Monday, February 23, 2015


Now that was an upset!

Yes, I was certain (and deeply hoped) that Writer/Director Richard Linklater's career and artistic masterpiece "Boyhood" would walk away with the statuette for Best Picture as bestowed by the Academy Awards but the cinematic competition was distinctly ferocious this year as Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's electrifying high wire act of a film entitled "Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)" won the title. "Birdman" won clearly much of the evening's awards, with only Writer/Director Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" running evenly with it and even Writer/Director Damien Chazelle's incendiary "Whiplash" gathering three awards of the night as well.

While I am disappointed that "Boyhood" didn't take the top prize as I still feel that it should have, I guess that it shouldn't be that much of a surprise that "Birdman" did ascend to its fullest heights as it is film about actors and the artistic process, therefore making this victory one where Hollywood rewarded itself. Even so, "Birdman" is a masterful, supremely bold, and sensationally "outside of the box" achievement that did indeed deserve all of its victories, Dear readers, I am looking at the whole evening through these lenses: When the top films of the year are the likes of those four titles, we, as viewers and movie goers are all winners, to say the least, as each film found new and veteran filmmakers working at the very peak of their artistic powers as they all gave us films to regard and behold over and again.

Now, as for the actual Oscar telecast...well...

I have said it over and again to you and in person to friends, that watching the Academy wards telecast is my personal Superbowl. Even so, it is a telecast that has historically drowned in its own self-importance, taking what should always be a night of jubilant celebration and transforming it into an often pretentious slog that drags on and on into the night, making casual viewers wonder just what is the fuss all about over a show that is, frankly just so damn boring.

Last year, host Ellen DeGeneres transformed the Oscars into a speedy evening that felt like a party that viewers at home were able to join in with. Even the celebrities themselves looked as if they were having a good time in the theater, joshing around, snapping that now famous "selfie" (man, do I hate that non-word), and getting shaken down for the ordered pizzas that were delivered during the broadcast.  It was the first time in many years where I had fun watching the show and last night's telecast, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, was unfortunately a return to the norm, as the program was a torpidly and often somberly paced affair that was undercut by Harris' glib blandness making the show as a whole as dry as wallpaper.

Harris is just a figure that I have never truly had a firm opinion about during his entire career. Yes, he is indeed talented and more than versatile and I suppose he looked comfortable in his hosting duties, especially after his long celebrated turns on the Tony and Emmy Award telecasts (are the Grammys next?). But even so, for me, I felt that he was missing a certain je ne sais quoi that kept me at arms length and ultimately uninterested in his particular hijinks.

I did enjoy the opening number which owed very much to Billy Crystal's openings in past years as the sequence blended Harris' song and dance (pus surprise appearances by Anna Kendrick and Jack Black) with cleverly placed film clips. But when the dancing Stormtroopers arrived on the stage, to me, it just all felt to

As did Harris' few jabs concerning the lack of nominations for "Selma" and for actors of color in general. While exclaiming that the night of the Oscars celebrates "the best and whitest...errr uh..brightest" talents may seem to be edgy it clearly isn't as it was written with this self-congratulatory nod of attempting to be in on its own controversy instead of acknowledging that Hollywood's intense lack of diversity on and behind the camera and within the industry itself is indeed the problem in the first place.

That being said, what did surprise me was that placed within the context of the evening, it was surprising to see just how politically charged of a night the telecast actually became due to the nature of the nominated and awarded films. Patricia Arquette's winning speech for Best Supporting Actress for "Boyhood" found her surprisingly roaring for women's rights and wage equality certainly spoke to the arc of her character as well as the harsh economic realities within the industry and the country at large. Eddie Redmayne's winning speech in the Best Actor category for "The Theory Of Everything" made notice for those afflicted with ALS while Julianne Moore's Best Actress winning speech for "Still Alice" brought increased attention to Alzheimer's disease. Screenwriter Graham Moore (and fellow University of Chicago Lab School graduate to boot!), who won the Best Adapted Screenplay category for "The Imitation Game," spoke passionately about his own attempted suicide as a teenager, therefore speaking to all of the teens and adults watching as well as speaking to themes contained within the film concerning being persecuted for existing as a homosexual.

Hands down, the moment of the night was OWNED by John Legend and Common's blistering, sobering performance of the Best Song winner "Glory" from the film "Selma," a performance that gave me chills due to its furious immediacy. This sequence of the program was then furthermore intensified by Legend and Common's poetically political speeches which spoke directly to the state of the nation as well as the film itself regarding how the Civil Rights era has not only remained and is on-going but is more crucial right now than ever.

The seriousness of the evening was recognized especially when the terrible "wrap it up" music got played off due to the content of speeches more winners, one of which focused on soldier suicide...but then Neil Patrick Harris followed with a poorly timed joke that mocked the winner's gown.

I guess that the problem I had with the program other than the turgid pacing which dragged and dragged (the tribute to the 50th Anniversary of "The Sound Of Music" went on and on as did the "In Memorium" section which, for whatever reason, did not have Jennifer Hudson perform as the images were being presented but afterwards, therefore stretching it out longer than it needed) was the overall balance between the host and content. It almost felt like a tug of war, which made Harris' skits feel flat to me.

Harris' nod to "Birdman," during which he ended up on stage in next to nothing felt so forced (and should have been a signal to me as to which film would win Best Picture) but nothing was worse than his "Oscar predictions" which were locked in a glass box and that Octavia Spencer was instructed to keep close tabs on for the duration of the show. That was a running gag that felt as if Harris had to remember to keep plugging away at as it was just so inconsequential.

But hey, another year, another show and I have to say that my own Oscar predictions were quite solid this year, losing in only two categories.

Better luck next year, for myself and for the Oscar telecast.

Friday, February 13, 2015


I have to admit that I have never been terribly successful with my predictions so please, as you read this latest posting, just take it all in the fun that it was intended. Since I really don't wish to make this posting as lengthy as the Oscar telecast itself, I'm actually going to do this like the Golden Globes...I'm going to just get right down to business.

MERYL STREEP AND FOUR OTHER WOMEN: Patricia Arquette ("Boyhood"), Laura Dern ("Wild"), Keira Knightley ("The Imitation Game"), Emma Stone ("Birdman"), Meryl Streep ("Into The Woods")
SHOULD WIN: Patricia Aquette
WILL WIN: Patricia Arquette
Again, I have to say it and I don't care if it makes me sound just petulant but I am sorry...I am just sick of the Academy nominating Meryl Streep for Oscars just for showing up on a film set. At this stage, it is just a forgone conclusion that if she appears in a film within a given year, she will be nominated whether she deserves to be or not. With "Into The Woods," I haven't seen the film to judge her performance fairly but it really doesn't matter because...she's Meryl Streep and for just existing as Meryl Streep, shouldn't she just be given an automatic pass? Urgh!!!

Now that I have gotten that rant out of my system, I think this category will be the first of the awards to go to "Boyhood," and with all due respect to Laura Dern and Emma Stone, who each gave rightfully nominated performances, I really believe that Patricia Arquette's soulful, completely naturalistic performance, as delivered in piecemeal over the 12 year filming period, was as seamless as the film itself. More importantly, she truly gave us a tremendous sense of evolution with her character as we witness a single Mother growing in independence, a greater knowledge of her own sense of self-worth as well as a stronger sense of self respect over time. Arquette perfectly illustrated how we all, at times, find ourselves making the worst decisions for ourselves over and again, until we find ourselves finally making the right decisions. In many ways, what Patricia Arquette accomplished was the creation of a full three dimensional life so perceptively and with great empathy and understanding that the movie could have easily been re-edited to be about her and entitled "Motherhood." That's how strong she was and without ever calling attention to herself in any self-congratulatory fashion.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Robert Duvall ("The Judge"), Ethan Hawke ("Boyhood"), Edward Norton ("Birdman"), Mark Ruffalo ("Foxcatcher"), J.K. Simmons ('Whiplash")
SHOULD WIN: J.K. Simmons
WILL WIN: J.K. Simmons
Yes, I think that this category is essentially Simmons' to lose as his volcanic work as the tyrannical, darkly manipulative band conductor who torments the 19 year old drummer made for the most explosive and distinctly layered work within this group of five actors. While Ethan Hawke achieved the same scope and demands that Patricia Arquette achieved in "boyhood," and Edward Norton gave a searing, swaggering performance in "Birdman," Simmons had me pinned to my seat as he was indeed that ticking time bomb.

BEST ACTRESS: Marion Cotillard ("Two Days, One Night"), Felicity Jones ("The Theory Of Everything"), Julianne Moore ("Still Alice"), Rosamund Pike ("Gone Girl"), Reese Witherspoon ("Wild")
SHOULD WIN: Rosamund Pike
WILL WIN: Julianne Moore
This category feels to be very tricky to me. Now as much as I loved Felicity Jones' subtle, layered work and yes, Ms. Witherspoon was indeed a powerhouse in one of her richest and deepest performances, Rosamund Pike's work completely spun my head around. I have now seen "Gone Girl" twice and even knowing how the story played out on that second viewing, Pike held me in her sinister grasp all over again and I think that is what makes her performance so special. On first viewing, she had to upend you and your perceptions, which she most certainly did. But on any subsequent viewings, she had to create a performance that would indeed be captivating to watch again and not feel like some sort of stunt. It was a malevolent, devious magic act on disturbing display and for me, I think that is why she should receive the gold. And perhaps, she probably will but...

...I just have this nagging feeling that there just may be an upset of some sort. Based upon her win at the Golden Globes, I wonder if Julianne Moore has a serious shot at the award. Notices for her performance have been highly regarded even as the film itself, which hasn't really been that widely seen, has received fair to good reviews. And surprisingly, Moore has never won an Oscar before and Pink is still a relative newcomer. After receiving five Academy Award nominations, maybe now is Julianne Moore's time.

BEST ACTOR: Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher"), Bradley Cooper ("American Sniper"), Benedict Cumberbatch ('The Imitation Game"), Michael Keaton ("Birdman"), Eddie Redmayne ("The Theory Of Everything")
SHOULD WIN: Eddie Redmayne
WILL WIN: Eddie Redmayne
As in the Best Supporting Actor category, I think that this is Redmayne's category to lose. Despite how astonishing Redmayne's compete physical transformation in his performance as Stephen Hawking was, Oscar LOVES those performances where full, physically abled actors portray characters and figures with some manner of physical disabilities and I just don't see them breaking a pattern this time around. While I would love to see Michael Keaton's electrifying work in "Birdman" take the to prize, be prepared to see Eddie Redmayne deservedly rush to the stage to collect his trophy,

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Paul Thomas Anderson ("Inherent Vice"), Damien Chazelle ("Whiplash"), Jason Hall ("American Sniper"), Anthony McCarten ("The Theory Of Everything"), Graham Moore ("The Imitation Game")
SHOULD WIN: Damien Chazelle
WILL WIN: Graham Moore
This one will really be a stab in the dark for me. While I have seen four of the five nominated films in this category, and would love for Damien Chazelle to take the prize for his blistering work, I think that I would possibly lean towards my fellow University of Chicago Lab School graduate Graham Moore's work as this just may be the place to honor this film as I feel "Birdman" and "Boyhood" will dominate the night.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Wes Anderson ("The Grand Budapest Hotel"), E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman ("Foxcatcher"), Dan Gilroy ('Nightcrawler"), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., & Armando Bo ("Birdman"), Richard Linklater ("Boyhood")
SHOULD WIN: Wes Anderson
WILL WIN: Wes Anderson
As always, the key word is "original," and even with the sensational work the writing team of "Birdman" displayed, there was no screenplay more original than the melancholic, mythical Eastern European dreamworld fantasia of Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," and if he doesn't take the prize, then we can just add this to the list of the Academy's long list of cinematic crimes. 'Nuff said!!!!

BEST DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson ("The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Birdman"), Richard Linklater ("Boyhood"), Bennett Miller ("Foxcatcher"), Morten Tyldum ("The Imitation Game")
SHOULD WIN: Richard Linklater
WILL WIN: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Now it gets REALLY tough! By this point, the Oscar race essentially boils down to "Boyhood" and "Birdman" and on the awards circuit, "Birdman" has been gaining some steam and traction. So, I think that Oscar will award Best Director to one film and Best Picture to the other--no, it doesn't make sense at all to do it that way but I feel this is how it will play out. Taking all of that into consideration, I feel that here will be the place where Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu will take the top prize and if he does, then...

BEST PICTURE: "American Sniper," "Birdman," "Boyhood," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "The Imitation Game," "Selma," "The Theory Of Everything," "Whiplash"
SHOULD WIN: "Boyhood"
WILL WIN: "Boyhood"
...THIS will be the big winner of the night. For me, I feel that it should be the biggest winner of the night as it was the film that had the furthest reach, as well as the largest and greatest scope while also existing as the finest film of Richard Linklater's truly idiosyncratic career. It would be wonderful to see this filmmaker scale the heights of the industry with a film that I am certain no one saw coming before it was initially screened to audiences for the first time.

There you have it once again, dear readers. And we'll have to check out the results on Sunday, February 22nd!!!! 

Sunday, February 8, 2015


At last, we reach the top.

As always, please take my picks with that grain of salt as through the hundreds of films that are actually released within the year, I have seen only a small fraction of those films. These are solely my opinions and please always do take them as such. Now, and so as to not waste any more time, here they are...


10. "TUSK" Directed by Kevin Smith
I know the placement of this particular film at such a high point upon my personal listings of my favorite films of the year may strike all of you as deeply bizarre, especially as it happens to be a film I am certain that none of you would even try to see no matter how highly I recommend it. I wouldn't blame you either and if I am unable to convince you, I completely understand as it truly is a deeply disturbing and, at times, stomach churning film in its unrepentant grotesqueness. That being said, "Tusk" is easily the most haunting film I saw in 2014 and I was completely unable to shake it off, even after having seen it as far back as September. If you really want to take a huge cinematic risk, the I can at least tell you that "Tusk" is unlike anything you will ever see.

"Tusk" is Writer/Director Kevin Smith's most accomplished and fearless film, and the sheer audacity of his madhouse creativity not only completely rejuvenated his filmmaking career, it made for a film that held me tightly in its nightmarish grasp from beginning to end. As yet another stylistic change from his comedic films, "Tusk" weaves the grim fable of Wallace Bryant (Justin Long), a podcaster infamously known for his cruel mockery of viral video participants, who travels to Canada to interview his next subject and finds himself trapped inside of a mansion belonging to the insane Howard Howe (a defiantly unnerving Michael Parks), who plans to torture and ultimately transform Wallace into a walrus. For me, "Tusk" worked tremendously as the ultimate "midnight movie" where Smith's loquacious, ribald and literary writing style again proved him to be one of the movies' most idiosyncratic voices and his directorial skills also proved him to be a cunning stylist within the horror genre. But what worked for me the very best was how Smith utilized the film to work as a meditation over our sense of humanity and repugnant inhumanity in the 21st century in regards to the internet and social media. His specialized cultural commentary essentially becomes a stark warning for us to truly take a moment and think about what we are indeed releasing into the world through the internet and how our own impulsive vitriol just may come back to bite us in ways we could not possibly have imagined. Like I said, there's no way for me to really convince you to see this film and that's fine. I just know that "Tusk" worked me over!  
(Originally reviewed September 2014)

9. "HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2" Directed by Dean DeBlois
For me, this was the year's best sequel, a gloriously animated and beautifully executed second installment to the wondrous 2010 film. Picking up five years after the first film, "How To Train Your Dragon 2" continues the adventures of the now 20 year old Viking named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his faithful, sleek, black skinned and feline eyed dragon Toothless as they battle against a maniacal dragon hunter who is obsessed with capturing every dragon in order to exert complete domination. For all of the action and outstanding sequences of dragons in flight, this film is no mere repeat of the original. Like the best sequels, Director Dean DeBlois ensures that his story broadens and deepens, unveiling a surprising depth and even an emotional wallop as the simultaneous journeys of Hiccup and Toothless from youngsters into greater maturity and responsibility is fraught with rising conflict and transformative pain. And still, at the core of the film is their friendship, so majestically presented and so purely representative of all wonderful friendships between humans and beloved animals. DeBlois has not simply created a sequel. He has created an equal.
(Originally reviewed June 2014)

8. "THE LUNCHBOX" Directed by Ritesh Batra
What a beautiful film this was! Set in modern day Mumbai, "The Lunchbox" centers around the romantic and spiritual connection between a sad, lonely housewife (played by Nmrat Kaur) whose daily lunches, lovingly prepared to woo back her inattentive husband, are mistakenly received by a melancholic government accountant (the great Irrfan Khan) readying himself for retirement. Director Ritesh Batra, in his debut feature film, takes a romantic comedy conceit and transforms it into a deeply mature, perceptive, empathetic and often mouthwatering slice of life film that speaks to the grander themes of inter-connectivity as well as a pointed cultural critique about the roles of women as they relate to inter-personal relationships and marriage, especially when the marriage is failing and a real spiritual connection and understanding lies elsewhere. Please do not allow the possibility of subtitles sway you as "The Lunchbox" is a film of great charm, terrific performances, smart adult romance and a richly warm look into the heart of human nature.
(Originally reviewed April 2014)

7. "LIFE ITSELF" Directed by Steve James
How it truly broke my heart that this excellent documentary about the legendary Pulitzer Prize wining Chicago film critic, celebrated writer and one of my life long heroes did not receive an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, for who loved the movies more than the late, great Roger Ebert? Regardless, from the director of the classic documentary "Hoop Dreams" (1994), comes a beautifully executed documentary that not only celebrates the life of Roger Ebert but also unflinchingly presents to us his final days, showing all of us precisely how one chooses to live a life, especially when one is soon to die. James includes everything that we would wish to see in a film that I feel even Ebert himself would praise highly. We see his career in journalism and television as the film also functions as a documentary about his longtime film criticism sparring partner, the late, great Gene Siskel. But, most importantly, "Life Itself" gave us one of the most touching love stories of the year as we witness Ebert's marriage to the wondrous Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert and how they maneuvered, lived and loved through Roger Ebert's battles with cancer. A powerfully moving tribute to one of cinema's greatest champions.
(Originally reviewed October 2014)

6. "WILD" Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee
Reese Witherspoon proved herself to be a powerhouse with her starring role in "Wild," the autobiographical story of Cheryl Strayed who embarked upon a 1000 mile solo trek across the Pacific Coast Trail in order to reassemble her life after the death of her Mother (a strong Laura Dern), the implosion of her marriage and a deep descent into promiscuous sex and drug addiction. I loved how Director Jean-Marc Vallee structured this film of personal redemption in a mostly non-linear fashion, allowing us to move forwards and backwards in time with each step of Strayed's journey. It felt as if we were inside her head as well as walking within her shoes, with each moment bringing us closer to spiritual deliverance. To that end, "Wild" functioned especially powerfully as a tale of female empowerment and as a cultural commentary of sexual violence, whether enacted or threatened but always so palpably real, and as if the unforgiving natural world were not enough to deal with. Gorgeously filmed, heroically acted, majestically humane.  
(Originally reviewed December 2014)

5. "SELMA" Directed by Ava DuVernay
There is not even one conceivable word I could hear to explain just how David Oyelowo's Master Class performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not nominated for an Oscar. Within Director Ava DuVernay's stirring, sobering drama, Oyelowo was handled what is essentially an impossible task--taking an iconic figure of human history, bringing him downwards from the pedestal to make him so recognizably human, both virtuous and flawed. As for the film as a whole, which dramatizes a few months in 1965, depicting the events and situation that led to Dr. King's march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and the creation of the Voting Rights Act, "Selma" is not a dusty history lesson but a riveting "what is past is prologue" narrative that brings the word of 50 years ago right up to the minute in 21st century America. DuVernay has given us a provocative meditation on what it takes to create, build and maintain a grass roots non-violent protest movement, messages that are tremendously needed at this point in time when speaking truth to power feels insurmountable yet is more crucially needed than ever. "Selma" is a searing, slow burn of a film that proves that the Civil Rights Movement never ended. The Civil Rights Movement is NOW.
(Originally reviewed January 2015)

4. "THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL" Directed by Wes Anderson
The finest and most wondrous film of Wes Anderson's career arrived very early in 2014 and remained within my personal top five for the entirety of the year as it was a stupendously executed and unapologetically singular vision that was unlike anything else released in the year. Magically spanning four different time periods, but mostly taking place in the mythical Eastern European land of Zubrowka circa 1932, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" concerns the adventures of a masterful concierge (a fantastic Ralph Finnes) and his trusty Lobby Boy in training (Tony Revlori) as they are thrust into a wild murder mystery which allows Anderson to take his trademark meticulous visual style and weave a cinematic universe unlike any he has previously created and to his most sumptuous degree. Additionally, Anderson has written one of the year's finest screenplays as the movie is just a joy to listen to as it literary cadences proved themselves to be an antidote to the perfunctory dialogue that makes up most movies these days.

But for those who may have wondered if this film is just too much of a fantasia to be taken seriously, I strongly disagree and I feel that Anderson, as always, provides his phantasmagorical dollhouse movies with a true, rich emotional core that grounds the proceedings and gives them a deep emotional weight that lingers. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is a melancholic and romantic film about the past, cherished friendships and loves, as well as the art of stories and storytelling the kind of which transcends time itself yet always leaves a profound mark upon those who experience the stories being told.

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" is a film that felt to be so unfiltered in its presentation and was made with complete disregard for anything potential detractors may have to say about it as well, thus making for a cinematic experience that was so blissfully pure and so artistically liberated. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" feels like Wes Anderson is just getting started!
(Originally reviewed March 2014)

3. "BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)" Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Now here was a film that also felt to be created, and therefore existed, within its own universe and even more powerfully than "The Grand Budapest Hotel," made for a cinematic experience that felt like an impossible high wire act that was somehow occurring right before our eyes. Is this story of hopeful artistic redemption for a former comic book move star re-inventing himself 20 years after his heyday with a risky Broadway play that he is writing, directing and starring in himself,

"Birdman" explores the dueling notions of personal ambition, precarious egos, mounting anxiety and fears of failure within the figure of Riggan Thomson (an electrifying Michael Keaton), making the film a simultaneously exhilarating and harrowing theater of the mind that Inarritu presents within a series of  unbroken long takes that makes the film seem as if it is one, unedited two-hour shot. Completely unconventional and propelled by supremely virtuoso filmmaking, "Birdman" was one of 2014's most breathtaking experiences.
(Originally reviewed November 2014)

2. "WHIPLASH" Directed by Damien Chazelle
Speaking of breathtaking, "Whiplash" the breakout feature film from Writer/Director Damien Chazelle, was a film presented at such a fever pitch intensity that I swear I forgot to breathe for much of its running time. There was no action film sequence or CGI explosion in any film this year that contained nearly as much brutal force and fury as anything presented in this film, a power struggle between a young drummer and student (a blistering Miles Teller) and his music conservatory instructor/conductor (a titanic J.K. Simmons).

Now there has been some criticism launched against the film from some members of the jazz community complaining about certain inauthentic moments from the ferocious music school scenes to even how the drums themselves are placed on the drum kit. To that, I vehemently disagree and blow it all out of the water as "Whiplash" is not a documentary and frankly, this film is not about jazz at all,  just like, say..."The Social Network" (2010) is not about Facebook. "Whiplash" is a film about power and control, about the cycle of abuse, about the pursuit of genius at all costs and even when there are no guarantees whatsoever that genius can ever be found or attained. "Whiplash" is a film of physical and psychological exhaustion and exhilaration and it hits and feels like a fist in the face.

In fact, for quite some time, I really felt this to be a tie with my pick for Number 1, as in any other year, "Whiplash" would be the movie of the year. But even so, and with the gnashing teeth of "Whiplash" biting at its heels, there can be only one.
(Originally reviewed November 2014)

1. "BOYHOOD" Directed by Richard Linklater
And this one is THE ONE!

"Boyhood," Writer/Director Richard Linklater's masterpiece is not simply a seamless, beautiful motion picture experience. It is truly one of the only films that I have maybe seen within my lifetime that extends from existing as a slice of life film, by existing as a movie that encapsulates precisely what it means to be alive.

Yes, by now, we have all heard of how Linklater conceived and shot the film in piecemeal over a twelve year period. But beyond that mammoth effort, and during which he also created and directed eight other films, what makes "Boyhood" such a staggeringly exquisite film is how Linklater has helmed an experience that transcends age, race, culture and even time itself as it explores so perceptively how do we become who we become and how we ruminate over the courses of our own lives as we watch the lives of the fictional Mason Evans Jr. (performed with graceful naturalness by Ellar Colrane) and his family unfold in an unforced, fully organic fashion.

And what a risky film "Boyhood" happens to be as well. I mean--who would have thought that a three hour film that exists without even the semblance of a plot would even be watchable. But Linklater, brilliantly capturing the essence of life as it is lived, realizes that our life journeys do not come equipped with a plot, any prefabricated narratives or hyperbolic dramas. Life begins and flows onwards through one moment to the next, one experience to the next until it ceases to be. What we make of that time is our own and to that end, Linklater made a film that could have easily existed through several other titles like "Motherhood," "Fatherhood," "Adulthood," Sisterhood" and so on because we experience how intertwined all of these characters are and how all of their choices affect each other continuous growth and development, especially Mason's.

This was the film that I just did not wish to end. This was the film where the three hours flew by and I could have easily taken three more hours. It is philosophically profound to a near cosmic level while also floating along as languid as a Summer's breeze. It is a highly accessible, identifiable and enormously entertaining film that reaches out to embrace you and I feel that it demands compete reciprocation from the viewer because it is rare to find a film so lovingly pure as this one.

This is why "Boyhood" is my favorite film of 2014.
(Originally reviewed August 2014)

There you have it! And now, let's see what 2015 will have to offer!

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Truth be told, I didn't really see very many bad movies in 2014 at all.

Yes, there were many films that I avoided and just knew without any doubts that I would not spend one moment of my precious time and hard earned money on as they would be the very types of films films that would undoubtedly be time wasters at best and unwatchable at the very worst. In 2014, those films for me were very easy to spot and typically, they were the sorts of films that I would not have seen in the first place. In fact, as I was compiling my lists for the year, I realized that a few of the films that I didn't like this year were not even necessarily bad films at all. They were just ones that I felt fell a little short or didn't quite reach me on either an artistic or emotional level, and that is a big difference when thinking about movies that are indeed bad.
For instance, Director Arie Posin's "The Face Of Love" (Originally reviewed March 2014) is a well intentioned and very well acted romantic drama starring Annette Bening as a woman who endures the death of her husband (played by Ed Harris) only to find love again with a man who, by coincidence, happens to look exactly like her deceased husband (also played by Ed Harris). Yet, despite its quiet and thankfully adult sense of love and loss, it was a film I felt didn't probe as deeply as it needed to and was definitely more melodramatic than it should have been. But a bad movie? Certainly not.
Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice," (Originally reviewed January 2015) his adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel, was indeed an ambitious and drug induced play on the detective noir and was also as richly acted and visualized as any other film within his oeuvre. Yet, it was also a film that seemed to almost unravel before my eyes, leaving me completely unsure as to what precisely I had just seen. Again, not a bad film whatsoever. Just one that eluded me as well as one that demands to be seen again in the future.
Writer/Director Luc Besson's "Lucy," (Originally reviewed August 2014) his psychedelic/existential thriller was easily one of the most visually kinetic films of 2014 and even while it held me in rapt attention for its entirety, by film's end, it all felt to be really silly and even forgettable. Honestly, dear readers, I had to truly remember that I had seen the film in order to include it within this series for you. But again, I didn't think of it as a bad film at all.  

All of that being said, I did indeed see some bad films this year. Some more of the middling quality to those that were unquestionably BAD, that were so terrible, so absolutely awful that they more than made up for the lack of quantity.

And now, here we are as I take my gloves off for the last time...


9. "THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY-PART 1" Directed by Francis Lawrence
The third installment in "The Hunger Games" was a steep decline in quality from the excellent first two installments, primarily because this this film, even with a two and a half hour running time, is truthfully only half of a movie. "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1" is a prime example of what has gone very wrong with these excessive, bloated multi-part franchise films because now, everyone believes that they have enough actual story to sustain more than one film or at least, the grand finale must be split into sections. Unfortunately, for this film, having enough story was just not the case and it made for a motion picture experience that slowed to a complete stop at the exact point when it should have been increasing in intensity and overall purpose. Yes, the film gets better as it goes along and Jennifer Lawrence remains terrific as our leading heroine but that first 60-90 minutes are an unnecessary slog.
(Originally reviewed November 2014)

8. "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY" Directed by James Gunn
Yes, I realize that I am truly in the minority on this one but I stand by my original assessment of this film. While I didn't hate the movie, "Guardians Of the Galaxy," the latest installment within the Marvel Comics film universe, was wildly over-rated as well as a sizable disappointment for me. For a film that promoted itself as being the irreverent and almost anti-Marvel film, I was surprised at just how creatively restricted and derivative of a film it actually was as it tightly adhered itself to every piece of the Summer Movie formula that we have all seen year after year after year. Essentially, Director James Gunn helmed a pseudo-"Star Wars" movie where nearly every single character was a variation of Han Solo...perhaps this was a tactic for Disney (which owns Lucasfilm as well as Marvel) to get their feet wet in that galaxy far, far away before actually having to produce the real thing in 2015. Furthermore, even within the Marvel Comics universe, the film was completely interchangeable with Director Joss Whedon's superior "The Avengers" (2012) in terms of plot, characters, motivations and action sequences. Everything about this movie was so painfully hemmed in, so predictable, so uninteresting (really...could this film's villain have been any blander?) and so oddly pedestrian...even all the way down to the pop song choices that peppered the film. "Guardians Of The Galaxy" had the potential to be the strangest, most outrageous film playing in the cineplexes but it was ultimately not nearly as boundary pushing nor as clever as it needed to be or even thought it was.
(Originally reviewed August 2014)

7. "NON-STOP" Directed by Juame Collet-Serra
Liam Neeson's annual action film made its way onto this list as it is yet another generic and under-thought so-called airline thriller populated with an arsenal of cardboard cut-out characters and completely implausible situations and set pieces. But what made this film really stand out as being absolutely awful was that its level of tastelessness was equal to its storytelling laziness. This is one of those B movies with A list actors (of which the great and painfully under-utilized Julianne Moore obviously cashed a paycheck) that is wholly brainless from beginning to its near conclusion when all of a sudden, it tries to actually proclaim some artistic/dramatic relevance that it has not earned in the slightest. And for a film entitled "Non-Stop," it is shockingly, agonizingly, torpidly pokey. I think that Neeson's own personal sub film genre has more than run its course and considering how miserable he looks on screen in this film, I think that even he would have to agree with me. This film isn't even bad enough to quality as an entertaining guilty pleasure!
(Originally reviewed June 2014)

6. "WISH I WAS HERE" Directed by Zach Braff
2014 proved itself to be a year when films about families either soared or floundered and here I arrive at the first of three family themed films to end up on this particular list. Look, no one can really question the earnestness of Writer/Director/Actor Zach Braff, which is unabashedly on display within this film, his quasi-sequel/spiritual brother to his debut feature "Garden State" (2004). "Wish I Was Here" follows a 35 year old's path from arrested development to adult maturity as well as facing new responsibilities in the face of his Father's illness and death but Braff sadly loads his film with all manner of prefabricated emotions, cliched characters and motivations plus that awful self-congratulatory sense of quirkiness that nearly sunk "Garden State." The film does indeed have its moments here and there but to find them, there is a large amount of annoying material you will be forced to sift through.
(Originally reviewed July 2014)

5. "THE JUDGE" Directed by David Dobkin
I have to announce to you that what you are about to read is a Savage Cinema first. as there is no full review of this film on this site. But this is indeed for a very good reason. You see, I actually just watched this film a few days ago and frankly, I just could not force myself to spend any more time with it than I absolutely had to and especially after sitting through the nearly 2 and a half hours of terrible dialogue, a mountain of tedious cliches, hambone performances and a vision of prefabricated small town life that was so shamelessly upon display.

"The Judge" stars Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark...ahem...I mean Hank Palmer, a hot shot, fast talking, cynical Chicago defense attorney who returns to his small Indiana town for his Mother's funeral yet stays on to defend his Father, the honorable Judge Joseph Palmer (played by Robert Duvall) and from who he has been long estranged, from a hit and run murder charge.

"The Judge" was a film that reminded me very much of the glut of those "cynic-gets-a-heart" films that plagued the late 1980's and early 1990's and completely not in a good way. Director David Dobkin truly piled on the melodramatic cliches as if there just was not enough to deal with concerning the legal case and the Father/son tensions between Downey Jr. and Duvall's characters. Nope. We had to be subjected to the banal re-kindled romance between Downey Jr. and his high school true love, played by Vera Farmiga, We had to endure Downey Jr's oh-so-precious relationship with his young daughter as he is about to go through a divorce himself. Even worse, was the pre-requisite past family tragedy that has caused a lifetime of resentment from his oldest brother played by Vincent D'Onofrio. No...actually even worse than that was the inclusion of a stereotypical special needs brother (played by Jeremy Strong) who is always attached to his super 8 movie camera. Even the small town itself felt to be Hollywood's impression of what a small town actually is as opposed to trying to present a small town with any sense of authenticity. And yes, how sad it was to view the iconic Robert Duvall himself, forced to suffer through moldy leftovers from "The Great Santini" (1979) as he and Robert Downey Jr. choked out painfully tepid dialogue within an overstuffed and hyperbolic drama that never, at any point, struck one honest note.

4. "THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU" Directed by Shawn Levy
As cliched and prefabricated as "Wish I Was Here" and "The Judge" were, Director Shawn Levy's tone deaf, idiotic and abominable "This Is Where I Leave You" brought a whole new level of stupid to the dysfunctional family film genre. Based upon the Jonathan Tropper novel, the story of yet another city dweller (this time played by Jason Bateman) forced to return to his long departed home town for the funeral of a parent would have been more than enough for one movie to handle, good or bad. But in the case of this film, we are subjected to a fleet of siblings (who all somehow appear to be the same age) forced to sit shiva for their deceased Patriarch, a caricature of a randy and exploitative Matriarch (Jane Fonda), a monsoon level overflow of entirely unconvincing and colliding subplots and one completely hyperbolic and force-fed contrivance after another. "This Is Where  Leave You" is one of those films about families that seems to have been made by people who know absolutely nothing about what families are, how they work, maintain, implode, self-destruct and reform. So, in light of this profound lack of knowledge, Levy just has his cast race around the screen,shouting their dialogue louder and louder and without any sense of honest comedic or dramatic tension. It is a film that for all of the free flowing tears that occur, not even one of them was remotely earned.
(Originally reviewed December 2014)

3. "GODZILLA" Directed by Garth Edwards
Granted, I still concede that I just may perhaps not be the best person to review this film. But even so, this latest remake of "Godzilla" was a lifeless, graceless, cumbersome, lumbering, bombastic mess of a film that contained not one solitary stitch of awe, horror or anything resembling just plain ol' fun! All of the actors, from Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche (!) to Elizabeth Olsen, were all unforgivably wasted in this film but yes I know, one doesn't go to a "Godzilla" movie for the character development. I get that. But what of the star of the film himself? It is unfathomable for me to understand just why did Director Garth Edwards decide to showcase Godzilla himself almost exclusively during night scenes, therefore making him very difficult to fully see?! Rendering this legendary movie star to the shadows (and with weak, yawn inducing special effects to boot) instead of displaying him loudly and proudly just made for a tremendously wasted amount of time and effort.
(Originally reviewed September 2014) 

2. "THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES" Directed by Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson's gratuitous money grab came to a crashing thud with, what I am hoping, is his final trip to Middle Earth. Whatever artistic passions fueled Jackson's creative juices when he made his monumentally outstanding "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy (2001/2002/2003) was nowhere to be found with his prequel trilogy. Yes, the films looked as splendorous as you would expect but they became a soulless enterprise that sacrificed cinematic art completely for box office commerce. This third installment was the worst of the bunch as it was under three hours worth of endless action sequences that contained absolutely no emotional involvement or resonance as well as never moving the narrative forwards even one inch. Most unforgivably is the fact that the titular character (played by Martin Freeman) was entirely inconsequential to the film (and series) as a whole, which ultimately made the complete escape severely pointless. A thunderous disappointment.
(Originally reviewed December 2014)

1. "AMERICAN SNIPER" Directed by Clint Eastwood
This repugnant movie is, without question is the worst film of 2014 and it truly entered a new league of cinematic awfulness.

What Clint Eastwood has knowingly created with this film is an ugly form of propaganda designed to create revisionist American history regarding the post 9/11 war in Iraq and dangerously incite continued anti-Muslim sentiment. all the while filtering his biographical drama of the deceased Navy SEAL Chris Kyle through an overly (and I believe purposefully) simplified lens which offered not an iota of subtlety, ambiguity, nuance or even morality. This approach was brutally disrespectful to the sheer inherent complexity of the the titular subject, let alone the sacrifice of soldiers (especially those forced to fight and die in fraudulent wars), our veterans, PTSD, the war in Iraq itself, those we fight against and to even all of us in the audience who deserve to be presented with an adult drama told in an adult fashion.

"American Sniper" is a political film with no sense of politics. It is a war film and character study reduced to the shallowness of a first person shooting video game solely to provide the ravenous red meat of a right wing fantasy to armchair warriors around the country. Eastwood paints his wide canvas with only the broadest colors of black and white to represent an "U.S. VS. THEM" narrative, where the story of Kyle himself is essentially fashioned as a Marvel Comics origin story and full superhero arc where he becomes "The Legend" who is on the hunt for the Iraqi sniper known only as "The Butcher," while protecting his brothers in arms and the United States as a whole single-handedly.

Approaching the subject matter in this fashion, Eastwood has completely flown in the face of his richly nuanced filmography of the past 25 years or so and basically returned to the cinematic worlds of the very Westerns on which he first cut his teeth. By disturbingly reducing this particular story to good (i.e. White people with guns) against bad (i.e. Brown people with guns), "American Sniper" became a film that truly angered me the longer the film went onwards. In fact, it eerily felt like when Eastwood, at the 2012 Republican National Convention, pretended to speak to President Obama, who was represented by an empty chair. It was a bizarre move, which somehow pointedly illustrated the very real politics of the situation: that Republicans were rallying against a President Obama who simply does not exist.

"American Sniper" is cut from that very same reactionary and fear based cloth as Eastwood has created a mythical superhero fighting in a tragically real (and again...fraudulent) war, where EVERY Muslim (including women and children) are viable threats to our freedom and overall survival itself. Eastwood's version of Kyle suffers no real consequences on the battlefield and emerges virtually unscathed as his PTSD is cured in mere moments. Yet, he dies heroically off screen while countless Muslims are slaughtered on-screen.

This is an appalling, inexcusable, unconscionable film that is unrepentantly and frighteningly irresponsible. Yes it is superbly filmed and executed. Yes, it is indeed an effective film. But aren't those some of the hallmark of the best propaganda?

Now that I have all of that out of my system, I will soon turn to the best. The final installment in this series, my personal TOP TEN FILMS OF 2014, is forthcoming!!!!

Monday, February 2, 2015


This month's activities of Savage Cinema are all about Oscar!!

On Sunday, February 22nd, the Academy Awards will be telecast once again, the event I never miss despite all of the behind the scenes politics and the now traditional sluggishness of the broadcast itself. As I always express to you, this is my personal Superbowl, the culminating event for the previous cinematic year, the shining bow that wraps up the motion picture bounty that, in this case, was a stellar 2014.

But first, there is some unfinished business to attend to...

The final two installments of the four part Savage Scorecard series where I will be detailing my least favorite and Top Ten films of 2014 are forthcoming as well as my Oscar Predictions, such as they are (ha ha).

Finally, I will have my post-telecast thoughts and comments and frankly, that is quite a hefty amount of activity for the month and I hope my fingers can keep up with everything.

Stay tuned for the compilations and celebrations, dear readers...

...And I'll see you when the house lights go down!!!!