Friday, January 6, 2017

2016 Movies: Movie Rundown

Once again, I'm here using my birthday as the cutoff for the annual list of movies I saw in the past year. As garbage as 2016 felt to most of us, there were plenty of cinematic distractions to get us through it. This rundown includes all the 2016 releases that I saw, both in the theater and at home. I beat last year's total of 62 by 8 for a total of 70. Looking at the list, I'll attribute that to a weird run in the late fall where I went back and watched a bunch of terrible movies that I had skipped in the theater. So while I'm proud of myself that I killed last year's number, the quality of the movies that contributed to that number, as you can see, is definitely wanting. What did I miss? What am I ranking too high or too low? Let me have it.

N/A - 😕

20th Century Women
The Biggest Splash
Captain Fantastic
Everybody Wants Some!
Hell of High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester By The Sea
The Nice Guys

Very Good
The Edge of Seventeen
Hail, Caesar!
Midnight Special
A Monster Calls
Nocturnal Animals
Other People
Popstar: Never Stop Stopping
Southside With You
Sing Street
War Dogs

Cafe Society
Captain America: Civil War
Don't Think Twice
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Finding Dory
Hello, My Name Is Doris
Hidden Figures
The Light Between The Oceans
The Magnificent Seven
Me Before You
Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Just Fine
The Birth of a Nation
Florence Foster Jenkins
The Secret Life of Pets
Star Trek Beyond
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Silly But Fun
Bridget Jones Baby
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Swiss Army Man

The Girl On The Train
How To Be Single
Jason Bourne

Not Good
Bad Moms
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
The Boss
Central Intelligence
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Now You See Me 2
X-Men: Apocalypse

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Independence Day: Resurgence
Sausage Party
Suicide Squad
Zoolander 2

Sunday, February 28, 2016

2016 Oscar Picks

In a year where The Oscars seem more irrelevant then ever #oscarssowhite, it's interesting that this is a field where I have absolutely no confidence in my Best Picture pick. It's as if the controversy has been so distracting that no one is really all that passionate about the nominees we were left with. But as they say, the show must go on, so let's see if I can keep up my three year streak of nearly perfect ballots. (I really doubt it). Also, please enjoy the gallery I put together at work to find out what to eat to match all the nominees.

Best Picture
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

Will Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Spotlight

My actual favorite movie of the year has been regulated to the animated feature category, leaving several of my other top picks to choose from. However, this category is really anyone's to win this year—anyone if you're The Revenant, Spotlight or The Big Short. Those three have split the major guild awards, and while Spotlight won the best picture equivalent from the actor's (the Academy's largest voting branch), I have a sinking feeling that The Revenant is surging at the right moment. Love for Leo and its director will probably lead to its victory. It's not the Best Picture I want, but apparently it's the Best Picture we deserve.

Best Director
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Adam McKay, The Big Short
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant

Will Win: Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Should Win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

It seems Best Director this year really just means MOST directing. George Miller and Alejandro González Iñárritu physically toiled to being their stories to the screen. Then you have Tom McCarthy and Adam McKay—these men made movies about MORTGAGES and RESEARCH actually compelling and exciting to watch.  I could make a case for all of them to win, but I think The Revenant's momentum and his DGA win spell a repeat award for Iñárritu. Though, my vote would go to the 70 year-old Miller who directed Mad Max with the energy and gumption of a man half his age.

Best Actor
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Leo, Leo, Leo .. I've already waxed on and on about your virtues once this week, but here we are. I thought you deserved your Oscar for The Aviator. I wouldn't have begrudged a win for The Wolf of Wall Street. But I can't fathom how you will lose with your  performance in The Revenant. I've read the case against you: We shouldn't only be rewarding hardship during filming, you barely say a word, Tom Hardy has the tougher role to play, etc. Against these other actors, none of those arguments matter. You frightened me, enthralled me and devastated me in equal measure. It's your year Leo. Enjoy your award, at last.

Best Actress
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Brie Larson, Room
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Will Win: Brie Larson, Room
Should Win: Brie Larson, Room

Brie Larson has been the front-runner all season long, and for good reason. I've loved her since The Spectacular Now, and couldn't be happier for her continued success. Her performance in Room is powerful and without a peer this year. It hers and she deserves it.

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Should Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

I was about to make an argument that Christian Bale and Tom Hardy both have a better claim to this award than Sly. Then I remembered his big scene in Creed and teared up. No memory of Bale or Hardy's performance can do that. Sly FTW!

Best Supporting Actress
Rooney Mara, Carol
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Will Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Should Win: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

This is a tough one. Alicia Vikander has had a remarkable year. She's was incredible in no less than three films—Ex Machina (my favorite), The Danish Girl and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Plus, she looks completely different in all of them, helping to create mystique about her. Her performance in The Danish Girl is absolutely beautiful. But then there's Kate Winslet, an actress I've loved for 20+ years, playing a role that renders her unrecognizable. So what is the great feat? I predict the Academy will go for the lady who is shiny and new to them, but I can't help but wish Winslet was taking home the gold, especially since I felt Steve Jobs was unfairly pushed out of the Oscar race by a fickle public.

And now, some quick picks for the remaining categories:

Best Original Screenplay
Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Straight Outta Compton

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Big Short
The Martian

Best Animated Feature
Boy & The World
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep: The Movie
When Marnie Was There

Best Foreign Language Film
A War
Embrace of the Serpent
Son of Saul

Best Original Score
Bridge of Spies
The Hateful Eight
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Original Song
“Earned It,” Fifty Shades of Grey
“Manta Ray,” Racing Extinction
“Simple Song #3,” Youth
“Til It Happens To You,” The Hunting Ground
“Writing’s On The Wall,” Spectre

Best Cinematography
The Hateful  Eight
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

Best Visual Effects
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Documentary Feature
Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter of Fire: Ukraine's Fight For Freedom

Best Production Design
Bridge of Spies
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

Best Film Editing
The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Mad Max: Fury Road
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out
The Window and Disappeared
The Revenant

Best Costume Design
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

Best Sound Editing
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Sound Mixing
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Animated Short
Bear Story
Sanjay’s Super Team
We Can’t Live without Cosmos
World of Tomorrow

Best Live Action Short
Ave Maria
Day One
Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)

Best Documentary Short
Body Team 12
Chau, Beyond the Lines
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Last Day of Freedom

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2015 Movies: Movie Rundown

My birthday is the cutoff for 2015 movies, therefore the time has come to reveal my annual movie rundown. This rundown includes all the 2015 releases that I saw, both in the theater and at home. I beat last year's total of 60 by two, which is a personal best for me. So this + a new job—2015 wasn't so bad after all.

Inside Out

The Big Short
Ex Machina
The Martian
Mad Max: Fury Road
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Steve Jobs
Straight Outta Compton

Very Good
Black Mass
Clouds of Sils Maria
The Danish Girl
The End of the Tour
He Named Me Malala
Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation
The Revenant
Sleeping With Other People
What We Do In The Shadows

The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Love & Mercy
The Overnight

Just Fine
Bridge of Spies
The Hateful Eight
The Last Five Years

Silly But Fun
The Intern
Jurassic World
Kingman: The Secret Service
Magic Mike XXL
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Before We Go
The Hunger Games: Mockingly - Part 2
Mistress America
A Walk in the Woods
While We’re Young
The Wolfpack

Not Good
The Age of Adeline
American Ultra
Crimson Peak
Danny Collins
The Divergent Series - Insurgent
Fifty Shades of Grey
Pitch Perfect 2

The Longest Ride
Ricky and the Flash

Just Too Upsetting
Beasts of No Nation

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Movies: Trailers

Wow, this year was a particularly bad showing for the blog, but alas, here I am, attempting to right this wrong with my end-of-the-year roundups. I'll start off easy with trailers, as I still have a fair few movies to see before I call it for the year. And so we begin ...

Best Trailer
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Funny to look back at last year's post and see I just had the teaser under Nerd Alert. What a difference a year makes. After that teaser, we had "Chewie, we're home" to recover from, and then came this. The official full trailer that officially made me revert to my fan girl core. This is the girl who saw Titanic an ungodly amount of times. Some of you may remember her, she is insane. She had been dormant since the end of Harry Potter. I wasn't certain anything could get her to come out full force (pun, definitely intended) again. But then this trailer hit, and I burst into tears. I love how the first shot makes you jump in your seat. I've been in theaters when this trailer played and people actually gasped with excitement at that first look at Rey scavenging through debris. Then it moves confidently from scene to scene, giving us glimpses of both old friends (Han, Darth Vader mask) and new (the great Oscar Issac/John Boyega bro down by an X-Wing). But it's really the music that tugs at the heart strings and the tear ducts. I especially love the moment the traditional music takes a turn around the shot of Rey firing her blaster that just gives you a hint that it's not all business as usual. This trailer didn't just awaken the force, it brought back the crazy, movie-obsessive within.

Also, never forget:

Most Intense
The Revenant

This one starts strong with the drums and by the time you see director Alejandro González Iñárritu's name, the echoes of Birdman's trailer mean you are in good hands. Then a bear is savagely attacking (NOT RAPING) Leo while bathed in oddly beautiful natural light and you are transfixed. By the time the rhythmic sound of exhaling takes over, you can't take your eyes off the images that are flashing before you. The trailer makes it clear that this is not going to be a pleasant movie-going experience. But if you're anything like me, you can't wait.

Most Comprehensive
Steve Jobs

I will never understand how this movie came and went so quickly. I remember watching this trailer and thinking the following things (in order):

1. Michael Fassbender looks nothing like Steve Jobs.
2. Nice of someone to throw Seth Rogen a Jonah Hill prestige picture-style bone.
3. Great orchestral music cue/quote mash up.
4. Man, Steve Jobs was an asshole.
6. Whoa! Long-haired Fassbender is attractive.
7. Ooooh, a slow clap montage, I'm getting into this.
8. Oh man, round-glasses, short-haired Fassbender is convincing me.
9. Will a Sorkin walk-and-talk ever fail to excite?
10. I'm sold. Opening weekend sold. Where were the rest of you?!

Hasn't Gotten Old Yet
Hail, Caesar!

Doesn't it seems like this movie should be out by now? But maybe it's just my love for the trailer making me impatient for the Coen brothers latest. That opening song is awesome; the parade of stars (Clooney! Scarjo! Tatum! Voldemort!) that goes along with it is too, but my favorite moment is an odd little cut toward the end of the trailer when Tilda Swinton's gossip columnist yells, "20 million readers want the truth Eddie! Eddie!" The cut after that second Eddie makes me so weirdly happy, and I can't explain why. It just feels very Cohen brothers, I guess, and I can't think of a higher compliment.

Obligatory Superhero Trailer
Suicide Squad

Taking a cue from last year's Age of Ultron trailer, this preview has the year's best use of a creepy version of a classic song. I liked how the trailer didn't give Will Smith all the airtime, and instead chose to go all in on Margot Robbie. But smart people knew this was just a diversion technique until Jared Leto's Joker shows up at the end. I was waiting for him the entire trailer, and I wasn't disappointed. I still have reservations that the movie won't be able to deliver, but for now, this is a tentatively good start.

Best OMG Moment
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Man, these movies are very underrated. After seeing this trailer, I was inspired to go back and re-watch all of them and with the exception of Jon Woo, Woo-ing all over MI:2, this franchise has always been so fun to watch. The latest installment is no exception, and it sealed the deal first with the great combination of The Fugees and then the classic Mission Impossible theme music, and then finally, with the great Ethan Hunt airplane hold-on-for-dear-life stunt that closes the trailer, but smartly, opens the movie. Proving once again, that Tom Cruise will go to any length to entertain you. Are you not entertained?

Most Sexy/Fun
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Heavy on the wink-wink charm of old James Bond movies, Guy Ritchie's take on the swinging 60s was actually a lot of fun, which I think, despite Armie Hammer's ridiculous Russian accent, comes across well in this trailer. The funky music, beautiful costumes are all well and good, but it's the welcome sight of Alicia Vikander continuing her stellar year, Superman actually showing some personality and OH MY GOD IS THAT HUGH GRANT?! that makes this trailer a winner for me. Plus, the classic quick cuts of a Guy Ritchie movie make a gal wistful for the days when movies like Snatch were huge hits. This deserved more attention, in my humble opinion.

Friday, February 20, 2015

2015 Oscar Picks

Last year I only missed two categories. TWO. Those damn shorts get me every time. I don't have near the confidence I did last year in this year's picks, but take them for what you will.

Best Picture
'American Sniper'
'The Grand Budapest Hotel'
'The Imitation Game'
'The Theory of Everything'

This is really a two-horse race at this point, and I would really be happy either way. This was 'Boyhood's' statue to win until 'Birdman' pulled off Triple Crown from the PGA, SAG and DGA. That feat should spell a victory if precedence is to be observed. But I just have a feeling that the Academy's older demographic will be as enchanted by 'Boyhood,' as I was. While I love 'Birdman,' it doesn't evoke all the feelings like 'Boyhood' does, and I think those feelings will put it over the top. This year should be fun though, I have really no confidence in this pick. Finally, a little actual drama that should make all four hours of the show worth watching.

Will Win: 'Boyhood'
Should Win: 'Boyhood' or 'Birdman' -- I won't pick
Overlooked: 'Gone Girl'

Best Director
Wes Anderson, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel'
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 'Birdman'
Richard Linklater, 'Boyhood'
Bennett Miller, 'Foxcatcher'
Morten Tyldum, 'The Imitation Game'

HOW did Bennett Miller sneak into this category? People, 'Foxcatcher' was way too long and slow. There were two WAY more deserving directors that should be in his place: 'Whiplash's' Damien Chazelle and, the more egregiously snubbed, Ava DuVernay for 'Selma.' But let us not dwell on snubs — this is where I predict a Best Picture/Director split, which has been more common as recently as last year with '12 Years a Slave' splitting with 'Gravity.' As much as it pains me to admit, the gonzo ambition, craft, patience and creativity of Alejandro Iñárritu deserves a win over Linklater's equally impressive and ambitious, but decidedly non-showy, work in 'Boyhood.' 

Will Win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 'Birdman'
Should Win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 'Birdman'
Overlooked: Ava DuVernay, 'Selma'

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'

This category has been locked up for months, sometimes it feels like years. Julianne Moore will no longer be just an Academy Award-nominated actress in movie trailers. However, I can’t help for but mourn for Rosamund Pike. She gave my favorite performance by an actress this year and I fear she won’t get a chance to play such a wonderfully wackadoo character ever again. Probably because those characters are so few and far between. But congratulations Julianne. Your performance (and movie) devastated me so much I audibly thanked god when credits started rolling. Everything you want in an Oscar winner.

Will Win: Julianne Moore, 'Still Alice'
Should Win: Rosamund Pike, 'Gone Girl'
Overlooked: Jenny Slate, 'Obvious Child'

Best Actor
Steve Carell, 'Foxcatcher'
Bradley Cooper, 'American Sniper'
Benedict Cumberbatch, 'The Imitation Game'
Michael Keaton, 'Birdman'
Eddie Redmayne, 'The Theory of Everything'

Now here's some more of that Oscar night drama. I have gone back and forth with this category for days and still am not confident about what will happen — except to say that I'm almost certain this comes down to Michael Keaton versus Eddie Redmayne, both of which are excellent choices. Bradley Cooper is a quiet dark horse, and I'll join the bandwagon in saying that David Oyelowo was flat out robbed of a nomination. However, even if he was in this mix, I don't think he could overcome Keaton and Redmayne. Most of what I've read seems to be coalescing around Redmayne, and with good reason. Yes, his physical transformation is astonishing, but it's really that twinkle in his eye that pushes his Stephen Hawking over the edge into greatness. But then there's Keaton. The movies have missed him and to get him back in such rarefied form is a gift we should not ignore. Redmayne won the SAG, which is supposed to count for a lot, but with 'Birdman' surging in the Best Picture and Director categories, will the rest of the non-actor Academy give him enough votes to pull out a victory? I really don't know, but I'm giving him the shot.

Will Win: Michael Keaton, 'Birdman'
Should Win: Michael Keaton, 'Birdman' or Eddie Redmayne, 'The Theory of Everything'
Overlooked: Jake Gyllenhall 'Nightcrawler'

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, 'Boyhood'
Laura Dern, 'Wild'
Keira Knightley, 'The Imitation Game'
Emma Stone, 'Birdman'
Meryl Streep, 'Into the Woods'

Patricia Arquette, here is your Oscar. The scene where Mason leaves the nest should be your Oscar clip. Please don't read your speech off a piece of paper. Enjoy CSI: Cyber!

Will Win: Patricia Arquette, 'Boyhood'
Should Win: Patricia Arquette, 'Boyhood'
Overlooked: Jessica Chastain, 'A Most Violent Year'

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall, 'The Judge'
Ethan Hawke, 'Boyhood'
Edward Norton, 'Birdman'
Mark Ruffalo, 'Foxcatcher'
J.K. Simmons, 'Whiplash'

Another race that's been over for more than a year now, J.K. Simmons will be crowned Oscar winner for his terrifying, drill-sergeant-like performance in 'Whiplash.' I won't quibble, the man is wonderful in the role; but I can't help but wish Edward Norton was getting more love for his incredibly hilarious and real performance in 'Birdman.' It takes guts to play a parody of the public's perception of yourself, and he does so beautifully and with such gumption, I'd cheer if he pulled an upset. Also, I must give props to my man Ethan Hawke. Another year, and this could have been yours. I'll cross my fingers he gets the kudos you deserve for the next "Before" movie instead.

Will Win: J.K. Simmons, 'Whiplash'
Should Win: Edward Norton, 'Birdman'
Overlooked: Tom Wilkinson, 'Selma'

Other Category Predictions
Best Original Screenplay: 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'
Best Adapted Screenplay: 'Whiplash'
Animated Feature: 'Big Hero 6'
Foreign Language Film: 'Ida'
Production Design: 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'
Makeup: 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'
Sound Editing: 'American Sniper'
Sound Mixing: 'Whiplash'
Visual Effects: 'Interstellar'
Cinematography: 'Birdman'
Documentary Feature: 'Citizenfour'
Documentary Short Subject: 'Crisis Hotline'
Film Editing: 'Whiplash'
Short Film, Animated: 'Feast'
Short Film, Live Action: 'The Phone Call'
Costume Design: 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'
Original Score: 'The Theory of Everything'
Original Song: "Glory'" (But if "Everything is Awesome" wins, it will be ... you know)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

2014 Movies: Top 10

This is unforgivably late, but this year I found it very hard to nail down a top 10. So I gave up and went with top nine. Deal with it.

Clearly, I have a thing for Richard Linklater (see my obsession with his Before series, including last year's No. 1 pick). His style of free-flowing dialogue, unobtrusive camerawork and long takes consistently makes me swoon. With Boyhood, he has given us all that we love him for, along with an experience that chronicles what it's really like to grow up. Life doesn't have some grand dramatic structure — it's a collection of moments. The gimmick is Linklater checks in with his characters over a 12 year period, showing moments both big (Mason's last day with his mom) and small (Mason and his friends looking at a lingerie catalog). But Boyhood is really more than just its moments. It's not until the end when what you've watched washes over you in a wave of nostalgia — for Mason's childhood, for his parents' journey, for your own life, for your own parents, for your kids or for the kids you hope to have one day. We've seen enough conventional coming-of-age stories that this one feels incredibly fresh. Time is something we all must reckon with, and with this movie, Linklater demands us to do so in glorious heartstring-pulling fashion. 

The LEGO Movie
I wrote earlier this year about the blessing and curse of expectations and The LEGO Movie is a great example of how expectations are tricky business. There is no way ANYONE thought a movie that was ostensibly green-lit to sell more LEGOs could be this funny, fun, thoughtful and actually beautiful. I haven't experienced pure joy with in a move theater since Fantastic Mr. Fox. The jokes and pop culture references come fast and furious and make me so happy I think I'll just go put it on right now.

Kinetic from the first shot through all 119 minutes, Birdman makes me excited for the future of film. As Riggan Thomson, Michael Keaton brings a palpable desperation — to be great and to regain the fame he lost —that makes you both root for and pity him. Beyond the meta level greatness of its premise, the movie is wonderfully funny and bruising as a satire and critique of the curse of celebrity and how it clashes with actors’ desire to do “meaningful” work. 

What makes Selma truly great isn’t the grand oratory (which isn’t even verbatim MLK, Jr.) or its relevancy with current events or even just the fact that it’s based on landmark battle of the civil rights movement: It’s a story about a man. It shows how that man shouldered the immense responsibility of a whole movement, how it affected his wife and family, and ultimately wrestles with if it was worth it. Despite any cries of inaccuracy, if you don’t well up when MLK, Jr. finally stands up to start the march, you are officially dead inside.

What is Whiplash trying to teach us about how artists become great? If we buy into J.K. Simmons' character's philosophy, verbal and physical abuse would be rewarded. But I don't think the film is actually celebrating his approach. Miles Teller, as jazz drummer Andrew, however, is buying it. Their abusive duet culminates in one of my favorite scenes of the year when Andrew, almost defeated by Fletcher again, turns the tables on his old teacher and shows him what he’s made of. I left the theater exhausted, but ultimately, absolutely elated by what I had just witnessed.

Gone Girl
Based on Gillian Flynn's best-selling book, I was wary that the book could be made into a movie period, let alone one that works this well. I have some nitpicks — I think the movie lets Nick off way easier than he is in the books — but it's changes like that are understandable and didn't color my enjoyment of the movie. Rosamund Pike is phenomenal as the truly repugnant Amy. The way she switches it on and off at the end of the movie makes you want to shiver and then applaud. Ben Affleck uses his natural smarm to play a guy who we're not sure if we should be rooting for. And with David Fincher at the helm, the movie gives us a darkly funny, twisty ride that asks loaded questions about how much we can ever really know about the people we "love."

Guardians of the Galaxy
Here's another movie where pure fun is validated on this list. What should have been the movie to unravel Marvel's infinite grasp on our wallets, ended up being the most fun I've ever had watching a comic book movie. The film focuses on creating a world of characters that don't adhere to franchise-building norms. It turned Chris Pratt in an official American treasure, which giving thrice Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper the chance to actually have some fun. Plus, it has a killer soundtrack that is fueled by story. I could do without Lee Pace as the super-boring villain, but the rest of the film moves by so fast and funny, I was willing to forgive the universe building the movie was clearly selling. And don't forget, dancing baby Groot!

Under the Skin
An incredibly appropriate title, once Under Skin nestles in your head, you can't ever forget it. Scarlett Johansson plays an unearthly beauty who lures unsuspecting Scottish rogues to their doom. As our femme fatale starts to realize some important truths about humanity, she starts to unravel and show her vulnerability. Quiet, beautifully shot and just wonderfully weird, it's hard to spell out exactly what's going on here, but the feelings — about beauty's power, it inspires are the real deal. 

Obvious Child
When culture think pieces mourn the death of the rom-com, Obvious Child should be the smart comedy-lover's retort. Jenny Slate's Donna is a Brooklyn comedian/bookstore clerk who, while recovering from a break-up, has a one-night stand with a normcore nice guy (Jake Lacy) and winds up pregnant. Her decision to have an abortion (and whether to tell the father) is treated with tears, laughs and, most importantly, honesty. It takes an incredibly hot-button subject and treats it with heart and humor and that makes it a worthy title to bring back the rom-com from its near death experience. 

Considered for spot # 10: Nightcrawler, The Fault in Our Stars, Life Itself

Sunday, January 11, 2015

2014 Television: Best Episodes

I watch a lot of TV and yet I still feel like I'm doing really bad at TV. There are so many shows I want to watch but haven't yet: The Americans, Transparent, The Knick, etc. But alas, here are my favorite episodes of each TV show I'm actually caught up on. Spoilers, cause duh.

Top Five
Mad Men: "The Strategy"

As "The Suitcase" (season 4's boxing match between Don and Peggy) is probably my favorite episode of television ever, it's obvious why I love "The Strategy." I'm a sucker for great Don and Peggy moments. Their dance to Frank Sinatra's "My Way" could have easily been a series closer, but I'm so glad it wasn't. There was still the wonderful "family" meal at Burger Chef starring Don, Peggy and Pete. Surrounded by actual families, this little "work" family got the chance to have a meal together where for at least a moment, everyone is supporting each other. Obviously, it's a little on the nose that the strategy in question, which Peggy has been struggling with all season, ends up being about family coming together. But has on the nose ever been so beautiful as those three sitting in the brightly lit Burger Chef? It looks like a candy-coated Edward Hopper painting. The splitting of season 7 feels more offensive for Mad Men than when it was done for Breaking Bad. I think it's because the show feels like so much more of a slow burn than BB's breakneck binge pace. It felt really cruel to make us stop when not much had ultimately happened, but plenty still did. Is there anything Peggy could have longed to hear more than when Don tells Peggy, "I worry about a lot of things, but I don't worry about you?" Considering where they started the cruelly short season, Peggy and Don finally found their way back to understanding each other, and they did it, (yes, as cheesy as it sounds) their way.

Silicon Valley: “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency”
And we move from the high-brow brilliance of Mad Men to the low-brow genius of an epic dick joke. Not only the climax (sorry) of a truly great first season, this episode is a masterful example of what makes this show work. The cast's chemistry is undeniable as they work through the strokes (I know) of if Elrich could actually jerk off everyone in a presentation hall. Luckily, this incredible sequence pays off story-wise when it inspires Richard to somehow trim the fat on his app and achieve a record-breaking Weissman score and win the competition. Our lovable losers get a win to finish the season, while setting up all the ways this win will cause more problems in season two. I can't wait.

Game of Thrones: "The Lion & the Rose"
Game of Thrones really knows how to throw a wedding. Thing is, it usually waits until the end of the season to really punch us in the mouth, but not this time. The events of Joffrey and Margery's wedding set up the rest of the season, and non-book readers were no doubt caught off guard when the guy who was set up to be our big bad was so casually dispatched. The build-up is a lesson in creating tension, but that could be just because I knew what was coming. Did non-book readers have any idea something terrible/awesome was going to happen? I'm sure it didn't matter because the satisfaction of seeing this image, makes this episode one for the ages.

True Detective: "The Secret Fate of All Life"
This is the episode after the one with "the shot." That has gotten plenty of warranted praise, but I chose this one because of what it reveals about the aims of the series as a whole. It's in this episode where we realize this story isn't really about the case, per se. It's where we realize we're dealing with unreliable narrators and raises the question of why? It's also the episode with the T-shirt-worthy "Time is a Flat Circle" speech. Simply said, this is the episode where everything changes, and True detective declared that it was about so much more than a murder case.

Masters of Sex: "Fight"

I didn't think there was room in my TV-loving heart for two episodes that use the background of a boxing match as a way into a dance between two characters (see above mention of Mad Men's "The Suitcase"), but then here came Masters of Sex's take on what apparently is a convention. What made this episode so compelling was that the battle going on with our characters stems from their insistence that their connection is purely "based on the work." This is the first time where we really see evidence that that just isn't the case. Between sex sessions, Bill and Virginia's true selves are revealed whether through direct discussions or role play. They talk about their childhoods, past loves and the pros and cons of refusing to fight or throwing well-timed punches. They each do both during the course of this bottle episode, but at the end, both have more wounds than we originally thought. 

Honorable Mention
You're the Worst: "Sunday Funday"

This show was such a fun find. I watched the entire first season while traveling in Spain and loved every bit of it. The story of terrible people Gretchen and Jimmy who realize they might just be perfect for each other seems pretty standard. But their quick banter and cast of colorful sidekicks quickly made this a favorite of mine. This episode wins extra kudos for an appearance by a Silicon Valley crush, Thomas Middleditch, and the actual emotion it delivers when Gretchen and Jimmy finally come clean with what the want from each other. Plus, I love how Jimmy' outrage that Gretchen can't choose between Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel is jut a a cover up for his outrage about what he views as her choosing between staying with him and going off with Ty. Don't we all have those, "YOU MUST CHOOSE" arguments all the time? I loved how this one actually ended up meaning something.

Veep: "Crate"

Um, because this is everything: 

The Best of the Rest (in alphabetical order)

The Affair: "Pilot"
Boardwalk Empire: "Eldorado"
Brooklyn Nine-Nine: "The Jimmy Jab Games"
The Comeback: "Valerie Gets What she Really Wants"
Community: "App Development & Condiments"
Downton Abbey: "Christmas Special"
Fargo: "Buridan's Ass"
Girls: "Flo"
Homeland: "There's Something Else Going On"
House of Cards: "Chapter 14"
The Leftovers: "The Prodigal Son Returns"
Louie: "Pamela Part 3"
The Mindy Project: "I Slipped"
New Girl: "Thanksgiving IV"
Orange is the New Black: "A Whole Other Hole"
Parks & Recreation: "Moving Up"
Sherlock: "The Sign of Three"

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2014 Movie Rundown

After finally having to cut myself off, here is the rundown of all the 2014 releases I saw this year. The ones I saw in the theater are marked with (T). Made it to 60 movies total, same as last year. Gotta step it up for 2015. 

Boyhood (T)
The LEGO Movie (T)

Birdman (T)
The Fault in Our Stars (T)
Gone Girl (T)
Guardians of the Galaxy (T)
Life Itself (T)
Nightcrawler (T)
Obvious Child
Selma (T)
The Theory of Everything(T)
Under the Skin (T)
Whiplash (T)
X Men: Days of Future Past (T)

Very Good
American Sniper (T)
Big Hero 6 (T)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (T)
Edge of Tomorrow (T)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (T)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I (T)
The Imitation Game (T)
Inherent Vice (T)
A Most Violent Year (T)
Neighbors (T)
The One I Love
Only Lovers Left Alive (T)
The Skeleton Twins (T)
Snowpiercer (T)
22 Jump Street (T)

Loved It with Major Caveats
Interstellar (T)

Unbroken (T)
What If (T)
Wild (T)

Silly But Fun
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (T)
Godzilla (T)
Horrible Bosses 2 (T)
Into the Woods (T)

Moments of Greatness but Should Have Been Better
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them (T)
Foxcatcher (T)
Muppets Most Wanted (T)
St. Vincent (T)

Begin Again
Big Eyes (T)
Chef (T)
Divergent (T)
Magic in the Moonlight (T)
Mr. Turner (T)

Not Good
The Amazing Spiderman 2 (T)
Bad Words (T)
The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (T)
Noah (T)
The Other Woman
Top Five (T)

Dumb Dumber To (T)
Maleficent (T)

Just too Upsetting
Still Alice (T)