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.

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.

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.

DVD Movie List: Wanderlust

national-lampoons-vacationHit the road

Spring is in the air, the women on Avenue Louise are down to three layers, and…oh wait…is that? Yes it is! The sun just showed its face for the first time in months. After watching the film Night Train to Lisbon (2013), it has given me a sense of wanderlust. (Nerd Alert: The etymology for the word wanderlust is derived from the two German words wandern (to hike) and lust (desire). Since people more than likely did not have cars when these words were being created (unlike terms being turned into words like LOL, BFE, and FU), this term can be directly translated as the desire to travel.)

This isn’t a new feeling of watching a movie and getting that itch to see new places. So, here is a list of’s favorite films that inspired us to travel (even if it was only to the local pub).

Allow this post to rekindle that fire to explore, seek new places, and find a new favorite place on Earth. Enjoy!

1. 180 Degrees South (documentary) (2010)
Where: California, Mexico City, Columbia, Peru, Patagonia, Galapagos Islands, and Easter Islands
Why: No documentary has ever captured the spirit of travel and adventure better than this film. It’s beautiful, engaging, and motivating. A MUST SEE!

2. The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
Where: Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela
Why: Proof that meeting new people and traveling to new places can change your life simply by expanding your worldly outlook through others’ cultures.

3. Sweetgrass (documentary) (2009)
Where: Beartooth Mountains, Montana/Wyoming
Why: Watch the end of an American occupation and those who still relied on the transportation of sheep over some of the highest and most dangerous mountain ranges in the United States.

4. Lost in Translation (2003)
Where: Tokyo
Why: You may always find a new friend in new places. It probably won’t be Bill Murray (or Scarlett Johanssen for that matter), but a friend is a friend.

5. Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008)
Where: Aviles, Oviedo and Barcelona
Why: If you’ve never been to Barcelona, get on a plane and allow yourself the opportunity to shovel as many tapas into your face hole as possible.

6. A Good Year (2006)/Sideways (2004)
Where: Provence, France and Santa Barbara, California
Why: A good glass of wine is as good of reason to travel than I care to think of.

7. Before Sunrise (1995)
Where: Paris, France
Why: In a day before Craigslist’s Missed Connections and on-line dating, sometimes you’d meet interesting people during your travels and strike up memorable conversations.

8. Casablanca (1942)
Where: Casablanca, Morocco
Why: Just a classic. (Had to include one film from before I was born!)

9. In Bruges (2008)
Where: Bruges, Belgium
Why: “I realized, fuck man, maybe that’s what hell is: the entire rest of eternity spent in fuckin’ Bruges. And I really, really hoped I wouldn’t die. I really, really hoped I wouldn’t die.” – Ray

10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Where: New Orleans, Murmansk (Russia), New York
Why: Some were deterred by the three hour run time, but to see all the locations someone may see in their lifetime (if they so choose) is extraordinary.

11. Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)/The Hangover (2009)/Swingers (1996)

12. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
Where: All over the United States, but most importantly DURANGO (!!!!), Colorado
Why: Best road trip film of all-time. Hands down.

Movie Feature: Fifty Foreign Films You Need To See – Part Uno

Foreign-FilmsA blast is another country

Oldebeui (Oldboy) (2003, Korea)
First off, if you’re reading this after Spike Lee‘s remake comes out, this is the one you want to see. Props to Lee for all his good stuff but the remake will suck. This film would get five and a half stars if I could go that high – it’s genuinely one of the most human and gut-wrenching tale of revenge and personal demons you’ll ever see.

This, the second film in Korean Chan-wook Park’s legendary ‘revenge trilogy’ was based on a Japanese Manga cartoon, and the title will give you absolutely no clue as to what it may be all about. So far, so mysterious.

The story begins with Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) getting drunk on his daughter’s birthday and ending up in the police station. His friend helps him get out and as he makes a call from a callbox, he is kidnapped. He awakens in what appears to be a dingy hotel room with no opening doors and no windows. At regular intervals, he is gassed to knock him out, showered, has his hair cut and the whole sorry business begins again. This goes on for 15 years. One day, as suddenly as he was captured, he is given money, a mobile phone and clothes and released. While still adjusting to freedom, he meets Mi-Do (Hye-jeong Kang) and they strike up an uneasy relationship. Soon afterwards, he takes a call from a mysterious stranger, Woo-jin Lee (Ji-tae Yu) who invites Dae-su to play a game. He has five days to figure out what the last 15 years were about, or Mi-do dies. On the up side, if he is right, Woo-jin will kill himself.

As you will have noticed, it’s not a Disney production. It has some of the strongest ratings available in cinemas of all countries for its content, menace and general unpleasantness – but that is no excuse to miss out. The whole thing hangs together fantastically well, and the story is tight and bright, with more twists and turns than a slinky on an escalator. When you realize the reasons for his capture, torture and imprisonment, I defy you not to sit there slack-jawed. it really is a doozy. Enjoy.

Das Boot (1981, Germany)
If you’re thinking ‘oh God, a war film made in the eighties’ think again. It is a war film and it was made in the early eighties in what was then still West Germany. ‘Ah, OK’ I hear you say, “so it examines the war from a German perspective, then?” Er, no. Not really. While it does comment on WW2, it avoids clichés and brings the human condition into sharp focus. What would you do if you had to spend weeks on end cooped up with people you hardly knew, with no sunlight and the only break from the monotony was the very real threat of being killed? These are the themes that make Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot such a wonderful, if harrowing, piece of cinema. There are various different ‘cuts’ available, but the 1997 director’s version is probably the most accessible. It’s just shy of three-and-a-half hours, but trust me – you won’t know where it went. In German (unsurprisingly) and probably the best war film ever made. Seriously.

Le dîner de cons (The Dinner Game) (1998, France)
First things first – if you know French, watch it in the original language, if not, put the English subtitles and remember two things: the English dubbing is awful enough to make a grown man weep and that under no circumstances should you watch the ‘remake’ (if I have to use the term) starring Steve Carell, called Dinner for Schmucks (2010). To do either of these things would be to rob a classic farce of all its glory and as soon as I become king of the world both shall be banned forever. Are we clear?

So, onto the movie itself. Le dîner de cons is a very simple tale in essence. There’s a weekly dinner game every Wednesday, where a group of friends all try to find the most idiotic nobody to bring to dinner. The guests are invited to talk about themselves at length and after they have all left, the four friends compare notes and elect an ‘idiot of the evening’. A veritable indictment of the smarmy Parisian upper-middle class that will be obvious to all, such needs no further explanation.

With Wednesday coming around, Pierre Brochant is convinced he has found the stupidest man in town and is sure he will win the competition hands down. François Pignon, the ‘idiot’ arrives at Pierre’s place in good time for the dinner and all appears to be set – until Pierre has some serious back trouble. Pignon is only too willing to help and his honest and genuine attempts to assist only make things worse.

This is proper laugh-out-loud comedy. If you know no French at all, the gags are still there in spades. Some of the puns will be lost but I really don’t think that matters too much when the story is such a riot.

Will Pignon save the day? Will Pierre win his dinner game? And what do you do with a good bottle of wine and your antique furniture when the taxman comes calling unexpectedly? You’ll have to watch and find out.

Intacto (Intact) (2001, Spain)
Not a film many will have heard of necessarily – and one I only came upon thanks to my writing partner. Intacto is an under-rated little gem of a movie with a strong story and some lovely ideas, brought to life vividly under the steady guiding hand of director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo – a name you may know from 28 Weeks Later, the sequel to Danny Boyle’s classic.

Intacto couldn’t be further from man-eating infected beings and other such stock splatter fare. This is a film that builds and is very much a slow burn – but without the usual scene-setting and unnecessary character development that draws films that should be 90 minutes out into three hours. Sometimes it’s necessary but I love that Intacto takes a fascinating premise, builds a strong cast around it and then gets the job done in a little over an hour and a half.

If I had to be negative about anything, it would be that the script hags a little loose in places, in that some of the ideas don’t appear obvious. Perhaps it’s because I don’t speak a word of Spanish (other than ordering beers) but it took me a little while to catch up.

The basis of the film is that luck is a transferable entity, and that some people really are more lucky/mucky than others. The lives of three people who can ‘take’ luck from others are examined, each of them extremely lucky already. Enter Samuel (a wonderful turn by Max Von Sydow), a shady casino owner who likes to play games, and the lives of the four become threaded closely in what turns out to be a deadly game of chance. No spoilers here, just watch and see what happens – you might be lucky.

[REC] (2007, Spain)
Ever thought the Spanish were a non-threatening, easy-going bunch with nothing more to worry about except being attacked by platefuls of tasty rustic food? Some of these statements may be true, but not the non-threatening part, oh no.

This fright-fest from (actually quite pleasant) Spanish directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza is one of those movies that’ll lodge itself in your head for years after the first view, simply on the basis that it was probably the last time you literally jumped with fright. Speaking as a seasoned veteran of shocker and slasher flicks, REC does more for the genre in it’s tight, pithy hour and a quarter than most can manage in two hours.

Hyperbole, you say? Not a bit of it. The plot line is minimalistic and there’s no real time for character development as such. Some rescue workers and a camera crew respond to an emergency call at a n apartment block. They get trapped inside. The weird shit begins. That’s it.

There will be comparisons to The Blair Witch Project (1999) because of the shaky hand-cam shooting techniques used and in fairness, Blair Witch was first by some eight years. However, where BW was very sure of how clever it was, it lacked genuine frights and padded a lot of the film out with unnecessary quietude and dodgy symbolism.

[REC] manages to avoid any pretence of art or concept and gets straight down to the business of scaring the bejesus out of you. If you’re one of those people who have ‘seen it all before’, I assure you, you have not. This is a genuine thrill-ride with scares and tension in such carefully balanced measure, I defy you to sit through it without genuinely jumping at least once. I dare you. I double dare you.

Movie List: Top Ten Canadian Films

Viggo Mortensen covered in tattoos as a crime boss in new movie with Naomi WattsAfter re-watching Goon (2011) this week, I realized that I have a sweet spot for films made by those fuzzy, drunken, northern-neighbours.  Here then is a top-ten list of my favourite Canadian films.

  1. Juno (2007)

A quirky comedy following a young high school couple, Ellen Page and Michael Cera, as they experience the world of teen pregnancy.  The best comedies are able to tip toe between the seriousness of a gloomy situation and the hilarity that life can contain. I recommendable film for just about anyone.

  1. Eastern Promises (2007)

Also dealing with pregnancy, but in a complete opposite way, David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises is a master of filmmaking.  This film’s supposed to take place in London, but with a lot of the shooting and casting being Canadian, I think it should make the list.  The cast includes Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, and Vincent Cassel involving the Russian Mafia.  Not a film for the faint of heart.

  1. Away From Her (2006)

This is an incredibly sad story about a husband and his institutionalized wife with Alzheimer’s.  The Canadian director, Sarah Polley, made a force of a film that finds the wife soon forgetting about her husband and shifting her love to another man within the institution.  Away From Her is a very sombre film that is worth the viewing even though you’ll ache for days afterwards.

  1. Canadian Bacon (1995)

This film is probably the most well known Canadian film from my generation.  John Candy, as a Niagara Falls Sheriff, and Alan Alda, as the US President, team up to make a hilariously silly film about the US starting a cold war with Canada to try and boost the economy. Also, Michael Moore directed the film before he became too politically correct and opinionated.

  1. Wayne’s World (1992)

Would any Canadian top ten lists be complete without Mike Myers?

  1. Goon (2011)

See my review here.

  1. Strange Brew (1983)

“This movie was shot in 3B – three beers – and it looks good, eh?”: Bob McKenzie

A favorite film of mine growing up due to its overly-quirky, dry humour, Strange Brew is about Bob & Doug McKenzie as they get their dream job at the Elsinore Brewery under unusual circumstances.  The plot is pointless, the dialogue is numbing, but there are crazy hockey players, sweet mullets, and terrific one-liners.  Crack a Molson and watch or take off you hoser.

  1. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

A horribly depressing documentary about events that seems too unbelievably frustrating to have actually occurred.  To put it into perspective, how many documentaries have actually caused changes in public policy due to its story?  This is one of them.

  1. Barney’s Version (2010)

This film was one of favorite from this year and I was surprised it never received the audience it deserved.  Paul Giamatti plays his normal curmudgeon character, but as this film expands several decades within it’s story, you get to see the changes in his mental state and personal life.

  1. Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010)

The inventive comic book comedy from director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) follows Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) as he defeats his new girlfriend’s evil seven exes.  The film has a constant flow of ADD flowing through its veins, but with deceivingly good dialogue and terrific side-characters, it is definitely worth watching.

Ten Favourite Sports Movies

This sporting life

So here we go with our personal favourites in the field of sports movies (see what I did there?) It’s not an ordered ‘top ten’, nor is it a definitive list of the best ten ever made, before we get the now-customary emails and comments saying ‘you suck’. You’re still welcome to tell us we suck, it’s a free country. Hell, you could even tell us you like what we do, tweet this page and plaster it across social networks everywhere – but don’t let us tell you what to do. Feel free to chime in with your favourites. We’ll start with James‘s picks this time, as he has graciously ceded the honours to me in the past. He’ll probably post a lot of worthy stuff, so I’ll be on hand to lighten the mood once he’s (doubtless) banged on about Rocky (1976). Over to you, James.

James’s Choices

Rocky III (1982)

Well, in fact, I am not going to ‘bang on about Rocky (1976)’ by John G. Alvidsen, even though, along with Rocky Balboa (2006), it’s undoubtedly the best of the series, winning the Best Film Oscar way back in the day. But it simply wasn’t as much fun as this, the third installment, which was directed by its perrenial star Sylvester Stallone, and which I first saw, also way back in the day, on a double bill (remember those?) with Airplane! (1980). Ah, of such are memories (and future careers) made. With hindsight, it’s not actually very good, is part the third, but it does have a cracking, brutal performance from Mr. T as Clubber Lang, a brutal boxer who is working his way through fighter after fighter to get to Rocky, and a swang-song performance from Burgess Meredith as Rocky’s long-time trainer, Mickey, who really doesn’t want to see his boy in the ring with Lang. ‘He’ll knock you into tomorrow, Rock.’ But, of course, Rocky is having none of it, and it turns out to be Mickey’s last fight. And will it be Rocky’s? What do you think?

Robert Rossen’s The Hustler (1961)

Please don’t start whining on about how pool (either 8-ball, 9-ball or straight) is not actually a sport, because you would be wrong. Glad we got that cleared up. Simply the best film of its star Paul Newman’s career, bar none, and a remarkably intelligent, gripping and tragic examination of what it means to be a winner and a loser. George C. Scott is also exemplary as the evil gambler Bert Gordon, who will let nothing, least of all ‘Fast Eddie’ Felson (Newman) or his troubled love Sarah (Piper Laurie) stand in his way. And, of course, there are the two pool showdowns with the man Eddie came to town to beat – Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). They really do not make ’em like this any more.

Raging Bull (1980)

Probably Martin Scorsese’s finest film ever, for which he (to the Academy’s shame) did not pick up Best Film. Robert de Niro, in one of the finest performances of his career, for which he  did win the gong, plays real-life boxer Jake La Motta, a fighter whose violence and temper takes him temporarily to the top in the ring, but destroys all that he holds dear in the ‘real world’. With fights that are nothing short of breathtaking, characterizations that  could only have come from the mind and pen of Paul Schrader and one of the most moving, tragic denouments in all cinema, this simply soars, and is a film for the ages.

The Damned United (2009)

For my money, this may not be the best film ever made about football, but it’s certainly in the top one. It’s an absolutely kicking adaptation of the, apparently, somewhat fictionalized account of Ol’ Big Head Brian Clough (Michael Sheen), and his turbulent (and very brief) spell in charge of Leeds United, after he had already beaten Leeds manager Don Revie (Colm Meaney) to the then First Division prize with Derby County. Sheen, as modern cinemagoers have come to expect following his performances in The Queen (2006) and Frost/Nixon (2008), is excellent as Clough, and Timothy Spall provides admirable support as Clough’s long-suffering friend and assistant Peter Taylor, and the film as a whole emerges as a riveting account of the football battles of yesteryear.

Looking for Eric (2009)

Ken Loach rarely makes a film with characters that are difficult to warm to, and this is no exception – while the basic premise is obviously rooted in fantasy, straightforward, gutsy performances keep it grounded in working-class, football-loving realities, while the story’s darker side ( a gun-wielding local ‘psycho’ businessman, and the danger this poses to all concerned) is treated with respect and unflinching realism. A fairy story this ‘aint, but that’s not to say there isn’t room for magic. And Eric Cantona himself? A marvel, as you might expect – he’s already won his spurs as an actor, and he’s clearly having a great deal of fun playing himself here: ‘I am not a man. I am Cantona.’

Colin’s choices

Lucas (1986)

Starring a diminuitive Corey Haim, a pre-meltdown Charlie Sheen, and providing the big-screen debut for Winona Ryder, Lucas is really about love, feelings and other gushy stuff like that. It does have a very strong American football theme going through it, which proves pivotal to events, so I’m going with it. A note to our US chums – just remove the word ‘American’ when you read this. For my money, this is a prime example of a seriously under-rated feel-good film. It could easily have fallen into a formulaic boy meets girl, girl loves someone else, boy joins football team to impress girl, girl… well, you get the drift, I’m sure. A good script and some solid performances brought together under the watchful eye of David Seltzer (yes, that one) elevate this to a better product than the sum of its parts. Just don’t worry too much about the actual rules of football, or you’re likely to be disappointed. It’s a story, K?

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)

In my humble and modest opinion, if you’re tired of Dodgeball, you’re tired of life. This film hit our screens when Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn were pretty much at the top of their game, and when Rip Torn – who played the wonderful Patches O’Houlihan – had been at the top of his for years. The young Patches was played by Hank Azaria, and if you’ve got the voice of Homer Simpson playing a character, you’re doing something right. Out-of-context cameos by Lance Armstrong, William Shatner, The Hoff and Chuck Norris add to the fun. Just one watch of this film and the tired platitude ‘it’s probably the way he wanted to go” takes on new meaning. You’ll see. Dodgeball is a tremendous amount of fun and at no time takes itself seriously. Watch out for the deus ex machina and remember the fundamental five Ds of Dodgeball: Dodge, duck, dip, dive and…dodge.

Cool Runnings (1993)

Imagine a sport populated almost entirely by Caucasian peoples, well versed in the harsh winters of the northern hemisphere and inventors of countless sports that exploit the fact that their countryside is covered in snow for 5 months every year. Then throw in a few happy-go-lucky and upbeat Jamaican guys. Under-equipped and poorly trained, they decide to race in one of the most dangerous events in the winter games – the bobsleigh. Featuring Leon, who seems to have been in everything for around 20 years, Malik Yoba (ditto), Doug E Doug and Rawle E Lewis as the team and the late, great John Candy as their trainer, Cool Runnings is just plain fun. It’s also based on a true story (one that I was lucky enough to see unfold live at the Winter Olympics of 1988). Luckily, in real life, the teams were not at all hostile (as in the movie) and welcomed the Jamaican team with open arms. Still a great story, even if the facts don’t get in the way.

The Blind Side (2009)

I was determined not to watch this. Then I was going to watch it but I was determined not to enjoy it. Then I watched it and fell in love with Sandra Bullock all over again. For a guy who doesn’t really like to watch film representations of real-life tales (it’s a long story, buy me a beer and I’ll tell you) I was truly taken by this. Bullock deserved all the praise she got for playing Leigh Anne Tuohy, and Quinton Aaron likewise for his portrayal of football star-in-the-making Michael Oher. A truly uplifting movie about how one person’s kindness and disregard for colour of skin or the disdain of her peers can bring out the true character of an abandoned, homeless teenager and literally change his life.  The juxtaposition of Bullock’s sassy Southern lady and Aaron’s shy and self-effacing kid from the projects works all the better because much of it really happened. A true fairy tale for the modern age.

Shaolin Soccer (Siu lam juk kau ) (2001)

Having seen Kung Fu Hustle (2004) and loved it, I was keen to see what madness lay in the previous outing involving Stephen Chow, Hong Kong-based director, actor and martial arts nut.  While not of the same calibre of KFH, it has a real charm about it, and it flies the flag of uncompromizing and generally mental Hong Kong cinema. If you need a heads-up, read our review of Gong Tau (2007) for a taster of the insanity. Written so much larger than life, Chow’s efforts engage on such a real schoolboy gung-ho level, it’s practically impossible to not like them. Similar, in a way, to the films of Bollywood, there’s romance, intrigue, drama and an almost impossible amount of butt kicking. Mix in some magic, some bad guys and replace the dancing with football and you have Shaolin Soccer. It’s like anything brilliant – it’s simple, effective and it delivers the goods. See it.

by Colin Moors