Best films of 2015

635861538214648830707022199_features-movies-of-2015Tom Donley returns to Picturenose with his take on the best of last year.

Reflecting on 2015, I recognize that the majority of my favorite cinematic experiences entail a pull towards nature and the environment. Perhaps even a push back towards not trusting technology; a pursuit for simpler times. Perhaps this is my current state of mind. Not enough open space and fresh air, but surrounded by too much technology and a resounding call for efficiency.

We sometimes try to find meaning and relationships through social media where there are friends we would no longer recognize. We sometimes take for granted our current situations without reflecting on the potential negative affects our actions will leave. In some respects, this aversion towards forward thinking reigns throughout my top 20 films.

Peace out 2015!

#20. While We’re Young (2014)

Settling into mid life, Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) have found themselves stuck in a rut. Josh has wasted the last decade fumbling through a war documentary that no one cares about while Cornelia doesn’t have much more going on than regretting not having children. The couple needs something new. A proverbial spark in their lives. This fiery particle comes in the form of a young, hip couple — Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Jamie too is an aspiring documentarian and Darby is a free-spirit up for just about anything. For better and for worse, the couples join forces, connect and become business partners.

In director Noah Baumbach’s previous work, Frances Ha (2012), I felt uncomfortable being surrounded by a Gen-Xers, a completely self-absorbed, shallow group. Basically the people who fill my nightmares and I run away from at parties. While We’re Young’s characters possess their own drawbacks, but they’re still approachable. They have ambitions that are relatable and ideas that are palatable.

While We’re Young isn’t a great movie, but it is a relevant one. We understand the message that everything in life is cyclical. And although the character arches don’t quite hit the watershed mark, the final scene as a 2 year old child is thumbing his way through an iphone while Josh and Cornelia look on in horror is quite the ending..

#19. Bone Tomahawk (2015)

What’s with David Arquette getting eaten in every western (Ravenous (1999))?

Bone Tomahawk is like listening to a mashup of Rob Zombie’s Dragula and Sons of the Pioneers’ Cool Water: the crossover of a classical western and a bloody cannibal film that generates an engaging and unique story.

To start, Bone Tomahawk does not begin in the usual western fashion. With a bang we are left looking for answers. We then see the characters ease into their roles as the local sheriff, his sidekick, the damsel in distress, and the gruff cowboy hero. The townspeople mingle in their usual way and Bone Tomahawk begins to drag its boots in the sand. That is, until the unseen enemy comes a knocking. The damsel and others are kidnapped to the hills, presumably for a lovely dinner on the range. Time for action.

Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) and Chicory (Richard Jenkins) are accompanied by Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) and John Brooder (Matthew Fox) to find the three kidnapped citizens including Arthur’s wife Samantha (Lili Simmons). But who exactly took the three and what exactly are they?

The pursuit keeps Bone Tomahawk tantalizing all the way throughout its mosey-mosy set-up to its incredibly violent conclusion. With one of the most shocking scenes this year, I won’t be able to look at a liquor flask the same ever again.

#18. Western (2015)

A silent observer, watching like a hawk. Twitching as his eyes scan the landscape. Never a word. Only searching, watching. The protector of America.

Wearing a ten-gallon hat, the mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas, Chad Foster, isn’t your typical politician. His feet are grounded and his voice has the ability to unite those on both sides of the border. While one border tries to come to grips with the daily violence committed by the Mexican Drug Cartels the other side of the border manifests a chest-thumping, paranoia-driven US. It is up to Mayor Foster breath reason into the political voice.

Seamlessly switching from fluent Spanish that engages entire audiences in Mexico to his speak-easy tone in a southern drawl to reporters in the States, Foster was a special person (he died of cancer just after filming). It is an impossible task asked of just one person. His side-kick, Jose Manuel Maldonado, mayor of the Mexican border town, Piedras Negras, also had a flair to achieve change, but he doesn’t have the intangible ability of Foster to unite.

Brother documentarians, Bill and Turner Ross, settle their lenses on comparable allies who achieve different results. On the other storyline, the Ross brothers follow a small-town rancher with cattle interests on both ends of the border. Once the violence gets too close to the border, the USDA doesn’t allow US cattle inspectors to travel to Mexico, bringing the rancher’s entire operation to a halt. With no backup plan, rumors and the news are followed religiously. It is now just one aspect of Mayor Foster’s duty to ensure the correct news is disseminated to the American public, while also ensuring their racism doesn’t affect their relationship with Piedras Negras.

There isn’t much action, but there are twists and turns and not everyone is fortunate to live through this dark period in Mexico’s history.

#17. The Voices (2014)

Director Marjane Satrapi (who made one of my favorite recent French films Poulet aux Prunes (2011)) has re-emerged with a colorfully unique slasher flick featuring Ryan Reynolds as the slicer and dicer.

Reminiscent of Dr. Doolittle, Jerry (Reynolds) has the ability to hear his pets speak. His pets serve as his conscience and temptation. The obvious option, his dog, Boscoe, tries to steer Jerry in the right direction, whereas his feline, Mr. Whiskers, wants his wickedness to surface. Speaking critters aside, Jerry is a strange one. He’s a pretty upbeat guy working at a factory and he has a normal crush on Fiona (Gemma Arterton) who works at the same factory. After a few conversations with Mr. Whiskers, things soon become apparent that something is a little unusual about Jerry.

The voices aren’t the only unusual thing about Jerry, but what he also perceives to be reality throughout his house. Eventually, reality does catch up to him and his response, again with the encouragement of Mr. Whiskers, takes us to a place that not even Jerry’s psychosis can cover up. If you are a fan of horror films than you cannot miss this oft overlooked gem!

The ending credits, with Jerry, his victims, and Jesus quite simply was a move of genius.

#16. Mommy (2014)

I’ve read that it takes two scenes two truly great scenes — to create a memorable film. In Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, he creates these two scenes that literally allow his characters more space to breathe and then literally strips it away.

This French-Canadian drama about a mother, Diane (Anne Dorval), and her temperamental son, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), is a difficult experience to manage. It is gorgeously shot and the characters feel all too real. Mommy is shot is a square frame, meaning the about a quarter of the screen on both sides are not used. Before long you feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable with the reality Mommy portrays. The small hopes and dreams of Diane are slowly stripped away by the personalities around her. The moment when she comes to the realization that she will need to let her son go drives a dagger through your heart. A decision no single parent could ever want to make.

Mommy is just another shining moment for Dolan from 2015. Even if you are unwilling to watch the entire film, go to youtube and you’ll see the large majority of the film’s segments which watch like a painful music video, but still hold the majestic storytelling Dolan is known to create. Dolan has this unseen talent for juxtaposing music with unlikely scenes that force layers of feelings and experiences all within one scene.

#15. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

The documentary-style parody follows a clan of vampires as they navigate today’s complex world of roommates, electronics and clubbing. A hilarious group of vampire flatmates — Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) —  deal with the same issues we mortals do even after living together for hundreds of years. Squabbles run amok and it takes a new younger, hipper flatmate to show them the ropes on how to vampire properly in the 21st century.

The half goofy parody provides a refreshing tone that resembles a mashed up version of Best in Show (2000) and HBO series Flight of the Conchords. Several moments will have you laughing out loud and quoting lines that will have people questioning what the hell you are talking about.

#14. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Director George Miller reprises his role in telling the story of Mad Max. Max (Tom Hardy) might be in the title, but this story is all about Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and her fight to seek out her homeland. Furiosa takes a group of women into the desert as they attempt to escape their tyrannical ruler.  The group doesn’t get too far before they are spotted and forced to return.

The landscape sets the stage and the action keeps you tuned in, but the performance by Charlize is remarkable. Hardy too receives some praise, but other than a few grunts and sideway looks, his presence is always quickly swayed away from the explosive Charlize. For such a big-budget blockbuster to anamor audiences of all ages and genders is testament to how well the story is retold.

#13. Wild Tales (2015)

A fun and inventive series of vignettes showcasing various wild tales of Argentinian individuals. From ruined weddings to road rage and reasons not to have children to reasons not to fly, Wild Tales puts the pedal to the metal and flies fast to tell creative and original stories. Some are absolutely bonkers while others are more methodical and circumstantial. Almost like listening to mates tell a tall tale over drinks and you’re not sure whether to believe the hijinks or just laugh and get on with it.

Without a single tale tall being weak of boring, my wife and I each had differing favorite vignettes proving the Wild Tales is well worth the chaos.

#12. Cartel Land (2015)

Heads are literally rolling in the streets. This is not insensitive. This is the reality. In Cartel Land, a community-based organization has decided it’s had enough corruption and violence in its city and are taking a stand against the drug cartels. Only problem is that when you stand up to the cartels there is likelihood that you may not survive.

Cartel Land begins with the funeral of a family of farmers. The entire family. Babies, children, parents, cousins, sisters, brothers. Everybody. Why? Because the owner of a lime farm couldn’t pay the drug cartel an operation fee. Instead of taking the money or loot, they took the lives of the farm’s workers.

Cartel Land is such a pungent look into the heart of the current drug crisis. What seems like an organic, social movement to eradicate the cartels from their land takes a new spin in the documentary’s third act. Even among the good guys, the environment allows the wicked to flourish and the good to be persecuted. Leaving not much hope for the current and future generation.

#11. It Follows (2014)

From the opening scene, we become aware that this isn’t a normal horror film. As a scantily-clad teenager, inexplicably runs frantically throughout her neighborhood in high heels, neighbors and her father watch in utter confusion. It’s like watching a game of one-person tag.

A cautionary tale of sexually transmitted diseases in the form of a supernatural force that follows the afflicted after bumping uglies with an infected amant. What is the force’s end game? To end you and continue to follow those before you. So you have a decision: let the force take you or pass it on to someone else. Jay (Maika Monroe) has become infected and now has to make this decision just as the person who infected her.

There are several parts that have you jumping in anticipation. Not in a good way. It Follows is one the most psychologically twisted horror films of this decade.

#10. Spotlight (2015)

In 2001, the Boston Globe ran a breakthrough story on the systematic sexual abuse of children by the Catholic Church. The Globe’s internal specialized research team, Spotlight, was responsible for finding the facts and revealing the truth.

If you were paying attention to the news after 9/11 occurred, this shouldn’t be news to you. So the potency and dramatic process of the reveal is truly captivating. Director Tom McCarthy (who doesn’t have a bad film under his name) jam packs the spotlight with an all-star cast (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, ect.), this basic, unflawed narrative packs punches even while you know when the punches are coming.

#9. The Hateful 8 (2015)

Quentin Tarantino masters white lies while the blood runs black.

Immersed in the Wyoming mountains is a group of eight menacing individuals seek shelter in a secluded cabin during a blizzard. All eight have a reason for being in the middle of nowhere, but some are there with yet another purpose. A purpose that not everyone is privy to and a motivation to see that not everyone makes it out of the blizzard alive.

Violence drives more of the story than in previous Tarantino’s masterpieces, but the questioning and who-dunnit back and forth is pure Tarantino. He is always getting the best out of his actors (Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madson and Bruce Dern). At times the characters act like toddlers hitting others when one speaks out of turn and the violence teeters between excessive and overblown. Nonetheless, the dark humor stands above and the always unique dialogue speaks volumes.

#8. Star Wars VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

Spoiler Free Zone! Spoiler Free Zone!

Let’s be clear about one thing — this is a fun movie. I don’t care if you’re not into sci-fi or don’t get the whole Star Wars thing. This will keep you intrigued and entertained. Everything about The Force Awakens feels comforting yet new. I couldn’t imagine the pressure to pull it all off, but Director J.J. Abrams has really created something to be proud of accomplishing.

I won’t go into the plot or the fact that my least favorite actor in the galaxy plays a pivotal role. Yet John Boyega (as Finn) has copious amount of screen presence and commands your interest. This isn’t his first sci-fi turn from the maddening underseen Attack the Block (2011). Daisy Ridley (Rey) is breathtaking and not in the traditional Hollywood fashion: hey, let’s allow the women to kick some butt, but just make sure she flaps her hair from side to side and flaunts a v-neck in every shot including dialogue.

My sentiment is perfectly summarized by the gentleman in his mid-40’s sitting in the row in front of me, who had a smile plastered to his face from start to finish, dodging blasters during the action scenes.

#7. Inside Out (2015)

Pixar’s latest takes us into the psyche of Riley and turns it inside out. Riley, a young girl, has moved from the frozen lakes of Minnesota to the veggie pizzas of San Francisco. Riley is driven by five emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) — each competing to direct her actions and build her memories.

Now that Riley is no longer in her comfort zone, Joy has to give room to some of the other emotions to ensure Riley navigates this trying period. The jokes land and emotions soak. Inside Out is another inventive installment within the Pixar trophy cabinet.

#6. Mr. Holmes (2015)

Director Bill Condon brings to life a retired and mentally frail Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) as he attempts to piece together his final mystery. He is watched over by his full-time nanny (Laura Linney) and develops a close, but sometimes faded, relationship with her son Roger (Milo Parker).

The mystery plays out over several decades as Mr. Holmes’ memories begin to dissolve into an abyss. His regrets, pride and cunning intellect sometimes create barriers to solving the mystery at hand. McKellen portrays Mr. Holmes in top notch form and leaves no doubt that McKellen’s skills haven’t dulled even the slightest after all these years.

#5. Tangerine (2015)

You will be hard pressed to find a movie with more energy and as distinctive a voice as Tangerine. Two transgender youths reunite after Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is released from jail. Her best friend and fellow prostitute Alexandra (Mya Taylor), now run throughout Los Angeles trying to track down their pimp, Chester (James Ransone).

Without a doubt, this indie has the most unique and vibrant voice of 2015. Filmed completely on an iphone and utilizing mostly untrained actors, Tangerine takes us to a place we’ve never seen. While the title is never explained, it astutely describes the fresh and vibrant piece.

#4. World of Tomorrow (2015)

The freshman short film created by Don Hertzfeldt (It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2011)) sits solidly as one of my favorite cinema experiences of my life. Perhaps my affection for that previous short film has created an unfair bias towards his second work, but I don’t care. World of Tomorrow is just as experimental in presentation and storyline as It’s Such a Beautiful Day and the messages are just as nuanced and odd. Emily Prime (Winona Mae) time travels back in time to meet the younger version of herself

(Julia Pott). Emily Prime shows the toddler Emily what she has in store for her life and the reason she has travelled back to meet her.

The story is short but moving. I found myself reflecting on its strange story and the underlying meanings for several days. Even after a second viewing, I still wasn’t able to formalize my thoughts on the overall short, but was instead analyzing sections I hadn’t noticed previously. A sign of a thought provoking experience.

#3. Slow West (2015)

Never has a field of wheat been so perfectly captured on screen since Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978). Sorry Ridley Scott, you tried your best with Gladiator, but its pale in comparison to what director John Maclean was able to accomplish.

All throughout, the ingenuity of the west shines through during a young man’s — Jay’(Kodi Smit-McPhee) — voyage, as he searches for his lost love, Rose (Caren Pistorius) in the American countryside. Rose and her father are clandestine as they try to escape their past, lucrative bounty. It isn’t only Jay searching for the beauty and her father but a gang of bounty hunters lead by the deliciously cavalier Payne (Ben Mendelsohn). Along the way, Jay teams up with an easygoing cowboy — Silas (Michael Fassbender) — who may or may not also have eyes for Rose.

As Jay’s and Silas’ path leads them closer and closer to Rose, the two build a bond. Will the two get to Rose first or will the gang of bounty hunters? And what if Jay and Silas do arrive first? Will that be any better outcome? The answer is both original and rewarding.

Slow West is a simple nod of the hat to the old west. The dialogue is as dry as the desert and the cinematography is as lush as the forest. But what makes Slow West stand out from the pack is it distinctive narration that includes subtle caricaturization with just enough absurdity. Yet we never lose our hope that Jay gets to meet Rose one last time.

#2. Ex Machina (2015)

Architecture, music, lighting — everything creates a sense of space and subtlety. Nothing is out of place. Nothing without its purpose. What purpose is it exactly?

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is given the chance of a life time to experiment a new groundbreaking A.I. robot created by his boss and CEO of the world’s largest internet company, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Everything and everybody has its purpose. For one week Caleb is secluded in a remote mountain house with only Nathan, his butler Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), and a robot Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb’s only purpose is to perform some unexpected tests.

In what is probably my favorite performance this year, Nathan is the perfect villain. He almost resembles something out of a comic book sequel. A genius, mad scientist with more money than Saudi Prince and the charisma of George Clooney. He walks the fine line of begin your bro and a dark sadistic alcoholic that you always have a hand on your wallet.

It isn’t routine that every frame and every word is leading to a final conclusion. From the very beginning when a computer monitor frames Caleb’s expression to the final second, everything was required to move the story forward. Simply mystifying and grande entertainment.

#1. The Revenant (2015)

I haven’t seen Leo this cold since he was spooning an iceberg.

The depths of despair and motivation for revenge tear us through the Canadian wilderness in the magnificent The Revenant. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman (2014) — my #1 film from 2014), has Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a group of fur trappers maneuver through the wilderness barely escaping the scalping of native americans. Seeking to minimize its losses, the group is on the run, but Glass is horribly injured and delaying the team’s safe return. A decision was made and Glass, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Bridger (Will Poulter), and Glass’ son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) are left behind to ensure Glass pulls through or gets a proper burial. Unforeseen circumstances leave Glass alone and with a new motive to pull through.

Grizzly bears, wolves, indians, French people, and the elements are all in motion to prevent Glass from seeking his revenge. Glass goes through so much adversity that it begins to feel like torture porn. At every turn a new deadly circumstance surfaces.

Reminiscent of The Thin Red Line, The Revenant seamlessly transitions between the unspoiled beauty of nature and the disturbing impact humans cause to one another. The mountains are breathtaking. The cold sends shivers. You can hear and even feel the noises of the animals.

The Revenant inhabits your senses and sparks an animal-like instinct to survive. From the edge of your seat to diving into a freezing river, you’re in for a real, unique experience.

Best scenes of 2015

To conclude with a little different spin, here are some brief moments from my favorite scenes in 2015.

The Homesman (2014) – Tommy Lee Jones concluding an otherwise disappointing film.

Ex Machina (2015) –  Just as the tension begins to mount, some people prefer to dance, dance revolution.

The Revenant (2015) – Grizzly wrestle

Mommy (2014) – Shrink/Expand

Star Wars (2015) – Opening credits

What We Do in the Shadows (2014) – Mobile sunrise

Tangerine (2015) – Final wig share

Wild Tales (2015) – Wedding fight/shag

Top 20 Films of 2014

Top-20-Films-of-2014My 2014 cinema viewing experience was quite different from previous years. Although my TV was feeling a little neglected, my daughter certainly was not. It was my first year as a father and, realizing that the amount of viewing hours was to vastly decrease, I tried to focus primarily on those films with a high likelihood of receiving a favorable nod. So you could imagine my disappointment with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (2014) or the incoherent The Book Thief (2014).

Then there are those with trailers that completely fooled me into thinking I was in for a treat. I’m looking at you Comet (2014). Seriously, take two minutes to look at this trailer. It had everything. Sharp dialogue, Justin Long, that girl in that great tv show, and a song now on loop in my office. It started with promise, then at midnight it turned into a decrepit turd full of unlikeable characters and jokes only people in LA would appreciate.

Well to each his own and for my own, I was not able to fill my normal quota for a top 20 list. Sure, I could have seen some more throughout the year and sure, I could have diversified my viewing. Yet, these top 20 were all quality films and either punched me in the gut or tickled my sensitive tear ducts. Please note that I do include some basic plot overviews, but have tried not to give away too much of the story or any significant twists and turns for future viewing gratification. I hope you enjoy. Now without further ado, number 20.

20. Blue Ruin (2013)

Director Jeremy Saulnier chose to continue with the recent trend of the loner anti-hero (possibly with a slight hint of Asperger’s syndrome) who slowly and quietly takes his revenge on those who’ve done them wrong. In Blue Ruin, Dwight’s (Macon Blair) life was completely derailed when his wife was murdered in cold blood by, what appears at the time, a single individual. The murderer was caught, found guilty and served his time in prison. Cut to present day, we find that the murderer of Dwight’s wife is now being released into his family’s care. It is no time to sulk for Dwight. It is time for retribution.

I won’t spoil how or if the revenge takes place. Just know that with Dwight’s own actions, he has put into motion an entirely unforeseen set of events. Events that have slipped beyond his control.

Resembling the tone and grim existence seen in Kill List (2011) by Ben Wheatley, the actions of the anti-hero trigger even more violence and even more chaos. Although the blood and guts aren’t as extreme as in Kill List, you can still feel the griminess. Definitely not for anyone looking for a nice, cuddly love story. Unless you’re into that type of stuff.

19. Chef (2014)

Writer and director Jon Favreau stars as a once-prolific chef, Carl Caspers, in Los Angeles’ culinary scene being held down by his controlling boss (Dustin Hoffman). Frustrated by his lack of creative release, family life, and worst of all, nasty food critic (Oliver Platt), Carl finds himself starting over. Before long, Carl, his buddy Martin (John Leguizamo), and Carl’s son are on a cross-country road trip. Aboard a food truck which allows him to foster his inner creative spark, he may also again realize what is really important in life — his family, life, and of course a perfectly made cubano sandwich.

To its core Chef is a simple delight that gets just about everything right. It resembles a five-star meal being served on a paper plate with plastic silverware. Despite the copious amount of plastic faces and ummmm, breasts, the emotions remain real and by the end of the meal I was wanting to order seconds.

18. Borgman (2013)

Writer and director Alex Van Warmerdam must either have past family strife or some serious trust issues.  The main character, Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet), and his band of drifters are literally unrooted from their slumber by holy vigilantes one day in the woods. They soon make their way to a shiny community inhabited by easily manipulated suburbanites. Borgman has a run in with a husband and gets quite the licking. The wife quickly takes pity and secretly takes in Borgman in the back garden.

As it turns out, Borgman has an unusual effect on people and their families.  The purpose of his visit isn’t exactly known, but with continuous biblical themes present throughout, it becomes apparent that Borgman is not your spiritual savior. Instead he is someone who notices people’s unpleasant tendencies and turns this into his advantage.

The calculated and psychotic character also has friends and they’re invited to the party. A party you may want to avoid. Borgman excels at creating an uncomfortable environment. One where you feel like you’re being watched or a hand is about to shoot out and grab your ankle.

17. The Wind Rises (2013)

Hayao Miyazaki writes and directs a truly complex story about dreams and fulfilling one’s purpose in life. Set mostly in Japan during the years leading up to World War II, main character Jiro Horiko attends an aeronautical engineering school where he meets his life-long friend, Kiro Honjo, and future life partner, Naoko Satomi. During these pivotal years, Jiro learns that planes may be his passion, but Naoko possesses his heart.

A story spanning decades, Jiro becomes the leading engineer of airplanes for the Japanese army. An interesting approach as Jiro is fulfilling his life’s ambitions of becoming the greatest engineer of his time, while trying to grasp that the machines he creates are designed to kill. Fueled by ideas through Jiro’s vivid dreams, Jiro continues to strive to create something more efficient and economical than his previous model. Passionate about his love of flight and his relationship for Naoko, Jiro continues to push himself further and further.

To avoid seeing The Wind Rises because it’s a cartoon would be a mistake. Resembling the angst felt in the Pixar film Up (2009), which made you bite your lip and fight back tears in the first ten minutes, it is the final ten minutes of The Wind Rises that you find yourself trying to make it until the end with dry eyes.  It is a great story told for a simple reason — that you should always pursue your life’s purpose and not stop until you find life’s true love.

16. Obvious Child (2014)

The current raunchy queen of comedy, Jenny Slate (Parks and Recreation), stars as a young woman trying to find her break in the New York City stand-up comedy scene. Donna Stern (Slate), seems to be starting her career off on the right footing. She gets gigs and people actually attend. She talks about her day-old underwear and people laugh. Sure, she makes poor decisions, but isn’t that a part of being a comedian? And like a lot of comedians she uses these everyday struggles and translates them into her stand-up routine.

Unfortunately for Donna, certain mistakes turn into nine-month issues. That nine-month issue can then sometimes turns into a blessing. Donna now has some serious stand-up material.

Directed by Gillian Robespierre, Obvious Child retains its fresh voice and energetic vibe throughout its entirety. There are a couple of twists and turns that made my eyes roll, but they were quickly put back into place through the witty, wry dialogue. Without a doubt, the best comedy of the year.

15. Enemy (2014)

In relation to the ending, and in my most professional journalistic voice, I’d like to say, WTF was that! I have never witnessed a movie that ended in such a way. The first thing I did  after the ending was google what the hell it meant. I was comforted when there were only speculations. A complete curve ball that had me swinging

This is the latest from director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners (2013), which if you haven’t seen then there may be no help for you) teaming up again with Jake Gyllenhaal as the title characters, Tom and Anthony. This dooblebanger film never provides much for answers. It simply provides two separate possibilities, by two people of the same breath with different personalities. The performances by Gyllenhaal and Melanie Laurent are absolutely terrific. Sometimes it’s enjoyable being confused and this mystery walked that line perfectly.

My only take away from Enemy is it doesn’t matter whether you’re on the side of naughty or nice, your natural instincts will eventually take over. For better or worse, you are who you are.

14. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Wes Anderson is a gem. There isn’t a story he can tell that won’t make you smile from ear to ear. Even when — for the first time — he includes violence, nudity, and swearing, the childish and buoyant air remains. I hate to even think that this is my least favorite of Anderson’s, but it is true. It’s to his own disadvantage that his previous films were so great. The Grand Budapest Hotel would without a doubt be an instant favorite if it weren’t for Anderson’s previous classics.

With the likes of Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Jason Schwartzman, and Saoirse Ronan, even Ocean’s 11 would raise a cocktail for its stellar lineup. Then to throw an unknown actor to the wolves in Tony Revolori as the young bellboy Zero made for a marvellous experience. At times the amount of famous faces becomes a distraction. Every couple of minutes a new character flashes across the screen and battling to leave an impression.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is about reflecting on the actions of your hero and how those actions molded your future character. Zero sees his hero in the form of the Mr. Gustave (Fiennes), a famous hotel’s concierge. Seen as swooning older, rich women, Mr. Gustave doesn’t see it that way since he really has feelings for those women.

13). Coherence

What at first seems like a sloppy, amateur attempt at making a horror film quickly fixes itself and leaves you grasping for answers. As a comet closely passes by Earth, strange things begin to happen to a group of friends during a dinner party in Los Angeles. Are these hallucinations or have we entered an alternate reality? Is your partner really your partner? Are these meatballs really meatballs?  Wait, did you have a blue pen or a red pen before you left the house?

Coherence was like a poorly aged bottle of wine. At first it was a little austere and tight, but after letting it breath for half an hour the juice starts to loosen up and before long it is just perfect. It may not be your typical horror flick, but it does keep you guessing and it does keep you on your toes. Is there anything else you’d really want from a horror film?

12). Whiplash (2014)

It took director Damien Chazelle five years to follow up his film festival darling premiere Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009). Here he chooses to again dive into the world of jazz, music and youth hood insecurities. Both Whiplash and Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench focus on a young man devoted to his craft but unsure about himself. Both characters are utterly the same except they play different instruments.

In Whiplash, Andrew (Miles Teller) is a young and potentially brilliant drummer driven to make something of himself. Attending his first semester at a prestigious music program, Andrew catches the eye of instructor Fletcher (J.K.  Simmons) and is quickly included within the core band. The two have, we’ll say, a complicated relationship. Fletcher isn’t the warmest and coziest of educators. You’d be within your right to call him a prick. A prick, but an effective prick (see here for a quick look at the prick-y-ness). Fletcher never ceases to challenge his students through intimidation, mind games, and copious amounts of vulgar language.

Whiplash certainly has its shortcomings, but these are easily forgotten with the movie’s two most memorable scenes. The third act provides those two scenes. The concluding drum solo lasts over nine minutes and ends in such a spectacular fashion, I needed to see it again. Bravo Damien Chazelle. Your first film (just watch the trailer and tell me it doesn’t look great!) had my toe tapping, but this had my whole body moving.

11). Snowpiercer (2013)

This was a film that if I saw it as a teenage boy (perhaps around the time of the The Matrix (1999) and Fight Club (1999) were released) I’d have been a devout fan. The energy and creativity lifted this film beyond the screen. Snowpiercer is an analogy for climate change, greedy corporations, and the lavish lifestyles of people who can afford to live in ignorance. We step aboard the Snowpiercer, a train run with renewable technology that houses the last remaining humans. Each section of the train houses a different class of people. Obviously the people at the back are the poor working class while those in the front continue to repress those towards the back.

We follow the anti-hero, Curtis (Chris Evans), as he and the other poor citizens attempt to hijack the Snowpiercer. As the team of hijackers ascend the train we peel away different components of the remaining humans and are confronted with the frailty of their humanity. A terrific cast of side characters and a memorable casting of Tilda Swinton as the train’s dictator, make for a fun and memorable train ride.

Ultra-violent, uber-stylized, oozing of irony, Snowpiercer has it all and more. It was the summer’s blockbuster deserving of your attention.

10). The Babadook (2014)

Bonkers doesn’t begin to properly describe The Babadook. Visually, it reminds you of a bedtime story, but mentally it throws you in the looney bin. Distressed mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), thinks her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman – who resembles an odd looking Mick Jagger and that’s saying something) is simply acting out. Claiming he sees a monster that influences his strange behavior, Amelia and Samuel find themselves isolated as a family. Soon manifestations become something tangible that’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

I really would do The Babadook an injustice by going any further. All I have to say is, go into this one blind. Director Jennifer Kent did not get the acclaim she rightly deserved for this soon-to-be cult classic. Essie Davis also gave a performance that sticks with you for days afterwards. To repeat, go into this one blind.

Ba-Ba-DOOOOOOK *click*

9). Night Moves (2013)

Director Kelly Reichardt continues to foster thought-provoking characters. In Night Moves, she imagines how three environmental terrorists would go about blowing up a dam to send a message to the general public about the general lack of interest in their environment.

I wish that this could have been a show on HBO that would have gone season after season. Instead, I had to quickly come to the realization of character’s actions. Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning), and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) team up to send a message that has unintended consequences.

Known for her dry and straightforward approach to storytelling, Reichardt builds the tension between characters through basic interactions and simple observations. Without the need for special effects or excessive violence, Night Moves draws its conclusion through a punch you saw coming. You just didn’t realize how hard it would hit.

8). Deux jours, une nuit (2014)

Two steps forward and one step back. Marion Cotillard plays a young mother, Sandra, for the legendary Dardenne brothers. Sandra has seen better days. Dealing with the emotional complications of a recent undefined  incident, Sandra is told her position at work is being eliminated. Given the social mindset of business in France, Sandra is somehow able to get management’s agreement that a final vote will determine whether her position is terminated or she stays, but her co-workers forfeit their annual bonus. The people who will be voting to keep Sandra or receive their bonus will be her co-workers. With only two days and one night, Sandra needs to get to work. One by one, she goes to each co-worker’s residence pleading her case.

As with all Dardenne brother films, the dialogue and emotional weight of the film becomes so real it becomes tangible. The vulnerability sits on your tongue as Sandra maneuvers her way from colleague to colleague. The pace and debates keep you intrigued on just who will vote for her and those that will allow their actual needs for the money to overshadow compassion and solidarity. Deux Jours, une Nuit takes on several issues. There is sexism, mental illness, and racism all intertangled within the dialogue and drama. A fine couple hours to challenge yourself to see if you’d vote for Sandra if put into her coworker’s shoes.

7). The One I Love (2014)

What a creative idea for a film. A troubled couple are ordered by their marriage counselor to cohabitate in a remote couple’s resort as they attempt to rekindle their relationship. The couple, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) are committed to trying to become a better couple. Once settled into the resort, the two quickly realize that the resort holds a strange secret. A secret that at first seems slightly odd, but more or less harmless. Eventually they realize that secret becomes a whole lot more malevolent. But are they together in escaping this resort or are they destined to split?

The One I Love is honestly a great story. Never once do you see it progressing down the road the film choose to take. The original plot had me looking towards the end, imagining the crazy ending. Then when the end came, the entire plot was turned upside down. It was just brilliant.

It may seem like a simple rom-com, but it has much more than that. After every scene you are shifted into a different story with a different outcome. Never once are you allowed to find your footing. If you aren’t careful, you may never leave.

6). Ida (2013)

The Polish film Ida, by director Pawel Pawlikowski, balances its story terrifically. The harmony between the sparse dialogue, cinematography, and the space created amongst the story present the most finely executed story apart from my number one film.

Ida (Agata Kulesza), a novitiate nun, is only days from taking her vows, before is sent to see her only living relative, Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska). During Isa’s visit she learns the dark history of her family during the Nazi Occupation of Poland. A history that would crush even the most hardened spirit.

The story remains candid and the feelings are honest. Trying not to give too many details away since the film runs under 90 minutes, it needs every surprise and heart-shaking twist to remain effective. Shot in black and white, resembling its characters, and resisting the urge to show flair, Ida builds its foundation on the ability to make choices. An ability some didn’t have in the past.

5). St. Vincent (2014)

Rookie Director, Theodore Melfi, was handed the golden egg by getting to direct Bill Murray in the leading role as Vincent. Vincent is the grouchy neighbor we all wish we had growing up. Someone who luckily becomes your babysitter, takes you to the track, lets you eat junk food, curse all you want, and most importantly not do your homework. Single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) has no choice but to leave her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) with Vincent everyday after school.

St. Vincent is the normal hollywood pretending-to-be-indie film, but it does hit its mark and create genuine emotions. It goes to show that the best comedians are also those that can make you cry. The miserable Vincent has a side no one sees with exception to little Oliver. The two help each other through their difficult times and you begin to see the endearing side of the freindship.

There isn’t anything I can say to entice you to see this film any more than this sneak peak, of Bill Murrary doing his best Colin imitation.

4). Boyhood (2014)

Not many more positive things can be said about Boyhood’s director, Richard Linklater. The man has continued to invent ways to tell captivating and original stories. The patience and foresight that it must have taken to create Boyhood is astounding.

Spanning 13 years of Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) life from age five through 18, Boyhood simply Captures the subtle life altering events within a boy’s life.  Mason quite literally grows up in front of our eyes. Beginning as a curious little boy whose eyes are larger than his forehead, to an unkempt, laidback teenager trying to find his place in the world, we view Mason’s progression into molding himself to find his place in this world.

The story never deviates from simplicity. The story never allows anything other than actual life events affect a child’s life. Boyhood allows your imagination’s preconceptions to manifest and believe that something horrible must be around the corner. However, after every corner of Mason’s life, we are only encountered with a kid who is shaped and curious about what his future holds. Some say Boyhood was a little slow, and dare they say boring. But during my viewing, I was amazed with how Linklater simply captured the tiny private moments from my own life on screen.

3). The Lunchbox (2013)

The Lunchbox asks whether you can fall in love with someone you’ve never met. Writer and Director Ritesh Batra introduces us to the widowed, aging accountant Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan) as he prepares his company’s books before retirement. Just prior to clocking out, Saajan is introduced to the young and lively Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and is given the task of training his replacement. Saajan likes to keep to himself and would rather rub curry in his eyes than to train the youngster. Each day as Saajan avoids Shaikh, Saajan receives his lunch through the famously efficient Dabbawalas of Mumbai. The lunches get mixed up and he now receives the homemade lunches cooked by the lonely housewife, Ila (Nimrat Kaur).

The two begin leaving notes for one another in their daily deliveries. They share ideas, comments about their day, and eventually, their feelings. It is a rather simple story, but one where the actors shine. Before long both characters have lit a fire in their companion and begin to plot a rendezvous.

It is the story that resonates through the cooking, note passing, and excruciating waits between each meal. My only recommendation for viewing The Lunchbox is to not watch on an empty stomach. You have been warned!

2). Love is Strange (2014)

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) have been together for the past four decades and formalize their relationship by getting married. Their family and friends share the experience and toast to their happy day. The two are meant for eachother. Soon after the wedding though there are repercussions from the marriage and the two are forced to live apart from one another until they find cheaper housing. Ben stays with his nephew and wife, while George sleeps on the couch of his neighbors. Ben’s environment is confusing as he is sleeping in the same room as his nephew’s teenage son. George’s living quarters are regularly used for late-night drinking and parties. The two soon begin to miss one another and long for when they will again be together.

By the start of the third act you realize that this story is so simple, and so real, this could be anyone’s family. Yet you are waiting for the shoe to drop. When it does you are devastated. Director Ira Sachs’ Love is Strange snuck up on me, and without realizing how vested I was in Ben and George, I wanted nothing more than to see them back together again.

I have to say that Love is Strange may be some of the best LGBT cinema of the past couple decades (alongside the Peruvian Undertow (2009) and Brokeback Mountain (2005)). It doesn’t focus on the couple being gay or blame the transgressions for their love for one another. It only focuses on how one’s love for the other can create a place of belonging and need.

1). Birdman (2014)

Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) is an aged movie-star best known for being the face of a superhero franchise called Birdman.  After three movies and an offer for a fourth, Riggan chose to walk away. Now we find him trying to reinvent himself and prove to everybody that he is a truly gifted actor. To achieve this feat, he is financing and is starring in a broadway play that is set to begin in the coming days. Just prior to the soft-premiers of his play he hires a well-respected, slightly psychotic stage actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). Method acting by both, Riggan and Mike soon turn them against each other and the sides of the theatre began to expand trying house these two expanding egos.

Riggan’s temper and insecurities rage as he attempts to juggle the show, his fresh out-of-rehab daughter (Emma Stone), one nasty critic, and Mike’s hilarious attempts at sabotaging the show. Before long we feel like we’re in a fever dream we cannot wake up from as the camera tracks Riggan’s every move. Fueled by the voice of Birdman in his head that is becoming a little too real he begins to question whether his method acting has taken over his brain.

Birdman excels in every fashion. Michael Keaton plays a self-deprecating role that basically mocks himself from his Batman days. Keaton gives it his all and reminds us that he is more than just a suit of armor. The humor is quick and the camera never flinches, truly a memorable piece of cinema gold.

Top ten films available on Netflix Belgium

hoe-je-in-3-simpele-stappen-netflix-kan-bekijken-in-belgieThe pioneering film- and television series-streaming website, Netflix, was finally launched in Belgium this past September. Surprising to see it take over a decade for Netflix to determine Belgium worthy of its services. I remember almost 12 years ago when I first started my Netflix subscription in college. While I should have been studying or drinking too much, weekly I would receive three DVDs at a time through the mail. Times have changed and so has Netflix offerings. Everything is now consumed in an instant. No more shipping DVDs back and waiting four days for your next shipment. To entice the fellow Belgian or ex-pat, Netflix has offered the first month free of charge. I assume that due to the limited catalog at the moment they have launched with they are waiting for more subscriptions before spending more on licensing fees.

Although the catalogue at the moment won’t take more than 10 minutes to run through from top to bottom, I’d like to point out that Netflix does provide hundreds of quality films that even the harshest of critics would find comfort in at some point. I’d like to give a little assistance for those who are either debating whether to sign up for a Netflix account or are too lazy to search. This is purely selfish since as more people sign up for Netflix the more Netflix will expand their offering.

Before I divulge the top ten, I’d like to take a moment to present some of the other terrific films that didn’t make the top ten (again to entice people to sign up – COME ON WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?). I’m sure that some of these would be on either James’s or Colin’s top ten if they had made this list. But they didn’t. So here are some of the great films that didn’t make the list: Silence of the Lambs (1991), Mystic River (2003), L.A. Confidential (1997), No Country For Old Men (2007), A History of Violence (2005), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Paris, je t’aime (2006), Sideways (2004) and Brokeback Mountain (2005).


10). The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

In a year of great cinema, David Fincher’s Benjamin Button still stands out in my mind above the rest. The term ‘youth is wasted on the young’ no longer applies as the main character, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), was born with several aging disorders. Disorders that create a story about how one man’s life would occur if he were born in the grave and aged towards the cradle. More specifically, Benjamin Button is physically born an old man and ages into a child. Like placing your finger on a clock and moving the arm counter-clockwise, but time still ticks away. Poetic and jarring in it’s delivery, Benjamin Button tackles some grand notions of life, love, and time.

9). Ghostbusters (1984)

My father’s Caddyshack is my Ghostbusters. There are just certain comedies that resonate beyond one’s understanding and continues to tickle my funny bone even after all these years. I can remember dressing up for Halloween year after year after year as a Ghostbuster. Now, watching this comedy, it makes me realize just how dirty and mature some of the jokes really were. Maybe that’s where my crude sense of humor was fostered.

8). Drive (2011)

My God, did I love this film when it came out. Nicolas Winding Refn created something special. From the opening scene’s car chase to when the first song’s soundtrack blared throughout the empty theatre, it had me hooked. To give a little perspective, I ranked Drive as my second favorite film of 2011 behind a film I now regard as my favorite film of all time. A high honour for an uber-violent, incredibly stylized sleazefest, with unique villains played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman.

A must watch, simply just for the opening scene and credits.

7). Goodfellas (1990)

In my opinion, this is Martin Scorsese’s best piece of work and is widely regarded as one of the greatest mobster movie ever made. It is also one that I’ve watched dozens of times growing up and have never gotten tired of over the years. Perhaps Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta’s best acting performances making it an all time classic gangster film behind only The Godfather (1971) (which is also available on Netflix Belgium coincidentally). Goodfellas just drips from screen. So much so that you’ll smell of garlic and chianti when it’s over.

6). Fight Club (1999)

Another David Fincher classic makes the list, but for a completely different reason. I hope that everyone knows and has connected with this film at some point in their life. From shifting The Narrator’s (Edward Norton) life from a manically depressing working class drone to a hallucinating, anti-consumer psychopath, Fight Club is one of the most mind expanding films I’ve ever seen. Yes, there is a lot of violence. Yes, there is a lot of offensive dialogue. But there are discussions and ideas most people were not aware of in the late 90s that still resonate today.

5). The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

To avoid sounding like a stubborn American that only includes Hollywood flair, I’ve included the best French film I’ve seen in quite a while. Packed with emotion, Diving Bell is based on the incredibly depressing true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby. Bauby was the editor of Elle, when one day he suffered a very specific stroke which caused him to lose all physical functions of his body. That is all functions of his body exception his brain’s activity remained unphased. Therefore, his mind is present and sharp, but his body — with the exception of one eye — is paralyzed. The use of the camera to help tell the story of a man frozen within his own body is both electrifying and terrifying. At the risk of sounding insensitive, I will venture that you will be frozen in your seat.

4). Lost in Translation (2003)

I remember that, after a few strong beers, Colin claimed he loathed this masterpiece with a fiery passion. I’m not putting it on the list simply to get a rise out of him, but every person is allowed to be entirely wrong on so many levels. Sofia Coppola’s breakthrough was marketed as a comedy simply because it had the living legend Bill Murray in the leading role. Sure Murray does some pretty funny (some may even say offensive) impressions of Japanese people on occasion, but the connection between Scarlett Johansson and Murray radiates on the screen. A surprise given the age and maturity differences of both characters. It’s well known that Bill is more or less playing himself, while Scarlett mirrors Sofia during an earlier time in her life. It’s really a simple story of people surrounded by shallow and fake personalities while they look for something true and tangible.

The final scene’s whisper captures the breadth of the film perfectly. Bravo!

3). The Usual Suspects (1995)

Bryan Singer best material was completed well before he became known for all those big-budget X-Men remakes. The greatest trick a director can pull is keeping the audience mystified until the very end. A cast of brilliant actors (Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro etc.) lead the audience of a capper that keeps you asking questions until the very end of the film. This is a movie that has been copied time and time again, but never matched in execution.

2). Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Watching any Wes Anderson film allows you to enter a different world. This comedy follows a young boy scout and his crush as they run away from their respective caretakers. Him, his scout troop, and her, her dysfunctional family. Trapped on a tiny island, the two try to live on the young scout’s survival skills and their jovial ove. A truly romantic film, even though the two actors are barely teenagers (maybe). I can’t think of a more pure and enjoyable film to watch with your significant other. Such an agreeable film on every level.

1). Pulp Fiction (1994)

Quentin Tarantino’s classic is perhaps the most rewatchable film ever. With so many levels, interesting characters, and witty dialogue, Pulp Fiction is a modern-day cult classic for a reason. This film is so hip even hipsters won’t say they don’t adore it. This film is so cool even the French wouldn’t give it a passive ‘buff’. This film is so… okay you get it.

Example of the dialogue: “I love you honey bunny. Everybody be cool, this here is a robbery!”

Additional five indie films on Netflix you probably haven’t seen (but totally should!)

50/50 (2011) – I dare you to pretend you don’t have allergies during this comedy.

Adventureland (2009) – Pure, simple comedy about growing up in America.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) – A fantasy driven by current-day, post-Hurricane Katrina.

Once (2006) – Who doesn’t enjoy a couple Irish folks singing? Well, unless they force their latest CD on your itunes that is.

Away We Go (2009) – Sam Mendes continues his assault on people who choose to waste their lives in America’s suburbs. This is the most uplifting of those films (American Beauty (1999) and Revolutionary Road (2008)).

Best Movies of 2014 (So Far)

enemy_day4-0085-1024x681A funny thing happens when you have a child. Like a couple of body parts on your partner, your free time gets sucked dry.  I have a pretty amazing child who has simple needs and doesn’t quickly resort to tantrums when needed. In fact, I’d say most of my family already believes my ten month old is less needy than myself. Nevertheless, the opportunity to sit still for two straight hours has become a scarce opportunity. For the time being I’ve resorted to picking the movies I more or less know I will enjoy. No Transformers. No Eddie Murphy. Maybe I haven’t seen the number of films I normally would have by this time every year, but I will commend those that I’ve seen which I am fond of.

These five movies all tickled my fancy in one way or the other. I hope this list will encourage you all to find those extra two hours and enjoy a good flick.

  1. Snowpiercer (2013)

This was a film that if I saw as a teenage boy (around the time of seeing Matrix and Fight Club) I’d have been a devout fan for life. The energy and creativity lifted this film beyond the screen. An obvious analogy for the current climate changes in the world, the greed of our corporations, and the lavish lifestyle of those who can afford to live in ignorance. We step aboard the Snowpiercer, a train ran with renewable technology that houses the last remaining humans. Each section of the train houses a different class of people. Obviously the people at the back are the poor working class.

We follow the anti-hero, Curtis (Chris Evans), as he and the other poor citizens attempt to hijack the Snowpiercer. As the team of hijackers ascend the train we peel away different components of remaining humans and are confronted with their frail humanity. A terrific cast of side characters and a memorable casting of Tilda Swinton, as the train’s dictator, make for a fun and memorable train ride.

Ultra-violent, uber-stylized, oozing of irony, Snowpiercer has it all and more. It is the summer blockbuster deserving of your attention.

  1. Enemy (2013)

In my most professional journalistic voice, I’d like to say: “WTF was that”!?!?

There has never been a movie that ended in such a way that the first thing I did was google what the hell the ending meant. Please watch it and you will see what I mean.

This is the latest from director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners (2013)) teaming up again with Jake Gyllenhaal as the title characters, Tom and Anthony. This film never provides much for answers. Just two separate possibilities by two people of the same breath with different personalities. The performances by Gyllenhaal and Melanie Laurent  are absolutely terrific. Sometimes it’s enjoyable being confused and this mystery walked that line perfectly.

  1. Blue Ruin (2013)

There has been a recent trend where the anti-hero is a strong, silent, loner -type (possibly with a form of aspergers disease) who slowly and quietly takes his revenge on those who’ve done him wrong. I’m thinking of Drive (2011) in particular. In Blue Ruin, Dwight’s (Macon Blair) life was destroyed when his wife was murdered by a maniac. With the person responsible being released from prison, it is time for retribution. I won’t spoil how and when the revenge takes place, just know that with his own murder, Dwight has tipped a long line of dominos he didn’t foresee. Sometimes it takes an entire family to create such a resident sicko.

This is THE revenge flick for the year. Must watch!

  1. Tim’s Vermeer (2013)

Tim Jenison is a lucky man to have friends in Hollywood who find him to be such a smart and captivating person. Somehow Tim, an engineer by trade, has a documentary made about his latest hobby – painting an exact replica of a Vermeer. Tim has a theory that the Dutch Master painter Johannes Vermeer wasn’t exactly the greatest of painters, just one with a trick up his sleeve. Therefore, Tim invents a method to paint a Vermeer that takes several months. The final results are astounding.

There isn’t much drama. There aren’t any jokes. It’s just an incredible display to see how poorly someone can paint, then with a little patience and a good trick, you can produce a painting that is worthy of a museum.

  1. Cheap Thrills (2013)

I’m beginning to see a trend here with these summer independant films. In Cheap Thrills (2013) we are introduced to Craig Daniels (Pat Healy) as he is fired from his job. Knowing that his wife and newborn child are waiting for him at home, he perceives having a difficult conversation. Trying to avoid his current situation Craig goes to his local bar to reflect and think about what he’ll say. While drinking solo he bumps into an old skateboarding buddy, Vince (Ethan Embry). They reconnect, but not without catching the attention of a couple with devious intentions and some interesting ways to make money.

Cheap Thrills is exactly what it says it is. It starts slowly and builds to a crazy, nauseating closure. A film of one uppers, this is violence porn with a satirical twist.  The ending scene is uproarious and will be burned into your conscious memory.

Cinema Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

15-outrageous-scenes-in-martin-scorseses-wolf-of-wall-street-we-cant-wait-to-seeGone Gonzo

“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.” Hunter S. Thompson

Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) is nothing more than Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in a fitted suit. Both stories retell the story through the inebriated mind of the criminal protagonist who’s in pursuit of an unreachable destination: The American Dream. Instead of the sleazy, sunburnt cascade of Las Vegas, we’re thrown into the concrete jungle of New York City– the city known for its lack of care and compassion. But which dream is it, you ask? The dream of becoming insanely rich. So rich, so quick that it couldn’t possibly be true and definitely not legal. Sell your soul for an early retirement. Why see your child when you can see your yacht? The plan is to out trick the trickster. Then when caught, deny the whole thing.

Martin Scorsese has proven his ability to transcend genres through his ability to capture his audience’s attention at every turn. In The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese has again teamed up with his regular title-card actor, Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed (2006), The Aviator (2004), Shutter Island (2010), and Gangs of New York (2002)) for the fifth time and created his darkest comedy to date. In both The Aviator and Shutter Island, DiCaprio was tasked with playing the manic sociopath. Instead of saving his own urine or choosing to be a mental patient, Dicaprio knocks it out of the park with his bewildering and drug-enriched portrayal. Just remember that this entire story is based on fact.

Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) is a young man trying to make a name for himself on Wall Street. Not long after losing his job for a large reputable firm, he spins off and creates a new sector of investing. This sector utilizes Belfort’s greatest asset which is his ability to sell to people by tapping into a part of the psyche where people are most vulnerable – their hopes and dreams. He cons those looking for a sweet deal. The deal that is too good to be true. Those who only have a few thousand in savings and no retirement in sight. Belfort knows that people’s greed will eventually overtake their ability to think critically and when they do he will be there ready to pounce.

Once the dreams have been plundered, the fun can begin. Parties and drugs. Women and boats. At times, The Wolf of Wall Street feels more like a advertisement for cocaine use. Need a lift? Cocaine. Need to sell more stocks? Cocaine. Need something to even out your quaaludes? Cocaine. Cocaine – the miracle drug. I would say that coke should get a supporting acting credit for how much it brought to the table.

Soon enough, the drugs begin to weigh on people’s judgement and poor (i.e. more illegal) decisions continue to be made. Belfort decides to branch out. He creates a monster in his own image: a firm in Manhattan trading penny stocks. He diversifies his liabilities by opening offshore accounts. The success is publicized, but unlike Belfort’s gullible ‘investors’ the FBI knows when an investment is too good to be true and can smell the spoiled meat leftover from ‘The Wolf’.

My favorite scene is when the FBI agent (Kyle Chandler) is confronts Belfort on his million-dollar yacht for a casual discussion on why the FBI has been so interested on Belfort’s dealings. To paint the scene, once FBI agent Patrick Denham and his partner are welcomed aboard, there are two skimpily clad women, a buffet, and all the drinks you could imagine. What begins as a casual discussion, turns into a discreet and cheeky bribe by Belfort, and the ‘aww-schucks’ mentality of the FBI turns out to be part of the ploy. Belfort realizes he screwed up and loses his composure.

Still, for Belfort, the only crime is getting caught. He begins to blame others’ weaknesses and stupidity for his eventual downfall. Never once accepting the blame for evaporating millions in others’ retirement funds. His menace and straight lack of compassion is always expertly placed at the forefront. For all the credit that DeCaprio has gotten, I feel a lot more needs to go to the director.

Scorsese includes two scenes that are completely unforgettable. In their meticulous debauchery, you are unsure whether to laugh or be disgusted. Quaaludes instigate the disasters. Both scenes are as austere and unsettling as Jonah Hill’s teeth; at the same time, the scenes are so well choreographed that Scorsese’s vision shines. The energy jumps from the screen and into your lap (or up your nose).

Although the story reaches unbelievable heights, it isn’t until there’s an ill-timed drug overdose that the film manages to achieve its fever pitch. Things unravel and individuals’ true colours come to light when the money begins to dry up.

The pure insanity of the story has Gonzo in its marrow. Rising above the insanity there is a story wrestling with its morals. But you simply realize that story has no morals. There is no soul. It is nothing more than a buzzed weekend stroll through the desert and into the board room. Still, it is a drug you will not forget.

180 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Her (2013)

herLove from the machine?

Spike Jonze has created a world in the not-so-distant future where a heartbroken loner like Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) has the ability to download an operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and – voila – has a girlfriend. Although the relationship is not, at first, physical, the two build the kind of rapport most couples only yearn to achieve. While their connection is palpable, the differences in processing their respective feelings become apparent. Samantha transforms to resemble Spock, or some type of robot, who is coping with the experience of having emotions for the first time. Meanwhile, Theodore is trying to avoid the reality that he is dating his cell phone.

Her (2013) isn’t a normal love story even in our tech-savvy world. When reading the film’s synopsis, I envisioned a Craigslist ad from one of the site’s less-than-wholesome offerings. Something to the effect of: “Operating system looking to provide you with a girlfriend experience. Will laugh at all nerdy jokes… No need to pay for my dinners. Just type in your password and I’m all yours.”

All of Jonze’s previous films (Being John Malkovich (1999) Adaptation (2002) and Where The Wild Things Are (2009)) all take on deeply psychological aspects of life. In Her, Jonze presents themes of mortality and explores our relationships– with each other and technology. Several scenes suggest that we are no longer vested in our interpersonal relationships. Perhaps, like Theodore, we vest more energy in our electronics than in those people with whom we interact. Theodore is the face for this lack of personal communication. He is a professional love letter author, but squirms with discomfort when given praise for his writing ability. He no longer knows how to react in a mature manner in various social situations. He has what appears to be one close friend in Amy (Amy Adams), but notices neither her interest in their burgeoning friendship nor her call for help. In contrast, any praise he receives from Samantha is gobbled up and a sense of accomplishment is exuded.

Theodore and Samantha further navigate each other’s networks and soon have a blossoming relationship. Theodore takes Samantha for long tram rides through town, while Samantha returns the favor by leading Theodore for long walks via her camera’s eye. The two’s connection strengthens and the word “love” surfaces.

As Theodore becomes comfortable with his unconventional relationship, he decides to go on a double date with his boss and his boss’ girlfriend. There is an innocent moment when Samantha poses a question which results in a slightly awkward situation for the couple. However, with her and Theodore, there is never an awkward moment, since she is programmed to know exactly what to say. Theodore soon begins to realize that Samantha’s interactions with him are purely manufactured.

The film then shifts to show how people naively believe they are made for eachother, but eventually one of the two in the relationship begins to grow and a decision needs to be made– stick around and be stagnant or release oneself to greater heights. Theodore’s ex-wife (Rooney Mara) left him due to the fact he was unable to emotionally deal with her personal changes. Now Theodore is confronted with an operating system that is eager to learn and process all the information she can handle. Theodore now squirms knowing his operating system is talking to other operating systems and– worse– other lonely people. Decision time.

In Her, it is the warmth that presents itself within the dialogue and cinema that is most intoxicating. It provides a world that is very real, but also one you feel shouldn’t exist. It always feels wrong to be so emotionally vested in an object that is likely to slip out of your hand into the toilet after one too many lagers. Just as in Before Midnight (2013), we see the consequences technology has on the spontaneity and delicacy of relationships.

Spike Jonze has captured a feeling of true loneliness and confusion in his depiction of Theodore finalizing his divorce. He was also able to bottle Theodore’s euphoria when Samantha and he were at their peak. The notion of the film was aptly conveyed, as I found myself reaching for my iphone, ipad, and ibook to shut them all down for the night. Then I found myself reaching out for bisous from my wife and child, feeling fortunate that I don’t have to rely on technology to fulfill my sense of self worth.

126 mins.

Top Five Movies of 2013

wwtop2013articleThank you to everyone involved (James, Colin, readers) – 2013 was a memorable year in which I welcomed my first born (human) child, Olive, and said goodbye to my first ‘child’ Wyatt (he was a Labrador mix that I adopted from a shelter 12 years ago). Even with all the excitement and memories, I was somehow able to see more than 90 films in 2013. Previously, we have posted my top #25-16 and top #15-6 movies of 2013, and below is my top five. How did I do? Do you agree?

5. 12 Years a Slave (2013) – If you told me you weren’t moved by 12 Years a Slave we maybe could no longer be friends. The emotions surfaced by Steve McQueen (Shame (2011)) are palpable in all the best and worst ways. You see the psychopaths that ran the slave trade in America and the countless victims besieged by this conspiracy. We also see the perils a person can endure trying to get themselves back to the family they love. Rarely do you hear of a movie that lives up to its expectations of educating its audience of the horrid aspects of a country’s history. Perhaps Schindler’s List (1993) is the only film that can be included within the same category.

If you are unfamiliar with the film, it is based on the autobiographical book of the same name recounting Solomon Northup’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) survival from being kidnapped and sold into slavery. Stripped of his family, freedom and human dignity, Solomon endures the harshest of conditions a human can impose upon another.

12 Years a Slave isn’t just a finely crafted story; the music and cinematography are also used to create a perfectly dismantled environment. Alternating between moments from his past and present, the story of Northrup’s capture and enslavement are told from the plantations on which he lives. With each of Northup’s sales, he is met by a different owner offering a different method of utilizing the slave trade. One owner, Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), shows respect and gratitude, but simply shrugs with indifference when confronted with his immoral practices. Another owner, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), is out to control his workers through fear of retribution for underperforming in the field. Both sides show that no matter the circumstance, Northup is against the odds of getting out alive and ever meeting his family again.

To its core, 12 Years a Slave is a must see. More times than not, it will be hard to keep your eyes on the screen as you witness unspeakable cruelty. However, with unbearable cruelty comes kindness. An emotion McQueen delicately offers his weary audience.

4. Mud (2012) – A southern tale about two young boys who choose to runaway and set sail down the Mississippi River. Not far into their voyage they come upon a small island with a shipwrecked boat hidden within the trees.  In this boat a mysterious and possibly dangerous character, Mud (Matthew McConaughey), is hiding and waiting for his life-long love. The boys become intrigued and find purpose in assisting Mud reach his goal. Director Jeff Nichols portrays a modern-day fairy tale about romance and trust, and doesn’t paddle away before suspense is masterfully delivered.

Throughout the film, Mud is said to be a liar, a man that one should never trust. Yet everything Mud tells the boys is a heartfelt confession. Mud shows the young boys that some people may never change their ways, but sometimes you need a little help to try and do whats right. A man of deep superstition, Mud is now relying on the trust of his first love (Reese Witherspoon) to save him from the island to which he has been cast. To assist in his escape, Mud has either recruited or manipulated the young boys to help accumulate essential items and pass along notes for Witherspoon’s eyes only. The mystery quickens when state troopers, a neighbour with a trigger finger, and some out-of-state plates begin asking if the boys have seen Mud.

The film includes two tremendous acting performances from Sheridan (The Tree of Life (2011)) and McConaughey. Sheridan was able to handle his role with such maturity, yet somehow managed to maintain a believable sense of wonder throughout the entire film. However, without McConaughey portraying the lively – and potentially dangerous – Mud, the film could easily have floated off course. The line is so finely drawn between McConaughey’s heroism and deceit, you are completely preoccupied when the unforeseen ending reveals another layer to the story.

Mud is told in the same nostalgic breath as a Huckleberry Finn adventure with a downwind whisper of a Terrence Malick film. It seduces the tendencies of an adolescent seeking both love and adventure. The embedded lesson illustrates that there may be consequences for your actions, but if your actions are with merit, then the repercussions are just. Time and time again, the main character, Ellis (Sheridan), engages in fistfights and scuffles with people much larger in stature, but when his motives are pure, the unjust never fight back. The people always simply walk away. But when Ellis fights out of jealousy or angst, he receives the blows twice as hard.

Although I felt that some additional time was needed for the bad guys to develop their characters, the underlying themes of Mud made it enjoyable. For that, Mud is one of the best films of the year and is unlikely to disappoint any movie viewer.

3. Before Midnight (2013) – We saw them fall in love… we saw them reunite… now we see them so comfortable with one another that their boredom with parenthood has turned into repulsion towards one another and, at times, regret. Richard Linklater’s third installment in the ‘Before’ series finds our beloved Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) with a family and the chance to be alone with one another for the first time in years. Based on their history, you would think they would use this time to whisper sweet nothings to one another and ohilisophicaly analyze their lives together. The only issue is that they no longer look towards their futures, but look backwards at what could have been. Celine has grown tiresome of their love story, which is now memorialized in Jessie’s best-selling books. She will forever be the French stereotype who romantically swept a fumbling American off his feet. Before Midnight is soul shattering for any fan of their relationship. Because Before Sunset (2004) sits comfortably in my top ten favorite films of all time, witnessing their tumultuous getaway and jarring exchange of words, left me shell-shocked.

As in the two previous stories, the location is a key character in the plot. In Before Sunrise (1995), they searched for meaning through the streets of Vienna. In Before Sunset, the two discussed romantic ideas involving their lives, their love, and the possibilities had they stayed together in Paris. Now they are on a family holiday in a place known for tragedy: Greece.

The differences between the first two films and the latest are quite apparent. The first films included very little communication with outside parties. For the first time, there now involves an ensemble, with a considerable portion of the film showing the duo discussing their ideas and dreams to others. Another contrast is the role technology plays in their daily lives and how being perpetually plugged in has left no room for spontaneity. Cell phones ring when they’re in the throes of passion. Young couples are able to Skype daily instead of allowing anticipation fester until a couple’s next embrace.

The starkest moment comes when the two are confined to a tiny hotel room alone. At first they use the opportunity of being alone to make love, but before long a battle of words ensues. The two pass the time exposing, posturing, and attacking one another. It’s a fight without weapons, but still cuts at your soul. They’ve individually realized their downfalls – Celine knew she wouldn’t be a good mother; Jesse would never grow up – yet we are spared affirmation that their love and history can conquer their downfalls. As in the first two, we are left without answers. The ending is up to the audience member’s imagination on whether they sorted out their differences – even if for just one night. Perhaps you envision Jesse having to sleep on the couch or they still ended up in the same bed. Based on the ending, it’s completely up to you. Depending on how rose colored your glasses are will determine whether Jesse and Celine sort everything out.

Before Midnight stays true to its source’s material. We now have affirmation that the passion exhibited earlier for life and each other was so pure that the characters did end up in each other’s arms. In Before Midnight, the audience sees mortality in their relationship. Whether their love and affection pushes them towards a next adventure is another story, hopefully a story that will be told in another nine years.

2. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013) – The comparability of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints to Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973) is more than apparent. Not just due to the storyline being about two young rebellious lovers, but also the use of cinematography and the amount of whispering voiceovers to display a character’s emotions. Lowery is able to supply his own voice and ensure that the story remains fresh and original. It’s a whimsical Americana tale which tempts you with the tale of a love lost and the hope for a better future.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ storytelling relies heavily on the use of memories, space, and mumbles. With two of the best character names in cinema this year, Bob Mulddon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) are two passionate juveniles set on living their lives together, no matter the cost. Bob (a small-time crook) and Ruth (recently discovering she is pregnant) immerse themselves blissfully and blindly into young love. However, after a careless mistake by Ruth during a robbery gone wrong, Bob takes the fall for the crime and is given a 25-year prison sentence. As the two are whisked away in a heartbreaking embrace, Bob promises to return to Ruth and to meet their unborn daughter.

Once Bob breaks out of jail, the story ultimately evolves into Bob’s ornery determination to see his family and Ruth’s decision whether or not to assist in Bob’s mission. Their story and dilemmas provides enough juicy twists and turns, but what pushes the tale to a higher level is the supporting characters. A sheriff (Ben Foster), who has watched Ruth become a mature woman, feels himself a qualified suitor, as does the protective neighbor (Keith Carradine) who has taken Ruth and her daughter in as family. Throw in a couple unfamiliar faces around town asking intriguing questions about Bob and an explosive scenario festers just as Bob makes it into town.

What I appreciated most about Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was the delicate balance Lowery achieves in portraying the differing periods of his characters’ lives. The regular flashbacks provided a window into each character’s motivations that would shift the story and provide a different perspective. Yet, the most powerful sentiment Lowery was able to conjure was the feeling that all characters truly loved Ruth and they would do (and did) anything to ensure her safety.  For that, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is worth escaping to Texas.

1. Upstream Color (2013) – My favorite movie of 2013 occupied the most confusing hour and a half of my year. The only proper way for me to describe this film is that it will leave you with a sober intoxication that takes days to shake.  Director Shane Carruth has crafted a rich and layered story told through a series of double-entendres and paradoxes that makes for a unique experience. Told in the same David Lynch fashion, attention to the details and the acknowledgment of different levels within the story are needed to interpret what appears to be, at times, absurdity.

To begin, we are introduced to a shady individual (Thiago Martins) who has weaponized a drug through worms he grows in his garden. His first victim is a young woman, Kris (Amy Seimetz). The drug hypnotizes its victims. Once administered, the amoral perpetrator robs Kris of her financial means. Once all resources have been exhausted, the robber leaves Kris untouched, but deeply troubled. Before long she meets Ryan (Carruth) and they quickly realize they have a connection that is beyond their comprehension. It appears Ryan has gone through the same ordeal. Together they try to piece together their unconscious connection and their shared relationship to seemingly random noises and feelings.

I’m not going to pretend that I understand the film’s intentions even after two viewings. However, I do appreciate that there are several underlying layers that incorporate characters and situations that would otherwise appear to be unrelated. The use of David Henry Thoreau’s masterpiece, Walden, plays a key role in the film to great effect.

Upstream Color doesn’t rely on sex and violence to convey its message. Instead it trusts its audience to exhibit patience and alertness. If you embark on the adventure with these virtues at the helm, it may too be your favorite film of 2013.

Top 25 Movies of 2013 – 15 to 6

wwtop2013article15. Captain Phillips (2013) – A completely different type of hostage story from A Hijacking (2012).  The shooting starts early and the amount of negotiations is held to a minimum. From start to finish, Tom Hanks delivers a grand performance. Never once do you feel as though it is Tom Hanks. The film also succeeded in giving the pirates a story that wasn’t too heavy handed, but gave them enough motivation for us believe why they put their lives on the line to take seige on a multimillion dollar ship.

For the most part it felt like a ‘true-story blockbuster’ up until Uncle Sam stood up, started thumping his chest and the Navy Seals were sent in. The scenes as the US military establishment took over the negotiations, there was a feel of America’s military propaganda beginning to take over. The shift is transparent, when the negotiations move from Captain Phillips to the Navy and then to the White House. Thankfully, we had enough vested in the captors and the hostage that we quickly overlook this detraction. At the very end when Captain Phillips is being observed, it is the scene of frigidly cold treatment received by medical professionals contrasted by the raw emotional warmth of Hanks’ performance that makes this film one of the best of the year.

14. It’s a Disaster (2012) – Of all the world-apocalypse gatherings in 2013 (including The World’s End (2013) and This is the End (2013)), It’s a Disaster was the most original and witty.  Every week a group of four couples come together for a weekly Sunday brunch. As we are introduced to each couple, we see that they each have their own quirks and role within the group, but it is evident that this routine is starting to feel more like a weekly Armageddon.

Before long the group realizes that the world is coming to an end. As poisonous gasses begin to creep into the house, the couple’s interactions explode on screen. The straight-laced science schoolteacher goes all Breaking-Bad in the medicine cabinet and creates her own Ecstasy. DANCE PARTY! While another couple turns to its swinger tactics to try and swing its way into the afterlife. Ultimately, each couple have their own way of dealing with their demise. Some people fight and some people detach, it is Glen (David Cross) who maintains his focus and becomes the most reliable person at the brunch.

I lost count how many times the world was supposed to end in 2012 and 2013, but It’s A Disaster was the best and most original take on the rapture.

13. Drinking Buddies (2013) – A late entry to the year-end list, director Joe Sawnberg’s Drinking Buddies stars Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde as two workers for a large microbrewery who have a relationship in which they might be considered ‘working spouses’. They are both in separate serious relationships, but at work, are pretty exclusive. They joke, they drink, it’s everything included in a happy relationship except being physical.

The first act is trying to make Olivia Wilde be less of the bombshell she is by portraying her chugging beer, riding bikes, playing football, etc. The film takes some dark turns from its bubbly persona and before long both couples have broken up, leaving what one would assume, the possibility for the two to start dating. It’s a quality movie for the simple fact that it isn’t your normal rom-com. The relationship never fully resembles the formulaic romance and plot seen within the genre. There are palpable feelings between the characters that push the story forward. Sometimes you like where the relationship between Johnson and Wilde is headed, but the majority of Drinking Buddies’ footing exists without exaggerated plots twists and maintains a real-life relationship. This little (dare-I-say) rom-com requires a dark amber ale and good watch.

12. Blue Jasmine (2013)  – Even when Woody Allen tries to give the west coast (San Francisco) some love, he fails by including too many east coasters in the plot. Louis C.K., Alec Baldwin, and a slew of side characters resembling meatheads straight from the Jersey Shore chew up the scenery. Yet at the end of the day it was the women who carried this nervous breakdown to the finish line.

The foundation of the story is cemented with the unstable material of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett). A long way from her marriage to a wealthy investment banker and being a well-regarded socialite from New York City, Jasmine now crashes on her younger sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) couch. Jasmine has made her Vera Wang bed, and now she must lie in it. Perhaps giving the greatest performance of 2013, Blanchett certainly gave it her all. I also feel concern for her liver after all the self medication she took.

11. The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012) – Felix Van Groeningen’s film, The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012), is a well-crafted story about a Flanders bluegrass singer Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) and his tattoo-covered lover Elise (Veerle Baetens) and how their relationship is challenged by the direst of circumstances. Expertly edited between differing times in the couple’s relationship, Van Groeningen has created an uplifting and heart-wrenching experience.

The beginning of TBCB opens in a Ghent hospital with the couple’s circle being broken, while they are receiving horrible news about their daughter, Maybelle. The story then cuts back to when the circle was first connected: the first time when they realized their love for one another. For the first hour, the film continuously cuts back and forth between the past (as the couple falls in love), the present (as their little girl grows more sick), and the future (circumstances they deal with afterwards). Several of these segments are then interlaced by musical performances by Didier, Elise, and Didier’s bluegrass band.

The story weakens by the third act, but the musical performances coupled by the first hour make TBCB an emotional experience that transcends itself from merely being just another cancer film.

10. To The Wonder (2012) – Even with one of the worst castings of an actor in recent memory, this film still cracks into my top ten simply due to Terrance Malick’s ability to emulate emotion through his scenery and images.  The majority of Malick’s films have settled themselves as personal favorites including Thin Red Line (1998), The Tree of Life (2011), and The New World (2005). Yet I admit this to be my least favorite from his portfolio. For me it’s simple to place the blame – Ben Affleck.  (I would recommend that Affleck continue to direct himself as the hero in all of his movies and please stay out of films that require someone with true talent to show emotion.) I would say that Affleck ruined one of the best performances of the year by Olga Kurylenko.

The brightest spot of this film was Kurylenko. Every look and every motion seems legitimate and genuine. Every frame belongs to her. Just as Jessica Chastain soared in The Tree of Life, Kurylenko matches the spirit of the film and takes it to a higher level.

9. Side Effects (2013) – Steven Soderbergh’s swan song revealed a conspiracy within the drug industry that stretches from the depressed user all the way to the Pharmaceutical CEO. The film is an expertly crafted and paranoid thriller that, upon first glance, feels like a slow-paced drama of  a depressed young woman (Rooney Mara) with her psychiatrist (Jude Law).  Then, with the turn of a knife, the film reveals itself as new and original. We then begin to wonder whether her actions are caused by side effects or deliberate actions. The pace is perfect as it slowly reveals its characters true colors and just as soon as you think you’ve determined the final motives, an entire new layer is unfolded. Smart, wicked, and engaging are only a few words worthy of Side Effects.

8. The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)  – A traveling carnival motorcyclist, Luke (Ryan Gosling), makes an annual trip with his outfit through the city of Schenectady. There he has a relationship with Romina (Eva Mendes). Within seconds the story jumps forward to the next encounter and then the next, with approximately one year between each. On one trip, Ryan comes to find out that he fathered Romina’s child from a previous trip. On impulse, Luke quits his job and attempts to become involved in his one-year-old son’s life. The only issue is that, between the annual encounters with Luke, Romina has found a stable boyfriend, Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who provides security and stability.

The Place Beyond the Pines is an unconventional coming of age story expertly split into three segments. Each decade is given a segment to show fatherhood and how one’s legacy has affected the next generation. From the first hair-raising stunt to the lonely ending, it is difficult to look away from this generation bending masterpiece.

7. Mr. Nobody (2009) – A Belgian film that has been collecting dust on some bastard’s shelf while everyone’s lawyers tried to figure out its distribution rights. Mr. Nobody is an ambitious, thought-provoking science fiction tale about choices, time, and everything in between. Perhaps the second most frustratingly smart film this year (see my number #1), we find Jared Leto play 118 year-old Nemo in the year 2092 suffering from dementia. He is the last living mortal whose actual decisions leave a lasting impression on his remaining time on Earth. Yet as the story is told through his confused perspective, we begin to wonder whether his recollection of the past is caused by his squishy brain or his lack of choices. Is it possible that he actually had three different wives – three different lives – all at the same time? Could it be possible he made one choice, but lived his life as if he made the other?

If you were a fan of The Butterfly Effect (2004), then this is the sci-fi indulgence for you. If you hated The Butterfly Effect because of Ashton Kutcher, then you may still love Mr. Nobody despite the fact that Jared Leto’s hair is equally annoying. Either way, I applaud the film for its boldness and originality from start to finish.

6. Gravity (2013) – Sometimes the positives so outweigh the negatives, those negatives are completely nullified. There is no doubt Gravity will take your breath away. I’m fully aware that there was hardly any character arch or likability in the Sandra Bullock character. I’m also fully aware that George Clooney aced his part acting like a likeable George Clooney. Who the hell cares when you’re seeing what you are witnessing. The sounds (or lack there of), the claustrophobia, the lack of air – the audience experiences every one of these aspects during the film.  I’ve discussed Gravity with several people who simply shrug their shoulders, thinking it was only an okay way to spend 90 minutes. Yet their shoulders were still tense from the night before witnessing the second best survival film of the year (see number five on this list).

My take is that there simply are no gimmicks in the narrative. There is no love story, no flashbacks, not even any frames with Houston in it. It’s only two people drifting in space doing everything they can to muster the courage to survive. The film set out to take you to a place you’ve never been before, and it achieved its goal. I recommend you sit back, and let Gravity cast you adrift.

Top 25 Movies of 2013: 25 to 16

wwtop2013articleI have to say that 2013 has produced some truly exceptional movies. There were surprise favorites and emotional rollercoasters. Every year around this time, I begin to compile my top 25 favorite movies. Usually, I need to go back and re-watch my top five to ensure my feelings remain true from the first viewing. That didn’t occur in 2013. I did re-watch my number one favorite of the year, but for the most part I’ve never felt more comfortable with my year-end list. Of course there are several I wasn’t able to see that I’m almost positive would have landed in my top 25 – including the likes of Her (2013), Short Term 12 (2013), Wolf of Wall Street (2013). However, I saw (and reviewed) a crap load of quality films in 2013. So without further ado, here are the bottom ten (#25 through #16) of my top 25 movies of 2013:

25. The History of Future Folk (2012) – A rare indie flick that not only looks indie, but never once loses sight of what it really is – (as stated in its trailer) “probably the only alien, folk duo, sci-fi, action, romance, comedy movie ever made. Which totally makes it the best alien, folk duo, sci-fi, action, romance, comedy movie ever made”.

It is a simple, joyously low-budget tale about an alien, General Trius (or known as while Bill on Earth), who was sent to Earth with the sole purpose of whipping out the human race. Armed with a device resembling a shake ‘n weight, he is moments from releasing a plague that would kill every last human on Earth. In the middle of a giant box store with his finger on the trigger, General Truis’ life is changed forever. He hears music for the very first time and falls completely and utterly in love. General Trius, thankfully, fails his mission, starts a bluegrass band, marries a groupie, and lives happily ever after.  Well, not until his home planet sends an assassin, Kevin (Jay Klaitz), to kill him.

The storyline is thin and the props are thinner, but it feels genuine throughout. The music is fun and you get to see the actor’s true talents shine on screen.  Its unfortunate there aren’t more musicals like this in the world, and for that, it had to get some props as one of the best films of 2013.

24. The World’s End (2013) – Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and director Edgar Wright re-team for their third installment of The Cornetto Trilogy with The World’s End. Accompanying Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007), The World’s End is a stylized genre film detailing nostalgia’s pull to take us back to our roots and make amends with our past’s regrets.  In this case, that regret is not completing a pub crawl, known as the Golden Mile, through a small town in England that ends at a bar called – you guessed it – The World’s End. Gary King (Pegg) is that friend we’ve all had back in high school. You know the one. The one that took things one step too far. Whether it was one drink too many, one word too vulgar, or one antic too extreme, the life of the party always began and ended with their actions. The group of friends, now in their forties and hardly resembling their youthful bodies are tricked into accompanying Gary for another attempt at the Golden Mile.  As predicted, the town they arrive back looks the same, but is somehow different. The faces are the same, but it seems the people are no longer people.

I was overall disappointed in the lack of story outside of Gary. There were four other friends that never really were given a chance to shine – even Frost. The only reason to see The World’s End is for Pegg’s performance.  He is wild, exhilarating, and wickedly crass. His jokes always hit their mark and his energy makes you want to crawl into the screen for a pint. Grab yourself a bitter, sit back and enjoy this high octane drink-fest.

23. Hunger Games – Catching Fire (2013) – Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed the first Hunger Games (2012). Having never read the books, I was expecting something completely different from what I received. The deeply sociological aspects of the world, its existential approach to the human condition, and, well, Jennifer Lawrence’s outfits were all surprising aspects I greatly enjoyed. Again, perhaps my expectations were lowered heading into Hunger Games since it’s the second installment of a summer blockbuster, which are usually nothing but a setup for the finale. I even hesitated watching Catching Fire until the final installment. I’m glad I didn’t!

Everything Hunger Games did correctly in the first installment was improved upon and the story’s pace was perfectly managed. For me though, it was the dialogue, which was more to the point and candid than in the first, which allowed the performances by both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland to shine and share some of the best screen time this year.

22. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) – Sometimes receiving the Cannes Palme d’Or award can attach unrealistic expectations. Sometimes the material can cause unrealistic expectations as well. Although, I was sometimes wondering why this film had to be almost three hours long, I still felt that it was an original story needing to be told.

I would say that the most buzz Blue received was due to its extended love scene between two young women that made it receive an NC-17 rating. I can’t say whether the MPAA was warranted with stamping that rating on the film (since I did just see a film where a guy kills his own pet with his bare hands, there was a disgusting rape scene and that film only got an R rating). I will say though that it is a must see film for any French cinephile who respects films from all throughout the world.

21. Stoker (2013) – At the beginning of the film, the main character, India (Mia Wasikowska) is trying to come to terms with her genetic disposition. She states: “I wear my father’s belt, over my mother’s blouse” in reference to how she has taken, for better or worse, certain characteristics from each of her parents. The question is – just how deep will she accept these qualities?

Stoker is a masterful example of storytelling that relies much more of the characters glances and emotions than words actually spoken. After my initial viewing, I immediately saw the comparisons to a Hitchcock classic thriller, but this tale has a stylized creativity that is distinctly belongs to the director Chan-wook Park (Oldboy (2003)). He may have worn Hitchcock’s blouse while filming, but he is definitely wearing his own belt.

20. Blancanieves (2012) – For the second year in a row, one of the best films of the year is a silent film.  Blancanieves is a playfully Spanish version of the story Snow White.  Original and inventive, Blancanieves tells the story of a young girl, Carmencita (Sofía Oria), who was set to be born under the best of circumstances. Her father was the most famous Spanish bullfighter in Seville during the 1920s, while her mother was deeply in love and pregnant with their first child. Everything was set for Carmencita, but how quickly things can change.

With any silent film, it takes a few minutes to allow your brain to prepare for the format. You have to allow the music to become the film’s voice and prepare for the breaks in scenery for the dialogue. Once you tolerate the tempo, the film begins to flow and you are able to appreciate the intricacies included within the film. It also doesn’t hurt that there are loveable dwarfs, S&M scenes, and insanely crazy stepmothers.

19. Simon Killer (2012) – Directed by Antonio Campos, Simon Killer is one of those en-grossing films that you are a bit ashamed to admit you liked. Simon (Brady Courbet) is broken hearted after a bad breakup with an ex-girlfriend. Running away from his troubles, Simon visits family in Paris and decides to crash on random people’s couches. Simon can run from his problems, but he can’t run from his craving for kinky sex and psychotic mood swings. Quickly Simon becomes lonely and finds warmth in the arms of a local prostitute, Marianne (Constance Rousseau). The two hatch a plan to extort money from her regular customers. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t.

Before long, Simon’s layered lunacy becomes to surface and the audience is left wondering just how messed up this young man is. Not a film for the faint of heart or for those running on the prudish side, but Simon Killer was an effective thriller that needs viewership.

18. A Hijacking (2012) – At first, A Hijacking may not be the film you expected when you first heard it’s about pirates and hostages. However, the minimalist approach and focus on the human aspect of negotiating makes it a true delight. There are no shots fired. The film primarily focuses on the intensely stressful business aspect of the negotiations for a ship’s hostages. As an audience member, we are introduced to the key figures of a ship’s ransom that would normally remain behind the scenes. Sounds boring right? It’s not!

The corporation’s CEO, Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling), is used to negotiating contracts with millions of dollars on the line. It’s in his make-up. Emotions are left outside the negotiating room and his cool, calm demeanor is never breached. Now, given the opportunity, Peter takes on the task of negotiating with the pirates even though outside Somali consultants highly recommend someone externally be responsible. It is Peter’s crew and, therefore, it is his responsibility. A Hijacking is about how even the most composed and the most genuinely happy people can eventually be broken.

17. The Way, Way Back (2013) – There were several coming-of-age stories that I enjoyed during 2013 (Prince Avalanche (2013) and The Kings of Summer (2013)), but the one that I connected with most was The Way, Way Back. From the very first scene where the stepdad, played by Steve Carell, asks his teenage stepson, Duncan (Liam James), to rate himself out of ten and then quickly corrects him with a lower number, you quickly realized what this kid is up against. It doesn’t matter how well adjusted you are, the teenage years are always an awkward, confusing period. Luckily, this film was able to give a face to that awkwardness, but was also able to give it legs to try and find his confidence. That confidence was found as a part-time employee at a local summer waterpark.

The best crazy guy is show business (sorry – Nic Cage and Gary Busey), Sam Rockwell plays the perfect 30-something loser, Owen, as the manager of the water park. I loved this movie so much for its simplicity and genuine feelings.

16. Prisoners (2013) – Perhaps having my first (of what I’m guessing eight) children this past fall, I was enraged by the potency produced by Prisoners regarding the kidnapping of young children.  On a lonely Thanksgiving evening, two little girls are abducted from their front yards as they play. It isn’t until hours later that the parents realize their daughters are missing. The police, within hours, have a person of interest in custody. Seems like they have the right guy, but there is no DNA and no proof so he walks. Disguised and emotional, Hugh Jackman, the father of one of the girls decides that if the rules and laws won’t assist in finding his daughter, then he’ll just have to play by his own set of rules. So he kidnaps the kidnapper.

Does he have the wrong person? Under the circumstances, he doesn’t think so. But at the same time, yes he does. This film asks so many questions about how far a person should go to protect their family, but what makes it so utterly unforgettable is its ability to show the face of everyday evil. A standing ovation goes out to Paul Dano (in an utterly thankless role), Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, and Jackman.

The Five Most Disappointing Movies of 2013

Matt-Damon-in-Elysium-2013-Movie-ImageIn a general sense, I believe positive expectations in your day-to-day life tend to reinforce a more enjoyable existence. If you expect good from people you are constantly reassured that there is humanity in this world. The opposite is true regarding expectations with movies. First you have the most manufactured glimpse imaginable to stoke your expectation—the trailer. Basically it’s an opportunity for the promoters to squeeze the best action shot, catch-phrase or strip tease the film has to offer in a 30-second teaser. Heck, any given shot doesn’t even have to be in the final cut to be included in the trailer.

When it comes to movies—blockbusters in particular— expectations lead to unhappiness. As of 2013, gone are the days when every Terrance Malick film would comfortably land in my top 20 films of all time.   So too are the days when apocalyptic comedies including old pals getting together to get drunk was deemed ‘original’ (there were three in 2013). Looking back at my most anticipated movies of 2013, Elysium (2013) was pegged to be one of my most anticipated. Then I went to the show and saw a train wreck messily throw itself into my consciousness.

It was just Elysium and To the Wonder (which still made it in my top ten) that disappointed. The following five flicks I regrettably had high expectations for prior to 2013 and was utterly disappointed.

Only God Forgives (2013) – Ryan Gosling was a beast in Drive (2011). Nicolas Winding Refn’s direction was perfect. The violence was unique and the soundtrack was deliciously palatable.  It was a dirty, violent action flick that even the chicks could dig—a rare feat, boasted by perhaps only one other movie: Fight Club (1999). I do understand that the Asperger’s-like mannerisms served up by Gosling detracted from the film a bit, but in my eyes this was still a triumph in every way.

Then, once the skid marks faded from our memory, we heard Gosling and the director were reuniting. Just as badass as the premise as Drive, it was marketed as a revenge tale encompassing a drug-dealing brother out to make right against a corrupt cop in Shanghai.  What’s not to love? Well, perhaps the perverse everything included from start to finish. Instead of giving the main character a mysterious aura for being so oft spoken, we get a real sense of ‘motherly love’ and a creepiness that never feels warranted or explained. Also, the amount of violence and sexual exploitation of women is immediately off-putting.

Gangster Squad (2013) – just looking at the cue card for Gangster Squad was enough to get anyone of any age excited. Yet, it was Sean Penn reprising his role as a gangster (from Mystic River) that really had me antsy with anticipation. Imagine an LA gangster version of Sean Penn putting dropping the Boston accent picking up a Tommy-Gun while ruling 1920’s LA with an iron fist. And yet, the result was a messy, unconvincing Dick Tracey caricature. The story was there. The cast was there. The writing and direction was just awful.  So disappointing since it was coming from the director, Ruben Fleischer, who did Zombieland (2009).

If this film was granted a mulligan, I would highly suggest it be turned into an AMC television series and given the legroom each character needed to grow and allow the audience to become vested.

World War Z (2013) – Brad Pitt rarely ever makes a poor decision when it comes to signing up for a part. In World War Z, the premise always seemed to be pushed forward without much thought. The zombies come in what seems like the first minute. The family barely survives and then it turns out Pitt has all these special talents that only he can use to save the world. The family is hardly seen again, and the action scenes are predictable and outlandish.

Perhaps my pop culture tolerance has finally reached its saturation point with the zombie genre. Perhaps I still want Marc Forster to make personal favorites like Monster’s Ball (2001), Finding Neverland (2004), and Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Maybe the film should have followed its original storyline that made the book a bestseller all over the world. Either way, I was bored and utterly disappointed.

Francis Ha (2012) – the amount of buzz before this release was immense. It was said to be the anti-blockbuster this summer. I would agree and I can’t say that this was a poorly made film or that people shouldn’t go see it.  I would say the complete opposite actually. I’m just saying, I was so incredibly annoyed with the characters due to their decisions and conversations I became irritable.

With that said, the part where she was dancing without a care in the world through New York made me smile ear to ear. However, if Frances and I were on a first date I’d be climbing through the bathroom window before our drink order.

Movie 43 (2013) – resembling Gangster Squad, this film had the most impressive amount of stars attached to star in this confused, offensive “comedy” that has no real reason to exist. I started to write a review for this film way back in the Fall of 2013. I simply didn’t complete it because I didn’t think it was worth my time or anyone else’s to read it. Sure there was one funny skit (out of 20 something skits) including one about superhero speed dating. However, the amount of blood I lost from the nosebleed I received after every inclusion of the kids looking on their computers, I decided I should just cut my losses. This film was toxic.

I recommend you watch this instead. You’re welcome.

Cinema Movie Review: Leviathan (2012)

leviathan2012Step on bored

One of the most divisive films to be released this year is the documentary Leviathan (2012). Not divisive in the sense of its material being controversial or engaging, but rather the style in which the material is presented. Created by directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass (2009)) and Verena Paravel (Foreign Parts (2010)), we step aboard a small commercial fishing vessel off the coast of Massachusetts and witness a regular day and night in the life of a group of fishermen. Leviathan doesn’t present any individual viewpoints or critique the fishing practice. It simply shows what occurs and for that it is a pure documentary. Everything you witness is for you to critique.

Some may be disgusted to see stingray’s fins chopped off in mechanic fashion while still breathing. Others will find beauty in the ship’s efficiency as it maneuvers during a grand haul. For me, certain scenes play out as if they are a part of a horror film with fish’s blood making its way onto every pore of the fisherman and the vessel itself.

There is hardly any dialogue and the majority of the footage seems to be captured via GoPro that appears to be randomly attached to different structures aboard the ship. These shots shift from the ship’s starboard, to its underbelly, to the chum spilled in the ocean to attract the fish. At first, the environment feels new and cringe-worthy – almost rendering the viewer into a claustrophobic haze. Then, after an hour, you begin to notice that you’re beginning to look at your watch wondering when you dock and can get off the ship.

In the documentary Sweetgrass, we witnessed the very last sheep drive over the Beartooth Mountains of Montana. A trade once necessary for food transports that is no longer a needed practice in today’s food stream. We see the people who to this day relied on these annual drives. We witnessed the grit, routine, and beauty involved in transporting thousands of sheep. Again, in Sweetgrass, there was no plot or idealistic viewpoint, but we were fully absorbed in its elements, predators, and personality.

In Leviathan, we simply only see the process and the circle of life. We only see injured birds, fish being filleted while still alive, and groggy-eyed fisherman. While Leviathan has some beautiful shots, in sum it felt like a bunch of cameras were simply left running over night and everything that was usable was featured. After it was labelled as one of the must-see documentaries of 2013, I never thought I’d want to throw myself overboard just so I could swim back to shore.

87 mins.