation of Smaug, Kings of Summer, The Place Beyond the Pines, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Shadow Dancer, Crystal Fairy, It’s a Disaster, Great Gatsby, Iron Man 3

Best Film I Didn’t Include because I Forgot: Trance, Sightseers, Much Ado About Nothing

Worst Films of 2013: Gangster Squad, Red Dawn, RIPD

Willow Creek (2013)

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Willow Creek is about as low budget as they come. Shot in only a week, the entire film is a passion project by Bobcat Goldthwait (World’s Best Dad, God Bless America) who from a young age was fascinated with Bigfoot. A few friends and I had the opportunity last Friday to watch the film with the director himself, an eccentric, inappropriate (he thought it was a good idea to deep-throat his microphone in a failed attempt to make the first-time moderator less nervous), and altogether pleasant individual who no doubt would be at home in any of his own films.

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Me and Bobcat Goldthwait

He is also a comic (writer for Jimmy Kimmel and Chappelle) which I was not aware of going in, and had me laughing with his take (and dislike) of found footage movies, which ironically is exactly what Willow Creek is. “What I find disturbing about found footage movies isn’t the horrific stories and images, but instead the fact that some guy found this abandoned video recorder and thought, “Wow, this entire family getting raped and murdered is pretty disgusting… but maaaaaybe if I added a soundtrack and freaky jump cuts it would make the material REALLY pop.” He also shared stories of his attempts to rent a raccoon in LA and of all the eyerolling and scoffing UFO enthusiasts gave to Bigfoot believers at a small sci-fi convention. He was joined onstage by Count Gore de Vol (the man in the vamp getup)

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who is one of the oldest TV Horror Hosts in the country. He added a nice touch of camp, and while all his jokes fell flat people still politely applauded.

The film itself was a mixed bag for me, especially considering how Bobcat, known for his bizarre humor, would make a Sasquatch found footage movie without a drop of irony. (Trailer here) It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting, especially since the pattern with found footage films is that each new one tries to one-up the one before, while Willow Creek was far more in the vein of The Blair Witch Project. The movie follows a couple who travel to the Pacific Northwest in order to make a documentary about Bigfoot. The two leads had unexpectedly convincing chemistry, and their back and forth banter felt authentic, especially when their leisurely joyride take a darker, (and hairier) turn. For the first half of the film (total the film is barely over an hr) Bobcat delves gleefully into the many strains of Bigfoot lore, having his two leads interview actual residents of Willow Creek, each sharing their own unique Bigfoot encounter. The highpoint (or lowpoint depending on who you talk to) of the film takes place near the end, where Bobcat creates a 20 minute static shot of his actors inside a tent at night, hearing strange clapping and noises in the forest slowly move closer.

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There is something beautifully pure about the whole concept that I dug, especially since it is an experience we have all had in one way or another. I’ve recently become very interested in modern myths, especially American ones, so this film hit all the right notes in that department. And along with the recent “findings” of a group of Sasquatch researchers claiming to have DNA proof of the big man’s existence, Willow Creek will hopefully soften the hearts of today’s skeptics and plant that “I suppose it’s POSSIBLE….” seed that has inspired countless imaginations. I firmly believe humans crave mystery just as much as truth, but that’s a blog post for another day. For now, let’s just be content knowing that either their is a race of prehistoric primates living undetected in the Pacific Northwest, or that a group of researchers stumbled across a 7 ft. man wearing a full monkey suit in the middle of nowhere. Both options are equally intriguing. (B-)

Craziest Scene: (SPOILERS) There is a night attack at the end of the film and we catch a glimpse of an obese, naked old woman covered in mud (and cocoa powder according to Bobcat) standing silently as the boyfriend is dragged by Bigfoot (maybe?) into the dark of the woods. We don’t know what happens to the girlfriend, so maybe Bigfoot steals human females in order to repopulate his forest. Or something. It was creepy.

PS: Yes, I know the third option is that they faked the whole thing, but I refuse to even entertain that possibility. And don’t even think about throwing Occam’s Razor at me… because there would be nothing I could do.

Deep Red (1975)

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Well, clearly I’m off to a horrid start. I was planning on sticking to my original one-movie-every-other-day schedule until I caught some throat virus which I am certain was a direct result of poor handwashing from one of my Red Cross customers who probably works in the undisclosed WISGD (Weaponized, Infectious, and Super Gross Diseases) department. I can barely swallow and only extremely painfully, so my love of… any kind of food will have to wait. Also I haven’t had a smoke in days which is always a good thing. Luckily my awesome boss gave me today off to recover, for which I am eternally grateful, so I curled up with some hot water and put on Love Actually… which is what a normal person would say. Instead I decided to catch up on my Dario Argento and I went with one of his masterpieces, Profondo Rosso, otherwise known as Deep Red.

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Now I could easily spend this entire month with Argento’s filmography and consider it a month well spent. This particular film begins with a performing psychic in an opera house suddenly realizing that someone in the audience is a serial killer. She falls victim to this faceless killer that very night (in spectacular fashion), and a professional pianist (David Hemmings from Blow-Up) who witnesses the killing from afar decides to lead his own investigation into finding who this killer really is. Compared to most of Argento’s films the plot of Deep Red is one of the most comprehensible, which really isn’t saying a whole lot. To quote Guillermo Del Toro’s take on Deep Red, “A very strange movie made by a very strange, and thin, man… doesn’t make logical sense, but makes lyrical sense.” And therein lies the genius of Argento, in his ability to immerse you so completely into his grandiose and macabre set pieces that you forget why and who and what. There are so many ways to create horror, and Argento’s method keeps his narratives so full of implication and suggestion that the screen nearly bleeds suspense. Only Hitchcock surpasses Argento’s obsession with fine tuning every scene and camera angle, down to the closeup of the descending blade flashing in the dark. Throw in another killer score by Goblin and you have one hell of an artistic thriller which has inspired countless imitations and still holds up spectacularly. (A-)

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Craziest Scene: Decapitation via someone’s necklace getting caught in a moving elevator.

Ghost Story (1981)

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Even as a very young man Fred Astaire had an old man face. That’s not to say he wasn’t a dashing fellow, but those ears… and that jaw! Even at 82, which was when Ghost Story was released, Astaire still had a spring in his step and a twinkle in his eye, although perhaps the spring was more of a shuffle… a graceful, well executed shuffle. As much as I like the idea of an actor’s final role in some way encapsulating his or her work throughout the years, such as with Heath Ledger or James Gandolfini, Ghost Story remain an odd note for such an iconic and lighthearted entertainer to end on. The film follows 4 older men who form a club and hold monthly readings of scary stories. Strange and disturbing incidents begin occurring, and when a son of one of the men gets pushed out the window 50 floors high by his now zombie-possessed girlfriend (yes, it’s a thing), we learn that along with sharing ghost stories they also share a dark secret and a long thought dead lover returns with ghostly vengeance. The film wobbles considerably as it bounces back and forth from past to present, from classical horror to erotic shock value. It’s particular brand of paranormal happenings is similar to Asian ghost stories, where the protagonists are responsible for the vengeful spirit instead of in American horror where the lead characters are blameless victims. The screenplay is decent (Lawrence D. Cohen wrote Carrie and as well as the new remake coming out with Chloë Grace Moretz) but ultimately is too concerned with the sordid sins of the past instead of their long-term repercussions. Many ghostly films I’ve seen are so enamored by the complicated backstories of their ghosts that they forget how this particular sub-genre is at its core melancholic and reflective. (Kairo might be the best example of how a ghost movie should be, and Thir13en Ghosts the polar opposite… but still a heck of fun) Finally, I’ve decided to put a “Craziest scene” section at the end of each review. Unfortunately I already mentioned the best scene, but this section will be include henceforth. (C+)

PS: Also, since I will find literally any excuse to post Astaire videos, here‘s a golden oldie.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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Like all horror fans, I am a creature of nostalgia. We whine and moan about modern horror but have a handful of classic films which are immune to criticism, because they transport us to a time when we didn’t bother to analyze to death every piece of media we consumed. Instead there was simply the knife, the girl, the scream, the shock, the “mom would kill me if she knew I was watching this”, and the inexplicable urge to watch it again with anyone who could stomach it. Deep down all us horror fans know there’s something wrong with us. I mean, we find pleasure in an emotion that is inherently unpleasurable. Who does that?! …Well, a few examples come to mind… Basically, we are all messed up and should be removed from society. Hopefully my hidden love of 1950’s MGM musicals balances me out mentally, although I don’t think I’ll be watching much Fred Astaire this month since I have decided to host a horror movie marathon for the month of October! I’ve always wanted to do it, and my list of horror films I need to see has been growing considerably. I’m going to try to watch a horror flick every other day, ranging from underrated Tod Browning movies from the 30’s to the rise of Eastern European psychological horror. I’ll be jumping from Arthouse to Grindhouse and to any other houses I discover along the way (like this one) in search of a new addition to my “Best Horror Movie in the history of Ever” list… which I have yet to come up with.

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I’ll try to write about each film I see, but odds are it will just be a short paragraph. I am looking to cover the most ground possible in the coming weeks, so any recommendations would be heartily welcomed. Seriously, message me on wordpress or facebook and I will watch and review any horror film so long as I haven’t seen it, although I may make exceptions. It could be a favorite of yours that you want more people to watch, or a film that just looked interesting. I also would like to get some more drawing in this month, so hopefully once a week I’ll draw something either from a film I’ve watched that week or inspired by it. I’m also excited because my local AFI theater is hosting a horror fest where I’ll be catching the new film from the Israeli directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado called Big Bad Wolves (reviews here) and Bobcat Goldthwait (God Bless America) new film, Willow Creek, where he’ll make an appearance for some Q&A. October is my favorite month and all I’m trying to do is spread the love… the evil, bloody, and occasionally undead love. Oh, and I lied about Fred Astaire, since the first film I’ll be watching tomorrow is Ghost Story (1981). (Which was the last film he ever made… which seems suspicious considering the film is clearly about a dead guy… is there more truth than fiction behind Lawrence D. Cohen’s screenplay? What dark secrets lie buried beneath the pristine streets of Hollywood?! Tune in tomorrow for the shocking revelation that can’t be missed!)

Only God Forgives (2013)

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If I had to describe Nicholas Winding Refn’s body of work in one sentence, it would be, “If Tarantino made silent films.” On paper his films are glorious examples of the exploitation genre, rife with bloody revenge tales and exceedingly violent landscapes from every corner of the world. What separates Refn from the rest though is his refusal to equate “genre” with “entertainment”, meaning he uses certain commonly perceived tropes to lure audiences in while his true intentions are far darker. As the audience we have grown accustomed to viewing our action heroes and villains as simple “born that way” character types. Deafening explosions and gunfire drown out any need for explanation as to why this man can kill without blinking, or why he would take a bullet for a stranger. Refn supplies the necessary genre surface material, but sets his cinematic clock 5 minutes early so that instead of watching the massive gun fight we see the moment right before, where our hero struggles with notions of his own mortality, despair, and even Divine judgement. That is not to say there is no action in Refn’s films, but when it occurs it is performed with an almost serial-killer precision and coldness. This matter-of-fact violence only forces us more to think of our fictional pop culture icons less as 1-note embodiments of virtue/vice and more as the result of systematic abuse or mental illness, resulting in extreme personality types. Now this could be done with long scenes of exposition, but once again Refn subverts expectations and only hints at his characters’ damaged psyches with an extremely delicate look or touch.

Critics who whine about nothing happening simply lack the imagination to fill in the gaps. Silence is terrifying to most people. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and easily remedied by a casual flick to unlock your smartphone, but the truth is that silence can be far more telling than actual dialogue. Here are some splendid uses of silence in movies and how powerful it can be. 1. 2. (and finally to fully illustrate my point) 3. I think most people, even extreme extroverts, would describe themselves as being “unusually introspective” because A) everyone thinks their mental life is deeper than those around them, and B) they realize that they never feel more themselves than when they are alone. (I truly hope that’s not just an introvert thing🙂 Refn’s characters are almost entirely silent, but are able to speak volumes to those of us willing to listen. Of course the immediate objection is that there is a distinction between a muted but impassioned performance and a writer who just doesn’t give a crap about dialogue, which is why these kinds of characters are so divisive since subjectivity plays such a strong role.

Earlier I mentioned Divine judgement, and the reason I did so was highlight the notion of hell in Refn’s film work. Once he strips away the comfort associated with genre films, his characters are left to survive in their own seemingly self-made hells. Refn’s earlier film Bronson begins with Tom Hardy naked in a cage, illuminated by a hellish red glow. Suddenly the door to his cell bursts open and cops dressed entirely in black rush in and begin beating him with their fists and clubs. The “damned soul being tormented by demons” imagery is immediate and reflects how Refn treats his “protagonists”. (Watch here) Only God Forgives is no exception, walking the line between exploitation/revenge tale and dream-like examination of the circle of violence. The primary motif which is present throughout is hands. In the film hands are stabbed, cut off, tied to chairs, viewed in extreme slo-mo, and used for something fairly disturbing near the end. In the film Gosling’s creeper brother is killed for being a rapist and murderer and their mother, played gloriously by Kristin Scott Thomas, flies to them in Bangkok to seek revenge on those who killed her son, preferably through Gosling. To give you a sense of her character, when Gosling tells her what his brother did, she responds, “I’m sure he had his reasons.” Yowzers. Their quest for revenge is halted by a mysterious cop named Chang who delivers his own justice on the streets, whether its by bowl of bubbling oil or his signature katana. Oh, and did I mention that the katana always suddenly appears on his back whenever he’s about to kill? It’s very subtly done, and most probably won’t notice it because the camera never focuses on it, but its bizarre touches like this that inform you that what you are watching is not the real Bangkok, but a nightmare landscape that plays by its own twisted rules. Of course Chang is an obvious Grim Reaper representation, but he’s punishing this family for more than the sins of Gosling’s brother. Refn hints at an oedipal relationship between son and mother, with Gosling desperate but unable to form a connection with anyone besides his mother.

In some ways Only God Forgives reminded me of In the Mood for Love, which is of course a far superior film, but both were exquisitely filmed in Asian cities with amazing soundtracks and with an emphasis on previous baggage preventing relationships from forming. Only God Forgives fails to adequately compare with In the Mood for Love by not fully committing to its characters. As much I respect what Refn was doing with this film, I felt at times his more artistic/intellectual side didn’t gel correctly with his pulpy revenge yarn, and that he distilled Gosling’s character to the point ambiguity, instead of subtlety. Only God Forgives is clearly meant to be a companion piece to Drive, and while I appreciate Refn not making Gosling in this film the same unstoppable badass like he was in Drive, he didn’t necessarily need to make him so vanilla at times. I’m all for an understated performance, as I’ve said before, but only when it serves the character. Also it’s lack of narrative escalation near the end makes it difficult at times to invest. There are some interesting and twisted themes present, but they remain stationary in the background for far too long and start becoming depressing. Maybe that’s the point, but too much darkness can be stifling. You don’t need your characters to be redeemed, just to struggle.

So, wrapping up, Only God Forgives is a full on inaccessible art film that will certainly disappoint anyone looking for an action flick. My opinion of Refn is exactly the same as my opinion of Malick; I love them both for making films against the grain without any thought to “will this make the studio any money”, but at the same time I can’t really condemn those who despise them. I fully understand their complaints. Last year I loved Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, but didn’t feel the need to defend its many naysayers. And so it goes. As far as I’m concerned, give me a gritty neo-noir cityscape filled with the tortured and damned any day, just be sure to give me something pure to hold onto, no matter how small. (B-)

PS: Cinematographer Larry Smith does some of his best work in this film, using his experience while working on Eyes Wide Shut to cast a brilliant display of neon and gold onto the streets of Bangkok. Every shot is frameworthy and it alone repels and juvenile “worst movie ever made!” comments.

Man of Steel (2013)

I rarely see movies twice, whether in the theater or on DVD. My list of “need to watch” movies guilt trips me, preventing me from returning to some films which deserve or even require a second viewing in order to be properly understood. Man of Steel was the first film in years that I saw twice in the theater, and I did so because I knew the hype surrounding its release had poisoned my initial midnight viewing. My thoughts on the film flip-flopped on an hourly basis, leaping from this to this in a single bound, and as fun as it is to have “all or nothing” opinions I’ve come to realize that with any film of this size, the truth is always in the middle. I know this is the boring answer, but too often I see “respected” critics pounce on one aspect of the film and judge the rest based on that one mistake. Man of Steel is a endlessly debatable cocktail of pros and cons, and a perfect example of Snyder’s eternal yet doomed pursuit of fanboy perfection.

“Stop with the speed ramping shit!” we all cried, and our prayers were heard. Man of Steel is many things, but ambiguous is not one of them. The film has a clear aesthetic/tone that never falters for an instant, giving it a structural coherence that usually only comes about when all departments (costumes, score, effects…) are operating under a visionary. Yet who is the visionary? Nolan? Snyder? Goyer? While I may personally go back and forth between Nolan and Snyder, I can easily rule out Goyer. When you think back on the film, what stands out? Odds are it’s the epic scope and texture of the story, or the soaring score that slowly spreads like a shot of adrenaline through your body.  Ok, now try to remember some lines of dialogue, and scenes you remember from the trailers don’t count. Having trouble? That’s because the dialogue sucked. Badly. It was worse than Green Lantern. Goyer was given gold and all he was able to produce was “Are we done comparing dicks?” and “Well sir, I just think he’s kinda hot.” The whole script felt recycled to me, as if Goyer and Nolan spent months working out the general story and procrastinated the actual writing of dialogue. Speaking of recycled, I also noticed Goyer pulled the old non-linear gimmick out of Batman Begins. Don’t get me wrong, I actually think non-linear storytelling is often an extremely effective tool, but to use it twice on massive origin stories seems lazy, although now that I think of it Nolan also used it for The Prestige, so maybe I’ll Goyer a pass on this one. All in all, the film concentrates all its energy on developing scope, and in this particular task the film excels, but all character progression was thrown out the window as a result. We aren’t given any dialogue-heavy scenes where we can sit back and really observe these characters. “But it’s a superhero movie, not a bloody Bergman film!” you cry, yet clearly those responsible for this film envisioned a down-to-earth portrayal of the overexposed icon. Snyder was obviously proud of his intimate display of small town Americana in such a big budget summer blockbuster, as well he should be, but what was shown visually was not expressed narratively. It was so preachy and desperate to move on to the next set piece that it didn’t allow Clark to just briefly sit on the porch with his parents, watching the Kansas sun set and enjoying a brief moment of happiness.

I did appreciate some of the little touches though, such as Clark reading Plato’s Republic, but the truly awful church scene that was clearly only there to have Superman and a stained-glass Jesus in the same shot sort of ruined it for me. I think the Christ pose as he slowly drifts out of the hole in the ship was more than enough. Yes, Superman is a Christ figure in almost every possible way, but wouldn’t it have been awesome if he wasn’t? What if the film took the premise of a young, bullied kid from Kansas who suddenly learned he was a space god and just ran with it to its natural, brutally honest conclusion? Yes, superheros are meant to be examples, but I believe we’ve reached a point where another origin story about power and responsibility has no greater impact than the origin story/remake/reboot that came out right before it, so some actual thematic deconstruction is definitely in order, Watchmen-style. My favorite part of the entire Dark Knight Trilogy was when Alfred calls out Bruce in TDKR, saying that he never wanted Bruce to come back to Gotham since there was nothing here for him but pain and tragedy. This for me flipped the entire character of Batman from a deliverer of justice to a deeply depressed and self-destructive individual, refusing to help Gotham with his IMMENSE wealth and instead choosing to destroy and punish his body night after night. I have always been fascinated by the idea of Bruce having the option to eject at the end and choosing not to. Unlike the superficial “flaws” that writers attach onto run-of-the-mill superheros, Batman’s have actually worsened by taking up the mantle. Man of Steel, for all its showboating, still shies away from giving its protagonist actual character flaws like so many other superhero movies before it. Perhaps it could have delved into how he is perceived by the public once he comes out, and how his idealistic notions of saving mankind are halted by a species that doesn’t want to be saved, especially not by an outsider.

Much has been said concerning the collateral damage at the end of the film, a complaint that utterly confuses me. Hasn’t collateral damage been a source of pride for action movies throughout the years? Since forever? I find that most “controversies” are simply a product of unimaginative intellects, desperate to add social relevance to their opinions. “Where are the faces of the children Superman orphaned!” people ask. To that I say they’re still on their heads, thanks to Superman. Every time there is an explosion in any movie, it’s 9/11 all over again. I’m curious as the specific number of human fatalities in a movie that crosses the delicate line between harmless escapism and dehumanizing brutality. Still, if this subject is of particular importance to you, I would suggest that you check out Pacific Rim since I hear tell Del Toro foresaw this problem and in the film evacuates entire cities so that the Kaiju and Jaegers can fight in peace.

Finally, here are some random observations that have been floating around in my mind since watching Man of Steel for the second time.

1) Micheal Shannon was miscast due solely to Goyer’s terrible writing (He just yells alot). Shannon is an extremely subtle actor who can work wonders with little body ticks and eye movements. I’m a HUGE Michael Shannon fan, and I was so excited to see him in a big role in a summer blockbuster, but sadly he picked the wrong one. His performance actually seemed better the second time around, and there is a scene right before his big fight scene where he states his sole purpose in life is to ensure Krypton’s survival and Shannon totally owns it.

2) If this movie taught me anything, its that more movies need evil 2nd in commands, preferably female. Antje Traue as Faora-Ul was one of the best things to come out of the film, and her fight with Superman in the street puts basically every other superhuman fight scene to shame. I enjoyed it far more than the film’s climactic fight in Metropolis.

3) “We’re just trying to set it in the real world!” they said, but the constant product placement took me out of the movie every time. Damn you Nokia and your super fast file sharing!

4) You know when you watch a movie and its nearing the end and suddenly a scene starts and you think, “Now would be the PERFECT time to cut to black.”? I felt that when at the end we get the flashback of Clark as a child wearing a red table cloth as a cape. The image is perfect, showing how Clark’s greatness has always been inside him, even as a child. It was something he was born with. Zimmer’s score suddenly gets quiet, serene, and beautiful as Child Clark strikes the iconic pose. Cut to blac- SON OF A B****!

5) Ok, here’s the big one. I only picked up on this by watching the film a second time, and its a dusey. (Spoilers) So Superman goes to Zod’s ship that has the atmosphere of Krypton and so Superman is just as weak as the rest of them. There is actually no evidence that kryptonian and an earthling on their respective planets are any amount stronger than the other. Its all about atmosphere and kryptonians soaking up more energy due to a different atmosphere. Anyways, so Superman faints and finds out that on the ship he’s weak. Lois Lane then uploads Jor-El and he changes the ships atmosphere to that of earths. Lois Lane then proceeds to shoot and kill kryptonians (who would now have their superhuman strength and abilities) with a kryptonian hand gun. So then this begs the question, why didn’t Zod just shoot Superman with a krytonian gun since these guns can kill a kryptonian at full strength? Oh wait, hold on, he did. Right after the first fightscene in the town. With a massive kryptonian gun mounted on his ship, 9 times larger than the hand gun Lois Lane was using. Boom. (B-)

Upstream Color (2013)

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This may seem like a non sequitur but stay with me. Last Friday I watched Iron Man 3 with my little sister, Gianna, who could barely contain her excitement during the car ride. As she made me proud with her encyclopedic knowledge of the finer points of superherodom, I recalled going to watch Raimi’s phenomenal Spiderman 2 and the fevered fanboy adrenaline pumping through every inch of my 14 year old body. The Marvel/DC universe seemed like an ocean of untapped awesomeness and I was there like Phil Sheldon from Marvels, gazing upwards at gods leaping, flying, and swinging through the heavens, tights and all. To my adolescent mind there seemed an honesty about these new superhero movies, like they were an apology to all the nerds who gave up trying to explain to “normals” that there was real value and humanity in those back-of-the-shelf picture books. With all this in the back of my mind, I walked out of Iron Man 3 with a cold detachment that honestly surprised me. It wasn’t until I was home that it hit me that Upstream Color was the culprit. Recently both Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh put the hurt on the Hollywood industry, giving first-hand insights into the shameful sterilization of creativity and innovation in today’s films in order to secure the foreign market, which is a far more significant factor than it was 15-20 years ago. They even sighted companies which took screenplays and ran them through an algorithm (of sorts) to search for plot devices which in the past have led to blockbusters. Iron Man 3, which by all accounts was a great superhero movie, felt oddly devoid of importance. There is a family-friendly trend which has slowly but surely homogenized popular entertainment into interchangeable collections of cameos and special effects. I’ve lost track of all the upcoming Marvel reboots and sequels (although I am honestly excited for Doctor Strange, a favorite of mine) and Disney’s announcement to make a Star Wars film every year does nothing to inspire confidence. The Marvel/DC monopoly in on the verge of imploding, making way for what most likely will be a string of video game adaptations. And yet nestled in between all these box-office titans battling it out is a small film called Upstream Color that single handedly undermines them all.

I don’t want to say to much about the actual story, and even if I wanted to I’m not sure I could. There is simply nothing to compare it to. For starters let me just say that on a narrative level it is more comprehensible than Primer, Shane Carruth’s first time-travel film. And just like Primer it works on many levels. What I found most fascinating about Upstream Color is that your understanding of it arrives in layers, first mechanically, then narratively, then thematically, and finally spiritually which springs from expanding the film’s third layer. For all its mystery the film never becomes frustrating, which surprised me the most. No matter how much you “get” from it the film is incredibly watchable, moving as if it had a pulse with complex sounds and images weaving in and out, jarring your senses only to soften the blow. Upstream Color is the antithesis of the aforementioned blockbusters, completely unaware of genre or cliches or expectations, telling a sad, beautiful, and deeply human story with the maturity of any great work of art. As I witnessed the film’s protagonists Kris and Jeff being drawn inexplicably towards each other (yes I’m being vague), my mind became far more concerned with reflecting upon the contradictory forces at work in any relationship than the actual story-based reasons for their unusual connection. And that’s exactly what this film does. It presents its story in such broad strokes that it forces you to generalize the bizarre happenings in the film until they suddenly speak to you on a personal level. Upstream Color will be on everyone’s “Top films of 2013” list come December, and I would be surprised if another film comes out between then and now that manages to break the mold and present such a brilliant and compelling story with such subtlety and mysticism. (A+)

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